“You know how I love this neighbourhood!” said she.
“And I! above all that I have known!”
They left the pathway and walked on mosses—soft yellow beds, run over with grey lichen, and plots of emerald in the midst.
“You will not fall off with your reading?” he recommenced.
She answered “Yes,” meaning “No”; and corrected the error languidly, thinking one of the weighty monosyllables as good as the other: for what was reading to her now?
“It would be ten thousand pities if you were to do as so many women do, when...when they make these great changes,” he continued.
“Of what avail is the improvement of the mind?” she said, and followed his stumble over the “when,” and dropped on it.
“Of what avail! Is marriage to stop your intellectual growth?”
“Without sympathy,” she faltered, and was shocked at what she said; but it seemed a necessity.
“You must learn to conquer the need for it.”
Alas! his admonition only made her feel the need more cravingly.
“Promise me one thing,” he said. “You will not fall into the rut? Let me keep the ideal you have given me. For the sake of heaven, do not cloud for me the one bright image I hold! Let me know always that you are growing, and that the pure, noble intelligence which distinguishes you advances, and will not be subdued.”
Cornelia smiled faintly. “You have judged me too generously, Mr. Barrett.”
“Too little so! might I tell you!” He stopped short, and she felt the silence like a great wave sweeping over her.
They were nearing the lake, with the stump of the pollard-willow in sight, and toward it they went.
“I shall take the consolation of knowing that I shall hear of you, some day,” she said, having recourse to a look of cheerfulness.
He knew her to allude to certain hopes of fame. “I am getting wiser, I fear—too wise for ambition!”
“That is a fallacy, a sophism.”
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?”