“What is it?” demanded Sophie, presently.
“Some man—a new one—a gentleman—awfully big!” reported Cornelia, in detached sentences, with a look between each one.
“As big as Bill Reynolds?” asked Sophie, with a twinkle in her face.
“How absurd, Sophie! Bill Reynolds, indeed! He isn’t up to this man’s shoulder. Besides, this is a gentleman, and—oh!” exclaimed Cornelia, breaking off suddenly, and drawing back a step from the window.
“Has the gentleman had an accident?” inquired Sophie, still twinkling.
“He’s stopped here—speaking to somebody—father, I believe; he’s coming in—there! do you hear?” cried Cornelia, turning round with large eyes and her finger at her mouth, and speaking in a thrilling whisper. The sound of the quick, irregular tread of Mr. Bressant, following the professor into the study, was audible from below.
“Who can he be?” resumed she presently, as Sophie said nothing.
“If he’s a gentleman, we don’t need to know any more, do we?” replied her sister, from behind her sewing.
“Well, he is one,” rejoined Cornelia, uncertain whether she was being made fun of or not. “He was dressed like one; not bandboxy, you know, but nicely and easily; and he stands and moves well; and then his face—”
“Is he handsome?” asked Sophie, as Cornelia paused.
“Oh! he has that refined look—I can’t describe it—better than handsome,” said she, giving a little wave with her hand to carry out her meaning.
“It’s lucky he was so big,” remarked Sophie, very innocently, “or you might not have been able to see so much of him in such a little time.”
“Sophie!” said Cornelia, after a silence of some moments, speaking with tragic deliberation, “you’re making fun of me; I think you’re very unkind. I don’t see what there is to laugh at in what I said; and if there was any thing, I think you might not laugh.”
“O Neelie—dear Neelie!” exclaimed Sophie, coloring with regret and shame; “I didn’t think you’d mind it; it was only my foolishness. Don’t think I meant to be unkind to you, dear. I wish the man had never come here, whoever he is, if he is to come between us in any way. Won’t you forgive me, darling?” and she held out her hand to Cornelia with a wistful, beseeching look in her eyes that thawed her sister’s resentment immediately, and after a very brief struggle to preserve her dignity, she subsided with her face upon the pillow beside her sister’s.
“We won’t ever quarrel or any thing again, will we, Sophie?” said she, after a while.
“Never about that gentleman, at all events!” answered Sophie; and then they both laughed and kissed each other to seal the bargain.
Once, long afterward, Cornelia remembered that kiss, and the words that had accompanied it; and pondered over the bitter significance with which the simple act and playful agreement had become fraught.