“Oh, dear!” he said. “I have come all this way, through all these terrible places, to help you, and now I am of no use at all.”
“You had best leave me alone,” said Grimes; “you are a good-natured forgiving little chap, and that’s truth; but you’d best be off. The hail’s coming on soon, and it will beat the eyes out of your little head.”
“Why, hail that falls every evening here; and, till it comes close to me, it’s like so much warm rain: but then it turns to hail over my head, and knocks me about like small shot.”
“That hail will never come any more,” said the strange lady. “I have told you before what it was. It was your mother’s tears, those which she shed when she prayed for you by her bedside; but your cold heart froze it into hail. But she is gone to heaven now, and will weep no more for her graceless son.”
Then Grimes was silent awhile; and then he looked very sad.
“So my old mother’s gone, and I never there to speak to her! Ah! a good woman she was, and might have been a happy one, in her little school there in Vendale, if it hadn’t been for me and my bad ways.”
“Did she keep the school in Vendale?” asked Tom. And then he told Grimes all the story of his going to her house, and how she could not abide the sight of a chimney-sweep, and then how kind she was, and how he turned into a water-baby.
“Ah!” said Grimes, “good reason she had to hate the sight of a chimney-sweep. I ran away from her and took up with the sweeps, and never let her know where I was, nor sent her a penny to help her, and now it’s too late—too late!” said Mr. Grimes.
And he began crying and blubbering like a great baby, till his pipe dropped out of his mouth, and broke all to bits.
“Oh, dear, if I was but a little chap in Vendale again, to see the clear beck, and the apple-orchard, and the yew-hedge, how different I would go on! But it’s too late now. So you go along, you kind little chap, and don’t stand to look at a man crying, that’s old enough to be your father, and never feared the face of man, nor of worse neither. But I’m beat now, and beat I must be. I’ve made my bed, and I must lie on it. Foul I would be, and foul I am, as an Irishwoman said to me once; and little I heeded it. It’s all my own fault: but it’s too late.” And he cried so bitterly that Tom began crying too.
“Never too late,” said the fairy, in such a strange soft new voice that Tom looked up at her; and she was so beautiful for the moment, that Tom half fancied she was her sister.
No more was it too late. For, as poor Grimes cried and blubbered on, his own tears did what his mother’s could not do, and Tom’s could not do, and nobody’s on earth could do for him; for they washed the soot off his face and off his clothes; and then they washed the mortar away from between the bricks; and the chimney crumbled down; and Grimes began to get out of it.