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A third mother.
Who ever had a sovereign for the first time in his life, and did not feel rich? Clare trudged along merrily, and Abdiel shared his joy. They had to sleep out of doors nevertheless; for by this time Clare knew that a boy, especially a boy in rags, must mind whom he asks to change a sovereign. In the lee of a hay-mow, on a little loose hay, they slept, Abdiel in Clare's bosom, and slept well.
There was not much temptation to lie long after waking, and the companions were early on their way. It was yet morning when they came to the public house where Clare had his first and last half-pint of beer. The landlady stood at the newly opened door, with her fists in her sides, looking out on the fresh world, lost in some such thought as was possible to her. Clare pulled off his cap, and bade her good morning as he passed. Perhaps she knew she did not deserve politeness; anyhow she took Clare's for impudence, and came swooping upon him. He stopped and waited her approach, perplexed as to the cause of it; and was so unprepared for the box on the ear she dealt him, that it almost threw him down. Her ankle was instantly in Abdiel's sharp teeth. She gave a frightful screech, and Clare, coming to himself, though still stupid from her blow and his own surprise, called off the dog. The woman limped raging to the house, and Clare thought it prudent to go his way. He talked severely to Abdiel as they went; but though the dog could understand much, I doubt if he understood that lecture. For Abdiel was one of the few, even among dogs, with whom the defence of master or friend is an inborn, instinctive duty; and strong temptation even has but a poor chance against the sense of duty in a dog.
It was night when they entered the town. They were already a weary pair when the far sounds of the brass band of the menagerie, mostly made up of attendants on the animals, first entered their ears. The marketing was over; the band was issuing its last invitation to the merry-makers to walk up and see strange sights; its notes were just dying to their close, when the wayfarers arrived at the foot of the steps leading to the platform where the musicians stood. Clare ascended, and Abdiel crept after him.
At a table in a small curtained recess on the platform, sat the mistress to receive the money of those that entered. Clare laid his sovereign before her. She took it up without looking at him, but at it she looked doubtfully. She threw it on her table. It would not ring. She bit it with her white teeth, and looked at it again; then at length gave a glance at the person who offered it. Her dull lamp flickered in the puffs of the night-wind, and she did not recognize Clare. She saw but a white-faced, ragged boy, and threw him back his sovereign.
"Won't pass," she said with decision, not unmingled with contempt. She sat at the receipt of money, where too many men and women cease to be ladies and gentlemen.
Clare did not at first understand. He stood motionless and, for the second time that day, bewildered. How could money be no money?
"'Ain't you got sixpence?" she asked.
"No, ma'am," answered Clare. "I haven't had sixpence for many a day."
The moment he spoke, the woman looked him sharply in the face, and knew him.
"Drat my stupid eyes!" she said fervently. "That I shouldn't ha' known you! Walk in, walk in. Go where you please, and do as you please. You're right welcome.--Where did you get that sov.?"
"From Farmer Goodenough."
"Good enough, I hope, not to take advantage of an innocent prince! Was it for taking home the bull?"
"No, ma'am. I didn't take the bull home. The bull took me to the old home where we used to be together. He didn't want a new one!"
"Well, never mind now. Give me the sovereign. I'll talk to you by and by. Go in, or the show 'ill be over. Look after your dog, though. We don't like dogs. He mustn't go in."
"I'll send him right outside, if you wish it, ma'am."
"I do.--But will he stay out?"
"He will, ma'am."
Clare took up Abdiel, and setting him at the top of the steps, told him to go down and wait. Abdiel went hopping down, like a dirty little white cataract out on its own hook, turned in under the steps, and deposited himself there until his master should call him.
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