Elizabeth stood at the nursery window, pointing out to little Henry how the lilacs and laburnums were coming into flower in the square below, and speculating with him whether the tribe of sparrows which they had fed all the winter from the mignonette boxes on the window sill would be building nests in the tall trees of Russell Square; for she wished, with her great aversion to London, to make her nursling as far as possible "a country child."
Master Henry Leaf Ascott was by no means little now. He would run about on his tottering fat legs, and he could say, "Mammy Lizzie," also, "Pa-pa," as had been carefully taught him by his conscientious nurse. At which papa had been at first excessively surprised, then gratified, and had at last taken kindly to the appellation as a matter of course.
It inaugurated a new era in Peter Ascott's life. At first twice a week, and then every day, he sent up for "Master Ascott" to keep him company at dessert; he then changed his dinner hour from half past six to five, because Elizabeth, with her stern sacrifice of every thing to the child's good, had suggested to him, humbly but firmly, that late hours kept little Henry too long out of his bed. He gave up his bottle of port and his after-dinner sleep, and took to making water-lilies and caterpillars out of oranges and boats out of walnut shells, for his boy's special edification. Sometimes when, at half past six, Elizabeth, punctual as clock-work, knocked at the dining room door, she heard father and son laughing together in a most jovial manner, though the decanters were in their places and the wine glasses untouched.
And even after the child disappeared, the butler declared that master usually took quietly to his newspaper, or rang for his tea, or perhaps dozed harmlessly in his chair till bedtime.
I do not allege that Peter Ascott was miraculously changed; people do not change, especially at his age; externally he was still the same pompous, overbearing, coarse man, with whom, no doubt, his son would have a tolerably sore bargain in years to come. But still the child had touched a soft corner in his heart, the one soft corner which in his youth had yielded to the beauty of Miss Selina Leaf; and the old fellow was a better fellow than he had once been. Probably, with care, he might be for the rest of his life at least manageable.