candid one with the other. This secret of yours has sought me: I have not sought it. Let us say I am curious—do you ask me, as your old friend, to respect your secret, and to leave it, once for all, in your own keeping?"
"Yes—that's just what I do ask."
"Then my curiosity is at an end. It dies in me, from this moment."
"Do you really mean that?"
"What makes you doubt me?"
"I have had some experience, Fosco, of your roundabout ways; and I am not so sure that you won't worm it out of me after all."
The chair below suddenly creaked again—I felt the trellis-work pillar under me shake from top to bottom. The Count had started to his feet and had struck it with his hand, in indignation.
"Percival! Percival!" he cried, passionately, "do you know me no better than that? Has all your experience shown you nothing of my character yet? I am a man of the antique type! I am capable of the most exalted acts of virtue—when I have the chance of performing them. It has been the misfortune of my life that I have had few chances. My conception of friendship is sublime! Is it my fault that your skeleton has peeped out at me? Why do I confess my curiosity? You poor superficial Englishman, it is to magnify my own self-control. I could draw your secret out of you, if I liked, as I draw this finger out of the palm of my hand—you know I could! But you have appealed to my friendship; and the duties of friendship are sacred to me. See! I trample my base curiosity under my feet. My exalted sentiments lift me above it. Recognise them. Percival! imitate them, Percival! Shake hands—I forgive you."
His voice faltered over the last words—faltered, as if he were actually shedding tears!
Sir Percival confusedly attempted to excuse himself. But the Count was too magnanimous to listen to him.
"No!" he said. "When my friend has wounded me, I can pardon him without apologies. Tell me, in plain words, do you want my help?"
"Yes, badly enough."
"And you can ask for it without compromising?"
"I can try, at any rate."
"Well, this is how it stands:—I told you, to-day, that I had done my best to find Anne Catherick, and failed."