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Miss Suzan Posey knocked timidly at his door and informed him that tea was waiting. He rather liked Susan Posey. She was a pretty creature, slight, blonde, a little too light, a village beauty of the second or third grade, effective at picnics and by moonlight,--the kind of girl that very young men are apt to remember as their first love. She had a taste for poetry, and an admiration of poets; but, what was better, she was modest and simple, and a perfect sister and mother and grandmother to the two little forlorn twins who had been stranded on the Widow Hopkins's doorstep.
These little twins, a boy and girl, were now between two and three years old. A few words will make us acquainted with them. Nothing had ever been known of their origin. The sharp eyes of all the spinsters had been through every household in the village and neighborhood, and not a suspicion fixed itself on any one. It was a dark night when they were left; and it was probable that they had been brought from another town, as the sound of wheels had been heard close to the door where they were found, had stopped for a moment, then been heard again, and lost in the distance.
How the good woman of the house took them in and kept them has been briefly mentioned. At first nobody thought they would live a day, such little absurd attempts at humanity did they seem. But the young doctor came and the old doctor came, and the infants were laid in cotton-wool, and the room heated up to keep them warm, and baby- teaspoonfuls of milk given them, and after being kept alive in this way, like the young of opossums and kangaroos, they came to a conclusion about which they did not seem to have made up their thinking-pulps for some weeks, namely, to go on trying to cross the sea of life by tugging at the four-and-twenty oars which must be pulled day and night until the unknown shore is reached, and the oars lie at rest under the folded hands.
As it was not very likely that the parents who left their offspring round on doorsteps were of saintly life, they were not presented for baptism like the children of church-members. Still, they must have names to be known by, and Mrs. Hopkins was much exercised in the matter. Like many New England parents, she had a decided taste for names that were significant and sonorous. That which she had chosen for her oldest child, the young poet, was either a remarkable prophecy, or it had brought with it the endowments it promised. She had lost, or, in her own more pictorial language, she had buried, a daughter to whom she had given the names, at once of cheerful omen and melodious effect, Wealthy Amadora.
As for them poor little creturs, she said, she believed they was rained down out o' the skies, jest as they say toads and tadpoles come. She meant to be a mother to 'em for all that, and give 'em jest as good names as if they was the governor's children, or the minister's. If Mr. Gridley would be so good as to find her some kind of a real handsome Chris'n name for 'em, she'd provide 'em with the other one. Hopkinses they shall be bred and taught, and Hopkinses they shall be called. Ef their father and mother was ashamed to own 'em, she was n't. Couldn't Mr. Gridley pick out some pooty sounding names from some of them great books of his. It's jest as well to have 'em pooty as long as they don't cost any more than if they was Tom and Sally.
A grim smile passed over the rugged features of Byles Gridley. "Nothing is easier than that, Mrs. Hopkins," he said. "I will give you two very pretty names that I think will please you and other folks. They're new names, too. If they shouldn't like to keep them, they can change them before they're christened, if they ever are. Isosceles will be just the name for the boy, and I'm sure you won't find a prettier name for the girl in a hurry than Helminthia."
Mrs. Hopkins was delighted with the dignity and novelty of these two names, which were forthwith adopted. As they were rather long for common use in the family, they were shortened into the easier forms of Sossy and Minthy, under which designation the babes began very soon to thrive mightily, turning bread and milk into the substance of little sinners at a great rate, and growing as if they were put out at compound interest.
This short episode shows us the family conditions surrounding Byles Gridley, who, as we were saying, had just been called down to tea by Miss Susan Posey.
"I am coming, my dear," he said,--which expression quite touched Miss Susan, who did not know that it was a kind of transferred caress from the delicious page he was reading. It was not the living child that was kissed, but the dead one lying under the snow, if we may make a trivial use of a very sweet and tender thought we all remember.
Not long after this, happening to call in at the lawyer's office, his eye was caught by the corner of a book lying covered up by a pile of papers. Somehow or other it seemed to look very natural to him. Could that be a copy of "Thoughts on the Universe"? He watched his opportunity, and got a hurried sight of the volume. His own treatise, sure enough! Leaves Uncut. Opened of itself to the one hundred and twentieth page. The axiom Murray Bradshaw had quoted--he did not remember from what,--"sounded like Coleridge"--was staring him in the face from that very page. When he remembered how he had pleased himself with that compliment the other day, he blushed like a school-girl; and then, thinking out the whole trick,--to hunt up his forgotten book, pick out a phrase or two from it, and play on his weakness with it, to win his good opinion,--for what purpose he did not know, but doubtless to use him in some way,--he grinned with a contempt about equally divided between himself and the young schemer.
"Ah ha!" he muttered scornfully. "Sounds like Coleridge, hey? Niccolo Macchiavelli Bradshaw!"
>From this day forward he looked on all the young lawyer's doings with even more suspicion than before. Yet he would not forego his company and conversation; for he was very agreeable and amusing to study; and this trick he had played him was, after all, only a diplomatist's way of flattering his brother plenipotentiary. Who could say? Some time or other he might cajole England or France or Russia into a treaty with just such a trick. Shallower men than he had gone out as ministers of the great Republic. At any rate, the fellow was worth watching.
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