Isn’t that one of the children

That evening Dr. and Mrs. Wentworth dined alone. This was quite an
unusual occurrence, for their circle of friends was large and they were
exceedingly hospitable. As there was nobody to entertain after dinner
Mrs. Wentworth went and sat in her husband’s study and “relaxed her mind
over a book,” while he wrote some of the innumerable and inevitable
letters that fall to the lot of every headmaster. The answers to
parental missives were generally submitted to Mrs. Wentworth’s
criticism, and she insisted upon his softening the asperities occasioned
by their frequent ineptness. Dr. Wentworth did not suffer fools gladly,
but his wife regarded such things from the maternal standpoint;
consequently the headmaster of Hamchester got credit for a sympathetic
attitude he by no means deserved.

At that moment he was dealing with the case of one Pinner, an extremely
stupid boy of seventeen in a low form, whose mother wrote saying she
would like him to begin at once to specialise with a view to entering
the Indian Civil Service later on.

Suddenly Mrs. Wentworth laid down her book and sat listening.

“Isn’t that one of the children?” she asked.

Dr. Wentworth, deep in the demolition of Pinner’s prospects, did not
answer.

“I’m sure it’s one of the children,” Mrs. Wentworth repeated, and
hastened upstairs.

Dismal wails smote upon her ear as she neared the night nurseries, and
she found Punch sitting up in bed flushed and tearful, and not to be
pacified by his devoted nurse who was standing by his cot alternately
soothing and remonstrating.

“Hush, Punch! you’ll wake Pris and Prue in the next room. What is the
matter? Did you have a bad dream? Were you frightened?”

“No,” Punch proclaimed in a muffled sort of roar, “I’m not fitened, but
I can’t sleep because she won’t sing Kevin. I can’t mimember it and I
can’t sleep. Oh, do sing Kevin.”

“I don’t know what he means, mum,” nurse exclaimed distractedly. “Is it
a hymn, do you think?”

“No,” bawled Punch indignantly; “t’int a hymn. Oh, do sing Kevin,” he
wailed, standing up in his cot with his arms round his mother’s neck and
his hot, tear-stained little face pressed against hers.

“But, Punch, dear, what is Kevin? Of course I’ll sing it if you’ll only
explain.”

“But you can’t,” lamented Punch; and inconsequent as inconsolable he
reiterated, “Oh, do sing Kevin.”

“But who can sing this song?” Mrs. Wentworth asked. “Where have you
heard it?”

“Lallie singed it. Oh, do get Lallie. Lallie knows Kevin.”

“I can’t get Lallie to come and sing for you in the middle of the night.
You mustn’t be unreasonable. You must wait until next time you see
her–perhaps to-morrow–then you can ask her to sing for you.”

“T’int the miggle of the night,” Punch retorted scornfully, “or you’d be
wearing a nighty gown. Please, dear mudger, get Lallie, ven she’ll sing
Kevin and I’ll go to sleep.”

Mrs. Wentworth and the nurse exchanged glances across the cot.

“’Tis but a step across the playground to B. House,” the nurse said in a
low voice. “I know the young lady would pop over. He’s been goin’ on
like this for over an hour.”

Punch had ceased to wail; now he loosed his arms from about his mother’s
neck, sat back on his pillow, and looked from one to the other of the
anxious faces on either side of him.

“He’s such a obstinate boy,” she murmured. “He’ll never give up wanting
it, and she can sing Kevin.”

Mrs. Wentworth tried hard to look stern.

“Daddie wouldn’t like it; and what would Lallie think to be fetched out
at this time of night to sing to a tiresome little boy who ought to have
been asleep hours ago.”

Punch screwed up his face and prepared to wail again, but caught his
breath and stopped in the middle of the first note to listen to his
adoring nurse as she suggested in a whisper:

“I’ll pop over for her, mum, and she’ll be here directly. I’m quite
worried about him. It seems to have got on his nerves; he’s so
feverish.”

Mrs. Wentworth felt one of the hot little hands and stroked his damp
hair back from his forehead. Punch stared unblinkingly at her, and
repeated mournfully:

“He’s fevish, very fevish; but,” more hopefully, “he won’t be if
Lallie’s feshed, ’cos then she’ll sing Kevin.”

“I know Daddie would disapprove,” Mrs. Wentworth said weakly; “and,
Nana, imagine what people will say. What will Miss Foster think?”

“I’m sure the young lady’s not one to go talking,” said Nana stoutly,
“and she so fond of Master Punch and all. And he really has been
frettin’ something dreadful, and we none of us can sing that outlandish
song; and you know how he keeps on, mum.”

“Nobody knows it but Lallie,” Punch repeated. “Lallie can sing Kevin.
Oh, do sing Kevin.”

Mrs. Wentworth nodded to the nurse, who departed hastily.

Punch sat on his pillow, wide-eyed and wakeful, with flushed round face
and tired, unblinking eyes.

“Would you like to come and sit on my knee in the day nursery for a bit,
Sonnie? Then perhaps you’ll feel sleepy. I’ll sing you anything you
like.”

“I’ll come and sit on your knee till Lallie comes, then she’ll sing
Kevin. I don’t want no other song.”

“How do you know Lallie will come? She may be dining out; she may not
be there.”

“I fought you said it was the miggle of the night,” Punch said sternly.
“If it is she’ll be back again.”

“It is the middle of the night for little boys.”

“But not for Lallie; I fink she’ll come.”

Mrs. Wentworth arrayed him in his blue dressing-gown and carried him
into the big day nursery. She sat down in a low chair in front of the
fire, with Punch warm and cuddlesome on her knee snuggled against her
shoulder. He lay quite still in her arms, staring at the red glow
through the bars of the high nursery fender.

“Do you think that little boys who wear beautiful pyjama suits just like
their daddie’s, ought to wake up and cry in the night?” Mrs. Wentworth
inquired dreamily, her chin resting on the top of Punch’s head, her eyes
fixed on the fire.

“I fink I could sleep till Lallie comes,” Punch announced in
particularly wide-awake tones. “Hush!”

For nearly ten minutes they sat still and silent, then Punch suddenly
gave a little wriggle and sat up on his mother’s knee, stiff and
expectant: every nerve tingling, every muscle taut.




“I fink I hear Lallie,” he cried excitedly.

There was a swish and _frou-frou_ of skirts in the passage outside as
Lallie, followed by the triumphant Nana, came swiftly into the room.
She flung her heavy cloak on a chair, and ran across and knelt by Mrs.
Wentworth, exclaiming:

“How dear of you to send! I do so sympathise with Punch; I nearly go
crazy if I half remember a tune and there’s no way of getting the rest
of it.”

“T’int the chune; it’s it all,” said Punch magisterially. “Now you can
sing Kevin.”

“But do you know what he means?” Mrs. Wentworth asked.

“I should think I do. Oh, might I hold him? It’s a longish song.”

She was dressed in a little straight white silk dress embroidered with
green, and her favourite green ribbon was threaded through her hair.
Slender arms and neck were bare, and her cheeks flushed with her run
across the playground in the cold air. She might have been Deirdre
herself, product of sun and dew and woodland moss, so fresh and
sparkling was she. Punch held out his arms to her.

“I knowed you’d come,” he cried triumphantly; “an’ you wouldn’t be in
bed, nor out, nor nuffin’ like they said. I knowed you’d come.”

Mrs. Wentworth gave Lallie her chair, and then Punch to cuddle, and
forthwith Lallie burst into a rollicking tune and the legend:

“As Saint Kevin was a wanderin’ by the shores of Glendalough,
He met one King O’Toole and he axed him for a schough;
Says the King, ’You are a sthranger and your face I’ve never
seen,
But if you’ve got a bit of weed I’ll lend you my dhudeen!”

To Punch the whole thing was vivid as an experience. He saw as in a
vision the wind-swept shores of Glendalough. The only “lough” he had
ever really seen was an ornamental lake in the town gardens, but Lallie
had told him that King O’Toole’s lough was a hundred times as big as
that, so Punch pictured something very vast indeed. She had not
explained what “schough” was and he had not asked, for he concluded it
was some kind of bonfire from the context.

“As the Saint was lighting up the fire the monarch heaved a
sigh.
’Is there anyt’ing the matter,’ says the Saint, ’that makes you
cry?’
Says the King, ’I had a ghander as was left me by my mother,
An’ this mornin’ he turned up his toes with some disase or
other.’”

So Punch pictured a bonfire that crackled like those the gardner made
with rubbish in the kitchen garden. The saint agrees to cure the
ghander on condition that should the bird recover, he shall receive

“the bit o’ land the ghander will fly round.”

“’Faix I will and very welcome,’ says the King, ’give what you ask,’ and
departs forthwith to the palace to fetch the “burd.”

“So the Saint then tuk the ghander from the arrums of the King,
And first began to twig his beak and then to stretch his wing.
He cushed the bird into the air! he flew thirty miles around,
Says the Saint, ’I’ll thank yer Majesty for that little thaste
of ground!’”

But the king was in no mind to part with such a large slice of his
property, and he called his “six big sons” to heave St. Kevin in a
ditch.

“’Nabocklish,’ says the saint, ’I’ll soon finish them young urchins,’
and he forthwith transformed King O’Toole and his sons into the Seven
Churches of Glendalough.

Meanwhile Dr. Wentworth had finished his letter to Pinner’s mother, and
longed to read it to his wife, for he felt that the pill of truth was
gilded with charity in quite angelic fashion, and he thirsted for her
appreciation and applause. Minutes passed, and still she did not come.
The house was very quiet and he felt sure she must have been mistaken
about the children, and wondered what on earth she could be doing; then
suddenly, into the silence, there floated a voice uplifted in most
cheerful song: a melody that set the head nodding and the heels
drumming.

Not for one instant did Dr. Wentworth even wonder as to the owner of the
voice. No one who had heard Lallie sing once could fail to recognise
her singing when he heard it again. The siren song drew him from his
letters and up the stairs to the half-open door of the nursery, and
there he stood watching the pretty picture by the fire.

Punch, majestic and satisfied at last, sat bolt upright on Lallie’s
knee. Her arms were round him; but she leant back in her chair that she
might the better watch his serious baby face. Mrs. Wentworth and nurse
stood on the other side of the hearth, both absorbed in adoring
contemplation of the small figure in the blue dressing-gown. Neither of
them saw the doctor, but Lallie did, and gave him a merry nod of
greeting.

“An’ if ye go there any day at the hour of one o’clock,
You’ll see the ghander flyin’ round the Lake of Glendalough.”

The song ceased, and Punch turned himself to look earnestly in Lallie’s
face, demanding:

“Have you seen him?”

“Well, no, I can’t say I have, but then I’ve never been there just at
that time.”

“Sing it again,” Punch suggested sweetly.

“NO, NO, NO,” Mrs. Wentworth cried sternly; “Punch must go to bed this
instant.”

“I said I would if she singed it, an’ I will,” said Punch. “Lallie can
carry me.”

“NO, NO, NO,” said another voice, and Punch’s father came into the room.
“You’re far too heavy for Miss Lallie, I’ll take you; but I’d like to
know what you mean by being awake at this hour, and how you manage to
get young ladies to sing for you?”

“I came over,” Lallie replied hastily; “I was lonely and he was awake,
and worrying because no one could sing St. Kevin, so I sang it, and I
have enjoyed myself so much, but I must fly back now. Good-night, you
darling Punch.”

Dr. Wentworth escorted Lallie back to B. House, and to this day does not
know that she was “feshed.” Neither did Miss Foster, for she was
upstairs discussing the probability of an outbreak of chicken-pox with
Matron when Lallie was “feshed”; and finding the drawing-room untenanted
on her return, concluded that Lallie had gone to bed, and went herself
in something of a huff. It was one thing for her to leave Lallie for
the whole evening, but it was quite another matter for Lallie to retire
without bidding her a ceremonious good-night. Lallie crept in at the
side door–Ford had left it unbolted for her–and went upstairs by the
back staircase.

Punch, warm and soft, with that indescribably delicious perfume of clean
flannel and violet powder that pervades cherished infancy, had filled
her heart with charity and loving-kindness towards all the world.

“I was a pig about the stairs,” she said to herself; “I’ll use these for
the future. Perhaps if I try to be less tiresome she’ll not dislike me
so much. Oh, dear, why is it so easy to do what some people want? Now
if Mrs. Wentworth asked me to climb up a ladder every time I went to my
room I’d do it joyfully, and poor Miss Foster asks me to use a good
wooden staircase when it’s a dirty day and it seems utterly impossible
to do it. I’ll really try and be nice to her–but she won’t let me.
Never mind, I can but try.”