He pointed to the hollow tree. “Is there promise of fruit from that?”
“You...you are young, Mr. Barrett.”
“And on a young, forehead it may be written, ‘Come not to gather more.’”
Cornelia put her hand out: “Oh, Mr. Barrett! unsay it!” The nakedness of her spirit stood forth in a stinging tear. “The words were cruel.”
“But, if they live, and are?”
“I feel that you must misjudge me. When I wrote them...you cannot know! The misery of our domestic life was so bitter! And yet, I have no excuse, none! I can only ask for pity.”
“And if you are wretched, must not I be? You pluck from me my last support. This, I petitioned Providence to hear from you—that you would be happy! I can have no comfort but in that.”
“Happy!” Cornelia murmured the word musically, as if to suck an irony from the sweetness of the sound. “Are we made for happiness?”
Mr. Barrett quoted the favourite sage, concluding: “But a brilliant home and high social duties bring consolation. I do acknowledge that an eminent station will not only be graced by you, but that you give the impression of being born to occupy it. It is your destiny.”
“A miserable destiny!”
It pleased Cornelia to become the wilful child who quarrels with its tutor’s teachings, upon this point.
Then Mr. Barrett said quickly: “Your heart is not in this union?”
“Can you ask? I have done my duty.”
“Have you, indeed!”
His tone was severe in the deliberation of its accents.
Was it her duty to live an incomplete life? He gave her a definition of personal duty, and shadowed out all her own ideas on the subject; seeming thus to speak terrible, unanswerable truth.
As one who changes the theme, he said: “I have forborne to revert to myself in our interviews; they were too divine for that. You will always remember that I have forborne much.”
“Yes!” She was willing at the instant to confess how much.
“And if I speak now, I shall not be misinterpreted?”
“You never would have been, by me.”
Though she knew what was behind the door, this flinging of it open with her name startled the lady; and if he had faltered, it would not have been well for him. But, plainly, he claimed the right to call her by her Christian name. She admitted it; and thenceforward they were equals.
It was an odd story that he told of himself. She could not have repeated it to make it comprehensible. She drank at every sentence, getting no more from it than the gratification of her thirst. His father, at least, was a man of title, a baronet. What was meant by estates not entailed? What wild freak of fate put this noble young man in the power of an eccentric parent, who now caressed him, now made him an outcast? She heard of the sum that was his, coming from his dead mother to support him just one hundred pounds annual! Was ever fate so mournful?