JANE-ANNE SWEARS FEALTY

“Minds lead each other in contrary directions, traverse each other in
numberless points, and at last greet each other at the journey’s end.
An old man and a child would talk together; and the old man be led on
his path and the child left thinking.” JOHN KEATS.
Jane-Anne had managed to get an exceedingly bad cold. To run on wet
grass in stockings, if one wears the stockings all the evening
afterwards, is not a wise proceeding for a delicate person. And when,
the next day, she went to keep her tryst with Edmund, she knew very well
that her lung was at its old tricks again; and that, had she been “at
the Bainbridge,” matron would have sent for the doctor. He would have
listened at her back with his funny indiarubber tube, and would then
have muttered something mysterious about “crepitation.”
Jane-Anne had her own idea of “crepitation,” which she abbreviated to
“the creppits.” She always pictured this unfortunate lung as a bent and
aged person sidling along “with legs that went tap-lapperty like men
that fear to fall.”
It was tiresome that lung; for whenever it began its tap-lapperty
entertainment she felt so ill. Her head ached and her legs seemed to
weigh tons; her throat was hot and painful, and something seemed to
flutter in the palms of her hands like an imprisoned bird.
More dead than alive she crawled back from her meeting with the princess
to the stuffy little house “down in St. Clement’s” that her aunt shared
with Miss Morecraft, knowing full well that bed would be her portion
directly anyone noticed how ill she looked.
Miss Morecraft, a dressmaker of severely respectable and melancholy
temperament, was not observant, and it happened that just then she was
very busy, as her customers were nearly all servants, and a new dress at
Whitsuntide is a matter of sacred ritual in that class.
She did, it is true, remark that Jane-Anne was “a dainty feeder” when
the child left her dinner almost untasted, but she did not “hold with
pampering children,” and having eaten her own dinner with considerable
relish, went back to her work, having pressed Jane-Anne into the service
to do some basting.
It was not till the child nearly fainted during the afternoon that Miss
Morecraft awoke to the fact that Jane-Anne was really ill. She was
quite kind-hearted, and was rather shocked that she should have made the
child sew when she was evidently unfit for any effort of the kind. She
put her to bed, made her a cup of tea, and persuaded the milkman to call
and tell Mrs. Dew how matters were.
During the evening, Mrs. Dew “popped round,” took Jane-Anne’s
temperature, rubbed her with liniment, scolded her well, kissed her and
tucked her up in bed, and left her unaccountably cheered and comforted.
Next morning a strange, new doctor came. He, too, listened at
Jane-Anne’s back with his funny double telephone. He, too, shook his
head and murmured something about crepitation and congestion, just like
the doctor at “Bainbridge’s.”
“Shall I be able to go back to school?” Jane-Anne croaked eagerly. She
was hoarse as a raven.
“When does school begin?” asked the doctor.
“It starts on the 5th of May. I have to go up on the 4th. It’s such a
long way.”
“And this is the 29th of April. No, certainly you won’t. You won’t be
fit for school for another fortnight, if then. Are you sorry?”
“No,” said Jane-Anne candidly, “_I_’m not sorry, but Aunt Martha’ll be
very sorry.”
The doctor laughed. “Well, you must do your best to get well, that’s
all; but it’s no use your going anywhere till that lung has ceased
crackling.”
Miss Morecraft was far too busy to attend to Jane-Anne herself, and Mrs.
Dew, recklessly extravagant if there was real cause for anxiety where
her sister’s child was concerned, sent in a trained nurse.
The nurse did her duty by Jane-Anne, but considered the post rather
beneath her dignity, and was not interested in the fidgetty little girl
with the large eyes who sent up her temperature in an aggravating way by
getting excited over trifles.
One evening, when the temperature was once more normal, Mrs. Dew
informed Jane-Anne of her arrangement with Mr. Wycherly.
“Shall we really live there? Will it be our very own home—not shared?”
the child demanded with incredulous delight.
“If there’s any sharing it’s Mr. Wycherly what shares his house with
us,” said Mrs. Dew. “I’m to have the cottage for myself, and we get the
housekeeper’s room for a sitting-room.”
“And I shall live in the house with those nice boys?” Jane-Anne went
on—”right in the same house.”
“Yes,” Mrs. Dew said; “but you must remember that you belong to the
kitchen part and there must be no trespassin’. It would never do for
you to be playin’ with the young gentlemen like you was one of
theirselves. You must understand that from the very first. Not but
what they’re very kind young gentlemen, and have ast after you over and
over again, an’ Mr. Wycherly likewise. Master Edmund, he wants to come
and see you before he goes back to school.”
“Oh, Aunt Martha, do let him. I should love it so. I promise I won’t
go up, I’ll stay normal, I truly will.”
“That I don’t believe for one minute, Jane-Anne; why, if I was to take
your temperature now—only I’m not going to—I know it’d be over a
hundred, with you so pink and all. No, I don’t hold with Master Edmund
coming to see you here. I’ve never been really wrop up in this
place—too many threads and snippets about for my fancy an’ a smell like
a draper’s shop all day long. I’ve no wish as Master Edmund should see
you here—. Now don’t you go cryin’ out before you’re hurt. Wait till I
can tell you——”
“Oh, aunt, what—do be quick.”
“The doctor says that seein’ the weather’s so good, you can be moved any
time now provided you go straight to bed when you get there——”
“And you’re going to move me—oh, Aunt Martha, how lovelly—to-day?”
“No, not to-day, but to-morrow, nurse’ll bring you in a fly. And you
must promise to keep calm and not go bouncin’ and exclaimin’ and runnin’
up to a hundred over nothing at all.”
“Aunt Martha, I’ll behave like a stucky-image,” Jane-Anne protested.
“You’re more like a Jack-in-the-box than any image I’ve ever come
across, but I do think it’ll be better for me to have you where I can
see to your food my own self. I don’t seem to have no faith in that
nurse’s beef-tea nor ’er arraroot—lumpy stuff what I saw. An’ if you’re
to be got strong enough to go back to the Bainbridge in the next three
weeks (I don’t know how they ’ll take this fresh worriment) you must be
fed up. So now you know. You’re to get up for your tea and go back to
bed directly after, and you’re to keep quiet and not get into a fantique
nor go makin’ a palladum all about nothin’. Do you hear me, Jane-Anne?”
“Yes, Aunt Martha, but I think fantiques and palladums must be lovelly
things; they sound so, and I long to make them, only I don’t know how.”
“It strikes me it’s little else you’ll ever make. Now lie down in bed
for I must run. Most considerate the master’s been, letting me come off
at all times to see you, and I hope you’ll remember it and try and make
yourself useful when you get about again. Good-bye, child, and we
shan’t be separated much longer for which I thank the Lord as made us
both.”
It marked a change in Mrs. Dew’s attitude towards the household in
Holywell that she spoke of Mr. Wycherly as “the master.” It suggested a
permanence in their relations which would have been very reassuring to
him had he heard it. Jane-Anne, too, noticed the phrase, and when her
aunt was gone gleefully repeated to herself:
“See-saw Margery Daw,
Jenny shall have a new master,
She shall have but a penny a day
Because she can work no faster.”
“It’s not Jenny really, it’s Johnny, but Jenny does as well, and I’ll
work without the penny,” thought Jane-Anne, “if only that beautiful old
gentleman will be my master too.”
Edmund had elected to take his guardian for a walk before tea, and led
him over Magdalen bridge, out into the Cowley Road, and finally into
Jeune Street.
“Why are you taking me this way?” Mr. Wycherly asked. “It does not
appear to me to be a particularly agreeable neighbourhood.”
“It isn’t,” Edmund frankly agreed, “but now we’re here we may as well
look in and see Jane-Anne; she’s to sit up a bit this afternoon, Mrs.
Dew said so, and she said I needn’t trouble to go and see her because
she’s coming to us to-morrow, but I think we ought to go, you know,
especially as we’re here. You haven’t seen her, and she’ll like coming
better if she’s seen you.”
“Edmund,” said Mr. Wycherly, stopping in the middle of the road,
“acknowledge that you have brought me here with the deliberate intention
of visiting Mrs. Dew’s niece.”
“Well, Guardie, I _did_ think of it. Don’t you think it’s the proper
thing to do?”
By this time they had reached the door, whereupon Edmund knocked loudly
without waiting for further discussion.
Miss Morecraft was much flustered.
“Yes, they could see the little girl if they didn’t mind coming
upstairs. She had just been got up and the nurse had gone out for a
breath of fresh air. Very warm for the time of year wasn’t it.”
Miss Morecraft opened the bedroom door, and without any announcement
squeezed herself against the outer wall that Mr. Wycherly might enter.
Jane-Anne was seated in an armchair at the window looking frail as a
sigh. She wore a bright pink flannelette dressing-gown which
accentuated her pallor. She loved this garment dearly, for dressing
growns were not included in the uniform of “The Bainbridge.” Most of
the girls were far too strong and healthy to need them, and Mrs. Dew had
made this for Jane-Anne during one of her many illnesses.
Mr. Wycherly stood in the narrow doorway and the afternoon sun shone in
on him, on his silvery hair and gentle, high-bred face.
“May we come in, my dear?” he asked. “Do you feel well enough to see
us?”
Poor Jane-Anne was too weak to stand up and curtsey. She flushed and
paled, and paled and flushed as she turned her thin, sensitive little
face towards Mr. Wycherly, but there was no mistaking the welcome in her
great eyes, as she whispered: “Please do, sir, I’m so sorry I mayn’t get
up and put a chair for you.”
“I’ll get him a chair,” said Edmund, pushing in under his guardian’s
arm, for the door was very narrow. “I thought I’d show him to you
before you came to-morrow, then you won’t feel strange with any of us.”
There wasn’t much room in that bedroom. The bed took up most of the
floor and there was only one other chair besides Jane-Anne’s, so Edmund
sat on the end of the bed.
“You must make haste and get strong,” Mr. Wycherly said kindly, “and if
this fine weather goes on you’ll be able to sit in the garden and get
plenty of fresh air that way! And when you are able we must see about a
little drive. That ought to be good for you.”
“Oh!” exclaimed Jane-Anne. “Oh! I don’t know how I shall wait till
to-morrow, I want to come so much.”
“Let’s get a cab and take her now,” Edmund suggested; “it would be a
lark, and such a surprise for Mrs. Dew.”
Jane-Anne looked from Edmund to Mr. Wycherly, but saw that the
enchanting proposition found no favour in his eyes.
“We mustn’t do that,” he said, “we haven’t got the doctor’s permission,
and I don’t think Mrs. Dew has got her room ready yet.”
“This bed’s coming for me to-morrow,” Jane-Anne said shyly. “The things
in this room are Aunt’s.”
“You won’t be such a squash in the room you’re going to have,” Edmund
remarked. “It’s not a big room but you’ll be able to get round the
furniture better.”
“It will be so lovelly to have a little room of my own,” Jane-Anne said
softly.
“I hope you will sleep well in it, and get strong,” said Mr. Wycherly.
“And I am sure Mrs. Dew will make it as pretty for you as possible. And
now, my child, we must go. I don’t think you are very fit for visitors
as yet, and we mustn’t tire you. We just looked in to tell you how
welcome you will be to-morrow.”
“We’ve got a bathroom, you know,” Edmund said proudly, anxious to do the
honours of their house. “Hot and cold and a squirty thing for washing
your head, you can use it for the rest of you, too, if you like, but it
makes rather a mess. It’s in the basin really, and we do each other
sometimes. I do like a bathroom, don’t you?”
Jane-Anne murmured her appreciation of that luxury, and Mr. Wycherly
held out his hand to her, and she gave him hers; such a nervous little
hand, so thin and hectic and fluttering: yet it grew still as it lay in
his, and there seemed some subtle contact in its gentle clasp.
The child’s eyes and the old man’s met in a long gaze that asked and
promised much.
The eager, hungry little face grew a thought dim to Mr. Wycherly, it was
so wistful and so wan. Instead of good-bye, he said, “God bless you, my
child, God bless you,” and went out of the room rather quickly.
Edmund’s farewells were longer, and Mr. Wycherly waited patiently for
him in the sunny street. He had gone out so quietly that Miss Morecraft
never heard him.
She heard Edmund, though, and hastened to the door to speed the parting
guest.
Jane-Anne, faint with rapture, lay crumpled up in her chair.
“He looked at me,” she whispered, “he looked at me just like he looked
at him that night when I peeped through the window—just every bit as
kind.
“See-saw Margery Daw,
Jenny has got a new master.”