George MacDonald.

A Rough Shaking online

. (page 7 of 24)
Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldA Rough Shaking → online text (page 7 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

At the mouth of the lane, where it opened on the high road, he ran
against Tommy turning the corner, eager to find him. The eyes of the
small human monkey were swollen with weeping; his nose was bleeding,
and in size and shape scarce recognizable as a nose. At the sight, the
consciousness of his protectorate awoke in Clare, and he stopped,
unable to speak, but not unable to listen. Tommy blubbered out a
confused, half-inarticulate something about "granny and the other
devil," who between them had all but killed him.

"What can I do?" said Clare, his heart sinking with the sense of
having no help in him.

Tommy was ready to answer the question. He had been hatching vengeance
all the way. Eagerly came his proposition - that they should, in their
turn, lie in ambush for Simpson, and knock his crutch from under
him. That done, Clare should belabour him with it, while he ran like
the wind and set his grandmother's house on fire.

"She'll be drunk in bed, an' she'll be burned to death!" cried
Tommy. "Then we'll mizzle!"

"But it would hurt them both very badly, Tommy!" said Clare, as if
unfolding the reality of the thing to a foolish child.

"Well! all right! the worse the better! 'Ain't they hurt us?" rejoined

"That's how we know it's not nice!" answered Clare. "If they set it a
going, we ain't to keep it a going!"

"Then they'll be at it for ever," cried Tommy, "an' I'm sick of it!
I'll _kill_ granny! I swear I will, if I'm hanged for it! She's said a
hundred times she'd pull my legs when I was hanged; but _she_ won't be
at the hanging!"

"Why shouldn't you run for it first?" said Clare. "Then they wouldn't
want to hang you!"

"Then I shouldn't have nobody!" replied Tommy, whimpering.

"I should have thought Nobody was as good as granny!" said Clare.

"A big bilin' better!" answered Tommy bitterly. "I wasn't meanin'
granny - nor yet stumpin' Simpson."

"I don't know what you're driving at," said Clare. Tommy burst into

"Ain't you the only one I got, up or down?" he cried.

Tommy had a little bit of heart - not much, but enough to have a chance
of growing. If ever creature had less than that, he was not human. I
do not think he could even be an ape.

Some of the people about the parson used to think Clare had no heart,
and Mrs. Goodenough was sure of it. He had not a spark of gratitude,
she said. But the cause of this opinion was that Clare's affection
took the shape of deeds far more than of words. Never were judges of
their neighbours more mistaken. The chief difference between Clare's
history and that of most others was, that his began at the unusual
end. Clare began with loving everybody; and most people take a long
time to grow to that. Hence, those whom, from being brought nearest to
them, he loved specially, he loved without that outbreak of show which
is often found in persons who love but a few, and whose love is
defiled with partisanship. He loved quietly and constantly, in a
fashion as active as undemonstrative. He was always glad to be near
those he specially loved; beyond that, the signs of his love were
practical - it came out in ministration, in doing things for
them. There are those who, without loving, desire to be loved, because
they love themselves; for those that are worth least are most precious
to themselves. But Clare never thought of the love of others to
him - from no heartlessness, but that he did not think about
himself - had never done so, at least, until the moment when he fled
from the farm with the new agony in his heart that nobody wanted him,
that everybody would be happier without him. Happy is he that does not
think of himself before the hour when he becomes conscious of the
bliss of being loved. For it must be and ought to be a happy moment
when one learns that another human creature loves him; and not to be
grateful for love is to be deeply selfish. Clare had always loved, but
had not thought of any one as loving him, or of himself as being loved
by any one.

"Well," rejoined Clare, struggling with his misery, "ain't I going

"You going! - That's chaff!"

"'Tain't chaff. I'm on my way."

"What! Going to hook it? Oh golly! what a lark! Won't Farmer
Goodenough look blue!"

"He'll think himself well rid of me," returned Clare with a sigh. "But
there's no time to talk. If you're going, Tommy, come along."

He turned to go.

"Where to?" asked Tommy, following.

"I don't know. Anywhere away," answered Clare, quickening his pace.

In spite of his swollen visage, Tommy's eyes grew wider.

"You 'ain't cribbed nothing?" he said.

"I don't know what you mean."

"You 'ain't stole something?" interpreted Tommy.

Clare stopped, and for the first time on his own part, lifted his hand
to strike. It dropped immediately by his side.

"No, you poor Tommy," he said. "I don't steal."

"Thought you didn't! What are you running away for then?"

"Because they don't want me."

"Lord! what will you do?"


Tommy held his tongue: he knew a better way than that! If work was the
only road to eating, things would go badly with _him_! But he thought
he knew a thing or two, and would take his chance! There were degrees
of hunger that were not so bad as the thrashings he got, for in his
granny's hands the rope might fall where it would; while all cripple
Simpson cared for was to make him squeal satisfactorily. But work was
worse than all! He would go with Clare, but not to work! Not he!

Clare kept on in silence, never turning his head - out into the
untried, unknown, mysterious world, which lay around the one spot he
knew as the darkness lies about the flame of the candle. They walked
more than a mile before either spoke.

Chapter XIV.

Their first helper

It was a lovely spring morning. The sun was about thirty degrees above
the horizon, shining with a liquid radiance, as if he had already
drawn up and was shining through the dew of the morning, though it lay
yet on all the grasses by the roadside, turning them into gem-plants.
Every sort of gem sparkled on their feathery or beady tops, and their
long slender blades. At the first cottages they passed, the women were
beginning their day's work, sweeping clean their floors and
door-steps. Clare noted that where were most flowers in the garden,
the windows were brightest, and the children cleanest.

"The flowers come where they make things nice for them!" he said to
himself. "Where the flowers see dirt, they turn away, and won't come

From childhood he had had the notion that the flowers crept up inside
the stalks until they found a window to look out at. Where the
prospect was not to their mind they crept down, and away by some door
in the root to try again. For all the stalks stood like watch-towers,
ready for them to go up and peep out.

They came to a pond by a farm-house. Clare had been observing with
pity how wretched Tommy's clothes were; but when he looked into the
pond he saw that his own shabbiness was worse than Tommy's downright
miserableness. Nobody would leave either of them within reach of
anything worth stealing! What he wore had been his Sunday suit, and it
was not even worth brushing!

"I'm 'orrid 'ungry," said Tommy. "I 'ain't swallered a plug this
mornin', 'xcep' a lump o' bread out o' granny's cupboard. That's what
I got my weltin' for. It were a whole half-loaf, though - an' none so

Clare had eaten nothing, and had been up since five o'clock - at work
all the time till the farmer struck him: he was quite as hungry as
Tommy. What was to be done? Besides a pocket-handkerchief he had but
one thing alienable.

The very day she was taken ill, he had been in the store-room with his
mother, and she, knowing the pleasure he took in the scent of brown
Windsor-soap, had made him a present of a small cake. This he had kept
in his pocket ever since, wrapt in a piece of rose-coloured paper, his
one cherished possession: hunger deadening sorrow, the time was come
to bid it farewell. His heart ached to part with it, but Tommy and he
were so hungry!

They went to the door of the house, and knocked - first Clare very
gently, then Tommy with determination. It was opened by a matron who
looked at them over the horizon of her chin.

"Please, ma'am," said Clare, "will you give us a piece of bread? - as
large a piece, please, as you can spare; and I will give you this
piece of brown Windsor-soap."

As he ended his speech, he took a farewell whiff of his favourite

"Soap!" retorted the dame. "Who wants your soap! Where did you get it?
Stole it, I don't doubt! Show it here."

She took it in her hand, and held it to her nose.

"Who gave it you?"

"My mother," answered Clare.

"Where's your mother?"

Clare pointed upward.

"Eh? Oh - hanged! I thought, so!"

She threw the soap into the yard, and closed the door. Clare darted
after his property, pounced upon it, and restored it lovingly to his

As they were leaving the yard disconsolate, they saw a cart full of
turnips. Tommy turned and made for it.

"Don't, Tommy," cried Clare.

"Why not? I'm hungry," answered Tommy, "an' you see it's no use

He flew at the cart, but Clare caught and held him.

"They ain't ours, Tommy," he said.

"Then why don't you take one?" retorted Tommy.

"That's why you shouldn't."

"It's why you should, for then it 'ud be yours."

"To take it wouldn't make it ours, Tommy."

"Wouldn't it, though? I believe when I'd eaten it, it would be
mine - rather!"

"No, it wouldn't. Think of having in your stomach what wasn't yours!
No, you must pay for it. Perhaps they would take my soap for a
turnip. I believe it's worth two turnips."

He spied a man under a shed, ran to him, and made offer of the soap
for a turnip apiece.

"I don't want your soap," answered the man, "an' I don't recommend
cold turmits of a mornin'. But take one if you like, and clear
out. The master's cart-whip 'ill be about your ears the moment he sees

"Ain't you the master, sir?"

"No, I ain't."

"Then the turnips ain't yours?" said Clare, looking at him with
hungry, regretful eyes, for he could have eaten a raw potato.

"You're a deal too impudent to be hungry!" said the man, making a blow
at him with his open hand, which Clare dodged. "Be off with you, or
I'll set the dog on you."

"I'm very sorry," said Clare. "I did not mean to offend you."

"Clear out, I say. Double trot!"

Hungry as the boys were, they must trudge! No bread, no turnip for
them! Nothing but trudge, trudge till they dropped!

When they had gone about five miles further, they sat down, as if by
common consent, on the roadside; and Tommy, used to crying, began to
cry. Clare did not seek to stop him, for some instinct told him it
must be a relief.

By and by a working-man came along the road. Clare hesitated, but
Tommy's crying urged him. He rose and stood ready to accost him. As
soon as he came up, however, the man stopped of himself. He questioned
Clare and listened to his story, then counselled the boys to go back.

"I'm not wanted, sir," said Clare.

"They'd kill _me_," said Tommy.

"God help you, boys!" returned the man. "You may be telling me lies,
and you may be telling me the truth! - A liar may be hungry, but
somehow I grudge my dinner to a liar!"

As he spoke he untied the knots of a blue handkerchief with white
spots, gave them its contents of bread and cheese, wiped his face with
it, and put it in his pocket; lifted his bag of tools, and went his
way. He had lost his dinner and saved his life!

The dinner, being a man's, went a good way toward satisfying them,
though empty corners would not have been far to seek, had there been
anything to put in them. As it was, they started again refreshed and
hopeful. What had come to them once might reasonably come again!

Chapter XV.

Their first host.

As the evening drew on, and began to settle down into night, a new
care arose in the mind of the elder boy. Where were they to pass the
darkness? - how find shelter for sleep? It was a question that gave
Tommy no anxiety. He had been on the tramp often, now with one party,
now with another of his granny's lodgers, and had frequently slept in
the open air, or under the rudest covert. Tommy had not much
imagination to trouble him, and in his present moral condition was
possibly better without it; but to inexperienced Clare there was
something fearful in having the night come so close to him. Sleep out
of doors he had never thought of. To lie down with the stars looking
at him, nothing but the blue wind between him and them, was like being
naked to the very soul. Doubtless there would be creatures about, to
share the night with him, and protect him from its awful bareness; but
they would be few for the size of the room, and he might see none of
them! It was the sense of emptiness, the lack of present life that
dismayed him. He had never seen any creatures to shrink from. He
disliked no one of the things that creep or walk or fly. Before long
he did come to know and dislike at least one sort; and the sea held
creatures that in after years made him shudder; but as yet, not even
rats, so terrible to many, were a terror to Clare. It was Nothing that
he feared.

My reader may say, "But had no one taught him about God?" Yes, he had
heard about God, and about Jesus Christ; had heard a great deal about
them. But they always seemed persons a long way off. He knew, or
thought he knew, that God was everywhere, but he had never felt his
presence a reality. He seemed in no place where Clare's eyes ever
fell. He never thought, "God is here." Perhaps the sparrows knew more
about God than he did then. When he looked out into the night it
always seemed vacant, therefore horrid, and he took it for as empty as
it looked. And if there had been no God there, it would have been
reasonable indeed to be afraid; for the most frightful of notions is

It grew dark, and they were falling asleep on their walking legs, when
they came to a barn-yard. Very glad were they to creep into it, and
search for the warmest place. It was a quiet part of the country, and
for years nothing had been stolen from anybody, so that the people
were not so watchful as in many places.

They went prowling about, but even Tommy with innocent intent, eager
only after a little warmth, and as much sleep as they could find, and
came at length to an open window, through which they crawled into
what, by the smell and the noises, they knew to be a stable. It was
very dark, but Clare was at home, and felt his way about; while Tommy,
who was afraid of the horses, held close to him. Clare's hand fell
upon the hind-quarters of a large well-fed horse. The huge animal was
asleep standing, but at the touch of the small hand he gave a low
whinny. Tommy shuddered at the sound.

"He's pleased," said Clare, and crept up on his near side into the
stall. There he had soon made such friends with him, that he did not
hesitate to get in among the hay the horse had for his supper.

"Here, Tommy!" he cried in a whisper; "there's room for us both in the

But Tommy stood shaking. He fancied the darkness full of horses'
heads, and would not stir. Clare had to get out again, and search for
a place to suit his fancy, which he found in an untenanted loose-box,
with remains of litter. There Tommy coiled himself up, and was soon
fast asleep.

Clare returned to the hospitality of the big horse. The great nostrils
snuffed him over and over as he lay, and the boy knew the horse made
him welcome. He dropped asleep stroking the muzzle of his
chamber-fellow, and slept all the night, kept warm by the horse's
breath, and the near furnace of his great body.

In the morning the boys found they had slept too long, for they were
discovered. But though they were promptly ejected as vagabonds, and
not without a few kicks and cuffs, these were not administered without
the restraint of some mercy, for their appearance tended to move pity
rather than indignation.

Chapter XVI.

On the tramp.

With the new day came the fresh necessity for breakfast, and the fresh
interest in the discovery of it. But breakfast is a thing not always
easiest to find where breakfasts most abound; nor was theirs when
found that morning altogether of a sort to be envied, ill as they
could afford to despise it. Passing, on their goal-less way, a
flour-mill, the door of which was half-open, they caught sight of a
heap, whether floury dust or dusty flour, it would have been hard to
say, that seemed waiting only for them to help themselves from
it. Fain to still the craving of birds too early for any worm, they
swallowed a considerable portion of it, choking as it was, nor met
with rebuke. There was good food in it, and they might have fared

Another day's tramp was thus inaugurated. How it was to end no one in
the world knew less than the trampers.

Before it was over, a considerable change had passed upon Clare; for a
new era was begun in his history, and he started to grow more
rapidly. Hitherto, while with his father or mother, or with his little
sister, making life happy to her; even while at the farm, doing hard
work, he had lived with much the same feeling with which he read a
story: he was in the story, half dreaming, half acting it. The
difference between a thing that passed through his brain from the
pages of a book, or arose in it as he lay in bed either awake or
asleep, and the thing in which he shared the life and motion of the
day, was not much marked in his consciousness. He was a dreamer with
open eyes and ready hands, not clearly distinguishing thought and
action, fancy and fact. Even the cold and hunger he had felt at the
farm had not sufficed to wake him up; he had only had to wait and they
were removed. But now that he did not know whence his hunger was to be
satisfied, or where shelter was to be had; now also that there was a
hunger outside him, and a cold that was not his, which yet he had to
supply and to frustrate in the person of Tommy, life began to grow
real to him; and, which was far more, he began to grow real to
himself, as a power whose part it was to encounter the necessities
thus presented. He began to understand that things were required of
him. He had met some of these requirements before, and had satisfied
them, but without knowing them as requirements. He did it half awake,
not as a thinking and willing source of the motion demanded. He did it
all by impulse, hardly by response. Now we are put into bodies, and
sent into the world, to wake us up. We might go on dreaming for ages
if we were left without bodies that the wind could blow upon, that the
rain could wet, and the sun scorch, bodies to feel thirst and cold and
hunger and wounds and weariness. The eternal plan was beginning to
tell upon Clare. He was in process of being changed from a dreamer to
a man. It is a good thing to be a dreamer, but it is a bad thing
indeed to be _only_ a dreamer. He began to see that everybody in the
world had to do something in order to get food; that he had worked for
the farmer and his wife, and they had fed him. He had worked willingly
and eaten gladly, but had not before put the two together. He saw now
that men who would be men must work.

His eyes fell upon a congregation of rooks in a field by the
roadside. "Are _they_ working?" he thought; "or are they stealing? If
it be stealing they are at, it looks like hard work as well. It can't
be stealing though; they were made to live, and _how_ are they to live
if they don't grub? that's their work! Still the corn ain't theirs!
Perhaps it's only worms they take! Are the worms theirs? A man should
die rather than steal, papa said. But, if they are stealing, the crows
don't know it; and if they don't know it, they ain't thieves! Is that

The same instant came the report of a gun. A crowd of rooks rose
cawing. One of them dropped and lay.

"He must have been stealing," thought Clare, "for see what comes of
it! Would they shoot me if I stole? Better be shot than die of hunger!
Yes, but better die of hunger than be a thief!"

He had read stories about thieves and honest boys, and had never seen
any difficulty in the matter. Nor had he yet a notion of how difficult
it is not to be a thief - that is, to be downright honest. If anybody
thinks it easy, either he has not known much of life, or he has never
tried to be honest; he has done just like other people. Clare did not
know that many a boy whose heart sided with the honest boy in the
story, has grown up a dishonourable man - a man ready to benefit
himself to the disadvantage of others; that many a man who passes for
respectable in this disreputable world, is counted far meaner than a
thief in the next, and is going there to be put in prison. But he
began to see that it is not enough to mean well; that he must be
sharp, and mind what he was about; else, with hunger worrying inside
him, he might be a thief before he knew. He was on the way to discover
that to think rightly - to be on the side of what is honourable when
reading a story, is a very different thing from doing right, and being
honourable, when the temptation is upon us. Many a boy when he reads
this will say, "Of course it is!" and when the time comes, will be a

Those crows set Clare thinking; and it was well; for if he had not
done as those thinkings taught him, he would have given a very
different turn to his history. Meditation and resolve, on the top of
honourable habit, brought him to this, that, when he saw what was
right, he just did it - did it without hesitation, question, or
struggle. Every man must, who would be a free man, who would not be
the slave of the universe and of himself.

Chapter XVII.

The baker's cart.

The sweepings of the mill-floor did not last them long, and by the
time they saw rising before them the spires and chimneys of the small
county town to which the road had been leading them, they were very
hungry indeed - as hungry as they well could be without having begun to
grow faint. The moment he saw them, Clare began revolving in his mind
once more, as many times on the way, what he was to do to get work:
Tommy of course was too small to do anything, and Clare must earn
enough for both. He could think of nothing but going into the shops,
or knocking at the house-doors, and asking for something to do. So
filled was he with his need of work, and with the undefined sense of a
claim for work, that he never thought how much against him must be the
outward appearance which had so dismayed himself when he saw it in the
pond; never thought how unwilling any one would be to employ him, or
what a disadvantage was the company of Tommy, who had every mark of a
born thief.

I do not know if, on his tramps, Tommy had been in a town before, but
to Clare all he saw bore the aspect of perfect novelty,
notwithstanding the few city-shapes that floated in faintest shadow,
like memories of old dreams, in his brain. He was delighted with the
grand look of the place, with its many people and many shops. His hope
of work at once became brilliant and convincing.

Noiselessly and suddenly Tommy started from his side, but so much
occupied was he with what he beheld and what he thought, that he
neither saw him go nor missed him when gone. He became again aware of
him by finding himself pulled toward the entrance of a narrow lane.
Tommy pulled so hard that Clare yielded, and went with him into the
lane, but stopped immediately. For he saw that Tommy had under his arm
a big loaf, and the steam of newly-baked bread was fragrant in his
nostrils. Never smoke so gracious greeted those of incense-loving
priest. Tommy tugged and tugged, but Clare stood stock-still.

"Where did you get that beautiful loaf, Tommy?" he asked.

"Off on a baker's cart," said Tommy. "Don't be skeered; he never saw
me! That was my business, an' I seed to 't."

"Then you stole it, Tommy?"

"Yes," grumbled Tommy, " - if that's the name you put upon it when your
trousers is so slack you've got to hold on to them or they'd trip you

"Where's the cart?"

"In the street there."

"Come along."

Clare took the loaf from Tommy, and turned to find the baker's
cart. Tommy's face fell, and he was conscious only of bitterness. Why
had he yielded to sentiment - not that he knew the word - when he longed
like fire to bury his sharp teeth in that heavenly loaf? Love - not to
mention a little fear - had urged him to carry it straight to Clare,
and this was his reward! He was going to give him up to the baker!
There was gratitude for you! He ought to have known better than trust

Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldA Rough Shaking → online text (page 7 of 24)