“As for that, it would only make any decent man or woman nicer to her. When is she going to let me teach her drawing?”
Dromore crossed the room, drew back the curtain of the picture, and in a muffled voice, said:
“My God, Lenny! Life’s unfair. Nell’s coming killed her mother. I’d rather it had been me—bar chaff! Women have no luck.”
Lennan got up from his comfortable chair. For, startled out of the past, the memory of that summer night, when yet another woman had no luck, was flooding his heart with its black, inextinguishable grief. He said quietly:
“The past is past, old man.”
Dromore drew the curtain again across the picture, and came back to the fire. And for a full minute he stared into it.
“What am I to do with Nell? She’s growing up.”
“What have you done with her so far?”
“She’s been at school. In the summer she goes to Ireland—I’ve got a bit of an old place there. She’ll be eighteen in July. I shall have to introduce her to women, and all that. It’s the devil! How? Who?”
Lennan could only murmur: “My wife, for one.”
He took his leave soon after. Johnny Dromore! Bizarre guardian for that child! Queer life she must have of it, in that bachelor’s den, surrounded by Ruff’s Guides! What would become of her? Caught up by some young spark about town; married to him, no doubt—her father would see to the thoroughness of that, his standard of respectability was evidently high! And after—go the way, maybe, of her mother—that poor thing in the picture with the alluring, desperate face. Well! It was no business of his!
No business of his! The merest sense of comradeship, then, took him once more to Dromore’s after that disclosure, to prove that the word ‘outside’ had no significance save in his friend’s own fancy; to assure him again that Sylvia would be very glad to welcome the child at any time she liked to come.
When he had told her of that little matter of Nell’s birth, she had been silent a long minute, looking in his face, and then had said: “Poor child! I wonder if she knows! People are so unkind, even nowadays!” He could not himself think of anyone who would pay attention to such a thing, except to be kinder to the girl; but in such matters Sylvia was the better judge, in closer touch with general thought. She met people that he did not—and of a more normal species.
It was rather late when he got to Dromore’s diggings on that third visit.
“Mr. Dromore, sir,” the man said—he had one of those strictly confidential faces bestowed by an all-wise Providence on servants in the neighbourhood of Piccadilly—“Mr. Dromore, sir, is not in. But he will be almost sure to be in to dress. Miss Nell is in, sir.”
And there she was, sitting at the table, pasting photographs into an album—lonely young creature in that abode of male middle-age! Lennan stood, unheard, gazing at the back of her head, with its thick crinkly-brown hair tied back on her dark-red frock. And, to the confidential man’s soft: