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Chapter 8

"I don't know as I ever saw her let herself go so far before," said Mrs. Saunders, leaning on the top of the closed gate, and speaking across it to Mrs. Burton on the outside of the fence. "I guess she's thinking about it, pretty seriously. She's got money enough, and more than enough."

"Well," said Mrs. Burton, "I'm going to write to Mr. Ludlow about it, as soon as I get home, and I know I can get him to say something that'll decide her."

"So do!" cried Mrs. Saunders, delighted.

She lingered awhile talking of other things, so as to enable herself to meet Cornelia with due unconsciousness when she returned to her.

"Have you been talking me over all this time, mother?" the girl asked.

"We didn't hardly say a word about you," said her mother, and now she saw what a good thing it was that she had staid and talked impersonalities with Mrs. Burton.

"Well, one thing I know," said the girl, "if she gets that Mr. Ludlow to encourage me, I'll never go near New York in the world."

Mrs. Saunders escaped into the next room, and answered back from that safe distance, "I guess you'd better get her to tell you what she's going to do."

When she returned, the girl stood looking dreamily out of the little crooked panes of the low window. She asked, with her back to her mother, "What would you do, if I went?"

"Oh, I should get along," said Mrs. Saunders with the lazy piety which had never yet found Providence to fail it. "I should get Miss Snively to go in with me, here. She ain't making out very well, alone, and she could be company to me in more ways than one."

"Yes," said the girl, in a deep sigh. "I thought of her." She faced about.

"Why, land, child!" cried her mother, "what's the matter?"

Cornelia's eyes were streaming with tears, and the passion in her heart was twisting her face with its anguish. She flung her arms round her mother's neck, and sobbed on her breast. "Oh, I'm going, I'm going, and you don't seem to care whether I go or stay, and it'll kill me to leave you."

Mrs. Saunders smiled across the tempest of grief in her embrace, at her own tranquil image in the glass, and took it into the joke. "Well, you ain't going to leave this minute," she said, smoothing the girl's black hair. "And I don't really care if you never go, Nie. You mustn't go on my account."

"Don't you want me to?"

"Not unless you do."

"And you don't care whether I'm ever an artist or not?"

"What good is your being an artist going to do me?" asked her mother, still with a joking eye on herself in the mirror.

"And I'm perfectly free to go or to stay, as far as your wish is concerned?"

"Well!" said Mrs. Saunders, with insincere scorn of the question.

The girl gave her a fierce hug; she straightened herself up, and dashed the water from her eyes. "Well, then," she said, "I'll see. But promise me one thing, mother."

"What is it?"

"That you won't ask me a single thing about it, from this out, if I never decide!"

"Well, I won't, Nie. I promise you that. I don't want to drive you to anything. And I guess you know ten times as well what you want to do, as I do, anyway. I ain't going to worry you."

Three weeks later, just before fair time, Cornelia went to see Mrs. Burton. It was warm, and Mrs. Burton brought out a fan for her on the piazza.

"Oh, I'm not hot," said Cornelia. "Mrs. Burton, I've made up my mind to go to New York this winter, and study art."

"I knew you would, Nie!" Mrs. Burton exulted.

"Yes. I've thought it all out. I've got the money, now. I keep wanting to paint, and I don't know whether I can or not, and the only way is to go and find out. It'll be easy enough to come home. I'll keep money enough to pay my way back."

"Yes," said Mrs. Burton, "it's the only way. But I guess you'll find out you can paint fast enough. It's a pretty good sign you can, if you want to."

"Oh, I don't know. Some girls want to write poetry awfully, and can't. Mrs. Burton," she broke off, with a nervous laugh, "I don't suppose you expect that Mr. Ludlow out to the fair this year?"

"No, Nelie, I don't," said Mrs. Burton, with tender reluctance.

"Because," said the girl with another laugh, "he might save me a trip to New York, if he could see my drawings." Something, she did not know what, in Mrs. Burton's manner, made her ask: "Have you heard from him lately? Perhaps he's given it up, too!"

"Oh, no!" sighed Mrs. Burton, with a break from her cheerfulness with Cornelia, which set its voluntary character in evidence to the girl's keen, young perception. "But he seemed to be rather discouraged about the prospects of artists when he wrote." She was afraid Cornelia might ask her when he had written. "He seemed to think the ranks were very full. He's a very changeable person. He's always talked, before now, about there being plenty of room at the top."

"Well, that's where I expect to be," said the girl, smiling but trembling. She turned the talk, and soon rose to go, ignoring to the last Mrs. Burton's forced efforts to recur to her plan of studying art in New York. Now she said: "Mrs. Burton, there's one thing I'd like to ask you," and she lifted her eyes upon her with a suddenness that almost made Mrs. Burton jump.

"What is it, Nelie?"

"You've always been so good to me—and—and taken such an interest, that I'm afraid—I thought you might try—I want you to promise me you won't write to Mr. Ludlow about me, or ask him to do the least thing, for me!"

"I won't, I won't indeed, Nelie!" Mrs. Burton promised with grateful perfervor.

"Because," said the girl, taking her skirt in her left hand, preparatory to lifting it for her descent of the piazza steps, "now that I've made up my mind, I don't want to be discouraged, and I don't want to be helped. If I can't do for myself, I won't be done for."

After she got down through the maples, and well out of the gate, Burton came and stood in the hall door-way, with his pipe in his mouth. "Saved your distance, Polly, as usual; saved your distance."

"What would you have done?" retorted his wife.

"I should have told her that I'd just got a letter from Ludlow this morning, and that he begged and entreated me by everything I held dear, to keep the poor girl from coming to New York, and throwing away her time and health and money."

"You wouldn't!" cried Mrs. Burton. "You wouldn't have done anything of the kind. It would have made her perfectly hate him."

Burton found his pipe out. He lighted a match and hollowed his hands over it above the pipe, to keep it from the draught. "Well," he said, avoiding the point in controversy, "why shouldn't she perfectly hate him?"

William Dean Howells