Mother put her head out of the window, and it wasn’t half a minute after that she was in the garden kneeling by the side of Peter, who never for an instant ceased to squeal.
“What happened, Bobbie?” Mother asked.
“It was the rake,” said Phyllis. “Peter was pulling at it, so was Bobbie, and she let go and he went over.”
“Stop that noise, Peter,” said Mother. “Come. Stop at once.”
Peter used up what breath he had left in a last squeal and stopped.
“Now,” said Mother, “are you hurt?”
“If he was really hurt, he wouldn’t make such a fuss,” said Bobbie, still trembling with fury; “he’s not a coward!”
“I think my foot’s broken off, that’s all,” said Peter, huffily, and sat up. Then he turned quite white. Mother put her arm round him.
“He is hurt,” she said; “he’s fainted. Here, Bobbie, sit down and take his head on your lap.”
Then Mother undid Peter’s boots. As she took the right one off, something dripped from his foot on to the ground. It was red blood. And when the stocking came off there were three red wounds in Peter’s foot and ankle, where the teeth of the rake had bitten him, and his foot was covered with red smears.
“Run for water–a basinful,” said Mother, and Phyllis ran. She upset most of the water out of the basin in her haste, and had to fetch more in a jug.
Peter did not open his eyes again till Mother had tied her handkerchief round his foot, and she and Bobbie had carried him in and laid him on the brown wooden settle in the dining-room. By this time Phyllis was halfway to the Doctor’s.
Mother sat by Peter and bathed his foot and talked to him, and Bobbie went out and got tea ready, and put on the kettle.
“It’s all I can do,” she told herself. “Oh, suppose Peter should die, or be a helpless cripple for life, or have to walk with crutches, or wear a boot with a sole like a log of wood!”
She stood by the back door reflecting on these gloomy possibilities, her eyes fixed on the water-butt.
“I wish I’d never been born,” she said, and she said it out loud.
“Why, lawk a mercy, what’s that for?” asked a voice, and Perks stood before her with a wooden trug basket full of green-leaved things and soft, loose earth.
“Oh, it’s you,” she said. “Peter’s hurt his foot with a rake–three great gaping wounds, like soldiers get. And it was partly my fault.”
“That it wasn’t, I’ll go bail,” said Perks. “Doctor seen him?”
“Phyllis has gone for the Doctor.”
“He’ll be all right; you see if he isn’t,” said Perks. “Why, my father’s second cousin had a hay-fork run into him, right into his inside, and he was right as ever in a few weeks, all except his being a bit weak in the head afterwards, and they did say that it was along of his getting a touch of the sun in the hay-field, and not the fork at all. I remember him well. A kind-‘earted chap, but soft, as you might say.”
Bobbie tried to let herself be cheered by this heartening reminiscence.
“Well,” said Perks, “you won’t want to be bothered with gardening just this minute, I dare say. You show me where your garden is, and I’ll pop the bits of stuff in for you. And I’ll hang about, if I may make so free, to see the Doctor as he comes out and hear what he says. You cheer up, Missie. I lay a pound he ain’t hurt, not to speak of.”
But he was. The Doctor came and looked at the foot and bandaged it beautifully, and said that Peter must not put it to the ground for at least a week.
“He won’t be lame, or have to wear crutches or a lump on his foot, will he?” whispered Bobbie, breathlessly, at the door.
“My aunt! No!” said Dr. Forrest; “he’ll be as nimble as ever on his pins in a fortnight. Don’t you worry, little Mother Goose.”
It was when Mother had gone to the gate with the Doctor to take his last instructions and Phyllis was filling the kettle for tea, that Peter and Bobbie found themselves alone.
“He says you won’t be lame or anything,” said Bobbie.
“Oh, course I shan’t, silly,” said Peter, very much relieved all the same.
“Oh, Peter, I am so sorry,” said Bobbie, after a pause.
“That’s all right,” said Peter, gruffly.
“It was all my fault,” said Bobbie.
“Rot,” said Peter.
“If we hadn’t quarrelled, it wouldn’t have happened. I knew it was wrong to quarrel. I wanted to say so, but somehow I couldn’t.”
“Don’t drivel,” said Peter. “I shouldn’t have stopped if you had said it. Not likely. And besides, us rowing hadn’t anything to do with it. I might have caught my foot in the hoe, or taken off my fingers in the chaff-cutting machine or blown my nose off with fireworks. It would have been hurt just the same whether we’d been rowing or not.”
“But I knew it was wrong to quarrel,” said Bobbie, in tears, “and now you’re hurt and–”
“Now look here,” said Peter, firmly, “you just dry up. If you’re not careful, you’ll turn into a beastly little Sunday-school prig, so I tell you.”
“I don’t mean to be a prig. But it’s so hard not to be when you’re really trying to be good.”
(The Gentle Reader may perhaps have suffered from this difficulty.)
“Not it,” said Peter; “it’s a jolly good thing it wasn’t you was hurt. I’m glad it was me. There! If it had been you, you’d have been lying on the sofa looking like a suffering angel and being the light of the anxious household and all that. And I couldn’t have stood it.”
“No, I shouldn’t,” said Bobbie.
“Yes, you would,” said Peter.
“I tell you I shouldn’t.”
“I tell you you would.”
“Oh, children,” said Mother’s voice at the door. “Quarrelling again? Already?”
“We aren’t quarrelling–not really,” said Peter. “I wish you wouldn’t think it’s rows every time we don’t agree!” When Mother had gone out again, Bobbie broke out:–
“Peter, I am sorry you’re hurt. But you are a beast to say I’m a prig.”
“Well,” said Peter unexpectedly, “perhaps I am. You did say I wasn’t a coward, even when you were in such a wax. The only thing is–don’t you be a prig, that’s all. You keep your eyes open and if you feel priggishness coming on just stop in time. See?”
“Yes,” said Bobbie, “I see.”
“Then let’s call it Pax,” said Peter, magnanimously: “bury the hatchet in the fathoms of the past. Shake hands on it. I say, Bobbie, old chap, I am tired.”
He was tired for many days after that, and the settle seemed hard and uncomfortable in spite of all the pillows and bolsters and soft folded rugs. It was terrible not to be able to go out. They moved the settle to the window, and from there Peter could see the smoke of the trains winding along the valley. But he could not see the trains.
At first Bobbie found it quite hard to be as nice to him as she wanted to be, for fear he should think her priggish. But that soon wore off, and both she and Phyllis were, as he observed, jolly good sorts. Mother sat with him when his sisters were out. And the words, “he’s not a coward,” made Peter determined not to make any fuss about the pain in his foot, though it was rather bad, especially at night.
Praise helps people very much, sometimes.
There were visitors, too. Mrs. Perks came up to ask how he was, and so did the Station Master, and several of the village people. But the time went slowly, slowly.
“I do wish there was something to read,” said Peter. “I’ve read all our books fifty times over.”
“I’ll go to the Doctor’s,” said Phyllis; “he’s sure to have some.”
“Only about how to be ill, and about people’s nasty insides, I expect,” said Peter.
“Perks has a whole heap of Magazines that came out of trains when people are tired of them,” said Bobbie. “I’ll run down and ask him.”
So the girls went their two ways.
Bobbie found Perks busy cleaning lamps.
“And how’s the young gent?” said he.
“Better, thanks,” said Bobbie, “but he’s most frightfully bored. I came to ask if you’d got any Magazines you could lend him.”
“There, now,” said Perks, regretfully, rubbing his ear with a black and oily lump of cotton waste, “why didn’t I think of that, now? I was trying to think of something as ‘ud amuse him only this morning, and I couldn’t think of anything better than a guinea-pig. And a young chap I know’s going to fetch that over for him this tea-time.”
“How lovely! A real live guinea! He will be pleased. But he’d like the Magazines as well.”
“That’s just it,” said Perks. “I’ve just sent the pick of ’em to Snigson’s boy–him what’s just getting over the pewmonia. But I’ve lots of illustrated papers left.”
He turned to the pile of papers in the corner and took up a heap six inches thick.
“There!” he said. “I’ll just slip a bit of string and a bit of paper round ’em.”
He pulled an old newspaper from the pile and spread it on the table, and made a neat parcel of it.
“There,” said he, “there’s lots of pictures, and if he likes to mess ’em about with his paint-box, or coloured chalks or what not, why, let him. I don’t want ’em.”
“You’re a dear,” said Bobbie, took the parcel, and started. The papers were heavy, and when she had to wait at the level-crossing while a train went by, she rested the parcel on the top of the gate. And idly she looked at the printing on the paper that the parcel was wrapped in.
Suddenly she clutched the parcel tighter and bent her head over it. It seemed like some horrible dream. She read on–the bottom of the column was torn off–she could read no farther.
She never remembered how she got home. But she went on tiptoe to her room and locked the door. Then she undid the parcel and read that printed column again, sitting on the edge of her bed, her hands and feet icy cold and her face burning. When she had read all there was, she drew a long, uneven breath.
“So now I know,” she said.
What she had read was headed, ‘End of the Trial. Verdict. Sentence.’
The name of the man who had been tried was the name of her Father. The verdict was ‘Guilty.’ And the sentence was ‘Five years’ Penal Servitude.’
“Oh, Daddy,” she whispered, crushing the paper hard, “it’s not true- -I don’t believe it. You never did it! Never, never, never!”
There was a hammering on the door.
“What is it?” said Bobbie.
“It’s me,” said the voice of Phyllis; “tea’s ready, and a boy’s brought Peter a guinea-pig. Come along down.”
And Bobbie had to.