No one was to blame. The reapers had run to the pond on hearing the
children’s cries, and had extricated them immediately; Virginie had sent
for the doctor at once. So no one had failed in their duty; or had, as I
say, been to blame–except the poor little victim himself.
“At present,” the doctor informed Sir Everard, “the extent of the
injuries could not be determined.”
Miles, from having been jerked off the end of the branch straight into
the water, had escaped with a wetting; but Humphrey, from having been
nearer the tree, had come in contact with the trunk, and the bough under
the water, and the doctor feared both spine and head had been injured.
He asked for further advice, and a man was dispatched with a telegram
for two of the greatest surgeons of the day.
The calamity was so sudden, so awful, so unexpected! Sir Everard could
not realize it–kept on misunderstanding the doctor’s incoherence–the
poor old doctor who had known him all his life, and could not bear to be
the one to tell him that, even if his boy’s life were spared, he must
ever be a helpless cripple.
Humphrey a cripple! Humphrey to lie on his back all his life! Sir
Everard could not grasp the idea, could not collect his thoughts to
conceive anything so impossible, could not follow the doctor through the
circumlocution in which he tried to clothe the announcement, and at last
“For God’s sake, tell me what you mean! Can you be trying to break to me
that my boy–that child who has never to my knowledge sat still in his
life–will never have the use of his limbs any more? Speak out, I
“Never any more, Sir Everard!–never any more.”
* * * * * * * * *
Still he could not realize it, could not take it in.
He turned away, and went out into the air, to clear, as it were, the
mistiness of his brain, and to bring himself face to face with the
words, so as to _force_ himself to understand them. “Never have the use
of his limbs any more!” Simple English words–he knew he must really
understand them, and yet they seemed to him mere sounds, devoid of any
He repeated them over and over again, to see what he could make of them.
“Never have the use of his limbs any more.” That meant–let him think it
out clearly–it meant, that his boy, his restless, impetuous boy, would
be chained to a sofa all his life, for ever cut off from all that
glorified his young existence–_that_ was what it meant. It meant–for
now that thought was beginning to assert herself, each word that was
meaningless before, was becoming alive with signification–it meant that
all that had been should be again no more–that all that the child
called _life_ was over–that all that went to make up the sum of his
existence was _gone_–that death in life must be his portion for ever
and for ever!
For what did the word _life_ mean to Humphrey? Why, the powers of which
he was to be deprived were the very germs of his whole existence–the
things for which he was, and moved, and had his being. Take them away,
and what remained? Life bereft of these, what was it to him? What is a
husk from which the kernel has been taken, or a casket from which the
jewel is gone?
Sir Everard was not a worldly man, and in those moments he did not dwell
on the blighted youth, and blasted manhood; he did not think of the
earthly career for ever clouded, the hopes of earthly distinction for
ever shut out. He did not see that his boy was debarred from every path
of usefulness or honor which man delights to tread–alike shut out from
active service, and learned profession. Results painful enough in
themselves; but it is none of them that have brought that despairing
expression to his set, white face. No!
He is thinking of the active little figure, chained to an invalid’s
chair. He is trying to realize that the lawns and gardens will know his
joyous presence no more. Surrounded by the haunts of the young life, he
is forcing himself to believe that all henceforth shall be lone and
silent, that never again shall they echo to his light footstep, or ring
with his merry laugh; that the active limbs shall be motionless, and the
busy hands for ever still. And only one word rose to his lips,
At moments like these, how our feelings are reflected on all things
around. Never before had Sir Everard so keenly realized the endless
motion of nature.
With the probable fate of his boy lying before him, he was perhaps
exaggerating the blessing of movement; but certainly he had never
before so forcibly noticed how every little leaf on the trees fluttered
as the breeze passed over it, how every little blade of grass shook and
danced in the wind, how the boughs swayed and the blossoms nodded, how
the waters of the streamlet rippled and leapt on their way!
And this with what is called _inanimate_ nature; and when it came to the
birds, and the beasts, and the insects!
It was cruel of two lambs to come and gambol together at that moment,
just under the poor father’s eyes; cruel of a little rabbit to choose
that second, out of all the hours of a long summer day, to pop up from
under the brushwood, and scamper away across the green grass! When had
the air ever been so full of butterflies, horseflies, and beetles; for
ever and ever on the wing! The bees hurried from flower to flower, the
birds chased each other from tree to tree, the summer gnats never rested
for a moment;–and Humphrey, of all Nature’s children the happiest and
the brightest, was to be the one who should sport in the sunshine no
He thought of the boy’s restless activity, his joy in motion and
exercise. From dawn to sunset, never still, never weary of rushing about
in the open air. There had always been with him a sort of lavish
enjoyment of existence for its own sake, as if there were happiness in
the mere sense of _being_ and _moving_.
Even as a little baby it had always been the same. When he could
scarcely stand alone, he would struggle to get out of his nurse’s arms,
and start off by himself, heedless of the many falls he would get on the
way. And as memory brought back the early days of the child’s life, came
mingled with them the thought of the mother who had so delighted in him.
And as Sir Everard remembered how she had gloried in his manly spirit,
and in his energy and activity, he bowed his head, and thanked God that
she had not lived to see this day.
Once more he saw her restraining her maternal fears that she might not
interfere with her boy’s love of enterprise, or bring a shadow on his
happiness. Once more he seemed to hear the baby voice at the bed-room
door, before the shutters were opened.
“Mother, mother, may I go out?”
The breathless pause till the answer came.
“Out now! My darling, it is so early and so cold. Better wait a little!”
“The insides of houses are so hot, mother; please say I may go out!” …
Had the boy ever walked? Had he ever done anything but run?
Sir Everard could not recall one instance of meeting him out of doors,
except running and rushing headlong, jumping over everything which
obstructed his path.
Once again, there rose the thought of the motionless little figure
sitting pale and silent in a cripple’s chair. God help the poor father!
In the bitterness of his spirit he had almost said, “Sooner than clip
his wings, let him soar away.”
He retraced his steps, and on entering the hall, was informed by the
trembling Virginie that Humphrey had recovered consciousness, and had
He hurried to the drawing-room, but the doctor met him at the door, and
motioned him back.
“Do not go in just yet,” he said, closing the door behind him; “he seems
to fear your displeasure about something, and shows great excitement at
the thought of seeing you. I dare say,” he added, quickly, for he was
touched by the expression of pain which passed over the poor father’s
face, “I dare say he will get over it, when he is a little less
“Does he understand what has happened?”
“I think so, now. At first he was sadly confused at finding himself in
the drawing-room; but by degrees he remembered the events of the day.
The moment he grasped the idea of the accident, he became excited, and
asked repeatedly for his little brother. I should fancy this anxiety
was associated with his shrinking from seeing you. Perhaps you
understand better than I do?”
“I have been obliged several times lately to find fault with him for
leading his little brother into mischief, and this last unfortunate
escapade I had most especially forbidden. Miles is, as you know, so very
delicate that I am obliged to be very careful of him.”
This was said almost in an exculpatory tone.
“He is certainly very delicate,” answered the doctor, “and ought not to
be exposed to such dangers. I am very thankful he has escaped so easily.
Now my little patient’s constitution is altogether different; seldom
have I seen a finer or stronger. However,” he added, breaking off with a
sigh, “the most iron frame is not proof against such an accident as
this. I think, Sir Everard,” he concluded, “that what you tell me would
quite account for the excitement. May I tell him from you that he has no
cause to fear your anger?”
“Need you ask?” said the baronet, impatiently, and the doctor returned
to the sick room.
Sir Everard paced up and down till the door re-opened, and the doctor
made him a sign to come in.
He entered, and advanced to the side of the sofa. The room was so dark
that he could only see the outline of the curly head, lying back among
the pillows, but a little hand came out, and pulled him down.
“Father,” in a voice which was hardly above a whisper, “it’s all right.
He isn’t hurt a bit–not even a cold. I am so glad it is me that is hurt
instead of him.”
“Oh, hush! hush! my darling.”
“You’re not angry with me, father? I’m so sorry I climbed. I’ll never do
it again. Say you’re not angry, father.”
“No, no my poor child–I’m not angry only so sorry to see you ill.”
“Am I _very_ ill? What is the matter with my head? Shall I soon be well
“I hope so, darling. There are some gentlemen coming to-morrow, to help
you to get well very quick.”
“I shall be well by the Harvest Home shan’t I?”
“The Harvest Home? When is that?”
“You promised to fix a day early next week, you know, father. Which day
shall it be?”
“I–I don’t–quite know what day to fix, my boy.”
“The corn fell so fast, all day, father–it must be ready soon. Shall we
No answer: only an inarticulate murmur.
“Then that’s settled. Shall I be well enough on Tuesday to dance ‘Up the
middle and down again,’ with Dolly?”
Rises again, all unbidden, before the father’s eyes, a motionless little
figure, sitting in a cripple’s chair. Dance! Ought he to tell him? ought
he to prepare him? who was to do it, if not he? who else was to tell him
of the blight that had fallen on his young life?
“You don’t tell me, father. Shall I be well soon?”
He _could_ not tell him. He only kissed the little hand, and murmured,
“God grant you may, my child!”
“I shan’t be able to lie still very long. If it wasn’t that I feel so
tired, I should like to jump up now.”
“Are you very tired, Humphrey?”
“Yes,” with a sigh, “and my back aches, and so does my head, and feels
so funny. It makes my eyes swim, and that makes me so sleepy.”
“Will you try to go to sleep?”
“Yes,” murmured the child, and his heavy eyes closed; “I shall wake up
quite well to-morrow.”
“A good sign,” whispered Sir Everard to the doctor. The doctor did not
answer; and Sir Everard went up to the nursery, to see Miles. The little
fellow was gazing out of the window, humming a forlorn little tune to
himself. Jane, with red eyes, was sitting at work.
Sir Everard took the child up in his arms “What are you doing, my
“I’m so dull without Humphie. When will he come and play?”
“Soon, I hope, darling.”
“Is Humphie going to sleep all night in the drawing-room?”
“Yes–isn’t that funny?”
“May I go and say good-night to him?”
“No; you can’t go to him to-night.”
Miles’s eyes filled with tears. “I can’t go to sleep without saying
good-night to Humphie.”
“Ah! don’t cry, my child,” said the poor father, beseechingly. His
feelings had been on the strain so many hours; he felt he could not
stand any more, and he dared not let his thoughts dwell on the subject.
He tried to turn the conversation. “Tell me,” he said, with a forced
smile, “what was that little song you were singing to yourself when I
“It was about Humpty-Dumpty,” said Miles, mournfully.
“Let me see: Humpty-Dumpty, was an egg, wasn’t he?”
“That gentleman said it was Humphie who was Humpty-Dumpty. Is that true,
“No, darling; how could Humphrey be an egg?”
“One part’s true, though,” said Miles, “‘Humpty-Dumpty had a great
“Ah! that’s true!” sighed Sir Everard.
“What’s the end, Fardie? I want to remember it, and I can’t–do you?”
Why did Sir Everard put the child down so suddenly, and why should his
voice falter a little, as he repeated the baby couplet? They were only
nursery rhymes, and this is how they ended:
“All the king’s horses, and all the king’s men,
Will never set Humpty-Dumpty up again.”
“It’s ‘diculous nonsense, Fardie, of _course_?”
“A ridiculous nonsensical rhyme, darling!”
But ah! how nearly the sublime and the ridiculous touch sometimes in