“Nothing,” he said. “I’ll go and take my things off; only please don’t tell mother.”
“Yes,” said old nurse, who had tottered in, but who was past fully comprehending emergencies; “go and get into bed, my dear, and Emma shall come and warm it for him.”
“No,” stoutly said the little boy; “there’s nothing the matter, and mother must not know.”
“Take my word for it,” said cook, “that child have a been treated shameful by those great nasty brutes of big boys.”
And when Armine, too cold to sit anywhere but by the only fire in the house, returned with a book and begged humbly for leave to warm himself, he was installed on nurse’s footstool, in front of a huge fire, and hot tea and “lardy-cake” tendered for his refreshment, while the maids by turns pitied and questioned him.
“Have you had a haccident, sir,” asked cook.
“No,” he wearily said.
“Have any one been doing anything to you, then?” And as he did not answer she continued: “You need not think to blind me, sir; I sees it as if it was in print. Them big boys have been a-misusing of you.”
“Now, cook, you ain’t to say a word to my mother,” cried Armine, vehemently. “Promise me.”
“If you’ll tell me all about it, sir,” said cook, coaxingly.
“No,” he answered, “I promised!” And he buried his head in nurse’s lap.
“I calls that a shame,” put in Emma; “but you could tell we, Master Armine. It ain’t like telling your ma nor your master.”
“I said no one,” said Armine.
The maids left off tormenting him after a time, letting him fall asleep with his head on the lap of old nurse, who went on dreamily stroking his damp hair, not half understanding the matter, or she would have sent him to bed.
Being bound by no promise of secrecy, Emma met her mistress with a statement of the surmises of the kitchen, and Caroline hurried thither to find him waking to headache, fiery cheeks, and aching limbs, which were not simply the consequence of the position in which he had been sleeping before the fire. She saw him safe in bed before she asked any questions, but then she began her interrogations, as little successfully as the maids.
“I can’t, mother,” he said, hiding his face on the pillow.
“My little boy used to have no secrets from me.”
“Men must have secrets sometimes, though they rack their hearts and- their backs,” sighed poor Armine, rolling over. “Oh, mother, my back is so bad! Please don’t bother besides.”
“My poor darling! Let me rub it. There, you might trust Mother Carey! She would not tell Mr. Ogilvie, nor get any one into trouble.”
“I promised, mother. Don’t!” And no persuasions could draw anything from him but tears. Indeed he was so feverish and in so much pain that she called in Dr. Leslie before the evening was over, and rheumatic fever was barely staved off by the most anxious vigilance for the next day or two. It was further decreed that he must be carefully tended all the winter, and must not go to school again till he had quite got over the shock, since he was of a delicate frame that would not bear to be trifled with.