And the man treasures up these words, for he is an ambitious man, and wealth and fame and power are the sweetest things in all the world to him. A woman loves him and dies, thirsting for a loving look from him; children’s footsteps creep into his life and steal away again, old faces fade and new ones come and go.
But never a kindly touch of his hand rests on any living thing; never a kindly word comes from his lips; never a kindly thought springs from his heart. And in all his doings fortune favours him.
The years pass by, and at last there is left to him only one thing that he need fear—a child’s small, wistful face. The child loves him, as the woman, long ago, had loved him, and her eyes follow him with a hungry, beseeching look. But he sets his teeth, and turns away from her.
The little face grows thin, and one day they come to him where he sits before the keyboard of his many enterprises, and tell him she is dying. He comes and stands beside the bed, and the child’s eyes open and turn towards him; and, as he draws nearer, her little arms stretch out towards him, pleading dumbly. But the man’s face never changes, and the little arms fall feebly back upon the tumbled coverlet, and the wistful eyes grow still, and a woman steps softly forward, and draws the lids down over them; then the man goes back to his plans and schemes.
But in the night, when the great house is silent, he steals up to the room where the child still lies, and pushes back the white, uneven sheet.
“Dead—dead,” he mutters. Then he takes the tiny corpse up in his arms, and holds it tight against his breast, and kisses the cold lips, and the cold cheeks, and the little, cold, stiff hands.
And at that point my story becomes impossible, for I dream that the dead child lies always beneath the sheet in that quiet room, and that the little face never changes, nor the limbs decay.
I puzzle about this for an instant, but soon forget to wonder; for when the Dream Fairy tells us tales we are only as little children, sitting round with open eyes, believing all, though marvelling that such things should be.
Each night, when all else in the house sleeps, the door of that room opens noiselessly, and the man enters and closes it behind him. Each night he draws away the white sheet, and takes the small dead body in his arms; and through the dark hours he paces softly to and fro, holding it close against his breast, kissing it and crooning to it, like a mother to her sleeping baby.
When the first ray of dawn peeps into the room, he lays the dead child back again, and smooths the sheet above her, and steals away.
And he succeeds and prospers in all things, and each day he grows richer and greater and more powerful.
We had much trouble with our heroine. Brown wanted her ugly. Brown’s chief ambition in life is to be original, and his method of obtaining the original is to take the unoriginal and turn it upside down.