“If you care for me—if I can be every thing to you”—Cornelia’s voice was broken and tossed upon the uncontrolled waves of fighting emotions, and she could give little care to the form and manner of her speech.
“I love you—of course I love you!—what else is there for me to do? But I’ve been all this time trying to find out what love was. I thought I loved Sophie, you know.”
Bressant’s strange words and altered manner dismayed Cornelia. What was the matter with him? She could not get it out of her head that some awful event must have happened, but she knew not how to frame inquiries. Bressant continued—a determined levity in his tone was yet occasionally broken down by a stroke of feeling terribly real:
“I was a great fool—you should have told me; you knew more about it than I did. It was my self-conceit—I thought nothing was too good for me. When I saw you I thought you were the flower of the world, so I wanted you. Well—you are—the flower of the world!”
“He does love me!” said Cornelia to herself, and she knew a momentary pang of bliss which no consideration of honor or rectitude had power to dull or diminish.
“But, afterward,” he went on, his voice lowering for an instant, “I saw an angel—something above all the flowers of this world—and I was fool enough to imagine she would suit me better still. You never thought so, did you, Cornelia?” he added, with a half laugh; “well—you should have told me!”
How he dragged her up and down, and struck her where she was most defenseless! Did he do it on purpose, or unconsciously?
“I mistook worship for love—that was the trouble, I fancy. Luckily, I found out in time it won’t do to love what is highest—it can only make one mad. Love what you can understand—that’s the way! See how wise I’ve become.”
Bressant’s laugh affected Cornelia like a deadly drug. Her speech was fettered, and she moved without her own will or guidance.
“I found out—just in time—that I needed more body and less soul—less goodness and—more Cornelia!” he concluded, epigrammatically.
So this was her position. It could hardly be more humiliating. Yet how could she rebel? for was not the yoke of her own manufacture? Indeed, had she been put to it, she might have found it a difficult matter to distinguish between the actual relation now subsisting between Bressant and herself, and that which she had been, for months past, striving to effect. He had met her half-way, that was all.
But surely it was only during this absence that this idea of abandoning Sophie, and turning to herself, had occurred to him. Half as a question, half as an exclamation, the words found their way through Cornelia’s twitching lips—
“What has happened to you since you went away?”
“Oh! since we love each other, there’s no use talking about that at present. If I had any idea of marrying Sophie, now, I should have to go and tell her every thing. It’s so convenient to be certain that nothing can change your love for me, Cornelia! No, no! I wouldn’t be so suspicious of you as to tell you now.”