"I don't care about a flood comin'," said Bob; "I don't mind the water, no more nor the land. I'd swim, I would."
"Ah, but if you got nothing to eat for ever so long?" said Tom, his imagination becoming quite active under the stimulus of that dread. "When I'm a man, I shall make a boat with a wooden house on the top of it, like Noah's ark, and keep plenty to eat in it, — rabbits and things, — all ready. And then if the flood came, you know, Bob, I shouldn't mind. And I'd take you in, if I saw you swimming," he added, in the tone of a benevolent patron.
"I aren't frighted," said Bob, to whom hunger did not appear so appalling. "But I'd get in an' knock the rabbits on th' head when you wanted to eat 'em."
"Ah, and I should have halfpence, and we'd play at heads-and-tails," said Tom, not contemplating the possibility that this recreation might have fewer charms for his mature age. "I'd divide fair to begin with, and then we'd see who'd win."
"I've got a halfpenny o' my own," said Bob, proudly, coming out of the water and tossing his halfpenny in the air. "Yeads or tails?"
"Tails," said Tom, instantly fired with the desire to win.
"It's yeads," said Bob, hastily, snatching up the halfpenny as it fell.
"It wasn't," said Tom, loudly and peremptorily. "You give me the halfpenny; I've won it fair."
"I sha'n't," said Bob, holding it tight in his pocket.
"Then I'll make you; see if I don't," said Tom.
"Yes, I can."
"You can't make me do nothing, you can't," said Bob.
"No, you can't."
"I don't care for you."
"But I'll make you care, you cheat," said Tom, collaring Bob and shaking him.
"You get out wi' you," said Bob, giving Tom a kick.
Tom's blood was thoroughly up: he went at Bob with a lunge and threw him down, but Bob seized hold and kept it like a cat, and pulled Tom down after him. They struggled fiercely on the ground for a moment or two, till Tom, pinning Bob down by the shoulders, thought he had the mastery.
"You, say you'll give me the halfpenny now," he said, with difficulty, while he exerted himself to keep the command of Bob's arms.
But at this moment Yap, who had been running on before, returned barking to the scene of action, and saw a favorable opportunity for biting Bob's bare leg not only with inpunity but with honor. The pain from Yap's teeth, instead of surprising Bob into a relaxation of his hold, gave it a fiercer tenacity, and with a new exertion of his force he pushed Tom backward and got uppermost. But now Yap, who could get no sufficient purchase before, set his teeth in a new place, so that Bob, harassed in this way, let go his hold of Tom, and, almost throttling Yap, flung him into the river. By this time Tom was up again, and before Bob had quite recovered his balance after the act of swinging Yap, Tom fell upon him, threw him down, and got his knees firmly on Bob's chest.
"You give me the halfpenny now," said Tom.
"Take it," said Bob, sulkily.
"No, I sha'n't take it; you give it me."
Bob took the halfpenny out of his pocket, and threw it away from him on the ground.
Tom loosed his hold, and left Bob to rise.
"There the halfpenny lies," he said. "I don't want your halfpenny; I wouldn't have kept it. But you wanted to cheat; I hate a cheat. I sha'n't go along with you any more," he added, turning round homeward, not without casting a regret toward the rat-catching and other pleasures which he must relinquish along with Bob's society.
"You may let it alone, then," Bob called out after him. "I shall cheat if I like; there's no fun i' playing else; and I know where there's a goldfinch's nest, but I'll take care you don't. An' you're a nasty fightin' turkey-cock, you are — — "
Tom walked on without looking around, and Yap followed his example, the cold bath having moderated his passions.
"Go along wi' you, then, wi' your drowned dog; I wouldn't own such a dog — I wouldn't," said Bob, getting louder, in a last effort to sustain his defiance. But Tom was not to be provoked into turning round, and Bob's voice began to falter a little as he said, —
"An' I'n gi'en you everything, an' showed you everything, an' niver wanted nothin' from you. An' there's your horn-handed knife, then as you gi'en me." Here Bob flung the knife as far as he could after Tom's retreating footsteps. But it produced no effect, except the sense in Bob's mind that there was a terrible void in his lot, now that knife was gone.
He stood still till Tom had passed through the gate and disappeared behind the hedge. The knife would do not good on the ground there; it wouldn't vex Tom; and pride or resentment was a feeble passion in Bob's mind compared with the love of a pocket-knife. His very fingers sent entreating thrills that he would go and clutch that familiar rough buck's-horn handle, which they had so often grasped for mere affection, as it lay idle in his pocket. And there were two blades, and they had just been sharpened! What is life without a pocket-knife to him who has once tasted a higher existence? No; to throw the handle after the hatchet is a comprehensible act of desperation, but to throw one's pocket-knife after an implacable friend is clearly in every sense a hyperbole, or throwing beyond the mark. So Bob shuffled back to the spot where the beloved knife lay in the dirt, and felt quite a new pleasure in clutching it again after the temporary separation, in opening one blade after the other, and feeling their edge with his well-hardened thumb. Poor Bob! he was not sensitive on the point of honor, not a chivalrous character. That fine moral aroma would not have been thought much of by the public opinion of Kennel Yard, which was the very focus or heart of Bob's world, even if it could have made itself perceptible there; yet, for all that, he was not utterly a sneak and a thief as our friend Tom had hastily decided.
But Tom, you perceive, was rather a Rhadamanthine personage, having more than the usual share of boy's justice in him, — the justice that desires to hurt culprits as much as they deserve to be hurt, and is troubled with no doubts concerning the exact amount of their deserts. Maggie saw a cloud on his brow when he came home, which checked her joy at his coming so much sooner than she had expected, and she dared hardly speak to him as he stood silently throwing the small gravel-stones into the mill-dam. It is not pleasant to give up a rat-catching when you have set your mind on it. But if Tom had told his strongest feeling at that moment, he would have said, "I'd do just the same again." That was his usual mode of viewing his past actions; whereas Maggie was always wishing she had done something different.