Sir Tom Part 5

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Then Sir Tom started and his heart sprang up to his throat beating loudly. It was not anything of much importance, it was only the opening of the window by which he himself had come out upon the terrace. He turned round quickly, too anxious even to ask a question. If it had been a king's messenger bringing him news that affected the whole kingdom, he would have turned away with an impatient "Pshaw!" or struck the intruder out of his way. But it was his wife, wrapped in a dressing-gown, pale with watching, her hair pushed back upon her forehead, her eyes unnaturally bright. "How is he?" cried Sir Tom, as if the question was one of life or death.

Lucy told him, catching at his arm to support herself, that she thought there was a little improvement. "I have been thinking so for the last hour, not daring to think it, and yet I felt sure; and now nurse says so too. His breathing is easier. I have been on thorns to come and tell you, but I would not till I was quite sure."

"Thank G.o.d! G.o.d be praised!" said Sir Tom. He did not pretend to be a religious man on ordinary occasions, but at the present moment he had no time to think, and spoke from the bottom of his heart. He supported his little wife tenderly on one arm, and put back the disordered hair on her forehead. "Now you will go and take a little rest, my darling," he said.

"Not yet, not till the doctor comes. But you want it as much as I."

"No; I had a long sleep on the sofa. We are all making fools of ourselves, Lucy. The poor little chap will be all right. We are queer creatures. To think that you and I should make ourselves so miserable over a little thing like that, that knows nothing about it, that has no feelings, that does not care a b.u.t.ton for you and me."



"Tom, what are you talking of? Not of my boy, surely--not my boy!"

"Hush, my sweet. Well," said Sir Tom, with a tremulous laugh, "what is it but a little polypus after all? that can do nothing but eat and sleep, and crow perhaps--and clap its little fat hands," he said, with the tears somehow getting into his voice, and mingling with the laughter. "I allow that I am confusing my metaphors."

At this moment the window opening upon the terrace jarred again, and another figure in a dressing-gown, dark and ghost-like, appeared beckoning to Lucy, "My lady! my lady!"

Lucy let go her husband's arm, thrust him away from her with pa.s.sion, gave him one wild look of reproach, and flew noiselessly like a spirit after the nurse to her child. Sir Tom, with his laugh still wavering about his mouth, half hysterically, though he was no weakling, tottered along the terrace to the open window, and stood there leaning against it, scarcely breathing, the light gone out of his eyes, his whole soul suspended, and every part of his strong body, waiting for what another moment might bring to pa.s.s.

CHAPTER IX.

A CHRISTMAS VISIT.

Little Tom did not die, but he became "delicate,"--and fathers and mothers know what that means. The entire household was possessed by one pervading terror lest he should catch cold, and Lucy's life became absorbed in this constant watchfulness. Naturally the Christmas guests were put off, and it was understood in respect to the Contessa di Forno-Populo, that she was to come at Easter. Sir Tom himself thought this a better arrangement. The Parliamentary recess was not a long one, and the Contessa would naturally prefer, after a short visit to her old friend, to go to town, where she would find so many people she knew.

"And even in the country the weather is more tolerable in April," said Sir Tom.

"Oh, yes, yes. The doctor says if we keep clear of the east winds that he may begin to go out again and get up his strength," said Lucy.

"My love, I am thinking of your visitors, and you are thinking of your baby," Sir Tom said.

"Oh, Tom, what do you suppose I could be thinking of?" his wife cried.

Sir Tom himself was very solicitous about the baby, but to hear of nothing else worried him. He was glad when old Lady Randolph, who was an invariable visitor, arrived.

"How is the baby?" was her first question when he met her at the train.

"The baby would be a great deal better if there was less fuss made about him," he said. "You must give Lucy a hint on that subject, aunt."

Lady Randolph was a good woman, and it was her conviction that she had made this match. But it is so pleasant to feel that you have been right, that she was half pleased, though very sorry, to think that Sir Tom (as she had always known) was getting a little tired of sweet simplicity.

She met Lucy with an affectionate determination to be very plain with her, and warn her of the dangers in her path. Jock had arrived the day before. He rose up in all the lanky length of sixteen from the side of the fire in the little drawing-room when the Dowager came in. It was just the room into which one likes to come after a cold journey at Christmas; the fire s.h.i.+ning brightly in the midst of the reflectors of burnished steel and bra.s.s, s.h.i.+ning like gold and silver, of the most luxurious fireplace that skill could contrive (the day of tiled stoves was not as yet), and sending a delicious glow on the soft mossy carpets into which the foot sank; a table with tea, reflecting the firelight in all the polished surfaces of the china and silver, stood near; and chairs invitingly drawn towards the fire. The only drawback was that there was no one to welcome the visitor. On ordinary occasions Lucy was at the door, if not at the station, to receive the kind lady whom she loved. Lady Randolph was somewhat surprised at the difference, and when she saw the lengthy boy raising himself up from the fireside, turned round to her nephew and asked, "Do I know this young gentleman? There is not light enough to see him," with a voice in which Jock, shy and awkward, felt all the old objection to his presence as a burden upon Lucy, which in his precocious toleration he had accepted as reasonable, but did not like much the better for that. And then she sat down somewhat sullenly at the fire. The next minute Lucy came hastily in with many apologies: "I did not hear the carriage, aunt. I was in the nursery----"

"And how is the child?" Lady Randolph said.

"Oh, he is a great deal better--don't you think he is much better, Tom?

Only a little delicate, and that, we hope, will pa.s.s away."

"Then, Lucy, my dear, though I don't want to blame you, I think you should have heard the carriage," said Aunt Randolph. "The tea-table does not look cheerful when the mistress of the house is away."

"Oh, but little Tom----" Lucy said, and then stopped herself, with a vague sense that there was not so much sympathy around her as usual. Her husband had gone out again, and Jock stood dumb, an awkward shadow against the mantelpiece.

"My dear, I only speak for your good," the elder lady said. "Big Tom wants a little attention too. I thought you were going to have quite a merry Christmas and a great many people here."

"But, Aunt Randolph, baby----"

"Oh, my dear, you must think of something else besides baby. Take my word for it, baby would be a great deal stronger if you left him a little to himself. You have your husband, you know, to think of, and what harm would it have done baby if there had been a little cheerful company for his father? But you will think I have come to scold, and I don't in the least mean that. Give me a cup of tea, Lucy. Tom tells me that this tall person is Jock."

"You would not have known him?" said Lucy, much subdued in tone.

She occupied herself with the tea, arranging the cups and saucers with hands that trembled a little at the unexpected and unaccustomed sensation of a repulse.

"Well, I cannot even see him. But he has certainly grown out of knowledge--I never thought he would have been so tall; he was quite a little pinched creature as a child. I daresay you took too much care of him, my dear. I remember I used to think so; and then when he was tossed into the world or sent to school--it comes to much the same thing, I suppose--he flourished and grew."

"I wonder," said Lucy, somewhat wistfully, "if that is really so?

Certainly it is since he has been at school that he has grown so much."

Jock all this time fidgeted about from one leg to another with unutterable darkness upon his brow, could any one have seen it. There are few things so irritating, especially at his age, as to be thus discussed over one's own head.

"My dear Lucy," said Lady Randolph, "don't you remember some one says--who was it, I wonder? it sounds like one of those dreadfully clever French sayings that are always so much to the point--about the advantages of a little wholesome neglect?"

"Can neglect ever be wholesome? Oh, I don't think so--I can't think so--at least with children."

"It is precisely children that are meant," said the elder Lady Randolph. But as she talked, sitting in the warm light of the fire, with her cup in her hand, feeling extremely comfortable, discoursing at her ease, and putting sharp arrows as if they had been pins into the heart of Lucy, Sir Tom's large footsteps became audible coming through the great drawing-room, which was dark. The very sound of him was cheerful as he came in, and he brought the scent of fresh night air, cold but delightful, with him. He pa.s.sed by Lucy's chair and said, "How is the little 'un?" laying a kind hand upon her head.

"Oh, better. I am sure he is better. Aunt Randolph thinks----"

"I am giving Lucy a lecture," said Lady Randolph, "and telling her she must not shut herself up with that child. He'll get on all the better if he is not coddled too much."

Sir Tom made no reply, but came to the fire, and drew a chair into the cheerful glow. "You are all in the dark," he said, "but the fire is pleasant this cold night. Well, now that you are thawed, what news have you brought us out of the world? We are two hermits, Lucy and I. We forget what kind of language you speak. We have a little sort of talk of our own which answers common needs about babies and so forth, but we should like to hear what you are discoursing about, just for a change."

"There is no such thing as a world just now," said Lady Randolph, "there are nothing but country-houses. Society is all broken up into little bits, as you know as well as I do. One gleans a little here and a little there, and one carries it about like a basket of eggs."

"Jock has a world, and it is quite entire," said Sir Tom, with his cordial laugh. "No breaking up into little bits there. If you want a society that knows its own opinions, and will stick to them through thick and thin, I can tell you where to find it; and to see how it holds together and sits square whatever happens----"

Here there came a sort of falsetto growl from Jock's corner, where he was blus.h.i.+ng in the firelight. "It's because you were once a fellow yourself, and know all about it."

"So it is, Jock; you are right, as usual," said Sir Tom; "I was once a fellow myself, and now I'm an old fellow, and growing duller. Turn out your basket of eggs, Aunt Randolph, and let us know what is going on.

Where did you come from last--the Mulberrys? Come; there must have been some pretty pickings of gossip there."

"You shall have it all in good time. I am not going to run myself dry the first hour. I want to know about yourselves, and when you are going to give up this honeymooning. I expected to have met all sorts of people here."

"Yes," said Sir Tom, and then he burst forth in a laugh, "La Forno-Populo and a few others; but as little Tom is not quite up to visitors, we have put them off till Easter."

"La Forno-Populo!" said Lady Randolph, in a voice of dismay.

"Why not?" said Sir Tom. "She wrote and offered herself. I thought she might find it a doubtful pleasure, but if she likes it---- However, you may make yourself easy, n.o.body is coming," he added, with a certain jar of impatience in his tone.

Sir Tom Part 5

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Sir Tom Part 5 summary

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