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So void of self-assertion was Clare, so prompt at the call of whoever needed him, so quiet yet so quick, so silent in his sympathetic ministrations, so studious and so capable, that, after two years, Miss Tempest began to feel she ought to do what she could to "advance his prospects," even at the loss to herself of his services.
He never came to regard Miss Tempest as he did the other women who had saved him: he never thought of her as his fourth mother. Truly good and kind she was, but she had a certain manner which prevented him from feeling entirely comfortable with her. It did not escape him, however, that Abdiel was thoroughly at his ease in her company; and he believed therefore that the dog knew her better, or at least was more just to her, than he.
The fact was Miss Tempest kept down all her feelings, with a vague sense that to show them would be to waste her substance: it was the one shape that the yet lingering selfishness of a very unselfish person took. Thus she kept him at a distance, and he stayed at a distance, she on her part wondering that he did not open out to her more, but neither doubting that all was right between them. Nothing, indeed, was wrong--only they might have come a little nearer. Perhaps, also, Miss Tempest was a little too conscious of being his patroness, his earthly saviour.
It was natural that, after the defeated robbery, Clare should become a little known to the friends of the mistress he had so well served; when, therefore, Miss Tempest spoke to her banker concerning the ability of her page, mentioning that, in his spare time, he had been reading hard, as well as attending an evening-school for mathematics, where he gained much approbation from his master, she spoke of one already known by him to one accustomed to regard character.
The banker listened with a solemn listening from which she could not tell what he was thinking. No one ever could tell what Mr. Shotover was thinking: his face was not half a face; it was more a mask than a face. High in the world's regard, rich, and of unquestioned integrity, he was believed to have gathered a large fortune; but he kept his affairs to himself. That he liked his own way so much as never to yield it, I give up to the admiration of such as himself: often kind--when the required mode of the kindness pleased him, a constant church-goer and giver of money, always saying less the more he made up his mind, he had generally no trouble in getting it.
Priding himself on his moral discrimination, he had, now and then, as suited his need, taken from a lower position a young man he thought would serve his purpose, and modelled him to it. He had had his eye on Clare ever since reading the magistrate's eulogy of his contrivance and courage; but when Miss Tempest spoke, he had not made up his mind about him, for something in the boy repelled him. He had scarcely troubled himself to ask what it was, nor do I believe he could have discovered, for the root of the repulsion lay in himself.
Moved in part, however, by the representations of Miss Tempest, in part also, I think, by a desire to discover that the boy was a hypocrite, Mr. Shotover consented to give him a trial, whereupon Miss Tempest made haste to disclose to her protegé the grand thing she had done for him.
She was disappointed at the coolness and lack of interest with which Clare heard her great news. She could not but be gratified that he did not want to leave her, but she was annoyed that he seemed unaware of any advantage to be gained in doing so--high as the social ascent from servitude to clerkship would by most be considered. But Clare's horizon was not that of the world. He had no inclination to more of figures and less of persons. Miss Tempest, however, insisting that she knew what was best for him, and what it was therefore his duty to do, he listened in respectful silence to all she had to say. But what she counted her most powerful argument--that he owed it to himself to rise in the world--did not even touch him, did not move the slightest response in a mind nobly devoid of ambition. Her argument was in truth nonsense; for a man owes himself nothing, owes God everything, and owes his neighbour whatever his own conscience goes on to require of him for his neighbour. Feeling at the same time, however, that she had a huge claim on his compliance with her wishes, Clare consented to leave her kitchen for her friend's bank, where he had of course to take the lowest position, one counted by the rest of the clerks, especially the one just out of it, menial, requiring him to be in the bank earlier by half an hour than the others, to be the last to go away at night, and to sleep in the house--where a not uncomfortable room in the attic story was appointed him.
Mr. Shotover himself lived above the bank--with his family, consisting of his wife and two daughters. Mrs. Shotover suffered from a terrible disease--that of thinking herself ill when nothing was the matter with her except her paramount interest in herself--the source of at least half the incurable disease among idle people. The elder daughter was a high-spirited girl about twenty, with a frank, friendly manner, indicating what God meant her to be, not what she was, or had yet chosen to be. She was not really frank, and seemed far more friendly than she was, being more selfish than she knew, and far more selfish than she seemed: she was merry, and that goes a great way in seeming. Her mother spent no regard upon her; her heart was too full of herself to have in it room for a grown-up daughter as well, with interests of her own. The younger was a child about six, of whom the mother took not so much care by half as a tigress of her cub.
One morning, a little before eight o'clock, as Clare was coming down from his room to open the windows of the bank, he just saved himself from tumbling over something on the attic stair, which was dark, and at that point took rather a sharp turn. The something was a child, who gave a low cry, and started up to run away: there was not light enough for either to discern easily what the other was like. But Clare, to whom childhood was the strongest attraction he yet knew, bent down his face from where he stood on the step above her, and its moonlight glow of love and faith shone clear in the eyes of the little girl. The moment she saw his smile, she knew the soul that was the light of the smile, and her doll dropped from her hands as she raised them to lay her arms gently about his neck.
"Oh!" she said, "you're come!"
He saw now, in the dusk, a pale, ordinary little face, with rather large gray eyes, a rather characterless, tiny, up-turned nose, and a rather pretty mouth.
"Yes, little one. Were you expecting me?" he returned, with his arms about her.
"Yes," she answered, in the tone of one stating what the other must know.
"How was it I frightened you, then?"
"Only at first I thought you was an ogre! That was before I saw you. Then I knew!"
"Who told you I was coming?"
"Nobody. Nobody knew you was coming but me. I've known it--oh, for such a time!--ever since I was born, I think!"
She turned her head a little and looked down where the doll lay a step or two below.
"You can go now, dolly," she said. "I don't want you any more." Here she paused a while, as if listening to a reply, then went on: "I am much obliged to you, dolly; but what am I to do with you? You won't never speak! It has made me quite sad many a time, you know very well! But you can't help it! So go away, please, and be nobody, for you never would be anybody! I did my best to get you to be somebody, but you wouldn't! Thank you all the same! I will take you and put you where you can be as dull as you please, and nobody will mind."--Here she left Clare, went down, and lifted her plaything.--"Dolly, dolly," she resumed, "he's come! I knew he would! And you don't know it because you're nobody!"
Without looking back, or a word of adieu to Clare, she went slowly down the steps, one by one, with the doll in her arms, manifesting for it neither contempt nor tenderness. Many a child would have carried the discrowned favourite by one leg; she carried her in both hands.
Clare waited a while on the narrow, closed-in, wooden stair, not a little wondering, and full of thought. His wonder, however, had no puzzlement in it. The child's behaviour involved no difficulty. The two existences came together, and each understood the other in virtue of its essential nature. In after years Clare could put the thing into such words; he sought none at the time. The child was lonely. She had done her best with her doll, but it had failed her. It was not companionable. The moment she looked in Clare's face, she knew that he loved her, and that she had been waiting for him! She was not surprised to see him; how should it be otherwise than just so! He was come: good bye, dolly! The child had imagination--next to conscience the strongest ally of common sense. She knew, like St. Paul, that an idol is nothing. As men and women grow in imagination and common sense, more and more will sacred silly dolls be cast to the moles and the bats. But pretty Fancy and limping Logic are powerful usurpers in commonplace minds.
Clare saw nothing more of her that day, neither tried to see her; but he did his work in an atmosphere of roses. The work was not nearly so interesting as house-work, but Clare was an honest gentleman, therefore did it well: that it was not interesting was of no account; it was his work! But to know that a child was in the house, not merely a child for him to love, but a child that already loved him so that he could be her servant indeed, changed the stupid bank almost into the dome of the angels.
His fellow clerks took little notice of him beyond what, in the routine of the day, was unavoidable. He had been a page-boy: the less they did with him the better! Were they not wronged by his introduction into their company? The poorest creature of them believed he would have served out the burglars better if the chance had been his.
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