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The week passed mournfully away. No more boys sickened, but Arthur was reported worse each day, and his mother arrived early in the week. Tom made many appeals to be allowed to see him, and several times tried to get up to the sick-room; but the housekeeper was always in the way, and at last spoke to the Doctor, who kindly, but peremptorily, forbade him.
Thompson was buried on the Tuesday, and the burial service, so soothing and grand always, but beyond all words solemn when read over a boy's v grave to his companions, brought him much comfort, and many strange new thoughts and longings. He went back to his regular life, and played cricket and bathed as usual ; it seemed to him that this was the right thing to do, and the new thoughts and longings became more brave and healthy for the effort. The crisis came on Saturday, the day week that Thompson had died; and during that long afternoon Tom sat in his study reading his Bible, and going every half-hour to the housekeeper's room, expecting each time to hear that the gentle and brave little spirit had gone home. But God had work for Arthur to do; the crisis passed-on Sunday evening he was declared out of danger; on Monday he sent a message to Tom that he was almost well, had changed his room, and was to be allowed to see him the next day.
It was evening when the housekeeper summoned him to the sick-room. Arthur was lying on the sofa by the open window, through which the rays of
the western sun stole gently, lighting up his white face and golden hair. Tom remembered a German picture of an angel which he knew; often had he thought how transparent and golden and spirit-like it was; and he shuddered to think how like it Arthur looked, and felt a shock as if his blood had all stopped short, as he realized how near the other world his friend must have been to look like that. Never till that moment had he felt how his little chum had twined himself round his heart-strings; and as he stole gently across the room, and knelt down, and put his arm round Arthur's head on the pillow, felt ashamed and half angry at his own red and brown face, and the bounding sense of health and power which filled every fibre of his body, and made every moment of mere living a joy to him. He needn't have troubled himself, it was this very strength and power so different from his own which drew Arthur so to him.
Arthur laid his thin white hand, on which the blue veins stood out so plainly, on Tom's great brown fist, and smiled at him; and then looked out of the window again, as if he couldn't bear to lose a moment of the sunset, into the tops of the great feathery elms, round which the rooks were circling and clanging, returned in flocks from their evening's foraging parties. The elms rustled, the sparrows in the ivy just outside the window chirped and fluttered about, quarrelling and making it up again ; the rooks, young and old, talked in chorus, and the merry shouts of the boys, and the sweet click of the cricket-bats, came up cheerily from below,
“ Dear George," said Tom, “ I am so glad to be let up to see you at last. I've tried hard to come so often, but they wouldn't let me before.”
“ Oh, I know, Tom; Mary has told me every day about you, and how she was obliged to make the Doctor speak to you to keep you away. I'm very glad you didn't get up, for you might have caught it, and you couldn't stand being ill with all the matches going on. And you're in the eleven too, I hear—I'm so glad.”
“ Yes, ain't it jolly ? " said Tom, proudly ; “ I'm ninth too. I made forty at the last pie-match, and caught three fellows out. So I was put in above Jones and Tucker. Tucker's so savage, for he was head of the twenty-two."
“ Well, I think you ought to be higher yet,” said Arthur, who was as jealous for the renown of Tom in games, as Tom was for his as a scholar.
6 Never mind, I don't care about cricket or any thing now you're getting well, Geordie; and I shouldn't have hurt, I know, if they'd have let me come up,-nothing hurts me. But you'll get about now directly, won't you? You won't believe how clean I've kept the study. All your things are just as you left them; and I feed the old magpie just when you used, though I have to come in from bigside for him, the old rip. He won't look pleased, all I can do, and sticks his head first on one side and then on the other, and blinks at me before he'll begin to eat, till I'm half inclined to box his ears. And whenever East comes in, you should see him
hop off to the window, dot and go one, though Harry wouldn't touch a feather of him now."
Arthur laughed. “ Old Gravey has a good memory, he can't forget the sieges of poor Martin's den in old times.” He paused a moment, and then went on. “ You can't think how often I've been thinking of old Martin since I've been ill; I suppose one's mind gets restless, and likes to wander off to strange unknown places. I wonder what queer new pets the old boy has got; how he must be revelling in the thousand new birds, beasts, and fishes.”
Tom felt a pang of jealousy, but kicked it out in a moment. “ Fancy him on a South-sea island, with the Cherokees or Patagonians, or some such wild niggers ;” (Tom's ethnology and geography were faulty, but sufficient for his needs;) 6 they'll make the old madman cock medicine-man, and tattoo him all over. Perhaps he's cutting about now all blue, and has a squaw and a wigwam. He'll improve their boomarangs, and be able to throw them too, without having old Thomas sent after him by the Doctor to take them away.
Arthur laughed at the remembrance of the boomarang story, but then looked grave again, and said, 6 He'll convert all the Island, I know.”
“ Yes, if he don't blow it up first.”
5 Do you remember, Tom, how you and East used to laugh at him and chaff him, because he said he was sure the rooks all had calling-over, or prayers, or something of the sort, when the lockingup bell rang. Well, I declare,” said Arthur, looking
335 up seriously into Tom's laughing eyes, " I do think he was right. Since I've been lying here I've watched them every night; and do you know they really do come and perch all of them just about locking-up time; and then first there's a regular chorus of caws, and then they stop a bit, and one old fellow, or perhaps two or three in different trees, caw solos, and then off they all go again, fluttering about and cawing any how they till roost.”
“I wonder if the old blackies do talk?” said Tom, looking up at them. How they must abuse me and East, and pray for the Doctor for stopping the slinging.”
“ There! look, look!” cried Arthur, “don't you see the old fellow without a tail coming up? Martin used to call him the clerk. He can't steer himself. You never saw such fun as he is in a high wind, when he can't steer himself home, and gets carried right past the trees, and has to bear up again and again before he can perch.”
The locking-up bell began to toll, and the two boys were silent and listened to it. The sound soon carried Tom off to the river and the woods, and he began to go over in his mind the many occasions on which he had heard that toll coming faintly down the breeze, and had to pack up his rod in a hurry and make a run for it, to get in before the gates were shut. He was roused with a start from his memories by Arthur's voice, gentle and weak from his late illness.
“ Tom, will you be angry if I talk to you very seriously?”