One of My Sons

#Fiction #Classics
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Excerpt THE CHILD, AND WHAT SHE LED ME INTO     was walking at a rapid pace up the avenue one raw, fall evening, when somewhere near the corner of Fifty——Street I was brought to a sudden stand-still by the sound of a child's voice accosting me from the stoop of one of the handsome houses I was then passing. "O sir!" it cried, "please come in. Please come to grandpa. He's sick and wants you." Surprised, for I knew no one on the block, I glanced up and saw bending from the open doorway the trembling figure of a little girl, with a wealth of curly hair blowing about her sweet, excited face. "You have made a mistake," I called up to her. "I am not the person you suppose. I am a stranger. Tell me whom you know about here and I will see that someone comes to your grandpa." But this did not satisfy her. Running down the stoop, she seized me by the arm with childish impetuosity, crying: "No, no. There isn't time. Grandpa told me to bring in the first man I saw going by. You are the first man. Come!" There was urgency in her tones, and unconsciously I began to yield to her insistence, and allow myself to be drawn towards the stoop. "Who is your grandpa?" I asked, satisfied from the imposing look of the house that he must be a man of some prominence. "If he is sick there are the servants"—But here her little foot came down in infantile impatience. "Grandpa never waits!" she cried, dragging me with her small hands up the stoop and into the open door. "If you don't hurry he'll think I didn't do as he told me." What man would not have yielded? The hall, as seen from the entrance, was wide and unusually rich. Indeed, an air of the highest respectability, as well as of unbounded wealth, characterised the whole establishment; and however odd the adventure appeared, it certainly offered nothing calculated to awaken distrust. Entering with her, I shut the door behind me. In an instant she was half-way down the hall. "Here! here!" she cried, pausing before a door near its end. The confidence with which she summoned me (I sometimes wonder if my countenance conveys more than the ordinary amount of good nature) and the pretty picture she made, standing in the flood of light which poured from the unseen apartment toward which she beckoned me, lured me on till I reached her side, and stood in full view of a scene which certainly justified her fear if not the demand she made upon a passing stranger. In the midst of a small room, plain as any office, I saw an elderly gentleman standing who, even to my unaccustomed eyes, seemed to be not simply ill, but in the throes of actual dissolution. Greatly disturbed, for I had anticipated nothing so serious, I turned to fly for assistance, when the little child, rushing by me, caught her grandfather by the knees and gave me such a look, I had not the heart to leave her. Indeed it would have been cruel to do so. The appearance and attitude of the sick man were startling even to me. Though in a state bordering on death, he was, as I have said, standing, not lying, and his tall figure swaying against the large table to which he clung, formed a picture of mental and physical suffering such as I had never before seen, and can never in all my life to come, forget....
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