Aunt Jane's Nieces/Chapter 16
Uncle John could not run so swiftly as the lawyer, but he broke through a gap in the hedge and arrived at a point just beneath the plank at the same time that Silas Watson did.
One glance showed them the boy safely perched on top of the plank, but the girl was bending backward. She threw out her arms in a vain endeavor to save herself, and with a low cry toppled and plunged swiftly toward the ground.
There was little time for the men to consider their actions. Involuntarily they tried to catch Patricia, whose body struck them sharply, felling them to the ground, and then bounded against the hedge and back to the pavement.
When, half dazed, they scrambled to their feet, the girl lay motionless before them, a stream of red blood welling from a deep cut in her, her eyes closed as if in sleep.
A moment more and the boy was kneeling beside her, striving to stay the bleeding with his handkerchief.
"Do something! For God's sake try to do something," he wailed, piteously. "Can't you see she's killed herself to save me?"
Uncle John knelt down and took the still form in his arms.
"Quiet, my lad," he said. "She isn't dead. Get Nora, and fetch the doctor as soon as you can."
The boy was gone instantly, his agony relieved by the chance of action, and followed by the lawyer, Uncle John carried his niece to the rose chamber and laid her upon her white bed.
Misery met them, then, and following her came Louise and Beth, full of horror and pity for the victim of the dreadful accident.
Jane Merrick had promptly recovered consciousness, for fainting spells were foreign to her nature. Her first words to Phibbs, who was bending over her, were:
"Is she dead?"
"Who, Miss Jane?"
"I don't know, Miss Jane. Why should she be dead?"
"Run, you idiot! Run at once and find out. Ask my brother—ask anyone—if Patricia is dead!"
And so Phibbs came to the rose chamber and found the little group bending over the girl's unconscious form.
"Is she dead, sir? Miss Jane wants to know," said the old servant, in awe-struck tones.
"No," answered Uncle John, gravely. "She isn't dead, I'm sure; but I can't tell how badly she is hurt. One of her legs—the right one—is broken, I know, for I felt it as I carried the child in my arms; but we must wait until the doctor comes before I can tell more."
Misery was something of a nurse, it seemed, and with the assistance of Louise, who proved most helpful in the emergency, she bathed the wound in the girl's forehead and bandaged it as well as she was able. Between them the women also removed Patricia's clothing and got her into bed, where she lay white and still unconscious, but breathing so softly that they knew she was yet alive.
The doctor was not long in arriving, for Kenneth forced him to leap upon Nora's back and race away to Elmhurst, while the boy followed as swiftly as he could on the doctor's sober cob.
Dr. Eliel was only a country practitioner, but his varied experiences through many years had given him a practical knowledge of surgery, and after a careful examination of Patricia's injuries he was able to declare that she would make a fine recovery.
"Her leg is fractured, and she's badly bruised," he reported to Aunt Jane, who sent for him as soon as he could leave the sick room. "But I do not think she has suffered any internal injuries, and the wound on her forehead is a mere nothing. So, with good care, I expect the young lady to get along nicely."
"Do everything you can for her," said the woman, earnestly. "You shall be well paid, Dr. Eliel."
Before Patricia recovered her senses the doctor had sewn up her forehead and set the fractured limb, so that she suffered little pain from the first.
Louise and Beth hovered over her constantly, ministering to every possible want and filled with tenderest sympathy for their injured cousin. The accident seemed to draw them out of their selfishness and petty intrigues and discovered in them the true womanly qualities that had lurked beneath the surface.
Patsy was not allowed to talk, but she smiled gratefully at her cousins, and the three girls seemed suddenly drawn nearer together than any of them would have thought possible a few hours before.
The boy paced constantly up and down outside Patricia's door, begging everyone who left the room, for news of the girl's condition. All his reserve and fear of women seemed to have melted away as if by magic. Even Beth and Louise were questioned eagerly, and they, having learned the story of Patricia's brave rescue of the boy, were very gentle with him and took pains not to frighten or offend him.
Toward evening Louise asked Patricia if she would see Kenneth for a moment, and the girl nodded a ready assent.
He came in awkward and trembling, glancing fearfully at the bandaged forehead and the still white face. But Patricia managed to smile reassuringly, and held out a little hand for him to take. The boy grasped it in both his own, and held it for several minutes while he stood motionless beside her, his wide eyes fixed intently upon her own.
Then Louise sent him away, and he went to his room and wept profusely, and then quieted down into a sort of dull stupor.
The next morning Uncle John dragged him away from Patricia's door and forced him to play chess. The boy lost every game, being inattentive and absorbed in thought, until finally Uncle John gave up the attempt to amuse him and settled himself on the top stair for a quiet smoke. The boy turned to the table, and took a sheet of paper from the drawer. For an hour, perhaps, neither of these curious friends spoke a word, but at the end of that time Uncle John arose and knocked the ashes from his pipe. Kenneth did not notice him. The man approached the table and looked over the boy's shoulder, uttering an exclamation of surprise. Upon the paper appeared a cleverly drawn pencil sketch of Patricia lying in her bed, a faint smile upon her face and her big blue eyes turned pleasantly upon a shadowy form that stood beside her holding her hand. The likeness was admirable, and if there were faults in the perspective and composition Uncle John did not recognize them.
He gave a low whistle and turned thoughtfully away, and the young artist was so absorbed that he did not even look up.
Strolling away to the stables, Uncle John met old Donald, who enquired:
"How is Miss Patsy this morning, sir?" It was the name she had given, and preferred to be called by.
"She's doing finely," said Uncle John.
"A brave girl, sir!"
"And the boy?"
"Why, he seems changed, in some way, Donald. Not so nervous and wild as usual, you know. I've just left him drawing a picture. Curious. A good picture, too."
"Ah, he can do that, sir, as well as a real artist."
"Have you known him to draw, before this?"
"Why, he's always at it, sir, in his quieter moods. I've got a rare good likeness o' myself, as he did long ago, in the harness-room."
"May I see it?"
"With pleasure, sir."
Donald led the way to the harness-room, and took from the cupboard the precious board he had so carefully preserved.
Uncle John glanced at it and laughed aloud. He could well appreciate the humor of the sketch, which Donald never had understood, and the caricature was as clever as it was amusing. He handed the treasure back to Donald and went away even more thoughtful than before.
A few days later a large package arrived at Elmhurst addressed to Kenneth Forbes, and Oscar carried it at once to the boy's room, who sat for an hour looking at it in silent amazement. Then he carefully unwrapped it, and found it to contain a portable easel, a quantity of canvas and drawing-paper, paints and oils of every description (mostly all unknown to him) and pencils, brushes and water colors in profusion.
Kenneth's heart bounded with joy. Here was wealth, indeed, greater than he had ever hoped for. He puzzled his brain for weeks to discover how this fairy gift had ever come to him, but he was happier in its possession than he had ever been before in all his life.
Patricia improved rapidly. Had it not been for the broken leg she would have been out of the house in a week, as good as ever; but broken limbs take time to heal, and Dr. Eliel would not permit the girl to leave her bed until ten days had passed.
Meantime everyone delighted to attend her. Louise and Beth sat with her for hours, reading or working, for the rose chamber was cheery and pleasant, and its big windows opened upon the prettiest part of the gardens. The two girls were even yet suspicious of one another, each striving to win an advantage with Aunt Jane; but neither had the slightest fear that Patricia would ever interfere with their plans. So they allowed their natural inclinations to pet and admire the heroine of the hour full sway, and Patsy responded so sweetly and frankly to their advances that they came to love her dearly, and wondered why they had not discovered from the first how lovable their Irish cousin could be.
Kenneth, also came daily to the sick room for a visit, and Patsy had a way of drawing the boy out and making him talk that was really irresistible. After his fairy gift arrived he could not help telling the girls all about it and then he brought the things down and displayed them, and promised Patsy he would make a picture of the garden for her.
Then, after the girl got better, he brought his easel down to her room, where she could watch him work, and began upon the picture, while the cousins joined him in speculations as to who the mysterious donor could he.
"At first," said Kenneth, "I thought it was Mr. Watson, for he'sbeen very good to me; but he says he knows nothing about it. Then I though it might be Uncle John; but Uncle John is too poor to afford such an expensive present."
"I don't believe he has a penny in the world," said Louise, who sat by with some needle-work.
"All he owns," remarked Beth, with a laugh, "is an extra necktie, slightly damaged."
"But he's a dear old man," said Patsy, loyally, "and I'm sure he would have given all those things to Kenneth had he been able."
"Then who was it?" asked the boy.
"Why, Aunt Jane, to be sure," declared Patsy.
The boy scowled, and shook his head.
"She wouldn't do anything to please me, even to save her life," he growled. "She hates me, I know that well enough."
"Oh, no; I'm sure she doesn't," said Patsy. "Aunt Jane has a heap of good in her; but you've got to dig for it, like you do for gold. 'Twould be just like her to make you this present and keep it a secret."
"If she really did it," replied the boy, slowly, "and it seems as if she is the only one. I know who could afford such a gift, it stands to reason that either Uncle John or Mr. Watson asked her to, and she did it to please them. I've lived here for years, and she has never spoken a kindly word to me or done me a kindly act. It isn't likely she'd begin now, is it?"
Unable to make a reassuring reply, Patsy remained silent, and the boy went on with his work. He first outlined the picture in pencil, and then filled it in with water color. They all expressed admiration for the drawing; but the color effect was so horrible that even Patsy found no words to praise it, and the boy in a fit of sudden anger tore the thing to shreds and so destroyed it.
"But I must have my picture, anyhow," said the girl. "Make it in pen and ink or pencil, Ken, and I'm sure it will be beautiful."
"You need instruction, to do water color properly," suggested Louise.
"Then I can never do it," he replied, bitterly. But he adopted Patsy's suggestion and sketched the garden very prettily in pen and ink. By the time the second picture was completed Patsy had received permission to leave her room, which she did in Aunt Jane's second-best wheel chair.
Her first trip was to Aunt Jane's own private garden, where the invalid, who had not seen her niece since the accident, had asked her to come.
Patsy wanted Kenneth to wheel her, but the boy, with a touch of his old surly demeanor, promptly refused to meet Jane Merrick face to face. So Beth wheeled the chair and Louise walked by Patsy's side, and soon the three nieces reached their aunt's retreat.
Aunt Jane was not in an especially amiable mood.
"Well, girl, how do you like being a fool?" she demanded, as Patsy's chair came to a stand just opposite her own.
"It feels so natural that I don't mind it," replied Patsy, laughing.
"You might have killed yourself, and all for nothing," continued the old woman, querulously.
Patsy looked at her pityingly. Her aunt's face had aged greatly in the two weeks, and the thin gray hair seemed now almost white.
"Are you feeling better, dear?" asked the girl.
"I shall never be better," said Jane Merrick, sternly. "The end is not far off now."
"Oh, I'm sorry to hear you say that!" said Patsy; "but I hope it is not true. Why, here are we four newly found relations all beginning to get acquainted, and to love one another, and we can't have our little party broken up, auntie dear."
"Five of us—five relations," cried Uncle John, coming around the corner of the hedge. "Don't I count, Patsy, you rogue? Why you're looking as bright and as bonny as can be. I wouldn't be surprised if you could toddle."
"Not yet," she answered, cheerfully. "But I'm doing finely, Uncle John, and it won't be long before I can get about as well as ever."
"And to think," said Aunt Jane, bitterly, "that all this trouble was caused by that miserable boy! If I knew where to send him he'd not stay at Elmhurst a day longer."
"Why, he's my best friend, aunt," announced Patsy, quietly. "I don't think I could be happy at Elmhurst without Kenneth."
"He has quite reformed," said Louise, "and seems like a very nice boy."
"He's a little queer, yet, at times," added Beth, "but not a bit rude, as he used to be."
Aunt Jane looked from one to the other in amazement. No one had spoken so kindly of the boy before in years. And Uncle John, with a thoughtful look on his face, said slowly:
"The fact is, Jane, you've never given the boy a chance. On the contrary, you nearly ruined him by making a hermit of him and giving him no schooling to speak of and no society except that of servants. He was as wild as a hawk when I first came, but these girls are just the sort of companions he needs, to soften him and make him a man. I've no doubt he'll come out all right, in the end."
"Perhaps you'd like to adopt him yourself, John," sneered the woman, furious at this praise of the one person she so greatly disliked.
Her brother drew his hands from his pockets, looked around in a helpless and embarrassed way, and then tried fumblingly to fill his pipe.
"I ain't in the adopting business, Jane," he answered meekly. "And if I was," with a quaint smile, "I'd adopt one or two of these nieces o' mine, instead of Tom Bradley's nephew. If Bradley hadn't seen you, Jane, and loved your pretty face when you were young, Kenneth Forbes would now be the owner of Elmhurst. Did you ever think of that?"
Did she ever think of it? Why, it was this very fact that made the boy odious to her. The woman grew white with rage.
"John Merrick, leave my presence."
"All right, Jane."
He stopped to light his pipe, and then slowly walked away, leaving an embarrassed group behind him.
Patsy, however, was equal to the occasion. She began at once to chatter about Dr. Eliel, and the scar that would always show on her forehead; and how surprised the Major, her father, would be when he returned from the visit to his colonel and found his daughter had been through the wars herself, and bore the evidence of honorable wounds. Louise gracefully assisted her cousin to draw Aunt Jane into a more genial mood, and between them they presently succeeded. The interview that had begun so unfortunately ended quite pleasantly, and when Patricia returned to her room her aunt bade her adieu almost tenderly.
"In fact," said Louise to Beth, in the privacy of the latter's chamber, "I'm getting rather worried over Aunt Jane's evident weakness for our Cousin Patsy. Once or twice today I caught a look in her eye when she looked at Patsy that she has never given either you or me. The Irish girl may get the money yet."
"Nonsense," said Beth. "She has said she wouldn't accept a penny of it, and I'm positive she'll keep her word."