“Mine will be a life of quiet work and love. Yours, Clara, would be of noisy and troublesome work without love.”
“Without love, Arnold? You are infatuated.”
She sunk into the chair and buried her face in her hands. First, it was her lover who had deserted her for the sake of a governess, the daughter of some London tradesman; and now her adopted son, almost the only creature she loved, for whom she had schemed and thought for nearly twenty years, was ready to give up everything for the sake of another governess, also connected with the lower forms of commercial interests.
“It is very hard, Arnold,” she said. “No, don’t try to persuade me. I am getting an old woman, and it is too late for me to learn that a gentleman can be happy unless he marries a lady. You might as well ask me to look for happiness with a grocer.”
“Not quite,” said Arnold.
“It is exactly the same thing. Pray, have you proposed to this—this young lady of the second-hand bookshop?”
“No, I have not.”
“You are in love with her, however?”
“I am, Clara.”
“And you intend to ask her—in the shop, I dare say, among the second-hand books—to become your wife?”
“That is my serious intention, Clara.”
“Claude did the same thing. His father remonstrated with him in vain, he took his wife to London, where, for a time, he lived in misery and self-reproach.”
“Do you know that he reproached himself?”
“I know what must have happened when he found out his mistake. Then he went to America, where he died, no doubt in despair, although his father had forgiven him.”
“The cases are hardly parallel,” said Arnold. “Still, will you permit me to introduce Miss Aglen to you, if she should do me the honor of accepting me? Be generous, Clara. Do not condemn the poor girl without seeing her.”
“I condemn no one—I judge no one, not even you, Arnold. But I will not receive that young woman.”
“Very well, Clara.”
“How shall you live, Arnold?” she asked coldly.
It was the finishing stroke—the dismissal.
“I suppose we shall not marry; but, of course, I am talking as if—”
“As if she was ready to jump into your arms. Go on.”
“We shall not marry until I have made some kind of a beginning in my work. Clara, let us have no further explanation. I understand perfectly well. But, my dear Clara,” he laid his arm upon her neck and kissed her, “I shall not let you quarrel with me. I owe you too much, and I love you too well. I am always your most faithful of servants.”
“No; till you are married—then—Oh, Arnold! Arnold!”
A less strong-minded woman would have burst into tears. Clara did not. She got into her carriage and drove home. She spent a miserable evening and a sleepless night. But she did not cry.