Bressant felt the soft, warm fingers strike smartly, and then begin to remove, cautiously and slowly, because the mosquito was possibly not dead after all. What was the matter with the young man? His blood and senses seemed to quiver and tingle with a sensation at once delicious and confusing. In the same instant, he had seized the soft, warm fingers in both his hands, and pressed them convulsively and almost fiercely. Cornelia very naturally cried out, and sprang to her feet. Bressant, it would seem not so naturally, did the same thing, and with the air of being to the full as much astonished and startled as she.
“What do you mean, sir? how dare you—?” she said, paling after her first deep flush.
He looked at her, and then at his own hand, on which the accommodating mosquito was artistically flattened, and then at her again, with a slight, interrogative frown.
“How did it happen? What was it? I didn’t mean it!”
Cornelia was quite at a loss what to do or say under such extraordinary circumstances. She felt short of breath and indignant; but she had never heard of a young man’s questioning a lady as to how he had come to take a liberty with her. As she stood thus confounded, her unfortunate perception of the ludicrous betrayed her once more; but this time her recent shock played a part in it, and came very near producing a bad fit of hysterics. Bressant looked on without a word or a motion.
In less than a minute, for Cornelia’s nerves were very strong, and had never been overtaxed, she had regained command of herself. Bressant was standing between her and the house, and she pointed up the path.
“Please go home as quickly as possible.”
Off he walked, with every symptom of readiness and relief. Cornelia followed after, but, when she reached the house, she found her papa staring inquiringly out of his study-door; the uncanny pupil in divinity had disappeared.
CORNELIA BEGINS TO UNDO A KNOT.
Bressant, to do him justice—for he was, on the whole, rather apt to be polite than otherwise, in his way—entirely forgot the professor’s existence for the time being. He was too self-absorbed to think of other people. He thought he was bewitched, and felt a strong and healthy impulse to throw off the witchery before doing any thing else. He sprang up the steps, across the balcony, traversed the hall with a quick tramp that shook the house, snatched his hat from the old hat-tree, came down upon the porch-step (which creaked in a paroxysm of reproach at his unaccustomed weight), and, in another moment, stood outside the Parsonage-gate, which, to save time, he had leaped, instead of opening.
The road was white no longer, but brown and moist. The sky overhead was deep purple, and full of stars. The air wafted about hither and thither in little, cool, damp puffs, which were a luxury to inhale. Bressant drew in two or three long lungfuls; then, setting his round straw hat more firmly on his head, he leaned slightly forward, and launched himself into a long, swinging run.