Bethinking herself that her father would be lost to her after the revelation had taken place, Cornelia felt a consuming desire to enjoy his love to the fullest possible extent during the interval. She wanted him to call her his dear daughter—to hold her hand—to pat her check—to kiss her forehead with his rough, bristly lips—to tell her, in his gruff, kind voice, that she was a solace and a resource to him. The thousand various little ways in which he had testified his deep-lying affection—she had not noticed them or thought much of them, so long as she felt secure of always commanding them—with what different eyes she looked back upon them now. Oh! if they might all be lavished upon her during these last few remaining hours or minutes. Should she not go and sit down at his knee, and ask him to pet her and caress her?
No; she would not steal the love for which her soul thirsted, even though he whom she robbed should not feel the loss. She had stripped him of much that would doubtless seem to him of far more worth and importance; but, when it came to taking, under false pretenses, a thing so sacred as her father’s love, Cornelia drew back, and, spite of her great need, had the grace to make the sacrifice. Let it not be underrated: a woman who sees honor, reputation, and happiness slipping away from her, will struggle hardest of all for the little remaining scrap of love, and only feel wholly forlorn after that, too, has vanished away.
At length, about daybreak or a little after, Sophie spoke, low, but very distinctly:
“I’m going to sleep; don’t wake me or disturb me;” and almost immediately sank into a profound slumber—so very profound, indeed, that it rather bore likeness to a trance. Yet, her pulse still beat regularly, though faintly, and at long intervals, and her breath went and came, though with a motion almost imperceptible to the eye.
“Is it a good sign? Will she get well now?” asked Cornelia, as she and her father stood looking down at her.
“She’ll never get well, my dear,” said Professor Valeyon, very quietly. “Her mind and body both have had too great a shock—far too great. More has happened than we know of yet, I suspect. But we shall hear, we shall hear. Yes, sleep is good for her: it’ll make her comfortable. Her nerves will be the quieter.”
“O papa! papa! is our little Sophie going to die?” faltered Cornelia; and then she broke down completely. She had not fully grasped the idea until that moment; but the very tone in which her father spoke had the declaration of death in it. It was not his usual deep, gruff, forcible voice, shutting off abruptly at the end of his sentences, and beginning them as sharply. It had lost body and color, was thin, subdued, and monotonous. Professor Valeyon had changed from a lusty winter into a broken, infirm, and marrowless thaw.