Tarrant had got scarlet-fever, and very badly too.
He was removed to the fever hospital on Friday, and by Sunday morning it
looked as though things would go hardly with Tarrant. There were
complications, and the boy seemed to have no power, either mental or
physical, to resist the disease.
So ill was he that the Principal went to see him after morning chapel.
Tarrant was quite conscious, and made whispered, suitable answers to Dr.
Wentworth’s kind and serious remarks.
“Keep your heart up,” said the Principal just before he left; “remember
that we are all thinking about you and praying that you may get well.”
“Did they pray for me in chapel?” Tarrant asked.
On being assured that this was so, the boy turned his face to the wall,
feeling that all was over for him. Like a good many older folk who
ought to know better, Tarrant thought that to be prayed for in public
proved that the case was indeed desperate.
He had been prayed for in chapel!
Only people who were very ill, who were going to die, were ever prayed
for in chapel. Chaps had told him so.
There was a chap died in the Easter term, and he’d been prayed for in
chapel for a fortnight.
Tarrant was too weak to be much upset. It was a footling thing to do,
to die in one’s first term, but it couldn’t be helped. Rotten luck
though! Old Bruiser would be awfully cut up. Fellows had told him how
cut up old Nick was when that chap died in his house, and Bruiser was a
jolly sight decenter than old Nick.
What ought a chap to think about when he was dying? Religion and that,
he supposed. He tried to remember a hymn, but the only hymns that really
appealed to Tarrant were those with “_ff_.” against several of the
verses, when the Coll. all sang at the tops of their voices and nearly
lifted the roof off the chapel. And somehow he didn’t feel very jubilant
Again he tried to think of something soothing and suitable, but the only
thing he could remember was a bit of a French exercise–“The nature of
Frederick William was harsh and bad.” And this he found himself saying
over and over again.
The kind nurse bent down to hear what he was muttering, but all she
could catch was “harsh and bad,” and she wondered if he had been bullied
in B. House.
From the nature of Frederick William, Tarrant’s wandering thoughts
turned to Germs.
What a stew old Germs would be in!
She was kind though; he remembered that with dreamy gratitude. She
hated chaps to be ill, and did her level best to make them comfortable.
All the house said that. But my aunt! she was afraid of infection, and
fever was awfully infectious. Now Dr. Wentworth wasn’t afraid, and he
had kids. Bruiser wasn’t afraid either; but you wouldn’t expect Bruiser
to be afraid of things. He had a comfortable big hand, had Bruiser.
Tarrant wasn’t capable of wishing for much, but he rather wished Bruiser
could have stayed. He felt less like floating away into space when
Bruiser held him.
What was it Bruiser had said?
“You must buck up, you know. Think of your father and mother in India,
how worried they’ll be.”
Poor mater, it would be a bad knock for her. The pater, too, he’d been
at the good old Coll.–his name was up in the big Modern.
Tarrant supposed the chaps would subscribe for a wreath. They did for
that other chap. Briggs minor told him. He wondered what sort of a
wreath it would be; he hoped it would be nice and large.
What was that hymn they had in chapel last Sunday evening? Ah, he had
thought of a hymn at last–
“Sweet Saviour, bless us ere we go;
Thy word into our minds instil,
And make our luke-warm hearts to glow
With lowly love and fervent will….”
He wished his heart would have glowed, but somehow it refused to do
anything of the kind.
It had a nice cheerful tune, that hymn, especially the last two lines–
“Through life’s long day and death’s dark night,
O gentle Jesus, be our light.”
Would it be very dark? he wondered. Perhaps for him, seeing his life
had been so short, the gentle Jesus of the hymn might see to it that it
was not so dark as to be frightening…
* * * * *
When Tony Bevan got back from the hospital that afternoon Miss Foster
was waiting for him in the hall. She wore a long travelling-cloak and a
most imposing hat, and she appeared very much upset. Tony’s sad, worn
face did nothing to reassure her.
“He is just slipping away,” he said sadly, as he followed her into the
drawing-room. “There seems no real reason why he should die, but he
seems to have no stamina, and they give very little hope. Everything
has been done. The nurses are most devoted, the doctors have tried
everything. The next few hours will decide it.”
“You will have to manage without me for a day or two,” Miss Foster said
abruptly; “I’m going to that boy. It’s just providential that Miss
Clonmell is out of the house. I’ve put on a cotton dress, which can be
burnt before I leave the hospital, so can everything I wear in his room,
but I’m going. My cab will be here directly. I could never forgive
myself or rest easy another hour if I don’t go and see after that boy
myself. I have no faith in trained nurses, nor much in doctors for the
matter of that. I believe they carry about all sort of horrid microbes
in their clothes. They never change or disinfect or anything. I’ve no
doubt Tarrant rubbed up against some doctor when he was watching
football and caught it from him. I wish all those doctors were
forbidden the field; that I do.”
Miss Foster spoke very crossly, but there was something underlying her
irascible manner suspiciously like tears, and Tony held out his hand to
her, saying in an almost inaudible mumble:
“It’s very good of you. It’s particularly hard for us–the little
chap’s first term, and his people so far away. It will be an
inexpressible comfort to me to think that some kind woman—-”
Tony’s voice gave out, and he turned away just as Ford came in to
announce that Miss Foster’s cab was at the door.
Tarrant dozed and dreamed and then came back to realities with a start;
and the queer light feeling of being suspended in space became so acute
that he plucked at the sheet to assure himself that there was a bed and
that he was lying in it.
A very firm hand closed over his; a smooth hand and soft, but yet with a
purposeful quality about it that seemed to send a little intangible
current of some kind through his arm right to his very brain, so that he
was seized by a quite definite curiosity as to the personality belonging
to the hand.
Lazily he opened his tired eyes and looked along the sheet at the hand
covering his own.
It was white, with particularly well-tended nails: surely, too, the
rings were familiar. He was certain he had seen those rings before, and
had noticed them in the sub-conscious way one does observe such things.
It seemed far too great an effort to raise his eyes so that he could
take in the entire figure that sat beside his bed, so he contented
himself with looking along the sleeve that belonged to the hand–a grey
linen sleeve, and the nurses wore pale blue. Who could this be? With a
mighty effort Tarrant lifted his eyes and at the same moment gasped out
It was a very faint little gasp, and Miss Foster, being unaware of her
nickname among the boys, thought he said something about “terms,” and
concluded that he was worrying about his work, which was indeed the very
last thing that Tarrant was ever concerned about.
She was about to take her hand away, when the hot little hand within it
clutched at it feverishly.
“It’s all right, my dear boy, I’m not going away,” she said gently.
Tarrant opened his eyes wider. If Germs was here he certainly couldn’t
have fever, couldn’t be infectious. No one was so afraid of infection
as old Germs–it was a mania with her. Could the doctors and everybody
have been mistaken? Perhaps he had only a common throat after all. But
it was nasty to feel so queer and light. Yes; Germs was still holding
his hand. Back again came that beastly old sentence about the nature of
Frederick William; he was in French form, and the master said sharply,
“Next word, Tarrant,” and he awoke with a start, staring with large
frightened eyes at Miss Foster, who said:
“Can you hear me, dear boy?”
He made a little inarticulate sound.
“You must rouse yourself,” said Miss Foster. “You mustn’t give in. You
keep a firm hold of me, and never mind French exercises or anything
else. You’ve been dreaming about a French lesson. Now I forbid you to
dream about anything of the kind. You’re to dream about being strong
and well, if you dream at all. But you’d much better just sleep and get
Miss Foster spoke with immense decision, and sat there looking so
portly, and solid, and rational that Tarrant began to wonder if he had
dreamt of the Principal’s visit.
“Was I prayed for in chapel?” he whispered.
“Of course you were,” Miss Foster answered briskly; “that’s why you are
going to get well. Don’t you think about yourself at all, leave that to
“Haven’t I got fever?” Tarrant persisted in his faint husky whisper.
“Of course you have. But that’s no reason to give in. Lots of boys
have had scarlet fever and are running about now, not a jot the worse
for it. But I’m not going to allow you to talk.”
“But why,” gasped Tarrant, “are you here?”
“Because I choose,” Miss Foster replied; “and that’s every single
question I’m going to answer. Be quiet, like a good boy, and think–if
you think at all, but you’d really better not–what you’d like to do
when you’re allowed to sit up.”
“Aren’t you afraid you’ll catch it?” he insisted.
“Good gracious, no! What does the boy take me for? I’m terrified of
infection for the HOUSE–but not for myself. Dear, dear, to think you
could imagine that! Now, not another word.”
There was a sturdy conclusiveness about Miss Foster that was very
reassuring. It was impossible to reflect upon wreaths and funeral
services in College chapel while she sat there looking so robust, and
capable, and determined. It is probable that no one else could have had
quite the same effect upon Tarrant.
It really seemed as though the grip of her firm, capable hand literally
held his frail little barque of life to the shore, in spite of the
strong backward tide that was drawing it out to sea.
He submitted to this new view of his case. He was too weak to argue with
any one. If Germs said he was going to get well he supposed he must be.
Besides, he couldn’t be so awfully infectious, else she wouldn’t be
* * * * *
At midnight Miss Foster called Tony up on the telephone.
“We think he is going to pull through,” was the message. “He needed
cheering up, so it’s just as well I came.”