A Love Scene

POOR Tom bore his severe pain heroically, and was resolute in not `telling' of Mr Poulter more than was avoidable: the five-shilling piece remained a secret event to Maggie. But there was a terrible dread weighing on his mind - so terrible that he dared not even ask the question which might bring the fatal `yes' - he dared not ask the surgeon or Mr Stelling `Shall I be lame, sir?' He mastered himself so as not to cry out at the pain, but when his foot had been dressed, and he was left alone with Maggie seated by his bedside, the children sobbed together with their heads laid on the same pillow. Tom was thinking of himself walking about on crutches, like the wheelwright's son, and Maggie, who did not guess what was in his mind, sobbed for company. It had not occurred to the surgeon or to Mr Stelling to anticipate this dread in Tom's mind and to reassure him by hopeful words. But Philip watched the surgeon out of the house and waylaid Mr Stelling to ask the very question that Tom had not dared to ask for himself. `I beg your pardon, sir - but does Mr Askern say Tulliver will be lame?'

`O no, O no,' said Mr Stelling, `not permanently. Only for a little while.'

`Did he tell Tulliver so, sir, do you think?'

`No: nothing was said to him on the subject.'

`Then may I go and tell him sir?'

`Yes, to be sure: now you mention it, I daresay he may be troubling about that. Go to his bedroom, but be very quiet at present.'

It had been Philip's first thought when he heard of the accident - `Will Tulliver be lame? It will be very hard for him if he is' - and Tom's hitherto unforgiven offences were washed out by that pity. Philip felt that they were no longer in a state of repulsion but were being drawn into a common current of suffering and sad privation. His imagination did not dwell on the outward calamity and its future effect on Tom's life, but it made vividly present to him the probable state of Tom's feeling: he had only lived fourteen years, but those years had, most of them, been steeped in the sense of a lot irremediably hard.

`Mr Askern says you'll soon be all right again, Tulliver, did you Know?' he said, rather timidly, as he stepped gently up to Tom's bed. `I've just been to ask Mr Stelling, and he says you'll walk as well as ever again, by and by.'

Tom looked up with that momentary stopping of the breath which comes with a sudden joy; then he gave a long sigh, and turned his blue-grey eyes straight on Philip's face as he had not done for a fortnight or more. As for Maggie, this intimation of a possibility she had not thought of before affected her as a new trouble: the bare idea of Tom's being always lame overpowered the assurance that such a misfortune was not likely to befall him; and she clung to him and cried afresh.

`Don't be a little silly, Magsie,' said Tom, tenderly, feeling very brave now. `I shall soon get well.'

`Goodby, Tulliver,' said Philip, putting out his small, delicate hand, which Tom clasped immediately with his more substantial fingers.

`I say,' said Tom `ask Mr Stelling to let you come and sit with me sometimes, till I get up again, Wakem - and tell me about Robert Bruce, you know.'

After that, Philip spent all his time out of school-hours with Tom and Maggie. Tom liked to hear fighting stories as much as ever, but he insisted strongly on the fact that those great fighters who did so many wonderful things and came off unhurt, wore excellent armour from head to foot which made fighting easy work, he considered. He should not have hurt his foot if he had had an iron shoe on. He listened with great interest to a new story of Philip's about a man who had a very bad wound in his foot, and cried out so dreadfully with the pain, that his friends could bear with him no longer, but put him ashore on a desert island, with nothing but some wonderful poisoned arrows to kill animals with for food.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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