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CHAPTER XIII
The Rosy Cure


When Mrs. Wilmington found Rupert asleep among the remains of the dewy crushed rose-leaves, she had the sense not to disturb him, but put two more blankets over him and let him go on sleeping, while she wrapped herself in a shawl and spent what was left of the night on the blue sofa at the end of the four-post bed.

Uncle Charles, coming down neat and early to his study, was met by a very pale housekeeper with prim lips tightly set, who said:

'If you please, sir, them children leave this house, or else I do. I mean those children.'

'What have they been doing now?' asked the Uncle, wearily. He had thought of a new idea about Coptic magic while he was shaving, and he wanted to be alone with his idea and his breakfast.

'Doing their very best to murder that poor young gentleman in his very bed,' said the housekeeper, looking like a thin portrait of Mrs. Siddons.

'Did they put flowers and things into the boy's food or drink?' the Uncle asked, frowning.

'Worse, sir, far worse. They put him into flowers and things. And I've taken the liberty of sending for the doctor. And, please, mayn't I pack their boxes? No one's lives is safe—are, I mean.' Mrs. Wilmington sniffed and got out her handkerchief.

'Please control yourself,' said the uncle. 'I will inquire into what you have told me, and I will see the doctor when he has seen the boy. In the meantime, kindly refrain from further fuss. And, please, tell the cook to serve another omelette and some fresh tea. These are no longer warm enough for human food.'

Mrs. Wilmington put her handkerchief in her pocket and went back to Rupert, who was now wriggling among the blankets and asking what he could have to eat.

Rupert was much better. There was not a doubt of it. Harriet had told the children as much, in confidence, when she brought their breakfast.

But Mrs, W. she is in a paddy and no error,' Harriet assured them. 'A regular fanteague she's in. I wouldn't be you for something. However you come to think of such things beats me. An' she was on at the Master before he was up a'most about it, going on something chronic.'

How do you know?' Charlotte asked.

'Oh, I know more then you think, Miss,' said Harriet, tossing her head. 'I've ways of my own of finding out what I want to know. I know a sure spell to find out the gentleman's name you're going to marry,' she added rather in a hurry. 'I'll show you some time, if this blows over and you don't have to leave on account of it.'

'Bother marrying,' said Charlotte briefly. 'I don't mean to marry any one. I shall be an Arctic explorer, and sail in the cold waters of the North.'

'Its hot water you'll be in first,' said Harriet. 'Don't answer her back's my advice. Then p'raps it'll blow over. Least said soonest mended's what I say. They can't go on at you for ever if you don't answer 'em back.'

'If you don't answer they say you're sulky, said Charles, who sometimes noticed things.

'No, they don't, Master Charles; not if you keep on saying "Yes'm" and "No'm" every time they stops for breath. That's the way to egg-sauce 'em, trust me it is.'

The three C.'s did not quite see their way to exhaust Mrs. Wilmington by saying "Yes'm" and "No'm" in answer to her reproaches, and they felt that she would not understand if they tried to explain why they had done what they did do. So they had rather a poor time with Mrs. Wilmington, who said a good deal about the rose leaves, and told them they might have been the death of Rupert, 'when really,' as Caroline said afterwards, 'they had been the life and soul of his getting better.'

Mrs. Wilmington also told them that they were not to think of going out and getting into any more of their dangerous mischief, because their uncle was going to give them a right- down good talking to as soon as the doctor had been.

'But we may go out to-morrow, mayn't we?' Charles asked hopefully. And Mrs. Wilmington replied:

'Perhaps you won't be here to-morrow'—a very disquieting remark.

The children remained in the dining-room waiting for that right-down good talking to; and you know what a hateful thing that is to wait for. They sat there miserably, wondering whether Mrs. Wilmington could possibly happen by any extraordinary accident to be right for once, and whether they had done Rupert any harm. They tried to console themselves by saying every half minute or so, 'But Rupert is better, all the same,' and 'Whatever she says, Rupert is better,' and things like that.

The only thing to do, they felt, was to ask the doctor whether they had really done Rupert any harm. Thoughts of concealing themselves in the wardrobe in Rupert's room, and listening to the doctor's wise words at the bedside, were dismissed, partly owing to an honourable feeling about listening, and partly because Mrs. Wilmington didn't give them any opportunities for that sort of concealment. Listening at the Uncle's door when the doctor had come down and been shown into the study was also impossible, for the same reasons. The only thing they could do was to keep the dining-room door open.

'And pounce,' said Caroline. 'If we pounce, suddenly and well, we shall be able to say, "How is Rupert; is he really worse or better?" before any one can stop us. And the doctor is a gentleman. He must answer a lady's question.'

'You're not ladies, you're only little girls,' said Charles. But the others made allowances. It was a time of trial. Caroline answered with that soft answer which is sometimes so hard to bear:

'Yes, dear Charles, we are. Aunt Emmeline says you cannot begin to be a lady too soon, and that is why you must wipe your mouth before drinking as well as after, and never interrupt, and put on your gloves before you go out, and things like that. And when I gave my penny to the crossing-sweeper, you know, that muddy Friday, he said I was a real little lady. You must remember that day, Charles—the day you upset the ink over my Hereward the Wake.'

'Here, I say, chuck it,' said Charles, rather red. 'I never——'

'Oh, Pax, for goodness' sake,' said Charlotte; 'if we begin ragging just when we ought to stand by each other, we're like deserters. United we stand, divided we fall a victim to the Wilmington. Hark! that's the Uncle's door.'

They flung themselves into the hall; and the astonished doctor, just saying a few last words of politeness to Uncle Charles, was met by a charge of children all firmly asking, 'How is Rupert? Is he worse? Is he better? Did we really do him any harm?'

'He's much better,' said the doctor, rubbing his hands cheerfully; 'your rose-leaves were a variant of what is known as the packing treatment. You did him a world of good. But,' he added, hastily, as Uncle Charles, behind him, uttered the ghost of a grunt, and Mrs. Wilmington, from the top of the stairs, coughed loudly and expressively, 'it might have been very dangerous, very. Verdict: Not guilty, but don't do it again.'

And with that he laughed in a jolly, red-faced way, and went out of the front door and on to his horse and rode away.

'And now,' said the uncle, leading the way back into the dining-room.

I will draw a veil over that scene. A right-down good talking to is never a pleasant thing to record. And I am not sure whether the three C.'s deserved this one or not. Was it chance or magic that made them do exactly the right thing for Rupert? Of course they explained fully to the Uncle that as it was a threefold spell it was bound to act exactly as it had acted. He shook his head, did not smile, and went on talking about responsibility and carefulness and so on. He really did smile when Charlotte, very near to tears, explained that they had only been acting like the Rosicurians in olden days. But he hid his smile in his handkerchief, and the children did not see it.

'And now—' said the Uncle once again, and paused. The three children knew those words well, and each wondered what their punishment was to be.

'I hope it won't be lines,' Charles told himself. 'I'd rather anything than lines.'

'I hope it won't be keeping us in,' thought Caroline. 'I'd rather anything than be kept in. And such a fine day too.'

And still the uncle paused, till Charlotte could bear it no longer. She said, 'Oh, Uncle! We really didn't mean to be naughty. And it really hasn't hurt him. But we don't want to shirk. Only don't keep us suspended. Let us know the worst. Are we to be hanged for a sheep as a lamb? You know you're hanged twice if you're hanged quickly. We'll do whatever you say, and we don't mind being punished if you think we ought. Only don't do what the Wil—I mean Mrs. Wilmington said.'

'What did she say?'

'She said perhaps we shouldn't be here to-morrow. Oh!' said Charlotte, and began to cry. So did Caroline. Charles put his hands in his pockets and sniffed.

'Don't!' said the uncle, earnestly; 'please don't. I certainly have no intention of punishing you for what was a mistake. What I blame you for is—well, briefly, interference, and taking too much on yourselves.'

'Shoving our oar in,' sobbed Charlotte. 'But we did so want Rupert to be better.'

'He is better,' said the Uncle. 'Please don't cry. It is over now. But I must ask for a promise.'

'We did keep the other promise,' Charles reminded him.

'I know you did. This is more comprehensive as well as more definite. I want you to promise me that you will not only refrain from administering your remedies internally, but that you will not make any external application of them to any of your friends—or enemies,' he added hastily.

'Not put them on to people's outsides?—yes,' murmured Caroline.

'Without consulting me. If you wish to try any more experiments, the simple presentation of a symbolic bouquet should be enough. It was enough in my case. You remember.'

'Of course we promise,' said every one.

'Oh, uncle, you are kind not to be crosser!'

'We don't really mean to do wrong.'

'But you can't do right without it turning out wrong sometimes. You can't just do nothing,' said Caroline; 'though really it's the only safe way. Things do so turn out wrong that you didn't think would.'

'They do,' said the Uncle. 'Now dry your eyes, and run out and play. And if you see your way to letting Mrs. Wilmington know that you're sorry, it would perhaps be well.'

'Of course we will if you want us to,' they said; and Charlotte added:

'It will be well. She always says it is.'

'Always says what is what?'

'She always says everything's all very well when we say we we're sorry.'

'And if ever there was an angel uncle, ours is it,' said Charlotte.

'Yes,' said Charles; 'and Rupert is better. I'm glad we did it, aren't you?'

'I suppose so. Yes. No. Yes. I don't know,' said Caroline. 'You see, the spell worked. That's a great thing to be sure of, anyhow.'

It was the one thing, however, that they couldn't persuade Rupert to be sure of. He was certainly better, but, as he pointed out, he might have got better without the rose leaves.

'Of course, it was jolly decent of you to get them, and all that,' he said, 'but the medicine the doctor gave me cured me, I expect. I don't want to be ungrateful, but what are doctors for, anyhow?'

'I don't know,' said Charles. 'But I know you jolly well tried fern-seed when you pretended to be invisible.'

'I feel much older than I did then,' said Rupert, biting ends of grass as he lay on the dry, crisp turf. It was the first day of his being loosed from those bonds which hamper the movements of persons who have been ill. You know the sort of times when you feel perfectly well, and yet, merely because you have a cold or measles or something, you are kept in when you want to go out, and sent out (in what is called 'the best of the day') when you want to stay in, and little driblets of medicine are brought you when you feel least need of them, and glasses of hot milk and cups of beef-tea occur just when you are thinking fondly of roast beef and suet pudding, and you are assured that what you need is not heavy food like pudding and beef, but something light and at the same time nourishing. Also you have to go to bed earlier than the others and not to sit in draughts.

However, all this was now over for Rupert, and he was one of the others, on a natural meal footing. His parents, by the way, had telegraphed thanking Uncle Charles very much and accepting his invitation for Rupert to spend the rest of the holidays at the Manor House. So that now there seemed to be no bar to complete enjoyment, except that one little fact that Rupert wouldn't believe in spells.

'But the fern-seed acted,' said Caroline, 'and the secret rose acted, and the Rosicurian rose-leaves acted.'

'I don't see how you can say the fern-seed acted. I wasn't invisible, because you all saw me through the window.'

'Oh, but,' said Charlotte, eagerly, 'don't you see? You wanted us to see you. You can't expect a spell to act if you don't want it to act. I wouldn't myself, if I was a spell.'

'It wasn't that at all,' said Caroline; 'don't you remember we chewed the fern-seed to make us see invisible things, and we saw you. And you were invisible, because you chewed fern-seed too. It came out just perfectly. Only you won't see it. But let's try it again if you like—the fern-seed, I mean.'

But Rupert wouldn't. He preferred to read The Dog Crusoe, lying on his front upon the grass. The others also got books.