“That indeed would grieve me to the bottom of my soul,” replied Orion. “There is, I know, no excuse for my conduct. Still, as you yourself know, our mothers’ wish in the first instance. . .”
“Destined us for each other, you would say. Quite true!—And it was all to please Dame Neforis that you put your arms round me, under the acacias, and called me your own, your all, your darling, your rose-bud? Was that—and this is exactly what I want to ask you, what I insist on knowing—was that all a lie—or did you, at any rate, in that brief moment, under the trees, love me with all your heart—love me as now you love—I cannot name her—that other?—The truth, Orion, the whole truth, on your oath!”
She had raised her voice and her eyes glowed with the excitement of passion; and now, when she ceased speaking, their sparkling, glistening enquiry plainly and unreservedly confessed that her heart still was his, that she counted on his high-mindedness and expected him to say “yes.” Her round arm lay closely pressed to her bosom, as though to keep its wild heaving within bounds. Her delicate face had lost its pallor and seemed bathed in a glow, now tender and now crimson. Her little mouth, which but now had uttered such bitter words, was parted in a smile as if ready to bestow a sweet reward for the consoling, saving answer, for which her whole being yearned, and her eager eyes, shining through tears, did not cease to entreat him so pathetically, so passionately! How bewitching an image of helpless, love-sick, beseeching youth and grace.
“As you love that other,—on your oath.”—The words still rang in the young man’s ear. All that was soft in his soul urged him to make good the evil he had brought upon this fair, hapless young creature; but those very words gave him strength to remain steadfast; and though he felt himself appealed to for comfort and compassion, he could only stretch out imploring hands, as though praying for help, and say:
“Ah Katharina, and you are as lovely, as charming now, as you were then; but—much as you attracted me, the great love that fills a life can come but once... Forget what happened afterwards... Put your question in another form, alter it a little, and ask me again—or let me assure you.”
But he had no time to say more; for, before he could atop her, she had slipped past him and flown away like some swift wild thing into the road and down to the fishing cove.
Orion stood alone gazing sadly after her. Was this his father’s curse— that all who loved him must reap pain and grief in return?
He shivered; still, his youthful energy and powers of resistance were strong enough to give him speedy mastery over these torturing reflections. What opportunities lay before him of proving his prowess! Even while Katharina was telling her story, the brave and strenuous youth had set himself the problem of rescuing the cloistered sisters. The greater the danger its solution might involve him in, the more impossible it seemed at first sight, the more gladly, in his present mood, would he undertake it. He stepped out into the road and closed the door behind him with a feeling of combative energy.