Bressant, with that exceeding quickness of perception which most persons with his infirmity possess under such circumstances, transferred his glance from the professor to the young lady, and at once arrived at a pretty correct understanding of the difficulty. He was not embarrassed, for it had probably never occurred to him that his deafness was so much a defect as a difference of organization, and he lost no time in explaining matters in his customary way.
“I’m deaf; when you talk to me you must speak loud,” said he, looking full at Cornelia’s disturbed face.
Miss Valeyon had never been so thoroughly discomfited. She was smitten on three sides at once. Bad enough to be insulted; worse, having become properly angry, to find no insult was meant; and, worst of all, to have been the means of drawing attention, by her bad temper, to a physical infirmity in her papa’s guest. She abandoned upon the instant all intention of being ceremonious and imposing, and only thought how she might atone, to her papa and to Bressant, for her ill-behavior.
He would not take tea—nothing but water; and, as Cornelia proceeded in silence to pour out her papa’s cup, the latter answered Bressant’s question about the boarding-house.
“Know it very well, sir. Very good house. What have you heard about it?”
“Nothing more than that; I asked a man at the depot. My trunk has been taken there. I’m satisfied if the woman ‘Abbie’ is respectable, and gives me enough to eat.” The young man had accepted Cornelia’s tender of a slice of beef, and seemed fully equal to doing it again.
“The ‘woman Abbie’ respectable, sir!” exclaimed the professor in half-muzzled ire; but he checked himself suddenly, and tried to be contented with shoving his plate, tumbler, and tea-cup, to and fro before him. “I could not have recommended you to a better person,” he added presently, evidently putting a restraint upon himself. “I have the highest—I hold her in very high estimation, sir.”
Bressant nodded, and presently took some more of the beef.
“Have you seen Abbie yet, Mr. Bressant?” inquired Cornelia in a timid tone, which, however, was deprived of all melody by the effort to suit it to the young man’s ears. But it was necessary to say something.
“Oh, no!” he replied, smiling at her in the pure good-nature of physical complacency, and noticing for the first time that she was an agreeable spectacle. He judged absolutely and primitively, never having had that experience of women which might have enabled him to make comparison the base of his opinion. “I came right up here from the depot. My trunk was sent to the boarding-house; it will hire a room for me, I suppose.”
At this sally, Cornelia smiled very graciously, though ten minutes before she would have snubbed it promptly. She had had some experience with the young men of the village—easy victims—and had acquired a rather good opinion of her satirical powers. But Bressant was a peculiar case; his deafness enlisted her compassion and forbearance, and her own late rudeness made her gentle. Perhaps the young gentleman was not so far out of the way in failing to consider his infirmity a disadvantage.