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In which I feel very small and desolate; encounter once more the terrible wrath of Mr. Hawkins; and flee from it into the unknown perils of a great and fearful world.
"IT'S stubbornness, that's wot it is! I won't 'ave it!" Mr. Hawkins said fiercely, and reached for his cane.
I struggled in the grip of his great knees, and cried in terror that I did not mean it, I was sorry, I would be good. I begged him not to beat me. Even when he let me go I could not stop screaming.
It must have been some time next day that I woke in a hot tumbled bed. I thought my mother had been there, with her hair falling over the pillow and her face all sparkling with fun. I put up my arms with a cry, and she was gone. A strange ugly girl, with a broom in her hand, was leaning over me.
"Coom, coom," she said crossly, shaking my shoulder. "Wark's to be done. No time to be lyin' a-bed."
I struggled to get away from her heavy hand, and sobbed that I wanted my mother, I wanted to go home. I was so little and so miserable and weary that the grief of missing my mother seemed almost to break my heart.
"She's gone," the girl said, still pulling at me. "She willna be vexed wi' a girt boy, weeping like a baaby."
"No! No!" I screamed at her. "My mother hasn't gone away. My mother hasn't left me."
"Yus, she has," the girl told me. "She's gone."
I let her lift me from the bed then, and sat limp on the floor where she put me, leaning my aching head against the bedpost. All my childish courage and hope was gone, and I was left very little and alone in a terrible black world where my mother did not care for me any more. I sat there desolate, with great tears running down my cheeks, and did not wish to stir or move or ever see any one again.
Long hours later, after it had been dark a long time, Mr. Hawkins came in with the boys, and I had no strength even to fear him. When he roared at me I still sat there and only trembled and turned my head away. I remember his walking up and down and looking at me a long time, and I remember his holding a mug of ale to my lips and making me swallow some, but everything was confused and vague, and I did not care for anything, only wanting to be left alone.
It may have been the next day, or several days later, that we were all walking over rough cobbled streets, very early in the morning, in a cold thick fog. I walked unsteadily, because my legs felt limp, and Mr. Hawkins held my hand tight, so that my arm ached. We were all going to a fair in the country. I was interested in that, because my mother had once taken Sidney and me to a meadow, where we all played in the grass and found cowslips and ate cakes from a basket under a tree.
After we had walked a long time Mr. Hawkins took us into an eating-house, where we had a breakfast of sausages and I drank a big mug of hot coffee. When we came out the sun was shining and we walked down a wide white road, past many great houses with grass and trees about them. I had never imagined such places, and with the delight of seeing them, and the sunlight and the good breakfast, I felt better, and thought I could walk by myself if Mr. Hawkins would let go my hand, though I dared not speak of it.
As we walked on, the road grew busy with carriages coming and going and farmers' wagons coming in to market, and after a time a 'coster's cart overtook us, and Mr. Hawkins bargained with the driver to carry us.
Then I began to be almost happy again, as I sat in the back of the cart with my legs dangling and saw the road unrolling backward between the wheels. It was a warm morning; the road was thick with white dust, and the smell of it and of the green fields, to which we came presently, and all the country sights and sounds, were pleasant. We drove for miles between the hedgerows, and I grew quite excited looking for the five-barred gates in them, through which we caught glimpses of the farms on either side. So at last we came to Barnett, where the fair was to be.
The village looked bright and clean, with red brick buildings standing close to the narrow street, and shining white cobblestones. We all climbed down before the inn, and I looked eagerly for meadows, but there were none. Mr. Hawkins hurried us to the field where the fair had already begun. It was crowded with tents and people, and there was a great noise of music and shouting and cries of hokey-pokey men and venders.
"Step lively now, young 'uns," ordered Mr. Hawkins in an awful voice. "rustle into them velveteen smalls, and get your jackets on in a 'urry, or I'll show you wot's wot!"
We dressed in mad haste in a little tent, and he had us into a larger one and hard at work dancing in no time. We heard his voice outside, shouting loud over the uproar of the crowd, "'Ere! 'Ere! This way for the Lunnon clog dancers! Only a penny! See the grite Lunnon clog dancers!" A few people came in, then more, and more, till the tent was full of them, coming and going.
It was hard work dancing; my feet felt heavy to lift and my stomach ached with hunger, but I did not dare stop a minute. I danced on and on, in that hot and stuffy place, with a fearful eye on the tent-flap, where now and again Mr. Hawkins' red face appeared and glared at us, and we saw his hand with the cane gripped in it.
Over and over we did the steps, while the tent grew hotter, and laughing people came and stared and went away, until my breath came in gasps and my head swam and grew large, and larger, and then very tiny again, in a most confusing manner. Then everything went black and I must have fallen, for Mr. Hawkins was shaking me where I lay on the ground, and saying to some one, "'E's all right. 'E's only wilful; 'e wants a good caning, 'e does."
After that I was dancing again, but I did not see the crowd any more. I only danced, and longed for the time when I might stop.
It came after a long, long while. The tent was cooler and empty when Mr. Hawkins came in and took me by the shoulder, and my head cleared so that I saw I need dance no more. My weary muscles gave way and I sat on the floor, looking at him fearfully while he wiped his face with his handkerchief.
"You, with yer woite faces!" he roared hoarsely. "'Ow many times 'ave I told yer to look cheery while you dance? I've a mind to cane the lot of ye!" We trembled. "But I won't," he said, after a dreadful pause.
"We're all a-goin' hover to the inn and 'ave bread and cheese."
He took my hand again and we dragged wearily over to the inn, a bright clean place, with sawdust on the floor. It was crowded with men, and they greeted us with loud voices as we came in.
"'Ere's the Lunnon clog dancers, come to dance for bread and cheese," Mr. Hawkins said cheerfully. He looked at the barmaid, who nodded, and a place was cleared for us to begin our weary dancing again.
My tired little legs would hardly hold me up, and I stumbled in the steps. Under the terrible eye of Mr. Hawkins I did my best, panting with fear, but I could not dance. I stopped at last, and leaned against the bar. Mr. Hawkins reached for me, but as I shrank back with a cry I felt warm arms around me. It was the barmaid who held me, and after one look at her red cheeks, so close, I began to cry on her shoulder.
"Pore little dear, 'e's tired," she said, holding me tight from Mr. Hawkins. "'E shall 'ave his bread and cheese without 'is dancing."
'E's a wilful, perverse hungrateful creetur!" Mr. Hawkins said, but she did not seem to mind. She took me behind the bar and gave me a scorching drink of something and a great piece of bread which I was too weary to eat. Afterward Mr. Hawkins took me back to the fair, jerking me furiously along by the arm. He took me to the little tent where we had dressed and put me inside.
"I'll tike the 'ide off you when I come back," he said hoarsely, bending to bring his red face close to mine. "I'll give you a caning wot is a caning, I will. I've been too gentle with you, I 'ave. You stay 'ere, and wait."
With these dreadful words and a horrible oath he went away, and I could hear him shouting before the other tent above the sounds of the evening's merrymaking. "'Ere! 'Ere! This way to the Lunnon clog dancers! Only a penny!"
I was left in such a state of misery and wretchedness, shaking with such fear, that not even my great weariness would let me sleep. I sat there in the dark for a long time, trembling, and then, driven by terror of Hawkins' return, I crawled beneath the edge of the tent and set out blindly to get beyond the reach of his voice.
came to the edge
of the crowd I ran as fast as I could.