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Faithful Moses by Amy Walton

 

Those of you who live near any of the great high-roads that lead to London may remember to have been awake sometimes in the middle of the night, and to have heard the sound of horses' feet, and of cart wheels rumbling slowly and heavily along.

If it be winter, frosty and dry, you hear them very sharply and distinctly; and perhaps you wonder, drowsily, who it is that has business so late, and whither they are bound. “How cold it must be outside!” you think, and it is quite a pleasure to snuggle cosily down in your comfortable bed and feel how warm you are.

Gradually, as the sounds grow less and less, and die away mysteriously in the distance, your eyes close; soon you are fast asleep again, and that is all you know about the cold, dark night outside.

But Tim, the van-boy, knew a great deal more about it than this, for he had now been “on the road” between Roydon and London for more than a year. The carrier's cart started at eleven o'clock in the morning, and having distributed and received parcels on the way the driver put up his horses at an inn called “The Magpie and Stump,” in a part of London named the Borough. So far it was all very well, and not at all hard work; but then came the return journey at night, which began just at the moment when a boy, after a good warm supper, naturally thinks of going to bed. This was trying, and at first Tim felt it a good deal, for he never got home until three o'clock in the morning; he was so anxious, too, to do his duty and fill his post well, that he would not have closed his eyes for the world, though he might well have taken a nap without anyone's knowledge. His “mate” as he called him, whose name was Joshua, sat in front driving his two strong black horses, and Tim's place was at the other open end of the van, so that he might keep his eye on the parcels and prevent their being stolen or lost.

It was a responsible situation he felt for a boy of thirteen, and he meant to do his very best to keep it now that he had been lucky enough to get it; in the far-off future, too, he saw himself no longer the van-boy, but in the proud position now occupied by Joshua as driver, and this he considered, though a lofty, was by no means an unreasonable ambition.

When Tim first began his work it was summertime, and the nights were so balmy, and soft, and light that it was not so very difficult to keep awake—there seemed so many other thing's awake too. After they were well out of London, and the horses no longer clattered noisily over the stones, it was like getting into another world. The stars looked brightly down from the clear smokeless sky. Soft little winds blew a thousand flowery scents from over the fields, and sometimes, singing quite close to the road, Tim heard the nightingale. Even Joshua, a gruff man, was affected by the sweet influence of the season, for Tim noticed that he always sang one particular song on fine nights in summer. Joshua's voice was hoarse from much exposure to weather, but Tim thought he sang with great expression. The words were not easy to follow, because the middle of the verse always became inaudible; but by degrees the boy made out that it was the description of a letter received by a rustic from his sweetheart. It began:

  “All on a summer's day
  As I pursued my way.”

Then came some lines impossible to hear, and then each verse ended with:

  “Com—men_cing with `my dearest,'
  And con—clu_ding with her name—”

Joshua's song and the steady tramp, tramp of the horses were sometimes the only sounds disturbing the still night, and Tim, a small erect figure with widely opened eyes, would sit perched on a convenient packing-case at the back of the cart, and listen admiringly.

But the winter! That was another matter. Joshua did not sing then, but kept his teeth clenched, and his head bent, before the sleet, or wind, or driving rain. Then the brightly lighted London streets seemed cheerful, and much to be preferred to the lonely open country, where the bitter wind swept across the wide fields, and, gathering strength as it came, rushed in among Tim and the parcels. That was hard to bear, but of all kinds of weather, and he knew them all pretty well now, he thought the very worst was a fog. It was not only that it penetrated everywhere, and laid its cold damp finger on everything; but it spread such a thick veil of dreadful mystery over well-known objects. Nothing looked the same. The houses in the streets towered up like giant castles, and if Tim had read fairy tales he might well have fancied them inhabited by ogres. But he had not. He only felt a dim sense of discomfort and fear, as though he were lost in a strange place. Then it was a comfort to know that Joshua was there, almost invisible indeed, but making himself evident by hoarse shouts, now of encouragement to his horses, and now of derision at some luckless driver. Out in the country, when the heavily laden market carts loomed slowly out of the fog as they passed, they had the appearance of being miles up in the air, and as if they must inevitably topple over. Joshua knew all the carters, not by sight, for he could not see them, but by the time and place he met them on his nightly journey. Tim could reckon pretty well that after he had heard his gruff salutation of “a dark night, mate,” repeated a certain number of times, that they must be nearing home, for they always met about the same number of Joshua's friends; as he had no watch this was a comfort to him on the dark nights. Taught by experience, he learned to contrive for himself a sort of Robinson Crusoe but with the various hampers and boxes, and in this he lay curled round in tolerable comfort, covered with an old horse-cloth; nevertheless, it was often very cold, and then the only consolation was in thinking that Joshua must be cold also. It is always easier to bear things if there is some one to bear them with you—unless you are a hero.

One December evening the carrier's cart was just starting homewards from the door of the Magpie and Stump. Joshua, reins in hand, and closely buttoned up to the chin, stood ready to mount to his perch, saying a few last words to the landlord, who was a crony of his; Tim was already in his place. From where he sat he could see something which interested and excited him a good deal, and this was an old woman close by who was selling roasted chestnuts. They did look good! So beautifully done, with nice cracks in their brown skins showing just a little bit of the soft yellow nut inside. Tim looked and longed, and fingered a penny in his pocket. How jolly it would be to have a penn'orth of hot chestnuts to eat on his way home! They would keep his hands warm too. Joshua still talked, there was yet time, he would give himself a treat. He scrambled down from the cart and went up to the old woman, who sat crouched on a stool warming her hands over her little charcoal brazier. She looked a cross old thing, he thought, but she was not, for when he had paid for his chestnuts she picked out an extra fine one and gave it him “for luck,” with a kind grin on her wrinkled face. He was turning away with a warm pocketful, when he saw, sitting on the edge of the pavement near, a very poor thin dog, who trembled with cold or fear, and blinked his eyes sorrowfully at the glowing coals. He was not at all a pretty dog, and probably never had been, even in the days of his prosperity, and these were evidently gone by. He was long-legged and rough-coated, with coarse black hair mingled with yellowish brown, and his large bright eyes had a timid look in them as though he feared ill-treatment; he sat with his thin body drawn together as closely as possible, as if anxious to escape observation.

Tim stood and looked at him, and felt sorry. He was such a very miserable dog, and yet so patient.

“Is he your dog?” he asked the old woman.

“Bless yer 'art, no,” she answered. “He's a stray, he is; he'll come and sit there often at nights, and I sometimes give him a mouthful o' supper.”

“I suppose he's rare and 'ungry?” pursued Tim.

“He's starving, that's what he is,” said the woman, “and he's hurt his leg badly besides. The boys are allers ready to chuck stones at him when they see him prowlin' round. He don't belong to no one.”

Tim felt still more sorry; if he had seen the dog before, he thought, he would have bought a “penn'orth” of liver for him instead of the chestnuts. Now he could do nothing for him. He looked round at the old woman, who was rocking herself to and fro with crossed arms, and said:

“Shall you give him any supper to-night?”

“Nay,” she said with a sort of chuckle; “he's come too late to-night. I've had my supper. There's many a one besides him as has to go supperless.”

The dog during this conversation was evidently conscious that he was being noticed, for he trembled more than ever, and gazed up at Tim with his pleading eyes.

“Pore feller, then,” said the boy.

The kind voice woke some bygone memory in the animal; it reminded him perhaps of the days when he belonged to somebody, and was treated gently. He got up, slowly reared his poor stiff limbs into a begging attitude, and wagged his short tail. He soon dropped down again, for he was evidently weak, but he looked apologetically from the old woman to Tim, as much as to say:

“I know it was a poor performance, but it was the best I could do. In old days it used to please.”

“See there now,” said the woman, “someone must a taught him that. Maybe he's bin a Punch's dog.”

Tim stood absorbed in thought. He had forgotten Joshua, and the cart, and his own important position as van-boy; one idea filled his mind. Could he, ought he, might he take the dog home with him and have him for his own?

He was a prudent boy, and he considered that he would have to pay a tax for him and feed him out of his wages. “But he could have 'arf my dinner,” he reflected; “and how useful he'd be to look after the parcels. And he do look so thin and poor. I'll ask Joshua.”

He looked round. Fortunately for him, Joshua and the landlord had entered into a discussion as to the respective merits of warm mashes, and were still engaged upon it, so Tim had not been missed. He went up to the two men, and standing a little in front of them waited for a convenient moment to make his request. He was glad to see that Joshua looked good-tempered just now; he had evidently had the best of the argument which had been going on, for there was a gleam of triumph in his eye, and he repeating some assertion in a loud voice, while the landlord stood in a dejected attitude with his thumbs in his waistcoat pockets.

That's where it is,” said Joshua as he concluded, and then his eye fell on Tim's eager upturned face.

“Dorg, eh?” he said, when the boy had made him understand what he wanted. “Where is he?”

“There,” said Tim, pointing to where the dog still sat shivering near the old chestnut woman.

Joshua gazed at the animal in silence, and sucked a straw which he had in his mouth reflectively. Tim looked anxiously up into his face. Would he take a fancy to him? The landlord had now drawn near, and also an inquisitive ostler. The old chestnut-seller ceased to rock herself to and fro, and turned her head towards the group, so that the dog, so lonely a few minutes ago, had suddenly become a centre of interest. He seemed to wonder at this, but he scarcely moved his eyes, with a mute appeal in them, from his first friend, Tim. At last, after what seemed an immense silence, Joshua spoke.

“He ain't a beauty—not to look at,” he said.

This might have sounded discouraging to anyone who did not know Joshua, but it was rather the reverse to Tim.

“He'd be werry useful in the cart,” he suggested, taking care not to appear too anxious.

But now the landlord, feeling it time to offer his opinion, broke into the discussion.

“There's no doubt, as the boy says, that you'd find a dog useful, but I wouldn't have a brute of a cur like that, if I was you. Now I could give you as pretty a pup to bring up to the business as you could wish to see. A real game un. Death to anything reasonable he'd be in a year's time. Them nasty mongrels is never no good.”

Now this adverse opinion was, strange to say, sufficient to make up Joshua's mind in the dog's favour; he always took a contrary view of things to the landlord on principle, because it encouraged conversation, and this habit was so strong that he at once began to see the special advantages of a mongrel.

“He's a werry faithful creetur, is a mongrel, if he's properly trained,” he said slowly and solemnly; “and as to game, where's the game he'd find in a carrier's cart? You can bring him along, mate.”

Leaving the landlord in a temporarily crushed condition, he walked off to his horses, which stamped impatiently at all this delay. The dog suffered Tim to take him in his arms without any resistance, though he winced a little as if in pain, and the cart presently drove away from the small knot of interested spectators gathered round the inn door. Then, gently examining his new comrade, the boy found that one of his hind-legs was injured, so that he could not put it to the ground, and moaned when it was touched, though he licked Tim's hand immediately afterwards in apology.

“But I don't think it's broke,” said the boy encouragingly; “and when we get home I'll bathe it and tie it up, and I dessay I can find yer a bit o' supper.”

Soothed perhaps by this prospect, and evidently feeling a sense of comfort and protection, the dog stretched out his thin, weary limbs, and soon, sharing the warm shelter of Tim's horse-cloth, slept profoundly.

And thus the new friends made their first journey together.

STORY TWO, CHAPTER 2.

FAITHFUL MOSES—A SHORT STORY—(CONTD).

So from this time there was a van-dog as well as a van-boy; three “mates” travelling in the cart between Roydon and London—Joshua, Tim, and Moses, for after much consideration that was the name given to the dog.

It was wonderful to see how, after a few weeks of food and kindness, he “plucked up a spirit,” as Joshua said. His whole aspect altered, for he now held his ears and tail valiantly erect, and quite a martial gleam appeared in his eye. He still, it is true, limped about on three legs, which is never a dignified attitude for a dog, but he already began to acquire distinct views concerning the parcels and the cart, and was ready to defend them, with hair bristling, and lips fiercely drawn back from glistening white teeth.

“Not a beauty,” Joshua had said, and decidedly a mongrel according to the landlord. Nobody could doubt that; but to Tim's eyes Moses wanted no attractions, he was perfect. Many and many a confidence was poured into his small, upright, attentive ear, as the two sat so close together at the back of the cart; Tim never considered whether he understood or not, but it was such a comfort to tell him about things. The cold nights were comparatively easy to bear, now that he could put his arm round Moses' hairy form and feel that he was warm and comfortable; meals became more interesting though slighter than they used to be, now that they must be shared by Moses, who watched every morsel with bright expectant eyes. Then he must be taught, and this was not difficult, for ready intelligence and eager affection made him a good scholar; all he wanted was to know what was really required of him. This once understood and successfully performed, what an ecstasy of delight followed on the part of both master and pupil, shown by the former in caresses, and by the latter in excited barks, and short quick rushes among the parcels.

As his education proceeded he learnt to distinguish all the different sounds of Tim's voice, and would sit on guard for any length of time if once told to do so. When on duty in this way, a more conscientious dog could not have been found, for not even the urgent temptation of a cat-chase could lure him from his post—although, sometimes, a short cry of anguish would be wrung from him at being obliged to forego such a pleasure.

Joshua he regarded with a distant respect, Tim with intense affection, and the landlord of the Magpie and Stump with ill-concealed growls of aversion, though the latter tried to ingratiate himself by savoury offerings of food. Moses would walk stiffly away from him with his tail held very high, and the landlord would laugh sarcastically. “You're a nice sample, you are,” he would say, “and as ugly a mongrel as ever I see—”

As time went on, Tim began to place great reliance on the dog's trustworthiness, and to look upon him as quite equal to another boy. He knew that he had only to hold up his ringer and say, “Watch, Moses!” and the dog's vigilant attention was secure; trusting in this, therefore, he felt it by no means so necessary as formerly to be very watchful himself, and began to take life much more easily. In the evening, when Joshua stopped to deliver a parcel, Tim would rouse himself from a comfortable nap, and just murmur, “Watch, Moses!” then woe to anyone who ventured too near Moses and his property.

Now this division of labour, or rather this shifting of responsibility on to another's shoulders, had its bad results, for while the dog improved every day in sharpness and conscientious performance of duty, the boy did the opposite. Tim became somewhat careless and lazy, and though Joshua knew nothing of it, he did not really fill his post half so well as before the dog came; he allowed things to get slack. Now, whether one is a van-boy or a lord-chancellor this is bad, for slackness leads to neglect, and neglect to worse things. You shall hear what happened in Tim's case.

One evening the carrier's cart was standing in a little back street in the Borough waiting for Joshua; he had matters to settle, he told Tim, which might take him an hour or more, and he added:

“Look alive, now, for it's a nasty neighbourhood to be standing about in, and there's some smallish parcels in the cart easy made off with. Don't you let your eye off 'em.”

Tim promised, and, taking his seat on the edge of the cart with his legs swinging, whistled to Moses, who was examining the neighbourhood in an interested manner; he at once jumped up beside his master and assumed a gravely watchful and responsible air.

It was not an amusing street, but poor and squalid, full of small lodging-houses, and little dingy shops; very few people were about, and in spite of Joshua's warning no one seemed even to notice the carrier's cart.

Presently there walked slowly by, whistling carelessly, a boy about Tim's own age; he was quite respectably, though poorly dressed, and wore his cap very much on one side with an air of smartness which Tim thought becoming. He stopped and looked at the boy and the dog, and they looked at him, Moses ready to be suspicious, and Tim to be conversational if required.

For some minutes the group remained in silent contemplation, then the new-comer said inquiringly:

“Fer dog?”

“Ah,” said Tim, nodding his head.

“Up to snuff, ain't he?” said the other boy.

Tim nodded again, this time in a more friendly manner.

“Wot's his name?”

“Moses.”

“Yer give it him?”

“Ah.”

“Where's yer boss?” (meaning master).

“Yonder,” with a backward movement of the head.

The boy leant his back against a lamp-post near, and seemed in no hurry to pursue his journey; Tim was not sorry, for a little conversation beguiled the time, and his remark about Moses showed this to be an intelligent and discerning youth.

“Wot can he do?” he asked presently, still with his eye on the dog.

Tim ran through a list of Moses' acquirements eagerly, and finished up with: “And he can watch the parcels as well as a Christian—he wouldn't let no one but me or Joshua come nigh 'em, not for anything.”

“Wouldn't he now?” said the boy admiringly.

“You try,” suggested Tim, anxious to show off Moses' talents.

The stranger came a little nearer, and stretched out his hand as if to touch one of the parcels; he quickly withdrew it, however, for Moses' bristling mane and angry growl were sufficient warnings of his further intentions. Both boys laughed, Tim triumphantly, and he patted the dog with an air of proud proprietorship.

“There's a Punch and Judy playin' in the next street,” remarked the stranger, “and they've got a dorg some'at like yours, he's a clever un he is—wouldn't you like to see him?”

“I've seen 'em—scores o' times,” said Tim loftily.

“Not such a good un as this, I lay. You come and see. It wouldn't take you not two minutes, and your dog'll watch the things.”

“No,” said Tim very quickly and decidedly, “I can't leave the cart.”

“You don't trust the dog much, then. You've bin humbuggin' about him, I bet.”

“That I haven't,” said Tim angrily, “I could trust him not to stir for hours.”

“I should just like to see yer,” sneered the boy—“I don't b'lieve yer dare leave 'im a minute. Well, I wouldn't keep a stupid cur like that!”

The taunt was more than Tim could bear. He knew that Moses would come triumphantly out of the ordeal, and besides, he would really like to go and see the clever Punch's dog in the next street; Joshua was safe for another half-hour, and the place looked so quiet and deserted. It must be safe. He would go.

He jumped down from the cart, and spoke to Moses in a certain voice:

“Watch, Moses!” he said, pointing to the parcels.

The dog looked wistfully at his master, as though suspecting something wrong or unusual, but he did not attempt to follow him; he lay down with his nose between his paws, his short ears pricked, and his bright eyes keenly observant. Then the two boys set off running down the street together, and were soon out of his sight.


-

Half an hour later, Joshua, his business over, turned into the street where he had left his cart. There it stood still, with the horses' heads turned towards him; but what was that choking savage growl which met his ear? Surely that was Moses' voice, though strangely stifled.

With a hoarsely muttered oath Joshua quickened his pace to a run, stretched out his powerful arm, and seized hold of a boy about Tim's size, who, with several parcels in his arms, was trying in vain to escape. In vain—because, hanging fast on to one leg, with resolute grip and starting fiery eyes, was the faithful Moses. Every separate hair of his rough coat bristled with excitement and rage, his head was bleeding from a wound made by a kick or a blow, and he uttered all the time the half-strangled growls which Joshua had heard.

And where was Tim? Oh, sad falling off! Tim had deserted his post; he had proved less faithful than the dog Moses.

When a few minutes later he came hurrying back breathless, there were no traces of what had happened, except on Joshua's enraged red countenance and Moses' bleeding head. The strange boy, who had so easily beguiled him, had been quickly handed over to a policeman. And there were no parcels missing—thanks to Moses, but not, alas, to Tim.

Disgraced and miserable, he stood before the angry Joshua, silent in the midst of a torrent of wrathful words. He deserved every one of them. Instant dismissal without a character was all he had to expect, and he waited trembling for his fate. But, behold, an unlooked-for intercessor! Moses, seeing Joshua's threatening attitude and his dear master's downcast face, drew near to help him, and, as was his custom, stood up and put his paw on the boy's arm. Joshua looked at the dog; his silent presence pleaded eloquently in Tim's favour, and the angry tone was involuntarily softened.

“If ever a boy deserved the sack, it's you,” he said; “and, as sure as my name's Joshua, you should have it if it wasn't for that dog o' yourn. He's worth a score o' boys, that dog is, for he does his dooty, as well as knows what it is.”

Tim breathed again; he flung his arms round Moses' neck, who licked his face eagerly.

“Give us another chance,” he cried imploringly, “we'll both work so hard, Moses and me, and I'll never leave the cart again. If you only won't turn us off I'll work without wage ever so long, that I will.”

“That, in course, you will,” said Joshua grimly, yet relenting, “and you'll get a jolly good thrashing besides. And if you're not turned off you've got the dog to thank.”

He got up into his seat as he spoke, and Tim crept thankfully in at the back of the cart with Moses. He had, indeed, “got the dog to thank.” Moses had paid his debt of gratitude now; he and Tim were equal.

You will be glad to hear that Tim was not dismissed, and that he used his other “chance” well, for no amount of sharp London boys could have tempted him from his duty again. As for Moses, he was respected and trusted by everyone on the road after this, and Joshua presented him with a collar, whereon were inscribed his name and the date of the memorable fray in which he acquitted himself so well. In spite of these honours, however, all the love of his faithful heart continued to be given to Tim; who, on his part, never forgot how it was and why it was that he had “got the dog to thank.”