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- Beasley's Christmas Party - 6/10 -
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.
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:
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."
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
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