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    Chapter 19

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    Chapter 19
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    AN INTERMISSION.

    Bressant's recovery was now very rapid, as he had himself foretold. The
    wedding was finally fixed for New-Year's Day at noon. They were to be
    married at the Parsonage; afterward they might go South for two or three
    months, but it was understood that they would return to the village
    before settling permanently anywhere.

    "If there isn't room for us here, we can board at Abbie's; it would be
    very pleasant, wouldn't it?" said Sophie; but Bressant made no
    rejoinder.

    Professor Valeyon was getting on well beneath the weight of his
    prospective loss. He indulged in as many comforting reflections as he
    could. Cornelia would still be with him, and he loved her as much in one
    way as Sophie in another. He seemed to think, too, that the bride and
    groom would probably settle somewhere in the neighborhood. Again, he
    felt a greater natural affection for Bressant than for any other young
    man; what son-in-law, after all, would he have preferred to have? And
    there may have been additional considerations equally pleasant in the
    contemplation.

    Sophie was in her element; the loveliness and richness of her character
    came out like a sweet, sustaining perfume. In love, all her faculties
    found their fullest exercise. There was no doubt nor darkness in her
    soul. Without looking upon her lover as an angel, she saw in him the
    grand possibilities which human nature still possesses, and felt that
    she might aid them somewhat to develop and flourish.

    As for Bressant, originally the least inclined of any of the circle to
    be pensive and sombre, he now seemed occasionally to contend with
    shadows of some kind. He was far from being habitually gloomy, but his
    moods were not to be depended upon; sometimes a turn of the conversation
    would seem to alter him; sometimes a word which he himself might utter;
    sometimes a silence, which found him light-hearted, would leave him
    troubled and restless. Sophie, so strong and trustful was her happiness,
    never suspected that any thing more than the fretting of his sickness
    was responsible for this, and, indeed, thought little about it at all;
    for, after all, what was it compared to the full tide which swept them
    both along in such an overmastering harmony?

    Within a week from the day of the engagement, a letter came from
    Cornelia, speaking of her desire to be at home again, and further
    intimating that she meant to return in a month at farthest. She did not
    write with as much liveliness and light-heartedness as usual. Sophie
    read the letter aloud to Bressant and her father as they sat in the
    former's room on a cool August afternoon.

    "How surprised she will be to hear what has been going on!" said Sophie,
    looking for Bressant to sympathize with her smile. "I'll write to her
    this evening and tell her all about it." She paused to imagine
    Cornelia's delight, astonishment, and playful dismay on learning that
    her younger sister, whom nobody ever suspected of such a thing, was
    going to be married, and to "that deaf creature," too, whom they had
    discussed so freely only two months or so before. "She must know before
    anybody," said Sophie; and the professor, as he rubbed his spectacles,
    grunted in approval.

    But Bressant chewed his mustache, and said, hastily, the blood reddening
    his face: "No, no! wait--wait till she comes back. She can know it
    first, still; but you had better tell her with words. You can see, with
    your own eyes, then, how--how it pleases her."

    "Yes, that is true," said Sophie, half reluctantly. "Well?"

    Bressant lay silent, with a peering, concentrated look in his eyes, his
    brows slightly contracted. He must have had an intuitive foreboding that
    this matter of the two sisters would cause some difficulty, but he could
    hardly as yet have had a distinct understanding of what jealousy meant.

    Howbeit, the lovers grew every day more intimate. In the earlier days of
    her intercourse with him Sophie had felt an involuntary shrinking from
    she knew not what, but this had been entirely overcome, partly by habit,
    partly from an unconscious resolve on her part not to yield to it. The
    quick, intelligent sympathy of her nature discerned and interpreted the
    germs of new ideas and impulses which were struggling into life in
    Bressant's mind; she translated to him his better part, and warmed it
    with a flood of celestial sunshine.

    But the sun which makes flowers bloom brings forth weeds as well, and
    it would not be strange if this awakening of Bressant's dormant
    faculties should have also brought some evil to the surface which else
    might never have seen the light.

    In the course of another week or so the invalid had so far improved as
    to be able to leave his room, and make short excursions about the house,
    and on to the balcony. The feverish and morbid symptoms faded away, and
    the indulgence of a Titanic appetite began to bring back the broad, firm
    muscles to arms, legs, and body. He felt the returning exhilaration of
    boundless vitality and restless vigor which had distinguished him before
    his accident.

    The summer was now something overworn; the sultry dregs of August were
    ever and anon stirred by the cool finger of September. The leaves,
    losing the green strength of their blood, changed color and fluttered,
    wavering earthward from the boughs whereon they had spent so many
    sociable months. The surrounding hills seen from the parsonage-balcony
    took on subtle changes of tint; the patches of pine and evergreen showed
    out more and more distinctly; the over-ripe grass in the valley lay in
    lines of fragrant haycocks.

    Every day, in the garden, a greater number of red and yellow leaves
    drifted about the paths, or scattered themselves over the flower-beds,
    or floated on the surface of the fountain-basin. Little brown birds
    hopped backward and forward among the twigs, with quick, jerking tails
    and sideway, speculative heads; or upon the ground, pecking at it here
    and there with their little bills, as if under the impression that it
    was summer's grave, and they might chance to dig her up again. But once
    in a while they got discouraged, and took a sudden, rustling flight to
    the roof-tree of the barn, seemingly half inclined to continue on
    indefinitely southward. Then, a reluctance to leave the old place coming
    over them, they would dip back again on their elastic little wings, to
    hop and peck anew.

    Bressant and Sophie were sitting one afternoon--it was in the first days
    of September, and within less than a week of the time when they might
    begin to expect Cornelia--upon the little rustic bench beside the
    fountain. Their conversation had filtered softly into silence, and only
    the flop-flop of the weak-backed little spout continued to prattle to
    the stillness.

    "I don't like it!" exclaimed Bressant, stirring his foot impatiently.
    "I'd rather put my whole life into one strong, resistless shooting
    upward, even if it lasted only a minute."

    "The poor little fountain is happy enough," said well-balanced Sophie.

    "To do any thing there must sometimes be a heat and fury in the blood;
    or a whirl and passion in the brain. Volcanoes reveal the earth's
    heart!" returned he, sententiously.

    "They're very objectionable things though," suggested Sophie, arching
    her eyebrows.

    "They make beautiful mountains, whole islands, sometimes; in a man, they
    show what stuff is in him. It would be better to commit a deadly crime
    than to dribble out a life like that fountain's!"

    "Even to speak of sin's bringing forth good, is a fearful and wicked
    thing," said Sophie; and, although tears rose to her eyes, her voice was
    almost stern. "But you don't know what you say: only think, and you
    will shudder at it."

    But Bressant was perverse. "I think any thing is better than to be
    torpid. I'd rather know I could never hope for happiness hereafter, than
    not have blood enough really to hope or despair at all."

    "Why do you speak so?" asked Sophie, with a look of pain in her grave
    little face. "Do you fear any such torpor in your own life? My love,
    this hasn't always been so."

    "I feel too much in me to manage, sometimes," said he, leaning forward
    on his knees, and working in the sanded path with his foot. "I'm not
    accustomed to myself yet: it will come all right, later. My health and
    strength, too, so soon after my weakness--they intoxicate me, I think."

    Sophie looked at his broad back and dark curly head, and brown, short
    beard, as he sat thus beside her, and she grew pale, and sighed, "It
    isn't right, dear," said she, shaking her head. "There is a quiet and
    deep strength--not demonstrative--that is better than any passion: it is
    less striking, I suppose, but it recognizes more a Power greater than
    any we have."

    "It's true--what you say always is true!" responded Bressant, throwing
    himself back in the seat. "Sophie," he added, without turning his eyes
    upon her, "if I shouldn't turn out all you wish, you won't stop loving
    me?"

    "I couldn't, I think, if I tried," replied she; and there was more of
    regret than of satisfaction in her tone as she said it. "Or, if I could,
    it would tear me all to pieces; and there would be nothing left but my
    love to God, which is His already. All of me, except that, is love for
    you."

    "God and heaven seem unreal--unsubstantial, at any rate--compared with
    you," said Bressant, striking his hand heavily upon the arm of the
    rustic bench. "My love for you is greater than for them!"

    "Oh, stop! hush!" cried Sophie, flinching back as if she had received a
    mortal thrust. The light of indignation and repulse in her gray eyes was
    awful to Bressant, and his own dropped beneath it. "Have you no respect
    for your soul?" she continued, presently. "How long would such love
    last? in what would it end? it would not be love--it would be the
    deadliest kind of hate."

    Bressant rose to his feet, and made a gesture with his arms in the air,
    as if striving by a physical act to regain the mental force and
    equilibrium which Sophie had so unexpectedly overthrown. The mighty
    strength and untamed vehemence of the man's nature were exhibited in the
    movement. Sophie saw, in the vision of a moment, on how wild and stormy
    a sea she had embarked, and for a moment, perhaps, she quailed at the
    sight. But again her great love brought back the flush of dauntless
    courage, and her trembling ceased. She became aware, at that critical
    moment, that she was the stronger of the two; and Bressant probably felt
    it also. He had put forth all his power in a passionate and convulsive
    effort to prevail over the soul of this delicate girl, and he had been
    worsted in the brief, silent struggle. He did not need to look in her
    clear eyes to know it.

    His love must have been strong, indeed; for it stood the test of the
    defeat. He sat down again, and after an almost imperceptible hesitation,
    he held out his hand toward her. She put her own in it, with its
    pressure, soft and delicately strong.

    "I can't reason about these things--I can only feel," said he. "You can
    look into my heart if you will. Don't give me up: you can help me to see
    it all as you do. Isn't it your duty, Sophie, if you love me?"

    "Oh! I will pray for you, my darling," she answered, almost sobbing in
    the tenderness of her great heart, and laying her head upon his broad
    shoulder. "I would not lose your love for all the world; but I feared
    you might be led to something--something that would prevent your loving
    either God or me. Promise me something, dear: if you are ever in trouble
    or danger, and I'm not with you, come to me! No harm can reach us when
    we're together. You need me, and I you."

    "I promise," replied Bressant.

    In the short silence that followed, Sophie heard, though Bressant could
    not, a quick, excited, warbling voice calling her again and again by
    name. She released herself from her lover's hold, and sprang up with a
    cry of delight.

    Bressant, surprised and defrauded, was about to remonstrate; but ere the
    words came, he saw Cornelia appear upon the balcony, and he sank back
    and held his peace.
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