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watching: it was a check on his conduct, but he hated Clare the
worse. For the puma, he was afraid of him now, and went no more into
his cage.

With the rest of the men Clare was a favourite, for they knew him true
and helpful, and constantly the same: they could always depend on him!
Abdiel shared in the favour shown his master. They said the dog was no
beauty, and had not a hair of breeding, but he was almost a human
creature, if he wasn't too good for one, and it was a shame to kick
him.



Chapter XLIX.

Glum Gunn's revenge.


They had opened the menagerie in a certain large town. It was the
evening-exhibition, and Clare was going his round with his wand of
office, pointing to the different animals, and telling of them what he
thought would most interest his hearers, when another attendant, the
most friendly of all, came behind him, and whispered that Glum Gunn
had got hold of Abby, and must be going to do the dog a
mischief. Clare instantly gave him his wand, and bolted through the
crowd, reproaching himself that, because Abby seemed restless, he had
shut him up: if he had not been shut up, Gunn would not have got hold
of him!

When he reached the top of the steps, there was Gunn on the platform,
addressing the crowd. It was plain to the boy, by this time not
inexperienced, that he had been drinking, and, though not drunk, had
taken enough to rouse the worst in him. He had the poor dog by the
scruff of the neck, and was holding him out at arm's-length. Abdiel
was the very picture of wretchedness. Except in colour and size, he
was more like a flea than like any sort of dog - with his hind legs
drawn up, his tail tucked in tight between them, and his back-bone
curved into a half circle. In this uncomfortable plight, the tyrant
was making a burlesque speech about him.

"Here you see, ladies and gentlemen," he said, resuming a little, for
a few fresh spectators were in the act of joining the border of the
crowd, "as I have already had the honour of informing you, one of the
most extraordinary productions of the vegetable kingdom. It is not
unnatural that you should be, as I see you are, inclined to dispute
the assertion. I am, indeed, far from being surprised at your
scepticism; the very strangeness of the phenomenon consists in his
being to all appearance neither more nor less than a dog. But when I
have the honour of leaving you to your astonishment, I shall have
convinced you that he is in reality nothing but a vegetable. I would
plainly call him what he is - a cucumber, did I not fear the statement
would demand of you more than your powers of credence, evidently
limited, could well afford. But when I have, before your eyes, cut the
throat of this vegetable, so extremely like an ugly mongrel, and when
those eyes see no single drop of blood follow the knife, then you will
be satisfied of the truth of my assertion; and, having gazed on such a
specimen of Nature's jugglery, will, I hope, do me the honour to walk
up and behold yet greater wonders within."

He ceased, and set about getting his knife from his pocket.

Clare, watching Gunn's every motion, had partially sheltered himself
behind the side of the doorway. One who did not know Gunn, might well
have taken the thing for a practical joke, as innocent as it was
foolish, the pretended conclusion of which would be met by some
comical frustration, probably the dog's escape; but Clare saw that his
friend was in mortal peril. With the eye of one used to wild animals
and the unexpectedness of their sudden motions, he stood following
every movement of Gunn's hands, ready to anticipate whatever action
might indicate its own approach: he watched like the razor-clawed
lynx. While Gunn held Abdiel as he did, he could not seriously injure
him; and although he was hurting him dreadfully, his hate-possessed
fingers, like a live, writhing vice, worrying and squeezing the skin
of his poor little neck, it yet was better to wait the right moment.

When he saw the arm that held the dog drawn in, and the other hand
move to the man's pocket, he knew that in a moment more, with a
theatrical cry of dismay from the murderer, the body of his friend
would be dashed on the ground, his head half off, and the blood
streaming from his neck. They were mostly a rather vulgar people that
stood about the platform, not a few of them capable of being delighted
with such an end to a joke poor without some catastrophe.

The wretch had stooped a little, and slightly relaxed his hold on the
dog to open his knife, when with a bound that doubled the force of the
blow Clare struck him on the side of the head. He had no choice where
to hit him, and his fist fell on the spot so lately torn by the claws
of Pummy. The tyrant fell, and lay for a moment stunned. Abdiel flung
himself on his master, exultant at finding the thing after all the
joke he had been trying in vain to believe it. Clare caught him up and
dashed down the steps, one instant before Glum Gunn rose, cursing
furiously. Clare charged the crowd: it was not a time to be civil!
Abdiel's life was in imminent danger! That his own was in the same
predicament did not occur to him.

His sudden rush took the crowd by surprise, or those next the caravans
would, I fear, have stopped him. Some started to follow him, but the
portion of the crowd he came to next, had more in it of a better sort,
and closed up behind him. There all the women and most of the men took
the part of the boy that loved his dog.

"What be you a-shovin' at?" bawled a huge country-man, against whom
Gunn made a cannon as he rushed in pursuit. "Aw'll knock 'ee flat - aw
wull! Let little un an's dawg aloan! Aw be for un! Hit me an'ye
choose - aw doan't objec'!"

Every attempt Gunn made to pass him, the man pushed his great body in
his way, and he soon saw there was no chance of overtaking Clara The
wings of Hate are swift, but not so swift as those of rescuing Love;
and Help is far readier to run to Love than to Hate.



Chapter L.

Clare seeks help.


Clare got out of the crowd, and was soon beyond sight of anyone that
knew what had taken place, his heart exulting that he had saved his
friend who trusted in him. He hurried on, heedless whither, his only
thought to get away from the man that would murder Abby; and the town
was a long way behind ere the question of what they were to do for
supper and shelter presented itself. This had grown a strange thought,
so long had the caravan been to him a house of warmth and plenty. But
comfort has its disadvantages; and Clare discovered, with some dismay,
that he was not quite so free as ere the luxurious life of the last
few weeks began: both Abby and he would be less able, he feared, to
bear hunger and cold. It was but to start afresh, however, and grow
abler! One consolation was, that, if they felt hunger more, it could
not do them so much harm: they had more capital to go upon. He must
not gather cowardice instead of courage from a season of prosperity!
He was glad for Abdiel, though, that he grew his own clothes: he had
left his warmest behind him.

It made him ashamed to find himself regretting his clothes when he had
lost a mother! Then it pleased him to think that she had his
sovereign, and the wages due since his clothes were paid for. They
would help to give Glum Gunn his own, and set the beasts free from
him! Then he would go back and spend his life with his mother and
Pummy! Poor Pummy! But though Gunn hated him, he was now afraid of him
too; and his fear would be the creature's protection! He had imagined
it his might that cowed the puma, when it was the animal's human
gentleness that made him submissive to man: he knew better now! Clare
clasped Abdiel to his bosom, and trudged on. They had gone miles ere
it occurred to him that it might be more comfortable for both if each
carried his individual burden. He set Abdiel down, and the dog ran
vibrating with pleasure. Clare felt himself set down, but with no tail
to wag.

It was late in the autumn: they could do without supper, but they must
if possible find shelter! A farm-house came in sight. It recalled so
vividly Clare's early experiences of houselessness, that beasts and
caravans, his mother and Glum Gunn, grew hazy and distant, and the old
time drew so near that he seemed to have waked into it out of a long
dream. They were back in the old misery - a misery in which, however,
his heart had not been pierced as now with the pangs of innocent
creatures unable or unwilling to defend themselves from their natural
guardian! It was long before he learned that for weeks Gunn was unable
to hurt one of them; that his drinking, his late wound, and the blow
Clare had given him, brought on him a severe attack of erysipelas.

When they reached the farm-yard, Clare knew by the aspect of things
that the cattle were housed and the horses suppered. He crept unseen
into one of the cow-houses: the bodies and breath of the animals would
keep them warm! How sweet the smell seemed to him after that of the
caravans! An empty stall was before him, like a chamber prepared for
his need. He gathered a few straws from under each of the cows, taking
care that not one of them should be the less comfortable, and spread
with them for Abby and himself a thin couch.

But with the excitement of what had happened, his wonder as to what
would come next, and the hunger that had begun to gnaw at him, Clare
could not sleep. And as he lay awake, thoughts came to him.

Whence do the thoughts come to us? Of one thing I am sure - that I do
not make or even send for my own thoughts. If some greater one did not
think about us, we should not think about anything. Then what a wonder
is the night! How it works compelling people to think! Surely somehow
God comes nearer in the night! Clare began to think how helpless he
was. He was not thinking of food and warmth, but of doing things for
the beings he loved. It seemed to him hard that he could but love, and
nothing more. There was his mother! he could do nothing to deliver her
from that villainous brother-in-law! There was Pummy, exposed to the
cruelty of the same evil man! and again he could do nothing for him!
There was Maly! he could do nothing for her - nothing to make her
father and mother glad for her up in the dome of the angels!

Was it possible that he really could do nothing?

Then came the thought that people used to say prayers in the days when
he went with his mother to church. He had been taught to say prayers
himself, but had begun to forget them when there was no bed to kneel
beside. What did saying prayers mean? In the Bible-stories people
prayed when they were in trouble and could not help themselves! Did it
matter that he had no church and no bedside? Surely one place must be
as good as another, if it was true that God was everywhere! Surely he
could hear him wherever he spoke! Neither could there be any necessity
for speaking loud! God would hear, however low he spoke! Then he
remembered that God knew the thoughts of his creatures: if so, he
might think a prayer to him; there was no need for any words!

From the moment of that conclusion, Clare began to pray to God. And
now he prayed the right kind of prayer; that is, his prayers were real
prayers; he asked for what he wanted. To say prayers asking God for
things we do not care about, is to mock him. When we ask for something
we want, it may be a thing God does not care to give us; but he likes
us to speak to him about it. If it is good for us, he will give it us;
if it is not good, he will not give it to us, for it would hurt
us. But Clare only asked God to do what he is always doing: his prayer
was that God would be good to all his mothers, and to his two fathers,
and Mr. Halliwell, and Maly, and Sarah, and his own baby, and
Tommy - and poor Pummy, and would, if Glum Gunn beat him, help him to
bear the blows, and not mind them very much. He ended with something
like this:

"God, I can't do anything for anybody! I wish I could! You can get
near them, God: please do something good to every one of them because
I can't. I think I could go to sleep now, if I were sure you had
listened!"

Having thus cast all his cares on God, he did go to sleep; and woke in
the morning ready for the new day that arrived with his waking.



Chapter LI.

Clare a true master.


It would take a big book to tell all the things of interest that
happened to Clare in the next few weeks. They would be mainly how and
where he found refuge, and how he and Abdiel got things to eat. Verily
they did not live on the fat of the land. Now and then some benevolent
person, seeing him in such evident want, would contrive a job in order
to pay him for it: in one place, although they had no need of him,
certain good people gave him ten days' work under a gardener, and
dismissed him with twenty shillings in his pocket.

One way and another, Clare and Abdiel did not die of hunger or of
cold. That is the summary of their history for a good many weeks.

One night they slept on a common, in the lee of a gypsy tent, and
contrived to get away in the morning without being seen. For Clare
feared they might offer him something stolen, and hunger might
persuade him to ask no questions. Many respectable people will laugh
at the idea of a boy being so particular. Such are immeasurably more
to be pitied than Clare. No one could be hard on a boy who in such
circumstances took what was offered him, but he would not be so honest
as Clare - though he might well be more honest than such as would laugh
at him.

Another time he went up to a large house, to see if he might not there
get a job. He found the place, for the time at least, abandoned: I
suppose the persons in charge had deserted their post to make
holiday. He lingered about until the evening fell, and then got with
Abdiel under a glass frame in the kitchen-garden. But the glass was so
close to them that Clare feared breaking it; so they got out again,
and lay down on a bench in a shed for potting plants.

Clare was waked in the morning by a sound cuff on the side of the
head. He got off the bench, took up Abdiel, and coming to himself,
said to the gardener who stood before him in righteous indignation,

"I'm much obliged to you for my bedroom, sir. It was very cold last
night."

His words and respectful manner mollified the gardener a little.

"You have no business here!" he returned.

"I know that, sir; but what is a boy to do?" answered Clare. "I wasn't
hurting anything, and it was so cold we might have died if we had
slept out of doors."

"That's no business of mine!"

"But it is of mine," rejoined Clare; " - except you think a boy that
can't get work ought to commit suicide. If he mustn't do that, he
can't always help doing what people with houses don't like!"

The gardener was not a bad sort of fellow, and perceived the truth in
what the boy said.

"That's always the story!" he replied, however. "Can't get work! No
idle boy ever could get work! I know the sort of you - well!"

"Would you mind giving me a chance?" returned Clare eagerly. "I
wouldn't ask much wages."

"You wouldn't, if you asked what you was worth!"

"We'd be worth our victuals anyhow!" answered Clare, who always
counted the dog.

"Who's we?" asked the man. "Be there a hundred of you?"

"No; only two. Only me and Abdiel here!"

"Oh, that beast of a mongrel?"

The gardener made a stride as if to seize the dog. Clare bounded from
him. The man burst into a mocking laugh.

"He's a good dog, indeed, sir!" said Clare.

"You'll give him the sack before I give you a job."

"We're old friends, sir; we can't be parted!"

"I thought as much!" cried the gardener. "They're always ready to
work, an' so hungry! But will they part with the mangy dog? Not they!
Hard work and good wages ain't nowhere beside a mongrel pup! Get out!
Don't I know the whole ugly bilin' of ye!"

Clare turned away with a gentle good-morning, which the man did not
get out of his heart for a matter of two days, and departed, hugging
Abdiel.

He was often cold and always hungry, but his life was anything but
dull. The man who does not know where his next meal is to come from,
is seldom afflicted with ennui. That is the monopoly of the enviable
with nothing to do, and everything money can get them. A foolish
west-end life has immeasurably more discomfort in it than that of a
street Arab. The ordinary beggar, while in tolerable health, finds far
more enjoyment than most fashionable ladies.

Thus Clare went wandering long, seeking work, and finding next to
none - all the time upheld by the feeling that something was waiting
for him somewhere, that he was every day drawing nearer to it. Not
once yet had he lost heart. In very virtue of unselfishness and lack
of resentment, he was strong. Not once had he shed a tear for himself,
not once had he pitied his own condition.



Chapter LII.

Miss Tempest.


Without knowing it, he was approaching the sea. Walking along a chain
of downs, he saw suddenly from the top of one of them, for the first
time in his memory though not in his life, the sea - a pale blue cloud,
as it appeared, far on the horizon, between two low hills. The sight
of it, although he did not at first know what it was, brought with it
a strange inexplicable feeling of dolorous pleasure. For this he could
not account. It was the faintest revival of an all but obliterated
impression of something familiar to his childhood, lying somewhere
deeper than the memory, which was a blank in regard to it. But that
feeling was not all that the sight awoke in him. The pale blue cloud
bore to him such a look of the eternal, that it seemed the very place
for God to live in - the solemn, stirless region of calm in which the
being to whom now of late he had first begun in reality to pray, kept
his abode. The hungry, worn, tattered boy, with nothing to call his
own but a great hope and a little dog, fell down on his bare knees on
the hard road, and stretched out his hands in an ecstasy toward the
low cloud.

The far-off ringing tramp of a horse's feet aroused him. He rose light
as an athlete, the great hope grown twice its former size, and hunger
forgotten.

The blue cloud kept in sight, and by and by he knew it was the sea he
saw, though how or at what moment the knowledge came to him he could
not have told. The track was leading him toward one of the principal
southern ports.

By this time he was again very thin; but he had brown cheeks and clear
eyes, and, save when suffering immediately from hunger, felt perfectly
well. Hunger is a sad thing notwithstanding its deep wholesomeness;
but there is immeasurably more suffering in the world from eating too
much than from eating too little.

Well able by this time to read the signs of the road, he perceived at
length he must be drawing near a town. He had already passed a house
or two with a little lawn in front, and indications of a garden
behind; and he hoped yet again that here, after all, he might get
work. To door after door he carried his modest request: some doors
were shut in his face almost before he could speak; at others he had a
civil word from maid, or a rough word from man; from none came sound
of assent. It had become harder too to find shelter. Ever as he went,
space was more and more appropriated and enclosed; less and less room
was left for the man for whom had been made no special cubic provision
of earth and air, and who had no money - the most disreputable of
conditions in the eyes of such as would be helpless if they had
none. A rare philosopher for eyes capable of understanding him, he was
a despicable being in the eyes of the common man. To know a human
being one must be human - that is, the divine must be strong in him.

For some days now, neither Clare nor Abdiel had come even within sight
of food enough to make a meal. The dog was rather thinner than his
master.

"Abdiel," said Clare to him one day, "I fear you will soon be a
serpent! Your body gets longer and longer, and your legs get shorter
and shorter: you'll be crawling presently, rubbing the hair off your
useless little belly on the dusty road! Never mind, Abdiel; you'll be
a good serpent. Satan was turned into a bad serpent because he was a
bad angel; you will be a good serpent, because you are a good dog! I
hope, however, we shall yet put a stop to the serpent-business!"

Abdiel wagged his tail, as much as to say, "All right, master!"

The nights were now very cold; winter was coming fast. Had Clare been
long enough in one place for people to know him, he would never have
been allowed to go so cold and hungry; but he had always to move on,
and nobody had time to learn to care about him. So the terrible
sunless season threatened to wrap him in its winding-sheet, and lay
him down.

One evening, just before sunset, grown sleepy in spite of the
gathering cold, he sat down on one of the two steep grassy slopes that
bordered the road. His feet were bare now, bare and brown, for his
shoes had come to such plight that it was a relief to throw them away;
but his soles had grown like leather. They rested in the dry shallow
rain-channel, and his body leaned back against the slope. Abdiel,
instead of jumping on the bank and lying in the soft grass, lay down
on the leathery feet, and covered them from the night with his long
faithful body and its coat of tangled hair.

The sun was shooting his last radiance along the road, and its redness
caressed the sleeping companions, when an elderly lady came to her
gate at the top of the opposite slope, and looked along the road with
the sun. Her reverting glance fell upon the sleepers - the Knight of
Hope lying in rags, not marble, his feet not upon his dog, but his dog
upon his feet. It was a touching picture, and the old lady's heart was
one easily touched. She looked and saw that the face of the boy, whose
hunger was as plain as his rags, was calm as the wintry sky. She
wondered, but she needed not have wondered; for storm of anger,
drought of greed, nor rotting mist of selfishness, had passed or
rested there, to billow, or score, or waste.

Her mere glance seemed to wake Abdiel, who took advantage of his
waking to have a lick at the brown, dusty, brave, uncomplaining feet,
so well used to the world's _via dolorosa_. She saw, and was touched
yet more by this ministration of the guardian of the feet. Gently
opening the gate she descended the slope, crossed the road, and stood
silent, regarding the outcasts. No cloudy blanket covered the sky: ere
morning the dew would lie frozen on the grass!

"You shouldn't be sleeping there!" she said.

Abdiel started to his four feet and would have snarled, but with one
look at the lady changed his mind. Clare half awoke, half sat up, made
an inarticulate murmur, and fell back again.

"Get up, my boy," said the old lady. "You must indeed!"

"Oh, please, ma'am, must I?" answered Clare, slowly rising to his
feet. "I had but just lain down, and I'm so tired! - If I mayn't sleep
_there_," he continued, "where _am_ I to sleep? - Please, ma'am, why is
everybody so set against letting a boy sleep? It don't cost them
anything! I can understand not giving him work, if he looks too much
in want of it; but why should they count it bad of him to lie down and
sleep?"

The lady wisely let him talk; not until he stopped did she answer him.

"It's because of the frost, my boy!" she said. "It would be the death
of you to sleep out of doors to-night!"

"It's a nice place for it, ma'am!"

"To sleep in? Certainly not!"

"I didn't mean that, ma'am. I meant a nice place to go away from - to
die in, ma'am!"

"That is not ours to choose," answered the old lady severely, but the
tone of her severity trembled.

"I sha'n't find anywhere so nice as this bank," said Clare, turning
and looking at it sorrowfully.

"There are plenty of places in the town. It's but a mile farther on!"

"But this is so much nicer, ma'am! And I've no money - none at all,
ma'am. When I came out of prison, - "

"Came out of _where_?"

"Out of prison, ma'am."

He had never been in prison in a legal sense, never having been
convicted of anything; but he did not know the difference between
detention and imprisonment.

"Prison!" she exclaimed, holding up her hands in horror. "How dare you
mention prison!"

"Because I was in it, ma'am."

"And to say it so coolly too! Are you not ashamed of yourself?"

"No, ma'am."

"It's a shame to have been in prison."

"Not if I didn't do anything wrong."

"Nobody will believe that, I'm afraid!"

"I suppose not, ma'am! I used to feel very angry when people wouldn't


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Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldA Rough Shaking → online text (page 18 of 24)