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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesKennedy Square - Chapter 26
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Kennedy Square - Chapter 26 Post by :beetee Category :Long Stories Author :Francis Hopkinson Smith Date :May 2012 Read :2378

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Kennedy Square - Chapter 26

CHAPTER XXVI

Harry looked about the room in a bewildered way and then tiptoed to St. George's bed. It had been a day of surprises, but this last had completely upset him. St. George dependent on the charity of his old cook and without other attendant than Todd! Why had he been deserted by everybody who loved him? Why was he not at Wesley or Craddock? Why should he be here of all places in the world?

All these thoughts surged through his mind as he stood above the patient and watched his slow, labored breathing. That he had been ill for some time was evident in his emaciated face and the deep hollows into which his closed eyes were sunken.

Aunt Jemima rose and handed the intruder her chair. He sat down noiselessly beside him. Once his uncle coughed, and in the effort drew the coverlet close about his throat, his eyes still shut; but whether from weakness or drowsiness, Harry could not tell. Presently he shifted his body, and moving his head on the pillow, called softly:

"Jemima?"

The old woman bent over him.

"Yes, Marse George."

"Give me a little milk--my throat troubles me."

Harry drew back into the shadow cast over one end of the cot and rear wall by the low lamp on the hearth. Whether to slip his hand gently over his uncle's and declare himself, or whether to wait until he dozed again and return in the morning, when he would be less tired and could better withstand the shock of the meeting, was the question which disturbed him. And yet he could not leave until he satisfied himself of just what ought to be done. If he left him at all it must be for help of some kind. He leaned over and whispered in Jemima's ear:

"Has he had a doctor?"

Jemima shook her head. "He wouldn't hab none; he ain't been clean beat out till day befo' yisterday, an' den I got skeered an'--" She stopped, leaned closer, clapped her hand over her mouth to keep from screaming, and staggered back to her chair.

St. George raised his head from the pillow and stared into the shadows.

"Who is talking? I heard somebody speak? Jemima--you haven't disobeyed me, have you?"

Harry stepped noiselessly to the bedside and laid his fingers on the sick man's wrist:

"Uncle George," he said gently.

Temple lowered his head as if to focus his gaze.

"Yes, there is some one!" he cried in a stronger voice. "Who are you, sir?--not a doctor, are you? I didn't send for you!--I don't want any doctor, I told my servant so. Jemima!--Todd!--why do you--"

Harry tightened his grasp on the emaciated wrist. "No, Uncle George, it's Harry! I'm just back."

"What did he say, Todd? Harry!--Harry! Did he say he was Harry, or am I losing my mind?"

In his eagerness to understand he lifted himself to a sitting posture, his eyes wandering uneasily over the speaker's body, resting on his head--on his shoulders, arms, and hands--as if trying to fix his mind on something which constantly baffled him.

Harry continued to pat his wrist soothingly.

"Yes, it's Harry, Uncle George," he answered. "But don't talk--lie down. I'm all right--I got in yesterday and have been looking for you everywhere. Pawson told me you were at Wesley. I found Todd a few minutes ago by the merest accident, and he brought me here. No, you must lie down--let me help--rest yourself on me--so." He was as tender with him as if he had been his own mother.

The sick man shook himself free--he was stronger than Harry thought. He was convinced now that there was some trick being played upon him--one Jemima in her anxiety had devised.

"How dare you, sir, lie to me like that! Who asked you to come here? Todd--send this fellow from the room!"

Harry drew back out of his uncle's vision and carefully watched the invalid. St. George's mind was evidently unhinged and it would be better not to thwart him.

Todd crept up. He had seen his master like this once before and had had all he could do to keep him in bed.

"Dat ain't no doctor, Marse George," he pleaded, his voice trembling. "Dat's Marse Harry come back agin alive. It's de hair on his face make him look dat way; dat fool me too. It's Marse Harry, fo' sho'--I fotch him yere myse'f. He's jes' come from de big ship."

St. George twisted his head, looked long and earnestly into Harry's face, and with a sudden cry of joy stretched out his hand and motioned him nearer. Harry sank to his knees beside the bed. St. George curved one arm about his neck, drew him tightly to his breast as he would a woman, and fell back upon the pillow with Harry's head next his own. There the two lay still, St. George's eyes half closed, thick sobs stifling his utterance, the tears streaming down his pale cheeks; his thin white fingers caressing the brown hair of the boy he loved. At last, with a heavy, indrawn sigh, not of grief, but of joy, he muttered:

"It's true, isn't it, my son?"

Harry hugged him the tighter in answer.

"And you are home for good?"

Again the pressure. "Yes, but don't talk, you must go to sleep. I won't leave you." His own tears were choking him now.

Then, after a long pause, releasing his grasp: "I did not know how weak I was. ... Maybe I had better not talk. ... Don't stay. Come to-morrow and tell me about it. ... There is no bed for you here ... I am sorry ... but you must go away--you couldn't be comfortable. ... Todd--"

The darky started forward--both he and Aunt Jemima were crying:

"Yes, Marse George."

"Take the lamp and light Mr. Rutter downstairs. To-morrow--to-morrow, Harry. ... My God--think of it!--Harry home! Harry home! My Harry home!" and he turned his face to the wall.

On the way back--first to the stable, where he found that the horse had been properly cared for and his bill ready and then to his lodgings,--Todd told him the story of what had happened: At first his master had firmly intended going to the Eastern Shore--and for a long stay--for he had ordered his own and Todd's trunks packed with everything they both owned in the way of clothes. On the next day, however--the day before the boat left--Mr. Temple had made a visit to Jemima to bid her good-by, where he learned that her white lodger had decamped between suns, leaving two months board unpaid. In the effort to find this man, or compel his employer to pay his bill, out of some wages still due him--in both of which he failed--his master had missed the boat and they were obliged to wait another week. During this interim, not wishing to return to Pawson, and being as he said very comfortable where he was with his two servants to wait upon him, and the place as clean as a pin--his master had moved his own and Todd's trunk from the steamboat warehouse where they had been stored and had had them brought to Jemima's. Two days later--whether from exposure in tramping the streets in his efforts to collect the old woman's bill, or whether the change of lodgings had affected him--he was taken down with a chill and had been in bed ever since. With this situation staring both Jemima and himself in the face--for neither she nor Mr. Temple had much money left--Todd had appealed to Gadgem--(he being the only man in his experience who could always produce a roll of bills when everybody else failed)--who took him to the stableman whose accounts he collected --and who had once bought one of St. George's saddles--and who then and there hired Todd as night attendant. His wages, added to what Jemima could earn over her tubs, had kept the three alive. All this had taken place four weeks or more ago.

None of all this, he assured Harry, had he told Gadgem or anybody else, his master's positive directions being to keep his abode and his condition a secret from everybody. All the collector knew was that Mr. Temple being too poor to take Todd with him, had left him behind to shift for himself until he could send for him. All the neighborhood knew, to quote Todd's own hilarious chuckle, was that "Miss Jemima Johnsing had two mo' boa'ders; one a sick man dat had los' his job an' de udder a yaller nigger who sot up nights watchin' de hosses eat dere haids off."

Since that time his master had had various ups and downs, but although he was still weak he was very much stronger than he had been any time since he had taken to his bed. Only once had he been delirious; then he talked ramblingly about Miss Kate and Marse Harry. This had so scared Aunt Jemima that she had determined to go to Mammy Henny and have her tell Miss Kate, so he could get a doctor--something he had positively forbidden her to do, but he grew so much better the next day that she had given it up; since that time his mind had not again given way. All he wanted now, so Todd concluded, was a good soup and "a drap o' sumpin warmin'--an' he'd pull thu'. But dere warn't no use tryin' ter git him to take it 'cause all he would eat was taters an' corn pone an' milk--an' sich like, 'cause he said dere warn't money 'nough fer de three--" whereupon Todd turned his head away and caught his breath, and then tried to pass it off as an unbidden choke--none of which subterfuges deceived Harry in the least.

When the two arrived off the dimly burning lantern--it was past ten o'clock--and pushed in the door of the Sailors' House, Todd received another shock--one that sent his eyes bulging from his head. That Marse Harry Rutter, who was always a law unto himself, should grow a beard and wear rough clothes, was to be expected--"Dem Rutters was allus dat way--do jes's dey mineter--" but that the most elegant young man of his day "ob de fustest quality," should take up his quarters in a low sailors' retreat, and be looked upon by the men gathered under the swinging lamp around a card table--(some of whom greeted Harry familiarly)--as one of their own kind, completely staggered him.

The pedler was particularly gracious--so much so that when he learned that Harry was leaving for good, and had come to get his belongings--he jumped up and insisted on helping--at which Harry laughed and assented, and as a further mark of his appreciation presented him with the now useless silks, in addition to the money he gave him--an act of generosity which formed the sole topic of conversation in the resort for weeks thereafter.

Board and lodging paid, the procession took up its return march: Harry in front, Todd, still dazed and still at sea as to the meaning of it all, following behind; the pedler between with Harry's heavy coat, blankets, etc.--all purchased since his shipwreck--the party threading the choked-up street until they reached the dingy yard, where the pedler dumped his pack and withdrew, while the darky stowed his load in the basement. This done, the two tiptoed once more up the stairs to where Aunt Jemima awaited them, St. George having fallen asleep.

Beckoning the old woman away from the bedroom door and into the far corner of the small hall, Harry unfolded to her as much of his plans for the next day as he thought she ought to know. Early in the morning --before his uncle was astir--he would betake himself to Kennedy Square; ascertain from Pawson whether his uncle's rooms were still unoccupied, and if such were the case--and St. George be unable to walk--would pick him up bodily, wrap him in blankets, carry him in his own arms downstairs, place him in a carriage, and drive him to his former home where he would again pick him up and lay him in his own bed: This would be better than a hundred doctors--he had tried it himself when he was down with fever and knew. Aunt Jemima was to go ahead and see that these preparations were carried out. Should Alec be able to bring his mother to Kennedy Square in the morning, as he had instructed him to do, then there would indeed be somebody on hand who could nurse him even better than Jemima; should his mother not be there, Jemima would take her place. Nothing of all this, he charged her, was to be told St. George until the hour of departure. To dwell upon the intended move might overexcite him. Then, when everything was ready--his linen, etc., arranged--(Jemima was also to look after this)--he would whisk him off and make him comfortable in his own bed. He would, of course, now that his uncle wished it, keep secret his retreat; although why St. George Wilmot Temple, Esq., or any other gentleman of his standing, should object to being taken care of by his own servants was a thing he could not understand: Pawson, of course, need not know--nor should any outside person--not even Gadgem if he came nosing around. To these he would merely say that Mr. Temple had seen fit to leave home and that Mr. Temple had seen fit to return again: that was quite enough for attorneys and collectors. To all the others he would keep his counsel, until St. George himself made confession, which he was pretty sure he would do at the first opportunity.

This decided upon he bade Jemima good-night, gave her explicit directions to call him, should his uncle awake (her own room opened out of St. George's) spread his blanket in the cramped hall outside the sick man's door--he had not roughed it on shipboard and in the wilderness all these years without knowing something of the soft side of a plank--and throwing his heavy ship's coat over him fell fast asleep.

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