VI. Brown's Persistent Memory




"I wonder," he said to himself an hour later, "if it's any use to go to bed at all!" He was walking the floor with the baby in his arms. Bim, puzzled and anxious, walked by his side, looking up at the small bundle with a glance which seemed to say, "What in the world are we going to do with it?"

Whether the feeding from the teaspoon had disagreed with its digestion could not be discovered, but clearly the baby was unhappy. It was quiet when walked with but upon being put down immediately set up such an outcry that the bachelor, unaccustomed, could not listen to it with stoicism. Therefore, when he had endured the sound as long as he could, he had taken the little visitor up and was now walking with it, himself in bathgown and slippers.

"It may be a pin, Bim," said he suddenly.

He sat down before the fire, laid the baby upon its face on his knees and began cautiously to investigate. He loosened the tiny garments one by one, until he had reached the little body and could assure himself that no sharp point was responsible for the baby's discomfort. He gently rubbed the small back, wondering, as he did so, at the insignificant area his hand nearly covered. Under this treatment the wailing gradually quieted.

"Bim," said he resignedly, "we shall have to sit up with him--for a while, at least."

Bim walked over to the window.

"No," said his master, "we can't disturb our neighbours at this time of night. We must see it through. If we can manage to read, it will make the time go faster."

He reached for a book, opened it at a mark, and began to read, his hand, meanwhile, steadily maintaining the soothing motion up and down the baby's back. But his thoughts were not upon the page. Instead, they took hold upon one phrase his sister had used--one phrase, which had brought up to him a certain face as vividly as the sudden presentation of a portrait might have done.

"She's as wonderful to look at as ever."

Was she? Well, she had been wonderful to look at--there could be no question of that. He had looked at her, and looked, and looked again, until his eyes had blurred with the dazzle of the vision. And having looked, there could be no possible forgetting, no merciful blotting out of the recollection of that face. He had tried to forget it, to forget the whole absorbing personality, had tried with all his strength, but the thing could not be done. It seemed to him sometimes that the very effort to efface that image only cut its outlines deeper into his memory.

The baby began to cry afresh, with sudden, sharp insistence. Brown took it up and strode the floor with it again.

"Poor little chap!" he murmured. "You can't have what you want, and I can't have what I want. But it doesn't do a bit of good to cry about it--eh?"

The knocker sounded. Bim growled.

"At this hour!" thought Brown, with a glance at his watch lying on the table. It was nearly two in the morning.

Holding the baby in the crook of his arm he crossed the floor and opened the door gingerly, sheltering the baby behind it.

"Is it the toothache, Misther Brown?" inquired an eagerly pitiful voice. "Or warse?"

Mrs. Kelcey came in, her shawl covering her unbound hair--his next-door neighbour and little Norah's mother. Her face was full of astonishment at sight of Brown in his bathgown and the baby in his arms.

"I'm mighty glad to see you," Brown assured her. "I don't know what to do with him, poor little fellow. I think it must be a pain."

"The saints and ahl!" said Mrs. Kelcey. She took the baby from him with wonted, motherly arms. "The teeny thing!" she exclaimed. "Where--"

"Left on my doorstep."

"An' ye thried to get through the night with him! Why didn't ye bring him to me at wanst?"

"It was late--your lights were out. How did you know I was up?"

"Yer lights wasn't out. I was up with me man--Pat's a sore fut, an' I was bathin' it to quiet him. I seen yer lights. Ye sit up till ahl hours, I know, but I cud see the shadow movin' up and down. I says to Pat, 'He's the toothache, maybe, and me with plinty of rimidies nixt door.'"

She turned her attention to the tiny creature in her lap. She inquired into the case closely, and learned how the child had been fed with a teaspoon.

"To think of a single man so handy!" she exclaimed admiringly. "But maybe he shwallied a bit too much air with the feedin'."

"He swallowed all the air there was at hand," admitted Brown, "and precious little milk. But he seemed hungry, and I thought he was too little to go all night without being fed."

"Right ye were, an' 'tis feedin' he nades agin--only not with a shpoon. I'll take him home an' fix up a bit of a bottle for him, the poor thing. An' I'll take him at wanst, an' let ye get to bed, where ye belong, by the looks of ye."

"You're an angel, Mrs. Kelcey. I hate to let you take him, with all you have on your hands--"

"Shure, 'tis the hands that's full that can always hold a bit more. An' a single man can't be bothered with cast-off childher, no matter how big his heart is, as we well know."

And Mrs. Kelcey departed, with the baby under her shawl and a motherly look for the man who opened the door for her and stood smiling at her in the lamplight as she went away.

But when he had thrown himself, at last, on his bed, wearily longing for rest, he found he had still to wrestle a while with the persistent image of the face which was "wonderful to look at," before kindly slumber would efface it with the gray mists of oblivion.



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