Nothing more passed at the time, but that night, as Nicholas sat beside his bed, Smike started from what had seemed to be a slumber, and laying his hand in his, prayed, as the tears coursed down his face, that he would make him one solemn promise.
`What is that?' said Nicholas, kindly. `If I can redeem it, or hope to do so, you know I will.'
`I am sure you will,' was the reply. `Promise me that when I die, I shall be buried near--as near as they can make my grave--to the tree we saw today.'
Nicholas gave the promise; he had few words to give it in, but they were solemn and earnest. His poor friend kept his hand in his, and turned as if to sleep. But there were stifled sobs; and the hand was pressed more than once, or twice, or thrice, before he sank to rest, and slowly loosed his hold.
In a fortnight's time, he became too ill to move about. Once or twice, Nicholas drove him out, propped up with pillows; but the motion of the chaise was painful to him, and brought on fits of fainting, which, in his weakened state, were dangerous. There was an old couch in the house, which was his favourite resting-place by day; and when the sun shone, and the weather was warm, Nicholas had this wheeled into a little orchard which was close at hand, and his charge being well wrapped up and carried out to it, they used to sit there sometimes for hours together.
It was on one of these occasions that a circumstance took place, which Nicholas, at the time, thoroughly believed to be the mere delusion of an imagination affected by disease; but which he had, afterwards, too good reason to know was of real and actual occurrence.
He had brought Smike out in his arms--poor fellow! a child might have carried him then--to see the sunset, and, having arranged his couch, had taken his seat beside it. He had been watching the whole of the night before, and being greatly fatigued both in mind and body, gradually fell asleep.
He could not have closed his eyes five minutes, when he was awakened by a scream, and starting up in that kind of terror which affects a person suddenly roused, saw, to his great astonishment, that his charge had struggled into a sitting posture, and with eyes almost starting from their sockets, cold dew standing on his forehead, and in a fit of trembling which quite convulsed his frame, was calling to him for help.
`Good Heaven, what is this?' said Nicholas, bending over him. `Be calm; you have been dreaming.'
`No, no, no!' cried Smike, clinging to him. `Hold me tight. Don't let me go. There--there--behind the tree!'
Nicholas followed his eyes, which were directed to some distance behind the chair from which he himself had just risen. But, there was nothing there.
`This is nothing but your fancy,' he said, as he strove to compose him; `nothing else, indeed.'
`I know better. I saw as plain as I see now,' was the answer. `Oh! say you'll keep me with you--swear you won't leave me for an instant!'
`Do I ever leave you?' returned Nicholas. `Lie down again--there! You see I'm here. Now, tell me--what was it?'
`Do you remember,' said Smike, in a low voice, and glancing fearfully round, `do you remember my telling you of the man who first took me to the school?'
`I raised my eyes, just now, towards that tree--that one with the thick trunk--and there, with his eyes fixed on me, he stood!'
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