“Why am I happy?” she asked herself. “No, not because I’ve buried all my pride. Because I’ve found a reason to justify me in burying it: that’s why!”
She went, for the third time that night, to Bressant’s door, and this time turned the latch and pushed it open. He was sitting at his table, with his head on his arms. His trunk and a large iron-bound box lay packed and strapped beneath the window, which was thrown wide open. The rush of air between that and the door roused the young man: he got slowly to his feet, and came forward.
“I don’t want to see you,” said he, with a heavy utterance. “I warn you to go away. You and I had better have nothing to say to each other.”
“We must; the time to speak has come!” she returned. “I’ve come to you, because you could not bring yourself to rely on me. It’s your own want of faith—”
“You’d better not go on,” interrupted Bressant, with a strange smile. “I had more faith than you imagine. But there are some mountains that faith can’t move.”
“Why do you still keep me off?” cried Abbie, in a tone which might have made his heart bleed, except that of late it had been stabbed so often. “Good God! am I so repulsive to you that, for the sake of being happy and comfortable all your life, you can’t bring yourself to recognize my existence? Don’t imagine I want to buy your love or toleration with this money of mine. I want nothing in exchange—nothing! I can’t help the knowledge that I shall have made you rich, and so put happiness in your power; but I ask no acknowledgment—no return. Take every thing and go! Leave me here and believe that I am dead! Is that enough?”
“A great deal too much! You’ll be sorry you’ve said all this. If you knew what you were talking about, you wouldn’t have said a word of it.”
“Oh, you are hard to please, indeed!” exclaimed Abbie, gazing at him and shuddering. “I pray God your heart is so cold to no one else as to me! Poor Sophie! She would die at one such word.”
“Don’t speak her name,” said Bressant, in a tone so stern as to be equivalent to a threat.
He held his eyes down, so that the ugly gleam in them was hidden. Abbie had no thought of fearing him as yet, and she would have her say.
“Do you think I don’t know you’re going to leave her? If it’s because you don’t love her, I can say no more. You are beyond any help in this world. But if you do, let me save her, even if I must oblige you in doing it! You know little of her love, though, if you think she can be happier with you rich than poor. Oh! are you so cold yourself as to believe you are acting generously to her in this? Go back to her, or she will die!”
The old woman took fire as she spoke, and many of the signs of age were for the time obliterated. Some of the power and brilliancy of her youth shone again in her eyes; her form seemed to acquire a different and statelier contour. In the earnestness of her speech, involuntary gestures accompanied her words; free from all exaggeration, and so truly and gracefully fitted to her meaning as to be virtually invisible. But Bressant was not won by it: his expression grew more ugly and repellent with every successive sentence.