Johnny Ludlow, First Series, by Ellen Wood

11

The Beginning of the End.

Perhaps this might be called the beginning of the end of the chain of events that I alluded to in that other paper. An end that terminated in distress, and death, and sorrow.

It was the half-year following that hunt of ours by moonlight. Summer weather had come in, and we were looking forward to the holidays, hoping the heat would last.

The half-mile field, so called from its length, on Vale Farm was being mowed. Sunday intervened, and the grass was left to dry until the Monday. The haymakers had begun to rake it into cocks. The river stretched past along the field on one side; a wooden fence bounded it on the other. It was out of all proportion, that field, so long and so narrow.

Tod and I and Sanker and Harry Vale were spending the Sunday at the Farm. Since that hunt last autumn Mr. and Mrs. Vale often invited us. There was no evening service, and we went into the hay-field, and began throwing the hay at one another. It was rare fun; they might almost have heard our shouts at Worcester House: and I don’t believe but that every one of us forgot it was Sunday.

What with the sultry weather and the hay, some of us got into a tolerable heat. The river wore a tempting look; and Tod and Sanker, without so much as a thought, undressed themselves behind the trees, and plunged in. It was twilight then; the air had began to wear its weird silence; the shadows were putting on their ghastliness; the moon, well up, sailed along under white clouds.

I and Vale were walking slowly back towards the Farm, when a great cry broke over the water — a cry as of something in pain; but whether from anything more than a night-bird, was uncertain. Vale stopped and turned his head.

A second cry: louder, longer, more distinct, and full of agony. It came from one of those two in the water. Vale flew back with his fleet foot — fleeter than any fellow’s in the school, except Tod’s and Snepp’s. As I followed, a startling recollection came over me, and I wondered how it was that all of us had been so senseless as to forget it: that one particular spot on the river was known to be dangerous.

“Bear up; I’m coming,” shouted Vale. “Don’t lose your heads.”

A foot-passenger walking on the other side the fence, saw something was wrong: if he did not hear Vale’s words, he heard the cry, and came cutting across the field, scattering the hay with his feet. And then I saw it was Baked Pie; which meant our mathematical master, Mr. Blair. They had given him at baptism the name of “Pyefinch,” after some old uncle who had money to leave; no second name, nothing but that: and the school had converted him into “Baked Pie.” But I don’t think fathers and mothers have any right to put odd names upon helpless babies and send them out to be a laughing-stock to the world.

Blair was not a bad fellow, setting his name aside, and had gone in for honours at Cambridge. We reached the place together.

“What is amiss, Ludlow?”

“I don’t know, sir. Todhetley and Sanker are in the water; and we’ve heard cries.”

“In the water to-night! And there!”

Vale, already in the middle of the river, was swimming back, holding up Sanker. But Tod was nowhere to be seen. Mr. Blair looked up and down; and an awful fear came over me. The current led down to Mr. Charles Vale’s mill — Vale’s uncle. More than one man had found his death there.

“Oh, Mr. Blair! where is he? What has become of him?”

“Hush!” breathed Blair. He was quietly slipping off some of his things, his eyes fixed on a particular part of the river. In he went, striking out without more splash than he could help, and reached it just as Tod’s head appeared above water. The third time of rising. I did not go in for such a girl’s trick as to faint; but I never afterwards could trace the minutes as they had passed until Tod was lying on the grass under the trees. That I remember always. The scene is before my eyes now as plainly as it was then, though more time has since gone by than perhaps you’d think for: the treacherous river flowing on calmly, the quivering leaves overhead, through which the moon was glittering, and Tod lying there white and motionless. Mr. Blair had saved his life; there could be no question about that, saved it only by a minute of time; and I thought to myself I’d never call him Baked Pie again.

“Instead of standing moonstruck, Ludlow, suppose you make a run to the Farm and see what help you can get,” spoke Mr. Blair. “Todhetley must be carried there, and put between hot blankets.”

Help was found. Sanker walked to the Farm, Tod was carried; and a regular bustle set in when they arrived there. Both were put to bed; Tod had come-to then. Mrs. Vale and the servants ran up and down like wild Indians; and the good old lady with the white hair insisted upon sitting up by Tod’s bedside all night.

“No, mother,” said Mr. Vale; “some of us will do that.”

“My son, I tell you that I shall watch by him myself,” returned the old lady; and, as they deferred to her always, she did.

When explanation of the accident was given — as much of it as ever could be given — it sounded rather strange. Both of them had been taken with cramp, and the river was not in fault, after all. Tod said that he had been in the water two or three minutes, when he was seized with what he supposed to be cramp in the legs, though he never had it before. He was turning to strike out for the bank, when he found himself seized by Sanker. They loosed each other in a minute, but Tod was helpless, and he sank.

Sanker’s story was very much the same. He was seized with cramp, and in his fear caught hold of Tod for protection. Tod was an excellent swimmer, Sanker a poor one; but while Sanker’s cramp grew better, Tod’s disabled him. Most likely, as we decided when we heard this, Sanker, who never went down at all, would have got out of the water without help; Tod would have been drowned but for Blair. He had sunk twice when the rescue came. Mr. Featherston, the man of pills who attended the school, said it was all through their having jumped into the water when they were in a white heat; the cold had struck to them. While Mrs. Hall, with her grave face, thought it was through their having gone bathing on a Sunday.

Whatever it was through, old Frost made a commotion. He was not severe in general, but he raised noise enough over this. What with one thing and another, the school, he declared, was being everlastingly upset.

Tod and Sanker came back from Mr. Vale’s the next day; Monday. The Doctor ordered them into his study, and sat there with his cane in his hand while he talked, rapping the table with it now and again as fiercely as if it had been their backs. And the backs would surely have had it but for having just escaped coffins.

All this would not have been much, but it was to lead to a great deal more. To quite a chain of events, as I have said; and to trouble and sorrow in the far-off ending. Hannah, at home, was fond of repeating to Lena what she called the sayings of poor Richard: “For want of a nail the shoe was lost; for want of a shoe the horse was lost; for want of a horse the rider was lost; and all for the want of a little care about a horse-shoe nail.” The horse-shoe nail and the man’s loss seemed a great deal nearer each other than that Sunday night’s accident, and what was eventually to come of it. A small mustard-seed, dropped into the ground, shoots forth and becomes in the end a great tree.

On the Wednesday, who should come over but the Squire, clasping Pyefinch Blair’s hand in his, and saying with tears in his good old eyes that he had saved his son’s life. Old Frost, you see, had written the news to Dyke Manor. Tod, strong and healthy in constitution, was all right again, not a hair of his head the worse for it; but Sanker had not escaped so well.

As early as the Monday night, the first night of his return home from Vale Farm, it began to come on; and the next morning the boys, sleeping in the same room, told a tale of Sanker’s having been delirious. He had sat up in bed and woke them all up with his cries, thinking he was trying to swim out of deep water, and could not. Next he said he wanted some water to drink; they gave him one draught after another till the big water-jug was emptied, but his thirst kept on saying “More! more!” Sanker did not seem to remember any of this. He came down with the rest in the morning, his face very white, except for a pinkish spot in the middle of his cheeks, and he thought the fellows must be chaffing him. The fellows told him they were not; and one, it was Bill Whitney, said they would not think of chaffing him just after his having been so nearly drowned.

It went on to the afternoon. Sanker ate no dinner, for I looked to see; he was but one amidst the many, and it was not noticed by the masters. And if it had been, they’d have thought that the ducking had taken away his appetite. The drawing-master, Wilson, followed suit with Hall, and said he was not surprised at their being nearly drowned, after making hay on the Sunday. But, about four o’clock, when the first-class were before Dr. Frost with their Greek books, Sanker suddenly let his fall. Instead of stooping for it, his eyes took a far-off look, as if they were seeking for it round the walls of the room.

“Lay hold of him,” said Dr. Frost.

He did not faint, but seemed dull: it looked as much like a lazy fit as anything; and he was sensible. They put him to sit on one of the benches, and then he began to tremble.

“He must be got to bed,” said the Doctor. “Mr. Blair, kindly see Mrs. Hall, will you. Tell her to warm it. Stay. Wait a moment.”

Dr. Frost followed Mr. Blair from the hall. It was to say that Sanker had better go at once to the blue-room. If the bed there was not aired, or otherwise ready, Sanker’s own bedding could be taken to it. “I’ll give Mrs. Hall the orders myself,” said the Doctor.

The blue-room — called so from its blue-stained walls — was the one used on emergencies. When we found Sanker had been taken there, we made up our minds that he was going to have an illness. Featherston came and thought the same.

The next day, Wednesday, he was in a sort of fever, rambling every other minute. The Squire said he should like to see him, and Blair took him upstairs. Sanker lay with the same pink hue on his cheeks, only deeper; and his eyes were bright and glistening. Hall, who was addicted to putting in her word on all occasions when it could tell against us boys, said if he had stayed two or three days in bed at Vale Farm, where he was first put, he’d have had nothing of this. Perhaps Hall was right. It had been Sanker’s own doings to get up. When Mrs. Vale saw him coming downstairs, she wanted to send him back to bed again, but he told her he was quite well, and came off to school.

Sanker knew the Squire, and put out his hand. The Squire took it without saying a word. He told us later that to him Sanker’s face looked as if it had death in it. When he would have spoken, Sanker’s eyes had grown wild again, and he was talking nonsense about his class-books.

“Johnny, boy, you sit in this room a bit at times; you are patient and not rough,” said the Squire, when he went out to his carriage, for he had driven over. “I have asked them to let you be up there as much as they can. The poor boy is very ill, and has no relatives near him.”

Dwarf Giles, touching his hat to Tod and me, was at the horses’ heads, Bob and Blister. The cattle knew us: I’m sure of it. They had had several hours’ rest in old Frost’s stables while the Squire went on foot about the neighbourhood to call on people. Dr. Frost, standing out with us, admired the fine dark horses very much; at which Giles was prouder than if the Doctor had admired him. He cared for nothing in the world so much as those two animals, and groomed them with a will.

“You’ll take care that he wants for nothing, Doctor,” I heard the Squire say as he shook hands. “Don’t spare any care and expense to get him well again; I wish to look upon this illness as my charge. It seems something like an injustice, you see, that my boy should come off without damage, and this poor fellow be lying there.”

He took the reins and stepped up to his seat, Giles getting up beside him. As we watched the horses step off with the high step that the Squire loved, he looked back and nodded to us. And it struck me that, in this care for Sanker, the Pater was trying to make some recompense for the suspicion cast on him a year before at Dyke Manor.

It was a sharp, short illness, the fever raging, though not infectious; I had never been with any one in anything like it before, and I did not wish to be again. To hear how Sanker’s mind rambled, was marvellous; but some of us shivered when it came to raving. Very often he’d be making hay; fighting against numbers that were throwing cocks at him, while he could not throw back at them. Then he’d be in the water, buffeting with high waves, and shrieking out that he was drowning, and throwing his thin hot arms aloft in agony. Sometimes the trouble would be his lessons, hammering at Latin derivations and Greek roots; and next he was toiling through a problem in Euclid. One night when he was at the worst, old Featherston lost his head, and the next day Mr. Carden came posting from Worcester in his carriage.

There were medical men of renown nearer; but somehow in extremity we all turned to him. And his skill did not fail here. Whether it might be any special relief he was enabled to give, or that the disease had reached its crisis, I cannot tell, but from the moment Mr. Carden stood at his bedside, Sanker began to mend. Featherston said the next day that the worst of the danger had passed. It seemed to us that it had just set in; no rat was ever so weak as Sanker.

The holidays came then, and the boys went home: all but me. Sanker couldn’t lift a hand, but he could smile at us and understand, and he said he should like to have me stay a bit with him; so they sent word from home I might. Mr. Blair stayed also; Dr. Frost wished it. The Doctor was subpoenaed to give evidence on a trial at Westminster, and had to hasten up to London. Blair had no relatives at all, and did not care to go anywhere. He told me in confidence that his staying there saved his pocket. Blair was strict in school, but over Sanker’s bed he got as friendly with me as possible. I liked him; he was always gentlemanly; and I grew to dislike their calling him Baked Pie as much as he disliked it himself.

“You go out and get some air, Ludlow,” he said to me the day after the school broke up, “or we may have you ill next.”

Upon that I demanded what I wanted with air. I had taken precious long walks with the fellows up to the day before yesterday.

“You go,” said he, curtly.

“Go, Johnny,” said Sanker, in his poor weak voice, which couldn’t raise itself above a whisper. “I’m getting well, you know.”

My way of taking the air was to sit down at one of the schoolroom desks and write to Tod. In about five minutes some one walked round the house as if looking for an entrance, and then stopped at the side-door. Putting my head out of the window, I took a look at her. It was a young lady in a plain grey dress and straw bonnet, with a cloak over her arm, and an umbrella put up against the sun. The back regions were turned inside out, for they had begun the summer cleaning that morning, and the cook came clanking along in pattens to answer the knock.

“This is Dr. Frost’s, I believe. Can I see him?”

It was a sweet, calm, gentle voice. The cook, who had no notion of visitors arriving at the cleaning season, when the boys were just got rid of, and the Doctor had gone away, stared at her for a moment, and then asked in her surly manner whether she had business with Dr. Frost. That cook and old Molly at home might have run in a curricle, they were such a match in temper.

“Business! — oh, certainly. I must see him, if you please.”

The cook shook off her pattens, and went up the back stairs, leaving the young lady outside. As it was business, she supposed she must call Mr. Blair.

“Somebody wants Dr. Frost,” was her announcement to him. “A girl at the side door.”

Which of course caused Blair to suppose it might be a child from one of the cottages come to ask for help of some sort; as they did come sometimes. He thought Hall might have been called to her, but he went down at once; without his coat, and his invalid-room slippers on. Naturally, when he saw the young lady, it took him aback.

“I beg your pardon, sir; I hope you will not deem me an intruder. I have just arrived here.”

Blair stared almost as much as the cook had done. The face was so pleasant, the voice so refined, that he inwardly called himself a fool for showing himself to her in that trim. For once, speech failed him; a thing Blair had never done at mathematics, I can tell you; he had not the smallest notion who she was or what she wanted. And the silence seemed to frighten her.

“Am I too late?” she asked, her face growing white. “Has the — the worse happened?”

“Happened to what?” questioned Blair, for he never once thought of the sick fellow above, and was all at sea. “Pardon me, young lady, but I do not know what you are speaking of.”

“Of my brother, Edward Sanker. Oh, sir! is he dead?”

“Miss Sanker! Truly I beg your pardon for my stupidity. He is out of danger; is getting well.”

She sat down for a minute on the old stone bench beyond the door, roughed with the crowd of boys’ names cut in it. Her lips were trembling just a little, and the soft brown eyes had tears in them; but the face was breaking into a happy smile.

“Oh, Dr. Frost, thank you, thank you! Somehow I never thought of him as dead until this moment, and it startled me.”

Fancy her taking him for Frost! Blair was a good-looking fellow under thirty, slender and well made. The Doctor stood out an old guy of fifty, with a stern face and black knee-breeches.

“My mother had your letter, sir, but she was not able to come. My father is very ill, needing her attention every moment; she strove to see on which side her duty lay — to stay with him, or to come to Edward; and she thought it must lie in remaining with papa. So she sent me. I left Wales last night.”

“Is Mr. Sanker’s a fever, too?” asked Blair, in wonder.

“No, an accident. He was hurt in the mine.”

It was odd that it should be so; the two illnesses occurring at the same time! Mr. Sanker, it appeared, fell from the shaft; his leg was broken, and there were other injuries. At first they were afraid for him.

Blair fell into a dilemma. He wouldn’t have minded Mrs. Sanker; but he did not know much about young ladies, not being accustomed to them. She got up from the bench.

“Mamma bade me say to you, Dr. Frost ——”

“I beg your pardon,” interrupted Blair again. “I am not Dr. Frost; the Doctor went to London this morning. My name is Blair — one of the masters. Will you walk in?”

He shut her into the parlour on his way to call Hall, and to put on his boots and coat. Seeing me, he turned into the schoolroom.

“Ludlow, are not the Sankers connections of yours?”

“Not of mine. Of Mrs. Todhetley’s.”

“It’s all the same. You go in and talk to her. I don’t know what on earth to do. She has come to be with Sanker, but she won’t like to stay here with only you and me. If the Doctor were at home it would be different.”

“She seems an uncommon nice girl, Mr. Blair.”

“Good gracious!” went on Blair in his dilemma. “The Doctor told me he had written to Wales some time ago; but he supposed Mrs. Sanker could not make it convenient to come; and yesterday he wrote again, saying there was no necessity for it, as Sanker was out of danger. I don’t know what on earth to do with her,” repeated Blair, who had a habit of getting hopelessly bewildered on occasions. “Hall! Where’s Mrs. Hall?”

As he went calling out down the flagged passage, a boy came whistling to the door, carrying a carpet-bag: Miss Sanker’s luggage. The coach she had had to take on leaving the rail put her down half-a-mile away, and she walked up in the sun, leaving her bag to be brought after her.

It seemed that we were going in for mistakes. When I went to her, and began to say who I was, she mistook me for Tod. It made me laugh.

“Tod is a great, strong fellow, as tall as Mr. Blair, Miss Sanker. I am only Johnny Ludlow.”

“Edward has told me all about you both,” she said, taking my hand, and looking into my face with her sweet eyes. “Tod’s proud and overbearing, though generous; but you have ever been pleasant with him. I am afraid I shall begin to call you ‘Johnny’ at once.”

“No one ever calls me anything else; except the masters here.”

“You must have heard of me — Mary?”

“But you are not Mary?”

“Yes, I am.”

That she was telling truth any fellow might see, and yet at first I hardly believed her. Sanker had told us his sister Mary was beautiful as an angel. Her face had no beauty in it, so to say; it was only kind, nice, and loving. People called Mrs. Parrifer a beautiful woman; perhaps I had taken my notions of beauty from her; she had a Roman nose, and great big eyes that rolled about, had a gruff voice, and a lovely peach-and-white complexion (but people said it was paint), and looked three parts a fool. Mary Sanker was just the opposite to all this, and her cheeks were dimpled. But still she had not what people call beauty.

“May I go up and see Edward?”

“I should think so. Mr. Blair, I suppose, will be back directly. He is looking very ill: you will not be frightened at him?”

“After picturing him in my mind as dead, he will not frighten me, however ill he may look.”

“I should say the young lady had better take off her bonnet afore going in. Young Mr. Sanker haven’t seen bonnets of late, and might be scared.”

The interruption came from Hall; we turned, and saw her standing there. She spoke resentfully, as if Miss Sanker had offended her; and no doubt she had, by coming when the house was not in company order, and had nothing better to send in for dinner but cold mutton and half a rhubarb pie. Hall would have to get the mutton hashed now, which she would never have done for me and Blair.

“Yes, if you please; I should much like to take my bonnet off,” said Miss Sanker, going up to Hall with a smile. “I think you must be Mrs. Hall. My brother has talked of you.”

Hall took her to a room, and presently she came forth all fresh and nice, the travel dust gone, and her bright brown hair smooth and glossy. Her grey dress was soft, one that would not disturb a sick-room; it had a bit of white lace at the throat and wrists, and a little pearl brooch in front. She was twenty-one last birthday, but did not look as much.

Blair had been in to prepare Sanker, and his great eyes (only great since his illness) were staring for her with a wild expectation. You never saw brother and sister less alike; the one so nice, the other ugly enough to frighten the crows. Sanker had my hand clasped tight in his, when she stooped to kiss him. I don’t think he knew it; but I could not get away. In that moment I saw how fond they were of each other.

“Could not the mother come, Mary?”

“No, papa is — is not well,” she said, for of course she would not tell him yet of any accident. “Papa wanted her there, and you wanted her here; she thought her duty lay at home, and she was not afraid but that God would raise up friends to take care of you.”

“What is the matter with him?”

“Some complicated illness or other,” Mary Sanker answered, in careless tones. “He was a little better when I came away. You have been very ill, Edward.”

He held up his wasted hand as proof, with a half smile; but it fell again.

“I don’t believe I should have pulled through it all, Mary, but for Blair.”

“That’s the gentleman I saw. The one without a coat. Has he nursed you?”

Sanker motioned with his white lips. “Right well, too. He, and Hall, and Johnny here. Old Hall is as good as gold when any of us are ill.”

“And pays herself out by being tarter than ever when we are well,” I could not help saying: for it was the truth.

“Blair saved Todhetley’s life,” Sanker went on. “We used to call him Baked Pie before, and give him all the trouble we could.”

“Ought you to talk, Edward?”

“It is your coming that seems to give me strength for it,” he answered. “I did not know that Frost had written home.”

“There was a delay with the letters, or I might have been here three days ago,” said Miss Sanker, speaking in penitent tones, as if she were in the habit of taking other people’s faults upon herself. “While papa is not well, the clerk down at the mine opens the business letters. Seeing one directed to papa privately, he neither spoke of it nor sent it up, and for three days it lay unopened.”

Sanker had gone off into one of his weak fits before she finished speaking: lying with his eyes and mouth wide open, between sleeping and waking. Hall came in and said with a tone that snapped Miss Sanker up, it wouldn’t do: if people could not be there without talking, they must not be there at all. I don’t say but that she was a capable nurse, or that when a fellow was downright ill, she spared the wine in the arrowroot, and the sugar in the tea. Mary Sanker sat down by the bedside, her finger on her lips to show that she meant to keep silence.

We had visitors later. Mrs. Vale came over, as she did most days, to see how Sanker was getting on; and Bill Whitney brought his mother. Mrs. Vale told Mary Sanker that she had better sleep at the Farm, as the Doctor was away; she’d give her a nice room and make her comfortable. Upon that, Lady Whitney offered a spacious bed and dressing-room at the Hall. Mary thanked them both, saying how kind they were to be so friendly with a stranger; but thought she must go to the Farm, as it would be within a walk night and morning. Bill spoke up, and said the carriage could fetch and bring her; but Vale Farm was decided upon; and when night came, I went with her to show her the way.

“That’s the water they went into, Miss Sanker; and that’s the very spot behind the trees.” She shivered just a little as she looked, but did not say much. Mrs. Vale met us at the door, and the old lady kissed Mary and told her she was a good girl to come fearlessly all the way alone from Wales to nurse her sick brother. When Mary came back the next morning, she said they had given her such a beautiful room, the dimity curtains whiter than snow, and the sheets scented with lavender.

Her going out to sleep appeased Hall; — that, or something else. She was gracious all day, and sent us in a couple of chickens for dinner. Mr. Blair cut them up and helped us. He had written to tell Dr. Frost in London of Miss Sanker’s arrival, and while we were at table a telegram came back, saying Mrs. Hall was to take care of Miss Sanker, and make her comfortable.

It went on so for three or four days; Mary sleeping at the Farm, and coming back in the morning. Sanker got well enough to be taken to a sofa in the pretty room that poor Mrs. Frost sat in nearly to the last; and we were all four growing very jolly, as intimate as if we’d known each other as infants. I had taken to call her Mary, hearing Sanker do it so often; and twice the name slipped accidentally from Mr. Blair. The news from Wales was better and better. For visitors we had Mrs. Vale, Lady Whitney, and Bill, and old Featherston. Some of them came every day. Dr. Frost was detained in London. The trial did not come on so soon as it was put down for; and when it did, it lasted a week, and the witnesses had to stay there. He had written to Mary, telling her to make herself quite happy, for she was in good hands. He also wrote to Mrs. Vale, and to Hall.

Well, it was either the fourth or fifth day. I know it was on Monday; and at five o’clock we were having tea for the first time in Sanker’s sitting-room, the table drawn near the sofa, and Mary pouring it out. It was the hottest of hot weather, the window was up as high as it would go, but not a breath of air came in. Therefore, to see Blair begin to shake as if he were taken with an ague, was something inexplicable. His face looked grey, his ears and hands had turned a sort of bluish white.

“Halloa!” said Sanker, who was the first to notice him. “What’s the matter, sir?”

Blair got up, and sat down again, his limbs shaking, his teeth chattering. Mary Sanker hastily put some of the hot tea into a saucer, and held it to his lips. His teeth rattled against the china; I thought they would bite a piece out of it; and in trying to take the saucer from Miss Sanker, the tea was spilt on the carpet.

“Just call Mrs. Hall, Johnny,” said Sanker, who had propped himself up on his elbow to stare.

Hall came, and Mr. Featherston came; but they could not make anything out of it except that Blair had had a shaking-fit. He was soon all right again (except for a burning heat); but the surgeon, given naturally to croak (or he wouldn’t have got so frightened about Sanker when Mr. Carden was telegraphed for), said he hoped the mathematical master had not set in for fever.

He had set in for something. That was clear. The shaking-fits took him now and again, giving place to spells of low fever. Featherston was not sure whether it had not a “typhoid character,” he said; but the suspicion was quite enough, and our visitors fell off. Mrs. Vale was the only one who came; she laughed at supposing she could be afraid of it. So there we still were, we four; prisoners, as may be said; with some fever amongst us that perhaps might be of a typhoid character. Mr. Featherston said (or Hall, I forget which) that it must have been smouldering within him ever since the Sunday night when he jumped into the river, and Blair thought so himself.

Do not imagine he was as ill as Sanker had been. Nothing of the sort. He got up every morning, and was in Mrs. Frost’s sitting-room with us until evening: but he grew nearly as weak as Sanker, and wanted pretty nearly as much waiting on. Sometimes his hands were like a burning coal; sometimes so cold that Mary would take them in hers to try and rub a little life into them. She was the gentlest nurse possible, and did not seem to think anything more of waiting on him than on her brother. Mrs. Hall would stand by and say there was nothing left for her to do.

One day Lady Whitney came over, braving the typhoid suspicion, and asked to see Miss Sanker in the great drawing-room; where she stood sniffing at a bottle of aromatic vinegar.

“My dear,” she said, when Mary went to her, “I do not think this is at all a desirable position for you to be placed in. I should not exactly like it for one of my own daughters. Mr. Blair is a very gentleman-like man, and all that, with quite proper feelings no doubt; but sitting with him in illness is altogether different from sitting with your brother. Featherston tells me there’s little or no danger of infection, and I have come to take you back to the Hall with me.”

But Mary would not go. It was not the position she should have voluntarily chosen, but circumstances had led her into it, and she thought her duty lay in staying where she was at present, was the substance of her answer. Mr. Blair had nursed her brother through his dangerous illness, and it would be cruelly ungrateful to leave him, now that he was ill himself. It seemed a duty thrown expressly in her way, she added; and her mother approved of what she was doing.

So Lady Whitney went away (leaving the bottle of aromatic vinegar as a present for the sick-room) three parts convinced. Any way, when she got home, she said that Mary Sanker was a sweet, good girl, trusty to her fingers’ ends.

I’m sure she was like sunshine in the room, and read to us out of the Bible just as Harry Vale’s fine old grandmother might have done. The first day that Sanker took a drive in a fly, he was tired afterwards, and went to bed and to sleep at tea-time. Towards sunset, before I walked with her to the Farm, Mary took the Book as usual; and then hesitated, as if in doubt whether to presume to read or not, Sanker being away.

“Oh yes; yes, if you please,” said Mr. Blair.

She began the tenth chapter of St. John. It is a passably long one, as every one knows; and when she laid the Book down again, Blair had his eyes shut and his head resting on the back of the easy chair where he generally sat. His face never looked more still and white. I glanced at Mary and she at me; we thought he was worse, and she went up to him.

“I ought not to have read so long a chapter,” she gently said. “I fear you are feeling worse.”

“No; I was only thinking. Thinking what an angel you are,” he added in low, impassioned, yet reverent tones, as he bent forward to look up in her face, and took both her hands for a moment in his.

She drew them away at once, saying, as she passed me, that she was going to put on her bonnet, and should be ready in a minute. Of course it might have been the reflection of the red sun-clouds, but I never saw any face so glowing in all my life.

The next move old Featherston made, was to decide that the fever was not of a typhoid character; and visitors came about us again. It was something like opening a public-house after a spell of closing; all the Whitneys flocked in together, except Sir John, who was in town for Parliament. Mrs. Hall was uncommonly short with every one. She had said from the first there was nothing infectious in the fever, told Featherston so to his face, and resented people’s having stayed away. I wrote home to tell them there. On the Saturday Dr. Frost arrived, and we were glad to see him. Blair was getting rather better then.

“Well, that Sunday night’s plunge in the water has had its revenge!” remarked Dr. Frost. “It only wants Todhetley and Vale to follow suit.”

But neither of them had the least intention of following suit. On the Monday Tod arrived to surprise us, strong as ever. The Squire had trusted him to drive the horses: you should have seen them spanking in at the gate of Worcester House, pawing the gravel, as Tod in the high carriage, the ribbons in his hands, and the groom beside him, brought them up beautifully to the door. Some people called Tod ugly, saying his features were strong; but I know he promised to be the finest man in our two counties.

He brought an invitation for the sick and the well. When the two invalids were able to get to Dyke Manor, Mr. and Mrs. Todhetley expected to see them, for change of air. Mary Sanker and I were to go as soon as we liked. Which we did in a few days, and were followed by Sanker and Mr. Blair: both able to help themselves then, and getting well all one way.

It did not surprise people very much to hear that the mathematical master and Mary Sanker had fallen in love with one another. He (as Bill Whitney’s mother had put in) was gentleman-like; a good-looking fellow to boot: and you have heard what she was. The next week but one after arriving at Dyke Manor, Blair took Mrs. Todhetley into his confidence, though he had said nothing to Mary. They would be sure to marry in the end, she privately told the Squire, for their likeness to each other had struck her at first sight.

“Mary will not have a shilling, Mr. Blair; she will go to her husband (whenever she shall marry) with even a very poor outfit,” Mrs. Todhetley explained, wishing Blair to fully understand things. “Her father, Philip Sanker, was a gentleman bred and born, but his patrimony was small. He was persuaded to embark it in a Welsh mine, and lost all. Report said some roguery was at work, but I don’t know that it was. It ended in his becoming overlooker on the very same mine, at a salary so small that they could hardly have reared their family anywhere but in Wales. Mary does not play, or draw, you see; she has no accomplishments.”

“She has what is a great deal better; she does not want them,” answered Blair, his pale face lighting up.

“In point of fact, the Sankers — as I fancy — have sacrificed the girls’ interests to the boys; they of course must have a thorough education,” remarked Mrs. Todhetley. “They are good people, both; you could not fail to like them. I sometimes think, Mr. Blair, that the children of these refined men and women (and Philip Sanker and his wife are that), compelled to live closely and to look at every sixpence before it is spent, turn out all the better for it.”

“I am sure they do,” answered Blair, earnestly. “It was my own case.”

Taking Mrs. Todhetley into confidence meant as to his means as well as his love. He had saved a little money during the eight years he had been at work for himself — about two hundred pounds. It might be possible, he thought, to take a school with this, and set up a tent at once: he and Mary. Mrs. Todhetley shook her head; she could make as much of small sums as any one, but fancied this would scarcely be enough for what he wished.

“There would be the furniture,” she ventured to say with some hesitation, not liking to damp him.

“I think that is often included in the purchase-money for the good-will,” said Blair.

He had been acting on this notion before speaking to Mrs. Todhetley, and a friend of his in London, the Reverend Mr. Lockett, was already looking out for any schools that might be in the market. In a few days news came down of one to be disposed of in the neighbourhood of London. Mr. Lockett thought it was as good an investment as Blair was likely to find, he wrote word: only, the purchase-money, inclusive of furniture, was four hundred pounds instead of two.

“It is of no use to think of it,” said Mr. Blair, pushing his curly hair (they used to say he was vain of it at Frost’s) from his perplexed brow. “My two hundred pounds will not go far towards that.”

“It seems to me that the first step will be to go up and see the place,” remarked Mrs. Todhetley. “If what Mr. Lockett says of the school be true; that is, if the people who have the disposal of it are not deceiving him; it must be a very good thing.”

“I suppose you mean that half the purchase-money should remain on it as a mortgage, to be paid off later,” cried Blair, seizing the idea and brightening up.

“No; not exactly,” said Mrs. Todhetley, getting as red as a rose, for she did not like to tell him what she did mean; it looked rather like a conspiracy.

“Look here, Blair,” cried the Squire, taking him in the garden by the button-hole, “I will see about the other two hundred. You go up and make inquiries on the spot; and perhaps I’ll go too; I should like a run up; and if the affair is worth your while, we’ll pay the money down on the nail, and so have done with it.”

It was Blair’s turn to grow red now. “Do you mean, sir, that you — that you — would advance the half of the money? But it would be too generous. I have no claim on you ——”

“No claim on me!” burst forth the Squire, in a passion, pinning him against the wall of the pigeon-house. “No claim on me! When you saved my son from drowning only a few weeks ago! And had an ague through it! No claim on me! What next will you say?”

“But that was nothing, sir. Any man, with the commonest feelings of humanity, would jump into the water if he saw a fellow-creature sinking.”

“Commonest fiddlestick!” roared the Squire. “If this school is one likely to answer your purpose, you put down your two hundred pounds, and I will see to the rest. There! We’ll go up today.”

“Oh, sir, I never expected this. Perhaps in a year or two I shall be able to pay the money back again: but the goodness I can never repay.”

“Don’t you trouble your head about paying me back till you’re asked to do it,” retorted the Squire, mortally offended at the notion. “If you are too proud to take it and say nothing about it, I’ll give it to Mary Sanker instead of you. I will, too. Mind, sir! that half shall be your wife’s, not yours.”

If you’ll believe me, there were tears in old Blair’s eyes. He was soft at times. The Squire gave him another thrust, which nearly sent Blair into the pigeon-house, and then walked off with his head up and his nankeen coat-skirts held out behind, to watch Drew give the green meat to the pigs. Blair got over his push, and went to find Miss Mary, his thin cheeks alight with a spot as red as Sanker’s had worn when his illness was coming on.

They went up to London that day. The Squire had plenty of sense when he chose to exercise it; and instead of trusting to his own investigation and Blair’s (which would have been the likeliest thing for him to do in general) he took a lawyer to the spot.

It proved to be all right. The gentleman giving up the school had made some money at it, and was going abroad to his friends, who had settled in Queensland. Any efficient man, he said to the Squire, able to keep pupils when once he had secured them, could not fail to do well at it. The clergyman, Mr. Lockett, had called on one or two of the parents, who confirmed what was asserted. Altogether it was a straightforward thing, but they wouldn’t abate a shilling of the four hundred pounds.

The Squire concluded the bargain on the spot, for other applicants were after it, and there was danger in delay. He came back to Dyke Manor; and the next thing he did was to accompany Mary Sanker home, and tell the news there.

Mr. Blair stayed in London to take possession, and get things in order. He had only time for a few days’ flying visit to Mr. and Mrs. Sanker in Wales before opening his new school. There was no opposition there: people are apt to judge prospects according to their own circumstances; and they seemed to think it a good offer for Mary.

There was no opposition anywhere. Dr. Frost found a new mathematical master without trouble, and sent Blair his best wishes and a full set of plated spoons and forks and things, engraved with the initials P. M. B. He was wise enough to lay out the sum he wished to give in useful things, instead of a silver tea-pot or any other grand article of that kind, which would not be brought to light once a year.

Blair cribbed a week’s holiday at Michaelmas, and went down to be married. We saw them at the week’s end as they passed through Worcester station. Mary looked the same sweet girl as ever, in the same quiet grey dress (or another that was related to it); and Blair was jolly. He clasped the Squire’s hands as if he wanted to take them with him. We handed in a big basket of grapes and nectarines from Mrs. Todhetley; and Mary’s nice face smiled and nodded her thanks to the last, as the train puffed on.

“Good luck to them!” said Tod.

Good luck to them. You will hear what luck they had.

For this is not the end of that Sunday night’s work, or it would have hardly been worth relating, seeing that people get married every day, and no one thinks cheese of it but themselves. The end has to come.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/w/wood/ellen/ludlow-1/chapter11.html

Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 12:30