Sophie, in her room, was moving about hither and thither, ostensibly to put things in order, but really to make the time before her sister’s appearance pass the easier. She was little given to the manifestation of impatience; but now, so much did she long to pour out her heart to her sister on the subject of her love; to speak with a freedom which she could use to no one else—not even to Bressant himself—and to receive the full and satisfying measure of sympathy which she felt that only Cornelia could give her—dear, loving, joyous Cornelia!—so much did all these things press upon her, that she found waiting a very tedious affair.
At last she heard Cornelia’s step along the hall, and up the staircase. It sounded more slow and listless than a few minutes before, as if she were treading under the weight of a weary load. Now that she was out of Bressant’s eyeshot, the support afforded by her anger had given way, and she felt very tired, very reckless, and rather grim. She entered Sophie’s open door, crossed the room heavily, and, with scarcely a glance at her sister, threw herself plump into the chair by the window.
“Poor child,” thought Sophie; “she’s so tired with that long journey; but she’ll be refreshed by what I have to tell her.”
“I’m so glad you’re here,” she continued, aloud. “I’ve never wanted any one so much,-especially since the last two weeks. A great happiness has come to me, dear, but I haven’t been able fully to enjoy it, because I couldn’t tell you—they didn’t want me to write. But I wouldn’t tell any one before you, nor let any one tell you but me, because I wanted to enjoy your enjoyment all myself.”
Sophie had sat down at Cornelia’s feet, upon a little wooden cricket which stood in the window, and had taken one of her hands in both of hers. Cornelia glanced down at her somewhat indifferently; she had scarcely attended to what her sister had been saying. But the fathomless expression of happiness upon Sophie’s uplifted face struck through her gloom and pain. She had never seen any thing like it before, and probably at no moment of her life had Sophie’s earthly content been so complete.
“I am engaged to be married,” said she, a rose-colored flush spreading over her cheeks. She delayed lovingly over the words—they were dear, because they expressed such a world of happiness.
Cornelia repeated the words stupidly. She felt as if she were rooted beneath a rock, which was about to fall and crush her. Yet, resolutely shutting her eyes to what she knew must come—to gain an instant’s time to breathe and brace herself—she asked, with an air of vivacious interest, bending down, and studying Sophie’s face the while—
“Engaged, did you say? To whom, dear?”
“Why, to Mr. Bressant. Who else could it be?”
Sophie spoke in a soft tone of gentle surprise, but the words rang in Cornelia’s brain as if they had been fired from a cannon. She closed her eyes, and leaned back in her chair. The strings of her hat choked her—she tore them apart, and the hat fell from her nerveless hand to the floor. She strove to open her eyes and command herself, but her sight was blurred and darkened, and her head dizzy.