The Colonel had seen dead men and dying men before this; and as he bent over the boy he loved he gave a convulsive sob, and afterward buried his face in his hands.
Then—of all unlikely persons in the world—it was Petheridge Jukesbury who rose to meet the occasion.
His suavity and blandness forgotten in the presence of death, he mounted with confident alacrity to heights of greatness. Masterfully, he overrode them all. He poured brandy between Billy’s teeth. Then he ordered the ladies off to bed, and recommended to Mr. Kennaston—when that gentleman spoke of a clergyman—a far more startling destination.
For, “It is far from my intention,” said Mr.
Jukesbury, “to appear lacking in respect to the cloth, but—er—just at present I am inclined to think we are in somewhat greater need of a mattress and a doctor and—ah—the exercise of a little common-sense. The gentleman is—er—let us hope, in no immediate danger.”
“How dare you suggest such a thing, sir?” thundered Petheridge Jukesbury. “Didn’t you see that poor girl’s face? I tell you I’ll be damned if he dies, sir!”
And I fancy the recording angel heard him, and against a list of wordy cheats registered that oath to his credit.
It was Petheridge Jukesbury, then, who stalked into Mrs. Haggage’s apartments and appropriated her mattress as the first at hand, and afterward waddled through the gardens bearing it on his fat shoulders, and still later lifted Billy upon it as gently as a woman could have. But it was the hatless Colonel on his favourite Black Bess ("Damn your motor-cars!” the Colonel was wont to say; “I consider my appearance sufficiently unprepossessing already, sir, without my arriving in Heaven in fragments and stinking of gasoline!”) who in Fairhaven town, some quarter of an hour afterward, leaped Dr. Jeal’s garden fence, and subsequently bundled the doctor into his gig; and again yet later it was the Colonel who stood fuming upon the terrace with Dr. Jeal on his way to Selwoode indeed, but still some four miles from the mansion toward which he was urging his staid horse at its liveliest gait.
Kennaston tried to soothe him. But the Colonel clamoured to the heavens. Kennaston he qualified in various ways. And as for Dr. Jeal, he would hold him responsible—“personally, sir”—for the consequences of his dawdling in this fashion—“Damme, sir, like a damn’ snail with a wooden leg!”
“I am afraid,” said Kennaston, gravely, “that the doctor will be of very little use when he does arrive.”
There was that in his face which made the Colonel pause in his objurgations.
“Sir,” said the Colonel, “what—do—you—mean?” He found articulation somewhat difficult.
“In your absence,” Kennaston answered, “Mr. Jukesbury, who it appears knows something of medicine, has subjected Mr. Woods to an examination. It—it would be unkind to deceive you——”