Cornelia detested gold—entirely on general grounds and for abstract reasons. Not a word of Mr. Barrett was shaped, even in fancy; but she interjected to herself, with meditative eye and mouth: “The saints were poor!” (the saints of whom he had read, translating from that old Latin book) “St. Francis! how divine was his life!” and so forth, until the figure of Mr. Penniless Barrett walked out in her imagination clad in saintly garments, superior not only to his creditor, Mr. Chips, but to all who bought or sold.
“I have been false,” she said; implying the “to him.” Seeing him on that radiant height above her, she thought “How could I have fallen so!” It was impossible for her mind to recover the delusion which had prompted her signing herself to bondage—pledging her hand to a man she did not love. Could it have been that she was guilty of the immense folly, simply to escape from that piece of coarse earth, Mrs. Chump? Cornelia smiled sadly, saying: “Oh, no! I should not have committed a wickedness for so miserable an object.” Despairing for a solution of the puzzle, she cried out, “I was mad!”, and with a gasp of horror saw herself madly signing her name to perdition.
“I was mad!” is a comfortable cloak to our sins in the past. Mournful to think that we have been bereft of reason; but the fit is over, and we are not in Bedlam!
Cornelia next wrestled with the pride of Mr. Barrett. Why had he not come to her once after reading the line pencilled in the book? Was it that he would make her his debtor in everything? He could have reproached her justly; why had he held aloof? She thirsted to be scourged by him, to hang her head ashamed under his glance, and hug the bitter pain he dealt her. Revolving how the worst man on earth would have behaved to a girl partially in his power (hands had been permitted to be pressed, and the gateways of the eyes had stood open: all but vows had been interchanged), she came to regard Mr. Barrett as the best man on the earth. That she alone saw it, did not depreciate the value of her knowledge. A goal gloriously illumined blazed on her from the distance. “Too late!” she put a curb on the hot courses in her brain, and they being checked, turned all at once to tears and came in a flood. How indignant would the fair sentimentalist have been at a whisper of her caring for the thing before it was too late!
Cornelia now daily trod the red pathways under the firs, and really imagined herself to be surprised, even vexed, when she met Mr. Barrett there at last. Emilia was by his side, near a drooping birch. She beckoned to Cornelia, whose North Pole armour was doing its best to keep down a thumping heart.
“We are taking our last walk in the old wood,” said, Mr. Barrett, admirably collected. “That is, I must speak for myself.”
“You leave early?” Cornelia felt her throat rattle hideously.
“In two days, I expect—I hope,” said he.