"I know wot she's come for!" cried the boy.
"The lady there. She's come to get me to go along with her to the berryin ground. I won't go to the berryin ground. I don't like the name on it. She might go a-berryin ME." His shivering came on again, and as he leaned against the wall, he shook the hovel.
"He has been talking off and on about such like all day, ma'am," said Jenny softly. "Why, how you stare! This is MY lady, Jo."
"Is it?" returned the boy doubtfully, and surveying me with his arm held out above his burning eyes. "She looks to me the t'other one. It ain't the bonnet, nor yet it ain't the gownd, but she looks to me the t'other one."
My little Charley, with her premature experience of illness and trouble, had pulled off her bonnet and shawl and now went quietly up to him with a chair and sat him down in it like an old sick nurse. Except that no such attendant could have shown him Charley's youthful face, which seemed to engage his confidence.
"I say!" said the boy. "YOU tell me. Ain't the lady the t'other lady?"
Charley shook her head as she methodically drew his rags about him and made him as warm as she could.
"Oh!" the boy muttered. "Then I s'pose she ain't."
"I came to see if I could do you any good," said I. "What is the matter with you?"
"I'm a-being froze," returned the boy hoarsely, with his haggard gaze wandering about me, "and then burnt up, and then froze, and then burnt up, ever so many times in a hour. And my head's all sleepy, and all a-going mad-like — and I'm so dry — and my bones isn't half so much bones as pain.
"When did he come here?" I asked the woman.
"This morning, ma'am, I found him at the corner of the town. I had known him up in London yonder. Hadn't I, Jo?"
"Tom-all-Alone's," the boy replied.
Whenever he fixed his attention or his eyes, it was only for a very little while. He soon began to droop his head again, and roll it heavily, and speak as if he were half awake.
"When did he come from London?" I asked.
"I come from London yes'day," said the boy himself, now flushed and hot. "I'm a-going somewheres."
"Where is he going?" I asked.
"Somewheres," repeated the boy in a louder tone. "I have been moved on, and moved on, more nor ever I was afore, since the t'other one give me the sov'ring. Mrs. Snagsby, she's always a- watching, and a-driving of me — what have I done to her? — and they're all a-watching and a-driving of me. Every one of 'em's doing of it, from the time when I don't get up, to the time when I don't go to bed. And I'm a-going somewheres. That's where I'm a- going. She told me, down in Tom-all-Alone's, as she came from Stolbuns, and so I took the Stolbuns Road. It's as good as another."
He always concluded by addressing Charley.
"What is to be done with him?" said I, taking the woman aside. "He could not travel in this state even if he had a purpose and knew where he was going!"
"I know no more, ma'am, than the dead," she replied, glancing compassionately at him. "Perhaps the dead know better, if they could only tell us. I've kept him here all day for pity's sake, and I've given him broth and physic, and Liz has gone to try if any one will take him in (here's my pretty in the bed — her child, but I call it mine); but I can't keep him long, for if my husband was to come home and find him here, he'd be rough in putting him out and might do him a hurt. Hark! Here comes Liz back!"
The other woman came hurriedly in as she spoke, and the boy got up with a half-obscured sense that he was expected to be going. When the little child awoke, and when and how Charley got at it, took it out of bed, and began to walk about hushing it, I don't know. There she was, doing all this in a quiet motherly manner as if she were living in Mrs. Blinder's attic with Tom and Emma again.
The friend had been here and there, and had been played about from hand to hand, and had come back as she went. At first it was too early for the boy to be received into the proper refuge, and at last it was too late. One official sent her to another, and the other sent her back again to the first, and so backward and forward, until it appeared to me as if both must have been appointed for their skill in evading their duties instead of performing them. And now, after all, she said, breathing quickly, for she had been running and was frightened too, "Jenny, your master's on the road home, and mine's not far behind, and the Lord help the boy, for we can do no more for him!" They put a few halfpence together and hurried them into his hand, and so, in an oblivious, half-thankful, half-insensible way, he shuffled out of the house.
"Give me the child, my dear," said its mother to Charley, "and thank you kindly too! Jenny, woman dear, good night! Young lady, if my master don't fall out with me, I'll look down by the kiln by and by, where the boy will be most like, and again in the morning!" She hurried off, and presently we passed her hushing and singing to her child at her own door and looking anxiously along the road for her drunken husband.
I was afraid of staying then to speak to either woman, lest I should bring her into trouble. But I said to Charley that we must not leave the boy to die. Charley, who knew what to do much better than I did, and whose quickness equalled her presence of mind, glided on before me, and presently we came up with Jo, just short of the brick-kiln.
I think he must have begun his journey with some small bundle under his arm and must have had it stolen or lost it. For he still carried his wretched fragment of fur cap like a bundle, though he went bare-headed through the rain, which now fell fast. He stopped when we called to him and again showed a dread of me when I came up, standing with his lustrous eyes fixed upon me, and even arrested in his shivering fit.
I asked him to come with us, and we would take care that he had some shelter for the night.
"I don't want no shelter," he said; "I can lay amongst the warm bricks."
"But don't you know that people die there?" replied Charley.
"They dies everywheres," said the boy. "They dies in their lodgings — she knows where; I showed her — and they dies down in Tom- all-Alone's in heaps. They dies more than they lives, according to what I see." Then he hoarsely whispered Charley, "If she ain't the t'other one, she ain't the forrenner. Is there THREE of 'em then?"
Charley looked at me a little frightened. I felt half frightened at myself when the boy glared on me so.
But he turned and followed when I beckoned to him, and finding that he acknowledged that influence in me, I led the way straight home. It was not far, only at the summit of the hill. We passed but one man. I doubted if we should have got home without assistance, the boy's steps were so uncertain and tremulous. He made no complaint, however, and was strangely unconcerned about himself, if I may say so strange a thing.
Leaving him in the hall for a moment, shrunk into the corner of the window-seat and staring with an indifference that scarcely could be called wonder at the comfort and brightness about him, I went into the drawing-room to speak to my guardian. There I found Mr. Skimpole, who had come down by the coach, as he frequently did without notice, and never bringing any clothes with him, but always borrowing everything he wanted.