THE LITTLE CLOWN
BY THOMAS COBB
AUTHOR OF 'THE BOUNTIFUL LADY,' 'COOPER'S FIRST TERM,' ETC.
LONDON: GRANT RICHARDS 1901
1. How it began
2. Jimmy goes to London
3. At Aunt Selina's
4. Aunt Selina at Home
5. At the Railway Station
6. The Journey
7. Jimmy is taken into Custody
8. Jimmy runs away
9. The Circus
10. On the Road
11. Jimmy runs away again
12. Jimmy sleeps in a Windmill
13. The Last
The Little Clown
HOW IT BEGAN
Jimmy was nearly eight years of age when these strange things happened to him. His full name was James Orchardson Sinclair Wilmot, and he had been at Miss Lawson's small school at Ramsgate since he was six.
There were only five boys besides himself, and Miss Roberts was the only governess besides Miss Lawson. The half-term had just passed, and they did not expect to go home for the Christmas holidays for another four or five weeks, until one day Miss Lawson became very ill, and her sister, Miss Rosina, was sent for.
It was on Friday that Miss Rosina told the boys that she had written to their parents and that they would all be sent home on Tuesday, and no doubt Jimmy might have felt as glad as the rest if he had had a home to be sent to.
But the fact was that he had never seen his father or mother—or at least he had no recollection of them. And he had never seen his sister Winnie, who was born in the West Indies. One of the boys had told Jimmy she must be a little black girl, and Jimmy did not quite know whether to believe him or not.
When he was two years of age, his father and mother left England, and although that was nearly six years ago, they had not been back since.
Jimmy had lived with his Aunt Ellen at Chesterham until he came to school, but afterwards his holidays were spent with another uncle and aunt in London.
His mother wrote to him every month, nice long letters, which Jimmy always answered, although he did not always know quite what to say to her. But last month there had come no letter, and the month before that Mrs. Wilmot had said something about seeing Jimmy soon.
When he heard the other boys talk about their fathers and mothers and sisters it seemed strange that he did not know what his own were like. For you cannot always tell what a person is like from her photograph; and although his mother looked young and pretty in hers, Jimmy did not know whether she was tall or short or dark or fair, but sometimes, especially after the gas was turned out at night, he felt that he should very much like to know.
On Monday evening, whilst Jimmy was sitting at the desk in the school-room sticking some postage-stamps in his Album, he was told to go to the drawing-room, where he found Miss Rosina sitting beside a large fire.
'Is your name Wilmot?' she asked, for she had not learnt all the boys' names yet.
'James Orchardson Sinclair Wilmot,' he answered.
'A long name for such a small boy,' said Miss Rosina. 'It is very strange,' she continued, 'that all the boys' parents have answered my letters but yours.'
'Mine couldn't answer,' said Jimmy.
'Why not?' asked Miss Rosina.
'Because they live such a long way off.'
'I remember,' said Miss Rosina; 'it was to your uncle that I wrote. I asked him to send someone to meet you at Victoria Station at one o'clock to-morrow. But he has not answered my letter, and it is very inconvenient.'
'Is it?' asked Jimmy solemnly, with his eyes fixed on her face.
'Why, of course it is,' said Miss Rosina. 'Suppose I don't have a letter before you start to-morrow morning! I shall not know whether any one is coming to meet you or not. And what would Miss Roberts do with you in that case?'
'I don't know,' answered Jimmy, beginning to look rather anxious.
'I'm sure I don't know either,' said Miss Rosina. 'But,' she added, 'I trust I may hear from your uncle before you start to-morrow morning.'
'I hope you will,' cried Jimmy; and he went back to the school-room wondering what would happen to him if his Uncle Henry did not write. Whilst the other boys were saying what wonderful things they intended to do during the holidays, he wished that his father and mother were in England the same as theirs.
He could not go to sleep very early that night for thinking of to-morrow, and when the bell rang at seven o'clock the next morning he dressed quickly and came downstairs first to look for Miss Rosina.
'Please, have you had a letter from Uncle Henry yet?' he asked.
'No, I am sorry to say I have not,' was the answer. 'I cannot understand it at all. I am sure I don't know what is to be done with you.'
'Couldn't I stay here?' cried Jimmy.
'Certainly not,' said Miss Rosina.
'Why not?' asked Jimmy, who always liked to have a reason for everything.
'Because Miss Lawson is not going to keep a school any more. But,' exclaimed Miss Rosina, 'go to your breakfast, and I will speak to you again afterwards.'
JIMMY GOES TO LONDON
As he sat at breakfast Jimmy saw a large railway van stop at the door, with a porter sitting on the board behind. The driver climbed down from his high seat in front, and the two men began to carry out the boxes. Jimmy saw his clothes-box carried out, then his play-box, so that he knew that he was to go to London with the rest, although Miss Rosina had not heard from his uncle.
'Jimmy,' said Miss Roberts after breakfast, 'Miss Rosina wants to see you in the drawing-room. You must go at once.'
So he went to the drawing-room, tapped at the door, and was told to enter.
'It is very annoying that your uncle has not answered my letter,' said Miss Rosina, looking as angry as if Jimmy were to blame for it.
'He couldn't answer if he didn't get it,' cried Jimmy.
'Of course not,' said Miss Rosina, 'but I sincerely hope he did get it.'
'So do I,' answered Jimmy.
'Perhaps he will send to meet you although he has not written to say so,' said Miss Rosina.
'Perhaps he will,' replied Jimmy thoughtfully.
'But,' Miss Rosina continued, 'if he doesn't send to meet you, Miss Roberts must take you to his house in Brook Street in a cab.'
'Only suppose he isn't there!' exclaimed Jimmy.
'At all events the servants will be there.'
'Only suppose they're not!'
'Surely,' said Miss Rosina, 'they would not leave the house without any one in it!'
'If Uncle Henry and Aunt Mary have gone to France they might.'
'Do they often go to France?' asked Miss Rosina.
'They go sometimes,' said Jimmy, 'because Aunt Mary writes to me, and I've got the stamps in my Album. And then they leave the house empty and shut the shutters and put newspapers in all the windows, you know.'
Whilst Jimmy stood on the hearth-rug, Miss Rosina sat in an arm-chair staring seriously at the fire.
'Have you any other relations in London?' she asked, a few moments later.
'No,' said Jimmy.
'Think, now,' she continued. 'Are you sure there is nobody?'
'At least,' cried Jimmy, 'there's only Aunt Selina.'
'Where does your Aunt Selina live?' asked Miss Rosina, looking a great deal more pleased than Jimmy felt. He put his small hands together behind his back, and took a step closer.
'Please,' he said, 'I—I don't want to go to Aunt Selina's.'
'Tell me where she lives,' answered Miss Rosina.
'I think it's somewhere called Gloucester Place,' said Jimmy;' but, please, I'd rather not go.'
'You silly child! You must go somewhere!'
'Yes, I know,' said Jimmy, 'but I'd rather not go to Aunt Selina's.'
'What is her number in Gloucester Place?' asked Miss Rosina.
'I don't know the number,' cried Jimmy much more cheerfully, because he thought that as he did not know the number, Miss Rosina could not very well send him to the house.
'What is your aunt's name? Is it Wilmot?' Miss Rosina asked.
'No, it isn't Wilmot,' said Jimmy.
'Do you know what it is?' she demanded, and Jimmy began to wish he didn't know; but Aunt Selina always wrote on his birthday, although it wasn't much use as she never sent him a present.
'Her name's Morton,' he answered.
'Mrs. Morton or Miss Morton?'
'Miss Morton, because she's never been married,' said Jimmy.
'Very well then,' was the answer, 'if nobody comes to meet you at Victoria Station, Miss Roberts will take you in a cab to Brook Street, and if your Uncle Henry is not there——'
'I hope he will be!' cried Jimmy.
'So do I,' Miss Rosina continued, 'because Miss Roberts will not have much time to spare. She will take you to Brook Street; but if the house is empty, then she will go on to Miss Morton's in Gloucester Place.'
'But how can she if she doesn't know the number?' said Jimmy.
'Miss Roberts will easily be able to find your aunt's house,' was the answer.
'Oh!' cried Jimmy in a disappointed tone, and then he was sent back to the other boys.
When it was time to start to the railway station Miss Rosina went on first in a fly to take the tickets, and they found her waiting for them on the platform. They all got into a carriage, and Jimmy sat next to Miss Roberts, who asked him soon after the train started, why he looked so miserable.
'I do hope that Uncle Henry will send some one to meet me,' he answered.
'I hope so too,' said Miss Roberts, who was much younger than Miss Rosina, 'because I have to travel to the north of England, and it is a very long journey. I shall only just have time to drive to the other station to catch my train.'
'But suppose you don't catch it?' asked Jimmy.
'That would be extremely inconvenient,' she explained, 'because I should either have to travel all night or else to sleep at an hotel in London. But I hope your uncle will come to meet you.'
Long before the train reached London, Jimmy began to look anxiously out at the window. Presently it stopped on a bridge over the Thames, and a man came to collect the tickets, and soon after the train moved on again Jimmy saw that he was at Victoria. The door was opened, and all the other boys jumped out, and whilst they were shaking hands with their fathers and mothers Jimmy stood alone on the platform. He looked wistfully at every face in the small crowd, but he did not know one of them, and it was plain that nobody had been sent to meet him.
He followed Miss Roberts towards the luggage van and saw his own boxes taken out with the rest, and then one by one the boys got into cabs and were driven away, and Jimmy began to feel more miserable than ever.
His boxes stood beside Miss Roberts's, and she looked up and down the platform almost as anxiously as the boy, for she was in a great hurry to go.
'Well, Jimmy,' she said, 'nobody seems to have come for you.'
'No,' answered Jimmy.
'It is really very annoying!' cried Miss Roberts, looking at her watch.
'Perhaps Uncle Henry has made a mistake in the time,' said Jimmy.
'I think the best thing we can do is to take a cab to Brook Street,' was the answer.
'Mightn't we wait just a little longer?' he asked.
'No,' said Miss Roberts, 'we have lost quite enough time already. Hi! Cab!' she exclaimed, and a four-wheeled cab was driven up beside the boxes. Then a porter lifted these, one by one, and put them on top of the cab.
'Get in,' said Miss Roberts, and with a last glance along the platform, Jimmy entered the cab and sat down. Then Miss Roberts stepped in also, the old cab-horse started, and Jimmy was driven out of the gloomy railway station.
'I hope Uncle Henry will be at home,' he said presently.
'So do I,' answered Miss Roberts. 'I have not a minute to spare.'
'Perhaps you won't have time to take me to Aunt Selina's!' exclaimed Jimmy.
'What do you suppose I am to do with you then?' she asked.
'I don't know,' he said; 'only I don't want to go there!'
'I am sure I don't want to have to take you there,' was the answer, as the cab passed Hyde Park.
Jimmy had been the same way every holiday since he had gone to Miss Lawson's school, so that he knew he was drawing near to Brook Street. As the cab turned the corner, he put his head out at the window and looked anxiously for his uncle's house.
'Oh!' he cried, drawing it in again.
'What is the matter?' asked Miss Roberts.
'I believe the shutters are up,' said Jimmy.
AT AUNT SELINA'S
Jimmy was quite right. Miss Roberts leaned forward to put her head out at the window on his side of the cab, and she saw that every shutter was shut, and that there was a sheet of newspaper in each window.
'What a nuisance!' she exclaimed, sitting down again as the horse stopped.
The cabman got down to open the door, and Jimmy jumped out, on to the pavement.
'I daresay they've gone to France,' he said, as she followed him.
'Still there may be some one left in the house,' answered Miss Roberts.
'I don't suppose there is,' said Jimmy, looking as if he were going to cry.
'At all events I will ring the bell,' she answered, and Miss Roberts pulled the bell. Jimmy heard it ring quite distinctly, but nobody came to open the door.
'Do ring again,' he said, and once more Miss Roberts pulled the bell. Then a policeman came along the street, and she went to meet him.
'Do you know whether this house is empty?' she asked.
'Been empty the last fortnight,' said the policeman.
'Thank you,' said Miss Roberts. And then she turned to Jimmy: 'Go back into the cab,' she continued, and very unwillingly he took his seat again. 'Gloucester Place, cabman,' she said, with her hand on the door.
'What number?' asked the cabman.
'We—we don't know the number,' cried Jimmy, putting his head out.
'Stop at a shop on the way,' said Miss Roberts as she entered the cab and sat down; 'if I waste any more time I shall lose my train.'
'But suppose Aunt Selina isn't at home either?' exclaimed Jimmy, as the horse started once more.
'In that case I don't know what is to become of you,' said Miss Roberts.
'Because she may have gone to France with Uncle Henry!' Jimmy suggested.
'We will not imagine anything of the kind, if you please!'
'No,' said Jimmy, 'but suppose she has gone to France, you know.'
As he spoke, the cab stopped before a large grocer's shop, and without losing a moment Miss Roberts stepped out of the cab, followed by Jimmy.
'Will you kindly let me look at a Directory?' she asked; and the tall young man behind the counter said—
'Certainly, miss.' He brought the thickest red book which Jimmy had ever seen, and Miss Roberts opened it at once.
'Miss Selina Morton—is that your aunt's name?' she asked, looking round at Jimmy.
'Ye—es,' he answered sorrowfully, for he guessed that she had found out the number.
'Come along then,' said Miss Roberts, and Jimmy walked slowly towards the door. 'Thank you, I am very much obliged,' she continued, smiling at the shopman; but Jimmy did not feel in the least obliged to him. Miss Roberts told the cabman the number, and when the horse started again she turned cheerfully to the boy—
'We shall soon be there now!' she said.
'I wish we shouldn't,' answered Jimmy.
'Don't you like your Aunt Selina?' asked Miss Roberts.
'Not at all,' said Jimmy.
'Why don't you like her?' asked Miss Roberts. 'You ought to like an aunt, you know.'
'I don't know why, only I don't,' was the answer.
It did not take many minutes to drive to Gloucester Place, and although Jimmy did not know what would happen to him if Aunt Selina was out of town, still he almost hoped she had gone to France.
But the shutters were not shut at this house, although each of the blinds was drawn exactly a quarter of the way down. Jimmy saw a large tortoise-shell cat lying on one of the window sills, whilst a black cat watched it from inside the room.
'If they do not keep us long at the door,' said Miss Roberts, as she rang the bell, 'I can manage just to catch my train.'
It was past two o'clock, and Jimmy thought he could smell something like hot meat. He supposed that if he stayed at Aunt Selina's he should have some dinner, and that would be a good thing at any rate.
The door was opened by a tall, thin butler, who looked very solemn and important. He did not stand quite upright, and he had gray whiskers and a bald head. If he had not opened the door, so that Jimmy knew he was the butler, he might have been mistaken for a clergyman.
'Is Miss Morton at home?' asked Miss Roberts.
'No, miss,' said the butler; and he stared at Jimmy first and then at the boxes on the cab.
'How extremely annoying!' cried Miss Roberts. 'Can you tell me how long she will be?'
'I don't think Miss Morton will return before half-past three,' said the butler, whose name was Jones. 'Miss Morton has gone out to luncheon, miss.'
'This is her nephew,' answered Miss Roberts.
'Good-morning, sir,' said Jones, rubbing his hands.
'Good-morning,' said Jimmy.
'I have brought him from Miss Lawson's school at Ramsgate,' Miss Roberts explained, whilst Jimmy stared into the butler's face.
'I don't fancy Miss Morton expected him,' said Jones.
'No,' cried Jimmy, 'she didn't.'
'Miss Lawson is so ill,' Miss Roberts continued, 'that all the boys have been sent home. I took Master Wilmot to his uncle's house in Brook Street, but it was shut up. So I have brought him here.'
'I don't know what Miss Morton will say——'
Miss Roberts looked at her watch and interrupted the butler before he had time to finish his sentence. He spoke rather slowly and required a long time to say anything.
'I am not going back to Ramsgate,' said Miss Roberts, 'but I have no doubt Miss Rosina will write to Miss Morton.'
'I beg pardon,' answered Jones, 'but I don't think Miss Morton would like you to leave the young gentleman here.'
'I—I don't want to be left,' cried Jimmy.
'Miss Morton is not particular fond of young gentlemen,' said the butler.
'Cabman,' exclaimed Miss Roberts in a greater hurry than ever, 'carry in the boxes. The two smaller boxes, please.'
Jimmy stood on the doorstep, and Jones stood just inside the hall, and Miss Roberts held her watch in her right hand, whilst the cabman got off his seat and took down the trunks.
'Please be quick,' she said, 'or I shall miss my train after all.'
The butler stroked his chin as the cabman carried the clothes-box into the house and put it down near the dining-room door; then he brought in the play-box, and after that he wiped his forehead with a large red handkerchief and climbed up to his seat again.
'Good-bye,' said Miss Roberts, putting away her watch and taking Jimmy's hand.
'I wish you would take me too,' answered Jimmy rather tearfully.
'I can't do that,' she said, 'and I am sure you will be very happy with your aunt.'
Jimmy felt quite sure he shouldn't be happy, and he certainly did not look very happy as Miss Roberts was driven away in the cab; and when he saw it turn the corner, he felt more lonely than he had ever felt before.
'Well, this is a nice kettle of fish,' said the butler.
'Is it?' asked Jimmy, not understanding in the least what he meant.
'I wonder what Miss Morton will say about it?' cried Jones.
'What do you think she'll say?' asked Jimmy, staring up at the butler's face.
'Well,' was the answer, 'you had better come indoors, anyhow,' and Jimmy entered the house and stood leaning against his clothes-box, whilst Jones shut the street door.
'Step this way, sir,' said Jones; but although he took Jimmy to the dining-room, unfortunately there was no sign of dinner.
He saw the black cat still sitting on a chair watching the tortoise-shell cat outside the window, and on the hearth-rug lay a tabby one, with its head on the fender, fast asleep.
'You had better sit here until Miss Morton comes home,' said the butler.
'Do you think she'll be very long?' asked Jimmy.
'About half-past three,' was the answer, and Jones opened the coal-box to put some more coal on the fire as he spoke.
'Because I haven't had any dinner at all,' said Jimmy.
'Oh, you haven't, haven't you?' cried Jones, as he stood holding the coal shovel.
'No,' said Jimmy, 'and I'm rather hungry.'
'Well, I don't know what Miss Morton'll say about you,' was the answer. 'So,' he added, as he put away the shovel, 'you think you'd like something to eat?'
'I'm sure I should—very much,' cried Jimmy.
The butler went away, but he soon came back with a folded white cloth in his hands. Whilst Jimmy kneeled down on the hearth-rug rubbing the head of the tabby cat, Jones laid the cloth, and then he went away again and returned with a plate of hot roast-beef and Yorkshire pudding and potatoes and cauliflower.
He placed a chair with its back to the fire, and told Jimmy to ring when he was ready for some apple-tart.
When Jimmy was alone eating his dinner and enjoying it very much, he began to think it might not be so bad to stay at Aunt Selina's after all. The black cat came from the chair by the window and meowed on one side of him, and the tabby cat meowed on the other, and Jimmy fed them both whilst he fed himself. When his plate was quite empty, he rang the bell and Jones brought him a large piece of apple-tart, with a brown jug of cream. Then presently the butler took away the things, and Jimmy sat down in an arm-chair by the fire with one of the cats on each knee. Every few minutes he looked over his shoulder to see whether Aunt Selina was coming, and by and by the bell rang. Jimmy rose from his chair and the cats jumped to the floor, and, going close to the window, he saw his aunt's tall, thin figure on the doorstep.
AUNT SELINA AT HOME
Miss Morton had been to lunch with a friend, and she naturally expected to find her house exactly the same as she had left it. She was a lady who always liked to find things exactly the same as she left them; she did not care for fresh faces or fresh places, and she certainly did not care to see two boxes in her hall.
Miss Morton was a little short-sighted, but the moment that she entered the house she noticed something unusual. So she stopped just within the door before the butler could shut it and put on her double eye-glasses, and then she stared in astonishment at Jimmy's boxes.
'What are those?' she asked.
'Boxes, miss,' was the answer.
'Please don't be stupid,' said Miss Morton.
'I beg pardon,' replied the butler.
'I see quite distinctly that they are boxes,' she said. 'What I wish to know is, whom the boxes belong to.'
'To Master Wilmot,' said the butler.
Miss Morton gave such a violent start that her eye-glasses fell from her nose.
'Master Wilmot!' she exclaimed.
'You do not mean to tell me that the boy is here!'
'He's been here since about two o'clock,' said the butler.
'Surely he did not come alone?' cried Miss Morton.
'Who brought him?'
'A young lady who seemed to be his governess,' the butler explained. 'She said that Miss Lawson was ill, and that she'd sent all the young gentlemen home.'
'This is certainly not his home,' said Miss Morton.
'No, miss,' answered Jones. 'I told the young lady you wouldn't be best pleased, but she insisted on leaving him.'
'Where is Master Wilmot?' asked Miss Morton.
'In the dining-room,' was the answer, and the butler opened the door.
Miss Morton had spoken rather loudly, quite loudly enough for Jimmy to overhear every word she had said. It made him feel uncomfortable, and as the door opened he stood with his back to the window, with his hands in his jacket pockets, waiting until his Aunt Selina entered the room, and the butler shut the door after her.
She put on her eye-glasses again, and it seemed a long time before either she or Jimmy spoke. She moved her head as if she were looking at him all over from top to toes. Jimmy began to feel more uncomfortable than ever, and at last he thought he really must say something.
'Good-morning,' he cried.
'Why did the people send you here?' asked Aunt Selina.
'You see,' said Jimmy, 'Aunt Mary and Uncle Henry were out and the house was shut up.'
'I always said it was foolish to travel at this time of year,' was the answer.
'So Miss Roberts brought me here,' said Jimmy.
'Well,' exclaimed Aunt Selina, 'I am sure I don't know what is to be done with you.'
'I didn't want to come,' answered Jimmy.
'Don't be rude,' said his aunt. 'Now you are here, I suppose I must keep you for to-night. But there is no accommodation here for boys.'
'I had a very nice dinner, though,' said Jimmy.
'Have you washed your face?' she asked suddenly.
'No,' he answered, for washing his face was a thing he never felt anxious about.
Miss Morton walked to the bell and rang it. A few moments later the butler re-entered the room, standing with one hand on the door.
'Jones,' she said, 'take Master Wilmot to the spare bedroom to wash his face; and give him a comb and brush to do his hair.'
Jones took Jimmy upstairs to a large bedroom, and poured some water into a basin. Then he brought a clean towel, and showed Jimmy where to find the soap and the comb and brush. The butler then left him alone, and the boy took off his jacket and dipped his hands in the water. When he thought his hands were clean enough, he washed a round place on his face, and having wiped this nearly dry, he went to the looking-glass and brushed the front of his hair where he had made it wet. When he had put his coat on again he wondered whether he ought to wait for the butler or to go downstairs alone; but as Jones did not come back, Jimmy opened the door and went down.
He saw Miss Morton sitting in an arm-chair, and now that she had taken off her bonnet and veil he thought she looked more severe than ever.
'Come here, James,' she said, as he stood near the door. No one else had ever called him James. 'When did you hear from your mother?' she asked.
'I didn't have a letter last month,' he answered.
'I asked when you did have a letter,' said Aunt Selina,—'not when you didn't have one.'
'I think it was about two months ago,' said Jimmy.
'Did she say anything about coming home?' asked Aunt Selina.
'She said I might see her soon,' cried Jimmy. 'I do hope I shall.'
'Very likely you will,' said his aunt, 'although your mother has not written to me for six months.'
'Then how do you know?' asked Jimmy.
'Because she wrote to your Aunt Ellen at Chesterham, and your Aunt Ellen wrote to me. I should not be surprised if your father and mother were on their way home now. They may arrive in England quite soon.'
'It would be nice,' said Jimmy, and he began to laugh. 'Will they come here?' he asked.
'Certainly not,' was the answer. 'I have no accommodation for visitors.'
'There's the spare bedroom,' cried Jimmy.
'I have no doubt,' said Aunt Selina, 'that they will go to Aunt Ellen's at Chesterham——'
'Couldn't I go to Aunt Ellen's?' asked Jimmy eagerly.
'And pray who is to take you?' demanded Miss Morton.
'Why, couldn't I go alone?' said Jimmy.
Miss Morton did not answer, but she put on her eye-glasses again, and looked Jimmy up and down from head to foot.
'Ring the bell,' she said, and when he had rung the bell and the butler had come, Aunt Selina told him to send Hannah. Jimmy stood on the hearth-rug—whilst the black cat rubbed its back against his leg—wondering who Hannah might be. When she came, he saw that she was one of the servants, with a red, kind-looking face; and Aunt Selina told her to take him away and to give him some tea. When they were outside the door Hannah took his hand, and he felt that he liked having his hand taken, and she led him downstairs to a small room near the kitchen where she gave him such a tea as he had never had before. There were cake and jam, and hot scones, and buttered toast, and although it was not very long since dinner, Jimmy ate a good meal.
He told Hannah all about his father and mother and Winnie, and how that Miss Morton had said perhaps they were on their way home; and he told her he hoped that his aunt would send him to Chesterham.
'Because,' he said, 'I know I could go all right alone.'
Hannah put an arm round him and kissed him, but Jimmy did not much like being kissed; still he felt lonely this afternoon, and he did not mind it so much as he would have done sometimes, especially if any of his schoolfellows had been there.
'Now,' said Hannah presently, 'I think you had better go back to Miss Morton.'
'Must I?' asked Jimmy. 'Because I like being here best.'
But she led him back to the dining-room, and as soon as he entered the door Aunt Selina asked what time he went to bed.
'Eight o'clock at school,' he answered, 'but when I am at Aunt Mary's she always lets me stay till half-past.'
'Aunt Mary always spoils you,' said Miss Morton. 'Sit down,' she added, and Jimmy took a chair on the opposite side of the fire-place.
'I suppose you don't remember your mother,' she said.
'No,' answered Jimmy.
'Shall you be glad to see her?' asked Aunt Selina.
'Yes, very glad,' said Jimmy. 'Shan't you?' he asked, looking into his aunt's face.
'Of course I shall be pleased to see my sister,' was the answer.
'And I shall be glad to see Winnie, too,' said Jimmy. But Aunt Selina's words had put a fresh idea into his mind. He seemed never to have realised until now that the mother whom he had never seen, although he had thought about her so much, was his Aunt Selina's sister. He thought that sisters must surely be very much alike; but if his mother was like her sister, why, Jimmy did not feel certain it would be nice to have her home again after all. He forgot that he was staring at his aunt until she asked him what he was looking at.
'Is my mother as old as you?' he asked.
'I cannot say they teach politeness at Miss Lawson's,' Aunt Selina answered.
'But is she?' asked Jimmy, for it seemed very important that he should know at once.
'Your mother is a few years younger than I am,' said his aunt, 'but she would be very angry with you for asking such a question.'
'Can she be angry?' asked Jimmy.
'She will be very angry indeed when you are naughty,' said Miss Morton. For a few minutes Jimmy sat staring into the fire.
'Is—is she like you?' he asked.
'She is not quite so tall.'
'But is she like you?' asked Jimmy.
'We used to be considered very much alike,' was the answer, and Jimmy felt inclined to cry. Then Aunt Selina said it was his bed-time, and he came close to her and kissed her cheek.
'Am I to go to Aunt Ellen's?' he asked.
'I shall not tell you until to-morrow morning,' said Aunt Selina; and Jimmy fell asleep in the large spare room wondering whether he should go to-morrow to Chesterham or not.
AT THE RAILWAY STATION
When Jimmy awoke the next morning he found that Hannah was drawing up his blind. The sun-light fell into the room, and the smoke rose from the can of hot water on the wash-stand.
'You must get up at once,' said Hannah, 'or you will be late for breakfast, and Miss Morton won't like that.'
He would have liked to lie in the warm bed a little longer, and when at last he jumped out he felt rather cold. Jimmy was not used to dressing himself quite without help, for at school Miss Roberts had always come to tie his necktie and button his collar. He found it difficult to button it this morning with his cold little fingers; and as for the necktie, it was not tied quite so nicely as it might have been.
Still he was ready when he heard a bell ring, and he ran downstairs two steps at a time, and almost ran against Aunt Selina at the bottom. She looked more stiff and severe in the morning than she had looked last night, and not at all the sort of person you would like to run against.
'Good-morning,' said Jimmy, as she entered the dining-room.
She shook hands with Jimmy and her hand felt very cold; but when once he was seated at the table the coffee was nice and hot, and so were the eggs and bacon, and Jimmy had no time to think of anything else just yet. But just as he was wondering whether he should ask for another rasher of bacon, his aunt spoke to him.
'When you have quite finished,' she said, 'I wish to speak to you,' and after that he did not like to ask for any more.
So Jimmy pushed back his chair, and his Aunt Selina rose from hers and went to stand by the fire.
'I did not wish to tell you last night for fear of exciting you and keeping you awake,' she said, 'but I wrote to your Aunt Ellen while you were having tea.'
'Oh, thank you, I'm glad of that,' answered Jimmy.
'I told her I should send you to Chesterham by the half-past twelve train,' Miss Morton explained, 'and I asked her to meet you at the station.'
'Hurray,' cried Jimmy, 'then I am to go this morning.'
'It is not quite certain yet,' was the answer. 'I asked your Aunt Ellen to send me a telegram if she could receive you. If the telegram arrives before twelve, you will go by the half-past twelve train.'
'But suppose it doesn't come?' said Jimmy.
'I sincerely trust it will,' was the answer.
'So do I,' cried Jimmy.
'I have ordered a packet of sandwiches to be prepared,' said Miss Morton.
'Ham or beef?' asked Jimmy.
'Ham—do you like ham?'
'Oh yes, when there's no mustard,' said Jimmy.
'I told Jones not to have any mustard put on them,' answered his aunt; 'and,' she continued, 'if you go to-day I shall give you half-a-crown.'
'Shan't I have the half-crown if I don't go to-day?' asked Jimmy eagerly.
'I hope you will go,' she said. 'But you must not spend it in waste.'
'I won't,' cried Jimmy.
'I don't suppose you will stay with your Aunt Ellen long,' said Miss Morton, 'because there is no doubt your father and mother will soon be in England, and then they will be able to look after you. Now,' she added, 'if you think you can keep still and not fidget, you may sit down by the window and watch for the telegram.'
Jimmy lifted the tabby cat off the chair, and took it on his knees as he sat down. While he sat stroking the cat he really did not feel much doubt about the telegram. He wanted it to come so much that he felt sure it would come soon, and surely enough it arrived before eleven o'clock.
Jimmy rose from his chair as Jones brought it into the room on a tray, and the tabby cat dug its claws into his jacket and clung to him, so that Jimmy found it rather difficult to put it down. He did not take his eyes from Miss Morton's face all the time she was reading the telegram.
'It is extremely fortunate I wrote yesterday,' she exclaimed.
'Am I to go?' asked Jimmy eagerly.
'Yes,' she answered, 'and who do you think will meet you at Chesterham station?'
'Not mother!' cried Jimmy, very excitedly.
'Your father and mother,' said Miss Morton.
'They are not likely to take a child to meet you,' she answered. 'They arrived only last night, and if they had not received my letter they would have gone to Ramsgate to-day. As it is they will meet you at the station, and they think it will be quite safe for you to travel alone if I see you safely in the train.'
'Shall you?' asked Jimmy.
'I shall send Jones,' was the answer.
'What time does the train get to Chesterham?' asked Jimmy.
'At four o'clock,' she said; and then she took out her purse and found two shillings and a sixpence, which she gave to Jimmy. 'Where will you put them?' she asked.
'I've got a purse, too,' he answered, and he put his hand in his jacket pocket and brought out a piece of string, a crumpled handkerchief, a knife, and last of all a small purse. In this he put the two shillings and the sixpence, and then he could think of nothing but the joy of seeing his mother and father. He stood by the window watching the passers-by and wondering whether his mother was like any of them, and at least he hoped that she might not be so very much like his Aunt Selina. He went in search of Hannah and told her all about the telegram. He longed for the time to come to start for the station, and when he saw his boxes being taken out to the cab, he danced about the hall in a manner which made Miss Morton feel very pleased he was going. He put on his overcoat, and held open the pocket whilst Hannah forced in the large packet of sandwiches, and although they bulged out a good deal Jimmy did not mind that at all. He shook hands with his aunt and entered the cab, and Jones stepped in after him.
'My father and mother are going to meet me at Chesterham,' said Jimmy as soon as the horse started. He talked of them all the way to the railway station—not the same station at which he had arrived with Miss Roberts yesterday, but a much larger and a rather dirtier looking one, with a great glass roof. But before Jimmy reached that part of it, he went with Jones to take his ticket.
'You are to put it in your purse,' said the butler, 'and mind you don't lose it.'
'I shan't lose it,' answered Jimmy, taking out his purse, and as he put the ticket away he looked to make sure that the half-crown was all right.
'Now,' said the butler, 'we'll go and find the train.'
It was not very difficult to find the train for Chesterham, because it was waiting all ready at the platform; but when they got to the train it took Jones a long time to find Jimmy a suitable first-class compartment. At last he stopped at one which contained an old gentleman and two ladies. The old gentleman was sitting next to the door, reading a newspaper, and he did not look at all glad when Jimmy sat down opposite to him.
'I think you'll do now,' said Jones.
'Very nicely, thank you,' answered Jimmy, as the butler stood by the door, but he was beginning to feel just a little nervous. You must remember he was not quite eight years of age; he was only a small boy, and he had never travelled quite alone before. He felt sure he should like travelling alone, and in fact he did not much mind how he travelled so that his mother met him at the end of his journey. Still, now that he had taken his seat and the butler was going away in a few minutes, Jimmy began to feel a little nervous.
'Got your sandwiches?' asked Jones, with a hand on the door.
'Yes, I've got them,' answered Jimmy, feeling them to make certain. 'I've never seen them before, you know,' Jimmy added.
'What, the sandwiches?' asked Jones.
'No, my father and mother,' said Jimmy. 'They're going to meet me.'
'Oh, I see,' answered the butler, and he ought to have understood, for Jimmy had told him a great many times since they left Aunt Selina's house.
'You're just going to start,' Jones added.
'Good-bye,' cried Jimmy, and he put his hand out of the window and the butler shook it.
'Good-bye, sir,' he answered, and Jimmy felt quite sorry when Jones let go his hand.
But the train was beginning to move; the butler stepped back and took out his pocket-handkerchief and waved it, but it was to dry his eyes that Jimmy took out his; for when the train glided away and he could not see Jones any more Jimmy felt very much alone, especially as the old gentleman opposite kept lowering his paper and looking down at his trousers and then frowning at him.
For the first quarter of an hour after the train started Jimmy was contented to gaze out of the window, but presently, growing tired of doing that, he turned to look at the two ladies at the farther end of the compartment.
As Jimmy moved in his seat, his boots touched the old gentleman's black trousers. Laying aside his newspaper the old gentleman leaned forward to look at them, and then he brushed off the mud. A few moments later Jimmy's boots touched his trousers again, and the old gentleman began to cough.
'I should feel greatly obliged,' he said in a loud voice, 'if you would not make a door-mat of my legs.'
'I beg your pardon,' answered Jimmy, and he tucked his feet as far under his seat as they would go.
'You should be more careful,' said the old gentleman, and then one of the ladies suggested that Jimmy should sit by her side.
'I wanted to look out at the window,' he answered.
'Well, you can look out at my window,' she said, and so Jimmy went to the other end of the compartment, and she gave him her seat; and for an hour or more the train went on its way, stopping at one or two stations, until presently it came to a standstill again.
'Where is this?' asked one of the ladies. The other looked out at the window and said—
'We ought not to stop here,' answered her friend.
At the other end of the compartment the old gentleman let down his window: 'Hi, Hi! Guard, Guard!' he cried, and the guard came to the door.
'Why are we stopping here?' asked the old gentleman.
'Something's gone wrong with the engine, sir.'
'How long shall we stay?' asked the gentleman.
'Maybe a quarter of an hour, sir,' said the guard. 'We've got to wait for a fresh engine, but it won't be long.'
'We may as well get out,' cried one of the ladies, and as soon as they had left the carriage the old gentleman also stepped on to the platform, and Jimmy did not see why he should not do the same. So he got out, and seeing a small crowd near the engine he walked along the platform towards it.
The engine-driver stood with an oil-can in one hand talking to the station-master, but there being nothing interesting to see, Jimmy began to look about the large station.
It was then that he began to feel hungry. His feet were very cold, and the wind blew along the platform, so that Jimmy turned up his overcoat collar as he stamped about to get warm. As he walked up and down he noticed a good many people going in and out at a door, and looking in he saw that it led to the refreshment room.
Now, Jimmy had two shillings and a sixpence in his purse, and had no doubt that lemonade could be bought at the counter where a good many persons were standing. Feeling a little shy, he went to the counter, and presently succeeded in making one of the young women behind it see him.
'What do you want?' she asked.
'A bottle of lemonade—have you got any ginger-beer?' asked Jimmy.
'Which do you want?' said the young woman.
Jimmy could not make up his mind for a few moments, but he stood thinking with his hands in his pockets.
'Is it stone-bottle ginger-beer?' he asked.
'Yes,' was the answer.
'I think I'll have lemonade,' cried Jimmy, and she turned away impatiently to get the bottle.
It was rather cold, but still Jimmy enjoyed his lemonade very much, and before he had half finished it, he put his sixpence on the counter. He thought it was a little dear at fourpence, and he looked sorry when he received only twopence change. Then he emptied his glass, and went outside again, thinking he would eat his ham-sandwiches. But the wind blew colder than ever, and seeing another open door a little farther along the platform Jimmy cautiously peeped in. The large room was quite empty, and an enormous fire was burning in the grate.
He thought it would be far pleasanter to sit down to eat his sandwiches comfortably beside the fire than to eat them whilst he walked about the cold, windy platform. Before he entered the room he looked towards the train, which still stood where it had stopped. There was quite a small crowd near the engine, and whilst some persons had re-entered their carriages, others walked up and down in front of theirs.
Pushing back the door of the waiting-room, Jimmy went to the farther end, and sat down on a bench close to the fire. Then he tugged the sandwiches out of his pocket, untied the string, and began to eat them. He did not stop until the last was finished, and by that time he began to feel remarkably comfortable and rather sleepy. He made up his mind that he would not on any account close his eyes, but they felt so heavy that they really would not keep open; his chin dropped on to his chest, and in a few moments he was sound asleep.
Then for some time all the busy life of the great railway station went on: trains arrived, stopped, and started again; other trains whistled as they dashed past without stopping; porters hurried hither and thither with piles of luggage, and still a small dark-haired boy sat on the bench in the waiting-room, unconscious of all that was happening.
Presently Jimmy awoke. He opened his eyes and began to rub them, thinking at first that the bell which he heard was rung to call the boys at Miss Lawson's school. But when he looked around him, he soon discovered that he was not in the school dormitory, and then as he became more wide-awake he remembered where he really was and began to fear that he had slept too long and missed his train. Starting up in a hurry, Jimmy ran out to the platform, and there to his great joy he saw a train standing exactly where he had left one. A good many people were waiting by the doors, but Jimmy looked in vain for the two ladies and the old gentleman.
'Take your seats!' cried a porter, 'just going on;' so that, afraid of being left behind, Jimmy jumped into a carriage close at hand. It happened to be empty, but he did not mind that, and he was only just in time, for the next minute a whistle blew and the train began to move. It had not long started, before he noticed that the afternoon had become much darker; he did not possess a watch, but as far as he could tell it must be very nearly tea-time. However, he supposed that it could not be long now before he arrived at Chesterham, and he began to look forward more eagerly than ever to seeing his father and mother on the platform.
The train went on, stopping at several stations, and at each one Jimmy looked out at the window and tried to read the name on the lamps. But he felt no fear about going too far, because he knew that the train stopped altogether when it reached Chesterham. It seemed a long time reaching there, however, much longer than he had imagined; but at last it came to a standstill, and, looking through the window, Jimmy saw that many more persons got out than usual. He leaned back in his seat, feeling tired and cold, and waiting for the train to go on again, when presently a porter stopped at the window.
'All change here!' he said.
'But I don't want to change,' answered Jimmy. 'This isn't Chesterham, is it?' for he had read the name of Barstead on one of the lamps.
'Chesterham!' cried the porter, 'I should say not. Chesterham is fifty miles away on another line. This is Barstead. And if you don't want to stay all night on the siding the best thing you can do is to get out.'
JIMMY IS TAKEN INTO CUSTODY
Jimmy stared at the porter in great astonishment. His eyes and his mouth were opened very widely, and he felt extremely frightened. He rose from the seat and stepped out on to the dark platform.
'I want to go to Chesterham,' he said.
'Well, you can't go to Chesterham to-night,' was the answer. 'Where's your ticket?'
Jimmy felt in his pocket for his purse, and opening it took out his ticket.
'You'd better come to speak to the station-master,' said the porter; and Jimmy, feeling more frightened than ever, followed him to a small room, where a tall red-bearded man sat writing at a table which seemed to be covered all over with papers. When Jimmy entered with the porter the station-master rose and stood with his back to the fire, whilst the porter began to explain.
'You can't get to Chesterham without going back to Meresleigh,' said the station-master presently. 'Chesterham is on a different line, and there is no train to-night.'
'Then what am I to do?' asked Jimmy, turning very pale.
'That's just what I should like to know!' was the answer. 'But you can't get back to Meresleigh until to-morrow morning, that's certain.'
'But where shall I sleep?' cried Jimmy.
'How was it you got out of the train at Meresleigh?' asked the station-master.
'You see,' faltered Jimmy nervously, 'there was an accident to the engine and we all got out.'
'Then why didn't you get in again?'
'I did,' said Jimmy.
'You didn't get into the right train,' answered the station-master, 'or you wouldn't be here. Tell me just what you did, now.'
'Why,' Jimmy explained, 'I went into the waiting-room to eat my sandwiches and then I fell asleep.'
'How long were you asleep?'
'I don't know. It didn't seem very long. When I woke I went on to the platform and saw a train waiting just in the same place, and I thought it was the same train.'
'Well, it wasn't,' said the station-master. 'Whilst you were asleep the Chesterham train must have started, and the train you got into was the Barstead train, which is more than an hour later. A nice mistake you've made.'
At this Jimmy put his sleeve to his face and began to cry. He really couldn't help it, he felt very tired, very cold, very miserable, and very frightened. He could not imagine what would happen to him, where he should spend the night, or how he should ever reach Chesterham. He thought of his father and mother going to meet the train and finding no Jimmy there, and he felt far more miserable than he had ever felt in his life before.
The station-master began to ask him questions, and amongst others where his friends in Chesterham lived. Jimmy did not know the exact address, but he told the station-master his aunt's name, and he said that would most likely be enough for a telegram.
'I shall send a telegram at once to say you're all safe here,' he said; 'and then to-morrow morning we must send you on.'
'But how about to-night?' cried Jimmy. 'Where am I to sleep?'
'I must think about that,' was the answer; and then there was a good deal of noise as if another train had arrived, and the station-master left his room in a great hurry. He was a very busy man and had very little time to look after boys who went to sleep in waiting-rooms and missed their trains. At the same time he did not intend Jimmy to be left without a roof over his head. So he saw the train start again, and then he sent for Coote.
Coote was tall and extremely fat, with an extraordinarily large red face, and small eyes. He was dressed as a policeman, but he did not really belong to the police. He was employed by the railway company to look after persons who did not behave themselves properly, and certainly his appearance was enough to frighten them. But the station-master knew him to be a respectable man, with a wife and children of his own, and a clean cottage about half a mile from the station. So he thought that Coote would be the very man to take charge of Jimmy until the next morning. He explained what had happened, and Coote said he would take the boy home with him.
'I'll see he's well looked after,' he said, 'and I'll bring him in time to catch the 7.30 train to Meresleigh in the morning.'
'You'll find him in my office,' answered the station-master, and to the office Coote went accordingly.
Now, if he had acted sensibly in the matter he would have spared Jimmy a good deal of unpleasantness, and Jimmy's father and mother much anxiety. But Coote was fond of what he called a 'joke,' and instead of telling the boy that he was going to take him home and give him a bed and some supper, he opened the office-door, put his great red face into the room, and stared hard at Jimmy. Jimmy was already so much upset that very little was required to frighten him still more. When he saw the face, with a policeman's helmet above it, he drew back farther against the wall.
'None o' your nonsense now, you just come along with me!' cried Coote, speaking in a very deep voice, and looking very fierce.
'I—I don't want to come,' answered Jimmy.
'Never mind what you want,' said Coote, 'you just come along with me.'
'Where—where to?' asked Jimmy.
'Ah, you'll see where to,' was the answer. 'Come along now. No nonsense.'
Very unwillingly Jimmy accompanied Coote along the platform and out into the street. It was quite dark and very cold, as the boy trotted along by the policeman's side, looking up timidly into his red face.
'Nice sort of boy you are and no mistake,' said Coote, 'travelling over the company's line without a ticket. Do you know what's done to them as travels without a ticket?'
'What?' faltered Jimmy.
'Ah, you wait a few minutes, and you'll see fast enough,' said Coote.
What with his policeman's uniform, his red cheeks, his great size, Jimmy felt more and more afraid, and he really believed that he was going to be locked up because he had travelled in the wrong train. Instead of that the man was thinking what he should do to make the boy more comfortable. He naturally supposed that Jimmy's friends would reward him, and as it seemed likely that Mrs. Coote might not have anything especially tempting for supper he determined to buy something on the way home. After walking along several quiet streets they came to one which was much busier. There were brilliant lights in the shop windows, and in front of one of the brightest Coote stopped.
JIMMY RUNS AWAY
It was a ham and beef shop, and in Jimmy's cold and hungry condition the meat pies and sausages and hams in the window looked very tempting.
'You just wait here a few moments,' said Coote, as he came to a standstill, 'and mind it's no use your thinking o' running away, because I can run too.' With that he entered the ham and beef shop, leaving Jimmy outside alone on the pavement. Perhaps Jimmy would never have thought of running away if the man had not suggested it; but he was so frightened that he felt it would be better to do anything rather than go with the policeman. You know that sometimes a boy does not stay to consider what is really the best, and Jimmy did not stay to think now. Whilst he saw Coote talking to the shopman in the white apron, through the window, he suddenly turned to make a dash across the road.
'Look out!' cried a man, and Jimmy only just escaped being run over by a one-horse omnibus. He dodged the horse, however, and running towards the opposite pavement, he knocked against an old woman with a basket. The basket grazed his left arm, and to judge by what she said he must have hurt the woman a good deal. But Jimmy did not wait to hear all she had to say; he only thought of getting away from Coote, and ran on and on without the slightest notion where he was going. Up one street and down another the boy ran, often looking behind to see whether he was being followed, and at last stopping altogether, simply because he could not run any farther. He sat down on the kerb-stone, and then he saw for the first time that it had begun to rain quite fast.
It was a great relief to know that Coote must have taken a wrong direction, for if the policeman had taken the right one he would have caught Jimmy by this time. Still he did not intend to sit there many minutes in case Coote should be following him after all, so a few minutes later Jimmy got up again and walked on quickly.
He felt very miserable; it must be past his usual bed-time, and yet he had nowhere to sleep. He wished he were safely at Chesterham; and he made up his mind that he would never fall asleep in a waiting-room again as long as he lived.
Until now Jimmy had been making his way along streets, but very soon he saw that there were houses only on one side of the way. He had in fact come to what looked, as well as he could see in the dark, like a small common, with furze bushes growing on it, and a pond by the roadside.
But a little farther on, Jimmy fancied he heard a band playing, and then he saw what appeared to be an enormous tent, and there were lights burning near, and curious shadowy things which he could not make out at all.
Jimmy was always an inquisitive boy, and now he almost forgot his troubles in his wish to find out what was happening on the common. So he walked towards the large round tent, and the band sounded more loudly every moment.
By one part of the tent stood a cart, and in this a man was shouting at the top of his voice. And around the cart a crowd had gathered, chiefly of rather shabbily-dressed people, and one or two of them stepped out every minute or so and went inside an opening in the tent, where a stout woman stood to take their money.
Near the cart was a large picture, and Jimmy stared at it with a great deal of interest. The picture represented a lion and a clown, and the clown's head was inside the lion's mouth; whilst a little way off a very small clown, of about Jimmy's own age, stood laughing.
Jimmy had always an immense liking for lions, and also for clowns, and when they both came together and the head of the one happened to be in the mouth of the other, the temptation was almost more than he could resist.
'Now, ladies and gentlemen, walk up, walk up!' cried the man in the cart. 'All the wonders of the world now on view. Now's the time, the very last night; walk up, ladies and gentlemen, walk up.'
Jimmy thought that he really might do worse than to walk up. For one thing he would be able to sit down inside the tent, and for another he could take shelter from the rain, which now was falling fast. He put his hand into his pocket to feel for his purse, and recollected that he had still two shillings and twopence left out of Aunt Selina's half-crown.
'How much is it?' he asked, going towards the stout woman at the opening.
'Well,' she answered, 'you can go in for twopence, and you can have a first-class seat for sixpence. But if you ask me, a young gent like you'd sooner pay a shilling.'
'Yes, I think I should,' said Jimmy proudly; and, taking out a shilling, he gave it to the woman and at once entered the tent.
There were so few persons in the best seats that a great many of those in the cheaper ones turned to look at Jimmy as he walked in. But Jimmy was quite unaware of this, for no sooner had he sat down than he began to laugh as if he had not a trouble in the world. He forgot that he had nowhere to sleep, he forgot the red-faced policeman, he even forgot that he ought to be at Chesterham.
It was the clown who made Jimmy laugh. He was a little man with a tall, pointed white felt hat like a dunce's cap; he wore the usual clown's dress, and generally kept his hands in his pockets as if he were a school-boy.
A girl in a green velvet riding-habit had just finished a wonderful performance on horseback, and after she had kissed her hands to the people a good many times, she jumped off the horse, which began to trot round the ring alone. The clown was evidently trying to repeat her performance on his own account, but each time he tried to mount the horse it trotted faster, and the clown always fell on his back in the sawdust. Nothing could be more comical than the way he got up, as if he were hurt very much indeed, and rubbed himself; unless, indeed, it was his alarm when the two elephants were brought into the ring and he jumped over the barrier close to Jimmy in the front seats. Jimmy felt a little disappointed not to see the clown put his head into the lion's mouth, but then there were plenty of things to make up for this; and besides, Jimmy was beginning to feel really very sleepy again, when the band played 'Rule Britannia' out of tune, and all the people rose to leave the tent.
As it became empty, Jimmy began to feel very wretched again. He wondered where he should sleep, and he could hear that it was raining faster than ever outside.
Why shouldn't he wait until everybody else had gone and then lie down on one of the seats and sleep where he was? Of course he had never slept in such a place before, and he did not much like the idea of sleeping there now, but then he had nowhere else to go, and at any rate it would be better than going outside in the rain.
So Jimmy made up his mind to stay where he was, and he would have been lying down and perhaps asleep in another moment, for he was very tired, when he saw the clown enter the tent.
He had taken off his pointed hat, and had put on a long loose overcoat over his clown's dress. As he had been laughing or making fun all the time he was in the ring, Jimmy thought that he never did anything else; but the clown looked quite solemn now, and the paint on his face had become smudged after getting wet outside in the rain.
'Hullo!' he exclaimed on seeing Jimmy. 'What are you doing here?'
'Nothing,' answered the boy.
'Suppose you do it outside!'
'But I shall get so wet outside,' said Jimmy.
'Lor! Where's your nurse?' asked the clown.
'I haven't got one,' cried Jimmy, a little indignantly. 'I go to school.'
'Be quick then and go,' said the clown.
'But I've nowhere to go,' answered Jimmy sadly, 'and I don't know where anybody is.'
'Mean to say they've gone away and left you?' asked the clown.
'They haven't been here.'
'Oh, so you came to the show by yourself?' said the clown.
'Yes,' replied Jimmy.
'Well,' was the answer, 'you're a nice young party'; and the clown sat down on the barrier. 'Come now,' he said, 'suppose you tell us all about it.'
So, in a very sleepy voice, Jimmy began to tell the clown his story. He told him how he had fallen asleep in the waiting-room, and where he had been going to; but he did not say anything about Coote, because he felt afraid that the clown might send for the policeman, who would, after all, put him into prison for travelling in the wrong train.
The clown listened to the story very attentively, but Jimmy gaped a great deal while he told it. By the time he finished he could scarcely keep his eyes open.
'You seem a bit sleepy,' said the clown.
'I'm hungry, too,' answered Jimmy.
'Well, you can't sleep here,' said the clown, 'and you don't see much to eat, do you?'
'No, there isn't much to eat,' Jimmy admitted. 'But,' he added, 'I don't see why I couldn't sleep here.'
'Because the tent's going to be taken down,' said the clown. 'We've been here three days, and we're going on somewhere else.'
Jimmy looked disappointed. He rather liked the clown; at all events he liked him a great deal better than Coote, and he did not feel at all afraid of him.
'Just you come along with me,' said the clown, 'and I'll see what I can do for you. Here, jump over! That's right,' he added, as Jimmy climbed over the barrier which separated the seats from the ring in which the performance had taken place. 'You come with me,' said the clown, 'and we'll soon see whether we can't find you something to eat and a place to lie down in.'
They left the tent, and outside the clown stopped to speak to the man who had shouted from the cart and to the stout woman who had taken the money. They often glanced at Jimmy while they talked, so that he guessed they were talking about him.
'All right,' said the man, 'do as you like; it's no business of mine'; and then the clown came back to Jimmy and they walked away from the tent together.
They seemed to be walking in and out amongst a number of curious-looking carts and ornamental cars, the colour of gold, with pictures on their sides. There were several vans too, like small houses on wheels, with windows and curtains painted on them, such as Jimmy had often seen at Ramsgate, with men selling brooms and baskets, walking by the horses.
There were no men selling brooms or baskets here, although they all seemed to be very busy: some being dressed just as they had left the ring, and others leading cream-coloured and piebald horses, instead of going to bed, as Jimmy thought it was time to do.
'Come along,' said the clown, as the boy seemed inclined to stop to look on.
'Where are we going?' asked Jimmy.
'You'll see,' was the answer.
'But where is it?' asked Jimmy.
'Where I live,' said the clown.
'Oh, we're going to your house,' cried Jimmy, feeling pleased at the chance of entering a house again, for it seemed a very long time since he had left Aunt Selina's.
'Well,' said the clown, 'it's a sort of house. You might call it a house on wheels, and you wouldn't be far out.'
Suddenly Jimmy seized the clown's arm and gave a jump.
'What's that?' he exclaimed.
'Don't be frightened,' said the clown.
'Only what is it?' asked Jimmy, with a shaky voice.
'He won't hurt you,' was the answer. 'It's only old Billy, the lion.'
Jimmy heard him roar as if he were only a yard or two away, and he felt rather alarmed, until they had left his cage farther behind.
'Is that the lion who had your head in his mouth?' asked Jimmy.
'Well,' said the clown, 'it isn't in his mouth now, is it?'
'I didn't see the little clown,' exclaimed Jimmy, and the clown stared down at the ground.
'No,' he answered, as if he felt rather miserable, 'we shan't see him again ever.'
Then they stopped at the back of one of the vans, and Jimmy saw that there was a light inside it.
'Up you get,' said the clown, and Jimmy scrambled up a pair of wide steps which put him in mind of a bathing-machine.
The door seemed to be made in halves, and whilst the lower part was shut the upper part was open. Through this Jimmy could see inside the van, and it looked exactly like a small room, only rather dirty and untidy. As Jimmy stood on the steps staring into the van, with the clown close behind him, a girl came out from what seemed to be a second room behind the first. She had yellow hair, and her face looked very white; but although she must have changed her dress, Jimmy felt certain she was the same girl who had worn the green velvet riding-habit.
'Hullo!' she cried, seeing Jimmy, but not seeing her father. 'What do you want?'
'All right, Nan, all right,' said the clown, and he put an arm in front of Jimmy to push open the door. Whilst Jimmy felt glad to find shelter from the rain, the clown went to the back room, which must have been extremely small, and carried on a conversation with the girl whom he called Nan. Jimmy felt certain he was telling her all about himself.
Presently they both came out again, and Nan went to a shelf and brought some rather fat bacon and bread, and a knife and fork with black handles. There were two beds—one in the back part of the van and one in the front. Jimmy sat down on the one in the front to eat his supper, and before he had finished Nan gave him a mug of tea, which made him feel much warmer, although it did not taste very pleasant.
The clown had gone away again, and Jimmy wondered why there was such a noise outside the van.
'They're only putting the horses in,' said Nan, when he questioned her.
'I should have thought they would be taking them out at this time of night,' answered Jimmy.
'We always travel at night,' she explained, 'and then we're ready for the performance in the daytime.'
'But when do you go to sleep?' asked Jimmy.
'When we get a chance,' she said. 'But the best thing you can do's to go to sleep now. Suppose you lie down in there,' and she pointed to the room which was boarded off behind.
'Whose bed is it?' he asked.
'Father's, when he gets time to lie in it,' was the answer.
'But he can't if I'm there,' said Jimmy.
'He's got a lot to do before he thinks of bed,' exclaimed Nan. 'He's got to see to the horses. But I'll lie down as soon as we start, and presently father and I'll change places.'
ON THE ROAD
It all seemed very strange to Jimmy, and he would not have felt very much surprised if he had suddenly awakened to find himself back in the dormitory at Miss Lawson's, and all his adventures a dream.
The bed did not look very clean, and Jimmy thought at first that he should not care to lie down on it. He felt too tired to waste much time, however, and he did not even take off his clothes, but lay down just as he was, and in half a minute he fell fast asleep.
And though the horse was put between the shafts, and there was a loud shouting as the long line of carts and vans began to move, Jimmy did not open his eyes for some time.
He might not have opened them even then if Nan, who had also been asleep, had not risen and opened the door and let in a whiff of cold air. As Jimmy sat up in the dark and rubbed his eyes, he thought at first that he must be in a boat, because whatever he might be in, it rolled about from side to side. Remembering presently where he really was, he got off the bed, and peeped into the other half of the van. Seeing that Nan was not there, he went to the door, the upper half of which she had left open. The rain had quite left off, and the night was very beautiful. A great many stars shone in the sky; Jimmy had never looked out so late before, he had never seen the heavens such a dark blue nor the stars so large and bright. It was four o'clock in the morning, the air felt very cold, and he could see that they were going slowly along a country road.
About a yard from the back of his own van, a grey horse jogged along between the shafts of another van, with a rough brown pony tied beside it. Feeling curious to see as much as he could, Jimmy opened the door, and climbed carefully down the steps. Then he ran to the side of the road, although he always took care to keep close to the clown's van.
In front he saw ever so many carts and vans, and behind there were as many more. There were horses in groups of five or six, and men walking sleepily along by the hedge. Now and then the lion roared, but not very loudly; now and then one of the men spoke to his horses; now and then a match was struck to light a pipe. But for the most part it seemed strangely silent as the long line wound slowly along the country road. For a good while Jimmy scarcely heard a sound, but presently, after he had been in the road a few minutes, he did hear something, and that was the clown's voice.
'Hullo,' it said, 'what are you doing out here? Just you get inside again'; and Jimmy scampered away and ran up the steps and lay down on the bed. He was soon asleep again, and when he re-opened his eyes it was broad daylight. He found that the caravan had come to a standstill, but when he looked out at the door everything seemed as quiet as when they were on the march. It was not so quiet inside the house, for the clown lay on the bed which Nan had occupied earlier, and he was snoring loudly. Jimmy wondered where Nan had gone, but whilst he stood shivering by the door he saw her carrying a wooden pail full of water.
'Is that for me to wash in?' asked Jimmy, for he was surprised to find that there were no basins and towels in the van.
'Not it,' answered Nan. 'That's to make some tea for breakfast.' He watched whilst she brought out three pieces of iron like walking-sticks, tied together at the ends and forming a tripod. Having stuck the other ends in the ground, Nan collected some sticks, and heaping these together, she soon made a good fire.
'Can I warm my hands?' asked Jimmy; and leaving the van, he crouched down to hold his small hands over the blaze. Then Nan hung a kettle over the fire and stood watching whilst it boiled. And men and women gradually came out of the other vans, which stood about anyhow, and they all looked very sleepy and rather dirty, especially the children who soon began to collect round Jimmy as if he were the most extraordinary thing in the caravan. If he had felt less cold and hungry Jimmy might have enjoyed it all, for there was certainly a great deal to see.
They seemed to have stopped on another common, but there were small houses not very far away. The worst of it was that wherever he went he was followed by a small crowd of children who made loud remarks about him. Still he wandered in and out amongst the vans, and stopped a long time before the cage which contained the lion. The lion was lying down licking his fore-paws, but he left off to stare at Jimmy, who quickly drew farther away from the cage. A little farther he met two elephants, a big one and a little one, with three men who were taking them down to a pond to drink. Jimmy saw some comical-looking monkeys too; and what interested him almost more than anything were the men who had already begun to fix the large tent in an open space. It looked rather odd at present, because they had only fixed the centre pole, and the canvas hung loosely in the shape of the cap which the clown had worn last night. On returning to the van, still followed by the boys, Jimmy saw the clown sitting on the steps eating an enormous piece of bread and cheese, and drinking hot tea out of a mug.
'Come along,' said the clown, 'come and have some breakfast'; and Jimmy sat down on the muddy ground, and Nan gave him another mug and a thick slice of bread; but Jimmy was by this time so hungry that he could have eaten anything. Still he felt very anxious to hear how he was to reach Chesterham without meeting Coote again.
'I should like to see my father and mother to-day,' he said, as he ate his breakfast.
'Not to-day,' answered the clown, 'but it won't be long, so don't you worry yourself. We're working that way, and we're going to have a performance there.'
'At Chesterham!' cried Jimmy, feeling extremely relieved.
'You'll be there before the end of the week,' said the clown; 'and I should think your father would come down handsome.'
Now Jimmy began to feel quite contented again, and there was so much to look at that he forgot everything else.
When he was at school at Ramsgate he had seen a circus going in a procession through the town, and now Nan told him that this circus was going in a procession, and that it would start at half-past twelve. Everybody seemed very busy making ready for it, men were attending to the horses, and the gilded chariots were being prepared, and presently Nan began to dress.
'What are you going to be?' asked Jimmy, as she took a bright-looking helmet from under her bed.
'Don't you know?' she answered. 'Why, I'm Britannia.'
A little later she left the van with the helmet on her head, and a large thing which looked like a pitchfork in one hand. In the other she carried a shield, and her white dress had flags all over it. By this time one of the gilded chariots had been made very high; it seemed to be almost as high as a house, and on the top was a seat. Nan climbed up to this seat and sat down, and then a black man led Billy the lion out of his cage with a chain round his neck, and it was funny to see the lion climb up to the place where Nan was sitting and quietly lie down by her side.
The clown was standing on a white horse, with a long pair of reins driving another white horse; but the black man who had led the lion drove eight horses, and then there was a band, in red, and two elephants, and everybody in the circus except some of the children and a few women formed a part of the long procession.
JIMMY RUNS AWAY AGAIN
Now, Jimmy thought that he also would like to be in the procession. He would have liked to dress up as Nan had done, although perhaps he would not have cared to sit quite so close to the lion. They seemed to have forgotten all about him, and he was left to do just as he liked. So what he did was to walk beside the procession into the town, and then to run on ahead to find a good place to see it pass.
He got back to the van long before Nan and her father, and being quite alone, he began to look about him. Hanging on a peg, he saw a lot of old clothes, which seemed rather interesting, especially one suit that must have belonged to the little clown.
Jimmy looked at the dress again and again. There were long things like socks, of a dirty white colour, with a kind of flowery pattern in red along the sides. Then he saw what looked like a very short and baggy pair of light red and blue knickerbockers, and also the jacket of light red and blue too, with curious loose sleeves.
He would very much have liked to put them all on just to see how he looked in them, only that he felt afraid that Nan or her father might return before he had time to take them off again.
No sooner did they come back than they began to prepare for the evening performance, and still everybody seemed too busy to give many thoughts to Jimmy.
'Whose is that little clown's suit?' he asked, while Nan was busy about the van.
'Ah,' she answered, 'that was my little brother's,' and she spoke so unhappily that he did not like to say any more about it.
But Jimmy wanted more and more to try the suit on himself only just for a few moments, and he thought it could not possibly do any harm. Presently Nan, who had taken off Britannia's dress, put on her green velvet riding-habit, and Jimmy could hear the band playing close by, and he guessed that the performance was soon going to begin.
'You can go to bed whenever you like,' said Nan, before she left the van.
'Thank you,' he answered, and when she had gone he stood at the door looking out into the darkness. He could see the flaming naphtha lamps, and hear the music and a loud clapping inside the great tent, and now they seemed all so busy that it might be a good time to put on the little clown's dress.
First of all Jimmy shut the upper part of the door, so that nobody who happened to look that way could see inside the van. He took down the clothes from the peg, and removed his own jacket and waistcoat and knickerbockers as quickly as possible. Then he found that he must take off his boots and stockings, and he sat down on the floor of the van to draw on those with the pattern on each side. They did not go on very easily, but he managed it at last, and then it was a simple matter to put on the loose knickerbockers and the jacket.
As his feet felt cold, he put on his own boots again, and then he stood on a chair without a back to take down the piece of broken looking-glass which he had seen Nan use that day. He could not get a very good view of himself, but he could see that his face was much dirtier than it had ever been before in his life, and this was not to be wondered at, because he had not washed it since he left his Aunt Selina's yesterday morning. And yesterday morning seemed a very long time ago.
He stood in the middle of the van, trying to look at himself in the glass, when suddenly it fell from his hand and broke, and Jimmy gave a violent jump. For to his great alarm he heard distinctly the voice of Coote, the railway policeman, just outside the van.
Now Coote had been greatly astonished last night, on coming out of the ham and beef shop, to see no sign of Jimmy. He had spent two hours looking for him, and then he gave him up as a bad job. When he told the station-master what had happened, he was ordered to do nothing else until he found the boy again, and so Coote had spent the whole day searching for him. And Coote's instructions were, on finding the boy, to take him direct to his aunt's house at Chesterham.
Coote, after looking all over Barstead, thought that perhaps Jimmy had gone away with the circus people, so he took a train and followed them. But Jimmy felt as much afraid as ever; he made sure that if Coote caught him he would be locked up in prison. Thinking that the policeman was coming into the van, he looked about for a place to hide himself, and at last he made up his mind to crawl under the bed. It was not at all easy, because the bed was close to the floor; but still, Jimmy managed it at last, and lay quite still on the floor, expecting every moment that Coote would enter. Then he remembered that he had left his own clothes on the floor, so that if Coote saw them he would guess that their owner was hiding. Jimmy felt that he would do anything to get safely away, and he lay on the floor scarcely daring to breathe, until Coote's voice sounded farther off.
Crawling out from under the bed again, presently, without stopping to think, Jimmy opened the door of the van, ran down the steps, and on putting his feet to the grass, he at once dodged round the van and set off at a run away from the tent.
He ran and ran until he was quite out of breath. He seemed to have reached a country lane; it was very quiet and dark, and the stars shone in the sky. Jimmy sat down by the wayside, feeling very hot and tired, and then he remembered that he was wearing the clown's clothes. He remembered also that he had left all his money and his knife behind him; but still he did not think of going back, because if he went back he would be certain to fall into the hands of Coote.
No, he would not go back; what he would do was to make his way to Chesterham. It could not be very far, for the clown had said he should be there in a few days, although the caravan travelled slowly. Why shouldn't he walk to his aunt's house, and then he would see his mother and father, who no doubt would look surprised to see him dressed as a clown. If his mother was really like Aunt Selina she might be very angry, but then he hoped she wasn't like his aunt, and, at all events, Jimmy thought she could not be angry with him just the first time she saw him.
But, then, he might not be in the right road for Chesterham, and he did not wish to lose his way, because he had no money to buy anything to eat, and already he was beginning to feel hungry. The sooner he got along the better, so he rose from his seat beside the road and walked on in the hope of seeing some one who could tell him the way. He walked rather slowly, but still he went a few miles, passing a cottage with lights in the windows now and then, but not liking to knock at the door. But presently he felt so tired that he made up his mind to knock at the next. When he came to it he walked up to the garden gate, but then his courage failed. He stood leaning against the gate, hoping that some of the people whose voices he could hear might come out; but presently the windows became dark, and Jimmy guessed that, instead of coming out, the people in the cottage had gone to bed.
Now that he knew it must be very late, Jimmy began to feel a little afraid. It seemed very dull and lonely, and he longed to meet somebody, never mind who it was. There was only one thing which seemed to be moving, and that was a windmill standing on a slight hill a little way from the road. It seemed very curious to watch the sails going round in the darkness, but Jimmy could see them rise and fall, because they looked black against the blue sky. The mill was so near that he could hear the noise of the sails as they went round, it sounded like a very loud humming-top, and there were one or two patches of light to be seen in the mill.
Jimmy thought that perhaps he might be able to lie down near to it, although the difficulty was to get to it. But when he had walked on a little farther, he saw a dark-looking lane on his right hand, and after stopping to think a little, he walked along it. With every step he took the humming sounded louder, but presently Jimmy stopped suddenly.
JIMMY SLEEPS IN A WINDMILL
'Hullo!' said a voice close in front of him, and looking up Jimmy saw a man smoking a pipe. Of course it was too dark for him to see anything very distinctly, but still his eyes had become used to the darkness, and he could see more than you would imagine.
'What are you after?' asked the man.
'Please I was looking for somewhere to sleep,' answered Jimmy.
'Well, you're a rum sort of youngster,' said the man. 'Here, come along o' me.'
Jimmy followed him along a path which led to the mill, and as they drew near to it the great sails seemed to swish through the air in a rather alarming manner. The man opened a door and Jimmy looked in. The floor was all white with flour, and dozens of sacks stood against the walls. The man also looked nearly as white as the floor, and he began to smile as the light fell upon Jimmy. But the boy did not feel at all inclined to smile.
'Why,' he asked, 'you look as if you've come from a circus?'
'I have,' answered Jimmy, feeling quite stupid from sleepiness.
'Run away?' said the man. 'Have you?'
'Yes,' answered Jimmy, gaping.
'Got nowhere to sleep?' asked the miller.
'No,' was the answer.
'Hungry?' asked the miller.
'I only want to go to sleep,' said Jimmy, gaping again.
'Come in here,' said the man, and without losing a moment, Jimmy followed him into the mill. There the man threw two or three sacks on to the floor, and told Jimmy to lie down. There seemed to be a great noise at first, but Jimmy shut his eyes and soon fell sound asleep, too sound asleep even to dream of Coote or the clown.
He was awakened by the miller's kicking one of the sacks on which he lay, and looking about to see where he was, Jimmy saw that it was broad daylight, and that the sun was shining brightly.
'Now, then, off with you,' cried the miller, 'before I get into trouble.'
'What time is it, please?' asked Jimmy sleepily, as he stood upright.
'It'll soon be six o'clock,' was the answer.
Jimmy thought it was a great deal too early to get up, and he felt so tired that he would very much have liked to lie down again, but he did not say so.
'Here, take this,' said the man, and he put twopence into Jimmy's hand. 'Mind they don't catch you,' he added.
'Please can you tell me the way to Chesterham?' asked Jimmy.
'Chesterham's a long way,' answered the miller; 'but you've got to get to Sandham first. Go back into the road and keep to your left. When you get to Sandham ask for Chesterham.'
'Thank you,' said Jimmy, and with the twopence held tightly in his hand he walked along the lane until he reached the road.
It was a beautiful morning, but Jimmy could do nothing but gape; his feet felt very heavy, and he wished that he had never put on the clown's clothes and left his own behind. Still he made sure that he should be able to reach Chesterham some day, and presently he passed a church and an inn and several small houses and poor-looking shops. With the twopence in his hand he looked in at the shop windows wondering what he should buy for breakfast, and seeing a card in one of them which said that lemonade was a penny a bottle, Jimmy determined to buy some of that.
The woman who served him looked very much astonished, and she called another woman to look at him too. But Jimmy stood drinking the cool, sweet lemonade, and thought it was the nicest thing he had ever tasted. As he stood drinking it his eyes fell on some cakes of chocolate cream.
'How much are those?' he asked.
'Two a penny,' said the woman.
'I'll have two, please,' said Jimmy, and he began to eat them as soon as he left the shop. But he was glad to leave the village behind, because everybody he met stared at him and he did not like it. Three boys and a girl followed him some distance along the road, no doubt expecting that he was really and truly a clown, and would do some tumbling and make them laugh. But at last they grew tired of following him, and they stopped and began to call him names, and one boy threw a stone at him, but Jimmy felt far too miserable to throw one back. Chocolate creams and lemonade are very nice things, but they don't make a very good breakfast. The morning seemed very long, and presently Jimmy sat down by a hedge and fell asleep. He awoke feeling more hungry than ever, and no one was in sight but a man on a hay cart. But it happened that the cart was going towards Sandham, and Jimmy waited until it came up, and then he climbed up behind and hung with one leg over the tailboard and got a long ride for nothing. He might have ridden all the way to Sandham, only that the carter turned round in a rather bad temper and hit Jimmy with his whip, so that he jumped down more quickly than he had climbed up.
He guessed that he was near the town, because there were houses by the roadside, and passing carts, and even an omnibus. If Jimmy had had any more money he would have got into the omnibus; as he had none he was compelled to walk on. It was quite late in the afternoon when he entered Sandham, and he had eaten nothing since the chocolate creams. He was annoyed to find that a number of children were following him again, and as he went farther into the town they crowded round in a ring, so that Jimmy was brought to a standstill.
He felt very uncomfortable standing there, with dozens of children and a few grown-up persons round him. They cried out to him to 'go on,' and this was just what Jimmy would have liked to do. He felt so miserable that he put an arm to his eyes and began to cry, and then the crowd began to laugh, for they thought he was going to begin to do something to amuse them at last. But when they saw he did nothing funny as a clown ought to do, but only kept on crying, they began to jeer at him, and one boy came near as if he would hit him. Jimmy took down his arm then, and the two boys, one dressed in rags and the other in the dirty clown's dress, stood staring at each other with their small fists doubled, when Jimmy felt some one take hold of his arm, and looking round he saw a rather tall, dark-haired lady, with a pretty-looking face. Her hand was on his arm, and her eyes wore a very curious expression, almost as if she were going to cry also, just to keep Jimmy company.
But from the moment that Jimmy looked at her face he felt that things would be better with him.
'Come with me, dear,' she whispered, and taking his hand in her own she led him out of the crowd.
'Where to?' asked Jimmy, wondering why she held his hand so tightly.
'I think the best thing to do will be to put you to bed,' she answered.
'Yes,' said Jimmy, 'I should like to go to bed—to a real bed, you know—not sacks.'
'You shall go into a real bed,' she answered.
'I think I should like to have something to eat first,' he cried.
'Oh yes, you shall have something to eat,' she said.
If a good many persons had stopped to stare at Jimmy when he was alone, many more stared now to see a dirty-faced, poor little clown being led away by a nicely-dressed lady. But the fact was that Jimmy did not care what they thought. They might stare as much as they liked, and it did not make any difference. He felt that he was all right at last, although he did not in the least know who his friend could be. But he felt that she was a friend, and that was the great thing; he felt that whatever she did would be pleasant and good, and that she was going to give him something nice to eat and a comfortable bed to sleep in.
Somehow he did not feel at all surprised, only extremely tired, so that he could scarcely keep his eyes open. Things that happened did not seem quite real, it was almost like a dream. The lady stopped in front of a house where lodgings were let, although Jimmy knew nothing about that. The door was opened by a pleasant, rosy-cheeked woman in a cotton dress.
'Well, I am glad!' she cried; and Jimmy wondered, but only for a moment, what she had to be glad about.
'I think some hot soup will be the best thing,' said the lady, 'and then we will put him to bed.'
'What do you think about a bath?' asked the landlady.
'The bath will do to-morrow,' was the answer. 'Just some soup and then bed. And I shall want you to send a telegram to the Post Office.'
'You're not going to send a telegram to the policeman,' exclaimed Jimmy; but as the landlady left the room to see about the soup, the lady placed her arm round him and drew him towards her. Jimmy thought that most ladies would not have liked to draw him close, because he really looked a dirty little object, but this lady did not seem to mind at all.
Suddenly she held him farther away from her, and looked strangely into his face.
'What is your name?' she asked.
'James—Orchardson—Sinclair—Wilmot,' said Jimmy with a gape between the words.
Then she pressed him closer still, and kissed his face again and again, and for once Jimmy rather liked being kissed. Perhaps it was because he had felt so tired and lonely; but whatever the reason may have been, he did not try to draw away, but nestled down in her arms and felt more comfortable than he had felt for ever so long.
It was not long before the landlady came back with a plate of hot soup, and Jimmy sat in a chair by the table and the lady broke some bread and dipped it in, and Jimmy almost fell asleep as he fed himself. Still he enjoyed the soup, and when it was finished she took him up in her arms and carried him to another room where there were two beds. She stood Jimmy down, and he leaned against the smaller bed with his eyes shut whilst she took off the clown's dress, and the last thing he recollected was her face very close to his own before he fell sound asleep.
It was quite late when Jimmy opened his eyes the next morning, and a few minutes afterwards he was sitting up in bed, wondering how much he had dreamed and how much was real.
Had he actually got into the wrong train, and run away from a policeman, and travelled in the van, and put on the little clown's clothes, and then run away again? Had he really done all these strange things or had he only dreamed them? But if he had dreamed them, where was he? And if they were real, where had the clown's dress gone to?
As Jimmy sat up in bed, rubbing his eyes, he hoped that he had not been dreaming; because if it had been only a dream, why, then, he had only dreamed of the lady also, and he felt that he very much wished her to be real.
Why, she was real! For there she stood smiling at the open door, with a tray covered with a white cloth in her hand, and on it a large cup of hot bread and milk, and two eggs.
'I am glad!' said Jimmy.
'What are you glad about?' she asked, as she placed the tray on his bed.
'That you're quite real,' he answered.
'Well,' she said, 'your breakfast is real too, and the best thing you can do is to eat it.'
Jimmy began at once. He began with the bread and milk, and the lady sat at the foot of the bed watching him.
'Where am I going after breakfast?' he asked.
'Into a nice hot bath,' she said.
'But after that?'
'How should you like to go to see your father?' she asked.
'Do you know him?' asked Jimmy, laying down his spoon in his astonishment.
'Very well indeed.'
'And my mother too?'
'Yes, and Winnie too.'
'Is she like Aunt Selina?' asked Jimmy, as the lady began to take the top off his egg.
'Do you mean Winnie?' she said.
'No, my mother. Because Aunt Selina said they were like each other, but I hope they're not.'
'Well, no,' answered the lady, 'I really don't think your mother is very much like Aunt Selina.'
'Do you think she'll be very cross?' he asked.
'I don't think so. Why should she be cross?' As she spoke she took away the empty cup and gave Jimmy the egg. She cut a slice of bread and butter into fingers, and he dipped them into the egg and ate it that way.
'This is a nice egg,' said Jimmy. 'But,' he continued, 'I thought perhaps she'd be cross because I got into the wrong train.'
'Why did you run away from the policeman?' asked the lady.
'Because he said he should lock me up.'
'But he was only joking, you know.'
'Was he?' asked Jimmy, opening his eyes very widely.
'That's all,' was the answer, and Jimmy looked thoughtful for a few minutes.
'I don't think I like policemen who joke,' he said solemnly.
'Then,' asked the lady, 'why did you run away from the circus? You seem to be very fond of running away.'
'I shan't run away from you,' said Jimmy. 'Only I heard the policeman's voice outside the van and I thought I'd better.'
'Well,' she answered, 'if you had not run away you would have found your mother much sooner.'
'I do hope she isn't like Aunt Selina,' he said wistfully.
'What should you wish her to be like?' asked the lady.
'Why, like you, of course,' he cried, and then he was very much surprised to see the lady lean forward and throw her arms about him and to feel her kissing him again and again. And when she left off her eyes were wet.
'Why did you do that?' asked Jimmy.
'She is like me, you darling!' said the lady.
'My mother?' cried Jimmy.
'You dear, foolish boy, I am your mother,' she said.
'Oh,' said Jimmy, and it was quite a long time before he was able to say anything else.
A few moments later Mrs. Wilmot rang the bell, and a servant carried a large bath into the room, then she went away and came back with a can of very hot water, and then she went away again to fetch a brown-paper parcel. Mrs. Wilmot opened the parcel at once, and Jimmy sat up in bed and looked on. He saw her take out a suit of brown clothes, a shirt, and all sorts of things, so that he should have everything new.
Then he got out of bed, and had such a washing and scrubbing as he had never had before. He was washed from head to foot, and dressed in the new clothes, and when he looked in the glass he saw himself just as he had been before he left Miss Lawson's school at Ramsgate.
'Now,' said Mrs. Wilmot, 'I think you may as well come to see your father and Winnie.'
'Are they here?' he asked.
'Oh yes,' she explained, 'I sent to tell them last night, and they arrived early this morning. Not both together, because we left Winnie with Aunt Ellen at Chesterham, whilst father went to look for you one way and I went another.'
'Then you were really looking for me?' cried Jimmy.
'Why, of course we were,' she answered. 'We knew you were walking about the country dressed as a little clown. But come,' she said, 'because your father is anxious to see you.'