The snow-storm continued all that afternoon. The customary hour for Bressant’s visit to the Parsonage went by, and he did not appear. The professor smoked two extra pipes, and spent half an hour looking out across the valley trying to discern the open spot upon the top of the hill. Finally, the early twilight set in, and he returned to his chair, but felt no impulse to light a lamp and take up a book. He sat tilted back, pulling Shakespeare’s nose with meditative fingers. A gloom gradually settled over the room, withdrawing one after another of the familiar objects around him from the old gentleman’s sight; it even seemed to creep into his heart, and create a vague uneasiness there. He tried to shake it off, telling himself that he was the happiest and most fortunate old fellow alive; that every thing was coming out just as he had hoped and prayed it might; that one daughter, with the man of her choice, would be just far enough removed from his fireside to give piquancy to the frequent visits he should receive from her; while the other would still, for a time, continue to pour out sunshine in the house, and redouble her love for him by way of compensating for what he should miss in Sophie’s absence. And then the professor built an airier and a fairer castle still: beneath it lay the heavy clouds of suffering, barren effort, and hope deferred; its sunlit walls were hewn of solid faith; the banner which floated over the battlements was woven with white threads of truth; over the arched entrance-gate was written “Constancy.” Yet, fair and lofty as the castle was, the building-materials were taken from no less homely edifices than the village boarding-house and his own Parsonage!
By-and-by, however, the vision faded, or else the clouds upon which it was built rose up and hid it. The professor, returning to himself, found that he was now surrounded with thick darkness, and, strive as he would, he could paint no fancies upon it which did not partake more or less of the character of the background. Sophie seemed to have lost the steady cheer of her aspect; she was pale and fragile, and every moment took away yet more of earthly substance, till scarcely any thing but the faint lustre of her face and form remained. Then, all at once, the features which had heretofore been only sad, changed into an expression of horror and torture and despair; and, while the professor, himself aghast, strained his old eyes to make out more clearly the half-indistinguishable image, it vanished quite away. But, at the last moment, it had spoken—at least, the lips bad moved as if in speech, though no sound had reached the professor’s ears; yet he fancied he had caught a glimmering of the purport. He pressed his hands over his forehead to shut out the thought, and wondered no longer at the expression upon Sophie’s face.