“Ah! you mean your little Miss Belloni?”
“Was it not of her you were thinking?”
“When?” asked Laura, shamefully bewildered.
“When you alluded to Mr. Barrett’s vacant place.”
“Not at the moment.”
“I thought you must be pointing to her advancement.”
“I confess it was not in my mind.”
“In what consisted the singularity, then?”
“You prefaced your remarks with the exclamation, ‘Singular!’”
Laura showed that Arabella had passed her guard. She hastened to compliment her on her kindness to Emilia, and so sheathed her weapon for the time, having just enjoyed a casual inspection of Mrs. Chump entering the room, and heard the brogue an instant.
“Irish!” she whispered, smiling, with a sort of astonished discernment of the nationality, and swept through the doorway: thus conveying forcibly to Arabella her knowledge of what the ladies of Brookfield were enduring: a fine Parthian shot.
That Cornelia should hold a notable county man, a baronet and owner of great acres, in a state between acceptance and rejection, was considered high policy by the ladies, whom the idea of it elevated; and they encouraged her to pursue this course, without having a suspicion, shrewd as they were, that it was followed for any other object than the honour of the family. But Mr. Pole was in the utmost perplexity, and spoke of baronets as things almost holy, to be kneeled to, prayed for. He was profane. “I thought, papa,” said Cornelia, “that women conferred the favour when they gave their hands!”
It was a new light to the plain merchant. “How should you say if a Prince came and asked for you?”
“Still that he asked a favour at my hands.”
“Oh!” went Mr. Pole, in the voice of a man whose reason is outraged. The placidity of Cornelia’s reply was not without its effect on him, nevertheless. He had always thought his girls extraordinary girls, and born to be distinguished. “Perhaps she has a lord in view,” he concluded: it being his constant delusion to suppose that high towering female sense has always a practical aim at a material thing. He was no judge of the sex in its youth. “Just speak to her,” he said to Wilfrid.
Wilfrid had heard from Emilia that there was a tragic background to this outward placidity; tears on the pillow at night and long vigils. Emilia had surprised her weeping, and though she obtained no confidences, the soft mood was so strong in the stately lady, that she consented to weep on while Emilia clasped her. Petitioning on her behalf to Wilfrid for aid, Emilia had told him the scene; and he, with a man’s stupidity, alluded to it, not thinking what his knowledge of it revealed to a woman.
“Why do you vacillate, and keep us all in the dark as to what you mean?” he began.
“I am not prepared,” said Cornelia; the voice of humility issuing from a monument.