Part 1 out of 7
Produced by Distributed Proofreaders
A ROUGH SHAKING
I. How I came to know Clare Skymer
II. With his parents
III. Without his parents
IV. The new family
V. His new home
VI. What did draw out his first smile
VII. Clare and his brothers
VIII. Clare and his human brothers
IX. Clare the defender
X. The black aunt
XI. Clare on the farm
XII. Clare becomes a guardian of the poor
XIII. Clare the vagabond
XIV. Their first helper
XV. Their first host
XVI. On the tramp
XVII. The baker's cart
XVIII. Beating the town
XIX. The blacksmith and his forge
XX. Tommy reconnoitres
XXI. Tommy is found and found out
XXII. The smith in a rage
XXIII. Treasure trove
XXIV. Justifiable burglary
XXV. A new quest
XXVI. A new entrance
XXVII. The baby has her breakfast
XXIX. The baker
XXX. The draper
XXXI. An addition to the family
XXXII. Shop and baby
XXXIII. A bad penny
XXXIV. How things went for a time
XXXV. Clare disregards the interests of his employers
XXXVI. The policeman
XXXVII. The magistrate
XXXVIII. The workhouse
XLI. The caravans
XLIII. Across country
XLIV. A third mother
XLV. The menagerie
XLVI. The angel of the wild beasts
XLVII. Glum Gunn
XLVIII. The Puma
XLIX. Glum Gunn's revenge
L. Clare seeks help
LI. Clare a true master
LII. Miss Tempest
LIII. The gardener
LIV. The kitchen
LV. The wheel rests for a time
LVII. Ann Shotover
LIX. Lovers' walks
LX. The shoe-black
LXI. A walk with consequences
LXII. The cage of the puma
LXIII. The dome of the angels
LXIV. The panther
LXV. At home
LXVI. The end of Clare Skymer's boyhood
Clare, Tommy, and the baby in custody
Mrs. Porson finds Clare by the side of his dead mother
Clare is heard talking to Maly
Clare makes friends during Mr. Porson's absence
The blacksmith gives Clare and Tommy a rough greeting
Clare and Abdiel at the locked pump
Clare proceeds to untie the ropes from the ring in the bull's nose
Clare finds the advantage of a powerful friend
The gardener's discomfiture
Clare asks Miss Shotover to let him carry Ann home
Clare is found giving the shoeblack a lesson
Clare asleep in the puma's cage
Dedicated to my great-nephew, Norman MacKay Binney, aged seven,
because his Godfather and Godmother love him dearly.
Hampstead, August 26, 1890.
A ROUGH SHAKING.
How I Came to know Clare Skymer.
It was a day when everything around seemed almost perfect: everything
does, now and then, come nearly right for a moment or two, preparatory
to coming all right for good at the last. It was the third week in
June. The great furnace was glowing and shining in full force, driving
the ship of our life at her best speed through the ocean of space. For
on deck, and between decks, and aloft, there is so much more going on
at one time than at another, that I may well say she was then going at
her best speed, for there is quality as well as rate in motion. The
trees were all well clothed, most of them in their very best. Their
garments were soaking up the light and the heat, and the wind was
going about among them, telling now one and now another, that all was
well, and getting through an immense amount of comfort-work in a
single minute. It said a word or two to myself as often as it passed
me, and made me happier than any boy I know just at present, for I was
an old man, and ought to be more easily made happy than any mere
I was walking through the thin edge of a little wood of big trees,
with a slope of green on my left stretching away into the sunny
distance, and the shadows of the trees on my right lying below my
feet. The earth and the grass and the trees and the air were together
weaving a harmony, and the birds were leading the big orchestra--which
was indeed on the largest scale. For the instruments were so
different, that some of them only were meant for sound; the part of
others was in odour, of others yet in shine, and of still others in
motion; while the birds turned it all as nearly into words as they
could. Presently, to complete the score, I heard the tones of a man's
voice, both strong and sweet. It was talking to some one in a way I
could not understand. I do not mean I could not understand the words:
I was too far off even to hear them; but I could not understand how
the voice came to be so modulated. It was deep, soft, and musical,
with something like coaxing in it, and something of tenderness, and
the intent of it puzzled me. For I could not conjecture from it the
age, or sex, or relation, or kind of the person to whom the words were
spoken. You can tell by the voice when a man is talking to himself; it
ought to be evident when he is talking to a woman; and you can,
surely, tell when he is talking to a child; you could tell if he were
speaking to him who made him; and you would be pretty certain if he
was holding communication with his dog: it made me feel strange that I
could not tell the kind of ear open to the gentle manly voice saying
things which the very sound of them made me long to hear. I confess to
hurrying my pace a little, but I trust with no improper curiosity, to
see--I cannot say the interlocutors, for I had heard, and still heard,
only one voice.
About a minute's walk brought me to the corner of the wood where it
stopped abruptly, giving way to a field of beautiful grass; and then I
saw something it does not need to be old to be delighted withal: the
boy that would not have taken pleasure in it, I should count half-way
to the gallows. Up to the edge of the wood came, I say, a large
field--acres on acres of the sweetest grass; and dividing it from both
wood and path stood a fence of three bars, which at the moment
separated two as genuine lovers as ever wall of "stones with lime and
hair knit up" could have sundered. On one side of the fence stood a
man whose face I could not see, and on the other one of the loveliest
horses I had ever set eyes upon. I am no better than a middling fair
horseman, but, for this horse's sake, I may be allowed to mention that
my friends will all have me look at any horse they think of buying.
He was over sixteen hands, with well rounded barrel, clean limbs,
small head, and broad muzzle; hollows above his eyes of hazy blue, and
delicacy of feature, revealed him quite an old horse. His ears pointed
forward and downward, as if they wanted on their own account to get a
hold of the man the nose was so busily caressing. Neither, I presume,
had heard my approach; for all true-love-endearments are shy, and the
man had his arm round the horse's neck, and was caressing his face,
talking to him much as Philip Sidney's lady, whose lips "seemed at
once to kiss and speak," murmured to her pet sparrow, only here the
voice was a musical baritone. That there was something between them
more than an ordinary person would be likely to understand appeared
Whether or not I made an involuntary sound I cannot tell: I was so
taken with the sight, bearing to me an aspect of something eternal,
that I do not know how I carried myself; but the horse gave a little
start, half lifted his head, saw me, threw it up, uttered a shrill
neigh of warning, stepped hack a pace, and stood motionless, waiting
apparently for an order from his master--if indeed I ought not rather
to call them friends than master and servant.
The man looked round, saw me, turned toward me, and showing no sign
that my appearance was unexpected, lifted his hat with a courtesy most
Englishmen would reserve for a lady, and advanced a step, almost as if
to welcome a guest. I may have owed something of this reception to the
fact that he saw before him a man advanced in years, for my beard is
very gray, and that by no means prematurely. I saw before me one
nearly, if not quite as old as myself. His hair and beard, both rather
long, were quite white. His face was wonderfully handsome, with the
stillness of a summer sea upon it. Its features were very marked and
regular and fine, for the habit of the man was rather spare. What with
his white hair and beard, and a certain radiance in his pale
complexion, which, I learned afterward, no sun had ever more than
browned a little, he reminded me for a moment as he turned, of Cato on
the shore of Dante's purgatorial island.
"I fear," I said, "I have intruded!" There was no path where I had
The man laughed--and his laugh was more friendly than an invitation to
"The land is mine," he answered; "no one can say you intrude."
"Thank you heartily. I live not very far off, and know the country
pretty well, but have got into a part of which I am ignorant."
"You are welcome to go where you will on my property," he answered.
"I could not close a field without some sense of having thrown a fellow-
being into a dungeon. Whatever be the rights of land, space can belong
to the individual only '_as it were_,' to use a Shakspere-phrase. All
the best things have to be shared. The house plainly was designed for
While he spoke I scarce heeded his words for looking at the man, so
much he interested me. His face was of the palest health, with a faint
light from within. He looked about sixty years of age. His forehead
was square, and his head rather small, but beautifully modelled; his
eyes were of a light hazel, friendly as those of a celestial
dog. Though slender in build, he looked strong, and every movement
I was not ready with an answer to what he said. He turned from me, and
as if to introduce a companion and so render the interview easier, he
called, in tone as gentle as if he spoke to a child, but with that
peculiar intonation that had let me understand it was not to a child
he was speaking, "Memnon! come;" and turned again to me. His movement
and words directed my attention again to the horse, who had stood
motionless. At once, but without sign of haste, the animal walked up
to the rails, rose gently on his hind legs, came over without
touching, walked up to his master, and laid his head on his shoulder.
I bethought me now who the man was. He had been but a year or two in
the neighbourhood, though the property on which we now stood had been
his own for a good many years. Some said he had bought it; others knew
he had inherited it. All agreed he was a very peculiar person, with
ways so oddly unreasonable that it was evident he had, in his
wanderings over the face of the earth, gradually lost hold of what
sense he might at one time have possessed, and was in consequence a
good deal cracked. There seemed nothing, however, in his behaviour or
appearance to suggest such a conclusion: a man could hardly be counted
beside himself because he was on terms of friendship with his
horse. It took me but a moment to recall his name--Skymer--one odd
enough to assist the memory. I caught it ere he had done mingling
fresh caresses with those of his long-tailed friend. When I came to
know him better, I knew that he had thus given me opportunity--such as
he would to a horse--of thinking whether I should like to know him
better: Mr. Skymer's way was not to offer himself, but to give easy
opportunity to any who might wish to know him. I learned afterward
that he knew my name and suspected my person: being rather prejudiced
in my favour because of the kind of thing I wrote, he was now waiting
to see whether approximation would follow.
"Pardon my rude lingering," I said; "that lovely animal is enough to
make one desire nearer acquaintance with his owner. I don't think I
ever saw such a perfect creature!"
I remembered the next moment that I had heard said of Mr. Skymer that
he liked beasts better than men, but I soon found this was only one of
the foolish things constantly said of honest men by those who do not
There are women even who love dogs and dislike children; but, nauseous
fact as this is, it is not so nauseous as the fact that there are men
who believe in no animal rights, or in any God of the animals, and
think we may do what we please with them, indulging at their cost an
insane thirst after knowledge. Injustice may discover facts, but never
"I grant him nearly a perfect creature," he answered, "But he is far
more nearly perfect than you yet know him! Excuse me for speaking so
confidently; but if we were half as far on for men, as Memnon is for a
horse, the kingdom of heaven would be a good deal nearer!"
"He seems an old horse!"
"He is an old horse--much older than you can think after seeing him
come over that paling as he did. He is forty."
"Is it possible!"
"I know and can prove his age as certainly as my own. He is the son of
an Arab mare and an English thoroughbred.--Come here, Memnon!"
The horse, who had been standing behind like a servant in waiting, put
his beautiful head over his master's shoulder.
"Memnon," said Mr. Skymer, "go home and tell Mrs. Waterhouse I hope to
bring a gentleman with me to lunch."
The horse walked gently past us, then started at a quick trot, which
almost immediately became a gallop.
"The dear fellow," said his master, "would not gallop like that if he
were on the hard road; he knows I would not like it."
"But, excuse me, how can the animal convey your message?--how
communicate what he knows, if he does understand what you say to him?"
"He will at least take care that the housekeeper look in his mane for
the knot which perhaps you did not observe me tie in it."
"You have a code of signals by knots then?"
"Yes--comprising about half a dozen possibilities.--I hope you do not
object to the message I sent! You will do me the honour of lunching
"You are most kind," I answered--with a little hesitation, I suppose,
fearing to bore my new acquaintance.
"Don't make me false to horse and housekeeper, Mr. Gowrie," he
resumed.--"I put the horse first, because I could more easily explain
the thing to Mrs. Waterhouse than to Memnon."
"Could you explain it to Memnon?"
"I should have a try!" he answered, with a peculiar smile.
"You hold yourself bound then to keep faith with your horse?"
"Bound just as with a man--that is, as far as the horse can understand
me. A word understood is binding, whether spoken to horse, or man, or
pig. It makes it the more important that we can do so little, must
work so slowly, for the education of the lower animals. It seems to me
an absolute horror that a man should lie to an inferior creature. Just
think--if an angel were to lie to us! What a shock to find we had been
reposing faith in a devil."
"Excuse me--I thought you said _an angel_!"
"When he lied, would he not be a devil?--But let us follow Memnon, and
as we walk I will tell you more about him."
He turned to the wood.
"The horse," I said, pointing, "went that way!"
"Yes," answered his master; "he knew it was nearer for him to take the
long way round. If I had started him and one of the dogs together, the
horse would have gone that way, and the dog taken the path we are now
We walked a score or two of yards in silence.
"You promised to tell me more about your wonderful horse!" I said.
"With pleasure. I delight in talking about my poor brothers and
sisters! Most of them are only savages yet, but there would be far
fewer such if we did not treat them as slaves instead of friends. One
day, however, all will be well for them as for us--thank God."
"I hope so," I responded heartily. "But please tell me," I said,
"something more about your Memnon."
Mr. Skymer thought for a moment.
"Perhaps, after all," he rejoined, "his best accomplishment is that he
can fetch and carry like a dog. I will tell you one of his feats that
way. But first you must know that, having travelled a good deal, and
in some wild countries, I have picked up things it is well to know,
even if not the best of their kind. A man may fail by not knowing the
second best! I was once out on Memnon, five and twenty miles from
home, when I came to a cottage where I found a woman lying ill. I saw
what was wanted. The country was strange to me, and I could not have
found a doctor. I wrote a little pencil-note, fastened it to the
saddle, and told the horse to go home and bring me what the
housekeeper gave him--and not to spare himself. He went off at a
steady trot of ten or twelve miles an hour. I went into the cottage,
and, awaiting his return, did what I could for the woman. I confess I
"You well might," I said: "why should you say _confess_?"
"Because I had no business to be anxious."
"It was your business to do all for her you could."
"I was doing that! If I hadn't been, I should have had good cause to
be anxious! But I knew that another was looking after her; and to be
anxious was to meddle with his part!"
"I see now," I answered, and said nothing more for some time.
"What a lather poor Memnon came back in! You should have seen him! He
had been gone nearly five hours, and neither time nor distance
accounted for the state he was in. I did not let him do anything for a
week. I should have had to sit up with him that night, if I had not
been sitting up at any rate. The poor fellow had been caught, and had
made his escape. His bridle was broken, and there were several long
skin wounds in his belly, as if he had scraped the top of a wall set
with bits of glass. How far he had galloped, there was no telling."
"Not in vain, I hope! The poor woman?"
"She recovered. The medicine was all right in a pocket under the flap
of the saddle. Before morning she was much better, and lived many
years after. Memnon and I did not lose sight of her.--But you should
have seen the huge creature lying on the floor of that cabin like a
worn-out dog, abandoned and content! I rubbed him down carefully, as
well as I could, and tied my poncho round him, before I let him go to
sleep. Then as soon as my patient seemed quieted for the night, I made
up a big fire of her peats, and they slept like two babies, only they
both snored.--The woman beat," he added with a merry laugh. "It was
the first, almost the only time I ever heard a horse snore.--As we
walked home next day he kept steadily behind me. In general we walked
side by side. Either he felt too tired to talk to me, or he was not
satisfied with himself because of something that had happened the day
before. Perhaps he had been careless, and so allowed himself to be
taken. I do not think it likely."
"What a loss it will be to you when he dies!" I said.
He looked grave for an instant, then replied cheerfully--
"Of course I shall miss the dear fellow--but not more than he will
miss me; and it will be good for us both."
"Then," said I,--a little startled, I confess, "you really think--"
and there I stopped.
"Do _you_ think, Mr. Gowrie," he rejoined, answering my unpropounded
question, "that a God like Jesus Christ, would invent such a delight
for his children as the society and love of animals, and then let
death part them for ever? I don't."
"I am heartily willing to be your disciple in the matter," I replied.
"I know well," he resumed, "the vulgar laugh that serves the poor
public for sufficient answer to anything, and the common-place retort:
'You can't give a shadow of proof for your theory!'--to which I
answer, 'I never was the fool to imagine I could; but as surely as you
go to bed at night expecting to rise again in the morning, so surely
do I expect to see my dear old Memnon again when I wake from what so
many Christians call the sleep that knows no waking.'--Think,
Mr. Gowrie, just think of all the children in heaven--what a
superabounding joy the creatures would be to them!--There is one
class, however," he went on, "which I should like to see wait a while
before they got their creatures back;--I mean those foolish women who,
for their own pleasure, so spoil their dogs that they make other
people hate them, doing their best to keep them from rising in the
scale of God's creation."
"They don't know better!" I said. For every time he stopped, I wanted
to hear what he would say next.
"True," he answered; "but how much do they want to know the right way
of anything? They have good and lovely instincts--like their dogs, but
do they care that there is a right way and a wrong way of following
We walked in silence, and were now coming near the other side of the
"I hope I shall not interfere with your plans for the day!" I said.
"I seldom have any plans for the day," he answered. "Or if I have,
they are made to break easily. In general I wait. The hour brings its
plans with it--comes itself to tell me what is wanted of me. It has
done so now. And see, there is Memnon again in attendance on us!"
There, sure enough, was the horse, on the other side of the paling
that here fenced the wood from a well-kept country-road. His long neck
was stretched over it toward his master.
"Memnon," said Mr. Skymer as we issued by the gate, "I want you to
carry this gentleman home."
I had often enough in my youth ridden without a saddle, but seldom
indeed without some sort of bridle, however inadequate: I did not, at
the first thought of the thing, relish mounting without one a horse of
which all I knew was that he and his master were on better terms than
I had ever seen man and horse upon before. But even while the thought
was passing through my head, Memnon was lying at my feet, flat as his
equine rotundity would permit. Ashamed of my doubt, I lost not a
moment in placing myself in the position suggested by Sir John
Falstaff to Prince Hal for the defence of his own bulky
carcase--astride the body of the animal, namely. At once he rose and
lifted me into the natural relation of man and horse. Then he looked
round at his master, and they set off at a leisurely pace.
"You have me captive!" I said.
"Memnon and I," answered Mr. Skymer, "will do what we can to make your
A silence followed my thanks. In this procession of horse and foot, we
went about half a mile ere anything more was said worth setting
down. Then began evidence that we were drawing nigh to a house: the
grassy lane between hedges in which we had been moving, was gradually
changing its character. First came trees in the hedge-rows. Then the
hedges gave way to trees--a grand avenue of splendid elms and beeches
alternated. The ground under our feet was the loveliest sward, and
between us and the sun came the sweetest shadow. A glad heave but
instant subsidence of the live power under me, let me know Memnon's
delight at feeling the soft elastic turf under his feet: he had said
to himself, "Now we shall have a gallop!" but immediately checked the
thought with the reflection that he was no longer a colt ignorant of
"What a lovely road the turf makes!" I said. "It is a lower
sky--solidified for feet that are not yet angelic."
My host looked up with a brighter smile than he had shown before.
"It is the only kind of road I really like," he said, "--though turf
has its disadvantages! I have as much of it about the place as it will
bear. Such roads won't do for carriages!"
"You ride a good deal, I suppose?"
"I do. I was at one time so accustomed to horseback that, without
thinking, I was not aware whether I was on my horse's feet or my own."
"Where, may I ask, does my friend who is now doing me the favour to
carry 'this weight and size,' come from?"
"He was born in England, but his mother was a Syrian--of one of the
oldest breeds there known. He was born into my arms, and for a week
never touched the ground. Next month, as I think I mentioned, he will
be forty years old!"
"It is a great age for a horse!" I said.
"The more the shame as well as the pity!" he answered.
"Then you think horses might live longer?"
"Much longer than they are allowed to live in this country," he
answered. "And a part of our punishment is that we do not know
them. We treat them so selfishly that they do not live long enough to
become our friends. At present there are but few men worthy of their
friendship. What else is a man's admiration, when it is without love
or respect or justice, but a bitter form of despite! It is small
wonder there should be so many stupid horses, when they receive so
little education, have such bad associates, and die so much too young
to have gained any ripe experience to transmit to their
posterity. Where would humanity be now, if we all went before
"I think you must be right. I have myself in my possession at this
moment, given me by one who loved her, an ink-stand made from the hoof
of a pony that died at the age of at least forty-two, and did her part
of the work of a pair till within a year or two of her death.--Poor
"Why, Mr. Gowrie, you talk of her as if she were a Christian!"
exclaimed Mr. Skymer.
"That's how you talked of Memnon a moment ago! Where is the
difference? Not in the size, though Memnon would make three of
"I didn't say _poor Memnon_, did I? You said _poor Zephyr_! That is
the way Christians talk about their friends gone home to the grand old
family mansion! Why they do, they would hardly like one to tell them!"
"It is true," I responded. "I understand you now! I don't think I ever
heard a widow speak of her departed husband without putting _poor_, or
_poor dear_, before his name.--By the way, when you hear a woman speak
of her _late_ husband, can you help thinking her ready to marry
"It does sound as if she had done with him! But here we are at the
The horse gave a clear whinny, gentle, but loud enough to be heard at
some distance. It was a tall gate of wrought iron, but Memnon's
summons was answered by one who could clear it--though not open it any
more than he: a little bird, which I was not ornithologist enough to
recognize--mainly because of my short-sightedness, I hope--came
fluttering from the long avenue within, perched on the top of the
gate, looked down at our party for a moment as if debating the
prudent, dropped suddenly on Memnon's left ear, and thence to his
master's shoulder, where he sat till the gate was opened. The little
one went half-way up the inner avenue with us, making several flights
and returns before he left us.
The boy that opened the gate, a chubby little fellow of seven, looked
up in Mr. Skymer's face as if he had been his father and king in one,
and stood gazing after him as long as he was in sight. I noticed
also--who could have failed to notice?--that every now and then a bird
would drop from the tree we were passing under, and alight for a
minute on my host's head. Once when he happened to uncover it, seven
or eight perched together upon it. One tiny bird got caught in his
beard by the claws.
"You cannot surely have tamed _all_ the birds in your grounds!" I
"If I have," he answered, "it has been by permitting them to be
"You mean it is the nature of birds to be friendly with man?"
"I do. Through long ages men have been their enemies, and so have
alienated them--they too not being themselves."
"You mean that unfriendliness is not natural to men?"
"It cannot be human to be cruel!"
"How is it, then, that so many boys are careless what suffering they
"Because they have in them the blood of men who loved cruelty, and
never repented of it."
"But how do you account for those men loving cruelty--for their being
what you say is contrary to their nature?"
"Ah, if I could account for that, I should be at the secret of most
things! All I meant to half-explain was, how it came that so many who
have no wish to inflict suffering, yet are careless of inflicting it."
I saw that we must know each other better before he would quite open
his mind to me. I saw that though, hospitable of heart, he threw his
best rooms open to all, there were others in his house into which he
did not invite every acquaintance.
The avenue led to a wide gravelled space before a plain, low, long
building in whitish stone, with pillared portico. In the middle of the
space was a fountain, and close to it a few chairs. Mr. Skymer begged
me to be seated. Memnon walked up to the fountain, and lay down, that
I might get off his back as easily as I had got on it. Once down, he
turned on his side, and lay still.
"The air is so mild," said my host, "I fancy you will prefer this to
"Mild!" I rejoined; "I should call it hot!"
"I have been so much in real heat!" he returned. "Notwithstanding my
love of turf, I keep this much in gravel for the sake of the desert."
I took the seat he offered me, wondering whether Memnon was
comfortable where he lay; and, absorbed in the horse, did not see my
host go to the other side of the basin. Suddenly we were "clothed
upon" with a house which, though it came indeed from the earth, might
well have come direct from heaven: a great uprush of water spread
above us a tent-like dome, through which the sun came with a cool,
broken, almost frosty glitter. We seemed in the heart of a huge
soap-bubble. I exclaimed with delight.
"I thought you would enjoy my sun-shade!" said Mr. Skymer. "Memnon and
I often come here of a hot morning, when nobody wants us. Don't we,
The horse lifted his nose a little, and made a low soft noise, a chord
of mingled obedience and delight--a moan of pleasure mixed with a
We had not been seated many moments, and had scarcely pushed off the
shore of silence into a new sea of talk, when we were interrupted by
the invasion of half a dozen dogs. They were of all sorts down to no
sort. Mr. Skymer called one of them Tadpole--I suppose because he had
the hugest tail, while his legs were not visible without being looked
"That animal," said his master, "--he looks like a dog, but who would
be positive what he was!--is the cleverest in the pack. He seems to me
a rare individuality. His ancestors must have been of all sorts, and
he has gathered from them every good quality possessed by each. Think
what a man might be--made up that way!"
"Why is there no such man?" I said.
"There may be some such men. There must be many one day," he answered,
"--but not for a while yet. Men must first be made willing to be
"And you don't think men willing to be made noble?"
"Oh yes! willing enough, some of them, to be _made_ noble!"
"I do not understand. I thought you said they were not!"
"They are willing enough _to be made_ noble; but that is very
different from being willing _to be_ noble: that takes trouble. How
can any one become noble who desires it so little as not to fight for
The man drew me more and more. He had a way of talking about things
seldom mentioned except in dull fashion in the pulpit, as if he cared
about them. He spoke as of familiar things, but made you feel he was
looking out of a high window. There are many who never speak of real
things except in a false tone; this man spoke of such without an atom
of assumed solemnity--in his ordinary voice: they came into his mind
as to their home--not as dreams of the night, but as facts of the day.
I sat for a while, gazing up through the thin veil of water at the
blue sky so far beyond. I thought how like that veil was to our little
life here, overdomed by that boundless foreshortening of space. The
lines in Shelley's _Adonais_ came to me:
"Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass,
Stains the white radiance of Eternity,
Until Death tramples it to fragments."
Then I thought of what my host had said concerning the too short lives
of horses, and wondered what he would say about those of dogs.
"Dogs are more intelligent than horses," I said: "why do they live a
yet shorter time?"
"I doubt if you would say so in an Arab's tent," he returned. "If you
had said, 'still more affectionate,' I should have known better how to
"Then I do say so," I replied.
"And I return, that is just why they live no longer. They do not find
the world good enough for them, die, and leave it."
"They have a much happier life than horses!"
"Many dogs than some horses, I grant."
That instant arose what I fancied must be an unusual sound in the
place: two of the dogs were fighting. The master got up. I thought
with myself, "Now we shall see his notions of discipline!" nor had I
long to wait. In his hand was a small riding-whip, which I afterward
found he always carried in avoidance of having to inflict a heavier
punishment from inability to inflict a lighter; for he held that in
all wrong-doing man can deal with, the kindest thing is not only to
punish, but, with animals especially, to punish at once. He ran to the
conflicting parties. They separated the moment they heard the sound of
his coming. One came cringing and crawling to his feet; the other--it
was the nondescript Tadpole--stood a little way off, wagging his tail,
and cocking his head up in his master's face. He gave the one at his
feet several pretty severe cuts with the whip, and sent him off. The
other drew nearer. His master turned away and took no notice of him.
"May I ask," I said, when he returned to his seat, "why you did not
punish both the animals for their breach of the peace?"
"They did not both deserve it."
"How could you tell that? You were not looking when the quarrel
"Ah, but you see I know the dogs! One of them--I saw at a glance how
it was--had found a bone, and dog-rule about finding is, that what you
find is yours. The other, notwithstanding, wanted a share. It was
Tadpole who found the bone, and he--partly from his sense of
justice--cannot endure to have his claims infringed upon. Every dog of
them knows that Tadpole must be in the right."
"He looked as if he expected you to approve of his conduct!"
"Yes, that is the worst of Tadpole! he is so self-righteous as to
imagine he deserves praise for standing on his rights! He is but a
dog, you see, and knows no better!"
"I noticed you disregarded his appeal."
"I was not going to praise him for nothing!"
"You expect them to understand your treatment?"
"No one can tell how infinitesimally small the beginnings of
understanding, as of life, may be. The only way to make animals
reasonable--more reasonable, I mean--is to treat them as
reasonable. Until you can go down into the abysses of creation, you
cannot know when_ a nature begins to see a difference in quality
"I confess," I said, "Mr. Tadpole did seem a little ashamed as he went
"And you see Blanco White at my feet, taking care not to touch
them. He is giving time, he thinks, for my anger to pass."
He laughed the merriest laugh. The dog looked up eagerly, but dropped
his head again.
If I go on like this, however, I shall have to take another book to
tell the story for which I began the present! In short, I was drawn to
the man as never to another since the friend of my youth went where I
shall go to seek and find him one day--or, more likely, one solemn
night. I was greatly his inferior, but love is a quick divider of
shares: he that gathers much has nothing over, and he that gathers
little has no lack. I soon ceased to think of him as my _new_ friend,
for I seemed to have known him before I was born.
I am going to tell the early part of his history. If only I could tell
it as it deserves to be told! The most interesting story may be so
narrated as that only the eyes of a Shakspere could spy the shine
underneath its dull surface.
He never told me any great portion of the tale of his life
continuously. One thing would suggest another--generally with no
connection in time. I have pieced the parts together myself. He did
indeed set out more than once or twice to give me his history, but
always we got discussing something, and so it was interrupted.
I will not write what I have set in order as if he were himself
narrating: the most modest man in the world would that way be put at a
disadvantage. The constant recurrence of the capital _I_, is apt to
rouse in the mind of the reader, especially if he be himself
egotistic, more or less of irritation at the egotism of the
narrator--while in reality the freedom of a man's personal utterance
_may_ be owing to his lack of the egotistic. Partly for my
friend's sake, therefore, I shall tell the story as--what indeed it
is--a narrative of my own concerning him.
With his parents.
The lingering, long-drawn-out _table d'hote_ dinner was just over in
one of the inns on the _cornice_ road. The gentlemen had gone into the
garden, and some of the ladies to the _salotto_, where open windows
admitted the odours of many a flower and blossoming tree, for it was
toward the end of spring in that region. One had sat down to a
tinkling piano, and was striking a few chords, more to her own
pleasure than that of the company. Two or three were looking out into
the garden, where the diaphanous veil of twilight had so speedily
thickened to the crape of night, its darkness filled with thousands of
small isolated splendours--fire-flies, those "golden boats" never seen
"on a sunny sea," but haunting the eves of the young summer, pulsing,
pulsing through the dusky air with seeming aimlessness, like sweet
thoughts that have no faith to bind them in one. A tall, graceful
woman stood in one of the windows alone. She had never been in Italy
before, had never before seen fire-flies, and was absorbed in the
beauty of their motion as much as in that of their golden
flashes. Each roving star had a tide in its light that rose and ebbed
as it moved, so that it seemed to push itself on by its own radiance,
ever waxing and waning. In wide, complicated dance, they wove a huge,
warpless tapestry with the weft of an ever vanishing aureate
shine. The lady, an Englishwoman evidently, gave a little sigh and
looked round, regretting, apparently, that her husband was not by her
side to look on the loveliness that woke a faint-hued fairy-tale in
her heart. The same moment he entered the room and came to her. He was
a man above the middle height, and from the slenderness of his figure,
looked taller than he was. He had a vivacity of motion, a readiness to
turn on his heel, a free swing of the shoulders, and an erect carriage
of the head, which all marked him a man of action: one that speculated
on his calling would immediately have had his sense of fitness
satisfied when he heard that he was the commander of an English
gun-boat, which he was now on his way to Genoa to join. He was
young--within the twenties, though looking two or three and thirty,
his face was so browned by sun and wind. His features were regular and
attractive, his eyes so dark that the liveliness of their movement
seemed hardly in accord with the weight of their colour. His wife was
very fair, with large eyes of the deepest blue of eyes. She looked
delicate, and was very lovely. They had been married about five
years. A friend had brought them in his yacht as far as Nice, and they
were now going on by land. From Genoa the lady must find her way home
without her husband.
The lights in the room having been extinguished that the few present
might better see the fire-flies, he put his arm round her waist.
"I'm so glad you're come, Henry!" she said, favoured by the piano. "I
was uncomfortable at having the lovely sight all to myself!"
"It is lovely, darling!" he rejoined; then, after a moment's pause,
added, "I hope you will be able to sleep without the sea to rock you!"
"No fear of that!" she answered. "The stillness will be delightful. I
was thoroughly reconciled to the motion of the yacht," she went on,
"but there is a satisfaction in feeling the solid earth under you, and
knowing it will keep steady all night."
"I am glad you like the change. I never sleep the first night on
shore.--I cannot tell what it is, but somehow I keep wishing Fyvie
could have taken us all the way."
"Never mind, love. I will keep awake with you."
"It's not that! How could I mind lying awake with you beside me! Oh
Grace, you don't know, you cannot know, what you are to me! I don't
feel in the least that you're my other half, as people say. You're not
like a part of myself at all; to think so would be sacrilege! You are
quite another, else how could you be mine! You make me forget myself
altogether. When I look at you, I stand before an enchanted mirror
that cannot show what is in front of it."
"No, Harry; I'm a true mirror, for I hold that inside me which remains
"I fear you've got beyond me!" said her husband, laughing. "You always
"Yes, at nonsense, Harry."
"Then your speech was nonsense, was it?"
"No; it was full of sense. But think of something you would like me to
say; I must fetch the boy to see the fire-flies; when I come back I
will say it."
She left the room. Her husband stood where he was, gazing out, with a
tender look in his face that deepened to sadness--whether from the
haunting thought of his wife's delicate health and his having to leave
her, or from some strange foreboding, I cannot tell. When presently
she returned with their one child in her arms, he made haste to take
him from her.
"My darling," he said, "he is much too heavy for you! How stupid of me
not to think of it! If you don't promise me never to do that at home,
I will take him to sea with me!"
The child, a fair, bright boy, the sleep in whose eyes had turned to
wonder, for they seemed to see everything, and be quite satisfied with
nothing, went readily to his father, but looked back at his
mother. The only sign he gave that he was delighted with the
fire-flies was, that he looked now to the one, now to the other of his
parents, speechless, with shining eyes. He knew they were feeling just
like himself. Silent communion was enough.
The father turned to carry him back to bed. The mother turned to look
after them. As she did so, her eyes fell upon two or three delicate,
small-leaved plants--I do not know what they were--that stood in pots
on the balcony in front of the open window: they were shivering. The
night was perfectly still, but their leaves trembled as with an
"Look, Harry! What is that?" she cried, pointing to them.
He turned and looked, said it must be some loaded wagon passing, and
went off with the child.
"I hope to-morrow will be just like to-day!" said his wife when he
returned. "What shall we do with it?--our one real holiday, you know!"
"I have a notion in my head," he answered. "That little town Georgina
spoke of, is not far from here--among the hills: shall we go and see
Without his parents.
The sun in England seems to shine because he cannot help it; the sun
in Italy seems to shine because he means it, and wants to mean
it. Thus he shone the next morning, including in his attentions a
curious little couple, husband and wife, who, attended by a guide, and
borne by animals which might be mules and might be donkeys, and were
not lovely to look on except through sympathy with their ugliness,
were slowly ascending a steep terraced and zigzagged road, with olive
trees above and below them. They were on the south side of the hill,
and the olives gave them none of the little shadow they have in their
power, for the trees next the sun were always below the road. The man
often wiped his red, innocent face, and looked not a little
distressed; but the lady, although as stout as he, did not seem to
suffer, perhaps because she was sheltered by a very large bonnet After
a silence of a good many minutes, she was the first to speak.
"I can't say but I'm disappointed in the olives, Thomas," she
remarked. "They ain't much to keep the sun off you!"
"They wouldn't look bad along a brookside in Essex!" returned her
husband. "Here they do seem a bit out of place!"
"Well, but, poor things! how are they to help it--with only a trayful
of earth under their feet! If you planted a priest on a terrace he
would soon be as thin as they!"
They had just passed a very stout priest, in a low broad hat, and
cassock, and she laughed merrily at her small joke. They were an
English country parson and his wife, abroad for the first time in
their now middle-aged lives, and happy as children just out of
school. Incapable of disliking anybody, there was no unkindness in
Mrs. Porson's laughter.
"I don't see," she resumed, "how they ever can have a picnic in such a
"There's no place to sit down!"
"Here's a whole hill-side!"
"But so hard!" she answered. "There's not an inch of turf or grass in
The pair--equally plump, and equally good-natured--laughed together.
I need not give more of their talk. It was better than most talk, yet
not worth recording. Their guide, perceiving that they knew no more of
Italian than he did of English, had withdrawn to the rear, and stumped
along behind them all the way, holding much converse with his donkeys
however, admonishing now this one, now that one, and seeming not a
little hurt with their behaviour, to judge from the expostulations
that accompanied his occasionally more potent arguments. Assuredly the
speed they made was small; but it was a festa, and hot.
They were on the way to a small town some distance from the shore, on
the crest of the hill they were now ascending. It would, from the
number of its inhabitants, have been in England a village, but there
are no villages in the Riviera. However insignificant a place may be,
it is none the less a town, possibly a walled town. Somebody had told
Mr. and Mrs. Person they ought to visit Graffiacane, and to
Graffiacane they were therefore bound: why they ought to visit it, and
what was to be seen there, they took the readiest way to know.
The place was indeed a curious one, high among the hills, and on the
top of its own hill, with approaches to it like the trenches of a
siege. All the old towns in that region seem to have climbed up to
look over the heads of other things. Graffiacane saw over hills and
valleys and many another town--each with its church standing highest,
the guardian of the flock of houses beneath it; saw over many a
water-course, mostly dry, with lovely oleanders growing in the middle
of it; saw over multitudinous oliveyards and vineyards; saw over mills
with great wheels, and little ribbons of water to drive them--running
sometimes along the tops of walls to get at their work; saw over
rugged pines, and ugly, verdureless, raw hillsides--away to the sea,
lying in the heat like a heavenly vat in which all the tails of all
the peacocks God was making, lay steeped in their proper dye. Numerous
were the sharp turns the donkeys made in their ascent; and at this
corner and that, the sweetest life-giving wind would leap out upon the
travellers, as if it had been lying there in wait to surprise them
with the heavenliest the old earth, young for all her years, could
give them. But they were getting too tired to enjoy anything, and were
both indeed not far from asleep on the backs of their humble beasts,
when a sudden, more determined yet more cheerful assault of their
guide upon his donkeys, roused both them and their riders; and looking
sleepily up, with his loud _heeoop_ ringing in their ears, and a sense
of the insidious approach of two headaches, they saw before them the
little town, its houses gathered close for protection, like a brood of
chickens, and the white steeple of the church rising above them, like
the neck of the love-valiant hen.
Passing through the narrow arch of the low-browed gateway, hot as was
the hour, a sudden cold struck to their bones. For not a ray of light
shone into the narrow street. The houses were lofty as those of a
city, and parted so little by the width of the street that friends on
opposite sides might almost from their windows have shaken
hands. Narrow, rough, steep old stone-stairs ran up between and inside
the houses, all the doors of which were open to the air--here,
however, none of the sweetest. Everywhere was shadow; everywhere one
or another evil odour; everywhere a look of abject and dirty
poverty--to an English eye, that is. Everywhere were pretty children,
young, slatternly mothers, withered-up grandmothers, the gleam of
glowing reds and yellows, and the coolness of subdued greens and fine
blues. Such at least was the composite first impression made on Mr.
and Mrs. Porson. As it was a festa, more men than usual were looking
out of cavern-like doorways or over hand-wrought iron balconies, were
leaning their backs against door-posts, and smoking as if too lazy to
stop. Many of the women were at prayers in the church. All was
orderly, and quieter than usual for a festa. None could have told the
reason; the townsfolk were hardly aware that an undefinable oppression
was upon them--an oppression that lay also upon their visitors, and
the donkeys that had toiled with them up the hills and slow-climbing
It added to the gloom and consequent humidity of the town that the
sides of the streets were connected, at the height of two or perhaps
three stories, by thin arches--mere jets of stone from the one house
to the other, with but in rare instance the smallest superstructure to
keep down the key of the arch. Whatever the intention of them, they
might seem to serve it, for the time they had straddled there
undisturbed had sufficed for moss and even grass to grow upon those
which Mr. Porson now regarded with curious speculation. A bit of an
architect, and foiled, he summoned at last what Italian he could,
supplemented it with Latin and a terminational _o_ or _a_ tacked to
any French or English word that offered help, and succeeded, as he
believed, in gathering from a by-stander, that the arches were there
because of the earthquakes.
He had not language enough of any sort to pursue the matter, else he
would have asked his informant how the arch they were looking at could
be of any service, seeing it had no weight on the top, and but a
slight endlong pressure must burst it up. Turning away to tell his
wife what he had learned, he was checked by a low rumbling, like
distant thunder, which he took for the firing of festa guns, having
discovered that Italians were fond of all kinds of noises. The next
instant they felt the ground under their feet move up and down and
from side to side with confused motion. A sudden great cry arose. One
moment and down every stair, out of every door, like animals from
their holes, came men, women, and children, with a rush. The
earthquake was upon them.
But in such narrow streets, the danger could hardly be less than
inside the houses, some of which, the older especially, were ill
constructed--mostly with boulder-stones that had neither angles nor
edges, hence little grasp on each other beyond what the friction of
their weight, and the adhesion of their poor old friable cement, gave
them; for the Italians, with a genius for building, are careless of
certain constructive essentials. After about twenty seconds of
shaking, the lonely pair began to hear, through the noise of the cries
of the people, some such houses as these rumbling to the earth.
They were far more bewildered than frightened. They were both of good
nerve, and did not know the degree of danger they were in, while the
strangeness of the thing contributed to an excitement that helped
their courage. I cannot say how they might have behaved in an hotel
full of their countrymen and countrywomen, running and shrieking, and
altogether comporting themselves as if they knew there was no God. The
fear on all sides might there have infected them; but the terror of
the inhabitants who knew better than they what the thing meant, did
not much shake them. For one moment many of the people stood in the
street motionless, pale, and staring; the next they all began to run,
some for the gateway, but the greater part up the street, staggering
as they ran. The movement of the ground was indeed small--not more,
perhaps, than half an inch in any direction--but fear and imagination
weakened all their limbs. They had not run far, however, before the
terrible unrest ceased as suddenly as it had begun.
The English pair drew a long breath where they stood--for they had not
stirred a step, or indeed thought whither to run--and imagining it
over for a hundred years, looked around them. Their guide had
disappeared. The two donkeys stood perfectly still with their heads
hanging down. They seemed in deep dejection, and incapable of
movement. A few men only were yet to be seen. They were running up the
street. In a moment more it would be empty. They were the last of
those that had let the women go to church without them. They were
hurrying to join them in the sanctuary, the one safe place: the rest
of the town might be shaken in heaps on its foundations, but the
church would stand! Guessing their goal, the Porsons followed
them. But they were neither of a build nor in a condition to make
haste, and the road was uphill. No one place, however, was far from
another within the toy-town, and they came presently to an open
_piazza_, on the upper side of which rose the great church. It had a
square front, masking with its squareness the triangular gable of the
building. Upon this screen, in the brightest of colours, magenta and
sky-blue predominating, was represented the day of judgment--the
mother seated on the right hand of the judge, and casting a pitiful
look upon the miserable assembly on her left. The square was a good
deal on the slope, and as they went slowly up to the church, they kept
looking at the picture. The last tatters of the skirt of the crowd had
disappeared through the great door, and but for themselves the square
was empty. All at once the picture at which they were gazing, the
spread of wall on which it was painted, the whole bulk of the huge
building began to shudder, and went on shuddering--"just," Mr. Porson
used to say when describing the thing to a friend, "like the skin of a
horse determined to get rid of a gad-fly." The same moment the tiles
on the roof began to clatter like so many castanets in the hands of
giants, and the ground to wriggle and heave. But they were too much
absorbed in what was before their eyes to heed much what went on under
their feet. The oscillatory displacement of the front of the church
did not at most seem to cover more than a hand-breadth, but it was
enough. Down came the plaster surface, with the judge and his mother,
clashing on the pavement below, while the good and the bad yet stood
trembling. A few of the people came running out, thinking the open
square after all safer than the church, but there was no rush to the
open air. The shaking had lasted about twenty seconds, or at most half
a minute, when, without indication to the eyes watching the front,
there came a roaring crash and a huge rumbling, through and far above
which, rose a multitudinous shriek of terror, dismay, and agony, and a
number of men and women issued as if shot from a catapult. Then a few
came straggling out, and then--no more. The roof had fallen upon the
With the first rush from the church, the shaking ceased utterly, and
the still earth seemed again the immovable thing the English
spectators had conceived her. Of what had taken place there was little
sign on the earth, no sign in the blue sun-glorious heaven; only in
the air there was a cloud of dust so thick as to look almost solid,
and from the cloud, as it seemed, came a ghastly cry, mingled of
shrieks and groans and articulate appeals for help. The cry kept on
issuing, while the calm front of the church, dominated by that
frightful canopy, went on displaying the assembled nations delivered
from their awful judge. While the multitude groaned within, it spread
itself out to the sun in silent composure, welcoming and cherishing
his rays in what was left of its gorgeous hues.
The Porsons stood for a moment stunned, came to their senses, and made
haste to enter the building. With white faces and trembling hands,
they drew aside the heavy leather curtain that hung within the great
door, but could for a moment see nothing; the air inside seemed filled
with a solid yellow dust As their eyes recovered from the sudden
change of sunlight for gloom, however, they began to distinguish the
larger outlines, and perceived that the floor was one confused heap of
rafters and bricks and tiles and stones and lime. The centre of the
roof had been a great dome; now there was nothing between their eyes
and the clear heaven but the slowly vanishing cloud of ruin. In the
mound below they could at first distinguish nothing human--could not
have told, in the dim chaos, limbs from broken rafters. Eager to help,
they dared not set their feet upon the mass--not that they feared the
walls which another shock might bring upon their heads, but that they
shuddered lest their own added weight should crush some live human
creature they could not descry. Three or four who had received little
or no hurt, were moving about the edges of the heap, vaguely trying to
lift now this, now that, but yielding each attempt in despair, either
from its evident uselessness, or for lack of energy. They would give a
pull at a beam that lay across some writhing figure, find it
immovable, and turn with a groan to some farther cry. How or where
were they to help? Others began to come in with white faces and
terror-stricken eyes; and before long the sepulchral ruin had little
groups all over it, endeavouring in shiftless fashion to bring rescue
to the prisoned souls.
The Porsons saw nothing they could do. Great beams and rafters which
it was beyond their power to move an inch, lay crossed in all
directions; and they could hold little communication with those who
were in a fashion at work. Alas, they were little better than vainly
busy, while the louder moans accompanying their attempts revealed that
they added to the tortures of those they sought to deliver! The two
saw more plainly now, and could distinguish contorted limbs, and here
and there a countenance. The silence, more and more seldom broken, was
growing itself terrible. Had they known how many were buried there,
they would have wondered so few were left able to cry out. At moments
there was absolute stillness in the dreadful place. The heart of
Mrs. Porson began to sink.
"Do come out," she whispered, afraid of her own voice. "I feel so sick
and faint, I fear I shall drop."
As she spoke something touched her leg. She gave a cry and started
aside. It was a hand, but of the body to which it belonged nothing
could be seen. It must have been its last movement; now it stuck there
motionless. Then they spied amid sad sights a sadder still. Upon the
heap, a little way from its edge, sat a child of about three, dressed
like a sailor, gazing down at something--they could not see
what. Going a little nearer, they saw it--the face of a fair woman,
evidently English, who lay dead, with a great beam across her
heart. The child showed no trace of tears; his white face seemed
frozen. The stillness upon it was not despair, but suggested a world
in which hope had never yet been born. Pity drove Mrs. Porson's
"My dear!" she said; but the child took no heed. Her voice, however,
seemed to wake something in him. He started to his feet, and rushing
at the beam, began to tug at it with his tiny hands. Mrs. Porson burst
"It's no use, darling!" she cried.
"Wake mamma!" he said, turning, and looking up at her.
"She will not wake," sobbed Mrs. Porson.
Her husband stood by speechless, choking back the tears of which,
being an Englishman, he was ashamed.
"She _will_ wake," returned the boy. "She always wakes when I kiss
He knelt beside her, to prove upon her white face the efficacy of the
measure he had never until now known to fail. That he had already
tried it was plain, for he had kissed away much of the dust, though
none of the death. When once more he found that she did not even close
her lips to return his passionate salute, he desisted. With that
saddest of things, a child's sigh, and a look that seemed to Mrs.
Porson to embody the riddle of humanity, he reseated himself on the
beam, with his little feet on his mother's bosom, where so often she
had made them warm. He did not weep; he did not fix his eyes on his
mother; his look was level and moveless and set upon nothing. He
seemed to have before him an utter blank--as if the outer wall of
creation had risen frowning in front, and he knew there was nothing
behind it but chaos.
"Where is your papa?" asked Mr. Porson.
The boy looked round bewildered.
"Gone," he answered; nor could they get anything more from him.
"Was your papa with you here?" asked Mrs. Porson.
He answered only with the word _Gone_, uttered in a dazed fashion.
By this time all the men left in the town were doing their best, under
the direction of an intelligent man, the priest of a neighbouring
parish. They had already got one or two out alive, and their own
priest dead. They worked well, their terror of the lurking earthquake
forgotten in their eagerness to rescue. From their ignorance of the
language, however, Mr. Porson saw they could be of little use; and in
dread of doing more harm than good, he judged it better to go.
They stood one moment and looked at each other in silence. The child
had dropped from the beam, and lay fast asleep across his mother's
bosom, with his head on a lump of mortar. Without a word spoken,
Mrs. Person, picking her way carefully to the spot, knelt down by the
dead mother, tenderly kissed her cheek, lifted the sleeping child, and
with all the awe, and nearly all the tremulous joy of first
motherhood, bore him to her husband. The throes of the earthquake had
slain the parents, and given the child into their arms. Without look
of consultation, mark of difference, or sign of agreement, they turned
in silence and left the terrible church, with the clear summer sky
looking in upon its dead.
As they passed the door, the sun met them shining with all his
might. The sea, far away across the tops of hills and the clefts of
valleys, lay basking in his glory. The hot air quivered all over the
wide landscape. From the flight of steps in front of the church they
looked down on the streets of the town, and beyond them into space. It
looked the best of all possible worlds--as neither plague, famine,
pestilence, earthquakes, nor human wrongs, persuade me it is not,
judged by the high intent of its existence. When a man knows that
intent, as I dare to think I do, _then_ let him say, and not till
then, whether it be a good world or not. That in the midst of the
splendour of the sunny day, in the midst of olives and oranges, grapes
and figs, ripening swiftly by the fervour of the circumambient air,
should lie that charnel-church, is a terrible fact, neither to be
ignored, nor to be explained by the paltry theory of the greatest good
to the greatest number; but the end of the maker's dream is not this.
When they turned into the street that led to the gate, they found the
donkeys standing where they had left them. Their owner was not with
them. He had gone into the church with the rest, and was killed. When
they caught sight of the patient, dejected animals, unheeded and
unheeding, then first they spoke, whispering in the awful stillness of
the world: they must take the creatures, and make the best of their
way back without a guide! They judged that, as the road was chiefly
down hill, and the donkeys would be going home, they would not have
much difficulty with them. At the worst, short and stout as they were,
they were not bad walkers, and felt more than equal to carrying the
child between them. Not a person was in the street when they mounted;
almost all were in the church, at its strange, terrible service. Mrs.
Porson mounted the strongest of the animals, her husband placed the
sleeping child in her arms, and they started, he on foot by the side
of his wife, and his donkey following. No one saw them pass through
the gate of the town.
They were not sure of the way, for they had been partly asleep as they
came, but so long as they went downward, and did not leave the road,
they could hardly go wrong! The child slept all the way.
The new family.
How shall a man describe what passed in the mind of a childless wife,
with a motherless boy in her arms! It is the loveliest provision,
doubtless, that every child should have a mother of his own; but there
is a mother-love--which I had almost called more divine--the love,
namely, that a woman bears to a child because he is a child,
regardless of whether he be her own or another's. It is that they may
learn to love thus, that women have children. Some women love so
without having any. No conceivable treasure of the world could have
once entered into comparison with the burden of richness Mrs. Porson
bore. She told afterward, with voice hushed by fear of irreverence,
how, as they went down one of the hills, she slept for a moment, and
dreamed that she was Mary with the holy thing in her arms, fleeing to
Egypt on the ass, with Joseph, her husband, walking by her side. For
years and years they had been longing for a child--and here lay the
divinest little one, with every mark of the kingdom upon him! His
father and mother lying crushed under the fallen dome of that fearful
church, was it strange he should seem to belong to her?
But there might be some one somewhere in the world with a better
claim; possibly--horrible thought!--with more need of him than she! Up
started a hideous cupidity, a fierce temptation to dishonesty, such as
she had never imagined. We do not know what is in us until the
temptation comes. Then there is the devil to fight. And Mrs. Porson
Mr. Porson was, in a milder degree, affected much as his wife. He
could not help wishing, nor was he wrong in wishing, that, since the
child's father and mother were gone, they might take their place, and
love their orphan. They were far from rich, but what was one child!
They might surely manage to give him a good education, and set him
doing for himself! But, alas, there might be others--others with
love-property in the child! The same thoughts were working in each,
but neither dared utter them in the presence of the sleeping treasure.
As they descended the last slope above the town, with the wide
sea-horizon before them, they beheld such a glory of after-sunset as,
even on that coast, was unusual. A chord of colour that might have
been the prostrate fragment of a gigantic rainbow, lay along a large
arc of the horizon. The farther portion of the sea was an indigo blue,
save for a grayish line that parted it from the dusky red of the
sky. This red faded up through orange and dingy yellow to a pale green
and pale blue, above which came the depth of the blue night, in which
rayed resplendent the evening star. Below the star and nearer to the
west, lay, very thin and very long, the sickle of the new moon. If
death be what it looks to the unthinking soul, and if the heavens
declare the glory of God, as they do indeed to the heart that knows
him, then is there discord between heaven and earth such as no
argument can harmonize. But death is not what men think it, for
"Blessed are they that mourn for the dead."
The sight enhanced the wonder and hope of the two honest good souls in
the treasure they carried. Out of the bosom of the skeleton Death
himself, had been given them--into their very arms--a germ of life, a
jewel of heaven! At the thought of what lay up the hill behind them,
they felt their joy in the child almost wicked; but if God had taken
the child's father and mother, might they not be glad in the hope that
he had chosen them to replace them? That he had for the moment at
least, they were bound to believe!
They travelled slowly on, through the dying sunset, and an hour or two
of the star-bright night that followed, adorned rather than lighted by
the quaint boat of the crescent moon. Weary, but lapt in a voiceless
triumph, they came at last, guided by the donkeys, to their hotel.
All were talking of the earthquake. A great part of the English had
fled in a panic terror, like sheep that had no shepherd--hunted by
their own fears, and betrayed by their imagined faith. The steadiest
church-goer fled like the infidel he reviled. The fool said in his
heart, "There is no God," and fled. The Christian said with his mouth,
"Verily there is a God that ruleth in the earth!" and fled--far as he
could from the place which, as he fancied, had shown signs of a
special presence of the father of Jesus Christ.
After the Persons were in the house, there came two or three small
shocks. Every time, out with a cry rushed the inhabitants into the
streets; every time, out into the garden of the hotel swarmed such as
were left in it of Germans and English. But our little couple, who had
that day seen so much more of its terrors than any one else in the
place, and whose chamber was at the top of the house where the swaying
was worst, were too much absorbed in watching and tending their lovely
boy to heed the earthquake. Perhaps their hearts whispered, "Can that
which has given us such a gift be unfriendly?"
"If his father and mother," said Mrs. Person, as they stood regarding
him, "are permitted to see their child, they shall see how we love
him, and be willing he should love us!"
As they went up the stairs with him, the boy woke When he looked and
saw a face that was not his mother's, a cloud swept across the heaven
of his eyes. He closed them again, and did not speak. The first of the
shocks came as they were putting him to bed: he turned very white and
looked up fixedly, as if waiting another fall from above, but sat
motionless on his new mother's lap. The instant the vibration and
rocking ceased, he drank from the cup of milk she offered him, as
quietly as if but a distant thunder had rolled away. When she put him
in the bed, he looked at her with such an indescribable expression of
bewildered loss, that she burst into tears. The child did not cry. He
had not cried since they took him. The woman's heart was like to break
for him, but she managed to say,
"God has taken her, my darling. He is keeping her for you, and I am
going to keep you for her;" and with that she kissed him.
The same moment came the second shock.
Need wakes prophecy: the need of the child made of the parson a
"It is God that does the shaking," he said. "It's all right. Nobody
will be the worse--not much, at least!"
"Not at all," rejoined the boy, and turned his face away.
From the lips of such a tiny child, the words seemed almost awful.
He fell fast asleep, and never woke till the morning. Mrs. Porson lay
beside him, yielding him, stout as she was, a good half of the little
Italian bed. She scarcely slept for excitement and fear of smothering
The Persons were honest people, and for all their desire to possess
the child, made no secret of how and where they had found him, or of
as much of his name as he could tell them, which was only _Clare_. But
they never heard of inquiry after him. On the gunboat at Genoa they
knew nothing of their commander's purposes, or where to seek him. Days
passed before they began to be uneasy about him, and when they did
make what search for him they could, it was fruitless.
His new home.
The place to which the good people carried the gift of the
earthquake--carried him with much anxiety and more exultation--had no
very distinctive features. It had many fields in grass, many in crop,
and some lying fallow--all softly undulating. It had some trees, and
everywhere hedges dividing fields whose strange shapes witnessed to a
complicated history, of which few could tell anything. Here and there
in the hollows between the motionless earth-billows, flowed, but did
not seem to flow, what they called a brook. But the brooks there were
like deep soundless pools without beginning or end. There was no life,
no gaiety, no song in them, only a sullen consent to exist. That at
least is how they impress one accustomed to real brooks, lark-like,
always on the quiver, always on the move, always babbling and gabbling
and gamboling, always at their games, always tossing their pebbles
about, and telling them to talk. A man that loved them might say there
was more in the silence of these, than in the speech of those; but
what silence can be better than a song of delight that we are, that we
were, that we are to be! The stillness may be full of solemn fish,
mysterious as itself, and deaf with secrets; but blessed is the brook
that lets the light of its joy shine.
Dull as the place must seem in this my description, it was the very
country for the boy. He would come into more contact with its modest
beauty in a day than some of us would in a year. Nobody quite knows
the beauty of a country, especially of a quiet country, except one who
has been born in it, or for whom at least childhood and boyhood and
youth have opened door after door into the hidden phases of its
life. There is no square yard on the face of the earth but some one
can in part understand what God meant in making it; while the same
changeful skies canopy the most picturesque and the dullest
landscapes; the same winds wake and blow over desert and pasture land,
making the bosoms of youth and age swell with the delight of their
blowing. The winds are not all so full as are some of delicious odours
gathered as they pass from gardens, fields, and hill-sides; but all
have their burden of sweetness. Those that blew upon little Clare were
oftener filled with the smell of farmyards, and burning weeds, and
cottage-fires, than of flowers; but never would one of such odours
revisit him without bringing fresh delight to his heart. Its mere
memorial suggestion far out on the great sea would wake the old child
in the man. The pollards along the brooks grew lovely to his heart,
and were not the less lovely when he came to understand that they were
not so lovely as God had meant them to be. He was one of those who,
regarding what a thing _is_, and not comparing it with other things,
descry the thought of God in it, and love it; for to love what is
beautiful is as natural as to love our mothers.
The parsonage to which his new father and mother brought him was like
the landscape--humble. It was humble even for a parsonage--which has
no occasion to be fine. For men and women whose business it is to
teach their fellows to be true and fair, and not covet fine things,
are but hypocrites, or at best intruders and humbugs, if they want
fine things themselves. Jesus Christ did not care about fine
things. He loved every lovely thing that ever his father made. If any
one does not know the difference between fine things and lovely
things, he does not know much, if he has all the science in the world
at his finger-ends.
One good thing about the parsonage was, that it was aid, and the
swallows had loved it for centuries. That way Clare learned to love
the swallows--and they are worth loving. Then it had a very old
garden, nearly as old-fashioned as it was old, and many flowers that
have almost ceased to be seen grew in it, and did not enjoy their
lives the less that they were out of fashion. All the furniture in the
house was old, and mostly shabby; it was possible, therefore, to love
it a little. Who on earth could be such a fool as to love a new piece
of furniture! One might prize it; one might admire it; one might like
it because it was pretty, or because it was comfortable; but only a
silly woman whose soul went to bed on her new sideboard, could say she
loved it. And then it would not be true. It is impossible that any but
an _old_ piece of furniture should be loved.
His father and mother had a charming little room made for him in the
garret, right up among the swallows, who soon admitted him a member of
their society--an honorary member, that is, who was not expected to
fly with them to Africa except he liked. His new parents did this
because they saw that, when he could not be with them, he preferred
being by himself; and that moods came upon him in which he would steal
away even from them, seized with a longing for loneliness. In general,
next to being with his mother anywhere, he liked to be with his father
in the study. If both went out, and could not take him with them, he
would either go to his own room, or sit in the study alone. It was a
very untidy room, crowded with books, mostly old and dingy, and in
torn bindings. Many of them their owner never opened, and they
suffered in consequence; a few of them were constantly in his hands,
and suffered in consequence. All smelt strong of stale tobacco, but
that hardly accounts for the fact that Clare never took to smoking.
Another thing perhaps does--that he was always too much of a man to
want to look like a man by imitating men. That is unmanly. A boy who
wants to look like a man is not a manly boy, and men do not care for
his company. A true boy is always welcome to a true man, but a
would-be man is better on the other side of the wall.
His mother oftenest sat in a tiny little drawing-room, which smelt of
withered rose-leaves. I think it must smell of them still. I believe
it smelt of them a hundred years before she saw the place. Clare loved
the smell of the rose-leaves and disliked the smell of the tobacco;
yet he preferred the study with its dingy books to the pretty
drawing-room without his mother.
There was a village, a very small one, in the parish, and a good many
Such was the place in which Clare spent the next few years of his
life, and there his new parents loved him heartily. The only thing
about him that troubled them, besides the possibility of losing him,
was, that they could not draw out the tiniest smile upon his sweet,
What did draw out his first smile.
Mr. Porson was a man about five and forty; his wife was a few years
younger. His theories of religion were neither large nor lofty; he
accepted those that were handed down to him, and did not trouble
himself as to whether they were correct. He did what was better: he
tried constantly to obey the law of God, whether he found it in the
Bible or in his own heart. Thus he was greater in the kingdom of
heaven than thousands that knew more, had better theories about God,
and could talk much more fluently concerning religion than he. By
obeying God he let God teach him. So his heart was always growing; and
where the heart grows, there is no fear of the intellect; there it
also grows, and in the best fashion of growth. He was very good to his
people, and not foolishly kind. He tried his best to help them to be
what they ought to be, to make them bear their troubles, be true to
one another, and govern themselves. He was like a father to them. For
some, of course, he could do but little, because they were locked
boxes with nothing in them; but for a few he did much. Perhaps it was
because he was so good to his flock that God gave him little Clare to
bring up. Perhaps it was because he and his wife were so good to
Clare, that by and by a wonderful thing took place.
About three years after the earthquake, Mrs. Porson had a baby-girl
sent her for her very own. The father and mother thought themselves
the happiest couple on the face of the earth--and who knows but they
were! If they were not, so much the better! for then, happy as they
were, there were happier yet than they; and who, in his greatest
happiness, would not be happier still to know that the earth held
happier than he!
When Clare first saw the baby, he looked down on her with solemn,
unmoved countenance, and gazed changeless for a whole minute. He
thought there had been another earthquake, that another church-dome
had fallen, and another child been found and brought home from the
ruin. Then light began to grow somewhere under his face. His mother,
full as was her heart of her new child, watched his countenance
anxiously. The light under his face grew and grew, till his face was
radiant. Then out of the midst of the shining broke the heavenliest
smile she had ever seen on human countenance--a smile that was a
clearer revelation of God than ten thousand books about him. For what
must not that God be, who had made the boy that smiled such a smile
and never knew it! After this he smiled occasionally, though it was
but seldom. He never laughed--that is, not until years after this
time; but, on the other hand, he never looked sullen. A quiet peace,
like the stillness of a long summer twilight in the north, dwelt upon
his visage, and appeared to model his every motion. Part of his life
seemed away, and he waiting for it to come back. Then he would be
He was never in a hurry, yet always doing something--always, that is,
when he was not in his own room. There his mother would sometimes find
him sitting absolutely still, with his hands on his knees. Nor was she
sorry to surprise him thus, for then she was sure of one of his rare
smiles. She thought he must then be dreaming of his own mother, and a
pang would go through her at the thought that he would one day love
her more than herself. "He will laugh then!" she said. She did not
think how the gratitude of that mother would one day overwhelm her
He never sought to be caressed, but always snuggled to one that drew
him close. Never once did he push any one away. He learned what
lessons were set him--not very fast, but with persistent endeavour to
understand. He was greatly given to reading, but not particularly
quick. He thus escaped much, fancying that he knew when he did not
know--a quicksand into which fall so many clever boys and girls. Give
me a slow, steady boy, who knows when he does not know a thing! To
know that you do not know, is to be a small prophet. Such a boy has a
glimmer of the something he does not know, or at least of the place
where it is; while the boy who easily grasps the words that stand for
a thing, is apt to think he knows the thing itself when he sees but
the wrapper of it--thinks he knows the church when he has caught sight
of the weather-cock. Mrs. Porson could see the understanding of a
thing gradually burst into blossom on the boy's face. It did not
smile, it only shone. Understanding is light; it needs love to change
light into a smile.
There was something in the boy that his parents hardly hoped to
understand; something in his face that made them long to know what was
going on in him, but made them doubt if ever in this life they
should. He was not concealing anything from them. He did not know that
he had anything to tell, or that they wanted to know anything. He
never doubted that everybody saw him just as he felt himself; his soul
seemed bare to all the world. But he knew little of what was passing
in him: child or man never knows more than a small part of that.
When first he was allowed to take the little one in his arms, he
sitting on a stool at his mother's feet, it was almost a new start in
his existence. A new confidence was born in his spirit. Mrs. Person
could read, as if reflected in his countenance, the pride and
tenderness that composed so much of her own conscious motherhood. A
certain staidness, almost sternness, took possession of his face as he
bent over the helpless creature, half on his knees, half in his
arms--the sternness of a protecting divinity that knew danger not
afar. He had taken a step upward in being; he was aware in himself,
without knowing it, of the dignity of fatherhood. Even now he knew
what so many seem never to learn, that a man is the defender of the
weak; that, if a man is his brother's keeper, still more is he his
sister's. She belonged to him, therefore he was hers in the slavery of
love, which alone is freedom. So reverential and so careful did he
show himself, that soon his mother trusted him, to the extent of his
power, more than any nurse.
By and by she made the delightful discovery that, when he was alone
with the baby, the silent boy could talk. Where was no need or hope of
being understood, his words began to flow--with a rhythmical cadence
that seemed ever on the verge of verse. When first his mother heard
the sweet murmur of his voice, she listened; and then first she
learned what a hold the terrible thing that had given him into her
arms had upon him. For she heard him half singing, half saying--
"Baby, baby, do not grow. Keep small, and lie on my lap, and dream of
walking, but never walk; for when you walk you will run, and when you
run you will go away with father and mother--away to a big place where
the ground goes up to the sky; and you will go up the ground that goes
up to the sky, and you will come to a big church, and you will go into
the church; and the ground and the church and the sky will go _hurr,
hurr, hurr_; and the sky, full of angels, will come down with a great
roar; and all the yards and sails will drop out of the sky, and tumble
down father and mother, and hold them down that they cannot get up
again; and then you will have nobody but me. I will do all I can, but
I am only brother Clare, and you will want, want, want mother and
father, mother and father, and they will be always coming, and never
be come, not for ever so long! Don't grow a big girl, Maly!"
The mother could not think what to say. She went in, and, in the hope
of turning his thoughts aside, took the baby, and made haste to
consult her husband.
"We must leave it," said Mr. Person. "Experience will soon correct
what mistake is in his notion. It is not so very far wrong. You and I
must go from them one day: what is it but that the sky will fall down
on us, and our bodies will get up no more! He thinks the time nearer
at hand than for their sakes I hope it is; but nobody can tell."
Clare never associated the church where the awful thing took place,
with the church to which he went on Sundays. The time for it, he
imagined, came to everybody. To Clare, nothing ever _happened_. The
way out of the world was a church in a city set on a hill, and there
an earthquake was always ready.
The heart of his adoptive mother grew yet more tender toward him after
the coming of her own child. She was not quite sure that she did not
love him even more than Mary. She could not help the feeling that he
was a child of heaven sent out to nurse on the earth; and that it was
in reward for her care of him that her own darling was sent her. That
their love to the boy had something to do with the coming of the girl,
I believe myself, though what that something was, I do not precisely
She left him less often alone with the child. She would not have his
thoughts drawn to the church of the earthquake; neither would she have
the mournfulness of his sweet voice much in the ears of her baby. He
never sang in a minor key when any one was by, but always and solely
when the baby and he were alone together.
Clare and his brothers.
After a year or two, Mr. Person became anxious lest the boy should
grow up too unlike other boys--lest he should not be manly, but of a
too gently sad behaviour. He began, therefore, to take him with him
about the parish, and was delighted to find him show extraordinary
endurance. He would walk many miles, and come home less fatigued than
his companion. To be sure, he had not much weight to carry; but it
seemed to Mr. Porson that his utter freedom from thought about himself
had a large share in his immunity from weariness. He continued slight
and thin--which was natural, for he was growing fast; but the muscles
of his little bird-like legs seemed of steel. The spindle-shanks went
striding, striding without a check, along the roughest roads, the pale
face shining atop of them like a sweet calm moon. To Mr. Person's
eyes, the moon, stooping, as she sometimes seems to do, downward from
the sky, always looked like him. The child woke something new in the
heart and mind of every one that loved him, but was himself
unconscious of his influence. His company was no check to his father
when meditating, after his habit as he walked, what he should say to
his people the next Sunday. For the good man never wrote or read a
sermon, but talked to his people as one who would meet what was in
them with what was in him. Hence they always believed "the parson
meant it." He never said anything clever, and never said anything
unwise; never amused them, and never made them feel scornful, either
of him or of any one else.
Instead of finding the presence of Clare distract his thoughts, he had
at times a curious sense that the boy was teaching him--that his
sermon was running before, or walking sedately on this side of him or
that. For Clare could run like the wind; and did run after
butterflies, dragon-flies, or anything that offered a chance of seeing
it nearer; but he never killed, and seldom tried to catch anything, if
but for a moment's examination. The swiftest run would scarcely
heighten the colour of his pale cheeks.
He soon came to be known in the farm-houses of the parish. The
farmer-families were a little shy of him at first, fancying him too
fine a little gentleman for them; but as they got to know him, they
grew fond of him. They called him "the parson's man," which pleased
Clare. But one old woman called him "the parson's cherubim."
One day Mr. Porson was calling at the house of the largest farm in the
parish, the nearest house to the parsonage. The farmer's wife was ill,
and having to go to her room to see her, he said to the boy--
"Clare, you run into the yard. Give my compliments to any one you
meet, and ask him to let you stay with him."
When the time came for their departure, Mr. Porson went to find
him. He did not call him; he wanted to see what he was about. Unable
to discover him, and coming upon no one of whom he might inquire, for
it was hay-time and everybody in the fields, he was at last driven to
use his voice.
He had not to call twice. Out of the covered part of the pigsty, not
far from which the parson stood, the boy came creeping on all fours,
followed by a litter of half-grown, grunting, gamboling pigs.
"Here I am, papa!" he cried.
"Clare," exclaimed his father, "what a mess you have made of
"I gave them your compliments," answered the boy, as he scrambled over
the fence with his father's assistance, "and asked them if I might
stay with them till you were ready. They said yes, and invited me
in. I went in; and we've been having such games! They were very kind
His father turned involuntarily and looked into the sty. There stood
all the pigs in a row, gazing after the boy, and looking as sorry as
their thick skins and bony snouts would let them. Their mother rose in
a ridge behind them, gazing too. Mr. Skymer always spoke of pigs as
about the most intelligent animals in the world.
I do not know when or where or how his love of the animals began, for
he could not tell me. If it began with the pigs, it was far from
ending with them.
The next day he asked his father if he might go and call upon the
"Have you forgotten, Clare," said his mother, "what a job Susan and I
had with your clothes? I wonder still how you could have done such a
thing! They were quite filthy. When I saw you, I had half a mind to
put you in a bath, clothes and all. I doubt if they are sweet yet!"
"Oh, yes, they are, indeed, mamma!" returned Clare; "and you know I
shall be careful after this! I shall not go into their house, but get
the farmer to let them out. I've thought of a new game with them!"
His mother consented; the farmer did let the pigs out; and Clare and
they had a right good game together among the ricks in the yard.
His growing nature showed itself in a swiftly widening friendship for
live things. The spreading ripples of his affection took in the cows
and the horses, the hens and the geese, and every creature about the
place, till at length it had to pull up at the moles, because he could
not get at them. I doubt if he would have liked them if he had seen
one eat a frog! He called the pigs little brothers, and the horses and
cows big brothers, and was perfectly at home with them before people
knew he cared for their company. I think his absolute simplicity
brought him near to the fountain of life, or rather, prevented him
from straying from it; and this kept him so alive himself, that he was
delicately sensitive to all life. He felt himself pledged to all other
life as being one with it. Its forms were therefore so open to him as
to seem familiar from the first. He knew instinctively what went on in
regions of life differing from his own--knew, without knowing how,
what the animals were thinking and feeling; so was able to interpret
their motions, even the sudden changes in their behaviour.
There was one dangerous animal on the place--a bull, of which the
farmer had often said he must part with him, or he would be the death
of somebody. One morning he was struck with terror to find Clare in
the stall with Nimrod. The brute was chained up pretty short, but was
free enough for terrible mischief: Clare was stroking his nose, and
the beast was standing as still as a bull of bronze, with one curved
and one sharp, forward-set, wicked-looking horn in alarming proximity
to the angelic face. The farmer stood in dismay, still as the bull,
afraid to move. Clare looked up and smiled, but his delicate little
hand went on caressing the huge head. It was one of God's small high
creatures visiting with good news of hope one of his big low
creatures--a little brother of Jesus Christ bringing a taste of his
father's kingdom to his great dull bull of a brother. The farmer
called him. The boy came at once. Mr. Goodenough told him he must not
go near the bull; he was fierce and dangerous. Clare informed him that
he and the bull had been friends for a long time; and to prove it ran
back, and before the farmer could lay hold of him, was perched on the
animal's shoulders. The bull went on eating the grass in the manger
before him, and took as little heed of the boy as if it were but a fly
that had lighted on him, and neither tickled nor stung him.
By degrees he grew familiar with all the goings on at the farm, and
drew nearer to a true relation with the earth that nourishes
all. Where the soil was not too heavy, the ploughman would set him on
the back of the near horse, and there he would ride in triumph to the
music of the ploughman's whistle behind. His was not the pomp of the
destroyer who rides trampling, but the pomp of the saviour drawing
forth life from the earth. In the summer the hayfield knew him, and in
the autumn the harvest-field, where busily he gathered what the earth
gave, and for himself strength, a sense of wide life and large
relations. The very mould, not to say the grass-blades and the
daisies, was dear to him. He was more sympathetic with the daisies
ploughed down than was even Burns, for he had a strong feeling that
they went somewhere, and were the better for going; that this was the
way their sky fell upon them.
All the people on the farm, all the people of the village, every one
in the parish knew the boy and his story. From his gentleness and
lovingkindness to live things, there were who said he was half-witted;
others said he saw ghosts. The boys of the village despised, and some
hated him, because he was so unlike them. They called him a girl
because where they tormented he caressed. At this he would smile, and
they durst not lay hands on him.
The days are long in boyhood, and Clare could do a many things in
one. There was the morning, the forenoon, and the long afternoon and
evening! He could help on the farm; he could play with ever so many
animals; he could learn his lessons, which happily were not heavy; he
could read any book he pleased in his father's library, where
_Paradise Lost_ was his favourite; he could nurse little Maly. He had
the more time for all these that he had no companion of his own age,
no one he wanted to go about with after school-hours. His father was
still his chief human companion, and neither of them grew tired of the
The most remarkable thing in the child was the calm and gentle
greatness of his heart. You often find children very fond of one or
two people, who, perhaps, in evil return, want to keep them all to
themselves, and reproach them for loving others. Many persons count it
a sign of depth in a child that he loves only one or two. I doubt it
greatly. I think that only the child who loves all life can love right
well, can love deeply and strongly and tenderly the lives that come
nearest him. Low nurses and small-hearted mothers dwarf and pervert
their children, doing their worst to keep them from having big hearts
like God. Clare had other teaching than this. He had lost his father
and mother, but many were given him to love; and so he was helped to
wait patiently till he found them again. God was keeping them for him
somewhere, and keeping him for them here.
The good for which we are born into this world is, that we may learn
to love. I think Clare the most enviable of boys, because he loved
more than any one of his age I have heard of. There are people--oh,
such silly people they are!--though they may sometimes be
pleasing--who are always wanting people to love them. They think so
much of themselves, that they want to think more; and to know that
people love them makes them able to think more of themselves. They
even think themselves loving because they are fond of being loved!
You might as soon say because a man loves money he is generous;
because he loves to gather, therefore he knows how to scatter; because
he likes to read a story, therefore he can write one. Such lovers are
only selfish in a deeper way, and are more to blame than other selfish
people; for, loving to be loved, they ought the better to know what an
evil thing it is not to love; what a mean thing to accept what they
are not willing to give. Even to love only those that love us, is, as
the Lord has taught us, but a pinched and sneaking way of
loving. Clare never thought about being loved. He was too busy loving,
with so many about him to love, to think of himself. He was not the
contemptible little wretch to say, "What a fine boy I am, to make
everybody love me!" If he had been capable of that, not many would
have loved him; and those that did would most of them have got tired
of loving a thing that did not love again. Only great lovers like God
are able to do that, and they help God to make love grow. But there is
little truth in love where there is no wisdom in it. Clare's father
and mother were wise, and did what they could to make Clare wise.
Also the animals, though they were not aware of it, did much to save
him from being spoiled by the humans whom the boy loved more than
them. For Clare's charity began at home. Those who love their own
people will love other people. Those who do not love children will
never love animals right.
Here I will set down a strange thing that befell Clare, and caused him
a sore heart, making him feel like a traitor to the whole animal race,
and influencing his life for ever. I was at first puzzled to account
for the thing without attributing more imagination to the animals--or
some of them--than I had been prepared to do; but probably the main
factor in it was heart-disease.
He had seen men go out shooting, but had never accompanied any
killers. I do not quite understand how, as in my story, he came even
to imitate using a gun. There was nothing in him that belonged to
killing; and that is more than I could say for myself, or any other
man I know except Clare Skymer.
He was at the bottom of the garden one afternoon, where nothing but a
low hedge came between him and a field of long grass. He had in his
hand the stick of a worn-out umbrella. Suddenly a half-grown rabbit
rose in the grass before him, and bolted. From sheer unconscious
imitation, I believe, he raised the stick to his shoulder, and said
_Bang_. The rabbit gave a great bound into the air, fell, and lay
motionless. With far other feelings than those of a sportsman, Clare
ran, got through the hedge, and approached the rabbit trembling. He
could think nothing but that the creature was playing him a trick. Yet
he was frightened. Only how could he have hurt him!
"I dare say the little one knows me," he said to himself, "and wanted
to give me a start! He couldn't tell what a start it would be, or he
wouldn't have done it."
When he drew near, however, "the little one" did not, as he had hoped
and expected, jump up and run again. With sinking heart Clare went
close up, and looked down on it. It lay stretched out, motionless.
With death in his own bosom he stooped and tenderly lifted it. The
rabbit was stone-dead! The poor boy gazed at it, pressed it tenderly
to his heart, and went with it to find his mother. The tears kept
pouring down his face, but he uttered no cry till he came to her. Then
a low groaning howl burst from him; he laid the dead thing in her lap,
and threw himself on the floor at her feet in an abandonment of