Emilia caught her up—“This poor man? But he loves music: he really knows the good from the bad. He never looks proud but when I sing to him.”
The situation was one that Cornelia particularly enjoyed. Here was a low form of intellect to be instructed as to the precise meaning of a word, the nature of a pledge. “There can be no harm that I see, in your singing to this man,” she commenced. “You can bid him come to one of the out-houses here, if you desire, and sing to him. In the evening, after his labour, will be the fit time. But, as your friends, we cannot permit you to demean yourself by going from our house to a public booth, where vulgar men are smoking and drinking beer. I wonder you have the courage to contemplate such an act! You have pledged your word. But if you had pledged your word, child, to swing upon that tree, suspended by your arms, for an hour, could you keep it? I think not; and to recognize an impossibility economizes time and is one of the virtues of a clear understanding. It is incompatible that you should dine with Lady Gosstre, and then run away to a drinking booth. Society will never tolerate one who is familiar with boors. If you are to succeed in life, as we, your friends, can conscientiously say that we most earnestly hope and trust you will do, you must be on good terms with Society. You must! You pledge your word to a piece of folly. Emancipate yourself from it as quickly as possible. Do you see? This is foolish: it, therefore, cannot be. Decide, as a sensible creature.”
At the close of this harangue, Cornelia, who had stooped slightly to deliver it, regained her stately posture, beautified in Mr. Barrett’s sight by the flush which an unwonted exercise in speech had thrown upon her cheeks.
Emilia stood blinking like one sensible of having been chidden in a strange tongue.
“Does it offend you—my going?” she faltered.
“Offend!—our concern is entirely for you,” observed Cornelia.
The explanation drew out a happy sparkle from Emilia’s eyes. She seized her hand, kissed it, and cried: “I do thank you. I know I promised, but indeed I am quite pleased to go!”
Mr. Barrett swung hurriedly round and walked some paces away with his head downward. The ladies remained in a tolerant attitude for a minute or so, silent. They then wheeled with one accord, and Emilia was left to herself.
Richford was an easy drive from Brookfield, through lanes of elm and white hawthorn.