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    Chapter 5

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    Chapter 5
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    Miss Apperthwaite was at home the following Saturday. I found her in the library with Les Miserables on her knee when I came down from my room a little before lunch-time; and she looked up and gave me a smile that made me feel sorry for any one she had ceased to smile upon.

    "I wanted to tell you," I said, with a little awkwardness but plenty of truth, "I've found out that I'm an awful fool."

    "But that's something," she returned, encouragingly--"at least the beginning of wisdom."

    "I mean about Mr. Beasley--the mystery I was absurd enough to find in 'Simpledoria.' I want to tell you--"

    "Oh, I know," she said; and although she laughed with an effect of carelessness, that look which I had thought "far away" returned to her eyes as she spoke. There was a certain inscrutability about Miss Apperthwaite sometimes, it should be added, as if she did not like to be too easily read. "I've heard all about it. Mr. Beasley's been appointed trustee or something for poor Hamilton Swift's son, a pitiful little invalid boy who invents all sorts of characters. The old darky from over there told our cook about Bill Hammersley and Simpledoria. So, you see, I understand."

    "I'm glad you do," I said.

    A little hardness--one might even have thought it bitterness--became apparent in her expression. "And I'm glad there's SOMEbody in that house, at last, with a little imagination!"

    "From everything I have heard," I returned, summoning sufficient boldness, "it would be difficult to say which has more--Mr. Beasley or the child."

    Her glance fell from mine at this, but not quickly enough to conceal a sudden, half-startled look of trouble (I can think of no other way to express it) that leaped into it; and she rose, for the lunch-bell was ringing.

    "I'm just finishing the death of Jean Valjean, you know, in Les Miserables," she said, as we moved to the door. "I'm always afraid I'll cry over that. I try not to, because it makes my eyes red."

    And, in truth, there was a vague rumor of tears about her eyes--not as if she had shed them, but more as if she were going to--though I had not noticed it when I came in.

    ... That afternoon, when I reached the "Despatch" office, I was commissioned to obtain certain political information from the Honorable David Beasley, an assignment I accepted with eagerness, notwithstanding the commiseration it brought me from one or two of my fellows in the reporter's room. "You won't get anything out of HIM!" they said. And they were true prophets.

    I found him looking over some documents in his office; a reflective, unlighted cigar in the corner of his mouth; his chair tilted back and his feet on a window-sill. He nodded, upon my statement of the affair that brought me, and, without shifting his position, gave me a look of slow but wholly friendly scrutiny over his shoulder, and bade me sit down. I began at once to put the questions I was told to ask him--interrogations (he seemed to believe) satisfactorily answered by slowly and ruminatively stroking the left side of his chin with two long fingers of his right hand, the while he smiled in genial contemplation of a tarred roof beyond the window. Now and then he would give me a mild and drawling word or two, not brilliantly illuminative, it may be remarked. "Well--about that--" he began once, and came immediately to a full stop.

    "Yes?" I said, hopefully, my pencil poised.

    "About that--I guess--"

    "Yes, Mr. Beasley?" I encouraged him, for he seemed to have dried up permanently.

    "Well, sir--I guess--Hadn't you better see some one else about THAT?"

    This with the air of a man who would be but too fluent and copious upon any subject in the world except the one particular point.

    I never met anybody else who looked so pleasantly communicative and managed to say so little. In fact, he didn't say anything at all; and I guessed that this faculty was not without its value in his political career, disastrous as it had proved to his private happiness. His habit of silence, moreover, was not cultivated: you could see that "the secret of it" was just that he was BORN quiet.

    My note-book remained noteless, and finally, at some odd evasion of his, accomplished by a monosyllable, I laughed outright--and he did, too! He joined cachinnations with me heartily, and with a twinkling quizzicalness that somehow gave me the idea that he might be thinking (rather apologetically) to himself: "Yes, sir, that old Beasley man is certainly a mighty funny critter!"

    When I went away, a few moments later, and left him still intermittently chuckling, the impression remained with me that he had had some such deprecatory and surreptitious thought.

    Two or three days after that, as I started down-town from Mrs. Apperthwaite's, Beasley came out of his gate, bound in the same direction. He gave me a look of gay recognition and offered his hand, saying, "WELL! Up in THIS neighborhood!" as if that were a matter of considerable astonishment.

    I mentioned that I was a neighbor, and we walked on together. I don't think he spoke again, except for a "Well, sir!" or two of genial surprise at something I said, and, now and then, "You don't tell me!" which he had a most eloquent way of exclaiming; but he listened visibly to my own talk, and laughed at everything that I meant for funny.

    I never knew anybody who gave one a greater responsiveness; he seemed to be WITH you every instant; and HOW he made you feel it was the true mystery of Beasley, this silent man who never talked, except (as my cousin said) to children.

    It happened that I thus met him, as we were both starting down-town, and walked on with him, several days in succession; in a word, it became a habit. Then, one afternoon, as I turned to leave him at the "Despatch" office, he asked me if I wouldn't drop in at his house the next day for a cigar before we started. I did; and he asked me if I wouldn't come again the day after that. So this became a habit, too.

    A fortnight elapsed before I met Hamilton Swift, Junior; for he, poor little father of dream-children, could be no spectator of track events upon the lawn, but lay in his bed up-stairs. However, he grew better at last, and my presentation took place.

    We had just finished our cigars in Beasley's airy, old-fashioned "sitting-room," and were rising to go, when there came the faint creaking of small wheels from the hall. Beasley turned to me with the apologetic and monosyllabic chuckle that was distinctly his alone.

    "I've got a little chap here--" he said; then went to the door. "Bob!"

    The old darky appeared in the doorway pushing a little wagon like a reclining-chair on wheels, and in it sat Hamilton Swift, Junior.

    My first impression of him was that he was all eyes: I couldn't look at anything else for a time, and was hardly conscious of the rest of that weazened, peaked little face and the under-sized wisp of a body with its pathetic adjuncts of metal and leather. I think they were the brightest eyes I ever saw--as keen and intelligent as a wicked old woman's, withal as trustful and cheery as the eyes of a setter pup.

    "HOO-ray!"

    Thus the Honorable Mr. Beasley, waving a handkerchief thrice around his head and thrice cheering.

    And the child, in that cricket's voice of his, replied:

    "Br-r-ra-vo!"

    This was the form of salutation familiarly in use between them. Beasley followed it by inquiring, "Who's with us to-day?"

    "I'm MISTER Swift," chirped the little fellow. "MIS-TER Swift, if you please, Cousin David Beasley."

    Beasley executed a formal bow. "There is a gentleman here who'd like to meet you." And he presented me with some grave phrases commendatory of my general character, addressing the child as "Mister Swift"; whereupon Mister Swift gave me a ghostly little hand and professed himself glad to meet me.

    "And besides me," he added, to Beasley, "there's Bill Hammersley and Mr. Corley Linbridge."

    A faint perplexity manifested itself upon Beasley's face at this, a shadow which cleared at once when I asked if I might not be permitted to meet these personages, remarking that I had heard from Dowden of Bill Hammersley, though until now a stranger to the fame of Mr. Corley Linbridge.

    Beasley performed the ceremony with intentional elegance, while the boy's great eyes swept glowingly from his cousin's face to mine and back again. I bowed and shook hands with the air, once to my left and once to my right. "And Simpledoria!" cried Mister Swift. "You'll enjoy Simpledoria."

    "Above all things," I said. "Can he shake hands? Some dogs can."

    "Watch him!"

    Mister Swift lifted a commanding finger. "Simpledoria, shake hands!"

    I knelt beside the wagon and shook an imaginary big paw. At this Mister Swift again shook hands with me and allowed me to perceive, in his luminous regard, a solemn commendation and approval.

    In this wise was my initiation into the beautiful old house and the cordiality of its inmates completed; and I became a familiar of David Beasley and his ward, with the privilege to go and come as I pleased; there was always gay and friendly welcome. I always came for the cigar after lunch, sometimes for lunch itself; sometimes I dined there instead of down-town; and now and then when it happened that an errand or assignment took me that way in the afternoon, I would run in and "visit" awhile with Hamilton Swift, Junior, and his circle of friends.

    There were days, of course, when his attacks were upon him, and only Beasley and the doctor and old Bob saw him; I do not know what the boy's mental condition was at such times; but when he was better, and could be wheeled about the house and again receive callers, he displayed an almost dismaying activity of mind--it was active enough, certainly, to keep far ahead of my own. And he was masterful: still, Beasley and Dowden and I were never directly chidden for insubordination, though made to wince painfully by the look of troubled surprise that met us when we were not quick enough to catch his meaning.

    The order of the day with him always began with the "HOO-ray" and "BR-R-RA-vo" of greeting; after which we were to inquire, "Who's with us to-day?" Whereupon he would make known the character in which he elected to be received for the occasion. If he announced himself as "Mister Swift," everything was to be very grown-up and decorous indeed. Formalities and distances were observed; and Mr. Corley Linbridge (an elderly personage of great dignity and distinction as a mountain-climber) was much oftener included in the conversation than Bill Hammersley. If, however, he declared himself to be "Hamilton Swift, Junior," which was his happiest mood, Bill Hammersley and Simpledoria were in the ascendant, and there were games and contests. (Dowden, Beasley, and I all slid down the banisters on one of the Hamilton Swift, Junior, days, at which really picturesque spectacle the boy almost cried with laughter--and old Bob and his wife, who came running from the kitchen, DID cry.) He had a third appellation for himself--"Just little Hamilton"; but this was only when the creaky voice could hardly chirp at all and the weazened face was drawn to one side with suffering. When he told us he was "Just little Hamilton" we were very quiet.

    Once, for ten days, his Invisibles all went away on a visit: Hamilton Swift, Junior, had become interested in bears. While this lasted, all of Beasley's trousers were, as Dowden said, "a sight." For that matter, Dowden himself was quite hoarse in court from growling so much. The bears were dismissed abruptly: Bill Hammersley and Mr. Corley Linbridge and Simpledoria came trooping back, and with them they brought that wonderful family, the Hunchbergs.

    Beasley had just opened the front door, returning at noon from his office, when Hamilton Swift, Junior's voice came piping from the library, where he was reclining in his wagon by the window.

    "Cousin David Beasley! Cousin David, come a-running!" he cried. "Come a-running! The Hunchbergs are here!"

    Of course Cousin David Beasley came a-running, and was immediately introduced to the whole Hunchberg family, a ceremony which old Bob, who was with the boy, had previously undergone with courtly grace.

    "They like Bob," explained Hamilton. "Don't you, Mr. Hunchberg? Yes, he says they do extremely!" (He used such words as "extremely" often; indeed, as Dowden said, he talked "like a child in a book," which was due, I dare say, to his English mother.) "And I'm sure," the boy went on, "that all the family will admire Cousin David. Yes, Mr. Hunchberg says, he thinks they will."

    And then (as Bob told me) he went almost out of his head with joy when Beasley offered Mr. Hunchberg a cigar and struck a match for him to light it.

    "But WHAR," exclaimed the old darky, "whar in de name o' de good Gawd do de chile git dem NAMES? Hit lak to SKEER me!"

    That was a subject often debated between Dowden and me: there was nothing in Wainwright that could have suggested them, and it did not seem probable he could have remembered them from over the water. In my opinion they were the inventions of that busy and lonely little brain.

    I met the Hunchberg family, myself, the day after their arrival, and Beasley, by that time, had become so well acquainted with them that he could remember all their names, and helped in the introductions. There was Mr. Hunchberg--evidently the child's favorite, for he was described as the possessor of every engaging virtue--and there was that lively matron, Mrs. Hunchberg; there were the Hunchberg young gentlemen, Tom, Noble, and Grandee; and the young ladies, Miss Queen, Miss Marble, and Miss Molanna--all exceedingly gay and pretty. There was also Colonel Hunchberg, an uncle; finally there was Aunt Cooley Hunchberg, a somewhat decrepit but very amiable old lady. Mr. Corley Linbridge happened to be calling at the same time; and, as it appeared to be Beasley's duty to keep the conversation going and constantly to include all of the party in its general flow, it struck me that he had truly (as Dowden said) "enough to keep him busy."

    The Hunchbergs had lately moved to Wainwright from Constantinople, I learned; they had decided not to live in town, however, having purchased a fine farm out in the country, and, on account of the distance, were able to call at Beasley's only about eight times a day, and seldom more than twice in the evening. Whenever a mystic telephone announced that they were on the way, the child would have himself wheeled to a window; and when they came in sight he would cry out in wild delight, while Beasley hastened to open the front door and admit them.

    They were so real to the child, and Beasley treated them with such consistent seriousness, that between the two of them I sometimes began to feel that there actually were such people, and to have moments of half-surprise that I couldn't see them; particularly as each of the Hunchberg's developed a character entirely his own to the last peculiarity, such as the aged Aunt Cooley Hunchberg's deafness, on which account Beasley never once forgot to raise his voice when he addressed her. Indeed, the details of actuality in all this appeared to bring as great a delight to the man as to the child. Certainly he built them up with infinite care. On one occasion when Mr. Hunchberg and I happened to be calling, Hamilton remarked with surprise that Simpledoria had come into the room without licking his hand as he usually did, and had crept under the table. Mr. Hunchberg volunteered the information (through Beasley) that upon his approach to the house he had seen Simpledoria chasing a cat. It was then debated whether chastisement was in order, but finally decided that Simpledoria's surreptitious manner of entrance and his hiding under the table were sufficient indication that he well understood his baseness, and would never let it happen again. And so, Beasley having coaxed him out from under the table, the offender "sat up," begged, and was forgiven. I could almost feel the splendid shaggy head under my hand when, in turn, I patted Simpledoria to show that the reconciliation was unanimous.
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