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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Rough Shaking - Chapter 33. A Bad Penny
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A Rough Shaking - Chapter 33. A Bad Penny Post by :rambominger Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :3570

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A Rough Shaking - Chapter 33. A Bad Penny

Chapter XXXIII. A bad penny

Before Clare had done his thinking, darkness had fallen, and, weary to the very bones, he threw himself on the bed beside the baby. The dog jumped up and laid himself at his feet, as if the place had been his from time immemorial--as it had perhaps been, according to time in dog-land. The many pleasures of that blessed day would have kept Clare awake had they not brought with them so much weariness. He fell fast asleep. Tommy had not had a happy day: he had been found out in evil-doing, had done more evil, and had all the day been in dread of punishment. He did not foresee how ill things would go for him--did not see that a rat had taken his place beside the baby, and that he would not get back before Clare; but the vision of the water-but had often flashed upon his inner eye, and it had not been the bliss of his solitude. He deserted his post in the hope of finding something to eat, and had not had a mouthful of anything but spongy turnip, and dried-up mangel-wurzel, or want-root. If he had been minding his work, he would have had a piece of good bread--so good that he would have wanted more of it, whereas, when he had eaten the turnip and the beetroot, he had cause to wish he had not eaten so much! He had been set upon by boys bigger than himself, and nearly as bad, who, not being hungry, were in want of amusement, and had proceeded to get it out of Tommy, just as Tommy would have got it out of the baby had he dared. They bullied him in a way that would have been to his heart's content, had he been the bully instead of the bullied. They made him actually wish he had stayed with the baby--and therewith came the thought that it was time to go home if he would get back before Clare. As to what had taken place in the morning, he knew Clare's forgivingness, and despised him for it. If he found the baby dead, or anything happened to her that he could not cover with lying, it would be time to cut and run in earnest! So the moment he could escape from his tormenters, off went Tommy for home. But as he ran he remembered that there was but one way into the house, and that was by the very lip of the water-but.

Clare woke up suddenly--at a sound which all his life would wake him from the deepest slumber: he thought he heard the whimpering of a child. The baby was fast asleep. Instantly he thought of Tommy. He seemed to see him shut out in the night, and knew at once how it was with him: he had gone out without thinking how he was to get back, and dared not go near the water-but! He jumped out of bed, put on his shoes, and in a minute or two was over the wall and walking along the lane outside of it, to find the deserter.

The moon was not up, and the night was dark, yet he had not looked long before he came upon him, as near the house as he could get, crouching against the wall.

"Tommy!" said Clare softly.

Tommy did not reply. The fear of the water-but was upon him--a fear darker than the night, an evil worse than hunger or cold--and Clare and the water-but were one.

"You needn't think to hide, Tommy; I see you, you bad boy!" whispered Clare. "After all I said, you ran away and left the baby to the rats! They've been biting her horribly--one at least has. You can stay away as long as you like now; I've got a better nurse. Good-night!" Tommy gave a great howl.

"Hold your tongue, you rascal!" cried Clare, still in a whisper. "You'll let the police know where we are!"

"Do let me in, Clare! I'm so 'ungry and so cold!"

"Then I shall have to put you in the water-but! I said I would!"

"If you don't promise not to, I'll go straight to the police. They'll take the brat from you, and put her in the workhouse!"

Clare thought for a moment whether it would not be right to kill such a traitor. His mind was full of history-tales, and, like Dante, he put treachery in its own place, namely the deepest hell. But with the thought came the words he had said so many times without thinking what they meant--"Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us," and he saw that he was expected to forgive Tommy.

"Tommy, I forgive you," he said solemnly, "and will be friends with you again; but I have said it, and I was right to say it, and into the water-but you must go! I can't trust your word now, and I think I shall be able to trust it after that."

Ere he had finished the words, Tommy lifted up his voice in a most unearthly screech.

Instantly Clare had him by the throat, so that he could not utter a sound.

"Tommy," he said, "I'm going to let you breathe again, but the moment you make a noise, I'll choke you as I'm doing now."

With that he relaxed his hold. But Tommy had paid no heed to what he said, and began a second screech the moment he found passage for it. Immediately he was choked, and after two or three attempts, finally desisted.

"I won't!" he said.

"You shall, Tommy. You're going head over in the but. We're going to it now!"

Tommy threw himself upon the ground and kicked, but dared not scream. It was awful! He would drop right through into the great place where the moon was!

Clare threw him over his shoulder, and found him not half the weight of the parcel of linen. Tommy would have bitten like a weasel, but he feared Clare's terrible hands. He was on the back of Giant Despair, in the form of one of the best boys in the world. Clare took him round the wall, and over the fence into the blacksmith's yard. The smithy was quite dark.

"Please, I didn't mean to do it!" sobbed Tommy from behind him, as Clare bore him steadily up the yard. It was all he could do to say the words, for the thought of what they were approaching sent a scream into his throat every time he parted his lips to speak.

Clare stopped.

"What didn't you mean to do?" he asked.

"I didn't mean to leave the baby."

"How did you do it then?"

"I mean I didn't mean to stay away so long. I didn't know how to get back."

"I told you not to leave her! And you could have got back perfectly, you little coward!"

Tommy shuddered, and said no more. Though hanging over Clare's back he knew presently, by his stopping, that they had come to the heap. There was only that heap and the wall between him and the water-but! Up and up he felt himself slowly, shakingly carried, and was gathering his breath for a final utterance of agony that should rouse the whole neighbourhood, when Clare, having reached the top, seated himself upon the wall, and Tommy restrained himself in the hope of what a parley might bring. But he sat down only to wheel on the pivot of his spine, as he had seen them do on the counter in the shop, and sit with his legs alongside of the water-but. Then he drew Tommy from his shoulder, in spite of his clinging, and laid him across his knees; and Tommy, divining there were words yet to be said, and hoping to get off with a beating, which he did not mind, remained silent.

"Your hour is come, Tommy!" said Clare. "If you scream, I will drop you in, and hold you only by one leg. If you don't scream, I will hold you by both legs. If you scream when I take you out, in you go again! I do what I say, Tommy!"

The wretched boy was nearly mad with terror. But now, much as he feared the water, he feared yet more for the moment him in whom lay the power of the water. Clare took him by the heels.

"I'm sorry there's no moon, as I promised you," he said; "she won't come up for my calling. I should have liked you to see where you were going. But if you ain't an honest boy after this, you shall have another chance; and next time we will wait for the moon!"

With that he lifted Tommy's legs, holding him by the ankles, and would have shoved his body over the edge of the but into the water. But Tommy clung fast to his knees.

"Leave go, Tommy," he said, "or I'll tumble you right in."

Tommy yielded, his will overcome by a greater fear. Clare let him hang for a moment over the black water, and slowly lowered him. Tommy clung to the side of the but. Clare let go one leg, and taking hold of his hands pulled them away. Tommy's terror would have burst in a frenzied yell, but the same instant he was down to the neck in the water, and lifted out again. He spluttered and gurgled and tried to scream.

"Now, Tommy," said Clare, "don't scream, or I'll put you in again."

But Tommy never believed anything except upon compulsion. The moment he could, that moment he screamed, and that moment he was in the water again. The next time he was taken out, he did not scream. Clare laid him on the wall, and he lay still, pretending to be drowned. Clare got up, set him on his feet in front of him, and holding him by the collar, trotted him round the top of the wall to the door, and dropped him into the garden. He was quiet enough now--more than subdued--incapable even of meditating revenge. But when they entered the nursery, the dog, taking Tommy for a worse sort of rat, made a leap at him right off the bed, as if he would swallow him alive, and the start and the terror of it brought him quite to himself again.

"Quiet, Abdiel!" said Clare.

The dog turned, jumped up on the bed, and lay down again close to the baby.

Clare, who, I have said, was in old days a reader of _Paradise Lost_, had already given him the name of _Abdiel_.

"Please, I couldn't help yelling!" said Tommy, very meekly. "I didn't know you'd got _him_!"

"I know you couldn't help it!" answered Clare. "What have you had to eat to-day?"

"Nothing but a beastly turnip and a wormy beet," said Tommy. "I'm awful hungry."

"You'd have had something better if you'd stuck by the baby, and not left her to the rats!"

"There ain't no rats," growled Tommy.

"Will you believe your own eyes?" returned Clare, and showed him the skin of the rat Abdiel had slain. "I've a great mind to make you eat it!" he added, dangling it before him by the tail.

"Shouldn't mind," said Tommy. "I've eaten a rat afore now, an' I'm that hungry! Rats ain't bad to eat. I don't know about their skins!"

"Here's a piece of bread for you. But you sha'n't sleep with honest people like baby and Abdiel. You shall lie on the hearth-rug. Here's a blanket and a pillow for you!"

Clare covered him up warm, thatching all with a piece of loose carpet, and he was asleep directly.

The next day all terror of the water-but was gone from the little vagabond's mind. He was now, however, thoroughly afraid of Clare, and his conceit that, though Clare was the stronger, he was the cleverer, was put in abeyance.

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Chapter XXXII. Shop and babyOnce clear of the well and the wall, Clare set off running like a gaze-hound. Such was the change produced in him by joy and the satisfaction of hope, that when he entered the shop, no one at first knew him. His face was as the face of an angel, and none the less beautiful that it shone above ragged garments. But Mr. Maidstone, the moment he saw him, and before he had time to recognize him, turned from the boy with dislike. "What a fool the beggar looks!" he said to himself;--then aloud to one of