JANE-ANNE ASSISTS PROVIDENCE

“To be sick is to enjoy monarchial
Prerogatives.” _Elia_.

The doctor was Mrs. Methuen’s doctor, and she had told him something of
Mrs. Dew and his little patient; of how that worthy woman had given up
place after place in the last five years that she might keep “an ’ome”
for her orphaned niece; of how Jane-Anne was born in Athens and brought
to London when she was a baby; of the modest, beautiful lady’s maid, her
mother, and the brilliant irresponsible young journalist, her father, so
that he felt a kindly interest in his excitable little patient, and was
sympathetically glad that “an ’ome” had been found for aunt and niece
that seemed to promise rooted comfort and stability for both of them.

Therefore, when, on the morning fixed for Jane-Anne’s removal to
Holywell, he came to sanction or forbid that removal, he refrained from
taking her temperature and said that the child could go.

Whereupon Jane-Anne’s strength was increased tenfold, so that when she
was dressed she walked across the room by herself, and sat in a chair by
the window while the nurse packed her yellow tin trunk.

Then came the great, the tremendous moment when the fly stood before the
door, and the strong young nurse carried her downstairs and placed her
in it, with a cushion for her back and a rug sent by Mr. Wycherly over
her knees.

The drive passed like a brilliant dream. The men were up and the busy
streets were full of bustling life and youthful jollity. Jane-Anne sat
forward in her seat, the wavering colour vivid in her cheeks, and even
the inverted pie-dish could not wholly shadow the bright gaiety of her
eyes. All too soon it was over and they stopped before the archway in
Holywell where Mrs. Dew was waiting to help her niece in at the
side-door.

It seemed a little hard to be hustled up to her aunt’s room and there
and then undressed and put to bed—a tame ending to so thrilling an
experience; but once between the sheets Jane-Anne discovered that she
was unaccountably and extraordinarily tired. She meekly drank the egg
beaten up in warm milk that her aunt brought her, lay back on the
pillow, and at once fell fast asleep.

Since term began Edmund had been exceedingly busy. Never before had he
seen so many young men gathered together.

Hitherto his acquaintance had lain almost exclusively among elderly
persons or boys of his own age. To be sure there were two youngish
masters at his preparatory school, but the mere fact that they were
masters set them on a distant and undesirable plane for Edmund.

But now young men, young men were all around him: in the houses
opposite, on the pavements, in the hitherto so stately and silent
quadrangles, on the river, in the playing fields.

One night as he lay in bed Edmund had heard a great many cabs plying up
and down Holywell, and in the morning this transformation had come to
pass. The tide of youthful life flooded every corner. Even the grave
grey buildings seemed to open sleepy eyes and laugh and wink at one
another in enjoyment of this resistless torrent, and all the inherent
sociability in Edmund’s nature gushed forth to join and mingle in the
jocund stream.

Before three days had passed he had friends in half a dozen colleges.
His method of procedure was quite simple. He sallied forth without
Montagu, who was shy and exclusive and would have died rather than
address a stranger without legitimate cause, and selecting an apparently
amiable and manifestly idle youth, asked him the way somewhere in
broadest Doric. On two occasions he happened to hit upon a
fellow-countryman, and directly he discovered this he spoke in an
ordinary way, and they were friends at once. He generally explained
exhaustively who he was and whence he came, where he lived and the
resources of the establishment in Holywell, and his new-found friends
evidently found his conversation amusing, for they neither snubbed nor
checked his garrulity.

On the day of Jane-Anne’s arrival he had been out all the morning
finding his way about Oxford by the means indicated, and only returned
just as Mrs. Dew was laying luncheon.

“Is Jane-Anne not coming till afternoon?” he asked.

“Jane-Anne’s here, Master Edmund, been here these two hours.”

“Here! and we’ve never been told nor seen her. Where is she?”

“Sound asleep in my bed, she’s that weak—but I don’t believe moving
her’s done her a bit of harm, she’s sleeping like a baby and looks that
contented——”

“Can we go and look at her?” asked Montagu.

“No, sir, please, sir, I’d rather she slep’ as long as she can. She’s
not slep’ much this last week an’ I shall let her be till she wakes.”

“Will you tell us whenever she wakes?” Edmund persisted. “You see, we
go back to school in two days now so we shan’t see very much of her,
’specially if we don’t begin at once.”

“You young gentlemen had better keep on with your own doin’s and never
mind Jane-Anne. She’s got to go to school, too—soon as she’s well
enough,” said Mrs. Dew primly. She set the last spoon and fork
symmetrically in their places and went back to the kitchen to dish up
lunch.

Edmund looked across at Montagu. “I shall stop in this afternoon, and
I’m going to see Jane-Anne,” he whispered obstinately; “she’s in our
house.”

“So’m I,” said Montagu with brief decision.

The bed and “bits of furniture” came from Jeune Street in the afternoon,
and the noise of the men carrying things up the uncarpeted stairs woke
Jane-Anne, who lay for a minute staring at the unfamiliar room and
wondering where she was.

It was a fairly large room with a wide latticed window that overlooked
the stone-cutter’s yard, for the cottage was to the side of the house
and its three windows looked that way. Clean muslin curtains hung at
the window, so that Jane-Anne couldn’t see out except when they moved
with the breeze. The ceiling was low and an oak beam crossed it. Most
of the rooms in the main part of the house were panelled, but here they
were papered, and the paper was of a cheerful chintzy pattern with
garlands of little pink roses.

The furniture was all of brightly polished mahogany that had been in
Elsa’s room at Remote, and it had that characteristic individual look
only to be found in old furniture well tended by careful hands through
many years.

The Chippendale Talboys had a scroll top with a pedestal in the centre,
and on that pedestal was a little brass owl. The handles had lost their
lacquer with time, but the warm red wood was mirror-like in its
brightness, and in the great “press”—a cupboard in two divisions with
deep sliding shelves—Jane-Anne watched the reflection of the fluttering
curtain with sleepy satisfaction.

She had no idea why she liked these things so much better than the
painted wood that furnished the bedroom in Jeune Street, but she did
like them amazingly, and their presence filled her with such
satisfaction as caused her for a little while to forget how exceedingly
hungry she was.

Presently the door was opened a little way and a fair curly head was
poked through cautiously. Jane-Anne was lying with her back to the
door, and all that was visible of her was a night of black hair
streaming over the quilt and a long slender mound in the bed where her
body lay. She was so still that Edmund thought she was asleep, and was
going away again when something, some tiny sound, caused her to turn
round, and she saw him.

Edmund vanished like a flash and she heard his stentorian voice
proclaiming: “She’s awake, Mrs. Dew; you can bring that chicken.”

Then he returned, and nodding at her in most friendly fashion seated
himself at the end of the bed, remarking:

“What an awful lot of hair you’ve got; isn’t it frightfully hot?”

“I can never keep the ribbons on it in bed. I don’t mind it. I rather
like to be hot.”

The two stared at each other, and Edmund decided that Jane-Anne looked
nicer in bed than when she was up. The soft, shadowy masses of her hair
were infinitely more becoming than the pie-dish. Her forehead was
smooth and placid. There was no deep wrinkle between her black
eyebrows.

“I’m glad you’re here,” said Edmund genially; “but it’s a pity you’re in
bed. You might have done some more fielding if you’d been up.”

“I’m very sorry I can’t run after balls for you, sir,” Jane-Anne said
meekly, “but I can’t be sorry I’m in bed, for if I wasn’t I’d be going
back to the Bainbridge almost at once, and now doctor says I can’t go
for another fortnight.”

“And you’re glad not to go? Why?”

“Because——” said Jane-Anne; but at this moment Mrs. Dew appeared with a
tray. She swept Edmund out of the room, plumped up the invalid’s
pillows, got her into a bed-jacket, and then stood over her while, with
the best will in the world, Jane-Anne did full justice to her dinner.

“What a pretty room this is, Aunt Martha,” she said when she had eaten
the last spoonful of pudding. “What is it makes it so pretty?”

“The things in it is all good,” Mrs. Dew replied, “all old and good; not
at all what’s suited to a servant’s bedroom, if you ask me. But they
was here when I came, an’, of course, it isn’t for me to find fault.
The other things has come, and I’ve got them arranged, but the carpet
couldn’t be nailed down for fear of waking you. They look very
different in a good-sized room to what they did in Jeune Street, I can
tell you. I’m very pleased to see my own things what I’m used to. You
shall have this room, Jane-Anne, while you’re here. I’ll move my
clothes to-morrow and put yours in. If it isn’t Master Edmund again,
and Master Montagu with ’im—I never knew such perseverin’ young
varmints, an’ the times I’ve sent them away. One’d think you was some
sort of a exhibition, that one would. Yes, sirs, you may come in, but
you mustn’t stop long. One’d think as you’d never seen a sick person
before, an’ me not had time so much as to wash her face before you was
back again. What! Mr. Wycherly wants to come and see her after tea?
Well, it’s a great honour, and very kind on his part after going
yesterday and all.”

This time the interview was brief and unsatisfactory, for Mrs. Dew
remained in the room and Montagu, in consequence, was absolutely dumb,
while Jane-Anne was too nervous to do more than mumble negatives or
affirmatives to the innumerable questions asked by the quite
unembarrassed Edmund.

After five minutes of it the boys departed of their own accord.

Jane-Anne slept again from lunch till tea time, and after tea Mr.
Wycherly came to see her.

This time Mrs. Dew did not remain. She set a chair for him and left
them. Jane-Anne was sitting up in bed, arrayed in a white dimity jacket
of Mrs. Dew’s. This garment was voluminous and much too large for its
wearer, so that Jane-Anne’s face and hair seemed to emerge from amidst a
billowy sea of dimity. Her hair was still loose and streamed over the
bed. Mrs. Dew had wanted to plait it up, but Jane-Anne said the thick
plaits hurt her head when she lay down, so her aunt gave way.

“You are looking better, my child,” said Mr. Wycherly.

“I am better, sir; I’m nearly well, I’m afraid.”

“Afraid! but surely you want to be well?”

“I should if I was going to stay here,” Jane-Anne said earnestly. “Sir,
do you think you could stop me going back to the Bainbridge?”

“Stop you,” Mr. Wycherly repeated, much perplexed. “But I thought——”

“I’m sure,” Jane-Anne interrupted eagerly, “if it’s to learn to be a
servant that I’ve got to go back, Aunt could teach me just as
well—better, I think. She can do everything they do there, and do it
nicer than the people that teaches us. She is a good servant, isn’t
she, sir?”

“Your aunt is a quite admirable person,” Mr. Wycherly said gravely, “and
most accomplished in every household art; but from what she told me I
gathered that this school is a very good one, and that it was a great
help to her to have got you into it.”

Jane-Anne’s eager face blanched. “Please, sir,” she whispered, “if I
promise to eat very little and work very hard would you let me stay with
you and aunt?” She clasped her hands and leant forward, devouring Mr.
Wycherly’s face with her great tragic eyes. “Aunt would be very angry
if she knew I’d spoken to you; but you could stop me going if you liked,
and if I go back, I shall die, I know I shall.”

“What is it you dislike so much?” Mr. Wycherly asked.

“All of it, except the lessons, they are lovelly. I can’t seem to do it;
my back aches so, and it’s so cold.”

“But it won’t be cold this time. Summer is almost here.”

“It isn’t the weather, it’s my heart,” cried Jane-Anne; “it’s that
that’s so cold. Nobody cares much about me, they think me odd and
funny. Do you think me odd and funny, sir?”

Mr. Wycherly certainly did, but he laid one of his beautiful old hands
on Jane-Anne’s, saying gently, “I think that as yet you are not very
strong, and I am quite sure that it is bad for you to worry about going
back. You can’t possibly go back for another fortnight, your aunt said
so, and—who knows——?”

Mr. Wycherly had not intended to say this last at all. It was most
unwise and misleading, but the brown eyes held his and compelled him to
give them comfort. He tried to patch up his mistake by saying, in a
matter of fact tone: “Suppose Montagu or Edmund begged me not to send
him back to school, what should I do? Because, you see, I know that
school is the best place for them—though for me the sun sets and never
rises till they come back. We all have to do things we don’t like.”

“But they like school—they told me so.”

“You probably would like it, too, if you made up your mind to do so.”

“I’ve tried so hard, sir. I really have. Your young gentlemen don’t
have to wear horrid clothes at their school; you don’t know how dismal
it is. I believe if I might live here with you and aunt I’d never have
the creppits any more; I’d be so warm and happy in my heart.”

“Well, you must keep on being warm and happy, and get strong and
merry—and then—we’ll see what can be done.”

Oh, weak, soft-hearted Mr. Wycherly! Against his will, against his
better judgment, the words slipped out.

Jane-Anne, white but radiant, lay back exhausted on her pillows. Mr.
Wycherly stood up to go. “Promise me,” he said, “that you won’t worry,
that you will eat and sleep as much as you can, that you will do
everything that your good aunt and the doctor bid you, and that you will
try to be happy and at home.”

Jane-Anne sat forward again. “Mr. Wycherly, sir,” she said
breathlessly, “you won’t forget, you will try and make aunt keep me? Oh,
I have cried and cried, and prayed and prayed, and I don’t think God can
expect much more of a little girl like me, do you?”

“Crying is absolutely forbidden. You must promise me that you won’t cry
any more.”

“I promise,” she said meekly, and lay back on her pillows again. “But
you, too; you won’t forget?”

“I certainly shall not forget. Now I must really go.”

He had reached the door, when an imperative cry from the bed stopped
him.

“You haven’t said it.”

“Said what?” and Mr. Wycherly trembled lest she should force him to
swear then and there that she should not go back to the Bainbridge.

“What you said yesterday afternoon. Please say it, and then perhaps He
will.”

“God bless you, my child,” Mr. Wycherly mumbled, much embarrassed.

As he made his way through the housekeeper’s room to his own part of the
house he reflected that Mrs. Dew was certainly right when she described
her niece as “making a stir.” She had assuredly stirred his heart to a
quite painful extent. He was moved and perturbed and puzzled as he had
not been for many a long day, and through all his pondering there
sounded Sterne’s words to the imprisoned starling: “_’God help thee—but
I’ll let thee out, cost what it will.’_”