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From: After London

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

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.

Yet it was not so much the explanation itself, nor even the love she
poured upon him, as the mere fact of her presence so near that brought
him to himself. The influence of her steadfast nature, of her clear,
broad, straightforward view of things, the decision of her character,
the high, unselfish motives which animated her, all together supplied
that which was wanting in himself. His indecision, his too
impressionable disposition, which checked and stayed the force of his
talent, and counteracted the determination of a naturally iron will;
these, as it were, were relieved; in a word, with her he became himself.

How many times he had told her as much! How many times she had replied
that it was not herself, but that in which she believed, that was the
real cause of this feeling! It was that ancient and true religion; the
religion of the primitive church, as she found it in the fragments of
the Scriptures that had come down from the ancients.

Aurora had learnt this faith from childhood; it was, indeed, a tradition
of the house preserved unbroken these hundred years in the midst of the
jarring creeds, whose disciples threatened and destroyed each other. On
the one hand, the gorgeous rite of the Vice-Pope, with the priests and
the monks, claimed dominion, and really held a large share, both over
the body and the soul; on the other, the Leaguers, with their bold,
harsh, and flowerless creed, were equally over-bearing and equally
bigoted. Around them the Bushmen wandered without a god; the Romany
called upon the full moon. Within courts and cities the gay and the
learned alike mocked at all faith, and believed in gold alone.

Cruelty reigned everywhere; mercy, except in the name of honour, there
was none; humanity was unknown. A few, a very few only, had knowledge of
or held to the leading tenets, which, in the time of the ancients, were
assented to by everyone, such as the duty of humanity to all, the duty
of saving and protecting life, of kindness and gentleness. These few,
with their pastors, simple and unassuming, had no power or influence;
yet they existed here and there, a living protest against the
lawlessness and brutality of the time.

Among these the house of Thyma had in former days been conspicuous, but
of late years the barons of Thyma had, more from policy than from aught
else, rather ignored their ancestral faith, leaning towards the League,
which was then powerful in that kingdom. To have acted otherwise would
have been to exclude himself from all appointments. But Aurora, learning
the old faith at her mother's knee, had become too deeply imbued with
its moral beauty to consent to this course. By degrees, as she grew up,
it became in her a passion; more than a faith, a passion; the object of
her life.

A girl, indeed, can do but little in our iron days, but that little she
did. The chapel beside the castle, long since fallen to decay, was, at
her earnest request, repaired; a pastor came and remained as chaplain,
and services, of the simplest kind, but serious and full of meaning,
took place twice a week. To these she drew as many as possible of the
inhabitants of the enclosure; some even came from afar once now and then
to attend them. Correspondence was carried on with the remnant of the

That no one might plead ignorance (for there was up to the date no
written record) Aurora set herself the task of reducing the traditions
which had been handed down to writing. When the manuscript was at last
completed it occupied her months to transcribe copies of it for
circulation; and she still continued to make copies, which were sent by
messengers and by the travelling merchants to the markets, and even
across the sea. Apart from its intrinsically elevating character, the
mere mental labour expended on this work had undoubtedly strengthened a
naturally fine intellect. As she said, it was the faith, the hope that
that faith would one day be recognised, which gave her so much influence
over others.

Upon this one thing only they differed; Felix did not oppose, did not
even argue, he was simply untouched. It was not that he believed in
anything else, nor that he doubted; he was merely indifferent. He had
too great a natural aptitude for the physical sciences, and too clear a
mind, to accept that which was taught by the one or the other of the two
chief opposing parties. Nor could he join in the ridicule and derision
of the gay courtiers, for the mystery of existence had impressed him
deeply while wandering alone in the forest. But he stood aloof; he
smiled and listened, unconvinced; like the wild creatures of the forest,
he had no ears for these matters. He loved Aurora, that was all.

But he felt the influence just the same; with all his powers of mind and
contempt of superstitions in others, he could not at times shake off the
apprehensions aroused by untoward omens, as when he stepped upon the
adder in the woods. Aurora knew nothing of such things; her faith was
clear and bright like a star; nothing could alarm her, or bring
uneasiness of mind. This beautiful calm, not cold, but glowing with hope
and love, soothed him.

That evening, with her hope and love, with her message of trust, she
almost persuaded him. He almost turned to what she had so long taught.
He almost repented of that hardness of heart, that unutterable distance,
as it were, between him and other men, which lay at the bottom of his
proposed expedition. He opened his lips to confess to her his purpose,
and had he done so assuredly she would have persuaded him from it. But
in the very act of speaking, he hesitated. It was characteristic of him
to do so. Whether she instinctively felt that there was something
concealed from her, or guessed that the discontent she knew he had so
long endured was coming to a point, or feared lest what she had told him
might drive him to some ill-considered act, she begged him with all the
power of her love to do nothing hasty, or in despair, nothing that would
separate them. He threw his arms around her, he pressed her closely to
him, he trembled with the passion and the struggle within him.

"My lady calls for you, Mademoiselle," said a voice; it was Aurora's
maid who had kept watch. "She has asked for you some time since. Someone
is coming into the garden!"

There was no help for it; Aurora kissed him, and was gone before he
could come to himself. How long the interview had lasted (time flies
swiftly in such sweet intercourse), or how long he sat there after she
left, he could not tell; but when he went out already the dusk was
gathering, the sun had gone down, and in the east the as yet pale orb of
the moon was rising over the hills. As if in a dream he walked with
unsteady steps to the castle stable; his horse had been put back, and
the grooms suggested to him that it was better not to attempt the forest
at night. But he was determined; he gave them all the coin he had about
him, it was not much, but more than they had expected.

They ran beside him to the barrier; advising him as they ran, as he
would go, to string his bow and loosen an arrow in the girdle, and above
all, not to loiter, or let his horse walk, but to keep him at as sharp a
trot as he could. The fact that so many wealthy persons had assembled at
the castle for the feast would be sure to be known to the banditti (the
outlaws of the cities and the escaped serfs). They were certain to be on
the look out for travellers; let him beware.

His ears tingled and his head felt hot, as if the blood had rushed into
it (it was the violence of the emotion that he had felt), as he rode
from the barrier, hearing, and yet without conscious knowledge of what
they said. They watched him up the slope, and saw him disappear from
sight under the dark beeches of the forest.

Next: Night In The Forest

Previous: The Feast

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