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    Chapter 13

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    Chapter 13
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    A KEEPSAKE.

    Bressant's collar-bone was broken; there were two severe bruises on his
    leg, though it had escaped fracture; his body in several places was
    marked with dark contusions, and there was a cut in the back of his
    head, where he had fallen against a stone. The professor set the
    collar-bone--a harrowing piece of work, there being no anesthetics at
    hand--and attended to the other hurts, the patient all the while
    preserving a dogged and moody silence, and avoiding the eyes of whoever
    looked at him.

    "Can't understand it," said the old gentleman to himself; "the fellow
    acts like a wild-beast as regards his appreciation of human sympathy, in
    spite of his refined intellect and cultivation. A wounded animal has the
    same instinct to crawl away, and suffer in private."

    When brought into the house, Bressant had been laid in the spare room
    adjoining the professor's study. After he had done all he could for his
    comfort, the warm-hearted old gentleman, being overcome with fatigue,
    retired to rest; the patient lay sullenly quiet, wishing it were day,
    and, again, wishing day would never come: at length the composing
    draught which had been given him took effect, and he sank heavily into
    sleep.

    It was broad daylight when he awoke, and stared feverishly around him.
    The room was a pleasant one, facing the north and east, and the morning
    sun came cheerfully in through the open windows, slanting down the
    walls, and brightening on the carpet. It was a great improvement upon
    his rather gloomy room at the boarding-house, and he could not but feel
    it so. A small ormolu clock ticked rapidly upon the mantel-piece, the
    swing of the gilded pendulum being visible beneath. Bressant watched it
    with idle interest. He felt so weak, in mind and body, that the clock
    seemed company just fitted for his comprehension.

    The door opened by-and-by, and Cornelia's smiling face peeped in,
    looking the sweeter for an expression of tender anxiety. Seeing that he
    was awake, her eyes took on an extra sparkle, and she advanced a step
    into the room, still clinging with one hand to the door-knob, however,
    as if afraid to lose its support.

    "You feel a little better, don't you? Is that mattress comfortable? I'm
    going to bring you your breakfast in a few minutes."

    Bressant only grew red and bit his mustache for answer. He would gladly
    have covered himself up out of sight, but he could not move hand or
    foot.

    Cornelia had in her mind a little speech she meant to deliver to
    Bressant, on the subject of the previous night's event, but, at the
    critical moment, she felt her courage forsaking her. The topic was so
    weighty--and then she shrank from speaking out what was in her head,
    perhaps because her auditor was there as well as her sentiments. Still,
    she felt she ought to try.

    "Mr. Bressant," began she, with a kindling look, "Mr. Bressant, I--"
    here her voice faltered; "oh! you don't know--I can never tell you--I
    can never forget what you did last night!" This was the end of the great
    speech.

    Bressant became still more red and uncomfortable. "I made a fool of
    myself last night," said he, dejectedly. "I wish you hadn't been there;
    if I'd known what a piece of work--"

    "But you saved my papa's life!" interrupted Cornelia, in a blaze.

    The young man looked as if struck with a new idea. It seemed as if he
    had not before thought of looking upon the professor as an independent
    quantity in the affair. The whole episode had presented itself to him as
    a difficult problem which he was to solve. The accident to himself had
    been an imperfection in the solution, of which he was deeply ashamed.
    But he was somewhat consoled by the reflection that the old gentleman
    had really needed preservation on his own account.

    "That does make it better," said he, half to himself, with the first
    approach to good-humor he had shown since his misfortune.

    Cornelia still remained glowing in the door-way, turning the latch
    backward and forward, not knowing what more to say, and yet unwilling to
    say nothing more. She did not at all comprehend Bressant's attitude, and
    therefore admired him all the more. What she could not understand in him
    was, of course, beyond her scope.

    "You may think nothing of it, but I know I--I know we do--I can't say
    what I want to, and I'm not going to try any more; but I'm sure you
    know--or, at least, you'll find out some time--in some other way, you
    know."

    Bressant could not hear all this, nor would he have known what it meant,
    if he had; but he could see that Cornelia was kindly disposed toward
    him, and was conscious of great pleasure in looking at her, and thought,
    if she were to touch him, he would get well. He said nothing, however,
    and presently his bodily pain caused him to sigh and close his eyes
    wearily. Cornelia immediately kissed her soft fingers to him twice, and
    then vanished from the room, looking more like a blush than a tea rose.
    Before long she returned with the sick man's breakfast on a tray.

    "Do you like to be nursed?" asked she, as she put the tray on a table,
    and moved it up to the bedside.

    "No!" said Bressant, emphatically, and with an intonation of great
    surprise.

    "Oh! why not?" faltered Cornelia, quite taken aback.

    "I hate disabled people; they're monstrosities, and had better not be at
    all. I wouldn't nurse them."

    "You think there's no pleasure in doing things for people who cannot
    help themselves?" demanded Cornelia, indignantly.

    "There can be no pleasure in nursing," reiterated he. "It might be very
    pleasant to be nursed--by any one who is beautiful--if one did not need
    the nursing!"

    Cornelia was becoming so accustomed to Bressant's undisguised manners
    that she forgot to be disturbed by this guileless compliment. Many hours
    afterward, when she was alone in her chamber, the words recurred to her,
    devoid of the version his manner had given them, and then they brought
    the blood gently to her cheeks.

    "You're very foolish," said she, as she poured out some tea, and cut up
    a mutton-chop into mouthfuls. "Now, you have to drink this tea, though
    you wouldn't the last time I poured you out a cup; and I'll give you
    your chop. Open your mouth."

    So the athlete of the day before was obliged to submit to having his
    tea-cup carried to his lips and tipped for him by a woman, and the chop
    administered bit by bit on a fork. It was very degrading; but once in a
    while Cornelia accidentally touched him, or her face, lit up by interest
    in her occupation, came so near his own that he felt warm and thrilled,
    and went near to admit it was worth all the broken bones in the world,
    and the sacrifice of pride accompanying them.

    Ere breakfast was over, Professor Valeyon entered with his slippers, his
    pipe, and a remarkably benevolent expression for one of such impending
    eyebrows.

    "Well, my boy," said he--ever since the accident he had addressed
    Bressant thus--"you look in a better humor with yourself this morning.
    You'll be well used to this room before you leave it," he continued,
    with kindly gravity, as he felt his patient's pulse. "You'll know all
    about the number and relative position of the bars and bunches of
    flowers on the wall-paper opposite, and how many feet and inches it is
    from the window-frame to the room-corner, and which pane of glass is the
    crookedest, and how much higher one post of your bedstead is than the
    other; and plenty more things of that kind. And, to tell you the truth,
    my boy, I don't believe a course of such studies, by way of variety,
    will do you any harm. Now, let's look at this collar-bone of yours.--O
    Cornelia! you'd better be finishing your packing, hadn't you?" he added,
    to his daughter, who was leaning on the back of his chair, sympathizing
    with the sick man to her heart's content. She walked obediently to the
    door, but, before she disappeared, turned and sent back a smile charged
    with all the warmth of her ardent, womanly nature. Bressant got the
    whole benefit of it; and it lingered with him most of the morning.

    "How long must I be here?" inquired he, after Cornelia was gone.

    "Three months at least," replied the surgeon; "more if you worry
    yourself about it."

    "Three months!" repeated the young man, aghast. "What's to become of my
    studies? I can't hold a book; I can't write; I had to have my breakfast
    fed to me this morning," continued he, biting his mustache and looking
    away. The professor smiled thoughtfully.

    "I have hopes," said he, "that you'll know more about Divinity when you
    come out of this room than you did before you went into it. We'll see
    when the time comes."

    "I've found out already that my bones are like other men's," remarked
    Bressant, with a sigh.

    "So much the better," returned the old man. "You never would have
    learned that out of your Hebrew Lexicon. The best way to reach this
    young fellow's soul is through his body," declared he, silently, to the
    bandage he was preparing for the broken head. "This is nothing but a
    blessing in disguise." But he had too much tact to carry the
    conversation further, and presently left his patient alone to digest
    his breakfast and the lesson it had inculcated.

    This was Cornelia's last day at home; she was to take the eight-o'clock
    train next morning to the city. The young lady's mood was unequal:
    sometimes she drooped; anon would break forth into much talk and
    merriment, which would evaporate almost as quickly as the froth of
    champagne. This was her first departure from home, and the ease,
    freedom, and beloved old ways of home-life, assumed more of their true
    value in her eyes. She had acquired a sentiment of awe for Aunt
    Margaret's grandeur. She would be obliged to sleep in corsets and
    high-heeled shoes; everybody would be going through the figures of a
    stately minuet all day long.

    Then she began to feel in advance the wrench of separating from those
    with whom her life had been spent, and from one other in whose company
    she had lived more--so it seemed to her--than in all the years since she
    ceased to be a child. Bressant was very prominent in her thoughts; nor
    could she be blamed for this, for the short acquaintance bad been
    emphasized by a disproportional number of memorable events: First, there
    was the thunder-storm evening by the fountain; afterward, the dance at
    Abbie's; and, following in quick succession, the celestial arch, the
    walk homeward, and the catastrophe in which he had borne the chief part.
    Besides, he was so different from common men.

    "So perfectly natural and unaffected," she argued to herself. "He means
    all he says; of course I shouldn't let him say such things to me as he
    does if it weren't so; but it would be affectation in me to object to
    it as it is!"--a most plausible deduction, by-the-way, but dangerous to
    act upon. To persuade herself that, because he was an exceptional sort
    of person, his plain way of talking to her was justifiable, was to
    establish a secret understanding between him and herself, which placed
    her at a disadvantage to begin with; and unreservedly to accept
    compliments, even ingenuous ones, was to indulge in a luxury that must
    ultimately render callous her moral sensitiveness and refinement.

    On the other hand, her toleration would be almost certain to have a bad
    effect upon Bressant, no matter how sincere and well-meaning he might be
    at the outset. A man is apt to know when he has power over a woman; and,
    although he may have no expectation of it, nor wish to use it, yet, as
    time goes on and accustoms him to the idea, he must have strong
    principles or cold blood who does not finally yield to temptation. Plain
    speaking, where pleasant things are said, is smelling poisonous flowers
    for both parties.

    A steady fall of rain set in during the night, and made the morning of
    departure gray. Blurred clouds rested helplessly on the backs of the
    hills, and wept themselves into the wet valley without seeming to grow
    less lugubrious for the indulgence. There was no wind; trees and plants
    stood up and were soaked in passive resignation. The weather-beaten
    boards of the barn were drenched black, except a small place right under
    the eaves, which looked as if it had been painted a light gray. When the
    covered wagon was brought around to the gate, it speedily acquired a
    brilliant coat of varnish; Dolly's bay suit was streaked and discolored,
    and the reins, thrown over her back, got all wet and uncomfortable.

    Michael now came for Cornelia's trunk--a ponderous structure packed
    within an inch of its existence. Cornelia stood at the head of the
    stairs and saw it go thump! thump! thump! down to the bottom, and then
    scrape unwillingly over the oil-cloth to the door. Such a heavy-hearted
    old trunk as it was! Then she walked to the hall-window, and watched its
    further journey along the glistening marble causeway, which dimly
    reflected its square ponderosity, and the tugging Michael behind it.

    Now the gate had to be pulled open; the rasp of its rattle and sharpness
    of its flap were somewhat impaired by the wet, but it managed to give
    the trunk a parting kick as it went out, as much as to say the house was
    well rid of it.

    "Cornelia!" called the Professor from down-stairs, "you've just five
    minutes to say good-by in. Get through and come along!"

    She passed through Sophie's open door; her sister held out her arms, her
    eyes overflowing with tears, but smiling with the strange perversity
    that possesses some people on these occasions. Cornelia was troubled
    with no such misplaced self-dental; she threw herself impatiently down
    by Sophie, and sobbed with all her might. Possibly it was more than one
    regret that found utterance then.

    "You'll be all well and walking about when I come back, won't you dear?"
    said she, at last, in a shaking voice.

    "I shall get well thinking what a splendid time you're having,
    darling."

    "Sophie--will you be quite the same to me when I come back?"

    "Why, Neelie, dear, what a question! I shall always be the same to you."

    "But I feel as if there were going to be something--that something was
    going to come between us;" and Cornelia began to droop like a flower
    under an icy wind. "You never could hate me, could you, Sophie?"

    "Hate you! Neelie! What makes you speak so, dear? I have no misgivings."

    "Oh! I don't know--I don't know! it must be because I'm wicked!"

    "_You_ wicked, my darling sister! Come," said Sophie, with an earnest
    smile, "think only of how much we love each other; let the misgivings
    go."

    "Yes, we do love each other now, don't we? Whatever happens we'll always
    remember that. Good-by, Sophie!" said Cornelia, with a strong hug and a
    long kiss.

    "Good-by, dear Neelie!"

    Cornelia ran down-stairs; her papa had just gone out to the wagon; she
    went into Bressant's room, and walked quickly up to the bedside.

    "Here's your watch," said she. "I've kept it all safe, and wound it up
    and every thing." She had also slept with it under her pillow, and worn
    it all day in her bosom, but that she did not mention. She laid it down
    on the table as she spoke.

    "Have you a watch?" asked Bressant.

    "I had one, but it did not go very long. It was very small and pretty
    though;" this is the short and pathetic history of most ladies' watches.

    "I'd like you to take something of mine with you that you can see and
    hear and touch: will you keep this watch?" asked he, fixing his eyes
    upon her. There was no time to deliberate; there was nothing she would
    like so much; she snatched it up without a word and stuck it into her
    belt.

    "Good-by!" said she, holding out her hand. Bressant took it, not without
    difficulty.

    "I wish you were going to stay," said he, gloomily, "I should be more
    happy to have you here, than ashamed to need your help."

    Cornelia's eyes fell, and there was a tremulousness on her lips that
    might mean either smiles or tears. "You'll be glad to see me when I come
    back, then, and you are well?"

    "You'll be like a beautiful morning when you come," returned he, with a
    touch of that picturesqueness that sounded so quaintly coming from him.
    All this time he had retained her hand, and now, looking her in the
    eyes, he drew it with painful effort toward his lips. Cornelia's heart
    beat so she could scarcely stand, and her mind was in a confusion, but
    she did not withdraw her hand. Perhaps because he was so pale and
    helpless; perhaps the old argument--"it's his way--he don't know it
    isn't customary;" perhaps--for this also must have a place--perhaps from
    a fear lest he should make no attempt to regain it. She felt his bearded
    lips press against it. At the touch, a sudden weakness, a self-pitying
    sensation, came over her, and the tears started to her eyes.

    "No one ever did that before to me," she said, almost plaintively, for
    he had spoken no justifying words, and she was balancing between a
    remorseful timidity and a timid exultation.

    "It's the first kiss I ever gave," said he, and his own voice vibrated.
    "Are you angry? it shall be the last if you are."

    "Oh, I'm not angry," faltered poor Cornelia; and then she felt, or
    seemed to feel, a force drawing her down--scarcely perceptible, yet
    strong as death. She bent her lovely glowing face, with its tearful eyes
    and fragrant breath, close down to Bressant's.

    At that very moment, or even an incalculable instant before, the
    professor's voice was heard calling loudly from without:

    "Come--come! be quick! you'll be too late!"

    She rose and fled from the room; but it was too late, indeed.
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    Chapter 13
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