Read THE BOY-ARTIST : CHAPTER III of The Boy Artist‚ A Tale for the Young, free online book, by F.M. S., on ReadCentral.com.

THE FEVER.

And Raymond did work. Madge watched him with hopeful pride, and seldom stirred from his side. Their small store of money was nearly gone, and there seemed but little likelihood of a fresh supply.

Raymond’s hopes were bound up in the picture he was then engaged upon. If only he could finish that, he felt sure that he could sell it. There was a feverish light in his eyes, a burning flush upon his cheeks, while he worked. He spoke seldom; but Madge saw him raise his hand sometimes to his forehead as if in pain. The picture was nearly done, and Raymond looked up for a minute one morning, and saw that the sun was shining brightly down on the sea of roofs and chimney-pots which for the most part constituted the view from their garret window, and then he said to Madge, “Go out, and get a breath of fresh air; it is stifling work for you to be always up here.”

“Shan’t you want me to mix your colours, Raymond?”

“No; go. I should rather you went.”

She put on her bonnet, and then stood for one moment looking at his work. “I wish you would come with me; it would do you good, and rest you.”

Raymond gave a wearying sigh. “No rest for me yet, Madge. I must toil on until this is done. I can’t rest when I go to bed. I am thinking all night when will the morning come, that I may be at work again. No, no; there is no rest until this is sold. Do you know that in a day or two we shall be penniless and starving?”

Madge looked up at him with a smile. “No, Raymond, we shan’t be left to starve; don’t fear.”

Raymond looked doubtful, and went on with his work, and Madge went out.

She felt very lonely and sad as she wandered through the crowded, busy streets, and gazed into the faces of the passers-by, all were so completely wrapped up in their own concerns. None knew her history; none would care to know it. What did it matter to any one of that moving throng if she and Raymond died?

Almost unconsciously she bent her steps in the direction of the colour-shop. One hurried glance she cast at the window, and then turned away with a sickening heart.

Raymond’s picture was still there.

She went home, and ascended the long flight of stairs with a slow, hesitating step. For a moment she paused at the door of their own room; she heard a groan within, and hastily went in. Her first glance was directed to the easel in the window; but Raymond was not there. Another look discovered him lying on the floor with his head pressed against the ground.

“Raymond, Raymond!” she cried as she threw herself down by him. “Dear Raymond, what is the matter?”

“O Madge, my head, my head! I could not bear it any longer.”

He raised it for a moment, and Madge caught a sight of his fevered cheeks and heavy tired eyes. She thought for an instant what was best to be done, then ran down-stairs to call their landlady. Now, Mrs. Smiley was in the midst of her cooking operations, and as she bent over her large saucepan, she did not like being interrupted by the sudden appearance of one of her top lodgers.

“What do you want? Don’t you see I’m busy?” she said roughly, as she turned a very red face round from the fire to Madge.

But Madge, in her terror for Raymond, gained courage. “If you please, ma’am, do come and see Raymond; he is so ill, and I don’t know what to do.”

“And who’s to take this saucepan off, I should like to know, or baste the meat? Do you think I’m to be at the beck and call of top-flight lodgers, who only pay five shillings a-week, and that not regular. I can tell you then that you’re in the wrong box, young woman, so you’d best be off.”

Madge turned to go, but still stood irresolute, and Mrs. Smiley, looking round to enforce her injunction, caught a sight of her wistful, terrified face. The little girl went away as directed; but as soon as she was gone, Mrs. Smiley opened the door of the back-kitchen, and called out, “Here, you Polly, come up here, and keep an eye on this dinner. Now keep basting the meat properly; for if it’s burnt, I’ll baste you when I come back;” and then she followed Madge up-stairs. She found her kneeling beside Raymond, supporting his head upon her shoulder.

“Well, Mr. Raymond, so you don’t find yourself very well!”

A groan was her only answer, and Madge looked imploringly at her.

“You’d best go to bed, sir, I’m thinking. Miss Madge, my dear, you’re in for a bit of nursing. I’m afeard it’s a fever that’s on him.”

Mrs. Smiley’s character was changed. She had children of her own, and there were soft spots in her heart still, though the outer coat, formed by her worldly business, was hard and rough. She had known what sickness was, and she was rather a skilful nurse, so from that time whatever spare minutes she had were devoted to Raymond.

Poor little Madge! The days that followed were very sad ones. Her brother grew worse and worse, and she sat by his bedside listening to his wild ravings of delirium, in vain endeavouring to soothe him, or to allay his burning thirst.

Their scanty supply of money was exhausted; and many little comforts which Raymond needed, his sister was unable to procure for him. “I must do something; this cannot go on,” she thought; and then an idea flashed into her mind, which she longed to carry out. She went over to the easel, and took down Raymond’s picture. It was very nearly finished. “I will go and see if Mr. Jeffery will buy it,” she said; and covering it under her little cloak, she set out.

Very timidly she presented herself at the counter, and produced her picture. Mr. Jeffery looked at it. “This is not finished,” he remarked.

“No, sir; Raymond was too ill to finish it.”

“I cannot take it in this state,” said the picture-dealer. “It will never sell.”

“Then you can do nothing for us?” asked Madge sadly.

“Nothing. Stay, though;” and he began turning over the leaves of his memorandum-book. “Yes, you are the child. Well, Mr. Smith Mr. Herbert Smith the great artist, wants to see you. Here, take this direction and give it to him when you find his house;” and Mr. Jeffery hastily wrote a few lines upon a piece of paper, and handed it to Madge.

Mr. Herbert Smith, the great artist. Yes! she had heard Raymond speak of his pictures she would go; there was a gleam of hope before her; she would take Raymond’s picture to him; he could not fail to discover how clever it was Raymond could only be appreciated by master minds, and this was one of them. It was a dull wet day, and the streets looked dark and dingy; the rain was driving in her face, and her heart was with Raymond in the garret, where he was tossing in restless fever; but the brave little maiden went on steadily, until she reached Mr. Herbert Smith’s door.

She rang at the bell, and asked to see the artist. The servant, well accustomed to receiving every variety in the way of visitors to his master, models, &c., &c., ushered her up a long stair into the studio.

Why, there sat the gentleman who had once looked so kindly at her in the picture-shop; she had often wondered who he could be.

“A little girl to see you, sir,” said the servant, and then withdrew. Mr. Smith was reading his newspaper, seated in an easy-chair, arrayed in dressing-gown and slippers, with a cigar in his mouth, and a cup of fragrant coffee by his side.

He turned round impatiently, but when he saw Madge, his expression changed to one of easy good-humour.

“Mr. Jeffery please, sir, he told me to come to you,” said little Madge, while she looked down on the ground.

“Oh, yes, I remember; and so you have come to give me a sitting?”

“A what, sir?”

“A sitting, my child; to let me paint your eyes and hair.”

“Please sir, I came to show you this; Raymond’s ill;” and she held out the cherished picture.

“Ah, yes; lay it down. I’ll look at it presently; but, meanwhile, I must lose no time in transferring you to canvas. Now, then, take your place, so; your head a little more turned to the light.” And in a few minutes, with easy, rapid strokes, the artist was progressing in his work.

“And what is your name, my little girl?” he asked presently.

“Madge Leicester,” she replied softly.

“Your eyes have grown sadder than they were when I last saw you, Madge!” They were very sad then, for large tears were gathering in them, and rolling down the thin white cheeks.

She raised her hand and dashed them away.

“What is it all about?” said Mr. Smith.

“O Raymond, Raymond!” she faltered.

“Is Raymond your brother?”

“Yes.”

“Have you a father and mother?”

“My mother is dead, and my father is away, and Raymond is ill.”

“Poor child, where do you live?”

Madge told him.

“And does no one care for you?”

“Oh yes, Raymond does.”

“But I mean, does no one do anything for you?”

“Yes, Mrs. Smiley is minding him while I’m out!”

“How did you come to leave him to-day?”

A quick flush came to Madge’s cheek; she was ashamed to confess their poverty; but after a moment she added, “I wanted to sell Raymond’s picture.”

“Does Raymond like painting?”

Madge’s face lit up with a sudden brightness. “Yes, yes! he loves it he delights in it he says it is his life.”

“Poor boy, he does not know what up-hill work it is; he thinks it is mere fancy play, I suppose?”

“I don’t think he does, sir.”

“Has he ever had teaching?”

“Only a few lessons from an artist who had the down-stair rooms in the last house where we lodged.”

Mr. Smith came over suddenly, and unfastened Madges hair; it fell in golden ripples all over her neck. The light was shining upon it, and the sunbeams danced about it, making it in some places to resemble

“In gloss and hue, the chestnut, when the shell
Divides threefold to show the fruit within;”

and in others there were luxuriant masses of rich deep brown, clustering in curls about her shoulders. For a moment the artist stood lost in admiration; then he silently resumed his work. It was an enjoyment to him, as Madge could see from the pleasant smile that played around his lips, and the kindly look in his eyes, when he glanced at her; but the poor, little, anxious sister was only longing for the time to be over, that she might return to Raymond’s side; and when at last Mr. Smith laid down his brushes and pallette, saying, “I will not keep you longer to-day,” she sprang to her feet joyfully.

“Will you come again soon, Madge?” he asked.

“Yes, sir, if I can!”

“Well, this is for your first sitting;” and he held her out half-a-crown. For a moment she hesitated, then she thought of Raymond, and the nourishment he so much needed, and she took it. “And about the picture, sir?” she asked wistfully.

“Oh, yes, about the picture,” said Mr. Smith, taking it up; but at this moment he was interrupted; the servant announced a visitor, and he had only time to add, “I will tell you about the picture the next time you come, little Madge; good-bye;” and then she had to go away.

Back through the dreary streets, to that dreary home; back to that garret room, to that lonely watching, to that brother who lay so near the borders of the grave, though Madge knew it not. How often we pass in the crowded thoroughfare some sad suffering hearts, hurrying back to scenes such as these; it may be that they touch us in the crowd, and yet we know nothing of the burden which they carry; God help them! Let us thank him if we have light hearts ourselves; and let us remember that each load that we lighten leaves one less sad face and heavy heart in the world about us.