“Janny dear! He’ve turned his face to me. He be coming right to me. Oh! He” —
But he had come.
Jan has the fever.—Convalescence in master Swift’s cottage.—The squire on demoralization.
Jan took the fever. He was very ill, too, partly from grief at Abel’s death. He had also a not unnatural conviction that he would die, which was unfavorable to his recovery.
The day on which he gave Master Swift his old etching as a last bequest, he fairly infected him also with this belief, and during a necessary visit to the village the schoolmaster hung up the little picture in his cottage with a breaking heart.
But the next time Rufus saw him, he came to prepare for a visitor. Jan was recovering, and Master Swift had persuaded the windmiller to let him come to the cottage for a few days, the rather that Mrs. Lake was going to stay with a relative whilst the windmill was thoroughly cleansed and disinfected. The weather was delightful now, and, feeble as he had become, Jan soon grew strong again. If he had not done so, it would have been from no lack of care on Master Swift’s part. The old schoolmaster was a thrifty man, and had some money laid by, or he would have been somewhat pinched at this time. As it was, he drew freely upon his savings for Jan’s benefit, and made many expeditions to the town to buy such delicacies as he thought might tempt his appetite. Nor was this all. The morning when Jan came languidly into the kitchen from the little inner room, where he and the schoolmaster slept, he saw his precious paint-box on the table, to fetch which Master Swift had been to the windmill. And by it lay a square book with the word Sketch-book in ornamental characters on the binding, a couple of Cumberland lead drawing pencils, and a three-penny chunk of bottle India-rubber, delicious to smell.
If the schoolmaster had had any twinges of regret as he bought these things, in defiance of his principles for Jan’s education, they melted utterly away in view of his delight, and the glow that pleasure brought into his pale cheeks. Master Swift was regarded, too, by a colored sketch of Rufus sitting at table in his arm-chair, with his more mongrel friend on the floor beside him. It was the best sketch that Jan had yet accomplished. But most people are familiar with the curious fact that one often makes an unaccountable stride in an art after it has been laid aside for a time.
It must not be supposed that Master Swift had neglected his duties in the village, or left the Parson, the Squire, and the doctor to struggle on alone, during the illness of Abel and of Jan. Even now he was away from the cottage for the greater part of the day, and Jan was left to keep house with the dogs. His presence gave great contentment to Rufus, if it scarcely lessened the melancholy dignity of his countenance; for dogs who live with human beings never like being left long alone. And Jan, for his own part, could have wished for nothing better than to sit at the table where he had once hoped to make leaf-pictures, and paint away with materials that Rembrandt himself would not have disdained.