“You seem to be recovering your strength pretty well, if you can break the limb of a tree short off just by laying your hand upon it! How do you do? Aren’t you glad to see me?” and she held out her hand with a frankness not all real, for she felt a secret misgiving, and an undefined fear.
But the strain of Bressant’s suspense was removed. He concluded that either Cornelia had as yet heard nothing of his bond with Sophie, or that, having heard it, it had not seriously affected her. Of the two suppositions he was inclined to the first (and correct) one; but he kept scanning her face with an uneasy curiosity. He took her hand, shook it, and dropped it.
“How do you do?” said he.
They took their places side by side upon the bench. Cornelia felt a great weight pressing heavily and more heavily upon her, crushing out life and vivacity. This was not what she had expected; what did it mean? was it indifference? was it aversion? could it—could it be an uncouth way of showing joy? Poor Cornelia held her clasped hands in her lap, and knew not what to say.
When the silence had lasted so long that in another moment she must have screamed, she chanced to remember the watch. It was ticking steadily in her belt. She dragged it out, her hands feeling stiff and numb, and then commanding herself by a not inconsiderable effort to speak naturally, she put it in his hand, which he opened mechanically to receive it.
“Here it is, all safe. You can’t think how punctual I’ve learned to be since I’ve had it. I got to be quite superstitious about winding it up; but it did run down once—just about six weeks after I left. It was in the forenoon, about eleven. I—I happened to be looking at it at the time, and suddenly the second-hand began to go slower and slower, and at last it stopped. You can’t think how frightened I was. I couldn’t help thinking that something must have happened at home. I wrote to Sophie that I would come home the same afternoon. Of course you know”—here Cornelia interrupted the hurried and nervous flow of her words to force a laugh—“of course it wasn’t any thing but that I’d been up late talking with Aunt Margaret, and had forgotten to wind it. It isn’t out of order or any thing.”
She was out of breath now, and had to pause. She would gladly have kept on indefinitely, for the sake of avoiding another of those dreadful silences.
Bressant was not in the habit of paying much attention to coincidences, but it happened to occur to him that the stoppage of the watch must have taken place pretty nearly, if not exactly, at the time of his engagement to Sophie, and the thought rendered his discomposure still more painful.
“Won’t you keep the watch?” said he at length.
“Keep it?” repeated Cornelia, timidly, uncertain what might be coming nest. Her breath went and came unevenly. “How can I keep it?” faltered she. “They know—papa and Sophie know—that I haven’t any such watch. I—I have no right to keep it.”