As Bressant trod onward, with the warm and lovely woman living and moving at his side, and clinging to his arm with a dainty pressure, just perceptible enough to make him wish it were a little closer—it entered his mind to marvel at the tender change that seemed to have come over familiar things.
“I’ve walked often in the night, before,” observed he, looking around him, and then at Cornelia; “on the same road, too; but it never made me feel as now. It is beautiful.” He used the word with a doubtful intonation, as if unaccustomed to it, and not quite sure whether he were applying it correctly.
“You speak as if you didn’t know what you were talking about!” said Cornelia, with a round, melodious laugh. “Did you never see or care for any thing beautiful before this evening?”
“You remember that night in the garden?” asked Bressant, abruptly. “I’ve learned a great deal since then. I couldn’t understand it at the moment; I wasn’t prepared for it—understand? but I know now—it was beauty—I saw it and felt it—and it drove me out of myself.”
Cornelia was thrilled, half with fear and half with delight. Bressant spoke with an almost fierce sincerity and earnestness of conviction, that quite overbore the shield of playful incredulity which woman instinctively raises on such occasions; they seemed to have crossed, at one step, the pale of conventionalities; and, sweet and alluring as the outer wilderness may be, it is wilderness still, and full of sudden precipices. Besides, the very energy and impetuosity which the young man showed, suggested the apprehension that the power of his newly-awakened emotions was greater than his ability to control and manage them.
But beauty, as he understood it, was something of deeper and wider significance than that generally accepted. It was all, in mankind and nature, that appeals to and gratifies the senses and sensuous emotions. Cornelia had been the door through which he had passed into a consciousness of its existence; the fragrant pass leading to the mighty valley. Unfortunately neither he nor she was in a position to comprehend this fact: she was no metaphysical casuist, and never imagined but that he would find the end, as well as the beginning of his newly-opened world in her; and he, dizzied by the tumult and novelty of the vision, was naturally disposed to attribute most value and importance to the only element in it of which he had as yet taken any real and definite cognizance.
“What a strange, one-sided life you must have had!” Cornelia remarked, after they had walked a little way in silence. “Don’t you think you’ll be happier for having found the other side out?”
Bressant started, and did not immediately reply. Thus far he had looked upon this unexpected enlargement of feeling as merely a temporary episode, after all; not any thing permanently to affect the predetermined course and conduct of his life. The idea that it was to round out and perfect his existence—that he was to find his highest happiness in it—had never for a moment occurred to him. He did not believe it possible that it could coexist with lofty aims and strenuous effort; it was a weakness—a delicious one—but still a weakness, and ultimately to be trampled under foot.