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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Rough Shaking - Chapter 24. Justifiable Burglary
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A Rough Shaking - Chapter 24. Justifiable Burglary Post by :glolo Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :1081

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A Rough Shaking - Chapter 24. Justifiable Burglary

Chapter XXIV. Justifiable burglary

Tommy rose rubbing his forehead, and crying quietly. He did not dare say a word. It was well for him he did not. Clare, perplexed and anxious about the baby, was in no mood to accept annoyance from Tommy. But the urchin remaining silent, the elder boy's indignation began immediately to settle down.

The infant lay motionless, its little heart beating doubtfully, like the ticking of a clock off the level, as if the last beat might be indeed the last.

"We _must get into the house, Tommy!" said Clare.

"Yes, Clare," answered Tommy, very meekly, and went off like a shot to renew investigation at the other end of the house. He was back in a moment, his face as radiant with success as such a face could be, with such a craving little body under it.

"Come, come," he cried. "We can get in quite easy. I ha' _been in!"

The keen-eyed monkey had found a cellar-window, sunk a little below the level of the ground--a long, narrow, horizontal slip, with a grating over its small area not fastened down. He had lifted it, and pushed open the window, which went inward on rusty hinges--so rusty that they would not quite close again. That he had been in was a lie. _He knew better than go first! He belonged to the school of _No. 1!_--all mean beggars.

Clare hastened after him.

"Gi' me the kid, an' you get in; you can reach up for it better, 'cause ye're taller," said Tommy.

"Is it much of a drop?" asked Clare.

"Nothing much," answered Tommy.

Clare handed him the baby, instructing him how to hold it, and threatening him if he hurt it; then laid himself on his front, shoved his legs across the area through the window, and followed with his body. Holding on to the edge of the window-sill, he let his feet as far down as he could, then dropped, and fell on a heap of coals, whence he tumbled to the floor of the cellar.

"You should have told me of the coals!" he said, rising, and calling up through the darkness.

"I forgot," answered Tommy.

"Give me the baby," said Clare.

When Tommy took the baby, he renewed that moment, and began to cherish the sense of an injury done him by the poor helpless thing. He did not pinch it, only because he dared not, lest it should cry. When he heard Clare fall on the coals, and then heard him call up from the depth of the cellar, he was greatly tempted to turn with it to the other end of the house, and throw it in the pool, then make for the wall and the fields, leaving Clare to shift for himself. But he durst not go near the pool, and Clare would be sure to get out again and be after him! so he stood with the hated creature in his unprotective arms. When Clare called for it, he got into the shallow area, and pushed the baby through the window, grasping the extreme of its garment, and letting it hang into the darkness of the cellar, head downward. I believe then the baby was sick, for, a moment after, and before Clare could get a hold of it, it began to cry. The sound thrilled him with delight.

"Oh, the darling!--Can't you let her down a bit farther, Tommy?" he said, with suppressed eagerness.

He had climbed on the heap of coals, and was stretching up his arms to receive her. In the faint glimmer from the diffused light of the moon, he could just distinguish the window, blocked up by Tommy; the baby he could not see.

"No, I can't," answered Tommy. "Catch! There!"

So saying he yielded to his spite, and waiting no sign of preparedness on the part of Clare, let go his hold, and dropped the little one. It fell on Clare and knocked him over; but he clasped it to him as he fell, and they hurtled to the bottom of the coals without much damage.

"I have her!" he cried as he got up. "Now you come yourself, Tommy."

He had known no baby but his lost sister, and thought of all babies as girls.

"You'll catch me, won't you, Clare?" said Tommy.

"The thing you've done once you can do again! I can't set down the baby to catch you!" replied the unsuspicious Clare, and turned to seek an exit from the cellar. He had not had time yet to wonder how Tommy had got out.

Tommy came tumbling on the top of the coals: he dared not be left with the water-but and the pool and the moon.

"Where are you, Clare?" he called.

Clare answered him from the top of the stone stair that led to the cellar, and Tommy was soon at his heels. Going along a dark passage, where they had to feel their way, they arrived at the kitchen. The loose outside shutter belonged to it, and as it was open, a little of the moonlight came in. The place looked dreary enough and cold enough with its damp brick-floor and its rusty range; but at least they were out of the air, and out of sight of the moon! If only they had some of that coal alight!

"I don't see as we're much better off!" said Tommy. "I'm as cold as pigs' trotters!"

"Then what must baby be like!" said Clare, whose heart was brimful of anxiety for his charge. It seemed to him he had never known misery till now. Life or death for the baby--and he could do nothing! He was cold enough himself, what with hunger, and the night, and the wet and deadly cold little body in his arms; but whatever discomfort he felt, it seemed not himself but the baby that was feeling it; he imputed it all to the baby, and pitied the baby for the cold he felt himself.

"We needn't stay here, though," he said. "There must be better places in the house! Let's try and find a bedroom!"

"Come along!" responded Tommy.

They left the kitchen, and went into the next room. It seemed warmer, because it had a wooden floor. There was hardly any light in it, but it felt empty. They went up the stair. When they turned on the landing half-way, they saw the moon shining in. They went into the first room they came to. Such a bedroom!--larger and grander than any at the parsonage!

"Oh baby! baby!" cried Clare, "now you'll live--won't you?"

He seemed to have his own Maly an infant again in his arms. The thought that the place was not his, and that he might get into trouble by being there, never came to him. Use was not theft! The room and its contents were to him as the water and the fire which even pagans counted every man bound to hand to his neighbour. There was the bed! Through all the cold time it had been waiting for them! The counterpane was very dusty; and oh, such moth-eaten blankets! But there were sheets under them, and they were quite clean, though dingy with age! The moths--that is, their legs and wings and dried-up bodies--flew out in clouds when they moved the blankets. Not the less had they discovered Paradise! For the moths, they must have found it an island of plum-cake!

I do not know the history of the house--how it came to be shut up with so much in it. I only know it was itself shut up in chancery, and chancery is full of moths and dust and worms. I believe nobody in the town knew much about it--not even the thieves. It was of course said to be haunted, which had doubtless done something for its protection. No one knew how long it had stood thus deserted. Nobody thought of entering it, or was aware that there was furniture in it. It was supposed to be somebody's property, and that it was somebody's business to look after it: whether it was looked after or not, nobody inquired. Happily for Clare and the baby and Tommy, that was nobody's business.

With deft hands--for how often had he not seen his baby-sister undressed!--Clare hurried off the infant's one garment, gently rubbed her little body till it was quite dry, if not very clean, and laid her tenderly in the heart of the blankets, among the remains and eggs and grubs of the mothy creatures--they were not wild beasts, or even stinging things--and covered her up, leaving a little opening for her to breathe through. She had not cried since Clare took her; she was too feeble to cry; but, alas, there was no question about feeding her, for he had no food to give her, were she crying ever so much! He threw off his clothes, and got into the mothy blankets beside her. In a few minutes he began to glow, for there was a thick pile of woolly salvation atop of him. He took the naked baby in his arms and held her close to his body, and they grew warmer together.

"Now, Tommy," he said, "you may take off your clothes, and get in on the other side of me."

Tommy did not need a second invitation, and in a moment they were all fast asleep. A few months, even a few days before, it would have been a right painful thing to Clare to lie so near a boy like Tommy, but suffering had taken the edge off nicety and put it on humanity. The temple of the Lord may need cleansing, but the temple of the Lord it is. Clare had in him that same spirit which made _the son of man go beyond the healingly needful, and lay his hand--the Sinaitic manuscript says his _hands_--upon the leper, where a word alone would have served for the leprosy: the hands were for the man's heart. Repulsive danger lay in the contact, but the flesh and bones were human, and very cold.

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