“No one sent me, citizen. The money is mine—a few savings I possess—I honour citizen Fabrice—I would wish to do him service by purchasing certain letters from you.”
Then as Heriot, moody and sullen, remained silent and began pacing up and down the long, bare floor of the room, Lepine added persuasively, “Well! what do you say? Two thousand francs for a packet of letters—not a bad bargain these hard times.”
“Get out of this room,” was Heriot’s fierce and sudden reply.
“Get out of this room!”
“As you please,” said Lepine as he, too, rose from his chair. “But before I go, citizen Heriot,” he added, speaking very quietly, “let me tell you one thing. Mademoiselle Agnes de Lucines would far sooner cut off her right hand than let yours touch it even for one instant. Neither she nor deputy Fabrice would ever purchase their lives at such a price.”
“And who are you—you mangy old scarecrow?” retorted Heriot, who was getting beside himself with rage, “that you should assert these things? What are those people to you, or you to them, that you should interfere in their affairs?”
“Your question is beside the point, citizen,” said Lepine blandly; “I am here to propose a bargain. Had you not better agree to it?”
“Never!” reiterated Heriot emphatically.
“Two thousand francs,” reiterated the old man imperturbably.
“Not if you offered me two hundred thousand,” retorted the other fiercely. “Go and tell that, to those who sent you. Tell them that I— Heriot—would look upon a fortune as mere dross against the delight of seeing that man Fabrice, whom I hate beyond everything in earth or hell, mount up the steps to the guillotine. Tell them that I know that Agnes de Lucines loathes me, that I know that she loves him. I know that I cannot win her save by threatening him. But you are wrong, citizen Lepine,” he continued, speaking more and more calmly as his passions of hatred and of love seemed more and more to hold him in their grip; “you are wrong if you think that she will not strike a bargain with me in order to save the life of Fabrice, whom she loves. Agnes de Lucines will be my wife within the month, or Arnould Fabrice’s head will fall under the guillotine, and you, my interfering friend, may go to the devil, if you please.”
“That would be but a tame proceeding, citizen, after my visit to you,” said the old man, with unruffled sang-froid. “But let me, in my turn, assure you of this, citizen Heriot,” he added, “that Mlle. de Lucines will never be your wife, that Arnould Fabrice will not end his valuable life under the guillotine—and that you will never be allowed to use against him the cowardly and stolen weapon which you possess.”
Heriot laughed—a low, cynical laugh and shrugged his thin shoulders:
“And who will prevent me, I pray you?” he asked sarcastically.