“Yes, I can see,” said Mrs. March.
“Well, she took hold at once, as ready as a hospital-trained nurse; and there ain’t anything readier on this planet. She runs the whole concern, socially and economically, takes all the care of housekeeping off the old lady’s hands, and goes round with the girls. By-the-bye, I’m going to take my meals at your widow’s, March, and Conrad’s going to have his lunch there. I’m sick of browsing about.”
“Mr. March’s widow?” said his wife, looking at him with provisional severity.
“I have no widow, Isabel,” he said, “and never expect to have, till I leave you in the enjoyment of my life-insurance. I suppose Fulkerson means the lady with the daughter who wanted to take us to board.”
“Oh yes. How are they getting on, I do wonder?” Mrs. March asked of Fulkerson.
“Well, they’ve got one family to board; but it’s a small one. I guess they’ll pull through. They didn’t want to take any day boarders at first, the widow said; I guess they have had to come to it.”
“Poor things!” sighed Mrs. March. “I hope they’ll go back to the country.”
“Well, I don’t know. When you’ve once tasted New York—You wouldn’t go back to Boston, would you?”
Fulkerson laughed out a tolerant incredulity.
Beaton lit his pipe when he found himself in his room, and sat down before the dull fire in his grate to think. It struck him there was a dull fire in his heart a great deal like it; and he worked out a fanciful analogy with the coals, still alive, and the ashes creeping over them, and the dead clay and cinders. He felt sick of himself, sick of his life and of all his works. He was angry with Fulkerson for having got him into that art department of his, for having bought him up; and he was bitter at fate because he had been obliged to use the money to pay some pressing debts, and had not been able to return the check his father had sent him. He pitied his poor old father; he ached with compassion for him; and he set his teeth and snarled with contempt through them for his own baseness. This was the kind of world it was; but he washed his hands of it. The fault was in human nature, and he reflected with pride that he had at least not invented human nature; he had not sunk so low as that yet. The notion amused him; he thought he might get a Satanic epigram out of it some way. But in the mean time that girl, that wild animal, she kept visibly, tangibly before him; if he put out his hand he might touch hers, he might pass his arm round her waist. In Paris, in a set he knew there, what an effect she would be with that look of hers, and that beauty, all out of drawing! They would recognize the flame quality in her. He imagined a joke about her being a fiery spirit, or nymph, naiad, whatever, from one of her native gas-wells. He began to sketch on a bit of paper from the table at his elbow vague