THE BLUE PAVILIONS
BACK AT THE BLUE PAVILIONS.
Four weeks afterwards Tristram was put into a boat and taken up to London, whence after two days' rest he was removed by easy stages home to Harwich.
At the gate of Captain Barker's pavilion he passed into the care of Dr. Beckerleg, who put him to bed at once and dared him to get up. As he was borne up the garden-path Sophia peeped through a chink of the little blue door; and got not another glimpse of her lover for another six weeks.
It was a soft and sunny morning in October month when Dr. Beckerleg, having given his patient leave to dress and set foot outside the door for the first time, stepped down into the garden to seek the two captains and send them upstairs to help the invalid.
As he opened the front-door a searching odour caused him to pause in the porch and sniff. He traced this odour round to the back of the house, and there found Captain Barker, Captain Runacles and Narcissus Swiggs. Between them they had managed to clear the garden of an enormous crop of weeds, of which they were now making a bonfire. Behind the thick and yellowish coils of smoke Dr. Beckerleg could just discern the forms of the two captains. By their gestures they seemed to be engaged in an acrimonious discussion. Narcissus, little heeding, stolidly poked the bonfire with a charred stake.
"I will not!" said Captain Runacles.
"But I say that you shall!" said Captain Barker.
"The lad is yours, and yours only."
"He is yours also."
"By a cast of dice you won him."
"By law he was given back to you."
"You have brought him up."
"You found him again when I lost him."
"Yes, by means of an art which you taught him."
"Gentlemen, gentlemen," interposed the doctor, advancing, "what is all this fuss?"
"Why," began Captain Barker, "I was proposing that, for the future, we should take equal shares in the superintendence of Tristram's education; and he won't listen to it."
"Certainly I won't," Captain Runacles assented stoutly.
The doctor looked from one to the other with a good-humoured smile.
"And why won't you?" he asked, addressing Captain Jemmy.
"Why won't I? Because, as you are aware—for you were present—we once cast the dice over this boy, and Jack won."
"You know he did. He flung two sixes. Bless my heart, doctor, you must remember that!"
"I do, perfectly. And you—what did you throw?"
"You threw the dice, and the box with 'em, out of the window: that's what you did."
"Very well, then. That settles it. I don't back out of my luck."
"Gentlemen," said Dr. Beckerleg, clearing his throat, "I have something to tell you. It is a fact, and I don't pretend to explain it. You know the proverb about doctors and their unbelief. Well, if I had been inclined—and I am not—to deny a controlling wisdom in this scheme of things, I should have been startled somewhat when Captain Barker flung those two sixes. That apparent chance should give an approval so decided to Captain Barker's adoption of this orphan child was, to say the least, remarkable: for I thought then, and now I am sure, that no better father could be found for the babe."
"That's what I say," Captain Runacles put in.
"Do not interrupt me, please. I say no better father could be found. I did not say that none could be found as good. My dear Runacles, you tossed the dice out of the window and flounced off in a huff. As they had been borrowed, and without their owner's consent, I thought fit to step across the street and pick them up. They were lying not a yard apart in the gutter. You were wrong, captain, in not giving them a look."
"Simply because, as they lay, two sixes were uppermost."
The two captains stared at him.
"I give you my word," he said quietly.
"My dear Jack—"
"That settles it, Jemmy."
They took each other's hand.
"But excuse me," said Dr. Beckerleg, "this is not what I came to tell you. Just now I have given Tristram leave to stroll out into the garden for an hour and he is waiting for you to dress him."
But here the doctor made a mistake, for when they went upstairs there was no sign of Tristram. He and his clothes had disappeared.
They ran down to the front-door and looked around. There was no sign of him.
Finally Dr. Beckerleg advanced to the little blue door in the hedge, opened it, and poked his head into Captain Runacles' garden. Then he turned softly and, putting a finger to his lip, beckoned to the others. They advanced on tip-toe and peeped through.
Beside a garden-bed, half a dozen yards away, and with their backs to the door, knelt Sophia and Tristram. The youth's left arm was around the girl's waist, and the youth's hair mingled with the girl's as unconscious of observation they bent over the mould. It was the same mould in which Sophia, years before, had buried her doll, and now Tristram was helping Sophia to sprinkle it with pepper-cress seed; holding her right hand as she traced this:
The watchers withdrew as softly as they had advanced. But on his way back to the bonfire Captain Barker darted into the house and emerged again with an armful of green volumes.
"What's the meaning of this?" asked Dr. Beckerleg.
The little man trotted round and shot his burden right on top of the pile which Narcissus had by this time stirred into a blaze.
"There doesn't seem to be any further use for 'em," he explained, panting and running back to the house.
He fetched another armful, and then another; and as he discharged the last upon the bonfire, turned and laid a hand upon Captain Runacles' arm.
"Jemmy, old friend, we needn't to have made such a fuss about it, after all."