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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Rough Shaking - Chapter 10. The Black Aunt
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A Rough Shaking - Chapter 10. The Black Aunt Post by :glolo Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :3238

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A Rough Shaking - Chapter 10. The Black Aunt

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 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!

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