Part 2 out of 6
MR. MORTIMER'S ADVENTURE.
"_Old mole! canst work i' the earth so fast?_"--HAMLET
All the way along the canal bank Mr. Mortimer continued to carol.
Mercurial man! Like all actors he loved applause, but unlike the most
of them he was capable of supplying it when the public failed; and this
knack of being his own best audience had lifted him, before now, out of
quite a number of Sloughs of Despond and carried him forward singing.
He had left care behind him in Mr. Hucks's yard, and so much of noble
melancholy as he kept (for the sake of artistic effect) took a tincture
from the sunset bronzing the smoke-laden sky and gilding the unlovely
waterway. Like the sunset, Mr. Mortimer's mood was serene and golden.
His breast, expanding, heaved off all petty constricting worries,
"like Samson his green wythes": they fell from him as he rode, and as he
rode he chanted--
"The sun came dazzling thro' the leaves
And flamed upon the brazen greaves
Of bold Sir Lancelot . . ."
Old Jubilee--if, like John Gilpin's horse, he wondered more and more--
was a philosophical beast and knew his business. Abreast of the boat,
beside the angle of the Orphanage wall, he halted for his rider to
alight, and began to nose for herbage among the nettles. Nor did he
betray surprise when Mr. Mortimer, after a glance down the towpath
towards the iron bridge and the tram-lights passing there, walked off
and left him to browse.
Fifteen minutes passed. The last flush of sunset had died out of the
sky, and twilight was deepening rapidly, when Mr. Mortimer came
strolling back. Apparently--since he came empty-handed--his search for
a saucepan had been unsuccessful. Yet patently the disappointment had
not affected his spirits, for at sight of Old Jubilee still cropping in
the dusk he stood still and gave utterance to a lively whoop.
The effect of this sobered him. Old Jubilee was not alone. Hurriedly
out of the shadow of the Orphanage wall arose a grey-white figure--a
woman. It seemed that she had been kneeling there. Now, as Mr.
Mortimer advanced, she stood erect, close back against the masonry,
waiting for him to pass.
"'S a female," decided Mr. Mortimer, pulling himself together and
advancing with a hand over his brow, the better to distinguish the
glimmer of her dress. "'S undoubtedly a female. Seems to be looking
for something . . ." He approached and lifted his hat. "Command me,
The woman drew herself yet closer under the shadow.
"Go your way, please!" she answered sharply, with a catch of her breath.
"You mishun'erstand. Allow me iggs--I beg pardon, eggs--plain.
Name's Mortimer--Stanislas 'Ratio, of that ilk. A Scotch exshpression."
Here he pulled himself together again, and with an air of anxious
lucidity laid a precise accent on every syllable. "The name, I flatter
myself, should be a guarantee. No reveller, madam, I s'hure you;
appearances against me, but no Bacchanal; still lesh--shtill _less_ I
should iggs--or, if you prefer it, eggs--plain, gay Lothario. Trust me,
ma'am--married man, fifteen years' standing--Arabella--tha's my wife--
never a moment's 'neasiness--"
'Two shouls'--you'll excuse me, souls--' with but a single thought,
Two hearts that beat ash one.'
"Between you and me, ma'am, we have thoughts of applying for Dunmow
flitch. Quaint old custom, Dunmow flitch. Heard of it, I dareshay?"
"I wish you would go about your business."
Mr. Mortimer emitted a tragic laugh.
"I will, madam--I will: if it please you witness to what base uses we
may return, Horatio. Allow me first remove mishunderstanding.
Preshumed you to be searching for something--hairpin for exshample.
Common occurrence with my Arabella. No offensh--merely proffered my
shervices . . . The deuce! What's _that?_"
The woman seemed inclined to run, but stood hesitating.
"You heard it? There! close under the wall--"
Mr. Mortimer stepped forward and peered into the shadow. He was
standing close above the manhole, and to the confusion of all his senses
he saw the cover of the manhole lift itself up; saw the rim of it rise
two, three inches, saw and heard it joggle back into its socket.
"For God's sake go away!" breathed the woman.
"Norrabit of it, ma'am. Something wrong here. Citizen's duty, anything
Here the cover lifted itself again. Mr. Mortimer deftly slipped three
fingers under its rim, and reaching back with his other hand produced
from his pocket the second of Sam's two matches.
"Below there!" he hailed sepulchrally, at the same moment striking the
match on the tense seat of his trousers and holding it to the aperture.
"Nero is an angler in the lake of darkness . . . Eh? . . . Good Lord!"--
he drew back and dropped the match--"it's a clergyman!"
He clapped down the cover in haste, sprang to his feet, and lifting his
hat, made her the discreetest of bows. He was sober, now, as a judge.
"A thousand pardons, madam! I have seen nothing--believe me, nothing."
He strode in haste to Old Jubilee's headstall and began to back him
towards the boat. The woman gazed at him for a moment in mere
astonishment, then stepped quickly to his side.
"I didn' know," she stammered. "You don't look nor talk like a bargee."
Here her voice came to a halt, but in the dusk her eyes appeared to
"Few of us are what we seem, ma'am," Mr. Mortimer sighed. "Bargee for
the nonce I am, yet gentleman enough to understand a delicate situation.
Your secret is safe with me, and so you may tell your--your friend."
"Then you must a-seen them?" she demanded.
"Them?" echoed Mr. Mortimer.
"No," she went on hurriedly, mistaking his hesitation. "They made you
promise, an' I don't _want_ to know. If I knew, he'd force it out o'
me, an' then he 'd cut my heart out."
She glanced over her shoulder, and Mr. Mortimer, interpreting the
glance, nodded in the direction of the manhole.
"Meanin' his Reverence?" he asked.
"His name's Glasson. The Orph'nage belongs to him. It's a serious
thing for him to lose one o' the children, and he's like a madman about
it ever since . . ." She broke off and put out a hand to help him with
the haulage tackle. "Where are you taking her?"
"Her? The boat? Oh, back to Hucks's--Christopher Hucks, Anchor Wharf,
Canal End Basin. 'Anchor,' you'll observe,--supposed emblem of Hope."
He laughed bitterly.
"Yes, yes," she nodded. "And quick--quick as ever you can! Here, let
me help--" She caught at one of the two crowbars that served for
mooring-posts and tugged at it, using all her strength. "He'll be
coming around here," she panted, and paused for a moment to listen.
"If he catches me talkin', God knows what'll happen!" She tugged
"Steady does it," said Mr. Mortimer; and having helped her to draw the
bar up, he laid it in the boat as noiselessly as he could and ran to the
second. "There's no one coming," he announced. "But see here, if
you're in fear of the man, let me have another go at the manhole.
He may be down there yet, and if so I'll give him the scare of his life.
Yes, ma'am, the scare of his life. You never saw my Hamlet, ma'am?
You never heard me hold parley with my father's ghost? Attend!"
Mr. Mortimer stepped to the manhole and struck thrice upon it with his
"Glasson!" he called, in a voice so hollow that it seemed to rumble down
through the bowels of earth. "Glasson, forbear!"
"For God's sake--" The woman dragged at his shoulder as he knelt.
"All is discovered, Glasson! Thy house is on fire, thy orphans are
flown. Rake not the cellarage for their bones, but see the newspapers.
Already, Glasson, the newsboys run about the streets. It spreads,
Glasson; may'st hear them call. Like wildfire it spreads. ''Orrible
discovery of 'uman remains! A clergyman suspected!'"
Here Mr. Mortimer, warm to his work, let out a laugh so blood-curdling
that Old Jubilee bolted the length of his rope.
"The boat!" gasped the woman.
Mr. Mortimer turned and saw the boat glide by the bank like a shadow;
heard the thud of Old Jubilee's hoofs, and sprang in pursuit. The woman
ran with him.
But the freshest horse cannot bolt far with a 72-feet monkey-boat
dragging on his shoulders, and at the end of fifty yards, the towrope
holding, Old Jubilee dropped to a jog-trot. The woman caught her breath
as Mr. Mortimer jumped aboard and laid hold of the tiller. But still
she ran beside panting.
"You won't tell him?"
Mr. Mortimer waved a hand.
"And--and you'll hide 'em--for he's bound to come askin'--you'll hide
'em if you can--"
Mr. Mortimer heard, but could not answer for the moment, the steerage
claiming all his attention. When he turned towards the bank she was no
longer there. He looked back over his shoulder. She had come to a dead
halt and stood watching, her print gown glimmering in the dusk. And so,
as the boat rounded the bend by the Brewery, he lost sight of her.
He passed a hand over his brow.
"Mysterious business," he mused; "devilish mysterious. On the face of
it looks as if my friend Smiles, not content with self-help in its
ordinary forms, has been helping himself to orphans! Must speak to him
He pondered, gazing up the dim waterway, and by-and-by broke into a
He chuckled again twenty minutes later, when, having stabled Old
Jubilee, he crossed the yard to sup and to season the meal with a
relation of his adventure.
"Such an encounter, my poppet!" he announced, groping his way across to
the caravan, where his spouse had lit the lamp and stood in the doorway
awaiting him. "Smiles--our ingenuous Smiles--has decoyed, has laid me
under suspicion; and of what, d'you think? Stealing orphans!"
"Hush!" answered Mrs. Mortimer. "They 're here."
"They? Who? . . . Not the bailiffs? Arabella, don't tell me it's the
Mr. Mortimer drew back as though a snake lay coiled on the caravan
"It's not the bailiffs, Stanislas; it's the orphans."
"But--but, my sweet, there must be some mistake. I--er--actually, of
course, I have nothing to do with any orphans whatsoever."
"Oh, yes, you have," his wife assured him composedly. "They are inside
here, with a yellow dog."
While Mr. Mortimer yet reeled under this news the door of the courtyard
rattled and creaked open in the darkness. A lantern showed in the
opening, and the bearer of it, catching sight of the lit caravan,
approached with quick, determined strides.
"Can you inform me," asked a high clerical voice, "where I can find Mr.
The stranger held his lantern high, so that its ray fell on his face,
and with that Mr. Mortimer groaned and collapsed upon the lowest step,
where mercifully his wife's ample shadow spread an aegis over him.
"Mr. Hucks, sir?" Mrs. Mortimer answered the challenge. "I saw him,
not twenty minutes ago, step into his private office there to the left,
and by the light in the window he's there yet."
"But who is it?" she asked, as the stranger, swinging his lantern,
marched straight up to Mr. Hucks's door.
"Good Lord, it's the man himself--Glasson! And he's come for his
"He shan't have 'em, then," said Mrs. Mortimer.
IN WHICH MR. HUCKS TAKES A HAND.
"_A many-sided man._"--COLERIDGE ON SHAKESPEARE.
Let Mr. Christopher Hucks introduce himself in his own customary way,
that is, by presenting his card of business:--
| CHRISTOPHER HUCKS |
| ANCHOR WHARF, CANAL END BASIN, BURSFIELD |
| CANAL CARRIER, LIGHTERMAN, FREIGHTER AND WHARFINGER |
| BOAT BUILDER, COAL AND GENERAL MERCHANT |
| AUCTIONEER, PRACTICAL VALUER, HOUSE AND ESTATE AGENT |
| --------------- |
| FIRE, LIFE, ACCIDENT AND PLATE GLASS INSURAMCES EFFECTED |
| FIRE AND INCOME TAX CLAIMS PREPARED AND ADJUSTED |
| LIVE STOCK INSURED AGAINST DEATH FROM ACCIDENT OR DISEASE |
| SERVANTS REGISTRY OFFICE |
| ----------------- |
| AGENT FOR JOHN TAYLOR AND CO.'S PHOSPHATE AND SOLUBLE BONE |
| MANURES |
| COPPERAS, CHARCOAL, ETC., FOR SEWAGE AND OTHER PURPOSES |
| ACIDS AND ANILINES FOR THE TEXTILE TRADES |
| ----------------- |
| VALUATIONS FOR PROBATE EMIGRATION AGENT |
| PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS NEGOTIATED WITH CREDITORS |
| ----------------- |
| N.B.--ALL KINDS OF RIVER AND CANAL CRAFT BUILT OR REPAIRED, |
| PURCHASED, SOLD, OR TO LET. NOTE THE ADDRESS |
Mr. Hucks, a widower, would have to be content in death with a shorter
epitaph. In life his neighbours and acquaintances knew him as the
toughest old sinner in Bursfield; and indeed his office hours (from 9
a.m. to 9 p.m. nominally--but he was an early riser) allowed him scant
leisure to practice the Christian graces. Yet though many had occasion
to curse Mr. Hucks, few could bring themselves to hate him. The rogue
was so massive, so juicy.
He stood six feet four inches in his office slippers, and measured
fifty-two inches in girth of chest. He habitually smoked the strongest
shag tobacco, and imbibed cold rum and water at short intervals from
morning to night; but these excesses had neither impaired his
complexion, which was ruddy, jovial and almost unwrinkled, nor dimmed
the delusive twinkle of his eyes. These, under a pair of grey bushy
brows, met the world humorously, while they kept watch on it for
unconsidered trifles; but never perhaps so humorously as when their
owner, having clutched his prey, turned a deaf ear to appeal. For the
rest, Mr. Hucks had turned sixty, but without losing his hair, which in
colour and habit resembled a badger's; and although he had lived inland
all his life, carried about with him in his dress, his gait, his speech
an indefinable suggestion of a nautical past. If you tried to fix it,
you found yourself narrowed down to explaining it by the blue jersey he
wore in lieu of shirt and waistcoat. (He buttoned his braces over it,
and tucked its slack inside the waistband of his trousers.) Or, with
luck, you might learn that he habitually slept in a hammock, and
corroborate this by observing the towzled state of his back hair. But
the suggestion was, in fact, far more subtle, pervasive--almost you
might call it an aroma.
The Counting House--so he called the single apartment in which he slung
his hammock, wrote up his ledgers, interviewed his customers, and in the
intervals cooked his meals on an oil-stove--was, in pact, a store of
ample dimensions. To speak precisely, it measured thirty-six feet by
fourteen. But Mr. Hucks had reduced its habitable space to some eight
feet by six, and by the following process.
Over and above the activities mentioned on his business card, he was a
landlord, and owned a considerable amount of cottage property, including
a whole block of tenement houses hard by The Plain. Nothing could be
simpler than his method of managing this estate. He never spent a penny
on upkeep or repairs. On a vacancy he accepted any tenant who chose to
apply. He collected his rents weekly and in person, and if the rent
were not forthcoming he promptly distrained upon the furniture.
By this process Mr. Hucks kept his Counting House replete, and even
crowded, with chattels, some of which are reckoned among the necessaries
of life, while others--such as an accordion, a rain-gauge, and a case of
stuffed humming-birds--rank rather with its superfluities. Of others
again you wondered how on earth they had been taken in Mr. Hucks's
drag-net. A carriage umbrella, for example, set you speculating on the
vicissitudes of human greatness. When the collection impinged upon Mr.
Hucks so that he could not shave without knocking his elbow, he would
hold an auction, and effect a partial clearance; and this would happen
about once in four years. But this clearance was never more than
partial, and the residuum ever consisted in the main of musical
instruments. Every man has his own superstitions, and for some reason
Mr. Hucks--who had not a note of music in his soul--deemed it unlucky to
part with musical instruments, which was the more embarrassing because
his most transitory tenants happened to be folk who practised music on
the public for a livelihood--German bandsmen, for instance, not so well
versed in English law as to be aware that implements of a man's trade
stand exempt from seizure in execution. Indeed, the bulk of the
exhibits in Mr. Hucks's museum could legally have been recovered from
him under writ of replevy. But there they were, and in the midst of
them to-night their collector sat and worked at his ledger by the light
of a hurricane lamp.
A knock at the door disturbed his calculations.
"Come in!" he called, and Dr. Glasson entered.
"Eh? Good evenin'," said Mr. Hucks, but without heartiness.
He disliked parsons. He looked upon all men as rogues more or less, but
held that ministers of religion claimed an unfair advantage on the
handicap. In particular this Dr. Glasson rubbed him, as he put it, the
"Good evening," said Dr. Glasson. "You will excuse my calling at this
"Cert'nly. Come to pay for the coals? Fifteen tons best Newcastle at
eighteen shillin' makes thirteen ten, and six pounds owin' on the last
account--total nineteen ten. Shall I make out the receipt?"
"You don't seriously expect me, Mr. Hucks, to pay for your coals on the
same day you deliver them--"
"No," Mr. Hucks agreed, "I didn' _expect_ it; but I looked for ye to pay
up the last account before I sent any more on credit. I've told
Simmonds he was a fool to take your order, and he'll get the sack if it
happens again. Fifteen tons, too! But Simmonds has a weak sort of
respect for parsons. Sings in the choir somewhere. Well, if you ain't
come to pay, you've come for something; to explain, may be, why you go
sneakin' around my foreman 'stead of dealin' with me straight an'
gettin' 'no' for an answer."
"Your manner is offensive, Mr. Hucks, but for the moment I must overlook
it. The fact is, I want information, if you can give it, on an urgent
matter. One of my charges is missing."
"Charges?" repeated Mr. Hucks. "Eh? Lost one of your orphans? Well, I
haven't found him--or her, if it's a girl. Why don't you go to the
"It is a boy. Naturally I hesitate to apply to the police if the poor
child can be recovered without their assistance. Publicity in these
matters, as no doubt you can understand--"
Mr. Hucks nodded.
"I understand fast enough."
"The newspapers exaggerate . . . and then the public--even the
charitable public--take up some groundless suspicion--"
"Puts two and two together," agreed Mr. Hucks, still nodding, "and then
the fat's in the fire. No, I wouldn' have the police poke a nose into
the 'Oly Innocents--not if I was you. But how do _I_ come into this
"In this way. One of your employees was delivering coal to-day at the
"--and I have some reason to believe that the child escaped by way of
the coal-cellar. I am not suggesting that he was helped."
"Aren't you? Well, I'm glad to hear you say it, for it did look like
you was drivin' at something o' the sort. I don't collect orphans, for
my part," said Mr. Hucks with a glance around.
"What I meant to say was that your man--whoever he was--might be able to
give some information."
"He might," conceded Mr. Hucks guardedly, "and he mightn't; and then
again he might be more able than willin'."
"Must I remind you, Mr. Hucks, that a person who abets or connives at
the sort of thing we are discussing is likely to find himself in
trouble? or that even a refusal of information may be awkwardly
"Now see here, Glasson"--Mr. Hucks filled his pipe, and having lit it,
leaned both elbows on the table and stared across at his visitor--
"don't you ride the high horse with me. A moment ago you weren't
suggestin' anything, and you'd best stick to that. As for my man--
whoever he was--you can't charge him with stealin' one o' your blessed
orphans until you lay hold on the orphan he stole and produce him in
court. That's _Habeas Corpus_, or else 'tis _Magna Charter_--I forget
which. What's more, you'd never face a court, an' you know it."
He cast a curious glance at the Doctor's face, and added, "Sit down."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Sit down. No, not there." But the warning came too late. "Not hurt
yourself, I hope?" he asked, as the Doctor rubbed that part of himself
which had come into collision with the sharp edge of a concertina.
"Clear away that coil of hose and take a seat on the packing-case
yonder. That's right; and now let's talk." He puffed for a moment and
appeared to muse. "Seems to me, Glasson, you're in the devil of a hurry
to catch this child."
"My anxiety is natural, I should hope."
"No it ain't," said Mr. Hucks with brutal candour.
"And that's what's the matter with it. What's more, you come to me.
Now," with continued candour, "I ain't what you might call a model
Christian; but likewise you don't reckon me the sort that would help you
pick up orphans just for the fun of handin' 'em over to you to starve.
So I conclude," Mr. Hucks wound up, "there's money in this somewhere."
Doctor Glasson did not answer for a few seconds. He seemed to be
considering. His eyes blinked, and the folds of his lean throat worked
as if he swallowed down something.
"I will be frank with you, Mr. Hucks," he said at length. "There may or
may not be, as you put it, money in this. I have kept this child for
close upon eight years, and during the last two the Orphanage has not
received one penny of payment. He was brought to us at the age of two
by a seafaring man, who declared positively that the child was not his,
that he was legitimate, and that he had relatives in good position.
The man would not tell me their names, but gave me his own and his
address--a coast-guard station on the East coast. You will pardon my
keeping these back until I know that you will help me."
"Sufficiently good terms were offered, and for six years my charges were
regularly met without question. Then payment ceased. My demands for an
explanation came back through the Dead Letter Office, and when I
followed them up by a journey to the address given, it was to learn that
my man--a chief boatman in the coast-guard service--had died three
months before, leaving no effects beyond a pound or two and the contents
of his sea-chest--no will--and, so far as could be traced, no kith or
kin. So far, Mr. Hucks, the business does not look promising."
"All right, Glasson. You keep a child for two years on charity, and
then get into a sweat on losing him. I trust your scent, and am not
"The boy has considerable natural refinement."
"You didn't keep him for _that_?"
"It has often suggested to me that his parentage was out of the
ordinary--that he probably has relatives at least--er--well-to-do.
But the main point is that he did not escape to-day of his own accord.
He was kidnapped, and in circumstances that convince me there has been a
deliberate plot. To my mind it is incredible that these children,
without collusion--" But here Doctor Glasson pulled himself up and sat
"Eh? Was there more than one?" queried Mr. Hucks, sharp as a knife.
"There was a small girl, not one of my charges. She called on me
shortly after midday with a story that an aunt of hers, who may or may
not exist, but whom she pretended to anticipate, took an interest in
this child. While she waited for this aunt's arrival, the--er--matron,
Mrs. Huggins, incautiously allowed her access to the kitchen garden,
where--without my knowledge and against my rules--the boy happened to be
working. The pair of them have disappeared; and, further, I have
convinced myself that their exit was made by way of the coal-shaft."
"A small girl, you say? What age?"
"About ten, as nearly as I can guess. A slip of a child, very poorly
dressed, and walking with a decided limp."
"I follow you this far," said Mr. Hucks, ruminating. "--Allowin'
there's a plot, if 'tis worth folks' while to get hold o' the child,
'tis worth your while to get him back from 'em. But are you sure
there's a plot? There it don't seem to me you've made out your case."
Mr. Hucks said it thoughtfully, but his mind was not working with his
speech. The coals, as he knew--though he did not propose to tell the
Doctor, at any rate just yet--had been delivered by Sam Bossom.
Of complicity in any such plot as this Sam was by nature incapable.
On the other hand, Sam was just the fellow to help a couple of children
out of mere kindness of heart. Mr. Hucks decided to have a talk with
Sam before committing himself. He suspected, of course--nay, was
certain--that Glasson had kept back something important.
Thus his meditations were running when the Doctor's reply switched the
current in a new direction.
"You have not heard the whole of it. As it happens, the man in charge
of the coal-boat was not, as I should judge, one of your regular
employees--certainly not an ordinary bargeman--but a person whose speech
betrayed him as comparatively well educated."
"Eh?" Mr. Hucks sat upright and stared.
"I am not suggesting--"
"No, damme--you 'd better not!" breathed Mr. Hucks.
"Very possibly he had bribed your man with the price of a pot of beer.
At all events, there he was, and in charge of the boat."
"You saw him? Spoke to him?"
"To be accurate, he spoke to me--down the coal-shaft, as I was examining
it. I judged him to be simulating drunkenness. But his voice was a
cultivated one--I should recognise it anywhere; and Mrs. Huggins, who
saw and spoke with him, describes him as a long-faced man, of
gentlemanly bearing, with a furred collar."
"Good Lord! Mortimer!" ejaculated Mr. Hucks, but inwardly.
"I need hardly point out to you that a bargee in a furred collar--"
"No, you needn't." Mr. Hucks rose from his chair. "See here, Glasson,
you've come with a notion that I'm mixed up in this. Well, as it
happens, you're wrong. I don't ask you to take my word--I don't care a
d--n whether you believe me or not--only you're wrong. What's more,
I'll give no promise to help--not to-night, anyway. But I'm goin' to
look into this, and to-morrow I'll tell you if we play the hand
together. To-morrow at nine-thirty, if that suits? If not, you can go
and get the police to help."
"Time may be precious," hesitated Glasson.
"Mine is, anyway," Mr. Hucks retorted. "Let me see you out. No, it's
no trouble. I'm goin' to look into this affair right away."
He handed the Doctor his lantern, opened the door for him, and walked
with him three parts of the way across the yard. As they passed the
caravan door his quick ear noted a strange sound within. It resembled
the muffled yap of a dog. But Mr. and Mrs. Mortimer did not keep a
He halted. "There's the gate. Good night," he said, and stood
watching while Glasson passed out. Then, swinging on his heel, he
strode back to the caravan.
"Mortimer!" he challenged, mounting to the third step and knocking.
"Ha! Who calls?" answered the deep voice of Mr. Mortimer after two
"Hucks. And I want a word with you."
The door opened a little way . . . and with that someone within the van
uttered a cry, as a dark object sprang out over the flap, hurtled past
Mr. Hucks, and hurled itself across the court towards the gate.
"'Dolph! 'Dolph!" called an agonised voice--a child's voice.
"The dog's daft!" chimed in Mr. Mortimer.
"'E'll kill 'im!"
As Mr. Hucks recovered his balance and stared in at the caravan doorway,
now wide open, from the darkness beyond the gate came a cry and a fierce
guttural bark--the two blent together. Silence followed. Then on the
silence there broke the sound of a heavy splash.
"_So all night long and through the dawn the ship cleft her way."
Mr. Hucks ran. Mr. Mortimer ran. As they reached the gate they heard
the voice of Doctor Glasson uplifted, gurgling for help.
They spied him at once, for by a lucky chance his lantern--one of the
common stable kind, with panes of horn--had fallen from his grasp as he
pitched over the edge of the basin. It floated, bobbing on the waves
cast up by his struggles and splashings, and by the light of it they
quickly reached the spot. But unluckily, though they could see him well
enough, they could not reach Doctor Glasson. He clung to the head-rope
of a barge moored some nine feet from shore, and it appeared that he was
hurt, for his efforts to lift himself up and over the stem of the boat,
though persistent, were feeble, and at every effort he groaned.
The dog--cause of the mischief--craned forward at him over the water,
and barked in indecent triumph.
Mr. Mortimer, who had gone through the form of tearing off his coat,
paused as he unbuttoned his waistcoat also, and glanced at Mr. Hucks.
"Can you swim?" he asked. "I--I regret to say it is not one of my
"I ain't goin' to try just yet," Mr. Hucks answered with creditable
composure. "They 're bound to fetch help between 'em with the row they
're making. Just hark to the d--d dog."
Sure enough the alarm had been given. A voice at that moment hailed
from one of the boats across the water to know what was the matter, and
half a dozen porters, canal-men, night watchmen from the warehouses,
came running around the head of the basin; but before they could arrive,
a man dashed out of the darkness behind the two watchers, tore past
them, and sprang for the boat. They heard the thud of his feet as he
alit on her short fore-deck, and an instant later, as he leaned over the
stem and gripped Dr. Glasson's coat-collar, the light of the bobbing
lantern showed them his face. It was Sam Bossom.
He had lifted the Doctor waist-high from the water before the other
helpers sprang on board and completed the rescue. The poor man was
hauled over the bows and stretched on the fore-deck, where he lay
groaning while they brought the boat alongside the quay's edge. By this
time a small crowd had gathered, and was being pressed back from the
brink and exhorted by a belated policeman.
It appeared as they lifted him ashore that the Doctor, beside the
inconvenience of a stomachful of dirty canal water, was suffering
considerable pain. In his fright (the dog had not actually bitten him)
he had blundered, and struck his knee-cap violently against a bollard
close by the water's edge, and staggering under the anguish of it, had
lost his footing and collapsed overboard. Then, finding that his
fingers could take no hold on the slippery concrete wall of the basin,
with his sound leg he had pushed himself out from it and grasped the
barge's head-rope. All this, between groans, he managed to explain to
the policeman, who, having sent for an ambulance stretcher, called for
volunteers to carry him home; for home Dr. Glasson insisted on being
taken, putting aside--and with great firmness--the suggestion that he
would be better in hospital.
Sam Blossom was among the first to offer his services. But here his
"No, no, my lad," said Mr. Hucks genially, "you've behaved pretty
creditable already, and now you can give the others a turn. The man's
all right, or will be by to-morrow; and as it happens," he added in a
lower tone, "I want five minutes' talk with you, and at once."
They watched while the sufferer was hoisted into his stretcher. So the
escort started, the policeman walking close behind and the crowd
following the policeman.
"Now," said Mr. Hucks as they passed out of sight, "you'll just step
into the yard and answer a few questions. You too, sir," he turned to
Mr. Mortimer and led the way. "Hullo!"--he let out a kick at Godolphus
snuffling at the yard gate, and Godolphus, smitten on the ribs, fled
yelping. "Who the devil owns that cur?" demanded Mr. Hucks, pushing the
"I do," answered a voice just within, close at his elbow. "An' I'll
arsk you not to fergit it. Ought to be ashamed o' yerself, kickin' a
pore dumb animal like that!"
"Eh?" Mr. Hucks passed down into the darkness. "Sam, fetch a
lantern . . . So you 're the young lady I saw just now inside o' the
van, and unless I'm mistaken, a nice job you're responsible for."
Tilda nodded. 'Dolph's indiscretion had put her in a desperate fix; but
something told her that her best chance with this man was to stand up to
him and show fight.
"Is he drowned?" she asked.
"Drowned? Not a bit of it. Only a trifle wet, and a trifle scared--
thanks to that poor dumb animal of yours. A trifle hurt, too."
"I'm sorry he wasn't drowned," said Tilda.
"Well, you 're a nice Christian child, I must say. Start with
kidnappin', and then down on your luck because you haven't wound up with
murder! Where's the boy you stole?"
"In the caravan."
"Fetch him out."
"Now look here, missie--"
"I shan't," repeated Tilda. "Oh, Mr. Bossom, you won't let them!
They're strong, I know . . . but he's got a knife that he took when
Mr. Mortimer's back was turned, and if they try to drag 'im back
to that Orph'nige--"
"Stuff and nonsense!" Mr. Hucks interrupted. "Who talked about handin'
him back? Not me."
"Then you won't?"
"I'm not sayin' that, neither. Fetch the boy along into my Counting
House, You and me must have a talk about this--in fact, I want a word
with everybody consarned."
Tilda considered for a moment, and then announced a compromise.
"Tell you what," she said, "I don't mind comin' along with you first--
not if you let 'Dolph come too."
"I shan't let him murder _me_, if that's in your mind."
Mr. Hucks grinned.
"You can call the others in if he tries," Tilda answered seriously.
"But he won't, not if you be'ave. An' then," she went on, "you can arsk
me anything you like, an' I'll answer as truthful as I can."
"Can't I see the boy first?" asked Mr. Hucks, hugely tickled.
"No, you can't!"
"You're hard on me," he sighed. The child amused him, and this
suggestion of hers exactly jumped with his wishes. "But no tricks,
mind. You others can look after the boy--I make you responsible for
him. And now this way, missie, if you'll do me the honour!"
Tilda called to 'Dolph, and the pair followed Mr. Hucks to the Counting
House, where, as he turned up the lamp, he told the child to find
herself a seat. She did not obey at once; she was watching the dog.
But 'Dolph, it appeared, bore Mr. Hucks no malice. He walked around for
thirty seconds smelling the furniture, found a rag mat, settled himself
down on it, and sat wagging his tail with a motion regular almost as a
pendulum's. Tilda, observing it, heaved a small sigh, and perched
herself on the packing-case, where she confronted Mr. Hucks fair and
square across the table.
"Now you just sit there and answer me," said Mr. Hucks, seating himself
and filling a pipe. "First, who's _in_ this?"
"Me," answered Tilda. "Me and 'im."
Mr. Hucks laid down his pipe, spread his fingers on the table, and made
as if to rise.
"I thought," said he, "you had more sense in you 'n an ord'nary child.
Seems you have less, if you start foolin'."
"I can't 'elp 'ow you take it," Tilda answered. "I got to tell you
what's true, an' chance the rest. Mr. Sam Bossom, 'e gave us a 'and at
the coal-'ole, an' Mr. Mortimer got mixed up in it later on; an' that's
all _they_ know about it. There's nobody elst, unless you count the
pore woman at the orspital, an' _she's_ dead."
"That aunt of yours--is _she_ dead too?"
"You've been talkin' to Glasson."
"P'r'aps," suggested Mr. Hucks, after a shrewd glance at her, "you'd
best tell me the story in your own way."
"That's what I'd like. You see," she began, "I been laid up three
weeks in 'orspital--the Good Samaritan, if you know it--along o' bein'
kicked by a pony. End o' last week they brought in a woman--dyin' she
was, an' in a dreadful state, an' talkin'. I ought to know, 'cos they
put her next bed to mine; s'pose they thought she'd be company. All o'
one night she never stopped talkin', callin' out for somebody she called
Arthur. 'Seemed as she couldn' die easy until she'd seen 'im. Next
day--that's yesterday--her mind was clearer, an' I arsked her who
Arthur was an' where he lived, if one had a mind to fetch 'im. I got
out of her that he was called Arthur Miles Surname Chandon, an' that he
lived at 'Oly Innercents. So this mornin', bein' allowed out, I went
down to the place an' arsked to see Arthur Miles Surname Chandon. First
thing I noticed was they didn' know he was called Chandon, for Glasson
took a piece o' paper an' wrote it down. I was afraid of Glasson, an'
pitched that yarn about an aunt o' mine, which was all kid. I never 'ad
"What's your name, by the way?"
"That's what they _all_ arsks," said Tilda wearily. "I dunno. If a
body _can't_ do without father an' mother, I'll make up a couple to
please you, same as I made up a aunt for Glasson. Maggs's Circus is
where I belong to, an' there 'twas Tilda, or 'The Child Acrobat' when
they billed me."
"You don't look much like an acrobat," commented Mr. Hucks.
"Don't I? Well, you needn't to take _that_ on trust, anyway."
The child stepped down from the packing-case, stretched both arms
straight above her, and began to bend the upper part of her body slowly
backward, as though to touch her heels with the backs of her fingers,
but desisted half-way with a cry of pain. "Ow! It hurts." She stood
erect again with tears in her eyes. "But 'Dolph will show you," she
added upon a sudden happy thought, and kneeling, stretched out an arm
The dog, with a bark of intelligence, sprang across her arm, turned on
his hind legs, and sprang back again. She crooked her arm so that the
tips of her fingers touched her hip, and with another bark he leapt
between arm and body as through a hoop.
"He don't properly belong to me," explained Tilda. "He belongs to Bill,
that works the engine on Gavel's roundabouts; but he larned his tricks
off me. That'll do, 'Dolph; go an' lie down."
"He's a clever dog, and I beg his pardon for kicking him," said Mr.
Hucks with a twinkle.
"He's better 'n clever. Why, 'twas 'Dolph that got us out."
"What, from the Orph'nage?"
"Yes." Tilda described how the Doctor had shut her in his drawing-room,
how she had escaped to the garden and found the boy there, and how
'Dolph had discovered the coal-shaft for them. "An' then Mr. Bossom 'e
'elped us out an' put us across the canal. That's all the 'and '_e_
took in it. An' from the canal I 'urried Arthur Miles up to the Good
Samaritan; but when we got there his mother was dead--becos o' course
she must a-been his mother. An' so," Tilda wound up, "I turned-to an'
adopted 'im, an' we came along 'ere to arsk Mr. Bossom to 'elp us.
An' now--if you give 'im up it 'll be a burnin' shame, an' Gawd'll pull
your leg for it."
"That's all very well," said Mr. Hucks after a few moments' thought.
"That's all very well, missie," he repeated, "but grown-up folks can't
take your easy way wi' the law. You're askin' me to aid an' abet,
knowin' him to be stolen; an' that's serious. If 'twas a matter between
you an' me, now--or even between us an' Sam Bossom. But the devil is,
these playactors have mixed themselves up in it, and the Doctor is warm
on Mortimer's scent."
"I thought o' that d'reckly he told me. But O, Mr. 'Ucks, I thought on
such a neav'nly plan!" Tilda clasped hands over an uplifted knee and
gazed on him. Her eyes shone. "They told me you was keepin' them here
for debt; but that's nonsense, becos they can't never pay it back till
you let 'em make money."
"A fat lot I shall ever get from Mortimer if I let him out o' my sight.
You don't know Mr. Mortimer."
"Don't I?" was Tilda's answer. "What d'yer take me for? Why
_everybody_ knows what Mr. Mortimer's like--everybody in Maggs's,
anyway. He's born to borrow, Bill says; though at _Hamlet_ or _Seven
Nights in a Bar-Room_ he beats the band. But as I said to his wife,
'Why shouldn' Mr. 'Ucks keep your caravan against what you owe, an' loan
you a barge? He could put a man in charge to look after your takin's,
so's you wouldn' get out o' reach till the money was paid: an' you could
work the small towns along the canal, where the shows don't almost never
reach. You won't want no more'n a tent,' I said, 'an' next to no
scenery; an' me an' Arthur Miles could be the _Babes in the Wood_ or the
_Princes in the Tower_ for you, with 'Dolph to fill up the gaps.'"
"Darn _me_," said Mr. Hucks, staring, "if you're not the cleverest for
"'Eav'nly--that was Mrs. Mortimer's word for it; an' Mr. Mortimer said
'twas the dream of 'is life, to pop--"
"It began with pop--to pop something Shakespeare in places where they
'adn't 'eard of 'im. But you know 'is way."
Mr. Hucks arose, visibly pondering. 'Dolph, who had been keeping an eye
on him, rose also, and 'Dolph's tail worked as if attached to a steam
"There's a cargo, mostly beer, to be fetched up from Stratford," said
Mr. Hucks after a pause. "Sam Bossom might take down the _Success to
Commerce_ for it, and he's as well out o' the way wi' the rest o' you."
Tilda clapped her hands.
"Mind you," he went on, "I'm not includin' any orphan. I got no consarn
with one. I haven't so much as seen him."
He paused, with his eyes fixed severely on Tilda's.
"O' course not."
"And if, when you go back to the van and tell the Mortimers, you should
leave the door open for a minute, forgetful-like, why that's no affair
"I'm a'most certain to forget," owned Tilda. "If you'd been brought up
half yer time in a tent--"
"_To_ be sure. Now attend to this. I give Sam Bossom instructions to
take the boat down to Stratford with three passengers aboard--you and
the Mortimers--as a business speckilation; and it may so happen--I don't
say it will, mind you--that sooner or later Mortimer'll want to pick up
an extry hand to strengthen his company. Well, he knows his own
business, and inside o' limits I don't interfere. Still, I'm financin'
this voyage, as you might say, and someone must keep me informed. F'r
instance, if you should be joined by a party as we'll agree to call
William Bennetts, I should want to know how William Bennetts was doin',
and what his purfessional plans were; and if you could find out anything
more about W. B.--that he was respectably connected, we'll say--why so
much the better. Understand?"
"You want Mr. Mortimer to write?" asked Tilda dubiously.
"No, I don't. I want _you_ to write--that's to say, if you can."
"I can print letters, same as the play-bills."
"That'll do. You can get one o' the Mortimers to address the envelopes.
And now," said Mr. Hucks, "I 'd best be off and speak to Sam Bossom to
get out the boat. Show-folks," he added thoughtfully, "likes travellin'
by night, I'm told. It's cooler."
Two hours later, as the Brewery clock struck eleven, a canal-boat, towed
by a glimmering grey horse, glided southward under the shadow of the
Orphanage wall. It passed this and the iron bridge, and pursued its way
through the dark purlieus of Bursfield towards the open country.
Its rate of progression was steady, and a trifle under three miles an
Astride the grey horse sat Mr. Mortimer, consciously romantic.
The darkness, the secrecy of the flight--the prospect of recovered
liberty--beyond this, the goal! As he rode, Mr. Mortimer murmured
"To Stratford! To Stratford-on-Avon!" Sam Bossom stood on the small
after-deck and steered. In the cabin Mrs. Mortimer snatched what repose
was possible on a narrow side-locker to a person of her proportions; and
on the cabin floor at her feet, in a nest of theatrical costumes, the
two children slept dreamlessly, tired out, locked in each others arms.
"_O, a bargeman's is the life for me,
Though there's nothin' to be seen but scener-ee!_"--OLD SONG.
A pale shaft of daylight slanted through the cabin doorway. It touched
Tilda's eyelids, and she opened them at once, stared, and relaxed her
"Awake?" asked Mrs. Mortimer's voice from the shadow above the locker.
"Well, I'm glad of that, because I want to get to the stove. Sardines,"
said Mrs. Mortimer, "you can take out with a fork; but, packed as we
are, when one moves the rest must follow suit. Is the boy stirring
"No," answered Tilda, peering down on him. But as she slipped her arm
from under his neck, he came out of dreamland with a quick sob and a
shudder very pitiful to hear and to feel. "Hush!" she whispered,
catching at his hand and holding it firmly. "It's _me_--Tilda; an' you
won't go back there never no more."
"I--I thought--" said he, and so with an easier sob lay still.
"O' course you did," Tilda soothed him. "But what's 'appened to the
"We are at anchor. If you want to know why, you had best crawl out and
ask Mr. Bossom. He gave the order, and Stanislas has gone ashore to buy
provisions. Marketing," said Mrs. Mortimer, "is not my husband's strong
point, but we'll hope for the best."
The cabin doorway was low as well as narrow. Looking through it, Tilda
now discerned in the gathering daylight the lower half of Sam Bossom's
person. He sat with his legs dangling over the break of the stairway,
and as the children crawled forth they perceived that he was busy with a
"Why are we stoppin' here?" demanded Tilda, with a glance about her.
The boat lay moored against the bank opposite the towpath, where old
Jubilee stood with his face deep in a nosebag. He stood almost directly
against the rising sun, the effect of which was to edge his outline with
gold, while his flank presented the most delicate of lilac shadows.
Beyond him stretched a level country intersected with low hedges, all
a-dazzle under the morning beams. To the left the land sloped gently
upward to a ridge crowned, a mile away, by a straggling line of houses
and a single factory chimney. Right astern, over Mr. Bossom's shoulder,
rose the clustered chimneys, tall stacks, church spires of the dreadful
town, already wreathed in smoke. It seemed to Tilda, although here were
meadows and clean waterflags growing by the brink, and a wide sky all
around, that yet this ugly smoke hung on their wake and threatened them.
"Why are we stoppin'?" she demanded again, as Sam Bossom, with a hurried
if friendly nod, resumed his calculations.
"And four is fifteen, and fifteen is one-an'-three," said he. "Which,"
he added, looking up as one who would stand no contradiction, "is the
'alf of two-an'-six . . . You'll excuse me, missy, but business first
an' pleasure afterwards. We're stoppin' here for the day."
"For the day?" echoed Tilda, with a dismayed look astern. "An' we've
on'y come this far!"
"Pretty good goin', _I_ should call it," Mr. Bossom assured her
cheerfully. "Six locks we've passed while you was asleep, not countin'
the stop-lock. But maybe you 're not used to travel by canal?"
"I thank the Lord, no; or I'd never 'ave put Mr. 'Ucks up to it.
Why, I'd _walk_ it quicker, crutch an' all."
"What'd you call a reas'nable price for eggs, now--at this time o'
year?" asked Mr. Bossom, abstractedly sucking the stump of a pencil and
frowning at his notebook. But of a sudden her words seemed to strike
him, and he looked up round-eyed.
"You ain't tellin' me _you_ put this in 'Ucks's mind?"
"'Course I did," owned Tilda proudly.
"An' got me sent to Stratford-on-Avon!" Mr. Bossom added. "Me that
stood your friend when _you_ was in a tight place!"
"No, I didn'. It was 'Ucks that mentioned Stratford--said you'd find a
cargo of beer there, which sounded all right: an' Mortimer jumped at it
soon as ever he 'eard the name. Mortimer said it was the dream of his
youth an' the perspiration of his something else--I can't tell the ezact
words; but when he talked like that, how was I to guess there was
anything wrong with the place?"
"There ain't anything wrong wi' the _place_, that I know by," Mr. Bossom
"But I remember another thing he said, because it sounded to me even
funnier. He said, 'Sweet swan of Avon upon the banks of Thames, that
did so please Eliza and our James.' Now what did he mean by that?"
Mr. Bossom considered and shook his head.
"Some bank-'oliday couple, I reckon; friends of his, maybe. But about
that swan--Mortimer must 'a-been talkin' through his hat. Why to get to
the Thames that bird'd have to go up the Stratford-on-Avon to Kingswood
cut, down the Warwick an' Birmingham to Budbrooke--with a trifle o'
twenty-one locks at Hatton to be worked or walked round; cross by the
Warwick an' Napton--another twenty-two locks; an' all the way down the
Oxford Canal, which from Napton is fifty miles good."
"She'd be an old bird before she got there, at our pace," Tilda agreed.
"But, o' course, Mr. Bossom, if we want to get to Stratford quick, an'
you don't, you'll make the pace what you like an' never mind us."
"Who said I didn' want to get to Stratford?" he asked almost fiercely,
and broke off with a groan.
"Oh, it's 'ard!--it's 'ard! . . . And me sittin' here calcilatin' eggs
an' milk domestic-like and thinkin' what bliss . . . But you don't
understand. O' course you don't. Why should you?"
Tilda placed her hands behind her back, eyed him for half-a-minute, and
"Well, I never!" she said. "Oh, my goodness gracious mercy me!"
"I can't think what you 're referrin' to," stammered Mr. Bossom.
"So we're in love, are we?"
He cast a guilty look around.
"There's Mortimer, comin' down the path, an' only two fields away."
"And it's a long story, is it? Well, I'll let you off this time," said
Tilda. "But listen to this, an' don't you fergit it. If along o' your
dawdlin' they lay hands on Arthur Miles here, I'll never fergive you--
"You leave that to me, missie. And as for dawdlin', why if you
understood about canals you 'd know there's times when dawdlin' makes
the best speed. Now just you bear in mind the number o' things I've got
to think of. First, we'll say, there's you an' the boy. Well, who's
goin' to look for you here, aboard an innercent boat laid here between
locks an' waitin' till the full of her cargo comes down to Tizzer's
Green wharf or Ibbetson's? Next"--he checked off the items on his
fingers--"there's the Mortimers. In duty to 'Ucks, I got to choose
Mortimer a pitch where he'll draw a 'ouse. Bein' new to this job, I'd
like your opinion; but where, thinks I, 'll he likelier draw a 'ouse
than at Tizzer's Green yonder?--two thousand op'ratives, an' I doubt if
the place has ever seen a travellin' theayter since it started to grow.
Anyway, Mortimer has been pushin' inquiries: an' that makes Secondly.
Thirdly, I don't know much about play-actors, but Mortimer tells me he
gets goin' at seven-thirty an' holds 'em spellbound till something after
ten; which means that by the time we've carted back the scenery _an'_
shipped _an'_ stowed it, _an'_ got the tarpaulins on, _an'_ harnessed
up, we shan't get much change out o' midnight. Don't lose your patience
now, because we haven't come to the end of it yet--not by a long way.
By midnight, say, we get started an' haul up to Knowlsey top lock, which
is a matter of three miles. What do we find there?"
"Dunno," said Tilda wearily. "A brass band per'aps, an' a nillumynated
address, congratylatin' yer."
Sam ignored this sarcasm.
"We find, likely as not, a dozen boats hauled up for the night, blockin'
the fairway, an' all the crews ashore at the 'Ring o' Bells' or the
'Lone Woman,' where they doss an' where the stablin' is. Not a chance
for us to get through before mornin'; an' then in a crowd with everybody
wantin' to know what Sam Bossom's doin' with two children aboard.
Whereas," he concluded, "if we time ourselves to reach Knowlsey by seven
in the mornin', they'll all have locked through an' left the coast
Said Tilda, still contemptuous--
"I 'd like to turn Bill loose on this navigation o' yours, as you call
"He works the engine on Gavel's roundabouts; an' he's the best an' the
cleverest man in the world."
"Unappre'shated, I spose?"
"Why if you 'ad Bill aboard this boat, in less'n a workin' day he'd 'ave
her fixed up with boiler an' engine complete, an' be drivin' her like a
Mr. Bossom grinned.
"I'd like to see 'im twenty minutes later, just to congratilate 'im.
You see, missie, a boat can't go faster than the water travels past
'er--which is rhyme, though I made it myself, an' likewise reason.
Can she, now?"
"I s'pose not," Tilda admitted doubtfully.
"Well now, if your friend Bill started to drive th' old _Success to
Commerce_ like a train, first he'd be surprised an' disappointed to see
her heavin' a two-foot wave ahead of her--maybe more, maybe less--along
both banks; an' next it might annoy 'im a bit when these two waves fell
together an' raised a weight o' water full on her bows, whereby she 'd
travel like a slug, an' the 'arder he drove the more she wouldn' go; let
be that she'd give 'im no time to cuss, even when I arsked 'im perlitely
what it felt like to steer a monkey by the tail. Next _an'_ last, if he
should 'appen to find room for a look astern at the banks, it might vex
'im--bein' the best o' men as well as the cleverest--to notice that he
'adn't left no banks, to speak of. Not that 'twould matter to 'im
pers'nally--'avin' no further use for 'em."
Tilda, confounded by this close reasoning, was about to retreat with
dignity under the admission that, after all, canal-work gave no scope to
a genius such as Bill's, when 'Dolph came barking to announce the near
approach of Mr. Mortimer.
Mr. Mortimer, approaching with a gait modelled upon Henry Irving's, was
clearly in radiant mood. Almost he vaulted the stile between the field
and the canal bank. Alighting, he hailed the boat in nautical
"Ahoy, Smiles! What cheer, my hearty?"
"Gettin' along nicely, sir," reported Mr. Bossom. "Nicely, but peckish.
The same to you, I 'ope."
"Good," was the answer. "Speak to the mariners: fall to't yarely, or we
run ourselves aground. Bestir, bestir!"
Tilda, who for the last minute or so had been unconsciously holding
Arthur Miles by the hand, was astonished of a sudden to find it
trembling in hers.
"You mustn' mind what Mr. Mortimer says," she assured the child
encouragingly--"it's on'y his way."
Mr. Mortimer stepped jauntily across the gang-plank, declaiming with so
much of gesture as a heavy market-basket permitted--
"The pirates of Parga, who dwell by the waves,
And teach the pale Franks what it is to be slaves,
Shall leave by the beach, Smiles, the long galley and oar--"
"I have done it, Smiles. In the words of the old-time classical
geometer, I have found it; and as he remarked on another occasion
(I believe subsequently), 'Give me where to stand, and I will move the
Universe.' His precise words, if I recall the original Greek, were _Dos
Pou Sto_--and the critical ear will detect a manly--er--self-reliance in
the terse monosyllables. In these days," pursued Mr. Mortimer, setting
down the market-basket, unbuttoning his furred overcoat, extracting a
green and yellow bandanna from his breastpocket and mopping his heated
brow, "in these days we have lost that self-confidence. We are weary,
disillusioned. We have ceased to expect gold at the rainbow's foot.
Speaking without disrespect to the poet Shelley"--here he lifted his hat
and replaced it--"a new Peneus does _not_ roll his fountains against the
morning star, whatever that precise--er--operation may have been.
But let us honour the aspiration, Smiles, though the chill monitor
within forbid us to endorse it. 'A loftier Argo'"--Mr. Mortimer
indicated the _Success to Commerce_ with a sweep of the hand--
"A loftier Argo cleaves the main
Fraught with a later prize;
Another Orpheus--you'll excuse the comparison--sings again,
And loves, and weeps--and dies."
"Stanislas, you have not forgotten the eggs, I hope?" interposed the
voice of Mrs. Mortimer from the cabin.
"I have not, my bud. Moreover, as I was just explaining to our friend,
I have secured a _Pou Sto_--a hall, my chick--or perhaps it might be
defined more precisely as a--er--loft. It served formerly--or, as the
poets would say, whilom--as a barracks for the Salvation Army; in more
recent times as a store for--er--superphosphates. But it is commodious,
and possesses a side-chamber which will serve us admirably for a
green-room when the proprietor--an affable person by the name of Tench--
has removed the onions at present drying on the floor; which he has
engaged to do."
"Are you tellin' me," inquired Sam, "that you've been and 'ired the
"At the derisory charge of four-and-six for the night. As a business
man, I believe in striking while the iron is hot. Indeed, while we are
on the subject, I may mention that I have ordered the bills. _Professor
and Madame St. Maw_--my Arabella will, I know, forgive my reverting to
the name under which she won her maiden laurels--it cost me a pang, my
dear Smiles, to reflect that the fame to be won here, the honour of
having popularised HIM, here on the confines of his native Arden, will
never be associated with the name of Mortimer. _Sic vos non vobis_, as
the Mantuan has poignantly observed. But for the sake of the children--
and, by the way, how do my bantlings find themselves this morning?
Tol-lollish, I trust?--for the sake of the children it was necessary, as
we used to say with the Pytchley, to obscure 'the scent. Talking of
scent, Smiles, it might be advisable--what with the superphosphates and
the onions--to take some counteracting steps, which your ingenuity may
be able to suggest. The superphosphates especially are--er--potent.
And, by one of those coincidences we meet, perhaps, oftener than we
note, Mr. Tench's initial is 'S'--standing for Samuel."
Mr. Mortimer extracted an egg from his basket and rubbed it with his
bandanna thoughtfully before passing it down to his wife.
"So you've been an' ordered the bills too?" murmured Mr. Bossom.
"And what will the bills run to?--if, as the treasurer, I may make so
"To the sum of five shillings precisely, which will, of course, be
hypothecated as a first charge upon our takings, and which I ask you, my
dear Smiles, as treasurer to debit to that account in due form, here and
now." It would have been hard to conceive any manner more impressively
business-like than Mr. Mortimer's as he made this demand. "You will
excuse my putting it so plainly, Smiles, but I may venture a guess that
in the matter of conducting a theatrical tour you are, comparatively
speaking, a tiro?"
"I've got to account to 'Ucks, if that's what you mean," Sam assented.
"The bill, Smiles, is the theatrical agent's first thought; the
beginning which is notoriously half the battle. For three-inch
lettering--and to that I restricted myself--five shillings can only be
called dirt cheap. Listen--"
PROFESSOR AND MADAME ST. MAUR,
OF THE LEADING LONDON THEATRES
PART I.--WITH VOICE AND LUTE, A POT-POURRI
PART II.--AN HOUR WITH THE BEST DRAMATISTS
THE WHOLE TO CONCLUDE WITH THAT
SIDE-SPLITTING DUOLOGUE ENTITLED,
'COURTSHIP IN THE RAIN'
PASSION WITH REFINEMENT AND MIRTH WITHOUT VULGARITY
_Reserved Seats, One Shilling. Unreserved, Sixpence._
_Gallery (limited), Threepence only_
DOORS OPEN AT 7.30; TO COMMENCE AT 8.
CARRIAGES AT HALF-PAST TEN
"Why carriages?" asked Mr. Bossom.
"It's the usual thing," answered Mr. Mortimer.
"You bet it isn't, at Tizzer's Green. Well, the first job is breakfast,
an' after breakfast we'll get Old Jubilee round by the footbridge an'
make shift to borrow a cart down at Ibbetson's, for the scenery.
You didn' forget the bacon?"
Mr. Mortimer unwrapped a parcel of greasy paper and exhibited six
"A Baconian--O, Shakespeare, forgive!" He said this in a highly jocular
manner, and accompanied it with a wink at Tilda, who did not understand
the allusion. But again she felt the child's hand thrill and tremble,
and turned about, eyeing him curiously. Her movement drew upon him the
Mortimerian flow, ever ebullient and ever by trifles easily deflected.
"Yes, Arthur Miles--if I may trouble you to pass it down to the cook's
galley--thank you; these eggs too--be careful of them--Yes, we are bound
for Stratford-on-Avon, Shakespeare's birthplace!" Again he lifted and
replaced his hat. "Enviable boy! What would young Stanislas Mortimer
not have given at your age to set eyes on that Mecca! Yet, perchance, he
may claim that he comes, though late, as no unworthy votary.
A Passionate Pilgrim, shall we say? Believe me, it is in the light of a
pilgrimage that I regard this--er--jaunt. Shall we dedicate it to
youth, and name it Childe Arthur's Pilgrimage?"
By this time smoke was issuing in a steady stream from the stove-pipe
above the cabin-top, and presently from within came the hiss and
fragrance of bacon frying. Sam Bossom had stepped ashore, and called to
the children to help in collecting sticks and build a fire for the
tea-kettle. Tilda, used though she was to nomad life, had never known
so delightful a picnic. Only her eyes wandered back apprehensively, now
and then, to the smoke of the great town. As for Arthur Miles--Childe
Arthur, as Mr. Mortimer henceforth insisted on their calling him--he had
apparently cast away all dread of pursuit. Once, inhaling the smell of
the wood fire, he even laughed aloud--a strange laugh, and at its close
uncannily like a sob. Tilda, watching him quietly, observed that he
trembled too--trembled all over--from time to time. She observed, too,
that this happened when he looked up from the fire and the kettle; but
also that in looking up he never once looked back, that his eyes always
wandered along the still waterway and to the horizon ahead.
This puzzled her completely.
Breakfast followed, and was delightful, though not unaccompanied by
terrors. A barge hove in sight, wending downwards from Bursfield, and
the children hid. It passed them, and after ten minutes came a couple
from the same direction, with two horses hauling at the first, and the
second (which Sam called a butty-boat) towed astern. Each boat had a
steersman, and the steersman called to Sam and asked for news of his
young woman; whereupon Sam called back, offering to punch their heads
for twopence. But it was all very good-natured. They passed on
laughing, and the children re-emerged. The sun shone; the smoke of the
embers floated against it, across the boat, on the gentlest of breezes;
the food was coarse, but they were hungry; the water motionless, but Mr.
Mortimer's talk seemed to put a current into it, calling them southward
and to high adventures--southward where no smoke was, and the swallows
skimmed over the scented water-meads. Even the gaudily-painted cups and
saucers, which Mr. Mortimer produced from a gaudily-painted cupboard,
made part of the romance. Tilda had never seen the like. They were
decorated round the rims with bands of red and green and yellow; the
very egg-cups were similarly banded; and portraits of the late Queen
Victoria and the Prince Consort decorated the cupboard's two panels.
Breakfast over, she helped Mr. Mortimer to wash up, and while she helped
was conscious of a new and uncomfortable feeling, of which she could
make no account with herself. It was not the stuffiness of the cabin
that oppressed her; nor the dread of pursuit; nor anxiety for Arthur
Miles, lest he should run off and fall into mischief. By stooping a
little she could keep him in view, for he had settled himself on the
after-deck, and was playing with 'Dolph--or, rather, was feeling
'Dolph's ears and paws in a wondering fashion, as one to whom even a dog
was something new and marvellous; and 'Dolph, stretched on his side in
the sunshine, was undergoing the inspection with great complaisance.
No; the cause of her restlessness was yet to seek.
She went out and sat upon the cabin step for awhile, deep in thought,
her eyes fixed on Sam Bossom, who, just beyond the cabin roof, was
stooping over the well and untying its tarpaulins. By and by she sprang
to her feet and walked forward to him.
"Mr. Bossom," she said with decision, "I know what's the matter with
"Then," answered Sam, "you 're luckier than most people."
"I want a wash."
"Do you, now? Well, as to that, o' course you're the best judge; but I
'adn't noticed it."
"You wouldn't, 'ardly," said Tilda, "seein' as I 'ad one on'y yestiddy.
But that's the worst of 'orspitals. They get you inside, an' a'most
before you know where you are, they've set up a 'abit. I dessay it'll
wear off, all right; but oh, Mr. Bossom--"
"Would you mind callin' me Sam? It's more ushual."
"Oh, Mr. Sam, this mornin' I'm feelin' it all over. If I got a pailful
out o' the canal, now?"
"I wouldn' recommend it--not 'ereabouts." Sam, eyeing her with his head
cocked slightly aside, spoke gently as one coaxing a victim of the drink
habit. "But, as it 'appens, a furlong this side of Ibbetson's you'll
find the very place. Take Arthur Miles along with you. He'll be
thankful for it, later on--an' I'll loan you a cake o' soap."
THE FOUR DIAMONDS.
"_Where the hazel bank is steepest,
Where the shadow falls the deepest,
Where the clustering nuts fall free,
That's the way for Billy and me._"--JAMES HOGG.
The spot was a hollow between two grassy meadows, where a brook came
winding with a gentle fall, under coverts of hazel, willow and alder, to
feed the canal. It was a quite diminutive brook, and its inflow, by the
wharf known as Ibbetson's, troubled the stagnant canal water for a very
short distance. But it availed, a mile above, to turn a mill, and--
a marvel in this country of factories--it had escaped pollution.
Below the mill-dam it hurried down a pretty steep declivity, dodging its
channel from side to side, but always undercutting the bank on one side,
while on the other it left miniature creeks or shoals and spits where
the minnows played and the water-flies dried their wings on the warm
pebbles; always, save that twice or thrice before finding its outlet it
paused below one of these pebbly spits to widen and deepen itself into a
pool where it was odds that the sun, slanting through the bushes, showed
a brown trout lurking.
By such a pool--but they had scared away the trout--our two children
were busy. Tilda, her ablutions over, had handed the cake of soap to
Arthur Miles, scrambled out on the deeper side, and ensconced herself in
the fork of an overhanging hazel-mote; where, having reached for a
cluster of nuts and cracked them, she sat and munched, with petticoat
dripping and bare legs dangling over the pool.
"Be sure you don't fergit be'ind the ears," she admonished the boy.
"You may think you're on'y a small boy an' nobody's goin' to search yer
corners; but back at the Good Samaritan there was a tex' nailed up--
_Thou Gawd seest me_; and Sister said 'E was most partic'lar just in the
little places you wouldn't think."
By her orders the boy had stripped off shirt and stockings, and stood
now almost knee-deep in the water, lathering his hair and face and neck
and shoulders with vigour. Tilda observed that his skin was delicately
fair and white. She had never seen a more beautiful boy. But he was
slender, and would need mothering.
"You're comin' to it nicely," she called down to him. "It feels funny
to start with, but in the end you'll a'most get to like it."
"I _do_ like it."
She considered for a while.
"If that's so," she said, "you 'd better strip all over an' 'ave done
with it. I was bringin' you to it gradual."
"Oh, _that's_ all right. I knows my manners. Be quick as you can, so's
not to catch cold, an' I'll take a stroll up the bank an' give a call if
She scrambled back to firm ground and set off for a saunter up stream,
pausing here to reach for a nut, there to pluck a ripe blackberry, and
again to examine a tangle of bryony, or the deep-red fruit of the
honey-suckle; for almost all her waking life had been spent in towns
among crowds, and these things were new and strange to her. She met no
one on her way until, where the stream twisted between a double fold of
green pasture slopes, she came to the mill--a tall rickety building,
with a tiled roof that time had darkened and greened with lichens, and a
tall wheel turning slowly in a splash of water, and bright water dancing
over a weir below. In the doorway leaned a middle-aged man, powdered
all over with white, even to the eyelids. He caught sight of her, and
she was afraid he would be angry, and warn her off for trespassing; but
he nodded and called out something in a friendly manner--"Good day,"
perhaps. She could not hear the words for the hum of the weir and the
roaring of the machinery within the building.
It was time to retrace her steps, and she went back leisurably, peering
for trout and plucking on the way a trail of the bryony, berried with
orange and scarlet and yellow and palest green, to exhibit to Arthur
Miles. She found him seated on the near bank, close beside her
hazel-mote. He did not hear her barefooted approach, being absorbed in
the movements of a wagtail that had come down to the pebbly spit for its
bath; and Tilda started scolding forthwith. For he sat there naked to
the waist, with his shirt spread to dry on the grass. He had given it a
thorough soaping, and washed it and wrung it out: his stockings too.
"You'll catch yer death!" threatened Tilda.
But he was not shivering--so blandly fell the sun's rays, and so gently
played the breeze.
"I can't make you out," she confessed. "First when I came on yer--an'
that was on'y yestiddy--you was like a thing afraid o' yer own shadder.
An' now you don't appear to mind nothin'--not even the chance o' bein'
found an' took back."
The boy drew a long breath.
"You're shakin' with cold, though. There! What did I tell yer?" But a
moment later she owned herself mistaken. He was not cold at all.
"It's all so--so good," he murmured, more to himself than to her.
He reached out for the trail of bryony in her lap and fingered it
wonderingly, without speaking for a while. Then, lifting his hand, he
laid it for a moment against her upper arm--the lightest touch--no more.
"You," he said. "You--and everything."
"Of all the queer boys--" she began, and broke off with a catch of the
The boy looked up to see her eyes fixed, round and wide, on his naked
"What's that mark you got there?" she demanded.
"This?" He put up a hand to a pattern of four diamonds joined in a
horizontal line. "I don't know. I've wondered sometimes--"
"But you must 'ave come by it some'ow. Can't you remember?"
He shook his head.
"It has been there always. And yet I couldn't have been born with it."
"'Course yer couldn'," she agreed
The mark was pencilled in thin lines of red a little below the right
shoulder, across the width of the deltoid muscle, and in figures about
half an inch tall. "'Course yer couldn'," she repeated. "That's
tattooin', if ever there was tattooin'; an', what's more," she went on,
nodding her head with great positiveness, "I know who done it, leastways
I know part of 'is name . . . Don't stare, now; lemme _think_ . . . Yes,
it's plain as plain. 'Four di'monds,' she said; an' di'monds they are,
same as on a pack o' cards--me all the time thinkin' of them as the
ladies wear on their fingers. But 'on his coat,' she said; nothin'
about yer shoulder."
"'She'? Who was 'she'?" asked the boy. "Never you mind," said Tilda
hurriedly. "But him as done it was called Ned. Now try to think if you
ever came across a party as was called Ned?"
"There was a boy called Ned at Holy Innocents; but he died in the time
we all had sore throats--and, besides, he was the youngest of us.
I don't remember any other."
"Any sailor-man, then? It's mostly sailors that know about tattooin'."
"Oh, yes," he answered promptly, to her surprise. "There were lots of
sailors--five or six, I think. They had long glasses, and used to watch
the sea. And one played music on a thing that went _so_."
He brought his hands together, drew them wide, and brought them together
again--the palms open.
"That would be a concertina," nodded Tilda, "or elst an accordion. Now
try to think, becos' all this is very important . . . Where was this
place? and what like was it?"
He considered for a while, frowning to help his memory.
"There was a line of white houses, and one had red flowers in the window
. . . and a pole, with flags on it . . . and ships passing . . . and
from the houses a path went down to the sea. I remember quite well what
it was like down there . . . with waves coming in, but not reaching to
us, and sand where I played, and rocks, and pools full of shells and
brown flowers. There were shells, too, on the rocks, with live things
inside--though they never moved. I don't think I knew their name; but I
know it now. They were called 'scammels.'"
"I've ate limpets," said Tilda; "limpets an' whelks. But I never 'eard
o' scammels. An' you don't remember the name o' this place?"
"It must have been the Island," said the boy slowly.
"Wot Island? Island's a sort o' place, but no place in partic'lar."
"I don't know . . . It must have been the Island, though."
"Now listen. Did you ever 'appen to 'ear tell of 'Olmness?"
She asked it eagerly, watching his face. But it gave no answer to her
hopes. His eyes were dreamy. The word, if it struck at all on his
hearing, struck dully.
"I don't see that the name matters," he said after a long pause,
"so long as it's the Island. We 're going there, and we shall find out
all about it when we get to Stratford."
"Shall we?" asked Tilda, considerably astonished. "But _why,_ in the
"Because . . . Didn't you hear Mr. Mortimer say that Shakespeare was
"I did," said Tilda. "'Ow's that goin' to 'elp us?"
"I don't know," the boy confessed, dragging a book from his pocket.
It was a ragged copy of the "Globe" Shakespeare, lacking its covers and
smeared with dirt and blacking. "But he knows all about the Island."
"So _that,_" said Tilda, "is what 'urt me in the night! It made my ribs
all sore. I fergot the book, an' thought you must be sufferin' from
some kind o' growth; but didn't like to arsk till I knew yer better--
deformed folks bein' mostly touchy about it. When you stripped jus'
now, an' nothin' the matter, it puzzled me more'n ever. 'Ere--show me
where 'e tells about it," she demanded, taking the volume and opening it
on her lap.
"It's all at the beginning, and he calls it _The Tempest_ . . . But it
will take you ever so long to find out. There was a ship wrecked, with
a wicked duke on board, and he thought his son was drowned, but really
it was all brought about by magic . . . In the book it's mostly names
and speeches, and you only pick up here and there what the Island was
"But what makes you sure it's _your_ Island?"
"You wait till we get to Stratford and ask him," said the boy, nodding,
bright and confident.
"Arsk'oo? Shakespeare? Sakes alive, child! Don't yer know 'e's been
dead these 'undreds o' years?"
"Has he?" His face fell, but after a moment grew cheerful again.
"But that needn't matter. There must be heaps of people left to tell us
Tilda closed the book. She had learnt a little, but had been
disappointed in more. She felt desperately sorry for the child with
this craze in his head about an Island. She had a suspicion that the
memories he related were all mixed up with fictions from the play.
As she put it to herself, "'E don't mean to kid, but 'e can't 'elp
'isself." But there was one question she had omitted and must yet ask.
"You said, jus' now, you used to play by the sea, somewheres beneath
that line o' white houses you was tellin' of. Well, you couldn' a-got
down there on your own, at that age--could yer, now? W'ich means you
must a-been carried."
"I suppose so."
"No supposin' about it. You _must_ a-been. Wot's more, you talked
about the waves comin' in an' not reachin'--'us,' you said. 'Oo was it
with yer? Think now! Man or woman?"
"A woman," he answered after a pause, knitting his brows.
Then happened something for which--so quiet his words had been--Tilda
was in no wise prepared. He turned his eyes on her, and they were as
the eyes of a child born blind; blank, yet they sought; tortured, yet
dry of tears. His head was tilted back, and a little sideways. So may
you see an infant's as he nuzzles to his mother's breast. The two hands
seemed to grope for a moment, then fell limp at his side.
"Oh, 'ush!" besought Tilda, though in fact he had uttered no sound.
"'Ush, an' put on your shirt, an' come 'ome! We'll get Mrs. Mortimer to
dry it off by the stove."
She helped him on with it, took him by the hand, and led him back
They reached the canal bank in time to see Sam Bossom leading Old
Jubilee down the towpath, on his way to borrow a cart at Ibbetson's.
And 'Dolph--whom Tilda had left with strict orders to remain on board--
no sooner caught sight of the children than he leapt ashore and came
The dog appeared to be in mortal terror; a terror at which the children
no longer wondered as they drew near the boat. Terrible sounds issued
from the cabin--cries of a woman imploring mercy, fierce guttural oaths
of a man determined to grant none.
"Good Lord!" exclaimed Tilda, gripping Arthur Miles more tightly by the
hand and hurrying him into a run. "Whatever's taken the couple?"
She paused at the gangway and listened, peering forward.
"Oh, banish me, my lord, but kill me not!" wailed the voice of Mrs.
"Down, base one!" shouted her husband's.
"Kill me to-morrow; let me live to-night!"
"Nay, if you strive--a little more stress, dear, on 'to-night,' if I may
suggest--Nay, if you strive--!"
"Shall we take it again, Stanislas? You used to take the pillow at
'Kill me not.'"
"I believe I did, my bud. We are rusty--a trifle rusty--the both of
"Kill me to-morrow; let me live--" entreated Mrs. Mortimer.
"What's all this, you two?" demanded Tilda, springing down the cabin
steps and hurling herself between them.
"Hullo! Come in!" answered Mr. Mortimer genially. "This? Well, I hope
it is an intellectual treat. I have always looked upon Mrs. Mortimer's
Desdemona as such, even at rehearsal."
"_Day after day, day after day
Rime of the Ancient Mariner
"Well, and 'ow did the performance go off?"
When Tilda awoke at seven o'clock next morning, the _Success to
Commerce_ had made three good miles in the cool of the dawn, and come to
anchor again (so to speak) outside the gates of Knowsley top lock,
where, as Sam Bossom explained later, the canal began to drop from its
summit level. Six locks, set pretty close together, here formed a
stairway for its descent, and Sam would hear no word of breakfast until
they had navigated the whole flight.
The work was laborious, and cost him the best part of an hour. For he
had to open and shut each pair of gates single-handed, using a large
iron key to lift and close the sluices; and, moreover, Mr. Mortimer,
though he did his best, was inexpert at guiding the boat into the
lock-chamber and handling her when there. A dozen times Sam had to call
to him to haul closer down towards the bottom gates and avoid fouling
The children watched the whole operation from shore, now and then
lending their small weight to push open the long gate-beams. 'Dolph,
too, watched from shore; suspiciously at first, afterwards with a
studied air of boredom, which he relieved by affecting, whenever the
heel of a stern-post squeaked in its quoin, to mistake it for a rat--an
excuse for aimless snuffling, whining and barking. And Mrs. Mortimer
looked on from the well by the cabin door, saucepan in hand, prepared to
cook at the shortest notice. It was fascinating to see her, at first in
the almost brimming lock, majestically erect (she was a regal figure)
challenging the horizon with a gaze at once proud, prescient of
martyrdom, and prepared; and then, as Sam opened the sluices, to watch
her descend, inch by inch, into the dark lock-chamber. Each time this
happened Mr. Mortimer exhorted her--"Courage, my heart's best!"--and she
made answer each time, "Nay, Stanislas, I have no terrors."
Mr. Mortimer, at the fifth lock, left Old Jubilee and walked around to
remark to Tilda that on the boards some such apparatus--"if it could be
contrived at moderate expense"--would be remarkably effective in the
drowning scene of _The Colleen Bawn_; or, in the legitimate drama, for
the descent of Faustus into hell; "or, by means of a gauze transparency,
the death of Ophelia might be indicated. I mention Ophelia because it
was in that part my Arabella won what--if the expression may be used
without impropriety--I will term her spurs. I am given to understand,
however," added Mr. Mortimer, "that the apparatus requires a
considerable reservoir, and a reservoir of any size is only compatible
with fixity of tenure. An Ishmael--a wanderer upon the face of the
earth--buffeted this way and that by the chill blast of man's
ingratitude, more keenly toothed (as our divine Shakespeare observed)
than winter's actual storm--but this by the way; it is not mine to
anticipate more stable fortune, but rather to say with Lear--"
"'Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks!'"
"I merely drop the suggestion--and I pass on."
He folded his arms and passed on. That is to say, he strode off in a
hurry at a summons from Sam to stand by and pole the boat clear as the
lower lock-gates were opened.
Somehow Tilda divined that Mr. and Mrs. Mortimer were in high spirits
this morning, and it was with reasonable confidence that, after they had
moored below locks and breakfasted, she sought Sam--who had withdrawn to
the bows with his account book--and inquired how the performance had
"There was a small misunderstandin' at the close," he answered, looking
up and pausing to moisten the lead of his pencil, "owin' to what the
bills said about carriages at ten-thirty. Which the people at Tizzer's
Green took it that carriages was to be part of the show, an' everyone to
be taken 'ome like a lord. There was a man in the gallery, which is
otherwise back seats at threppence, got up an' said he'd a-come on that
contrack, an' no other. Mortimer made 'im a speech, and when that
wouldn' do I copped 'im on the back o' the neck."
"An' after that, I s'pose, there was a free fight?"
"No," said Sam; "you 'd be surprised how quiet 'e took it. 'E was
She eyed him thoughtfully.
"It don't seem like you, neither," she said, "to strike a man so 'ard,
"You're right, there; it _ain't_ like me, an' I felt sorry for the
fella'. But I 'ad to relieve my feelin's."
"What was the matter with yer feelin's?"
"'Arrowed--fairly 'arrowed." Sam shot an uneasy glance aft towards the
cabin top where Mr. and Mrs. Mortimer sat amicably side by side, he
conning a part while she mended a broken string on her guitar. Beyond
them, stretched on the after deck with 'Dolph for company, Arthur Miles
leaned over the gunwale, apparently studying the boat's reflection in
the water. "Between you an' me," Sam confessed, "I can't get no grip on
play-actors; an' I'm sorry I ever took up with 'em." He consulted his
accounts. "He cleared three pound twelve an' nine las' night--but 'ow?
That Mortimer carried on something 'ateful. There was 'is wife--you
wouldn' think it in ordinary life, but, dressed up, she goes to your
'eart; an' she wore, first an' last, more dresses than you could count.
First of all she 'it a little tambourine, an' said she was a gipsy maid.
'I'm a narch little gipsy,' she said, 'an' I never gets tipsy'--"
"Why _should_ she?"
"'But I laugh an' play,' she said, 'the whole o' the day, such a
nartless life is mine, ha, ha!' which wasn' none of it true, except
about the drink, but you could see she only done it to make 'erself
pleasant. An' then she told us ow' when they rang a bell somebody was
goin' to put Mortimer to death, an' 'ow she stopped that by climbin' up
to the bell and 'angin' on to the clapper. Then in came Mortimer an'
sang a song with 'er--as well 'e might--about 'is true love 'avin' 'is
'eart an' 'is 'avin' 'ers, an' everyone clappin' an' stampin' an'
ancorein' in the best of tempers. Well, an' what does the man do after
an interval o' five minutes, but dress hisself up in black an' call 'er
names for 'avin' married his uncle? This was too much for the back
seats, an' some o' them told 'im to go 'ome an' boil 'is 'ead. But it
'ad no effect; for he only got worse, till he ended up by blackin' 'is
face an' smotherin' 'er with a pillow for something quite different.
After that he got better, an' they ended up by playin' a thing that made
everybody laugh. I didn' 'ear it, but took a walk outside to blow off
steam, an' only came back just as the fuss began about the carriages.
Fact is, missy, I can't abear to see a woman used abuseful."
"That's because you 're in love," said Tilda. "But, if you'll listen to
me, women ain't always what you take 'em for."
"Ain't they?" he queried. "I'd be sorry to believe that; though 'twould
be 'elpful, I don't mind tellin' you."
"I've known cases--that is, if you _want_ to be cured--"
"I do, an' I don't," he groaned. But it was clear that in the main he
did not; for he changed the subject hastily. "See 'ere, would you mind
takin' 'old o' the book an' checkin' while I counts out the money.
Total takin's--four, three, three--less 'ire of 'all, four-an'-six--"
"I can read figures an' print," owned Tilda, "but 'andwriting's too
much for me; an' yours, I dare say, isn' none o' the best."
"I've improved it a lot at the night school. But what is it puzzlin'
you?" he asked, looking up as he counted.
She held out the book, but not as he had handed it. The light breeze
had blown over two or three of its leaves, covering the page of
"Oh, _that?_" he stammered, and a blush spread to his ears. "I didn'
mean you to see--"
"What is it?"
"Well--it's potery, if you must know. Leastways it's meant to be
potery. I make it sometimes."
"To relieve my feelin's."
"'Pears to me your feelin's want a deal o' relievin', one way an'
another. Read me some."
"You're sure you won't laugh?"
"Bless the man! 'Ow can I tell till I've 'eard it? Is it meant to be
"Well, then, I'm not likely to laugh. It don't come easy to me, any'ow:
I seen too many clowns."
She handed him the book. He chose a poem, conquered his diffidence, and
My heart is full of woe:
Formerly, once upon a time
It was not ever so."
"The love that then I faltered
I now am forced to stifle;
For the case is completely altered
And I wish I had a rifle."
"I wish I was wrecked
Like Robinson Crusoe,
But you cannot expect
A canal-boat to do so."
"Perhaps I ought to explain, though?" he suggested, breaking off.
"If you don't mind."
"You see I got a brother--a nelder brother, an' by name 'Enery; an' last
year he went for a miner in South Africa, at a place that I can't
neither spell nor pronounce till it winds up with 'bosh.' So we'll call
"Right-o! But why did he go for that miner? To relieve 'is feelin's?"
"You don't understand. He went out _as_ a miner, havin' been a pit-hand
at the Blackstone Colliery, north o' Bursfield. Well, one week-end--
about a month before he started--he took a noliday an' went a trip with
me to Stratford aboard this very boat. Which for six months past I'd
'ad a neye upon a girl in Stratford. She was a General--"
"--A Cook-general, in a very respectable 'ouse'old--a publican's, at the
'Four Alls' by Binton Bridges. Me bein' shy--as you may 'ave noticed--
I 'adn't, as you might say, put it to 'er; an' likewise until the matter
was settled I didn' like to tell 'Enery. But I interjuced 'im--the same
bein' 'er Sunday out; an' afterwards, when he called 'er a monstrous
fine girl, I felt as 'appy as if he'd given me ten shillin'. Which only
proves," Sam commented bitterly, "what I say in the next verse--"
"I'd rather be in prison
Than in this earthly dwellin',
Where nothin' is but it isn'--
An there ain't no means of tellin'!"
"--Which when, the night before he started, he comes to me an' says that
he an' Mary 'ave made a match of it, an' would I mind keepin' an eye on
'er an' writin' regilar to say 'ow she was gettin' on, it fair knocked