She had seen, and she had understood, notwithstanding the candour of her innocence, for a blush spread over her features, one of those feelings of shame experienced for the faults of those we love.
“Poor Felicia!” she said in a low voice, pitying not only the unhappy woman who had just passed them, but also him whom this defection must have smitten to the very heart. The truth is that Paul de Gery had felt no surprise at this meeting, which justified previous suspicions and the instinctive aversion which he had felt for Felicia at their dinner some days before. But he found it pleasant to be pitied by Aline, to feel the compassion in that voice becoming more tender, in that arm leaning upon his. Like children who pretend to be ill for the sake of the pleasure of being fondled by their mother, he allowed his consoler to strive to appease his grief, speaking to him of his brothers, of the Nabob, and of his forthcoming trip to Tunis—a fine country, they said. “You must write to us often, and long letters about the interesting things on the journey, the place you stay in. For one can see those who are far away better when one imagines the kind of place they are inhabiting.”
So talking, they reached the end of the bowered path terminating in an immense open glade through which there moved the tumult of the Bois, carriages and riders on horseback alternating with each other, and the crowd at that distance seeming to be tramping through a flaky dust which blended it into a single confused herd. Paul slackened his pace, emboldened by this last minute of solitude.
“Do you know what I am thinking of?” he said, taking Aline’s hand. “I am thinking that it would be a pleasure to be unhappy so as to be comforted by you. But however precious your pity may be to me, I cannot allow you to waste your compassion on an imaginary pain. No, my heart is not broken, but more alive, on the contrary, and stronger. And if I were to tell you what miracle it is that has preserved it, what talisman—”
He held out before her eyes a little oval frame in which was set a simple profile, a pencil outline wherein she recognised herself, surprised to see herself so pretty, reflected, as it were, in the magic mirror of Love. Tears came into her eyes without her knowing the reason, an open spring whose stream beat within her chaste breast. He continued:
“This portrait belongs to me. It was drawn for me. And yet, at the moment of starting on this journey I have a scruple. I do not wish to have it except from yourself. Take it, then, and if you find a worthier friend, some one who loves you with a love deeper and more loyal than mine, I am willing that you should give it to him.”
She had regained her composure, and looking de Gery full in the face with a serious tenderness, she said:
“If I listened only to my heart, I should feel no hesitation about my reply: for, if you love me as you say, I am sure that I love you too. But I am not free; I am not alone in the world. Look yonder.”