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    Chapter 16

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    Chapter 16
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    PARTING AN ANCHOR.

    Cornelia, upon her arrival in New York, had been met at the station by
    an emissary of Aunt Margaret, and conducted to a country-seat some
    distance up the river. Four or five young ladies were already assembled
    there, and as many young gentlemen came up on afternoon trains, and
    availed themselves of Aunt Margaret's hospitality, until business called
    them to the city again the nest morning, except that on Saturdays they
    brought an extra change or two of raiment, to tide them over the blessed
    rest of Sunday.

    "I've been so _ill_, my love--how sweet and fresh you _do_ look!
    Give your auntie a kiss--there. _Oh_! you naughty girl, how jealous
    all the girls will be of those _eyes_ of yours!--so ill--_such_
    dreadful sick-headaches--oh, yes! I'm a _great_ sufferer, dear,
    a great _sufferer_--but no one, hardly, knows it. I tell _you_, you
    know, dear, because you are my own darling little Cornelia. Oh! those
    sweet _eyes_! So ill--so _unable_, you know, to be _up_ and _doing_--to
    be as I should wish to be--as I once _was_--as you are now,
    you--splendid--creature--you! Now you _must_ let me speak my heart out
    to you, dear; it's my nature to do it, and I _can't_ restrain,
    it--foolish I know, but I always _was_ so foolish! oh dear! well--Ah!
    there's the first bell already. Let me show you your room, darling. As I
    was going to say, I've been so indisposed that I've been obliged to pet
    myself up a little here, before starting on our _tour_, you know, but in
    a week I mean to be well again--I _will_ be. Oh! I have immense
    _resolution_, dear Neelie--_immense_ fortitude, where those I love are
    concerned. There, this is your little nest--now _one_ more kiss. Oh!
    those sweet _lips_! Remember you sit by me at dinner."

    "What a funny old woman Aunt Margaret is!" said Cornelia to herself,
    after she had closed the door of her chamber. "Such a queer voice--goes
    away up high, and then away down low, all in the same sentence. And what
    a small head for such a tall woman! and she's so thin! I do hope she
    won't go on kissing me so much with her big mouth! how fast she does
    twist it about! and then her front teeth stick out so! and she keeps
    shoving that great black ear-trumpet at me, whenever she thinks I want
    to speak; and her eyes are as pale and watery as they can be, and they
    look all around you and never at you. Well, it's very mean of me to
    criticise the old thing so; she's as kind as she can be. I wonder
    whether she knows Mr. Bressant; her manner reminds me sometimes of him;
    in a horrid way, of course, but--poor fellow! what is he doing now, I'd
    like to know!" Here Cornelia's meditations became very profound and
    private indeed; she, meanwhile, in her material capacity, making such
    alterations and improvements in her personal appearance as were
    necessary to prepare herself for the table.

    Every few minutes--oftener than any circumstances could have
    warranted--she pulled a handsome gold watch out of her belt and
    consulted it. She did not, to be sure, seem solely anxious to know the
    hour; she bent down and examined the enameled face minutely; watched
    the second-hand make its tiny circuit; pressed the smooth crystal
    against her cheek; listened to the ceaseless beating of its little
    golden heart. That golden heart, it seemed to her, was a connecting link
    between Bressant's and her own. He had set it going, and it should be
    her care that it never stopped; for at the hour in which it ran
    down--such was Cornelia's superstitious idea--some lamentable misfortune
    would surely come to pass.

    The dinner-bell sounded; she put her watch back into her belt, bestowing
    a loving little pat upon it, by way of temporary adieu. Then, feeling
    pretty hungry, she ran down the broad, soft-carpeted stairs, with their
    wide mahogany banisters--she would have sat upon the latter and slid
    down if she had dared--and entering the dining-room, which was furnished
    throughout with yellow oak, even to the polished floor, she took her
    place by her hostess's side. She had already been presented to the
    fashionable guests who sat around the ample table, and a good deal of
    the awe which she had felt in anticipation, had begun to ooze away.
    Although much was said that was unintelligible to her, she could see
    that this was not the result of intellectual deficiency on her part, but
    merely of an ignorance of the ground on which the conversation was
    founded. As Cornelia stole glances at the faces, pretty or pretentious,
    of the young ladies, or at the mustaches, whiskers, or carefully-parted
    hair of the young gentlemen, it did not seem to her that she could call
    herself essentially the inferior of any one of them. As to what they
    thought of her, she could only conjecture; but the gentlemen were
    extravagantly polite--according to her primitive ideas of that
    much-abused virtue--and the ladies were smiling, full of pretty
    attitudes, small questions, and accentuated comments. No one of them,
    nor of the young men either, seemed to be very hungry; but Cornelia had
    her usual unexceptionable appetite, and ate stoutly to satisfy it; she
    even tasted a glass of Italian wine at dessert, upon the assurance of
    Aunt Margaret that "she must--_really_ must--it would never do to come
    to New York without learning how to drink wine, you know;" and upon the
    word of the young gentleman who sat next to her that it wouldn't hurt
    her a bit--all wines were medicinal--Italian wines especially so; and
    so, indeed, it proved, for Cornelia thought she had never felt so genial
    a glow of sparkling life in her veins. She was good-natured enough to
    laugh at any thing, and brilliant enough to make anybody else laugh; and
    the evening passed away most pleasantly.

    But Cornelia was no fool, to be made a butt of; and her personality was
    too vigorous, her individuality too strong, not to make an impression
    and way of its own wherever she was. The young ladies tried in vain to
    patronize her: they had not the requisite capital in themselves; and the
    young gentlemen soon gave up the attempt to make fun of her; her
    vitality was too much for them, and they were, moreover, disconcerted by
    her beauty. Miss Valeyon, however, was new to the world, and her
    curiosity and vanity had large, unsatisfied appetites. To have been
    patronized and made fun of would have done her little or no harm; but in
    gratifying these appetites she might do a good deal of harm to herself.

    When the young gentlemen were in town, or in the smoking-room, the young
    ladies were of course thrown upon their own resources, and generally
    drifted together in little groups, to talk in low tones or in loud, to
    laugh or to whisper. Cornelia, who soon got upon terms of companionship
    with one or two members of these conclaves, could hardly do otherwise
    than occasionally join the meetings. At first she found little or
    nothing of interest to herself in what they talked about.

    The discussion of dress, to be sure, was something, and she found she
    had much to learn even there. Then there was a great deal to be said
    about sociables, and theatres, and sets, and fellows; and there was also
    more or less conversation, carried on in a low tone that occasionally
    descended to a whisper, which, beyond that it seemed to have reference
    to marriage and kindred matters, was for the most part Greek to
    Cornelia. A kind of metaphor was used which the country-bred minister's
    daughter could not elucidate, nor could she comprehend how young ladies,
    unmarried as she herself was, could know so much about things which
    marriage alone is supposed to reveal.

    Once or twice she had requested an explanation of some of these obscure
    points, but her request had been met, first by a dead silence, then by a
    laugh, and an inquiry whether she had no young married friends, and also
    whether she had ever read the works of Paul Féval, Dumas, and
    Balzac--all of which gave her little enlightenment, but taught her to
    keep her mouth shut, and open her eyes and ears wider.

    One day when "Aunt Margaret" had invited her to a _tête-à-tête_ in the
    boudoir, it occurred to Cornelia, in the wisdom of her heart, to take
    advantage of the opportunity to introduce the subject. She was a widow:
    was very good-natured; would be sure not to laugh at her, and could
    hardly help knowing as much as the young ladies knew.

    "Oh!" exclaimed Mrs. Vanderplanck, as Cornelia entered, "such a
    relief--such a _refreshment_ to look at that sweet face of yours! There!
    I must have my _kiss_, you know. Yes, I was just thinking of you, my
    love--so longing to have a quiet _chat_ with you--your dear
    father!--such a _grand_ man he is! _such genius_! Oh! _I_ was his
    devoted. Tell me all about him, and that sweet _home_ of yours, and
    _dear_ little Sophie, too. Oh! I was so shocked, so terrified, to hear
    of her illness; and--let me see!--oh, yes, and that new pupil your papa
    has--Mr. Bressant--_how_ is he? _does_ he behave well? _is_ he pleasant?
    _do_ you see much of him? _does_ he keep himself quiet?--such a--"

    "Why! how did you know about him?" interrupted Cornelia, into Mrs.
    Vanderplanck's ever-ready ear-trumpet. "Is he a relation of yours, or
    any thing?"

    Aunt Margaret stopped short, and pressed her thin, wide lips together.
    She had never imagined but that Professor Valeyon had told his daughters
    through whose immediate instrumentality it was that Bressant made his
    appearance at the Parsonage; but finding, from Cornelia's questions,
    that this was not so, she bethought herself that it might be well for
    her young guest to remain in ignorance, at least for the present. It was
    not too late, and, after a scarcely-perceptible pause, she made answer:

    "It was in your dear papa's _answer_ to my invitation, my love. Oh! so
    shocked I was dear little Sophie couldn't come--lay awake _all_ that
    night with a headache--yes, _indeed_!--when he _wrote_ to me, you
    know--such a dear, noble letter it _was_, too! Oh! I read it over a
    dozen--_twenty_ times at least!--he mentioned this new pupil of
    his--seemed interested in him--of course I _can't_ help being interested
    in whatever interests any of you dear ones, you know--he mentioned his
    strange name and all--it _is_ a strange name, isn't it, love?"

    "It isn't his real name," interposed Cornelia; "nobody except papa knows
    who he is. It's just like one of those ancient names, you know--the
    Christian name and the surname in one."

    "Oh, yes, I see--so odd, isn't it?--such a _mystery_, and all
    that--yes--so that's how I came to speak of him, I suppose. One gets
    _ideas_ of a person that way sometimes, don't you know, though they may
    never have actually _seen_ them at all? Oh! when I was a _young_ thing,
    I was just full of those--_ideals, I_ used to call them--oh, you know
    all about it, I _dare_ say!"

    "He met with a very serious accident just before I came away," said
    Cornelia to the ear-trumpet; "he stopped Dolly--our horse--she was
    running away with papa in the wagon. He saved papa beautifully, but he
    was dreadfully hurt--his collar-bone was broken, and he was kicked, and
    almost killed. He's at our house now, and papa's taking care of him."

    At this information Aunt Margaret became very white, or rather
    bloodless, in the face. She allowed the ear-trumpet to hang by its
    silver chain from her neck, and, reaching out her hand to a recess in
    the writing-table at which she sat, she drew forth a small ebony box,
    set in silver, and carved all over with little figures in bass-relief.
    Opening it, she took out a few grains of some dark substance which the
    box contained, and slipped them eagerly into her large mouth, Cornelia
    watched her out of the corner of her eyes, and, being a physician's
    daughter, she drew her own conclusions.

    "Ho, ho! that's where your sick-headaches, and yellow complexion, and
    nervousness, and weak eyes, come from, is it? You'd better look out!
    that's morphine, or opium, or some such thing, I know; and papa says
    that old ladies like you, who use such drugs, are liable to get insane
    after a while, and I shouldn't be a bit surprised if you were to become
    insane, Aunt Margaret!"

    This agreeable prophecy, being confined solely to Cornelia's thoughts,
    was naturally inaudible to Mrs. Vanderplanck. She murmured something
    about her doctor having prescribed medicine to be taken at that hour,
    and then, the medicine appearing to have an immediate and salutary
    effect, she found her color and her voice again, and took up the
    conversation.

    "Shocking! oh, shocking! _so_ sad for the poor young man--no
    father--no--no mother there to care for him. He _it_ an orphan, is he
    not?--no relatives, I suppose--no one who _belongs_ to him, poor boy!
    Dear, dear!--but he's _not_ fatally injured, is he?--not fatally?"

    "Oh, no," replied Cornelia, whose opinion of Aunt Margaret's character
    was much improved by this evidently sincere sympathy in the suffering of
    some one she had never seen--"oh, no; papa says he'll be all well in
    three months."

    "And he's staying at your house, and under your dear father's care?"

    "Yes, he is now. Before his accident he was boarding at Abbie's, down in
    the village. She would have been very kind to him, of course, but I
    suppose he'd rather be at our house, because papa can always be at
    hand."

    While Cornelia was delivering this into the black ear-trumpet, she
    turned her eyes away from Aunt Margaret's face, being in truth somewhat
    embarrassed at talking so much about the man who had her heart.
    Consequently she did not observe the expression which crossed her
    companion's face at her mention of the modest name of the boarding-house
    keeper. Her features seemed to contract and sharpen, and there was
    positively a glitter in her watery eyes, seemingly mingled of
    consternation, astonishment, and hatred. In another moment the
    expression had passed away, or was softened into one of nervous alarm
    and anxiety; and even this, when she spoke, was wellnigh effaced.

    "Certainly--yes, _certainly_! your dear father--_what_ a wise man he is!
    he _has_ such a profound knowledge of medicine and surgery--all those
    things--so prudent, so careful! Still, a woman is a treasure, you
    know--a good, sensible, efficient woman is a _host_--oh, yes, in a
    sick-room. This boarding-house keeper, now--she's just such a person, I
    _dare_ say--elderly, sober, experienced--a married woman, probably, with
    a large family, no doubt? Abbie, Abbie! what _did_ you say her last name
    was, my love?"

    Cornelia was so much amused at the idea of Abbie's being a married
    woman with a large family that she did not observe how Aunt Margaret,
    awaiting her answer, was all in a tremble. If she had not been laughing,
    she could scarcely have helped seeing how the ear-trumpet shook as it
    was presented to her.

    "Oh, no," said she, "she's not married, Aunt Margaret--at least not now,
    though I believe she's a widow, or something of that kind, you know--and
    she hasn't any children at all! As to her other name, I don't know it,
    and I believe hardly any one does. You see, she's one of that queer sort
    of people; she's very quiet, and always grave, and nobody knows much
    about her, except that she's very good, and has lived in the village for
    twenty years and more. I believe, though, papa has met her before, or
    knows something about her in some way; but he never says any thing to us
    on the subject."

    This was all that could be got out of Cornelia upon the topic of Abbie,
    and Mrs. Vanderplauck was obliged to swallow whatever uneasiness,
    curiosity, or misgiving she may have felt. In the midst of an
    exhortation to her young guest to repeat her visit daily to the boudoir,
    and regale her auntie with anecdotes of the dear old, interesting people
    in the village, Abbie and all, some one of the young ladies knocked at
    the door, and hurried Miss Valeyon off, without her having asked, as
    she had intended, for an explanation of the puzzling, metaphorical
    allusions.

    Mrs. Vanderplanck, left to herself, rocked backward and forward in her
    chair, with her hands clasped over her forehead, much in the way that an
    insane person might have done.

    "Who'd have thought it! who'd have thought it! In the very
    village--in the very house--of all places in the world!--in the very
    house!--and he laid up--can't be moved--can't be taken away. Why didn't
    I know?--why didn't I find out?--careless--stupid--thoughtless! Curse
    the woman! couldn't I have imagined that she'd never be far away from
    her dear professor--and we sent him there--we hid him away--we disguised
    his name--college was too public for him--let him finish his
    education in the country--and then we could escape away--to
    Germany--France--anywhere--and carry all the money with us--all the
    money!--half for me, and half for him!--and what'll become of it now?
    Curse the woman! I knew she couldn't be dead. But she sha'n't have the
    money--no! she sha'n't, she sha'n't!

    "Is it possible, now?--could it be that that girl was deceiving me? Did
    she know the woman's name, after all?--no, no! she hasn't the face for
    it--no hypocrite in her yet--not yet, not yet! Well, but what if it's
    all a mistake?--Why not a mistake? why not?--tell me that! Plenty of
    women called Abbie, aren't there? Why shouldn't this be one of them--one
    of the others? No, but the professor had known her before--oh,
    yes!--known her before! and there's only one Abbie that the professor
    knew before! Curse her--curse her!

    "Well, what if she is there? how will she know _him_? The professor
    won't tell her--he can't--he dare not tell her!--for I made him promise
    he wouldn't, and I've got his promise, written down--written down!--Ah!
    that was smart--that was smart! Yes, but the boy looks like his
    father!--that'll betray him!--she'll know him by that--know him? well,
    just as bad--yes, and worse too, in the end--worse! Oh! curse her!

    "Never mind. I know how to manage. If the worst comes to the worst, I
    know what to do! And I must write to him--not now--as soon as he's
    well--he must come away. Even if it should turn out all a mistake, he
    must come away!--I'll write to him, as soon as he's well, that he must
    come away. And I'll question Cornelia again--ah! she's a handsome
    girl!--it's well I got her up here, out of the way!--I'll find out more
    from her. It may be a mistake, after all--it may, it may!"

    While Aunt Margaret, sitting in her boudoir, thus took doubtful and
    disconnected counsel with herself, Cornelia was left to manage her
    little difficulties as best she might. Being tolerably quick in
    observing, and putting things together, and unwilling to trust to
    intuitive judgments of what was safe or unsafe in the moral atmosphere,
    she set to work with all her wits, and not without some measure of
    success, to fathom the secrets of the tantalizing freemasonry which
    piqued her curiosity. By listening to all that was said, laughing when
    others laughed, keeping silent when she was puzzled, comparing results
    and drawing deductions, she presently began to understand a good deal
    more than she had bargained for, was considerably shocked and disgusted,
    and perhaps felt desirous to unlearn what she had learned.

    But this was not so easy. Things she would willingly have forgotten
    seemed, for that very reason, to stick in her memory--nay, in some moods
    of mind, to appear less entirely objectionable than in others. She had
    little opportunity for solitude--to bethink herself where she stood, and
    how she came there. During the daytime, there were the young ladies,
    here, there, and everywhere; there could be no seclusion. In the
    afternoons and evenings some admiring, soft-voiced young gentleman was
    always at her side, offering her his arm on the faintest pretext, or
    attempting to put it round her waist on no pretext at all; who always
    found it more convenient to murmur in her ear, than to speak out from a
    reasonable distance; whose hands were always getting into proximity with
    hers, and often attempting to clasp them; whose eyes were forever
    expressing something earnest or arch, pleading or romantic--though
    precisely what, his lingering utterance scarcely tried to define; who
    never could "see the harm" of these and many other peculiarities of
    behavior; and, indeed it was not very easy to argue about them, although
    the young gentlemen never shrank from the dispute, and never failed to
    have on hand an inexhaustible assortment of syllogisms to combat any
    remonstrance that might be advanced withal; while at the worst they
    could always be surprised and hurt if their conduct were called into
    question. Well, they appeared to be refined and high-bred. Compare them
    with Bill Reynolds! And the flattery of their attention, and the
    preference they gave her over the other girls, were not entirely lost
    upon Cornelia.

    In the absence of both gentlemen and ladies, there, on an
    easily-accessible shelf in the library, were those works of Dumas,
    Féval, and the rest, to which Cornelia's attention had been indirectly
    invited. She had a sound knowledge of the French language, and an
    ardent love of fiction, and beyond question the books were of absorbing
    interest.

    At first, indeed, Cornelia, as she read, would ever and anon blush, and
    look around apprehensively, for fear there should be an observer
    somewhere; and this, too, at passages which a week before she would have
    passed over without noticing, because not understanding them. If any one
    appeared, she hid the book away in the folds of her dress, or under the
    sofa-cushion, and put on the air of having just awakened from a nap.
    By-and-by, however, when she had become a little used to the tone of the
    works, and had asked herself, what were the books put there for, unless
    to be read, she plucked up courage, as her young friends would have
    said--albeit angels might have wept at it--and overcame her notions so
    far as to be able to take down from its shelf and become deeply
    interested in one of the Frenchiest of the set, while three or four
    people were sitting in the library!

    A triumph that! Howbeit, when she went to bed that night there was a
    persistent pain of dry unhappiness in her heart, and a self-contemptuous
    feeling, which she tried to get the better of by calling it _ennui_. But
    in time a kind of hardness, at once flexible and impenetrable, began to
    encase her, rendering her course more easy, less liable to
    embarrassment, more self-confident than before.

    At length a crisis was brought on by the attempt of the boldest of her
    admirers to kiss her. She repelled him passionately, facing him with
    gleaming eyes, and lips white with anger and disgust. He was surprised,
    at first--then angry; but she spoke to him in a way that cowed, and
    finally almost made him ashamed of himself. He even went so far,
    afterward, as to try to knock a fellow down for speaking disrespectfully
    of "Neelie." For her own part, she locked herself into her room, and
    cried tempestuously for half an hour; then she spent a still longer time
    in lying with her heated face upon the pillow, reviewing the incidents
    of her life since Bressant had entered into it. He was the superior of
    any man she had met before or since: she was sure of it now; it could no
    longer be called the infatuation of inexperience. She took herself well
    to task for the recent laxity and imprudence of her conduct; did not
    spare to cut where the flesh was tender; and resolved never again to lay
    herself open to blame.

    This was very well, but the mood was too strained and exalted to be
    depended upon. Cornelia got up from the disordered bed, put it to rights
    again, washed her stained face carefully, rearranged her hair, and went
    down-stairs. All that afternoon she was cold, grave, and reserved;
    inquiries after her health met with a chilling answer, and her friends
    wisely concluded to leave her malady, whatever it were, to the cure of
    time. As dinner progressed, Cornelia began to thaw: when Mr. Grumblow,
    the member of Congress, requested her, with solemn and oppressive
    courtesy, to do him the honor of taking a glass of wine with him, she
    responded graciously; and as the toasts circulated, she first looked
    upon her ideal resolves with good-humored tolerance, and then they
    escaped her memory altogether. She became once more lively and
    sparkling, and carried on what she imagined was a very brilliant
    conversation with two or three people at once. By the time she was
    ready to retire, she had practised anew the whole list of her
    lately-abrogated accomplishments; and she wound up by picking the French
    novel out of the corner into which she had disdainfully thrown it twelve
    hours before, reading it in bed until she fell asleep, and dreaming that
    she was its heroine. And yet she had not forgotten to wind up Bressant's
    watch, and put it in its usual place under her pillow.

    It might seem strange that his memory should not have kept her beyond
    the reach of deleterious influences. But a young girl's love is any
    thing but a preservative, if it shall yield her, in any aspect, other
    than such pure and delicate thoughts as she would not scruple to whisper
    in her mother's ear, or to ask God's blessing on at night. Should there
    be any circumstance or incident, however seemingly trifling and
    unimportant, in her reminiscences, which nevertheless keeps recurring to
    the mind with a slight twinge of regret--a feeling that it would have
    been just as well had it never happened--then is love a dangerous
    companion. Gradually does the trifling spot grow upon her; in trying to
    justify it, she succeeds only in lowering the whole idea of love to its
    level; and this once accomplished, in all future intercourse with her
    lover she must be undefended by the shield of her maidenly integrity.
    And not all men are great enough not to presume on woman's weakness,
    even though it be that woman, to assert whose honor and purity they
    would risk their lives against the world.

    Some such quality of earthiness Cornelia may have felt in the course of
    her acquaintance with Bressant, preventing her love from ennobling and
    elevating her. Alas! if it were so. If she cannot draw a high
    inspiration from the affection which must be her loftiest sentiment,
    what shall be her safeguard, and who her champion?

    In the course of ten days or a fortnight, Aunt Margaret announced that
    the condition of her head would admit of traveling, and the
    long-expected tour began. But the more important consequences of
    Cornelia's fashionable experiences had already taken place.
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