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The Colonel by Marion Dicken

 

Dick was only thirteen years of age, but he was in love, and in love too with Captain Treves's wife, who, in his eyes, was spick-span perfection. In their turn Mrs. Treves's two little boys, aged six and five respectively, were in love with Dick, who appeared to them to be the model of all that a schoolboy ought to be.

It was in church on Easter Sunday that Dick first realised his passion, and then—as he glanced from Mrs. Treves to the captain's stalwart form—the hopelessness of it! He remarked, afterwards, to his brother Ted, a lieutenant in Treves's regiment, that Mrs. Treves looked “ripping” in grey. But Ted was busy with his own thoughts, in which, if the truth be told, the sermon figured as little as in those of his younger brother.

Dick was on very friendly terms with the Treves and was rather surprised to find that the captain and his wife treated him more like a little boy than a “chap of thirteen—in fact, almost fourteen,” as he put it to himself. He used to take Jack and Roy out on the river and to the baths, where he taught them both to swim. To use Ted's own expression to a brother-sub, “Dick was making a thorough nursemaid and tutor of himself to those kids of the captain's.” He was teaching them certainly, unconsciously, but steadily, a great many things.

Jack no longer cried when he blistered his small paws trying to scull, and when Roy thought of Dick, or the “colonel,” as they called him, he left off making grimaces at, and teasing, his baby sister, because Dick had answered carelessly when Jack once offered to fight him, “No thanks, old boy, I only hit a chap my own size.” Roy recognised the difference between tormenting a girl and fighting a boy.

About three weeks after Dick went back to school for the summer term, both the little Treves's fell ill, and Jack cried incessantly for “the colonel.” Yet when kind old Colonel Duke came to see him one afternoon, and brought him some grapes, the child turned fretfully away and still cried, “'Colonel'; I want the 'colonel'!”

“But, Jack dear, this is the colonel,” remonstrated his mother, gently smoothing the crumpled pillow.

But Jack still wailed fretfully, and would not be comforted.

Colonel Duke happened to remark on the incident at mess that evening, and Ted Lloyd knitted his brows, as if trying to solve some mental mystery. The result of his cogitations was an early visit to Mrs. Treves next day.

The children were worse. Roy was, indeed, dangerously ill; and neither his father nor mother could persuade Jack to take his medicine.

“We cannot think whom he means by 'colonel',” added the poor lady despairingly.

“That's just what I've come about, Mrs. Treves; they used to call my young brother that at Easter.”

“You are sure, Mr. Lloyd?”

“Quite. I heard them myself more than once. I'll trot round and see the Mater, and we will wire for him if it will do any good.”

That afternoon Dick received a telegram which sent him off full speed to his housemaster for the necessary permission to go home.

“Is Mater ill?” he asked breathlessly, as he bundled out of the train on to Ted, who bore the onrush heroically.

“No, she's quite well, only Treves's kids are ill.”

“Well?” queried Dick rather indignantly, as he thought of the cricket-match on the morrow, in which he had hoped to take part.

“Well, you see, Dick, they're seriously ill, and they can't make the little 'un take his physic.”

“Well, I can't take it for him, can I? queried Dick, as they started home.

“Nobody wants you to, you little duffer. But the kids used to call you 'colonel,' and now he keeps crying for you. Perhaps if you order him to take the physic, he will—that's all.”

“Oh!” briefly responded Dick.

He was sorry to hear that his whilom chums, the “captain” and “lieutenant,” were ill. But weren't kids always having something or other, and would he always be sent for to dose them? “Rot!”

However, these thoughts abruptly left him, when, directly after tea, he went to the captain's and saw Mrs. Treves' pale and anxious face, and instead, his old allegiance, but deeper and truer, returned.

“Thank you, Dick,” she said kindly in reply to his awkward tender of sympathy. And then they went upstairs.

By Jack's bed a glass of medicine was standing. A nurse was turning Roy's pillow, and Captain Treves stood by her, gnawing his long moustache.

Just then Jack's fretful wail sounded through the room for “'Colonel!' Daddy, Jack wants the 'colonel'!”

“I'm here, old man,” said Dick, sitting down on the edge of the bed. “Drink this at once,” he added, taking up the glass, as he remembered his brother's suggestion.

But Jack had clutched Dick's hand and now lay back sleepily.

Dick felt desperate. He glanced round. Captain and Mrs. Treves and the nurse were gathered round the other little white bed. Was Roy worse? With what he felt to be an unmanly lump in his throat, he leaned over the boy again.

“Jack, I say, Jack” (hurriedly), “if you drink this you shall be a captain.”

Jack heard, and when Dick raised him up, he drained the glass.

“But Roy, Dick, he's a captain?”

“Roy shall be promoted too,” replied Dick.

And just then the captain left the other bed and came over to Jack. Dick could see Mrs. Treves bending over Roy, and the nurse leaving the room. He looked up and saw that there were actually tears in the captain's eyes. He had never seen a soldier cry before, and guessed what had happened. Roy had indeed been promoted. He would never again “play soldiers” with Jack or Dick.

Jack was now sleeping quietly, and the doctor, who came in an hour later, pronounced him out of danger.

       * * * * *

“Goodbye, my boy. We thought you'd like Roy's watch as you were fond of him,” said the captain next day; and then Mrs. Treves not only shook hands, but stooped and kissed him.

Dick flushed, muttered some incoherent thanks, and went off to the station.

Dick reached school in time for the cricket-match, after all; but, fond as he was of cricket, he absented himself from the ground that afternoon, and spent the time printing off some photos of “two kids,” as a chum rather scornfully remarked.

One of those “kids” is now a lieutenant in the regiment of which Dick is a captain, and, indeed, in a fair way to become a colonel—for the second time in his life.

 
 
 

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