Unfortunately he never tried the effect of deserving better treatment as a remedy for his woes. The parson’s good advice and Miss Betty’s entreaties were alike in vain. He was ungrateful even to Thomasina. The little ladies sighed and thought of the lawyer. And the parson preached patience.
“Cocky has been tamed,” said Miss Kitty thoughtfully, “perhaps John Broom will get steadier by-and-by.”
“It seems a pity we can’t chain him to a perch, Miss Kitty,” laughed the parson; “he would be safe then, at any rate.”
Miss Betty said afterwards that it did seem so remarkable that the parson should have made this particular joke on this particular night—the night when John Broom did not come home.
He had played truant all day. The farm-bailiff had wanted him, and he had kept out of the way.
The wind was from the east, and a white mist rolled in from the sea, bringing a strange invigorating smell, and making your lips clammy with salt. It made John Broom’s heart beat faster, and filled his head with dreams of ships and smugglers, and rocking masts higher than the willow-tree, and winds wilder than this wind, and dancing waves.
Then something loomed through the fog. It was the farm-bailiff’s speckled hat. John Broom hesitated—the thick stick became visible.
Then a cloud rolled between them, and the child turned, and ran, and ran, and ran coastwards, into the sea mist.
John Broom was footsore when he reached the coast, but that keen, life-giving smell had drawn him on and held him up. The fog had cleared off, and he strained his black eyes through the darkness to see the sea.
He had never seen it—that other world within this, on which one lived out of doors, and climbed about all day, and no one blamed him.
When he did see it, he thought he had got to the end of the world. If the edge of the cliff were not the end, he could not make out where the sky began; and if that darkness were the sea, the sea was full of stars.
But this was because the sea was quiet and reflected the colour of the night sky, and the stars were the lights of the herring-boats twinkling in the bay.
When he got down by the water he saw the vessels lying alongside, and they were dirtier than he had supposed. But he did not lose heart, and remembering, from the cowherd’s tales, that people who cannot pay for their passage must either work it out or hide themselves on board ship, he took the easier alternative, and got on to the first vessel which had a plank to the quay, and hid himself under some tarpaulin on the deck.
The vessel was a collier bound for London, and she sailed with the morning tide.
When he was found out he was not ill-treated. Indeed, the rough skipper offered to take him home again on his return voyage. He would have liked to go, but pride withheld him, and homesickness had not yet eaten into his very soul. Then an old sailor with one eye (but that a sly one) met him, and told him tales more wonderful than the cowherd’s. And with him he shipped as cabin-boy, on a vessel bound for the other side of the world.