I shall always say it was a singular thing that I should chance to go back to school that time the day before the quarter opened. Singular, because I heard and saw more of the boy I am going to tell of than I otherwise might have heard and seen. I was present at his arrival; and I was present at his — well, let us say, at his departure.
The midsummer holidays were nearly up when Hugh was taken ill. Duffham was uncertain what the illness was going to be: so he pitched upon scarlatina. Upon that, the Squire and Mrs. Todhetley packed me back to school there and then. Not from any fear of my taking it; I had had it, and Tod too (and both of us were well again, I recollect, within a week or so); but if once the disease had really shown itself, Dr. Frost would not have liked us to return lest we might convey it to the school. Tod was in Gloucestershire. He was written to, and told not to return home, but to go straight to school.
Dr. Frost was surprised to see me. He said my coming back was quite right; and I am sure he tried to put me at ease and make me comfortable. Not a single boy had stayed the holidays that summer, and the doctor and I were alone. The school would open the following day, when masters and boys were alike expected to return. I had dinner with the doctor — he usually dined late during the holidays — and we played at chess afterwards.
Breakfast was just over the next morning when the letters came in. Amongst them was one from France, bearing the Rouen post-mark. Now the doctor, learned man though he was in classics and what not, could make nothing of French. Carrying the letter to the window, turning its pages over and back again, and staring at it through his spectacles, he at last brought it to me.
“You are a pretty good French scholar, Johnny; can you read this? I can’t, I confess. But the paper’s so thin, and the ink so pale, and the writing so small, I could scarcely see it if it were English.”
And I had to go over it twice before I could make it out. As he said, the ink was pale, and it was a frightfully small and cramped handwriting. The letter was dated Rouen, and was signed curtly, “Van Rheyn,” French fashion, without the writer’s Christian name. Monsieur Van Rheyn wrote to say that he was about to consign his son, Charles Aberleigh Van Rheyn, to Dr. Frost’s care, and that he would arrive quickly after the letter, having already departed on his journey under the charge of a “gentilhomme Anglais.” It added that the son would bring credentials with him; that he spoke English, and was of partly English descent, through his mother, the late Madame Van Rheyn, née Aberleigh.
“Rather a summary way of consigning a pupil to my charge,” remarked Dr. Frost. “Aberleigh? — Aberleigh?” he continued, as if trying to recollect something, and bending his spectacles over the letter. “She must have been one of the Aberleighs of Upton, I should think. Perhaps Hall knows? I have heard her mention the Aberleighs.”
Ringing the bell, the housekeeper was sent for. Dr. Frost asked her what she knew of the Aberleighs of Upton.
“There’s none of them left now to know, sir,” answered Hall. “There never was but two — after the old mother died: Miss Aberleigh and Miss Emma Aberleigh. Good fortunes the young ladies had, sir, and both of them, I remember, married on the same day. Miss Aberleigh to Captain Scott, and Miss Emma to a French gentleman, Mosseer Van Rheyn.”
“I should think, by the name, he was Dutch — or Flemish; not French,” remarked the doctor.
“Anyway, sir, he was said to be French,” returned Hall. “A dark sallow gentleman who wore a braided coat. The young ladies never came back to their home after the wedding-day, and the place was sold. Captain Scott sailed with his wife for Injee, and Mosseer Van Rheyn took Miss Emma off to his house in France.”
“Do you recollect where his home was? In what part of France?”
“No, sir. And if I did, I should never be able to speak the name. Not long ago I heard it said that poor Miss Emma was dead — Mrs. Van Rheyn that is. A nice quiet girl, she was.”
“Then I conclude the new pupil spoken of to me, must be the son of Monsieur Van Rheyn and Miss Emma Aberleigh,” remarked the doctor, when Hall was dismissed. “You must help to make things pleasant for him, Johnny: it will be a change at first from his own home and country. Do you remember that other French boy we had here?”
I did. And the remembrance made me laugh. He used to lament every day that he had not a plate of soup for dinner, and to say the meat was tough.
Strolling out at the front iron gates in the course of the morning, wondering how long the boys were going to be before some of them put in an appearance, I caught sight of the first. He was walking up from the Plough and Harrow Inn, and must have come by the omnibus that plied backwards and forwards between the inn and the station. The Plough and Harrow man-of-all-work followed behind, carrying a large trunk.
Of all queer figures that boy looked the queerest. I wondered who he was, and whether he could really be coming as a pupil. His trousers and vest were nankeen, his coat was a sort of open blouse, and flew out behind him; the hat he wore was a tall chimney-pot with a wide brim. Off went the hat with a bow and a flourish of the arm, as he reached me and the gates.
“I ask your pardon, sir. This is, I believe, the pension of Dr. Frost?”
The French accent, though that was slight, the French manners, the French turn of the words, told me who it was. For a minute or two I really could not answer for staring at him. He seemed to have arrived with a shaved head, as if just out of gaol, or of brain-fever.
The hair was cut as closely as it could be cut, short of shaving: his face was red and round and covered with freckles: you could not have put a pin’s point between them. Really and truly it was the most remarkable figure ever seen out of a picture. I could not guess his age exactly: something perhaps between twelve and fourteen. He was slender and upright, and to all appearance strong.
“I think you must be Charles Van Rheyn,” I said then, holding out my hand to welcome him. “Dr. Frost is expecting you.”
He put his hand into mine after a moment’s hesitation, not seeming quite to understand that he might: but such a brightness came into his rather large and honest grey eyes, that I liked him from that hour, in spite of the clothes and the freckles and the shorn head. He had crossed to Folkestone by the night boat, he said, had come on to London, and the gentleman, who was his escort so far, had there put him into an early train to come on to his destination.
Dr. Frost was at the window, and came to the door. Van Rheyn stood still when within a yard of him, took his hat off with the most respectful air, and bowed his head half-way to the ground. He had evidently been brought up with a reverence for pastors and masters. The doctor shook hands. The first thing Van Rheyn did on entering the reception-parlour, was to produce from some inner pocket a large, square letter, sealed with two flaming red seals and a coat of arms; which he handed to the doctor. It contained a draft for a good sum of money in advance of the first three months’ payment, and some pages of closely-written matter in the crabbed hand of Monsieur Van Rheyn. Dr. Frost put the pages aside to await the arrival of the French master.
“My father was unable to remit the exact amount of money for the trimestre, sir, not knowing what it would be,” said young Van Rheyn. “And there will be the extra expenses besides. He will arrange that with you later.”
“The end of the term would have been time enough to remit this,” said the doctor, smiling. “It is not our custom to receive payment in advance.”
“It is the custom in France, sir, I assure you. And, besides, I am to you a stranger.”
“Not altogether a stranger; I believe I know something of your mother’s family,” said Dr. Frost. “How came your father to fix upon my school for you?”
“My mother knew of your school, sir: she and my father used to talk of placing me at it. And an English gentleman who came lately to Rouen spoke of it — he said he knew you very well. That again put into my father’s head to send me.”
It was the same Van Rheyn that they had thought — the son of Miss Emma Aberleigh. She had been dead two years.
“Are you a Protestant or a Roman Catholic?” questioned Dr. Frost.
“I am Protestant, sir: the same that my mother was. We attended the église of Monsieur le Pasteur Mons, of the Culte Evangélique.”
The doctor asked him if he would take anything before dinner, and he chose a glass of eau sucrée. The mal-demer had been rather bad, he said, and he had not been able to eat since.
Evidently Hall did not approve of eau sucrée. She had never made eau sucary, she said, when sent to for it. Bringing in the water and sugar, she stood by to watch Van Rheyn mix it, her face sour, her lips drawn in. I am sure it gave her pleasure, when he asked for a few drops of orange-flower water, to be able to say there was not such a thing in the house.
“This young gentleman is the son of the Miss Emma Aberleigh you once knew, Hall,” spoke the doctor, with a view no doubt to putting her on good terms with the new pupil.
“Yes, sir,” she answered crustily. “He favours his mamma about the eyes.”
“She must have had very nice eyes,” I put in.
“And so she had,” said Van Rheyn, looking at me gratefully. “Thank you for saying so. I wish you could have known her!”
“And might I ask, sir, what has become of the other Miss Aberleigh?” asked Hall of Van Rheyn. “The young lady who went off to Injee with her husband on the wedding-day.”
“You would say my Aunt Margaret,” he rejoined. “She is quite well. She and the major and the children will make the voyage to Europe next year.”
After the eau sucrée came to an end, the doctor turned him over to me, telling me to take care of him till dinner-time, which that day would be early. Van Rheyn said he should like to unpack his box, and we went upstairs together. Growing confidential over the unpacking, he gave me scraps of information touching his home and family, the mention of one item leading to another.
His baptismal name in full, he said, was Charles Jean Aberleigh; his father’s was Jean Marie. Their home was a très joli château close to Rouen: in five minutes you could walk there. It was all much changed since his mother died (he seemed to have loved her with a fervent love and to revere her memory); the last thing he did on coming away for England was to take some flowers to her grave. It was thought in Rouen that his father was going to make a second marriage with one of the Demoiselles de Tocqueville, whom his Aunt Claribelle did not like. His Aunt Claribelle, his father’s sister, had come to live at the château when his mother died; but if that Thérèsine de Tocqueville came into the house she would quit it. The Demoiselles de Tocqueville had hardly any dot — which would be much against the marriage, Aunt Claribelle thought, and bad for his father; because when he, Charles, should be the age of twenty-one, the money came to him; it had been his mother’s, and was so settled: and his father’s own property was but small. Of course he should wish his father to keep always as much as he pleased, but Aunt Claribelle thought the English trustees would not allow that. Aunt Claribelle’s opinion was, that his father had at length decided to send him to a pension in England while he made the marriage; but he (Charles) knew that his mother had wished him to finish his education in England, and to go to one of the two colleges to which English gentlemen went.
“Here comes old Fontaine,” I interrupted at this juncture, seeing his arrival from the window.
Van Rheyn looked up from his shirts, which he was counting. He seemed to have the tidiest ways in the world. “Who is it that you say? Fontaine?”
“Monsieur Fontaine, the French master. You can talk away with him in your native tongue as much as you like, Van Rheyn.”
“But I have come here to speak the English tongue, not the French,” debated he, looking at me seriously. “My father wishes me to speak and read it without any accent; and I wish it also.”
“You speak it very well already.”
“But you can hear that it is not my native tongue — that I am a foreigner.”
“Well, I must learn to speak it without that — as the English do. It will be necessary.”
I supposed he might allude to his future life. “What are you to be, Van Rheyn?” I inquired.
“What profession, do you ask? I need not be any: I have enough fortune to be a rentier — I don’t know what you call that in English; it means a gentleman who lives on his money. But I wish, myself, to be an English priest.”
“An English priest! Do you mean a parson?”
“Yes, I mean that. So you see I must learn the English tongue. My mother used to talk to me about the priests in her land ——”
“Parsons, Van Rheyn.”
“I beg your pardon: I forget. And I fear I have caught up the French names for things since my mother died. It was neither priest nor parson she used to call the English ministers.”
“That was it. She said the clergymen were good men, and she should like me to be one. In winter, when it was cold, and she had some fire in her chamber, I used to sit up there with her, after coming home from classe, and we talked together, our two selves. I should have much money, she said, when I grew to be a man, and could lead an idle life. But she would not like that: she wanted me to be a good man, and to go to heaven when I died, where she would be; and she thought if I were a clergyman I should have serious thoughts always. So I wish to be a clergyman.”
He said all this with the utmost simplicity and composure, just as he might have spoken of going for a ride. There could be no mistaking that he was of a thoroughly straightforward and simple-minded nature.
“It might involve your living over here, Van Rheyn: once you were in Orders.”
“Yes, I know. Papa would not mind. England was mamma’s country, and she loved it. There was more peace in England than in France, she thought.”
“I say, she must have been a good mother, Van Rheyn.”
In a moment his grey eyes were shining at me through a mist of tears. “Oh, she was so good, so good! You can never know. If she had lived I should never have had sorrow.”
“What did she die of?”
“Ah, I cannot tell. She was well in the morning, and she was dead at night. Not that she was strong ever. It was one Dimanche. We had been to the office, she and I——”
“Oh, pardon — I forget I am speaking English. I mean to church. Monsieur Mons had preached; and we were walking along the street towards home afterwards, mamma talking to me about the sermon, which had been a very holy one, when we met the Aunt Claribelle, who had come into the town for high mass at St. Ouen. Mamma asked her to come home and dine with us; and she said yes, but she must first go to say bon-jour to old Madame Soubitez. As she parted from us, there was suddenly a great outcry. It was fête at Rouen that Sunday. Some bands of music were to play on the estrade in the public garden, competing for a prize, consequently the streets were crowded. We looked back at the noise, and saw many horses, without riders, galloping along towards us; men were running after them, shouting and calling; and the people, mad with fright, tumbled over one another in the effort to get away. Later, we heard that these horses, frightened by something, had broken out of an hotel post-yard. Well, mamma gave just a cry of fear and held my hand tighter, as we set off to run with the rest, the horses stamping wildly after us. But the people pushed between us, and I lost her. She was at home before me, and was sitting at the side of the fountain, inside the château entrance-gate, when I got up, her face all white and blue, and her neck and throat beating, as she clung to the nearest lion with both hands. It alarmed me more than the horses had, for I had never seen her look so. ‘Come in, mamma,’ I said, ‘and take a little glass of cordial;’ but she could not answer me, she did not stir. I called one of the servants, and by-and-by she got a little breath again, and went into the house, leaning upon both of us, and so up to her chamber. Quite immediately papa came home: he always went into town to his club on the Sunday mornings, and he ran for Monsieur Petit, the médecin — the doctor. By seven o’clock in the evening, mamma was dead.”
“Oh dear! What was the cause?”
“Papa did not tell me. He and Monsieur Petit talked about the heart: they said it was feeble. Oh, how we cried, papa and I! He cried for many days. I hope he will not bring home Thérèsine de Tocqueville!”
The dinner-bell rang out, and we went down. Dr. Frost was putting up the letter which old Fontaine had been translating to him. It was full of directions about Van Rheyn’s health. What he was to do, and what not to do. Monsieur Van Rheyn said his son was not strong: he was not to be allowed to do gymnastics or “boxing,” or to play at rough games, or take violent exercise of any kind; and a small glass of milk was to be given him at night when he went to bed. If the clothes sent over with him were not suitable to the school, or in accordance with the English mode, Dr. Frost was prayed to be at the trouble of procuring him new ones. He was to be brought well on in all the studies necessary to constitute the “gentilhomme,” and especially in the speaking and reading of English.
Dr. Frost directed his spectacles to Charles Van Rheyn, examining him from top to toe. The round, red face, and the strongly-built frame appeared to give nothing but indications of robust health. The doctor questioned him in what way he was not strong — whether he was subject to a cough, or to want of appetite, and other such items. But Van Rheyn seemed to know nothing about it, and said he had always been quite well.
“The father fears we should make him into a muscular Englishman, hence these restrictions,” thought Dr. Frost.
In the afternoon the fellows began to come in thick and threefold: Tod amongst them, who arrived about tea-time. To describe their amazement when they saw Van Rheyn is quite beyond me. It seemed that they never meant to leave off staring. Some of them gave him a little chaff, even that first night. Van Rheyn was very shy and silent. Entirely at his ease as he had been with me alone, the numbers seemed to daunt him; to strike him and his courage into himself.
On the whole, Van Rheyn was not liked. Once let a school set itself against a new fellow at first — and Van Rheyn’s queer appearance had done that much for him — it takes a long time to bring matters round — if they ever are brought round at all. When his hair began to sprout, it looked exactly like pig’s bristles. And that was the first nickname he got: Bristles. The doctor had soon changed his style of coat, and he wore jackets, as we did.
Charles Van Rheyn did not seem inclined to grow sociable. Shy and silent as he had shown himself to them that first evening, so he remained. True, he had no encouragement to be otherwise. The boys continually threw ridicule on him, making him into an almost perpetual butt. Any mistake in the pronunciation of an English word — Van Rheyn never made a mistake as to its meaning— they hissed and groaned at. I shall never forget one occasion. Being asked when that Indian lot intended to arrive (meaning the Scotts), and whether they would make the voyage in a palanquin (for the boys plied him with questions purposely) he answered, “Not in a palanquin, but in a sheep”— meaning ship. The uproar at that was so loud, that some of the masters looked in to know what was up.
Van Rheyn, too, was next door to helpless. He did not climb, or leap, or even run. Had not been used to it, he said. What had he been used to do, then, he was asked one day. Oh, he had sat out in the garden with his mother; and since her death, with Aunt Claribelle, and gone for an airing in the carriage three times a week. Was he a girl? roared the boys. Did he do patchwork? Not now; he had left off sewing when he was nine, answered Van Rheyn innocently, unconscious of the storm of mockery the avowal would invoke. “Pray, were you born a young lady? — or did they change you at nurse?” shouted Jessup, who would have kept the ball rolling till midnight. “I say, you fellows, he has come to the wrong school: we don’t take in girls, do we? Let me introduce this one to you, boys —‘Miss Charlotte.’” And, so poor Charley Van Rheyn got that nickname as well as the other. Miss Charlotte!
Latin was a stumbling-block. Van Rheyn had learnt it according to French rules and French pronunciation, and he could not readily get into our English mode. “It was bad enough to have to teach a stupid boy Latin,” grumbled the under Latin master (under Dr. Frost), “but worse to have to un-teach him.” Van Rheyn was not stupid, however; if he seemed so, it was because his new life was so strange to him.
One day the boys dared him to a game at leap-frog. Some of them were at it in the yard, and Van Rheyn stood by, looking on.
“Why don’t you go in for it?” suddenly asked Parker, giving him a push. “There is to be a round or two at boxing this evening, why don’t you go in for that?”
“They never would let me do these rough things,” replied Van Rheyn, who invariably answered all the chaffing questions civilly and patiently.
“Who wouldn’t? Who’s ‘they’?”
“My mother and my Aunt Claribelle. Also, when I was starting to come here, my father said I was not to exert myself.”
“All right, Miss Charlotte; but why on earth didn’t the respectable old gentleman send you over in petticoats? Never was such a thing heard of, you know, as for a girl to wear a coat and pantaloons. It’s not decent, Miss Charlotte; it’s not modest.”
“Why do you say all this to me for ever? I am not a girl,” said poor Van Rheyn.
“No? Don’t tell fibs. If you were not a girl you’d go in for our games. Come! Try this. Leap-frog’s especially edifying, I assure you: expands the mind. Won’t you try it?”
Well, the upshot was, that they dared him to try it. A dozen, or so, set on at him like so many wolves. What with that, and what with their stinging ridicule, poor Van Rheyn was goaded out of his obedience to home orders, and did try it. After a few tumbles, he went over very tolerably, and did not dislike it at all.
“If I can only learn to do as the rest of you do, perhaps they will let me alone,” he said to me that same night, a sort of eagerness in his bright grey eyes.
And gradually he did learn to go in for most of the games: running, leaping, and climbing. One thing he absolutely refused — wrestling.
“Why should gentlemen, who were to be gentlemen all their lives, fight each other?” he asked. “They would not have to fight as men; it was not kind; it was not pleasant; it was hard.”
The boys were hard on him for saying it, mocking him fearfully; but they could not shake him there. He was of right blue blood; never caving-in before them, as Bill Whitney expressed it one day; he was only quiet and endured.
Whether the native Rouen air is favourable to freckles, I don’t know; but those on Van Rheyn’s face gradually disappeared over here. His complexion lost its redness also, becoming fresh and fair, with a brightish colour on the cheeks. The hair, growing longer, turned out to be of a smooth brown: altogether he was good-looking.
“I say, Johnny, do you know that Van Rheyn’s ill?”
The words came from William Whitney. He whispered them in my ear as we stood up for prayers before breakfast. The school had opened about a month then.
“What’s the matter with him?”
“Don’t know,” answered Bill. “He is staying in bed.”
Cribbing some minutes from breakfast, I went up to his room. Van Rheyn looked pale as he lay, and said he had been sick. Hall declared it was nothing but a bilious attack, and Van Rheyn thought she might be right.
“Meaning that you have a sick headache, I suppose?” I said to him.
“Yes, the migraine. I have had it before.”
“Well, look here, Charley,” I went on, after thinking a minute; “if I were you, I wouldn’t say as much to any of them. Let them suppose you are regularly ill. You’ll never hear the last of it if they know you lie in bed for only a headache.”
“But I cannot get up,” he answered; “my head is in much pain. And I have fever. Feel my hand.”
The hand he put out was burning hot. But that went with sick headaches sometimes.
It turned out to be nothing worse, for he was well on the morrow; and I need not have mentioned it at all, but for a little matter that arose out of the day’s illness. Going up again to see him after school in the afternoon, I found Hall standing over the bed with a cup of tea, and a most severe, not to say horror-struck expression of countenance, as she gazed down on him, staring at something with all her eyes. Van Rheyn was asleep, and looked better; his face flushed and moist, his brown hair, still uncommonly short compared with ours, pushed back. He lay with his hands outside the bed, as if the clothes were heavy — the weather was fiery hot. One of the hands was clasping something that hung round his neck by a narrow blue ribbon; it seemed to have been pulled by him out of the opening in his night-shirt. Hall’s quick eyes had detected what it was — a very small flat cross (hardly two inches long), on which was carved a figure of the Saviour, all in gold.
Now Hall had doubtless many virtues. One of them was docking us boys of our due allowance of sugar. But she had also many prejudices. And, of all her prejudices, none was stronger than her abhorrence of idols, as exemplified in carved images and Chinese gods.
“Do you see that, Master Ludlow?” she whispered to me, pointing her finger straight at the little cross of gold. “It’s no better than a relict of paganism.”
Stooping down, she gently drew the cross out of Van Rheyn’s hot clasped hand, and let it lie on the sheet. A beautiful little cross; the face of our Saviour — an exquisite face in its expression of suffering and patient humility — one that you might have gazed upon and been the better for. How they could have so perfectly carved a thing so small I knew not.
“He must be one of them worshipping Romanics,” said Hall, with horror, snatching her fingers from the cross as if she thought it would give her the ague. “Or else a pagan.”
And the two were no doubt alike in Hall’s mind.
“And he goes every week and says his commandments in class here, standing up before all the school! I wonder what the doctor ——”
Hall cut short her complaints. Van Rheyn had suddenly opened his eyes, and was looking up at us.
“I find myself better,” he said, with a smile. “The pain has nearly departed.”
“We wasn’t thinking of pains and headaches, Master Van Rheyn, but of this,” said Hall, resentfully, taking the spoon out of the saucer, and holding it within an inch of the gold cross. Van Rheyn raised his head from the pillow to look.
“Oh, it is my little cross!” he said, holding it out to our view as far as the ribbon allowed, and speaking with perfect ease and unconcern. “Is it not beautiful?”
“Very,” I said, stooping over it.
“Be you of the Romanic sex?” demanded Hall of Van Rheyn.
“Am I—— What is it Mrs. Hall would ask?” he broke off to question me, in the midst of my burst of laughter.
“She asks if you are a Roman Catholic, Van Rheyn.”
“But no. Why you think that?” he added to her. “My father is a Roman Catholic: I am a Protestant, like my mother.”
“Then why on earth, sir, do you wear such a idol as that?” returned Hall.
“This? Oh, it is nothing! it is not an idol. It does me good.”
“Good!” fiercely repeated Hall. “Does you good to wear a brazen image next the skin! — right under the flannel waistcoat. I wonder what the school will come to next?”
“Why should I not wear it?” said Van Rheyn. “What harm does it do me, this? It was my poor Aunt Annette’s. The last time we went to the Aunt Claribelle’s to see her, when the hope of her was gone, she put the cross into my hand, and bade me keep it for her sake.”
“I tell you, Master Van Rheyn, it’s just a brazen image,” persisted Hall.
“It is a keepsake,” dissented Van Rheyn. “I showed it to Monsieur Mons one day when he was calling on mamma, and told him it was a gift to me of the poor Tante Annette. Monsieur Mons thought it very pretty, and said it would remind me of the great Sacrifice.”
“But to wear it next your skin,” went on Hall, not giving in. Giving in on the matter of graven images was not in her nature. Or on any matter as far as that went, that concerned us boys. “I’ve heard of poor misdeluded people putting horse-hair next ’em. And fine torment it must be!”
“I have worn it since mamma died,” quietly answered Van Rheyn, who did not seem to understand Hall’s zeal. “She kept it for me always in her little shell-box that had the silver crest on it; but when she died, I said I would put the cross round my neck, for fear of losing it: and Aunt Claribelle, who took the shell-box then, bought me the blue ribbon.”
“That blue ribbon’s new — or almost new — if ever I saw new ribbon,” cried Hall, who was in a mood to dispute every word.
“Oh yes. It was new when I left Rouen. I have another piece in my trunk to put on when this shall wear out.”
“Well, it’s a horrid heathenish thing to do, Master Van Rheyn; and, though it may be gold, I don’t believe Miss Emma Aberleigh would ever have gave countenance to it. Leastways before she lived among them foreign French folks,” added Hall, virtually dropping the contest, as Van Rheyn slipped the cross out of view within his night-shirt. “What she might have come to, after she went off there, Heaven alone knows. Be you going to drink this tea, sir, or be you not?”
Van Rheyn drank the tea and thanked her for bringing it, his gratitude shining also out of his nice grey eyes. Hall took back the cup and tucked him up again, telling him to get a bit more sleep and he would be all right in the morning. With all her prejudices and sourness, she was as good as gold when any of us were ill.
“Not bathe! Not bathe! I say, you fellows, here’s a lark. Bristles thinks he’d better not try the water.”
It was a terribly hot evening, close upon sunset. Finding ourselves, some half-dozen of us, near the river, Van Rheyn being one, the water looked too pleasant not to be plunged into. The rule at Dr. Frost’s was, that no boy should be compelled to bathe against his inclination: Van Rheyn was the only one who had availed himself of it. It was Parker who spoke: we were all undressing quickly.
“What’s your objection, Miss Charlotte? Girls bathe.”
“They would never let me go into cold water at home,” was the patient answer. “We take warm baths there.”
“Afraid of cold water? well I never! What an everlasting pussy-cat you are, Miss Charlotte! We’ve heard that pussies don’t like to wet their feet.”
“Our doctor at Rouen used to say I must not plunge into cold water,” said poor Van Rheyn, speaking patiently as usual, though he must have been nearly driven wild. “The shock would not be good for me.”
“I say, who’ll write off to Evesham for a pair of waterproofs to put over his shoes? Just give us the measure of your foot, Miss Charlotte?”
“Let’s shut him up in a feather-bed!”
“Why, the water’s not cold, you donkey!” cried Bill Whitney, who had just leaped in. “It’s as warm as new milk. What on earth will you be fit for, Bristles? You’ll never make a man.”
“Make a man! What are you thinking of, Whitney? Miss Charlotte has no ambition that way. Girls prefer to grow up into young ladies, not into men.”
“Is it truly warm?” asked Van Rheyn, gazing at the river irresolutely, and thinking that if he went in the mockery might cease.
I looked up at him from the water. “It is indeed, Van Rheyn. Quite warm.”
He knew he might trust me, and began slowly to undress. We had continued to be the best of comrades, and I never went in for teasing him as the rest did; rather shielded him when I could, and took his part.
By the time he was ready to go in-for he did nothing nimbly, and undressing made no exception — some of us were ready to come out. One of Dr. Frost’s rules in regard to bathing was stringent — that no boy should remain in the water more than three minutes at the very extent. He held that a great deal of harm was done by prolonged bathing. Van Rheyn plunged in-and liked it.
“It is warm and pleasant,” he exclaimed. “This cannot hurt me.”
“Hurt you, you great baby!” shouted Parker.
Van Rheyn had put his clothes in the tidiest manner upon the grass; not like ours, which were flung down any way. His things were laid smoothly one upon another, in the order he took them off, though I dare say I should not have noticed this but for a shout from Jessup.
“Halloa! What’s that?”
Those of us who were out, and in the several stages of drying or dressing, turned round at the words. Jessup, buttoning his braces, was standing by Van Rheyn’s heap, looking down at it. On the top of the flannel vest, exposed to full view, lay the gold cross with the blue ribbon.
“What on earth is it?” cried Jessup, picking it up; and at the moment Van Rheyn, finding all the rest out of the water, came out himself. “Is it a charm?”
“It is mine — it is my gold cross,” spoke Van Rheyn, catching up one of the wet towels. The bath this evening had been impromptu, and we had only two towels between us, which Parker and Whitney had brought. In point of fact, it had been against rules also, for we were not expected to go into the river without the presence of a master. But just at this bend it was perfectly safe. Jessup passed the blue ribbon round his neck, letting the cross hang behind. This done, he turned himself about for general inspection, and the boys crowded round to look.
“What do you say it is, Bristles?”
“My gold cross.”
“You don’t mean to tell us to our faces that you wear it?”
“I wear it always,” freely answered Van Rheyn.
Jessup took it off his neck, and the boys passed it about from one to another. They did not ridicule the cross — I think the emblem on it prevented that — but they ridiculed Van Rheyn.
“A friend of mine went over to the tar-and-feather islands,” said Millichip, executing an aggravating war-dance round about Charley. “He found the natives sporting no end of charms and amulets — nearly all the attire they did sport — rings in the nose and chains in the ears. What relation are those natives to you, Miss Charlotte?”
“Don’t injure it, please,” pleaded Van Rheyn.
“We’ve an ancient nurse at home who carries the tip of a calf’s tongue in her pocket for luck,” shrieked Thorne. “And I’ve heard — I have heard, Bristles — that any fellow who arms himself with a pen’orth of blue-stone from the druggist’s, couldn’t have the yellow jaundice if he tried. What might you wear this for, pray?”
“My Aunt Annette gave it me as a present when she was dying,” answered poor helpless Charley, who had never the smallest notion of taking chaff otherwise than seriously, or of giving chaff back again.
He had dressed himself to his trousers and shirt, and stood with his hand stretched out, waiting for his cross.
“In the Worcester Journal, one day last June, I read an advertisement as big as a house, offering a child’s caul for sale,” cried Snepp. “Any gentleman or lady buying that caul and taking it to sea, could never be drowned. Bristles thinks as long as he wears this, he won’t come to be hanged.”
“How’s your grandmother, Miss Charlotte?”
“I wish you would please to let me alone,” said he patiently. “My father would not have placed me here had he known.”
“Why don’t you write and tell him, Bristles?”
“I would not like to grieve him,” simply answered Charley. “I can bear. And he does so much want me to learn good English.”
“This cross is gold, I suppose?” said Bill Whitney, who now had it.
“Yes, it is gold,” answered Van Rheyn.
“I wouldn’t advise you to fall amongst thieves, then. They might ease you of it. The carving must be worth something.”
“It cost a great deal to buy, I have heard my aunt say. Will you be so good as to give it me, that I may finish to dress myself?”
Whitney handed him the cross. Time was up, in fact; and we had to make a race for the house. Van Rheyn was catching it hot and sharp, all the way.
One might have thought that his very meekness, the unresisting spirit in which he took things, would have disarmed the mockery. But it did not. Once go in wholesale for putting upon some particular fellow in a school, and the tyranny gains with use. I don’t think any of them meant to be really unkind to Van Rheyn; but the play had begun, and they enjoyed it.
I once saw him drowned in tears. It was at the dusk of evening. Charley had come in for it awfully at tea-time, I forget what about, and afterwards disappeared. An hour later, going into Whitney’s room for something Bill asked me to fetch, I came upon Charles Van Rheyn — who also slept there. He was sitting at the foot of his low bed, his cheek leaning on one of his hands, and the tears running down swiftly. One might have thought his heart was broken.
“What is the grievance, Charley?”
“Do not say to them that you saw me,” returned he, dashing away his tears. “I did not expect any of you would come up.”
“Look here, old fellow: I know it’s rather hard lines for you just now. But they don’t mean anything: it is done in sport, not malice. They don’t think, you see, Van Rheyn. You will be sure to live it down.”
“Yes,” he sighed, “I hope I shall. But it is so different here from what it used to be. I had such a happy home; I never had one sorrow when my mother was alive. Nobody cares for me now; nobody is kind to me: it is a great change.”
“Take heart, Charley,” I said, holding out my hand. “I know you will live it down in time.”
Of all the fellows I ever met, I think he was the most grateful for a word of kindness. As he thanked me with a glad look of hope in his eyes, I saw that he had been holding the cross clasped in his palm; for it dropped as he put his hand into mine.
“It helps me to bear,” he said, in a whisper. “My mother, who loved me so, is in heaven; my father has married Mademoiselle Thérèsine de Tocqueville. I have no one now.”
“Your father has not married that Thérèsine de Tocqueville?”
“Why, yes. I had the letter close after dinner.”
So perhaps he was crying for the home unhappiness as much as for his school grievances. It all reads strange, no doubt, and just the opposite of what might be expected of one of us English boys. The French bringing-tip is different from ours: perhaps it lay in that. On the other hand, a French boy, generally speaking, possesses a very shallow sense of religion. But Van Rheyn had been reared by his English mother; and his disposition seemed to be naturally serious and uncommonly pliable and gentle. At any rate, whether it reads improbable or probable, it is the truth.
I got what I wanted for Billy Whitney, and went down, thinking what a hard life it was for him — what a shame that we made it so. Indulged, as Van Rheyn must have always been, tenderly treated as a girl, sheltered from the world’s roughness, all that coddling must have become to him as second nature; and the remembrance lay with him still. Over here he was suddenly cut off from it, thrown into another and a rougher atmosphere, isolated from country, home, home-ties and associations; and compelled to stand the daily brunt of this petty tyranny.
Getting Tod apart that night, I put the matter to him: what a shame it was, and how sorry I felt for Charley Van Rheyn; and I asked him whether he thought he could not (he having a great deal of weight in the school) make things pleasanter for him. Tod responded that I should never be anything but a muff, and that the roasting Van Rheyn got treated to was superlatively good for him, if ever he was to be made into a man.
However, before another week ran out, Dr. Frost interfered. How he obtained an inkling of the reigning politics we never knew. One Saturday afternoon, when old Fontaine had taken Van Rheyn out with him, the doctor walked into the midst of us, to the general consternation.
Standing in the centre of the schoolroom, with a solemn face, all of us backing as much as the wall allowed, and the masters who chanced to be present rising to their feet, the doctor spoke of Van Rheyn. He had reason to suspect, he said, that we were doing our best to worry Van Rheyn’s life out of him: and he put the question deliberately to us (and made us answer it), how we, if consigned alone to a foreign home, all its inmates strangers, would liked to be served so. He did not wish, he went on, to think he had pitiful, ill-disposed boys, lacking hearts and common kindness, in his house: he felt sure that what had passed arose from a heedless love of mischief; and it would greatly oblige him to find from henceforth that our conduct towards Van Rheyn was changed: he thought, and hoped, that he had only to express a wish upon the point, to ensure obedience.
With that — and a hearty nod and smile around, as if he put it as a personal favour to himself, and wanted us to see that he did, and was not angry, he went out again. A counsel was held to determine whether we had a sneak amongst us — else how could Frost have known? — that Charley himself had not spoken, his worst enemy felt sure of. But not one could be pitched upon: every individual fellow, senior and junior, protested earnestly that he had not let out a syllable. And, to tell the truth, I don’t think we had.
However, the doctor was obeyed. From that day all real annoyance to Charles Van Rheyn ceased. I don’t say but what there would be a laugh at him now and then, and a word of raillery, or that he lost his names of Bristles and Miss Charlotte; but virtually the sting was gone. Charley was as grateful as could be, and seemed to become quite happy; and upon the arrival of a hamper by grande vitesse from Rouen, containing a huge rich wedding-cake and some packets of costly sweetmeats, he divided the whole amongst us, keeping the merest taste for himself. The school made its comments in return.
“He’s not a bad lot after all, that Van Rheyn. He will make a man yet.”
“It isn’t a bit of use your going in for this, Van Rheyn, unless you can run like a lamplighter.”
“But I can run, you know,” responded Van Rheyn.
“Yes. But can you keep the pace up?”
“We may be out for three or four hours, pelting like mad all the time.”
“I feel no fear of keeping up,” said Van Rheyn. “I will go.”
It was on a Saturday afternoon; and we were turning out for hare and hounds. The quarter was hard upon its close, for September was passing. Van Rheyn had never seen hare and hounds: it had been let alone during the hotter weather: and it was Tod who now warned him that he might not be able to keep up the running. It requires fleet legs and easy breath, as every one knows; and Van Rheyn had never much exercised either.
“What is just the game?” he asked in his quaintly-turned phrase. And I answered him — for Tod had gone away.
“You see those strips of paper that they have torn out of old copybooks, and are twisting? That is for the scent. The hare fills his pockets with it, and drops a piece of it every now and then as he runs. We, the hounds, follow his course by means of the scent, and catch him if we can.”
“And then?” questioned Van Rheyn.
“Then the game is over.”
“And what if you not catch him?”
“The hare wins; that’s all. What he likes to do is to double upon us cunningly and lead us home again after him.”
“But in all that there is only running.”
“We vault over the obstructions — gates, and stiles, and hedges. Or, if the hedges are too high, scramble through them.”
“But some hedges are very thick and close: nobody could get through them,” debated Van Rheyn, taking the words, as usual, too literally.
“Then we are dished. And have to find some other way onwards, or turn back.”
“I can do what you say quite easily.”
“All right, Charley,” I repeated: as Tod had done. And neither of us, nor any one else, had the smallest thought that it was not all right.
Millichip was chosen hare. Snepp turned cranky over something or other at the last moment, and backed out of it. He made the best hare in the school: but Millichip was nearly as fleet a runner.
What with making the scent, and having it out with Snepp, time was hindered; and it must have been getting on for four o’clock when we started. Which docked the run considerably, for we had to be in at six to tea. On that account, perhaps, Millichip thought he must get over the ground the quicker; for I don’t think we had ever made so swift a course. Letting the hare get well on ahead, the signal was given, and we started after him in full cry, rending the air with shouts, and rushing along like the wind.
A right-down good hare Millichip turned out to be; doubling and twisting and finessing, and exasperating the hounds considerably. About five o’clock he had made tracks for home, as we found by the scent: but we could neither see him nor catch him. Later, I chanced to come to grief in a treacherous ditch, lost my straw hat, and tore the sleeve of my jacket. This threw me behind the rest; and when I pelted up to the next stile, there stood Van Rheyn. He had halted to rest his arms on it; his breath was coming in alarming gasps, his face whiter than a sheet.
“Halloa, Van Rheyn! What’s up? The pace is too much for you.”
“It was my breath,” said he, when he could answer. “I go on now.”
I put my hand on him. “Look here: the run’s nearly over: we shall soon be at home. Don’t go on so fast.”
“But I want to be in at what they call the death.”
“There’ll be no death today: the hare’s safe to win.”
“I want to keep up,” he answered, getting over the stile. “I said I could keep up, and do what the rest did.” And off he was again, full rush.
Before us, on that side of the stile, was a tolerably wide field. The pack had wound half over it during this short halt, making straight for the entrance to the coppice at the other end. We were doing our best to catch them up, when I distinctly saw a heavy stone flung into their midst. Looking at the direction it came from, there crept a dirty ragamuffin over the ground on his hands and knees. He did not see us two behind; and he flung another heavy stone. Had it struck anyone’s head it would have done serious damage.
Letting the chase go, I stole across and pounced upon him before he could get away. He twisted himself out of my hands like an eel, and stood grinning defiance and whistling to his dog. We knew the young scamp well: and could never decide whether he was a whole scamp, or half a natural. At any rate, he was vilely bad, was the pest of the neighbourhood, and had enjoyed some short sojourns in prison for trespass. Raddy was the name he went by; we knew him by no other; and how he got a living nobody could tell.
“What did you throw those stones for?”
“Shan’t tell ye. Didn’t throw ’em at you.”
“You had better mind what you are about, Mr. Raddy, unless you want to get into trouble.”
“Yah — you!” grinned Raddy.
There was nothing to be made of him; there never was anything. I should have been no match for Raddy in an encounter; and he would have killed me without the slightest compunction. Turning to go on my way, I was in time to see Van Rheyn tumble over the stile and disappear within the coppice. The rest must have nearly shot out of the other end by that time. It was a coppice that belonged to Sir John Whitney. Once through it, we were on our own grounds, and within a field of home.
I went on leisurely enough: no good to try to catch them up now. Van Rheyn would not do it, and he had more than half a field’s start of me. It must have been close upon six, for the sun was setting in a ball of fire; the amber sky around it was nearly as dazzling as the sun, and lighted up the field.
So that, plunging into the coppice, it was like going into a dungeon. For a minute or two, with the reflection of that red light lingering in my eyes, I could hardly see the narrow path; the trees were dark, thick, and met overhead. I ran along whistling: wondering whether that young Raddy was after me with his ugly dog; wondering why Sir John did not ——
The whistling and the thoughts came to a summary end together. At the other end of the coppice, but a yard or two on this side the stile that divided it from the open field, there was Charles Van Rheyn on the ground, his back against the trunk of a tree, his arms stretched up, clasping it. But for that clasp, and the laboured breathing, I might have thought he was dead. For his face was ghastly, blue round the mouth, and wore the strangest expression I ever saw.
“Charley, what’s the matter?”
But he could not answer. He was panting frightfully, as though every gasp would be his last. What on earth was I to do? Down I knelt, saying never another word.
“It — gives — me — much — hurt,” said he, at length, with a long pause between every word.
“Here”— pointing to his chest — towards the left side.
“Did you hurt yourself? Did you fall?”
“No, I not hurt myself. I fell because I not able to run more. It is the breath. I wish papa was near me!”
Instinct told me that he must have assistance, and yet I did not like to leave him. But what if delay in getting it should be dangerous? I rose up to go.
“You — you are not going to quit me!” he cried out, putting his feeble grasp on my arm.
“But, Charley, I want to get somebody to you,” I said in an agony, “I can’t do anything for you myself: anything in the world.”
“No, you stay. I should not like to be alone if I die.”
The shock the word gave me I can recall yet. Die! If there was any fear of that, it was all the more necessary I should make a rush for Dr. Frost and Featherston. Never had I been so near my wits’ end before, in the uncertainty as to what course I ought to take.
All in a moment, there arose a shrill whistle on the other side the stile. It was like a godsend. I knew it quite well for that vicious young reptile’s, but it was welcome to me as sunshine in harvest.
“There’s Raddy, Van Rheyn. I will send him.”
Vaulting over the stile, I saw the young man standing with his back to me near the hedge, his wretched outer garment — a sack without shape — hitched up, his hands in the pockets of his dilapidated trousers, that hung in fringes below the knee. He was whistling to his dog in the coppice. They must have struck through the tangles and briars higher up, which was a difficult feat, and strictly forbidden by law. It was well Sir John’s agent did not see Mr. Raddy — whose eyes, scratched and bleeding, gave ample proof of the trespass.
“Yah!” he shrieked out, turning at the sound of me, and grinning fresh defiance.
“Raddy,” I said, speaking in persuasive tones to propitiate him in my great need, “I want you to do something for me. Go to Dr. Frost as quickly as you are able, and say ——”
Of all the derisive horrible laughs, his interruption was the worst and loudest. It drowned the words.
“One of the school has fallen and hurt himself,” I said, putting it in that way. “He’s lying here, and I cannot leave him. Hush, Raddy! I want to tell you,”— advancing a step or two nearer to him and lowering my voice to a whisper — “I think he’s dying.”
“None o’ yer gammon here; none o’ yer lies”— and in proportion as I advanced, he retreated. “You’ve got a ambush in that there coppy — all the lot on you a-waiting to be down on me! Just you try it on!”
“I am telling you the truth, Raddy. There’s not a soul in there but the one I speak of. I say I fear he is dying. He is lying helpless. I will pay you to go”— feeling in my pockets to see how much I had there.
Raddy displayed his teeth: it was a trick of his when feeling particularly defiant. “What’ll yer pay me?”
“Sixpence”— showing it to him. “I will give it you when you have taken the message.”
“Give it first.”
Just for a moment I hesitated in my extremity, but I knew it would be only the sixpence thrown away. Paid beforehand, Raddy would no more do the errand than he’d fly. I told him as much.
“Then be dashed if I go!” And he passed off into a round of swearing.
Good Heavens! If I should not be able to persuade him! If Charles Van Rheyn should die for want of help!
“Did you ever have anybody to care for, Raddy? Did you ever have a mother?”
“Her’s sent over the seas, her is; and I be glad on’t. Her beated me, her did: I wasn’t a-going to stand that.”
“If you ever had anybody you cared for the least bit in the world, Raddy; if you ever did anybody a good turn in all your life, you will help this poor fellow now. Come and look at him. See whether I dare leave him.”
“None o’ yer swindles! Ye wants to get me in there, ye does. I warn’t borned yesterday.”
Well, it seemed hopeless. “Will you go for the sixpence, if I give it to you beforehand, Raddy?”
“Give it over, and see. Where the thunder have ye been?” dealing his dog a savage kick, as it came up barking. “Be I to whistle all day?” Another kick.
I had found two sixpences in my pocket; all its store. Bringing forth one, I held it out to him.
“Now listen, Raddy. I give you this sixpence now. You are to run with all your might to the house — and you can run, you know, like the wind. Say that I sent you — you know my name, Johnny Ludlow — sent you to tell them that the French boy is in the coppice dying;” for I thought it best to put it strong. “Dr. Frost, or some of them, must come to him at once, and they must send off for Mr. Featherston. You can remember that. The French boy, mind.”
“I could remember it if I tried.”
“Well, I’ll give you the sixpence. And look here — here’s another sixpence. It is all the money I have. That shall be yours also, when you have done the errand.”
I slipped one of the sixpences back into my pocket, holding out the other. But I have often wondered since that he did not stun me with a blow, and take the two. Perhaps he could not entirely divest himself of that idea of the “ambush.” I did not like the leering look on his false face as he sidled cautiously up towards the sixpence.
“Take a look at him; you can see him from the stile,” I said, closing my hand over the sixpence while I spoke; “convince yourself that he is there, and that no trickery is meant. And, Raddy,” I added, slowly opening the hand again, “perhaps you may want help one of these days yourself in some desperate need. Do this good turn for him, and the like will be done for you.”
I tossed him the sixpence. He stole cautiously to the stile, making a wide circuit round me to do it, glanced at Van Rheyn, and then made straight off in the right direction as fast as his legs would carry him, the dog barking at his heels.
Van Rheyn was better when I got back to him; his breathing easier, the mouth less blue; and his arms were no longer clutching the tree-trunk. Nevertheless, there was that in his face that gave me an awful fear and made my breath for a moment nearly as short as his. I sat down beside him, letting him lean against me, as well as the tree, for better support.
“Are you afraid, Charley? I hope they’ll not be long.”
“I am not afraid with this,” he answered with a happy smile — and, opening his hand, I saw the little cross clasped in it.
Well, that nearly did for me. It was as though he meant to imply he knew he was dying, and was not afraid to die. And he did mean it.
“You do not comprehend?” he added, mistaking the look of my face — which no doubt was desperate. “I have kept the Saviour with me here, and He will keep me with Him there.”
“Oh — but, Charley! You can’t think you are going to die.”
“Yes, I feel so,” he answered quite calmly. “My mother said, that last Sunday, might not be long after her. She drew me close to her, and held my hand, and her tears were falling with mine. It was then she said it.”
“Oh, Charley! how can I help you?” I cried out in my pain and dread. “If I could only do something for you!”
“I would like to give you this,” he said, half opening his hand again, as it rested on his breast, just to show me the cross. “My mother has seen how good you have always been for me: she said she should look down, if permitted, to watch for me till I came. Would you please keep it to my memory?”
The hardest task I’d ever had in my life was to sit there. To sit there quietly — helpless. Dying! And I could do nothing to stay him! Oh, why did they not come? If I could only have run somewhere, or done something!
In a case like this the minutes seem as long as hours. Dr. Frost was up sooner than could have been hoped for by the watch, and Featherston with him. Raddy did his errand well. Chancing to see the surgeon pass down the road as he was delivering the message at the house, he ran and arrested him. He put his ill-looking face over the stile, as they came up, and I flung him the other sixpence, and thanked him too. The French master came running; others came: I hardly saw who they were, for my eyes were troubled.
The first thing that Featherston did was to open Van Rheyn’s things at the throat, spread a coat on the ground and put his head flat down upon it. But oh, there could be no mistake. He was dying: nearly gone. Dr. Frost knelt down, the better to get at him, and said something that we did not catch.
“Thank you, sir,” answered Van Rheyn, panting again and speaking with pain, but smiling faintly his grateful smile. “Do not be sorrowful. I shall see my mother. Sir — if you please — I wish to give my cross to Johnny Ludlow.”
Dr. Frost only nodded in answer. His heart must have been full.
“Johnny Ludlow has been always good for me,” he went on. “He will guard it to my memory: a keepsake. My mother would give it to him — she has seen that Johnny has stood by me ever since that first day.”
Monsieur Fontaine spoke to him in French, and Van Rheyn answered in the same language. While giving a fond message for his father, his voice grew feeble, his face more blue, and the lids slowly closed over his eyes. Dr. Frost said something about removing him to the house, but Featherston shook his head. “Presently, presently.”
“Adieu, sir,” said Van Rheyn faintly to Dr. Frost, and partly opening his eyes again, “Adieu, Monsieur Fontaine. Adieu, all. Johnny, say my very best adieux to the boys; tell them it has been very pleasant lately; say they have been very good comrades; and say that I shall see them all again when they come to heaven. Will you hold my hand?”
Taking his left hand in mine — the other had the gold cross in it — I sat on beside him. The dusk was increasing, so that we could no longer very well see his features in the dark coppice. My tears were dropping fast and thick, just as his tears had dropped that evening when I found him sitting at the foot of his bed.
Well, it was over directly. He gave one long deep sigh, and then another after an interval, and all was over. It seemed like a dream then in the acting; it seems, looking back, like a dream now.
He had died from the running at Hare and Hounds. The violent exercise had been too much for the heart. We heard later that the French family doctor had suspected the heart was not quite sound; and that was the reason of Monsieur Rheyn’s written restrictions on the score of violent exercise. But, as Dr. Frost angrily observed, why did the father not distinctly warn him against that special danger: how was it to be suspected in a lad of hearty and healthy appearance? Monsieur Van Rheyn came over, and took what remained of Charles back to Rouen, to be laid beside his late wife. It was a great blow to him to lose his only son. And all the property went away from the Van Rheyn family to Mrs. Scott in India.
The school went into a state that night, when we got in from the coppice, and I gave them Van Rheyn’s message. They knew something was up with him, but never suspected it could be death.
“I say, though,” cried Harry Parker, in a great access of remorse, speaking up amidst the general consternation, “we would never have worried him had we foreseen this. Poor Van Rheyn!”
And I have his gold cross by me this day. Sometimes, when looking at it, a fancy comes over me that he, looking down from heaven, sees it too.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55