Great Uncle Hoot-Toot - Part 7

Part 7

Mrs. Tudor looked up anxiously.

"Oh no," said Vicky, eagerly; "we were only talking."

"And about what, pray?" persisted Mr. Byrne.

Vicky hesitated. She did not want to vex Geoff, but she was unused to any but straightforward replies.

"About Geoff's umbrella," she said, growing very red.

"About Geoff's umbrella?" repeated the old gentleman. "What could there be so interesting and exciting to say about Geoff's umbrella?"

"Only that I haven't got one--at least, mine's in rags; and if I say I need a new one, they'll all be down upon me for extravagance," said Geoff, as sulkily as he dared.

"My dear boy, don't talk in that dreadfully aggrieved tone," said his mother, trying to speak lightly. "You know I have never refused you anything you really require."

Geoffrey did not reply, at least not audibly. But Elsa's quick ears and some other ears besides hers--for it is a curious fact that old people, when they are not deaf, are often peculiarly the reverse--caught his muttered whisper.

"Of course. Always the way if _I_ want anything."

Mr. Byrne did not stay late. He saw that Mrs. Tudor looked tired and depressed, and he did not wish to be alone with her to talk about Geoff, as she probably would have done, for he could not have spoken of the boy as she would have wished to hear.

A few days pa.s.sed. Great-Uncle Hoot-Toot spent a part of each with the Tudor family, quietly making his observations. Geoff certainly did not show to advantage; and though his mother wore herself out with talking to him and trying to bring him to a more reasonable frame of mind, it was of no use. So at last she took Elsa's advice and left the discontented, tiresome boy to himself, for perhaps the first time in his life.

And every evening, when alone with Victoria, the selfish boy entertained his poor little sister with his projects of running away from a home where he was so little appreciated.

But a change came, and that in a way which Geoffrey little expected.

One evening when Mr. Byrne said "Good night," it struck him that his niece looked particularly tired.

"Make your mother go to bed at once, Elsa," he said, "I don't like her looks. If she's not better to-morrow, I must have a doctor to see her.

And," he added in a lower tone still, "don't let Geoffrey go near her to-morrow morning. Has he bothered her much lately?"

"Mamma has left him alone. It was much the best thing to do," Elsa replied. "But all the same, I can see that it is making her very unhappy."

"Time something should be done; that's growing very plain," said Mr.

Byrne. "Try and keep her quiet in the mean time, my dear. I have nearly made up my mind, and I'll tell you all about it to-morrow."

Elsa felt rather frightened.

"Great-uncle," she said, "I don't want to make silly excuses for Geoff, but it is true that he has never been quite so ill-natured and worrying as lately."

"Or perhaps you have never seen it so plainly," said the old gentleman.

"But you needn't think I require to be softened to him, my dear; I am only thinking of his good. He's not a bad lad at bottom; there's good stuff in him. But he's ruining himself, and half killing your mother.

Life's been too easy to him, as you've said yourself. He needs bringing to his senses."

Geoff slept soundly; moreover, his room was at the top of the house. He did not hear any disturbance that night--the opening and shutting of doors, the anxious whispering voices, the sound of wheels driving rapidly up to the door. He knew nothing of it all. For, alas! his tiresome, fidgety temper had caused him to be looked upon as no better than a sort of naughty child in the house--of no use or a.s.sistance, concerning whom every one's first thought in any trouble was, "We must manage to get Geoff out of the way, or to keep him quiet."

When he awoke it was still dark. But there was a light in his room--some one had come in with a candle. It was Elsa. He rubbed his eyes and looked at her with a strange unreal feeling, as if he were still dreaming. And when he saw her face, the unreal feeling did not go away.

She seemed so unlike herself, in her long white dressing-gown, the light of the candle she was holding making her look so pale, and her eyes so strained and anxious--_was_ it the candle, or was she really so very pale?

"Elsa," he said sleepily, "what are you doing? What is the matter? Isn't it dreadfully late--or--or early for you to be up?" he went on confusedly.

"It's the morning," said Elsa, "but we haven't been in bed all night--Frances and I. At least, we had only been in bed half an hour or so, when we were called up."

"What was it?" asked Geoff, sleepily still. "Was the house on fire?"

"Oh, Geoff, don't be silly!" said Elsa; "it's--it's much worse. Mamma has been so ill--she is still."

Geoff started up now.

"Do you want me to go for the doctor?" he said.

"The doctor has been twice already, and he's coming back at nine o'clock," she answered sadly. "He thought her a tiny bit better when he came the last time. But she's very ill--she must be kept most _exceedingly_ quiet, and----"

"I'll get up now at once," said Geoff; "I won't be five minutes, Elsa.

Tell mamma I'd have got up before if I'd known."

"But, Geoff," said Elsa, firmly, though reluctantly, "it's no use your hurrying up for that. You can't see her--you can't possibly see her before you go to school, anyway. The doctor says she is to be kept _perfectly_ quiet, and not worried in any way."

"I wouldn't worry her, not when she's ill," said Geoff, hastily.

[Ill.u.s.tration: IT WAS ELSA.]

"You couldn't help it," said Elsa. "She--she was very worried about you last night, and she kept talking about your umbrella in a confused sort of way now and then all night. We quieted her at last by telling her we had given you one to go to school with. But if she saw you, even for an instant, she would begin again. The doctor said you were not to go into her room."

A choking feeling had come into Geoff's throat when Elsa spoke about the umbrella; a very little more and he would have burst into tears of remorse. But as she went on, pride and irritation got the better of him.

He was too completely unused to think of or for any one before himself, to be able to do so all of a sudden, and it was a sort of relief to burst out at his sister in the old way.

"I think you're forgetting yourself, Elsa. Is mamma not as much to _me_ as to you girls? Do you think I haven't the sense to know how to behave when any one's ill? I tell you I just will and shall go to see her, whatever you say;" and he began dragging on his socks as if he were going to rush down to his mother's room that very moment.

Elsa grew still paler than she had been before.

"Geoff," she said, "you must listen to me. It was for that I came up to tell you. You must _not_ come into mother's room. I'd do anything to prevent it, but I can't believe that you'll force me to quarrel with you this morning when--when we are all so unhappy. I don't want to make you more unhappy, but I can't help speaking plainly to you. You _have_ worried mamma terribly lately, Geoff, and now you must bear the punishment. It's--it's as much as her life is worth for you to go into her room and speak to her this morning. I cannot allow it."

"_You_ allow it!" burst out Geoff. "Are you the head of the house?"

"Yes," said Elsa, "when mamma is ill, I consider that I am. And what's more, Geoff, I have telegraphed to Great-Uncle Hoot-Toot. He made me promise to do so if mamma were ill. I expect him directly. It is past seven. Geoff, you had better dress and take your breakfast as usual. I will come down and tell you how mamma is the last thing before you go."

"I _will_ see mamma before I go to school," he replied sharply. "I give you fair warning."

"Geoff," said Elsa, "you shall not."

And with these words she left the room.