A Desperate Decision
When the Countess heard of this last terrible misfortune a great light broke upon her mind with a blinding flash, and showed her a way to save others, even at the cost of her own salvation. It seemed God’s answer to her prayer for guidance, and she resolved to follow the inspiration thus sent into her mind. She decided now what she would do; her mind was made up, and the light which shines from extreme sacrifice of self was so bright upon her face that her old nurse and her servants, wailing around her, were [Pg 179] awe-stricken and durst not question or check her. She returned to her oratory door, and, standing on the steps, looking down on her weeping domestics, she cried:
For a most sad resolve wakes in my heart;
But always I have faith. Old men and women,
Be silent; God does not forsake the world.
Mary Queen of Angels
And all you clouds and clouds of saints, farewell!”
With one last long gaze at the little altar of her oratory she resolutely closed the door and turned away.
She Revisits the Demons
The next day the merchants in their forest lodge were still buying souls, and giving food and wine to the starving peasants who sold. They were buying men and women, sinful, terrified, afraid to die, eager to live; buying them more cheaply than before because of the increase of sin and terror. Bargains were being struck and bartering was in full progress, when suddenly all the peasants stopped, shamefaced, as one said, “Here comes the Countess Cathleen,” and down the track she was seen approaching slowly. One by one the peasants slunk away, and the demon merchants were quite alone when Cathleen entered the little cottage where they sat, with bags of coin on the table before them and on the ground beside them. Again they greeted her with mocking respect, and asked to know her will.
“Merchants, do you still buy souls for Hell?”
“Lady, our traffic prospers, for the famine lies long on the land, and men would fain live till better days come again. Besides, we can give them food and wine and wealth for future years; and all in exchange for a mere soul, a little breath of wind.”
[Pg 180] “Perhaps the Countess Cathleen has come to deal with us,” said the younger.
“Merchant, you are right; I have come to bring you merchandise. I have a soul to sell, so costly that perhaps the price is beyond your means.”
The elder merchant replied joyfully: “No price is beyond our means, if only the soul be worth the price; if it be a pure and stainless soul, fit to join the angels and saints in Paradise, our master will gladly pay all you ask. Whose is the soul, and what is the price?”