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with so many about him to love, to think of himself. He was not the
contemptible little wretch to say, "What a fine boy I am, to make
everybody love me!" If he had been capable of that, not many would
have loved him; and those that did would most of them have got tired
of loving a thing that did not love again. Only great lovers like God
are able to do that, and they help God to make love grow. But there is
little truth in love where there is no wisdom in it. Clare's father
and mother were wise, and did what they could to make Clare wise.

Also the animals, though they were not aware of it, did much to save
him from being spoiled by the humans whom the boy loved more than
them. For Clare's charity began at home. Those who love their own
people will love other people. Those who do not love children will
never love animals right.

Here I will set down a strange thing that befell Clare, and caused him
a sore heart, making him feel like a traitor to the whole animal race,
and influencing his life for ever. I was at first puzzled to account
for the thing without attributing more imagination to the animals - or
some of them - than I had been prepared to do; but probably the main
factor in it was heart-disease.

He had seen men go out shooting, but had never accompanied any
killers. I do not quite understand how, as in my story, he came even
to imitate using a gun. There was nothing in him that belonged to
killing; and that is more than I could say for myself, or any other
man I know except Clare Skymer.

He was at the bottom of the garden one afternoon, where nothing but a
low hedge came between him and a field of long grass. He had in his
hand the stick of a worn-out umbrella. Suddenly a half-grown rabbit
rose in the grass before him, and bolted. From sheer unconscious
imitation, I believe, he raised the stick to his shoulder, and said
_Bang_. The rabbit gave a great bound into the air, fell, and lay
motionless. With far other feelings than those of a sportsman, Clare
ran, got through the hedge, and approached the rabbit trembling. He
could think nothing but that the creature was playing him a trick. Yet
he was frightened. Only how could he have hurt him!

"I dare say the little one knows me," he said to himself, "and wanted
to give me a start! He couldn't tell what a start it would be, or he
wouldn't have done it."

When he drew near, however, "the little one" did not, as he had hoped
and expected, jump up and run again. With sinking heart Clare went
close up, and looked down on it. It lay stretched out, motionless.
With death in his own bosom he stooped and tenderly lifted it. The
rabbit was stone-dead! The poor boy gazed at it, pressed it tenderly
to his heart, and went with it to find his mother. The tears kept
pouring down his face, but he uttered no cry till he came to her. Then
a low groaning howl burst from him; he laid the dead thing in her lap,
and threw himself on the floor at her feet in an abandonment of
self-accusation and despair.

It was long before he was able to give her an intelligible account of
what had taken place. She asked him if he had found it dead. In answer
he could only shake his head, but that head-shake had a whole tragedy
in it. Then she examined "the little one," but could find no mark of
any wound upon it. When at length she learned how the case was, she
tried to comfort him, insisting he was not to blame, for he did not
mean to kill the little one. He would not hearken to her loving
sophistry.

"No, mother!" he said through his sobs; "I wouldn't have blamed
myself, though I should have been very sorry, if I had killed him by
accident - if I had stepped upon him, or anything of that kind; but I
meant to frighten him! I looked bad at him! I made him think I was an
enemy, and going to kill him! I shammed bad - and so was real bad."

He stopped with a most wailful howl.

"Perhaps he knew me," he resumed, "and couldn't understand it. It was
much worse than if I had shot him. He wouldn't have known then till he
was dead. But to die of terror was horrible. Oh, why didn't I think
what I was doing?"

"Nobody could have thought of such a thing happening."

"No; but I ought to have thought, mother, of what I was doing. I was
trying to frighten him! I must have been in a cruel mood. Why didn't I
think love to the little one when I saw him, instead of thinking death
to him? I shall never look a rabbit in the face again! My heart must
have grown black, mother!"

"I don't believe there is another rabbit in England would die from
such a cause," persisted his mother thoughtfully.

"Then what a superior rabbit he must have been!" said Clare. "To think
that I pulled down the roof of his church upon him!"

He burst into a torrent of tears, and ran to his own room. There his
mother thought it better to leave him undisturbed. She wisely judged
that a mind of such sensibility was alone capable of finding the
comfort to fit its need.

Such comfort he doubtless did find, for by the time his mother called
him to tea, calmness had taken the place of the agony on his
countenance. His mother asked him no questions, for she as well as her
husband feared any possible encouragement to self-consciousness. I
imagine the boy had reflected that things could not go so wrong that
nobody could set them right. I imagine he thought that, if he had done
the rabbit a wrong, as he never for a moment to the end of his life
doubted he had, he who is at the head of all heads and the heart of
all hearts, would contrive to let him tell the rabbit he was sorry,
and would give him something to do for the rabbit that would make up
for his cruelty to him. He did once say to his mother, and neither of
them again alluded to the matter, that he was sure the rabbit had
forgiven him.

"Little ones are _so_ forgiving, you know, mother!" he added.

Is it any wonder that my friend Clare Skymer should have been no
sportsman?



Chapter VIII.

Clare and his human brothers


Another anecdote of him, that has no furtherance of the story in it, I
must yet tell.

One cold day in a stormy March, the wind was wildly blowing broken
clouds across the heavens, and now rain, now sleet, over the shivering
blades of the young corn, whose tender green was just tinging the dark
brown earth. The fields were now dark and wintry, heartless and cold;
now shining all over as with repentant tears; one moment refusing to
be comforted, and the next reviving with hope and a sense of new
life. Clare was hovering about the plough. Suddenly he spied, from a
mound in the field, a little procession passing along the
highway. Those in front carried something on their shoulders which
must be heavy, for it took six of them to carry it. He knew it was a
coffin, for his home was by the churchyard, and a funeral was no
unfamiliar sight. Behind it one man walked alone. For a moment Clare
watched him, and saw his bowed head and heavy pace. His heart filled
from its own perennial fount of pity, which was God himself in him. He
ran down the hill and across the next field, making for a spot some
distance ahead of the procession. As it passed him, he joined the
chief mourner, who went plodding on with his arms hanging by his
sides. Creeping close up to him, he slid his little soft hand into the
great horny hand of the peasant. Instinctively the big hand closed
upon the small one, and the weather-beaten face of a man of fifty
looked down on the boy. Not a word was said between them. They walked
on, hand in hand.

Neither had ever seen the other. The man was following his wife and
his one child to the grave. "Nothing almost sees miracles but misery,"
says Kent in _King Lear_. Because this man was miserable, he saw a
miracle where was no miracle, only something very good. The thing was
true and precious, yea, a message from heaven. Those deep, upturned,
silent eyes; the profound, divine sympathy that shone in them; the
grasp of the tiny hand upon his large fingers, made the heart of the
man, who happened to be a catholic, imagine, and for a few moments
believe, that he held the hand of the infant Saviour. The cloud lifted
from his heart and brain, and did not return when he came to
understand that this was not _the_ lamb of God, only another lamb from
the same fold.

When they had walked about two miles, the boy began to fear he might
be intruding, and would have taken his hand from the other, but the
man held it tight, and stooping whispered it was not far now. The
child, who, without knowing it, had taken the man under the
protection of his love, yielded at once, went with him to the grave,
joined in the service, and saw the grave filled. They went again as
they had come. Not a word was spoken. The man wept a little now and
then, drew the back of his brown hand across his eyes, and pressed a
little closer the hand he held. At the gate of the parsonage the boy
took his leave. He said they would be wondering what had become of
him, or he would have gone farther. The man released him without a
word.

His mother had been uneasy about him, but when he told her how it was,
she said he had done right.

"Yes," returned the boy; "I belong there myself."

The mother knew he was not thinking of the grave.

One more anecdote I will give, serving to introduce the narrative of
the following chapter, and helping to show the character of the
boy. He was so unlike most boys, that one must know all he may about
him, if he would understand him.

Never yet, strange as the assertion must seem, had the boy shown any
anger. His father was a little troubled at the fact, fearing such
absence of resentment might indicate moral indifference, or, if not,
might yet render him incapable of coping with the world. He had
himself been brought up at a public school, and had not, with all his
experience of life, come to see, any more than most of the readers of
this story now see, or for a long time will see, that there lies no
nobility, no dignity in evil retort of any kind; that evil is evil
when returned as much as when given; that the only shining thing is
good - and the most shining, good for evil.

One day a coarse boy in the village gave him a sharp blow on the
face. It forced water from his eyes and blood from his nose. He was
wiping away both at once with his handkerchief, when a kindly girl
stopped and said to him -

"Never mind; don't cry."

"Oh, no!" answered Clare; "it's only water, it's not crying. It would
be cowardly to cry."

"That's a brave boy! You'll give it him back one of these days."

"No," he returned, "I shall not I couldn't."

"Why?"

"Because it hurts so. My nose feels as if it were broken. I know it's
not broken, but it feels like it."

The girl, as well as the boys who stood around him, burst into
laughter. They saw no logic in his reasoning. Clare's was the divine
reasoning that comes of loving your neighbour; theirs was the earthly
reasoning that came of loving themselves. They did not see that to
Clare another boy was another of himself; that he was carrying out the
design of the Father of men, that his creatures should come together
into one, not push each other away.

The next time he met the boy who struck him, so far was he both from
resentment and from the fear of being misunderstood, that he offered
him a rosy-cheeked apple his mother had given him as he left for
school. The boy was tyrant and sneak together - a combination to be
seen sometimes in a working man set over his fellows, and in a rich
man grown poor, and bent upon making money again. The boy took the
apple, never doubted Clare gave it him to curry favour, ate it up
grinning, and threw the core in his face. Clare turned away with a
sigh, and betook himself to his handkerchief again, The boy burst into
a guffaw of hideous laughter.



Chapter IX.

Clare the defender.


This enemy was a trouble, more or less, to every decent person in the
neighbourhood. It was well his mother was a widow, for where she was
only powerless to restrain, the father would have encouraged. He was a
big, idle, sneering, insolent lad - such that had there been two more
of the sort, they would have made the village uninhabitable. It was
all the peaceable vicar could do to keep his hands off him.

One day, little Mary being then about five years old, Clare had her
out for a walk. They were alone in a narrow lane, not far from the
farm where Clare was so much at home. To his consternation, for he had
his sister in charge, down the lane, meeting them, came the village
tyrant. He strolled up with his hands in his pockets, and barred their
way. But while, his eye chiefly on Clare, he "straddled" like
Apollyon, but not "quite over the whole breadth of the way," Mary
slipped past him. The young brute darted after the child. Clare put
down his head, as he had seen the rams do, and as Simpson, who ill
deserved the name of the generous Jewish Hercules, was on the point of
laying hold of her, caught him in the flank, butted him into the
ditch, and fell on the top of him.

"Run, Maly!" he cried; "I'll be after you in a moment."

"Will you, you little devil!" cried the bully; and taking him by the
throat, so that he could not utter even a gurgle, got up and began to
beat him unmercifully. But the sounds of their conflict had reached
the ears of the bull Nimrod, who was feeding within the hedge. He
recognized Clare's voice, perhaps knew from it that he was in trouble;
but I am inclined to think pure bull-love of a row would alone have
sent him tearing to the quarter whence the tyrant's brutal bellowing
still came. There, looking over the hedge, he saw his friend in the
clutches of an enemy of his own, for Simpson never lost a chance of
teasing Nimrod when he could do so with safety. Over he came with a
short roar and a crash. Looking up, the bully saw a bigger bully than
himself, with his head down and horns level, retreating a step or two
in preparation for running at him. Simpson shoved the helpless Clare
toward the enemy and fled. Clare fell. Nimrod jumped over his
prostrate friend and tore after Simpson. Clare got up and would at
once have followed to protect his enemy, but that he must first see
his sister safe. He ran with her to a cottage hard by, handed her to
the woman at the door of it, and turning pursued Simpson and the bull.

Nimrod overtook his enemy in the act of scrambling over a five-barred
gate. Simpson saw the head of the bull coming down upon him like the
bows of a Dutchman upon a fishing-boat, and, paralyzed with terror,
could not move an inch further. Crash against the gate came the horns
of Nimrod, with all the weight and speed of his body behind them. Away
went the gate into the field, and away went Simpson and the bull with
it, the latter nearly breaking his neck, for his horns were entangled
in the bars, one of them by the diagonal bar. Simpson's right leg was
jammed betwixt the gate and the head and horns of the bull. He roared,
and his roars maddened Nimrod, furious already that he could not get
his horns clear. Shake and pull as he might, the gate stuck to them;
and Simpson fared little the better that the bull's quarrel was for
the moment with the gate, and not with the leg between him and it.

Clare had not seen the catastrophe, and did not know what had become
of pursuer or pursued, until he reached the gap where the gate had
been. He saw then the odd struggle going on, and ran to the aid of his
foe, in terror of what might already have befallen him. The moment he
laid hold of one of the animal's horns, infuriated as Nimrod was with
his helpless entanglement, he knew at once who it was, and was quiet;
for Clare always took him by the horn when first he went up to
him. Without a moment's demur he yielded to the small hands as they
pushed and pulled his head this way and that until they got it clear
of the gate. But then they did not let him go. Clare proceeded to take
him home, and Nimrod made no objection. Simpson lay groaning.

When Clare returned, his enemy was there still. He had got clear of
the gate, but seemed in much pain, for he lay tearing up the grass and
sod in handfuls. When Clare stooped to ask what he should do for him,
he struck him a backhanded blow on the face that knocked him
over. Clare got up and ran.

"Coward!" cried Simpson; "to leave a man with a broken leg to get home
by himself!"

"I'm going to find some one strong enough to help you," said Clare.

But Simpson, after his own evil nature, imagined he was going to let
the bull into the field again, and fell to praying him not to leave
him. Clare knew, however, that, if his leg was broken, he could not
get him home, neither could he get home by himself; so he made haste
to tell the people at the farm, and Simpson lay in terror of the bull
till help came.

From that hour he hated Clare, attributing to him all the ill he had
brought on himself. But he was out of mischief for a while. The
trouble fell on his mother - who deserved it, for she would believe no
ill of him, because he was _hers_. One good thing of the affair was,
that the bully was crippled for life, and could do the less harm.

It was a great joy to Mr. Person to learn how Clare had defended his
sister. Clergyman as he was, and knowing that Jesus Christ would never
have returned a blow, and that this spirit of the Lord was what saved
the world, he had been uneasy that his adopted child behaved just like
Jesus. That a man should be so made as not to care to return a blow,
never occurred to Mr. Porson as possible. It was therefore an
immeasurable relief to his feelings as an Englishman, to find that the
boy was so far from being destitute of pluck, that in defence of his
sister he had attacked a fellow twice his size.

"Weren't you afraid of such a big rascal?" he said.

"No, papa," answered the boy. "Ought I to have been?"

He put his hand to his forehead, as if trying to understand. His
father found he had himself something to think about.

There was a certain quiescence about Clare, ill to describe,
impossible to explain, but not the less manifest. Like an infant, he
never showed surprise at anything. Whatever came to him he received,
questioning nothing, marvelling at nothing, disputing nothing. What he
was told to do he went to do, never with even a momentary show of
disinclination, leaving book or game with readiness but no
eagerness. He would do deftly what was required of him, and return to
his place, with a countenance calm and sweet as the moon in highest
heaven. He seldom offered a caress except to little Mary; yet would
choose, before anything else, a place by his mother's knee. The moment
she, or his father in her absence, entered the room and sat down, he
would rise, take his stool, and set it as near as he thought he
might. When caressed he never turned away, or looked as if he would
rather be let alone; at the same time he received the caress so
quietly, and with so little response, that often, when his heavenly
look had drawn the heart of some mother, or spinster with motherly
heart, he left an ache in the spirit he would have gone to the world's
end to comfort. He never sought love - otherwise than by getting near
the loved. When anything was given him, he would look up and smile,
but he seldom showed much pleasure, or went beyond the regulation
thanks. But if at such a moment little Mary were by, he had a curious
way of catching her up and presenting her to the giver. Whether this
was a shape his thanks took, whether Mary was to him an incorporate
gratitude, or whether he meant to imply that she was the fitter on
whom to shower favour, it were hard to say. His mother observed, and
in her mind put the two things together, that he did not seem to prize
much any mere possession. He looked pleased with a new suit of
clothes, but if any one remarked on his care of them, he would answer,
"I mustn't spoil what's papa and mamma's!" He made no hoard of any
kind. He did once hoard marbles till he had about a hundred; then it
was discovered that they were for a certain boy in the village who was
counted half-witted - as indeed was Clare himself by many. When he
learned that the boy had first been accused of stealing them - for no
one would believe that another boy had given them to him - and after
that robbed of them by the other boys, on the ground that he did not
know how to play with them, Clare saw that it was as foolish to hoard
for another as for himself.

He was a favourite with few beyond those that knew him well. Many who
saw him only at church, or about the village, did not take to him. His
still regard repelled them. In Naples they would have said he had the
evil eye. I think people had a vague sense of rebuke in his
presence. Even his mother, passionately loving her foundling, was
aware of a film between them through which she could not quite see
him, beyond which there was something she could not get at, Clare knew
nothing of such a separation. He seemed to himself altogether close to
his mother, was aware of nothing between to part them. The cause of
the thing was, that Clare was not yet in flower. His soul was a white
half-blown bud, not knowing that it was but half-blown. It basked in
the glory of the warm sun, but only with the underside of its
flower-leaves; it had not opened its heart, the sun-side of its
petals, to the love in which it was immerged. He received the love as
a matter of course, and loved it as a matter of course. But for the
cruel Simpson he would not have known there could be any other way of
things. He did not yet know that one must not only love but mean to
love, must not only bask in the warmth of love, but know it as love,
and where it comes from - love again the fountain whence it flows.



Chapter X.

The black aunt.


Clare was yet in his tenth year when an unhealthy summer came. The sun
was bright and warm as in other summers, and the flowers in field and
garden appeared as usual when the hour arrived for them to wake and
look abroad; but the children of men did not fare so well as the
children of the earth. A peculiar form of fever showed itself in the
village. It was not very fatal, yet many were so affected as to be
long unable to work. There was consequently much distress beyond the
suffering of the fever itself. The parson and his wife went about from
morning to night among the cottagers, helping everybody that needed
help. They had no private fortune, but the small blanket of the
benefice they spread freely over as many as it could be stretched to
cover, depriving themselves of a good part of the food to which they
had been accustomed, and of several degrees of necessary warmth. When
at last the strength of the parson gave way, and the fever laid hold
of him, he had to do without many comforts his wife would gladly have
got for him. They were both of rather humble origin, having but one
relative well-to-do, a sister of Mrs. Porson, who had married a rich
but very common man. From her they could not ask help. She had never
sent them any little present, and had been fiercely indignant with
them for adopting Clare.

Neither of them once complained, though Mrs. Person, whose strength
was much spent, could not help weeping sometimes when she was alone
and free to weep. They knew their Lord did not live in luxury, and a
secret gladness nestled in their hearts that they were allowed to
suffer a little with him for the sake of the flock he had given into
their charge.

The children of course had to share in the general gloom, but it did
not trouble them much. For Clare, he was not easily troubled with
anything. Always ready to help, he did not much realize what suffering
was; and he had Mary to look after, which was labour and pleasure,
work and play and pay all in one. His mother was at ease concerning
her child when she knew her in Clare's charge, and was free to attend
to her husband. She often said that if ever any were paid for being
good to themselves, she and her husband were vastly overpaid for
taking such a child from the shuddering arms of the earthquake.

But John Porson's hour was come. He must leave wife and children and
parish, and go to him who had sent him. If any one think it hard he
should so fare in doing his duty, let him be silent till he learn what
the parson himself thought of the matter when he got home. People talk
about death as the gosling might about life before it chips its
egg. Take up their way of lamentation, and we shall find it an
endless injustice to have to get up every morning and go to bed every
night. Mrs. Porson wept, but never thought him or herself
ill-used. And had she been low enough to indulge in self-pity, it



Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldA Rough Shaking → online text (page 5 of 24)