"Quiet, Abdiel!" said Clare.
The dog turned, jumped up on the bed, and lay down again close to the baby.
Clare, who, I have said, was in old days a reader of Paradise Lost, had already given him the name of Abdiel.
"Please, I couldn't help yelling!" said Tommy, very meekly. "I didn't know you'd got him!"
"I know you couldn't help it!" answered Clare. "What have you had to eat to-day?"
"Nothing but a beastly turnip and a wormy beet," said Tommy. "I'm awful hungry."
"You'd have had something better if you'd stuck by the baby, and not left her to the rats!"
"There ain't no rats," growled Tommy.
"Will you believe your own eyes?" returned Clare, and showed him the skin of the rat Abdiel had slain. "I've a great mind to make you eat it!" he added, dangling it before him by the tail.
"Shouldn't mind," said Tommy. "I've eaten a rat afore now, an' I'm that hungry! Rats ain't bad to eat. I don't know about their skins!"
"Here's a piece of bread for you. But you sha'n't sleep with honest people like baby and Abdiel. You shall lie on the hearth-rug. Here's a blanket and a pillow for you!"
Clare covered him up warm, thatching all with a piece of loose carpet, and he was asleep directly.
The next day all terror of the water-but was gone from the little vagabond's mind. He was now, however, thoroughly afraid of Clare, and his conceit that, though Clare was the stronger, he was the cleverer, was put in abeyance.
How things went for a time.
Clare's next day went much as the preceding, only that he was early at the shop. When his dinner-hour came, he ran home, and was glad to find Tommy and the dog mildly agreeable to each other. He had but time to give baby some milk, and Tommy and Abdiel a bit of bread each.
His look when he returned, a look of which he was unaware, but which one of the girls, who had a year ago been hungry for weeks together, could read, made her ask him what he had had for dinner. He said he had had no dinner.
"Why?" she asked.
"Because there wasn't any."
"Didn't your mother keep some for you?"
"No; she couldn't."
"Then what will you do?"
"Go without," answered Clare with a smile.
"But you've got a mother?" said the girl, rendered doubtful by his smile.
"Oh, yes! I've got two mothers. But their arms ain't long enough," replied Clare.
The girl wondered: was he an idiot, or what they called a poet? Anyhow, she had a bun in her pocket, which she had meant to eat at five o'clock, and she offered him that.
"But what will you do yourself? Have you another?" asked Clare, unready to take it.
"No," she answered; "why shouldn't I go without as well as you?"
"Because it won't make things any better. There will be just as much hunger. It's only shifting it from me to you. That will leave it all the same!"
"No, not the same," she returned. "I've had a good dinner—as much as I could eat; and you've had none!"
Clare was persuaded, and ate the girl's bun with much satisfaction and gratitude.
When he had his wages in the evening, he spent them as before—a penny for the baby, and fivepence at Mr. Ball's for Tommy, Abdiel, and himself.
Observing that he came daily, and spent all he earned, except one penny, on bread; seeing also that the boy's cheeks, though plainly he was in good health, were very thin, Mr. Ball wondered a little: a boy ought to look better than that on five pennyworth of bread a day!
They were a curious family—Clare, and Tommy, and the baby, and Abdiel. But the only thing sad about it was, that Clare, who was the head and the heart of it, and provided for all, should be upheld by no human sympathy, no human gratitude; that he should be so high above his companions that, though he never thought he was lonely, he could not help feeling lonely. Not once did he wish himself rid of any single member of his adopted family. It was living on his very body; he was growing a little thinner every day; if things had gone on so, he must before long have fallen ill; but he never thought of himself at all, body or soul.
He had no human sympathy or gratitude, I say, but he had both sympathy and gratitude from Abdiel. The dog never failed to understand what Clare wished and expected him to understand. In Clare's absence he took on himself the protection of the establishment, and was Tommy's superior.
Though Tommy was of no use to earn bread, Clare did not therefore allow him to be idle. He insisted on his keeping the place clean and tidy, and in this respect Tommy was not quite a failure. He even made him do some washing, though not much could be accomplished in that way where there was so little to wash. Now that Abdiel was nurse, Tommy had the run of the garden, and often went beyond it for an hour or two without Clare's knowledge, but always took good care to be back before his return.
A bale of goods happening to be unpacked in his presence one day, Clare begged the head-shopman, who was also a partner, for a piece of what it was wrapped in; and he, having noted how well he worked, and being quite aware they could not get another such boy at such wages, gave him a large piece of the soiled canvas. Now Mrs. Person had taught Clare to work,—as I think all boys ought to be taught, so as not to be helpless without mother or sister,—and with the help of a needle and some thread the friendly girl gave him, he soon made of the packing-sheet a pair of trousers for Tommy, of a primitive but not unserviceable cut, and a shirt for himself, of fashion more primitive still. He managed it this way: he cut a hole in the middle of a piece of the stuff, through which to put his head, and another hole on each side of that, through which to put his arms, and hemmed them all round. Then, having first hemmed the garment also, he indued it, and let the voluminous mass arrange itself as it might, under as much of his jacket and trousers as cohered.
My reader may well wonder how, in what was called a respectable shop, he could be permitted to appear in such poverty; but Mr. Maidstone disliked the boy so much that he meant to send him away the moment he found another to do his work, and gave orders that he should never come up from the basement except when wanted to carry a parcel. The fact was that his still, solemn, pure face was a haunting rebuke to his master, although he did not in the least recognize the nature, or this as the cause, of his dislike.
Clare disregards the interests of his employers.
Things went on for nearly a month, every one thriving but Clare. Yet was Clare as peaceful as any, and much happier than Tommy, to whose satisfaction adventure was needful.
One day, a lady, attracted by a muff in the shop-window labelled with a very low price, entered, and requested to see it.
"We can offer you a choice from several of the sort, madam," said the shopman. "It is one of a lot we bought cheap, but quite uninjured, after a fire."
"I want to see the one in the window," the lady answered.
"I hope you will excuse me, madam," returned the shopman. "The muff is in a position hard to reach. Besides, we must ask leave to take anything down after the window is dressed for the day, and the master is out. But I will bring you the same fur precisely."
So saying, he went, and returned presently with a load of muffs and other furs, which he threw on the counter. But the lady had heard that "there's tricks i' the world," and persisted in demanding a sight of the muff in the window. Being a "tall personage" and cool, she carried her point. The muff was hooked down and brought her—not graciously. She glanced at it, turned it over, looked inside, and said,
"I will take it. Please bring a bandbox for it."
"I will, madam," said the man, and would have taken the muff. But she held it fast, sought her purse, and laid the price on the counter. The shopman saw that she knew what both of them were about, took up the money, went and fetched a bandbox, put the muff in it before her eyes, and tied it up. The lady held out her hand for it.
"Shall I not send it for you, madam?" he said.
"I do not live here," she answered. "I am on my way to the station."
"Here, Jack," cried the shopman to Clare, whom he caught sight of that moment going down to the basement, "take this bandbox, and go with the lady to the station."
If his transaction with the lady had pleased the man, he would not have sent such a scarecrow to attend her, although she did not belong to the town, and they might never see her again! The lady, on her part, was about to insist on carrying the bandbox herself; but when Clare came forward, and looked up smiling in her face, she was at once aware that she might trust him. The man stood watching for the moment when she should turn her back, that he might substitute another bandbox for the one Clare carried; but Clare never looked at him, and when the lady walked out of the shop, walked straight out after her. Along the street he followed her steadily, she looking round occasionally to see that he was behind her.
They had gone about half-way to the station, when from a side street came a lad whom Clare knew as one employed in the packing-room. He carried a box exactly like that Clare had in his hand, and came softly up behind him. Clare did not turn his head, for he did not want to talk to him while he was attending on the lady.
"Look spry!" he said in a whisper. "She don't twig! It's all right! Maidstone sent me."
Clare looked round. The lad held out his bandbox for him to take, and his empty hand to take Clare's instead. But Clare had by this time begun to learn a little caution. Besides, the lady's interests were in his care, and he could be party to nothing done behind her back! He had not time to think, but knew it his duty to stick by the bandbox. If we have come up through the animals to be what we are, Clare must have been a dog of a good, faithful breed, for he did right now as by some ancient instinct. He held fast to the box, neither slackening his pace nor uttering a word. The lad gave him a great punch. Clare clung the harder to the box. The lady heard something, and turned her head. The boy already had his back to her, and was walking away, but she saw that Clare's face was flushed.
"What is the matter?" she asked.
"I don't rightly know, ma'am. He wanted me to give him my bandbox for his, and said Mr. Maidstone had sent him. But I couldn't, you know!—except he asked you first. You did pay for it—didn't you, ma'am?"
"Of course I did, or he wouldn't have let me take it away! But if you don't know what it means, I do.—You haven't been in that shop long, have you?"
"Not quite a month, ma'am."
"I thought so!"
She said no more, and Clare followed in silence, wondering not a little. When they reached the station, she took the bandbox, and looked at the boy. He returned her gaze, his gray eyes wondering. She searched her purse for a shilling, but, unable to find one, was not sorry to give him a half-crown instead.
"You had better not mention that I gave you anything?" she said.
"I will not, ma'am, except they ask me," he answered.
"But," he added, his face in a glow of delight, "is all this for me?"
"To be sure," she answered. "I am much obliged to you for—carrying my parcel. Be a honest boy whatever comes, and you will not repent it."
"I will try, ma'am," said Clare.
But, to speak accurately, he did not know what it was to try to be honest: he had never been tempted to be anything else, and had scarcely had the idea of dishonesty in his mind except in relation to Tommy. Do you say, "Then it was no merit to him"? Certainly it was none. Who was thinking of merit? Not Clare. He is a sneak who thinks of merit. He is a cad who can't do a gentlemanly action without thinking himself a fine fellow! It might be a merit in many a man to act as Clare did, but in Clare it was pure rightness—or, if you like the word better, righteousness.
Clare as little thought what awaited him. Had there been any truth, any appreciation of honesty in his vulgar heart, Mr. Maidstone could not have done as now he did. When his messenger came back with the tale of how he had been foiled, he said nothing, but his lips grew white. He closed them fast, and went and stood near the door. When Clare, unsuspecting as innocent, opened it, he was met by a blow that dazed him, and a fierce kick that sent him on his back to the curbstone. Almost insensible, but with the impression that something was interfering between him and his work, he returned to the door. As he laid his hand on it, it opened a little, and his master's face, with a hateful sneer upon it, shot into the crack, and spit in his. Then the door shut so sharply that his fingers caught an agonizing pinch. At last he understood: he was turned off, and his day's wages were lost!
What would have become of him now but for the half-crown the lady had given him! She was not quite a lady, or she would have walked out of the shop, and declined to gain by frustrating a swindle; but she was a good-hearted woman, and God's messenger to Clare. He bought a bigger loaf than usual, at which, and the time of the day when he bought it, and the half-crown presented in payment, Mr. Ball wondered; but neither said anything—Mr. Ball from indecision, Clare from eagerness to get home to his family.
But, alas! Clare had made another enemy—the lad whose attempt to change the bandboxes he had foiled. The fellow followed him, lurkingly, all the way home—on the watch for fit place to pounce upon him, and punish him for doing right when he wanted him to do wrong. He saw him turn into the opening that led to the well, and thought now he had him. But when he followed him in, he was not to be seen! He did not care to cross the well, not knowing what might meet him on the other side; but here was news to carry back! He did so; and his master saw in them the opportunity of indulging his dislike and revenge, and a means of invalidating whatever Clare might reveal to his discredit!
Clare and the baby and Tommy and Abdiel had taken their supper with satisfaction, and were all asleep. It was to them as the middle of the night, though it was but past ten o'clock, when Abdiel all at once jumped right up on his four legs, cocked his ears, listened, leaped off the bed, ran to the door, and began to bark furiously. He was suddenly blinded by the glare of a bull's-eye-lantern, and received a kick that knocked all the bark out of him, and threw him to the other side of the room. A huge policeman strode quietly in, sending the glare of his bull's-eye all about the room like a vital, inquiring glance. It discovered, one after the other, every member of the family. So tired was Clare, however, that he did not wake until seized by a rough hand, and at one pull dragged standing on the floor.
"Take care of the baby!" he cried, while yet not half awake.
"I'll take care o' the baby, never fear!—an' o' you too, you young rascal!" returned the policeman.
He roused Tommy, who was wide awake, but pretending to be asleep, with a gentle kick.
"Up ye get!" he said; and Tommy got up, rubbing his ferret eyes.
"Come along!" said the policeman.
"Where to?" asked Clare.
"You'll see when you get there."
"But I can't leave baby!"
"Baby must come along too," answered the policeman, more gently, for he had children of his own.
"But she has no clothes to go in!" objected Clare.
"She must go without, then."
"But she'll take cold!"
"She don't run naked in the house, do she?"
"No; she can't run yet. I keep her in a blanket. But the blanket ain't mine; I can't take it with me."
"You're mighty scrup'lous!" returned the policeman. "You don't mind takin' a 'ole 'ouse an' garding, but you wouldn' think o' takin' a blanket!—Oh, no! Honest boy you are!"
He turned sharp round, and caught Tommy taking a vigorous sight at him. Tommy, courageous as a lion behind anybody's back, dropped on the rug sitting.
"We've done the house no harm," said Clare, "and I will not take the blanket. It would be stealing!"
"Then I will take it, and be accountable for it," rejoined the man. "I hope that will satisfy you!"
"Certainly," answered Clare. "You are a policeman, and that makes it all right."
"Rouse up then, and come along. I want to get home."
"Please, sir, wouldn't it do in the morning?" pleaded Clare. "I've no work now, and could easily go then. That way we should all have a sleep."
"My eye ain't green enough," replied the policeman. "Look sharp!"
Clare said no more, but went to the baby. With sinking but courageous heart, he wrapped her closer in her blanket, and took her in his arms. He could not help her crying, but she did not scream. Indeed she never really screamed; she was not strong enough to scream.
"Get along," said the policeman.
Clare led the way with his bundle, sorely incommoded by the size and weight of the wrapping blanket, the corners of which, one after the other, would keep working from his hold, and dropping and trailing on the ground. Behind him came Tommy, a scarecrow monkey, with mischievous face, and greedy beads for eyes—type not unknown to the policeman, who brought up the rear, big enough to have all their sizes cut out of him, and yet pass for a man. Down the stair they went, and out at the front door, which Clare for the first time saw open, and so by the iron gate into the street.
"Which way, please?" asked Clare, turning half round with the question.
"To the right, straight ahead. The likes o' you, young un, might know the way to the lock-up without astin'!"
Clare made no answer, but walked obedient. It was a sad procession—comical indeed, but too sad when realized to continue ludicrous. The thin, long-bodied, big-headed, long-haired, long-tailed, short-legged animal that followed last, seemed to close it with a never-ending end.
There was no moon; nothing but the gas-lamps lighted Clare's Via dolorosa. He hugged the baby and kept on, laying his cheek to hers to comfort her, and receiving the comfort he did not seek.
They came at last to the lock-up, a new building in the rear of the town-house. There this tangle of humanity, torn from its rock and afloat on the social sea, drifted trailing into a bare brilliant room, and at its head, cast down but not destroyed, went heavy-laden Clare, with so much in him, but only his misery patent to eyes too much used to misery to reap sorrow from the sight.
The head policeman—they called him the inspector—received the charge, that of house-breaking, and entered it. Then they were taken away to the lock-up—all but the faithful Abdiel, who, following, received another of the kicks which that day rained on every member of that epitome of the human family except the baby, who, small enough for a mother to drown, was too small for a policeman to kick. The door was shut upon them, and they had to rest in that grave till the resurrection of the morning should bring them before the magistrate.
Their quarters were worse than chilly—to all but the baby in her blanket manifoldly wrapped about her, and in Clare's arms. Tommy would gladly have shared that blanket, more gladly yet would have taken it all for himself and left the baby to perish; but he had to lie on the broad wooden bench and make the best of it, which he did by snoring all the night. It passed drearily for Clare, who kept wide awake. He was not anxious about the morrow; he had nothing to be ashamed of, therefore nothing to fear; but he had baby to protect and cherish, and he dared not go to sleep.
The dawn came at last, and soon after the dawn footsteps, but they approached only to recede. When the door at length opened, it was but to let a pair of eyes glance round on them, and close again. The hours seemed to be always beginning, and never going on. But at the long last came the big policeman. To Clare's loving eyes, how friendly he looked!
"Come, kids!" he said, and took them through a long passage to a room in the town-hall, where sat a formal-looking old gentleman behind a table.
"Good morning, sir!" said Clare, to the astonishment of the magistrate, who set his politeness down as impudence.
Nor was the mistake to be wondered at; for the baby in Clare's arms hid, with the mountain-like folds of its blanket, the greater part of his face, and the old gentleman's eyes fell first on Tommy; and if ever scamp was written clear on a countenance, it was written clear on Tommy's.
"Hold your impudent tongue!" said a policeman, and gave Clare a cuff on the head.
"Hold, John," interposed the magistrate; "it is my part to punish, not yours."
"Thank you, sir," said Clare.
"I will thank you, sir," returned the magistrate, "not to speak till I put to you the questions I am about to put to you.—What is the charge against the prisoners?"
"Housebreaking, sir," answered the big man.
"What! Housebreaking! Boys with a baby! House-breakers don't generally go about with babies in their arms! Explain the thing."
The policeman said he had received information that unlawful possession had been taken of a building commonly known as The Haunted House, which had been in Chancery for no one could tell how many years. He had gone to see, and had found the accused in possession of the best bedroom—fast asleep, surrounded by indications that they had made themselves at home there for some time. He had brought them along.
The magistrate turned his eyes on Clare.
"You hear what the policeman says?" he said.
"Yes, sir," answered Clare.
"What have you to say to it?"
"Then you allow it is true?"
"What right had you to be there?"
"None, sir. But we had nowhere else to go, and nobody seemed to want the place. We didn't hurt anything. We swept away a multitude of dead moths, and killed a lot of live ones, and destroyed a whole granary of grubs; and the dog killed a great rat."
"What is your name?"
"Clare—Porson," answered Clare, with a little intervening hesitation.
"You are not quite sure?"
"Yes; that is my name; but I have another older one that I don't know."
"A bad answer! The name you go by is not your own! Hum! Is that boy your brother?"
"No, sir; he's not any relation of mine. He's a tramp."
"And what are you?"
"Something like one now, sir, but I wasn't always."
"What were you?"
"Not much, sir. I didn't do anything till just lately."
He could not bear at the moment to talk of his be-loved dead. He felt as if the old gentleman would be rude to them.
"Is the infant there your sister?"
"She's my sister the big way: God made her. She's not my sister any other way."
"How does she come to be with you then?"
"I took her out of the water-but. Some one threw her in, and I heard the splash, and went and got her out."
"Why did you not take her to the police?"
"I never thought of that. It was all I could do to keep her alive. I couldn't have done it if we hadn't got into the house."
"How long ago is that?"
"Nearly a month, sir."
"And you've kept her there ever since?"
"Yes, sir—as well as I could. I had only sixpence a day."
"And what's that boy's name?"
"Tommy, sir.—I don't know any other."
"Nice respectable company you keep for one who has evidently been well brought up!"
"Baby's quite respectable, sir!"
"And for Tommy, if I didn't keep him, he would steal. I'm teaching him not to steal."
"What woman have you got with you?"
"Baby's the only woman we've got, sir."
"But who attends to her?"
"I do, sir. She only wants washing and rolling round in the blanket; she's got no clothes to speak of. When I'm away, Tommy and Abdiel take care of her."
"Abdiel! Who on earth is that? Where is he?" said the magistrate, looking round for some fourth member of the incomprehensible family.
"He's not on earth, sir; he's in heaven—the good angel, you know, sir, that left Satan and came back again to God."
"You must take him to the county-asylum, James!" said the magistrate, turning to the tall policeman.
"Oh, he's all right, sir!" said James.
"Please, sir," interrupted Clare eagerly, "I didn't mean the dog was in heaven yet. I meant the angel I named him after!"
"They had a little dog with them, sir!"
"Yes—Abdiel. He wanted to be a prisoner too, but they wouldn't let him in. He's a good dog—better than Tommy."
"So! like all the rest of you, you can keep a dog!"
"He followed me home because he hadn't anybody to love," said Clare. "He don't have much to eat, but he's content. He would eat three times as much if I could give it him; but he never complains."
"Have you work of any sort?"
"I had till yesterday, sir."
"At Mr. Maidstone's shop."
"What wages had you?"
"Sixpence a day."
"And you lived, all three of you, on that?"
"Yes; all four of us, sir."
"What do you do at the shop?"
"Please your worship," interposed policeman James, "he was sent about his business yesterday."
"Yes," rejoined Clare, who did not understand the phrase, "I was sent with a lady to carry her bandbox to the station."
"And when you came back, you was turned away, wasn't you?" said James.
"What had you done?" asked the magistrate.
"I don't quite know, sir."
"A likely story!"
Clare made no reply.
"Answer me directly."
"Please, sir, you told me not to speak unless you asked me a question."
"I said, 'A likely story!' which meant, 'Do you expect me to believe that?'"
"Of course I do, sir."
"Because it is true."
"How am I to believe that?"
"I don't know, sir. I only know I've got to speak the truth. It's the person who hears it that's got to believe it, ain't it, sir?"
"You've got to prove it."
"I don't think so, sir; I never was told so; I was only told I must speak the truth; I never was told I must prove what I said.—I've been several times disbelieved, I know."
"I should think so indeed!"
"It was by people who did not know me."
"Never by people who did know you?"
"I think not, sir. I never was by the people at home."
"Ah! you could not read what they were thinking!"
"Were you not believed when you were at home, sir?"
The magistrate's doubt of Clare had its source in the fact that, although now he was more careful to speak the truth than are most people, it was not his habit when a boy, and he had suffered severely in consequence. He was annoyed, therefore, at his question, set him down as a hypocritical, boastful prig, and was seized with a strong desire to shame him.
"I remand the prisoner for more evidence. Take the children to the workhouse," he said.
Tommy gave a sudden full-sized howl. He had heard no good of the workhouse.
"The baby is mine!" pleaded Clare.
"Are you the father of it?" said the big policeman.
"Yes, I think so: I saved her life.—She would have been drowned if I hadn't looked for her when I heard the splash!" reasoned Clare, his face drawn with grief and the struggle to keep from crying.
"She's not yours," said the magistrate. "She belongs to the parish. Take her away, James."
The big policeman came up to take her. Clare would have held her tight, but was afraid of hurting her. He did draw back from the outstretched hands, however, while he put a question or two.
"Please, sir, will the parish be good to her?" he asked.
"Much better than you."
"Will it let me go and see her?" he asked again, with an outbreaking sob.
"You can't go anywhere till you're out of this," answered the big policeman, and, not ungently, took the baby from him.
"And when will that be, please?" asked Clare, with his empty arms still held out.
"That depends on his worship there."
"Hold your tongue, James," said the magistrate. "Take the boy away, John."
"Please, sir, where am I going to?" asked Clare.
"To prison, till we find out about you."
"Please, sir, I didn't mean to steal her. I didn't know the parish wanted her!"
"Take the boy away, I tell you!" cried the magistrate angrily. "His tongue goes like the hopper of a mill!"
James, carrying the baby on one arm, was already pushing Tommy before him by the neck. Tommy howled, and rubbed his red eyes with what was left him of cuffs, but did not attempt resistance.
"Please, don't let anybody hold her upside down, policeman!" cried Clare. "She doesn't like it!—Oh, baby! baby!"
John tightened his grasp on his arm, and hurried him away in another direction.
Where the big policeman issued with his charge, there was Abdiel hovering about as if his spring were wound up so tight that it wouldn't go off. How he came to be at that door, I cannot imagine.
When he spied Tommy, he rushed at him. Tommy gave him a kick that rolled him over.
"Don't want you, you mangy beast!" he said, and tried to kick him again.
Abdiel kept away from him after that, but followed the party to the workhouse, where also, to his disgust, plainly expressed, he was refused admittance. He returned to the entrance by which Clare had vanished from his eyes the night before, and lay down there. I suspect he had an approximate canine theory of the whole matter. He knew at least that Clare had gone in with the others at that door; that he had not come out with them at the other door; that, therefore, in all probability, he was within that door still.
The police made inquiry at Mr. Maidstone's shop. Reasons for his dismissal were there given involving no accusation: there was little desire in that quarter to have the matter searched into. There was therefore nothing to the discredit of the boy, beyond his running to earth in the neglected house like a wild animal. After three days he was set at liberty.
As the big policeman led the way to the door to send him out, Clare addressed him thus:
"Please, Mr. James, may I go back to the house for a little while?"
"Well, you are an innocent!" said James; "—or," he added, "the biggest little humbug ever I see!—No, it's not likely!"
"I only wanted," explained Clare, "to set things straight a bit. The house is cleaner than it was, I know, but it is not in such good order as when we went into it. I don't like to leave it worse than we found it."
"Never you heed," said James, believing him perfectly before he knew what he was about. "The house don't belong to nobody, so far as ever I heerd, an' the things'll rot all the same wherever they stand."
"But I should like," persisted Clare.
"I couldn't do it off my own hook, an' his worship would think you only wanted to steal something. The best thing you can do is to leave the place at once, an' go where nobody knows nothing agin you."
Thought Clare with himself, "If the house doesn't belong to anybody, why wouldn't they let me stay in it?"
But the policeman opened the door, and as he was turning to say good-bye to him, gave him a little shove, and closed it behind him.
He went into the street with a white face and a dazed look—not from any hardship he had experienced during his confinement, for he had been in what to him was clover, but because he had lost the baby and Abdiel, and because his mind had been all the time in perplexity with regard to the proceedings of justice: he did not and could not see that he had done anything wrong. Throughout his life it never mattered much to Clare to be accused of anything wrong, but it did trouble him, this time at least, to be punished for doing what was right. He took it very quietly, however.
Indignation may be a sign of innocence, but it is no necessary consequence of innocence any more than it is a proof of righteousness. A man will be fiercely indignant at an accusation that happens to be false, who did the very thing last week, and is ready to do it again. Indignation against wrong to another even, is no proof of a genuine love of fair play. Clare hardly resented anything done to himself. His inward unconscious purity held him up, and made him look events in the face with an eye that was single and therefore at once forgiving and fearless. The man who has no mote in his own eye cannot be knocked down by the beam in his neighbour's; while he who is busy with the mote in his neighbour's may stumble to destruction over the beam in his own.
White and dazed as he came out, the moment he stepped across the threshold, Clare met the comfort of God waiting for him. His eyes blinded with the great light, for it was a glorious morning in the beginning of June, he found himself assailed in unknightly fashion below the knee: there, to his unspeakable delight, was Abdiel, clinging to him with his fore-legs, and wagging his tail as if, like the lizards for terror, he would shake it off for gladness! What a blessed little pendulum was Abdiel's tail! It went by that weight of the clock of the universe called devotion. It was the escapement of that delight which is of the essence of existence, and which, when God has set right "our disordered clocks," will be its very consciousness.
Clare stood for a moment and looked about him. The needle of his compass went round and round. It had no north. He could not go back to the shop; he could not go back to the house; baby was in the workhouse, but he could not stay there even if they would let him! Neither could he stop in the town; the policeman said he must go away! Where was he to go? There was not in the world one place for him better than another! But they would let him see baby before he went!—and off he set to find the workhouse.
Abdiel followed quietly at his heel, for his master walked lost in thought, and Abdiel was too hungry to make merry without his notice. Clare, fresh to the world, had been a great reader for one so young, and could encounter new experience with old knowledge. In his mind stood a pile of fir-cones, and dried sticks, and old olive wood, which the merest touch of experience would set in a blaze of practical conclusion. But the workhouse was so near that his reflections before he reached it amounted only to this—that there are worse places than a prison when you have done nothing to deserve being put in it. A palace may be one of them. You get enough to eat in a prison; in a palace you do not; you get too much!
The porter at the workhouse informed him it was not the day for seeing the inmates; but the tall policeman had given Clare a hint, and he requested to see the matron. After much demur and much entreaty, the man went and told the matron. She, knowing the story of the baby, wanted to see Clare, and was so much pleased with his manners and looks, that his sad clothes pleaded for and not against him. She took him at once to the room where the baby was with many more, telling him he must prove she was his by picking her out. It was not wonderful that Clare, who knew the faces of animals so well, should know his own baby the moment he saw her, notwithstanding that she was decently clothed, and had already improved in appearance. But the nurses declared they had never before seen a man, not to say a boy, who could tell one baby from another.
"Why," rejoined Clare, "my dog Abdiel could pick out the baby he was nurse to!"
"Ah, but he's a dog!"
"And I'm a boy!" said Clare.
He descried her on the lap of an old woman, seeming to him very old, who was at the head of the nursery-department. Old as she was, however, she had a keen eye, and a handsome countenance, with a quantity of white hair. Unlike the rest of the women, though not far removed from them socially, she knew several languages, so far as to read and enjoy books in them. Now and then a great woman may be found in a workhouse, like a first folio of Shakspere on a bookstall, among—oh, such companions!
"Let me take her," said Clare modestly, holding out his hands for the baby.
"Are you sure you will not let her drop?"
"Why, ma'am," answered Clare, "she's my own baby! It was I took her out of the water-but! I washed and fed her every day!—not that I could do it so well as you, ma'am!"
She gave him the baby, and watched him with the eye of a seeress, for she had a wonderful insight into character, and that is one of the roots of prophecy.
"You are a good and true lad," she said at length, "and a hard success lies before you. I don't know what you will come to, but, with those eyes, and that forehead, and those hands, if you come to anything but good, you will be terribly to blame."
"I will try to be good, ma'am," said Clare simply. "But I wish I knew what they put me in prison for!"
"What, indeed, my lamb!" she returned; and her eyes flashed with indignation under the cornice of her white hair. "They'll be put in prison one day themselves that did it!"
"Oh, I don't mind!" said Clare. "I don't want them to be punished. You see I'm only waiting!"
"What are you waiting for, sonny?" asked the old woman.
"I don't exactly know—though I know better than what I was put in prison for. Nobody ever told me anything, but I'm always waiting for something."
"The something will come, child. You will have what you want! Only go on as you're doing, and you'll be a great man one day."
"I don't want to be a great man," answered Clare; "I'm only waiting till what is coming does come."
The woman cast down her eyes, and seemed lost in thought. Clare dandled the baby gently in his arms, and talked loving nonsense to her.
"Well," said the old woman, raising at length her eyes, with a look of reverence in them, to Clare's, "I can't help you, and you want no help of mine. I've got no money, but—"
"I've got plenty of money, ma'am," interrupted Clare. "I've got a whole shilling in my pocket!"
"Bless the holy innocent!" murmured the woman. "—Well, I can only promise you this—that as long as I live, the baby sha'n't forget you; and I ain't so old as I look."
Here the matron came up, and said he had better be going now; but if he came back any day after a month, he should see the baby again.
"Thank you, ma'am," replied Clare. "Keep her a good baby, please. I will come for her one day."
"Please God I live to see that day!" said the old woman. "I think I shall."
She did live to see it, though I cannot tell that part of the story now.
So Clare went once more into the street, where Abdiel was again watching for him, and stood on the pavement, not knowing which way to turn. The big policeman had told him that no one there would give him work after what had happened; and now, therefore, he was only waiting for a direction to present itself. In a moment it occurred to him that, having come in at one end of the town, he had better go out at the other. He followed the suggestion, and Abdiel followed him—his head hanging and his tail also, for the joy of recovering his master had used up all the remnant of wag there was in his clock. He had no more frolic or scamper in him now than when Clare first saw him. How the poor thing had subsisted during the last few days, it were hard to tell. It was much that he had escaped death from ill-usage. Meanest of wretches are the boys or men that turn like grim death upon the helpless. Except they change their way, helplessness will overtake them like a thief, and they will look for some one to deliver them and find none. Traitors to those whom it is their duty to protect, they will one day find themselves in yet more pitiful plight than ever were they. But I fear they will not believe it before their fate has them by the throat.
Clare saw that the dog was famished. He stopped at a butcher's and bought him a scrap of meat for a penny. Then he had elevenpence with which to begin the world afresh, and was not hungry.
Out on the highway they went, in a perfect English summer day, with all the world before them. It was not an oyster for Clare to open with sword, pen, or sesame; but he might find a place on the outside of it for all that, and a way over it into a better—one that he could open and get at the heart of. The sun shone as on the day of the earthquake—deep in Clare's dimmest memorial cavern;—shone as if he knew, come what might, that all was well; that if he shone his heart out and went dark, nothing would go wrong; while, for the present, everything depended on his shining his glorious best.
"Come along, Abdiel," said Clare; "we're going to see what comes next. At the worst, you know what hunger is, doggie, and that a good deal of it can be borne pretty well—though I'm not fond of it any more than you, doggie! We'll not beg till we're downright forced, and we won't steal. When that's the next thing, we'll just sit down, wag our tails, and die.—There!"
He gave him the last piece of his meat, and they trudged on for some time without speaking.
The sun was very hot, for it was past noon an hour or two, when they came to a public-house, with a pump before it, and a trough. Clare grew very thirsty when he saw the pump, and imagined the rush of a thick sparkling curve from its spout. But its handle was locked with a chain, to keep men and women from having water instead of beer. He went with longing to the trough, but the water in it was so unclean that, thirsty as he was, he could not look on it even as a last resource. He walked into the house.
"Please, ma'am," he said to the woman at the bar, "would you allow me to pump myself a little water to drink?"
"You think I've got nothing to do but serve tramps with water!" she answered, throwing back her head till her nostrils were at right angles with the horizon.
"I'm not a tramp, ma'am," said Clare.
"Show me your money, then, for a pot of beer, like other honest folk."
"I'm afraid I told you wrong, ma'am," returned Clare. "I'm afraid I am a tramp after all; only I'm looking for work, and most tramps ain't, I fancy."
"They all say they are," answered the woman. "That's your story, and that's theirs!"
"I've got elevenpence, ma'am; and could, I dare say, buy a pot of beer, though I don't know the price of one; but I don't see where I'm going to get any more money, and what we have must serve Abdiel and me till we do."
"What right have you to a dog, when you ain't fit to pay your penny for a half-pint o' beer?"
"Don't be hard on the young 'un, mis'ess; he don't look a bad sort!" said a man who stood by with a pewter pot in his hand.
Clare wondered why he had his cord-trousers pulled up a few inches and tied under his knees with a string, which made little bags of them there. He had to think for a mile after they left the public-house before he discovered that it was to keep them from tightening on his knees when he stooped, and so incommoding him at his work.
"Thank you, sir," he said. "I'm not a bad sort. I didn't know it was any harm to ask for water. It ain't begging, is it, sir?"
"Not as I knows on," replied the man. "Here, take the lot!"
He offered Clare his nearly emptied pewter.
"No, thank you, sir," answered Clara "I am thirsty—but not so thirsty as to take your drink from you. I can get on to the next pump. Perhaps that won't be chained up like a bull!"
"Here, mis'ess!" cried the man. "This is a mate as knows a neighbour when he sees him. I'll stand him a half-pint. There's yer money!"
Without a word the woman flung the man's penny in the till, and drew Clare a half-pint of porter. Clare took it eagerly, turned to the man, said, "I thank you, sir, and wish your good health," and drained the pewter mug. He had never before tasted beer, or indeed any drink stronger than tea, and he did not like it. But he thanked his benefactor again, and went back to the trough.
"Dogs don't drink beer," he said to himself. "They know better!" and lifting Abdiel he held him over the trough. Abdiel was not so fastidious as his master, and lapped eagerly. Then they pursued their uncertain way.
Ready to do anything, he thought the shabbiness of his clothes would be a greater bar to indoor than to outdoor work, and applied therefore at every farm they came to. But he did not look so able as he was, and boys were not much wanted. He never pitied himself, and never entreated: to beg for work was beggary, and to beggary he would not descend until driven by approaching death. But now and then some tender-hearted woman, oftener one of ripe years, struck with his look—its endurance, perhaps, or its weariness mingled with hope—would perceive the necessity of the boy, and offer him the food he did not ask—nor like him the less that, never doubting what came to one was for both, he gave the first share of it to Abdiel.
Travelling on in vague hope, meeting with kindness enough to keep him alive, but getting no employment, sleeping in what shelter he could find, and never missing the shelter he could not find, for the weather was exceptionally warm for the warm season, he came one day to a village where the strangest and hardest experience he ever encountered awaited him. What part of the country he was in, or what was the name of the village, he did not know. He seldom asked a question, seldom uttered word beyond a polite greeting, but kept trudging on and on, as if the goal of his expectation were ever drawing nigher. He felt no curiosity as to the names of the places he passed through. Why should the names of towns and villages strung on a road to nowhere in particular, interest him? He did, however, long afterward, come to know the name of this village, and its topographical relations: the place itself was branded on his brain.
He entered it in the glow of a hot noon, and had walked nearly through it without meeting any one, for it was the dinner-hour, and savoury odours filled the air, when a little girl came from a neat house, and ran farther down the street. He was very tired, very dusty, had eaten nothing that day, had begun to despair of work, and was wishing himself clear of the houses that he might throw himself down. But something in the look of the child made him quicken his weary step as he followed her. He overtook her, passed her, and saw her face. Heavens! it was Maly, grown wonderfully bigger! He turned and caught her up in his arms. She gave a screech of terror, and he set her down in keenest dismay. Finding that he was not going to run away with her, she did not run farther from him than to safe parleying distance.
"You bad boy!" she cried; "you're not to touch me! I will tell mamma!"
"Why, Maly! don't you know me?"
"No, I don't You are a dirty boy!"
"My name is not Maly; it's Mary; and I don't know you."
"Have you forgotten Clare, Maly?—Clare that used to carry you about all day long?"
"Yes; I have forgotten you. You're a dirty, ragged beggar-boy! You're a bad boy! Boys with holes in their clothes are bad boys.—Nursie told me so, and she knows everything! She told me herself she knew everything!"
She gave another though milder scream: involuntarily, Clare had taken a step toward her, with his hand in his pocket, searching, as in the old days when she cried, for something to give her. But, alas, his pockets were now as empty as his stomach! there was nothing in them—not even a crumb saved from a scanty meal! While he was yet searching, the little child, his heart's love—if indeed it was she—stooped, gathered a handful of dust, and threw it at him. The big boy burst into tears. The child mocked him for a minute, and when Clare looked up again, drying his eyes with a rag, she was gone.
He felt no resentment; love, old memories, his strange gentleness, and pity for Maly and Maly's mother, saved him from it. The child was big and plump and rosy, but oh, how fallen from his little Maly! And, her child grown such, the mother was poor indeed, though up in the dome of the angels! If she did not know the change in her, it was the worse, for she could not help! Clare, like most of my readers, had not yet learned to trust God for everything. But he was true to Maly. Miserable over her backsliding, he said to himself that evil counsellors were more to blame than she.
"Did she know me at all?" he pondered; "or has she forgot me altogether?"
He began to doubt whether the girl was really Maly, or one very like her. About half an hour after, he met a poor woman with a bundle on her bowed back, who gave him a piece of bread. When he had eaten that, he began to doubt whether he had met any little girl. He remembered that he had often come to himself, as he wandered along the road, to find he had been lost in fancies of old scenes or imaginary new ones; waked up, he did not at once realize himself a poor lad on the tramp for work he could not find: his conceptions were for a time stronger than the things around him. He was thereupon comforted with the hope that he had not in reality seen Maly, but had imagined the whole affair. How was it possible, though, that he should imagine such horrible things of his little sister? On the other hand, was it not more possible for a fainting brain to imagine such a misery, than for the live child to behave in such a fashion? Every day for many days he tormented himself with like reasonings; but by degrees the occurrence, whether fancy or fact, receded, and he grew more conscious of tramping, tramping along. He grew also more hopeless of getting work, but not more doubtful that everything was right. For he knew of nothing he had done to bring these things upon him.
His quiet content never left him. At the worst pinch of hunger and cold, he never fell into despair. I do not know what merit he had in this, for he was constituted more hopeful and placid than I ever knew another. What he had merit in was, that not for a hungry boy's most powerful temptation, something to eat, would he even imagine himself doing what must not be done. He would not lead himself into temptation. Thus he pleased the Power—let me rather say, ten times more truly—the Father from whom he came.
Within a fortnight or so after the police had dismissed him, blowing him loose on the world like a dandelion-seed in the wind, Clare had an adventure which not only gave him pleasure, but led to work and food and interest in life.
Passing one day from a cross-country road into the highway, he came straight on the flank of a travelling menagerie. It was one of some size, and Clare saw at a glance that its horses were in fair condition. The front part of the little procession had already gone by, and an elephant was passing at the moment with a caravan—of feline creatures, as Clare afterwards learned, behind him. He drew it with absolute ease, but his head seemed to be dragged earthward by the weight of his trunk, as he plodded wearily along. A world of delight woke in the heart of the boy. He had read much about strange beasts, but had never seen one. His impulse was to run straight to the elephant, and tell him he loved him. For he was a live beast, and Clare loved every creature, common or strange, wild or tame, ordinary or wonderful. But prudent thought followed, and he saw it better to hover around, in the hope of a chance of being useful. Oh, the treasures of wonder and knowledge on the other side of those thin walls of wood, so slowly drawn along the dusty highway! If but for a moment he might gaze on their living marvels! He had no money, but things came to him without money—not so plentifully as he could sometimes wish—but they came, and so might this! Employment among those animals would be well worth the long hungry waiting! This might be the very work he had been looking for without knowing it! It was for this, perhaps, he had been kept so long waiting—till the caravans should come along the road, and he be at the corner as they passed! He did not know how often a man may think thus and see it come to nothing—because there is better yet behind, for which more waiting is wanted.
At the end of the procession came a bear, shuffling along uncomfortably. It went to Clare's heart to see how far from comfortable the poor beast appeared. "What a life it would be," he thought, "to have all the creatures in all those caravans to make happy! That would be a life worth living!"
It was a worthy ambition—infinitely higher than that of boys who want to do something great, or clever, or strong. As to those who want to be rich—for their ambition I have an utter contempt. How gladly would I drive that meanness out of any boy's heart! To fall in with the work of the glad creator, and help him in it—that is the only ambition worth having. It may not look a grand thing to do it in a caravan, but it takes the mind of Christ to do it anywhere.
Behind the bear, closing the procession, came a stoutish, good-tempered-looking man, in a small spring-cart, drawn by a small pony: he was the earthly owner of that caged life, with all its gathered discomforts. Clare lifted his cap as he passed him—a politeness of which the man took no notice, because the boy was ragged. The moment he was past, Clare fell in behind as one of the procession. He was prudent enough, however, not to go so near as to look intrusive.
When he had followed thus for a mile or two, he saw, by signs patent to every wanderer, that they were coming near a town. Before reaching it, however, they arrived at a spot where the hedges receded from the road, leaving a little green sward on the sides of it, and there the long line came to a halt.
The menagerie had, the day before, been exhibited at a fair, and was now on its way to another, to be held the next day in the town they were approaching: they had made the halt in order to prepare their entrance. To let a part of their treasure be seen, was the best way to rouse desire after what was yet hidden: they were going, therefore, to take out an animal or two more to walk in parade. Clare sat down at a little distance, and wondered what was coming next.
Experience of tramps had made the men suspicious, and it may be they disliked having their proceedings watched by anybody; but, happily for Clare, it was the master himself who came up to him, not without something of menace in his bearing. The boy was never afraid, and hope started up full grown as the man approached. He rose and took off his cap—a very ready action with Clare, which sprung from pure politeness, and from nothing either selfish or cringing. But the man put his own interpretation on the civility.
"What are you hanging about here for?" he said rudely.
Now Clare had a perfect right to answer, had he so pleased, that he was on the king's highway, where no one had a right to interfere with him. But he had the habit—he could not help it; it was natural to him—of thinking first of the other party's side of a question—a rare gift, which served him better than he knew. For the other may be in the right, and it is an ugly thing to interfere with any man's right; while a man's own rights are never so much good to him as when he waives them.
"I beg your pardon, sir," he said; "I did not understand you wished to be alone. I never thought you would mind me. Will it be far enough if I go just out of sight, for I am very tired? It is pleasant, besides, to know there are friends near!"
The man recognized in Clare the modes and speech of a gentleman; and having, in the course of his wandering life, seen and known a good many strange things, he suspected under the rags a history. But he was not interested enough to stop and inquire into it.
"Never mind," he said, in altered tone; "I see you're after no mischief!" and with that walked away, leaving Clare to do as he pleased.
A few minutes more went by. Clare sat hungry and sleepy on the grass by the roadside. Before he knew, he was on his feet, startled by a terrible noise. The lion had opened his great jaws, and his brown leathery sides, working like a pair of bellows, had sent from his throat a huge blast, half roar, half howl. When Clare came to himself he knew, though he had never heard it before, that the fearful sound was the voice of the lion. He did not know that all it meant was, that his majesty had thought of his dinner. It was not indeed much more than an audible gape. He stood for a moment, not at all terrified, but half expecting to see a huge yellow animal burst out of one of the caravans—he could not guess which: the roar was much too loud to indicate one rather than another. He sat down again, but was not any longer inclined to sleep. For a time, however, no second roar came from the ribs of the captive monarch.
That there had been a fair not far off will partly account for what follows. As Clare sat resting, which was all he could do, with sleep fled and food nowhere, a roar of a different kind invaded his ears. It came along the road this time, not from the caravans. He looked, and spied what would have brought the heart into the throat of many a grown man. Away on the road, in the direction whence the menagerie had come, he saw a cloud of dust and a confused struggle, presently resolved into two men, each at the end of a rope, and an animal between them attached to the ropes by a ring in his nose. It was a bull, in terrible excitement, bounding this way and that, dragging and driving the men—doing his best in fact to break away, now from the one of them, now from the other, and now from both at once. It must have tortured him to pull those strong men by the cartilage of his nose, but he was in too great a rage to feel it much. Every other moment his hoofs would be higher than his head, and again hoofs and head and horns would be scraping the ground in a fruitless rush to send one of his tormentors into space beyond the ken of bulls. With swift divergence, like a scenting hound, he twisted and shot his huge body. The question between men and bull seemed one of endurance.
The pale-faced boy, though full of interest in the strife, yet having had no food that day, was not in sufficient spirits to run and meet the animal whirlwind, so as to watch closer its chances; but the struggle came at length near enough for him to follow almost every detail of it: he could see the bloody foam drip from the poor beast's nostrils. When about fifty yards away, the bull, by a sudden twist, wrenched the rope from the hands of one of the men. He fell on his back. The other dropped his rope and fled. The bull came scouring down the highway.
A second roar, as of muffled thunder, issued from the leathery flanks of the lion. The bull made a sudden stop, scoring up the ground with his hoofs. It seemed as if in full career he started back. Then down went his head, and like a black flash, its accompanying thunder a bellow of defiant contempt and wrath, he charged one of the caravans. He had taken the hungry lion's roar for a challenge to combat. It was nothing to the bull that the voice was that of an unknown monster; he was ready for whatever the monster might prove.
The men busy about the caravans and wagons, caught sight of him coming, and in the first moment of terror at a beast to which they were not accustomed, bolted for refuge behind or upon them: they would sooner have encountered their tiger broke loose. The same moment, with astounding shock, the head of the bull went crack against the near hind-wheel of the caravan in whose shafts stood the elephant, patiently waiting orders. The bull had not caught sight of the elephant, or he would doubtless have "gone for" him, not the caravan. His ear, finer than Clare's, must have distinguished whence the roar proceeded: in that caravan, sure enough, was the lion, with the rest of the great cats. He answered the blow of the bull's head with a roar thunderously different from his late sleepy leonine sigh. It roused every creature in the menagerie. From the greatest to the smallest each took up its cry. Out burst a tornado of terrific sound, filling with horror the quiet noontide. The roaring and yelling of lion, tiger, and leopard, the laughter of hyena, the howling of jackal, and the snarling of bear, mingled in hideous dissonance with the cries of monkeys and parrots; while certain strange gurgles made Clare's heart, lover of animals though he was, quiver, and his blood creep. The same instant, however, he woke to the sense that he might do something: he ran to the caravans.
By this time the men, master and all, fully roused to the far worse that might follow the attack of the bull, had caught up what weapons were at hand, and rushed to repel the animal For more than one or two of them it might have proved a fatal encounter, but that the enraged beast had entangled his horns in the spokes and rim of the wheel. In terror of what might be approaching him from behind, he was struggling wildly to extricate them. Peril upon peril! What if in the contortions of his mighty muscles he pulled off the wheel, and the carriage toppled over, every cage in it so twisted and wrenched that the bearings of its iron bars gave way! The results were too terrible to ponder! This way and that, and every way at once, he was writhing and pushing and prising and dragging. The elephant turned the shafts slowly round to see what was the matter behind. If the bull and the elephant yoked to the caravan came to loggerheads, ruin was inevitable. The master thought whether he had not better loose the elephant while the bull was yet entangled by the horns. With one blow of his trunk he would break the ruffian's back and end the affray! It were good even, if one knew how, to loose the wicked-looking horns: the brute's struggles to free them were more dangerous far than could be the horns themselves!
While he hesitated, Clare came running up, with Abdiel at his heels ready as any hornet to fly at bull or elephant, let his master only speak the word. But the moment Clare saw how the bull's horns were mixed up with the spokes and fellies of the wheel, a glad suspicion flashed across him: that was old Nimrod's way! could it be Nimrod himself? If it were, the trouble was as good as over! The suspicion became a certainty the instant it woke. But never could Clare altogether forgive himself for not at first sight recognizing his old friend. I believe myself that hunger was to blame, and not Clare.
The men stood about the animal, uncertain what to do, as he struggled with his horns, and heaved and tore at the wheel to get them out of it, the roars and howls and inarticulate curses going on all the time. The elephant must have been tired, to stand so and do nothing! For a moment Clare could not get near enough. He was afraid to call him while the bull could not see him: Nimrod might but struggle the more, in order to get to him!
Up rushed a fellow, white with rage and running, bang into the middle of the spectators, and shook the knot of them asunder. It was one of the two men from whom Nimrod had broken. He had a pitchfork in his hands which he proceeded to level. Clare flung his weight against him, threw up his fork, shoved him aside, and got close to the maddened animal. It was his past come again! How often had he not interfered to protect Nimrod—and his would-be masters also! With instinctive, unconscious authority, he held up his hand to the little crowd.
"Leave him alone," he cried. "I know him; I can manage him! Please do not interfere. He is an old friend of mine."
They saw that the bull was already still: he had recognized the boy's voice! They kept his furious attendant back, and looked on in anxious hope while Clare went up to the animal.
"Nimrod!" he whispered, laying a hand on one of the creature's horns, and his cheek against his neck.
Nimrod stood like a bull in bronze.
"I'm going to get your horns out, Nimrod," murmured Clare, and laid hold of the other with a firm grasp. "You must let me do as I like, you know, Nimrod!"
His voice evidently soothed the bull.
By the horns Clare turned his head now one way, now another, Nimrod not once resisting push or pull. In a moment more he would have them clear, for one of them was already free. Holding on to the latter, Clare turned to the bystanders.
"You mustn't touch him," he said, "or I won't answer for him. And you mustn't let either of those men there"—for the second of Nimrod's attendants had by this time come up—"interfere with him or me. They let him go because they couldn't manage him. He can't bear them; and if he were to break loose from them again, it might be quite another affair! Then he might distrust me!"
The menagerie men turned, and looking saw that the man with the pitchfork had revenge in his heart. They gave him to understand that he must mind what he was about, or it would be the worse for him. The man scowled and said nothing.
Clare gently released the other horn, but kept his hold of the first, moving the creature's head by it, this way and that. A moment more and he turned his face to the company, which had scattered a little. When the inflamed eyes of Nimrod came into view, they scattered wider. Clare still made the bull feel his hand on his horn, and kept speaking to him gently and lovingly. Nimrod eyed his enemies, for such plainly he counted them, as if he wished he were a lion that he might eat as well as kill them. At the same time he seemed to regard them with triumph, saying in his big heart, "Ha! ha! you did not know what a friend I had! Here he is, come in the nick of time! I thought he would!" Clare proceeded to untie the ropes from the ring in his nose. The man with the pitchfork interfered.
"That wonnot do!" he said, and laid his hand on Clare's arm. "Would you send him ramping over the country, and never a hold to have on him?"
"It wasn't much good when you had a hold on him—was it now?" returned the boy. "Where do you want to take him?"
"That's my business," answered the man sulkily.
"I fancy you'll find it's mine!" returned Clare. "But there he is! Take him."
The man hesitated.
"Then leave me to manage him," said Clare.
A murmur of approbation arose. The caravan people felt he knew what he was saying. They believed he had power with the bull.
While yet he was untying the first of the ropes from the animal's bleeding nostrils, Clare's fingers all at once refused further obedience, his eyes grew dim, and he fell senseless at the bull's feet.
"Don't tell Nimrod!" he murmured as he fell.
"Oh, that explains it!" cried the man with the pitchfork to his mate. "He knows the cursed brute!" For Clare had hitherto spoken his name to the bull as if it were a secret between them.
Neither had the sense to perceive that the explanation lay in the bull's knowing Clare, not in Clare's knowing the bull. They made haste to lay hold of the ropes. Nimrod stood motionless, looking down on his friend, now and then snuffing at the pale face, which the thorough-bred mongrel, Abdiel, kept licking continuously. Noses of bull and dog met without offence on the loved human countenance. But had the men let the bull feel the ropes, that moment he would have been raging like a demon.
The men of the caravan, admiring both Clare's influence over the animal and his management of him, grateful also for what he had done for them, hastened to his help. When they had got him to take a little brandy, he sat up with a wan smile, but presently fell sideways on his elbow, and so to the ground again.
"It's nothing," he murmured; "it's only I'm rather hungry."
"Poor boy!" said a woman, who had followed her brandy from the house-caravan, afraid it might disappear in occult directions, "when did you have your last feed?"
She stood looking down on the white face, almost between the fore-feet of the bull.
"I had a piece of bread yesterday afternoon, ma'am," faltered Clare, trying to look up at her.
"Bless my soul!" she cried, "who's been a murderin' of you, child?"
She thought he was in company with the two men; and they had been ill-treating him.
"I can't get any work, ma'am, so I don't want much to eat. Now I think of it, I believe it was the gladness of seeing an old friend again, and not the hunger, that made me feel so queer all at once."
"Where's your friend?" she asked, looking round the assembly.
"There he is!" answered Clare, putting up his hand, and stroking the big nose that was right over his face.
"Couldn't you rise now?" said the woman, after a moment's silent regard of him.
"I'll try, ma'am; I don't feel quite sure."
"I want you to come into the house, and have a good square meal."
"If you would be so kind, ma'am, as let me have a bit of bread here! Nimrod would not like me to leave him. He loves me, ma'am, and if I went away, he might be troublesome. Those men will never do anything with him: he doesn't like them! They've been rough to him, I don't doubt. Not that I wonder at that, for he is a terrible beast to most people. They used to say he never was good with anybody but me. I suppose he knew I cared for him!"
His eyes closed again. The woman made haste to get him something. In a few minutes she returned with a basin of broth. He took it eagerly, but with a look of gratitude that went to her heart Before he tasted it, however, he set it on the ground, broke in half the great piece of bread she had brought with it, and gave the larger part to his dog. Then he ate the other with his broth, and felt better than for many a day. Some of the men said he could not be very hungry to give a cur like that so much of his dinner; but the evil thought did not enter the mind of the woman.
"You'd better be taking your beast away," said the woman, who by this time understood the affair, to the two men.
They were silent, evidently disinclined for such another tussle.
"You'd better be going," she said again. "If anything should happen with that animal of yours, and one of ours was to get loose, the devil would be to pay, and who'd do it?"
"They'd better wait for me, ma'am," said Clare, rising. "I'm just ready!—They won't tell me where they want to take him, but it's all one, so long as I'm with him. He's my friend!—Ain't you, Nimrod? We'll go together—won't we, Nimrod?"
While he spoke, he undid the ropes from the ring in the bull's nose. Gathering them up, he handed them politely to one of the men, and the next moment sprang upon the bull's back, just behind his shoulders, and leaning forward, stroked his horns and neck.
"Give me up the dog, please," he said.
The owner of the menagerie himself did as Clare requested. All stood and stared, half expecting to see him flung from the creature's back, and trampled under his hoofs. Even Nimrod, however, would not easily have unseated Clare, who could ride anything he had ever tried, and had tried everything strong enough to carry him, from a pig upward. But Nimrod was far from wishing to unseat his friend, who with hands and legs began to send him toward the road.
"Are you going that way?" he asked, pointing. The men answered him with a nod, sulky still.
"Don't go with those men," said the woman, coming up to the side of the bull, and speaking in a low voice. "I don't like the look of them."
"Nimrod will be on my side, ma'am," answered Clare. "They would never have got him home without me. They don't understand their fellow-creatures."
"I'm afraid you understand your fellow-creatures, as you call them, better than you do your own kind!"
"I think they are my own kind, ma'am. That is how they know me, and do what I want them to do."
"Stay with us," said the woman coaxingly, still speaking low. "You'll have plenty of your fellow-creatures about you then!"
"Thank you, ma'am, a thousand times!" answered Clare, his face beaming; "but I couldn't leave poor Nimrod to do those men a mischief, and be killed for it!"
"You'd have plenty to eat and drink, and som'at for your pocket!" persisted the woman.
"I know I should have everything I wanted!" answered Clare, "and I'm very thankful to you, ma'am. But you see there's always something, somehow, that's got to be done before the other thing!"
Here the master came up. He had himself been thinking the boy would be a great acquisition, and guessed what his wife was about; but he was afraid she might promise too much for services that ought to be had cheap. Few scruple to take advantage of the misfortune of another to get his service cheap. It is the economy of hell.
"I sha'n't feel safe till that bull of yours is a mile off!" he said.
"Come along, Nimrod!" answered Clare, always ready with the responsive deed.
Away went Nimrod, gentle as a lamb.
The two men came after at their ease. No sooner was Nimrod on the road, however, than he began to quicken his pace. He quickened it fast, and within a minute or so was trotting swiftly along. The men ran panting and shouting behind. The more they shouted, the faster Nimrod went. Ere long he was out of their sight, though Clare could hear them cursing and calling for a time.
He had endeavoured to stop Nimrod, but the bull seemed to have made up his mind that he had obeyed enough for one day. He did not heed a word Clare said to him, but kept on and on at a swinging trot. Clare would have jumped off had he been sure the proceeding would stop him; but, now that he would not obey him, he feared lest, in doing so, he might let him loose on the country, when there was no saying what mischief he might not work. On the other hand, he felt sure that he could restrain him from violence, though he might not prevent his frolicking. He must therefore keep his seat.
For a few miles Nimrod was content with the highway, now trotting beautifully, now breaking into a canter. But all at once he turned at right angles in the middle of the road, cleared the skirting fence like a hunter, and took a bee-line across the fields. Compelled sometimes to abandon it, he showed great judgment in choosing the place at which to get out of the enclosure, or cross the natural obstruction. On and on he went, over hedge after hedge, through field after field, until Clare began to wonder where all the people in the world had got to. Then a strange feeling gradually came over him. Surely at some time or other he had seen the meadow he was crossing! Was he asleep, and dreaming the jolly ride he was having on Nimrod's back? What a strong creature Nimrod was! Would he never be tired? How oddly he felt! Were his senses going from him? It was like the strangest mixture of a bad dream and a good!
There seemed at length no further room for doubt or mistake. Everything was in its place! It was plain why Nimrod was so obstinate! The dear old fellow was carrying him back to where they had been together so many happy days! They were nigh Mr. Goodenough's farm, and making straight for it! How strange it was! he had felt himself a measureless distance from it! But in his wandering he had taken many turns he did not heed, and Nimrod had come the shortest way. Delight filled his heart at the thought of seeing once more the places where his father and mother seemed yet to live. But instantly came the thought of Maly, and drowned the other thought in bitterness. Then he felt how worthless place is, when those who made it dear are gone. Father and mother are home—not the house we were born in!
They were soon upon the farm where once he had abundance of labour, abundance to eat, and abundance of lowly friendship. Nimrod was making for his old stable. He was weary now, and breathing heavily, though not at all spent. Was he dreaming of a golden age, in which Clare should be ever at his beck and call?
Clare had little inclination to encounter any of the people of the farm. He would indeed have been glad, from a little way off, to get a sight of his once friend and master, the farmer himself; and very gladly would he have gone into the stable in the hope of a greeting from old Jonathan; but he would not willingly meet "the mistress!" Nimrod should take him to his old stall; there he would tie him up, and flee from the place! The evening was now come, and in the dusk he would escape unseen.
When they reached Nimrod's door, they found it closed; and Clare, stiff enough by this time, slipped off to open it. Nimrod began to paw the stones, and blow angry puffs from his wounded nose. When Clare got the door open, he saw, to his confusion, a vague dark bulk, another bull, in Nimrod's stall! The roar that simultaneously burst from each was ferocious, and down went Nimrod's head to charge. It was a terrible moment for Clare: the new bull was fast by the head, and, unable to turn it to his adversary, would be gored to death almost in a moment! He could not let Nimrod be guilty of such unfairness! And the mistress would think he had brought him back for the very purpose! He all but jumped on the horns of his friend, making him yield just ground enough for the shutting of the door. He knew well, however, that not three such doors in one would keep Nimrod from an enemy. With his back to it he stood facing him and talking to him, and all the while they heard the bull inside struggling to get free. He stood between two horned rages, only a chain and a plank betwixt him and the one at his back, with which he had no influence. A coward would have escaped, and left the two bullies to settle between them which had the better right to the stall—not without blood, almost as certainly not without loss of life, perhaps human as well as bovine. But Clare was made of other stuff.
Before he could get Nimrod away, the bellowing brought out the farmer. All his men had gone to the village; only himself and his wife were at home.
"What's got the brute?" he cried on the threshold, but instantly began to run, for he saw through the gathering darkness a darker shape he knew, roaring and pawing at the door of his old quarters, and a boy standing between him and it, with marvellous courage in mortal danger. He understood at once that Nimrod had broken loose and come back. But when he came near enough to recognize Clare, astonishment, and something more sacred than astonishment, held him dumb. Ever since the unjust blow that sent the boy from him, his heart had been aware of a little hollow of remorse in it. Now all his former relations with him while his adoptive father yet lived, came back upon him. He remembered him dressed like the little gentleman he always was—and there he stood, the same gentle fearless creature, in absolute rags! If his wife saw him! The farmer had no fear of Nimrod in his worst rages, but he feared his wife in her gentlest moods. Happily for both, a critical moment in the cooking of the supper had arrived.
"Clare!" he stammered.
"Yes, sir," returned Clare, and laid hold of Nimrod's horn. The animal yielded, and turned away with him. The farmer came nearer, and put his arm round the boy's neck. The boy rubbed his cheek against the arm.
"I'm sorry I struck you, Clare!" faltered the big man.
"Oh, never mind, sir! That was long ago!" answered the boy.
"Tell me how you've been getting on."
"Pretty well, sir! But I want to tell you first how it is I'm here with Nimrod. Only it would be better to put him somewhere before I begin."
"It would," agreed the farmer; and between them, with the enticements of a pail of water and some fresh-cut grass, they got him into a shed, where they hoped he would forget the proximity of the usurper, and, with the soothing help of his supper, go to sleep.
Then Clare told his story. Mr Goodenough afterward asseverated that, if he had not known him for a boy that would not lie, he would not have believed the half of it.
"Come, Abdiel!" said Clare, the moment he ended—and would have started at once.
"Won't you have something after your long ride?" said the farmer.
Clare looked down at his clothes, and laughed. The farmer knew what he meant, and did not ask him into the house.
"When had you anything to eat?" he inquired.
"I shall do very well till to-morrow," answered Clare.
"Then if you will go, I'm glad of the opportunity of paying you the wages I owed you," said the farmer, putting his hand in his pocket.
"You gave me my food! That was all I was worth!" protested Clare.
"You were worth more than that! I knew the difference when I had another boy in your place! I wish I had you again!—But it wouldn't do, you know! it wouldn't do!" he added hastily.
With that he succeeded in pulling a sovereign from the depth of a trowser-pocket, and held it out to Clare. It was neither large wages nor a greatly generous gift, but it seemed to the boy wealth enormous. He could not help holding out his hand, but he was ashamed to open it. What the giver regarded as a debt, the receiver regarded as a gift. He stood with his hand out but clenched. There was a combat inside him.
"It's too much!" he protested, looking at the sovereign almost with fear. "I never had so much money in my life!"
"You earned it well," said the farmer magnanimously.
The moral cramp forsook his hand. He took the money with a hearty "Thank you, sir." As he put it in his pocket, he felt its corners carefully, lest there should be a hole. But his pockets had not had half the wear of the clothes they inhabited.
"Where are you going?" asked the farmer.
Clare mentioned the small town in whose neighbourhood he had left the caravans, and said he thought the people of the menagerie would like him to help them with the beasts. The farmer shook his head.
"It's not a respectable occupation!" he remarked.
Clare did not understand him.
"Do they cheat?" he asked.
"No; I don't suppose they cheat worse than anybody else. But it ain't respectable."
Had he known a little more, Clare might have asserted that the men about the menagerie were at least as respectable as almost any farmer with a horse to sell. But he knew next to nothing of wickedness, whence many a man whose skull he had brains enough to fill three times, regarded him as a simpleton.
Clare thought everything honest honourable. When people said otherwise, he did not understand, and continued to act according as he understood. A thousand dishonourable things are done, and largely approved, which Clare would not have touched with one of his fingers: he could see nothing more dishonourable in having to do with wild beasts than in having to do with tame ones. If any boy wants to know the sort of thing I count in that thousand, I answer him—"The next thing you are asked to do, or are inclined to do—if you have any doubt about it, DON'T DO IT." That is the way to know the honourable thing from the dishonourable.
Clare made no attempt to argue the question with the farmer. He inquired of him the nearest way to the town, and went—the quicker that he heard the voice of Mrs. Goodenough, calling her husband to supper.
A third mother.
Who ever had a sovereign for the first time in his life, and did not feel rich? Clare trudged along merrily, and Abdiel shared his joy. They had to sleep out of doors nevertheless; for by this time Clare knew that a boy, especially a boy in rags, must mind whom he asks to change a sovereign. In the lee of a hay-mow, on a little loose hay, they slept, Abdiel in Clare's bosom, and slept well.
There was not much temptation to lie long after waking, and the companions were early on their way. It was yet morning when they came to the public house where Clare had his first and last half-pint of beer. The landlady stood at the newly opened door, with her fists in her sides, looking out on the fresh world, lost in some such thought as was possible to her. Clare pulled off his cap, and bade her good morning as he passed. Perhaps she knew she did not deserve politeness; anyhow she took Clare's for impudence, and came swooping upon him. He stopped and waited her approach, perplexed as to the cause of it; and was so unprepared for the box on the ear she dealt him, that it almost threw him down. Her ankle was instantly in Abdiel's sharp teeth. She gave a frightful screech, and Clare, coming to himself, though still stupid from her blow and his own surprise, called off the dog. The woman limped raging to the house, and Clare thought it prudent to go his way. He talked severely to Abdiel as they went; but though the dog could understand much, I doubt if he understood that lecture. For Abdiel was one of the few, even among dogs, with whom the defence of master or friend is an inborn, instinctive duty; and strong temptation even has but a poor chance against the sense of duty in a dog.
It was night when they entered the town. They were already a weary pair when the far sounds of the brass band of the menagerie, mostly made up of attendants on the animals, first entered their ears. The marketing was over; the band was issuing its last invitation to the merry-makers to walk up and see strange sights; its notes were just dying to their close, when the wayfarers arrived at the foot of the steps leading to the platform where the musicians stood. Clare ascended, and Abdiel crept after him.
At a table in a small curtained recess on the platform, sat the mistress to receive the money of those that entered. Clare laid his sovereign before her. She took it up without looking at him, but at it she looked doubtfully. She threw it on her table. It would not ring. She bit it with her white teeth, and looked at it again; then at length gave a glance at the person who offered it. Her dull lamp flickered in the puffs of the night-wind, and she did not recognize Clare. She saw but a white-faced, ragged boy, and threw him back his sovereign.
"Won't pass," she said with decision, not unmingled with contempt. She sat at the receipt of money, where too many men and women cease to be ladies and gentlemen.
Clare did not at first understand. He stood motionless and, for the second time that day, bewildered. How could money be no money?
"'Ain't you got sixpence?" she asked.
"No, ma'am," answered Clare. "I haven't had sixpence for many a day."
The moment he spoke, the woman looked him sharply in the face, and knew him.
"Drat my stupid eyes!" she said fervently. "That I shouldn't ha' known you! Walk in, walk in. Go where you please, and do as you please. You're right welcome.—Where did you get that sov.?"
"From Farmer Goodenough."
"Good enough, I hope, not to take advantage of an innocent prince! Was it for taking home the bull?"
"No, ma'am. I didn't take the bull home. The bull took me to the old home where we used to be together. He didn't want a new one!"
"Well, never mind now. Give me the sovereign. I'll talk to you by and by. Go in, or the show 'ill be over. Look after your dog, though. We don't like dogs. He mustn't go in."
"I'll send him right outside, if you wish it, ma'am."
"I do.—But will he stay out?"
"He will, ma'am."
Clare took up Abdiel, and setting him at the top of the steps, told him to go down and wait. Abdiel went hopping down, like a dirty little white cataract out on its own hook, turned in under the steps, and deposited himself there until his master should call him.