The old professor smiled again. “So you don’t think he believes all the mediaeval doctrines he is in the habit of preaching, Mr. Bradshaw?”
“No, sir; I think he belongs to the class I have seen described somewhere. ’There are those who hold the opinion that truth is only safe when diluted,—about one fifth to four fifths lies,—as the oxygen of the air is with its nitrogen. Else it would burn us all up.’”
Byles Gridley colored and started a little. This was one of his own sayings in “Thoughts on the Universe.” But the young man quoted it without seeming to suspect its authorship.
“Where did you pick up that saying, Mr. Bradshaw?”
“I don’t remember. Some paper, I rather think. It’s one of those good things that get about without anybody’s knowing who says ’em. Sounds like Coleridge.”
“That’s what I call a compliment worth having,” said Byles Gridley to himself, when he got home. “Let me look at that passage.”
He took down “Thoughts on the Universe,” and got so much interested, reading on page after page, that he did not hear the little tea-bell, and Susan Posey volunteered to run up to his study and call him down to tea.
Miss Suzan Posey knocked timidly at his door and informed him that tea was waiting. He rather liked Susan Posey. She was a pretty creature, slight, blonde, a little too light, a village beauty of the second or third grade, effective at picnics and by moonlight,—the kind of girl that very young men are apt to remember as their first love. She had a taste for poetry, and an admiration of poets; but, what was better, she was modest and simple, and a perfect sister and mother and grandmother to the two little forlorn twins who had been stranded on the Widow Hopkins’s doorstep.
These little twins, a boy and girl, were now between two and three years old. A few words will make us acquainted with them. Nothing had ever been known of their origin. The sharp eyes of all the spinsters had been through every household in the village and neighborhood, and not a suspicion fixed itself on any one. It was a dark night when they were left; and it was probable that they had been brought from another town, as the sound of wheels had been heard close to the door where they were found, had stopped for a moment, then been heard again, and lost in the distance.
How the good woman of the house took them in and kept them has been briefly mentioned. At first nobody thought they would live a day, such little absurd attempts at humanity did they seem. But the young doctor came and the old doctor came, and the infants were laid in cotton-wool, and the room heated up to keep them warm, and baby-teaspoonfuls of milk given them, and after being kept alive in this way, like the young of opossums and kangaroos, they came to a conclusion about which they did not seem to have made up their thinking-pulps for some weeks, namely, to go on trying to cross the sea of life by tugging at the four-and-twenty oars which must be pulled day and night until the unknown shore is reached, and the oars lie at rest under the folded hands.