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    Chapter 6

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    Chapter 6
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    CORNELIA BEGINS TO UNDO A KNOT.

    Bressant, to do him justice--for he was, on the whole, rather apt to be
    polite than otherwise, in his way--entirely forgot the professor's
    existence for the time being. He was too self-absorbed to think of other
    people. He thought he was bewitched, and felt a strong and healthy
    impulse to throw off the witchery before doing any thing else. He sprang
    up the steps, across the balcony, traversed the hall with a quick tramp
    that shook the house, snatched his hat from the old hat-tree, came down
    upon the porch-step (which creaked in a paroxysm of reproach at his
    unaccustomed weight), and, in another moment, stood outside the
    Parsonage-gate, which, to save time, he had leaped, instead of opening.

    The road was white no longer, but brown and moist. The sky overhead was
    deep purple, and full of stars. The air wafted about hither and thither
    in little, cool, damp puffs, which were a luxury to inhale. Bressant
    drew in two or three long lungfuls; then, setting his round straw hat
    more firmly on his head, he leaned slightly forward, and launched
    himself into a long, swinging run.

    To run gracefully and well is a rare accomplishment, for it demands a
    particularly well-adjusted physical organization, great strength, and a
    deep breath-reservoir. Bressant's body poised itself lightly between
    the hips, and swayed slightly, but easily, from side to side at each
    spring. The knees alternately caught the weight without swerving, and
    shifted it, with an elastic toss, from one to the other. The feet came
    down sharp and firm, and springily spurned the road in a rapid though
    rhythmical succession. In a few moments, the turn around the spur of the
    hill was reached, and the runner was well settled down to his pace.

    The stone-fences, the occasional apple-trees, the bushes and bits of
    rock bordering the road, slipped by half seen. The full use of the eyes
    was required for the path in front, rough as it was with loose stones,
    and seamed with irregular ruts. Easy work enough, however, as long as it
    remained level, and open to the starlight. But, some distance beyond,
    there dipped a pretty abrupt slope, and here was need for care and
    quickness. Sometimes a step fell short, or struck one side, to avoid a
    stone, or lengthened out to overpass it. The whole body was thrown more
    back, and the heels dug solidly into the earth, at each downward leap.
    Here and there, where the incline was steeper, four or five foot-tramps
    followed rapidly upon each other; and then, gathering himself up, with a
    sudden, strong clutch, as it were, the young man continued on as before.
    Thus the slope was left behind; and now began a low, long stretch, lying
    between meadows, overshadowed by a bordering of willow-trees, and
    studded with lengths of surreptitious puddles, for the ground was
    clayey, and the rain was unabsorbed. As Bressant entered upon it, he
    felt the cold moisture of the air meet his warm face refreshingly; he
    was breathing deep and regularly, and now let himself out to a yet
    swifter pace than before.

    The willow-trees started suddenly from the forward darkness, and
    vanished past in a dusky twinkling. The road seemed drawn in swift,
    smooth lines from beneath his feet, he moving as in a mighty treadmill.
    The breeze softly smote his forehead, and whispered past his ears. Now
    he rose lightly in the air over an unexpected puddle, striking the
    farther side with feet together, and so on again. Twice or thrice, his
    steps sounded hollowly over a plank bridging. At a distance, steadily
    approaching, appeared the outlet, light against the dark willow setting.
    When it was reached, ensued a rough acclivity, hard for knees and lungs,
    winding upward for a considerable distance. Up the runner went, with
    seemingly untired activity, and the stones and sand spurted from beneath
    his ascending feet. The air became drier and warmer again as he mounted,
    and the meadows slept beneath him in their clammy darkness.

    Near the brow of the hill stood a farm-house, black against the sky.
    Bressant marked the light through the curtained window, dimly bringing
    out a transverse strip of road; the pump standing over its trough with
    uplifted arm and dangling cup; the rambling shed, with the wagon half
    hidden beneath it; the barn, with blank windowless front, and shingled
    roof. A dog barked sharply at him, as he echoed by, but inaudibly to
    Bressant's ears. Presently a raised sidewalk divided off from the road,
    affording a smoother course; the outlying houses of the village slipped
    past one after another; a white picket-fence twittered indistinguishably
    by. The runner was nearing the end of his journey, and now leaned a
    little farther forward, and his feet fell in a quicker rhythm than ever.

    At the beginning of the village street stood the corner grocery; a
    wooden awning in front, some men loafing at the door, who looked up as
    the sound of Bressant's passing struck their ears; within, an indistinct
    vision of barrels of produce, hams pendent from the dusky ceiling, some
    brooms in a corner, and a big cheese upon the counter. Next succeeded
    the series of adjoining shop-fronts, with their various windows, signs,
    and styles; all wooden and clap-boarded, however, except the fire-engine
    house, of red brick, with its wide central door and boarded slope to the
    street. Bressant's steps echoed closely back from between the buildings;
    once he clattered sharply over a stretch of brick sidewalk; once dodged
    aside to avoid overrunning a dark-figured man. The village was left
    behind; yonder stood the boarding-house, dimly white and irregular of
    outline; he remembered it from the glimpse he had had in passing on his
    way from the depot. In a few quick moments more he stood before the
    door, glowing warm, from head to foot, drawing his deep breath easily,
    his blood flowing in full, steady beats through heart and veins. He took
    off his hat, passed his handkerchief over forehead and face, and then
    pulled the tinkling door-bell. A fat Irish girl presently appeared, and
    ushered him in with a stare and a grin, wiping her hands upon her apron.

    Meanwhile Cornelia, having said a few words to her father to excuse
    Bressant's unceremonious departure--she refrained instinctively from
    letting him know what had actually taken place--bade him good-night, and
    went up-stairs with a more sober step than was her wont. She tapped at
    Sophie's door, and stayed just long enough to make the necessary
    arrangements for the night. Sophie, being drowsy, asked but few
    questions, and received brief replies. When Cornelia reached her own
    room, she closed the door with a feeling of relief. It had never been
    her habit to fasten her door; but to-night, after advancing a few paces
    into the chamber, she hesitated, turned back, and drew the bolt. Then,
    having hastily pulled down the curtains, she seemed for the first time
    to be free from a sensation of restraint.

    She walked up to the dressing-table, which was covered with a disorderly
    medley of a young lady's toilet articles--comb and brush, a paper of
    pins, ribbons, a brooch, little vase for rings, an open purse, a soiled
    handkerchief--and began mechanically to undo her hair, and shake out the
    braids. It was dark-brown hair, not soft and delicately fine like
    Sophie's, but vigorous and crisp, each hair seeming to be distinct, and
    yet harmonizing with the rest. As it was loosened and fell voluminously
    spreading over her shoulders, she paused, resting against the table, and
    looked at her face in the glass with critical earnestness. The candle,
    standing at one side of the mirror, cast soft and deep shadows beneath
    the darkly-defined eyebrows, and against the straight line of the nose,
    and around the clear, short curves of the mouth and upper lip. The light
    rested tenderly on her firm, oval cheeks, so deep-toned, yet pale, and
    brought out an almost invisible dimple on each cheek-bone beneath the
    eye, usually only to be distinguished when she laughed or smiled. The
    forehead, so far as it could be seen beneath the hair, was smooth and
    straight, neither high nor especially wide. The ears were small and
    white, but rather too much cut away below to be in perfect proportion.
    Over all seemed spread a mellow, rich, transparent, laughing medium,
    that was better than beauty, and without which beauty would have seemed
    cold and tame, or at least passionless. There was a delicate mystery in
    the face, too, not conscious or self-woven, but of that impalpable and
    involuntary sort which sometimes looks from the eyes of young unmarried
    women, whose natures have developed sweetly and freely, without warping
    or forcing. It has nothing to do with religion, nor with what we
    commonly understand by spirit. It is not to be described or analyzed;
    like the blue of heaven, it is the infinitely elusive property which is
    the very secret and necessity of its existence.

    Cornelia looked searchingly at this face, and, though much of its
    subtlest charm must necessarily have been lost upon her, she saw a great
    deal that gave her pleasure. She had never been subjected to that
    awakening but coarsening process which teaches a girl to call herself a
    beauty; but there is a certain amount of instinctive perception, in
    these matters, and she could not but know that what had virtue to
    gratify her would not lack in effect over others. Nor was she in the
    habit of taking stock of herself in the looking-glass; only to-night she
    seemed to have an especial motive in making or renewing her own
    acquaintance.

    At length she dropped her eyes, and, with nimble fingers and
    swiftly-applied hair-pins, wound up her hair into its nocturnal knot.
    She removed her ear-rings and rings, and put them into the vase; but
    here reverie overtook her once more, and held her in a meditative
    half-smile, until consciousness revived, and startled the blood into her
    cheeks. She walked over to her little sofa, with dispatch and business
    in her step, and sat down to unlace her boots.

    There is something in these little ever-recurring actions,
    however--these things which we do so often as to do them
    unconsciously--which predisposes to thought and reflection. Cornelia,
    having untied the knot, had not got farther than the fourth hole from
    the top, her eyes meanwhile wandering slowly around the picturesque but
    rather disorderly little room, before she became dreamily interested in
    watching the shadow of a neck-scarf she had hung upon the support of the
    looking-glass, projected upon the wall by the flickering light of the
    candle. As she looked, her fingers began to labor upon the boot-lace,
    and her eyes grew gradually larger and darker. Occasionally there were
    little quiverings of the upper and under lids, barely perceptible
    movements of the tip of the nose and the nostrils, and twitching at the
    mouth-corners. By-and-by the twitchings resolved themselves into a
    smile, very faint and far away at first, but broadening and brightening
    every moment; now, the dimples were visible at half a glance, and now,
    upon the still air of the chamber, there rippled forth--

    Cornelia put her hand to her mouth, and gave a quick, furtive glance
    over her shoulder, as if in fear lest some one might have overheard her.
    She recollected with some relief that the door was locked at any rate,
    and the curtains down. But, for all that, as she realized what she had
    been thinking about, and how very far her papa or Sophie would be from
    laughing if they were told about it, she felt her cheeks tingle, and
    could not be busy enough with that boot-lace!

    There! that was off; now for the other. What a queer man he was, though!
    Could all that have been put on in the garden--pretending he didn't
    know! (This was such a tiresome old knot!) If she only hadn't been such
    a goose and laughed--what must he think? What could have been the reason
    he rushed off in such a hurry? Probably was afraid she'd tell papa, and
    then he couldn't be his pupil. Suppose she should tell! that would be
    mean, though. Perhaps he didn't intend it, after all. He seemed nice in
    some ways, though he was so queer. Very likely it was only a sort of
    spasm--an electric, magnetic thing--she had heard of something of the
    sort. Yes, and she had felt funny herself that evening--a numb, quivery,
    prickly kind of sensation: it may have been the thunder-storm! It was
    strange, though; she never remembered to have felt it before. She
    wondered whether Mr. Bressant ever had. Perhaps deaf people were more
    subject to it. What a pity he should be deaf! It made it so awfully
    embarrassing to talk to him sometimes. It must be dreadful for them to
    be in love with anybody. Imagine having to talk in that way to a deaf
    person! or being--

    This time it was the candle which took upon itself the task of warning
    and censorship. It flickered, flared, gasped, and went out. It was a
    very pathetic, and, it is to be hoped, effective way of remonstrance.
    But the last thing seen of Cornelia, she was sitting on the sofa,
    leaning carelessly forward, one hand holding her curved, little, booted
    foot, the knot still untied, her eyes fixed dreamily on nothing, the
    half-smile flickering on her lips, and the womanly contours of her
    figure doubtfully lighted and darkly shaded by the uncertain
    candle-light.
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