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WATCH AND WARD
First published in 1871
Copyright © 2018 Classica Libris
Roger Lawrence had come to town for the express purpose of doing a certain act, but as the hour for action approached he felt his ardor rapidly ebbing away. Of the ardor that comes from hope, indeed, he had felt little from the first; so little that as he whirled along in the train he wondered to find himself engaged in this fool’s errand. But in default of hope he was sustained, I may almost say, by despair. He would fail, he was sure, but he must fail again before he could rest. Meanwhile he was restless enough. In the evening, at his hotel, having roamed aimlessly about the streets for a couple of hours in the dark December cold, he went up to his room and dressed, with a painful sense of having but partly succeeded in giving himself the tournure of an impassioned suitor. He was twenty-nine years old, sound and strong, with a tender heart, and a genius, almost, for common sense; his face told clearly of youth and kindness and sanity, but it had little other beauty. His complexion was so fresh as to be almost absurd in a man of his age — an effect rather enhanced by a precocious partial baldness. Being extremely short-sighted, he went with his head thrust forward; but as this infirmity is considered by persons who have studied the picturesque to impart an air of distinction, he may have the benefit of the possibility. His figure was compact and sturdy, and, on the whole, his best point; although, owing to an incurable personal shyness, he had a good deal of awkwardness of movement. He was fastidiously neat in his person, and extremely precise and methodical in his habits, which were of the sort supposed to mark a man for bachelorhood. The desire to get the better of his diffidence had given him a somewhat ponderous formalism of manner, which many persons found extremely amusing. He was remarkable for the spotlessness of his linen, the high polish of his boots, and the smoothness of his hat. He carried in all weathers a peculiarly neat umbrella. He never smoked; he drank in moderation. His voice, instead of being the robust baritone which his capacious chest led you to expect, was a mild, deferential tenor. He was fond of going early to bed, and was suspected of what is called “fussing” with his health. No one had ever accused him of meanness, yet he passed universally for a cunning economist. In trifling matters, such as the choice of a shoemaker or a dentist, his word carried weight; but no one dreamed of asking his opinion in politics or literature. Here and there, nevertheless, an observer less superficial than the majority would have whispered you that Roger was an under-valued man, and that in the long run he would come out even with the best. “Have you ever studied his face?” such an observer would say. Beneath its simple serenity, over which his ruddy blushes seemed to pass like clouds in a summer sky, there slumbered a fund of exquisite human expression. The eye was excellent; small, perhaps, and somewhat dull, but with a certain appealing depth, like the tender dumbness in the gaze of a dog. In repose Lawrence may have looked stupid; but as he talked his face slowly brightened by gradual fine degrees, until at the end of an hour it inspired you with a confidence so perfect as to be in some degree a tribute to its owner’s intellect, as it certainly was to his integrity. On this occasion Roger dressed himself with unusual care and with a certain sober elegance. He debated for three minutes over two cravats, and then, blushing in his mirror at his puerile vanity, he replaced the plain black tie in which he had traveled. When he had finished dressing, it was still too early to go forth on his errand. He went into the reading-room of the hotel, but here there soon appeared two smokers. Wishing not to be infected by their fumes, he crossed over to the great empty drawing-room, sat down, and beguiled his impatience with trying on a pair of lavender gloves.
While he was thus engaged there came into the room a person who attracted his attention by the singularity of his conduct. This was a man of less than middle age, good-looking, pale, with a rather pretentious blond mustache, and various shabby remnants of finery. His face was haggard, his whole aspect was that of grim and hopeless misery. He walked straight to the table in the centre of the room, and poured out and drank without stopping three full glasses of ice-water, as if he were striving to quench the fury of some inner fever. He then went to the window, leaned his forehead against the cold pane, and drummed a nervous tattoo with his long stiff finger-nails. Finally he strode over to the fireplace, flung himself into a chair, leaned forward with his head in his hands, and groaned audibly. Lawrence, as he smoothed down his lavender gloves, watched him and reflected: “What an image of fallen prosperity, of degradation and despair! I have been fancying myself in trouble; I have been dejected, doubtful, anxious. I’m hopeless. But what is my sentimental sorrow to this?” The unhappy gentleman rose from his chair, turned his back to the chimney-piece, and stood with folded arms gazing at Lawrence, who was seated opposite to him. The young man sustained his glance, but with sensible discomfort. His face was as white as ashes, his eyes were as lurid as coals. Roger had never seen anything so tragic as the two long harsh lines which descended from his nose beside his mouth, showing almost black on his chalky skin, and seeming to satirize the silly drooping ends of his fair relaxed mustache. Lawrence felt that his companion was going to address him; he began to draw off his gloves. The stranger suddenly came towards him, stopped a moment, eyed him again with insolent intensity, and then seated himself on the sofa beside him. His first movement was to seize the young man’s arm. “He’s simply crazy!” thought Lawrence. Roger was now able to appreciate the pathetic disrepair of his appearance. His open waistcoat displayed a soiled and crumpled shirt-bosom, from whose empty button-holes the studs had recently been wrenched. In his normal freshness the man must have looked like a gambler with a run of luck. He spoke in a rapid, excited tone, with a hard, petulant voice.
“You’ll think me crazy, I suppose. Well, I shall be soon. Will you lend me a hundred dollars?”
“Who are you? What’s your trouble?” Roger asked.
“My name would tell you nothing. I’m a stranger here. My trouble — it’s a long story! But it’s grievous, I assure you. It’s pressing upon me with a fierceness that grows while I sit here talking to you. A hundred dollars would stave it off — a few days at least. Don’t refuse me!” These last words were uttered half as an entreaty, half as a threat. “Don’t say you haven’t got them — a man that wears gloves like that! Come! you look like a good fellow. Look at me! I’m a good fellow, too! I don’t need to swear to my being in distress.”
Lawrence was moved, disgusted, and irritated. The man’s distress was real enough, but there was something flagrantly dissolute and unsavory in his expression and tone. Roger declined to entertain his request without learning more about him. From the stranger’s persistent reluctance to do more than simply declare that he was from St. Louis, and repeat that he was in trouble, in hideous, overwhelming trouble, Lawrence was led to believe that he had been dabbling in crime. The more he insisted upon some definite statement of his circumstances, the more fierce and peremptory became the other’s petition. Lawrence was before all things deliberate and perspicacious, the last man in the world to be hustled or bullied. It was quite out of his nature to do a thing without distinctly knowing why. He of course had no imagination, which, as we know, should always stand at the right hand of charity; but he had good store of that wholesome discretion whose place is at the left. Discretion told him that his companion was a dissolute scoundrel, who had sinned through grievous temptation, perhaps, but who had certainly sinned. His perfect misery was incontestable. Roger felt that he could not cancel his misery without in some degree sanctioning his vices. It was not in his power, at any rate, to present him, out of hand, a hundred dollars. He compromised. “I can’t think of giving you the sum you ask,” he said. “I have no time, moreover, to investigate your case at present. If you will meet me here tomorrow morning, I will listen to anything more you may have made up your mind to say. Meanwhile, here are ten dollars.”
The man looked at the proffered note and made no movement to accept it. Then raising his eyes to Roger’s face — eyes streaming with tears of helpless rage and baffled want: “O, the devil!” he cried. “What can I do with ten dollars? Damn it, I don’t know how to beg. Listen to me! If you don’t give me what I ask, I shall cut my throat! Think of that! on your head be the penalty!”
Lawrence repocketed his note and rose to his feet. “No, decidedly,” he said, “you don’t know how to beg!” A moment after, he had left the hotel and was walking rapidly toward a well-remembered dwelling. He was shocked and discomposed by this brutal collision with want and vice; but, as he walked, the cool night air restored the healthy tone of his sensibilities. The image of his heated petitioner was speedily replaced by the calmer figure of Isabel Morton.
He had come to know her three years before, through a visit she had then made to one of his neighbors in the country. In spite of his unventurous tastes and the even tenor of his habits, Lawrence was by no means lacking, as regards life, in what the French call les grandes curiosites; but from an early age his curiosity had chiefly taken the form of a timid but strenuous desire to fathom the depths of matrimony. He had dreamed of this gentle bondage as other men dream of the “free unhoused condition” of celibacy. He had been born a marrying man, with a conscious desire for progeny. The world in this respect had not done him justice. It had supposed him to be wrapped up in his petty comforts; whereas, in fact, he was serving a devout apprenticeship to the profession of husband and father. Feeling at twenty-six that he had something to offer a woman, he allowed himself to become interested in Miss Morton. It was rather odd that a man of tremors and blushes should in this line have been signally bold; for Miss Morton had the reputation of being extremely fastidious, and was supposed to wear some dozen broken hearts on her girdle, as an Indian wears the scalps of his enemies.
It is said that, as a rule, men fall in love with their opposites; certainly Lawrence complied with the rule. He was the most unobtrusively natural of men; she, on the other hand, was preeminently artificial. She was pretty, but not really so pretty as she seemed; clever, but not intelligent; amiable, but not generous. She possessed in perfection the manner of society, which she lavished with indiscriminate grace on the just and the unjust, and which very effectively rounded and completed the somewhat meagre outline of her personal character. In reality, Miss Morton was keenly ambitious. A woman of simpler needs, she might very well have accepted our hero. He offered himself with urgent and obstinate warmth. She esteemed him more than any man she had known — so she told him; but she added that the man she married must satisfy her heart. Her heart, she did not add, was bent upon a carriage and diamonds.
From the point of view of ambition, a match with Roger Lawrence was not worth discussing. He was therefore dismissed with gracious but inexorable firmness. From this moment the young man’s sentiment hardened into a passion. Six months later he heard that Miss Morton was preparing to go to Europe. He sought her out before her departure and urged his suit afresh, with the same result. But his passion had cost too much to be flung away unused. During her residence abroad he wrote her three letters, only one of which she briefly answered, in terms which amounted to little more than this: “Dear Mr. Lawrence, do leave me alone!” At the end of two years she returned, and was now visiting her married brother. Lawrence had just heard of her arrival and had come to town to make, as we have said, a supreme appeal.
Her brother and his wife were out for the evening; Roger found her in the drawing-room, under the lamp, teaching a stitch in crochet to her niece, a little girl of ten, who stood leaning at her side. She seemed to him prettier than before; although, in fact, she looked older and stouter. Her prettiness, for the most part, however, was a matter of coquetry; and naturally, as youth departed, coquetry filled the vacancy. She was fair and plump, and she had a very pretty trick of suddenly turning her head and showing a charming white throat and ear. Above her well-filled corsage these objects produced a most agreeable effect. She always dressed in light colors and with perfect certainty of taste. Charming as she may have been, there was, nevertheless, about her so marked a want of the natural, that, to admire her particularly, it was necessary to be, like Roger, in love with her. She received him with such flattering friendliness and so little apparent suspicion of his purpose, that he almost took heart and hope. If she didn’t fear a declaration, perhaps she desired it. For the first half-hour it hung fire. Roger sat dumbly sensitive to the tempered brightness of her presence. She talked to better purpose than before she went abroad, and if Roger had ever doubted, he might have believed now with his eyes shut. For the moment he sat tongue-tied for very modesty. Miss Morton’s little niece was a very pretty child; her hair was combed out into a golden cloud, which covered her sloping shoulders. She kept her place beside her aunt, clasping one of the latter’s hands, and staring at Lawrence with that sweet curiosity of little girls. There glimmered mistily in the young man’s brain a vision of a home-scene in the future — a lamp-lit parlor on a winter night, a placid wife and mother, wreathed in household smiles, a golden-haired child, and, in the midst, his sentient self, drunk with possession and gratitude. As the clock struck nine, the little girl was sent to bed, having been kissed by her aunt and rekissed, or unkissed shall I say? by her aunt’s lover. When she had disappeared, Roger proceeded to business. He had proposed so often to Miss Morton, that, actually, practice had begun to tell. It took but a few moments to make his meaning plain. Miss Morton addressed herself to her niece’s tapestry, and as her lover went on with manly eloquence, glanced up at him from her work with womanly finesse. He spoke of his persistent love, of his long waiting and his passionate hope. Her acceptance of his hand was the main condition of his happiness. He should never love another woman; if she now refused him, it was the end of all things; he should continue to exist, to work and act, to eat and sleep, but he should have ceased to live.
“In heaven’s name,” he said, “don’t answer me as you have answered me before.”
She folded her hands, and with a serious smile, “I shall not, altogether,” she said. “When I have refused you before, I have simply told you that I couldn’t love you. I can’t love you, Mr. Lawrence! I must repeat it again tonight, but with a better reason than before. I love another man: I’m engaged.”
Roger rose to his feet like a man who has received a heavy blow and springs forward in self-defence. But he was indefensible, his assailant inattackable. He sat down again and hung his head. Miss Morton came to him and took his hand and demanded of him, as a right, that he should be resigned. “Beyond a certain point,” she said, “you have no right to obtrude upon me the expression of your regret. The injury I do you in refusing you is less than that I should do you in accepting you without love.”
He looked at her with his eyes full of tears. “Well! I shall never marry,” he said. “There’s something you can’t refuse me. Though I shall never possess you, I may at least espouse your memory and live in intimate union with your image; spend my life on my knees before it!” She smiled at this fine talk; she had heard so much in her day! He had fancied himself prepared for the worst, but as he walked back to his hotel, it seemed intolerably bitter. Its bitterness, however, quickened his temper and prompted a violent reaction. He would now, he declared, cast his lot with pure reason. He had tried love and faith, but they would none of him. He had made a woman a goddess, and she had made him a fool. He would henceforth care neither for woman nor man, but simply for comfort, and, if need should be, for pleasure. Beneath this gathered gust of cynicism the future lay as hard and narrow as the silent street before him. He was absurdly unconscious that good-humor was lurking round the very next corner.
It was not till near morning that he was able to sleep. His sleep, however, had lasted less than an hour when it was interrupted by a loud noise from the adjoining room. He started up in bed, lending his ear to the stillness. The sound was immediately repeated; it was that of a pistol-shot. This second report was followed by a loud shrill cry. Roger jumped out of bed, thrust himself into his trousers, quitted his room, and ran to the neighboring door. It opened without difficulty, and revealed an astonishing scene. In the middle of the floor lay a man, in his trousers and shirt, his head bathed in blood, his hand grasping the pistol from which he had just sent a bullet through his brain. Beside him stood a little girl in her night-dress, her long hair on her shoulders, shrieking and wringing her hands. Stooping over the prostrate body, Roger recognized, in spite of his bedabbled visage, the person who had addressed him in the parlor of the hotel. He had kept the spirit, if not the letter, of his menace. “O father, father, father!” sobbed the little girl. Roger, overcome with horror and pity, stooped towards her and opened his arms. She, conscious of nothing but the presence of human help, rushed into his embrace and buried her head in his grasp.
The rest of the house was immediately aroused, and the room invaded by a body of lodgers and servants. Soon followed a couple of policemen, and finally the proprietor in person. The fact of suicide was so apparent that Roger’s presence was easily explained. From the child nothing but sobs could be obtained. After a vast amount of talking and pushing and staring, after a physician had affirmed that the stranger was dead, and the ladies had passed the child from hand to hand through a bewildering circle of caresses and questions, the multitude dispersed, and the little girl was borne away in triumph by the proprietor’s wife, further investigation being appointed for the morrow. For Roger, seemingly, this was to have been a night of sensations. There came to him, as it wore away, a cruel sense of his own accidental part in his neighbor’s tragedy. His refusal to help the poor man had brought on the catastrophe. The idea haunted him awhile; but at last, with an effort, he dismissed it. The next man, he assured himself, would have done no more than he, might possibly have done less. He felt, however, a certain indefeasible fellowship in the sorrow of the little girl. He lost no time, the next morning, in calling on the wife of the proprietor. She was a kindly woman enough, but so thoroughly the mistress of a public house that she seemed to deal out her very pity over a bar. She exhibited toward her protegee a hard business-like charity which foreshadowed vividly to Roger’s mind the poor child’s probable portion in life, and repeated to him the little creature’s story, as she had been able to learn it. The father had come in early in the evening, in great trouble and excitement, and had made her go to bed. He had kissed her and cried over her, and, of course, made her cry. Late at night she was aroused by feeling him again at her bedside, kissing her, fondling her and raving over her. He bade her good night and passed into the adjoining room, where she heard him fiercely knocking about. She was very much frightened, and fancied he was out of his mind. She knew that their troubles had lately been thickening fast, and now the worst had come. Suddenly he called her. She asked what he wanted, and he bade her get out of bed and come to him. She trembled, but obeyed. On reaching the threshold of his room she saw the gas turned low, and her father standing in his shirt against the door at the other end. He ordered her to stop where she was. Suddenly she heard a loud report and felt beside her cheek the wind of a bullet. He had aimed at her with a pistol. She retreated in terror to her own bedside and buried her head in the clothes. This, however, did not prevent her from hearing a second report, followed by a deep groan. Venturing back again, she found her father on the floor, bleeding from the face. “He meant to kill her, of course,” said the landlady, “that she mightn’t be left alone in the world. It’s a queer mixture of cruelty and kindness!”
It seemed to Roger an altogether pitiful tale. He related his own interview with the deceased, and the latter’s menace of suicide. “It gives me,” he said, “a sickening sense of connection with the calamity, though a gratuitous one, I confess. Nevertheless, I wish he had taken my ten dollars.”
Of the antecedent history of the deceased they could learn little. The child had recognized Lawrence, and had broken out again into a quivering convulsion of tears. Little by little, from among her sobs, they gathered a few facts. Her father had brought her during the preceding month from St. Louis: they had stopped some time in New York. Her father had been for months in great distress and want of money. They had once had money enough; she couldn’t say what had become of it. Her mother had died many months before; she had no other kindred nor friends. Her father may have had friends, but she never saw them. She could indicate no source of possible assistance or sympathy. Roger put the poor little fragments of her story together. The most salient fact among them all was her absolute destitution.
“Well!” said the proprietress, “there are other people still to be attended to; I must go about my business. Perhaps you can learn something more.” The little girl sat on the sofa with a pale face and swollen eyes, and with a stupefied helpless stare watched her friend depart. She was by no means a pretty child. Her clear auburn hair was thrust carelessly into a net with broken meshes, and her limbs encased in a suit of shabby, pretentious mourning. In her appearance, in spite of her childish innocence and grief, there was something undeniably vulgar. “She looks as if she belonged to a circus troupe,” Roger said to himself. Her face, however, though without beauty, was not without interest. Her forehead was high and boldly rounded, and her mouth at once large and gentle. Her eyes were light in color, yet by no means colorless. A sort of arrested, concentrated brightness, a soft introversion of their rays, gave them a remarkable depth of tone. “Poor little betrayed, unfriended mortal!” thought the young man.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“Nora Lambert,” said the child.
“How old are you?”
“And you live in St. Louis?”
“We used to live there. I was born there.”
“Why had your father come to the East?”
“To make money, he said.”
“Where was he going to live?”
“Anywhere he could find business.”
“What was his business?”
“He had none. He wanted to find employment.”
“To your knowledge, you say, you have no friends nor relations?”
The child gazed a few moments in silence. “He told me when he woke me up and kissed me, last night, that I hadn’t a friend in the world nor a person that cared for me.”
Before the exquisite sadness of this statement Lawrence was silent. He leaned back in his chair and looked at the child — the little forlorn, precocious, potential woman. His own sense of recent bereavement rose powerful in his heart and seemed to respond to hers. “Nora,” he said, “come here.”
She stared a moment, without moving, and then left the sofa and came slowly towards him. She was tall for her years. She laid her hand on the arm of his chair and he took it. “You have seen me before,” he said. She nodded. “Do you remember my taking you last night in my arms?” It was his fancy that, for an answer, she faintly blushed. He laid his hand on her head and smoothed away her thick disordered hair. She submitted to his consoling touch with a plaintive docility. He put his arm round her waist. An irresistible sense of her childish sweetness, of her tender feminine promise, stole softly into his pulses. A dozen caressing questions rose to his lips. Had she been to school? Could she read and write? Was she musical? She murmured her answers with gathering confidence. She had never been to school; but her mother had taught her to read and write a little, and to play a little. She said, almost with a smile, that she was very backward. Lawrence felt the tears rising to his eyes; he felt in his heart the tumult of a new emotion. Was it the inexpugnable instinct of paternity? Was it the restless ghost of his buried hope? He thought of his angry vow the night before to live only for himself and turn the key on his heart. From the lips of babes and sucklings! — he softly mused. Before twenty-four hours had elapsed a child’s fingers were fumbling with the key. He felt deliciously contradicted; he was after all but a lame egotist. Was he to believe, then, that he couldn’t live without love, and that he must take it where he found it? His promise to Miss Morton seemed still to vibrate in his heart. But there was love and love! He could be a protector, a father, a brother! What was the child before him but a tragic embodiment of the misery of isolation, a warning from his own blank future! “God forbid!” he cried. And as he did so, he drew her towards him and kissed her.
At this moment the landlord appeared with a scrap of paper, which he had found in the room of the deceased; it being the only object which gave a clew to his circumstances. He had evidently burned a mass of papers just before his death, as the grate was filled with fresh ashes. Roger read the note, which was scrawled in a hurried, vehement hand and ran as follows:
“This is to say that I must — I must — I must! Starving, without a friend in the world, and a reputation worse than worthless — what can I do? Life’s impossible! Try it yourself! As regards my daughter — anything, everything is cruel; but this is the shortest way.”
“She has had to take the longest, after all,” said the proprietor, sotto voce, with a kindly wink at Roger. The landlady soon reappeared with one of the ladies who had been present overnight — a little pushing, patronizing woman, who seemed strangely familiar with the various devices of applied charity. “I have come to arrange,” she said, “about our subscription for the little one. I shall not be able to contribute myself, but I will go round among the other ladies with a paper. I’ve just been seeing the reporter of the `Universe’; he’s to insert a kind of `appeal,’ you know, in his account of the affair. Perhaps this gentleman will draw up our paper? And I think it will be a beautiful idea to take the child with me.”
Lawrence was sickened. The world’s tenderness had fairly begun. Nora gazed at her energetic benefactress, and then with her eyes appealed mutely to Roger. Her glance, somehow, moved him to the soul. Poor little disfathered daughter — poor little uprooted germ of womanhood! Her innocent eyes seemed to more than beseech — to admonish almost, and command. Should he speak and rescue her? Should he subscribe the whole sum in the name of human charity? He thought of the risk. She was an unknown quantity. Her nature, her heritage, her good and bad possibilities, were an unsolved problem. Her father had been an adventurer; what had her mother been? Conjecture was useless; she was a vague spot of light on a dark background. He was unable even to decide whether, after all, she was plain.
“If you want to take her round with you,” said the landlady to her companion, “I’d better sponge off her face.”
“No indeed!” cried the other, “she’s much better as she is. If I could only have her little night-gown with the blood on it! Are you sure the bullet didn’t strike your dress, deary? I’m sure we can easily get fifty names at five dollars apiece. Two hundred and fifty dollars. Perhaps this gentleman will make it three hundred. Come, sir, now!”
Thus adjured, Roger turned to the child. “Nora,” he said, “you know you’re quite alone. You have no home.” Her lips trembled, but her eyes were fixed and fascinated. “Do you think you could love me?” She flushed to the tender roots of her tumbled hair. “Will you come and try?” Her range of expression of course was limited; she could only answer by another burst of tears.
“I have adopted a little girl, you know,” Roger said, after this, to a number of his friends; but he felt, rather, as if she had adopted him. With the downright sense of paternity he found it somewhat difficult to make his terms. It was indeed an immense satisfaction to feel, as time went on, that there was small danger of his repenting of his bargain. It seemed to him more and more that he had obeyed a divine voice; though indeed he was equally conscious that there was something grotesque in his new condition — in the sudden assumption of paternal care by a man who had seemed to the world to rejoice so placidly in his sleek and comfortable singleness. But for all this he found himself able to look the world squarely in the face. At first it had been with an effort, a blush, and a deprecating smile that he spoke of his pious venture; but very soon he began to take a robust satisfaction in alluding to it freely, in all companies. There was but one man of whose jocular verdict he thought with some annoyance — his cousin Hubert Lawrence, namely, who was so terribly clever and trenchant, and who had been through life a commentator formidable to his modesty, though, in the end, always absolved by his good-nature. But he made up his mind that, though Hubert might laugh, he himself was serious; and to prove it equally to himself and his friends, he determined on a great move. He annulled his personal share in business and prepared to occupy his house in the country. The latter was immediately transformed into a home for Nora — a home admirably fitted to become the starting-point of a happy life. Roger’s dwelling stood in the midst of certain paternal acres — a little less than a “place,” a little more than a farm; deep in the country, and yet at two hours’ journey from town. Of recent years a dusty disorder had fallen upon the house, telling of its master’s long absences and his rare and restless visits. It was but half lived in. But beneath this pulverous deposit the austerer household gods of a former generation stand erect on their pedestals. As Nora grew older, she came to love her new home with an almost passionate fondness, and to cherish all its transmitted memories as a kind compensation for her own dissevered past. There had lived with Lawrence for many years an elderly woman, of exemplary virtue, Lucinda Brown by name, who had been a personal attendant of his mother, and since her death had remained in his service as the lonely warden of his villa. Roger had an old-time regard for her, founded upon a fancy that she preserved with pious fidelity certain graceful household traditions of his mother. It seemed to him that she might communicate to little Nora, through the medium of housewifely gossip, a ray of this lady’s peaceful domestic genius. Lucinda, who had been divided between hope and fear as to Roger’s possibly marrying — the fear of a diminished empire having exceeded, on the whole, the hope of company below stairs — accepted Nora’s arrival as a very comfortable compromise. The child was too young to menace her authority, and yet of sufficient importance to warrant a gradual extension of the meagre household economy. Lucinda had a vision of new carpets and curtains, of a regenerated kitchen, of a poplin dress, of her niece coming as sempstress. Nora was the narrow end of the wedge; it would broaden with her growth. Lucinda therefore was gracious.
For Roger, it seemed as if life had begun afresh and the world had put on a new face. High above the level horizon now, clearly defined against the empty sky, rose this little commanding figure, with the added magnitude that objects acquire in this position. She gave him a vast deal to think about. The child a man begets and rears weaves its existence insensibly into the tissue of his life, so that he becomes trained by fine degrees to the paternal office. But Roger had to skip experience, and spring with a bound into the paternal consciousness. In fact he missed his leap, and never tried again. Time should induct him at leisure into his proper honors, whatever they might be. He felt a strong aversion to claim in his protegee that prosaic right of property which belongs to the paternal name. He accepted with solemn glee his novel duties and cares, but he shrank with a tender humility of temper from all precise definition of his rights. He was too young and too sensible of his youth to wish to give this final turn to things. His heart was flattered, rather, by the idea of living at the mercy of that melting impermanence which beguiles us forever with deferred promises. It lay close to his heart, however, to drive away the dusky fears and sordid memories of Nora’s anterior life. He strove to conceal the past from her childish sense by a great pictured screen, as it were, of present joys and comforts. He wished her life to date from the moment he had taken her home. He had taken her for better, for worse; but he longed to quench all baser chances in the broad daylight of prosperity. His philosophy in this as in all things was extremely simple — to make her happy, that she might be good. Meanwhile, as he cunningly devised her happiness, his own seemed securely established. He felt twice as much a man as before, and the world seemed as much again a world. All his small stale virtues became fragrant, to his soul, with the borrowed sweetness of their unselfish use.