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    Chapter 33

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    Chapter 33
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    Her fruitless call for Bressant seemed quite to exhaust Sophie. For a
    long time afterward she hardly opened her mouth, except to swallow some
    hot black coffee. The professor sat, for the most part, with his finger
    on her pulse, his eyes looking more hollow and his forehead more deeply
    lined than ever before, but with no other signs of anxiety or suffering.
    Cornelia came in and out--a restless spirit. She awaited Sophie's
    recovery with no less of dread than of hope. Her life hung, as it were,
    upon her sister's. The moment in which Sophie recovered her faculties
    enough to think and speak would be the last that Cornelia could maintain
    her mask of honor and respectability, for Cornelia knew that Sophie was
    in possession of her secret; she had been up in her room, and the open
    window had told the story.

    It was a time of awful suspense. Cornelia wished there had been somebody
    there to talk with; even Bill Reynolds would have been welcome now. He,
    however, had departed long ago, having bethought himself that his horse
    was catching its death o' cold, standing out there with no rug on. She
    was entirely alone; she hardly dared to think, for fear something guilty
    should be generated in her mind; and, though every moment was pain,
    without stop or mitigation, every moment was inestimably precious, too;
    it was so much between her and revelation. She almost counted the
    seconds as they passed, yet rated them for dragging on so wearily.
    Every tick of the little ormolu clock marked away a large part of her
    life, and yet was wearisome to so much of it as remained. Sometimes she
    debated whether she could not anticipate the end by speaking out at
    once, of her own free-will; but no, short as her time was, she could not
    afford to lose the smallest fraction of it--no, she could not.

    Bethinking herself that her father would be lost to her after the
    revelation had taken place, Cornelia felt a consuming desire to enjoy
    his love to the fullest possible extent during the interval. She wanted
    him to call her his dear daughter--to hold her hand--to pat her
    check--to kiss her forehead with his rough, bristly lips--to tell her,
    in his gruff, kind voice, that she was a solace and a resource to him.
    The thousand various little ways in which he had testified his
    deep-lying affection--she had not noticed them or thought much of them,
    so long as she felt secure of always commanding them--with what
    different eyes she looked back upon them now. Oh! if they might all be
    lavished upon her during these last few remaining hours or minutes.
    Should she not go and sit down at his knee, and ask him to pet her and
    caress her?

    No; she would not steal the love for which her soul thirsted, even
    though he whom she robbed should not feel the loss. She had stripped him
    of much that would doubtless seem to him of far more worth and
    importance; but, when it came to taking, under false pretenses, a thing
    so sacred as her father's love, Cornelia drew back, and, spite of her
    great need, had the grace to make the sacrifice. Let it not be
    underrated: a woman who sees honor, reputation, and happiness slipping
    away from her, will struggle hardest of all for the little remaining
    scrap of love, and only feel wholly forlorn after that, too, has
    vanished away.

    At length, about daybreak or a little after, Sophie spoke, low, but very

    "I'm going to sleep; don't wake me or disturb me;" and almost
    immediately sank into a profound slumber--so very profound, indeed, that
    it rather bore likeness to a trance. Yet, her pulse still beat
    regularly, though faintly, and at long intervals, and her breath went
    and came, though with a motion almost imperceptible to the eye.

    "Is it a good sign? Will she get well now?" asked Cornelia, as she and
    her father stood looking down at her.

    "She'll never get well, my dear," said Professor Valeyon, very quietly.
    "Her mind and body both have had too great a shock--far too great. More
    has happened than we know of yet, I suspect. But we shall hear, we shall
    hear. Yes, sleep is good for her: it'll make her comfortable. Her nerves
    will be the quieter."

    "O papa! papa! is our little Sophie going to die?" faltered Cornelia;
    and then she broke down completely. She had not fully grasped the idea
    until that moment; but the very tone in which her father spoke had the
    declaration of death in it. It was not his usual deep, gruff, forcible
    voice, shutting off abruptly at the end of his sentences, and beginning
    them as sharply. It had lost body and color, was thin, subdued, and
    monotonous. Professor Valeyon had changed from a lusty winter into a
    broken, infirm, and marrowless thaw.

    He stood and watched her weep for a long while, bending his eyes upon
    her from beneath their heavy, impending brows. Heavy and impending they
    were still, but the vitality--the sort of warm-hearted fierceness--of
    his look was gone--gone! A young and bitter grief, like Cornelia's,
    coming at a time of life when the feelings are so tender and their
    manifestation of pain so poignant--is terrible enough to see, God knows!
    but the dry-eyed anguish of the old, of those who no longer possess the
    latent, indefinite, all-powerful encouragement of the future to support
    them--who can breathe only the lifeless, cheerless air of the
    past--grief with them does not convulse: it saps, and chills, and
    crumbles away, without noise or any kind of demonstration. The sight
    does not terrify or harrow us, but it makes us sick at heart and tinges
    our thoughts with a gloomy stain, which rather sinks out of sight than
    is worn away.

    "Will you stay and watch with her, my dear?" said the old man, at last.
    "She'll sleep some hours, I think. I'll take a little sleep myself. Call
    me when she wakes."

    So Cornelia was left alone to watch her sleeping and dying sister. All
    the morning she sat by the bed, almost as motionless as Sophie herself.
    Her mind was like a surf-wave that breaks upon the shore, slips back,
    regathers itself, and undulates on, to break again. Begin where she
    would, she always ended on that bed, with its well-known face, set
    around with soft dark hair, always in the same position upon the pillow,
    which yielded beneath it in always the same creases and curves.
    By-and-by, wherever she turned, still she saw that face, with the pillow
    rising around it; and when she shut her eyes, there it was, growing, in
    the blackness, clearer the more she tried to avert her mind.

    It seemed to Cornelia--for time enters involuntarily into our thoughts
    upon all subjects--that the present order of things must have existed
    for a far longer period than a single night. How could the events of a
    few hours wear such deep and uneffaceable channels in human lives? But
    our souls have a chronology of their own, compared with the vividness
    and instantaneous workings of which, our bodies bear but a dull and
    lagging part. Sorrow and joy, which act upon the soul immediately, must
    labor long ere they can write themselves legibly and permanently upon
    our faces.

    Cornelia fell to wondering, too--as most people under the pressure of
    grief are prone to do--whether there were any sympathy or any connection
    between the world and the human beings who live upon it. Her eyes
    wandered hither and thither about the room, and found it almost
    startling in its unaltered naturalness. There was the same view of
    trees, road, and field, out of the window; and the same snow which had
    fallen before the tragedy, lay there now. Even in Sophie's face there
    was no adequate transformation. Indeed, being somewhat reddened and
    swollen by the reaction from freezing, a stranger might have supposed
    that she was tolerably stout and glowing with vitality. And Cornelia
    looked at her own hands, as they lay in her lap: they were as round and
    shapely as ever; and there, upon the smooth back of one, below the
    forefinger, was a white scar, where she had cut herself when a little
    girl. Moreover--Cornelia started as her eyes rested upon it, and the
    blood rose painfully to her face--there was a dark, discolored bruise,
    encircling one wrist: Bressant's last gift--an ominous betrothal ring!

    Thus several hours passed away, until, at length, Cornelia raised her
    eyes suddenly, and encountered those of Sophie, fixed upon her.

    What a look was that! At all times there was more to be seen in Sophie's
    eyes than in most women's; but now they were fathomless, and yet never
    more clear and simple. Cornelia read in them all and more than legions
    of words could have told her. There were visible the complete grasp and
    appreciation of Cornelia's and Bressant's crime; the realization of her
    own position between them; pity and sympathy for the sinners, too, were
    there; and love, not sisterly, nor quite human, for Sophie had already
    begun to put on immortality--but such a love as an angel might have
    felt, knowing the temptation and the punishment. Before that look
    Cornelia felt her own bitterness and anguish fade away, as a candle is
    obliterated by the sun. She saw in Sophie so much higher a capacity for
    feeling, so much profounder and more sublime an emotion, that she was
    ashamed of her own beside it.

    There was at once a comprehensiveness and a particularity in Sophie's
    gaze which, while humbling and abasing Cornelia, brought a comforting
    feeling that full justice, upon all points, had been done her in
    Sophie's mind. There was no lack of charity for her trials and
    temptations, no vindictiveness. Cornelia felt no impulse to plead her
    cause, because aware that all she could say would be anticipated in her
    sister's forgiveness. Nay, she almost wished there had been some
    bitterness and anger against which to contend. Perhaps it may be so with
    our souls in their judgment-day; God's mercy may outstrip the poor
    conjectures we have formed about it. He may see palliation for our sins,
    which we ourselves had not taken into account.

    After a few moments, Sophie beckoned Cornelia to come near, and, as the
    latter stood beside the bed, took her by the hand and smiled.

    "I've been all this time with Bressant," were her first words, spoken
    faintly, but with a quiet and serene assurance.

    Cornelia made no answer; indeed, she could not speak. Strange and
    incomprehensible as Sophie's assertion was, she did not think of
    doubting but that in some way it must be true. Sophie continued:

    "Before I went to sleep, I prayed God to send my spirit to him; and we
    have been together. Neelie, he is coming back!"

    "Coming back! Sophie, coming back! For what?"

    "Don't look so frightened, my darling. He will tell you why when he gets
    here. That will be to-morrow at noon."

    "O Sophie! Sophie! the day and hour of your marriage!"

    Cornelia sank upon her knees, and hid her face upon the edge of the bed.
    But Sophie let her hand wander over her head, with a soothing motion.

    "No, dear; that's all over, Neelie dear, you know. Not the day and hour
    of my marriage any more. Neelie, I want to ask you something."

    Cornelia lifted her head from the bedside; then, divining from Sophie's
    face, ere it was spoken, what her question was to be, faintness and
    terror seized upon her, and she clasped her hands over her eyes. The
    unexpectedness of Sophie's first awakening, and her subsequent strange
    speech concerning Bressant, had driven from Cornelia's head the matter
    which had monopolized her thoughts and fears before; and it now recurred
    to her with an effect almost as overwhelming as if the idea had been a
    new one.

    "I couldn't do it," said she, huskily; "it seemed worse than killing
    myself. I believe it would have killed me to have stood before him, with
    his eyes upon my face, and have told him--told him--"

    "Yes, dear, yes; it must not be you, Neelie. How is he? Does he seem
    well and cheerful?"

    "I don't know--I've hardly dared to look at him, or speak to him. He's
    been lying down, I believe, since you went to sleep."

    "Ask him to come to me," Sophie said, after a pause. "I will speak to
    him; I'll tell him; it will be best that I should do it; and you will
    trust me?"

    "O Sophie!" was all that Cornelia could say; but it expressed at least
    the fullness of her heart. What must be the love and tenderness that
    could undertake such a task as this! How great the trial for a nature
    delicate and shrinking, like Sophie's, to bear witness before their own
    father of her sister's sin against herself! But Sophie was as brave as
    she was feminine and delicate.

    Cornelia's gratitude, however, was mingled still with a despairing
    agony, and her life seemed to be escaping from her. If this cup might
    but pass!

    "He will not be to me as you are, Sophie. He will never look at me

    "Do not fear," replied Sophie, with her faint but incomparable smile.
    "If I can forgive you, surely he must. Go and call him, and then stay in
    your room till he comes to you."

    But Cornelia, as she left the room upon her heavy errand, shook her
    head, and drew a shivering breath. She knew her father would look upon
    the matter more from the world's point of view than Sophie did; and it
    was a curious example of the strength of the material element in
    Cornelia, that she more feared to meet her father's eye, whom she felt
    would understand that aspect of her disgrace, than Sophie's, who
    probably had a more acute and certainly a more exclusive perception of
    her spiritual accountability.

    As she was beginning to mount the stairs, she met her father already on
    his way down. He noticed the wretchedness depicted on her face, and,
    supposing it to be all on Sophie's account, did what he could to comfort

    "Don't despair, my child," quoth the old man, laying his hands on her
    shoulders. "Nothing is so hopeless that we mayn't trust in God to better

    The words seemed to apply so felicitously that Cornelia tried to think
    it a good omen sent from heaven. Then he bent over and kissed her
    forehead--perhaps before she was aware, perhaps not; but she took it,
    praying that it might prove a blessing to her hereafter, even if it were
    the last she were destined to receive. She passed on into her own room
    without speaking, and sat down there to wait.

    To wait! and for what, and how long? till her father came to her? But
    suppose he were not to come? She would stay there, perhaps, an
    hour--that would be long enough--yes, too long; but still let it be an
    hour; and then, he not coming, what should she do? Go to him? No, she
    would never dare, never presume to do that. What then? steal
    down-stairs, a guilty, hateful thing, softly open the door which would
    never open to her again, and run away through the snow? The world would
    be before her, but snow and ice would but faintly symbolize its
    coldness. Was it likely that heaven itself would yield her entrance
    after her father's door had closed upon her?

    But would not Sophie prevail, and turn his heart to forgiveness? Oh!
    but why was it not probable, and more than probable, that the argument
    would result the other way?--that her father, by a clear and stern
    representation of the real heinousness of her offense, would convince
    Sophie that Cornelia was entitled to nothing but condemnation?
    There would be nothing to urge against the justice of such a

    Perhaps Sophie's courage might fail her, or her strength give way,
    leaving the ugly story but half told, and then her father would come to
    her to learn the rest. What should she do then? How much more terrible
    to be obliged to tell him then, after having made up her mind that her
    sister was to take the burden off her shoulders, than it would have been
    before any such resource had presented itself! How much more awful to
    meet her father when aroused by suspicion and anger, and perhaps
    loathing, than to begin her confession while his face was as she had
    always seen it, when turned toward her--loving and tender!

    She could not sit still, at last, but rose up from her chair to walk the
    room--not from the old, restless energy, which needed physical exercise
    to keep it within bounds, for Cornelia was now white and faint, from
    exhaustion of mind and body, but from the tumult of pervading fear and
    delusive hope--the attention strained to catch some sound from below,
    and the dread lest it should never come. As the suspense grew more
    painful, the rapidity of her walk increased.

    She expected now, every moment, to catch herself shrieking aloud, or
    performing some mad action or other. How long had she been up there
    already? Was it an hour yet? It must be an hour. Oh! it was more. Was he
    never coming, then?--never? O God! was there no forgiveness? Cornelia's
    walk had gone on quickening until it was almost a run. She was circling
    round and round the room, like a wild animal--was growing dizzy and
    exhausted, but was afraid to stop: better her body should give way than
    her mind--and, all the time, her ears were alert for the slightest

    She halted, wild-eyed and unsteady on her feet, her hand trembling at
    her lips. A step in the passage below, ascending the stairs slowly and
    heavily. Oh! did it come in mercy? She tried to draw a meaning from the
    sound--then dared not trust her inference. The steps had gained the
    landing now--were advancing along the entry toward her door. Did they
    bear a load of sorrow only, or of hate and condemnation likewise?

    They paused at her threshold--then there was a knock, thrice
    repeated--not loud, nor rapid, nor regular, nor precise--rather as one
    heart might knock for admittance to another. Cornelia tried to say "Come
    in," or to open the door, but could neither speak nor move. Iron bands
    seemed to be clasped around all her faculties of motion. Would he go
    away and leave her?

    The door opened, turning slowly and hesitatingly on its hinges, until it
    disclosed her father's venerable figure. His limbs seemed weak; his
    shoulders drooped; but Cornelia looked only at his face. His eyes were
    deep and compassionate. He held out his arms, which shook slightly but
    continually: "Come, my daughter," said he.

    She was his daughter still! She cried out, and, walking hurriedly to
    him, laid herself close against him, and he hugged her closer yet--poor,
    miserable, erring creature though she was.

    So the three were reunited--and not superficially, but more intimately
    and indissolubly than ever before. They would not be apart, but remained
    together in Bressant's room--Sophie on the bed, with an expression of
    divine contentment on her face, Cornelia and the professor sitting near.

    "Papa," said Sophie, as the afternoon came on, "I want to make my will."

    Cornelia caught her breath sharply, and, turning away her face, covered
    her eyes with her hand. Professor Valeyon's gray eyebrows gathered for a
    moment--then he steadied himself, and said, "Well, my dear."

    It was not a very intricate matter. The various little bequests were
    soon made and noted down as she requested. After all was disposed of,
    there was a little pause.

    "Neelie, dear," then said Sophie, turning her eyes full upon her, "I
    bequeath my love to you."

    Cornelia perceived the hidden significance in the words, and blushed so
    deep and warm that the tears were dried upon her cheeks. Sophie went on,
    before she could make any reply:

    "And I have something left for you, too, papa, though I know no one
    needs it less than you. But you may be called on for a great deal, so I
    bequeath you my charity. I haven't had it so very long myself."

    The professor bowed his head, and, the will being complete, he took off
    his spectacles, and wiped them with his handkerchief.

    "I was telling Neelie this morning, papa," resumed Sophie, after a
    while, "that I had been--that I'd had a dream that I was with Bressant;
    and I feel sure--though I suppose you'll think it nothing but a sick
    fancy of mine--that he will be here to-morrow noon."

    The professor looked at Sophie, startled and anxious; but her appearance
    was so composed, straight-forward, and full of faith, he could not think
    her wandering.

    "Do you know where he has been, my dear? or where he is now?" asked he,

    "I cannot tell that. I knew and understood a great deal in my dream that
    I cannot remember now," she answered. "I only know that he will be here
    to-morrow, and, papa, and you, Neelie, whether you believe as I do or
    not, I want you to get ready to receive him. Let it be in this dear old
    room--I lying here as I am now, and you sitting so beside me. We'll wait
    for him to-morrow morning until twelve o'clock. If I should die before
    then, let my body stay here until noon, for I want him to see my face
    when he comes, so that he'll always remember how happy I looked. But if,
    after that little clock on the mantel-piece strikes twelve, still he
    isn't here, then you may do with me as you will. I shall not know nor

    After this little speech, Sophie became very silent, being, in truth,
    too weak and worn out to speak or move, save at long, and ever longer,
    intervals. All that night, Professor Valeyon carried an aching and
    mistrustful heart; but Cornelia had a red spot in either cheek, never
    fading nor shifting. Sophie appeared to wander several times, murmuring
    something about darkness, and snow, and deadly weariness. A snow-storm
    had set in toward evening, and lasted until daybreak, a circumstance
    which seemed to cause Sophie considerable anxiety.

    By ten o'clock all the preparations were made according to Sophie's
    wish, and there was nothing to do but to wait. Cornelia sat brooding
    with folded arms, and the feverish spots on her cheeks. Occasionally she
    restlessly varied her position, seldom allowing her eyes to stray around
    the room, however, save that once in a while they sought Sophie's
    colorless, ethereal face, as a thirsty soul the water. The professor
    stood much at the window, and once or twice he imagined he caught a
    glimpse, somewhere down the road, of a darkly-clad woman's figure; but
    she never came nearer, and he decided it must be a hallucination of his
    fading eyes.

    Eleven o'clock struck from the little ormolu timepiece. A few moments
    afterward Sophie stirred slightly as she lay, and the professor and
    Cornelia listened breathlessly for what she would say.

    She lifted her heavy lids, and turned her eyes, a little dimmer now than
    heretofore, but steady and confident, first on her father, then on her

    "Till noon--remember!" said she.

    Nothing more was heard, after that, but the hasty ticking of the little
    ormolu clock, as its hands traveled steadily around the circle.
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