He went on pitilessly, as though he had not heard her, “And you were good enough to write me several letters—there were one, two, three, four of them,” counting them off upon his fingers; “and then came the fifth—that one you wrote when he was ill. Was it not a sad pity that I had gone out of Paris for the day, and never received it till you and your husband had left for England? But think you that I will part with it ever? It is my consolation, my tresor!”
“Monsieur D’Arblet, if you have one spark of honour or of gentleman-like feeling, you will give me those mad, foolish letters again. I entreat you to do so. You know that I was beside myself when I wrote them, I was so unhappy—do you not see that they compromise me fatally; that it is my good name, my reputation, which are at stake?” In her agony she had half sunk at his feet on the floor of the carriage, clasping her hands entreatingly together.
Monsieur D’Arblet raised her with empressement.
“Ah, madame, do not thus humiliate yourself at my feet. Why should you be afraid? Are not your good name and your reputation safe in my hands?”
Helen burst into bitter tears.
“How cruel, how wicked you are!” she cried; “no Englishman would treat a lady in this way.”
“Your Englishmen are fools, ma chere—and I—I am French!” he replied, shrugging his shoulders expressively.
“But what object, what possible cause can you have for keeping those wretched letters?”
He bent his face down close to hers.
“Shall I tell you, belle Helene? It is this: You are beautiful and you have talent; I like you. Some day, perhaps, when the grandpapa dies, you will have money—then Lucien D’Arblet will come to you, madame, with that precious little packet in his hands, and he will say, ’You will marry me, ma chere, or I will make public these letters.’ Do you see? Till then, amusez vous, ma belle; enjoy your life and your liberty as much as you desire; I will not object to anything you do. Only you will not venture to marry—because I have these letters?”
“You would prevent my marrying?” said Helen, faintly.
“Mais, certainement that I should. Do you suppose any man would care to be your husband after he had read that last letter—the fifth, you know?”
No answer, save the choking sobs of his companion.
Monsieur D’Arblet waited a few minutes, watching her; then, as she did not raise her head from the cushions of the carriage, where she had buried it, the Frenchman pulled the check-string of the carriage.
“Now,” he said, “I will wish you good-night, for we are close to your house. We have had our little talk, have we not?”
The brougham, stopped, and the footman opened the door.
“Good-night, madame, and many thanks for your kindness,” said D’Arblet, raising his hat politely.
In another minute he was gone, and Helen, hoping that the darkness had concealed the traces of her agitation from the servant’s prying eyes, was driven on, more dead than alive, to her grandfather’s house.