“Mrs. O’Farrall,” said he, “blessings on your old red face! For just this minute for the first time since I lost them, the fact that I have no knees to bend escaped me. Your religion teaches you that the Lord is good to the repentant sinner. Madam, he is!” And then he began to call in a loud voice:
“Rose—Rose, run down a minute. I clean forgot that I hadn’t any legs.”
She came, fresh, young, and lovely. What if she had played the traitor—thrown her cap over the wind-mills? These things are not serious matters to her sex—when the men they love are kind. And then Lichtenstein had forgiven her, and pretended to box her ears—and then she had had enough tragedy and jealousy crowded into a few months to atone for greater crimes and lapses than hers.
“I understand,” said Blizzard sternly, “that when you learned I was your father, you refused to proceed further against me.”
“Yes, sir,” said Bubbles.
“You did wrong! Always do your duty. It was your duty to send me to the chair, if you could. A fine father I’d been to you—and to Harry—and a good honest man I was to your mother! My boy, I’m face to face with the penalty that I have to pay—you. I know all about you, Bubbles, from Lichtenstein, from Dr. Ferris, from Wilmot Allen and—and others. And you’re a good boy. I drove your mother crazy, I let you drift into the streets—to sink, I thought, and perish; but you’re a good boy. I gave you no education, but you have picked up reading and writing and God knows what else. Once I was going to wring your neck. I didn’t. That’s the only favor you ever had at my hands. You’ll grow up to be a good man—a fine, clever, understanding man. And it won’t be because of me, it will be in spite of me. This is the hardest thing I have to face. You’ve come now to pay a duty call. Well, my boy, I’m obliged. But I wish to Heaven I had some hold on your affection, some way of getting a hold. Bubbles, what can I do to make you like me?”
Bubbles wriggled with awful discomfort, but said nothing.
“Is it because of your mother that you can’t ever like me?”
Bubbles drew a long breath as if for a deep dive. His voice shook. “She lives in a bug-house,” he said; “you drove her into it. Dr. Ferris says you were crazy yourself and nothing you ever done ought to be held against you. He says, and Miss Barbara, she says, that I ought to try to like you and feel kind to you. And—and I thought it was my duty to come and tell you that I just can’t.”
He was only a little boy, and the delivery of these plain truths to a man he had always held in deadly dread unmanned him. He gave one short, wailing, whimpering sob, and then bit his lips until he had himself in a sort of control.