Chapter XXXI. Better Than a Fairy Tale
 

News of the accident on the river soon spread throughout the parish. For a time various kinds of reports were in circulation, until it was learned that Rod was the only one who had received any injury. It was told how Captain Josh had carried him up to the rectory, while the doctor went ahead to tell the Royals what had happened.

While the neighbours talked, Rod was lying in his little bed in the grip of a raging fever. He knew nothing of what was going on around him, nor how anxious ones watched him night and day. It was Miss Arabella who came to Mrs. Royal's assistance in this time of need to help with the household affairs. Her tongue had lost none of its sharpness for those she disliked, but for her friends she was most loyal. She would have done almost anything for Rod, and she was not slow in expressing her opinion of Tom Dunker and "his whole tribe" for causing so much trouble.

Captain Josh almost camped in the rectory kitchen. When not there, he was wandering about the door-yard right in front of Rod's window. He ate and slept at the Anchorage, but that was about all.

"It's my fault that the boy is sick," he told his wife, "and it's up to me to be on hand in case of need. Jimmy kin look after things around here while I'm away."

Numerous were the visitors who came to the rectory to enquire about the sick boy. Tom Dunker was one of them, and he found the captain on guard at the back-door.

"How's Rod to-day, cap'n?" he asked.

"No better," was the gruff reply. "Had a bad night."

"I'm real sorry, cap'n, I surely am," Tom blubbered. "To think that he did it all fer my Sammy."

"How is yer kid?" the captain questioned.

"He's better, thank the Lord. The doctor got there jist in time. But fer you and Rod he'd be dead now."

"Cut that out, Tom. I'm not used to sich stuff."

"But I can't help it, cap'n," the visitor sniffled. "I can't sleep at nights fer thinkin' of it all. I shan't fergit it in a hurry, oh, no."

"Big fool," the captain muttered to himself as he watched Tom shuffle away. "It takes a mighty hard blow to knock any sense into a head sich as his."

As the days passed, Rod became more restless, and kept calling for Anna Royanna. It was hard for the anxious watchers to listen to his piteous pleadings. The doctor's face grew grave during one of his frequent visits as he watched the raving boy.

"Do you suppose she'd come?" he asked Parson Dan, who had followed him into the room.

"Would it do any good, doctor?"

"It might. One can never tell. Anyway, I think that Miss Royanna should be told how sick he is. She is very fond of the boy. You should send word to his mother as well."

"You're right, doctor," the clergyman replied.

"I shall send two messages at once."

In less than two days Anna Royanna entered the room where Rod was lying. She had been driven from the station by a fast team. Her face was pale and worn, clearly showing that little or no sleep had come to her eyes the night before. In fact, she had not slept since she had received Parson Dan's message. Everything else was forgotten. Only one thing mattered to her, and that was the boy lying sick unto death in far-off Hillcrest.

Rod had been more restless than ever during the night, and the fever was at its highest. All realised that this was the crisis, and that a short time would decide everything. He was still calling and raving as the singer entered the room. Stepping quickly to his side, she placed her hand upon his hot forehead.

"Hush," she soothed. "I am here. It is Anna Royanna."

That touch, more than the words, seemed to have a magic effect. The parched burning lips ceased to move, the staring eyes closed, and with a deep sigh Rod turned his head on the pillow, and sank into a peaceful sleep. Lovingly, and with eyes brimming with tears, the woman stood for some time and watched the boy. Then a light step aroused her. It was the doctor.

"The turn has come," he whispered. "You were just in time."

Rod rapidly recovered, and there was joy not only at the rectory but throughout the entire parish. Captain Josh was almost beside himself with joy, while the scouts plucked up sufficient courage to meet at Headquarters to talk about the accident, and their patrol-leader's illness.

It was a great day for Rod when he was able to sit up and receive visitors. Captain Josh had been often in the room, but so far the scouts had not been allowed to come. When at last they were given permission to visit the invalid, they could not get to the rectory fast enough. They were surprised to see Rod so thin and white, and when they left after their brief visit, they hurried back to Headquarters for another long talk.

Rod was never so happy as when Anna Royanna was with him. Many were the stories she told, and she would often read to him. She seemed to be in no hurry about going away, and this pleased the boy, as he wanted her to stay until after Christmas. They were to have a big time on Christmas Day, so he told her. Captain Josh and the scouts were coming for dinner, and perhaps Whyn would be home.

One day Rod noticed that Mr. and Mrs. Royal seemed happier than usual when they came into his room. Though no parents could have been kinder than they ever were to him, yet now there appeared a marked difference. He could not explain what it was, but at times he found them both watching him with a new expression in their eyes. He even caught Mrs. Royal brushing away a tear, which surprised him.

"What makes you cry, grandma?" he asked.

"Oh, several things, dear," was the reply. "People sometimes cry when they are very happy, you know."

"I understand, grandma. You are happy because I am getting well."

That evening after Rod was snugly tucked in bed, Miss Royanna came and sat down by his side. She had a book in her hand and she was going to read to him as was her custom now.

"Tell me a story, please," Rod begged. "I like that better, and your stories are so interesting."

"What kind do you want to-night?" the woman asked, as she looked into the bright eyes before her.

"Oh, anything. You always know best."

For awhile Anna Royanna remained silent, to all outward appearance very calm. But she was greatly agitated. She knew that the moment had arrived of which she had dreamed for years. Would it make any change in him? she wondered. Would he feel the same toward her?

"What are you thinking about?" Rod questioned.

"About what I am going to tell you," and the woman gave a slight laugh. "It's the most wonderful story you ever heard."

"Better than a fairy tale?"

"You can judge that for yourself when you hear it."

"All right, then. Go ahead."

"The beginning of this story goes back quite a number of years," the woman began. "There was a young man who went away from home, and left his father and mother alone. They missed him very much, for he was their only child. He was a handsome man, and all who saw him admired him. After awhile he met a woman who loved him dearly. They were married, and lived so happily together in a little cottage with trees all around it. They didn't have much money, but they had each other, and that meant so much to them. At last a little stranger came to their home, a dear baby boy, and then their cup of joy was full. He was so sweet and cunning, and they were never tired of watching him grow. Then something terrible happened. The father of the baby was suddenly killed."

"Oh!" It was all Rod could say, as with eyes full of sorrow he fixed them upon the face of the story-teller.

"Yes, he was killed," the woman continued in a low voice, while with a great effort she restrained her feelings. "It was in a railway accident. His wife was thus left alone. She was a stranger and without money, and for days she wandered about trying to get work. But no one wanted a woman with a baby. She was told to put it either in the Poor-House, or the Orphan Home, or let somebody adopt it. If she did this, she knew that she would have to give up her darling forever, and this she could not do.

"At last, in despair, she worked her way back to her husband's old home. It was a dark cold night when she reached the house, and there she left the baby, and hurried away as fast as she could."

"Why didn't she stay there?" Rod enquired. "Wouldn't they have been glad to take her in? I know I should."

"Yes, dear, they certainly would. But this woman did not know them then, and she was very independent. She made up her mind that she would work hard, and when she had enough money she would go to see her boy."

"And did she?" was the eager enquiry.

"Not for years did she see him again. She worked so hard, and at times people treated her most cruelly. But her little boy was ever in her mind. For him she toiled, and for his sake she was willing to put up with almost anything. She sent what money she could for his support, but that was very little at first. Then one night she saw her boy! It was in a city, and she knew who he was, though he didn't know her. Oh, how she wanted to put her arms around him, and kiss him."

"Why didn't she do it?" Rod asked. "What stopped her?"

"She was afraid that he wouldn't love her as a boy should love his mother. So she made up her mind that she would win his love first, and when she was certain, then she would tell him who she was."

"And did she?"

"Not for some time. You see, she went under a name different from her real one. She saw her husband's father and mother, and became well acquainted with them. But she did not tell them who she was, as she wanted them to love her too. Then, there was something else which kept her from telling people who she really was. She made her living----" Here she paused, as if uncertain how to proceed.

"How?" Rod enquired.

"By going on the stage."

"Oh, she was an actress, then," the boy exclaimed. "I have read about such people."

"No, not exactly that. But she sang on the stage."

"Oh!"

"What's the matter, dear?" the woman enquired.

"Nothing much. Only something funny came into my mind. That's all."

"Yes, she sang in public," the story-teller continued, "and she had made an agreement to sing for three years. She was afraid that if people knew that she was going under a wrong name it might make trouble. Anyway, she was sure it would make a whole lot of talk, and she didn't want that to happen for awhile. It was one night after she was through singing that she met her little boy. He came with another boy to see her, and asked her to go and sing for a sick girl at Hillcrest."

With a startled cry of joy, Rod sat up suddenly in bed. His eyes fairly blazed with excitement, and his body trembled.

"Are you the woman?" he cried. "Am I the boy? Are you my mother? Oh, tell me quick. Is it really true?"

"Yes, dear," and the woman caught both of his hands in hers, "every word is true. You are my own boy, and I am your mother. Are you glad?"

The expression upon Rod's face, as with a deep sigh of relief he lay back once more upon the pillow, was answer enough. All the old dread that the other mother would come back and carry him off suddenly disappeared. And yet he wondered about the letters she used to write. A puzzled look came into his eyes.

"What is it?" his mother asked. "Are you sorry?"

"Oh, no. But I was wondering about that other woman who used to write to me, who said she was my mother."

"It was I who wrote those letters, dear. I had to, you see."

"And you are not Anna Royanna, after all?"

"No. My real name is Anna Royal. I only changed part of the last name to Royanna."

"Why, it's just like a fairy tale," Rod exclaimed. "But, no, it isn't, either," he mused. "A fairy tale is only a make-believe, while this is really true. It's better than a fairy tale. Isn't it great!" and his eyes sparkled. "But, say, do grandad and grandma know about it?"

"Yes, dear. I told them last night."

"And I bet they were pleased."

"Indeed they were. I wish you could have seen their faces when I told them that you are Alec's boy, and their own real grandson."

For a few minutes there was silence, Rod thinking of all that he had heard, and his mother recalling the night before, when she had revealed to Mr. and Mrs. Royal the story of her life. Never should she forget the look of intense joy which came into their eyes, nor the sweet peace which possessed her heart as they enfolded her in their arms, kissed her, and called her "daughter." It had seemed almost too good to be true. She was roused by Rod's voice.

"May I tell Captain Josh?" he asked. "It would be great for him to know."

"We talked that over last night, dear," was the reply. "Christmas will soon be here, and you are to have a party on that day. How would it do to wait until then?"

"Oh, that'll be great! Captain Josh, and the scouts will be here."

"Yes, and Whyn will be back by that time, so I understand, and we can arrange for her and her mother to come up from the city. Will that do?"

"Won't it be great!" and Rod fairly shook with delight.

"It certainly will. We shall all go to the service on Christmas morning, and your grandfather wants to offer up special thanks for all the blessings we have received. We shall then come home for dinner, and have all the afternoon and evening for games."

When Captain Josh came to see Rod the next day, he noticed the happy expression upon the boy's face.

"What's up, lad?" he asked.

"What do you mean, captain?"

"Oh, I hardly know," and the old man scratched his head in perplexity. "But everybody in this house seems about ready to explode with excitement. I never saw sich a happy bunch in all my life. Ye'd think that summer had been suddenly dumped down here, with all the birds singin', the bees hummin', and the flowers bloomin'. That's the only way I kin describe it."

"I guess you're about right, captain," was Rod's brief reply, for he was determined not to give away the wonderful secret.