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    Chapter 22

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    Chapter 22
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    LOCKED UP.

    Bressant's health was now sufficiently established to warrant his moving
    back to Abbie's. Not that he was particularly anxious to go, but he had
    no pretext for staying, and his engagement to Sophie was a reason in
    etiquette why he should not. Accordingly, about a week after Cornelia's
    arrival, such of his books and other property as had been sent to him
    from the boarding-house were packed in a box, which was hoisted in to
    the back of the wagon; he and Professor Valeyon mounted the seat, and,
    with Dolly between the shafts, they set out for the village.

    "I suppose you remember a talk I had with you the first evening you came
    here?" said the old gentleman, as they turned the corner in the road.
    "Told you it would be work enough for a churchful of missionaries to
    make any thing out of you, in the way of a minister, and so on?"

    "Very well; I remember the whole conversation," said Bressant, pushing
    up his beard into his mouth and biting it.

    "Thanks to God--I can't take any credit to myself--you've been more
    changed than I ever expected to see you. You've found your heart and how
    to use it. That goes further toward fitting you for the ministry than
    all the divinity-books ever printed."

    Bressant's hankering after the ministerial life was not so strong as it
    once had been; but he said nothing.

    "You'll need means of support when you're married," resumed the
    professor. "A few months' hard study will qualify you to take charge of
    a parish. The next parish to this will be vacant before next spring. If
    I apply for it now, I may be able to give it you, with your wife, as a
    New-Year's gift."

    "I thought of getting a place in New York. What could I do in a country
    parish?"

    "Expensive, living in New York!" said the professor, with a glance of
    quiet scrutiny at his companion's profile. "Marriage won't be a good
    pecuniary investment for you, remember. Better begin safe. The village
    salary will be good enough."

    Bressant communed with himself in silence a few moments, before
    replying:

    "As my father's will stands, Mrs. Vanderplanck--I believe he owed some
    obligation or other to her--receives half the fortune, and I the other
    half. Are you certain that my marriage, and the disclosure it would
    bring about, will forfeit the whole of it?"

    Professor Valeyon touched Dolly with the whip, and turned inward his
    white-bearded lips.

    "All I can tell you about it," said he, "is this: when your mother
    married your father, all her property was settled upon her; so that it
    was only the event of her death, intestate, that could have given your
    father the right to will it away at all."

    At this information, Bressant folded his arms, and, looking steadfastly
    before him, said not a word. A silence followed between the two, which
    lasted over half a mile. Dolly seemed to be in a meditative humor,
    likewise; she whisked her tail with an absorbed air, and once in a while
    shook her ears, or wagged her head, as though accepting or rejecting
    some hypothesis or proposition. Most likely, her problems found their
    solution in the manger that afternoon; but those of the professor and
    his companion received neither so early nor so satisfactory a
    settlement.

    When they had entered upon the willow-stretch, where the trees had
    already scattered upon the ground their first tribute of narrow golden
    leaves, the younger man came to the end of his meditations, straightened
    himself in his seat, and spoke:

    "Let it be as you said about the country parish; if you can get it for
    me, I'll be ready for it."

    Professor Valeyon's face, which had been somewhat overcast, cleared
    beautifully; he appealed to Dolly's sympathies with a flick of the whip,
    to which she responded with a knowing shake of the head, and a
    refreshing increase of speed.

    "That's well, my dear boy," said he. "I respect you."

    "I'm not the only one concerned," continued Bressant, who still sat in
    the same position, with folded arms; "it involves about as much for Mrs.
    Vanderplanck as for me. I shall have to consider that point, and attend
    to it first of all."

    "To tell you the truth," returned Professor Valeyon, with an emphatic
    deliberation of manner, "I don't think you can give her any information
    that she's not possessed of already. She knows as much as you do, that's
    certain. You'll do well to begin business nearer home than at Mrs.
    Vanderplanck's."

    Bressant lifted one hand to his beard, which he twisted about
    unmercifully. "It's only since Cornelia came back that you have thought
    that," he said, at length, with sudden keenness.

    The old gentleman nodded, and met steadily the rapid glance which the
    other gave him.

    "At all events," the latter resumed presently, "she don't know that I
    know, and she don't know what I intend. It's not a pleasant business,
    altogether--understand? You know how I've been brought up. It isn't so
    easy for me to fall into the right sentiments as it might be for other
    men. And--I feel it to be a private matter; I ought to go about it
    alone, and in my own way. Now"--here he turned around, and changed his
    tone, watching the professor's countenance as he spoke, "are you willing
    to leave it entirely in my hands?--promise not to question me, nor to
    speak to me, nor to anybody else, until it's all settled?"

    "More than willing, my dear boy! more than satisfied; you shall have a
    clear field, that's certain. I sha'n't do any thing--sha'n't say a word,
    meanwhile; shall wait with perfect confidence till you're ready to
    report, whenever and however you please."

    "I should like to make you a present on my wedding-day, in return for
    the parish, you know. Will that be soon enough?" and the young man met
    the elder's eye with a sharp look of significance.

    "No more fitting time, no more fitting time," replied Professor Valeyon.
    The old gentleman's heart was full; he shifted the reins to his right
    hand, and laid his left upon Bressant's, which he pressed with much
    feeling. Perhaps it was of bad omen thus to seal a bargain with the left
    hand, but no misgivings of the sort troubled the professor. He felt more
    at ease than at any time since his pupil first sprang up the steps of
    the Parsonage-porch.

    But Bressant, if he were a child in the world of the affections, was, in
    other respects, a man of exceptional shrewdness and comprehensive
    ability. Although he had never as yet turned his attention to business
    matters, he had every faculty and instinct required to make a successful
    business-man. When he found his own interests deeply at stake, he may
    have had more than one motive for wishing to secure to himself a clear
    field. But Professor Valeyon was still as simple-hearted a soul--as
    quick to trust wherever his sympathies dictated--as ever in his younger
    days.

    Bressant did not intend to deceive him, but then he had no irrevocably
    settled plans. He was not one of those who follow blindfold the
    promptings of any principle, simply because it chances to be a lofty
    one. Although passionate, and hot of blood, he could believe that the
    greatest good might be made not inconsistent with the greatest comfort.
    He undoubtedly intended to do what honor, generosity, and his future
    father-in-law, urged him to do; but it was less from an abstract love of
    virtue, than from an overmastering unwillingness to give up Sophie (his
    affection for whom was the most deeply-seated necessity of his nature--a
    fact which must be borne in mind through all that follows), and
    also--this was likewise a consideration of the greatest weight; indeed,
    Sophie alone counted for more--also, from a very confident conviction
    that, after every thing had been accomplished, according to the highest
    dictates of truth, and justice, and all that--he would not, to all
    intents and purposes, lose his fortune after all; that, whatever might
    be the legal disposition of it, all the enjoyments and benefits that it
    could confer would still be his, with the additional grace of having
    acted in a most lofty and self-sacrificing spirit; that, in short, and
    to use a homely illustration, he would be able to give away his cake and
    eat it too.

    After being safely landed at the boarding-house--Abbie was not at home
    at the moment--Bressant bade farewell to the professor, and, assisted by
    the fat Irish servant-girl, carried his box up to his room. It was
    neatly swept, dusted, and put in order; a bunch of fresh flowers upon
    the table; others, in pots, upon the window-sill. Their fragrance gave a
    delicate tone to the atmosphere of the room, and perhaps penetrated more
    nearly to Bressant's heart than an hour full of unanswerable arguments
    and exhortations. He turned to the fat servant, who stood smiling, and
    wiping her hands on her apron.

    "Who brought these flowers? Who arranged them here?"

    "Sure, and wasn't it Abbie herself!" replied the functionary, giving her
    mistress her Christian name, with true democratic freedom. "More than
    that; isn't it herself has swept out the room every week, let alone
    dusting of it every day of her life! which is not mentioning that the
    flowers has been exchanged every day likewise, and fresh put in place of
    them, by reason that the old shouldn't fade; which is a fact
    unprecedented, and unbeknown in my experience, which have been in this
    house nine year come St. Patrick's day--God bless him!"

    Having thus delivered herself of what had evidently been weighing on her
    mind for weeks past, the fat servant-girl stopped wiping her hands on
    her apron (without help of which praiseworthy act she could no more have
    talked, than a donkey with a heavy stone tied to his tail can bray), and
    turning herself about, waddled toward the door. Bressant hesitated a
    moment, passed his hand rapidly down over his face and beard, and then,
    catching open the door just as the fat servant-girl was closing it, he
    requested her to inform Abbie, when she came back, of his return, and
    tell her he would like to speak with her.

    "I'll do it, sir; rest easy," was the encouraging reply. "Faith, and
    it's a handsome man he is, and a sweet, lovely look he has out of his
    eyes; leastways now, which is, maybe, more than could be said when first
    he came here, three months ago, and looked that cold and sharp at a body
    as might make one shiver like. It's likely his being going to marry Miss
    Sophie up to the Parsonage as has fetched a change in him; which, she's
    a dear good girl; and may they be happy--God bless the both of them!"
    Thus soliloquizing, the fat servant-girl, apron in hand, descended the
    narrow stairs, and betook herself to the kitchen.

    Bressant paced restlessly up and down his small room, stopping every
    minute or so to bend over the flower-pots in the window, or take a sniff
    from the bouquet on the table. His cheeks and forehead were flushed, and
    his eyes very brilliant. His lips worked incessantly against one
    another, and he held his hands now clasped behind his back, now thrust
    into the pockets of his coat. But there was certainly a noble and a
    gentle light upon his features, different from their usual expression of
    dazzling intellectual efficiency, different from the passionate fire
    which Cornelia's presence had more than once caused to flicker over
    them, different even from the purer and deeper illumination which his
    love for Sophie sometimes kindled within him. A virtuous act stirs the
    soul by its own innate beauty, even when the motive is not all
    unselfish. It was probably the first time that precisely such a look had
    ever visited Bressant's face; and it was certainly a great pity that no
    one but a fat Irish servant-girl should have had the privilege of
    beholding it there.

    Presently, as he stood facing the door, he saw the latch lifted. The
    moment had come. Involuntarily he caught hold of the back of the chair,
    and drew in his breath.

    Pshaw! only the fat servant again. Bressant bit his lip, stamped his
    foot upon the floor, and frowned.

    The fat girl met these demonstrations with a fat smile, and extended to
    the young man a long, narrow envelop, laid crossways over the dirty palm
    of her large, thick hand.

    "A letter!" exclaimed she, resuming her apron as soon as her hand was at
    liberty. "A letter from New York I'm thinking it is; and sure the
    handwriting's a lady's, every bit of it; which I don't know what Miss
    Sophie would be after saying if she should hear of it--nay, don't fear
    me, sir, that I'd ever have the heart to be telling her of it! And it's
    Abbie as fetched it, and the same bid me tell you as how she'd be after
    coming up here directly; she'll be cleaning her face first, and
    removing her bonnet; which she's always a right neat body, and it's
    myself can testify, as has lived with her nine years, and never had
    cause to complain, God bless her!"

    When Bressant was alone, he sat down in the chair, with the letter
    between his fingers. On such slight hinges do our destinies turn. If
    Abbie had neglected to call at the post-office, or if she had been
    satisfied to give the letter to the young man herself, instead of
    sending it to him five minutes beforehand, or if the writing of the
    letter had been delayed a few hours (how many _ifs_ there always are in
    such cases!), Bressant would have had a far different fate, and this
    story would never have been written. But as it was, five fatal minutes
    intervened between the delivery of the letter and Abbie's appearance,
    during which time he had read it through twice--at first hurriedly, the
    second time slowly and carefully--had replaced it in the envelop, and
    put the envelop in his pocket. Then he sat quite quiet, leaning back in
    his chair, his head thrown forward, his under eyelids drawn up, and
    contracted around the piercing glance of his eves, his jaws and lips set
    tight, and a straight line up his forehead from between his eyebrows. A
    more unpleasant and forbidding expression one does not often meet; but,
    such as it was, it grew still more stern and unpromising when the door
    once more slowly opened, and Abbie appeared upon the threshold.

    Nevertheless, he at once rose, and inclined forward his lofty shoulders
    in a remarkably courteous bow. Abbie, who showed some traces of
    discomposure, and held one finger nervously to her under lip, stepped
    into the room, and they shook hands.

    "I'm glad to welcome you back," said she, apparently unable to remove
    her eyes from his face. "You'll not likely find this place as convenient
    as the Parsonage, though."

    "It's very pleasant; these flowers are delightful. I wanted to thank you
    for them; it seems like home to be here."

    "Like home!" repeated Abbie. Her body seemed to bend and sway toward
    him, and the outer extremity of the eyebrows drooped a little, giving a
    singularly soft and gentle expression to her elderly visage. But seeing
    that he only colored, turning his head aside, and fumbling with his
    beard, her expression changed into one of constraint, which appeared to
    stiffen on her features.

    "I'm glad you like the flowers; I didn't know as you cared for such
    things. I thought if you were ill they might be pleasant to you. But
    you're looking very well, sir, for one who has had so severe an
    accident."

    "Oh, yes; I'm as well as ever. I've had very good nursing."

    "Yes--yes," she said, slowly; "it was better you should be there; you
    couldn't have been so well cared for here. I told Professor Valeyon so
    at the time. I knew you'd feel happier there--more at home. It's all for
    the best--all for the best, in the end." She rattled the keys in her
    girdle before proceeding, with a distraught, embarrassed manner:
    "By-the-way, you had something more than good nursing to help you to
    health, I heard. Is it Cornelia--or Sophie?"

    Bressant hesitated and stammered--a weakness he seldom was guilty of,
    especially when there was so little reason for it as at present.

    "It's--I'm--oh!--Sophie!" said he.

    "I heard it was Sophie, but I thought likely as not it was a mistake of
    one for another. Sophie," repeated she, musingly, "that sweet, delicate
    little angel. Oh, I should fear, I should fear! Cornelia would have been
    better--not so sensitive--she can bear more--and who knows?--No; but I
    do him wrong; he loves her: she'll be happy; she can't help it!"

    Here Abbie became aware that she had been thinking aloud; her hand
    sought her mouth, and she glanced apprehensively at Bressant. But he had
    evidently heard nothing of the latter part of her speech, which was
    spoken in a low tone. He had taken a flower from the bunch on the table,
    and was pulling it ruthlessly to pieces. He did not look up. Abbie,
    rattling her keys, retired toward the door.

    "I'll bid you good-morning, sir. A house-keeper always must be busy, you
    know; and, of course, you can't afford to be disturbed. You need never
    fear any disturbance from me--never, I assure you. By-the-way, you
    received your letter? I gave it to the servant, instead of waiting to
    bring it myself, because I thought it might be important."

    "Oh, yes, I have it; no--no importance at all. Good-morning."

    Abbie walked hurriedly and unevenly to her room, shut herself in, and
    fastened the door. She sat down on a chair which stood by the
    old-fashioned desk in the corner, and it seemed to her she could not
    rise from it again. A faintness was upon her, which she thought might,
    perhaps, be death. There was a sensation within her as if a clock had
    run down in her head, and had dropped the heavy weight into her heart.
    She could feel the paleness of her face, and the drops of moisture on
    her forehead. Her breathing was wellnigh imperceptible. She sat quite,
    still, in a kind of awful expectation, as if listening for the echoless
    footfall of Death. But he passed by on the other side, and left her to
    face her life again.

    She felt rather tired of it, as she sat up and looked dimly around her.
    Putting her hand in the pocket of her dark dress, she drew out the small
    square morocco case which contained the daguerreotype. It was rather
    mortifying, certainly: every one knows what it is to appear, dressed for
    a party, and find you have mistaken the night. In what pleasant little
    episode had Abbie flattered herself that this portrait, with its grave,
    dark, baby eyes, its soft, light curls, its slender, solemn little face,
    might be going to play a part? No matter: the hope was gone by; and
    every day the portrait faded more and more indistinguishably into the
    dark background. Abbie looked at it a moment or two only, then closed
    the case, and carefully fastened the two little hooks which kept it
    shut. Opening the old-fashioned desk, she put the daguerreotype in its
    little drawer, and locked it up. She held the key--a small brass
    key--between her finger and thumb, meditating. Presently she went to the
    window, opened it, and looked out. Beneath, a little to one side, stood
    a huge black water-butt, half buried in the earth, and partly full of
    rain-water, contributed by the tin spout whose mouth opened above it.
    Into this butt Abbie dropped the key. It struck the water with a faint
    pat, and disappeared, causing two or three circles to expand to the
    edges of the butt, against which they disappeared also.

    She did not immediately draw back, but remained leaning with her arms
    upon the window-sill. It was a beautiful, cool, September morning, such
    as makes breathing and eyesight luxurious. The fat Irish girl sat on the
    back steps, peeling potatoes for dinner. On the step by her side was a
    large earthen bowl, into which she put the potatoes, while throwing the
    skins into the swill-pail on her right. She was obliged to give her
    whole mind to the operation, there being a danger lest, in rapid
    working, she should happen to throw the potato into the swill-pail, and
    put the skin into the earthen bowl. She was much too absorbed to notice
    the beautiful weather, even had she been inclined to do so; but it
    remained beautiful, nevertheless.

    "I'd be a fool to find fault with him," said Abbie to herself. "How can
    I expect him to see any thing in me, more than I can see myself in the
    looking-glass? And then, he loves Sophie, and perhaps he thinks I'd rob
    her; the Lord knows I only coveted the luxury of giving away my own, and
    seeing them happy with it. Well, he may set his mind at rest; he shall
    never suffer the mortification of having to thank a boarding-house
    keeper for his fortune.

    "O my boy--my dear, dear boy!"

    Meanwhile Bressant, having been relieved, by the timely arrival of the
    letter, from any present necessity of visiting his aunt, was devoting
    himself pretty diligently to the cultivation of that line in his
    forehead running perpendicularly up from between the eyebrows. It bade
    fair to become a permanent feature in his face.
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    Chapter 22
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