General Frankie: A Story For Little People/VI
It was about a week after Dot and Fred had gone home that General Frankie came in from play with flushed and burning cheeks, and sat down, without speaking a word, on the little stool at his mother's feet.
"Are you tired?" said mamma, putting back the bright golden curls with her soft, cool hand. As she did so she found the head was burning, the great eyes half closed, and the scarlet mouth almost burned as she stooped to kiss it.
"Yes, mamma, I am very tired; and there's a drum in my head that keep beating. Can't you send it away, mamma? And, mamma"—climbing into her lap—"sing to me, softly, 'bout 'watch and fight and pray,' won't you?"
Yes, Frankie was very ill, and Susan was dispatched for Dr. Dolsen, while he was bathed and undressed, and laid in his little bed.
"Put my sword and my soldier cap on the foot of the bed, mamma, so that I can put them on when I feel better;" and he drifted off to sleep, and thence into that strange, unknown land that we call delirium, peopled with its shadowy forms and ringing with strange echoes. And with his hot hand clasped in hers the frightened mother sat and watched and waited for the Doctor's coming.
"Will he be very sick, Doctor?" and her trembling fingers were pressed tight together, while, with a big silver watch in one hand and the quivering pulse pressed in the other, Dr. Dolsen counted the quick beatings. He shook his head sadly, "I am afraid he will, ma'am;" and as he wrote and folded the prescription he added, slowly, "General Frankie will have a hard battle to fight, I am afraid; but I hope he will come out safely."
Need I say how, in all those dreadful days that followed, tireless and unwinking sat that mother by her sick child's bedside? True, he did not know her now, but it might chance that a gleam would come, and she must be there. Her very heart seemed breaking when, in his feverish dreams, he again lived over the events of the past few weeks. Now would recur the old question, "When is Dot coming? and Fred?" "How many days more?" "There's Jack Nogood's drum. He is beating it by my ear. Send him away." "Oh, there's some General coming after me—my sword!" and the nervous hand would try to grasp it. "Oh, mamma, I am lying wounded here, and you don't come! The moon is shining down in my face, and it burns me. I am so thirsty, and my cap hurts my head. Oh, dear mamma, take it off, for I am tired and sore! I don't want to be a soldier any more." Then moans, an unquiet rest, and again the wandering fancies came thronging thick and fast.
Poor Frankie! and, sadder still, poor mamma! They were going through dark times now. But He who sent the sorrow sent the help to bear it. The last conscious act the child had done was to raise the thin wavering hands together just when the evening lamp was lighted. ON the watching mother's lips the words he was too weak to speak were upward borne, and though they were only the childish prayer, "Now I lay me," they went up to Him, and brought a blessing down.
The weeks passed wearily away, and the fourteenth day General Frankie was yet struggling with the fearful fever. The golden curls were cut away; the little mouth was parched and blistered; and the restless hands, pitiful in their thinness, moved nervously to and fro. He was too weak to speak, even to think. His mother's voice sounded strangely dim and distant, and her gentlest movement gave him pain. He moaned and tossed from side to side with that feverish unrest so harrowing to witness. Medicine and the Doctor had done all they could, and now to-day they watched and waited, for the crisis was coming, whether for life or death they could not tell. The moans became fainter, the hands lay still, and only by the quivering in the slender throat one could know whether General Frankie was asleep for time or eternity.
There was a hush through the house, only broken by far-off footsteps as Uncle Charlie walked untiringly to and fro on the piazza. In the kitchen Bridget and Susan went softly about, wiping away a fresh tear when a plaything came to light, or a tiny garment which the child had worn. Dixie looked up the stairway and whined pitifully, as if it ask for his little playmate. Above, in the sick chamber, the parents watched and waited, prayed and hardly hoped. The father stood at the foot of the bed with a gray shadow on his face, and a tremulous dropping of the firm-set mouth, while at her post, beside his pillow, the watching mother wept bitter tears. Dr. Dolsen held the thin hand counting the faint pulses; but he turned his head away from the sight of the anxious eyes that looked in his.
The hours wore slowly on, and the baby-sleeper did not move. The sun sank lower and lower in the west, and its beams, shining through the shutter, made a golden ladder on the wall beyond. Still the footsteps sounded from below; still the summer wind just stirred the leaves without, while within the watchers scarcely breathed. No movement; and the golden ladder crept up higher, and seemed to hang as if waiting for an angel baby footstep on its shining bars. The great silver watch in the Doctor's hand was dim with its warmth and moisture; but the eyes that watched were dim likewise, for he stooped to see it closer. At this movement the little hand tightened in his clasp, a faint sigh breathed from his lips, and opening the great eyes wearily, General Frankie whispered, "Mamma," and smiled his old beloved smile. Dr. Dolsen rose and wiped away the tears that rolled down his cheeks, and his voice was choked as he said, "Thank God, our General is safe!" The golden ladder had mounted up and faded out, for no angel footstep would tread its shimmering bars heavenward to-night.