For two weeks Bressant had done his studying and thinking in this room. He had enormous powers of application, naturally and by acquisition, and the first fortnight had seen them exerted to their full extent. This diligence, however, was practised not so much because the course of study marked out necessitated it, as by way of voluntary self-discipline. His first evening’s experience in the Parsonage garden had given the young man a serious shock; a disturbing influence had obtained possession of him, of which he could understand no more than that it appeared to have some connection with Cornelia. It interfered, at unexpected moments, with his processes of thought; it distracted his schemes of argument; it wrote itself unintelligibly upon the page he was reading. It even followed him in his rough tramps up the hills and through the woods, and sometimes shook the hand which held the pen during his compositions.
Bressant knew not how best to combat his novel difficulty. Although called into existence by an extraneous circumstance, it seemed to have struck root in every faculty of his mind, and, what was more, into the inmost core of every faculty. He was possessed, not by seven devils, but by one devil in seven different forms. He felt that the only thing to be done, if he did not intend to make an entire surrender of himself, was to take stern and rigorous measures for deliverance. The best course that suggested itself was to study his sevenfold devil down; taking every precaution, of course, to keep out of the way of all additional contamination; and this course he adopted, and had conscientiously adhered to. It was with very pardonable satisfaction that he felt his malady gradually and surely give way before his unsparing regimen, until by the first of July he considered himself entirely whole and in working order, and beyond danger of relapse.
He sometimes wondered why the professor persisted in inviting him to take dinner, or stay to tea, or sit on the balcony in the evening, or go on a picnic into the woods. Why couldn’t the old gentleman divine the cause of his invariable and unhesitating refusals? Leaving other considerations out of the question, would such things be likely to increase his knowledge of theology, or further the lofty schemes of his ambition? He would be glad when that daughter left the house! What was it about her that had so disturbed and beclouded the heretofore untroubled stream? Were other women like her, or was she alone in her dangerous capacity? If the first, with what assurance could he look forward to the intellectual mastery of the world! If the last, what a refinement of misfortune to have been so thrown with her! What if he should give up Professor Valeyon altogether? No, no! if he could not conquer his destiny here, he could not be sure of doing it anywhere. Let him only be self-controlled and prudent—keep carefully and systematically out of the woman’s way. Or perhaps—for it was not gratifying