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  • 1891
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self-accusation and despair.

It was long before he was able to give her an intelligible account of what had taken place. She asked him if he had found it dead. In answer he could only shake his head, but that head-shake had a whole tragedy in it. Then she examined “the little one,” but could find no mark of any wound upon it. When at length she learned how the case was, she tried to comfort him, insisting he was not to blame, for he did not mean to kill the little one. He would not hearken to her loving sophistry.

“No, mother!” he said through his sobs; “I wouldn’t have blamed myself, though I should have been very sorry, if I had killed him by accident–if I had stepped upon him, or anything of that kind; but I meant to frighten him! I looked bad at him! I made him think I was an enemy, and going to kill him! I shammed bad–and so was real bad.”

He stopped with a most wailful howl.

“Perhaps he knew me,” he resumed, “and couldn’t understand it. It was much worse than if I had shot him. He wouldn’t have known then till he was dead. But to die of terror was horrible. Oh, why didn’t I think what I was doing?”

“Nobody could have thought of such a thing happening.”

“No; but I ought to have thought, mother, of what I was doing. I was trying to frighten him! I must have been in a cruel mood. Why didn’t I think love to the little one when I saw him, instead of thinking death to him? I shall never look a rabbit in the face again! My heart must have grown black, mother!”

“I don’t believe there is another rabbit in England would die from such a cause,” persisted his mother thoughtfully.

“Then what a superior rabbit he must have been!” said Clare. “To think that I pulled down the roof of his church upon him!”

He burst into a torrent of tears, and ran to his own room. There his mother thought it better to leave him undisturbed. She wisely judged that a mind of such sensibility was alone capable of finding the comfort to fit its need.

Such comfort he doubtless did find, for by the time his mother called him to tea, calmness had taken the place of the agony on his countenance. His mother asked him no questions, for she as well as her husband feared any possible encouragement to self-consciousness. I imagine the boy had reflected that things could not go so wrong that nobody could set them right. I imagine he thought that, if he had done the rabbit a wrong, as he never for a moment to the end of his life doubted he had, he who is at the head of all heads and the heart of all hearts, would contrive to let him tell the rabbit he was sorry, and would give him something to do for the rabbit that would make up for his cruelty to him. He did once say to his mother, and neither of them again alluded to the matter, that he was sure the rabbit had forgiven him.

“Little ones are _so_ forgiving, you know, mother!” he added.

Is it any wonder that my friend Clare Skymer should have been no sportsman?

Chapter VIII.

Clare and his human brothers

Another anecdote of him, that has no furtherance of the story in it, I must yet tell.

One cold day in a stormy March, the wind was wildly blowing broken clouds across the heavens, and now rain, now sleet, over the shivering blades of the young corn, whose tender green was just tinging the dark brown earth. The fields were now dark and wintry, heartless and cold; now shining all over as with repentant tears; one moment refusing to be comforted, and the next reviving with hope and a sense of new life. Clare was hovering about the plough. Suddenly he spied, from a mound in the field, a little procession passing along the highway. Those in front carried something on their shoulders which must be heavy, for it took six of them to carry it. He knew it was a coffin, for his home was by the churchyard, and a funeral was no unfamiliar sight. Behind it one man walked alone. For a moment Clare watched him, and saw his bowed head and heavy pace. His heart filled from its own perennial fount of pity, which was God himself in him. He ran down the hill and across the next field, making for a spot some distance ahead of the procession. As it passed him, he joined the chief mourner, who went plodding on with his arms hanging by his sides. Creeping close up to him, he slid his little soft hand into the great horny hand of the peasant. Instinctively the big hand closed upon the small one, and the weather-beaten face of a man of fifty looked down on the boy. Not a word was said between them. They walked on, hand in hand.

Neither had ever seen the other. The man was following his wife and his one child to the grave. “Nothing almost sees miracles but misery,” says Kent in _King Lear_. Because this man was miserable, he saw a miracle where was no miracle, only something very good. The thing was true and precious, yea, a message from heaven. Those deep, upturned, silent eyes; the profound, divine sympathy that shone in them; the grasp of the tiny hand upon his large fingers, made the heart of the man, who happened to be a catholic, imagine, and for a few moments believe, that he held the hand of the infant Saviour. The cloud lifted from his heart and brain, and did not return when he came to understand that this was not _the_ lamb of God, only another lamb from the same fold.

When they had walked about two miles, the boy began to fear he might be intruding, and would have taken his hand from the other, but the man held it tight, and stooping whispered it was not far now. The child, who, without knowing it, had taken the man under the protection of his love, yielded at once, went with him to the grave, joined in the service, and saw the grave filled. They went again as they had come. Not a word was spoken. The man wept a little now and then, drew the back of his brown hand across his eyes, and pressed a little closer the hand he held. At the gate of the parsonage the boy took his leave. He said they would be wondering what had become of him, or he would have gone farther. The man released him without a word.

His mother had been uneasy about him, but when he told her how it was, she said he had done right.

“Yes,” returned the boy; “I belong there myself.”

The mother knew he was not thinking of the grave.

One more anecdote I will give, serving to introduce the narrative of the following chapter, and helping to show the character of the boy. He was so unlike most boys, that one must know all he may about him, if he would understand him.

Never yet, strange as the assertion must seem, had the boy shown any anger. His father was a little troubled at the fact, fearing such absence of resentment might indicate moral indifference, or, if not, might yet render him incapable of coping with the world. He had himself been brought up at a public school, and had not, with all his experience of life, come to see, any more than most of the readers of this story now see, or for a long time will see, that there lies no nobility, no dignity in evil retort of any kind; that evil is evil when returned as much as when given; that the only shining thing is good–and the most shining, good for evil.

One day a coarse boy in the village gave him a sharp blow on the face. It forced water from his eyes and blood from his nose. He was wiping away both at once with his handkerchief, when a kindly girl stopped and said to him–

“Never mind; don’t cry.”

“Oh, no!” answered Clare; “it’s only water, it’s not crying. It would be cowardly to cry.”

“That’s a brave boy! You’ll give it him back one of these days.”

“No,” he returned, “I shall not I couldn’t.”


“Because it hurts so. My nose feels as if it were broken. I know it’s not broken, but it feels like it.”

The girl, as well as the boys who stood around him, burst into laughter. They saw no logic in his reasoning. Clare’s was the divine reasoning that comes of loving your neighbour; theirs was the earthly reasoning that came of loving themselves. They did not see that to Clare another boy was another of himself; that he was carrying out the design of the Father of men, that his creatures should come together into one, not push each other away.

The next time he met the boy who struck him, so far was he both from resentment and from the fear of being misunderstood, that he offered him a rosy-cheeked apple his mother had given him as he left for school. The boy was tyrant and sneak together–a combination to be seen sometimes in a working man set over his fellows, and in a rich man grown poor, and bent upon making money again. The boy took the apple, never doubted Clare gave it him to curry favour, ate it up grinning, and threw the core in his face. Clare turned away with a sigh, and betook himself to his handkerchief again, The boy burst into a guffaw of hideous laughter.

Chapter IX.

Clare the defender.

This enemy was a trouble, more or less, to every decent person in the neighbourhood. It was well his mother was a widow, for where she was only powerless to restrain, the father would have encouraged. He was a big, idle, sneering, insolent lad–such that had there been two more of the sort, they would have made the village uninhabitable. It was all the peaceable vicar could do to keep his hands off him.

One day, little Mary being then about five years old, Clare had her out for a walk. They were alone in a narrow lane, not far from the farm where Clare was so much at home. To his consternation, for he had his sister in charge, down the lane, meeting them, came the village tyrant. He strolled up with his hands in his pockets, and barred their way. But while, his eye chiefly on Clare, he “straddled” like Apollyon, but not “quite over the whole breadth of the way,” Mary slipped past him. The young brute darted after the child. Clare put down his head, as he had seen the rams do, and as Simpson, who ill deserved the name of the generous Jewish Hercules, was on the point of laying hold of her, caught him in the flank, butted him into the ditch, and fell on the top of him.

“Run, Maly!” he cried; “I’ll be after you in a moment.”

“Will you, you little devil!” cried the bully; and taking him by the throat, so that he could not utter even a gurgle, got up and began to beat him unmercifully. But the sounds of their conflict had reached the ears of the bull Nimrod, who was feeding within the hedge. He recognized Clare’s voice, perhaps knew from it that he was in trouble; but I am inclined to think pure bull-love of a row would alone have sent him tearing to the quarter whence the tyrant’s brutal bellowing still came. There, looking over the hedge, he saw his friend in the clutches of an enemy of his own, for Simpson never lost a chance of teasing Nimrod when he could do so with safety. Over he came with a short roar and a crash. Looking up, the bully saw a bigger bully than himself, with his head down and horns level, retreating a step or two in preparation for running at him. Simpson shoved the helpless Clare toward the enemy and fled. Clare fell. Nimrod jumped over his prostrate friend and tore after Simpson. Clare got up and would at once have followed to protect his enemy, but that he must first see his sister safe. He ran with her to a cottage hard by, handed her to the woman at the door of it, and turning pursued Simpson and the bull.

Nimrod overtook his enemy in the act of scrambling over a five-barred gate. Simpson saw the head of the bull coming down upon him like the bows of a Dutchman upon a fishing-boat, and, paralyzed with terror, could not move an inch further. Crash against the gate came the horns of Nimrod, with all the weight and speed of his body behind them. Away went the gate into the field, and away went Simpson and the bull with it, the latter nearly breaking his neck, for his horns were entangled in the bars, one of them by the diagonal bar. Simpson’s right leg was jammed betwixt the gate and the head and horns of the bull. He roared, and his roars maddened Nimrod, furious already that he could not get his horns clear. Shake and pull as he might, the gate stuck to them; and Simpson fared little the better that the bull’s quarrel was for the moment with the gate, and not with the leg between him and it.

Clare had not seen the catastrophe, and did not know what had become of pursuer or pursued, until he reached the gap where the gate had been. He saw then the odd struggle going on, and ran to the aid of his foe, in terror of what might already have befallen him. The moment he laid hold of one of the animal’s horns, infuriated as Nimrod was with his helpless entanglement, he knew at once who it was, and was quiet; for Clare always took him by the horn when first he went up to him. Without a moment’s demur he yielded to the small hands as they pushed and pulled his head this way and that until they got it clear of the gate. But then they did not let him go. Clare proceeded to take him home, and Nimrod made no objection. Simpson lay groaning.

When Clare returned, his enemy was there still. He had got clear of the gate, but seemed in much pain, for he lay tearing up the grass and sod in handfuls. When Clare stooped to ask what he should do for him, he struck him a backhanded blow on the face that knocked him over. Clare got up and ran.

“Coward!” cried Simpson; “to leave a man with a broken leg to get home by himself!”

“I’m going to find some one strong enough to help you,” said Clare.

But Simpson, after his own evil nature, imagined he was going to let the bull into the field again, and fell to praying him not to leave him. Clare knew, however, that, if his leg was broken, he could not get him home, neither could he get home by himself; so he made haste to tell the people at the farm, and Simpson lay in terror of the bull till help came.

From that hour he hated Clare, attributing to him all the ill he had brought on himself. But he was out of mischief for a while. The trouble fell on his mother–who deserved it, for she would believe no ill of him, because he was _hers_. One good thing of the affair was, that the bully was crippled for life, and could do the less harm.

It was a great joy to Mr. Person to learn how Clare had defended his sister. Clergyman as he was, and knowing that Jesus Christ would never have returned a blow, and that this spirit of the Lord was what saved the world, he had been uneasy that his adopted child behaved just like Jesus. That a man should be so made as not to care to return a blow, never occurred to Mr. Porson as possible. It was therefore an immeasurable relief to his feelings as an Englishman, to find that the boy was so far from being destitute of pluck, that in defence of his sister he had attacked a fellow twice his size.

“Weren’t you afraid of such a big rascal?” he said.

“No, papa,” answered the boy. “Ought I to have been?”

He put his hand to his forehead, as if trying to understand. His father found he had himself something to think about.

There was a certain quiescence about Clare, ill to describe, impossible to explain, but not the less manifest. Like an infant, he never showed surprise at anything. Whatever came to him he received, questioning nothing, marvelling at nothing, disputing nothing. What he was told to do he went to do, never with even a momentary show of disinclination, leaving book or game with readiness but no eagerness. He would do deftly what was required of him, and return to his place, with a countenance calm and sweet as the moon in highest heaven. He seldom offered a caress except to little Mary; yet would choose, before anything else, a place by his mother’s knee. The moment she, or his father in her absence, entered the room and sat down, he would rise, take his stool, and set it as near as he thought he might. When caressed he never turned away, or looked as if he would rather be let alone; at the same time he received the caress so quietly, and with so little response, that often, when his heavenly look had drawn the heart of some mother, or spinster with motherly heart, he left an ache in the spirit he would have gone to the world’s end to comfort. He never sought love–otherwise than by getting near the loved. When anything was given him, he would look up and smile, but he seldom showed much pleasure, or went beyond the regulation thanks. But if at such a moment little Mary were by, he had a curious way of catching her up and presenting her to the giver. Whether this was a shape his thanks took, whether Mary was to him an incorporate gratitude, or whether he meant to imply that she was the fitter on whom to shower favour, it were hard to say. His mother observed, and in her mind put the two things together, that he did not seem to prize much any mere possession. He looked pleased with a new suit of clothes, but if any one remarked on his care of them, he would answer, “I mustn’t spoil what’s papa and mamma’s!” He made no hoard of any kind. He did once hoard marbles till he had about a hundred; then it was discovered that they were for a certain boy in the village who was counted half-witted–as indeed was Clare himself by many. When he learned that the boy had first been accused of stealing them–for no one would believe that another boy had given them to him–and after that robbed of them by the other boys, on the ground that he did not know how to play with them, Clare saw that it was as foolish to hoard for another as for himself.

He was a favourite with few beyond those that knew him well. Many who saw him only at church, or about the village, did not take to him. His still regard repelled them. In Naples they would have said he had the evil eye. I think people had a vague sense of rebuke in his presence. Even his mother, passionately loving her foundling, was aware of a film between them through which she could not quite see him, beyond which there was something she could not get at, Clare knew nothing of such a separation. He seemed to himself altogether close to his mother, was aware of nothing between to part them. The cause of the thing was, that Clare was not yet in flower. His soul was a white half-blown bud, not knowing that it was but half-blown. It basked in the glory of the warm sun, but only with the underside of its flower-leaves; it had not opened its heart, the sun-side of its petals, to the love in which it was immerged. He received the love as a matter of course, and loved it as a matter of course. But for the cruel Simpson he would not have known there could be any other way of things. He did not yet know that one must not only love but mean to love, must not only bask in the warmth of love, but know it as love, and where it comes from–love again the fountain whence it flows.

Chapter X.

The black aunt.

Clare was yet in his tenth year when an unhealthy summer came. The sun was bright and warm as in other summers, and the flowers in field and garden appeared as usual when the hour arrived for them to wake and look abroad; but the children of men did not fare so well as the children of the earth. A peculiar form of fever showed itself in the village. It was not very fatal, yet many were so affected as to be long unable to work. There was consequently much distress beyond the suffering of the fever itself. The parson and his wife went about from morning to night among the cottagers, helping everybody that needed help. They had no private fortune, but the small blanket of the benefice they spread freely over as many as it could be stretched to cover, depriving themselves of a good part of the food to which they had been accustomed, and of several degrees of necessary warmth. When at last the strength of the parson gave way, and the fever laid hold of him, he had to do without many comforts his wife would gladly have got for him. They were both of rather humble origin, having but one relative well-to-do, a sister of Mrs. Porson, who had married a rich but very common man. From her they could not ask help. She had never sent them any little present, and had been fiercely indignant with them for adopting Clare.

Neither of them once complained, though Mrs. Person, whose strength was much spent, could not help weeping sometimes when she was alone and free to weep. They knew their Lord did not live in luxury, and a secret gladness nestled in their hearts that they were allowed to suffer a little with him for the sake of the flock he had given into their charge.

The children of course had to share in the general gloom, but it did not trouble them much. For Clare, he was not easily troubled with anything. Always ready to help, he did not much realize what suffering was; and he had Mary to look after, which was labour and pleasure, work and play and pay all in one. His mother was at ease concerning her child when she knew her in Clare’s charge, and was free to attend to her husband. She often said that if ever any were paid for being good to themselves, she and her husband were vastly overpaid for taking such a child from the shuddering arms of the earthquake.

But John Porson’s hour was come. He must leave wife and children and parish, and go to him who had sent him. If any one think it hard he should so fare in doing his duty, let him be silent till he learn what the parson himself thought of the matter when he got home. People talk about death as the gosling might about life before it chips its egg. Take up their way of lamentation, and we shall find it an endless injustice to have to get up every morning and go to bed every night. Mrs. Porson wept, but never thought him or herself ill-used. And had she been low enough to indulge in self-pity, it would have been thrown away, for before she had time to wonder how she was to live and rear her children, she too was sent for. In this world she was not one of those mothers of little faith who trust God for themselves but not for their children, and when again with her husband, she would not trust God less.

Clare was in the garden when Sarah told him she was dead. He stood still for a moment, then looked up, up into the blue. Why he looked up, he could not have told; but ever since that terrible morning of which the vague burning memory had never passed, when the great dome into which he was gazing, burst and fell, he had a way every now and then of standing still and looking up. His face was white. Two slow tears gathered, rolled over, and dried upon his face. He turned to Mary, lifted her in his arms, and, carrying her about the garden, once more told her his strange version of what had happened in his childhood. Then he told her that her papa and mamma had gone to look for his papa and mamma–“somewhere up in the dome,” he said.

When they wanted to take Mary to see what was left of her mother, the boy contrived to prevent them. From morning till night he never lost sight of the child.

One cold noon in October, when the clouds were miles deep in front of the sun, when the rain was falling thick on the yellow leaves, and all the paths were miry, the two children sat by the kitchen fire. Sarah was cooking their mid-day meal, which had come from her own pocket. She was the only servant either of them had known in the house, and she would not leave it until some one should take charge of them. The neighbours, dreading infection, did not come near them. Clare sat on a little stool with Mary on his knees, nestling in his bosom; but he felt dreary, for he saw no love-firmament over him; the cloud of death hid it.

With a sudden jingle and rattle, up drove a rickety post-chaise to the door of the parsonage. Out of it, and into the kitchen, came stalking a tall middle-aged woman, in a long black cloak, black bonnet, and black gloves, with a face at once stern and peevish.

“I am the late Mrs. Porson’s sister,” she said, and stood.

Sarah courtesied and waited. Clare rose, with Mary in his arms.

“This is little Maly, ma’am,” he said, offering her the child.

“Set her down, and let me see her,” she answered.

Clare obeyed. Mary put her finger in her mouth, and began to cry. She did not like the look of the black aunt, and was not used to a harsh voice.

“Tut! tut!” said the black aunt. “Crying already! That will never do! Show me her things.”

Sarah felt stunned. This was worse than death! “If only the mistress had taken them with her!” she said to herself.

Mary’s things–they were not many–were soon packed. Within an hour she was borne off, shrieking, struggling, and calling Clay. The black aunt, however,–as the black aunt Clare always thought of her–cared nothing for her resistance; and Clare, who at her first cry was rushing to the rescue, ready once more to do battle for her, was seized and held back by Farmer Goodenough. Sarah had sent for him, and he had come–just in time to frustrate Clare’s valour.

The carriage was not yet out of sight, when Farmer Goodenough began to repent that he had come: his presence was an acknowledgment of responsibility! Something must be done with the foundling! There was nobody to claim him, and nobody wanted him! He had always liked the boy, but he did not want him! His wife was not fond of the boy, nor of any boy, and did not want him! He had said to her that Clare could not be left to starve, and she had answered, “Why not?”! What was to be done with him? Nobody knew–any more than Clare himself. But which of us knows what is going to be done with him?

Clare was nobody’s business. English farmers no more than French are proverbial for generosity; and Farmer Goodenough, no bad type of his class, had a wife in whose thoughts not the pence but the farthings dominated. She was one who at once recoiled and repelled–one of those whose skin shrinks from the skin of their kind, and who are specially apt to take unaccountable dislikes–a pitiable human animal of the leprous sort. She “never took to the foundling,” she said. To have neither father nor mother, she counted disreputable. But I believe the main source of her dislike to Clare was a feeling of undefined reproof in the very atmosphere of the boy’s presence, his nature was so different from hers. What urged him toward his fellow-creatures, made her draw back from him. In truth she hated the boy. The very look of him made her sick, she said. It was only a certain respect for the parson, and a certain fear of her husband, who, seldom angry, was yet capable of fury, that had prevented her from driving the child, “with his dish-clout face,” off the premises, whenever she saw him from door or window. It was no wonder the farmer should he at his wits’ end to know what, as churchwarden, guardian of the poor, and friend of the late vicar–as friendly also to the boy himself, he was bound to do.

“Where are _you_ going?” he asked Sarah.

“Where the Lord wills,” answered the old woman. Her ark had gone to pieces, and she hardly cared what became of her.

“We’ve got to look to ourselves!” said the farmer.

“Parson used to say there was One as took that off our hands!” replied Sarah.

“Yes, yes,” assented Mr. Goodenough, fidgeting a little; “but the Almighty helps them as helps themselves, and that’s sound doctrine. You really must do something, Sarah! We can’t have you on the parish, you know!”

“I beg your pardon, sir, but until the child here is provided for, or until they turn us out of the parsonage, I will not leave the place.”

“The furniture is advertised for sale. You’ll have nothing but the bare walls!”

“We’ll manage to keep each other warm!–Shan’t we, Clare?”

“I will try to keep you warm, Sarah,” responded the boy sadly.

“But the new parson will soon be here. Our souls must be cared for!”

“Is the Lord’s child that came from heaven in an earthquake to be turned out into the cold for fear the souls of big men should perish?”

“Something must be done about it!” said the farmer.

“What it’s to be I can’t tell! It’s no business o’ mine any way!”

“That’s what the priest, and the Levite, and the farmer says!” returned Sarah.

“Won’t you ask Mr. Goodenough to stay to dinner?” said Clare.

He went up to the farmer, who in his perplexity had seated himself, and laid his arm on his shoulder.

“No, I can’t,” answered Sarah. “He would eat all we have, and not have enough!”

“Now Maly is gone,” returned Clare, “I would rather not have any dinner.”

The farmer’s old feeling for the boy, which the dread of having him left on his hands had for the time dulled, came back.

“Get him his dinner, Sarah,” he said. “I’ve something to see to in the village. By the time I come back, he’ll be ready to go with me, perhaps.”

“God bless you, sir!” cried Sarah. “You meant it all the time, an’ I been behavin’ like a brute!”

The farmer did not like being taken up so sharply. He had promised nothing! But he had nearly made up his mind that, as the friend of the late parson, he could scarcely do less than give shelter to the child until he found another refuge. True, he was not the parson’s child, but he had loved him as his own! He would make the boy useful, and so shut his wife’s mouth! There were many things Clare could do about the place!

Chapter XI.

Clare on the farm.

When Mr. Goodenough appeared at the house-door with the boy, his wife’s face expressed what her tongue dared not utter without some heating of the furnace behind it. But Clare never saw that he was unwelcome. He had not begun to note outward and visible signs in regard to his own species; his observation was confined to the animals, to whose every motion and look he gave heed. But he was hardly aware of watching even them: his love made it so natural to watch, and so easy to understand them! He was not drawn to study Mrs. Goodenough, or to read her indications; he was content to hear what she said.

True to her nature, Mrs. Goodenough, seeing she could not at once get rid of the boy, did her endeavour to make him pay for his keep. Nominally he continued to attend the village school, where the old master was doing his best for him; but, oftener than not, she interposed to prevent his going, and turned him to use about the house, the dairy, and the poultry-yard.

His new mode of life occasioned him no sense of hardship. I do not mean because of his patient acceptance of everything that came; but because he had been so long accustomed to the ways of a farm, to all the phases of life and work in yard and field, that nothing there came strange to him–except having to stick to what he was put to, and having next to no time to read. Many boys who have found much amusement in doing this or that, find it irksome the moment it is required of them: Clare was not of that mean sort; he was a gentleman. Happily he was put to no work beyond his strength.

At first, and for some time, he had to do only with the creatures more immediately under the care of “the mistress,” whence his acquaintance with the poultry and the pigs, the pigeons and the calves–and specially with such as were delicate or had been hurt–with their ways of thinking and their carriage and conduct, rapidly increased.

By and by, however, having already almost ceased to attend school, the farmer, requiring some passing help a boy could give, took him from his wife–not without complaint on her part, neither without sense of relief, and would not part with him again. He was so quick in doing what was required, so intelligent to catch the meaning not always thoroughly expressed, so cheerful, and so willing, that he was a pleasure to Mr. Goodenough–and no less a pleasure to the farmer that dwelt in Mr. Goodenough, and seemed to most men all there was of him; for, instead of an expense, he found him a saving.

It was much more pleasant for Clare to be with his master than with his mistress, but he fared the worse for it in the house. The woman’s dislike of the boy must find outlet; and as, instead of flowing all day long, it was now pent up the greater part of it, the stronger it issued when he came home to his meals. I will not defile my page with a record of the modes in which she vented her spite. It sought at times such minuteness of indulgence, that it was next to impossible for any one to perceive its embodiments except the boy himself.

He now came more into contact with the larger animals about the place; and the comfort he derived from them was greater than most people would readily or perhaps willingly believe. He had kept up his relations with Nimrod, the bull, and there was never a breach of the friendship between them. The people about the farm not unfrequently sought his influence with the animal, for at times they dared hardly approach him. Clare even made him useful–got a little work out of him now and then. But his main interest lay in the horses. He had up to this time known rather less of them than of the other creatures on the place; now he had to give his chief attention to them, laying in love the foundation of that knowledge which afterward stood him in such stead when he came to dwell for a time among certain eastern tribes whose horses are their chief gladness and care. He used, when alone with them, to talk to this one or that about the friends he had lost–his father and mother and Maly and Sarah–and did not mind if they all listened. He would even tell them sometimes about his own father and mother–how the whole sky full of angels fell down upon them and took them away. But he said most about his sister. For her he mourned more than for any of the rest. Her screams as the black aunt carried her away, would sometimes come back to him with such verisimilitude of nearness, that, forgetting everything about him, he would start to run to her. He felt somehow that it was well with the others, but Maly had always needed _him_, and more than ever in the last days of their companionship. He wept for nobody but Maly. In the night he would wake up suddenly, thinking he heard her crying out for him. Then he would get out of bed, creep to the stable, go to Jonathan, and to him pour out his low-voiced complaint. Jonathan was the biggest and oldest horse on the farm.

How much he thought they understood of what he told them, I cannot say. He was never silly; and where we cannot be sure, we may yet have reason to hope. He believed they knew when he was in trouble, and sympathized with him, and would gladly have relieved him of his pain. I suspect most animals know something of the significance of tears. More animals shed tears themselves than people think.

For dogs, bless them, they are everywhere, and the boy had known them from time immemorial.

In the village, some of Clare’s old admirers began to remark that he no longer “looked the little gentleman.” This was caused chiefly by the state of his clothes. They were not fit for the work to which he was put, and within a few weeks were very shabby. Besides, he was growing rapidly, so that he and his garments were in too evident process of parting company. Accustomed to a mother’s attentions, he had never thought of his clothes except to take care of them for her sake; now he tried to mend them, but soon found his labour of little use. He had no wages to buy anything with. His clothes or his health or his education were nothing to Mrs. Goodenough. It was no concern of hers whether he looked decent or not. What right had such as he to look decent? It was more than enough that she fed him! The shabbiness of the beggarly creature was a consolation to her.

But Clare’s toil in the open air, and his constant and willing association with the animals, had begun to give him a bucolic appearance. He grew a trifle browner, and showed here and there a freckle. His health was splendid. Nothing seemed to hurt him. Hardship was wholesome to him. To the eyes that hated him, and grudged the hire of the mere food by which he grew, he seemed every day to enlarge visibly. Already he gave promise of becoming a man of more than ordinary strength and vigour. Possibly the animals gave him something.

What may have been his outlook and hope all this time, who shall tell! He never grumbled, never showed sign of pain or unwillingness, gave his mistress no reason for fault-finding. She found it hard even to discover a pretext. She seemed always ready to strike him, but was probably afraid to do so without provocation her husband would count sufficient. Clare never showed discomfort, never even sighed except he were alone. Chequered as his life had been, if ever he looked forward to a fresh change, it was but as a far possibility in the slow current of events. But he was constantly possessed with a large dim sense of something that lay beyond, waiting for him; something toward which the tide of things was with certainty drifting him, but with which he had nothing more to do than wait. He did not see that to do the things given him to do was the only preparation for whatever, in the dim under-world of the future, might be preparing for him; but he did feel that he must do his work. He did not then think much about duty. He was actively inclined, had a strong feeling for doing a thing as it ought to be done; and was thoroughly loyal to any one that seemed to have a right over him. In this blind, enduring, vaguely hopeful way, he went on–sustained, and none the less certainly that he did not know it, from the fountain of his life. When the winter came, his sufferings, cared for as he had been, and accustomed to warmth and softness, must at times have been considerable. In the day his work was a protection, but at night the house was cold. He had, however, plenty to eat, had no ailment, and was not to be greatly pitied.

Chapter XII.

Clare becomes a guardian of the poor.

Simpson, the bully of Clare’s childhood, went limping about on a crutch, permanently lame, and full of hatred toward the innocent occasion of the injury he had brought upon himself. Ever since his recovery, he had, loitering about in idleness, watched the boy, to waylay and catch him at unawares. Not until Clare went to the farm, however, did he once succeed; for it was not difficult to escape him, so long as he had not laid actual hold on his prey. But he grew more and more cunning, and contrived at last, by creeping along hedges and lying in ambush like a snake, to get his hands upon him. Then the poor boy fared ill.

He went home bleeding and torn. The righteous churchwarden rebuked him with severity for fighting. His mistress told him she was glad he had met with some one to give him what he deserved, for she could hardly keep her hands off him. He stared at her with wondering eyes, but said nothing. She turned from them: the devil in her could not look in the eyes of the angel in him. The next time he fell into the snare of his enemy, he managed to conceal what had befallen him. After that he was too wide awake to be caught.

There was in the village a child whom nobody heeded. He was far more destitute than Clare, but had too much liberty. He lived with a wretched old woman who called him her grandson: whether he was or not nobody cared. She made her livelihood by letting beds, in a cottage or rather hovel which seemed to be her own, to wayfarers, mostly tramps, with or without trades. The child was thus thrown into the worst of company, and learned many sorts of wickedness. He was already a thief, and of no small proficiency in his art. Though village-bred, he could pick a pocket more sensitive than a clown’s. Small and deft, he had never stood before a magistrate. He was a miserable creature, bare-footed and bare-legged; about eight years of age, but so stunted that to the first glance he looked less than six–with keen ferret eyes in red rims, red hair, pasty, freckled complexion, and a generally unhealthy look; from which marks all, Clare conceived a pitiful sympathy for him. Their acquaintance began thus:–

One day, during his father’s last illness, he happened to pass the door of the grandmother’s hovel while the crone was administering to Tommy a severe punishment with a piece of thick rope: she had been sharp enough to catch him stealing from herself. Clare heard his cries. The door being partly open, he ran in, and gave him such assistance that they managed to bolt together from the hut. A friendship, for long almost a silent one, was thus initiated between them. Tommy–Clare never knew his other name, nor did the boy himself–would off and on watch for a sight of him all day long, but had the instinct, or experience, never to approach him if any one was with him. He was careful not to compromise him. The instant the most momentary _tete-a-tete_ was possible, he would rush up, offer him something he had found or stolen, and hurry away again. That he was a thief Clare had not the remotest suspicion. He had never offered him anything to suggest theft.

By and by it came to the knowledge of Clare’s enemy that there was a friendship between them, and the discovery wrought direness for both. One day Simpson saw Clare coming, and Tommy watching him. He laid hold of Tommy, and began cuffing him and pulling his hair, to make him scream, thinking thus to get hold of Clare. But notwithstanding the lesson he had received, the rascal had not yet any adequate notion of the boy’s capacity for action where another was concerned. He flew to the rescue, caught up the crutch Simpson had dropped, and laid it across his back with vigour. The fellow let Tommy go and turned on Clare, who went backward, brandishing the crutch.

“Run, Tommy,” he cried.

Tommy retreated a few steps.

“Run yourself,” he counselled, having reached a safe distance. “Take his third leg with you.”

Clare saw the advice was good, and ran. But the next moment reflection showed him the helplessness of his enemy. He turned, and saw him hobbling after him in such evident pain and discomfiture, that he went to meet him, and politely gave him his crutch. He might have thrown it to him and gone on, but he had a horror of rudeness, and handed it to him with a bow. Just as he regained his perpendicular, the crutch descended on his head, and laid him flat on the ground. There the tyrant belaboured him. Tommy stood and regarded the proceeding.

“The cove’s older an’ bigger an’ pluckier than me,” he said to himself; “but he’s an ass. He’ll come to grief unless he’s looked after. He’ll be hanged else. He don’t know how to dodge. I’ll have to take him in charge!”

When he saw Clare free, an event to which he had contributed nothing, he turned and ran home.

Simpson redoubled now his persecution of Clare, and persecuted Tommy because of Clare. He lurked for Tommy now, and when he caught him, tormented him with choice tortures. In a word, he made his life miserable. After every such mischance Tommy would hurry to the farm, and lie about in the hope of a sight of Clare, or possibly a chance of speaking to him. His repute was so bad that he dared not show himself.

Hot tears would come into Clare’s eyes as he listened to the not always unembellished tale of Tommy’s sufferings at the hands of Simpson; but he never thought of revenge, only of protection or escape for the boy. It comforted him to believe that he was growing, and would soon be a match for the oppressor.

Whether at this time he felt any great interest in life, or recognized any personal advantage in growing, I doubt. But he had the friendship of the animals; and it is not surprising that creatures their maker thinks worth making and keeping alive, should yield consolation to one that understands them, or even fill with a mild joy the pauses of labour in an irksome life.

Then each new day was an old friend to the boy. Each time the sun rose, new hope rose with him in his heart. He came every morning fresh from home, with a fresh promise. The boy read the promise in his great shining, and believed it; gazed and rejoiced, and turned to his work.

But the hour arrived when his mistress could bear his presence no longer. Some petty loss, I imagine, had befallen her. Nothing touched her like the loss of money–the love of which is as dread a passion as the love of drink, and more ruinous to the finer elements of the nature. It was like the tearing out of her heart to Mrs. Goodenough to lose a shilling. Her self-command forsook her, perhaps, in some such moment of vexation; anyhow, she opened the sluices of her hate, and overwhelmed him with it in the presence of her husband.

The farmer knew she was unfair, knew the orphan a good boy and a diligent, knew there was nothing against him but the antipathy of his wife. But, annoyed with her injustice, he was powerless to change her heart. Since the boy came to live with them, he had had no pleasure in his wife’s society. She had always been moody and dissatisfied, but since then had been unbearable. Constantly irritated with and by her because of Clare, he had begun to regard him as the destroyer of his peace, and to feel a grudge against him. He sat smouldering with bodiless rage, and said nothing.

Clare too was silent,–for what could he say? Where is the wisdom that can answer hatred? He carried to his friend Jonathan a heart heavy and perplexed.

“Why does she hate me so, Jonathan?” he murmured.

The big horse kissed his head all over, but made him no other answer.

Chapter XIII.

Clare the vagabond.

The next morning Clare happened to do something not altogether to the farmer’s mind. It was a matter of no consequence–only cleaning that side of one of the cow-houses first which was usually cleaned last. He gave him a box on the ear that made him stagger, and then stand bewildered.

“What do you mean by staring that way?” cried the farmer, annoyed with himself and seeking justification in his own eyes. “Am I not to box your ears when I choose?” And with that he gave him another blow.

Then first it dawned on Clare that he was not wanted, that he was no good to anybody. He threw down his scraper, and ran from the cow-house; ran straight from the farm to the lane, and from the lane to the high road. Buffets from the hand of his only friend, and the sudden sense of loneliness they caused, for the moment bereft Clare of purpose. It was as if his legs had run away with him, and he had unconsciously submitted to their abduction.

At the mouth of the lane, where it opened on the high road, he ran against Tommy turning the corner, eager to find him. The eyes of the small human monkey were swollen with weeping; his nose was bleeding, and in size and shape scarce recognizable as a nose. At the sight, the consciousness of his protectorate awoke in Clare, and he stopped, unable to speak, but not unable to listen. Tommy blubbered out a confused, half-inarticulate something about “granny and the other devil,” who between them had all but killed him.

“What can I do?” said Clare, his heart sinking with the sense of having no help in him.

Tommy was ready to answer the question. He had been hatching vengeance all the way. Eagerly came his proposition–that they should, in their turn, lie in ambush for Simpson, and knock his crutch from under him. That done, Clare should belabour him with it, while he ran like the wind and set his grandmother’s house on fire.

“She’ll be drunk in bed, an’ she’ll be burned to death!” cried Tommy. “Then we’ll mizzle!”

“But it would hurt them both very badly, Tommy!” said Clare, as if unfolding the reality of the thing to a foolish child.

“Well! all right! the worse the better! ‘Ain’t they hurt us?” rejoined Tommy.

“That’s how we know it’s not nice!” answered Clare. “If they set it a going, we ain’t to keep it a going!”

“Then they’ll be at it for ever,” cried Tommy, “an’ I’m sick of it! I’ll _kill_ granny! I swear I will, if I’m hanged for it! She’s said a hundred times she’d pull my legs when I was hanged; but _she_ won’t be at the hanging!”

“Why shouldn’t you run for it first?” said Clare. “Then they wouldn’t want to hang you!”

“Then I shouldn’t have nobody!” replied Tommy, whimpering.

“I should have thought Nobody was as good as granny!” said Clare.

“A big bilin’ better!” answered Tommy bitterly. “I wasn’t meanin’ granny–nor yet stumpin’ Simpson.”

“I don’t know what you’re driving at,” said Clare. Tommy burst into tears.

“Ain’t you the only one I got, up or down?” he cried.

Tommy had a little bit of heart–not much, but enough to have a chance of growing. If ever creature had less than that, he was not human. I do not think he could even be an ape.

Some of the people about the parson used to think Clare had no heart, and Mrs. Goodenough was sure of it. He had not a spark of gratitude, she said. But the cause of this opinion was that Clare’s affection took the shape of deeds far more than of words. Never were judges of their neighbours more mistaken. The chief difference between Clare’s history and that of most others was, that his began at the unusual end. Clare began with loving everybody; and most people take a long time to grow to that. Hence, those whom, from being brought nearest to them, he loved specially, he loved without that outbreak of show which is often found in persons who love but a few, and whose love is defiled with partisanship. He loved quietly and constantly, in a fashion as active as undemonstrative. He was always glad to be near those he specially loved; beyond that, the signs of his love were practical–it came out in ministration, in doing things for them. There are those who, without loving, desire to be loved, because they love themselves; for those that are worth least are most precious to themselves. But Clare never thought of the love of others to him–from no heartlessness, but that he did not think about himself–had never done so, at least, until the moment when he fled from the farm with the new agony in his heart that nobody wanted him, that everybody would be happier without him. Happy is he that does not think of himself before the hour when he becomes conscious of the bliss of being loved. For it must be and ought to be a happy moment when one learns that another human creature loves him; and not to be grateful for love is to be deeply selfish. Clare had always loved, but had not thought of any one as loving him, or of himself as being loved by any one.

“Well,” rejoined Clare, struggling with his misery, “ain’t I going myself?”

“You going!–That’s chaff!”

“‘Tain’t chaff. I’m on my way.”

“What! Going to hook it? Oh golly! what a lark! Won’t Farmer Goodenough look blue!”

“He’ll think himself well rid of me,” returned Clare with a sigh. “But there’s no time to talk. If you’re going, Tommy, come along.”

He turned to go.

“Where to?” asked Tommy, following.

“I don’t know. Anywhere away,” answered Clare, quickening his pace.

In spite of his swollen visage, Tommy’s eyes grew wider.

“You ‘ain’t cribbed nothing?” he said.

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“You ‘ain’t stole something?” interpreted Tommy.

Clare stopped, and for the first time on his own part, lifted his hand to strike. It dropped immediately by his side.

“No, you poor Tommy,” he said. “I don’t steal.”

“Thought you didn’t! What are you running away for then?”

“Because they don’t want me.”

“Lord! what will you do?”


Tommy held his tongue: he knew a better way than that! If work was the only road to eating, things would go badly with _him_! But he thought he knew a thing or two, and would take his chance! There were degrees of hunger that were not so bad as the thrashings he got, for in his granny’s hands the rope might fall where it would; while all cripple Simpson cared for was to make him squeal satisfactorily. But work was worse than all! He would go with Clare, but not to work! Not he!

Clare kept on in silence, never turning his head–out into the untried, unknown, mysterious world, which lay around the one spot he knew as the darkness lies about the flame of the candle. They walked more than a mile before either spoke.

Chapter XIV.

Their first helper

It was a lovely spring morning. The sun was about thirty degrees above the horizon, shining with a liquid radiance, as if he had already drawn up and was shining through the dew of the morning, though it lay yet on all the grasses by the roadside, turning them into gem-plants. Every sort of gem sparkled on their feathery or beady tops, and their long slender blades. At the first cottages they passed, the women were beginning their day’s work, sweeping clean their floors and door-steps. Clare noted that where were most flowers in the garden, the windows were brightest, and the children cleanest.

“The flowers come where they make things nice for them!” he said to himself. “Where the flowers see dirt, they turn away, and won’t come out.”

From childhood he had had the notion that the flowers crept up inside the stalks until they found a window to look out at. Where the prospect was not to their mind they crept down, and away by some door in the root to try again. For all the stalks stood like watch-towers, ready for them to go up and peep out.

They came to a pond by a farm-house. Clare had been observing with pity how wretched Tommy’s clothes were; but when he looked into the pond he saw that his own shabbiness was worse than Tommy’s downright miserableness. Nobody would leave either of them within reach of anything worth stealing! What he wore had been his Sunday suit, and it was not even worth brushing!

“I’m ‘orrid ‘ungry,” said Tommy. “I ‘ain’t swallered a plug this mornin’, ‘xcep’ a lump o’ bread out o’ granny’s cupboard. That’s what I got my weltin’ for. It were a whole half-loaf, though–an’ none so dry!”

Clare had eaten nothing, and had been up since five o’clock–at work all the time till the farmer struck him: he was quite as hungry as Tommy. What was to be done? Besides a pocket-handkerchief he had but one thing alienable.

The very day she was taken ill, he had been in the store-room with his mother, and she, knowing the pleasure he took in the scent of brown Windsor-soap, had made him a present of a small cake. This he had kept in his pocket ever since, wrapt in a piece of rose-coloured paper, his one cherished possession: hunger deadening sorrow, the time was come to bid it farewell. His heart ached to part with it, but Tommy and he were so hungry!

They went to the door of the house, and knocked–first Clare very gently, then Tommy with determination. It was opened by a matron who looked at them over the horizon of her chin.

“Please, ma’am,” said Clare, “will you give us a piece of bread?–as large a piece, please, as you can spare; and I will give you this piece of brown Windsor-soap.”

As he ended his speech, he took a farewell whiff of his favourite detergent.

“Soap!” retorted the dame. “Who wants your soap! Where did you get it? Stole it, I don’t doubt! Show it here.”

She took it in her hand, and held it to her nose.

“Who gave it you?”

“My mother,” answered Clare.

“Where’s your mother?”

Clare pointed upward.

“Eh? Oh–hanged! I thought, so!”

She threw the soap into the yard, and closed the door. Clare darted after his property, pounced upon it, and restored it lovingly to his pocket.

As they were leaving the yard disconsolate, they saw a cart full of turnips. Tommy turned and made for it.

“Don’t, Tommy,” cried Clare.

“Why not? I’m hungry,” answered Tommy, “an’ you see it’s no use astin’!”

He flew at the cart, but Clare caught and held him.

“They ain’t ours, Tommy,” he said.

“Then why don’t you take one?” retorted Tommy.

“That’s why you shouldn’t.”

“It’s why you should, for then it ‘ud be yours.”

“To take it wouldn’t make it ours, Tommy.”

“Wouldn’t it, though? I believe when I’d eaten it, it would be mine–rather!”

“No, it wouldn’t. Think of having in your stomach what wasn’t yours! No, you must pay for it. Perhaps they would take my soap for a turnip. I believe it’s worth two turnips.”

He spied a man under a shed, ran to him, and made offer of the soap for a turnip apiece.

“I don’t want your soap,” answered the man, “an’ I don’t recommend cold turmits of a mornin’. But take one if you like, and clear out. The master’s cart-whip ‘ill be about your ears the moment he sees you!”

“Ain’t you the master, sir?”

“No, I ain’t.”

“Then the turnips ain’t yours?” said Clare, looking at him with hungry, regretful eyes, for he could have eaten a raw potato.

“You’re a deal too impudent to be hungry!” said the man, making a blow at him with his open hand, which Clare dodged. “Be off with you, or I’ll set the dog on you.”

“I’m very sorry,” said Clare. “I did not mean to offend you.”

“Clear out, I say. Double trot!”

Hungry as the boys were, they must trudge! No bread, no turnip for them! Nothing but trudge, trudge till they dropped!

When they had gone about five miles further, they sat down, as if by common consent, on the roadside; and Tommy, used to crying, began to cry. Clare did not seek to stop him, for some instinct told him it must be a relief.

By and by a working-man came along the road. Clare hesitated, but Tommy’s crying urged him. He rose and stood ready to accost him. As soon as he came up, however, the man stopped of himself. He questioned Clare and listened to his story, then counselled the boys to go back.

“I’m not wanted, sir,” said Clare.

“They’d kill _me_,” said Tommy.

“God help you, boys!” returned the man. “You may be telling me lies, and you may be telling me the truth!–A liar may be hungry, but somehow I grudge my dinner to a liar!”

As he spoke he untied the knots of a blue handkerchief with white spots, gave them its contents of bread and cheese, wiped his face with it, and put it in his pocket; lifted his bag of tools, and went his way. He had lost his dinner and saved his life!

The dinner, being a man’s, went a good way toward satisfying them, though empty corners would not have been far to seek, had there been anything to put in them. As it was, they started again refreshed and hopeful. What had come to them once might reasonably come again!

Chapter XV.

Their first host.

As the evening drew on, and began to settle down into night, a new care arose in the mind of the elder boy. Where were they to pass the darkness?–how find shelter for sleep? It was a question that gave Tommy no anxiety. He had been on the tramp often, now with one party, now with another of his granny’s lodgers, and had frequently slept in the open air, or under the rudest covert. Tommy had not much imagination to trouble him, and in his present moral condition was possibly better without it; but to inexperienced Clare there was something fearful in having the night come so close to him. Sleep out of doors he had never thought of. To lie down with the stars looking at him, nothing but the blue wind between him and them, was like being naked to the very soul. Doubtless there would be creatures about, to share the night with him, and protect him from its awful bareness; but they would be few for the size of the room, and he might see none of them! It was the sense of emptiness, the lack of present life that dismayed him. He had never seen any creatures to shrink from. He disliked no one of the things that creep or walk or fly. Before long he did come to know and dislike at least one sort; and the sea held creatures that in after years made him shudder; but as yet, not even rats, so terrible to many, were a terror to Clare. It was Nothing that he feared.

My reader may say, “But had no one taught him about God?” Yes, he had heard about God, and about Jesus Christ; had heard a great deal about them. But they always seemed persons a long way off. He knew, or thought he knew, that God was everywhere, but he had never felt his presence a reality. He seemed in no place where Clare’s eyes ever fell. He never thought, “God is here.” Perhaps the sparrows knew more about God than he did then. When he looked out into the night it always seemed vacant, therefore horrid, and he took it for as empty as it looked. And if there had been no God there, it would have been reasonable indeed to be afraid; for the most frightful of notions is _Nothing-at-all_.

It grew dark, and they were falling asleep on their walking legs, when they came to a barn-yard. Very glad were they to creep into it, and search for the warmest place. It was a quiet part of the country, and for years nothing had been stolen from anybody, so that the people were not so watchful as in many places.

They went prowling about, but even Tommy with innocent intent, eager only after a little warmth, and as much sleep as they could find, and came at length to an open window, through which they crawled into what, by the smell and the noises, they knew to be a stable. It was very dark, but Clare was at home, and felt his way about; while Tommy, who was afraid of the horses, held close to him. Clare’s hand fell upon the hind-quarters of a large well-fed horse. The huge animal was asleep standing, but at the touch of the small hand he gave a low whinny. Tommy shuddered at the sound.

“He’s pleased,” said Clare, and crept up on his near side into the stall. There he had soon made such friends with him, that he did not hesitate to get in among the hay the horse had for his supper.

“Here, Tommy!” he cried in a whisper; “there’s room for us both in the manger.”

But Tommy stood shaking. He fancied the darkness full of horses’ heads, and would not stir. Clare had to get out again, and search for a place to suit his fancy, which he found in an untenanted loose-box, with remains of litter. There Tommy coiled himself up, and was soon fast asleep.

Clare returned to the hospitality of the big horse. The great nostrils snuffed him over and over as he lay, and the boy knew the horse made him welcome. He dropped asleep stroking the muzzle of his chamber-fellow, and slept all the night, kept warm by the horse’s breath, and the near furnace of his great body.

In the morning the boys found they had slept too long, for they were discovered. But though they were promptly ejected as vagabonds, and not without a few kicks and cuffs, these were not administered without the restraint of some mercy, for their appearance tended to move pity rather than indignation.

Chapter XVI.

On the tramp.

With the new day came the fresh necessity for breakfast, and the fresh interest in the discovery of it. But breakfast is a thing not always easiest to find where breakfasts most abound; nor was theirs when found that morning altogether of a sort to be envied, ill as they could afford to despise it. Passing, on their goal-less way, a flour-mill, the door of which was half-open, they caught sight of a heap, whether floury dust or dusty flour, it would have been hard to say, that seemed waiting only for them to help themselves from it. Fain to still the craving of birds too early for any worm, they swallowed a considerable portion of it, choking as it was, nor met with rebuke. There was good food in it, and they might have fared worse.

Another day’s tramp was thus inaugurated. How it was to end no one in the world knew less than the trampers.

Before it was over, a considerable change had passed upon Clare; for a new era was begun in his history, and he started to grow more rapidly. Hitherto, while with his father or mother, or with his little sister, making life happy to her; even while at the farm, doing hard work, he had lived with much the same feeling with which he read a story: he was in the story, half dreaming, half acting it. The difference between a thing that passed through his brain from the pages of a book, or arose in it as he lay in bed either awake or asleep, and the thing in which he shared the life and motion of the day, was not much marked in his consciousness. He was a dreamer with open eyes and ready hands, not clearly distinguishing thought and action, fancy and fact. Even the cold and hunger he had felt at the farm had not sufficed to wake him up; he had only had to wait and they were removed. But now that he did not know whence his hunger was to be satisfied, or where shelter was to be had; now also that there was a hunger outside him, and a cold that was not his, which yet he had to supply and to frustrate in the person of Tommy, life began to grow real to him; and, which was far more, he began to grow real to himself, as a power whose part it was to encounter the necessities thus presented. He began to understand that things were required of him. He had met some of these requirements before, and had satisfied them, but without knowing them as requirements. He did it half awake, not as a thinking and willing source of the motion demanded. He did it all by impulse, hardly by response. Now we are put into bodies, and sent into the world, to wake us up. We might go on dreaming for ages if we were left without bodies that the wind could blow upon, that the rain could wet, and the sun scorch, bodies to feel thirst and cold and hunger and wounds and weariness. The eternal plan was beginning to tell upon Clare. He was in process of being changed from a dreamer to a man. It is a good thing to be a dreamer, but it is a bad thing indeed to be _only_ a dreamer. He began to see that everybody in the world had to do something in order to get food; that he had worked for the farmer and his wife, and they had fed him. He had worked willingly and eaten gladly, but had not before put the two together. He saw now that men who would be men must work.

His eyes fell upon a congregation of rooks in a field by the roadside. “Are _they_ working?” he thought; “or are they stealing? If it be stealing they are at, it looks like hard work as well. It can’t be stealing though; they were made to live, and _how_ are they to live if they don’t grub? that’s their work! Still the corn ain’t theirs! Perhaps it’s only worms they take! Are the worms theirs? A man should die rather than steal, papa said. But, if they are stealing, the crows don’t know it; and if they don’t know it, they ain’t thieves! Is that it?”

The same instant came the report of a gun. A crowd of rooks rose cawing. One of them dropped and lay.

“He must have been stealing,” thought Clare, “for see what comes of it! Would they shoot me if I stole? Better be shot than die of hunger! Yes, but better die of hunger than be a thief!”

He had read stories about thieves and honest boys, and had never seen any difficulty in the matter. Nor had he yet a notion of how difficult it is not to be a thief–that is, to be downright honest. If anybody thinks it easy, either he has not known much of life, or he has never tried to be honest; he has done just like other people. Clare did not know that many a boy whose heart sided with the honest boy in the story, has grown up a dishonourable man–a man ready to benefit himself to the disadvantage of others; that many a man who passes for respectable in this disreputable world, is counted far meaner than a thief in the next, and is going there to be put in prison. But he began to see that it is not enough to mean well; that he must be sharp, and mind what he was about; else, with hunger worrying inside him, he might be a thief before he knew. He was on the way to discover that to think rightly–to be on the side of what is honourable when reading a story, is a very different thing from doing right, and being honourable, when the temptation is upon us. Many a boy when he reads this will say, “Of course it is!” and when the time comes, will be a sneak.

Those crows set Clare thinking; and it was well; for if he had not done as those thinkings taught him, he would have given a very different turn to his history. Meditation and resolve, on the top of honourable habit, brought him to this, that, when he saw what was right, he just did it–did it without hesitation, question, or struggle. Every man must, who would be a free man, who would not be the slave of the universe and of himself.

Chapter XVII.

The baker’s cart.

The sweepings of the mill-floor did not last them long, and by the time they saw rising before them the spires and chimneys of the small county town to which the road had been leading them, they were very hungry indeed–as hungry as they well could be without having begun to grow faint. The moment he saw them, Clare began revolving in his mind once more, as many times on the way, what he was to do to get work: Tommy of course was too small to do anything, and Clare must earn enough for both. He could think of nothing but going into the shops, or knocking at the house-doors, and asking for something to do. So filled was he with his need of work, and with the undefined sense of a claim for work, that he never thought how much against him must be the outward appearance which had so dismayed himself when he saw it in the pond; never thought how unwilling any one would be to employ him, or what a disadvantage was the company of Tommy, who had every mark of a born thief.

I do not know if, on his tramps, Tommy had been in a town before, but to Clare all he saw bore the aspect of perfect novelty, notwithstanding the few city-shapes that floated in faintest shadow, like memories of old dreams, in his brain. He was delighted with the grand look of the place, with its many people and many shops. His hope of work at once became brilliant and convincing.

Noiselessly and suddenly Tommy started from his side, but so much occupied was he with what he beheld and what he thought, that he neither saw him go nor missed him when gone. He became again aware of him by finding himself pulled toward the entrance of a narrow lane. Tommy pulled so hard that Clare yielded, and went with him into the lane, but stopped immediately. For he saw that Tommy had under his arm a big loaf, and the steam of newly-baked bread was fragrant in his nostrils. Never smoke so gracious greeted those of incense-loving priest. Tommy tugged and tugged, but Clare stood stock-still.

“Where did you get that beautiful loaf, Tommy?” he asked.

“Off on a baker’s cart,” said Tommy. “Don’t be skeered; he never saw me! That was my business, an’ I seed to ‘t.”

“Then you stole it, Tommy?”

“Yes,” grumbled Tommy, “–if that’s the name you put upon it when your trousers is so slack you’ve got to hold on to them or they’d trip you up!”

“Where’s the cart?”

“In the street there.”

“Come along.”

Clare took the loaf from Tommy, and turned to find the baker’s cart. Tommy’s face fell, and he was conscious only of bitterness. Why had he yielded to sentiment–not that he knew the word–when he longed like fire to bury his sharp teeth in that heavenly loaf? Love–not to mention a little fear–had urged him to carry it straight to Clare, and this was his reward! He was going to give him up to the baker! There was gratitude for you! He ought to have known better than trust _anybody_, even Clare! Nobody was to be trusted but yourself! It did seem hard to Tommy.

They had scarcely turned the corner when they came upon the cart. The baker was looking the other way, talking to some one, and Clare thought to lay down the loaf and say nothing about it: there was no occasion for the ceremony of apology where offence was unknown. But in the very act the baker turned and saw him. He sprang upon him, and collared him. The baker was not nice to look at.

“I have you!” he cried, and shook him as if he would have shaken his head off.

“It’s quite a mistake, sir!” was all Clare could get out, so fierce was the earthquake that rattled the house of his life.

“Mistaken am I? I like that!–Police!”

And with that the baker shook him again.

A policeman was not far off; he heard the man call, and came running.

“Here’s a gen’leman as wants the honour o’ your acquaintance, Bob!” said the baker.

But Tommy saw that, from his size, he was more likely to get off than Clare if he told the truth.

“Please, policeman,” he said, “it wasn’t him; it was me as took the loaf.”

“You little liar!” shouted the baker. “Didn’t I see him with his hand on the loaf?”

“He was a puttin’ of it back,” said Tommy. “I wish he’d been somewheres else! See what he been an’ got by it! If he’d only ha’ let me run, there wouldn’t ha’ been nobody the wiser. I _am_ sorry I didn’t run. Oh, I _ham_ so ‘ungry!”

Tommy doubled himself up, with his hands inside the double.

“‘Ungry, are you?” roared the baker. “That’s what thieves off a baker’s cart ought to be! They ought to be always ‘ungry–‘ungry to all eternity, they ought! An’ that’s what’s goin’ to be done to ’em!”

“Look here!” cried a pale-faced man in the front of the crowd, who seemed a mechanic. “There’s a way of tellin’ whether the boy’s speakin’ the truth _now_!”

He caught up the restored loaf, halved it cleverly, and handed each of the boys a part.

“Now, baker, what’s to pay?” he said, and drew himself up, for the man was too angry at once to reply.

The boys were tearing at the delicious bread, blind and deaf to all about them.

“P’r’aps you would like to give _me_ in charge?” pursued their saviour.

“Sixpence,” said the man sullenly.

The mechanic laid sixpence on the cover of the cart.

“I ought to ha’ made you weigh and make up,” he said. “Where’s your scales?”

“Mind your own business.”

“I mean to. Here! I want another sixpenny loaf–but I want it weighed this time!”

“I ain’t bound to sell bread in the streets. You can go to the shop. Them loaves is for reg’lar customers.”

He moved off with his cart, and the crowd began to disperse. The boys stood absorbed, each in what remained of his half-loaf.

When he looked up, Clare saw that they were alone. But he caught sight of their benefactor some way off, and ran after him.

“Oh, sir!” he said, “I was so hungry, I don’t know whether I thanked you for the loaf. We’d had nothing to-day but the sweepings of a mill.”

“God bless my soul!” said the man. “People say there’s a God!” he added.

“I think there must be, sir, for you came by just then!” returned Clare.

“How do you come to be so hard-up, my boy? Somebody’s to blame somewheres!”

“There ain’t no harm in being hungry, so long as the loaf comes!” rejoined Clare. “When I get work we shall be all right!”

“That’s your sort!” said the man. “But if there had been a God, as people say, he would ha’ made me fit to gi’e you a job, i’stead o’ stan’in’ here as you see me, with ne’er a turn o’ work to do for myself!”

“I’ll work my hardest to pay you back your sixpence,” said Clare.

“Nay, nay, lad! Don’t you trouble about that. I ha’ got two or three more i’ my pocket, thank God!”

“You have two Gods, have you, sir?” said Clare;”–one who does things for you, and one who don’t?”

“Come, you young shaver! you’re too much for me!” said the man laughing.

Tommy, having finished his bread, here thought fit to join them. He came slyly up, looking impudent now he was filled, with his hands where his pockets should have been.

“It was you stole the loaf, you little rascal!” said the workman, seeing thief in every line of the boy.

“Yes,” answered Tommy boldly, “an’ I don’t see no harm. The baker had lots, and he wasn’t ‘ungry! It was Clare made a mull of it! He’s such a duffer you don’t know! He acshally took it back to the brute! He deserved what he got! The loaf was mine. It wasn’t his! _I_ stole it!”

“Oh, ho! it wasn’t his! it was yours, was it?–Why do you go about with a chap like this, young gentleman?” said the man, turning to Clare. “I know by your speech you ‘ain’t been brought up alongside o’ sech as him!”

“I had to go away, and he came with me,” answered Clare.

“You’d better get rid of him. He’ll get you into trouble.”

“I can’t get rid of him,” replied Clare. “But I shall teach him not to take what isn’t his. He don’t know better now. He’s been ill-used all his life.”

“You don’t seem over well used yourself,” said the man.

He saw that Clare’s clothes had been made for a boy in good circumstances, though they had been long worn, and were much begrimed. His face, his tone, his speech convinced him that they had been made for _him_, and that he had had a gentle breeding.

“Look you here, young master,” he continued; “you have no right to be in company with that boy. He’ll bring you to grief as sure as I tell you.”

“I shall be able to bear it,” answered Clare with a sigh.

“He’ll be the loss of your character to you.”

“I ‘ain’t got a character to lose,” replied Clare. “I thought I had; but when nobody will believe me, where’s my character then?”

“Now you’re wrong there,” returned the man. “I’m not much, I know; but I believe every word you say, and should be very sorry to find myself mistaken.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Clare. “May I carry your bag for you?”

If Clare had seen what then passed in Tommy’s mind, at the back of those glistening ferret-eyes of his, he would have been almost reconciled to taking the man’s advice, and getting rid of him. Tommy was saying to himself that his pal wasn’t such a duffer after all–he was on the lay for the man’s tools!

Tommy never reasoned except in the direction of cunning self-help–of fitting means and intermediate ends to the one main object of eating. It is wonderful what a sharpener of the poor wits hunger is!

“I guess I’m the abler-bodied pauper!” answered the man; and picking up the bag he had dropped at his feet while they conversed, he walked away.

There are many more generous persons among the poor than among the rich–a fact that might help some to understand how a rich man should find it hard to enter into the kingdom of heaven. It is hard for everybody, but harder for the rich. Men who strive to make money are unconsciously pulling instead of pushing at the heavy gate of the kingdom.

“Tommy!” said Clare, in a tone new to himself, for a new sense of moral protection had risen in him, “if ever you steal anything again, either I give you a hiding, or you and I part company.”

Tommy bored his knuckles into his red eyes, and began to whimper. Again it was hard for Tommy! He had followed Clare, thinking to supply what was lacking to him; to do for him what he was not clever enough to do for himself; in short, to make an advantageous partnership with him, to which he should furnish the faculty of picking up unconsidered trifles. Tommy judged Clare defective in intellect, and quite unpractical. He was of the mind of the multitude. The common-minded man always calls the man who thinks of righteousness before gain, who seeks to do the will of God and does not seek to make a fortune, unpractical. He _will_ not see that the very essence of the practical lies in doing the right thing.

Tommy, in a semi-conscious way, had looked to Clare to supply the strength and the innocent look, while he supplied the head and the lively fingers; and here was Clare knocking the lovely plan to pieces! He did well to be angry! But Clare was the stronger; and Tommy knew that, when Clare was roused, though it was not easy to rouse him, he could and would and did fight–not, indeed, as the little coward said to himself _he_ could fight, like a wild cat, but like a blundering hornless old cow defending her calf from a cur.

In the heart of all his selfishness, however, Tommy did a little love Clare; and his love came, not from Tommy, but from the same source as his desire for food, namely, from the God that was in Tommy, the God in whom Tommy lived and had his being with Clare. Whether Tommy’s love for Clare would one day lift him up beside Clare, that is, make him an honest boy like Clare, remained to be seen.

Finding his demonstration make no impression, Tommy took his knuckles out of his eye-holes and thrust them into his pocket-holes, turned his back on his friend, and began to whistle–with a lump of self-pity in his throat.

Chapter XVIII.

Beating the town.

They turned their faces again toward the centre of the town, and resumed their walk, taking in more of what they saw than while they had not yet had the second instalment of their daily bread. What a thing is food! It is the divineness of the invention–the need for the food, and the food for the need–that makes those who count their dinner the most important thing in the day, such low creatures: nothing but what is good in itself can be turned into vileness. It is a delight to see a boy with a good honest appetite; a boy that _loves_ his dinner is a loathsome creature. Eat heartily, my boy, but be ready to share, even when you are hungry, and have only what you could eat up yourself, else you are no man. Remember that you created neither your hunger nor your food; that both came from one who cares for you and your neighbours as well.

In the strength of the half-loaf he had eaten, the place looked to Clare far more wonderful, and his hopes of earning his bread grew yet more radiant. But he passed one shop after another, and always something prevented him from going in. One after another did not look just the right sort, did not seem to invite him: the next might be better! I dare say but for that half-loaf, he would have made a trial sooner, but I doubt if he would have succeeded sooner. He did not think of going to parson, doctor, or policeman for advice; he went walking and staring, followed by Tommy with his hands in his pocketless pocket-holes. Clare was not yet practical in device, though perfect in willingness, and thorough in design. Up one street and down another they wandered, seeing plenty of food through windows, and in carts and baskets, but never any coming their way, except in the form of tempting odours that issued from almost every house, and grew in keenness and strength toward one o’clock. Oh those odours!–agonizing angels of invisible yet most material good! Of what joys has not the Father made us capable, when the poorest necessity is linked with such pain! What a tormenting thing–and what a good must be meant to come out of it!–to be hungry, downright, cravingly hungry with the whole microcosm, and not a halfpenny to buy a mouthful of assuagement!–to be assailed with wafts of deliriously undefined promise, not one of which seems likely to be fulfilled!–promise true to men hurrying home to dinner or luncheon, but only rousing greater desire in such as Clare and Tommy. Not one opportunity of appropriation presented itself, else it would have gone ill with Tommy, now that the eyes and ears of his guardian were on the alert. For Clare thought of him now as a little thievish pup, for whose conduct, manners, and education he was responsible.

The agony began at length to abate–ready to revive with augmented strength when the next hour for supplying the human furnace should begin to approach. Few even of those who know what hunger is, understand to what it may grow–how desire becomes longing, longing becomes craving, and craving a wild passion of demand. It must be terrible to be hungry, and not know God!

As the evening came down upon them, worn out, faint with want, shivering with cold, and as miserable in prospect as at the moment, yet another need presented itself with equally imperative requisition–that of shelter that they might rest. It was even more imperative: they could not eat; they _must_ lie down!

Whether it be a rudiment retained from their remote ancestry, I cannot tell, but any kind of suffering will wake in some a masterful impulse to burrow; and as the boys walked about in their misery, white with cold and hunger, Clare’s eyes kept turning to every shallowest archway, every breach in wall or hedge that seemed to offer the least chance of covert, while, every now and then, Tommy would bolt from his side to peer into some opening whose depth was not immediately patent to his ferret-gaze. Once, in a lane on the outskirts of the town, he darted into a narrow doorway in the face of a wall, but instantly rushed back in horror: within was a well, where water lay still and dark. Then first Clare had a hint of the peculiar dread Tommy had of water, especially of water dark and unexpected. Possibly he had once been thrown into such water to be got rid of. But Clare at the moment was too weary to take much notice of his dismay.

It was an old town in which they were wandering, and change in the channels of traffic had so turned its natural nourishment aside, that it was in parts withering and crumbling away. Not a few of the houses were, some from poverty, some from utter disuse, yielding fast to decay. But there were other causes for the condition of one, which, almost directly they came out of the lane I have just mentioned, into the end of a wide silent street, drew the roving, questing eyes of Clare and Tommy. The moon was near the full and shining clear, so that they could perfectly see the state it was in. Most of its windows were broken; its roof was like the back of a very old horse; its chimney-pots were jagged and stumped with fracture; from one of them, by its entangled string, the skeleton of a kite hung half-way down the front. But, notwithstanding such signs of neglect, the red-brick wall and the wrought-iron gate, both seven feet high, that shut the place off from the street, stood in perfect aged strength. The moment they saw it, the house seemed to say to them, “There’s nobody here: come in!” but the gate and the wall said, “Begone!”

Chapter XIX.

The blacksmith and his forge.

At the end of the wall was a rough boarded fence, in contact with it, and reaching, some fifty yards or so, to a hovel in which a blacksmith, of unknown antecedents, had taken possession of a forsaken forge, and did what odd jobs came in his way. The boys went along the fence till they came to the forge, where, looking in, they saw the blacksmith working his bellows. To one with the instincts of Clare’s birth and breeding, he did not look a desirable acquaintance. Tommy was less fastidious, but he felt that the scowl on the man’s brows boded little friendliness. Clare, however, who hardly knew what fear was, did not hesitate to go in, for he was drawn as with a cart-rope by the glow of the fire, and the sparks which, as they gazed, began, like embodied joys, to fly merrily from the iron. Tommy followed, keeping Clare well between him and the black-browed man, who rained his blows on the rosy iron in his pincers, as if he hated it.

“What do you want, gutter-toads?” he cried, glancing up and seeing them approach. “This ain’t a hotel.”

“But it’s a splendid fire,” rejoined Clare, looking into his face with a wan smile, “and we’re so cold!”

“What’s that to me!” returned the man, who, savage about something, was ready to quarrel with anything. “I didn’t make my fire to warm little devils that better had never been born!”

“No, sir,” answered Clare; “but I don’t think we’d better not have been born. We’re both cold, and nobody but Tommy knows how hungry I am; but your fire is so beautiful that, if you would let us stand beside it a minute or two, we wouldn’t at all mind.”

“Mind, indeed! Mind what, you preaching little humbug?”

“Mind being born, sir.”

“Why do you say _sir_ to me? Don’t you see I’m a working man?”

“Yes, and that’s why. I think we ought to say _sir_ and _ma’am_ to every one that can do something we can’t. Tommy and I can’t make iron do what we please, and you can, sir! It would be a grand thing for us if we could!”

“Oh, yes, a grand thing, no doubt!–Why?”

“Because then we could get something to eat, and somewhere to lie down.”

“Could you? Look at me, now! I can do the work of two men, and can’t get work for half a man!”

“That’s a sad pity!” said Clare. “I wish I had work! Then I would bring you something to eat.”

The man did not tell them why he had not work enough–that his drunkenness, and the bad ways to which it had brought him, with the fact that he so often dawdled over the work that was given him, caused people to avoid him.

“Who said I hadn’t enough to eat? I ain’t come to that yet, young ‘un! What made you say that?”

“Because when I had work, I had plenty to eat; and now that I have nothing to do, I have nothing to eat. It’s well I haven’t work now, though,” added Clare with a sigh, “for I’m too tired to do any. Please may I sit on this heap of ashes?”

“Sit where you like, so long ‘s you keep out o’ my way. I ‘ain’t got nothing to give you but a bar of iron. I’ll toast one for you if you would like a bite.”

“No, thank you, sir,” answered Clare, with a smile. “I’m afraid it wouldn’t be digestible. They say toasted cheese ain’t. I wish I had a try though!”

“You’re a comical shaver, you are!” said the blacksmith. “You’ll come to the gallows yet, if you’re a good boy! Them Sunday-schools is doin’ a heap for the gallows!–That ain’t your brother?”

By this time Tommy had begun to feel at home with the blacksmith, from whose face the cloud had lifted a little, so that he looked less dangerous. He had edged nearer to the fire, and now stood in the light of it.

“No,” answered Clare, with an odd doubtfulness in his tone. “I ought to say _yes_, perhaps, for all men are my brothers; but I mean I haven’t any particular one of my very own.”

“That ain’t no pity; he’d ha’ been no better than you. I’ve a brother I would choke any minute I got a chance.”

While they talked, the blacksmith had put his iron in the fire, and again stood blowing the bellows, when his attention was caught by the gestures of the little red-eyed imp, Tommy, who was making rapid signs to him, touching his forehead with one finger, nodding mysteriously, and pointing at Clare with the thumb of his other hand, held close to his side. He sought to indicate thus that his companion was an innocent, whom nobody must mind. In the blacksmith Tommy saw one of his own sort, and the blacksmith saw neither in Tommy nor in Clare any reason to doubt the hint given him. Not the less was he inclined to draw out the idiot.

“Why do you let him follow you about, if he ain’t your brother?” he said. “He ain’t nice to look at!”

“I want to make him nice,” answered Clare, “and then he’ll be nice to look at. You mustn’t mind him, please, sir. He’s a very little boy, and ‘ain’t been well brought up. His granny ain’t a good woman–at least not very, you know, Tommy!” he added apologetically.

“She’s a damned old sinner!” said Tommy stoutly.

The man laughed.

“Ha, ha, my chicken! you know a thing or two!” he said, as he took his iron from the fire, and laid it again on the anvil.

But besides the brother he would so gladly strangle, there was an idiot one whom he had loved a little and teazed so much, that, when he died, his conscience was moved. He felt therefore a little tender toward the idiot before him. He bethought himself also that his job would soon be at a stage where the fewer the witnesses the better, for he was executing a commission for certain burglars of his acquaintance. He would do no more that night! He had money in his pocket, and he wanted a drink!

“Look here, cubs!” he said; “if you ‘ain’t got nowhere to go to, I don’t mind if you sleep here. There ain’t no bed but the bed of the forge, nor no blankets but this leather apron: you may have them, for you can’t do them no sort of harm. I don’t mind neither if you put a shovelful of slack and a little water now and then on the fire; and if you give it a blow or two with the bellows now and then, you won’t be stone-dead afore the mornin’!–Don’t be too free with the coals, now, and don’t set the shed on fire, and take the bread out of my poor innocent mouth. Mind what I tell you, and be good boys.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Clare. “I thought you would be kind to us! I’ve one friend, a bull, that’s very good to me. So is Jonathan. He’s a horse. The bull’s name is Nimrod. He wants to gore always, but he’s never cross with me.”

The blacksmith burst into a roar of laughter at the idiotic speech. Then he covered the fire with coal, threw his apron over Clare’s head, and departed, locking the door of the smithy behind him.

The boys looked at each other. Neither spoke. Tommy turned to the bellows, and began to blow.

“Ain’t you warm yet?” said Clare, who had seen his mother careful over the coals.

“No, I ain’t. I want a blaze.”

“Leave the fire alone. The coal is the smith’s, and he told us not to waste it.”

“He ain’t no count!” said Tommy, as heartless as any grown man or woman set on pleasure.

“He has given us a place to be warm and sleep in! It would be a shame to do anything he didn’t like. Have you no conscience, Tommy?”

“No,” said Tommy, who did not know conscience from copper. The germ of it no doubt lay in the God-part of him, but it lay deep. Tommy–no worse than many a boy born of better parents–was like a hill full of precious stones, that grows nothing but a few little dry shrubs, and shoots out cold sharp rocks every here and there.

“If you have no conscience,” answered Clare, “one must serve for both–as far as it will reach! Leave go of that bellows, or I’ll make you.”

Tommy let the lever go, turned his back, and wandered, in such dudgeon as he was capable of, to the other side of the shed.

“Hello!” he cried, “here’s a door!–and it ain’t locked, it’s only bolted! Let’s go and see!”

“You may if you like,” answered Clare, “but if you touch anything of the blacksmith’s, I’ll be down on you.”

“All right!” said Tommy, and went out to see if there was anything to be picked up.

Clare got on the stone hearth of the forge, and lay down in the hot ashes, too far gone with hunger to care for the clothes that were almost beyond caring for. He was soon fast asleep; and warmth and sleep would do nearly as much for him as food.

Chapter XX.

Tommy reconnoitres.

Tommy, out in the moonlight, found himself in a waste yard, scattered over with bits of iron, mostly old and rusty. It was not an interesting place, for it was not likely to afford him anything to eat. Yet, with the instinct of the human animal, he went shifting and prying and nosing about everywhere. Presently he heard a curious sound, which he recognized as made by a hen. More stealthily yet he went creeping hither and thither, feeling here and feeling there, in the hope of laying his hand on the fowl asleep. Urged by his natural impulse to forage, he had forgotten Clare’s warning. His hand did find her, and had it been his grandmother instead of Clare in the smithy, he would at once have broken the bird’s neck before she could cry out; but with the touch of her feathers came the thought of Clare, and by this time he understood that what Clare said, Clare would do.

He had some knowledge of fowls; he had heard too much talk about them at his grandmother’s not to know something of their habits; and finding she sat so still, he concluded that under her might be eggs. To his delight it was so. The hen belonged to a house at some distance, and had wandered from it, in obedience to the secretive instinct of animal maternity, strong in some hens, to seek a hidden shelter for her offspring. This she had found in the smith’s yard, beneath the mould-board of a plough that had lain there for years. Slipping his hand under her, Tommy found five eggs. In greedy haste he took them, every one.

I must do him the justice to say that his first impulse was to dart with them to Clare. But before he had taken a step toward him, again he remembered his threat. With the eggs inside him, he could run the risk; he would not mind a few blows–not much; but if he took them to Clare, the unbearable thing was, that he would assuredly give every one of them back to the hen. He was an idiot, and Tommy was there to look after him; but, in looking after Clare, was Tommy to neglect himself? If Clare would not eat the eggs Tommy carried him, as most certainly he would not, the best thing was for Tommy to eat them himself! What a good thing that it was no use to steal for Clare! The steal would be all for himself! Not a step from the spot did Tommy move till he had sucked every one of the five eggs. But he made one mistake: he threw away the shells.

When he had sucked them, he found himself much lighter-hearted, but, alas, nearly as hungry as before! The spirit of research began again to move him: where were eggs, what might there not be beside?

The moon was nearly at the full; the smith’s yard was radiantly illuminated. But even the moon could lend little enchantment to a scene where nothing was visible but rusty, broken, deserted, despairful pieces of old iron. Tommy lifted his eyes and looked further.