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    Chapter 17

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    Chapter 17
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    SOPHIE'S CONFESSION.

    Sophie did not stay long in the invalid's room after the awakening they
    had undergone with respect to one another. She went instinctively to her
    father's study, and, entering the open door, kissed the old man ere he
    was well aware of her presence. He took her affectionately upon his
    knee, and hugged her up to him with homely tenderness.

    "My precious little daughter!" quoth he; "what would your old father do
    without you?"

    "Am I so much to you, papa?" asked she, with her cheek resting upon his
    shoulder.

    "Very much--very much, Sophie: too much, perhaps; for I don't see how I
    could bear to lose you."

    "Do you mean to have me die, papa?"

    "How is your sick boy getting along?" returned the professor, clearing
    his throat, and not seeming to hear his daughter's words.

    Sophie caught a breath, and paled a little at the thought of the news
    she had to tell about the sick boy. Her father had just told her she was
    precious to him, and she felt that to be married might involve a
    separation virtually as complete as that of death, and perhaps harder to
    bear. But, again, she needed his sympathy and approval: and, sooner or
    later, he must hear the truth. She was not, perhaps, aware that
    etiquette should have closed her lips upon the subject until after
    Bressant had spoken to the professor; at all events, she had no
    intention of delegating or postponing her confidence.

    "He seemed quite well when I left him. I have been having a--talk with
    him, papa."

    "He begins to show the effects of being talked to by you, my dear.
    You're a wise little woman in some ways, that's certain! and have done
    him good in more ways than one," said papa, with parental complacency.

    Sophie shrank at this, remembering how lately she had fed herself with
    the same idea. She had learned a great deal about herself since
    discovering how little of herself she knew.

    "He is a--man!" said she, trying to throw into the word an expression of
    its best and loftiest meaning. "I can do very little to help him."

    "Hope to see him a man some day, my dear," returned the professor,
    gathering his eyebrows. "Has a great many faults at present. Why, in
    some respects, he's as ignorant and inexperienced as a child. Very
    one-sided affair still, I fear, that soul of his!"

    "One-sided, papa?"

    "Yes: don't believe it would carry him very far toward heaven, as it is
    now," said the old gentleman, whose severity of judgment was cultivated
    in this instance as a preservative against possible disappointment. "He
    needs melting in a crucible."

    "What does that mean?"

    "If you weren't a wise little woman, as I said, I shouldn't be talking
    about my pupil's character and management with you, my dear. But I can
    trust you as well as if you were forty;" and here he gave her another
    little hug, which made Sophie feel like a receiver of stolen goods.
    "Well, now, theorizing won't do a young fellow like that much good. He
    needs something real--that he can take hold of, and that'll take hold of
    him. You and I can't give it him--not more than an impetus in the right
    direction, at any rate. But the only thing that can make his future
    tolerably secure--make it safe to count upon him (or upon any other man,
    for that matter), is for him to fall heartily and soundly in love, in
    the old-fashioned way, and with a strong-hearted, worthy woman."

    "O papa! do you really think marriage will help him to be greater and
    better?"

    "It's the only thing for him, my dear," said Professor Valeyon; and,
    although he was looking his guilty little daughter straight in the face,
    and at such short range, too, this would-be sharp-sighted old man of
    wisdom never thought to ask himself why she blushed so. "As soon as he
    gets well again, I must see to getting him somewhere where he can have a
    chance to profit by what we have done for him."

    "Papa," said Sophie, sitting up, and stroking the old gentleman's white
    beard, "you don't know how happy it makes me to hear you think that to
    love and to be loved will be good for him."

    "So anxious to get rid of him, eh?"

    "No; oh! papa, don't you see? it's because--because I _never_ want to
    get rid of him!" and Sophie, catching her father suddenly around the
    neck, hid her face in his linen coat-collar.

    The professor, his features discharged of all expression, sat
    stone-still, looking straight before him. Had Death been embracing him,
    instead of his daughter, he could hardly have been struck more
    motionless. Existence, spiritual as well as physical, seemed for a space
    to have come to a stand-still.

    By-and-by, startled at his silence, Sophie raised her head and looked at
    him with alarmed eyes. With an effort, he turned his face toward her,
    and smiled as naturally as though his mouth had been frozen.

    "I'm an old man, you see, my dear: a surprise like this makes me feel
    it," he made shift to say, in an uncertain voice. "So--you're engaged to
    each other?"

    "We're waiting for you to say we may be, papa."

    "It is right--it is just!" said the professor, solemnly, though still
    with a sluggish utterance. "I sought to glorify God to the end of mine
    own glorification, and lo! He hath taken from me my own heart's blood!"
    Swept off his feet by the profundity of his emotion, the ministerial
    form of speech, so long disused, rose naturally to the old man's lips.

    But presently, the paralyzing effect of the shock beginning to wear off,
    he drew a few long breaths, and found himself growing very hot. He took
    out his handkerchief and wiped away the perspiration that had gathered
    on his forehead. Then he took his little daughter strongly yet
    tremblingly to his heart, and kissed her more than once.

    "God bless you! my darling--my Sophie--you're my Sophie still, if you
    are in love with that--great overgrown rascal. I'm a fool--an old fool!
    Well--and how long has this been going on between you, my darling?"

    Sophie's heart, which, in the passionate tumult of her recent interview
    with her lover, had remained so steady and unfaltering, began now to
    beat with such violence as to impede her utterance and visibly to shake
    her. She was resolved to show herself to her father even as she was.

    "I hardly can say how long, papa--I think--I think it must have been
    a--a long time--at least, on my side. Oh! I have been so false--so false
    to myself, and so unwomanly! I have courted him, papa--_I_, papa--think
    of it! I've thrown myself in his way, and--and made him interested in
    me; and talked to him about things that--no one but his mother, or you,
    should have done. Poor fellow!--I've forced myself upon him, papa. I
    took advantage of his illness and helplessness, and pretended all the
    time I was thinking only of his spiritual welfare, and--and not of--of
    any thing else. That was the wickedest part. And yet, somehow, I
    deceived myself too--or, rather, I wouldn't see the truth: and I didn't
    know--papa, I really believe I didn't know that I--loved him, till
    he--till he began to speak of it; then it seemed suddenly to fill all my
    heart, as if it had always lived there. For I succeeded, papa: I've won
    his love, and, oh! he loves me so! he loves me so! and so I've found my
    punishment in my happiness. God is so just and good. The happier his
    love makes me, you see, the more I shall be humbled to think how it
    became mine. It is well for me, for I was proud and reserved and full of
    self-conceit. And you really think it will not hurt him to love me, and
    to have me love him, papa?"

    "Stuff and nonsense!" growled the old gentleman, testily; "hurt him!"

    But the professor was really a very wise man, in spite of his occasional
    blindness; and he refrained from showing Sophie the exaggeration and
    distortion which marked the view she took of her conduct. He saw it
    would involve lowering the high integrity of her ideal conceptions
    respecting delicacy and honor--hardly worth while, merely for the sake
    of explaining the distinction between a trifling piece of self-deception
    and mistaken vanity, and the severe and unrelenting sentence which
    Sophie had passed upon herself. Meanwhile, every word she had uttered
    had been an indirect, but none the less telling blow upon a sore place
    in his own conscience. It was long since Professor Valeyon had stood so
    low in his own self-esteem.

    They sat awhile in silence, Sophie nestling up to her father as if
    seeking protection from the very love that had come to her; and he
    sighed, and sighed again, and coughed, and pulled his nose and his
    beard, and finally blew his nose. Then, depositing Sophie upon her feet,
    he got slowly up, stretched himself, and went for his pipe.

    "Run off, my dear. Go up in your room, or out in the garden, or
    somewhere. I must be alone a little while, you know; must think it all
    over, and see how things stand. Besides, I must step in and see this
    fellow who's going to rob me of my daughter, and tell him what I think
    of him. Come, off with you!"

    "You'll be happy about it--you'll forgive us, won't you, papa?" she
    said, turning at the door.

    The old gentleman shuffled heavily up to her, and kissed her on the
    forehead.

    "God bless you, and God's will be done, my darling!" said he; but at
    that moment he could say no more.

    An hour afterward, however, when the professor knocked the ashes out of
    his second pipe, and laid his hand upon the latch of Bressant's door,
    the expression upon his strongly-cut features was neither gloomy nor
    severe. There was a look in his eyes of benignant sweetness, all the
    more impressive because it made one wonder how it could find a place
    beneath such stern eyebrows and so deeply lined a forehead. But, cutting
    off an offending right hand, although a bitter piece of work enough for
    the time being, may, in its after-effect, work as gracious a miracle in
    an older and more forbidding gentleman even than Professor Valeyon.
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    Chapter 17
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