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    Chapter 4

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    Chapter 4
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    A BUSINESS TRANSACTION.

    Professor Valeyon led the way to the study, stood his cane in the
    corner, and placed a chair for his guest, in silence. "Just like his
    father!" said he to himself, as he repaired to the mantel-piece for his
    pipe; "not a bit of his mother about him. Who'd have thought so sickly a
    baby as they said he was, would have grown into such a giant?--Smoke?"
    he added, aloud.

    "You must talk loud to me--I'm deaf," said the young man, with his hand
    to his ear.

    "Pleasant thing in a pupil, that!" muttered the old gentleman, as he
    filled his pipe and lit it. "How it reminds one of his father--that
    bright questioning look, when he leans forward! One might know who he
    was by that and nothing else!" He sat down in his chair, and ruminated a
    moment.

    "Hardly expected you up here so soon after your loss," observed he, in
    as kindly a tone and manner as was comportable with speaking in a very
    loud key.

    "Loss! I've had no loss!" returned Bressant, with a look of perplexity.
    "Oh! you mean my father!" he exclaimed, suddenly, throwing his head back
    with a half-smile. He very seldom laughed aloud. "There was nothing to
    do. The funeral was the day before yesterday. I did all the business
    before then. Yesterday I packed up, and here I am!"

    "Death couldn't have been unexpected, I presume?" said the professor,
    on whom Bressant's manner made an impression of resignation to his loss
    rather too complete.

    "The hour of death can only be a matter of guess-work at any time,"
    returned the young man. "My father had been expecting to die for some
    months past; but he'd been mistaken once or twice before, and I thought
    he might be this time. But he happened to guess right."

    "Filial way of talking, that," thought Professor Valeyon, rather taken
    aback. "Didn't get that from his father; he was soft spoken enough, in
    all conscience! Queer now, this matter of resemblance! there's a certain
    something in his style of speaking, and in the way he looks just after
    he has spoken, that reminds me of Mrs. Margaret. Deaf people are all
    something alike, though; and he's been with her a great deal, I suppose.
    Well, well! as to the way he spoke about his father, what looked like
    indifference may have been merely embarrassment, or an attempt to
    disguise feeling; or perhaps it was but a deaf man's peculiarity. At all
    events, it can do no harm to suppose so."

    "Were you with him during his last moments?" asked he.

    "Oh, yes! I saw him die," answered Bressant, nodding, and pulling his
    close-cut brown beard.

    Professor Valeyon smoked for a while in silence, occasionally casting
    puzzled and searching glances at the young man, who took up a book from
    the table--it happened to be a volume of Celestial Mechanics--and began
    to read it with great apparent interest. His face was an open and
    certainly not unpleasant one; very mobile, however, and vivid in its
    expressions; the eyebrows straight and delicate, and the eyes bright and
    powerful. The forehead was undeniably fine, prominently and capaciously
    developed. Nevertheless--and this was what puzzled the professor--there
    was a very evident lack of something in the face, in no way interfering
    with its intellectual aspect, but giving it, at times, an unnatural and
    even uncanny look. In meeting the young man's eyes, the old gentleman
    was ever and anon conscious of a disposition to recoil and shudder, and,
    at the same time, felt impelled, by what resembled a magnetic
    attraction, to gaze the harder. Did the very fact that some universal
    human characteristic was omitted from this person's nature endow him
    with an exceptional and peculiar power? There was an uncertainty, in
    talking and associating with him, as to what he would do or say; an
    ignorance of what might be his principles and points of view; an
    impossibility of supposing him governed by common laws. Such, at least,
    was the professor's fancy concerning him.

    But again, turning his eyes to his pipe, or out of the window, was it
    not fancy altogether? Beyond that he was unusually tall and broad across
    the shoulders, and of a very intelligent cast of features, what was
    there or was there not in this young man different from any other? He
    had the muffled irregular voice, and alert yet unimpressible manner,
    peculiar to deafness. But was there any thing more? The professor took
    another look at him. He was reading, and certainly there were no signs
    of any thing strange in his appearance, more than that, at such a time,
    he should be reading at all. It was when speaking of his father that
    the uncanny expression had been especially noticeable. "Suppose," said
    Professor Valeyon to himself, "we try him on another subject."

    "You've been educated at home, I understand," began he, from beneath his
    heavy eyebrows.

    "Oh, yes!" replied Bressant, shutting his book on his knee, and
    returning the professor's look with one of exceeding keenness and
    comprehensiveness. "Educated to develop faculties of body and mind, not
    according to the ordinary school and college system." He drew himself
    up, with an air of such marvelous intellectual and physical efficiency,
    that it seemed to the professor as if each one of his five senses might
    equal the whole capacity of a common man. And then it occurred to him
    that he remembered, many years ago, having heard some one mention a
    theory of education which aimed rather to give the man power in whatever
    direction he chose to exercise it, than to store his mind with greater
    or less quantities of particular forms of knowledge. The only faculty to
    be left uncultivated, according to this theory, was that of human
    love--this being considered destructive, or, at least, greatly
    prejudicial, to progress and efficiency in any other direction. The
    professor could not at the moment recall who it was had evolved this
    scheme, but it became involuntarily connected in his mind with
    Bressant's peculiarities.

    "According to the letter I received to-day, you come here to be trained
    to the ministry," resumed he. "Has all your previous education had this
    in view?"

    "The education would have been the same, understand, whatever the end
    was to be," explained the young man, with a shrewd smile in his sharp
    eyes. "I am as well prepared to study theology as if I had been aiming
    at it all my life; but I might take up engineering or medicine as well
    as that. About a year ago, I decided to become a minister."

    "And what led you to do that?" demanded the old gentleman, with rather a
    stern frown. He did not like the idea of approaching religion in other
    than a reverent and self-searching attitude.

    "My father first suggested it," replied Bressant, on whom the frown
    produced no sort of impression. "At the time, it surprised me,
    especially from him. Afterward, I concluded I could not do better. No
    one has such a chance to move the world as a minister. I thought of
    Christ, and Paul, and Luther, and many before and since. They were all
    ministers, and who had greater power? I felt I had the ability, and I
    decided that it was as a minister I could best use it."

    "But what are you going to use it for?" questioned the professor,
    settling his spectacles on his nose, and leaning across the table in his
    earnestness.

    "The men I have mentioned used theirs to invent, or confirm, or
    overthrow, religious sects, and perhaps they couldn't have done better
    in their age. Their names are as well known now as ever, and that's the
    best test. But I hope I may discover a better method. I shall have the
    advantage of their experience and mistakes. Perhaps I shall develop and
    carry out to its conclusion the dogma of Christianity. That would be
    well as a beginning."

    "Very well, that's certain!" assented the professor, dryly. "It's all I
    shall be able to give you any assistance in, too, so we needn't discuss
    what the next step will be. By-the-way, did you ever hear of doing any
    thing for the glory of God, and for the love of your fellow-men?"

    "Oh, yes! they're pass-words of the profession, and have their use,"
    returned Bressant, with another of his keen smiles. "If you want to
    climb above the world, the rounds in your ladder must be made of common
    woods that everybody knows the names of. The Bible is full of such, and
    some of them are works of genius in themselves. After all, it is the
    people who must immortalize us, and we must feed them with what they are
    in the habit of eating."

    "What induced you to come here, sir?" asked the professor, abruptly.

    "I never should have come of myself," answered the young man, with
    entire frankness. "I never heard your name mentioned until less than a
    year ago. It was the first time my father was expecting to die. He told
    me you were a wise man, and learned besides; he had known you when you
    were young; you would have some interest in teaching me; he would feel
    more at ease to die, if he knew you were directing me. I thought it
    over, as I said, and decided to come. Understand, I knew of no one
    except you, and I didn't want to go to a theological school."

    "Humph!" grunted the professor, who was by no means well satisfied with
    the prospect, yet had reasons of his own for taking up the matter if
    possible. He smoked for a while longer, and Bressant resumed his book.

    "By-the-way, about this _incognito_ of yours," said the former at
    length, laying aside his pipe, and taking off his straw hat: he had
    forgotten to remove it on entering, and it had been oppressing him with
    a sense of vague inconvenience ever since. "What is the meaning of it?
    Do you mean to keep it strict? Is the idea you own?"

    "Oh, no! I heard nothing of it till after my father was dead. It was
    Mrs. Vanderplanck--she who wrote you the letter--who first spoke to me
    of it, and said he had desired it. I don't know what the necessity of it
    is, but it must be kept a strict secret. Should any one besides you know
    who I am, I stand in danger of losing my fortune."

    "Ah, ha! lose your fortune!" exclaimed the professor, frowning so
    portentously as to unseat his spectacles. "How does that happen, sir?"

    Bressant looked considerably amused at the old gentleman's evident
    emotion; the more as he saw no occasion for it. "I never had the
    curiosity to ask how," said he, pulling at his beard. "I shall run no
    risks with my fortune. I'm satisfied to know there might be danger;
    there's no difficulty in keeping silence about a name."

    Professor Valeyon rose from his chair and walked to the window. A mighty
    host of gray clouds, piled thickly one upon another, and torn and
    tunneled by feverish wind-gusts, were hastening swiftly and silently
    across the sky from the west. Beyond, where they were thickest and
    angriest, a yellowish, lurid tint was reflected against them. The valley
    darkened like a frowning face, and the summits of the western hills
    were blotted out of sight. A lightning-flash shivered brightly through
    the air, and then came the first growling, leaping, accumulating peal of
    thunder. A sudden, rustling breath swept through the garden, and,
    following it, in big, quick drops, and soon in an unintermittent
    myriad-footed tramp, the rustling, perpendicular down-pelting of the
    rain.

    In less than a minute, a gray, wet veil had been drawn across the
    farther side of the valley, hiding it from the professor's sight. Even
    the outer limits of the garden grew indistinct. The leaves of the trees
    bobbed ceaselessly up and down, and glistened and dripped; the shrubs
    and flowers seemed to lift themselves higher from the earth, and stretch
    out their green fingers to the plenteous shower. The tinkle of the
    fountain was quite obliterated, and the ordinarily smooth surface of the
    basin sprang upward in thousands of tiny pyramids, as if madly welcoming
    the impact of the rain-drops. Small cataracts tore in desperate haste
    down the slope of the garden-paths, laying bare in their pigmy fury the
    lower strata of rough gravel and pebbles. Upon the roof of the balcony
    was maintained an evenly sonorous monotone of drubbing, as if
    innumerable fairy carpenters were nailing on the shingles. The invalid
    water-spout had a hard time of it; it was racked, shaken, and bullied,
    and continually choked itself with the volubility of its fluent
    utterances, which were instantly swallowed up in the bottomless depths
    of the waste-barrel. A strong, cool, earthy odor rose from the garden,
    and was wafted past the professor's nostrils, and into the heated house.
    The moist brown flower-beds exhaled a fragrant thankfulness, and the
    grass-blades looked twice as green and twice as tall as before.
    Meanwhile the heavy, regular pulse of the thunder had been beating
    intermittently overhead, and bounding ponderously from hill-side to
    hill-side; and ever and anon the lightning had showed startlingly in
    dazzling zigzags through the omnipresent shadow. But now it seemed that
    there was a little less weight in the fall, and gloom in the air. The
    pervading freshness of the breeze made itself more unmistakably
    perceptible. The west began to lighten, and the rain and darkness
    drifted to the east. As for Professor Valeyon, if his thoughts had been
    in a tumult, like the elements, might they not become quiet again also?

    "After all," said the old gentleman to himself, "it's not the young
    fellow's fault. If his father was a heartless scoundrel, it doesn't
    follow that he knows it. Well, the man is dead--it can't be helped now,
    that's certain. But what a cunningly-contrived plot it is! Shuts my
    mouth by confiding to me the _incognito_ and sending me the son to
    educate; destroys the last hope of setting an old wrong right; takes
    advantage, for base ends, of the deepest feelings of human hearts: not
    to speak of preventing the young man himself from being party to a noble
    and generous action. Did ever man carry such a load down to the grave!

    "Suppose Margaret--no! it isn't likely she would know any thing about
    it. He wasn't the man to make confidants of women. She gave the message
    to the son, not knowing what it meant, probably. Why, he wouldn't have
    dared to tell her! And then inviting Cornelia--no, no! I've had some
    acquaintance with Margaret, and, with all her nonsense, I believe she's
    honest. Besides, what interest could she have to be otherwise? To be
    sure, she didn't give me the true reason for the _incognito_; but that's
    nothing; she's just the woman to tell a useless fib, and reserve the
    truth for important occasions only--or what she thinks such."

    The professor remained a while longer at the window, abstractedly
    staring at the drops which hastened after one another from the wet
    eaves. Suddenly he turned around, and walked up to the table, flapping
    his slipper-heels, and settling his spectacles, as he went.

    "Did any one ever speak to you of your mother, sir?" demanded he in the
    ear of the reading Bressant. "Confound the fellow!" passed at the same
    time through his mind; "does he think I'm a chair or a table?"

    "My mother?" repeated the young man, looking up, and appearing somewhat
    surprised at the idea of his ever having possessed the article. "Oh,
    yes! my father once told me she was dead. It was long ago. I'd almost
    forgotten it."

    "Told you she was dead, hey? Humph! just what I expected!" growled the
    old gentleman, who seemed, however, to become additionally wrathful at
    the intelligence. After a moment's scowl straight at his would-be pupil,
    he shuffled up to his chair, and sat solidly down in it. Bressant (to
    whom the professor had probably appeared to the full as peculiar as he
    to the professor), seeing signs of an approach to business in his action
    and attitude, tossed his book on the table, leaned forward with his
    elbows on his knees, and fixed his eyes directly upon the old
    gentleman's glasses.

    "You seem to be in the habit of speaking your own mind freely, sir,"
    observed the latter; "and I shall do the same, on this occasion at least
    I'm going to accept you as a pupil, and shall do my best for you; but
    you must understand it's by no means on your own account I do it. As far
    as I have seen them, I don't like your principles, your beliefs, or your
    nature. You're the last man I should pick out for a minister, or for any
    other responsible position. In every respect, except intelligence and an
    unlimited confidence in yourself, you seem to me unfit to be trusted. In
    training you for the ministry, I shall do it with the hope--not the
    expectation--of instilling into you some true and useful ideas and
    elevated thoughts. If I succeed, I shall have done the work of a whole
    churchful of missionaries. If I fail, I shan't recommend you to be
    ordained. And never forget that you will be indebted for all this to
    some one you've never known, and who, I am at present happy to say,
    don't know you. Whether or not you'll ever become acquainted is known to
    God alone, and I'm very glad that the matter lies entirely in His hands.
    Now, sir, what have you to say?"

    Bressant, who had been looking steadily and curiously at the professor
    during the whole of this long speech, now passed his hand from his
    forehead down over his face and beard--a common trick of his--smiled
    meditatively, and said:

    "I'm glad you agree to take me. I don't care for your recommendation if
    I have your instruction. Shall we begin to-morrow?"

    There followed a discussion relative to hours, methods, and materials,
    which lasted very nearly until tea-time. Then, as there was still some
    rain falling, the professor extended to his pupil an invitation to
    supper, on his accepting which the old gentleman shuffled out into the
    entry, and called to Cornelia to come down and make the necessary
    preparations.
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    Chapter 4
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