To be generally helpful was one of the chief points in the character of Charlie Brooke. He was evidently born to aid mankind. He began by helping himself to everything in life that seemed at all desirable. This was natural, not selfish. At first there were few things,...
To be generally helpful was one of the chief points in the character ofCharlie Brooke.
He was evidently born to aid mankind. He began by helping himself toeverything in life that seemed at all desirable. This was natural, notselfish.
At first there were few things, apparently, that did seem to his infantmind desirable, for his earliest days were marked by a sort of chroniccrossness that seemed quite unaccountable in one so healthy; but thiswas eventually traced to the influence of pins injudiciously disposedabout the person by nurse. Possibly this experience may have tended todevelop a spirit of brave endurance, and might perhaps account for thebeautiful modifications of character that were subsequently observed inhim. At all events, sweet, patient amiability was a prevailing featurein the boy long before the years of infancy were over, and this heavenlyaspect of him was pleasantly diversified, in course of time, byoccasional displays of resolute--we might almost say heroic--self-will,which proved a constant source of mingled pride and alarm to his widowedmother.
From a very early period of life little Charlie manifested an intensedesire, purpose, and capacity for what may be called his life-work ofrescuing human beings from trouble and danger. It became a passion withhim as years rolled on, and was among the chief means that brought aboutthe changes in his chequered career.
Appropriately enough he began--almost in babyhood--by rescuing himself!
It happened thus. One day, when he had reached the immature age offive, he was left in the nursery for a few moments in company with awash-tub, in which his mother had been cleansing the household linen.
Mrs Brooke, it may be remarked, although in the middle ranks of life,was very much below the middle ranks in financial prosperity, and hadtherefore to perform much household drudgery.
Charlie's earnest desire to please and obey his mother constantly cameinto collision with that self-will to which we have referred.Separately, these qualities may perhaps work quietly, at least asregards their possessor, but unitedly they form a mixture which is aptto become explosive in early youth.
"Don't touch the tub, Charlie; I'll be back directly," said Mrs Brooke,as she was leaving the nursery. "Don't even go near it."
"No, muvver, I won't."
He spoke with much decision, for he adored water--not to drink but toplay with--and seemed to realise the danger of his position, and thenecessity for self-control.
The temptation to avail himself of the chance, however, was almost toomuch for him. Feeling that an internal conflict was pending, he toddledto the fire, turned his back to it _a la_ paterfamilias, and glared atthe tub, resolved, come what might, to be "dood." But fate was againsthim!
Suddenly he became aware that something more than radiated heat wasoperating in rear. He glanced behind. His cotton tunic was in flames!In the twinkling of an eye he was seated in the wash-tub, his handsclasped in horror as he thought of his guilt, and the flames thoroughlyextinguished!
The solemn glare and pursed mouth with which he met his mother's look ofblank amazement may be imagined but cannot be described--he looked soquiet, too, and so evidently contented, for the warm water wascongenial!
"O Charlie! did I not say that--"
"Yes, muvver, but I'm bu'nt."
The fearsome and dripping black patch which presented itself to theagonised mother when she lifted him out of the tub sufficientlyenlightened her and exonerated the child, but her anxiety was notrelieved till she had stripped him naked and ascertained for certainthat no scrap of his fair skin had been injured.
This may be said to have been the real commencement of Charlie Brooke'scareer. We mention it chiefly to show that our hero was gifted withsome power of ready resource even in childhood. He was also gifted witha fearless and daring disposition, a quietly enthusiastic spirit, amodest mien, and a strong muscular body.
Of course these admirable qualities were not fully developed inchildhood, but the seeds were there. In due time the plants came up andthe flowers bloomed.
We would here caution the reader--especially the youthful reader--against supposing that from this point our hero was engaged inrescue-work, and continued at it ever after without intermission. LikeSamson, with his great strength, he exercised his powers only now andthen--more than half unconscious of what was in him--and on manyoccasions without any definite purpose in view.
His first act of heroism was exercised, when he had reached the age ofnine, in behalf of a kitten.
It was on a magnificent summer day, soon after he had been sent to thevillage school, that the incident occurred. Charlie was walking at thetime with one of his school-fellows named Shank Leather.
Shank was a little older than himself, and a good enough fellow in hisway, but much given to boasting, and possessed of very few of the finequalities that characterised our hero. The two were out for aholiday-ramble, a long way from home, and had reached a river on thebanks of which they sat down to enjoy their mid-day meal. The meal wassimple, and carried in their pockets. It consisted of twoinch-and-a-half-thick slices of bread, with two lumps of cheese tomatch.
"I wish this river was nearer home," said Shank Leather, as they satdown under a spreading oak to dine.
"Why?" asked his companion, with a felicitous brevity andstraightforwardness which occasionally marked his conversation.
"Because then I would have a swim in it everyday."
"Can you swim?" asked Charlie, a slight elevation of the eyebrowsindicating surprise not unmingled with admiration--for our hero was ahero-worshipper. He could not well have been a hero otherwise!
"Of course I can swim," returned Shank; "that is to say, a little; but Ifeel sure that I'll be a splendid swimmer some day."
His companion's look of admiration increased.
"What'll you take to drink?" asked Shank, drawing a large flask from thepocket in which he had concealed it up to that moment with the expresspurpose of giving his companion a pleasant surprise.
It may be well to add that the variety of dunks implied in his questionwas imaginary. Shank had only one flask, but in the exuberance ofconvivial generosity he quoted his own father--who was addicted to "thebottle."
"What is it?" asked Brooke, in curious expectancy.
"Taste and see," said his friend, uncorking the flask.
Charlie tasted, but did not "see," apparently, for he looked solemn, andtasted again.
"It's liquorice-water," said Shank, with the look of one who expectsapproval. "I made it myself!"
Nauseous in the extreme, it might have served the purpose of an emetichad not the digestion of the boys been ostrich-like, but, on hearing howit came into existence, Charlie put it a third time to his lips, took agood gulp, and then, nodding his head as he wiped his mouth with hiscuff, declared that it was "wonderful."
"Yes, isn't it? There's not many fellows could make stuff like that."
"No, indeed," assented the other heartily, as he attacked the bread andcheese. "Does your father know you made it?"
"Oh yes, and he tasted it too--he'd taste anything in the shape ofdrink--but he spat it out, and then washed his mouth with brandy an'water. Mother took some too, and she said she had tasted worse drinks;and she only wished that father would take to it. That made fatherlaugh heartily. Then I gave some to little May, and she said it was `Sonice.'"
"Ay. That was like little May," remarked Charlie, with a quiet laugh;"she'd say that a mess o' tar an' shoe-blacking was nice if _you_ madeit. But I say, Shank, let's see you swim. I'd give anything if I couldswim. Do, like a brick as you are. There's a fine deep hole here underthe bank."
He pointed to a pool in the river where the gurgling eddies certainlyindicated considerable depth of water, but his friend shook his head.
"No, Charlie," he said, "you don't understand the danger as I do. Don'tyou see that the water runs into the hole at such a rate that there's atree-mendous eddy that would sweep any man off his legs--"
"But you're goin' to swim, you know," interrupted his friend, "an' havegot to be off your legs anyhow!"
"That's all _you_ know," returned the other. "If a man's swept round byan eddy, don't you know, he'll be banged against things, and then thewater rushes out of the hole with _such_ a gush, an' goes thunderin'down below, over boulders and stones, and--an'--don't you see?"
"That's true, Shank; it does look dangerous, even for a man that canswim."
He put such emphasis on the "man" that his comrade glanced sharply athim, but the genuine innocence of our hero's face was too obvious tosuggest irony. He simply saw that the use of the word _man_ pleased hisfriend, therefore he used it.
Conversation was cut short at this point by the sudden appearance on thescene of two strangers--a kitten and a dog.
The assertion that "dogs delight to bark and bite" is, perhaps, toosweeping, but then it was made by a poet and poets have an acknowledgedlicence--though not necessarily a dog-licence. Certain it is, however,that this dog--a mongrel cur--did bark with savage delight, and displayall its teeth, with an evident desire to bite, as it chased a delirioustortoise-shell kitten towards the river.
It was a round, soft, lively kitten, with the hair on its little bodysticking straight out, its heart in its mouth, and horror in its lovelyeyes. It made straight for the tree under which the dinner was goingon. Both boys started up. Enemies in front and rear! Even a humangeneral might have stood appalled. Two courses were still open--rightand left. The kitten turned right and went wrong, for that was theriver-side. No time for thought! Barking cur and yelling boys! Itreached the edge of the pool, spread out all its legs with a caterwaulof despair, and went headlong into the water.
Shank Leather gazed--something like glee mingled with his look ofconsternation. Not so our hero. Pity was bursting his bosom. With onemagnificent bound he went into the pool, caught the kitten in his righthand, and carried it straight to the bottom. Next moment he re-appearedon the surface, wildly beating the water with one hand and holding thekitten aloft in the other. Shank, to do him justice, plunged into theriver up to his waist, but his courage carried him no further. There hestuck, vainly holding out a hand and shouting for help.
But no help was near, and it seemed as if the pair of strugglers weredoomed to perish when a pitiful eddy swept them both out of the deeppool into the foaming rapid below. Shank followed them in howlingdespair, for here things looked ten times worse: his comrade beingtossed from billow to breaker, was turned heels over head, bumpedagainst boulders, stranded on shallows, overturned and swept awayagain--but ever with the left arm beating wildly, and the right handwith the kitten, held high in air.
But the danger, except from being dashed against the boulders, was notreally as great as it seemed, for every time that Brooke got a footholdfor an instant, or was driven on a rock, or was surged, right-end-up, ona shoot of water, he managed to gasp a little air--including a deal ofwater. The kitten, of course, had the same chances, and, being passive,perhaps suffered less.
At the foot of the rapid they were whirled, as if contemptuously, intoan eddy. Shank was there, as deep as he dared venture. He even pushedin up to the arm-pits, and, catching his comrade by the hair, draggedhim to bank.
"O Charlie, I've saved ye!" he exclaimed, as his friend crawled out andsat down.
"Ay, an' you've saved the kitten too!" replied his friend, examining thepoor animal.
"It's dead," said Shank; "dead as mutton."
"No, only stunned. No wonder, poor beast!"
With tender care the rescuer squeezed the water from the fur of therescued. Then, pulling open his vest and shirt, he was about to placethe kitten in his bosom to warm it.
"No use doin' that," said Leather. "You're as wet an' nigh as cold asitself."
"That's true. Sit down here," returned Brooke, in a tone of commandwhich surprised his comrade. "Open your shirt."
Again Shank obeyed wonderingly. Next moment he gave a gasp as the cold,wet creature was thrust into his warm bosom.
"It makes me shiver all over," he said.
"Never mind," replied his friend coolly, as he got up and wrung thewater out of his own garments.
"It's beginning to move, Charlie," said Shank, after a few minutes.
"Give it here, then."
The creature was indeed showing feeble symptoms of revival, so Brooke--whose bosom was not only recovering its own heat, but was beginning towarm the wet garments--thrust it into his own breast, and the twofriends set off homeward at a run.
At the nearest house they made inquiry as to the owner of the kitten,but failed to find one. Our hero therefore resolved to carry it home.Long before that haven was reached, however, his clothes were nearlydry, and the rescued one was purring sweetly, in childlike innocence--all the horrors, sufferings, and agonies of the past forgotten,apparently, in the enjoyment of the present.