The colonel was moved to disapproval. “Young man, I suppose your poor deserted mother is looking for you everywhere, and has probably torn out every solitary strand of hair she possesses by this time.”
“I reckon she is,” the boy assented. The topic did not appear to be in his eyes of preeminent importance.
Then Anne Charteris said, “Harry,” and her voice was such that Rudolph Musgrave wheeled with amazement in his face.
The boy had gone to her complaisantly, and she stood now with one hand on either of his shoulders, regarding him. Her lips were parted, but they did not move at all.
“You are Mrs. Pendomer’s boy, aren’t you?” said Anne Charteris, in a while. She had some difficulty in articulation.
“Yes’m,” Harry assented, “and we come here ’most every Wednesday, and, please, ma’am, you’re hurtin’ me.”
“I didn’t mean to—dear,” the woman added, painfully. “Don’t interfere with me, Rudolph Musgrave! Your mother must be very fond of you, Harry. I had a little boy once. I was fond of him. He would have been eleven years old last February.”
“Please, ma’am, I wasn’t eleven till April, and I ain’t tall for my age, but Tubby Parsons says——”
The woman gave an odd, unhuman sound. “Not until April!”
“Harry,” said Colonel Musgrave then, “an enormous whale is coming down the river in precisely two minutes. Perhaps if you were to look through the palings of that fence you might see him. I don’t suppose you would care to, though?”
And Harry strolled resignedly toward the fence. Harry Pendomer did not like this funny lady who had hurt, frightened eyes. He did not believe in the whale, of course, any more than he did in Santa Claus. But like most children, he patiently accepted the fact that grown people are unaccountable overlords appointed by some vast betise, whom, if only through prudential motives, it is preferable to humor.
Colonel Musgrave stood now upon the other side of John Charteris’s grave—just in the spot that was reserved for her own occupancy some day.
“You are ill, Anne. You are not fit to be out. Go home.”
“I had a little boy once,” she said. “’But that’s all past and gone, and good times and bad times and all times pass over.’ There’s an odd simple music in the sentence, isn’t there? Yet I remember it chiefly because I used to read that book to him and he loved it. And it was my child that died. Why is this other child so like him?”
“Oh, then, that’s it, is it?” said Rudolph Musgrave, as in relief. “Bless me, I suppose all these little shavers are pretty much alike. I can only tell Roger from the other boys by his red head. Humanity in the raw, you know. Still, it is no wonder it gave you a turn. You had much better go home, however, and not take any foolish risks, and put your feet in hot water, and rub cologne on your temples, and do all the other suitable things——”