The door opened by-and-by, and Cornelia’s smiling face peeped in, looking the sweeter for an expression of tender anxiety. Seeing that he was awake, her eyes took on an extra sparkle, and she advanced a step into the room, still clinging with one hand to the door-knob, however, as if afraid to lose its support.
“You feel a little better, don’t you? Is that mattress comfortable? I’m going to bring you your breakfast in a few minutes.”
Bressant only grew red and bit his mustache for answer. He would gladly have covered himself up out of sight, but he could not move hand or foot.
Cornelia had in her mind a little speech she meant to deliver to Bressant, on the subject of the previous night’s event, but, at the critical moment, she felt her courage forsaking her. The topic was so weighty—and then she shrank from speaking out what was in her head, perhaps because her auditor was there as well as her sentiments. Still, she felt she ought to try.
“Mr. Bressant,” began she, with a kindling look, “Mr. Bressant, I—” here her voice faltered; “oh! you don’t know—I can never tell you—I can never forget what you did last night!” This was the end of the great speech.
Bressant became still more red and uncomfortable. “I made a fool of myself last night,” said he, dejectedly. “I wish you hadn’t been there; if I’d known what a piece of work—”
“But you saved my papa’s life!” interrupted Cornelia, in a blaze.
The young man looked as if struck with a new idea. It seemed as if he had not before thought of looking upon the professor as an independent quantity in the affair. The whole episode had presented itself to him as a difficult problem which he was to solve. The accident to himself had been an imperfection in the solution, of which he was deeply ashamed. But he was somewhat consoled by the reflection that the old gentleman had really needed preservation on his own account.
“That does make it better,” said he, half to himself, with the first approach to good-humor he had shown since his misfortune.
Cornelia still remained glowing in the door-way, turning the latch backward and forward, not knowing what more to say, and yet unwilling to say nothing more. She did not at all comprehend Bressant’s attitude, and therefore admired him all the more. What she could not understand in him was, of course, beyond her scope.
“You may think nothing of it, but I know I—I know we do—I can’t say what I want to, and I’m not going to try any more; but I’m sure you know—or, at least, you’ll find out some time—in some other way, you know.”
Bressant could not hear all this, nor would he have known what it meant, if he had; but he could see that Cornelia was kindly disposed toward him, and was conscious of great pleasure in looking at her, and thought, if she were to touch him, he would get well. He said nothing, however, and presently his bodily pain caused him to sigh and close his eyes wearily. Cornelia immediately kissed her soft fingers to him twice, and then vanished from the room, looking more like a blush than a tea rose. Before long she returned with the sick man’s breakfast on a tray.