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    Chapter 7

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    Chapter 7
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    PROFESSOR VALEYON MAKES A CALL.

    The morning following Bressant's arrival was clear and cool. Professor
    Valeyon looked out of the window of his bedroom, which was at the
    garden-end of the house, and opposite Cornelia's, and saw the cold,
    white mists lying in the valley, and the rough hills, like islands,
    lifting their dark shoulders above it.

    As he looked, the sun, having climbed a few inches above the eastern
    uplands, let a bright glance fall right upon the open spot at the summit
    of the professor's favorite hill. A few minutes afterward he poured a
    golden flood into the valley, carrying consternation to the delaying
    vapors, insomuch that they straightway put themselves into commotion
    preparatory to departure. No spare time was allowed them; some were
    bundled off into the dark gullies and passes of the hills; others betook
    themselves hastily to that side of the valley which was yet in shadow,
    to sleep a few moments beyond the legitimate time; others still, finding
    escape impossible, rose heavenward like a mighty incense, and were by
    the sun converted into something wellnigh as glorious as himself.

    "Good simile for a sermon, that! turning persecution into a means of
    glorification!" thought the professor, recurring to the days of his
    pastorship.

    As may be inferred, the old gentleman was in the habit of getting up
    early; a praiseworthy practice, but one so universal with elderly people
    as to suggest a doubt of its being entirely a voluntary virtue. Be that
    as it may, the professor was up, and proceeded to set his blood in
    motion over a wash-bowl. His toilet was not so intricate and serious a
    matter as it might have been forty years or so previous, but was
    nevertheless a duty most scrupulously and conscientiously performed,
    from June to December, and round again. The last thing attended to
    before putting on his coat was always carefully to brush and dispose his
    hair. Until within two or three years, he had been able to keep up
    appearances by coaxing a gray rift across the top of the bald place; but
    it had grown month by month thinner and grayer, and more difficult to
    keep in position, until at last he had bravely told himself it was a
    vanity and a delusion, and had consigned it to obscurity and oblivion
    among the rusty side-locks which still sturdily surrounded the naked and
    inaccessible summit. Since that time he had occasionally allowed his
    thoughts to revert to it regretfully, though not bitterly nor
    rebelliously.

    But, on this particular morning, he stood, brush in hand, before his
    looking-glass with an expression upon his elderly features at once
    undecided, wistful, and shame-faced; detached, after a short search, a
    few frosty spears from the assortment at the left side of his head;
    scrutinized them anxiously for a moment, and then, by the aid of a
    little water, and cautious brushing and pulling, succeeded in spatting
    them down into their long-abandoned place.

    "I'm an old fool, that's certain!" muttered he, as, after a final
    surreptitious sort of glance at the unaccustomed embellishment, he
    turned away. "But then I don't go out calling every day!"

    He slipped on his coat, opened his door, and descended the stairs with
    his usual solid deliberation. As he emerged upon the balcony, the
    sunshine had just lighted up the tree-tops in the garden, but a little
    nest of white mist still rested upon the fountain, whose indefatigably
    small gabble could be heard proceeding mysteriously from the centre
    thereof. A few large, thin mosquitoes, cold and portentously hungry from
    their all-night's fast, came swooping at the professor with shrieks of
    dismal tenuity, intending to get a warm breakfast out of him. But he had
    had large experience in dealing with such gentry, and, so far from
    standing treat, he slew several and threw the rest into confusion.

    "And now," said he to himself, as he descended the steps, "I'll take a
    look at Dolly; Michael hasn't let out Lady Bountiful or the hens yet, I
    suspect."

    The barn lay in a separate enclosure to the west of the garden; it was a
    primitive structure enough, but had been refitted within so as to afford
    accommodation for the family steed and the cow. The former, Dolly, was a
    well-preserved bay, neatly put together, and, had the professor been so
    inclined, she might have become a celebrity in her day. As it was, she
    had seen no more stirring duty than to convey her owner to and from
    church, during the years of his ministrations there; to draw the plow
    and the hay-cart occasionally, and to gallop over the rough country
    roads beneath the side-saddle, for the benefit of Cornelia or Sophie.
    She was at this time about fifteen years old, but still retained much
    of the spirit of her best days, and not unfrequently gave the professor
    some pains to keep her within bounds.

    He threw open the barn-door, and forth upon the crisp air floated the
    close, sweet smell of hay and cow's breath. Some swallows twittered and
    glanced up near the dark roof, as smart and wide-awake as if they had
    not just been startled out of bed. The sun, shining through the cracks
    and knot-holes into the dusky interior, drew lines of dusty light across
    the darkness. A hen, that had escaped from the coop and got up into the
    hay-loft to lay an egg, set up a strongly-remonstrative cackle against
    being disturbed in so interesting a proceeding. Lady Bountiful lowed
    argumentatively, and Dolly stamped, wagged her head knowingly up and
    down, and then shook it with a whinny. The professor patted her neck and
    smoothed down her nose.

    "Need some exercise, don't you, old girl?" quoth he, looking pleasantly
    upon her. "All right! we'll go down-town after breakfast. Yes! we'll
    make a call on Abbie." So saying, he pulled down some fresh hay, and
    left her to champ it; then, picking his way across the uneven floor to
    where the white and horned countenance of Lady Bountiful was thrust
    through the bars of her stall, he slipped her halter and let her out
    into the meadow. Having examined the wagon, to make sure it was in
    proper order, he concluded his labors by throwing open the hen-coop, out
    of which immediately hastened a troop of indignant and astonished fowls,
    led by a rooster, who seemed always to be vacillating between
    insufferable masculine arrogance and an effeminate curiosity and
    avarice.

    By the time Professor Valeyon had remounted the granite steps, he was
    quite ready to do justice to his breakfast. Cornelia came singing
    down-stairs, with a full-blown tea-rose in her hair, and looking as if
    she had already breakfasted upon the greater part of the day's sunshine.
    She reported Sophie to be awake and comfortable, so the gentleman
    climbed up-stairs and shuffled into her peaceful, rose-colored room to
    give her a morning kiss. The Lord's Prayer glowed forth as brightly from
    the wall as if it had been pronounced for the first time that day.

    "Well, heard all about my new pupil from Cornelia, I suppose?" said
    papa, when the kiss had been given, sitting down by the bedside, and
    holding his daughter's pale, slender hand in his own.

    "He who came last evening? No, I've not seen Neelie to speak to her,
    since he was here. What is he to be taught?"

    "Wants to be a minister," replied the professor, rubbing his beard.
    "Shall do what I can for him, because he's the son of a former friend,
    now dead. I'm afraid he won't do, though. Needs a good deal besides
    Hebrew and history."

    "But you can give him all he does need, papa," rejoined Sophie, with
    serene faith in the old gentleman's infallibility.

    "I don't know," returned he, his eyes resting upon the Lord's Prayer. "I
    don't know," he repeated, turning them to his daughter's transparent
    face, which seemed almost an incarnation of the divine words. "I think,
    my dear, that you could put some ideas into his head that would do him
    more good than any thing I can give him;" and he smiled gravely upon
    her.

    "All right, papa," said Sophie, gayly, with a tender kindling of her
    soft, gray eyes. "Nothing could make me happier than to do good to
    somebody. As soon as I get well enough, I'll take him under my charge."

    Her manner was playful, but there was a vibration in her tone which
    caught the professor's ear, and conveyed to him the idea that there was
    an unseen depth of yearning and passionate desire to be something more
    than an invalid, selfish and helpless, during her earthly life; an
    inheritance, perhaps, of the apostolic spirit which had played a not
    inconsiderable part in the history of his own life. And surely, he may
    have thought, there never was human being better qualified than she to
    inspire to high and pure simplicity of life and thought, were it merely
    by the example of her own. And would it not be a strange and beautiful
    thing, if this beloved daughter of his should be the means of turning to
    worthier and truer ambitions a man whom, of all others, he had reason to
    wish honored and respected among mankind! It was a very alluring
    thought, and the professor quite lost himself for a few moments in the
    contemplation of it. He did not reflect, and Sophie could not know, that
    there might be danger in the prosecution of such a scheme; for, all the
    knowledge which a young girl like her can have or impart, must find its
    ultimate origin in the heart. But then, again, the matter had taken no
    definite or practical shape in his mind as yet, and things which in the
    abstract may wear an appearance of being highly desirable often put on
    quite a different look when presented in concrete form. This would be
    especially the case with a man like Professor Valeyon, who was half a
    dreamer, and half a practical, common-sensible individual. With Sophie,
    however, whose whole life was necessarily a tissue of delicate and
    high-wrought theories, there was no safeguard of the kind to be relied
    upon.

    No more conversation was had upon the subject at that time. The
    professor went down to his breakfast, and, having disposed of it with
    good appetite, and smoked his morning-pipe with quiet satisfaction,
    Michael brought Dolly and the wagon round to the front door, the old
    gentleman clambered in, and off they rattled to Abbie's boarding-house.

    This "Abbie," as she was called in the village--indeed, not more than
    one in a hundred knew her other name--had long been an institution among
    the townspeople. When she first became a resident was uncertain: some
    said more, some less than twenty years ago. Certain it was, at all
    events, that she had grown, during her sojourn there, from a young and
    comely, though sober-faced woman, to considerably more than middle age;
    though time had perhaps used her less kindly than most women in her
    situation in life, which is saying a good deal. No one could tell where
    she came from, or what her previous life had been. She had first made
    her appearance as purchaser of the house in which she had ever since
    lived, and kept boarders. She was uncommunicative, without seeming
    offensively reserved; quietly tenacious of her rights, though far from
    grasping or aggressive, and was endowed with decided executive ability.
    She had made a most unexceptionable landlady; one or two of her
    boarders had been with her almost since the inception of her enterprise;
    while all the better class of transient visitors to the village, which
    had a moderate popularity as a summer resort, made their first
    application for rooms to her.

    Some ten or twelve years after her establishment, Professor Valeyon and
    his family had moved into town. They had not taken up their quarters at
    Abbie's, though she could easily have accommodated them, as far as room
    went; a circumstance which caused all the more surprise in some
    quarters, because there seemed to have been some previous acquaintance
    between herself and the professor. But Abbie was even less talkative
    upon this than upon other subjects; and no one ventured to catechise the
    grave and forcible-looking man who was the only other source of possible
    information. After a time, he settled in the house which subsequently
    became the parsonage; and, since no particular relations were kept up
    between his family and the boarding-house keeper, curiosity and comment
    died a natural death, and it even came to be doubted whether they ever
    had met each other before, after all.

    Abbie, at the present time, was a taciturn personage, neither tall nor
    short, stout nor thin. Her eyebrows were straight and strongly marked,
    and much darker than her hair, which, indeed, had begun to turn gray
    several years before. There was nothing especially noticeable in her
    other features, except that the lips were habitually compressed, and the
    chin so square-cut and firm as to be almost masculine. A good many
    little wrinkles could be traced around the mouth, and at the corners of
    the eyes, especially when she was much depressed; and sometimes her
    expression was very hard and stern. Her manners were quite
    undemonstrative; they seemed to be neither fastidious nor the reverse,
    and it would have been hard to predicate from them in what station of
    life she had been brought up. She certainly adapted herself well to
    whatever society she happened to be with; neither patricians nor
    plebeians found any thing to criticise; but, whether this were the
    result of tact, or owing merely to the adoption of a negative standard,
    no one could say. In language she was uniformly correct, without seeming
    at all scholastic; she occasionally used the idioms and dialectic
    peculiarities of those around her, though never with the air of being
    heedlessly betrayed into them.

    On the whole, therefore, the boarding-house keeper remained a problem or
    a commonplace, according to the fancy of the observer. In any case, she
    had grown to be a necessity, if not a popular element, in the village
    society. It was in her large, rambling rooms that all the grand parties
    and social celebrations took place. Was a picnic or other
    pleasure-expedition in prospect, Abbie's experience and managing ability
    were depended on for its success. She it was who arranged the details of
    weddings; and her assistance was almost as necessary a condition of a
    legitimate funeral, as that of Death himself!

    Professor Valeyon drove up to the door in his wagon, got down with all
    the care that the successful support of his burden of years demanded,
    and chained Dolly to the much-gnawed post which was fixed for the
    purpose on the edge of the sidewalk. He ascended the steps, and was met
    by Abbie on the threshold. He removed his hat with old-fashioned
    courtesy, and gave her cold hand a quiet, warm grasp.

    "Good-morning, Abbie," said he, gruffly, but cheerfully, and with a very
    kind look out of his deep-set old eyes. "Is all well with you this
    morning?"

    "Yes," replied she, with a faint smile, that seemed to show more of
    weariness than merriment. "Come into the boudoir, Professor Valeyon.
    You're a stranger."

    "But that's going to be remedied--that's going to be remedied!" rejoined
    the old gentleman, seating himself, and allowing his hand to wander to
    the top of his head, to make sure the hair-swathe was safely in
    position. "Bond of union been established between us, you know."

    Abbie laid her finger upon her under lip--a common act of hers when
    interested or absorbed--and looked at her caller inquiringly.

    "That young fellow that came last night, sent his trunk up before coming
    himself. Saw him, didn't you?"

    Abbie shook her head. "I saw his trunk, but not him. Mr. Bressant, I
    think. You know him?"

    "He's going to study divinity with me. I take some interest in him,
    though he's in an unsatisfactory condition just now; intellectual
    savagery, I should call it. I take it, his training has been at fault.
    Seems to have no social nor affectionate instincts. It would be a good
    thing to make him feel their value, to begin with."

    "I'll make it as home-like for him as I can, Professor Valeyon."

    "Well, well! I meant to ask you to do it. It'll be a new experience for
    him. He's never known a mother since he was a baby, and his father
    was--well!"--the old man checked himself--"his father is just dead." He
    seemed about to add something more in regard to the deceased gentleman,
    but forbore, glancing narrowly at Abbie, who looked only grave and
    thoughtful.

    "How old is he? A boy?" she asked, presently.

    "Boyish in some ways, but must be twenty-five or six, and looks older. A
    tall fellow, well made."

    "He might still be a son of mine," said Abbie, with another dim smile,
    and a sigh. "Perhaps it would do me no harm to consider him as such.
    Would that satisfy you?"

    "Just what I want!" exclaimed the professor heartily, and with
    heightened color. "Something can be made of him, I think," he added;
    "but a great deal depends on the sort of treatment he eats and sleeps
    under. Well, you be motherly to him, Abbie. That's all I have to ask.
    You will find good in it for yourself, too, as you say: more than you
    think, very likely."

    She sighed again, playing absently with her fingers upon her
    dark-colored dress, and gazing out of the window. Professor Valeyon said
    no more on the subject of Bressant, but spoke of Cornelia's proposed
    trip, and the Fourth-of-July party, and Sophie's convalescence; and
    finally took his straw-hat from the table upon which he had placed it,
    and moved toward the door.

    "Good-by, Abbie. Remember"--the old gentleman paused, with her hand in
    his, and glowing upon her from beneath his bushy eyebrows; "remember you
    have friends about you who don't need to be sought after. And another
    thing, Abbie; if you should ever find that Time has the power to
    liberate as well as to imprison you, don't forget that some wants may
    exist a long while without finding expression, but that they do exist,
    for all that!"

    Perhaps it was the consciousness that he was using rather grandiloquent
    language in the wording of this enigmatical little speech, that caused
    the good professor to look so red and embarrassed. Abbie drew her hand
    away, and laid her finger on her lip.

    "Can you still say that?" asked she, with a sad kind of gleam in her
    eyes and voice.

    "More than ever--more than ever!" declared he, with emphatic
    incoherence. And without more words he hurried down the steps, and in
    another minute was rattling rapidly homeward, astonishing Dolly herself
    by the speed which he encouraged her to put forth.

    "It'll all work round," soliloquized he; "very good beginning this. If I
    could have spoken more explicitly--but she'll be prepared, and that's a
    great step toward clearing things up. Gee up! Dolly."
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