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Clare, the unbearable thing was, that he would assuredly give every
one of them back to the hen. He was an idiot, and Tommy was there to
look after him; but, in looking after Clare, was Tommy to neglect
himself? If Clare would not eat the eggs Tommy carried him, as most
certainly he would not, the best thing was for Tommy to eat them
himself! What a good thing that it was no use to steal for Clare! The
steal would be all for himself! Not a step from the spot did Tommy
move till he had sucked every one of the five eggs. But he made one
mistake: he threw away the shells.

When he had sucked them, he found himself much lighter-hearted, but,
alas, nearly as hungry as before! The spirit of research began again
to move him: where were eggs, what might there not be beside?

The moon was nearly at the full; the smith's yard was radiantly
illuminated. But even the moon could lend little enchantment to a
scene where nothing was visible but rusty, broken, deserted,
despairful pieces of old iron. Tommy lifted his eyes and looked
further.

The enclosure was of small extent, bounded on one side by the garden
wall of the house they had just passed, and at the bottom by a broken
fence, dividing it from a piece of waste land that probably belonged
to the house. As he roamed about, Tommy spied a great heap of old iron
piled up against the wall, and made for it, in the hope of enlarging
his horizon. He scrambled to the top, and looked over. His gaze fell
right into a big but, full of dark water. Twice that evening he met
the same horror! There was a legendary report, though he had not heard
it, I fancy, that his mother drowned herself instead of him: she fell
in, and he was fished out. Whether this was the origin of his fear or
not, so far from getting down by means of the water-but, Tommy dared
not cross at that point. With much trembling he got on the top of the
wall, turned his back on the butt, and ran along like a cat, in search
of a place where he could descend into the garden. He went right to
the end, round the corner, and half-way along the bottom before he
found one. There he came to a doorway that had been solidly walled up
on the outside, while the door was left in position on the
inside - ready for use when the court of chancery should have decided
to whom the house belonged. Its frame was flush with the wall, so that
its bolts and lock afforded Tommy foothold enough to descend, and
confidence of being able to get up again.

He landed in a moonlit wilderness - such a wilderness as a deserted
garden speedily becomes, the wealth in the soil converting it the
sooner to a savage chaos. Full of the impulse of discovery, and the
hope of presenting himself with importance to Clare as the bringer of
good tidings, Tommy forced his way through or crept under the
overgrown bushes, until he reached a mossy rather than gravelly walk,
where it was more easy to advance. It led him to the house.

Had he been a boy of any imagination, he would have shuddered at the
thought of attempting an entrance. All the windows had outside
shutters. Those of the ground floor were closed - except one that swung
to and fro, and must have swung in many a wind since the house was
abandoned. The moon shone with a dull whitish gleam on the dusty
windows of the first and second stories, and on the great dormers that
shot out from the slope of the roof, and cast strange shadows upon
it. The door to the garden had had a porch of trellis-work, over which
jasmine and other creeping plants were trained; but whether anything
of the porch was left, no one could have told in that thicket of
creepers, interlaced and matted by antagonist forces of wind and
growth so that not a hint of door was visible. Clearly there was
nobody within.

Tommy sought the window with the open shutter. Through the dirty
glass, and the reflection of the moon, he could see nothing. He tried
the sash, but could not stir it. He went round the corner to one end
of the house, and saw another door. But an enemy stepped between: the
moon shone suddenly up from the ground. In a hollow of the pavement
had gathered a pool from the drip of the neglected gutters, and out of
its hidden depth the staring round looked at him. It was the third
time Tommy's nerves had been shaken that night, and he could stand no
more. At the awful vision he turned and fled, fell, and rose and fled
again. It was not imagination in Tommy; it was an undefined,
inexplicable horror, that must have had a cause, but could have no
reason. Young as he was he had already more than once looked on the
face of death, and had felt no awe; he had listened to the gruesomest
of tales, told not altogether without art, and had never moved a hair
Only one material and two spiritual things had power with him; the one
material thing was hunger, the two spiritual things were a feeble love
for Clare, and a strong horror of water of any seeming depth. Now a
new element was added to this terror by the meddling of the moon in
the fiendish mystery - the secret of which must, I think, have been the
bottomless depth she gave the water.

He rushed down the garden. With frightful hindrance from the
overgrowth, he found the prisoned door by strange perversion become a
ladder, gained by it the top of the wall, and sped along as if pursued
by an incarnate dread. Horror of horrors! all at once the moon again
looked up at him from below: he was within a yard or two of the big
water-butt! Right up to it he must go, for, close to it, on the other
side of the wall, was the heap of iron by which alone he could get
down. He tightened every nerve for the effort. He assured himself that
the thing would be over in a moment; that the water was quiet, and
could not follow him; that presently he would find himself in the
smithy by the warm forge-fire. The scaring necessity was, that he must
stoop and kneel right over the water-but, in order to send his legs in
advance down the wall to the top of the mound. It was a moment of
agony. That very moment, with an appalling unearthly cry, something
dark, something hideous, something of inconceivable ghastliness, as it
seemed to Tommy, sprang right out of the water into the air. He
tumbled from the wall among the iron, and there lay.

The stolen eggs were avenged. The hen, feverish and unhappy from the
loss of her hope of progeny, had gone to the butt to sip a little
water. Tommy, appearing on the wall above her, startled her. She,
flying up with a screech, startled Tommy, and became her own unwitting
avenger.



Chapter XXI.

Tommy is found and found out.


When Clare woke from his first sleep, which he did within an hour - for
he was too hungry to sleep straight on, and the door, imperfectly
closed by Tommy, had come open, and let in a cold wind with the
moonlight - he raised himself on his elbow, and peered from his stone
shelf into the dreary hut. He could not at once tell where he was, but
when he remembered, his first thought was Tommy. He looked about for
him. Tommy was nowhere. Then he saw the open door, and remembered he
had gone out. Surely it was time he had come back! Stiff and sore, he
turned on his longitudinal axis, crept down from the forge, and went
out shivering to look for his imp. The moon shone radiant on the rusty
iron, and the glamour of her light rendered not a few of its shapes
and fragments suggestive of cruel torture. Picking his way among
spikes and corners and edges, he walked about the hideous wilderness
searching for Tommy, afraid to call for fear of attracting attention.
The hen too was walking about, disconsolate, but she took no notice of
him, neither did the sight of her give him any hint or rouse in him
the least suspicion: how could he suspect one so innocent and troubled
for the avenging genius through whom Tommy's white face lay upturned
to the white moon! Her egg-shells lay scattered, each a ghastly point
in the moonshine, each a silent witness to the deed that had been
done. Tommy scattered and forgot them; the moon gathered and noted
them. But they told Clare nothing, either of Tommy's behaviour or of
Tommy himself.

He came at last to the heap of metal, and there lay Tommy, caught in
its skeleton protrusions. A shiver went through him when he saw the
pallid face, and the dark streak of blood across it. He concluded that
in trying to get over the wall he had failed and fallen back. He
climbed and took him in his arms. Tommy was no weight for Clare, weak
with hunger as he was, to carry to the smithy. He laid him on the
hearth, near the fire, and began to blow it up. The roaring of the
wind in the fire did not wake him. Clare went on blowing. The heat
rose and rose, and brought the boy to himself at last, in no
comfortable condition. He opened his eyes, scrambled to his feet, and
stared wildly around him.

"Where is it?" he cried.

"Where's what?" rejoined Clare, leaving the bellows, and taking a hold
of him lest he should fall off.

"The head that flew out of the water-but," answered Tommy with a
shudder.

"Have you lost your senses, Tommy?" remonstrated Clare. "I found you
lying on a heap of old iron against the wall, with the moon shining on
you."

"Yes, yes! - the moon! She jumped out of the water-but, and got a hold
of me as I was getting down. I knew she would!"

"I didn't think you were such a fool, Tommy!" said Clare.

"Well, you hadn't the pluck to go yourself! You stopt in!" cried
Tommy, putting his hand to his head, but more sorely hurt that an
idiot should call him a fool.

"Come and let me see, Tommy," said Clare.

He wanted to find out if he was much hurt; but Tommy thought he wanted
to go to the water-but, and screamed.

"Hold your tongue, you little idiot!" cried Clare. "You'll have all
the world coming after us! They'll think I'm murdering you!"

Tommy restrained himself, and gradually recovering, told Clare what he
had discovered, but not what he had found.

"There's something yellow on your jacket! What is it?" said Clare. "I
do believe - yes, it is! - you've been eating an egg! Now I remember! I
saw egg-shells, more than two or three, lying in the yard, and the
poor hen walking about looking for her eggs! You little rascal! You
pig of a boy! I won't thrash you this time, because you've fetched
your own thrashing. But - !"

He finished the sentence by shaking his fist in Tommy's face, and
looking as black at him as he was able.

"I do believe it was the hen herself that frighted you!" he added.
"She served you right, you thief!"

"I didn't know there was any harm," said Tommy, pretending to sob.

"Why didn't you bring me my share, then?"

"'Cos I knowed you'd ha' made me give 'em back to the hen!"

"And you didn't know there was any harm, you lying little brute!"

"No, I didn't."

"Now, look here, Tommy! If you don't mind what I tell you, you and I
part company. One of us two must be master, and I will, or you must
tramp. Do you hear me?"

"I can't do without wictuals!" whimpered Tommy. "I didn't come wi'
_you_ a purpose to be starved to death!"

"I dare say you didn't; but when I starve, you must starve too; and
when I eat, you shall have the first mouthful. What did you come with
me for?"

"'Acos you was the strongest," answered Tommy, "an' I reckoned you
would get things from coves we met!"

"Well, I'm not going to get things from coves we meet, except they
give them to me. But have patience, Tommy, and I'll get you all you
can eat. You must give me time, you know! I 'ain't got work yet! - Come
here. Lie down close to me, and we'll go to sleep."

The urchin obeyed, pillowed his head on Clare's chest, and went fast
asleep.

Clare slept too after a while, but the necessities of his relation to
Tommy were fast making a man of him.



Chapter XXII.

The smith in a rage.


They had not slept long, when they were roused by a hideous clamour
and rattling at the door, and thunderous blows on the wooden sides of
the shed. Clare woke first, and rubbed his eyelids, whose hinges were
rusted with sleep. He was utterly perplexed with the uproar and
romage. The cabin seemed enveloped in a hurricane of kicks, and the
air was in a tumult of howling and brawling, of threats and curses,
whose inarticulateness made them sound bestial. There never came pause
long enough for Clare to answer that they were locked in, and that the
smith must have the key in his pocket. But when Tommy came to himself,
which he generally did the instant he woke, but not so quickly this
time because of his fall, he understood at once.

"It's the blacksmith! He's roaring drunk!" he said.

"Let's be off, Clare! The devil 'ill be to pay when he gets in! He'll
murder us in our beds!"

"We ought to let him into his own house if we can," replied Clare,
rising and going to the door. It was well for him that he found no way
of opening it, for every instant there came a kick against it that
threatened to throw it from lock and hinges at once. He protested his
inability, but the madman thought he was refusing to admit him, and
went into a tenfold fury, calling the boys hideous names, and swearing
he would set the shed on fire if they did not open at once. The boys
shouted, but the man had no sense to listen with, and began such a
furious battery on the door, with his whole person for a ram, that
Tommy made for the rear, and Clare followed - prudent enough, however,
in all his haste, to close the back-door behind them.

Tommy was in front, and led the way to the bottom of the yard, and
over the fence into the waste ground, hoping to find some point in
that quarter where he could mount the wall. He could not face the
water-but - with the moon in it, staring out of the immensity of the
lower world. He ran and doubled and spied, but could find no
foothold. Least of all was ascent possible at the spot where the door
stood on the other side; the bricks were smoother than elsewhere. He
turned the corner and ran along a narrow lane, Clare still following,
for he thought Tommy knew what he was about; but Tommy could find no
encouragement to attempt scaling the wall. They might have fled into
the fields that lay around; but the burrowing instinct was strong, and
the deserted house drew them. Then Clare, finding Tommy at fault,
bethought him that the little rascal had got up by the heap on which
he discovered him, and must be afraid to go that way again. He faced
about and ran, in his turn become leader. Tommy wheeled also, and
followed, but with misgiving. When they reached the farther corner of
the bottom wall, they stopped and peeped round before they would turn
it: they might run against the blacksmith in chase of them! But the
sound of his continued hammering at the door came to them, and they
went on. They crossed the fence and ran again, ran faster, for now
every step brought them nearer to their danger: the heap of iron lay
between them and the smithy, and any moment the smith might burst into
the shed, rush through, and be out upon them.

They reached the heap. Clare sprang up; and Tommy, urged on the one
side by the fear of the drunken smith, and drawn on the other by the
dread of being abandoned by Clare, climbed shuddering after him.

"Mind the water-but, Clare!" he gasped; "an' gi' me a hand up."

Clare had already turned on the top of the wall to help him.

"Now let me go first!" said Tommy, the moment he had his foot on
it. "I know how to get down."

He scudded along the wall, glad to have Clare between him and the
butt. Clare followed swiftly. He was not so quick on the cat-promenade
as Tommy, but he had a good head, and was spurred by the apprehension
of being seen up there in the moonlight.



Chapter XXIII.

Treasure trove.


In a few moments they were safe in the thicket at the foot of what had
been their enemy and was now their friend - the garden-wall. How many
things and persons there are whose other sides are altogether
friendly! These are their true selves, and we must be true to get at
them.

Tommy again took the lead, though with a fresh sinking of the heart
because of that other place with the moon in it. Through the tangled
thicket they made or found their way - and there stood the house, with
the moon looking down on its roof, and the drunkard's thunder
troubling her still pale light - her _moon-thinking_. But for the noise
and the haste, Clare would have been frightened at them. There seemed
some secret between the house and the moon which they were determined
no one else should share. They were of one mind to terrify man or boy
who should attempt to cross the threshold! There was no time, however,
to heed such fancies. "If we could only get in without spoiling
anything!" thought Clare. Once in, they would hurt nothing, take but
the shelter and rest lying there of no good to anybody, and leave them
there all the same when they had done with them!

While they stood looking at the house, the thundering at the door of
the smithy ceased. Presently they heard voices in altercation. One
voice was that of the smith, quieter than when last they heard it, but
ill-tempered and growling as at first. The other seemed that of a
woman. She had been able so far to quiet him, probably, that he
remembered he had the key in his pocket; for they thought they heard
the door of the smithy open. Then all was silent, and the outcasts
pursued their quest of an entrance to the house.

Clare went ferreting as Tommy had done. He also tried to get a peep
through the window with the swinging shutter, but had no better
success than Tommy. Then he started to go round the corner next the
blacksmith's yard.

"Look out!" cried Tommy in a loud whisper, when he saw where he was
going.

"Why?" asked Clare.

"Because there's a horrible hole there, full of water," answered
Tommy.

"I'll keep a look out," returned Clare, and went.

When he was about half-way along the end of the house, he heard a
noise he did not understand, and stopped to listen. Some one seemed
moving somewhere.

Then came a kind of scrambling sound, and presently the noise of a
great watery splash. Clare shivered from head to foot.

"Something has fallen into the hole Tommy mentioned!" he said to
himself, and ran on to see. A few steps brought him to what Tommy had
taken for a great hole. It was nothing but a pool of rain-water: the
splash could not have come from that!

Then it occurred to him that the water-but could not be far off. He
forced his way through shrubs of various kinds, and reaching the wall,
went back along it until he came to the butt. A ray of moonlight showed
him that the side of it was wet, as if the water had lately come over
the edge. He looked about for some means of getting a peep into the
huge thing. It stood on a brick stand, of which it left a narrow edge
clear, but on this edge the bulge of the butt would not permit him to
mount. With the help of a small tree, however, he got on the wall,
which was better.

Spying into the butt, he could see nothing at first, for a chimney was
now between it and the moon. A moment more, however, and he descried
something white in the dull iron gleam of the water. It was under the
water, but floating near the surface. He lay down on the wall, plunged
his arm into the butt, laid hold of it, and drew it out. It was a
little heavy for the size, for what should it be but a tiny baby, in a
flannel night-gown, which, as he drew it out, sent back little noisy
streams into the butt! It lay perfectly still in his arms, he did not
know whether dead or alive, but he thought it could hardly be drowned
so soon after the splash. It had been drugged, and the antagonism of
the two means employed to kill it was probably the saving of its life.

Clare stood in stony bewilderment. What was he to do? Certainly not to
go after the mother! The first thing was to get it down from the
wall. That he could easily have done on the other side, by the heap;
but that was the side whence it must have been thrown, and they would
be but in worse difficulty there! He must get the baby down inside the
wall! With at least one arm occupied, the tree-way was impracticable.
There was only one other way, and that full of danger! But where there
is only one way, that way must be taken, and Clare did not hesitate.
He started along the top of the wall, with the poor unconscious germ
of humanity in his arms. He had lifted it from its watery coffin, out
of the cold arms of death, up into the clear air of life! True, that
air was cold, and filled only with moonshine; but there was the house
whose seal might be broken! and the moon saw the sun making warm the
under world! Along the narrow way, through the still, keen glimmer,
unseen, probably, by any eye in the sleeping town, he bore his burden,
speeding as fast as he dared, for he must not set a foot down amiss!

Had any one caught sight of him, what a commotion would not the tale
have roused - of the spectre of a boy with a baby in his arms, gliding
noiseless in the moon and the middle night, along the top of the high
brick wall of a deserted house, where no one had lived within the
memory of man!

When he reached the door-ladder, he found descent difficult but
possible. It was more difficult to make his way through the tangled
bushes without scratching the baby, which, after all, might, alas, be
beyond hurt! He held it close to his bosom, life coaxing life to "stay
a little."

Thus laden, he appeared before Tommy, who had heard the splash, and
thought Clare had fallen into the deep hole, but had not had courage
to go and see, partly from the fear of verifying his fear, but more
from his horror of the watery abyss. He stood trembling where Clare
had left him.

To save the baby was now Clare's only thought. The baby was now the
one thing in the universe! If only the light that shone on it were
that of the hot sun instead of the cold moon, which looked far more
like killing than bringing to life! "And," thought Clare with himself,
"there ain't much more heat in my body than in that shivery moon!" But
the sun would wake and mount the sky, and send the moon down, and all
would be different! Only, if nothing could be done in the meantime,
where would baby be by then!

"Here, Tommy," he cried, "come and see what I found in the water-butt."

At the word, Tommy turned to flee; but confidence in Clare, and
curiosity to see what, in Clare's arms, could hardly hurt him,
prevailed, and he drew near cautiously.

"Lord, it's a kid!" he cried.

"It's not a kid," said Clare, who had no slang; "it's a baby!"

"Well! ain't a baby a kid, just?"

Tommy did not know that the word stood for anything else than a child,
which was indeed its meaning long before it was specially applied to
the young of the goat. A _kidnapper_ or _kidnabber_ is a stealer of
children. Mr. Skeat tells us that _kid_ meant at first just a young
one.

"You can't tell me what to do with it, I'm afraid, Tommy!" said Clare.

Already it was as if from all eternity he had loved this helpless
little waif of Time, with its small, thin, blue-gray, gin-drugged
face; this tiny life, so hopeless, so miserable, yet so uncomplaining:
the thing that was, was the thing for it to bear; it had come into the
world to bear it! Ready to die, even Death would not have it; it must
live where it was not wanted, where it was not welcome!

"Yes, I can!" answered Tommy with evil promptitude. "Put it in again."

"But that would drown it, you know, Tommy!" answered Clare, treating
him like the child he was not. "We want it to live, Tommy!"

His tenderness for the baby made him speak with foolish gentleness.

"No, we don't!" returned Tommy. "What business has _it_ to live, when
we can't get nothing to eat?"

Clare held faster to the baby with one arm, and with the fist of the
other struck straight out at Tommy, hit him between the eyes, and
knocked him flat. It was a miserable thing to have to do, and it made
Clare miserable, for Tommy was not half his size, and was still
suffering from his fall on the iron. But then the dying baby was not
half Tommy's size, and any milder argument would have been lost on
him: he was thus sent on the way to understand that the baby had
rights; and that if the baby could not enforce them, there was one in
the world that could and would. Never in his life did Clare show more
instinctive wisdom than in that knock-down blow to the hardly blamable
little devil!

Tommy got up at once. He was not much hurt, for he had a hard head
though he was easily knocked over. From that moment he began to
respect Clare. He had loved him before in a way; he had patronized
him, and feared to offend him because he was stronger than he; but



Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldA Rough Shaking → online text (page 9 of 24)