This page contains affiliate links. As Amazon Associates we earn from qualifying purchases.
Language:
Published:
  • 1891
Collection:
Buy it on Amazon FREE Audible 30 days

The enclosure was of small extent, bounded on one side by the garden wall of the house they had just passed, and at the bottom by a broken fence, dividing it from a piece of waste land that probably belonged to the house. As he roamed about, Tommy spied a great heap of old iron piled up against the wall, and made for it, in the hope of enlarging his horizon. He scrambled to the top, and looked over. His gaze fell right into a big but, full of dark water. Twice that evening he met the same horror! There was a legendary report, though he had not heard it, I fancy, that his mother drowned herself instead of him: she fell in, and he was fished out. Whether this was the origin of his fear or not, so far from getting down by means of the water-but, Tommy dared not cross at that point. With much trembling he got on the top of the wall, turned his back on the but, and ran along like a cat, in search of a place where he could descend into the garden. He went right to the end, round the corner, and half-way along the bottom before he found one. There he came to a doorway that had been solidly walled up on the outside, while the door was left in position on the inside–ready for use when the court of chancery should have decided to whom the house belonged. Its frame was flush with the wall, so that its bolts and lock afforded Tommy foothold enough to descend, and confidence of being able to get up again.

He landed in a moonlit wilderness–such a wilderness as a deserted garden speedily becomes, the wealth in the soil converting it the sooner to a savage chaos. Full of the impulse of discovery, and the hope of presenting himself with importance to Clare as the bringer of good tidings, Tommy forced his way through or crept under the overgrown bushes, until he reached a mossy rather than gravelly walk, where it was more easy to advance. It led him to the house.

Had he been a boy of any imagination, he would have shuddered at the thought of attempting an entrance. All the windows had outside shutters. Those of the ground floor were closed–except one that swung to and fro, and must have swung in many a wind since the house was abandoned. The moon shone with a dull whitish gleam on the dusty windows of the first and second stories, and on the great dormers that shot out from the slope of the roof, and cast strange shadows upon it. The door to the garden had had a porch of trellis-work, over which jasmine and other creeping plants were trained; but whether anything of the porch was left, no one could have told in that thicket of creepers, interlaced and matted by antagonist forces of wind and growth so that not a hint of door was visible. Clearly there was nobody within.

Tommy sought the window with the open shutter. Through the dirty glass, and the reflection of the moon, he could see nothing. He tried the sash, but could not stir it. He went round the corner to one end of the house, and saw another door. But an enemy stepped between: the moon shone suddenly up from the ground. In a hollow of the pavement had gathered a pool from the drip of the neglected gutters, and out of its hidden depth the staring round looked at him. It was the third time Tommy’s nerves had been shaken that night, and he could stand no more. At the awful vision he turned and fled, fell, and rose and fled again. It was not imagination in Tommy; it was an undefined, inexplicable horror, that must have had a cause, but could have no reason. Young as he was he had already more than once looked on the face of death, and had felt no awe; he had listened to the gruesomest of tales, told not altogether without art, and had never moved a hair Only one material and two spiritual things had power with him; the one material thing was hunger, the two spiritual things were a feeble love for Clare, and a strong horror of water of any seeming depth. Now a new element was added to this terror by the meddling of the moon in the fiendish mystery–the secret of which must, I think, have been the bottomless depth she gave the water.

He rushed down the garden. With frightful hindrance from the overgrowth, he found the prisoned door by strange perversion become a ladder, gained by it the top of the wall, and sped along as if pursued by an incarnate dread. Horror of horrors! all at once the moon again looked up at him from below: he was within a yard or two of the big water-but! Right up to it he must go, for, close to it, on the other side of the wall, was the heap of iron by which alone he could get down. He tightened every nerve for the effort. He assured himself that the thing would be over in a moment; that the water was quiet, and could not follow him; that presently he would find himself in the smithy by the warm forge-fire. The scaring necessity was, that he must stoop and kneel right over the water-but, in order to send his legs in advance down the wall to the top of the mound. It was a moment of agony. That very moment, with an appalling unearthly cry, something dark, something hideous, something of inconceivable ghastliness, as it seemed to Tommy, sprang right out of the water into the air. He tumbled from the wall among the iron, and there lay.

The stolen eggs were avenged. The hen, feverish and unhappy from the loss of her hope of progeny, had gone to the but to sip a little water. Tommy, appearing on the wall above her, startled her. She, flying up with a screech, startled Tommy, and became her own unwitting avenger.

Chapter XXI.

Tommy is found and found out.

When Clare woke from his first sleep, which he did within an hour–for he was too hungry to sleep straight on, and the door, imperfectly closed by Tommy, had come open, and let in a cold wind with the moonlight–he raised himself on his elbow, and peered from his stone shelf into the dreary hut. He could not at once tell where he was, but when he remembered, his first thought was Tommy. He looked about for him. Tommy was nowhere. Then he saw the open door, and remembered he had gone out. Surely it was time he had come back! Stiff and sore, he turned on his longitudinal axis, crept down from the forge, and went out shivering to look for his imp. The moon shone radiant on the rusty iron, and the glamour of her light rendered not a few of its shapes and fragments suggestive of cruel torture. Picking his way among spikes and corners and edges, he walked about the hideous wilderness searching for Tommy, afraid to call for fear of attracting attention. The hen too was walking about, disconsolate, but she took no notice of him, neither did the sight of her give him any hint or rouse in him the least suspicion: how could he suspect one so innocent and troubled for the avenging genius through whom Tommy’s white face lay upturned to the white moon! Her egg-shells lay scattered, each a ghastly point in the moonshine, each a silent witness to the deed that had been done. Tommy scattered and forgot them; the moon gathered and noted them. But they told Clare nothing, either of Tommy’s behaviour or of Tommy himself.

He came at last to the heap of metal, and there lay Tommy, caught in its skeleton protrusions. A shiver went through him when he saw the pallid face, and the dark streak of blood across it. He concluded that in trying to get over the wall he had failed and fallen back. He climbed and took him in his arms. Tommy was no weight for Clare, weak with hunger as he was, to carry to the smithy. He laid him on the hearth, near the fire, and began to blow it up. The roaring of the wind in the fire did not wake him. Clare went on blowing. The heat rose and rose, and brought the boy to himself at last, in no comfortable condition. He opened his eyes, scrambled to his feet, and stared wildly around him.

“Where is it?” he cried.

“Where’s what?” rejoined Clare, leaving the bellows, and taking a hold of him lest he should fall off.

“The head that flew out of the water-but,” answered Tommy with a shudder.

“Have you lost your senses, Tommy?” remonstrated Clare. “I found you lying on a heap of old iron against the wall, with the moon shining on you.”

“Yes, yes!–the moon! She jumped out of the water-but, and got a hold of me as I was getting down. I knew she would!”

“I didn’t think you were such a fool, Tommy!” said Clare.

“Well, you hadn’t the pluck to go yourself! You stopt in!” cried Tommy, putting his hand to his head, but more sorely hurt that an idiot should call him a fool.

“Come and let me see, Tommy,” said Clare.

He wanted to find out if he was much hurt; but Tommy thought he wanted to go to the water-but, and screamed.

“Hold your tongue, you little idiot!” cried Clare. “You’ll have all the world coming after us! They’ll think I’m murdering you!”

Tommy restrained himself, and gradually recovering, told Clare what he had discovered, but not what he had found.

“There’s something yellow on your jacket! What is it?” said Clare. “I do believe–yes, it is!–you’ve been eating an egg! Now I remember! I saw egg-shells, more than two or three, lying in the yard, and the poor hen walking about looking for her eggs! You little rascal! You pig of a boy! I won’t thrash you this time, because you’ve fetched your own thrashing. But–!”

He finished the sentence by shaking his fist in Tommy’s face, and looking as black at him as he was able.

“I do believe it was the hen herself that frighted you!” he added. “She served you right, you thief!”

“I didn’t know there was any harm,” said Tommy, pretending to sob.

“Why didn’t you bring me my share, then?”

“‘Cos I knowed you’d ha’ made me give ’em back to the hen!”

“And you didn’t know there was any harm, you lying little brute!”

“No, I didn’t.”

“Now, look here, Tommy! If you don’t mind what I tell you, you and I part company. One of us two must be master, and I will, or you must tramp. Do you hear me?”

“I can’t do without wictuals!” whimpered Tommy. “I didn’t come wi’ _you_ a purpose to be starved to death!”

“I dare say you didn’t; but when I starve, you must starve too; and when I eat, you shall have the first mouthful. What did you come with me for?”

“‘Acos you was the strongest,” answered Tommy, “an’ I reckoned you would get things from coves we met!”

“Well, I’m not going to get things from coves we meet, except they give them to me. But have patience, Tommy, and I’ll get you all you can eat. You must give me time, you know! I ‘ain’t got work yet!–Come here. Lie down close to me, and we’ll go to sleep.”

The urchin obeyed, pillowed his head on Clare’s chest, and went fast asleep.

Clare slept too after a while, but the necessities of his relation to Tommy were fast making a man of him.

Chapter XXII.

The smith in a rage.

They had not slept long, when they were roused by a hideous clamour and rattling at the door, and thunderous blows on the wooden sides of the shed. Clare woke first, and rubbed his eyelids, whose hinges were rusted with sleep. He was utterly perplexed with the uproar and romage. The cabin seemed enveloped in a hurricane of kicks, and the air was in a tumult of howling and brawling, of threats and curses, whose inarticulateness made them sound bestial. There never came pause long enough for Clare to answer that they were locked in, and that the smith must have the key in his pocket. But when Tommy came to himself, which he generally did the instant he woke, but not so quickly this time because of his fall, he understood at once.

“It’s the blacksmith! He’s roaring drunk!” he said.

“Let’s be off, Clare! The devil ‘ill be to pay when he gets in! He’ll murder us in our beds!”

“We ought to let him into his own house if we can,” replied Clare, rising and going to the door. It was well for him that he found no way of opening it, for every instant there came a kick against it that threatened to throw it from lock and hinges at once. He protested his inability, but the madman thought he was refusing to admit him, and went into a tenfold fury, calling the boys hideous names, and swearing he would set the shed on fire if they did not open at once. The boys shouted, but the man had no sense to listen with, and began such a furious battery on the door, with his whole person for a ram, that Tommy made for the rear, and Clare followed–prudent enough, however, in all his haste, to close the back-door behind them.

Tommy was in front, and led the way to the bottom of the yard, and over the fence into the waste ground, hoping to find some point in that quarter where he could mount the wall. He could not face the water-but–with the moon in it, staring out of the immensity of the lower world. He ran and doubled and spied, but could find no foothold. Least of all was ascent possible at the spot where the door stood on the other side; the bricks were smoother than elsewhere. He turned the corner and ran along a narrow lane, Clare still following, for he thought Tommy knew what he was about; but Tommy could find no encouragement to attempt scaling the wall. They might have fled into the fields that lay around; but the burrowing instinct was strong, and the deserted house drew them. Then Clare, finding Tommy at fault, bethought him that the little rascal had got up by the heap on which he discovered him, and must be afraid to go that way again. He faced about and ran, in his turn become leader. Tommy wheeled also, and followed, but with misgiving. When they reached the farther corner of the bottom wall, they stopped and peeped round before they would turn it: they might run against the blacksmith in chase of them! But the sound of his continued hammering at the door came to them, and they went on. They crossed the fence and ran again, ran faster, for now every step brought them nearer to their danger: the heap of iron lay between them and the smithy, and any moment the smith might burst into the shed, rush through, and be out upon them.

They reached the heap. Clare sprang up; and Tommy, urged on the one side by the fear of the drunken smith, and drawn on the other by the dread of being abandoned by Clare, climbed shuddering after him.

“Mind the water-but, Clare!” he gasped; “an’ gi’ me a hand up.”

Clare had already turned on the top of the wall to help him.

“Now let me go first!” said Tommy, the moment he had his foot on it. “I know how to get down.”

He scudded along the wall, glad to have Clare between him and the but. Clare followed swiftly. He was not so quick on the cat-promenade as Tommy, but he had a good head, and was spurred by the apprehension of being seen up there in the moonlight.

Chapter XXIII.

Treasure trove.

In a few moments they were safe in the thicket at the foot of what had been their enemy and was now their friend–the garden-wall. How many things and persons there are whose other sides are altogether friendly! These are their true selves, and we must be true to get at them.

Tommy again took the lead, though with a fresh sinking of the heart because of that other place with the moon in it. Through the tangled thicket they made or found their way–and there stood the house, with the moon looking down on its roof, and the drunkard’s thunder troubling her still pale light–her _moon-thinking_. But for the noise and the haste, Clare would have been frightened at them. There seemed some secret between the house and the moon which they were determined no one else should share. They were of one mind to terrify man or boy who should attempt to cross the threshold! There was no time, however, to heed such fancies. “If we could only get in without spoiling anything!” thought Clare. Once in, they would hurt nothing, take but the shelter and rest lying there of no good to anybody, and leave them there all the same when they had done with them!

While they stood looking at the house, the thundering at the door of the smithy ceased. Presently they heard voices in altercation. One voice was that of the smith, quieter than when last they heard it, but ill-tempered and growling as at first. The other seemed that of a woman. She had been able so far to quiet him, probably, that he remembered he had the key in his pocket; for they thought they heard the door of the smithy open. Then all was silent, and the outcasts pursued their quest of an entrance to the house.

Clare went ferreting as Tommy had done. He also tried to get a peep through the window with the swinging shutter, but had no better success than Tommy. Then he started to go round the corner next the blacksmith’s yard.

“Look out!” cried Tommy in a loud whisper, when he saw where he was going.

“Why?” asked Clare.

“Because there’s a horrible hole there, full of water,” answered Tommy.

“I’ll keep a look out,” returned Clare, and went.

When he was about half-way along the end of the house, he heard a noise he did not understand, and stopped to listen. Some one seemed moving somewhere.

Then came a kind of scrambling sound, and presently the noise of a great watery splash. Clare shivered from head to foot.

“Something has fallen into the hole Tommy mentioned!” he said to himself, and ran on to see. A few steps brought him to what Tommy had taken for a great hole. It was nothing but a pool of rain-water: the splash could not have come from that!

Then it occurred to him that the water-but could not be far off. He forced his way through shrubs of various kinds, and reaching the wall, went back along it until he came to the but. A ray of moonlight showed him that the side of it was wet, as if the water had lately come over the edge. He looked about for some means of getting a peep into the huge thing. It stood on a brick stand, of which it left a narrow edge clear, but on this edge the bulge of the but would not permit him to mount. With the help of a small tree, however, he got on the wall, which was better.

Spying into the but, he could see nothing at first, for a chimney was now between it and the moon. A moment more, however, and he descried something white in the dull iron gleam of the water. It was under the water, but floating near the surface. He lay down on the wall, plunged his arm into the but, laid hold of it, and drew it out. It was a little heavy for the size, for what should it be but a tiny baby, in a flannel night-gown, which, as he drew it out, sent back little noisy streams into the but! It lay perfectly still in his arms, he did not know whether dead or alive, but he thought it could hardly be drowned so soon after the splash. It had been drugged, and the antagonism of the two means employed to kill it was probably the saving of its life.

Clare stood in stony bewilderment. What was he to do? Certainly not to go after the mother! The first thing was to get it down from the wall. That he could easily have done on the other side, by the heap; but that was the side whence it must have been thrown, and they would be but in worse difficulty there! He must get the baby down inside the wall! With at least one arm occupied, the tree-way was impracticable. There was only one other way, and that full of danger! But where there is only one way, that way must be taken, and Clare did not hesitate. He started along the top of the wall, with the poor unconscious germ of humanity in his arms. He had lifted it from its watery coffin, out of the cold arms of death, up into the clear air of life! True, that air was cold, and filled only with moonshine; but there was the house whose seal might be broken! and the moon saw the sun making warm the under world! Along the narrow way, through the still, keen glimmer, unseen, probably, by any eye in the sleeping town, he bore his burden, speeding as fast as he dared, for he must not set a foot down amiss!

Had any one caught sight of him, what a commotion would not the tale have roused–of the spectre of a boy with a baby in his arms, gliding noiseless in the moon and the middle night, along the top of the high brick wall of a deserted house, where no one had lived within the memory of man!

When he reached the door-ladder, he found descent difficult but possible. It was more difficult to make his way through the tangled bushes without scratching the baby, which, after all, might, alas, be beyond hurt! He held it close to his bosom, life coaxing life to “stay a little.”

Thus laden, he appeared before Tommy, who had heard the splash, and thought Clare had fallen into the deep hole, but had not had courage to go and see, partly from the fear of verifying his fear, but more from his horror of the watery abyss. He stood trembling where Clare had left him.

To save the baby was now Clare’s only thought. The baby was now the one thing in the universe! If only the light that shone on it were that of the hot sun instead of the cold moon, which looked far more like killing than bringing to life! “And,” thought Clare with himself, “there ain’t much more heat in my body than in that shivery moon!” But the sun would wake and mount the sky, and send the moon down, and all would be different! Only, if nothing could be done in the meantime, where would baby be by then!

“Here, Tommy,” he cried, “come and see what I found in the water-but.”

At the word, Tommy turned to flee; but confidence in Clare, and curiosity to see what, in Clare’s arms, could hardly hurt him, prevailed, and he drew near cautiously.

“Lord, it’s a kid!” he cried.

“It’s not a kid,” said Clare, who had no slang; “it’s a baby!”

“Well! ain’t a baby a kid, just?”

Tommy did not know that the word stood for anything else than a child, which was indeed its meaning long before it was specially applied to the young of the goat. A _kidnapper_ or _kidnabber_ is a stealer of children. Mr. Skeat tells us that _kid_ meant at first just a young one.

“You can’t tell me what to do with it, I’m afraid, Tommy!” said Clare.

Already it was as if from all eternity he had loved this helpless little waif of Time, with its small, thin, blue-gray, gin-drugged face; this tiny life, so hopeless, so miserable, yet so uncomplaining: the thing that was, was the thing for it to bear; it had come into the world to bear it! Ready to die, even Death would not have it; it must live where it was not wanted, where it was not welcome!

“Yes, I can!” answered Tommy with evil promptitude. “Put it in again.”

“But that would drown it, you know, Tommy!” answered Clare, treating him like the child he was not. “We want it to live, Tommy!”

His tenderness for the baby made him speak with foolish gentleness.

“No, we don’t!” returned Tommy. “What business has _it_ to live, when we can’t get nothing to eat?”

Clare held faster to the baby with one arm, and with the fist of the other struck straight out at Tommy, hit him between the eyes, and knocked him flat. It was a miserable thing to have to do, and it made Clare miserable, for Tommy was not half his size, and was still suffering from his fall on the iron. But then the dying baby was not half Tommy’s size, and any milder argument would have been lost on him: he was thus sent on the way to understand that the baby had rights; and that if the baby could not enforce them, there was one in the world that could and would. Never in his life did Clare show more instinctive wisdom than in that knock-down blow to the hardly blamable little devil!

Tommy got up at once. He was not much hurt, for he had a hard head though he was easily knocked over. From that moment he began to respect Clare. He had loved him before in a way; he had patronized him, and feared to offend him because he was stronger than he; but until now he had had no respect for him, believing little Tommy a much finer fellow than big Clare. There are thousands for whom a blow is a better thing than expostulation, persuasion, or any sort of kindness. They are such that nothing but a blow will set their door ajar for love to get in. That is why hardships, troubles, disappointments, and all kinds of pain and suffering, are sent to so many of us. We are so full of ourselves, and feel so grand, that we should never come to know what poor creatures we are, never begin to do better, but for the knock-down blows that the loving God gives us. We do not like them, but he does not spare us for that.

Chapter XXIV.

Justifiable burglary.

Tommy rose rubbing his forehead, and crying quietly. He did not dare say a word. It was well for him he did not. Clare, perplexed and anxious about the baby, was in no mood to accept annoyance from Tommy. But the urchin remaining silent, the elder boy’s indignation began immediately to settle down.

The infant lay motionless, its little heart beating doubtfully, like the ticking of a clock off the level, as if the last beat might be indeed the last.

“We _must_ get into the house, Tommy!” said Clare.

“Yes, Clare,” answered Tommy, very meekly, and went off like a shot to renew investigation at the other end of the house. He was back in a moment, his face as radiant with success as such a face could be, with such a craving little body under it.

“Come, come,” he cried. “We can get in quite easy. I ha’ _been_ in!”

The keen-eyed monkey had found a cellar-window, sunk a little below the level of the ground–a long, narrow, horizontal slip, with a grating over its small area not fastened down. He had lifted it, and pushed open the window, which went inward on rusty hinges–so rusty that they would not quite close again. That he had been in was a lie. _He_ knew better than go first! He belonged to the school of _No. 1!_–all mean beggars.

Clare hastened after him.

“Gi’ me the kid, an’ you get in; you can reach up for it better, ’cause ye’re taller,” said Tommy.

“Is it much of a drop?” asked Clare.

“Nothing much,” answered Tommy.

Clare handed him the baby, instructing him how to hold it, and threatening him if he hurt it; then laid himself on his front, shoved his legs across the area through the window, and followed with his body. Holding on to the edge of the window-sill, he let his feet as far down as he could, then dropped, and fell on a heap of coals, whence he tumbled to the floor of the cellar.

“You should have told me of the coals!” he said, rising, and calling up through the darkness.

“I forgot,” answered Tommy.

“Give me the baby,” said Clare.

When Tommy took the baby, he renewed that moment, and began to cherish the sense of an injury done him by the poor helpless thing. He did not pinch it, only because he dared not, lest it should cry. When he heard Clare fall on the coals, and then heard him call up from the depth of the cellar, he was greatly tempted to turn with it to the other end of the house, and throw it in the pool, then make for the wall and the fields, leaving Clare to shift for himself. But he durst not go near the pool, and Clare would be sure to get out again and be after him! so he stood with the hated creature in his unprotective arms. When Clare called for it, he got into the shallow area, and pushed the baby through the window, grasping the extreme of its garment, and letting it hang into the darkness of the cellar, head downward. I believe then the baby was sick, for, a moment after, and before Clare could get a hold of it, it began to cry. The sound thrilled him with delight.

“Oh, the darling!–Can’t you let her down a bit farther, Tommy?” he said, with suppressed eagerness.

He had climbed on the heap of coals, and was stretching up his arms to receive her. In the faint glimmer from the diffused light of the moon, he could just distinguish the window, blocked up by Tommy; the baby he could not see.

“No, I can’t,” answered Tommy. “Catch! There!”

So saying he yielded to his spite, and waiting no sign of preparedness on the part of Clare, let go his hold, and dropped the little one. It fell on Clare and knocked him over; but he clasped it to him as he fell, and they hurtled to the bottom of the coals without much damage.

“I have her!” he cried as he got up. “Now you come yourself, Tommy.”

He had known no baby but his lost sister, and thought of all babies as girls.

“You’ll catch me, won’t you, Clare?” said Tommy.

“The thing you’ve done once you can do again! I can’t set down the baby to catch you!” replied the unsuspicious Clare, and turned to seek an exit from the cellar. He had not had time yet to wonder how Tommy had got out.

Tommy came tumbling on the top of the coals: he dared not be left with the water-but and the pool and the moon.

“Where are you, Clare?” he called.

Clare answered him from the top of the stone stair that led to the cellar, and Tommy was soon at his heels. Going along a dark passage, where they had to feel their way, they arrived at the kitchen. The loose outside shutter belonged to it, and as it was open, a little of the moonlight came in. The place looked dreary enough and cold enough with its damp brick-floor and its rusty range; but at least they were out of the air, and out of sight of the moon! If only they had some of that coal alight!

“I don’t see as we’re much better off!” said Tommy. “I’m as cold as pigs’ trotters!”

“Then what must baby be like!” said Clare, whose heart was brimful of anxiety for his charge. It seemed to him he had never known misery till now. Life or death for the baby–and he could do nothing! He was cold enough himself, what with hunger, and the night, and the wet and deadly cold little body in his arms; but whatever discomfort he felt, it seemed not himself but the baby that was feeling it; he imputed it all to the baby, and pitied the baby for the cold he felt himself.

“We needn’t stay here, though,” he said. “There must be better places in the house! Let’s try and find a bedroom!”

“Come along!” responded Tommy.

They left the kitchen, and went into the next room. It seemed warmer, because it had a wooden floor. There was hardly any light in it, but it felt empty. They went up the stair. When they turned on the landing half-way, they saw the moon shining in. They went into the first room they came to. Such a bedroom!–larger and grander than any at the parsonage!

“Oh baby! baby!” cried Clare, “now you’ll live–won’t you?”

He seemed to have his own Maly an infant again in his arms. The thought that the place was not his, and that he might get into trouble by being there, never came to him. Use was not theft! The room and its contents were to him as the water and the fire which even pagans counted every man bound to hand to his neighbour. There was the bed! Through all the cold time it had been waiting for them! The counterpane was very dusty; and oh, such moth-eaten blankets! But there were sheets under them, and they were quite clean, though dingy with age! The moths–that is, their legs and wings and dried-up bodies–flew out in clouds when they moved the blankets. Not the less had they discovered Paradise! For the moths, they must have found it an island of plum-cake!

I do not know the history of the house–how it came to be shut up with so much in it. I only know it was itself shut up in chancery, and chancery is full of moths and dust and worms. I believe nobody in the town knew much about it–not even the thieves. It was of course said to be haunted, which had doubtless done something for its protection. No one knew how long it had stood thus deserted. Nobody thought of entering it, or was aware that there was furniture in it. It was supposed to be somebody’s property, and that it was somebody’s business to look after it: whether it was looked after or not, nobody inquired. Happily for Clare and the baby and Tommy, that was nobody’s business.

With deft hands–for how often had he not seen his baby-sister undressed!–Clare hurried off the infant’s one garment, gently rubbed her little body till it was quite dry, if not very clean, and laid her tenderly in the heart of the blankets, among the remains and eggs and grubs of the mothy creatures–they were not wild beasts, or even stinging things–and covered her up, leaving a little opening for her to breathe through. She had not cried since Clare took her; she was too feeble to cry; but, alas, there was no question about feeding her, for he had no food to give her, were she crying ever so much! He threw off his clothes, and got into the mothy blankets beside her. In a few minutes he began to glow, for there was a thick pile of woolly salvation atop of him. He took the naked baby in his arms and held her close to his body, and they grew warmer together.

“Now, Tommy,” he said, “you may take off your clothes, and get in on the other side of me.”

Tommy did not need a second invitation, and in a moment they were all fast asleep. A few months, even a few days before, it would have been a right painful thing to Clare to lie so near a boy like Tommy, but suffering had taken the edge off nicety and put it on humanity. The temple of the Lord may need cleansing, but the temple of the Lord it is. Clare had in him that same spirit which made _the_ son of man go beyond the healingly needful, and lay his hand–the Sinaitic manuscript says his _hands_–upon the leper, where a word alone would have served for the leprosy: the hands were for the man’s heart. Repulsive danger lay in the contact, but the flesh and bones were human, and very cold.

Chapter XXV.

A new quest.

Though as comfortable as one could be who so sorely lacked food, Clare slept lightly. His baby was heavy on his mind, and he woke very early–woke at once to the anxious thought of a boy without food, money, or friends, and with a hungry baby. He woke, however, with a new train of reasoning in his mind. Babies could not work; babies always had their food given them; therefore babies who hadn’t food had a right to ask for it; babies couldn’t ask for it; therefore those who had the charge of them, and hadn’t food to give them, had a right to do the asking for them. He could not beg for himself as long as he was able to ask for work; but for baby it was his duty to beg, because she could not wait: she would not live till he found work. If he got work that very day, he would have to work the whole day before he got the money for it, and baby would be dead by that time! He crept out, so as not to awake the sleepers, and put on his clothes. They were not dry, but they would dry when the sun rose. He did not at all like leaving his baby with Tommy, but what was he to do? She might as well die of Tommy as of hunger! Perhaps it might be easier!

He thought over the nature of the boy, and what it would be best to say to him. He saw what many genial persons are slow to see, that kindness, in its natural shape, is to certain dispositions a great barrier in the way of learning either love or duty. With multitudes, nothing but undiluted fear or pain or shame can open the door for love to enter.

He searched the house for a medicine-bottle, such as he had seen plenty of at the parsonage, and found two. He chose the smaller, lest size should provoke disinclination. Then he woke Tommy, and said to him,

“Tommy, I’m going out to get baby’s breakfast.”

“Ain’t you going to give _me_ any? Is the kid to have _everything_?”

“Tommy!” said Clare, with a steady look in his eyes that frightened him, “your turn will come next. You won’t die of want for a day or two yet. I’ll see to you as soon as I can. Only, remember, baby comes first! I’m going to leave her with you. You needn’t take her up. You’re not able to carry her. You would let her fall. But if, when I come home, I find anything has happened to her, _I’ll put you in the water-but_–I WILL. And I’ll do it when the moon is in it.”

Tommy pulled a hideous face, and began to yell. Clare seized him by the throat.

“Make that noise again, you rascal, and I’ll choke you. If you’re good to baby while I’m away, I won’t eat a mouthful till you’ve had some; if you’re not good to her, you know what will happen! You’ve got the thing in your own hands!”

“She’ll go an’ do something I can’t help, an’ then you’ll go for to drown me!”

Again he began to howl, but Clare checked him as before. “If you wake her up, I’ll–” He had no words, and shook him for lack of any. “I see,” he resumed, “I shall have to lock you up in the coal-cellar till I come back! Here! come along!”

Tommy was quiet instantly, and fell to pleading. Clare lent a gracious ear, and yielding to Tommy’s protestations, left him with his treasure, and set out on his quest.

He got out through the kitchen, the rustiness of the fastenings of its door delaying him a little, and over the wall by the imprisoned door, taking care to lift as little as possible of his person above the coping as he crossed. He dared not go along the wall in the daylight, or get down in the smith’s yard; he dropped straight to the ground.

The country was level, and casting his eyes about, he saw, at no great distance, what looked like a farmstead. He knew cows were milked early, but did not know what time it was. Hoping anyhow to reach the place before the milk was put away in the pans, he set out to run straight across the fields. But he soon found he could not run, and had to drop into a walk.

When he got into the yard, he saw a young woman carrying a foaming pail of milk across to the dairy. He ran to her, and addressed her with his usual “Please, ma’am;” but the pail was heavy, and she kept on without answering him. Clare followed her, and looking into the dairy, saw an elderly woman.

“Please, ma’am, could you afford me as much fresh milk as would fill that bottle?” he said, showing it.

“Well, my man,” she answered pleasantly, “I think we might venture as far without fear of the workhouse! But what on earth made you bring such a thimble of a bottle as that?”

“I have no money to pay for it, you see, ma’am; and I thought a little bottle would be better to beg with; it wouldn’t be so hard on the farmer!”

“Bless the boy! Much good a drop of milk like that will do him!” said the woman, turning to the girl “Is it for your mother’s tea?”

“No, ma’am; it’s for a baby–a very little baby, ma’am!–I think it will hold enough,” he added, giving an anxious glance at the bottle in his hand, “to keep her alive till I get work.”

The woman looked, and her heart was drawn to the boy who stood gazing at her with his whole solemn, pathetic yet strong face–with his wide, clear eyes, his decided nose, large and straight, his rather long, fine mouth, trembling with eager anxiety, and his confident chin. She saw hunger in his grimy cheeks; she saw that his manners were those of a gentleman, and his clothes poor enough for any tramp, though evidently not made for a tramp. She would have concluded him escaped from cruel guardians, for she was a reader of _The Family Herald_; but that would not account for the baby! The baby did not tally!

“How old’s the baby?” she asked.

“I don’t know, ma’am; she only came to us last night.”

“Who brought her?”

She imagined the boy a simpleton, and expected one of such answers as inconvenient questions in natural history receive from nurses.

“I don’t know, ma’am. I took her out of the water-but.”

The thing grew bewildering.

“Who put her there?”

“I don’t know, ma’am.”

“Whose baby is she, then?”

“Mine, I think, ma’am.”

“God bless the boy!” said the woman impatiently, and stared at him speechless.

Her daughter in the meantime had filled the phial with new milk. She handed it to him. He grasped it eagerly. Tears of joy came in his big hungry eyes.

“Oh, _thank_ you, ma’am!” he said. “But, please, would you tell me,” he continued, looking from the one to the other, “how much water I must put in the milk to make it good for baby? I know it wants water, but I don’t know how much!”

“Oh, about half and half,” answered the elder woman. “‘Ain’t she got no mother?” she resumed.

“I think she must have a mother, but I daresay she’s a tramp,” answered Clare.

“I don’t want to give my good milk to a tramp!” she rejoined.

“_I_’m not a tramp, please, ma’am!–at least I wasn’t till the day before yesterday.”

The woman looked at him out of motherly eyes, and her heart swelled into her bosom.

“Wouldn’t you like some milk yourself?” she said.

“Oh, yes, ma’am!” answered Clare, with a deep sigh.

She filled a big cup from the warm milk in the pail, and held it out to him. He took it as a man on the scaffold might a reprieve from death, half lifted it to his lips, then let his hand sink. It trembled so, as he set the cup down on a shelf beside him, that he spilled a little. He looked ruefully at the drops on the brick floor.

“Please, ma’am, there’s Tommy!” he faltered.

His promise to Tommy had sprung upon him like a fiery flying serpent.

“Tommy! I thought you said the baby was a girl?”

“Yes, the baby’s a girl; but there’s Tommy as well! He’s another of us.”

“Your brother, of course!”

“No, ma’am; I’m afraid he’s a tramp. But there he is, you see, and I must share with him!”

It grew more and more inexplicable!

A gruff, loud voice came from the yard. It was the farmer’s. He was a bitter-tempered man, and his dislike of tramps was almost hatred. His wife and daughter knew that if he saw the boy he would be worse than rude to him.

“There’s the master!” cried the mother. “Drink, and make haste out of his way.”

“If it’s stealing,–” said Clare.

“Stealing! It’s no stealing! The dairy’s mine! I can give my milk where I please!”

“Well, ma’am, if the milk’s mine because you gave it me, it’s not begging to ask you to give me a piece of bread for it! I could take a share of that to Tommy!”

“Run, Chris,” cried the mother, hurriedly; “take the innocent with you–round outside the yard. Give him a hunch of bread, and let him go. For God’s sake don’t let your father see him! Run, my boy, run! There’s no time to drink the milk now!”

She poured it back into the pail, and set the cup out of the way.

There was a little passage and another door, by which they left as the farmer entered. The kick he would have given Clare with his heavy boot would, in its consequences, have reached the baby too. The girl ran with him to the back of the house.

“Wait a moment at that window,” she said.

Now whether it was loving-kindness all, or that she dared not take the time to divide it, I cannot tell, but she handed Clare a whole loaf, and that a good big one, of home-made bread, and disappeared before he could thank her, telling him to run for his life.

He was able now. With the farmer behind, and the hungry ones before him, he _must_ run; and with the phial in his pocket and the loaf in his hands, he _could_ run. Happily the farmer did not catch sight of him. His wife took care he should not. I believe, indeed, she got up a brand-new quarrel with him on the spur of the moment, that he might not have a chance.

Chapter XXVI.

A new entrance.

Clare sped jubilant. But soon came a check to his jubilation: it was one thing to drop from the wall, and quite another to climb to the top of it without the help of the door! The same moment he heard the clink of the smith’s hammer on his anvil, and to go by his yard in daylight would be to risk too much! For what would become of them if their retreat was discovered! He stood at the foot of the brick precipice, and stared up with helpless eyes and failing strength. Baby was inside, hungry, and with no better nurse than ill conditioned Tommy; her milk was in his pocket, Tommy’s bread in his hand, the insurmountable wall between him and them! He had the daylight now, however, and there was hardly any one about: perhaps he could find another entrance! Round the outside of the wall, therefore, like the Midianite in the rather comical hymn, did Clare prowl and prowl. But the wall rose straight and much too smooth wherever he looked. Searching its face he went all along the bottom of the garden, and then up the narrow lane between it and the garden of the next house, with increasing fear that there was no way but by the smith’s yard, and no choice but risk it.

A dozen yards or so, however, from the end of the lane, where it took a sharp turn before entering the street, he spied an opening in the wall–the same from which, the night before, Tommy had returned with such a frightened face. Clare went through, and found a narrow passage running to the left for a short distance between two walls. At the end, half on one side, half on the other of the second wall, lay the well that had terrified Tommy. The wall crossed it with a low arch. On the further side of the well was a third wall, with a space of about two feet and a half between it and the side of the round well. Through that wall there might be a door!–or, if not, there might be some way of getting over it! To cross the well would be awkward, but he must do it! He tied the loaf in his pocket-handkerchief–he was far past fastidiousness, and Tommy knew neither the word nor the thing–and knotted the ends of it round his neck. But his chief anxiety was not to break the bottle in his jacket-pocket. He got on his knees on the parapet. How deep and dark the water looked! For a moment he felt a fear of it something like Tommy’s. How was he to cross the awful gulf? It was not like a free jump; he was hemmed in before and behind, and overhead also. But the baby drew him over the well, as the name of Beatrice drew Dante through the fire. The baby was waiting for him, and it had to be done! He made a cat-leap through beneath the arch, reaching out with his hands and catching at the parapet beyond. He did catch it, just enough of it to hold on by, so that his body did not follow his legs into the water. Oh, how cold they found it after his run! He held on, strained and heaved up, made a great reach across the width of the parapet with one hand, laid hold of its outer edge, made good his grasp on it, and drew himself out of the water, and out of the well.

He was in a narrow space, closed in with walls much higher than his head, out of which he saw no way but that by which he had come in–across the fearful well, that seemed, so dark was its water, to go down and down for ever.

He felt in his pocket. If then he had found baby’s bottle broken, I doubt if Clare would ever have got out of the place, except by the door into the next world. What little strength he had was nearly gone, and I think it would then have gone quite. But the bottle was safe and his courage came back.

He examined his position, and presently saw that the narrowness of his threatened prison would make it no prison at all. He found that, by leaning his back against one wall, pushing his feet against the opposite wall, and making of the third wall a rack for his shoulder, he could worm himself slowly up. It was a task for a strong man, and Clare, though strong for his years, was not at that moment strong. But there was the baby waiting, and here was her milk! He fell to, and, with an agony of exertion, wriggled himself at last to the top–so exhausted that he all but fell over on the other side. He pulled himself together, and dropped at once into, the garden. Happier boy than Clare was not in all England then. Hunger, wet, incipient nakedness, for he had torn his clothes badly, were nowhere. Baby was within his reach, and the milk within baby’s!

He ran, dripping like a spaniel, to find her, and shot up the stair to the room that held his treasure. To his joy he found both Tommy and the baby fast asleep, Tommy tired out with the weary tramping of the day before, and the baby still under the influence of the opiate her mother had given her to make her drown quietly.

Chapter XXVII.

The baby has her breakfast.

He waked Tommy, and showed him the loaf. Tommy sprang from his lair and snatched at it.

“No, Tommy,” said Clare, drawing back, “I can’t trust you! You would eat it all; and if I died of hunger, what would become of baby, left alone with you? I don’t feel at all sure you wouldn’t eat _her_!”

Baby started a feeble whimper.

“You must wait now till I’ve attended to her,” continued Clare. “If you had got up quietly without waking her, I would have given you your share at once.”

As he spoke, he pulled a blanket off the bed to wrap her in, and made haste to take her up. A series of difficulties followed, which I will leave to the imagination of mothers and aunts, and nurses in general–the worst being that there was no warm water to wash her in, and cold water would be worse than dangerous after what she had gone through with it the night before. Clare comforted himself that washing was a thing non-essential to existence, however desirable for well-being.

Then came a more serious difficulty: the milk must be mixed with water, and water as cold as Clare’s legs would kill the drug-dazed shred of humanity! What was to be done? It would be equally dangerous to give her the strong milk of a cow undiluted. There was but one way: he must feed her as do the pigeons. First, however, he must have water! The well was almost inaccessible: to get to it and return would fearfully waste life-precious time! The rain-water in the little pool must serve the necessity! It was preferable to that in the but!

Until many years after, it did not occur to Clare as strange that there should be even a drop of water in that water-but. Whence was it fed? There was no roof near, from which the rain might run into it. If there had ever been a pipe to supply it, surely, in a house so long forsaken, its continuity must have given way One always sees such barrels empty, dry, and cracked: this one was apparently known to be full of water, for what woman in her senses, however inferior those senses, would throw her child into an empty but! How did it happen to be full? Clare was almost driven to the conclusion that it had been filled for the evil purpose to which it was that night put. Against this was the fact that it would not have been easy to fill such a huge vessel by hand. I suggested that the blacksmith and his predecessors might have used it for the purposes of the forge, and kept it and its feeder in repair. Mr. Skymer endeavoured repeatedly to find out what had become of the blacksmith, but never with any approach to success; the probability being that he had left the world long before his natural time, by disease engendered or quarrel occasioned through his drunkenness.

Clare laid the baby down, and fetched water from the pool. Then he mixed the milk with what seemed the right quantity, again took the baby up, who had been whimpering a little now and then all the time, laid a blanket, several times folded, on his wet knees, and laid her in her blanket upon it. These preparations made, he took a small mouthful of the milk and water, and held it until it grew warm. It was the only way, I condescend to remind any such reader as may think it proper to be disgusted. When then he put his mouth to the baby’s, careful not to let too much go at once, they managed so between them that she successfully appropriated the mouthful. It was followed by a second, a third, and more, until, to Clare’s delight, the child seemed satisfied, leaving some of the precious fluid for another meal. He put her in the bed again, and covered her up warm. All the time, Tommy had been watching the loaf with the eyes of a wild beast.

“Now, Tommy,” said Clare, “how much of this loaf do you think you ought to have?”

“Half, of course!” answered Tommy boldly, with perfect conviction of his fairness, and pride in the same.

“Are you as big as I am?”

Tommy held his peace.

“You ain’t half as big!” said Clare.

“I’m a bloomin’ lot hungrier!” growled Tommy.

“You had eggs last night, and I had none!”

“That wurn’t my fault!”

“What did you do to get this bread?”

“I staid at home with baby.”

“That’s true,” answered Clare. “But,” he went on, “suppose a horse and a pony had got to divide their food between them, would the pony have a right to half? Wouldn’t the horse, being bigger, want more to keep him alive than the pony?”

“Don’t know,” said Tommy.

“But you shall have the half,” continued Clare; “only I hope, after this, when you get anything given to you, you’ll divide it with me. I try to be fair, and I want you to be fair.”

Tommy made no reply. He did not trouble himself about fair play; he wanted all he could get–like most people; though, thank God, I know a few far more anxious to give than to receive fair play. Such men, be they noblemen or tradesmen, I worship.

Clare carefully divided the loaf, and after due deliberation, handed Tommy that which seemed the bigger half. Without a word of acknowledgment, Tommy fell upon it like a terrier. He would love Clare in a little while when he had something more to give–but stomach before heart with Tommy! His sort is well represented in every rank. There are not many who can at the same time both love and be hungry.

Chapter XXVIII.

Treachery.

“Now, Tommy,” said Clare, having eaten his half loaf, “I’m going out to look for work, and you must take care of baby. You’re not to feed her–you would only choke her, and waste the good milk.”

“I want to go out too,” said Tommy.

“To see what you can pick up, I suppose?”

“That’s my business.”

“I fancy it mine while you are with me. If you don’t take care of baby and be good to her, I’ll put you in the water-but I took her out of–as sure as you ain’t in it now!”

“That you shan’t!” cried Tommy; “I’ll bite first!”

“I’ll tie your hands and feet, and put a stick in your mouth,” said Clare. “So you’d better mind.”

“I want to go with you!” whimpered Tommy.

“You can’t. You’re to stop and look after baby. I won’t be away longer than I can help; you may be sure of that.”

With repeated injunctions to him not to leave the room, Clare went.

Before going quite, however, he must arrange for returning. To swarm up between the two walls as he had done before, would be to bid good-bye to his jacket at least, and he knew how appearances were already against him. Spying about for whatever might serve his purpose, he caught sight of an old garden-roller, and was making for it, when Tommy, never doubting he was gone, came whistling round the corner of the house with his hands in his pocket-holes, and an impudent air of independence. Clare away, he was a lord in his own eyes! He could kill the baby when he pleased! Plainly his mood was, “He thinks I’m going to do as he tells me! Not if I knows it!” Clare saw him before he saw Clare, and rushed at him with a roar.

“You thought I was gone!” he cried. “I told you not to leave the room! Come along to the water-but!”

Tommy shivered when he heard him, and gave a shriek when he saw him coming. He shook till his teeth chattered. But terror not always paralyzes instinct in the wild animal. As Clare came running, he took one step toward him, and dropped on the ground at his feet. Clare shot away over his head, struck his own against a tree, and lay for a minute stunned. Tommy’s success was greater than he had hoped. He scudded into the house, and closed and bolted the door to the kitchen.

When Clare came to himself, he found he had a cut on his head. It would never do to go asking for work with a bloody face! The little pool served at once for basin and mirror, and while he washed he thought.

He had no inclination to punish Tommy for the trick he had played him; he had but done after his kind! It would serve a good end too: Tommy would imagine him lurking about to have his revenge, and would not venture his nose out. He discovered afterward that the little wretch had made fast the cellar-door, so that, if he had entered that way, he would have been caught in a trap, and unable to go or return.

He got the iron roller to the foot of the wall, where he had come over the night before, and where now first he perceived there had once been a door; managed, with its broken handle for a lever, to set it up on end, filled it with earth, and heaped a mound of earth about it to steady it, placed a few broken tiles and sherds of chimney-pots upon it, and from this rickety perch found he could reach the top easily.

The next thing was to arrange for getting up from the other side. For this he threw over earth and stones and whatever rubbish came to his hand, the sole quality required in his material being, that it should serve to lift him any fraction of an inch higher. The space was so narrow that his mound did not require to be sustained by the width of its base except in one direction; everywhere else the walls kept in the heap, and he made good speed. At length he descended by it, sure of being able to get up again.

He had been gone an hour before Tommy dared again leave the room where the baby was. He had planned what to do if Clare got into it: he would threaten, if he came a step nearer, to kill the baby! But if he had him in the coal-cellar, he would make his own conditions! A tramp would not keep a promise, but Clare would! and until he promised not to touch him, he should not come out–not if he died of hunger!

At length he could bear imprisonment no longer. He opened the room-door with the caution of one who thought a tiger might be lying against it. He saw no one, and crept out with half steps. By slow degrees, interrupted by many an inroad of terror and many a swift retreat, he got down the stair and out into the garden; whence, after closest search, he was at length satisfied his enemy had departed. For a time he was his own master! To one like Tommy–and such are not rare–it is a fine thing to be his own master. But the same person who is the master is the servant–and what a master to serve! Tommy, however, was quite satisfied with both master and servant, for both were himself. What was he to do? Go after something to eat, of course! He would be back long before Clare! He had gone to look for work–and who would give _him_ work? If Tommy were as big as Clare, lots of people would give him work! But catch him working! Not if he knew it!–not Tommy!

Never till she was grown up, never, indeed, until she was a middle-aged woman and Mr. Skymer’s housekeeper, did the baby know in what danger she was that morning, alone with surnameless Tommy.

His first sense of relation to any creature too weak to protect itself, was the consciousness of power to torment that creature. But in this case the exercise of the power brought him into another relation, one with the water-but! He went back to the room where the child lay in her blankets like a human chrysalis, and stood for a moment regarding her with a hatred far from mild: was he actually expected to give time and personal notice to that contemptible thing lying there unable to move? _He_ wasn’t a girl or an old woman! He must go and get something to eat! that was what a man was for! Better twist her neck at once and go!

But he could not forget the water-but–proximate mother of the child. Its idea came sliding into Tommy’s range, grew and grew upon Tommy, came nearer and nearer, until the baby was nowhere, and nothing in the world but the water-but. His consciousness was possessed with it. It was preparing to swallow him in its loathsome deep! All at once it jumped back from him, and stood motionless by the side of the wall. Now was his chance! Now he must mizzle! Not a moment longer would he stop in the same place with the horrible thing!

But the baby! Clare would bring him back and put him in the but! No, he wouldn’t! What harm would come to the brat? She was not able to roll herself off the bed! She could do nothing but go to sleep again! Out he must and would go! He wanted something to eat! He would be in again long before Clare could get back!

He left the room and the house, ran down the garden, scrambled up the door, got on the top of the wall, and dropped into the waste land behind it–nor once thought that the only way back was by the very jaws of the water-but.

Chapter XXIX.

The baker.

Clare went over the wall and the well without a notion of what he was going to do, except look for work. He had eaten half a loaf, and now drew in his cap some water from the well and drank. He felt better than any moment since leaving the farm. He was full of hope.

All his life he had never been other than hopeful. To the human being hope is as natural as hunger; yet how few there are that hope as they hunger! Men are so proud of being small, that one wonders to what pitch their conceit will have arrived by the time they are nothing at all. They are proud that they love but a little, believe less, and hope for nothing. Every fool prides himself on not being such a fool as believe what would make a man of him. For dread of being taken in, he takes himself in ridiculously. The man who keeps on trying to do his duty, finds a brighter and brighter gleam issue, as he walks, from the lantern of his hope.

Clare was just breaking into a song he had heard his mother sing to his sister, when he was checked by the sight of a long skinny mongrel like a hairy worm, that lay cowering and shivering beside a heap of ashes put down for the dust-cart–such a dry hopeless heap that the famished little dog did not care to search it: some little warmth in it, I presume, had kept him near it. Clare’s own indigence made him the more sorry for the indigent, and he felt very sorry for this member of the family; but he had neither work nor alms to give him, therefore strode on. The dog looked wistfully after him, as if recognizing one of his own sort, one that would help him if he could, but did not follow him.

A hundred yards further, Clare came to a baker’s shop. It was the first he felt inclined to enter, and he went in. He did not know it was the shop from whose cart Tommy had pilfered. A thin-faced, bilious-looking, elderly man stood behind the counter.

“Well, boy, what do you want?” he said in a low, sad, severe, but not unkindly voice.

“Please, sir,” answered Clare, “I want something to do, and I thought perhaps you could help me.”

“What can you do?”

“Not much, but I can _try_ to do anything.”

“Have you ever learned to do anything?”

“I’ve been working on a farm for the last six months. Before that I went to school.”

“Why didn’t you go on going to school?”

“Because my father and mother died.”

“What was your father?”

“A parson.”

“Why did you leave the farm?”

“Because they didn’t want me. The mistress didn’t like me.”

“I dare say she had her reasons!”

“I don’t know, sir; she didn’t seem to like anything I did. My mother used to say, ‘Well done, Clare!’ my mistress never said ‘Well done!”‘

“So the farmer sent you away?”

“No, sir; but he boxed my ears for something–I don’t now remember what.”

“I dare say you deserved it!”

“Perhaps I did; I don’t know; he never did it before.”

“If you deserved it, you had no right to run away for that.”

The baker taught in a Sunday-school, and was a good teacher, able to make a class mind him.

“I didn’t run away for that, sir; I ran away because he was tired of me. I couldn’t stay to make him uncomfortable! He had been very kind to me; I fancy it was mistress made him change. I’ve been thinking a good deal about it, and that’s how it looks to me. I’m very sorry not to have him or the creatures any more.”

“What creatures?”

“The bull, and the horses, and the cows, and the pigs–all the creatures about the farm. They were my friends. I shall see them all again somewhere!”

He gave a great sigh.

“What do you mean by that?” asked the baker.

“I hardly know what I mean,” answered Clare.

“When I’m loving anybody I always feel I shall see that person again some time, I don’t know when–somewhere, I don’t know where.”

“That don’t apply to the lower animals; it’s nothing but a foolish imagination,” said the baker.

“But if I love them!” suggested Clare.

“Love a bull, or a horse, or a pig! You can’t!” asserted the baker.

“But I _do_,” rejoined Clare. “I love my father and mother much more than when they were alive!”

“What has that to do with it?” returned the baker.

“That I know I love my father and mother, and I know I love that fierce bull that would always do what I told him, and that dear old horse that was almost past work, and was always ready to do his best.–I’m afraid they’ve killed him by now!” he added, with another sigh.

“But beasts ‘ain’t got souls, and you can’t love them. And if you could, that’s no reason why you should see them again.”

“I _do_ love them, and perhaps they have souls!” rejoined Clare.

“You mustn’t believe that! It’s quite shocking. It’s nowhere in the Bible.”

“Is everything that is not in the Bible shocking, sir?”

“Well, I won’t say that; but you’re not to believe it.”

“I suppose you don’t like animals, sir! Are you afraid of their going to the same place as you when they die?”

“I wouldn’t have a boy about me that held such an unscriptural notion! The Bible says–the spirit of a man that goeth upward, and the spirit of a beast that goeth downward!”

“Is that in the Bible, sir?”

“It is,” answered the baker with satisfaction, thinking he had proved his point.

“I’m so glad!” returned Clare. “I didn’t know there was anything about it in the Bible! Then when I die I shall only have to go down somewhere, and look for them till I find them!”

The baker was silenced for a moment.

“It’s flat atheism!” he cried. “Get out of my shop! What is the world coming to!”

Clare turned and went out.

But though a bilious, the baker was not an unreasonable or unjust man except when what he had been used to believe all his life was contradicted. Clare had not yet shut the door when he repented. He was a good man, though not quite in the secret of the universe. He vaulted over the counter, and opened the door with such a ringing of its appended bell as made heavy-hearted Clare turn before he heard his voice. The long spare white figure appeared on the threshold, framed in the doorway.

“Hi!” it shouted.

Clare went meekly back.

“I’ve just remembered hearing–but mind I _know_ nothing, and pledge myself to nothing—-“

He paused.

“I didn’t say I was _sure_ about it,” returned Clare, thinking he referred to the fate of the animals, “but I fear I’m to blame for not being sure.”

“Come, come!” said the baker, with a twist of his mouth that expressed disgust, “hold your tongue, and listen to me.–I did hear, as I was saying, that Mr. Maidstone, down the town, had one of his errand-boys laid up with scarlet fever. I’ll take you to him, if you like. Perhaps he’ll have you,–though I can’t say you look respectable!”

“I ‘ain’t had much chance since I left home, sir. I had a bit of soap, but—-“

He bethought him that he had better say nothing about his family. Tommy had picked his pocket of the soap the night before, and tried to eat it, and Clare had hidden it away: he wanted it to wash the baby with as soon as he could get some warm water; but when he went to find it to wash his own face, it was gone. He suspected Tommy, but before long he had terrible ground for a different surmise.

“You see, sir,” he resumed, “I had other things to think of. When your tummy’s empty, you don’t think about the rest of you–do you, sir?”

The baker could not remember having ever been more than decently, healthily hungry in his life; and here he had been rough on a well-bred boy too hungry to wash his face! Perhaps the word _one of these little ones_ came to him. He had some regard for him who spoke it, though he did talk more about him on Sundays than obey him in the days between.

“I don’t know, my boy,” he answered. “Would you like a piece of bread?”

“I’m not much in want of it at this moment,” replied Clare, “but I should be greatly obliged if you would let me call for it by and by. You see, sir, when a man has no work, he can’t help having no money!”

“A man!” thought the baker. “God pity you, poor monkey!”

He called to some one to mind the shop, removed his apron and put on a coat, shut the door, and went down the street with Clare.

Chapter XXX.

The draper.

At the shop of a draper and haberdasher, where one might buy almost anything sold, Clare’s new friend stopped and walked in. He asked to see Mr. Maidstone, and a shopman went to fetch him from behind. He came out into the public floor.

“I heard you were in want of a boy, sir,” said the baker, who carried himself as in the presence of a superior; and certainly fine clothes and a gold chain and ring did what they could to make the draper superior to the baker.

“Hm!” said Mr. Maidstone, looking with contempt at Clare.

“I rather liked the look of this poor boy, and ventured to bring him on approval,” continued the baker timidly. “He ain’t much to look at, I confess!”

“Hm!” said the draper again. “He don’t look promising!”

“He don’t. But I think he means performing,” said the baker, with a wan smile.

“Donnow, I’m sure! If he ‘appened to wash his face, I could tell better!”

Clare thought he had washed it pretty well that morning because of his cut, though he had, to be sure, done it without soap, and had been at rather dirty work since!

“He says he’s been too hungry to wash his face,” answered the baker.

“Didn’t ‘ave his ‘ot water in time, I suppose!–Will you answer for him, Mr. Ball?”

“I can’t, Mr. Maidstone–not one way or another. I simply was taken with him. I know nothing about him.”

Here one of the shopmen came up to his master, and said,

“I heard Mr. Ball’s own man yesterday accuse this very boy of taking a loaf from his cart.”

“Yesterday!” thought Clare; “it seems a week ago!”

“Oh! this is the boy, is it?” said the baker. “You see I didn’t know him! All the same, I don’t believe he took the loaf.”

“Indeed I didn’t, sir! Another boy took it who didn’t know better, and I took it from him, and was putting it back on the cart when the man turned round and saw me, and wouldn’t listen to a word I said. But a working-man believed me, and bought the loaf, and gave it between us.”

“A likely story!” said the draper.

“I’ve heard that much,” said the baker, “and I believe it. At least I have no reason to believe my man against him, Mr. Maidstone. That same night I discovered he had been cheating me to a merry tune. I discharged him this morning.”

“Well, he certainly don’t look a respectable boy,” said the draper, who naturally, being all surface himself, could read no deeper than clothes; “but I’m greatly in want of one to carry out parcels, and I don’t mind if I try him. If he do steal anything, he’ll be caught within the hour!”

“Oh, thank you, sir!” said Clare.

“You shall have sixpence a day,” Mr. Maidstone continued, “–not a penny more till I’m sure you’re an honest boy.”

“Thank you, sir,” iterated Clare. “Please may I run home first? I won’t be long. I ‘ain’t got any other clothes, but—-“

“Hold your long tongue. Don’t let me hear it wagging in my establishment. Go and wash your face and hands.” Clare turned to the baker.

“Please, sir,” he said softly, “may I go back with you and get the piece of bread?”

“What! begging already!” cried Mr. Maidstone.

“No, no, sir,” interposed the baker. “I promised him a piece of bread. He did not ask for it.”

The good man was pleased at his success, and began to regard Clare with the favour that springs in the heart of him who has done a good turn to another through a third. Had he helped him out of his own pocket, he might not have been so much pleased. But there had been no loss, and there was no risk! He had beside shown his influence with a superior!

“I am so much obliged to you, sir!” said Clare as they went away together. “I cannot tell you how much!”

He was tempted to open his heart and reveal the fact that three people would live on the sixpence a day which the baker’s kindness had procured him, but prudence was fast coming frontward, and he saw that no one must know that they were in that house! If it were known, they would probably be turned out at once, which would go far to be fatal to them as a family. For, if he had to pay for lodgings, were it no more than the tramps paid Tommy’s grandmother, sixpence a day would not suffice for bare shelter. So he held his tongue.

“Thank me by minding Mr. Maidstone’s interests,” returned his benefactor. “If you don’t do well by him, the blame will come upon me.”

“I will be very careful, sir,” answered Clare, who was too full of honesty to think of being honest; he thought only of minding orders.

They reached the shop; the baker gave him a small loaf, and he hurried home with it The joy in his heart, spread over the days since he left the farm, would have given each a fair amount of gladness.

Taking heed that no one saw him, he darted through the passage to the well, got across it better this time, rushed over the wall like a cat, fell on the other side from the unsteadiness of his potsherds, rose and hurried into the house, with the feeble wail of his baby in his ears.

Chapter XXXI.

An addition to the family.

The door to the kitchen was open: Tommy must be in the garden again! When he reached the nursery, as he called it to himself, he found the baby as he had left her, but moaning and wailing piteously. She looked as if she had cried till she was worn out. He threw down the clothes to take her. A great rat sprang from the bed. On one of the tiny feet the long thin toes were bleeding and raw. The same instant arose a loud scampering and scuffling and squealing in the room. Clare’s heart quivered. He thought it was a whole army of rats. He was not a bit afraid of them himself, but assuredly they were not company for baby! Already they had smelt food in the house, and come in a swarm! What was to be done with the little one? If he stayed at home with her, she must die of hunger; if he left her alone, the rats would eat her! They had begun already! Oh, that wretch, Tommy! Into the water–but he should go!

I hope their friends will not take it ill that, all his life after, Clare felt less kindly disposed toward rats than toward the rest of the creatures of God.

But things were not nearly so bad as Clare thought: the scuffling came from quite another cause. It suddenly ceased, and a sharp scream followed. Clare turned with the baby in his arms. Almost at his feet, gazing up at him, the rat hanging limp from his jaws, stood the little castaway mongrel he had seen in the morning, his eyes flaming, and his tail wagging with wild homage and the delight of presenting the rat to one he would fain make his master.

“You darling!” cried Clare, and meant the dog this time, not the baby. The animal dropped the dead rat at his feet, and glared, and wagged, and looked hunger incarnate, but would not touch the rat until Clare told him to take it. Then he retired with it to a corner, and made a rapid meal of it.

He had seen Clare pass the second time, had doubtless noted that now he carried a loaf, and had followed him in humble hope. Clare was too much occupied with his own joy to perceive him, else he would certainly have given him a little peeling or two from the outside of the bread. But it was decreed that the dog should have the honour of rendering the first service. Clare was not to do _all_ the benevolences.

What a happy day it had been for him! It was a day to be remembered for ever! He had work! he had sixpence a day! he had had a present of milk for the baby, and two presents of bread–one a small, and one a large loaf! And now here was a dog! A dog was more than many meals! The family was four now! A baby, and a dog to take care of the baby!–It was heavenly!

He made haste and gave his baby what milk and water was left. Then he washed her poor torn foot, wrapped it in a pillow-case, for he would not tear anything, and laid her in the bed. Next he cut a good big crust from the loaf and gave it to the dog, who ate it as if the rat were nowhere. The rest he put in a drawer. Then he washed his face and hands–as well as he could without soap. After that, he took the dog, talked to him a little, laid him on the bed beside the baby and talked to him again, telling him plainly, and impressing upon him, that his business was the care of the baby; that he must give himself up to her; that he must watch and tend, and, if needful, fight for the little one. When at length he left him, it was evident to Clare, by the solemnity of the dog’s face, that he understood his duty thoroughly.

Chapter XXXII.

Shop and baby.

Once clear of the well and the wall, Clare set off running like a gaze-hound. Such was the change produced in him by joy and the satisfaction of hope, that when he entered the shop, no one at first knew him. His face was as the face of an angel, and none the less beautiful that it shone above ragged garments. But Mr. Maidstone, the moment he saw him, and before he had time to recognize him, turned from the boy with dislike.

“What a fool the beggar looks!” he said to himself;–then aloud to one of the young men, “Hand over that parcel of sheets.–Here, you!–what’s your name?”

“Clare, sir.”

“I declare against it!” he rejoined, with a coarse laugh of pleasure at his own fancied wit. “I shall call you Jack!”

“Very well, sir!”

“Don’t you talk.–Here, Jack, take this parcel to Mrs. Trueman’s. You’ll see the address on it.–And look sharp.–You can read, can’t you?”

The people in the shop stood looking on, some pitifully, all curiously, for the parcel was of considerable size, and linen is heavy, while the boy looked pale and thin. But Clare was strong for his age, and present joy made up for past want. He scarcely looked at the parcel which the draper proceeded to lay on his shoulder, stooped a little as he felt its weight, heaved it a little to adjust its balance, and holding it in its place with one hand, started for the door, which the master himself held open for him.

“Please, sir, which way do I turn?” he asked.

“To the left,” answered Mr. Maidstone. “Ask your way as you go.”

Clare forgot that he had heard only the lady’s name. Her address was on the parcel, no doubt, but if he dropped it to look, he could not get it up again by himself. A little way on, therefore, meeting a boy about his own age returning from school, he asked him to be kind enough to read the address on his back and direct him. The boy read it aloud, but gave him false instructions for finding the place. Clare walked and walked until the weight became almost unendurable, and at last, though loath, concluded that the boy must have deceived him. He asked again, but this time of a lady. She took pains not only to tell him right, but to make him understand right: she was pleased with the tired gentle face that looked up from beneath the heavy burden. Perhaps she thought of the proud souls growing pure of their pride, in Dante’s _Purgatorio_. Following her directions, he needed no further questioning to find the house. But it was hours after the burden was gone from his shoulder before it was rid of the phantom of its weight.

His master rated him for having been so long, and would not permit him to explain his delay, ordering him to hold his tongue and not answer back; but the rest of his day’s work was lighter; there was no other heavy parcel to send out. There were so many smaller ones, however, that, by the time they were all delivered, he had gained something more than a general idea of how the streets lay, and was a weary wight when, with the four-pence his master hesitated to give him on the ground that he was doubtful of his character, he set out at last, walking soberly enough now, to spend it at Mr. Ball’s and the milk-shop. Of the former he bought a stale three-penny loaf, and the baker added a piece to make up the weight. Clare took this for liberality, and returned hearty thanks, which Mr. Ball, I am sorry to say, was not man enough to repudiate. The other penny he laid out on milk–but oh, how inferior it was to that the farmer’s wife had given him! The milk-woman, however, not ungraciously granted him the two matches he begged for.

On his way to baby, he almost hoped Tommy would not return: he would gladly be saved putting him in the water-but!

He forgot him again as he drew near the nursery, and for a long while after he reached it. He found the infant and the dog lying as he had left them. The only sign that either had moved was the strange cleanness of the tiny gray face which Clare had not ventured to wash. It gave indubitable evidence that the dog had been licking it more than a little–probably every few minutes since he was left curate in charge.

And now Clare did with deliberation a thing for which his sensitive conscience not unfrequently reproached him afterward. His defence was, that he had hurt nobody, and had kept baby alive by it. Having in his mind revolved the matter many a time that day, he got some sticks together from the garden, and with one of the precious matches lighted a small fire of coals that were not his own, and for which he could merely hope one day to restore amends. But baby! Baby was more than coals! He filled a rusty kettle with water, and while it was growing hot on the fire, such was his fear lest the smoke should betray them, that he ran out every other minute to see how much was coming from the chimney.

While the fire was busy heating the water, he was busier preparing a bottle for baby–making a hole through the cork of a phial, putting the broken stem of a clean tobacco pipe he had found in the street through the hole, tying a small lump of cotton wool over the end of the pipe- stem, and covering that with a piece of his pocket-handkerchief, carefully washed with the brown Windsor soap, his mother’s last present. For the day held yet another gladness: in looking for a kettle he had found the soap–which probably the rat had carried away and hidden before finding baby. Through the pipe-stem and the wool and the handkerchief he could without difficulty draw water, and hoped therefore baby would succeed in drawing her supper. As soon as the water was warm he mixed some with the milk, but not so much this time, and put the mixture in the bottle. To his delight, the baby sucked it up splendidly. The bottle, thought out between the heavy linen and the hard street, was a success! Labour is not unfriendly to thought, as the annals of weaving and shoe-making witness.

And now at last was Clare equipped for a great attempt: he was going to wash the baby! He was glad that disrespectful Tommy was not in the house. With a basin of warm water and his precious piece of soap he set about it, and taking much pains washed his treasure perfectly clean. It was a state of bliss in which, up to that moment, I presume, she had never been since her birth. In the process he handled her, if not with all the skill of a nurse, yet with the tenderness of a mother. His chief anxiety was not to hurt, more than could not be helped, the poor little rat-eaten toes. He felt he must wash them, but when in the process she whimpered, it went all through the calves of his legs. When the happy but solicitous task was over, during which the infant had shown the submission of great weakness, he wrapped her in another blanket, and laid her down again. Soothed and comfortable, as probably never soothed or comfortable before, she went to sleep.

As soon as she was out of his arms, he took a piece of bread, and with some of the hot water made a little sop for the dog, which the small hero, whose four legs carried such a long barrel of starvation, ate with undisguised pleasure and thankfulness. For his own supper Clare preferred his bread dry, following it with a fine draught of water from the well.

Then, and not till then, returned the thought–what had Tommy done with himself? Left to himself he was sure to go stealing! He might have been taken in the act! Clare could hardly believe he had actually run away from him. On the other hand, he had left the baby, and knew that if he returned he would be put in the water-but! He might have come to the conclusion that he could do better without Clare, who would not let him steal! It was clear he did not like taking his share in the work of the family, and looking after the baby! Had he been anything of a true boy, Clare would have taken his bread in his hand and gone to look for him; being such as he was, he did not think it necessary. He felt bound to do his best for him if he came back, but he did not feel bound to leave the baby and roam the country to find a boy with whom baby’s life would be in constant danger.

Chapter XXXIII.

A bad penny.

Before Clare had done his thinking, darkness had fallen, and, weary to the very bones, he threw himself on the bed beside the baby. The dog jumped up and laid himself at his feet, as if the place had been his from time immemorial–as it had perhaps been, according to time in dog-land. The many pleasures of that blessed day would have kept Clare awake had they not brought with them so much weariness. He fell fast asleep. Tommy had not had a happy day: he had been found out in evil-doing, had done more evil, and had all the day been in dread of punishment. He did not foresee how ill things would go for him–did not see that a rat had taken his place beside the baby, and that he would not get back before Clare; but the vision of the water-but had often flashed upon his inner eye, and it had not been the bliss of his solitude. He deserted his post in the hope of finding something to eat, and had not had a mouthful of anything but spongy turnip, and dried-up mangel-wurzel, or want-root. If he had been minding his work, he would have had a piece of good bread–so good that he would have wanted more of it, whereas, when he had eaten the turnip and the beetroot, he had cause to wish he had not eaten so much! He had been set upon by boys bigger than himself, and nearly as bad, who, not being hungry, were in want of amusement, and had proceeded to get it out of Tommy, just as Tommy would have got it out of the baby had he dared. They bullied him in a way that would have been to his heart’s content, had he been the bully instead of the bullied. They made him actually wish he had stayed with the baby–and therewith came the thought that it was time to go home if he would get back before Clare. As to what had taken place in the morning, he knew Clare’s forgivingness, and despised him for it. If he found the baby dead, or anything happened to her that he could not cover with lying, it would be time to cut and run in earnest! So the moment he could escape from his tormenters, off went Tommy for home. But as he ran he remembered that there was but one way into the house, and that was by the very lip of the water-but.

Clare woke up suddenly–at a sound which all his life would wake him from the deepest slumber: he thought he heard the whimpering of a child. The baby was fast asleep. Instantly he thought of Tommy. He seemed to see him shut out in the night, and knew at once how it was with him: he had gone out without thinking how he was to get back, and dared not go near the water-but! He jumped out of bed, put on his shoes, and in a minute or two was over the wall and walking along the lane outside of it, to find the deserter.

The moon was not up, and the night was dark, yet he had not looked long before he came upon him, as near the house as he could get, crouching against the wall.

“Tommy!” said Clare softly.

Tommy did not reply. The fear of the water-but was upon him–a fear darker than the night, an evil worse than hunger or cold–and Clare and the water-but were one.

“You needn’t think to hide, Tommy; I see you, you bad boy!” whispered Clare. “After all I said, you ran away and left the baby to the rats! They’ve been biting her horribly–one at least has. You can stay away as long as you like now; I’ve got a better nurse. Good-night!” Tommy gave a great howl.

“Hold your tongue, you rascal!” cried Clare, still in a whisper. “You’ll let the police know where we are!”

“Do let me in, Clare! I’m so ‘ungry and so cold!”

“Then I shall have to put you in the water-but! I said I would!”

“If you don’t promise not to, I’ll go straight to the police. They’ll take the brat from you, and put her in the workhouse!”

Clare thought for a moment whether it would not be right to kill such a traitor. His mind was full of history-tales, and, like Dante, he put treachery in its own place, namely the deepest hell. But with the thought came the words he had said so many times without thinking what they meant–“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us,” and he saw that he was expected to forgive Tommy.

“Tommy, I forgive you,” he said solemnly, “and will be friends with you again; but I have said it, and I was right to say it, and into the water-but you must go! I can’t trust your word now, and I think I shall be able to trust it after that.”

Ere he had finished the words, Tommy lifted up his voice in a most unearthly screech.

Instantly Clare had him by the throat, so that he could not utter a sound.

“Tommy,” he said, “I’m going to let you breathe again, but the moment you make a noise, I’ll choke you as I’m doing now.”

With that he relaxed his hold. But Tommy had paid no heed to what he said, and began a second screech the moment he found passage for it. Immediately he was choked, and after two or three attempts, finally desisted.

“I won’t!” he said.

“You shall, Tommy. You’re going head over in the but. We’re going to it now!”

Tommy threw himself upon the ground and kicked, but dared not scream. It was awful! He would drop right through into the great place where the moon was!

Clare threw him over his shoulder, and found him not half the weight of the parcel of linen. Tommy would have bitten like a weasel, but he feared Clare’s terrible hands. He was on the back of Giant Despair, in the form of one of the best boys in the world. Clare took him round the wall, and over the fence into the blacksmith’s yard. The smithy was quite dark.

“Please, I didn’t mean to do it!” sobbed Tommy from behind him, as Clare bore him steadily up the yard. It was all he could do to say the words, for the thought of what they were approaching sent a scream into his throat every time he parted his lips to speak.

Clare stopped.

“What didn’t you mean to do?” he asked.

“I didn’t mean to leave the baby.”

“How did you do it then?”

“I mean I didn’t mean to stay away so long. I didn’t know how to get back.”

“I told you not to leave her! And you could have got back perfectly, you little coward!”

Tommy shuddered, and said no more. Though hanging over Clare’s back he knew presently, by his stopping, that they had come to the heap. There was only that heap and the wall between him and the water-but! Up and up he felt himself slowly, shakingly carried, and was gathering his breath for a final utterance of agony that should rouse the whole neighbourhood, when Clare, having reached the top, seated himself upon the wall, and Tommy restrained himself in the hope of what a parley might bring. But he sat down only to wheel on the pivot of his spine, as he had seen them do on the counter in the shop, and sit with his legs alongside of the water-but. Then he drew Tommy from his shoulder, in spite of his clinging, and laid him across his knees; and Tommy, divining there were words yet to be said, and hoping to get off with a beating, which he did not mind, remained silent.

“Your hour is come, Tommy!” said Clare. “If you scream, I will drop you in, and hold you only by one leg. If you don’t scream, I will hold you by both legs. If you scream when I take you out, in you go again! I do what I say, Tommy!”

The wretched boy was nearly mad with terror. But now, much as he feared the water, he feared yet more for the moment him in whom lay the power of the water. Clare took him by the heels.

“I’m sorry there’s no moon, as I promised you,” he said; “she won’t come up for my calling. I should have liked you to see where you were going. But if you ain’t an honest boy after this, you shall have another chance; and next time we will wait for the moon!”

With that he lifted Tommy’s legs, holding him by the ankles, and would have shoved his body over the edge of the but into the water. But Tommy clung fast to his knees.

“Leave go, Tommy,” he said, “or I’ll tumble you right in.”

Tommy yielded, his will overcome by a greater fear. Clare let him hang for a moment over the black water, and slowly lowered him. Tommy clung to the side of the but. Clare let go one leg, and taking hold of his hands pulled them away. Tommy’s terror would have burst in a frenzied yell, but the same instant he was down to the neck in the water, and lifted out again. He spluttered and gurgled and tried to scream.