“It is no use. Yes, your voice is sweet, I know. But you, all of you, despise me. I am nothing, no one!”
“You are all, everything, to me.”
“You were with—with Durand the whole time.”
“I could not help myself.”
“Not help yourself! Do you think I believe that?”
“Felix, dear. I tell you I could not help myself; I could not, indeed. You do not know all—”
“No, probably not. I do not know the terms of the marriage contract.”
“Felix, there is no such thing. Why, what has come to you? How pale you look! Sit down!” for he had risen.
“I cannot, Aurora, dear; I cannot! Oh, what shall I do? I love you so!”
Felix fell on the seat beside her, burying his face in the folds of her dress; he sobbed, not with tears, but choking passion. She held him to her heart as if he had been a child, stroking his hair and kissing it, whispering to him, assuring him that her love was his, that she was unchanged. She told him that it was not her fault. A little while before the feast the Baron had suddenly broken out into a fit of temper, such as she had never seen him indulge in previously; the cause was pressure put upon him by his creditors. Unpleasant truths had escaped him; amongst the rest, his dislike, his positive disapproval of the tacit engagement they had entered into.
He declared that if the least outward sign of it appeared before the guests that were expected, he would order Felix to leave the place, and cancel the hearth-friendship, no matter what the consequence. It was clear that he was set upon a wealthy and powerful alliance for her; that the Earl was either coming, or would send his son, he knew; and he knew that nothing so repels a possible suitor as the rumour that the lady has a previous engagement. In short, he made it a condition of Felix’s presence being tolerated at all, that Aurora should carefully abstain from showing the slightest attention to him; that she should ignore his existence.
Nor could she prevent Durand following her without a marked refusal to listen to his conversation, a refusal which would most certainly at once have brought about the dreaded explosion. She thought it better, under the circumstances, to preserve peace, lest intercourse between her and Felix should be entirely broken off for ever. This was the secret history of the apparent indifference and neglect which had so deeply hurt him. The explanation, accompanied as it was with so many tender expressions and caresses, soothed him; he returned her kisses and became calmer. He could not doubt her, for in his heart he had suspected something of the kind long since.