Copyright
George MacDonald.

A Rough Shaking online

. (page 1 of 24)
Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldA Rough Shaking → online text (page 1 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Produced by Distributed Proofreaders







A ROUGH SHAKING

By George MacDonald



Contents.

Chap.
I. How I came to know Clare Skymer
II. With his parents
III. Without his parents
IV. The new family
V. His new home
VI. What did draw out his first smile
VII. Clare and his brothers
VIII. Clare and his human brothers
IX. Clare the defender
X. The black aunt
XI. Clare on the farm
XII. Clare becomes a guardian of the poor
XIII. Clare the vagabond
XIV. Their first helper
XV. Their first host
XVI. On the tramp
XVII. The baker's cart
XVIII. Beating the town
XIX. The blacksmith and his forge
XX. Tommy reconnoitres
XXI. Tommy is found and found out
XXII. The smith in a rage
XXIII. Treasure trove
XXIV. Justifiable burglary
XXV. A new quest
XXVI. A new entrance
XXVII. The baby has her breakfast
XXVIII. Treachery
XXIX. The baker
XXX. The draper
XXXI. An addition to the family
XXXII. Shop and baby
XXXIII. A bad penny
XXXIV. How things went for a time
XXXV. Clare disregards the interests of his employers
XXXVI. The policeman
XXXVII. The magistrate
XXXVIII. The workhouse
XXXIX. Away
XL. Maly
XLI. The caravans
XLII. Nimrod
XLIII. Across country
XLIV. A third mother
XLV. The menagerie
XLVI. The angel of the wild beasts
XLVII. Glum Gunn
XLVIII. The Puma
XLIX. Glum Gunn's revenge
L. Clare seeks help
LI. Clare a true master
LII. Miss Tempest
LIII. The gardener
LIV. The kitchen
LV. The wheel rests for a time
LVI. Strategy
LVII. Ann Shotover
LVIII. Child-talk
LIX. Lovers' walks
LX. The shoe-black
LXI. A walk with consequences
LXII. The cage of the puma
LXIII. The dome of the angels
LXIV. The panther
LXV. At home
LXVI. The end of Clare Skymer's boyhood


Illustrations.

Clare, Tommy, and the baby in custody
Mrs. Porson finds Clare by the side of his dead mother
Clare is heard talking to Maly
Clare makes friends during Mr. Porson's absence
The blacksmith gives Clare and Tommy a rough greeting
Clare and Abdiel at the locked pump
Clare proceeds to untie the ropes from the ring in the bull's nose
Clare finds the advantage of a powerful friend
The gardener's discomfiture
Clare asks Miss Shotover to let him carry Ann home
Clare is found giving the shoeblack a lesson
Clare asleep in the puma's cage



Dedicated to my great-nephew, Norman MacKay Binney, aged seven,
because his Godfather and Godmother love him dearly.

Hampstead, August 26, 1890.




A ROUGH SHAKING.



Chapter I.

How I Came to know Clare Skymer.


It was a day when everything around seemed almost perfect: everything
does, now and then, come nearly right for a moment or two, preparatory
to coming all right for good at the last. It was the third week in
June. The great furnace was glowing and shining in full force, driving
the ship of our life at her best speed through the ocean of space. For
on deck, and between decks, and aloft, there is so much more going on
at one time than at another, that I may well say she was then going at
her best speed, for there is quality as well as rate in motion. The
trees were all well clothed, most of them in their very best. Their
garments were soaking up the light and the heat, and the wind was
going about among them, telling now one and now another, that all was
well, and getting through an immense amount of comfort-work in a
single minute. It said a word or two to myself as often as it passed
me, and made me happier than any boy I know just at present, for I was
an old man, and ought to be more easily made happy than any mere
beginner.

I was walking through the thin edge of a little wood of big trees,
with a slope of green on my left stretching away into the sunny
distance, and the shadows of the trees on my right lying below my
feet. The earth and the grass and the trees and the air were together
weaving a harmony, and the birds were leading the big orchestra - which
was indeed on the largest scale. For the instruments were so
different, that some of them only were meant for sound; the part of
others was in odour, of others yet in shine, and of still others in
motion; while the birds turned it all as nearly into words as they
could. Presently, to complete the score, I heard the tones of a man's
voice, both strong and sweet. It was talking to some one in a way I
could not understand. I do not mean I could not understand the words:
I was too far off even to hear them; but I could not understand how
the voice came to be so modulated. It was deep, soft, and musical,
with something like coaxing in it, and something of tenderness, and
the intent of it puzzled me. For I could not conjecture from it the
age, or sex, or relation, or kind of the person to whom the words were
spoken. You can tell by the voice when a man is talking to himself; it
ought to be evident when he is talking to a woman; and you can,
surely, tell when he is talking to a child; you could tell if he were
speaking to him who made him; and you would be pretty certain if he
was holding communication with his dog: it made me feel strange that I
could not tell the kind of ear open to the gentle manly voice saying
things which the very sound of them made me long to hear. I confess to
hurrying my pace a little, but I trust with no improper curiosity, to
see - I cannot say the interlocutors, for I had heard, and still heard,
only one voice.

About a minute's walk brought me to the corner of the wood where it
stopped abruptly, giving way to a field of beautiful grass; and then I
saw something it does not need to be old to be delighted withal: the
boy that would not have taken pleasure in it, I should count half-way
to the gallows. Up to the edge of the wood came, I say, a large
field - acres on acres of the sweetest grass; and dividing it from both
wood and path stood a fence of three bars, which at the moment
separated two as genuine lovers as ever wall of "stones with lime and
hair knit up" could have sundered. On one side of the fence stood a
man whose face I could not see, and on the other one of the loveliest
horses I had ever set eyes upon. I am no better than a middling fair
horseman, but, for this horse's sake, I may be allowed to mention that
my friends will all have me look at any horse they think of buying.
He was over sixteen hands, with well rounded barrel, clean limbs,
small head, and broad muzzle; hollows above his eyes of hazy blue, and
delicacy of feature, revealed him quite an old horse. His ears pointed
forward and downward, as if they wanted on their own account to get a
hold of the man the nose was so busily caressing. Neither, I presume,
had heard my approach; for all true-love-endearments are shy, and the
man had his arm round the horse's neck, and was caressing his face,
talking to him much as Philip Sidney's lady, whose lips "seemed at
once to kiss and speak," murmured to her pet sparrow, only here the
voice was a musical baritone. That there was something between them
more than an ordinary person would be likely to understand appeared
patent.

Whether or not I made an involuntary sound I cannot tell: I was so
taken with the sight, bearing to me an aspect of something eternal,
that I do not know how I carried myself; but the horse gave a little
start, half lifted his head, saw me, threw it up, uttered a shrill
neigh of warning, stepped hack a pace, and stood motionless, waiting
apparently for an order from his master - if indeed I ought not rather
to call them friends than master and servant.

The man looked round, saw me, turned toward me, and showing no sign
that my appearance was unexpected, lifted his hat with a courtesy most
Englishmen would reserve for a lady, and advanced a step, almost as if
to welcome a guest. I may have owed something of this reception to the
fact that he saw before him a man advanced in years, for my beard is
very gray, and that by no means prematurely. I saw before me one
nearly, if not quite as old as myself. His hair and beard, both rather
long, were quite white. His face was wonderfully handsome, with the
stillness of a summer sea upon it. Its features were very marked and
regular and fine, for the habit of the man was rather spare. What with
his white hair and beard, and a certain radiance in his pale
complexion, which, I learned afterward, no sun had ever more than
browned a little, he reminded me for a moment as he turned, of Cato on
the shore of Dante's purgatorial island.

"I fear," I said, "I have intruded!" There was no path where I had
come along.

The man laughed - and his laugh was more friendly than an invitation to
dinner.

"The land is mine," he answered; "no one can say you intrude."

"Thank you heartily. I live not very far off, and know the country
pretty well, but have got into a part of which I am ignorant."

"You are welcome to go where you will on my property," he answered.
"I could not close a field without some sense of having thrown a
fellow-being into a dungeon. Whatever be the rights of land, space can
belong to the individual only '_as it were_,' to use a Shakspere-phrase.
All the best things have to be shared. The house plainly was designed
for a family."

While he spoke I scarce heeded his words for looking at the man, so
much he interested me. His face was of the palest health, with a faint
light from within. He looked about sixty years of age. His forehead
was square, and his head rather small, but beautifully modelled; his
eyes were of a light hazel, friendly as those of a celestial
dog. Though slender in build, he looked strong, and every movement
denoted activity.

I was not ready with an answer to what he said. He turned from me, and
as if to introduce a companion and so render the interview easier, he
called, in tone as gentle as if he spoke to a child, but with that
peculiar intonation that had let me understand it was not to a child
he was speaking, "Memnon! come;" and turned again to me. His movement
and words directed my attention again to the horse, who had stood
motionless. At once, but without sign of haste, the animal walked up
to the rails, rose gently on his hind legs, came over without
touching, walked up to his master, and laid his head on his shoulder.

I bethought me now who the man was. He had been but a year or two in
the neighbourhood, though the property on which we now stood had been
his own for a good many years. Some said he had bought it; others knew
he had inherited it. All agreed he was a very peculiar person, with
ways so oddly unreasonable that it was evident he had, in his
wanderings over the face of the earth, gradually lost hold of what
sense he might at one time have possessed, and was in consequence a
good deal cracked. There seemed nothing, however, in his behaviour or
appearance to suggest such a conclusion: a man could hardly be counted
beside himself because he was on terms of friendship with his
horse. It took me but a moment to recall his name - Skymer - one odd
enough to assist the memory. I caught it ere he had done mingling
fresh caresses with those of his long-tailed friend. When I came to
know him better, I knew that he had thus given me opportunity - such as
he would to a horse - of thinking whether I should like to know him
better: Mr. Skymer's way was not to offer himself, but to give easy
opportunity to any who might wish to know him. I learned afterward
that he knew my name and suspected my person: being rather prejudiced
in my favour because of the kind of thing I wrote, he was now waiting
to see whether approximation would follow.

"Pardon my rude lingering," I said; "that lovely animal is enough to
make one desire nearer acquaintance with his owner. I don't think I
ever saw such a perfect creature!"

I remembered the next moment that I had heard said of Mr. Skymer that
he liked beasts better than men, but I soon found this was only one of
the foolish things constantly said of honest men by those who do not
understand them.

There are women even who love dogs and dislike children; but, nauseous
fact as this is, it is not so nauseous as the fact that there are men
who believe in no animal rights, or in any God of the animals, and
think we may do what we please with them, indulging at their cost an
insane thirst after knowledge. Injustice may discover facts, but never
truth.

"I grant him nearly a perfect creature," he answered, "But he is far
more nearly perfect than you yet know him! Excuse me for speaking so
confidently; but if we were half as far on for men, as Memnon is for a
horse, the kingdom of heaven would be a good deal nearer!"

"He seems an old horse!"

"He is an old horse - much older than you can think after seeing him
come over that paling as he did. He is forty."

"Is it possible!"

"I know and can prove his age as certainly as my own. He is the son of
an Arab mare and an English thoroughbred. - Come here, Memnon!"

The horse, who had been standing behind like a servant in waiting, put
his beautiful head over his master's shoulder.

"Memnon," said Mr. Skymer, "go home and tell Mrs. Waterhouse I hope to
bring a gentleman with me to lunch."

The horse walked gently past us, then started at a quick trot, which
almost immediately became a gallop.

"The dear fellow," said his master, "would not gallop like that if he
were on the hard road; he knows I would not like it."

"But, excuse me, how can the animal convey your message? - how
communicate what he knows, if he does understand what you say to him?"

"He will at least take care that the housekeeper look in his mane for
the knot which perhaps you did not observe me tie in it."

"You have a code of signals by knots then?"

"Yes - comprising about half a dozen possibilities. - I hope you do not
object to the message I sent! You will do me the honour of lunching
with me?"

"You are most kind," I answered - with a little hesitation, I suppose,
fearing to bore my new acquaintance.

"Don't make me false to horse and housekeeper, Mr. Gowrie," he
resumed. - "I put the horse first, because I could more easily explain
the thing to Mrs. Waterhouse than to Memnon."

"Could you explain it to Memnon?"

"I should have a try!" he answered, with a peculiar smile.

"You hold yourself bound then to keep faith with your horse?"

"Bound just as with a man - that is, as far as the horse can understand
me. A word understood is binding, whether spoken to horse, or man, or
pig. It makes it the more important that we can do so little, must
work so slowly, for the education of the lower animals. It seems to me
an absolute horror that a man should lie to an inferior creature. Just
think - if an angel were to lie to us! What a shock to find we had been
reposing faith in a devil."

"Excuse me - I thought you said _an angel_!"

"When he lied, would he not be a devil? - But let us follow Memnon, and
as we walk I will tell you more about him."

He turned to the wood.

"The horse," I said, pointing, "went that way!"

"Yes," answered his master; "he knew it was nearer for him to take the
long way round. If I had started him and one of the dogs together, the
horse would have gone that way, and the dog taken the path we are now
following."

We walked a score or two of yards in silence.

"You promised to tell me more about your wonderful horse!" I said.

"With pleasure. I delight in talking about my poor brothers and
sisters! Most of them are only savages yet, but there would be far
fewer such if we did not treat them as slaves instead of friends. One
day, however, all will be well for them as for us - thank God."

"I hope so," I responded heartily. "But please tell me," I said,
"something more about your Memnon."

Mr. Skymer thought for a moment.

"Perhaps, after all," he rejoined, "his best accomplishment is that he
can fetch and carry like a dog. I will tell you one of his feats that
way. But first you must know that, having travelled a good deal, and
in some wild countries, I have picked up things it is well to know,
even if not the best of their kind. A man may fail by not knowing the
second best! I was once out on Memnon, five and twenty miles from
home, when I came to a cottage where I found a woman lying ill. I saw
what was wanted. The country was strange to me, and I could not have
found a doctor. I wrote a little pencil-note, fastened it to the
saddle, and told the horse to go home and bring me what the
housekeeper gave him - and not to spare himself. He went off at a
steady trot of ten or twelve miles an hour. I went into the cottage,
and, awaiting his return, did what I could for the woman. I confess I
felt anxious!"

"You well might," I said: "why should you say _confess_?"

"Because I had no business to be anxious."

"It was your business to do all for her you could."

"I was doing that! If I hadn't been, I should have had good cause to
be anxious! But I knew that another was looking after her; and to be
anxious was to meddle with his part!"

"I see now," I answered, and said nothing more for some time.

"What a lather poor Memnon came back in! You should have seen him! He
had been gone nearly five hours, and neither time nor distance
accounted for the state he was in. I did not let him do anything for a
week. I should have had to sit up with him that night, if I had not
been sitting up at any rate. The poor fellow had been caught, and had
made his escape. His bridle was broken, and there were several long
skin wounds in his belly, as if he had scraped the top of a wall set
with bits of glass. How far he had galloped, there was no telling."

"Not in vain, I hope! The poor woman?"

"She recovered. The medicine was all right in a pocket under the flap
of the saddle. Before morning she was much better, and lived many
years after. Memnon and I did not lose sight of her. - But you should
have seen the huge creature lying on the floor of that cabin like a
worn-out dog, abandoned and content! I rubbed him down carefully, as
well as I could, and tied my poncho round him, before I let him go to
sleep. Then as soon as my patient seemed quieted for the night, I made
up a big fire of her peats, and they slept like two babies, only they
both snored. - The woman beat," he added with a merry laugh. "It was
the first, almost the only time I ever heard a horse snore. - As we
walked home next day he kept steadily behind me. In general we walked
side by side. Either he felt too tired to talk to me, or he was not
satisfied with himself because of something that had happened the day
before. Perhaps he had been careless, and so allowed himself to be
taken. I do not think it likely."

"What a loss it will be to you when he dies!" I said.

He looked grave for an instant, then replied cheerfully -

"Of course I shall miss the dear fellow - but not more than he will
miss me; and it will be good for us both."

"Then," said I, - a little startled, I confess, "you really think - "
and there I stopped.

"Do _you_ think, Mr. Gowrie," he rejoined, answering my unpropounded
question, "that a God like Jesus Christ, would invent such a delight
for his children as the society and love of animals, and then let
death part them for ever? I don't."

"I am heartily willing to be your disciple in the matter," I replied.

"I know well," he resumed, "the vulgar laugh that serves the poor
public for sufficient answer to anything, and the common-place retort:
'You can't give a shadow of proof for your theory!' - to which I
answer, 'I never was the fool to imagine I could; but as surely as you
go to bed at night expecting to rise again in the morning, so surely
do I expect to see my dear old Memnon again when I wake from what so
many Christians call the sleep that knows no waking.' - Think,
Mr. Gowrie, just think of all the children in heaven - what a
superabounding joy the creatures would be to them! - There is one
class, however," he went on, "which I should like to see wait a while
before they got their creatures back; - I mean those foolish women who,
for their own pleasure, so spoil their dogs that they make other
people hate them, doing their best to keep them from rising in the
scale of God's creation."

"They don't know better!" I said. For every time he stopped, I wanted
to hear what he would say next.

"True," he answered; "but how much do they want to know the right way
of anything? They have good and lovely instincts - like their dogs, but
do they care that there is a right way and a wrong way of following
them?"

We walked in silence, and were now coming near the other side of the
small wood.

"I hope I shall not interfere with your plans for the day!" I said.

"I seldom have any plans for the day," he answered. "Or if I have,
they are made to break easily. In general I wait. The hour brings its
plans with it - comes itself to tell me what is wanted of me. It has
done so now. And see, there is Memnon again in attendance on us!"

There, sure enough, was the horse, on the other side of the paling
that here fenced the wood from a well-kept country-road. His long neck
was stretched over it toward his master.

"Memnon," said Mr. Skymer as we issued by the gate, "I want you to
carry this gentleman home."

I had often enough in my youth ridden without a saddle, but seldom
indeed without some sort of bridle, however inadequate: I did not, at
the first thought of the thing, relish mounting without one a horse of
which all I knew was that he and his master were on better terms than
I had ever seen man and horse upon before. But even while the thought
was passing through my head, Memnon was lying at my feet, flat as his
equine rotundity would permit. Ashamed of my doubt, I lost not a
moment in placing myself in the position suggested by Sir John
Falstaff to Prince Hal for the defence of his own bulky
carcase - astride the body of the animal, namely. At once he rose and
lifted me into the natural relation of man and horse. Then he looked
round at his master, and they set off at a leisurely pace.

"You have me captive!" I said.

"Memnon and I," answered Mr. Skymer, "will do what we can to make your
captivity pleasant."

A silence followed my thanks. In this procession of horse and foot, we
went about half a mile ere anything more was said worth setting
down. Then began evidence that we were drawing nigh to a house: the
grassy lane between hedges in which we had been moving, was gradually
changing its character. First came trees in the hedge-rows. Then the
hedges gave way to trees - a grand avenue of splendid elms and beeches
alternated. The ground under our feet was the loveliest sward, and
between us and the sun came the sweetest shadow. A glad heave but
instant subsidence of the live power under me, let me know Memnon's
delight at feeling the soft elastic turf under his feet: he had said
to himself, "Now we shall have a gallop!" but immediately checked the
thought with the reflection that he was no longer a colt ignorant of
manners.

"What a lovely road the turf makes!" I said. "It is a lower
sky - solidified for feet that are not yet angelic."

My host looked up with a brighter smile than he had shown before.

"It is the only kind of road I really like," he said, " - though turf
has its disadvantages! I have as much of it about the place as it will
bear. Such roads won't do for carriages!"

"You ride a good deal, I suppose?"

"I do. I was at one time so accustomed to horseback that, without
thinking, I was not aware whether I was on my horse's feet or my own."

"Where, may I ask, does my friend who is now doing me the favour to
carry 'this weight and size,' come from?"

"He was born in England, but his mother was a Syrian - of one of the
oldest breeds there known. He was born into my arms, and for a week
never touched the ground. Next month, as I think I mentioned, he will
be forty years old!"

"It is a great age for a horse!" I said.

"The more the shame as well as the pity!" he answered.

"Then you think horses might live longer?"

"Much longer than they are allowed to live in this country," he
answered. "And a part of our punishment is that we do not know
them. We treat them so selfishly that they do not live long enough to
become our friends. At present there are but few men worthy of their
friendship. What else is a man's admiration, when it is without love
or respect or justice, but a bitter form of despite! It is small
wonder there should be so many stupid horses, when they receive so
little education, have such bad associates, and die so much too young
to have gained any ripe experience to transmit to their



Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldA Rough Shaking → online text (page 1 of 24)