“If I do,” said Barbara, “it will be executed here at Clovelly. I never want to leave Clovelly. I feel safe here, safe from myself and other people. I think,” and she smiled whimsically, “that I should almost like to settle down and make you a good daughter.”
“A good daughter,” said the surgeon, “marries; and her father builds a beautiful house for her, just over the hill from his own—remember the little valley where we found all the fringed gentian one year?—and the shortest cut between the two houses is worn bare and packed hard by the feet of grandchildren. Good Lord, my dear, what’s the good of art, what’s the good of science? I would rather have watched you grow up than have made the Winged Victory, or discovered the circulation of the blood. Come now? Barbs, tell me, who’s the young man?”
For the first time in her life she told him of the wild impulsiveness and the shocking brevity of her affections for various members of his sex; naming no names she explained to him with much self-abasement (and a little amusement) that she was no good, “A nice wife I’d make!” she concluded.
But her father only laughed. “The only abnormal thing about you,” he said, “is that you tell the truth. The average girl shows men more attentions than men show her. I don’t mean that she demonstrates her attentions; but that she feels them in her heart. To be absolutely the first in a woman’s heart a man must catch her when she’s about three months old.”
“But a girl,” said Barbara, “who thinks she’s sure and then finds she isn’t, hurts the people she’s fondest of. In extreme eases she breaks hearts and spoils lives.”
[Illustration: “What is Wilmot doing with himself these days?” “He went away,” said Barbara, her eyes troubled.]
“Hearts,” said her father, “that can be broken are very weak. Lives that can be spoiled by disappointment and injured pride aren’t worth preserving. If you have nothing more serious on your conscience than having, in all good faith, encouraged a few young men, found that you were wrong, and sent them away with bees in their bonnets, I’m sure I envy you.”
Barbara simply shook her head.
“When you do find the right man, Barbara, you’ll make up to him with showers of blessings for whatever cold rains you’ve shed on others.... What is Wilmot doing with himself these days?”
“He went away,” said Barbara, and she sat looking steadily across the lake, her chin on her hand, her eyes troubled.
In many ways the life which Barbara led at Clovelly was calculated to rest her mind. She developed a passion for exercise, and when night came was too full of tired good health to read or talk. Since the estate was to be hers one day, she found the wish to know her way intimately about it, and since there were three thousand acres, for the most part thick forests spread over rocky hills, she could contemplate weeks of delightful explorations. To discover ponds, brooks, and caves that belong to other people has its delights, but to go daily up and down a lovely country discovering lovely things that belong to yourself is perhaps the most delightful way of passing time that has been vouchsafed to any one.