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.
They came out with me directly to look at the boy. The servants had gathered in the hall too, and he shivered in the window-seat with Charley standing by him, like some wounded animal that had been found in a ditch.
"This is a sorrowful case," said my guardian after asking him a question or two and touching him and examining his eyes. "What do you say, Harold?"
"You had better turn him out," said Mr. Skimpole.
"What do you mean?" inquired my guardian, almost sternly.
"My dear Jarndyce," said Mr. Skimpole, "you know what I am: I am a child. Be cross to me if I deserve it. But I have a constitutional objection to this sort of thing. I always had, when I was a medical man. He's not safe, you know. There's a very bad sort of fever about him."
Mr. Skimpole had retreated from the hall to the drawing-room again and said this in his airy way, seated on the music-stool as we stood by.
"You'll say it's childish," observed Mr. Skimpole, looking gaily at us. "Well, I dare say it may be; but I AM a child, and I never pretend to be anything else. If you put him out in the road, you only put him where he was before. He will be no worse off than he was, you know. Even make him better off, if you like. Give him sixpence, or five shillings, or five pound ten--you are arithmeticians, and I am not--and get rid of him!"
"And what is he to do then?" asked my guardian.
"Upon my life," said Mr. Skimpole, shrugging his shoulders with his engaging smile, "I have not the least idea what he is to do then. But I have no doubt he'll do it."
"Now, is it not a horrible reflection," said my guardian, to whom I had hastily explained the unavailing efforts of the two women, "is it not a horrible reflection," walking up and down and rumpling his hair, "that if this wretched creature were a convicted prisoner, his hospital would be wide open to him, and he would be as well taken care of as any sick boy in the kingdom?"
"My dear Jarndyce," returned Mr.