POOR Tom bore his severe pain heroically, and was resolute in not telling of Mr. Poulter more than was unavoidable; the five-shilling piece remained a secret even to Maggie. But there was a terrible dread weighing on his mind, so terrible that he dared not even ask the question which might bring the fatal yes; he dared not ask the surgeon or Mr. Stelling, Shall I be lame, Sir? He mastered himself so as not to cry out at the pain; but when his foot had been dressed, and he was left alone with Maggie seated by his bedside, the children sobbed together, with their heads laid on the same pillow. Tom was thinking of himself walking about on crutches, like the wheelwrights son; and Maggie, who did not guess what was in his mind, sobbed for company. It had not occurred to the surgeon or to Mr. Stelling to anticipate this dread in Toms mind, and to reassure him by hopeful words. But Philip watched the surgeon out of the house, and waylaid Mr. Stelling to ask the very question that Tom had not dared to ask for himself.
It had been Philips first thought when he heard of the accident,Will Tulliver be lame? It will be very hard for him if he is; and Toms hitherto unforgiven offences were washed out by that pity. Philip felt that they were no longer in a state of repulsion, but were being drawn into a common current of suffering and sad privation. His imagination did not dwell on the outward calamity and its future effect on Toms life, but it made vividly present to him the probable state of Toms feeling. Philip had only lived fourteen years, but those years had, most of them, been steeped in the sense of a lot irremediably hard.
Mr. Askern says youll soon be all right again, Tulliver, did you know? he said rather timidly, as he stepped gently up to Toms bed. Ive just been to ask Mr. Stelling, and he says youll walk as well as ever again by-and-day.
Tom looked up with that momentary stopping of the breath which comes with a sudden joy; then he gave a long sigh, and turned his blue-gray eyes straight on Philips face, as he had not done for a fortnight or more. As for Maggie, this intimation of a possibility she had not thought of before affected her as a new trouble; the bare idea of Toms being always lame overpowered the assurance that such a misfortune was not likely to befall him, and she clung to him and cried afresh.
After that, Philip spent all his time out of school-hours with Tom and Maggie. Tom liked to hear fighting stories as much as ever, but he insisted strongly on the fact that those great fighters who did so many wonderful things and came off unhurt, wore excellent armor from head to foot, which made fighting easy work, he considered. He should not have hurt his foot if he had had an iron shoe on. He listened with great interest to a new story of Philips about a man who had a very bad wound in his foot, and cried out so dreadfully with the pain that his friends could bear with him no longer, but put him ashore on a desert island, with nothing but some wonderful poisoned arrows to kill animals with for food.
But Maggie would have it that when anything hurt you very much, it was quite permissible to cry out, and it was cruel of people not to bear it. She wanted to know if Philoctetes had a sister, and why she didnt go with him on the desert island and take care of him.
One day, soon after Philip had told this story, he and Maggie were in the study alone together while Toms foot was being dressed. Philip was at his books, and Maggie, after sauntering idly round the room, not caring to do anything in particular, because she would soon go to Tom again, went and leaned on the table near Philip to see what he was doing, for they were quite old friends now, and perfectly at home with each other.
Its about Philoctetes, the lame man I was telling you of yesterday, he answered, resting his head on his hand, and looking at her as if he were not at all sorry to be interrupted. Maggie, in her absent way, continued to lean forward, resting on her arms and moving her feet about, while her dark eyes got more and more fixed and vacant, as if she had quite forgotten Philip and his book.
Philip colored; he had meant to imply, would she love him as well in spite of his deformity, and yet when she alluded to it so plainly, he winced under her pity. Maggie, young as she was, felt her mistake. Hitherto she had instinctively behaved as if she were quite unconscious of Philips deformity; her own keen sensitiveness and experience under family criticism sufficed to teach her this as well as if she had been directed by the most finished breeding.
But you are so very clever, Philip, and you can play and sing, she added quickly. I wish you were my brother. Im very fond of you. And you would stay at home with me when Tom went out, and you would teach me everything; wouldnt you,Greek and everything?
But youll go away soon, and go to school, Maggie, said Philip, and then youll forget all about me, and not care for me any more. And then I shall see you when youre grown up, and youll hardly take any notice of me.
Oh, no, I shant forget you, Im sure, said Maggie, shaking her head very seriously. I never forget anything, and I think about everybody when Im away from them. I think about poor Yap; hes got a lump in his throat, and Luke says hell die. Only dont you tell Tom. because it will vex him so. You never saw Yap; hes a queer little dog,nobody cares about him but Tom and me.
When their father came the second time, Maggie said to him, Oh, father, Philip Wakem is so very good to Tom; he is such a clever boy, and I do love him. And you love him too, Tom, dont you? Say you love him, she added entreatingly.
Tom colored a little as he looked at his father, and said: I shant be friends with him when I leave school, father; but weve made it up now, since my foot has been bad, and hes taught me to play at draughts, and I can beat him.
Well, well, said Mr. Tulliver, if hes good to you, try and make him amends, and be good to him. Hes a poor crooked creature, and takes after his dead mother. But dont you be getting too thick with him; hes got his fathers blood in him too. Ay, ay, the gray colt may chance to kick like his black sire.
The jarring natures of the two boys effected what Mr. Tullivers admonition alone might have failed to effect; in spite of Philips new kindness, and Toms answering regard in this time of his trouble, they never became close friends. When Maggie was gone, and when Tom by-and-by began to walk about as usual, the friendly warmth that had been kindled by pity and gratitude died out by degrees, and left them in their old relation to each other. Philip was often peevish and contemptuous; and Toms more specific and kindly impressions gradually melted into the old background of suspicion and dislike toward him as a queer fellow, a humpback, and the son of a rogue. If boys and men are to be welded together in the glow of transient feeling, they must be made of metal that will mix, else they inevitably fall asunder when the heat dies out.