Professor Valeyon smoked for a while in silence, occasionally casting puzzled and searching glances at the young man, who took up a book from the table—it happened to be a volume of Celestial Mechanics—and began to read it with great apparent interest. His face was an open and certainly not unpleasant one; very mobile, however, and vivid in its expressions; the eyebrows straight and delicate, and the eyes bright and powerful. The forehead was undeniably fine, prominently and capaciously developed. Nevertheless—and this was what puzzled the professor—there was a very evident lack of something in the face, in no way interfering with its intellectual aspect, but giving it, at times, an unnatural and even uncanny look. In meeting the young man’s eyes, the old gentleman was ever and anon conscious of a disposition to recoil and shudder, and, at the same time, felt impelled, by what resembled a magnetic attraction, to gaze the harder. Did the very fact that some universal human characteristic was omitted from this person’s nature endow him with an exceptional and peculiar power? There was an uncertainty, in talking and associating with him, as to what he would do or say; an ignorance of what might be his principles and points of view; an impossibility of supposing him governed by common laws. Such, at least, was the professor’s fancy concerning him.
But again, turning his eyes to his pipe, or out of the window, was it not fancy altogether? Beyond that he was unusually tall and broad across the shoulders, and of a very intelligent cast of features, what was there or was there not in this young man different from any other? He had the muffled irregular voice, and alert yet unimpressible manner, peculiar to deafness. But was there any thing more? The professor took another look at him. He was reading, and certainly there were no signs of any thing strange in his appearance, more than that, at such a time, he should be reading at all. It was when speaking of his father that the uncanny expression had been especially noticeable. “Suppose,” said Professor Valeyon to himself, “we try him on another subject.”
“You’ve been educated at home, I understand,” began he, from beneath his heavy eyebrows.
“Oh, yes!” replied Bressant, shutting his book on his knee, and returning the professor’s look with one of exceeding keenness and comprehensiveness. “Educated to develop faculties of body and mind, not according to the ordinary school and college system.” He drew himself up, with an air of such marvelous intellectual and physical efficiency, that it seemed to the professor as if each one of his five senses might equal the whole capacity of a common man. And then it occurred to him that he remembered, many years ago, having heard some one mention a theory of education which aimed rather to give the man power in whatever direction he chose to exercise it, than to store his mind with greater or less quantities of particular forms of knowledge. The only faculty to be left uncultivated, according to this theory, was that of human love—this being considered destructive, or, at least, greatly prejudicial, to progress and efficiency in any other direction. The professor could not at the moment recall who it was had evolved this scheme, but it became involuntarily connected in his mind with Bressant’s peculiarities.