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it takes the mind of Christ to do it anywhere.

Behind the bear, closing the procession, came a stoutish,
good-tempered-looking man, in a small spring-cart, drawn by a small
pony: he was the earthly owner of that caged life, with all its
gathered discomforts. Clare lifted his cap as he passed him - a
politeness of which the man took no notice, because the boy was
ragged. The moment he was past, Clare fell in behind as one of the
procession. He was prudent enough, however, not to go so near as to
look intrusive.

When he had followed thus for a mile or two, he saw, by signs patent
to every wanderer, that they were coming near a town. Before reaching
it, however, they arrived at a spot where the hedges receded from the
road, leaving a little green sward on the sides of it, and there the
long line came to a halt.

The menagerie had, the day before, been exhibited at a fair, and was
now on its way to another, to be held the next day in the town they
were approaching: they had made the halt in order to prepare their
entrance. To let a part of their treasure be seen, was the best way to
rouse desire after what was yet hidden: they were going, therefore, to
take out an animal or two more to walk in parade. Clare sat down at a
little distance, and wondered what was coming next.

Experience of tramps had made the men suspicious, and it may be they
disliked having their proceedings watched by anybody; but, happily for
Clare, it was the master himself who came up to him, not without
something of menace in his bearing. The boy was never afraid, and hope
started up full grown as the man approached. He rose and took off his
cap - a very ready action with Clare, which sprung from pure
politeness, and from nothing either selfish or cringing. But the man
put his own interpretation on the civility.

"What are you hanging about here for?" he said rudely.

Now Clare had a perfect right to answer, had he so pleased, that he
was on the king's highway, where no one had a right to interfere with
him. But he had the habit - he could not help it; it was natural to
him - of thinking first of the other party's side of a question - a rare
gift, which served him better than he knew. For the other may be in
the right, and it is an ugly thing to interfere with any man's right;
while a man's own rights are never so much good to him as when he
waives them.

"I beg your pardon, sir," he said; "I did not understand you wished to
be alone. I never thought you would mind me. Will it be far enough if
I go just out of sight, for I am very tired? It is pleasant, besides,
to know there are friends near!"

The man recognized in Clare the modes and speech of a gentleman; and
having, in the course of his wandering life, seen and known a good
many strange things, he suspected under the rags a history. But he was
not interested enough to stop and inquire into it.

"Never mind," he said, in altered tone; "I see you're after no
mischief!" and with that walked away, leaving Clare to do as he
pleased.

A few minutes more went by. Clare sat hungry and sleepy on the grass
by the roadside. Before he knew, he was on his feet, startled by a
terrible noise. The lion had opened his great jaws, and his brown
leathery sides, working like a pair of bellows, had sent from his
throat a huge blast, half roar, half howl. When Clare came to himself
he knew, though he had never heard it before, that the fearful sound
was the voice of the lion. He did not know that all it meant was, that
his majesty had thought of his dinner. It was not indeed much more
than an audible gape. He stood for a moment, not at all terrified, but
half expecting to see a huge yellow animal burst out of one of the
caravans - he could not guess which: the roar was much too loud to
indicate one rather than another. He sat down again, but was not any
longer inclined to sleep. For a time, however, no second roar came
from the ribs of the captive monarch.



Chapter XLII.

Nimrod.


That there had been a fair not far off will partly account for what
follows. As Clare sat resting, which was all he could do, with sleep
fled and food nowhere, a roar of a different kind invaded his ears. It
came along the road this time, not from the caravans. He looked, and
spied what would have brought the heart into the throat of many a
grown man. Away on the road, in the direction whence the menagerie had
come, he saw a cloud of dust and a confused struggle, presently
resolved into two men, each at the end of a rope, and an animal
between them attached to the ropes by a ring in his nose. It was a
bull, in terrible excitement, bounding this way and that, dragging and
driving the men - doing his best in fact to break away, now from the
one of them, now from the other, and now from both at once. It must
have tortured him to pull those strong men by the cartilage of his
nose, but he was in too great a rage to feel it much. Every other
moment his hoofs would be higher than his head, and again hoofs and
head and horns would be scraping the ground in a fruitless rush to
send one of his tormentors into space beyond the ken of bulls. With
swift divergence, like a scenting hound, he twisted and shot his huge
body. The question between men and bull seemed one of endurance.

The pale-faced boy, though full of interest in the strife, yet having
had no food that day, was not in sufficient spirits to run and meet
the animal whirlwind, so as to watch closer its chances; but the
struggle came at length near enough for him to follow almost every
detail of it: he could see the bloody foam drip from the poor beast's
nostrils. When about fifty yards away, the bull, by a sudden twist,
wrenched the rope from the hands of one of the men. He fell on his
back. The other dropped his rope and fled. The bull came scouring down
the highway.

A second roar, as of muffled thunder, issued from the leathery flanks
of the lion. The bull made a sudden stop, scoring up the ground with
his hoofs. It seemed as if in full career he started back. Then down
went his head, and like a black flash, its accompanying thunder a
bellow of defiant contempt and wrath, he charged one of the
caravans. He had taken the hungry lion's roar for a challenge to
combat. It was nothing to the bull that the voice was that of an
unknown monster; he was ready for whatever the monster might prove.

The men busy about the caravans and wagons, caught sight of him
coming, and in the first moment of terror at a beast to which they
were not accustomed, bolted for refuge behind or upon them: they would
sooner have encountered their tiger broke loose. The same moment, with
astounding shock, the head of the bull went crack against the near
hind-wheel of the caravan in whose shafts stood the elephant,
patiently waiting orders. The bull had not caught sight of the
elephant, or he would doubtless have "gone for" him, not the
caravan. His ear, finer than Clare's, must have distinguished whence
the roar proceeded: in that caravan, sure enough, was the lion, with
the rest of the great cats. He answered the blow of the bull's head
with a roar thunderously different from his late sleepy leonine
sigh. It roused every creature in the menagerie. From the greatest to
the smallest each took up its cry. Out burst a tornado of terrific
sound, filling with horror the quiet noontide. The roaring and yelling
of lion, tiger, and leopard, the laughter of hyena, the howling of
jackal, and the snarling of bear, mingled in hideous dissonance with
the cries of monkeys and parrots; while certain strange gurgles made
Clare's heart, lover of animals though he was, quiver, and his blood
creep. The same instant, however, he woke to the sense that he might
do something: he ran to the caravans.

By this time the men, master and all, fully roused to the far worse
that might follow the attack of the bull, had caught up what weapons
were at hand, and rushed to repel the animal For more than one or two
of them it might have proved a fatal encounter, but that the enraged
beast had entangled his horns in the spokes and rim of the wheel. In
terror of what might be approaching him from behind, he was struggling
wildly to extricate them. Peril upon peril! What if in the contortions
of his mighty muscles he pulled off the wheel, and the carriage
toppled over, every cage in it so twisted and wrenched that the
bearings of its iron bars gave way! The results were too terrible to
ponder! This way and that, and every way at once, he was writhing and
pushing and prising and dragging. The elephant turned the shafts
slowly round to see what was the matter behind. If the bull and the
elephant yoked to the caravan came to loggerheads, ruin was
inevitable. The master thought whether he had not better loose the
elephant while the bull was yet entangled by the horns. With one blow
of his trunk he would break the ruffian's back and end the affray! It
were good even, if one knew how, to loose the wicked-looking horns:
the brute's struggles to free them were more dangerous far than could
be the horns themselves!

While he hesitated, Clare came running up, with Abdiel at his heels
ready as any hornet to fly at bull or elephant, let his master only
speak the word. But the moment Clare saw how the bull's horns were
mixed up with the spokes and fellies of the wheel, a glad suspicion
flashed across him: that was old Nimrod's way! could it be Nimrod
himself? If it were, the trouble was as good as over! The suspicion
became a certainty the instant it woke. But never could Clare
altogether forgive himself for not at first sight recognizing his old
friend. I believe myself that hunger was to blame, and not Clare.

The men stood about the animal, uncertain what to do, as he struggled
with his horns, and heaved and tore at the wheel to get them out of
it, the roars and howls and inarticulate curses going on all the
time. The elephant must have been tired, to stand so and do nothing!
For a moment Clare could not get near enough. He was afraid to call
him while the bull could not see him: Nimrod might but struggle the
more, in order to get to him!

Up rushed a fellow, white with rage and running, bang into the middle
of the spectators, and shook the knot of them asunder. It was one of
the two men from whom Nimrod had broken. He had a pitchfork in his
hands which he proceeded to level. Clare flung his weight against him,
threw up his fork, shoved him aside, and got close to the maddened
animal. It was his past come again! How often had he not interfered to
protect Nimrod - and his would-be masters also! With instinctive,
unconscious authority, he held up his hand to the little crowd.

"Leave him alone," he cried. "I know him; I can manage him! Please do
not interfere. He is an old friend of mine."

They saw that the bull was already still: he had recognized the boy's
voice! They kept his furious attendant back, and looked on in anxious
hope while Clare went up to the animal.

"Nimrod!" he whispered, laying a hand on one of the creature's horns,
and his cheek against his neck.

Nimrod stood like a bull in bronze.

"I'm going to get your horns out, Nimrod," murmured Clare, and laid
hold of the other with a firm grasp. "You must let me do as I like,
you know, Nimrod!"

His voice evidently soothed the bull.

By the horns Clare turned his head now one way, now another, Nimrod
not once resisting push or pull. In a moment more he would have them
clear, for one of them was already free. Holding on to the latter,
Clare turned to the bystanders.

"You mustn't touch him," he said, "or I won't answer for him. And you
mustn't let either of those men there" - for the second of Nimrod's
attendants had by this time come up - "interfere with him or me. They
let him go because they couldn't manage him. He can't bear them; and
if he were to break loose from them again, it might be quite another
affair! Then he might distrust me!"

The menagerie men turned, and looking saw that the man with the
pitchfork had revenge in his heart. They gave him to understand that
he must mind what he was about, or it would be the worse for him. The
man scowled and said nothing.

Clare gently released the other horn, but kept his hold of the first,
moving the creature's head by it, this way and that. A moment more and
he turned his face to the company, which had scattered a little. When
the inflamed eyes of Nimrod came into view, they scattered wider.
Clare still made the bull feel his hand on his horn, and kept speaking
to him gently and lovingly. Nimrod eyed his enemies, for such plainly
he counted them, as if he wished he were a lion that he might eat as
well as kill them. At the same time he seemed to regard them with
triumph, saying in his big heart, "Ha! ha! you did not know what a
friend I had! Here he is, come in the nick of time! I thought he
would!" Clare proceeded to untie the ropes from the ring in his
nose. The man with the pitchfork interfered.

"That wonnot do!" he said, and laid his hand on Clare's arm. "Would
you send him ramping over the country, and never a hold to have on
him?"

"It wasn't much good when you had a hold on him - was it now?" returned
the boy. "Where do you want to take him?"

"That's my business," answered the man sulkily.

"I fancy you'll find it's mine!" returned Clare. "But there he is!
Take him."

The man hesitated.

"Then leave me to manage him," said Clare.

A murmur of approbation arose. The caravan people felt he knew what he
was saying. They believed he had power with the bull.

While yet he was untying the first of the ropes from the animal's
bleeding nostrils, Clare's fingers all at once refused further
obedience, his eyes grew dim, and he fell senseless at the bull's
feet.

"Don't tell Nimrod!" he murmured as he fell.

"Oh, that explains it!" cried the man with the pitchfork to his
mate. "He knows the cursed brute!" For Clare had hitherto spoken his
name to the bull as if it were a secret between them.

Neither had the sense to perceive that the explanation lay in the
bull's knowing Clare, not in Clare's knowing the bull. They made haste
to lay hold of the ropes. Nimrod stood motionless, looking down on his
friend, now and then snuffing at the pale face, which the
thorough-bred mongrel, Abdiel, kept licking continuously. Noses of
bull and dog met without offence on the loved human countenance. But
had the men let the bull feel the ropes, that moment he would have
been raging like a demon.

The men of the caravan, admiring both Clare's influence over the
animal and his management of him, grateful also for what he had done
for them, hastened to his help. When they had got him to take a little
brandy, he sat up with a wan smile, but presently fell sideways on his
elbow, and so to the ground again.

"It's nothing," he murmured; "it's only I'm rather hungry."

"Poor boy!" said a woman, who had followed her brandy from the
house-caravan, afraid it might disappear in occult directions, "when
did you have your last feed?"

She stood looking down on the white face, almost between the fore-feet
of the bull.

"I had a piece of bread yesterday afternoon, ma'am," faltered Clare,
trying to look up at her.

"Bless my soul!" she cried, "who's been a murderin' of you, child?"

She thought he was in company with the two men; and they had been
ill-treating him.

"I can't get any work, ma'am, so I don't want much to eat. Now I think
of it, I believe it was the gladness of seeing an old friend again,
and not the hunger, that made me feel so queer all at once."

"Where's your friend?" she asked, looking round the assembly.

"There he is!" answered Clare, putting up his hand, and stroking the
big nose that was right over his face.

"Couldn't you rise now?" said the woman, after a moment's silent
regard of him.

"I'll try, ma'am; I don't feel quite sure."

"I want you to come into the house, and have a good square meal."

"If you would be so kind, ma'am, as let me have a bit of bread here!
Nimrod would not like me to leave him. He loves me, ma'am, and if I
went away, he might be troublesome. Those men will never do anything
with him: he doesn't like them! They've been rough to him, I don't
doubt. Not that I wonder at that, for he is a terrible beast to most
people. They used to say he never was good with anybody but me. I
suppose he knew I cared for him!"

His eyes closed again. The woman made haste to get him something. In a
few minutes she returned with a basin of broth. He took it eagerly,
but with a look of gratitude that went to her heart Before he tasted
it, however, he set it on the ground, broke in half the great piece of
bread she had brought with it, and gave the larger part to his
dog. Then he ate the other with his broth, and felt better than for
many a day. Some of the men said he could not be very hungry to give a
cur like that so much of his dinner; but the evil thought did not
enter the mind of the woman.

"You'd better be taking your beast away," said the woman, who by this
time understood the affair, to the two men.

They were silent, evidently disinclined for such another tussle.

"You'd better be going," she said again. "If anything should happen
with that animal of yours, and one of ours was to get loose, the devil
would be to pay, and who'd do it?"

"They'd better wait for me, ma'am," said Clare, rising. "I'm just
ready! - They won't tell me where they want to take him, but it's all
one, so long as I'm with him. He's my friend! - Ain't you, Nimrod?
We'll go together - won't we, Nimrod?"

While he spoke, he undid the ropes from the ring in the bull's
nose. Gathering them up, he handed them politely to one of the men,
and the next moment sprang upon the bull's back, just behind his
shoulders, and leaning forward, stroked his horns and neck.

"Give me up the dog, please," he said.

The owner of the menagerie himself did as Clare requested. All stood
and stared, half expecting to see him flung from the creature's back,
and trampled under his hoofs. Even Nimrod, however, would not easily
have unseated Clare, who could ride anything he had ever tried, and
had tried everything strong enough to carry him, from a pig
upward. But Nimrod was far from wishing to unseat his friend, who with
hands and legs began to send him toward the road.

"Are you going that way?" he asked, pointing. The men answered him
with a nod, sulky still.

"Don't go with those men," said the woman, coming up to the side of
the bull, and speaking in a low voice. "I don't like the look of
them."

"Nimrod will be on my side, ma'am," answered Clare. "They would never
have got him home without me. They don't understand their
fellow-creatures."

"I'm afraid you understand your fellow-creatures, as you call them,
better than you do your own kind!"

"I think they are my own kind, ma'am. That is how they know me, and do
what I want them to do."

"Stay with us," said the woman coaxingly, still speaking low. "You'll
have plenty of your fellow-creatures about you then!"

"Thank you, ma'am, a thousand times!" answered Clare, his face
beaming; "but I couldn't leave poor Nimrod to do those men a mischief,
and be killed for it!"

"You'd have plenty to eat and drink, and som'at for your pocket!"
persisted the woman.

"I know I should have everything I wanted!" answered Clare, "and I'm
very thankful to you, ma'am. But you see there's always something,
somehow, that's got to be done before the other thing!"

Here the master came up. He had himself been thinking the boy would be
a great acquisition, and guessed what his wife was about; but he was
afraid she might promise too much for services that ought to be had
cheap. Few scruple to take advantage of the misfortune of another to
get his service cheap. It is the economy of hell.

"I sha'n't feel safe till that bull of yours is a mile off!" he said.

"Come along, Nimrod!" answered Clare, always ready with the responsive
deed.

Away went Nimrod, gentle as a lamb.



Chapter XLIII.

Across country.


The two men came after at their ease. No sooner was Nimrod on the
road, however, than he began to quicken his pace. He quickened it
fast, and within a minute or so was trotting swiftly along. The men
ran panting and shouting behind. The more they shouted, the faster
Nimrod went. Ere long he was out of their sight, though Clare could
hear them cursing and calling for a time.

He had endeavoured to stop Nimrod, but the bull seemed to have made up
his mind that he had obeyed enough for one day. He did not heed a word
Clare said to him, but kept on and on at a swinging trot. Clare would
have jumped off had he been sure the proceeding would stop him; but,
now that he would not obey him, he feared lest, in doing so, he might
let him loose on the country, when there was no saying what mischief
he might not work. On the other hand, he felt sure that he could
restrain him from violence, though he might not prevent his
frolicking. He must therefore keep his seat.

For a few miles Nimrod was content with the highway, now trotting
beautifully, now breaking into a canter. But all at once he turned at
right angles in the middle of the road, cleared the skirting fence
like a hunter, and took a bee-line across the fields. Compelled
sometimes to abandon it, he showed great judgment in choosing the
place at which to get out of the enclosure, or cross the natural
obstruction. On and on he went, over hedge after hedge, through field
after field, until Clare began to wonder where all the people in the
world had got to. Then a strange feeling gradually came over
him. Surely at some time or other he had seen the meadow he was
crossing! Was he asleep, and dreaming the jolly ride he was having on
Nimrod's back? What a strong creature Nimrod was! Would he never be
tired? How oddly he felt! Were his senses going from him? It was like
the strangest mixture of a bad dream and a good!

There seemed at length no further room for doubt or
mistake. Everything was in its place! It was plain why Nimrod was so
obstinate! The dear old fellow was carrying him back to where they had
been together so many happy days! They were nigh Mr. Goodenough's
farm, and making straight for it! How strange it was! he had felt
himself a measureless distance from it! But in his wandering he had
taken many turns he did not heed, and Nimrod had come the shortest
way. Delight filled his heart at the thought of seeing once more the
places where his father and mother seemed yet to live. But instantly
came the thought of Maly, and drowned the other thought in
bitterness. Then he felt how worthless place is, when those who made
it dear are gone. Father and mother are home - not the house we were
born in!

They were soon upon the farm where once he had abundance of labour,
abundance to eat, and abundance of lowly friendship. Nimrod was making
for his old stable. He was weary now, and breathing heavily, though
not at all spent. Was he dreaming of a golden age, in which Clare
should be ever at his beck and call?

Clare had little inclination to encounter any of the people of the
farm. He would indeed have been glad, from a little way off, to get a
sight of his once friend and master, the farmer himself; and very
gladly would he have gone into the stable in the hope of a greeting
from old Jonathan; but he would not willingly meet "the mistress!"
Nimrod should take him to his old stall; there he would tie him up,
and flee from the place! The evening was now come, and in the dusk he
would escape unseen.

When they reached Nimrod's door, they found it closed; and Clare,
stiff enough by this time, slipped off to open it. Nimrod began to paw
the stones, and blow angry puffs from his wounded nose. When Clare got
the door open, he saw, to his confusion, a vague dark bulk, another
bull, in Nimrod's stall! The roar that simultaneously burst from each
was ferocious, and down went Nimrod's head to charge. It was a
terrible moment for Clare: the new bull was fast by the head, and,
unable to turn it to his adversary, would be gored to death almost in
a moment! He could not let Nimrod be guilty of such unfairness! And
the mistress would think he had brought him back for the very purpose!
He all but jumped on the horns of his friend, making him yield just
ground enough for the shutting of the door. He knew well, however,
that not three such doors in one would keep Nimrod from an enemy. With
his back to it he stood facing him and talking to him, and all the
while they heard the bull inside struggling to get free. He stood
between two horned rages, only a chain and a plank betwixt him and the


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Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldA Rough Shaking → online text (page 15 of 24)