"Tell me what it is; I can bear anything now."
"These compromising letters will be placed in your hands upon the day on which your daughter marries Henry de Croisenois, the brother of George."
Madame de Mussidan's astonishment was so great that she stood as though petrified into a statue.
"I am commissioned to inform you, madame, that every delay necessary for altering any arrangements that may exist will be accorded you; but, remember, if your daughter marries any one else than Henry de Croisenois, the letters will be at once placed in your husband's hands."
As he spoke the doctor watched her narrowly. The Countess crossed the room, faint and dizzy, and rested her head on the mantelpiece.
"And that is all?" asked she. "What you ask me to do is utterly impossible: and perhaps it is for the best, for I shall have no long agony of suspense to endure. Go, doctor, and tell the villain who holds my letters that he can take them to the Count at once."
The Countess spoke in such a decided tone that Hortebise was a little puzzled.
"Can it be true," she continued, "that scoundrels exist in our country who are viler than the most cowardly murderers,--men who trade in the shameful secrets that they have learned, and batten upon the money they earn by their odious trade? I heard of such creatures before, but declined to believe it; for I said to myself that such an idea only existed in the unhealthy imaginations of novel writers. It seems, however that I was in error; but do not let these villains rejoice too soon; they will reap but a scanty harvest. There is one asylum left for me where they cannot molest me."