He walked quickly to the door and disappeared in the hall, and then came back, kicking the door open as he returned, and holding the child in his arms.
“This is she,” he said, quietly. He did not look at or notice the father, but stood, with the child asleep in the bend of his left arm, gazing down at her. “This is she,” he repeated; “this is your child.”
There was something cold and satisfied in Van Bibber’s tone and manner, as though he were congratulating himself upon the engaging of a new groom; something that placed the father entirely outside of it. He might have been a disinterested looker-on.
“She will need to be fed a bit,” Van Bibber ran on, cheerfully. “They did not treat her very well, I fancy. She is thin and peaked and tired-looking.” He drew up the loose sleeve of her jacket, and showed the bare forearm to the light. He put his thumb and little finger about it, and closed them on it gently. “It is very thin,” he said. “And under her eyes, if it were not for the paint,” he went on, mercilessly, “you could see how deep the lines are. This red spot on her cheek,” he said, gravely, “is where Mary Vane kissed her to-night, and this is where Alma Stantley kissed her, and that Lee girl. You have heard of them, perhaps. They will never kiss her again. She is going to grow up a sweet, fine, beautiful woman—are you not?” he said, gently drawing the child higher up on his shoulder, until her face touched his, and still keeping his eyes from the face of the older man. “She does not look like her mother,” he said; “she has her father’s auburn hair and straight nose and finer-cut lips and chin. She looks very much like her father. It seems a pity,” he added, abruptly. “She will grow up,” he went on, “without knowing him, or who he is—or was, if he should die. She will never speak with him, or see him, or take his hand. She may pass him some day on the street and will not know him, and he will not know her, but she will grow to be very fond and to be very grateful to the simple, kind-hearted old people who will have cared for her when she was a little girl.”
The child in his arms stirred, shivered slightly, and awoke. The two men watched her breathlessly, with silent intentness. She raised her head and stared around the unfamiliar room doubtfully, then turned to where her father stood, looking at him a moment, and passed him by; and then, looking up into Van Bibber’s face, recognized him, and gave a gentle, sleepy smile, and, with a sigh of content and confidence, drew her arm up closer around his neck, and let her head fall back upon his breast.
The father sprang to his feet with a quick, jealous gasp of pain. “Give her to me!” he said, fiercely, under his breath, snatching her out of Van Bibber’s arms. “She is mine; give her to me!”
Van Bibber closed the door gently behind him, and went jumping down the winding stairs of the Berkeley three steps at a time.