Humphrey slept late the next morning, and the sun was streaming on his
face when he awoke.
He sprang out of bed with an exclamation of delight at seeing such a
fine day, and then started back in surprise at finding himself in a
Recollections of last night were beginning to steal over him, when the
door opened, and Jane came in.
“At last! Master Humphrey. Why I thought you were never going to wake
up! Master Miles has been asking for you for ever so long!”
“Then he’s better, is he?” said Humphrey, eagerly.
“Better!” exclaimed Jane, in a sprightly tone; “why bless you, he’s
Jane had been the one to find Humphrey in the drawing-room the night
before, and had guessed by his tear-stained face how it had been.
She was not equivocating; Miles had taken a turn for the better in the
night, and there was no further anxiety about him.
Humphrey’s spirits rose immediately to their usual height; he dressed
himself in a great hurry, and soon the two little brothers were together
Humphrey did not allude to his troubles of the evening before. Perhaps
he had already forgotten them; or if they did recur to his memory, it
was with a dull, dead sense of pain which he had no wish to call into
His was a nature that was only too glad to escape from such
recollections. His buoyant spirits and volatile disposition helped him
to throw off sad memories, and never had he been gayer or wilder than
on this morning, as he laughed and talked, and played by his brother’s
It was a glorious day, Miles was nearly well, his father was coming (in
obedience to Virginie’s letter), and life seemed to him one flood of
Virginie, however, still shaky from her late anxiety, and with her head
ominously tied up with flannel, looked grimly on his mirth. She did not
understand the boy: how should she? She was feeling very sore with him
for having caused all this trouble; she was, of course, ignorant of what
he had suffered, and she looked upon his noisy merriment as only another
proof of his usual heartlessness.
Humphrey was not in the room when his father arrived, having gone out
for a run in the garden; so Virginie had no check in pouring out her
Sir Everard was startled at the effect the short illness had had upon
Miles, and listened more patiently than usual.
The delicate child looked so much like his mother as he lay in bed,
with his flushed cheeks and lustrous eyes, that the vague fear about
him, that almost always haunted the father, took a more definite shape.
Certainly Virginie’s account of Humphrey’s disobedience was not
calculated to soften him towards the boy, and he really felt more angry
with him than he had ever done before.
Little Miles was particularly engaging that day, so delighted to see his
father, and so caressing in his ways, that Humphrey’s want of heart
seemed to stand out in sharper contrast. Sir Everard could not tear
himself away from the little fellow for some time, and the more coaxing
the child was, the more painfully came home to the father the thought of
having so nearly lost him.
On descending from the nursery, Sir Everard went into the library, and
ringing the bell, desired that Master Duncombe should be sent to him
“I don’t suppose I shall make any impression upon him,” he said to
himself while he waited, “but I must try.” He never expected much of
Humphrey, but he was hardly prepared for the boisterous opening of the
door, and the gay aspect of the boy as he bounded into the room.
Sir Everard was, as we have seen, always loth to scold or punish either
of his motherless children, and when it must be done, he schooled
himself to do it from a sense of duty. But the bold, and, as it seemed
to him, defiant way in which the boy presented himself, fairly angered
him, and it was in a tone of no forced displeasure that he exclaimed,
“What do you mean, sir, by coming into the room like that?”
Now Humphrey had been busy working in his garden when his father’s
message had reached him, in happy forgetfulness of his recent conduct
and his brother’s recent danger.
In the excitement of hearing of his father’s arrival, he had overlooked
the probability of his displeasure; and it was with unfeigned
astonishment that he heard himself thus greeted. His wondering
expression only irritated his father the more.
“Don’t stand there, looking as if you thought you had done nothing
wrong,” he exclaimed testily; “do you think you are to lead your poor
little brother into danger, and make him ill, and then not to be found
fault with? Don’t you know that you have disobeyed me, and broken your
promise? Did I not forbid you to go near that pond? I tell you I won’t
have it, and you shall go to school if you can’t behave better at home.
Do you hear me, sir? what do you mean by behaving in this way?”
Humphrey understood now. His lips quivered, and his cheek flushed at
hearing himself so sternly spoken to, and he dared not attempt to
answer, lest he should disgrace himself by tears.
Sir Everard’s anger soon evaporated.
“You see, Humphrey,” he went on more gently, “it is always the same
thing. Day after day and week after week I have the same complaints of
you. I should have thought you were old enough now to remember that
Miles is very delicate, and that you would have taken care of him,
instead of leading him into mischief. Do you know,” he concluded,
suddenly dropping his voice, “that we have very nearly lost your little
To Sir Everard’s surprise, Humphrey burst into a passion of tears. The
words brought back to him the suffering of last night with a sharp pang,
and his whole frame shook with sobs.
Sir Everard was instantly melted. Like most men, the sight of tears had
a magical effect upon him; and he took the child on his knee, and tried
to comfort him.
“There, there,” he said soothingly, as he stroked the curly head, “that
will do; I must not expect old heads on young shoulders; but you must
try and remember what I tell you, and not disobey me any more. And now
give me a kiss, and run out, and have a game of cricket.”
Humphrey lifted up his tear-stained face and gladly received the kiss
A few minutes after he was playing single wicket in the field with the
footman, without a trace of sorrow on his countenance or a sad thought
in his heart.
But Sir Everard remained in the library, perturbed and uneasy. Miles’s
fragile appearance had made him nervous, and he was thinking how easily
any little chill might bring on inflammation again. He was well versed
in all the sudden relapses and as sudden improvements of delicate lungs.
Had he not watched them hour by hour? Did he not know every step? It was
an attack like this that had preceded his wife’s slow fading. Daily had
he watched the flush deepen and the features sharpen on a face which was
so like the little face up-stairs, that, as he thought of them both, he
could hardly separate the two.
Something must be done to prevent the recurrence of any risks for Miles.
But what? It was clear that Humphrey was not to be trusted; and yet Sir
Everard could not bear to spoil the children’s fun by separating them,
or by letting Virginie mount in too strict guard over them. She was a
nervous woman, and too apt to think everything they did had danger in
“Boys must amuse themselves,” he reflected; “and at Humphrey’s age it is
natural they should do extraordinary things. I don’t want to make him a
muff.” Involuntarily he smiled at the idea of Humphrey being a muff.
“How easily Miles might have fallen into that horrid pond! The slightest
push from Humphrey, who never looks where he is going, would have sent
him in. Would he ever have recovered the effects of a wholesale soaking?
However,” he concluded, half out loud, as he rose to return to the
nursery, “the session is nearly over, and I shall be down here, and able
to look after them myself. And meanwhile I shall remain on for a day or
two, till Miles is quite well again.”