Cornelia lingered in the garden, because she had suddenly, and as yet unconsciously, entered into that tender mystery, so common and so sovereign, which we call Love. In Hyde’s presence she had been suffused with a bewildering, profound emotion, which had fallen on her as the gentle showers fall, to make the flowers of spring. A shy happiness, a trembling delightful feeling never known before, filled her heart. This handsome youth, whom she had only seen twice, and in the most formal manner, affected her as no other mortal had ever done. She was a little afraid; something, she knew not what, of mystery and danger and delight, was between them; and she did not feel that she could speak of it. It seemed, indeed, as if she would need a special language to do so.
“I have met him but twice,” she thought; “and it is as if I had a new, strange, exquisite life. Ought I tell my mother? But how can I? I have no words to explain—I do not understand—I thought it would break my heart to leave the good Sisters and my studies, and the days so calm and holy; and now—I do not even wish to go back. Sister Langaard told me it would be so if I let the world come into my soul—Alas! if I should be growing wicked!”
The thought made her start; she hastened her steps towards the large entrance door, and as she approached it a negro in a fine livery of blue and white threw the door wide open for her. Answering his bow with a kind word, she turned quickly out of the hall, into a parlour full of sunshine. A lady sat there hemstitching a damask napkin; a lady of dainty plainness, with a face full of graven experiences and mellowed character. Purity was the first, and the last, impression she gave. And when her eyes were dropped this idea was emphasized by their beautiful lids; for nowhere is the flesh so divine as in the eyelids. And Ava Moran’s eyelids were full of holy secrets; they gave the impression of a spiritual background which was not seen, but which could be felt. As Cornelia entered she looked up with a smile, and said, as she slightly raised her work, “it is the last of the dozen, Cornelia.”
“You make me ashamed of my idleness, mother. Have I been a long time away?”
“Longer than was unnecessary, I think.”
“I went to Embree’s for the linen thread, and he had just opened some English gauzes and lute-strings. Mrs. Willets was choosing a piece for a new gown, for she is to dine with the President next week, and she was so polite as to ask my opinion about the goods. Afterwards, I walked to Wall Street with her; and coming back I met, on Broadway, Lieutenant Hyde—and he gave me these flowers—they came from Prince’s nursery gardens—and, then, he walked home with me. Was it wrong? I mean was it polite—I mean the proper thing to permit? I knew not how to prevent it.”
“How often have you met Lieutenant Hyde?”
“I met him for the first time last night. He was at the Sylvesters’, and I danced three times with him.”