She could hardly have spoken more plainly; indeed, she had been surprised into speaking much more plainly than she intended. The moment after her pride rebuked her, and made her cheeks burn with shame; and a feeling of anger at having so betrayed herself put a sparkle into her eyes. Bressant, looking at her, was stricken by the angry glow of her beauty. It began to dazzle his reason, and bind his will. Their eyes met fully for a moment; a world of fatal significance can sometimes be conveyed by a glance. The extremity of his danger perhaps aroused the young man to a realization of it. He stood up, and pressed one hand over his eyes.
“If you’ve no right to keep the watch, I’ve no right to give it you, I suppose,” said he, sullenly.
“I owe you an apology, certainly, Mr. Bressant,” exclaimed Cornelia, interrupting what more he might have been going to say. She was tingling to her fingertips with the intolerable anger of a woman who finds herself rejected and befooled. “Really, I am surprised at myself for persecuting you so relentlessly. Not satisfied with depriving you of your timepiece for two whole months, I actually am unable to surrender my—my ill-gotten booty without giving you an uncomfortable feeling that I want to task your beneficence further yet. Well, I’ve not a word to say for myself. I had no grudge to pay. I’m sure your conduct to me has always been—most unexceptionably polite! The most charitable explanation is, that I was crazy. I hope you’ll consent to accept it; and I do assure you that I’m perfectly sane now, and mean to keep so. You needn’t,” she continued laughing, “you really needn’t be afraid of my persecutions any longer. I’m going to be as circumspect as—as you are. Now, good-by for the present.” She held out her hand with an air of formal courtesy. “I promised Sophie I’d be back directly. I’ll see you at dinner, I suppose?”
As she came to the good-by, Cornelia had risen from her seat; by the action the remaining petals of the tea-rose had been shaken off, leaving the nucleus bare and unprotected. Bressant’s eyes fastened idly upon it, but he said nothing, and did not move, Cornelia withdrew her unaccepted hand, smiled, and, turning about, walked up the path to the house with an easy and dignified grace, which was not so much natural as the inspired result of passion.
Bressant looked down at the watch in his hand, and saw it marking the hour at which a dark epoch in his life began. He knelt on one knee by the basin of the fountain—but not to pray. Grasping in one hand the guard-chain of his watch, he dashed the watch itself two or three times against the stone basin-rim. When it was completely shattered, he tossed it into the water, and then rose lightly to his feet.
PUTTING ON THE ARMOR.