Up jumped the truncheon, and was going to hit him on the crown a tremendous thump, and drive him down again like a cork into a bottle. But the strange lady put it aside.
“Will you obey me if I give you a chance?”
“As you please, ma’am. You’re stronger than me—that I know too well, and wiser than me, I know too well also. And, as for being my own master, I’ve fared ill enough with that as yet. So whatever your ladyship pleases to order me; for I’m beat, and that’s the truth.”
“Be it so then—you may come out. But remember, disobey me again, and into a worse place still you go.”
“I beg pardon ma’am, but I never disobeyed you that I know of. I never had the honour of setting eyes upon you till I came to these ugly quarters.”
“Never saw me? Who said to you, Those that will be foul, foul they will be?”
Grimes looked up; and Tom looked up too; for the voice was that of the Irishwoman who met them the day that they went out together to Harthover. “I gave you your warning then: but you gave it yourself a thousand times before and since. Every bad word that you said—every cruel and mean thing that you did—every time that you got tipsy—every day that you went dirty—you were disobeying me, whether you knew it or not.”
“If I’d only known, ma’am—”
“You knew well enough that you were disobeying something, though you did not know it was me. But come out and take your chance. Perhaps it may be your last.”
So Grimes stepped out of the chimney, and really, if it had not been for the scars on his face, he looked as clean and respectable as a master-sweep need look.
“Take him away,” said she to the truncheon, “and give him his ticket-of-leave.”
“And what is he to do, ma’am?”
“Get him to sweep out the crater of Etna; he will find some very steady men working out their time there, who will teach him his business: but mind, if that crater gets choked again, and there is an earthquake in consequence, bring them all to me, and I shall investigate the case very severely.”
So the truncheon marched off Mr. Grimes, looking as meek as a drowned worm.
And for aught I know, or do not know, he is sweeping the crater of Etna to this very day.
“And now,” said the fairy to Tom, “your work here is done. You may as well go back again.”
“I should be glad enough to go,” said Tom, “but how am I to get up that great hole again, now the steam has stopped blowing?”