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In which I have an adventure with a cow; become a lawless filcher of brandysnaps; and confound an honest farmer.
I RAN for a long time in the darkness, blindly, not caring where I went, only that I escaped from Mr. Hawkins. The pounding of my heart shook me as I plunged across fields and scrambled under gates in my way, until at last I came to a corner of two hedges, and had no strength to go farther. I curled myself into as small a space as possible, close to the hedges, and lay there. It seemed to me that I was hidden and safe, and I was quite content as I went to sleep.
Early in the morning I was awakened by a curious swishing noise, and saw close to my face the great staring eyes of a strange animal. It was a cow, but I had never seen one, and I thought it was one of the giants my mother had told about. I saw its tongue, lapping up about its nose, and as I stared it licked my face. The moist sandpapery feeling of it startled me and I howled.
At the sound it backed away with a snort, and so we remained, staring at each other for a long time. It was a bright morning, with birds singing in the hedgerows, and if it had not been for my hunger and an uneasiness lest the cow meant to lick me again I would have been quite happy, so far from Mr. Hawkins.
Then between me and the cow came a woman with a big bucket on her arm, carrying a three-legged stool. Quite fearlessly she slapped the great animal, and it turned meekly and stood, while she sat on the stool and began to milk. It was the strangest thing I had ever seen, and I went over to her side and stood watching the thin white stream pattering on the bottom of the bucket. She gave a great start and cried out in surprise when she saw me.
"Lawk a mussy!" she said, and sat with her mouth open. I must have been a strange sight in that farmyard, a thin little child — for I was only ten and very small for that age — in velveteen smalls and a round jacket with tinsel braid on it.
"Where did you coom from?" she asked.
"I come from London. I am an actor," I said importantly. "What are you doing?" and pointed to the bucket.
She laughed at that and seeing, I suppose, that I looked hungry, she held the bucket to my lips, and I tasted the fresh warm milk. I drank every drop, in great delight. I had never tasted anything so delicious before.
"Are you hungry?" she asked me, and I told her solemnly, believing it, that I had had nothing to eat for a week. Her consternation at that was so great she dropped the bucket, but hastily picking it up, she sat down and milked again until she had another huge draught for me. Then she finished the milking in a hurry and took me into the farmhouse kitchen, a bright place, with shining pans on the wall and a pleasant smell of cooking.
The tale I told the farmer's wife I do not remember, but she took me up in her arms, saying, "Poor little lad! Poor little lad!" over and over, while she felt my thin arms, and I squirmed, for I did not like to be pitied, and besides, I saw the breakfast on the table and wished she would let me have some. When she set me down before it at last I could hardly wait to begin, while, to my surprise, she tied a napkin around my neck.
It was a mighty breakfast — porridge and eggs, with a rasher of bacon and marmalade, and the maid who had milked the cow was cutting great slices of crusty bread and butter. But before I had taken up a spoon the farmer came in. He was a big bluff man, and at sight of me he began to ask questions in a loud voice.
"Well, my lad, where did you come from?" he said.
"From the fair, sir," I answered, eager to be at the food, and not thinking what I said.
"Oh, 'e's the little lad wi' the clog dancers I told you of, Mary," he said. "Gi' him break-fuss, if you like, and I'll be takin' him back to his master as I go to the village."
At the terrible thought of Mr. Hawkins, whom I had almost forgotten, panic took me. I sat there trembling for a second, and then, before a hand could be reached to stay me, I leaped from my chair and fled from the kitchen, through the farmyard and out the gate, the napkin fluttering at my neck. A long way down the lane I stopped, panting, and looked to see if any one was following me. No one was.
I wandered on for some time, growing hungrier with every step and regretting passionately the loss of that great breakfast before I saw the girl with the brandysnaps. She was a fat round-cheeked little girl, with her hair in braids, and she was swinging on a gate, humming to herself and nibbling a cookie. Others were piled on the gatepost beside her. I stopped and looked eagerly at them and at her. Badly as I wanted some I would not ask for them, and she looked at me round-eyed and said nothing.
So we eyed each other, until finally she made a face and stuck out her tongue at me. Then she opened her mouth wide and popped in a brandysnap. It was too much. With a yell I sprang at her and seized the cookies. She tumbled from the gate, and as she fell she howled appallingly. At the sound a great shaggy dog came bounding, and I fled in panic, clutching the brandysnaps.
The dog pursued me as I ran, in great leaps, my ears filled with the fearful sound of his barks. I sped around a turn in the lane and saw before me a farmer's wagon going slowly along. The dog was hard on my heels. I caught a glimpse of his great red mouth and tongue. With a last panting effort I clambered upon the tail of the wagon and dived beneath the burlap which covered the load.
There, lying in the dimness among green vegetables, I consumed the brandysnaps to the last crumb, listening to the farmer's bewildered expostulation with the honest dog, which continued barking at the wagon until the farmer dismounted and pursued him down the road with his whip. Then, as the wagon went onward again, I ate a number of radishes and a raw potato, and experimentally bit the squash and marrows until, with a contented stomach, I curled up among the lettuce and fell asleep.
I was awakened by the stopping of the wagon and heard the farmer, busied with the horse, exchanging jovial greetings with other gruff voices. Undecided what to do, I lay still until I heard him speaking loudly almost over my head.
"I lay these are the finest vegetables ever come to market," he said proudly, and tore the burlap covering from me. I sat up.
There never was a more surprised farmer. He stood open-mouthed. While the men around him laughed, I scrambled from among the vegetables over the wagon's edge and dived into the uproar of Covent Garden market. Horses, donkeys, wagons, men, women and children crowded the place; on every side were piles of vegetables and bright fruit, and there was a clamor of laughter, shouts and the cries of hucksters.
I ran about, happy in all the confusion, and glad to feel London about me again. After a while I met a man who gave me a penny for helping him unload his vegetables, and I wandered out of the market and down the dirty cobbled streets outside. There was a barrel organ which I followed for a time, and then I met a hokey-pokey man and spent my penny for his sweets. I felt as rich as a lord as I sat on the curb in the sunshine eating them.