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A Romance Of Real Life
by [?]

It was long past the twilight hour, which has been already mentioned as so oppressive in suburban places, and it was even too late for visitors, when a resident, whom I shall briefly describe as a Contributor to the magazines, was startled by a ring at his door. As any thoughtful person would have done upon the like occasion, he ran over his acquaintance in his mind, speculating whether it were such or such a one, and dismissing the whole list of improbabilities, before he laid down the book he was reading, and answered the bell. When at last he did this, he was rewarded by the apparition of an utter stranger on his threshold,–a gaunt figure of forlorn and curious smartness towering far above him, that jerked him a nod of the head, and asked if Mr. Hapford lived there. The face which the lamp-light revealed was remarkable for a harsh two days’ growth of beard, and a single bloodshot eye; yet it was not otherwise a sinister countenance, and there was something in the strange presence that appealed and touched. The contributor, revolving the facts vaguely in his mind, was not sure, after all, that it was not the man’s clothes rather than his expression that softened him toward the rugged visage: they were so tragically cheap, and the misery of helpless needlewomen, and the poverty and ignorance of the purchaser, were so apparent in their shabby newness, of which they appeared still conscious enough to have led the way to the very window, in the Semitic quarter of the city, where they had lain ticketed, “This nobby suit for $15.”

But the stranger’s manner put both his face and his clothes out of mind, and claimed a deeper interest when, being answered that the person for whom he asked did not live there, he set his bristling lips hard together, and sighed heavily.

“They told me,” he said, in a hopeless way, “that he lived on this street, and I’ve been to every other house. I’m very anxious to find him, Cap’n,”– the contributor, of course, had no claim to the title with which he was thus decorated,–“for I’ve a daughter living with him, and I want to see her; I’ve just got home from a two years’ voyage, and”–there was a struggle of the Adam’s-apple in the man’s gaunt throat–“I find she’s about all there is left of my family.”

How complex is every human motive! This contributor had been lately thinking, whenever he turned the pages of some foolish traveller,–some empty prattler of Southern or Eastern lands, where all sensation was long ago exhausted, and the oxygen has perished from every sentiment, so has it been breathed and breathed again,–that nowadays the wise adventurer sat down beside his own register and waited for incidents to seek him out. It seemed to him that the cultivation of a patient and receptive spirit was the sole condition needed to insure the occurrence of all manner of surprising facts within the range of one’s own personal knowledge; that not only the Greeks were at our doors, but the fairies and the genii, and all the people of romance, who had but to be hospitably treated in order to develop the deepest interest of fiction, and to become the characters of plots so ingenious that the most cunning invention were poor beside them. I myself am not so confident of this, and would rather trust Mr. Charles Reade, say, for my amusement than any chance combination of events. But I should be afraid to say how much his pride in the character of the stranger’s sorrows, as proof of the correctness of his theory, prevailed with the contributor to ask him to come in and sit down; though I hope that some abstract impulse of humanity, some compassionate and unselfish care for the man’s misfortunes as misfortunes, was not wholly wanting. Indeed, the helpless simplicity with which he had confided his case might have touched a harder heart. “Thank you,” said the poor fellow, after a moment’s hesitation. “I believe I will come in. I’ve been on foot all day, and after such a long voyage it makes a man dreadfully sore to walk about so much. Perhaps you can think of a Mr. Hapford living somewhere in the neighborhood.”