For nothing on earth is sadder
Than the dream that cheated the grasp,
The flower that turned to the adder,
The fruit that changed to the asp,
When the dayspring in darkness closes,
As the sunset fades from the hills,
With the fragrance of perished roses,
And the music of parched-up rills.
A. L. Gordon.
It had been the darkest chapter of her life, that fatal month in Paris, when she had foolishly and recklessly placed herself in the power of a man so unscrupulous and so devoid of principle as Lucien D’Arblet.
It had begun in all innocence—on her part, at least. She had been very miserable; she had discovered to the full how wild a mistake her marriage had been. She had felt herself to be fatally separated from Maurice, the man she loved, for ever; and Monsieur D’Arblet had been kind to her; he had pitied her for being tied to a husband who drank and who gambled, and Helen had allowed herself to be pitied. D’Arblet had charming manners, and an accurate knowledge of the weakness of the fair sex; he knew when to flatter and when to cajole her, when to be tenderly sympathetic to her sorrows, and when to divert her thoughts to brighter and pleasanter topics than her own miseries. He succeeded in fascinating her completely. Whilst her husband was occupied with his own disreputable friends, Helen, sooner than remain alone in their hotel night after night, was persuaded to accept Monsieur D’Arblet’s escort to theatres and operas, and other public places, where her constant presence with him very soon compromised her amongst the few friends who knew her in Paris.
Then came scenes with her husband; frantic letters of misery to this French vicomte, whom she imagined to be so devotedly attached to her, and, finally, one ever-to-be-repented letter, in which she offered to leave her husband for ever and to come to him.
True, this letter did not reach its destination till too late, and Helen was mercifully saved from the fate which, in her wicked despair, she was ready to rush upon. Twenty-four hours after her return to England she saw the horrible abyss upon which she had stood, and thanked God from the bottom of her heart that she had been rescued, in spite of herself, from so dreadful a deed. But the letter had been written, and was in Lucien D’Arblet’s possession. Later on she learnt, by a chance conversation, the true character of the man, and shuddered when she remembered how nearly she had wrecked her whole life for him. And when her husband’s death had placed her once more in the security and affluence of her grandfather’s house, with fresh hopes and fresh chances before her, she had but one wish with regard to that Parisian episode of her life,—to forget it as though it had never been.