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    Chapter 32

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    Chapter 32
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    WHERE TWO ROADS MEET.

    The velvet-cushioned seat on which he sat felt very comfortable, and
    the great speed at which he was being carried along was agreeable to
    him. He had been busily occupied, with little rest of any kind, and
    scarcely any sleep, for nearly three days; and his mind had been all the
    time engrossed by the most harrowing thoughts and experiences. It was
    all over now; nothing could ever again give him apprehension or anxiety;
    the past was dead and never could live again; the future was arranged,
    and it was simple enough: he, and the woman who had given him birth,
    would sail together for Europe on Monday morning, at twelve o'clock. He
    would have abundant wealth--all the property had been converted into
    ready money, and would be taken with them--and he might live as
    luxuriously, as sensually, as much like a pampered animal as he pleased,
    or as he could. He would forget that he had a mind, or a heart, or a
    soul; they had none of them served him in good stead; but he had some
    reliance on his body. There were few that could compare with it in the
    world, and he felt convinced that he should be able to derive a great
    deal of enjoyment out of it before the time for its death and decay came
    round. At all events, he was resolved that no form of indulgence to his
    bodily appetites should go unproved; and when one grew stale he would
    try another. With such enormous vitality and capacity to be and to
    appreciate being voluptuous, he could hardly fail to avenge himself for
    the hardships he had undergone thus far.

    So he leaned back on the crimson velvet-cushion of his seat, and felt
    very comfortable and composed, thinking of nothing in particular. He
    became pleasantly interested, as the daylight began to make things
    visible without, in trying to count the number of wires on the
    telegraph-poles. It would have been easy enough if they had only kept
    along at an invariable level; but they were always rising--rising--then
    jumping through the pole with a snap!--then ducking suddenly--sinking,
    crossing one another--sometimes scudding along close to the ground,
    then flying up beyond the range of the window--anon scooting beneath
    a dark arch--now indistinguishable against a pine-wood--then
    rising--rising--jumping--ducking--sinking--as before. Though exerting
    all his faculties of observation, it was impossible to be quite certain
    how many wires there were.

    He was nearly alone in the car, and would probably continue to be for an
    hour or so at least. He reversed the seat in front of him, and put up
    his feet, leaving the telegraph-wires to scud and dodge unnoticed. He
    fixed his eyes upon the sweltering stove in the farther corner of the
    car. There was a roaring fire within, as he could tell by the vivid red
    that glowed through the draught-holes beneath the door, and showed here
    and there along the cracks. The sides of the car against which the stove
    stood was protected with zinc; a number of short sticks of wood were
    piled beside it, ready to replenish the fire, and some of them were
    already smoking a little, as if in anticipation. Presently the brakeman
    came in, with a flurry of cold air, his neck and head rolled up in a
    dirty-brown knit woolen tippet, and clumsy gloves on his hands. He took
    the poker, and opened the stove-door with it, peeped into the red-hot
    interior a moment, grasped a solid chunk of wood from the pile, and
    popped it in cleverly; then he stood for a moment, patting the stove
    with his gloved hands, to warm them, till, in response to the whistle,
    he dashed out, slamming the doors as only car-doors can be made to slam,
    and Bressant could dimly distinguish him, through the frosted window,
    working away at the brake.

    They drew up, with much squeaking and grating, at a small,
    snuff-colored, clap-boarded depot, where a boy, about sixteen, with a
    big green carpet-bag, kissed an elderly lady in a black hood, who was
    evidently his mother, and jumped aboard with his bag, in a great hurry,
    lest she should behold the tears in his eyes. He entered the car in
    which Bressant sat, and established himself and his bag on the seat
    immediately in front of that upon which the former's feet were resting.

    The snuff-colored station and the woman in the black hood slipped away,
    and were seen no more. The boy, after scratching a peep-hole through the
    frost-work on his window, and taking a last survey through it of the
    snow-covered fields he was leaving, produced a large blue-spotted
    handkerchief from the pocket of his trousers, and retired with it into
    the privacy of his own feelings.

    He was a rather delicate-looking boy, with large gray eyes and soft
    brown hair, and was evidently not much in the habit of traveling.
    Perhaps this was the first time he had ever left home, thought Bressant,
    in the idleness of his inactive mind. His mother was a widow; her dark
    dress and black hood, and pale, over-worked face looked like it.
    Besides, if the boy had had a father, of course he would have been down
    to see him off. Probably there were sisters, too; the boy looked somehow
    as if he had been brought up with sisters; but they would not have
    followed him down to the station; they kissed him good-by at the
    house-door, leaving it to his mother to see the very last of him. For be
    had resolved to go forth into the world and make his fortune, not to
    encumber his poor mother with his support any longer. He was going,
    probably, to New York, to be a clerk or an errand-boy in some dry-goods
    store, or banking-house, or insurance-office. Once a week--oftener,
    perhaps--he would write home to his mother, sending his love to her and
    to the girls, telling them how much he wanted to see them all again, but
    that he was doing pretty well, and was working, and going to work, very
    hard. He would be rich some day, and they should all come to New York
    then and live in his house on Fifth Avenue!

    Bressant, comfortably extended on his two seats, with his long future of
    bodily case and indulgence opening before him--his freedom from all ties
    to bind him to any spot, or necessities to compel him to any
    labor--Bressant found that the thought of this innocent boy, going forth
    into the world, with his green carpet-bag, his loving heart, his
    assurance of being loved, his ambition to establish his mother and
    sisters on Fifth Avenue, was becoming quite annoying to his mental
    serenity. He would think of him no more, therefore, and, to aid himself
    in this resolve, he closed his eyes, so as to avoid seeing him. Being
    really somewhat weary after his manifold exertions and continued
    sleeplessness, his eyes closed very naturally.

    But the boy was not to be so easily got rid of. He almost immediately
    turned round in his seat, and directed a steadfast gaze out of his gray
    eyes at Bressant's reclining figure. Presently, he pronounced, in a low
    voice, yet which was distinctly audible to the deaf man's ears, two
    words, the effect of which was to make the other start up in his seat,
    and stare about him in amazement and alarm.

    The boy met his glance with great calmness and gentleness, and held out
    his hand as if to grasp Bressant's.

    "Was it you?" exclaimed the latter, bewildered. "How did you know that
    name, and who are you?" As he spoke, he mechanically took the extended
    hand in his own.

    "Why, don't you know me?" answered the boy, smiling, and, at the same
    time, drawing him, by a slight but decided traction, to sit down by him.
    "Me--your best friend?"

    Something in the voice, something in the manner, and in the expression
    of the eyes, but, most of all, the smile, seemed strangely familiar to
    Bressant. The touch of the hand, too, he thought be recognized--it
    soothed and yet controlled him. Still, he was unable to recall exactly
    who the boy was, or where he had seen him before.

    "I've had so much to think of lately," murmured he, partly to himself,
    partly by way of excusing his forgetfulness, passing his hand over his
    forehead.

    "Yes, indeed!" returned the latter, in a tone of tender sympathy, that
    vibrated gratefully along Bressant's nerves. "But we know each other,
    and we are friends--that is enough."

    "How strange that I should meet you here, and at such a time!" said
    Bressant, musingly. And he wondered at himself for feeling glad, instead
    of sorry, that the encounter should have taken place. But the boy looked
    up in surprise.

    "Strange? No! I'm sure it's the most natural thing in the world. How
    could it have happened otherwise? Should I have been your friend if I
    had failed you now?"

    "But do you know every thing?" Bressant demanded--less, however, because
    he doubted that it should be so than as wishing to receive full
    assurance thereof. "Do you know all that has happened during these last
    six months, and yet are willing to be with me and speak to me?"

    "It has been a terrible time, to be sure," said the boy, sadly; "you
    should have kept your promise and come to me at your first trouble. It
    might have saved you from a great deal. And yet I can see how, in the
    end, it may all be for the best."

    Bressant shook his head dejectedly. "I've lost what I never can regain!"
    said he, "and there are three stains--falsehood, dishonor, and
    treachery--that never can be washed out."

    "Don't say that!" exclaimed the boy, earnestly and hopefully. "God
    teaches us, you know, not to be in despair, because without hope--hope
    of becoming better--we can't be really repentant."

    "I'm not repentant, certainly--I have no hope," rejoined Bressant. But,
    even as he spoke the words, he was conscious of that within him which
    contradicted them. Either the influence of the boy's gentle and trustful
    spirit, or a new opening of his own inward eyes, had borne in upon him a
    vision of hitherto unconsidered possibilities.

    The boy seemed to read his thoughts. "You do not believe all you say,"
    observed he. "Remember, it was because you repented of your dishonest
    purposes toward Abbie, and felt that you had wronged your better self
    with Cornelia, that you first resolved to give up Sophie, as being no
    longer worthy of her, and that proved that your love for her at least
    was noble and unselfish."

    "But afterward--afterward I became worse than ever!" exclaimed Bressant,
    who would not dare to entertain a hope until the full depth of his sin
    had been brought forward for the pure and clear-sighted eyes of his
    companion to look upon and judge. "When I found out my shameful
    secret--when I learned what a thing I was, even with no sin of my own to
    drag me down--I didn't care what crime I committed! A kind of evil
    intelligence seemed to come to me. I saw that Cornelia loved me, and
    that I had her in my power, so I went back to get her, to take her with
    me to Europe. There was no repentance in that!"

    "It would have been a terrible sin!" said the boy, with a slight
    shudder. "But God prevented you from committing it."

    "But I'm a thief still, and a coward, for I sneaked away in the night,
    fearing to meet Sophie's eyes, and afraid to tell the professor what I
    was and what I had done. I left all the burden of my sins to be borne by
    women and an infirm old man, and I am going, with a stolen fortune, to
    forget I ever had a heart or a soul."

    "Are you going, and do you think you can forget?" asked the boy, with a
    smile.

    "Don't you give me up yet?" returned Bressant, trembling. "What is left
    for me?"

    "Why, every thing is left for you!" exclaimed the boy, his smile
    brightening in his eyes. "You seem to forget that you haven't gone off
    with any stolen money yet! You must begin at the next station, and
    devote your whole life--no less will answer--to redeeming yourself. Only
    be sure not to delay, and not to hesitate."

    Bressant looked at his companion, and thought there was something divine
    and unearthly almost in his manner, and especially in the light that
    came from his gray eyes.

    "As for the stolen money," the boy continued, "all you have to do about
    that is, to let it alone; it is safe, and will be cared for. But you
    must go straight to the Parsonage. Your marriage-day is Sunday; be sure
    you are there by noon. It may be you will not find Sophie there; but she
    will leave a gift for you, at any rate, and you must be in time to claim
    it."

    "But how can I ask Sophie's forgiveness, and the professor, and
    Cornelia?"

    "Trust wholly in Sophie," returned the other, with an accent of loving
    reproof, "never doubt her love and forgiveness. You must make your peace
    with the professor as best you can; but perhaps he has found that to
    forgive in himself which will enable him to be more charitable to you.
    As for Cornelia, she and you must recompense each other for the evil you
    have mutually wrought upon each other."

    "How recompense each other?" questioned Bressant, in surprise; "it was
    not a high nor a true love that we felt for each other; it was a love of
    the passions and senses."

    "Therefore let it be the work of your lives--a work of penitence and
    punishment--to elevate and refine your love, which has been degraded,
    until it become worthy of the name of love in its highest sense. You
    have lowered each other, and now each must help to raise the other up.
    The work can be delegated to no one else."

    "But Sophie," murmured Bressant, pressing his hand over his eyes.

    "Sophie is lost to you," responded his companion, with a tremulous sigh.
    "Perhaps if you had kept yourself pure and true through all temptations,
    she might have been yours. But you failed, and every failure must bring
    its loss. The air of such a love as that is too fine for you to breathe
    now; you could not be happy nor at ease; but do not grieve for her--only
    mourn for your own deterioration, and strive faithfully, and with
    constant effort, to make it good. Sophie--she will be happier, and
    better cared for, than, as your wife, she could ever have been."

    "But I shall go back to poverty and disgrace, and perhaps to hatred!"

    "The evil you have done will be a clog upon you; but its very weight
    will assure you that your face is turned toward heaven. Life will never
    be to you what you dreamed of making it six months ago. You will find it
    hard and practical, weary and monotonous; but once in a while, perhaps,
    you will catch a breath of air from heaven itself, and will be
    refreshed, or a ray of its light will glimmer on your path, and show you
    where to tread. The end may be a long way off, but you cannot say you
    have no chance of reaching it."

    "Oh, if I only might!" sighed he; "but I've been nothing but a curse, so
    far, to every one I've known!"

    "Not so, either," returned his companion, with a smile so celestial that
    Bressant knew at last it could be no other than the spirit of Sophie
    herself that had been speaking to him. "You have shaken Professor
    Valeyon's confidence in his wisdom and judgment, and the value of his
    experience; you have made him realize that the more God has to do with
    education the better; you have broken down Cornelia's self-complacency,
    and shown her that a beautiful body cannot be safe or happy without a
    soul to take care of it. Abbie has learned from you that love, and
    generosity, and self-sacrifice, may all be worthless if they be founded
    only upon individual grounds, to the exclusion of humanity; and Sophie
    has been taught, by the love she has felt for you, to be humble and
    charitable, and to see how easily self-interest and pride may be made to
    look like zeal for others, and benevolence."

    And then Bressant seemed to be conscious that Sophie was bidding him
    farewell, but he could not see her nor touch her; he was shaken with
    grief, and yet was filled with a strange kind of happiness, and a
    feeling of resolute power. Gradually the influence of her presence faded
    away, and he seemed alone.

    Some one shook him by the shoulder. He looked up and saw the conductor;
    in the background a lady and gentleman waiting to sit down. The car was
    full of people.

    "Come, sir," said the conductor, "you're a pretty big man, but you
    didn't pay for more than one seat, I reckon. You've been sleeping-here
    for more than a hundred miles; if you want to sleep any more I expect
    you'd better get out and go to an hotel."

    Bressant removed his feet from the extra seat, and, the conductor having
    reversed it, the lady and gentleman took their places. As for the boy
    with the green bag and the blue-spotted handkerchief, he was nowhere to
    be seen; he must have left the train at a previous station.

    The train had stopped, and Bressant, glancing out of the window, saw
    that they were at some large railway-junction.

    "How far are we from New York?" he asked of the conductor, with his hand
    to his ear to catch the reply.

    "Be there in two hours," shouted back that gentleman, in reply.

    "When does the next train go through here in the opposite direction?"

    "We're just awaiting for one to come along and give us the track--and
    there she is now," returned the conductor, as he took his departure.

    The whistle screamed malevolently, and, with a jerk and a rattle, the
    car began to move off. Bressant rose suddenly from his seat, walked
    quickly along the aisle to the door, passed through to the platform,
    grasped the iron balustrade with one hand, and swung himself lightly to
    the ground. The whistle screamed again like a disappointed fiend.

    "Guess that young man was up late last night," remarked the conductor to
    the brakeman; "a powerful sound sleep he was in, anyhow."

    "Off on a spree to New York, most like," responded the brakeman,
    tightening his dirty-brown tippet around his neck, "and thought better
    of it at the last minute."
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