“I knocked, Mr. Bressant, but I couldn’t make you hear. I came to ask you to do me a little favor, sir.”
Bressant had risen to his feet, and stood leaning against the back of his chair. He nodded and smiled good-naturedly, his hand busy with his beard, and his eyes taking in, with mild curiosity, the plain and plainly-dressed woman before him. What favor could she expect him to do for her? He’d just as lief agree to any thing that wouldn’t interfere in any way with his arrangements. Of course, she wouldn’t ask any thing more. As long as he paid his board-bill, and created no disturbance, what obligations did he owe her?
“You see, sir,” proceeded Abbie, gently rattling the bunch of keys that hung at her belt, “we’ve been in the habit of giving a party here, three or four times a year, for the young folks to come and dance and enjoy themselves. There will be one next Thursday, the 4th of July. Will you come down, and join in?”
Bressant threw back his head, with one of his brief laughs. “Come to a dance? But I don’t know how to dance! I never go into society. What should I do? Thank you for asking me!”
“I thought you might be interested to look on at one of our country hops,” said Abbie, whose eyes observed the young man’s manner, as he spoke, with a closeness that would have embarrassed most men. “There’s a good deal to amuse yourself with besides dancing. The school-master will be there, and the minister that is now, and Professor Valeyon.”
“Professor Valeyon?” repeated Bressant, leaning forward, with his hand to his ear, and the vivid, questioning expression on his face, which was peculiar to himself.
The movement appeared to produce a disproportionate effect upon Abbie. Her finger tremblingly sought her under lip; a quiver, as if from a sudden pain, passed across her forehead; there was a momentary unsteadiness in her eyes, and then they fastened, almost rigidly, upon the young man’s face. So habitual was the woman’s self-control, however, that these symptoms, whatever they betokened, were repressed and annulled, till none, save a particularly sharp-sighted person, would have noticed them. Bressant was thinking only of Professor Valeyon, and would scarcely have troubled himself, in any case, about the neuralgic spasms of his landlady.
“The professor and Miss Valeyon will both come,” said Abbie, as soon as the neuralgia, if that it were, would allow her to speak. “Excuse me, sir—may I sit down a moment?” These words were uttered hurriedly, and, at the same moment, the woman made a sudden step to the lounge, and dropped down upon it so abruptly that the venerable springs creaked again.
“Beg your pardon, ma’am,” said Bressant, rather awkwardly. “Must be an infirm old person,” he added to himself. “She looks older, even, than when she came in!”
“Well, sir,” said she, with rather a constrained air, rising, from the sofa in a way that confirmed the young man’s opinion about her infirmity; “well, sir, shall I expect you on Thursday evening?”