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Clare the defender.
This enemy was a trouble, more or less, to every decent person in the neighbourhood. It was well his mother was a widow, for where she was only powerless to restrain, the father would have encouraged. He was a big, idle, sneering, insolent lad--such that had there been two more of the sort, they would have made the village uninhabitable. It was all the peaceable vicar could do to keep his hands off him.
One day, little Mary being then about five years old, Clare had her out for a walk. They were alone in a narrow lane, not far from the farm where Clare was so much at home. To his consternation, for he had his sister in charge, down the lane, meeting them, came the village tyrant. He strolled up with his hands in his pockets, and barred their way. But while, his eye chiefly on Clare, he "straddled" like Apollyon, but not "quite over the whole breadth of the way," Mary slipped past him. The young brute darted after the child. Clare put down his head, as he had seen the rams do, and as Simpson, who ill deserved the name of the generous Jewish Hercules, was on the point of laying hold of her, caught him in the flank, butted him into the ditch, and fell on the top of him.
"Run, Maly!" he cried; "I'll be after you in a moment."
"Will you, you little devil!" cried the bully; and taking him by the throat, so that he could not utter even a gurgle, got up and began to beat him unmercifully. But the sounds of their conflict had reached the ears of the bull Nimrod, who was feeding within the hedge. He recognized Clare's voice, perhaps knew from it that he was in trouble; but I am inclined to think pure bull-love of a row would alone have sent him tearing to the quarter whence the tyrant's brutal bellowing still came. There, looking over the hedge, he saw his friend in the clutches of an enemy of his own, for Simpson never lost a chance of teasing Nimrod when he could do so with safety. Over he came with a short roar and a crash. Looking up, the bully saw a bigger bully than himself, with his head down and horns level, retreating a step or two in preparation for running at him. Simpson shoved the helpless Clare toward the enemy and fled. Clare fell. Nimrod jumped over his prostrate friend and tore after Simpson. Clare got up and would at once have followed to protect his enemy, but that he must first see his sister safe. He ran with her to a cottage hard by, handed her to the woman at the door of it, and turning pursued Simpson and the bull.
Nimrod overtook his enemy in the act of scrambling over a five-barred gate. Simpson saw the head of the bull coming down upon him like the bows of a Dutchman upon a fishing-boat, and, paralyzed with terror, could not move an inch further. Crash against the gate came the horns of Nimrod, with all the weight and speed of his body behind them. Away went the gate into the field, and away went Simpson and the bull with it, the latter nearly breaking his neck, for his horns were entangled in the bars, one of them by the diagonal bar. Simpson's right leg was jammed betwixt the gate and the head and horns of the bull. He roared, and his roars maddened Nimrod, furious already that he could not get his horns clear. Shake and pull as he might, the gate stuck to them; and Simpson fared little the better that the bull's quarrel was for the moment with the gate, and not with the leg between him and it.
Clare had not seen the catastrophe, and did not know what had become of pursuer or pursued, until he reached the gap where the gate had been. He saw then the odd struggle going on, and ran to the aid of his foe, in terror of what might already have befallen him. The moment he laid hold of one of the animal's horns, infuriated as Nimrod was with his helpless entanglement, he knew at once who it was, and was quiet; for Clare always took him by the horn when first he went up to him. Without a moment's demur he yielded to the small hands as they pushed and pulled his head this way and that until they got it clear of the gate. But then they did not let him go. Clare proceeded to take him home, and Nimrod made no objection. Simpson lay groaning.
When Clare returned, his enemy was there still. He had got clear of the gate, but seemed in much pain, for he lay tearing up the grass and sod in handfuls. When Clare stooped to ask what he should do for him, he struck him a backhanded blow on the face that knocked him over. Clare got up and ran.
"Coward!" cried Simpson; "to leave a man with a broken leg to get home by himself!"
"I'm going to find some one strong enough to help you," said Clare.
But Simpson, after his own evil nature, imagined he was going to let the bull into the field again, and fell to praying him not to leave him. Clare knew, however, that, if his leg was broken, he could not get him home, neither could he get home by himself; so he made haste to tell the people at the farm, and Simpson lay in terror of the bull till help came.
From that hour he hated Clare, attributing to him all the ill he had brought on himself. But he was out of mischief for a while. The trouble fell on his mother--who deserved it, for she would believe no ill of him, because he was hers. One good thing of the affair was, that the bully was crippled for life, and could do the less harm.
It was a great joy to Mr. Person to learn how Clare had defended his sister. Clergyman as he was, and knowing that Jesus Christ would never have returned a blow, and that this spirit of the Lord was what saved the world, he had been uneasy that his adopted child behaved just like Jesus. That a man should be so made as not to care to return a blow, never occurred to Mr. Porson as possible. It was therefore an immeasurable relief to his feelings as an Englishman, to find that the boy was so far from being destitute of pluck, that in defence of his sister he had attacked a fellow twice his size.
"Weren't you afraid of such a big rascal?" he said.
"No, papa," answered the boy. "Ought I to have been?"
He put his hand to his forehead, as if trying to understand. His father found he had himself something to think about.
There was a certain quiescence about Clare, ill to describe, impossible to explain, but not the less manifest. Like an infant, he never showed surprise at anything. Whatever came to him he received, questioning nothing, marvelling at nothing, disputing nothing. What he was told to do he went to do, never with even a momentary show of disinclination, leaving book or game with readiness but no eagerness. He would do deftly what was required of him, and return to his place, with a countenance calm and sweet as the moon in highest heaven. He seldom offered a caress except to little Mary; yet would choose, before anything else, a place by his mother's knee. The moment she, or his father in her absence, entered the room and sat down, he would rise, take his stool, and set it as near as he thought he might. When caressed he never turned away, or looked as if he would rather be let alone; at the same time he received the caress so quietly, and with so little response, that often, when his heavenly look had drawn the heart of some mother, or spinster with motherly heart, he left an ache in the spirit he would have gone to the world's end to comfort. He never sought love--otherwise than by getting near the loved. When anything was given him, he would look up and smile, but he seldom showed much pleasure, or went beyond the regulation thanks. But if at such a moment little Mary were by, he had a curious way of catching her up and presenting her to the giver. Whether this was a shape his thanks took, whether Mary was to him an incorporate gratitude, or whether he meant to imply that she was the fitter on whom to shower favour, it were hard to say. His mother observed, and in her mind put the two things together, that he did not seem to prize much any mere possession. He looked pleased with a new suit of clothes, but if any one remarked on his care of them, he would answer, "I mustn't spoil what's papa and mamma's!" He made no hoard of any kind. He did once hoard marbles till he had about a hundred; then it was discovered that they were for a certain boy in the village who was counted half-witted--as indeed was Clare himself by many. When he learned that the boy had first been accused of stealing them--for no one would believe that another boy had given them to him--and after that robbed of them by the other boys, on the ground that he did not know how to play with them, Clare saw that it was as foolish to hoard for another as for himself.
He was a favourite with few beyond those that knew him well. Many who saw him only at church, or about the village, did not take to him. His still regard repelled them. In Naples they would have said he had the evil eye. I think people had a vague sense of rebuke in his presence. Even his mother, passionately loving her foundling, was aware of a film between them through which she could not quite see him, beyond which there was something she could not get at, Clare knew nothing of such a separation. He seemed to himself altogether close to his mother, was aware of nothing between to part them. The cause of the thing was, that Clare was not yet in flower. His soul was a white half-blown bud, not knowing that it was but half-blown. It basked in the glory of the warm sun, but only with the underside of its flower-leaves; it had not opened its heart, the sun-side of its petals, to the love in which it was immerged. He received the love as a matter of course, and loved it as a matter of course. But for the cruel Simpson he would not have known there could be any other way of things. He did not yet know that one must not only love but mean to love, must not only bask in the warmth of love, but know it as love, and where it comes from--love again the fountain whence it flows.
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