Gentle Julia (Chapter Four, page 2 of 11)


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That name, Charles J. Patterson, coming thus upon Noble's ear, was like an unexpected shrine on the wayside where plods the fanatic pilgrim; and yet Mr. Patterson was the most casual of Julia's uncles-by-marriage: he neither had nor desired any effect upon her destiny. To Noble he seemed a being ineffably privileged and fateful, and something of the same quality invested the wooden gateposts in front of Julia's house; invested everything that had to do with her. What he felt about her father, that august old danger, himself, was not only the uncalled-for affection inevitable toward Julia's next of kin, but also a kind of horror due to the irresponsible and awful power possessed by a sacred girl's parent. Florence's offer of protection had not entirely reassured the young lover, and, in sum, Noble loved Mr. Atwater, but often, in his reveries, when he had rescued him from drowning or being burned to death, he preferred to picture the peculiar old man's injuries as ultimately fatal.

For the other Atwaters his feeling held less of apprehension, more of tenderness; and whenever he saw one of them he became deferential and a little short of breath. Thus, on a sunny afternoon, having been home to lunch after his morning labour downtown, he paused in passing young Herbert's place of residence and timidly began a conversation with this glamoured nephew. It happened that during the course of the morning Herbert had chosen a life career for himself; he had decided to become a scientific specialist, an entomologist; and he was now on his knees studying the manners and customs of the bug inhabitants of the lawn before the house, employing for his purpose a large magnifying lens, or "reading glass." (His discovery of this implement in the attic, coincidentally with his reading a recent "Sunday Supplement" article on bugs, had led to his sudden choice of a vocation.) "Did somebody--ah, have any of the family lost anything, Herbert?" Noble asked in a gentle voice, speaking across the fence.

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