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Poor Tom bore his severe pain like a hero, but there was a terrible dread weighing on his mind—so terrible that he dared not ask the question which might bring the fatal "yes"—he dared not ask the surgeon or Mr. Stelling, "Shall I be lame, sir?"
It had not occurred to either of these gentlemen to set the lad's mind at rest with hopeful words. But Philip watched the surgeon out of the house, and waylaid Mr. Stelling to ask the very question that Tom had not dared to ask for himself.
"I beg your pardon, sir, but does Mr. Askern say Tulliver will be lame?"
"Oh no, oh no," said Mr. Stelling; "only for a little while."
"Did he tell Tulliver so, sir, do you think?"
"No; nothing was said to him on the subject."
"Then I may go and tell him, sir?"
"Yes, to be sure. Now you mention it, I dare say he may be troubling about that. Go to his bedroom, but be very quiet."
It had been Philip's first thought when he heard of the accident, "Will Tulliver be lame? It will be very hard for him if he is." And Tom's offences against himself were all washed out by that pity.
"Mr. Askern says you'll soon be all right again, Tulliver; did you know?" he said, rather timidly, as he stepped gently up to Tom's bed. "I've just been to ask Mr. Stelling, and he says you'll walk as well as ever again, by-and-by."
Tom looked up with that stopping of the breath which comes with a sudden joy; then he gave a long sigh, and turned his blue-gray eyes straight on Philip's face, as he had not done for a fortnight or more. As for Maggie, the bare idea of Tom's being always lame overcame her, and she clung to him and cried afresh.
"Don't be a little silly, Magsie," said Tom tenderly, feeling very brave now. "I shall soon get well."
"Good-bye, Tulliver," said Philip, putting out his small, delicate hand, which Tom clasped with his strong fingers.
"I say," said Tom, "ask Mr. Stelling to let you come and sit with me sometimes, till I get up again, Wakem, and tell me about Robert Bruce, you know."
After that Philip spent all his time out of lesson hours with Tom and Maggie. Tom liked to hear fighting stories as much as ever; but he said he was sure that those great fighters, who did so many wonderful things and came off unhurt, wore excellent armour from head to foot, which made fighting easy work.
One day, soon after Philip had been to visit Tom, he and Maggie were in the study alone together while Tom's foot was being dressed. Philip was at his books, and Maggie went and leaned on the table near him to see what he was doing; for they were quite old friends now, and perfectly at home with each other.
"What are you reading about in Greek?" she said. "It's poetry; I can see that, because the lines are so short."
"It's about the lame man I was telling you of yesterday," he answered, resting his head on his hand, and looking at her as if he were not at all sorry to stop. Maggie continued to lean forward, resting on her arms, while her dark eyes got more and more fixed and vacant, as if she had quite forgotten Philip and his book.
"Maggie," said Philip, after a minute or two, still leaning on his elbow and looking at her, "if you had had a brother like me, do you think you should have loved him as well as Tom?"
Maggie started a little and said, "What?" Philip repeated his question.
"Oh yes—better," she answered immediately. "No, not better, because I don't think I could love you better than Tom; but I should be so sorry—so sorry for you."
Philip coloured. Maggie, young as she was, felt her mistake. Hitherto she had behaved as if she were quite unconscious of Philip's deformity.
"But you are so very clever, Philip, and you can play and sing," she added quickly. "I wish you were my brother. I'm very fond of you. And you would stay at home with me when Tom went out, and you would teach me everything, wouldn't you—Greek, and everything?"
"But you'll go away soon, and go to school, Maggie," said Philip, "and then you'll forget all about me, and not care for me any more. And then I shall see you when you're grown up, and you'll hardly take any notice of me."
"Oh no, I shan't forget you, I'm sure," said Maggie, shaking her head very seriously. "I never forget anything, and I think about everybody when I'm away from them. I think about poor Yap. He's got a lump in his throat, and Luke says he'll die. Only don't you tell Tom, because it will vex him so. You never saw Yap. He's a queer little dog; nobody cares about him but Tom and me."
"Do you care as much about me as you do about Yap, Maggie?" said Philip, smiling rather sadly.
"Oh yes, I should think so," said Maggie, laughing.
"I'm very fond of you, Maggie; I shall never forget you," said Philip. "And when I'm very unhappy, I shall always think of you, and wish I had a sister with dark eyes, just like yours."
"Why do you like my eyes?" said Maggie, well pleased. She had never heard of any one but her father speak of her eyes as if they had merit.
"I don't know," said Philip. "They're not like any other eyes. They seem trying to speak—trying to speak kindly. I don't like other people to look at me much, but I like you to look at me, Maggie."
"Why, I think you're fonder of me than Tom is," said Maggie. Then, wondering how she could convince Philip that she could like him just as well, although he was crooked, she said,—
"Should you like me to kiss you, as I do Tom? I will, if you like."
"Yes, very much. Nobody kisses me."
Maggie put her arm round his neck and kissed him.
"There now," she said; "I shall always remember you, and kiss you when I see you again, if it's ever so long. But I'll go now, because I think Mr. Askern's done with Tom's foot."
When their father came the second time, Maggie said to him, "O father, Philip Wakem is so very good to Tom; he is such a clever boy, and I do love him.—And you love him too, Tom, don't you? Say you love him," she added entreatingly.
Tom coloured a little as he looked at his father, and said, "I shan't be friends with him when I leave school, father. But we've made it up now, since my foot has been bad; and he's taught me to play at draughts, and I can beat him."
"Well, well," said Mr. Tulliver, "if he's good to you, try and make him amends and be good to him. He's a poor crooked creatur, and takes after his dead mother. But don't you be getting too thick with him; he's got his father's blood in him too."
By the time Tom had reached his last quarter at King's Lorton the years had made striking changes in him. He was a tall youth now, and wore his tail-coat and his stand-up collars. Maggie, too, was tall now, with braided and coiled hair. She was almost as tall as Tom, though she was only thirteen; and she really looked older than he did.
At last the day came when Tom was to say good-bye to his tutor, and Maggie came over to King's Lorton to fetch him home. Mr. Stelling put his hand on Tom's shoulder, and said, "God bless you, my boy; let me know how you get on." Then he pressed Maggie's hand; but there were no audible good-byes. Tom had so often thought how joyful he should be the day he left school "for good." And now that the great event had come, his school years seemed like a holiday that had come to an end.
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