“What security can you give me,” she said, in a hard and stern voice, after having closed the door again,—“what security do you give me, that if Jacques’s innocence were established, and he reinstated, you would not forget your promises?”
“Ah, madam! How or upon what do you want me to swear that I am ready to disappear. Choose your own securities, and I will do whatever you require.”
Then, sinking down on her knees, before the countess, she went on,—
“Here I am at your feet, madam, humble and suppliant,—I whom you accuse of a desire to insult you. Have pity on Jacques! Ah! if you loved him as much as I do, you would not hesitate.”
The countess raised her suddenly and quickly, and holding her hands in her own, looked at her for more than a minute without saying a word, but with heaving bosom and trembling lips. At last she asked in a voice which was so deeply affected, that it was hardly intelligible.
“What do you want me to do?”
“Induce Count Claudieuse to retract.”
The countess shook her head.
“It would be useless to try. You do not know the count. He is a man of iron. You might tear his flesh inch by inch with hot iron pincers, and he would not take back one of his words. You cannot conceive what he has suffered, nor the depth of the hatred, the rage, and the thirst of vengeance, which have accumulated in his heart. It was to torture me that he brought me here to his bedside. Only five minutes ago he told me that he died content, since Jacques was declared guilty, and condemned through his evidence.”
She was conquered: her energy was exhausted, and tears came to her eyes.
“He has been so cruelly tried!” she went on. “He loved me to distraction; he loved nothing in the world but me. And I—Ah, if we could know, if we could foresee! No, I shall never be able to induce him to retract.”
Dionysia almost forgot her own great grief.
“Nor do I expect you to obtain that favor,” she said very gently.
“The priest from Brechy. He will surely find words to shake even the firmest resolution. He can speak in the name of that God, who, even on the cross, forgave those who crucified Him.”
One moment longer the countess hesitated; and then, overcoming finally the last rebellious impulses of her pride, she said,—
“Well, I will call the priest.”
“And I, madam, I swear I will keep my promise.”
But the countess stopped her, and said, making a supreme effort over herself,—
“No: I shall try to save Jacques without making conditions. Let him be yours. He loves you, and you were ready to sacrifice your life for his sake. He forsakes me; but I sacrifice my honor to him. Farewell!”
And hastening to the door, while Dionysia returned to her friends, she summoned the priest from Brechy.