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would have been thrown away, for before she had time to wonder how she
was to live and rear her children, she too was sent for. In this world
she was not one of those mothers of little faith who trust God for
themselves but not for their children, and when again with her
husband, she would not trust God less.

Clare was in the garden when Sarah told him she was dead. He stood
still for a moment, then looked up, up into the blue. Why he looked
up, he could not have told; but ever since that terrible morning of
which the vague burning memory had never passed, when the great dome
into which he was gazing, burst and fell, he had a way every now and
then of standing still and looking up. His face was white. Two slow
tears gathered, rolled over, and dried upon his face. He turned to
Mary, lifted her in his arms, and, carrying her about the garden, once
more told her his strange version of what had happened in his
childhood. Then he told her that her papa and mamma had gone to look
for his papa and mamma - "somewhere up in the dome," he said.

When they wanted to take Mary to see what was left of her mother, the
boy contrived to prevent them. From morning till night he never lost
sight of the child.

One cold noon in October, when the clouds were miles deep in front of
the sun, when the rain was falling thick on the yellow leaves, and all
the paths were miry, the two children sat by the kitchen fire. Sarah
was cooking their mid-day meal, which had come from her own
pocket. She was the only servant either of them had known in the
house, and she would not leave it until some one should take charge of
them. The neighbours, dreading infection, did not come near
them. Clare sat on a little stool with Mary on his knees, nestling in
his bosom; but he felt dreary, for he saw no love-firmament over him;
the cloud of death hid it.

With a sudden jingle and rattle, up drove a rickety post-chaise to the
door of the parsonage. Out of it, and into the kitchen, came stalking
a tall middle-aged woman, in a long black cloak, black bonnet, and
black gloves, with a face at once stern and peevish.

"I am the late Mrs. Porson's sister," she said, and stood.

Sarah courtesied and waited. Clare rose, with Mary in his arms.

"This is little Maly, ma'am," he said, offering her the child.

"Set her down, and let me see her," she answered.

Clare obeyed. Mary put her finger in her mouth, and began to cry. She
did not like the look of the black aunt, and was not used to a harsh
voice.

"Tut! tut!" said the black aunt. "Crying already! That will never do!
Show me her things."

Sarah felt stunned. This was worse than death! "If only the mistress
had taken them with her!" she said to herself.

Mary's things - they were not many - were soon packed. Within an hour
she was borne off, shrieking, struggling, and calling Clay. The black
aunt, however, - as the black aunt Clare always thought of her - cared
nothing for her resistance; and Clare, who at her first cry was
rushing to the rescue, ready once more to do battle for her, was
seized and held back by Farmer Goodenough. Sarah had sent for him, and
he had come - just in time to frustrate Clare's valour.

The carriage was not yet out of sight, when Farmer Goodenough began to
repent that he had come: his presence was an acknowledgment of
responsibility! Something must be done with the foundling! There was
nobody to claim him, and nobody wanted him! He had always liked the
boy, but he did not want him! His wife was not fond of the boy, nor of
any boy, and did not want him! He had said to her that Clare could not
be left to starve, and she had answered, "Why not?"! What was to be
done with him? Nobody knew - any more than Clare himself. But which of
us knows what is going to be done with him?

Clare was nobody's business. English farmers no more than French are
proverbial for generosity; and Farmer Goodenough, no bad type of his
class, had a wife in whose thoughts not the pence but the farthings
dominated. She was one who at once recoiled and repelled - one of those
whose skin shrinks from the skin of their kind, and who are specially
apt to take unaccountable dislikes - a pitiable human animal of the
leprous sort. She "never took to the foundling," she said. To have
neither father nor mother, she counted disreputable. But I believe the
main source of her dislike to Clare was a feeling of undefined reproof
in the very atmosphere of the boy's presence, his nature was so
different from hers. What urged him toward his fellow-creatures, made
her draw back from him. In truth she hated the boy. The very look of
him made her sick, she said. It was only a certain respect for the
parson, and a certain fear of her husband, who, seldom angry, was yet
capable of fury, that had prevented her from driving the child, "with
his dish-clout face," off the premises, whenever she saw him from door
or window. It was no wonder the farmer should he at his wits' end to
know what, as churchwarden, guardian of the poor, and friend of the
late vicar - as friendly also to the boy himself, he was bound to do.

"Where are _you_ going?" he asked Sarah.

"Where the Lord wills," answered the old woman. Her ark had gone to
pieces, and she hardly cared what became of her.

"We've got to look to ourselves!" said the farmer.

"Parson used to say there was One as took that off our hands!" replied
Sarah.

"Yes, yes," assented Mr. Goodenough, fidgeting a little; "but the
Almighty helps them as helps themselves, and that's sound
doctrine. You really must do something, Sarah! We can't have you on
the parish, you know!"

"I beg your pardon, sir, but until the child here is provided for, or
until they turn us out of the parsonage, I will not leave the place."

"The furniture is advertised for sale. You'll have nothing but the
bare walls!"

"We'll manage to keep each other warm! - Shan't we, Clare?"

"I will try to keep you warm, Sarah," responded the boy sadly.

"But the new parson will soon be here. Our souls must be cared for!"

"Is the Lord's child that came from heaven in an earthquake to be
turned out into the cold for fear the souls of big men should perish?"

"Something must be done about it!" said the farmer.

"What it's to be I can't tell! It's no business o' mine any way!"

"That's what the priest, and the Levite, and the farmer says!"
returned Sarah.

"Won't you ask Mr. Goodenough to stay to dinner?" said Clare.

He went up to the farmer, who in his perplexity had seated himself,
and laid his arm on his shoulder.

"No, I can't," answered Sarah. "He would eat all we have, and not have
enough!"

"Now Maly is gone," returned Clare, "I would rather not have any
dinner."

The farmer's old feeling for the boy, which the dread of having him
left on his hands had for the time dulled, came back.

"Get him his dinner, Sarah," he said. "I've something to see to in the
village. By the time I come back, he'll be ready to go with me,
perhaps."

"God bless you, sir!" cried Sarah. "You meant it all the time, an' I
been behavin' like a brute!"

The farmer did not like being taken up so sharply. He had promised
nothing! But he had nearly made up his mind that, as the friend of the
late parson, he could scarcely do less than give shelter to the child
until he found another refuge. True, he was not the parson's child,
but he had loved him as his own! He would make the boy useful, and so
shut his wife's mouth! There were many things Clare could do about the
place!



Chapter XI.

Clare on the farm.


When Mr. Goodenough appeared at the house-door with the boy, his
wife's face expressed what her tongue dared not utter without some
heating of the furnace behind it. But Clare never saw that he was
unwelcome. He had not begun to note outward and visible signs in
regard to his own species; his observation was confined to the
animals, to whose every motion and look he gave heed. But he was
hardly aware of watching even them: his love made it so natural to
watch, and so easy to understand them! He was not drawn to study
Mrs. Goodenough, or to read her indications; he was content to hear
what she said.

True to her nature, Mrs. Goodenough, seeing she could not at once get
rid of the boy, did her endeavour to make him pay for his
keep. Nominally he continued to attend the village school, where the
old master was doing his best for him; but, oftener than not, she
interposed to prevent his going, and turned him to use about the
house, the dairy, and the poultry-yard.

His new mode of life occasioned him no sense of hardship. I do not
mean because of his patient acceptance of everything that came; but
because he had been so long accustomed to the ways of a farm, to all
the phases of life and work in yard and field, that nothing there came
strange to him - except having to stick to what he was put to, and
having next to no time to read. Many boys who have found much
amusement in doing this or that, find it irksome the moment it is
required of them: Clare was not of that mean sort; he was a
gentleman. Happily he was put to no work beyond his strength.

At first, and for some time, he had to do only with the creatures more
immediately under the care of "the mistress," whence his acquaintance
with the poultry and the pigs, the pigeons and the calves - and
specially with such as were delicate or had been hurt - with their ways
of thinking and their carriage and conduct, rapidly increased.

By and by, however, having already almost ceased to attend school, the
farmer, requiring some passing help a boy could give, took him from
his wife - not without complaint on her part, neither without sense of
relief, and would not part with him again. He was so quick in doing
what was required, so intelligent to catch the meaning not always
thoroughly expressed, so cheerful, and so willing, that he was a
pleasure to Mr. Goodenough - and no less a pleasure to the farmer that
dwelt in Mr. Goodenough, and seemed to most men all there was of him;
for, instead of an expense, he found him a saving.

It was much more pleasant for Clare to be with his master than with
his mistress, but he fared the worse for it in the house. The woman's
dislike of the boy must find outlet; and as, instead of flowing all
day long, it was now pent up the greater part of it, the stronger it
issued when he came home to his meals. I will not defile my page with
a record of the modes in which she vented her spite. It sought at
times such minuteness of indulgence, that it was next to impossible
for any one to perceive its embodiments except the boy himself.

He now came more into contact with the larger animals about the place;
and the comfort he derived from them was greater than most people
would readily or perhaps willingly believe. He had kept up his
relations with Nimrod, the bull, and there was never a breach of the
friendship between them. The people about the farm not unfrequently
sought his influence with the animal, for at times they dared hardly
approach him. Clare even made him useful - got a little work out of him
now and then. But his main interest lay in the horses. He had up to
this time known rather less of them than of the other creatures on the
place; now he had to give his chief attention to them, laying in love
the foundation of that knowledge which afterward stood him in such
stead when he came to dwell for a time among certain eastern tribes
whose horses are their chief gladness and care. He used, when alone
with them, to talk to this one or that about the friends he had
lost - his father and mother and Maly and Sarah - and did not mind if
they all listened. He would even tell them sometimes about his own
father and mother - how the whole sky full of angels fell down upon
them and took them away. But he said most about his sister. For her he
mourned more than for any of the rest. Her screams as the black aunt
carried her away, would sometimes come back to him with such
verisimilitude of nearness, that, forgetting everything about him, he
would start to run to her. He felt somehow that it was well with the
others, but Maly had always needed _him_, and more than ever in the
last days of their companionship. He wept for nobody but Maly. In the
night he would wake up suddenly, thinking he heard her crying out for
him. Then he would get out of bed, creep to the stable, go to
Jonathan, and to him pour out his low-voiced complaint. Jonathan was
the biggest and oldest horse on the farm.

How much he thought they understood of what he told them, I cannot
say. He was never silly; and where we cannot be sure, we may yet have
reason to hope. He believed they knew when he was in trouble, and
sympathized with him, and would gladly have relieved him of his
pain. I suspect most animals know something of the significance of
tears. More animals shed tears themselves than people think.

For dogs, bless them, they are everywhere, and the boy had known them
from time immemorial.

In the village, some of Clare's old admirers began to remark that he
no longer "looked the little gentleman." This was caused chiefly by
the state of his clothes. They were not fit for the work to which he
was put, and within a few weeks were very shabby. Besides, he was
growing rapidly, so that he and his garments were in too evident
process of parting company. Accustomed to a mother's attentions, he
had never thought of his clothes except to take care of them for her
sake; now he tried to mend them, but soon found his labour of little
use. He had no wages to buy anything with. His clothes or his health
or his education were nothing to Mrs. Goodenough. It was no concern of
hers whether he looked decent or not. What right had such as he to
look decent? It was more than enough that she fed him! The shabbiness
of the beggarly creature was a consolation to her.

But Clare's toil in the open air, and his constant and willing
association with the animals, had begun to give him a bucolic
appearance. He grew a trifle browner, and showed here and there a
freckle. His health was splendid. Nothing seemed to hurt him. Hardship
was wholesome to him. To the eyes that hated him, and grudged the hire
of the mere food by which he grew, he seemed every day to enlarge
visibly. Already he gave promise of becoming a man of more than
ordinary strength and vigour. Possibly the animals gave him something.

What may have been his outlook and hope all this time, who shall tell!
He never grumbled, never showed sign of pain or unwillingness, gave
his mistress no reason for fault-finding. She found it hard even to
discover a pretext. She seemed always ready to strike him, but was
probably afraid to do so without provocation her husband would count
sufficient. Clare never showed discomfort, never even sighed except he
were alone. Chequered as his life had been, if ever he looked forward
to a fresh change, it was but as a far possibility in the slow current
of events. But he was constantly possessed with a large dim sense of
something that lay beyond, waiting for him; something toward which the
tide of things was with certainty drifting him, but with which he had
nothing more to do than wait. He did not see that to do the things
given him to do was the only preparation for whatever, in the dim
under-world of the future, might be preparing for him; but he did feel
that he must do his work. He did not then think much about duty. He
was actively inclined, had a strong feeling for doing a thing as it
ought to be done; and was thoroughly loyal to any one that seemed to
have a right over him. In this blind, enduring, vaguely hopeful way,
he went on - sustained, and none the less certainly that he did not
know it, from the fountain of his life. When the winter came, his
sufferings, cared for as he had been, and accustomed to warmth and
softness, must at times have been considerable. In the day his work
was a protection, but at night the house was cold. He had, however,
plenty to eat, had no ailment, and was not to be greatly pitied.



Chapter XII.

Clare becomes a guardian of the poor.


Simpson, the bully of Clare's childhood, went limping about on a
crutch, permanently lame, and full of hatred toward the innocent
occasion of the injury he had brought upon himself. Ever since his
recovery, he had, loitering about in idleness, watched the boy, to
waylay and catch him at unawares. Not until Clare went to the farm,
however, did he once succeed; for it was not difficult to escape him,
so long as he had not laid actual hold on his prey. But he grew more
and more cunning, and contrived at last, by creeping along hedges and
lying in ambush like a snake, to get his hands upon him. Then the poor
boy fared ill.

He went home bleeding and torn. The righteous churchwarden rebuked him
with severity for fighting. His mistress told him she was glad he had
met with some one to give him what he deserved, for she could hardly
keep her hands off him. He stared at her with wondering eyes, but said
nothing. She turned from them: the devil in her could not look in the
eyes of the angel in him. The next time he fell into the snare of his
enemy, he managed to conceal what had befallen him. After that he was
too wide awake to be caught.

There was in the village a child whom nobody heeded. He was far more
destitute than Clare, but had too much liberty. He lived with a
wretched old woman who called him her grandson: whether he was or not
nobody cared. She made her livelihood by letting beds, in a cottage or
rather hovel which seemed to be her own, to wayfarers, mostly tramps,
with or without trades. The child was thus thrown into the worst of
company, and learned many sorts of wickedness. He was already a thief,
and of no small proficiency in his art. Though village-bred, he could
pick a pocket more sensitive than a clown's. Small and deft, he had
never stood before a magistrate. He was a miserable creature,
bare-footed and bare-legged; about eight years of age, but so stunted
that to the first glance he looked less than six - with keen ferret
eyes in red rims, red hair, pasty, freckled complexion, and a
generally unhealthy look; from which marks all, Clare conceived a
pitiful sympathy for him. Their acquaintance began thus: -

One day, during his father's last illness, he happened to pass the
door of the grandmother's hovel while the crone was administering to
Tommy a severe punishment with a piece of thick rope: she had been
sharp enough to catch him stealing from herself. Clare heard his
cries. The door being partly open, he ran in, and gave him such
assistance that they managed to bolt together from the hut. A
friendship, for long almost a silent one, was thus initiated between
them. Tommy - Clare never knew his other name, nor did the boy
himself - would off and on watch for a sight of him all day long, but
had the instinct, or experience, never to approach him if any one was
with him. He was careful not to compromise him. The instant the most
momentary _tête-à-tête_ was possible, he would rush up, offer him
something he had found or stolen, and hurry away again. That he was a
thief Clare had not the remotest suspicion. He had never offered him
anything to suggest theft.

By and by it came to the knowledge of Clare's enemy that there was a
friendship between them, and the discovery wrought direness for
both. One day Simpson saw Clare coming, and Tommy watching him. He
laid hold of Tommy, and began cuffing him and pulling his hair, to
make him scream, thinking thus to get hold of Clare. But
notwithstanding the lesson he had received, the rascal had not yet any
adequate notion of the boy's capacity for action where another was
concerned. He flew to the rescue, caught up the crutch Simpson had
dropped, and laid it across his back with vigour. The fellow let Tommy
go and turned on Clare, who went backward, brandishing the crutch.

"Run, Tommy," he cried.

Tommy retreated a few steps.

"Run yourself," he counselled, having reached a safe distance. "Take
his third leg with you."

Clare saw the advice was good, and ran. But the next moment reflection
showed him the helplessness of his enemy. He turned, and saw him
hobbling after him in such evident pain and discomfiture, that he went
to meet him, and politely gave him his crutch. He might have thrown it
to him and gone on, but he had a horror of rudeness, and handed it to
him with a bow. Just as he regained his perpendicular, the crutch
descended on his head, and laid him flat on the ground. There the
tyrant belaboured him. Tommy stood and regarded the proceeding.

"The cove's older an' bigger an' pluckier than me," he said to
himself; "but he's an ass. He'll come to grief unless he's looked
after. He'll be hanged else. He don't know how to dodge. I'll have to
take him in charge!"

When he saw Clare free, an event to which he had contributed nothing,
he turned and ran home.

Simpson redoubled now his persecution of Clare, and persecuted Tommy
because of Clare. He lurked for Tommy now, and when he caught him,
tormented him with choice tortures. In a word, he made his life
miserable. After every such mischance Tommy would hurry to the farm,
and lie about in the hope of a sight of Clare, or possibly a chance of
speaking to him. His repute was so bad that he dared not show himself.

Hot tears would come into Clare's eyes as he listened to the not
always unembellished tale of Tommy's sufferings at the hands of
Simpson; but he never thought of revenge, only of protection or escape
for the boy. It comforted him to believe that he was growing, and
would soon be a match for the oppressor.

Whether at this time he felt any great interest in life, or recognized
any personal advantage in growing, I doubt. But he had the friendship
of the animals; and it is not surprising that creatures their maker
thinks worth making and keeping alive, should yield consolation to one
that understands them, or even fill with a mild joy the pauses of
labour in an irksome life.

Then each new day was an old friend to the boy. Each time the sun
rose, new hope rose with him in his heart. He came every morning fresh
from home, with a fresh promise. The boy read the promise in his great
shining, and believed it; gazed and rejoiced, and turned to his work.

But the hour arrived when his mistress could bear his presence no
longer. Some petty loss, I imagine, had befallen her. Nothing touched
her like the loss of money - the love of which is as dread a passion as
the love of drink, and more ruinous to the finer elements of the
nature. It was like the tearing out of her heart to Mrs. Goodenough to
lose a shilling. Her self-command forsook her, perhaps, in some such
moment of vexation; anyhow, she opened the sluices of her hate, and
overwhelmed him with it in the presence of her husband.

The farmer knew she was unfair, knew the orphan a good boy and a
diligent, knew there was nothing against him but the antipathy of his
wife. But, annoyed with her injustice, he was powerless to change her
heart. Since the boy came to live with them, he had had no pleasure in
his wife's society. She had always been moody and dissatisfied, but
since then had been unbearable. Constantly irritated with and by her
because of Clare, he had begun to regard him as the destroyer of his
peace, and to feel a grudge against him. He sat smouldering with
bodiless rage, and said nothing.

Clare too was silent, - for what could he say? Where is the wisdom that
can answer hatred? He carried to his friend Jonathan a heart heavy and
perplexed.

"Why does she hate me so, Jonathan?" he murmured.

The big horse kissed his head all over, but made him no other answer.



Chapter XIII.

Clare the vagabond.


The next morning Clare happened to do something not altogether to the
farmer's mind. It was a matter of no consequence - only cleaning that
side of one of the cow-houses first which was usually cleaned last. He
gave him a box on the ear that made him stagger, and then stand
bewildered.

"What do you mean by staring that way?" cried the farmer, annoyed with
himself and seeking justification in his own eyes. "Am I not to box
your ears when I choose?" And with that he gave him another blow.

Then first it dawned on Clare that he was not wanted, that he was no
good to anybody. He threw down his scraper, and ran from the
cow-house; ran straight from the farm to the lane, and from the lane
to the high road. Buffets from the hand of his only friend, and the
sudden sense of loneliness they caused, for the moment bereft Clare of
purpose. It was as if his legs had run away with him, and he had
unconsciously submitted to their abduction.



Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldA Rough Shaking → online text (page 6 of 24)