One boy ran up: he was ready, and the only one who was. Presently Chaunter rushed by.
’Barnshed ‘s in custody; I’m away home,’ he said, passing.
We stared at the black opening of the dell.
‘Oh, it’s Catman; we don’t mind him,’ Saddlebank reassured us; but we heard ominous voices, and perceived people standing over a prostrate figure. Then we heard a voice too well known to us. It said, ’The explanation of a pupil in your charge, Mr. Catman, being sent barefaced into the town—a scholar of mine-for sage and onions . . .’
‘Old Rippenger!’ breathed Temple.
We sat paralyzed. Now we understood the folly of despatching a donkey like Barnshed for sage and onions.
‘Oh, what asses we have been!’ Temple continued. ’Come along-we run for it! Come along, Richie! They ‘re picking up the fellows like windfalls.’
I told him I would not run for it; in fact, I distrusted my legs; and he was staggering, answering Saddlebank’s reproaches for having come among tramps.
‘Temple, I see you, sir!’ called Mr. Rippenger. Poor Temple had advanced into the firelight.
With the instinct to defeat the master, I crawled in the line of the shadows to the farther side of a tent, where I felt a hand clutch mine. ‘Hide me,’ said I; and the curtain of the tent was raised. After squeezing through boxes and straw, I lay flat, covered by a mat smelling of abominable cheese, and felt a head outside it on my chest. Several times Mr. Rippenger pronounced my name in the way habitual to him in anger: ‘Rye!’
Temple’s answer was inaudible to me. Saddlebank spoke, and other boys, and the man and the woman. Then a light was thrust in the tent, and the man said, ’Me deceive you, sir! See for yourself, to satisfy yourself. Here’s our little uns laid warm, and a girl there, head on the mat, going down to join her tribe at Lipcombe, and one of our women sleeps here, and all told. But for you to suspect me of combining—Thank ye, sir. You’ve got my word as a man.’
The light went away. My chest was relieved of the weight on it. I sat up, and the creature who had been kind to me laid mat and straw on the ground, and drew my head on her shoulder, where I slept fast.
A FREE LIFE ON THE ROAD
I woke very early, though I had taken kindly to my pillow, as I found by my having an arm round my companion’s neck, and her fingers intertwisted with mine. For awhile I lay looking at her eyes, which had every imaginable light and signification in them; they advised me to lie quiet, they laughed at my wonder, they said, ‘Dear little fellow!’ they flashed as from under a cloud, darkened, flashed out of it, seemed to dip in water and shine, and were sometimes like a view into a forest, sometimes intensely sunny, never quite still. I trusted her, and could have slept again, but the sight of the tent stupefied me; I fancied the sky had fallen, and gasped for air; my head was extremely dizzy too; not one idea in it was kept from wheeling. This confusion of my head flew to my legs when, imitating her, I rose to go forth. In a fit of horror I thought, ’I ‘ve forgotten how to walk!’