The Broken Promise

by Unknown

'I suppose that is always the way with a fellow's mother. Fuss and bother—I'm tied to her apron-strings. Opening his paper he looked at him over the top of it, with a rather grave expression.

'Don't you think it is silly, Uncle?'

'What's it all about?' asked Uncle James.

'Why, I just happened to be a bit late home, after the match. Saunders wanted me to see his rabbits, and it made me a little late; at least, it was really a lot late. There were some other fellows there, and I came away before most of them.'

'Well?'

'Well, now there is no end of a bother, because I sort of promised I would be home early to tea. The girls had got some friends coming, and wanted me to show off the magic-lantern. When I came in, Mother was crying, and the servant out looking for me. It's too silly! I'm not a baby!'

And Roger plunged his spoon afresh into his egg, as if he expected to find in it a remedy for his grievance.

'Jones minor says his mother is just the same; but the two Rhodeses, who live with an aunt, can do just as they like.'

Uncle James laid down his paper, and looked steadily at the fire.

'My mother was just the same,' he said.

'What, Granny?' exclaimed Roger. 'But she is so jolly. When I go to stay, I do what I like.'

'Did you ever hear, Roger,' asked Uncle James, 'about my sister Phyllis?'

'Who died when she was a little girl? Oh, yes, I have heard a little, of course. Tell me some more, please, Uncle.'

Uncle James's kind face was a little clouded.

'Can he be vexed?' wondered thoughtless Roger. 'Or else—oh, yes—it's because she died that he doesn't like talking about her.' He said aloud, 'Never mind, Uncle, if it makes you feel bad.'

'She was very dear to me,' Uncle James said. 'Yet I scarcely ever speak of her; you will understand why, when I have finished what I am going to tell you. There were three of us,' he began, 'your mother, myself, and our little Phyllis. She was the youngest, and was nine at the time. We lived in a small house in this town, for our parents were not rich.'

Roger nodded. 'Mother showed me that house. It's smaller than this, a good deal.'

'Your mother, who was my mother's right hand, had been sent to a boarding-school at a distance, and I was left, in a way, in charge of my mother and young sister, my father being abroad with his regiment. You may be sure I felt proud of myself when I went round at night, bolting the doors and windows, and putting out the lights. And I generally ran home as quick as I could from the day-school I went to. Phyllis would be at the door, with her little pale face beaming, and brimming over with questions about my games and successes.

'Well, one Saturday afternoon, I was to play for the school in a football match; I was a good runner, and strong for my size, though I was quite a little chap. I remember being very much annoyed with my mother for saying I had better not play, as I had had a cold. I had caught it from Phyllis, we thought; but, as I was a robust lad, it was soon thrown off. But my sister—she was always delicate—still had a cough, and seemed dull and had headache. Of course I laughed at my mother's fears, took my football jersey from before the fire—she had washed it, and was just as particular about airing as your mother is—fussy, you would say—and off I went, in high spirits.

'"I won't be late," I called from the door.

'"No, be quick home, there's my dear boy," my mother said; and Phyllis, who was lying on the sofa, looked up for a minute with, "Play up, Jim. Mind you win the match."

'But mother followed me to the door.

'"Jim," she said, speaking low, "I don't feel easy about Phyllis. She is feverish to-day. I think you had better call and ask Dr. Harris to come."

'"Oh, Mother," I said, "she will be all right! My cold was just as bad while it lasted. You shouldn't fret about nothing." I had got into the way of giving her a good deal of advice.

'"I wish I could think so," she said, anxiously; "but, anyway, Jim, just run in on your way to the ground, and tell him. Then he will come before he starts on his round."

'"All right," I replied, with a hasty kiss, and off I went.

'In the next street I fell in with another fellow, who was in a great hurry.

'"I say, old chap, we shall be late," he panted, as we dashed into a short cut for the playing-field.

'I wish, Roger, that I could comfort myself by saying that I forgot my mother's request. But as I turned that corner I saw the doctor's house, and thought of it at once. "But, then," I said to myself, "she is only fussing. Phyllis will be all right in the morning, and I dare say the doctor has gone out. It will do just as well after the game."

'For the rest of the afternoon's pleasure, I never gave a second's thought to my mother and sister.'

'There,' said Roger, triumphantly, 'you were just as bad as I, weren't you? And how did the match go on? Did you win?'

'Roger, from that day to this, I have never tried to remember how that game ended. At the end, two of the fellows who lived the other side of the town asked me home to tea with the rest of the team. I felt it hard to be the only one who was out of everything, so I went. I felt a little uncomfortable, and called at the doctor's, just to satisfy my mother, and he came into the hall to speak to me.

'"Anything wrong, my boy? Not Phyllis, I hope?" he said. Phyllis was a pet of his. He attended her pretty often.

'"Just a cold, sir," I said, easily; "nothing serious. Mother's fidgeting, and says she is feverish, and all that. You might call round some time."

'"I will come with you at once," said Dr. Harris, and he took his hat off the peg. I thought he was glad of my company, and gave him a vivid account of the match on the way.

'When we reached our street the hall was dark, and there was no light in the little front sitting-room. But the bedroom overhead was lighted, and the blind was pushed back as we reached the door. The next thing I saw was my mother's face. Shall I ever forget it?'

'Don't tell it, Uncle,' said Roger. 'I can guess.'

'She had been waiting for the doctor. It never occurred to her that I would neglect her message. They let me see my sister for a few minutes, before she died. A few hours, the doctor said, might have saved her life. There! that's all!'

Uncle James blew his nose vigorously, and went back to his paper; but Roger bent his head over his plate. At this point his mother came in. The boy jumped up impetuously.

'Mother dear, I am awfully sorry I broke my promise, I will never do it again, if I can help it—never, so long as I live!'