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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Rough Shaking - Chapter 25. A New Quest
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A Rough Shaking - Chapter 25. A New Quest Post by :glolo Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :974

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A Rough Shaking - Chapter 25. A New Quest

Chapter XXV. A new quest

Though as comfortable as one could be who so sorely lacked food, Clare slept lightly. His baby was heavy on his mind, and he woke very early--woke at once to the anxious thought of a boy without food, money, or friends, and with a hungry baby. He woke, however, with a new train of reasoning in his mind. Babies could not work; babies always had their food given them; therefore babies who hadn't food had a right to ask for it; babies couldn't ask for it; therefore those who had the charge of them, and hadn't food to give them, had a right to do the asking for them. He could not beg for himself as long as he was able to ask for work; but for baby it was his duty to beg, because she could not wait: she would not live till he found work. If he got work that very day, he would have to work the whole day before he got the money for it, and baby would be dead by that time! He crept out, so as not to awake the sleepers, and put on his clothes. They were not dry, but they would dry when the sun rose. He did not at all like leaving his baby with Tommy, but what was he to do? She might as well die of Tommy as of hunger! Perhaps it might be easier!

He thought over the nature of the boy, and what it would be best to say to him. He saw what many genial persons are slow to see, that kindness, in its natural shape, is to certain dispositions a great barrier in the way of learning either love or duty. With multitudes, nothing but undiluted fear or pain or shame can open the door for love to enter.

He searched the house for a medicine-bottle, such as he had seen plenty of at the parsonage, and found two. He chose the smaller, lest size should provoke disinclination. Then he woke Tommy, and said to him,

"Tommy, I'm going out to get baby's breakfast."

"Ain't you going to give _me any? Is the kid to have _everything_?"

"Tommy!" said Clare, with a steady look in his eyes that frightened him, "your turn will come next. You won't die of want for a day or two yet. I'll see to you as soon as I can. Only, remember, baby comes first! I'm going to leave her with you. You needn't take her up. You're not able to carry her. You would let her fall. But if, when I come home, I find anything has happened to her, _I'll put you in the water-but_--I WILL. And I'll do it when the moon is in it."

Tommy pulled a hideous face, and began to yell. Clare seized him by the throat.

"Make that noise again, you rascal, and I'll choke you. If you're good to baby while I'm away, I won't eat a mouthful till you've had some; if you're not good to her, you know what will happen! You've got the thing in your own hands!"

"She'll go an' do something I can't help, an' then you'll go for to drown me!"

Again he began to howl, but Clare checked him as before. "If you wake her up, I'll--" He had no words, and shook him for lack of any. "I see," he resumed, "I shall have to lock you up in the coal-cellar till I come back! Here! come along!"

Tommy was quiet instantly, and fell to pleading. Clare lent a gracious ear, and yielding to Tommy's protestations, left him with his treasure, and set out on his quest.

He got out through the kitchen, the rustiness of the fastenings of its door delaying him a little, and over the wall by the imprisoned door, taking care to lift as little as possible of his person above the coping as he crossed. He dared not go along the wall in the daylight, or get down in the smith's yard; he dropped straight to the ground.

The country was level, and casting his eyes about, he saw, at no great distance, what looked like a farmstead. He knew cows were milked early, but did not know what time it was. Hoping anyhow to reach the place before the milk was put away in the pans, he set out to run straight across the fields. But he soon found he could not run, and had to drop into a walk.

When he got into the yard, he saw a young woman carrying a foaming pail of milk across to the dairy. He ran to her, and addressed her with his usual "Please, ma'am;" but the pail was heavy, and she kept on without answering him. Clare followed her, and looking into the dairy, saw an elderly woman.

"Please, ma'am, could you afford me as much fresh milk as would fill that bottle?" he said, showing it.

"Well, my man," she answered pleasantly, "I think we might venture as far without fear of the workhouse! But what on earth made you bring such a thimble of a bottle as that?"

"I have no money to pay for it, you see, ma'am; and I thought a little bottle would be better to beg with; it wouldn't be so hard on the farmer!"

"Bless the boy! Much good a drop of milk like that will do him!" said the woman, turning to the girl "Is it for your mother's tea?"

"No, ma'am; it's for a baby--a very little baby, ma'am!--I think it will hold enough," he added, giving an anxious glance at the bottle in his hand, "to keep her alive till I get work."

The woman looked, and her heart was drawn to the boy who stood gazing at her with his whole solemn, pathetic yet strong face--with his wide, clear eyes, his decided nose, large and straight, his rather long, fine mouth, trembling with eager anxiety, and his confident chin. She saw hunger in his grimy cheeks; she saw that his manners were those of a gentleman, and his clothes poor enough for any tramp, though evidently not made for a tramp. She would have concluded him escaped from cruel guardians, for she was a reader of _The Family Herald_; but that would not account for the baby! The baby did not tally!

"How old's the baby?" she asked.

"I don't know, ma'am; she only came to us last night."

"Who brought her?"

She imagined the boy a simpleton, and expected one of such answers as inconvenient questions in natural history receive from nurses.

"I don't know, ma'am. I took her out of the water-but."

The thing grew bewildering.

"Who put her there?"

"I don't know, ma'am."

"Whose baby is she, then?"

"Mine, I think, ma'am."

"God bless the boy!" said the woman impatiently, and stared at him speechless.

Her daughter in the meantime had filled the phial with new milk. She handed it to him. He grasped it eagerly. Tears of joy came in his big hungry eyes.

"Oh, _thank you, ma'am!" he said. "But, please, would you tell me," he continued, looking from the one to the other, "how much water I must put in the milk to make it good for baby? I know it wants water, but I don't know how much!"

"Oh, about half and half," answered the elder woman. "'Ain't she got no mother?" she resumed.

"I think she must have a mother, but I daresay she's a tramp," answered Clare.

"I don't want to give my good milk to a tramp!" she rejoined.

"_I_'m not a tramp, please, ma'am!--at least I wasn't till the day before yesterday."

The woman looked at him out of motherly eyes, and her heart swelled into her bosom.

"Wouldn't you like some milk yourself?" she said.

"Oh, yes, ma'am!" answered Clare, with a deep sigh.

She filled a big cup from the warm milk in the pail, and held it out to him. He took it as a man on the scaffold might a reprieve from death, half lifted it to his lips, then let his hand sink. It trembled so, as he set the cup down on a shelf beside him, that he spilled a little. He looked ruefully at the drops on the brick floor.

"Please, ma'am, there's Tommy!" he faltered.

His promise to Tommy had sprung upon him like a fiery flying serpent.

"Tommy! I thought you said the baby was a girl?"

"Yes, the baby's a girl; but there's Tommy as well! He's another of us."

"Your brother, of course!"

"No, ma'am; I'm afraid he's a tramp. But there he is, you see, and I must share with him!"

It grew more and more inexplicable!

A gruff, loud voice came from the yard. It was the farmer's. He was a bitter-tempered man, and his dislike of tramps was almost hatred. His wife and daughter knew that if he saw the boy he would be worse than rude to him.

"There's the master!" cried the mother. "Drink, and make haste out of his way."

"If it's stealing,--" said Clare.

"Stealing! It's no stealing! The dairy's mine! I can give my milk where I please!"

"Well, ma'am, if the milk's mine because you gave it me, it's not begging to ask you to give me a piece of bread for it! I could take a share of that to Tommy!"

"Run, Chris," cried the mother, hurriedly; "take the innocent with you--round outside the yard. Give him a hunch of bread, and let him go. For God's sake don't let your father see him! Run, my boy, run! There's no time to drink the milk now!"

She poured it back into the pail, and set the cup out of the way.

There was a little passage and another door, by which they left as the farmer entered. The kick he would have given Clare with his heavy boot would, in its consequences, have reached the baby too. The girl ran with him to the back of the house.

"Wait a moment at that window," she said.

Now whether it was loving-kindness all, or that she dared not take the time to divide it, I cannot tell, but she handed Clare a whole loaf, and that a good big one, of home-made bread, and disappeared before he could thank her, telling him to run for his life.

He was able now. With the farmer behind, and the hungry ones before him, he _must run; and with the phial in his pocket and the loaf in his hands, he _could run. Happily the farmer did not catch sight of him. His wife took care he should not. I believe, indeed, she got up a brand-new quarrel with him on the spur of the moment, that he might not have a chance.

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