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"If I had married Mehetabel, you know, we should have had-ahem !—a family.”
“Very likely," I assented, vastly amused at this unexpected turn.
“A boy !” exclaimed Mr. Jaffrey, explosively.
“Great trouble about naming the boy Mehetabel's family want him named Elkanah Elkins, after her grandfather; I want him named Andrew Jackson. We compromise by christening him Elkanah Elkins Andrew Jackson Jaffrey. Rather a long name for such a short little fellow,” said Mr. Jaffrey, musingly.
“Andy isn't a bad nickname,” I suggested.
“Not at all. We call him Andy in the family. Somewhat fractious at first,-colic and things. I suppose it is right, or it wouldn't be so; but the usefulness of measles, mumps, croup, whooping-cough, scarlatina, and fits is not visible to the naked eye. I wish Andy would be a model infant, and dodge the whole lot.”
This supposititious child, born within the last few minutes, was clearly assuming the proportions of a reality to Mr. Jaffrey. I began to feel a little uncomfortable. I am, as I have said, a civil engineer, and it is not strictly in my line to assist at the births of infants, imaginary or otherwise. I pulled away vigorously at the pipe and said nothing.
“What large blue eyes he has,” resumed Mr. Jaffrey, after a pause; "just like Hetty's; and the fair hair, too, like hers. How oddly certain distinctive features are handed down in families ! sometimes a mouth, sometimes a turn of the eyebrow. Wicked little boys, over at K—, have now and then derisively advised me to follow my nose. It would be an interesting thing to do. I should find my nose flying about the world, turning up unexpectedly here and there, dodging this branch of the family and reappearing
in that, now jumping over one great-grandchild to fasten itself upon another, and never losing its individuality. Look at Andy. There's Elkanah Elkin's chin to the life. Andy's chin is probably older than the Pyramids. Poor little thing," he cried, with a sudden, indescribable tenderness, “to lose his mother so early!”
And Mr. Jaffrey's head sunk upon his breast, and his shoulders slanted forward, as if he were actually bending over the cradle of the child.
The whole gesture and attitude was so natural that it startled me.
The pipe slipped from my fingers and fell to the floor.
“Hush !” whispered Mr. Jaffrey, with a deprecating motion of his hand. “Andy's asleep!”
He rose softly from the chair, and, walking across the room on tiptoe, drew down the shade at the window through which the moonlight was streaming. Then he returned to his seat, and remained gazing with half-closed eyes into the drooping embers.
I refilled my pipe and smoked in profound silence, wondering what would come next. But nothing came next. Mr. Jaffrey had fallen into so brown a study, that, a quarter of an hour afterwards, when I wished him good-night and withdrew, I do not think he noticed my departure. I am not what is called a man of imagination; it is my habit to exclude most things not capable of mathematical demonstration ; but I am not without a certain psychological insight, and I think I understood Mr. Jaffrey's case.
I could easily understand how a man with an unhealthy, sensitive nature, overwhelmed by sudden calamity, might take refuge in some forlorn place like this old tavern, and dream his life away.
To such a man-brooding for ever on what might have been, and dwelling only in the realm of his fancies—the actual world might indeed become as a dream, and nothing seem real but his illusions.
I daresay that thirteen years of Bayley's Four Corners would have its effect upon me; though instead of conjuring up golden-haired children of the Madonna, I should probably see gnomes and kobolds and goblins engaged in hoisting false signals and misplacing switches for midnight express trains.
“No doubt,” I said to myself that night, as I lay in bed, thinking over the matter, “this once possible but now impossible child is a great comfort to the old gentleman,a greater comfort, perhaps, than a real son would be. Maybe Andy will vanish with the shades and mists of
night, he's such an unsubstantial infant; but if he doesn't, and Mr. Jaffrey finds pleasure in talking to me about his son, I shall humour the old fellow. It wouldn't be a Christian act to knock over his harmless fancy."
I was very impatient to see if Mr. Jaffrey's illusion would stand the test of daylight. It did. Elkanah Elkins Andrew Jackson Jaffrey was, so to speak, alive and kicking the next morning. On taking his seat at the breakfast table, Mr. Jaffrey whispered to me that Andy had had a comfortable night.
“Silas !” said Mr. Sewell, sharply, “what are you whispering about?”
Mr. Sewell was in an ill humour; perhaps he was jealous because I had passed the evening in Mr. Jaffrey's room; but surely Mr. Sewell could not expect his boarders to go to bed at eight o'clock every night, as he did. From time to time during the meal Mr. Sewell regarded me unkindly out of the corner of his eye, and in helping me to the parsnips he poniarded them with quite a suggestive air. All this, however, did not prevent me from repairing to the door of Mr. Jaffrey's snuggery when night
Well, Mr. Jaffrey, how's Andy this evening ? “Got a tooth !” cried Mr. Jaffrey, vivaciously.
“Yes, he has ! Just through. Gave the nurse a silver dollar. Standing reward for first tooth.”
It was on the tip of my tongue to express surprise that an infant a day old should cut a tooth, when I suddenly recollected that Richard III. was born with teeth.
Feeling myself to be on unfamiliar ground, I suppressed my criticism. It was well I did so, for in the next breath I was advised that half a year had elapsed since the previous evening.
“Andy's had a hard six months of it," said Mr. Jaffrey, with the well-known narrative air of fathers.
" We've brought him up by hand. His grandfather, by the way, was brought up by the bottle”-and brought down by it, too, I added mentally, recalling Mr. Sewell's account of the old gentleman's tragic end.
Mr. Jaffrey then went on to give me a history of Andy's first six months, omitting no detail however insignificant or irrelevant. This history I would in turn inflict upon the reader, if I were only certain that he is one of those dreadful parents who, under the ægis of friendship, bore you at a street-corner with that remarkable thing which Freddy said the other day, and insist on singing to you at an evening party the Iliad of Tommy's woes.
But to inflict this enfantillage upon the unmarried reader would be an act of wanton cruelty. So I pass over that part of Andy's biography, and, for the same reason, make no record of the next four or five interviews I had with Mr. Jaffrey. It will be sufficient to state that Andy glided from extreme infancy to early youth with astonishing celerity,at the rate of one year per night, if I remember correctly ; and—must I confess it ?-before the week came to an end, this invisible hobgoblin of a boy was only little less of a reality to me than to Mr. Jaffrey.
At first I had lent myself to the old dreamer's whim with a keen perception of the humour of the thing; but by-andby I found I was talking and thinking of Miss Mehetabel's son as though he were a veritable personage. Mr. Jaffrey spoke of the child with such an air of conviction !—as if Andy were playing among his toys in the next room, or making mud-pies down in the yard. In these conversations, it should be observed, the child was never supposed to be present, except on that single occasion when Mr. Jaffrey leaned over the cradle. After one of our séances I would lie awake until the small hours, thinking of the boy, and then fall asleep only to have indigestible dreams about him. Through the day, and sometimes in the midst of complicated calculations, I would catch myself wondering what Andy was up to now! There was no shaking him off; he became an inseparable nightmare to me; and I felt that if I remained much longer at Bayley's Four Corners I should turn into just such another bald-headed, mild-eyed visionary as Silas Jaffrey
Then the tavern was a gruesome old shell anyway, full of unaccountable noises after dark,—rustlings of garments along unfrequented passages, and stealthy footfalls in