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one at his back, with which he had no influence. A coward would have
escaped, and left the two bullies to settle between them which had the
better right to the stall - not without blood, almost as certainly not
without loss of life, perhaps human as well as bovine. But Clare was
made of other stuff.

Before he could get Nimrod away, the bellowing brought out the
farmer. All his men had gone to the village; only himself and his wife
were at home.

"What's got the brute?" he cried on the threshold, but instantly began
to run, for he saw through the gathering darkness a darker shape he
knew, roaring and pawing at the door of his old quarters, and a boy
standing between him and it, with marvellous courage in mortal danger.
He understood at once that Nimrod had broken loose and come back. But
when he came near enough to recognize Clare, astonishment, and
something more sacred than astonishment, held him dumb. Ever since the
unjust blow that sent the boy from him, his heart had been aware of a
little hollow of remorse in it. Now all his former relations with him
while his adoptive father yet lived, came back upon him. He remembered
him dressed like the little gentleman he always was - and there he
stood, the same gentle fearless creature, in absolute rags! If his
wife saw him! The farmer had no fear of Nimrod in his worst rages, but
he feared his wife in her gentlest moods. Happily for both, a critical
moment in the cooking of the supper had arrived.

"Clare!" he stammered.

"Yes, sir," returned Clare, and laid hold of Nimrod's horn. The animal
yielded, and turned away with him. The farmer came nearer, and put his
arm round the boy's neck. The boy rubbed his cheek against the arm.

"I'm sorry I struck you, Clare!" faltered the big man.

"Oh, never mind, sir! That was long ago!" answered the boy.

"Tell me how you've been getting on."

"Pretty well, sir! But I want to tell you first how it is I'm here
with Nimrod. Only it would be better to put him somewhere before I

"It would," agreed the farmer; and between them, with the enticements
of a pail of water and some fresh-cut grass, they got him into a shed,
where they hoped he would forget the proximity of the usurper, and,
with the soothing help of his supper, go to sleep.

Then Clare told his story. Mr Goodenough afterward asseverated that,
if he had not known him for a boy that would not lie, he would not
have believed the half of it.

"Come, Abdiel!" said Clare, the moment he ended - and would have
started at once.

"Won't you have something after your long ride?" said the farmer.

Clare looked down at his clothes, and laughed. The farmer knew what he
meant, and did not ask him into the house.

"When had you anything to eat?" he inquired.

"I shall do very well till to-morrow," answered Clare.

"Then if you will go, I'm glad of the opportunity of paying you the
wages I owed you," said the farmer, putting his hand in his pocket.

"You gave me my food! That was all I was worth!" protested Clare.

"You were worth more than that! I knew the difference when I had
another boy in your place! I wish I had you again! - But it wouldn't
do, you know! it wouldn't do!" he added hastily.

With that he succeeded in pulling a sovereign from the depth of a
trowser-pocket, and held it out to Clare. It was neither large wages
nor a greatly generous gift, but it seemed to the boy wealth
enormous. He could not help holding out his hand, but he was ashamed
to open it. What the giver regarded as a debt, the receiver regarded
as a gift. He stood with his hand out but clenched. There was a combat
inside him.

"It's too much!" he protested, looking at the sovereign almost with
fear. "I never had so much money in my life!"

"You earned it well," said the farmer magnanimously.

The moral cramp forsook his hand. He took the money with a hearty
"Thank you, sir." As he put it in his pocket, he felt its corners
carefully, lest there should be a hole. But his pockets had not had
half the wear of the clothes they inhabited.

"Where are you going?" asked the farmer.

Clare mentioned the small town in whose neighbourhood he had left the
caravans, and said he thought the people of the menagerie would like
him to help them with the beasts. The farmer shook his head.

"It's not a respectable occupation!" he remarked.

Clare did not understand him.

"Do they cheat?" he asked.

"No; I don't suppose they cheat worse than anybody else. But it ain't

Had he known a little more, Clare might have asserted that the men
about the menagerie were at least as respectable as almost any farmer
with a horse to sell. But he knew next to nothing of wickedness,
whence many a man whose skull he had brains enough to fill three
times, regarded him as a simpleton.

Clare thought everything honest honourable. When people said
otherwise, he did not understand, and continued to act according as he
understood. A thousand dishonourable things are done, and largely
approved, which Clare would not have touched with one of his fingers:
he could see nothing more dishonourable in having to do with wild
beasts than in having to do with tame ones. If any boy wants to know
the sort of thing I count in that thousand, I answer him - "The next
thing you are asked to do, or are inclined to do - if you have any
doubt about it, DON'T DO IT." That is the way to know the honourable
thing from the dishonourable.

Clare made no attempt to argue the question with the farmer. He
inquired of him the nearest way to the town, and went - the quicker
that he heard the voice of Mrs. Goodenough, calling her husband to

Chapter XLIV.

A third mother.

Who ever had a sovereign for the first time in his life, and did not
feel rich? Clare trudged along merrily, and Abdiel shared his
joy. They had to sleep out of doors nevertheless; for by this time
Clare knew that a boy, especially a boy in rags, must mind whom he
asks to change a sovereign. In the lee of a hay-mow, on a little loose
hay, they slept, Abdiel in Clare's bosom, and slept well.

There was not much temptation to lie long after waking, and the
companions were early on their way. It was yet morning when they came
to the public house where Clare had his first and last half-pint of
beer. The landlady stood at the newly opened door, with her fists in
her sides, looking out on the fresh world, lost in some such thought
as was possible to her. Clare pulled off his cap, and bade her good
morning as he passed. Perhaps she knew she did not deserve politeness;
anyhow she took Clare's for impudence, and came swooping upon him. He
stopped and waited her approach, perplexed as to the cause of it; and
was so unprepared for the box on the ear she dealt him, that it almost
threw him down. Her ankle was instantly in Abdiel's sharp teeth. She
gave a frightful screech, and Clare, coming to himself, though still
stupid from her blow and his own surprise, called off the dog. The
woman limped raging to the house, and Clare thought it prudent to go
his way. He talked severely to Abdiel as they went; but though the dog
could understand much, I doubt if he understood that lecture. For
Abdiel was one of the few, even among dogs, with whom the defence of
master or friend is an inborn, instinctive duty; and strong temptation
even has but a poor chance against the sense of duty in a dog.

It was night when they entered the town. They were already a weary
pair when the far sounds of the brass band of the menagerie, mostly
made up of attendants on the animals, first entered their ears. The
marketing was over; the band was issuing its last invitation to the
merry-makers to walk up and see strange sights; its notes were just
dying to their close, when the wayfarers arrived at the foot of the
steps leading to the platform where the musicians stood. Clare
ascended, and Abdiel crept after him.

At a table in a small curtained recess on the platform, sat the
mistress to receive the money of those that entered. Clare laid his
sovereign before her. She took it up without looking at him, but at it
she looked doubtfully. She threw it on her table. It would not ring.
She bit it with her white teeth, and looked at it again; then at
length gave a glance at the person who offered it. Her dull lamp
flickered in the puffs of the night-wind, and she did not recognize
Clare. She saw but a white-faced, ragged boy, and threw him back his

"Won't pass," she said with decision, not unmingled with contempt. She
sat at the receipt of money, where too many men and women cease to be
ladies and gentlemen.

Clare did not at first understand. He stood motionless and, for the
second time that day, bewildered. How could money be no money?

"'Ain't you got sixpence?" she asked.

"No, ma'am," answered Clare. "I haven't had sixpence for many a day."

The moment he spoke, the woman looked him sharply in the face, and
knew him.

"Drat my stupid eyes!" she said fervently. "That I shouldn't ha' known
you! Walk in, walk in. Go where you please, and do as you
please. You're right welcome. - Where did you get that sov.?"

"From Farmer Goodenough."

"Good enough, I hope, not to take advantage of an innocent prince! Was
it for taking home the bull?"

"No, ma'am. I didn't take the bull home. The bull took me to the old
home where we used to be together. He didn't want a new one!"

"Well, never mind now. Give me the sovereign. I'll talk to you by and
by. Go in, or the show 'ill be over. Look after your dog, though. We
don't like dogs. He mustn't go in."

"I'll send him right outside, if you wish it, ma'am."

"I do. - But will he stay out?"

"He will, ma'am."

Clare took up Abdiel, and setting him at the top of the steps, told
him to go down and wait. Abdiel went hopping down, like a dirty little
white cataract out on its own hook, turned in under the steps, and
deposited himself there until his master should call him.

Chapter XLV.

The menagerie.

A strange smell was in Clare's nostrils, and as he went down the steps
inside, it grew stronger. He did not dislike it; but it set him
thinking why it should so differ from that of domestic animals. He was
presently in the midst of a vision attractive to all boys, but which
few had ever looked upon with such intelligent wonder as he; for Clare
had read and re-read every book about animals upon which he could lay
his hands. He had a great power too of remembering what he read; for
he never let a description glide away over the outside of his eyes,
but always put it inside his thinking place. What with pictures and
descriptions, he seemed to know, as he looked around him, every animal
on which his eyes fell.

The area was by no means crowded. There had been many visitors during
the day, but now it was late. He could see into all the cages that
formed the sides of the enclosure. Many of the creatures seemed
restless, few sleepy: night was the waking time for most of them. How
should a great roaming, hunting cat go to sleep in a little cube of
darkness! "Oh," thought Clare, "how gladly would I help them to bear
it! I could bear it myself with somebody near to be kind to me!"

He had begun to feel that the quiet happiness to which he was once so
accustomed that he did not think much about it, was his because it was
_given_ him. He had begun to see that it did not come to him of
itself, but from the love of his father and mother. He had yet to
learn that it was given to them to give to him by the Father of
fathers and mothers. But he was beginning to prize every least
kindness shown him. This re-acted on his desire to make the happiness
greater and the pain less everywhere about him. He had little chance
of doing much for people, he thought; but he knew how to do things for
some animals, and perhaps it was only necessary to know others to be
able to do something for them too!

Thoughts like these passing through his mind, and his gaze wandering
hither and thither over the shifting shapes, his eyes rested on the
tenant of one of the cages, and his heart immediately grew very sore,
for he seemed unable to lift his head. He was a big animal, alone in
his prison, of a blackish colour, and awkward appearance. He went
nearer, and found he had a big ring in his nose like Nimrod. But to
the ring was fastened a strong chain, and the chain was bolted down to
the floor of the cage, which was of iron covered with boards, in their
turn covered with a thick sheet of lead. The chain was so short that
it held the poor creature's head within about a foot of the floor. He
could not lift it higher, or move it farther on either side; but he
kept moving it constantly. It was a pitiful sight, and Clare went
nearer still, drawn far more by compassion, and indeed sympathy, than
by curiosity. He was a terrible brute, a big grizzly bear, ugly to
repulsiveness. The snarling scorn, the sneering, lip-writhing hate of
the demoniacal grin with which he received the boy, was hideous; the
rattling, pebble-jarring growl that came from his devilish throat was
loathing embodied. What if spirits worse than their own get into some
of the creatures by virtue of the likeness between them! One day will
be written, perhaps, a history of animals very different from any
attempted by mere master in zoology. Clare spoke to the beast again
and again, but was unvaryingly answered by the same odious snarl,
curling his lip under his nose-ring. It seemed to express the imagined
delight of tearing him limb from limb.

"Poor fellow!" said Clare, "how can he be good-tempered with that
torturing ring and chain! His unalterable position must make his every
bone ache!"

But had his nose been set free, such a raging-bear-struggle to get at
the nearest of his fellow-prisoners would have ensued, as must soon
have torn to shreds the partition between them. For he was a
beast-bedlamite, an animal volcano, a furnace of death, an incarnate
paroxysm of wrath. The inspiration of the creature, so far as one
could see, was pure hate.

The boy turned aside with quivering heart - sore for the grizzly's
nose, and sorer still for the grizzly himself that he was so

Right opposite, a creature of a far differing disposition seemed
casting defiance to all the ills of life. As he turned with a sad
despair from the grizzly, Clare caught sight of his pranks, and
hastened across the area. The creature kept bounding from side to side
of his cage, agile and frolicsome as a kitten. But the light was poor,
and Clare could not even conjecture to which of the cat-kinds he
belonged. When he came near his cage, he saw that he was yellowish
like a lion, and thought perhaps he might be a young lion. He had no
mane. Clare judged him four feet in length without the tail - or
perhaps four and a half. A little way off was the real lion - a young
one, it is true, but quite grown, with a thin ruffy mane, and lordly
carriage and gaze. It was he whose roar had challenged Nimrod, giving
the topmost flutter to the flame of his wrath. But Clare was so taken
with the frolicsome creature before him, that he gave but a glance at
the grand one as he walked up and down his prison, and turned again to
the merry one disporting himself alone, who seemed to find the
pleasure of life in great games with companions no one saw but
himself. For minutes he stood regarding the gladness of God's
creature. A wild thing of the woods and plains, he made the most of
the bars and floor and roof of his cage. No one careless of liberty
could make such bounds as those; yet he was joyous in closest
imprisonment! His liberty gone, his freedom contracted to a few cubic
feet, his space diminished almost to the mould of his body, the great
wild philosopher created his own liberty, made it out of his own love
of it. Like a live, erratic shuttle he went to and fro, unweaving,
unravelling, unwinding, drawing out the knot of confinement, flinging
out, radiating and spreading and breathing out space in all
directions, by multitudinous motion of disentanglement! Space gone
from him, space in the abstract should replace it! He would not be
slave to condition! Space unconditioned should be his! For him liberty
should not lie in space, but in his own soul. Room should be but the
poor out-aide symbol of his inward freedom! He would spin out, he
would weave, he would unroll essential liberty into spiritual space!
His mind to him a kingdom was. Not a grumble, not a snarl! He left
discontent to men, to build their own prisons withal. A proud man with
everything he longs for, if such a man there be, is but a slave; this
creature of the glad creator was and would be free, because he was a
free soul. Prison bars could not touch that by whose virtue he was and
would be free!

The germ of this thinking was in the mind of Clare while he stood and
gazed; and as he told me the story, its ripeness came thus, or nearly
thus, from his lips; for he had thought much in lonely places.

As he gazed and sympathized, there awoke within him that strange
consciousness which my reader must, at one time or another, have
known - of being on the point of remembering something. It was not a
memory that came, but a memory of a memory - the shadow of a memory
gone, but trying to come out from behind a veil - a sense of having
once known something. It gave another aspect to the blessed creature
before him. The creature and himself seemed for a moment to belong
together to another time. Could he have seen such an animal before? He
did not think so! He could never have visited a menagerie and
forgotten it! If he had known such a creature, his after-reading would
have recalled it, he would know it now! He could tell the lion and the
tiger and the leopard, although he seemed to know he had never seen
one of them; he could not tell this animal, and yet - and yet! - what
was it? The feeling itself lasted scarce an instant, and went no
farther. No memory came to him. The foiled expectation was all he
had. The very reasoning about it helped to obliterate the shape of the
feeling itself. He could not even recall how the thing had felt; he
could only remember it had been there. It was now but the shadow of
the shadow of a dream - a yet vaguer memory than that thinnest of
presences which had at the first tantalized him. We remember what we
cannot recall.

Perhaps the rousing of the odd, fantastic feeling had been favoured by
the slumber beginning to encroach on tody and brain. While he stood
looking at the one creature, all the wonderful creatures began to get
mixed up together, and he thought it better to go and search for some
field of sleep, where he might mow a little for his use. He said
good-night to the great, gentle, jubilant cat, turned from him
unwillingly, and went up the steps. Almost every spectator was
gone. At the top of them he turned for a last look, but could
distinguish nothing except the dim form of the young lion, as he
thought him, still gamboling in the presence of his maker.

He thought to see the mistress of the menagerie, but she was no longer
in her curtained box. He went out on the deserted platform, and down
the steps. Abdiel was already at the foot when he reached it, wagging
his weary little tail.

They set out to look for a shelter. Their search, however, was so much
in vain, that at last they returned and lay down under one of the
wagons, on the hard ground of the public square. Sleeping so often out
of doors, he had never yet taken cold.

Chapter XLVI.

The angel of the wild beasts.

When Clare looked up he saw nothing between him and the sky. They had
dragged the caravan from above him, and he had not moved. Abdiel
indeed waked at the first pull, but had lain as still as a
mouse - ready to rouse his master, but not an instant before it should
be necessary.

Clare saw the sky, but he saw something else over him, better than the
sky - the face of Mrs. Halliwell, the mistress of the menagerie. In it,
as she stood looking down on him, was compassion, mingled with

Clare jumped up, saying, "Good morning, ma'am!" He was yet but half
awake, and staggered with sleep.

"My poor boy!" answered the woman, "I sent you to sleep on the cold
earth, with a sovereign of your own in my pocket! I made sure you
would come and ask me for it! You're too innocent to go about the
world without a mother!"

She turned her face away.

"But, ma'am, you know I couldn't have offered it to anybody," said
Clare. "It wasn't good! - Besides, before I knew that," he went on,
finding she did not reply, "there was nobody but you I dared offer it
to: they would have said I stole it - because I'm so shabby!" he added,
looking down at his rags. "But it ain't in the clothes, ma'am - is it?"

Getting the better of her feelings for a moment, she turned her face
and said, -

"It was all my fault! The sov. is a good one. It's only cracked! I
ought to have known, and changed it for you. Then all would have been

"I don't think it would have made any difference, ma'am. We would
rather sleep on the ground than in a bed that mightn't be
clean - wouldn't we, Abby?" The dog gave a short little bark, as he
always did when his master addressed him by his name. - "But I'm so
glad!" Clare went on. "I was sure Mr. Goodenough thought the sovereign
all right when he gave it me! - Were you ever disappointed in a
sovereign, ma'am?"

"I been oftener disappointed in them as owed 'em!" she answered. "But
to think o' me snug in bed, an' you sleepin' out i' the dark night! I
can't abide the thought on it!"

"Don't let it trouble you, ma'am; we're used to it. Ain't we, Abby?"

"Then you oughtn't to be! and, please God, you shall be no more! But
come along and have your breakfast We don't start till the last."

"Please, ma'am, may Abdiel come too?"

"In course! 'Love me, love my dog!' Ain't that right?"

"Yes, ma'am; but some people like dogs worse than boys."

"A good deal depends on the dog. When folk brings up their dogs as bad
as they do their childern, I want neither about me. But your dog's a
well-behaved dog. Still, he must learn not to come in sight o' the

"He will learn, ma'am! - Abdiel, lie down, and don't come till I call

At the word, the dog dropped, and lay.

The house-caravan stood a little way off, drawn aside when they began
to break up. They ascended its steps behind, and entered an enchanting
little room. It had muslin curtains to the windows, and a small stove
in which you could see the bright red coals. On the stove stood a
coffee-pot and a covered dish. How nice and warm the place felt, after
the nearly shelterless night!

The breakfast-things were still on the table. Mr. Halliwell had had
his breakfast, but Mrs. Halliwell would not eat until she had found
the boy. She had been unhappy about him all the night. Her husband had
assured her the sovereign was a good one, and the boy had told her he
had no money but the sovereign! She little knew how seldom he fared
better than that same night! When he got among hay or straw, that was

They sat down to breakfast, and the good woman was very soon confirmed
in the notion that the boy was a gentleman.

"Call your dog now," she said, "an' let's see if he'll come!"

"May I whistle, ma'am?"

"Why not! - But will he hear you?"

"He has very sharp ears, ma'am."

Clare gave a low, peculiar whistle. In a second or two, they heard an
anxious little whine at the door. Clare made haste to open it. There
stood Abdiel, with the words in his eyes, as plain almost as if he
spoke them - "Did you call, sir?" The woman caught him and held him to
her bosom.

"You blessed little thing!" she said.

And surely if there be a blessing to be had, it is for them that obey.

Clare heard and felt the horses put-to, but the hostess of this
Scythian house did not rise, and he too went on with his
breakfast. When they were in motion, it was not so easy to eat nicely,
but he managed very well. By the time he had done, they had left the
town behind them. He wanted to help Mrs. Halliwell with the
breakfast-things, but whether she feared he would break some of them,
or did not think it masculine work, she would not allow him.

Nothing had been said about his going with them; she had taken that
for granted. Clare began to think perhaps he ought to take his leave:
there was nothing for him to do! He and Abdiel ought at least to get
out and walk, instead of burdening the poor horses with their weight,
when they were so well rested, and had had such a good breakfast! But
when he said so to Mrs. Halliwell, she told him she must have a little

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Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldA Rough Shaking → online text (page 16 of 24)