The Legacy of Cain HTML version

39. The Adopted Child
I opened the door.
Eunice passed me with the suddenness almost of a flash of light. When I turned toward
the bed, her arms were round her father's neck. "Oh, poor papa, how ill you look!"
Commonplace expressions of fondness, and no more; but the tone gave them a charm that
subdued me. Never had I felt so indulgent toward Mr. Gracedieu's unreasonable fears as
when I saw him in the embrace of his adopted daughter. She had already reminded me of
the bygone day when a bright little child had sat on my knee and listened to the ticking of
my watch.
The Minister gently lifted her head from his breast. "My darling," he said, "you don't see
my old friend. Love him, and look up to him, Eunice. He will be your friend, too, when I
am gone."
She came to me and offered her cheek to be kissed. It was sadly pale, poor soul--and I
could guess why. But her heart was now full of her father. "Do you think he is seriously
ill?" she whispered. What I ought to have said I don't know. Her eyes, the sweetest,
truest, loveliest eyes I ever saw in a human face, were pleading with me. Let my enemies
make the worst of it, if they like--I did certainly lie. And if I deserved my punishment, I
got it; the poor child believed me! "Now I am happier," she said, gratefully. "Only to hear
your voice seems to encourage me. On our way here, Selina did nothing but talk of you.
She told me I shouldn't have time to feel afraid of the great man; he would make me fond
of him directly. I said, 'Are you fond of him?' She said, 'Madly in love with him, my
dear.' My little friend really thinks you like her, and is very proud of it. There are some
people who call her ugly. I hope you don't agree with them?"
I believe I should have lied again, if Mr. Gracedieu had not called me to the bedside
"How does she strike you?" he whispered, eagerly. "Is it too soon to ask if she shows her
age in her face?"
"Neither in her face nor her figure," I answered: "it astonishes me that you can ever have
doubted it. No stranger, judging by personal appearance, could fail to make the mistake
of thinking Helena the oldest of the two."
He looked fondly at Eunice. "Her figure seems to bear out what you say," he went on.
"Almost childish, isn't it?"
I could not agree to that. Slim, supple, simply graceful in every movement, Eunice's
figure, in the charm of first youth, only waited its perfect development. Most men,
looking at her as she stood at the other end of the room with her back toward us, would
have guessed her age to be sixteen.