That same afternoon Mr. MacGentle put his head into the outer office and said, “Mr. Dyke, could I speak with you a moment?”
Mr. Dyke scraped back his chair and went in, with his polished bald head, and square face and figure,—a block of common-sense. He was more common-sensible than usual, that afternoon, because he had so strangely forgotten himself in the morning. Mr. MacGentle was in his usual position for talking with his confidential clerk,—standing up with his back to the fireplace, and his coat-tails over his arms. Experience had taught him that this attitude was better adapted than any other to sustain the crushing weight of Mr. Dyke’s sense. To have conversed with him in a sitting position would have been to lose breath and vitality before the end of five minutes.
“Mr. Helwyse has thoughts of settling in Boston to practise his profession,” began the President, gently. “I told him you would be likely to know what the chances are.”
“Profession is—what?” demanded Mr. Dyke, settling his fist on his hip.
“O—doctor—physician; eye-doctor, he said, I think.”
“Eye-doctor? Well, Dr. Schlemm won’t last the winter; may drop any day. Just the thing for Mr. Helwyse,—Dr. Helwyse.” And the subject, being discussed at some length between the two gentlemen, took on a promising aspect. His house was picked out for the new incumbent, his earnings calculated, his success foretold. Two characters so diverse as were the President and his clerk united, it seems, in liking the young physician.
“Married?” asked Mr. Dyke, after a pause.
“Why, no,—no; and he doesn’t seem inclined to marry. But he is quite young; perhaps he may, later on in life, Mr. Dyke.”
The elderly clerk straightened his mouth. “Matter of taste—and policy. Gives solidity,—position;—and is an expense and a responsibility.” Mr. Dyke himself was well known to be the husband of an idolized wife, and the father of a despotic family.
“He never had the advantage of woman’s influence in his childhood, you know. His poor mother died in giving him and his sister birth; and the sister was lost,—stolen away, two or three years later. He does not appreciate woman at her true value,” murmured MacGentle.
“Stolen away? His sister died in infancy,—so I understood, sir,” said the clerk, whose versions of past events were apt to differ from the President’s.
But the President—perhaps because he was conscious that his memory regarding things of recent occurrence was treacherous—was abnormally sensitive as to the correctness of his more distant reminiscences.
“O no, she was stolen,—stolen by her nurse, just before Thor Helwyse went to Europe, I think,” said he.
“Beg your pardon, sir,” said Mr. Dyke, with an iron smile; “died,—burnt to death in her first year,—yes, sir!”