Copyright
George MacDonald.

A Rough Shaking online

. (page 19 of 24)
Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldA Rough Shaking → online text (page 19 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


believe me, but now I see they are not to blame. And now I've got used
to it, and it don't hurt so much. - But," he added with a sigh, "the
worst of it is, they won't give me any work!"

"Do you always tell people you've come out of prison?"

"Yes, ma'am, when I think of it."

"Then you can't wonder they won't give you work!"

"I don't, ma'am - not now. It seems a law of the universe!"

"Not of the universe, I think - but of this world - perhaps!" said the
old lady thoughtfully.

"But there's one thing I do wonder at," said Clare. "When I say I've
been in prison, they believe me; but when I say I haven't done
anything wrong, then they mock me, and seem quite amused at being
expected to believe that. I can't get at it!"

"I daresay! But people will always believe you against yourself. - What
are you going to do, then, if nobody will give you work? You can't
starve!"

"Indeed I _can_, ma'am! It's just the one thing I've got to do. We've
been pretty near the last of it sometimes - me and Abdiel! Haven't we,
Abby?"

The dog wagged his tail, and the old lady turned aside to control her
feelings.

"Don't cry, ma'am," said Clare; "I don't mind it - not _much_. I'm too
glad I didn't _do_ anything, to mind it much! Why should I! Ought I to
mind it much, ma'am? Jesus Christ hadn't done anything, and they
killed _him_! I don't fancy it's so very bad to die of only hunger!
But we'll soon see! - Sha'n't we, Abby?"

Again the dog wagged his tail.

"If you didn't do anything wrong, what _did_ you do?" said the old
lady, almost at her wits' end.

"I don't like telling things that are not going to be believed. It's
like washing your face with ink!"

"I will _try_ to believe you."

"Then I will tell you; for you speak the truth, ma'am, and so,
perhaps, will be able to believe the truth!"

"How do you know I speak the truth?"

"Because you didn't say, 'I will believe you.' Nobody can be sure of
doing that. But you can be sure of _trying_; and you said, 'I will
_try_ to believe you.'"

"Tell me all about it then."

"I will, ma'am. - The policeman came in the middle of the night when we
were asleep, and took us all away, because we were in a house that was
not ours."

"Whose was it then?"

"Nobody knew. It was what they call in chancery. There was nobody in
it but moths and flies and spiders and rats; - though I think the rats
only came to eat baby."

"Baby! Then the whole family of you, father, mother, and all, were
taken to prison!"

"No, ma'am; my fathers and my mothers were taken up into the dome of
the angels." - What with hunger and sleepiness, Clare was talking like
a child. - "I haven't any father and mother in this world. I have two
fathers and two mothers up there, and one mother in this world. She's
the mother of the wild beasts."

The old lady began to doubt the boy's sanity, but she went on
questioning him.

"How did you have a baby with you, then?"

"The baby was my own, ma'am. I took her out of the water-butt."

Once more Clare had to tell his story - from the time, that is, when
his adoptive father and mother died. He told it in such a simple
matter-of-fact way, yet with such quaint remarks, from their very
simplicity difficult to understand, that, if the old lady, for all her
trying, was not able quite to believe his tale, it was because she
doubted whether the boy was not one of God's innocents, with an
angel-haunted brain.

"And what's become of Tommy?" she asked.

"He's in the same workhouse with baby. I'm very glad; for what I
should have done with Tommy, and nothing to give him to eat, I can't
think. He would have been sure to steal! I couldn't have kept him from
it!"

"You must be more careful of your company."

"Please, ma'am, I was very careful of Tommy. He had the best company I
could give him: I did try to be better for Tommy's sake. But my trying
wasn't much use to Tommy, so long as he wouldn't try! He was a little
better, though, I think; and if I had him now, and could give him
plenty to eat, and had baby as well as Abdiel to help me, we might
make something of Tommy, I think. - _You_ think so - don't you, Abdiel?"

The dog, who had stood looking in his master's face all the time he
spoke, wagged his tail faster.

"What a name to give a dog! Where did you find it?"

"In Paradise Lost, ma'am. Abdiel was the one angel, you remember,
ma'am, who, when he saw what Satan was up to, left him, and went back
to his duty."

"And what was his duty?"

"Why of course to do what God told him. I love Abdiel, and because I
love the little dog and he took care of baby, I call him Abdiel
too. Heaven is so far off that it makes no confusion to have the same
name."

"But how dare you give the name of an angel to a dog?"

"To a _good_ dog, ma'am! A good dog is good enough to go with any
angel - at his heels of course! If he had been a bad dog, it would have
been wicked to name him after a good angel. If the dog had been
Tommy - I mean if Tommy had been the dog, I should have had to call him
Moloch, or Belzebub! God made the angels and the dogs; and if the dogs
are good, God loves them. - Don't he, Abdiel?"

Abdiel assented after his usual fashion. The lady said nothing. Clare
went on.

"Abdiel won't mind - the angel Abdiel, I mean, ma'am - he won't mind
lending his name to my friend. The dog will have a name of his own,
perhaps, some day - like the rest of us!"

"What is _your_ name?"

"The name I have now is, like the dog's, a borrowed one. I shall get
my own one day - not here - but there - when - when - I'm hungry enough to
go and find it."

Clare had grown very white. He sat down, and lay back on the grass. He
had talked more in those few minutes than for weeks, and want had made
him weak. He felt very faint. The dog jumped up, and fell to licking
his face.

"What a wicked old woman I am!" said the lady to herself, and ran
across the road like some little long-legged bird, and climbed the
bank swiftly.

She disappeared within the gate, but to return presently with a
tumbler of milk and a huge piece of bread.

"Here, boy!" she cried; "here is medicine for you! Make haste and take
it."

Clare sat up feebly, and stared at the tumbler for a moment. Either he
could hardly believe his eyes, or was too sick to take it at
once. When he had it in his hand, he held it out to the dog.

"Here, Abdiel, have a little," he said.

This offended the old lady.

"You're never going to give the dog that good milk!" she cried.

"A little of it, please, ma'am!"

" - And feed him out of the tumbler too?"

"He's had nothing to-day, ma'am, and we're comrades!"

"But it's not clean of you!"

"Ah, you don't know dogs, ma'am! His tongue is clean as clean as
anybody's."

Abdiel took three or four little laps of the milk, drew away, and
looked up at his master - as much as to say, "You, now!"

"Besides," Clare went on, "he couldn't get at it so well in the bottom
of the tumbler."

With that he raised it to his own lips, drank eagerly, and set it on
the road half empty, looking his thanks to the giver with a smile she
thought heavenly. Then he broke the bread, and giving the dog nearly
the half of it, began to eat the rest himself. The old lady stood
looking on in silence, pondering what she was to do with the celestial
beggar.

"Would you mind sleeping in the greenhouse, if I had a bed put up for
you?" she said at length, in tone apologetic.

"This is a better place - though I wish it was warmer!" said Clare,
with another smile as he looked up at the sky, in which a few stars
were beginning to twinkle, and thought of the gardeners he had
met. " - Don't you think it better, ma'am?"

"No, indeed, I don't!" she answered crossly; for to her the open air
at night seemed wrong, disreputable. There was something unholy in it!

"I would rather stay here," said Clare.

"Why?"

"Because you don't quite believe me, ma'am. You can't; and you can't
help it. You wouldn't be able to sleep for thinking that a boy just
out of prison was lying in the greenhouse. There would be no saying
what he might not do! I once read in a newspaper how an old lady took
a lad into her house for a servant, and he murdered her! - No, ma'am,
thank you! After such a supper we shall sleep beautifully! - Sha'n't
we, Abby? And then, perhaps, you could give me a job in the garden
to-morrow! I daresay the gardener wants a little help sometimes! But
if he knew me to have slept in the greenhouse, he would hate me."

The old lady said nothing, for, like most old ladies, she feared her
gardener. She took the tumbler from the boy's hand, and went into the
house. But in two minutes she came again, with another great piece of
bread for Clare, and a bone with something on it which she threw to
Abdiel. The dog's ears started up, erect and alive, like individual
creatures, and his eyes gleamed; but he looked at his master, and
would not touch the bone without his leave - which given, he fell upon
it, and worried it as if it had been a rat.

Clare was now himself again, and when the old lady left them for the
third time, he walked with her across the way, bread in hand, to open
the gate for her. When she was inside, he took off his cap, and bade
her good-night with a grace that won all that was left to be won of
her heart.

Before she had taken three steps from the gate, the old lady turned.

"Boy!" she called; and Clare, who was making for his couch under the
stars, hastened back at the sound of her voice.

"I shall not be able to sleep," she said, "for thinking of you out
there in the bleak night!"

"I am used to it, ma'am!"

"Oh, I daresay! but you see I'm not! and I don't like the thought of
it! You may like hoarfrost-sheets, for what I know, but I don't! You
may like the stars for a tester - because you want to die and go to
them, I suppose! - but I have no fancy for the stars! You are a foolish
fellow, and I am out of temper with you. You don't give a thought to
me - or to my feelings if you should die! I should never go to bed
again with a good conscience! - Besides, I should have to nurse you!"

The last member of her expostulation was hardly in logical sequence,
but it had not the less influence on Clare for that.

"I will do whatever you please, ma'am," he answered humbly. " - Come,
Abdiel!"

The dog came running across the road with his bone in his mouth.

"You mustn't bring that inside the gate, Ab!" said Clare.

The dog dropped it.

"Good dog! It's a lady's garden, you know, Abdiel!" Then turning to
his hostess, Clare added, "I always tell him when I'm pleased with
him: don't you think it right, ma'am?"

"I daresay! I don't know anything about dogs."

"If you had a dog like Abdiel, he would soon teach you dogs, ma'am!"
rejoined Clare.

By this time they were at the house-door. The lady told him to wait
there, went in, and had a talk with her two maids. In half an hour,
Clare and his four-footed angel were asleep - in an outhouse, it is
true, but in a comfortable bed, such as they had not seen since their
flight from the caravans. The cold breeze wandered moaning like a lost
thing round the bare walls, as if every time it woke, it went abroad
to see if there was any hope for the world; but it did not touch them;
and if through their ears it got into their dreams, it made their
sleep the sweeter, and their sense of refuge the deeper.

But although the bewitching boy and his good dog were not lying in the
open air over against her gate, and although never a thought of murder
or theft came to trouble her, it was long before the old lady found
repose. Her heart had been deeply touched.



Chapter LIII.

The gardener.


From the fact that his hostess made him no answer when he breathed the
hope of a job in her garden, Clare concluded that he had presumed in
suggesting the thing to her, and that she would be relieved by their
departure. When he woke in the morning, therefore, early after a grand
sleep, he felt he had no right to linger: he had been invited to
sleep, and he had slept! He also shrank from the idea of being
supposed to expect his breakfast before he went. So, as soon as he got
up, he walked out of the gate, crossed the road, and sat down on the
spot he had occupied the night before, there to wait until the house
should be astir. For, although he could not linger within gates where
he was unknown, neither could he slink away without morning-thanks for
the gift of a warm night.

As he sat, he grew drowsy, and leaning back, fell fast asleep.

The thoughts of his hostess had been running on very different lines,
and she woke with feelings concerning the pauper very different from
those the pauper imagined in her. She must do something for him; she
must give or get him work! As to giving him work, her difficulty lay
in the gardener. She resolved, however, to attempt over-coming it.

She rose earlier than usual, therefore, and as the man, who did not
sleep in the house, was not yet come, she went down to the gate to
meet him and have the thing over - so eager was she, and so nervous in
prospect of such an interview with her dreaded servant.

"Good gracious!" she murmured aloud, "does it rain beggars?" For
there, on the same spot, lay another beggar, another boy, with a dog
in his bosom the facsimile of the ugly white thing named after
Milton's angel! She did not feel moved to go and make his
acquaintance. It could not be another of the family, could it? that
had already heard of his brother's good luck, and come to see whether
there might not be a picking for him too! She turned away hurriedly
lest he should wake, and went back to the house.

But looking behind her as she mounted the steps, she caught sight of
the gardener at the other gate, casting a displeased look across the
road before he entered: he did not like to see tramps about! Her heart
sank a little, but she was not to be turned aside.

The gardener came in, and his mistress joined him and walked with him
to his work, telling him as much as she thought fit concerning the
boy, and interspersing her narrative with hints of the duty of giving
every one a chance. She took care not to mention that he had come out
of a prison somewhere.

"No one should be driven to despair," she said, little thinking she
used almost the very words of the Lord, according to the Sinaitic
reading of a passage in St. Luke's gospel.

The argument had little force with the rough Scotchman: his mistress
was soft-hearted! He shook his head ominously at the idea of giving a
tramp the chance of doing decent work, but at last consented, with a
show of being over-persuaded to an imprudent action, to let the boy
help him for a day, and see how he got on, stipulating, however, that
he should not be supposed to have pledged himself to anything.

Miss Tempest's plans went beyond the gardener's scope. She had for
some months been inclined to have a boy to help in the house - an
inclination justified by a late unexpected accession of income: if
this boy were what he seemed, he would make a more than valuable
servant; and nothing could clear her judgment of him better, she
thought, than putting him to the test of a brief subjection to the
cross-grained, exacting Scotchman. By that she would soon know whether
to dismiss him, or venture with him farther!

She had but just wrung his hard consent from the gardener, when the
cook came running, to say the boy was gone. Upon poor Miss Tempest's
heart fell a cold avalanche.

"But we've counted the spoons, ma'am, and they're all right!" said the
cook.

This additional statement, however, did not seem to give much
consolation to the benevolent old lady. She stood for a moment with
her eyes on the ground, too pained to move or speak. Then she started,
and ran to the gate. The cook ran after, thinking her mistress gone
out of her mind - and was sure of it when she saw her open the gate,
and run straight down the bank to the road. But when she reached the
gate herself, she saw her standing over a boy asleep on the grass of
the opposite bank.

Abdiel, lying on his bosom, watched her with keen friendly eyes. Clare
was dreaming some agreeable morning-dream; for a smile of such
pleasure as could haunt only an innocent face, nickered on it like a
sunny ripple on the still water of a pool.

"No!" said Miss Tempest to herself; "there's no duplicity there!
Otherwise, a tree is not known by its fruit!"

Clare opened his eyes, and started lightly to his feet, strong and
refreshed.

"Good morning, ma'am!" he said, pulling off his cap.

"Good morning - what am I to call you?" she returned.

"Clare, if you please, ma'am."

"What is your Christian name?"

"That is my Christian name, ma'am - Clare."

"Then what is your surname?"

"I am called Porson, ma'am, but I have another name. Mr. Porson
adopted me."

"What is your other name?"

"I don't know, ma'am. I am going to know one day, I think; but the day
is not come yet."

He told her all he could about his adoptive parents, and little Maly;
but the time before he went to the farm was growing strangely
dreamlike, as if it had sunk a long way down in the dark waters of the
past - all up to the hour when Maly was carried away by the long black
aunt.

The story accounted to Miss Tempest both for his good speech and the
name of his dog. The adopted child of a clergyman might well be
acquainted with _Paradise Lost_, though she herself had never read
more of it than the apostrophe to Light in the beginning of the third
book! That she had learned at school without understanding phrase or
sentence of it; while Clare never left passage alone until he
understood it, or, failing that, had invented a meaning for it.

"Well, then, Clare, I've been talking to my gardener about you," said
Miss Tempest. "He will give you a job."

"God bless you, ma'am! I'm ready!" cried Clare, stretching out his
arms, as if to get them to the proper length for work. "Where shall I
find him?"

"You must have breakfast first."

She led the way to the kitchen.

The cook, a middle-aged woman, looked at the dog, and her face
puckered all over with points of interrogation and exclamation.

"Please, cook, will you give this young man some breakfast? He wanted
to go to work without any, but that wouldn't do - would it, cook?" said
her mistress.

"I hope the dog won't be running in and out of my kitchen all day,
ma'am!"

"No fear of that, cook!" said Clare; "he never leaves me."

"Then I don't think - I'm afraid," she began, and stopped. " - But
that's none of my business," she added. "John will look after his
own - and more!"

Miss Tempest said nothing, but she almost trembled; for John, she
knew, had a perfect hatred of dogs. Nor could anyone wonder, for, gate
open or gate shut, in they came and ran over his beds. She dared not
interfere! He and Clare must settle the question of Abdiel or no
Abdiel between them! She left the kitchen.

The cook threw the dog a crust of bread, and Abdiel, after a look at
his master, fell upon it with his white, hungry little teeth. Then she
proceeded to make a cup of coffee for Clare, casting an occasional
glance of pity at his garments, so miserably worn and rent, and his
brown bare feet.

"How on the face of this blessed world, boy, do you expect to work in
the garden without shoes?" she said at length.

"Most things I can do well enough without them," answered Clare;
" - even digging, if the ground is not very hard. My feet used to be
soft, but now the soles of them are like leather. - They've grown their
own shoes," he added, with a smile, and looked straight in her eyes.

The smile and the look went far to win her heart, as they had won that
of her mistress: she felt them true, and wondered how such a
fair-spoken, sweet-faced boy could be on the tramp. She poured him out
a huge cup of coffee, fried him a piece of bacon, and cut him as much
bread and butter as he could dispose of. He had not often eaten
anything but dry bread, in general very dry, since he left the
menagerie, and now felt feasted like an emperor. Pleased with the
master, the cook fed the dog with equal liberality; and then, curious
to witness their reception by John, between whom and herself was
continuous feud, she conducted Clare to the gardener. From a distance
he saw them coming. With look irate fixed upon the dog, he started to
meet them. Clare knew too well the meaning of that look, and saw in
him Satan regarding Abdiel with eye of fire, and the words on his
lips -

"And fly, ere evil intercept thy flight."

The moment he came near enough, without word, or show of malice beyond
what lay in his eye, he made, with the sharp hoe he carried, a sudden
downstroke at the faithful angel, thinking to serve him as Gabriel
served Moloch. But Abdiel was too quick for him: he had read danger in
his very gait the moment he saw him move, and enmity in his eyes when
he came nearer. He kept therefore his own eyes on the hoe, and never
moved until the moment of attack. Then he darted aside. The weapon
therefore came down on the hard gravel, jarring the arm of his
treacherous enemy. With a muttered curse John followed him and made
another attempt, which Abdiel in like manner eluded. John followed and
followed; Abdiel fled and fled - never farther than a few yards,
seeming almost to entice the man's pursuit, sometimes pirouetting on
his hind legs to escape the blows which the gardener, growing more and
more furious with failure, went on aiming at him. Fruitlessly did
Clare assure him that neither would the dog do any harm, nor allow any
one to hit him. It was from very weariness that at last he desisted,
and wiping his forehead with his shirt-sleeve, turned upon Clare in
the smothered wrath that knows itself ridiculous. For all the time the
cook stood by, shaking with delighted laughter at his every fresh
discomfiture.

"Awa', ye deil's buckie," he cried, "an tak' the little Sawtan wi' ye!
Dinna lat me see yer face again."

"But the lady told me you would give me a job!" said Clare.

"I didna tell her I wad gie yer tyke a job! I wad though, gien he wad
lat me!"

"He's given you a stiff one!" said the cook, and laughed again.

The gardener took no notice of her remark.

"Awa' wi' ye!" he cried again, yet more wrathfully, " - or - "

He raised his hand.

Clare looked in his eyes and did not budge.

"For shame, John!" expostulated the cook. "Would you strike a child?"

"I'm no child, cook!" said Clare. "He can't hurt me much. I've had a
good breakfast!"

"Lat 'im tak' awa' that deevil o' a tyke o' his, as I tauld him,"
thundered the gardener, "or I'll mak' a pulp o' 'im!"

"I've had such a breakfast, sir, as I'm bound to give a whole day's
work in return for," said Clare, looking up at the angry man; "and I
won't stir till I've done it. Stolen food on my stomach would turn me
sick!"

"Gien it did, it wadna be the first time, I reckon!" said the
gardener.

"It _would_ be the first time!" returned Clara "You are very rude. - If
Abdiel understood Scotch, he would bite you," he added, as the dog,
hearing his master speak angrily, came up, ears erect, and took his
place at his side, ready for combat.

"Ye'll hae to tak' some ither mode o' payin' the debt!" said John.
"Stick spaud in yird here, ye sall not! You or I maun flit first!"

With that he walked slowly away, shouldering his hoe.

"Come, Abdiel," said Clare; "we must go and tell Miss Tempest! Perhaps
she'll find something else for us to do. If she can't, she'll forgive
us our breakfast, and we'll be off on the tramp again. I thought we
were going to have a day's rest - I mean work; that's the rest we want!
But this man is an enemy to the poor."

The gardener half turned, as if he would speak, but changed his mind
and went his way.

"Never mind John!" said the cook, loud enough for John to hear. "He's
an old curmudgeon as can't sleep o' nights for quarrellin' inside
him. I'll go to mis'ess, and you go and sit down in the kitchen till I
come to you."



Chapter LIV.

The Kitchen.


Clare went into the kitchen, and sat down. The housemaid came in, and
stood for a moment looking at him. Then she asked him what he wanted
there.

"Cook told me to wait here," he answered.

"Wait for what?"

"Till she came to me. She's gone to speak to Miss Tempest."

"I won't have that dog here."

"When I had a home," remarked Clare, "our servant said the cook was
queen of the kitchen: I don't want to be rude, ma'am, but I must do as
she told me."

"She never told you to bring that mangy animal in here!"

"She knew he would follow me, and she said nothing about him. But he's
not mangy. He hasn't enough to eat to be mangy. He's as lean as a


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 19 21 22 23 24

Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldA Rough Shaking → online text (page 19 of 24)