Dorothea had shut herself up in her chamber in tears. So distracted, so dissatisfied with herself and the world, so utterly lost and wretched, she had never yet felt herself before. She was deeply ashamed that the simple method of relieving the poor, which seemed to her the most natural, had been suddenly divulged by the simplicity of the servant; but still she thought it too hard, to be treated as she had been for it by her own mother, before all the company, and what pained her more than all was, that it was done in the presence of the man, whom she could not but respect, who had won her confidence, and whose esteem she likewise desired to obtain.
It had grown dark without her perceiving it, when a servant tapped at her door, and requested her to come down to her mother and the company.
— Mother! said she to herself, Mother! what a sweet word! Why have I never known one?
She went down, the family were assembled in the parlour; the young officer was also present. As Dorothea entered, it occurred to her for the first time, why she had been summoned. A shivering fit came over her. All saluted her as the Baron's betrothed, the mother said kindly, she would now forgive her that day's behaviour; the sisters wished the dejected girl joy, and the Baron covered her trembling hand with tender kisses.
— Be calm, be happy, said he in a soft tone; henceforth, my love, you will quite belong to us, and this man shall never more enter our house; you were certainly right, and it was heaven that spoke in you, that such a wretch ought not to move where we set our steps.
— A wretch? cried Dorothea, and tore her hand so violently away, that the Baron staggered back. You are an audacious man, to dare so to vilify such a person.
— Heaven! shrieked the mother, she has lost her senses! An evil spirit speaks out of her.
Dorothea bethought herself again; she saw the astonishment of those around her, and endeavoured to collect herself.
— I am so shaken, she began, I feel myself so agitated, perhaps indisposition—I will just cool myself a moment in the open air.
— In this weather? said the mother, in this storm and rain, so without a handkerchief, in your thin dress?
— I must, I must! she exclaimed, and without listening to remonstrances, she had already opened the parlour door, and was standing in the dark cold garden. As the rain beat against her, she turned into the walk which was covered by closely interwoven boughs, and walked hastily up and down.
— To him, that loathsome being, said she to herself, united for ever? So deeply, so deeply degraded? And for whom? For those, who will never thank me for it, who will afterwards make it appear as if it was the greatest of benefits that had been conferred on myself? Save my soul? That here is lost, utterly ruined!
A dark shadow came up to her, and by the lisping soft voice she immediately recognized the Baron.
— My sweet girl, he began, your dear mother, and all of us, are expecting you indoors with anxious apprehension; my heart is overflowing with tenderness, for I already consider you as my wife, and the mother of my pious children.
— Heaven! she exclaimed, that I never thought of, that my misery may extend so far, as to see hypocrites and selfish wretches spring out of my blood. But though I had not that calamity to fear, still I could never be yours.
— How? cried the Baron, and the solemn promise, which you this morning pronounced to your mother?
— Though I had made it to an angel of heaven, said Dorothea, still I cannot keep it! Nay, even had the wedding taken place, we must have been parted again!
— Strange, young lady! Do you reflect on the consequences?
— What can they be? Any thing may be endured in comparison with that abyss of misery which awaits me.
— Are you aware too that your mother has a right to require it? Are you aware, that she is under engagements to me, which till now I bore and kept secret with the patience of love, in the hope of belonging to your family? Ask yourself, whether under these circumstances you are not bound, as a good daughter, to discharge your mother's engagements?
— No! cried she in the greatest excitement, rather pine with her, work for her, nay, die for her.
— There are still methods, said the Baron half laughing, to bend such stubbornness; the rights of parents are great, and you are evidently at present not quite in possession of your senses; a little of intreaty, a little of force, will subdue in time this childish wilfulness.
He had seized her arm with violence, and endeavoured to pull her towards the house; but the strong girl tore herself quickly away, and flew down the walk, the Baron after her. She however, who was more nimble and better acquainted with the mazes of the garden, was soon a great way ahead; she was now at the open verge of the grounds; this she also stepped over, and ran across the fallow field, like a hunted deer, while alternately the rain drenched her, and the storm chilled her delicate limbs.