How eagerly he felt the little pulse

Sir Everard Duncombe pursued his way to the stables on leaving the
harvest field; and as he passed the house, he called out to Virginie,
who was sitting at work at the nursery window, to go and join the
children.

On arriving in London, he went to his club for his letters, and, meeting
a friend on the steps, they walked down Piccadilly together, and turned
into the park at Hyde Park Corner.

They stood by the railings for a little while, watching the stream of
carriages and their gaily dressed occupants; but it was very hot, and
after a time Sir Everard took leave of his friend, and strolled towards
the Serpentine, in search of a little air.

Miles’s delicacy, ever the subject rising uppermost in his mind,
occupied his thoughts as he walked along. He wondered to himself whether
he would outgrow it, whether a winter abroad would set him up, and
whether it would not be wise to bring him to London, and show him to one
of the great chest doctors.

The sight of the water, as he approached the Serpentine, recalled to his
mind the pond at Wareham, and the expedition which had been the cause of
the mischief. He remembered, with a start, how near he had left the
children to the tempting spot, for the pond was almost within sight of
the field where they were reaping.

For a moment he debated whether he had been wise to trust Humphrey
again; but then he reflected how soon Virginie must have joined them,
and how many people there were about.

Besides, they were quite taken up with the reaping, and when he
remembered his own severe words to Humphrey, and the boy’s penitence and
remorse, he could hardly fancy he would transgress again.

Still, he could not get it out of his head, and as he stood watching the
water, he wished there were such a thing as the magic glass he had read
to the children about; that he might see as far as Wareham, and satisfy
himself about them.

Had his wish been gratified at that moment, he would have seen Humphrey
and Miles astride on the rotten bough, with flushed and exultant faces.

The same change of weather now took place as was taking place at
Wareham. Umbrellas and carriage-hoods were quickly put up, and very soon
the park was empty.

Sir Everard retraced his steps to his club and was closing his umbrella
leisurely in the hall, when a telegram was put into his hand.

He glanced his eye hastily over it, and then dashed into the street and
hailed a hansom.

“Waterloo Station,” he shouted, as he threw himself into it; “double
fare if you catch the train!”

* * * * *

Bustle and confusion, though no doubt, uninteresting and unpoetical,
are, certainly, at such times useful. They keep the mind from dwelling
too much on the painful, and thus rub off the sharp edge of the first
moment.

So it was not till Sir Everard was in the train, and tearing swiftly,
though quietly to Wareham, that he realized his position.

Till then, his thoughts had been entirely taken up with passing this
carriage, shaving that omnibus, or rounding that corner. He had chafed
at every stoppage, fumed at every delay, and been able to think of
nothing but whether or no he should catch the train.

And now, the strain over, he leant back in the railway carriage and
examined the telegram at leisure.




There was not much to be learnt from it; it was terse and
unsatisfactory, like most messages of the kind–just sufficiently clear
not to quell all hope, and yet undefined enough to give reins to the
imagination. It contained these words: “An accident has happened. Both
the young gentlemen have fallen into the pond, but neither are drowned.
Come directly.”

Those who have read and re-read such missives, and vainly endeavored to
extract something from them, will best understand how Sir Everard
tortured himself during the next quarter of an hour. Might not this be a
part of the truth, and the rest concealed? Might it not be meant as a
preparation?

But, no–unless the message told a deliberate falsehood, “neither were
drowned.” Why, then, bid him come directly, unless Miles’s condition
after his immersion in the water was all but hopeless. “A ducking will
not hurt Humphrey,” he reflected “so of course, it is Mile.”

He thought of Miles’s fragile appearance as he stood in the corn-field.
How little he was fitted to cope with such an accident! Fragile and
flushed, with traces of his late illness lingering about his lustrous
eyes and colorless lips.

He worked himself up into a terrible state of anxiety as the train
neared Wareham, and restlessly he laid the blame of the accident on
everything and everybody.

What business had they at the pond? he angrily questioned; it was the
most flagrant act of disobedience on Humphrey’s part he had ever heard
of.

For the moment, he felt as if he could never forgive the boy for such a
barefaced breach of his command. Over and over again had Miles’s health,
life even, been endangered by Humphrey’s heedlessness.

Heedlessness!–willfulness he felt inclined to call it. Perhaps he was
too indulgent. Stricter measures should be enforced; the boy must and
should learn to obey. He had been weak, but he would be so no longer.
No punishment could be severe enough for Humphrey; and punished he
should certainly be.

Then he thought perhaps it was too much to expect of such a young
creature and he began to lay the blame on others. Virginie–why was
_she_ not there? Why did not _she_ prevent their going to the pond?

Even the reapers and the bailiff came in for a share of his anger.
Surely, among so many people, _somebody_ might have prevented two
children leaving the field!

But, after all, Humphrey was the chief offender, and he felt he ought
not to try to shield him, by throwing the blame on others.

There was no carriage waiting for him at the station, and no one could
give him any information beyond that contained in the telegram.

He ordered a fly, and then, unable to bear the delay, walked on without
it. He got more and more anxious as he neared the Abbey. He took a
short cut to the house. There was no one about–not a servant, not a
gardener. His heart misgave him as he strode on. He reached the hall
door, passed in, ran up the stairs to the nursery. Still no sound–no
voices. The nurseries were empty! He called. No answer. He shouted. How
horrible his voice sounded in the empty passages! He rang the bell
furiously, and, without waiting the answer, he ran down-stairs again,
and opened the library door.

A confused hum of voices struck upon his ear, a confused group of people
swam before his eyes, but he only distinguished a little form that ran
forward with outstretched arms; and with an exclamation of fervent
thanksgiving he clasped Miles safe, warm, and unhurt in his arms!

How eagerly he felt the little pulse and chafed the little hands! He
stopped the child’s mouth with kisses whenever he attempted to speak.

He was so occupied with his newly recovered treasure, that he did not
notice what a deep silence had fallen on the assembled group on his
entrance; but now he turned to one of the maids, and asked how the
accident had happened. “And, by the way,” he added, “where is Master
Humphrey?”

No one answered.

“Where is Master Humphrey?” repeated the baronet.

“They told me not to say,” began little Miles; but his father was
looking directly at one of the gardeners, and the man was obliged to
answer.

“If you please, Sir Everard, we carried Master Duncombe in there,”
pointing to the drawing-room.

“In _there_!” said the baronet, amazed.

“If you please, Sir Everard, it was the first room we came to; and the
only one where there was a sofa.”

Before he had done speaking, Sir Everard was in the room. A shutter had
been opened, and there was just light enough for him to see Virginie
bending over the sofa, round which was a group of people.

The doctor came forward from among them, but Sir Everard pushed past
him, and advanced to the side of the sofa.

And there, under his mother’s picture, colorless, motionless, and to all
appearance lifeless, lay the boy for whom “no punishment could be severe
enough,” and whose disobedience he had felt he never could forgive!

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