NOT a bright outlook certainly, but then, you see, it is to be only a little chapter.
Some people think that children’s books ought to be cheery and bright from cover to cover, and so they ought—that is, for the very little children; but when they have gotten beyond the days of rhymes and jingles and colored pictures, and have wit enough and appreciation enough to enjoy a chaptered story, then I, for one, think the stories should be true to life. To be sure, the charm of such delightful and purely impossible tales as “Alice in Wonderland” and “Water Babies” lies in the fact that they do not pretend to be true to anything in the world save the enchanting-caprice of the people who write them; but when one comes to place a story in a real time, and put real people in it, then it is bound to be true to the real things.
Then one certainly does not need to be, say, more than seven years old to get at least an inkling of the truth, that the real things of life are not always bright things. But there is no use of dwelling at too great length upon these same sorrowful experiences, and so for that reason we are going to try to make this a short chapter. And now, to tell you right away what the sad thing was, for fear your lively imagination should be conjuring up something yet more sad than the reality, though the reality was sad enough, since it was nothing more nor less than that, when Captain Hugh Boniface woke on the morning after the Assembly, he found that he could move neither hand nor foot. The eager mind worked as actively as ever, but not a muscle would respond to the great, strong will, and the Captain knew—knew beyond all hoping—that he was completely paralyzed, and that in all probability, as far as ever rendering any real service to that blessed little family of his was concerned, he had better, from that time, be out of the world than in it.
It is needless to tell you very particularly with what foreboding the alarming news spread through the little household, nor how breathlessly they all waited for old Dr. Melville’s verdict as he came from the Captain’s room a few hours later. Nor of how, in spite of his encouraging words, that bade them be hopeful, they read that in his kind old eyes which plainly told them that he felt there was little enough to ground any real hope upon.
“Yes,” said Dr. Melville, gravely, as Mrs. Boniface followed him to the door, at the close of one of his professional visits, “I feared something of this sort might be in store for the Captain. He has been into my office several times complaining of certain wretched benumbing feelings that we doctors dread to hear acknowledged. But it’s not strange, Mrs. Boniface, not strange at all; he’s been through enough to break down the strongest constitution. There was a sight of mischief already done when they brought him home from Lexington in ‘75, and then all these years of worry and excitement have not helped matters.”
“But, doctor,” said Mrs. Boniface, nerving herself to ask the question, “do you think he will never be any better?”
“I doubt if he ever walks again, Mrs. Boniface.”
“Do you mean, Dr. Melville, that it is your opinion that he never will walk again. You must be very frank with me, else I cannot tell how to plan for the future.”
“Well, then, since you are a brave woman, and I know you mean what you say, I will give you my honest opinion, which is this: that your good Captain will probably, at least in a degree, regain the use of his hands and arms, but never, I fear, of his lower limbs.”
It was not easy for Mrs. Boniface to hear her fears put thus plainly into words, but it was best, she felt sure, that she should know the worst.
Meantime the days dragged wearily along for Captain Boniface, and yet brought with them one glorious revelation. Never before had he known quite so fully what an all-powerful love there was in his heart for that dear wife of his. It was a privilege simply to be able to watch her as she moved so quietly about the room, and to listen to the sweet familiar voice; and was it not abundant cause for thankfulness that he was still in the same world with her, though no longer able to move about in it. But what were they going to do? That, of course, was the thought that gave him greatest anxiety. The sum of money in the bank had been growing more and more slender with every year of diminished income, until now there was scarce enough left to tide them over more than another twelve months, and then only with the strictest economy. But the good Captain did not have to meet this dread question alone, and in the twilight of a November afternoon he had talked it all over with his wife, and as the result of that long, quiet talk they had decided that Mrs. Boniface should write for aid to her father, a clergyman, living alone in a little ivy-grown rectory in the South of England. But it was not easy to come to this decision. They hesitated to intrude their heavy anxieties upon the good old man, whose own income was by no means ample. But there was simply no one else to whom they could turn, and they knew he would gladly give them any help within his power.
“And now, Hugh, there is nothing for us to do but to wait till the answer to my letter comes, and do let us try not to worry,” said Mrs. Boniface when the long talk was over, and they did try, and they succeeded, and right in the face of the heaviest trial they had ever known there was peace and even an added sweetness in the Boniface home life. The new trouble knit all hearts closer together; they realized more keenly than ever before how much it was just to have each other, and they cared far less than such a little while ago they would have thought possible for the insults of people who, after all, had been friends only in name. But half the secret of the bravery of the little household lay in the fact that the Captain himself was so brave; but often, of course, his courage was strongly tested; seldom more strongly than when little Kate would come running to the side of his bed, and he felt himself powerless to lift her to a seat beside him or to romp with her as he used to love to do.
One afternoon, when he was alone in the room, he heard the patter of her little feet on the stairway. He could count each step, for, after the necessarily slow fashion of very little walkers, she had need to plant both feet on one step before attempting another. But at last the patient little climber was where she wanted to be, and said, without stopping to think, “Lift me up, papa, please.”
“Ah! Kate, you always forget papa can’t do that,” and the Captain’s eyes grew misty.
“Oh, yes, I did fordet,” Kate answered, with a world of regret in her tone; and then she laid her chubby head on her father’s arm and tenderly stroked the great brown hand as though she loved him more than ever now, and for the very reason that he was so helpless.
“Kate,” said her father, when he felt sure that he could speak and yet keep his voice steady, “you are such a darling, Kate.”
“Mamma said that a little while ago,” answered her little ladyship calmly, “and Josephine said it yesterday twice, and then Hazel said something like it too. I dess I was never quite so nice as lately.”
“I guess you were never quite such a comfort,” smiled the Captain. “But then you must not grow too set up about it.”
Kate did not pay much attention to this last remark; she had decided on a little plan, and was putting it into execution. She pushed a chair to the side of the bed and mounted, by aid of its round, to its seat; from there it was an easy climb to the bed; and then, shoving the chair away with a push of her little foot, she turned to her father with a sigh of honest satisfaction, such as no mere “lifting up” could possibly have occasioned.
Evidently she had come to stay, the blessed little sunbeam, and straightway the Captain began to rack his brain for the story that he knew well enough in a moment would be asked for, and for the sort that would be likely to keep her attention longest. No one could tell so good a story as the Captain, and no one could tell it as well—at least, that was the verdict of Starlight and Flutters, of Hazel and the Marberrys, and a few other little folk who now and then had the pleasure of hearing him. Little Kate was delighted with the fact that she was to be favored with “the first story since papa fell ill,” and, I fear, took a little selfish delight in the fact that she was the only listener. As for the story, it proved a fine one, with some very queer little people in it, who did most outlandish things, and Kate sat entranced till it was finished, and then, laying her head down on her father’s shoulder, “just to think it over,” fell fast asleep instead, and did not waken, even when the Captain, hearing Josephine’s step in the hall, called her in to throw something over her. And then, after a while, what with Kate’s regular breathing as she lay on his helpless arm, and what with the light in the room growing dim and yet more dim as the glow faded out of the sunset, the Captain fell asleep too, and all was so tranquil and peaceful that it seems almost as though we had made a mistake in calling this “A Sad Little Chapter.”
FLUTTERS had something on his mind, and this in addition to all the cares and anxieties of the Bonifaces, which he took upon himself every whit as fully as though he actually belonged to the family. But the something in question was a little private affair of his own, an affair, however, that insisted upon filling most of his waking thoughts, and finally, after looking at it in every possible light, he arrived at a decision.
When a person has been thinking about a matter and turning it over and over in his mind, a decision is a glorious thing to come to. It is such a relief, after standing helpless in a perfect maze of doubt and hesitation, to find a straight path opening up before you. At any rate, Flutters’s sensations were quite of that order, as late one afternoon he went to Mrs. Boniface and asked if she could spare him to go into town for a few hours.
“Certainly, Flutters,” if it is necessary for it was the first time Flutters had made a request like that, and she wondered what the little fellow was up to.
Flutters seemed to read her thoughts and answered, “It is necessary, Mrs. Boniface, but I would rather not tell you what I want to go for, if you are willing to trust me.”
“Certainly, I’ll trust you, Flutters,” was the answer that made his heart glad; for it is such a fine thing to be thoroughly trusted, and the haste with which he donned his coat and hurried from the house showed that, at least in his estimation, the something to be done was as important as necessary.
Along the frosty road, in the November twilight, the little fellow trudged at a brisk pace, now and then breaking into a full run, as though in his eagerness he could not brook the delay of sober walking. White, fleecy clouds were scudding across the sky, as though making way for the moon which shone out whenever they would let her, and whose silvery beams were following so closely in the wake of the daylight as to create one earth night in which, as in Heaven above, there was to be no darkness at all.
But Flutters, like many another preoccupied fellow-mortal, saw naught of its beauty, only noting his surroundings sufficiently to take the straightest road to his destination.
Finally, he brought up at the barracks of Company F at Fort George, which company, as you remember, we learned from Mrs. Rainsford, was no longer quartered at the Avery homestead.
“Is Sergeant Bellows here?” Flutters asked, breathlessly, of one of the first men he met.
“He be,” answered the man, with provoking slowness, “but I doubt if he’ll see ye the night, he turned in early with a headache.” Flutters looked crestfallen. “You sail for England day after to-morrow, don’t you?” >
“We do that,” answered the man, “and it’s with pleasure we’ll be after shaking the dust of the place off us.”
“But I must see Sergeant Bellows before he goes,” said Flutters, pathetically. “Do you think he’d mind if I disturbed him just for a minute?”
“Maybe not,” said the man, “the Sergeant’s that good-natured. You’ll find him in bunk No. 6, in the front room above-stairs.”
So Flutters climbed the stairs and entered the great cheerless room, with its row of uncomfortable-looking bunks lining the wall. A candle was burning in a tin candlestick at one end of the room. Flutters went on tip-toe and brought it so as to inspect the numbers of the bunks, and make no mistake, for he could see that two or three other men had also “turned in.”
“‘Who’s there?’ asked Sergeant Bellows.”
No. 6 was half-way down the room. “Sergeant Bellows,” said Flutters, in a penetrating whisper, screening the candle flame with his hand, so that it should not shine in the Sergeant’s face.
“Who’s there?” asked Sergeant Bellows, raising himself on one elbow and bewildered at the sight of his unexpected visitor.
“It’s only me, Flutters, and I hope your headache isn’t very bad, ‘cause I wouldn’t have disturbed you for the world, only I almost had to.”
“Oh, that’s all right,” said the Sergeant, kindly, “but it’ll take me a moment to get my wits to working, although I wasn’t rightly asleep either. Here, set the candle on the shelf, and run get that stool yonder for yourself.”
Flutters felt relieved thus to have the Sergeant take in the situation at a glance, and realize that he had come with a purpose.
“I was coming up to Kings Bridge to-morrow to say good-bye,” the Sergeant said, rather sadly, when Flutters had seated himself beside the bed. “How are they up there?”
“Why, they’re not well at all—that is, you know, don’t you, about the Captain’s being paralyzed all over?”
“No, by gracious! paralyzed! Do you mean he can’t move hand nor foot?”
Flutters sorrowfully shook his head yes, as though words failed him.
“You don’t mean it,” said the Sergeant, sorrowfully; “but tell me all about it,” and then Flutters told him everything about the Bonifaces that he thought could by any possibility be of any interest to him, till at last he felt justified in introducing his own little matter.
“But what I came to see about was this—”
“Oh, to be sure,” said the Sergeant. “I had almost forgotten to wonder what brought you here.”
“Well,” said Flutters, solemnly, “I have a great favor to ask of you, Sergeant.”
“You’re not giving me much time to do it, then,” said the Sergeant, “seeing as every British soldier quits the city day after to-morrow.”
“That’s the reason I came,” answered Flutters, excitedly, “it’s in England that I want the favor done.”
“Why, what have you to do with England, I’d like to know?” with evident astonishment.
“Why, England was my home,” Flutters answered, rather proudly; “don’t you know I belonged to an English circus?”
“Why, so you did; I’d forgotten about that.” And then there was a little pause, while the Sergeant waited for further developments, and while Flutters was meditating how he had best put his case.
“I once heard you say, Sergeant, that your old home was somewhere in Cheshire, and that’s where my father lives. His name is Wainright.”
“Then your name is Wainright, too,” said the Sergeant; “Flutters Wainright, eh?”
“No, Arthur Wainright’s my name. Flutters is a name they gave me in the circus, because I used to be so scared when I first began to have a hand in the tumbling.”
“But look here,” said the Sergeant, in rather gruff, soldier-like fashion, “if you’ve a father and he’s living, why aren’t you living with him ‘stead of being away over here among strangers? Ye’re not a runaway, are ye, Flutters?”
“Yes, I am,” said Flutters, scanning the Sergeant’s face closely to watch the effect of his confession. “I had to do it, Sergeant. I was in the way at home. My mother was a colored lady, but she died in India, and then my father took me to England and married a white lady, and there were some white children and I wasn’t wanted. They used to say I was such a queer, dark little thing.”
“Blest if I blame you, then!” said the Sergeant, whose heart was touched; “but does your father know you’re in good, kind hands. I suppose he cared more for you than the rest of ‘em did?”
“Yes,” said Flutters, “and so I felt I ought to let him know, and I thought perhaps if you didn’t mind, you’d hunt him up when you get over there, and tell him ‘bout me, and how happy I am, and that I send my love.”
“But then he might be sending for you to come back. Have you thought of that, Flutters?”
“Yes, I’ve thought of it, but it isn’t likely, Sergeant. He knows I’m not wanted there; but anyhow, it seems to me I ought to let him know now that I’m so well cared for.”
“That’s so,” said the Sergeant, pausing a moment to give the matter due consideration. “I think you’re right about it, and I’ll hunt your father up just as soon as I can get my furlough and run down to see my relatives in Cheshire.”
“Here’s my father’s name and address,” said Flutters, taking a slip of paper from his pocket, “and when you write to me just direct ‘Flutters,’ care of Captain Boniface. I don’t want them to know about me up there. I just want them to think of me as an ordinary little darkey, and not above any sort of work.”
“That’s very good of you,” replied Sergeant Bellows, tucking the precious little paper under his blue gingham-covered pillow; “not every boy would be so considerate as to think of that, but then it’s a mighty nice berth for you, too. I’d give a good deal myself to live with the Bonifaces.”
“But you are glad to go home, aren’t you?” Flutters asked, with some surprise.
“No doubt I shall be glad to see old England again, but once I’ve seen it that’s all I care for. It’s different with most of the men. Some of them can hardly speak for joy at the thought, and that makes some of the rest of us who haven’t any homes to go to very wretched with—well I guess you’ll have to call it not-any-home-sickness. It’s half what is the matter with me to-day; and Andy there in the next bunk, who lost a wife and baby years ago in England, he’d a sight rather keep his back turned on everything that belongs to it. But there’s no help for it. A soldier had best not have any will of his own, nor any preferences either, if he knows what’s good for him.”
Flutters did not know what reply to make to all this, though feeling very sorry for the old Sergeant, and so he began to button his coat together, and said: “I guess I’d better go now. I hope I haven’t made your headache any worse, Sergeant?”
“Never you fear. It’s done me good to talk with you, Flutters. It was more of a heartache than a headache, you know. I had one of those blue streaks, when a fellow feels he isn’t of any use in the world; but if I can carry a message from you to your father ‘way across the great ocean, I must be of a little use still, so I’ll turn over and go to sleep as a sensible old codger should,” and, suiting the action to the word, Sergeant Bellows rather unceremoniously “turned over” and pulled the gray army blanket half over his head.
“Good-night, then,” said Flutters, rising and taking the candle from the shelf.
“Good-night,” yawned the Sergeant, as though already half asleep. “I’ll be up to the Captain’s in the morning.”
Flutters set the lighted candle back where he had found it, and then made his way out as quietly as possible, and the moonbeams and the quiet once more had the room to themselves; and, unless thoughts were too active or hearts too heavy, there was no reason why Andy and the Sergeant should not have dropped off into the soundest of naps, at any rate, until the rest of the men should turn in an hour or two later, when there would, no doubt, be noise enough to wake the best of sleepers.