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    Chapter 14

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    Chapter 14
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    NURSING.

    After seeing Cornelia off, Professor Valeyon bethought himself of Abbie;
    she must be wondering what had become of her late boarder, and he
    resolved to stop at the house, and give her an account of the accident.
    He had got some distance beyond the boarding-house when the idea
    occurred to him. Just as he was about to head Dolly round in the
    opposite direction, he discerned a figure beyond, beneath an umbrella,
    which looked very much like the person he was seeking. He drove on, and
    in a few minutes overtook her.

    "Going up to the Parsonage?" cried the old gentleman, getting gallantly
    down into the mud. "Here, jump up into-the wagon; I want to tell you
    about your--boarder."

    "He--there's nothing the matter with him, of course?" said Abbie, with a
    short laugh. She was looking very pale, and as if she had not slept much
    of late. "No, don't drive mo to the Parsonage; take me home, if you
    please, Professor Valeyon. Well, about Mr. Bressant?"

    "Doing very well now; he was pretty seriously hurt." And he went on to
    give a short account of what had happened, which Abbie did not interrupt
    by word or gesture; she sat with her head bent, and her lips working
    against each other.

    "It's quite certain he'll recover?" she asked, when all was told.

    "As certain," quoth the professor, non-committally, "as any thing in
    surgery can be."

    "It wouldn't be safe to move him, of course?"

    "Not till he's a good deal better; you see, the collar-bone--"

    "Yes, I'll take your word for it," said Abbie, very pale. "Well, I'm
    glad he's in such good hands. If I had him he wouldn't be comfortable; I
    should be sure to do him more harm than good; it's better as it is; much
    better."

    She spoke in an inward tone, looking vacantly out into the rain, and
    fumbling with the handle of her umbrella.

    "But you'll come up and see him once in a while, at the Parsonage?"

    Abbie shook her head. "No, no, Professor Valeyon; why should I? Do you
    suppose he wants to see me? do you suppose he's thought of me once since
    he went away? It would be a strange thing for an educated, intellectual,
    wealthy young man like him to do, wouldn't it?" asked Abbie, with a
    smile.

    The professor's eyes met hers for a moment, and then she looked away.
    Presently she spoke again:

    "I'd a great deal rather leave this world as I've lived in it, for the
    last twenty years and more, than run any risk of making a blunder. I
    don't want things to change, Professor Valeyon; but if they do, it
    musn't be through any act of mine, or yours either."

    By this time they had arrived at the boarding-house; and the old
    gentleman, having seen Abbie safely in to the door, drove homeward,
    frowning all the way, and at intervals shaking his head slowly. When he
    got home, he shut himself into his study, and there paced restlessly
    backward and forward, and stared out of the window across the valley.
    That open spot on the hill-top seemed to afford little or no
    enlightenment or satisfaction; and when he sat down to his solitary
    dinner, the frown had not yet cleared away.

    The next day the rain was over, and a cart was sent up to the parsonage,
    containing Bressant's books, and such other of his belongings as he
    would be likely to need during his illness; and, accompanying them, a
    note from Abbie, expressing her regret at his misfortune, and her hopes
    that he would return to his rooms at her house as soon as his health was
    sufficiently reestablished. The young man heard the note read, and
    congratulated himself, as he closed his eyes with a yawn, that he was
    not under his quondam landlady's ministrations.

    But even the best circumstances could do little to lighten the
    insufferable tediousness of his confinement. Probably, however, such
    changes and modifications as may have been in progress in his nature,
    attained quicker and easier development by reason of his physical
    prostration. The alteration in his bodily habits and conditions paved
    the way for an analogous moral and mental process. The powers of a man
    are never annihilated; if dormant in one direction, they will be active
    in another; and thus Bressant's passions, naturally deep and violent,
    being denied legitimate outlet, had given vigor, endurance, and heat of
    purpose, to the prosecution of his intellectual exercises. But, as soon
    as these elements of his nature found their proper channels, they rushed
    onward with far more dash and fervor than if they had never been dammed
    or deflected.

    The combined effect upon the young man of the companionship of a
    beautiful woman and his own broken bones, had been to make him feel and
    ponder on the nature of her power over him. The name of love was of
    course familiar to him, but he could hardly as yet, perhaps, grasp the
    full significance of the sentiment. Like other forms of knowledge, it
    must be approached by natural gradations. Here, if nowhere else,
    Bressant's life of purely intellectual activity was a disadvantage. His
    stand-points and views were artificial, speculative, and material. Love
    cannot be reduced to a formula, and then relinquished; nor is it ever
    safe to use, as pattern for an untried work, the plan whereby something
    else was accomplished. Life has need of many methods.

    Nearly a week of musing and speculation had passed over the young man's
    head, when one day, as he was feeling unusually disconsolate, and
    wishing for unattainable things--Cornelia among others--he became aware,
    through some subtle channel of sensation, that somebody was standing in
    the door-way. He was lying in such a position that he could not see the
    door, so, after waiting a few moments, he exclaimed, with an invalid's
    irritability:

    "Come in--or shut the door!"

    "I'll come in, if you please," answered an amused voice, which, though
    soft and low, possessed a penetrating quality which made it easily
    audible to the deaf man. He had never heard it before; but either
    because of this quality, or for some other more occult reason, he
    conceived a most decided liking for it.

    It's owner now became visible. She was a delicate-looking girl, with a
    pale, conch-shell complexion, brown hair as fine as silk, and pleasant,
    serene, gray eyes. She was dressed very simply in white, with a blue
    band across her hair, and a blue scarf and sash around throat and waist.
    Her face, though showing signs of quiet strength, and of a
    self-confidence which was the flower of maidenly modesty and innocence,
    was not beautiful according to any recognized standard. Bressant, from
    his intuitive perception of form and proportion, was aware of this. The
    forehead was too high, the nose irregular, the mouth lacked the perfect
    curve, and the teeth, though white and even, were not small enough for
    beauty.

    Nevertheless, Bressant was at once impressed with the young girl's
    presence. It was as if an ethereal cloud--such as that which, shone
    through by white sunlight, was just floating past the window--had eddied
    unexpectedly into his chamber, cooling and quieting him with the
    freshness of its heavenly vapor. Her eyes met his with a simple
    directness which made his glance waver, though he was not given to
    humility. Something, whereof neither science nor philosophy can take
    cognizance, seemed to emanate from her, elevating while it humbled him.

    "If I'd known who you were, I--I shouldn't have asked you to shut the
    door!" said he, in an apologetic tone quite new to him.

    "And how do you know who I am?" inquired the vision, with a refreshing
    smile.

    "I meant, what sort of a person you were; but you must be Miss Sophie:
    only I thought she was ill."

    "I am Miss Sophie, but I'm not to be thought ill any more. One invalid
    in the house is enough. I'm going to nurse you, and, since I'm well, you
    may be twice as ill as ever, if you choose."

    "Well!" said Bressant, quite resignedly. He was becoming a very
    respectable patient.

    "In what way do you want to be taken care of?" resumed the nurse with a
    cheerful, business-like gravity which was at once becoming and piquant.

    "Stay here and talk; I like to hear your voice: and you look so cool and
    pleasant."

    Very few people could oppose this young man in any thing; he knew so
    well what he wanted, and demanded it so uncompromisingly. But Sophie's
    sense of fitness and propriety was as sound and impenetrable as adamant,
    and scarcely to be affected by any human will or consideration. She felt
    there was something not quite right in his manner and in the nature of
    his demand; and, being in the habit of making people conform to her
    ideas, rather than the reverse, she at once determined to correct him.

    "If there's any thing you wish me to read to you, I'll do it. I didn't
    come to sit down and talk to you; but, if you like my voice, you can
    have more pleasure from it in that way."

    "It would be no use for you to read: I couldn't understand--I couldn't
    attend to your voice and the book at the same time."

    "We'd better wait, then," said Sophie, turning her clear, gray eyes upon
    him with an expression of demure satire. "By-and-by, perhaps, it won't
    have such a distracting effect upon you--when you come to know me
    better. If not, I must keep away altogether."

    Bressant's forehead grew red with sudden temper. He felt reproved, but
    was not prepared to acknowledge that he had merited it.

    "You're very generous of your voice!" exclaimed he, resentfully. "It's
    your fault, not mine, that it's agreeable. You're not so kind as your
    tone is."

    "I don't mean to be unkind," said she, more gently, looking down. "You
    don't seem to see the difference between unkindness and--what I said."

    "What is the difference?" demanded he, taking her up.

    Sophie paused a few moments, compassionating this great, willful boy,
    and wondering what she could do for him. He had saved her father's life,
    thereby imperilling his own, and disabling himself, and she could not
    but admire and thank him for it. But his manner puzzled and annoyed her,
    and was an obstacle in the way of her would-be helpfulness.

    "You wouldn't ask that question, I think, if you'd had sisters, or a
    mother," she said, at last. "I suppose you've lived only with men. But
    you must learn how to treat young women from your own sense of what is
    delicate and true."

    Bressant stared and was silent: and Sophie herself was surprised at the
    authoritative tone she was assuming toward a bearded man whom she had
    never met before. But it was impossible to associate with Bressant
    without either yielding to him, or, at least, behaving differently from
    at other times, in one way or another. He was a magnet that drew from
    people things unsuspected by themselves.

    The pause was finally broken by the young man's accepting the situation
    with a grace, and even docility, which was nearly too much for Sophie's
    gravity.

    "If you'll read, I will listen and understand it: you'd better try the
    Bible. I have a great deal of work to do upon that, still: you'll find
    one on the table by the window."

    She got the book, with whose contents she was considerably better
    acquainted than was the divinity student, and sat down to read,
    marveling at the oddness of the situation; while he lay apparently
    absorbed in the cracks on the ceiling. By degrees--for having carried
    her point she could not help being more gracious--she began to allow a
    little embroidery of conversation to weave itself about the sacred text
    She spoke to Bressant about such simple and ordinary matters as went to
    make up her life--the books she had read, the people she knew, the
    country round about, a few of her more inward thoughts. He listened, and
    said no more than enough to show he was attentive; sometimes making her
    laugh by the shrewdness of his questions, and the quaintness of his
    remarks.

    But he said nothing more to bring a grave look into the eyes of his
    young nurse; and she, finding him so gentle and boyish, and withal manly
    and profound, chatted on with more confidence and freedom; and, being
    gifted with fineness and accuracy of observation, and a clear flow and
    order of language and ideas, made talking a delight and a profit.

    There was nothing formal or didactic about Sophie, and her talk rippled
    forth as naturally and spontaneously as a brook trickles over its brown
    stones, or the over-hanging willows whisper in the wind. There was in it
    the unwearied and unweariable freshness of nature. And Sophie's vein of
    humor was as fine and pungent as the aroma of a lemon: it touched her
    words now and then, and made their flavor all the more acceptable.

    So Bressant gained his end at last, though he had yielded it; and this
    fact was not lost upon the trained keenness of his observation. After
    his nurse was gone, he lay with closed eyes, and a general sensation of
    comfort, until he fell asleep. Quiet dreams came to him, such as
    children have sometimes, but grown-up people seldom. Everywhere he
    seemed to follow a cool, white cloud. But where was Cornelia?
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