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Night and Day

CHAPTER X
Messrs. Grateley and Hooper, the solicitors in whose firm Ralph Denham was
clerk, had their office in Lincoln's Inn Fields, and there Ralph Denham appeared
every morning very punctually at ten o'clock. His punctuality, together with other
qualities, marked him out among the clerks for success, and indeed it would have
been safe to wager that in ten years' time or so one would find him at the head of
his profession, had it not been for a peculiarity which sometimes seemed to
make everything about him uncertain and perilous. His sister Joan had already
been disturbed by his love of gambling with his savings. Scrutinizing him
constantly with the eye of affection, she had become aware of a curious
perversity in his temperament which caused her much anxiety, and would have
caused her still more if she had not recognized the germs of it in her own nature.
She could fancy Ralph suddenly sacrificing his entire career for some fantastic
imagination; some cause or idea or even (so her fancy ran) for some woman
seen from a railway train, hanging up clothes in a back yard. When he had found
this beauty or this cause, no force, she knew, would avail to restrain him from
pursuit of it. She suspected the East also, and always fidgeted herself when she
saw him with a book of Indian travels in his hand, as though he were sucking
contagion from the page. On the other hand, no common love affair, had there
been such a thing, would have caused her a moment's uneasiness where Ralph
was concerned. He was destined in her fancy for something splendid in the way
of success or failure, she knew not which.
And yet nobody could have worked harder or done better in all the recognized
stages of a young man's life than Ralph had done, and Joan had to gather
materials for her fears from trifles in her brother's behavior which would have
escaped any other eye. It was natural that she should be anxious. Life had been
so arduous for all of them from the start that she could not help dreading any
sudden relaxation of his grasp upon what he held, though, as she knew from
inspection of her own life, such sudden impulse to let go and make away from
the discipline and the drudgery was sometimes almost irresistible. But with
Ralph, if he broke away, she knew that it would be only to put himself under
harsher constraint; she figured him toiling through sandy deserts under a tropical
sun to find the source of some river or the haunt of some fly; she figured him
living by the labor of his hands in some city slum, the victim of one of those
terrible theories of right and wrong which were current at the time; she figured
him prisoner for life in the house of a woman who had seduced him by her
misfortunes. Half proudly, and wholly anxiously, she framed such thoughts, as
they sat, late at night, talking together over the gas-stove in Ralph's bedroom.
It is likely that Ralph would not have recognized his own dream of a future in the
forecasts which disturbed his sister's peace of mind. Certainly, if any one of them
had been put before him he would have rejected it with a laugh, as the sort of life
that held no attractions for him. He could not have said how it was that he had
put these absurd notions into his sister's head. Indeed, he prided himself upon
being well broken into a life of hard work, about which he had no sort of illusions.
 
 
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