It was well for me that I came to this determination. I believe it was the appearance of maturity which my head and dining upon thoughts lent me, as much as my friend’s praises, which created my success with the amiable Mr. Lambert R. Poor. I witness that my visit to him provided one of the most astonishing interviews of my life. He was an instance of those strange beings of the Western republic, at whom we are perhaps too prone to pass from one of ourselves to another the secret smile, because of some little imperfections of manner. It is a type which has grown more and more familiar to us, yet never less strange: the man in costly but severe costume, big, with a necessary great waistcoat, not noticing the loudness of his own voice; as ignorant of the thousand tiny things which we observe and feel as he would be careless of them (except for his wife) if he knew. We laugh at him, sometimes even to his face, and he does not perceive it. We are a little afraid that he is too large to see it; hence too large for us to comprehend, and in spite of our laughter we are always conscious of a force—yes, of a presence! We jeer slyly, but we respect, fear a little, and would trust.
Such was my patron. He met me with a kind greeting, looked at me very earnestly, but smiling as if he understood my good intentions, as one understands the friendliness of a capering poodle, yet in such a way that I could not feel resentment, for I could see that he looked at almost everyone in the same fashion.
My friend had done wonders for me; and I made the best account of myself that I could, so that within half an hour it was arranged that I should take charge of his son, with an honourarium which gave me great rejoicing for my nieces and my accumulated appetite.
“I think I can pick men,” he said, “and I think that you are the man I want. You’re old enough and you’ve seen enough, and you know enough to keep one fool boy in order for six months.”
So frankly he spoke of his son, yet not without affection and confidence. Before I left, he sent for the youth himself, Lambert R. Poor, Jr.,—not at all a Caliban, but a most excellent-appearing, tall gentleman, of astonishingly meek countenance. He gave me a sad, slow look from his blue eyes at first; then with a brightening smile he gently shook my hand, murmuring that he was very glad in the prospect of knowing me better; after which the parent defined before him, with singular elaboration, my duties. I was to correct all things in his behaviour which I considered improper or absurd. I was to dictate the line of travel, to have a restraining influence upon expenditures; in brief, to control the young man as a governess does a child.
To all of his parent’s instructions Poor Jr. returned a dutiful nod and expressed perfect acquiescence. The following day the elder sailed from Cherbourg, and I took up my quarters with the son.