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On the tramp.
With the new day came the fresh necessity for breakfast, and the fresh interest in the discovery of it. But breakfast is a thing not always easiest to find where breakfasts most abound; nor was theirs when found that morning altogether of a sort to be envied, ill as they could afford to despise it. Passing, on their goal-less way, a flour-mill, the door of which was half-open, they caught sight of a heap, whether floury dust or dusty flour, it would have been hard to say, that seemed waiting only for them to help themselves from it. Fain to still the craving of birds too early for any worm, they swallowed a considerable portion of it, choking as it was, nor met with rebuke. There was good food in it, and they might have fared worse.
Another day's tramp was thus inaugurated. How it was to end no one in the world knew less than the trampers.
Before it was over, a considerable change had passed upon Clare; for a new era was begun in his history, and he started to grow more rapidly. Hitherto, while with his father or mother, or with his little sister, making life happy to her; even while at the farm, doing hard work, he had lived with much the same feeling with which he read a story: he was in the story, half dreaming, half acting it. The difference between a thing that passed through his brain from the pages of a book, or arose in it as he lay in bed either awake or asleep, and the thing in which he shared the life and motion of the day, was not much marked in his consciousness. He was a dreamer with open eyes and ready hands, not clearly distinguishing thought and action, fancy and fact. Even the cold and hunger he had felt at the farm had not sufficed to wake him up; he had only had to wait and they were removed. But now that he did not know whence his hunger was to be satisfied, or where shelter was to be had; now also that there was a hunger outside him, and a cold that was not his, which yet he had to supply and to frustrate in the person of Tommy, life began to grow real to him; and, which was far more, he began to grow real to himself, as a power whose part it was to encounter the necessities thus presented. He began to understand that things were required of him. He had met some of these requirements before, and had satisfied them, but without knowing them as requirements. He did it half awake, not as a thinking and willing source of the motion demanded. He did it all by impulse, hardly by response. Now we are put into bodies, and sent into the world, to wake us up. We might go on dreaming for ages if we were left without bodies that the wind could blow upon, that the rain could wet, and the sun scorch, bodies to feel thirst and cold and hunger and wounds and weariness. The eternal plan was beginning to tell upon Clare. He was in process of being changed from a dreamer to a man. It is a good thing to be a dreamer, but it is a bad thing indeed to be only a dreamer. He began to see that everybody in the world had to do something in order to get food; that he had worked for the farmer and his wife, and they had fed him. He had worked willingly and eaten gladly, but had not before put the two together. He saw now that men who would be men must work.
His eyes fell upon a congregation of rooks in a field by the roadside. "Are they working?" he thought; "or are they stealing? If it be stealing they are at, it looks like hard work as well. It can't be stealing though; they were made to live, and how are they to live if they don't grub? that's their work! Still the corn ain't theirs! Perhaps it's only worms they take! Are the worms theirs? A man should die rather than steal, papa said. But, if they are stealing, the crows don't know it; and if they don't know it, they ain't thieves! Is that it?"
The same instant came the report of a gun. A crowd of rooks rose cawing. One of them dropped and lay.
"He must have been stealing," thought Clare, "for see what comes of it! Would they shoot me if I stole? Better be shot than die of hunger! Yes, but better die of hunger than be a thief!"
He had read stories about thieves and honest boys, and had never seen any difficulty in the matter. Nor had he yet a notion of how difficult it is not to be a thief--that is, to be downright honest. If anybody thinks it easy, either he has not known much of life, or he has never tried to be honest; he has done just like other people. Clare did not know that many a boy whose heart sided with the honest boy in the story, has grown up a dishonourable man--a man ready to benefit himself to the disadvantage of others; that many a man who passes for respectable in this disreputable world, is counted far meaner than a thief in the next, and is going there to be put in prison. But he began to see that it is not enough to mean well; that he must be sharp, and mind what he was about; else, with hunger worrying inside him, he might be a thief before he knew. He was on the way to discover that to think rightly--to be on the side of what is honourable when reading a story, is a very different thing from doing right, and being honourable, when the temptation is upon us. Many a boy when he reads this will say, "Of course it is!" and when the time comes, will be a sneak.
Those crows set Clare thinking; and it was well; for if he had not done as those thinkings taught him, he would have given a very different turn to his history. Meditation and resolve, on the top of honourable habit, brought him to this, that, when he saw what was right, he just did it--did it without hesitation, question, or struggle. Every man must, who would be a free man, who would not be the slave of the universe and of himself.
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