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    Chapter 9

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    Chapter 9
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    THE DAGUERROTYPE.

    Bressant occupied two adjoining rooms at Abbie's boarding-house; one
    contained his bed and the other was fitted up as his study. They were on
    the second floor of the house, and attainable through two turns in the
    lower entry, a winding flight of narrow stairs, and an uncertain, darkly
    erratic route above.

    The study was some twelve feet by eight; the floor ornamented by a
    carpet which, to judge from the size of the pattern, must have been
    designed to grace some fifty-foot drawing-room. The furniture consisted
    of a deal table with a folding leaf, a chair, a stove--which, perhaps
    because it was so small, had been permitted to remain all summer--and a
    broad-seated lounge with squeaky springs, but quite roomy and
    comfortable, which monopolized a large portion of the room. The walls
    were papered with a bewildering diamond pattern, in blue and white. Upon
    the outside window-sill stood a pot of geraniums, and another of
    heliotrope.

    A good many books were stowed away in various parts of the study; piled
    one upon another in the corner by the stove, ranged side by side beneath
    the lounge, carefully disposed upon the inner window-sill, and occupying
    as much space as could be spared to them on the table. There were few
    ornaments to be seen; no landscapes or hunting-scenes--no pictures of
    pretty women--no fancy pieces for the mantel--no wine either, nor
    cigars, for Bressant neither smoked nor drank. A beautifully-finished
    and colored drawing of a patent derrick, in plan and side elevation, was
    pinned to the wall opposite the window. Above the mantel-piece hung an
    ingeniously-contrived card almanac, by which the day of week and month
    could be told for a hundred years to come. Two small globes, terrestrial
    and astronomical, stood upon the table; on the mantel-piece was an
    ordinary kerosene-lamp, with a conical shade of enamelled green paper,
    arabesqued in black, and ornamented with three transparencies,
    representing (when the lamp was lighted) bloody and fiery scenes in the
    late war; but in the daytime appearing to be nothing more terrible than
    plain pieces of white tissue-paper.

    For two weeks Bressant had done his studying and thinking in this room.
    He had enormous powers of application, naturally and by acquisition, and
    the first fortnight had seen them exerted to their full extent. This
    diligence, however, was practised not so much because the course of
    study marked out necessitated it, as by way of voluntary
    self-discipline. His first evening's experience in the Parsonage garden
    had given the young man a serious shock; a disturbing influence had
    obtained possession of him, of which he could understand no more than
    that it appeared to have some connection with Cornelia. It interfered,
    at unexpected moments, with his processes of thought; it distracted his
    schemes of argument; it wrote itself unintelligibly upon the page he was
    reading. It even followed him in his rough tramps up the hills and
    through the woods, and sometimes shook the hand which held the pen
    during his compositions.

    Bressant knew not how best to combat his novel difficulty. Although
    called into existence by an extraneous circumstance, it seemed to have
    struck root in every faculty of his mind, and, what was more, into the
    inmost core of every faculty. He was possessed, not by seven devils, but
    by one devil in seven different forms. He felt that the only thing to be
    done, if he did not intend to make an entire surrender of himself, was
    to take stern and rigorous measures for deliverance. The best course
    that suggested itself was to study his sevenfold devil down; taking
    every precaution, of course, to keep out of the way of all additional
    contamination; and this course he adopted, and had conscientiously
    adhered to. It was with very pardonable satisfaction that he felt his
    malady gradually and surely give way before his unsparing regimen, until
    by the first of July he considered himself entirely whole and in working
    order, and beyond danger of relapse.

    He sometimes wondered why the professor persisted in inviting him to
    take dinner, or stay to tea, or sit on the balcony in the evening, or go
    on a picnic into the woods. Why couldn't the old gentleman divine the
    cause of his invariable and unhesitating refusals? Leaving other
    considerations out of the question, would such things be likely to
    increase his knowledge of theology, or further the lofty schemes of his
    ambition? He would be glad when that daughter left the house! What was
    it about her that had so disturbed and beclouded the heretofore
    untroubled stream? Were other women like her, or was she alone in her
    dangerous capacity? If the first, with what assurance could he look
    forward to the intellectual mastery of the world! If the last, what a
    refinement of misfortune to have been so thrown with her! What if he
    should give up Professor Valeyon altogether? No, no! if he could not
    conquer his destiny here, he could not be sure of doing it anywhere. Let
    him only be self-controlled and prudent--keep carefully and
    systematically out of the woman's way. Or perhaps--for it was not
    gratifying or dignified thus to live in terror of a minister's
    daughter--perhaps he might ultimately learn to associate and hold
    intercourse with her, unharmed. That would be a triumph worth striving
    for! Indeed, how could he feel secure until it had been won? Again, did
    there at present exist any such risk as he had brought himself to
    imagine? Was not this first ordeal, and its effects, all that was to be
    apprehended? What if all his anxiety, and self-control, and prudence,
    had been wasting themselves upon nothing? Would it not be worth while to
    try the experiment? to prove whether he was still liable to this strange
    witchery and enchantment? even if so it should turn out, it was still
    well that the point should be settled once for all. Decided, then, that
    he should take the first opportunity to put himself to the test.

    Thus did the young man argue around his instinct, ignorant that the
    poison was at that moment circulating in his blood, and prompting the
    very sophistries that his brain produced. He who is cured begets a
    wholesome aversion toward what has harmed him; he feels no curiosity to
    prove whether or no he be yet open to mischief from it. Bressant's
    poison was in fact an elixir, whose delicious intoxication he had
    experienced once, and which his whole nature secretly but urgently
    craved to taste again.

    A result somewhat similar to this was doubtless what Professor Valeyon
    aimed at in his plan of developing the emotional and affectional
    elements of his pupil, albeit he was far from imagining what might be
    the cost and risk to every thing which he himself held most dear. Like
    many other men, of otherwise liberal mind and clear insight into
    character, he had certain convictions and principles, derived from
    contemplating the facts and results of his own life, which he believed
    must produce upon other people's mental and moral constitutions as good
    an effect as upon his own. And possibly, could we divest our regimen of
    life of all personal flavor and conformation, it might, other things
    being favorable, suit our friends very tolerably well. But, until we are
    able to throw off the fetters of our own individuality, the measure of
    our garments can never accurately fit anybody else.

    On the morning of the 1st of July, Bressant sat at his table, with his
    books and papers about him. He was in an excellent humor, for he had
    just arrived at the conclusion that he might, and would, safely
    encounter his bugbear Cornelia. If the professor invited him to tea, and
    to spend the evening, he was resolved to accept; and, at that moment, he
    felt a hand laid upon his shoulder, and, turning quickly round,
    recognized the sombre figure of the boarding-house keeper.

    Although he had lived with her two weeks, he had not as yet had other
    than the briefest communication with her. He probably thought ho had in
    hand many matters of more importance than the cultivation of his
    landlady's acquaintance; and she, whatever may have been her desire to
    carry out the promise she had made to the professor, had not found it
    possible to be other than indirectly observant of his welfare.

    "I knocked, Mr. Bressant, but I couldn't make you hear. I came to ask
    you to do me a little favor, sir."

    Bressant had risen to his feet, and stood leaning against the back of
    his chair. He nodded and smiled good-naturedly, his hand busy with his
    beard, and his eyes taking in, with mild curiosity, the plain and
    plainly-dressed woman before him. What favor could she expect him to do
    for her? He'd just as lief agree to any thing that wouldn't interfere in
    any way with his arrangements. Of course, she wouldn't ask any thing
    more. As long as he paid his board-bill, and created no disturbance,
    what obligations did he owe her?

    "You see, sir," proceeded Abbie, gently rattling the bunch of keys that
    hung at her belt, "we've been in the habit of giving a party here, three
    or four times a year, for the young folks to come and dance and enjoy
    themselves. There will be one next Thursday, the 4th of July. Will you
    come down, and join in?"

    Bressant threw back his head, with one of his brief laughs. "Come to a
    dance? But I don't know how to dance! I never go into society. What
    should I do? Thank you for asking me!"

    "I thought you might be interested to look on at one of our country
    hops," said Abbie, whose eyes observed the young man's manner, as he
    spoke, with a closeness that would have embarrassed most men. "There's a
    good deal to amuse yourself with besides dancing. The school-master will
    be there, and the minister that is now, and Professor Valeyon."

    "Professor Valeyon?" repeated Bressant, leaning forward, with his hand
    to his ear, and the vivid, questioning expression on his face, which was
    peculiar to himself.

    The movement appeared to produce a disproportionate effect upon Abbie.
    Her finger tremblingly sought her under lip; a quiver, as if from a
    sudden pain, passed across her forehead; there was a momentary
    unsteadiness in her eyes, and then they fastened, almost rigidly, upon
    the young man's face. So habitual was the woman's self-control, however,
    that these symptoms, whatever they betokened, were repressed and
    annulled, till none, save a particularly sharp-sighted person, would
    have noticed them. Bressant was thinking only of Professor Valeyon, and
    would scarcely have troubled himself, in any case, about the neuralgic
    spasms of his landlady.

    "The professor and Miss Valeyon will both come," said Abbie, as soon as
    the neuralgia, if that it were, would allow her to speak. "Excuse me,
    sir--may I sit down a moment?" These words were uttered hurriedly, and,
    at the same moment, the woman made a sudden step to the lounge, and
    dropped down upon it so abruptly that the venerable springs creaked
    again.

    "Beg your pardon, ma'am," said Bressant, rather awkwardly. "Must be an
    infirm old person," he added to himself. "She looks older, even, than
    when she came in!"

    "Well, sir," said she, with rather a constrained air, rising, from the
    sofa in a way that confirmed the young man's opinion about her
    infirmity; "well, sir, shall I expect you on Thursday evening?"

    "Yes; I'll come," said he, with an elastic inclination of his shoulders,
    and a smile. He thought himself fortunate in so good an opportunity to
    put his invulnerability to the proof.

    Abbie bowed without speaking, and moved toward the door. Having opened
    it, she turned round, with her hands upon the latch: "Professor Valeyon
    tells me you're an orphan, sir?"

    "My father died last month; I never knew my mother," returned Bressant,
    pushing his brown beard between his teeth, and biting it impatiently. He
    wished people would get through asking him about his deceased relatives.

    "Never knew your mother! it must have been--have you never felt the need
    of her?"

    "Oh, no! I was better without one," said he, quite provoked at his
    landlady's pertinacity. He turned about, and threw himself into his
    chair. The woman shrank back beyond the threshold.

    "Good-day, sir, and thank you," she said. But Bressant could not be
    expected to hear the low, timid tone in which she spoke. Seeing that he
    made no response, she softly closed the door.

    She went along the dark entry to her own room. On a little table in one
    corner stood an old-fashioned desk. She opened it, and, unlocking an
    inner drawer, took therefrom a small morocco case, lined with red
    velvet, and containing a daguerreotype much faded by age. She studied it
    long and earnestly, but seemingly without any very satisfactory result.

    "But how can I expect it?" murmured she. "So long ago as this was
    taken! so sickly and unformed as he was then! But, oh! did they think I
    could be blind to that face, and form, and expression! and there is none
    other but he, now; the father is dead. Dead! Well, may God forgive him
    all the evil of his life! I'm sure I do. But what will this turn out to
    be, I wonder--a curse or a blessing? I must wait--it isn't for me to
    speak; I must wait, and the end may be happy, after all."
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