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Chambers, William / Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, No. 459 Volume 18, New Series, October 16, 1852


No. 459. NEW SERIES. SATURDAY, OCTOBER 16, 1852. PRICE 1-1/2_d._


We all know that there are certain conventional laws by which our
social doings and seemings are regulated; but what is the power which
compels the observance of these laws? There is no company police to
keep people moving on, no fines or other penalties; nobody but the
very outrageous need fear being turned out of the room; we have every
one of us strong inclinations and strong will: then, how comes it that
we get on so smoothly? Why are there no outbreaks of individual
character? How is it that we seem dovetailed into each other, as if we
formed a homogeneous mass? What is the influence which keeps up the
weak and keeps down the strong, and spreads itself like oil upon the
boiling sea of human passion? We have a notion of our own, that all
this is the work of an individual of the female sex; and, indeed, even
the most unconscious and unreflecting would appear to assign to that
individual her true position and authority, in naming her the Woman of
the World.

Society could never exist in a state of civilisation without the woman
of the world. The man of the world has his own department, his own
_métier_; but She it is who keeps up the general equilibrium. She is a
calm, quiet, lady-like person, not obtrusive, and not easily put out
of the way. You do not know by external observation that she is in the
room; you feel it instinctively. The atmosphere she brings with her is
peculiar, you cannot tell how. It is neither warm nor chill, neither
moist nor dry; but it is repressive. You do not move in it with
natural freedom, although you feel nothing that could be called
_gêne_. Her manner is generally sweet, sometimes even caressing, and
you feel flattered and elevated as you meet her approving eye. But you
cannot get into it. There is a glassy surface, beautiful but hard, of
which you can make nothing, and presently you feel a kind of
strangeness come over you, as if you were not looking into the eye of
a creature of your own kind. What you miss is sympathy.

It is to her want of sympathy the woman of the world owes her
position. The same deficiency is indispensable in the other
individuals--such as a great monarch, or a great general--who rule the
fate of mankind; but with this difference, that in them it is partial
and limited, and in her universal. In them, it bears relation to their
trade or mission; in her, it is a peculiarity of her general nature.
She is accused of inhumanity; of sporting with the feelings of those
about her, and rending, when they interfere with her plans, the
strings of the heart as ruthlessly as if they were fiddlestrings. But
all that is nonsense. She does not, it is true, ignore the existence
of strings and feelings; on the contrary, they are in her eyes a great
fact, without which she could do nothing. But her theory is, that they
are merely a superficial net-work surrounding the character, the
growth of education and other circumstances, and that they may be
twisted, broken, and fastened anew at pleasure by skilful fingers. No,
she is not inhumane. She works for others' good and her own greatness.
Sighs and tears may be the result of her operations; but so are they
of the operations of the beneficent surgeon. She dislikes giving pain,
and comforts and sustains the patient to the best of her power; but at
the most, she knows sighs are but wind, and tears but water, and so
she does her duty.

Although without sympathy, the woman of the world has great
sensitiveness. She sits in the room like a spider, with her web
fitting as closely to the whole area as the carpet; and she feels the
slightest touch upon the slightest filament. So do the company: not
understandingly like her, but instinctively and unconsciously, like a
fly who only knows that somehow or other he is not at freedom. The
thing that holds him is as soft and glossy and thin and small as silk;
but even while dallying with its smoothness and pleasantness, a misty,
indefinite sensation of impending danger creeps over him. Be quiet,
little fly! Gently--gently: slip away if you can--but no defiance, no
tugging, no floundering, or you are lost!

A mythic story is told of the woman of the world: how in early life
she was crossed in love; how she lost faith in feelings that seemed to
exist exceptionally only in her own solitary bosom; and how a certain
glassy hardness gathered upon her heart, as she sat waiting and
waiting for a response to the inner voices she had suffered to burst

The long-lost ventures of the heart,
That send no answers back again!

But this is a fable. The woman of the world was never young--not while
playing with her doll. She grew just as you see her, and will suffer
no change till the dissolution of the elements of her body.
Love-passages she has indeed had like other women; but the love was
all on one side, and that side not hers. It is curious to observe the
passion thus lavished in vain. It reminds one of the German story of
the Cave of Mirrors, where a fairy damsel, with beckoning hand and
beseeching eyes, was reflected from a thousand angles. The pursuing
lover, endeavouring to clasp his mistress, flung himself from one
illusory image to another, finding only the sharp, polished,
glittering glass in his embrace, till faint, breathless, and bleeding,
he sank upon the ground.

The woman of the world, though a dangerous mistress, is an agreeable
friend. She is partial to the everyday married lady, when presentable
in point of dress and manners, and overwhelms her with little
condescending kindnesses and caresses. This good lady, on her part,
thinks her patroness a remarkably clever woman; not that she
understands her, or knows exactly what she is about; but somehow or
other she is _sure_ she is prodigiously clever. As for the everyday
young lady, who has a genius for reverence, she reveres her; and these
two, with their male congeners, are the dress-figures the woman of the
world places about her rooms like ivory pieces on a chessboard.

This admirable lady is sometimes a mother, and she is devotedly fond
of her children, in their future. She may be seen gazing in their
faces by the hour; but the picture that is before her mind's eye is
the fulfilment of their present promise. An ordinary woman would
dawdle away her time in admiring their soft eyes, and curly hair, and
full warm cheeks; but the woman of the world sees the bud grown into
the expanded flower, and the small cradle is metamorphosed into the
boudoir by the magic of her maternal love. And verily, she has her
reward: for death sometimes comes, to wither the bud, and disperse the
dream in empty air. On such an occasion, her grief, as we may readily
suppose, is neither deep nor lasting, for its object is twined round
her imagination, not her heart. She regrets her wasted hopes and
fruitless speculations; but the baby having never been present in its
own entity, is now as that which has never been. The unthinking call
her an unnatural mother, for they make no distinction. They do not
know that death is with her a perfectly arranged funeral, a marble
tablet, a darkened room, an attitude of wo, a perfumed handkerchief.
They do not consider that when she lies down to rest, her eyes, in
consequence of over-mental exertion, are too heavy with sleep to have
room for tears. They do not reflect that in the morning she breaks
into a new consciousness of reality from the clinging dreams of her
maternal ambition, and not from the small visionary arms, the fragrant
kiss, the angel whisper of her lost babe. They do not feel that in
opening upon the light, her eyes part with the fading gleam of gems
and satin, and kneeling coronets, and red right hands extending
wedding-rings, and not with a winged and baby form, soaring into the
light by which it is gradually absorbed, while distant hymns melt and
die upon her ear.

The woman of the world is sometimes prosperous in her reign over
society, and sometimes otherwise. Even she submits, although usually
with sweetness and dignity, to the caprices of fortune. Occasionally,
the threads of her management break in such a way, that, with all her
dexterity, she is unable to reunite them: occasionally, the strings
and feelings are too strong to rend; and occasionally, in rending, the
whole system falls to pieces. Her daughter elopes, her son marries the
governess, her husband loses his seat in parliament; but there are
other daughters to marry, other sons to direct, other honours to win;
and so this excellent woman runs her busy and meritorious career. But
years come on at last, although she lingers as long as she can in
middle life; and, with her usual graceful dignity, she settles down
into the reward the world bestows on its veterans, an old age of

Even now, she sometimes turns round her head to look at the things and
persons around her, and to exult in the reputation she has earned, and
the passive influence her name still exercises over society; but, as a
rule, the kings and queens and knaves take the place of human beings
with this woman of genius; the deepest arcana of her art are brought
into play for the odd trick, and her pride and ambition are abundantly
gratified by the circumvention of a half-crown.

The woman of the world at length dies: and what then? Why, then,
nothing--nothing but a funeral, a tablet, dust, and oblivion. This is
reasonable, for, great as she was, she had to do only with the
external forms of life. Her existence was only a material game, and
her men and women were only court and common cards; diamonds and
hearts were alike to her, their value depending on what was trumps.
She saw keenly and far, but not deeper than the superficial net-work
of the heart, not higher than the ceiling of the drawing-room. Her
enjoyments, therefore, were limited in their range; her nature, though
perfect in its kind, was small and narrow; and her occupation, though
so interesting to those concerned, was in itself mean and frivolous.
This is always her misfortune, the misfortune of this envied woman.
She lives in a material world, blind and deaf to the influences that
thrill the bosoms of others. No noble thought ever fires her soul, no
generous sympathy ever melts her heart. Her share of that current of
human nature which has welled forth from its fountain in the earthly
paradise is dammed up, and cut off from the general stream that
overflows the world. None of those minute and invisible ducts connects
it with the common waters which make one feel instinctively, lovingly,
yearningly, that he is not alone upon the earth, but a member of the
great human family. And so, having played her part, she dies, this
woman of the world, leaving no sign to tell that an immortal spirit
has passed: nothing above the ground but a tablet, and below, only a
handful of rotting bones and crumbling dust.


The basement front of No. 12 Rue St Antoine, a narrow street in Rouen,
leading from the Place de la Pucelle, was opened by Madame de la Tour,
in the millinery business, in 1817, and tastefully arranged, so far as
scant materials permitted the exercise of decorative genius. She was
the widow of a once flourishing _courtier maritime_ (ship-broker),
who, in consequence of some unfortunate speculations, had recently
died in insolvent circumstances. At about the same time, Clément
Derville, her late husband's confidential clerk, a steady,
persevering, clever person, took possession of the deceased
ship-broker's business premises on the quay, the precious savings of
fifteen years of industrious frugality enabling him to install himself
in the vacant commercial niche before the considerable connection
attached to the well-known establishment was broken up and distributed
amongst rival _courtiers_. Such vicissitudes, frequent in all trading
communities, excite but a passing interest; and after the customary
commonplaces commiserative of the fallen fortunes of the still
youthful widow, and gratulatory good-wishes for the prosperity of the
_ci-devant_ clerk, the matter gradually faded from the minds of the
sympathisers, save when the rapidly rising fortunes of Derville, in
contrast with the daily lowlier ones of Madame de la Tour, suggested
some tritely sentimental reflection upon the precariousness and
instability of all mundane things. For a time, it was surmised by some
of the fair widow's friends, if not by herself, that the considerable
services Derville had rendered her were prompted by a warmer feeling
than the ostensible one of respect for the relict of his old and
liberal employer; and there is no doubt that the gentle, graceful
manners, the mild, starlit face of Madame de la Tour, had made a deep
impression upon Derville, although the hope or expectation founded
thereon vanished with the passing time. Close, money-loving,
business-absorbed as he might be, Clément Derville was a man
of vehement impulse and extreme susceptibility of female
charm--weaknesses over which he had again and again resolved to
maintain vigilant control, as else fatal obstacles to his hopes of
realising a large competence, if not a handsome fortune. He succeeded
in doing so; and as year after year glided away, leaving him richer
and richer, Madame de la Tour poorer and poorer, as well as less and
less personally attractive, he grew to marvel that the bent form, the
clouded eyes, the sorrow-sharpened features of the woman he
occasionally met hastening along the streets, could be those by which
he had been once so powerfully agitated and impressed.

He did not, however, form any new attachment; was still a bachelor at
forty-five; and had for some years almost lost sight of, and
forgotten, Madame de la Tour, when a communication from Jeanne Favart,
an old servant who had lived with the De la Tours in the days of their
prosperity, vividly recalled old and fading memories. She announced
that Madame de la Tour had been for many weeks confined to her bed by
illness, and was, moreover, in great pecuniary distress.

'_Diantre_!' exclaimed Derville, a quicker and stronger pulse than
usual tinging his sallow cheek as he spoke. 'That is a pity. Who,
then, has been minding the business for her?'

'Her daughter Marie, a gentle, pious child, who seldom goes out except
to church, and,' added Jeanne, with a keen look in her master's
countenance, 'the very image of the Madame de la Tour we knew some
twenty years ago.'

'Ha!' M. Derville was evidently disturbed, but not so much so as to
forget to ask with some asperity if 'dinner was not ready?'

'In five minutes,' said Jeanne, but still holding the half-opened door
in her hand. 'They are very, very badly off, monsieur, those
unfortunate De la Tours,' she persisted. 'A _huissier_ this morning
seized their furniture and trade-stock for rent, and if the sum is not
made up by sunset, they will be utterly ruined.'

M. Clément Derville took several hasty turns about the room, and the
audible play of his fingers amongst the Napoleons in his pockets
inspired Jeanne with a hope that he was about to draw forth a
sufficient number for the relief of the cruel necessities of her
former mistress. She was mistaken. Perhaps the touch of his beloved
gold stilled for a time the agitation that had momentarily stirred his

'It is a pity,' he murmured; and then briskly drawing out his watch,
added sharply: 'But pray let us have dinner. Do you know that it is
full seven minutes past the time that it should be served?'

Jeanne disappeared, and M. Derville was very soon seated at table. But
although the sad tidings he had just heard had not been able to
effectually loosen his purse-strings, they had at least power utterly
to destroy his appetite, albeit the _poulet_ was done to a turn.
Jeanne made no remark on this, as she removed the almost untasted
meal, nor on the quite as unusual fact, that the wine _carafe_ was
already half emptied, and her master himself restless, dreamy, and
preoccupied. Concluding, however, from these symptoms, that a fierce
struggle between generosity and avarice was going on in M. Derville's
breast, she quietly determined on bringing an auxiliary to the aid of
generosity, that would, her woman's instinct taught her, at once
decide the conflict.

No doubt the prosperous ship-broker _was_ unusually agitated. The old
woman's news had touched a chord which, though dulled and slackened by
the heat and dust of seventeen years of busy, anxious life, still
vibrated strongly, and awakened memories that had long slept in the
chambers of his brain, especially one pale Madonna face, with its
soft, tear-trembling eyes that---- '_Ciel_!' he suddenly exclaimed, as
the door opened and gave to view the very form his fancy had conjured
up: '_Ciel_! can it be---- Pshaw!' he added, as he fell back into the
chair from which he had leaped up; 'you must suppose me crazed,
Mademoiselle--Mademoiselle de la Tour, I am quite certain.'

It was indeed Marie de la Tour whom Jeanne Favart had, with much
difficulty, persuaded to make a personal appeal to M. Derville. She
was a good deal agitated, and gladly accepted that gentleman's
gestured invitation to be seated, and take a glass of wine. Her errand
was briefly, yet touchingly told, but not apparently listened to by
Derville, so abstracted and intense was the burning gaze with which he
regarded the confused and blushing petitioner. Jeanne, however, knew
whom he recognised in those flushed and interesting features, and had
no doubt of the successful result of the application.

M. Clément Derville _had_ heard and comprehended what was said, for he
broke an embarrassing silence of some duration by saying, in a pleased
and respectful tone: 'Twelve Napoleons, you say, mademoiselle. It is
nothing: here are twenty. No thanks, I beg of you. I hope to have an
opportunity of rendering you--of rendering Madame de la Tour, I mean,
some real and lasting service.'

Poor Marie was profoundly affected by this generosity, and the
charming blushfulness, the sweet-toned trembling words that expressed
her modest gratitude, were, it should seem, strangely interpreted by
the excited ship-broker. The interview was not prolonged, and Marie de
la Tour hastened with joy-lightened steps to her home.

Four days afterwards, M. Derville called at the Rue St Antoine, only
to hear that Madame de la Tour had died a few hours previously. He
seemed much shocked; and after a confused offer of further pecuniary
assistance, respectfully declined by the weeping daughter, took a
hurried leave.

There is no question that, from the moment of his first interview with
her, M. Derville had conceived an ardent passion for Mademoiselle de
la Tour--so ardent and bewildering as not only to blind him to the
great disparity of age between himself and her--which he might have
thought the much greater disparity of fortune in his favour would
balance and reconcile--but to the very important fact, that Hector
Bertrand, a young _menuisier_ (carpenter), who had recently commenced
business on his own account, and whom he so frequently met at the
charming _modiste's_ shop, was her accepted, affianced lover. An
_éclaircissement_, accompanied by mortifying circumstances, was not,
however, long delayed.

It occurred one fine evening in July. M. Derville, in passing through
the _marché aux fleurs_, had selected a brilliant bouquet for
presentation to Mademoiselle de la Tour; and never to him had she
appeared more attractive, more fascinating, than when accepting, with
hesitating, blushing reluctance, the proffered flowers. She stepped
with them into the little sitting-room behind the shop; M. Derville
followed; and the last remnant of discretion and common-sense that had
hitherto restrained him giving way at once, he burst out with a
vehement declaration of the passion which was, he said, consuming him,
accompanied, of course, by the offer of his hand and fortune in
marriage. Marie de la Tour's first impulse was to laugh in the face of
a man who, old enough to be her father, addressed her in such terms;
but one glance at the pale face and burning eyes of the speaker,
convinced her that levity would be ill-timed--possibly dangerous. Even
the few civil and serious words of discouragement and refusal with
which she replied to his ardent protestations, were oil cast upon
flame. He threw himself at the young girl's feet, and clasped her
knees in passionate entreaty, at the very moment that Hector Bertrand,
with one De Beaune, entered the room. Marie de la Tour's exclamation
of alarm, and effort to disengage her dress from Derville's grasp, in
order to interpose between him and the new-comers, were simultaneous
with several heavy blows from Bertrand's cane across the shoulders of
the kneeling man, who instantly leaped to his feet, and sprang upon
his assailant with the yell and spring of a madman. Fortunately for
Bertrand, who was no match in personal strength for the man he had
assaulted, his friend De Beaune promptly took part in the encounter;
and after a desperate scuffle, during which Mademoiselle de la Tour's
remonstrances and entreaties were unheard or disregarded, M. Derville
was thrust with inexcusable violence into the street.

According to Jeanne Favart, her master reached home with his face all
bloody and discoloured, his clothes nearly torn from his back, and in
a state of frenzied excitement. He rushed past her up stairs, shut
himself into his bedroom, and there remained unseen by any one for
several days, partially opening the door only to receive food and
other necessaries from her hands. When he did at last leave his room,
the impassive calmness of manner habitual to him was quite restored,
and he wrote a note in answer to one that had been sent by
Mademoiselle de la Tour, expressive of her extreme regret for what had
occurred, and enclosing a very respectful apology from Hector
Bertrand. M. Derville said, that he was grateful for her sympathy and
kind wishes; and as to M. Bertrand, he frankly accepted his excuses,
and should think no more of the matter.

This mask of philosophic indifference or resignation was not so
carefully worn but that it slipped occasionally aside, and revealed
glimpses of the volcanic passion that raged beneath. Jeanne was not
for a moment deceived; and Marie de la Tour, the first time she again
saw him, perceived with woman's intuitive quickness through all his
assumed frigidity of speech and demeanour, that his sentiments towards
her, so far from being subdued by the mortifying repulse they had met
with, were more vehemently passionate than ever! He was a man, she
felt, to be feared and shunned; and very earnestly did she warn
Bertrand to avoid meeting, or, at all events, all possible chance of
collision with his exasperated, and, she was sure, merciless and
vindictive rival.

Bertrand said he would do so; and kept his promise as long as there
was no temptation to break it. About six weeks after his encounter
with M. Derville, he obtained a considerable contract for the
carpentry work of a large house belonging to a M. Mangier--a
fantastic, Gothic-looking place, as persons acquainted with Rouen will
remember, next door but one to Blaise's banking-house. Bertrand had
but little capital, and he was terribly puzzled for means to purchase
the requisite materials, of which the principal item was Baltic
timber. He essayed his credit with a person of the name of Dufour, on
the quay, and was refused. Two hours afterwards, he again sought the
merchant, for the purpose of proposing his friend De Beaune as
security. Dufour and Derville were talking together in front of the
office; and when they separated on Bertrand's approach, the young man
fancied that Derville saluted him with unusual friendliness. De
Beaune's security was declined by the cautious trader; and as Bertrand
was leaving, Dufour said, half-jestingly no doubt: 'Why don't you
apply to your friend Derville? He has timber on commission that will
suit you, I know; and he seemed very friendly just now.' Bertrand made
no reply, and walked off, thinking probably that he might as well ask
the statue of the 'Pucelle' for assistance as M. Derville. He was,
naturally enough, exceedingly put out, and vexed; and unhappily betook
himself to a neighbouring tavern for 'spirituous' solacement--a very
rare thing, let me add, for him to do. He remained there till about
eight o'clock, and by that time was in such a state of confused
elation from the unusual potations he had imbibed, that Dufour's
suggestion assumed a sort of drunken likelihood; and he resolved on
applying--there could not, he thought, be any wonderful harm, if no
good, in that--to the ship-broker. M. Derville was not at home, and
the office was closed; but Jeanne Favart, understanding Bertrand to
say that he had important business to transact with her master--she
supposed by appointment--shewed him into M. Derville's private
business-rooms, and left him there. Bertrand seated himself, fell
asleep after awhile, woke up about ten o'clock considerably sobered,
and quite alive to the absurd impropriety of the application he had
tipsily determined on, and was about to leave the place, when M.
Derville arrived. The ship-broker's surprise and anger at finding
Hector Bertrand in his house were extreme, and his only reply to the
intruder's stammering explanation, was a contemptuous order to leave
the place immediately. Bertrand slunk away sheepishly enough; and
slowly as he sauntered along, had nearly reached home, when M.
Derville overtook him.

'One word, Monsieur Bertrand,' said Derville. 'This way, if you

Bertrand, greatly surprised, followed the ship-broker to a lane close
by--a dark, solitary locality, which suggested an unpleasant
misgiving, very pleasantly relieved by Derville's first words.

'Monsieur Bertrand,' he said, 'I was hasty and ill-tempered just now;
but I am not a man to cherish malice, and for the sake of--of
Marie--of Mademoiselle de la Tour, I am disposed to assist you,
although I should not, as you will easily understand, like to have any
public or known dealings with you. Seven or eight hundred francs, I
understood you to say, the timber you required would amount to?'

'Certainly not more than that, monsieur,' Bertrand contrived to
answer, taken away as his breath nearly was by astonishment.

'Here, then, is a note of the Bank of France for one thousand francs.'

'Monsieur!--monsieur!' gasped the astounded recipient.

'You will repay me,' continued Derville, 'when your contract is
completed; and you will please to bear strictly in mind, that the
condition of any future favour of a like kind is, that you keep this
one scrupulously secret.' He then hurried off, leaving Bertrand in a
state of utter amazement. This feeling, however, slowly subsided,
especially after assuring himself, by the aid of his chamber-lamp,
that the note was a genuine one, and not, as he had half feared, a
valueless deception. 'This Monsieur Derville,' drowsily murmured
Bertrand as he ensconced himself in the bed-clothes, 'is a _bon
enfant_, after all--a generous, magnanimous prince, if ever there was
one. But then, to be sure, he wishes to do Marie a service by secretly
assisting her _futur_ on in life. _Sapristie!_ It is quite simple,
after all, this generosity; for undoubtedly Marie is the most

Hector Bertrand went to Dufour's timber-yard at about noon the next
day, selected what he required, and pompously tendered the
thousand-franc note in payment. 'Whe-e-e-e-w!' whistled Dufour, 'the
deuce!' at the same time looking with keen scrutiny in his customer's

'I received it from Monsieur Mangier in advance,' said Hector in hasty
reply to that look, blurting out in some degree inadvertently the
assertion which he had been thinking would be the most feasible
solution of his sudden riches, since he had been so peremptorily
forbidden to mention M. Derville's name.

'It is very generous of Monsieur Mangier,' said Dufour; 'and he is not
famous for that virtue either. But let us go to Blaise's bank: I have
not sufficient change in the house, and I daresay we shall get silver
for it there.'

As often happens in France, a daughter of the banker was the cashier
of the establishment; and it was with an accent of womanly
commiseration that she said, after minutely examining the note: 'From
whom, Monsieur Bertrand, did you obtain possession of this note?'

Bertrand hesitated. A vague feeling of alarm was beating at his heart,
and he confusedly bethought him, that it might be better not to repeat
the falsehood he had told M. Dufour. Before, however, he could decide
what to say, Dufour answered for him: 'He _says_ from Monsieur
Mangier, just by.'

'Strange!' said Mademoiselle Blaise. 'A clerk of Monsieur Derville's
has been taken into custody this very morning on suspicion of having
stolen this very note.'

Poor Bertrand! He felt as if seized with vertigo; and a stunned,
chaotic sense of mortal peril shot through his brain, as Marie's
solemn warning with respect to Derville rose up like a spectre before

'I have heard of that circumstance,' said Dufour. And then, as
Bertrand did not, or could not speak, he added: 'You had better,
perhaps, mademoiselle, send for Monsieur Derville.'

This proposition elicited a wild, desperate cry from the bewildered
young man, who rushed distractedly out of the banking-house, and
hastened with frantic speed towards the Rue St Antoine--for the moment

Half an hour afterwards, Dufour and a bank-clerk arrived at
Mademoiselle de la Tour's. They found Bertrand and Marie together, and
both in a state of high nervous excitement. 'Monsieur Derville,' said
the clerk, 'is now at the bank; and Monsieur Blaise requests your
presence there, so that whatever misapprehension exists may be cleared
up without the intervention of the agents of the public force.'

'And pray, monsieur,' said Marie, in a much firmer tone than, from her
pale aspect, one would have expected, 'what does Monsieur Derville
himself say of this strange affair?'

'That the note in question, mademoiselle, must have been stolen from
his desk last evening. He was absent from home from half-past seven
till ten, and unfortunately left the key in the lock.'

'I was sure he would say so,' gasped Bertrand. 'He is a demon, and I
am lost.'

A bright, almost disdainful expression shone in Marie's fine eyes. 'Go
with these gentlemen, Hector,' she said; 'I will follow almost
immediately; and remember'---- What else she said was delivered in a
quick, low whisper; and the only words she permitted to be heard were:
'Pas un mot, si tu m'aime' (Not a word, if thou lovest me).

Bertrand found Messieurs Derville, Blaise, and Mangier in a private
room; and he remarked, with a nervous shudder, that two gendarmes were
stationed in the passage. Derville, though very pale, sustained
Bertrand's glance of rage and astonishment without flinching. It was
plain that he had steeled himself to carry through the diabolical
device his revenge had planned, and the fluttering hope with which
Marie had inspired Bertrand died within him. Derville repeated slowly
and firmly what the clerk had previously stated; adding, that no one
save Bertrand, Jeanne Favart, and the clerk whom he first suspected,
had been in the room after he left it. The note now produced was the
one that had been stolen, and was safe in his desk at half-past seven
the previous evening. M. Mangier said: 'The assertion of Bertrand,
that I advanced him this note, or any other, is entirely false.'

'What have you to say in reply to these grave suspicions?' said M.
Blaise. 'Your father was an honest man; and you, I hear, have hitherto
borne an irreproachable character,' he added, on finding that the
accused did not speak. 'Explain to us, then, how you came into
possession of this note; if you do not, and satisfactorily--though,
after what we have heard, that seems scarcely possible--we have no
alternative but to give you into custody.'

'I have nothing to say at present--nothing,' muttered Bertrand, whose
impatient furtive looks were every instant turned towards the door.

'Nothing to say!' exclaimed the banker; 'why, this is a tacit
admission of guilt. We had better call in the gendarmes at once.'

'I think,' said Dufour, 'the young man's refusal to speak is owing to
the entreaties of Mademoiselle de la Tour, whom we overheard implore
him, for her sake, or as he loved her, not to say a word.'

'What do you say?' exclaimed Derville, with quick interrogation, 'for
the sake of Mademoiselle de la Tour! Bah! you could not have heard

'Pardon, monsieur,' said the clerk who had accompanied Dufour: 'I also
distinctly heard her so express herself--but here is the lady

The entrance of Marie, accompanied by Jeanne Favart, greatly surprised
and startled M. Derville; he glanced sharply in her face, but unable
to encounter the indignant expression he met there, quickly averted
his look, whilst a hot flush glowed perceptibly out of his pale
features. At her request, seconded by M. Blaise, Derville repeated his
previous story; but his voice had lost its firmness, his manner its
cold impassibility.

'I wish Monsieur Derville would look me in the face,' said Marie, when
Derville had ceased speaking. 'I am here as a suppliant to him for

'A suppliant for mercy!' murmured Derville, partially confronting her.

'Yes; if only for the sake of the orphan daughter of the Monsieur de
la Tour who first helped you on in life, and for whom you not long
since professed regard.'

Derville seemed to recover his firmness at these words: 'No,' he said;
'not even for your sake, Marie, will I consent to the escape of such a
daring criminal from justice.'

'If that be your final resolve, monsieur,' continued Marie, with
kindling, impressive earnestness, 'it becomes necessary that, at
whatever sacrifice, the true criminal--whom assuredly Hector Bertrand
is not--should be denounced.'

Various exclamations of surprise and interest greeted these words, and
the agitation of Derville was again plainly visible.

'You have been surprised, messieurs,' she went on, 'at Hector's
refusal to afford any explanation as to how he became possessed of the
purloined note. You will presently comprehend the generous motive of
that silence. Monsieur Derville has said, that he left the note safe
in his desk at half-past seven last evening. Hector, it is recognised,
did not enter the house till nearly an hour afterwards; and now,
Jeanne Favart will inform you _who_ it was that called on her in the
interim, and remained in the room where the desk was placed for
upwards of a quarter of an hour, and part of that time alone.'

As the young girl spoke, Derville's dilated gaze rested with
fascinated intensity upon her excited countenance, and he hardly
seemed to breathe.

'It was you, mademoiselle,' said Jeanne, 'who called on me, and
remained as you describe.'

A fierce exclamation partially escaped Derville, forcibly suppressed
as Marie resumed: 'Yes; and now, messieurs, hear me solemnly declare,
that as truly as the note was stolen, _I_, not Hector, was the thief.'

''Tis false!' shrieked Derville, surprised out of all self-possession;
'a lie! It was not then the note was taken; not till--not till'----

'Not till when, Monsieur Derville?' said the excited girl, stepping
close to the shrinking, guilty man, and still holding him with her
flashing, triumphant eyes, as she placed her hand upon his shoulder;
'not till _when_ was the note taken from the desk, monsieur?'

He did not, could not reply, and presently sank, utterly subdued,
nerveless, panic-stricken, into a chair, with his white face buried in
his hands.

'This is indeed a painful affair,' said M. Blaise, after an expectant
silence of some minutes, 'if it be, as this young person appeared to
admit; and almost equally so, Monsieur Derville, if, as I more than
suspect, the conclusion indicated by the expression that has escaped
you should be the true one.'

The banker's voice appeared to break the spell that enchained the
faculties of Derville. He rose up, encountered the stern looks of the
men by one as fierce as theirs, and said hoarsely: 'I withdraw the
accusation! The young woman's story is a fabrication. I--I lent, gave
the fellow the note myself.'

A storm of execration--'_Coquin! voleur! scélérat!_' burst forth at
this confession, received by Derville with a defiant scowl, as he
stalked out of the apartment.

I do not know that any law-proceedings were afterwards taken against
him for defamation of character. Hector kept the note, as indeed he
had a good right to do, and Monsieur and Madams Bertrand are still
prosperous and respected inhabitants of Rouen, from which city
Derville disappeared very soon after the incidents just related.


'On the day that our preamble was proved, we had all a famous dinner
at three guineas a head--never saw such a splendid set-out in my life!
each of us had a printed bill of fare laid beside his plate; and I
brought it home as quite a curiosity in the way of eating!' Such was
the account lately given us by a railway projector of that memorable
year of frenzy, 1845. A party of committee-men, agents, engineers, and
solicitors, had, in their exuberance of cash, dined at a cost of some
sixty guineas--a trifle added to the general bill of charges, and of
course not worth thinking of by the shareholders.

These days of dining at three guineas a head for the good of railway
undertakings are pretty well gone; and agents and counsel may well
sigh over the recollection of doings probably never to return.

'The truth is, we were all mad in those times,' added the individual
who owned so candidly to the three-guinea dinner. And this is the only
feasible way of accounting for the wild speculations of seven years
ago. There was a universal craze. All hastened to be rich on the
convenient principle of overreaching their neighbours. There was
robbery throughout. Engineers, landholders, law-agents, and jobbers,
pocketed their respective booties, and it is needless to say who were
left to suffer.

Looking at the catastrophe, the subject of railway mismanagement is
somewhat too serious for a joke, and we have only drawn attention for
an instant to the errors of the past in order to draw a warning for
the future. It must ever be lamented that the introduction of so
stupendous and useful a thing as locomotion by rail, should have
become the occasion of such widespread cupidity and folly; for
scarcely ever had science offered a more gracious boon to mankind. It
is charitable to think that the foundation of the great error that was
committed, lay in a miscalculation as to the relation between
expenditure and returns. We can suppose that there was a certain faith
in the potency of money. To spend so much, was to bring back so much;
and it became an agreeable delusion, that the more was spent, the
greater was to be the revenue. Unfortunately, it does not seem to have
occurred to any one of the parties concerned, that all depends on how
money is spent. There are tradesmen, we imagine, who know to their
cost, that it is quite within the bounds of possibility to have the
whole of their profits swept away by rent and taxes. Curious, that
this plain and unpleasant and very possible result did not dawn on the
minds of the great railway interests. And yet, how grave and
calculating the mighty dons of the new system of locomotion--men who
passed themselves off as up to anything!

Wonderfully acute secretaries; highly-polished chairmen; directors
disdainful of ordinary ways of transacting business. A mystery made of
the most common-place affairs! We may be thankful that the world has
at last seen through these pretenders to superhuman sagacity. With but
remarkably few exceptions, the great railway men of the time have
committed the grossest blunders; and the stupidest blunder of all, has
been the confounding of proper and improper expenditure; just as if a
shopkeeper were to fall into the unhappy error of imagining that his
returns were to be in the ratio, not of the business he was to do, but
of his private and unauthorised expenses.

The instructive fact gathered from railway experience is, that there
is an expenditure which _pays_, and an expenditure that is totally

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Library mainpage -> Chambers, William -> Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, No. 459 Volume 18, New Series, October 16, 1852