With much hesitation and reserve she consented to be silent as long as he kept his promise. It was for his father’s sake, rather than his own, that she would so far become his accomplice: at the same time everything else was at an end between them, and she should bless the hour which might see her severed from him and his for ever.
The end of her speech was in a strangely hard and repellent tone; she felt she must adopt it to disguise how deeply she was touched by his unhappiness and by the extinction of the sunshine in him which had once warmed her own heart too with bliss. To him it seemed that an icy rigor breathed in her words—bitter contempt and hostile revulsion. He had some difficulty in keeping himself from breaking out again in violent wrath. He was almost sorry that he had trusted her with his secret and begged her for mercy, instead of leaving things to run their course, and if it had come to the worst, dragging her to perdition with him. Sooner would he forfeit honor and peace than humble himself again before this pitiless and cold-hearted foe. At this moment he really hated her, and only wished it were possible to fight her, to break her pride, to see her vanquished and crying for quarter at his feet. It was with a great effort—with tingling cheeks and constrained utterance that he said:
“Severance from you is indeed best for us all.—Be ready: the judges will send for you soon.”
“Very well,” she replied. “I will be silent; you have only to provide for the Syrian’s safety. You have given me your word.”
“And so long as you keep yours I will keep mine. Or else. . .” the words would come from his quivering lips—“or else war to the knife!”
“War to the knife!” she echoed with flashing eyes. “But one thing more. I have proof that the emerald which Hiram sold belonged to me. By all the saints—proof!”
“So much the better for you,” he said. “Woe to us both, if you force me to forget that you are a woman!”
And he left the room with a rapid step.
Orion went down stairs scowling and clenching his fists. His heart ached to bursting.
What had he done, what had befallen him? That a woman should dare to treat him so!—a woman whom he had deigned to love—the loveliest and noblest of women; but at the same time the haughtiest, most vengeful, and most hateful.
He had once read this maxim: “When a man has committed a base action, if only one other knows of it he carries the death-warrant of his peace in the bosom of his garment.” He felt the full weight of this sentence; and the other—the one who knew—was Paula, the woman of all others whom he most wished should look up to him. But yesterday it had been a vision of heaven on earth to dream of holding her in his arms and calling her his; now he had but one wish: that he could humble and punish her. Oh, that his hands should be tied, that he should be dependent on her mercy like a condemned criminal! It was inconceivable—intolerable!