Part 3 out of 6
"You never told 'im?"
"I didn' like to. To start with 'e was always my fav'rite brother, an'
I couldn' bear his startin' in low sperits an' South Africa such a
distance off; beside which, I told mysel', the girl must surely know 'er
own mind. So now you know," concluded Sam, "what I means by the nex'
My true love she is false;
I 'd rather not go to Stratford-on-Avon
If I could go anywheres else."
"But you promised to keep an eye on her."
"'Enery 'ears from me regilar," said Sam evasively.
"If you don't pay 'er no visits," Tilda insisted, "the more you write
the more you must be tellin' lies; an' that's not fair to 'Enery."
Sam considered this for a while, and ended by drawing a folded scrap of
paper from his trouser-pocket.
"I don't tell no more than can't be 'elped, missie. You just list'n to
Dear Brother 'Enery,--This comes opin' to find you
well as it leaves me at Stratford. M. sends her love, an' you
will be pleased to 'ear she grows beautifuller every day an' in
character likewise. It do seem to me this world is a better
place for containin' of her; an' a man ought to be 'appy, dear
'Enery, when you can call 'er mine--"
"That don't seem right to me some'ow," commented Tilda.
Sam scratched his head.
"What's wrong with it?"
"'Pears to me it ought to be 'yours'--'When you can call her yours.'"
"I don't like that neither, not altogether. S'pose we scratch it out
an' say, 'A man ought to be 'appy when 'e can call 'er 'isn'? That what
schoolmaster calls the third person."
"There didn' ought to be no third person about it," said Tilda severely;
"on'y 'Enery an' 'er. Well, go on."
"I can't. That's so far as I've written up to the present. It's a
rough copy, you understand; an' at Stratford I allow to write it out
fair an' post it."
Tilda took a turn at considering.
"The further I go on this v'yage," she announced,--"w'ich, per'aps,
'twould be truthfuller to say the longer it takes--the more I seems to
get mixed up in other folks' business. But you've done me a good turn,
Sam Bossom; an' you've been open with me; an' I reckon I got to keep you
straight in this 'ere. There! put up yer verses while I sit an' think
"You don't like 'em?"
Sam was evidently dashed.
"If on'y I 'ad Bill 'ere--"
"Ha, yes: _'im!_ '_E_'d put a boiler inside 'em, no doubt; an' a
"What'yer talkin' about? . . . Oh, yer verses! Bless the man, I wasn'
thinkin' of yer verses. I was wantin' Bill 'ere, to advise somethin'
practical. Lor' sake! Look at Arthur Miles there, the way 'e's leanin'
overboard! The child'll drown' isself, nex' news!" She rose up and ran
to prevent the disaster. "'Pears to me there's a deal o' motherin' to
be done aboard this boat. Trouble aft, an' trouble forrard--"
She was hurrying aft when Mr. Mortimer intercepted her amidships.
He held a book in one hand, and two slips of paper in the other.
"Child," he asked, "could you learn a part?--a very small part?"
"'Course I could," answered Tilda promptly; "but I ain't goin' to play
it, an' don't yer make any mistake. 'Ere, let me get to Arthur Miles
before 'e tumbles overboard."
She darted aft and dragged the boy back by his collar.
"What d'yer mean by it, givin' folks a shock like that?" she demanded.
"I was looking at the pictures," he explained, and showed her.
The _Success to Commerce_ bore on her stern panels two gaily painted
landscapes, the one of Warwick Castle, the other of ruined Kenilworth.
Tilda leaned over the side and saw them mirrored in the still water.
"And then," the boy pursued, "down below the pictures I saw a great ship
lying in the seaweed with guns and drowned men on the deck and the
fishes swimming over them. Deep in the ship a bell was tolling--"
"Nonsense!" Tilda interrupted, and catching up a pole, thrust it down
overside. "Four feet at the most," she reported, as the pole found
bottom. "You must be sickenin' for somethin'. Put out your tongue."
"A child of imagination," observed Mr. Mortimer, who had followed her.
"Full fathom five thy father lies--"
"'Ush!" cried Tilda.
"--Of his bones are coral made. Those are pearls that were his eyes--"
The boy sat and looked up at the speaker, staring, shivering a little.
"You know? You know too?" he stammered.
"He knows nothin' about it," insisted Tilda. "Please go away, Mr.
"A young Shakespearian? This is indeed delightful! You shall have a
part, sir. Your delivery will be immature, doubtless; but with some
tuition from me--"
"If you try it on, I'll tell 'Ucks," the girl threatened, by this time
desperate. "You're like all the actors--leastways you're like all that
ever I met; an', take it 'ow you will, I got to say it. Once get
started on yer own lay, an' everything elst goes out o' yer 'eads.
You don't mean to 'urt, but selfish you are and 'eedless, an' somebody
'as al'ays the world's trouble clearin' up the mess. 'Ere, 'and me the
part you was tellin' about; an' I'll learn it an' say it, though not
within a 'undred miles of Glasson--which," she added, "I'll be an old
woman before that, at the rate we're goin'. But you don't drag Arthur
Miles into it, an' I give you fair warnin'. For, to start with, 'e's
'idin', an' 'tis only to keep 'im 'id that I got 'Ucks to let yer loose.
An' nex' 'e's a gentleman, and why you should want to mix 'im up with
yer Shakespeares I can't think."
It is doubtful if Mr. Mortimer heard the conclusion of her outburst.
At the mention of Mr. Hucks he pressed a palm dramatically to his
forehead; and now, withdrawing it, he handed her the two slips of paper
with great politeness.
"True, I had forgotten," he murmured. "Take your time, child--you will
take your time, I beg."
He waved his hand, and withdrew to rejoin his wife on the cabin-top.
Tilda studied the slips of paper, while Arthur Miles edged away again
towards the gunwale for another look into the magic water.
"Stop that!" she commanded, glancing up and catching him in the act.
"Stop that, and read these for me: I can't manage handwriting."
The boy took the first slip obediently and read aloud--
"_Madam, a horseman comes riding across the hill. The sun flashes full
on his arms. By my halidame 'tis the Knight Hospitaller!_"
"That seems pretty fair rot," criticised Tilda. "Let's 'ave the other."
"_ Madam, he has reined up his steed. He stands without._"
Here Arthur Miles paused and drew breath.
"It doesn't say. _He stands without: he waves a hand. Shall I go ask
his errand? _"
"Is that all? . . . And Mortimer reckons I'll take from 'ere to
Stratford learnin' that little lot! Why, I can do it in arf-a-minute,
an' on my 'ead. You just listen. _Madam, a 'orseman_--No, wait a
moment. _Madam, a Norseman_--" Tilda hesitated and came to a halt.
"Would you mind sayin' it over again, Arthur Miles?" she asked politely.
"_Madam, a horseman comes riding_--"
"That'll do. _Madam, a--H--h--horseman_--Is that better?"
"You needn't strain at it so," said the boy. "Why, you're quite red in
"Oh, yes, I need," said Tilda; "first-along, any'ow." She fell silent
for a space. "That Mortimer," she conceded, "isn' quite the ass that 'e
looks. This 'as got to take time, after all." She paused a moment in
thought, and then broke out, "Oh, Arthur Miles, the trouble you're
layin' on me--First, to be a mother--an' that's not 'ard. But, on top
o' that, lady!"
"Why should you be a lady?" he asked.
"Why?" Tilda echoed almost bitterly. "Oh, you needn' think I'll want
to marry yer when all's done. Why? Oh, merely to 'elp you, bein' the
sort you are. All you've got to do, bein' the sort you are, is to sit
quiet an' teach me. But I got to be a lady, if it costs me my shift."
At ten o'clock Sam harnessed up again, and shortly before noon our
travellers left the waterway by which they had travelled hitherto, and
passed out to the right through a cut, less than a quarter of a mile
long, where a rising lock took them into the Stratford-on-Avon Canal.
Said Sam as he worked the lock, the two children standing beside and
"Now see here, when you meet your clever friend Bill, you put him two
questions from me. First, why, when the boat's through, am I goin' to
draw the water off an' leave the lock empty?"
Before Tilda could answer, Arthur Miles exclaimed--
"I know! It's because we 're going uphill, and at the other locks, when
we were going downhill, the water emptied itself."
"Right, so far as you go," nodded Sam. "But why should a lock be left
The boy thought for a moment.
"Because you don't want the water to waste, and top gates hold it better
than lower ones."
"Why do the top gates hold it better?"
"Because they shut _with_ the water, and the water holds them fast; and
because they are smaller than the bottom gates, and don't leak so much."
"That's very cleverly noticed," said Sam. "Now you keep your eyes alive
while we work this one, an' tell me what you see."
They watched the operation carefully.
"Well?" he asked as, having passed the _Success to Commerce_ through, he
went back to open the lower paddles--or slats, as he called them.
"I saw nothing," the boy confessed disappointedly, "except that you
seemed to use more water than at the others."
"Well, and that's just it. But why?"
"It has something to do, of course, with going up-hill instead of
down . . . And--and I've got the reason somewhere inside my head, but I
can't catch hold of it."
"I'll put it another way. This boat's mod'rate well laden, an' she
takes more water lockin' up than if she was empty; but if she was empty,
she'd take more water lockin' down. That's a fac'; an' if you can give
me a reason for it you'll be doin' me a kindness. For I never could
find one, an' I've lain awake at nights puzzlin' it over."
"I bet Bill would know," said Tilda.
Sam eyed her.
"I'd give somethin'" he said, "to be sure this Bill, as you make such a
gawd of, is a real person--or whether, bein' born different to the rest
of yer sex, you've 'ad to invent 'im."
Many locks encumber the descending levels of the Stratford-on-Avon
Canal, and they kept Sam busy. In the intervals the boat glided deeper
and deeper into a green pastoral country, parcelled out with hedgerows
and lines of elms, behind which here and there lay a village half
hidden--a grey tower and a few red-tiled roofs visible between the
trees. Cattle dotted the near pastures, till away behind the trees--for
summer had passed into late September--the children heard now and again
the guns of partridge shooters cracking from fields of stubble. But no
human folk frequented the banks of the canal, which wound its way past
scented meadows edged with willow-herb, late meadow-sweet, yellow tansy
and purple loosestrife, this last showing a blood-red stalk as its bloom
died away. Out beyond, green arrowheads floated on the water; the
Success to Commerce ploughed through beds of them, and they rose from
under her keel and spread themselves again in her wake. Very little
traffic passed over these waters. In all the way to Preston Bagot our
travellers met but three boats. One, at Lowsonford Lock, had a pair of
donkeys ("animals" Sam called them) to haul it; the other two, they met,
coming up light by Fiwood Green. "Hold in!" "Hold out!" called the
steersmen as the boats met. Sam held wide, and by shouts instructed Mr.
Mortimer how to cross the towropes; and Mr. Mortimer put on an extremely
knowledgeable air, but obeyed him with so signal a clumsiness that the
bargees desired to know where the _Success to Commerce_ had shipped her
The question, though put with good humour, appeared to disturb Sam, who
for the rest of the way steered in silence. There are three locks at
Preston Bagot, and at the first Mr. Mortimer took occasion to apologise
for his performance, adding that practice made perfect.
"I wonder, now," said Sam delicately, "if you could practise leavin' off
that fur collar? A little unhandiness'll pass off, an' no account
taken; but with a furred overcoat 'tis different, an' I ought to
a-mentioned it before. We don't want the children tracked, do we?
An' unfort'nitly you're not one to pass in a crowd."
"You pay me a compliment," Mr. Mortimer answered. "Speaking, however,
as man to man, let me say that I would gladly waive whatever show my
overcoat may contribute to the--er--total effect to which you refer.
But"--here he unbuttoned the front of his garment--"I leave it to you to
judge if, without it, I shall attract less attention. _Laudatur_, my
dear Smiles, _et alget. Paupertas, dura paupertas_--I might, perhaps,
satisfy the curious gazer by producing the--er--pawntickets for the
missing articles. But it would hardly--eh, I put it to you?"
"No, it wouldn'," decided Sam. "But it's unfort'nit all the same, an'
in more ways'n one. You see, there's a nasty 'abit folks 'ave in these
parts. Anywheres between Warwick an' Birming'am a native can't 'ardly
pass a canal-boat without wantin' to arsk, ''Oo stole the rabbit-skin?'
I don't know why they arsk it; but when it 'appens, you've got to fight
the man--or elst _I_ must."
"I would suggest that, you being the younger man--"
"Well, I don't mind," said Sam. "On'y the p'int is I don't scarcely
never fight without attractin' notice. The last time 'twas five
shillin' an' costs or ten days. An' there's the children to be
During this debate Tilda and Arthur Miles had wandered ashore with
'Dolph, and the dog, by habit inquisitive, had headed at once for a
wooden storehouse that stood a little way back from the waterside--
a large building of two storeys, with a beam and pulley projecting from
the upper one, and heavy folding-doors below. One of these doors stood
open, and 'Dolph, dashing within, at once set up a frantic barking.
"Hullo!" Tilda stepped quickly in front of the boy to cover him.
"There's somebody inside."
The barking continued for almost half a minute, and then Godolphus
emerged, capering absurdly on his hind legs and revolving like a
dervish, flung up his head, yapped thrice in a kind of ecstasy, and
again plunged into the store.
"That's funny, too," mused Tilda. "I never knew 'im be'ave like that
'cept when he met with a friend. Arthur Miles, you stay where you
are--" She tiptoed forward and peered within. "Lord sake, come an'
look 'ere!" she called after a moment.
The boy followed, and stared past her shoulder into the gloom.
There, in the centre of the earthen floor, wrapped around with straw
bands, stood a wooden horse.
It was painted grey, with beautiful dapples, and nostrils of fierce
scarlet. It had a tail of real horse-hair and a golden mane, and on its
near shoulder a blue scroll with its name _Kitchener_ thereon in letters
of gold. Its legs were extended at a gallop.
"Gavel's!" said Tilda. "Gavel's, at ten to one an' no takers! . . . But
She turned on 'Dolph, scolding, commanding him to be quiet; and 'Dolph
subsided on his haunches and watched her, his stump tail jerking to and
fro beneath him like an unweighted pendulum. There was a label attached
to the straw bands. She turned it over and read: _James Gavel,
Proprietor, Imperial Steam Roundabouts, Henley-in-Arden. Deliver
Immediately_ . . . "An' me thinkin' Bill 'ad gone north to
Wolver'ampton!" she breathed.
Before the boy could ask her meaning they heard the rumble of wheels
outside; and Tilda, catching him by the arm, hurried him back to the
doors just as a two-horse wagon rolled down to the wharf, in charge of
an elderly driver--a sour-visaged man in a smock-frock, with a
weather-stained top hat on the back of his head, and in his hand a whip
adorned with rings of polished brass.
He pulled up, eyed the two children, and demanded to know what they
meant by trespassing in the store.
"We were admirin' the 'orse," answered Tilda.
"An' likewise truantin' from school," the wagoner suggested. "But
that's the way of it in England nowadays; the likes o' me payin' rates
to eddicate the likes o' you. An' that's your Conservative Government
. . . Eddication!" he went on after a pause. "What's Eddication?
Did either o' you ever 'ear tell of Joseph Arch?"
"Can't say we 'ave."
"He was born no farther away than Barford--Barford-on-Avon. But I
s'pose your schoolmaster's too busy teachin' you the pianner."
Tilda digested the somewhat close reasoning for a moment, and answered--
"It's fair sickenin', the amount o' time spent on the pianner. Between
you an' me, that's partly why we cut an' run. You mustn' think we 'ate
school--if on'y they'd teach us what's useful. 'Oo's Joseph Arch?"
"He was born at Barford," said the wagoner; "an' at Barford he lives."
"'E must be a remarkable man," said Tilda, "an' I'm sorry I don't know
more of 'im. But I know Gavel."
"'Im as the 'orse belongs to; an' Bill. Gavel's a remarkable man too in
'is way; though not a patch on Bill. Bill tells me Gavel can get drunk
twice any day; separate drunk, that is."
"Liberal or Conservative?"
"Well," hesitated Tilda, playing for safety, "I dunno as he 'd tell,
under a pint; but mos' likely it depends on the time o' day."
"I arsked," said the wagoner, "because he's hired by the Primrose Feet;
an' if he's the kind o' man to sell 'is princerples, I don't so much
mind 'ow bad the news I breaks to him."
The man searched in his pocket, and drew forth a greasy post card.
"He sent word to me there was six painted 'osses comin' by canal from
Burning'am, to be delivered at the Wharf this mornin'; an' would I fetch
'em along to the Feet Ground, Henley-in-Arden, without delay?"
"Henley-in-Arden!" exclaimed a voice behind the children; whereat Tilda
turned about with a start. It was the voice of Mr. Mortimer, who had
strolled across from the lock bank, and stood conning the wagon and
team. "Henley-in-Arden? O Helicon! If you'll excuse the remark, sir.
"Maybe I might," said the wagoner guardedly, "if I understood its
"Name redolent of Shakespeare! Of Rosalind and Touchstone, Jaques and
Amiens, sheepcrooks and venison feasts, and ballads pinned to oaks!
What shall he have who killed the deer, Mr.--?"
"'Olly," said the wagoner.
"I beg your pardon?"
"'Olly--James 'Olly and Son, Carters an' 'Auliers."
"Is it possible? . . . better and better! Sing heigho! the Holly, this
life is most jolly. I trust you find it so, Mr. Holly?"
"If you want to know," Mr. Holly answered sourly, "I don't."
"You pain and astonish me, Mr. Holly. The penalty of Adam, the season's
difference"--Mr. Mortimer turned up his furred collar--"surely, sir, you
will allow no worse to afflict you? You, a dweller on the confines of
Henley-in-Arden, within measurable distance, as I gathered?"
"Mile an' a 'arf."
"No more? O Phoebus and the Nine!"
"There _was_," said Mr. Holly, "to 'a been six. An' by consequence here
I be with a pair of 'osses an' the big wagon. Best go home-along, I
reckon, an' fetch out the cart," he grumbled, with a jerk of his thumb
indicating a red-tiled building on the hillside, half a mile away.
"Not so." Mr. Mortimer tapped his brow. "An idea occurs to me--if you
will spare me a moment to consult with my--er--partner. A Primrose
Fete, you said? I am no politician, Mr. Holly, but I understand the
Primrose League exists--primarily--or ultimately--to save our world-wide
empire. And how shall an empire stand without its Shakespeare?
Our tent and appliances will just load your wagon. As the younger Dumas
observed, 'Give me two boards, two trestles, three actors'--but the
great Aeschylus did with two--'two actors,' let us say--'and a
passion'--provided your terms are not prohibitive . . . Hi, Smiles!
Approach, Smiles, and be introduced to Thespis. His charge is three
shillings. At the price of three shillings behold, Smiles, the golden
age returned! Comedy carted home through leafy ways shall trill her
woodnotes--her native woodnotes wild--in Henley-in-Arden!"
The wagon had been packed and had departed, Mrs. Mortimer perched high
on a pile of tent cloths, and Mr. Mortimer waving farewells from the
The two children, left with instructions to keep near the boat and in
hiding, had made a nest for themselves among the stalks of loosestrife,
and sat watching the canal for sign of a moorhen or a water-rat.
The afternoon was bright and very still, with a dazzle on the water and
a faint touch of autumn in the air--the afterglow of summer soon to pass
into grey chills and gusts of rain. For many minutes neither had
"Look!" said Tilda, pointing to a distant ripple drawn straight across
the surface. "There goes a rat, and I've won!"
The boy said--
"A boat takes up room in the water, doesn't it?"
"0' course it does. But what's that got to do with rats?"
"Nothing. I was thinking of Sam's puzzle, and I've guessed it. A boat
going downwards through a lock would want a lock full, all but the water
it pushes out from the room it takes up. Wouldn't it?"
"I s'pose so," said Tilda doubtfully.
"But a boat going up will want a lock full, and that water too. And
that's why an empty boat going downhill takes more water than a loaded
one, and less going up."
To Tilda the puzzle remained a puzzle. "It _sounds_ all right," she
allowed. "But what makes you so clever about boats?"
"I've _got_ to know about them. Else how shall we ever find the
She thought for half a minute.
"You're sure about that Island?" she asked, a trifle anxiously.
Arthur Miles turned to her with a confident smile.
"Of course I'm sure."
"Well, we'll arsk about it when we get to Stratford-on-Avon."
She was about to say more, but checked herself at sight of a barge
coming down the canal--slowly, and as yet so far away that the tramp of
the tow-horse's hoofs on the path was scarcely audible. She laid a hand
on 'Dolph's collar and pressed him down in the long grass, commanding
him to be quiet, whilst she and the boy wriggled away towards an alder
bush that stood a furlong back from the bank.
Stretched at length behind the bush, she had, between the fork of its
stem, a clear view of the approaching boat. Its well coverings were
loose, and by the upper lock gate the steersman laid it close along
shore and put out a gang-plank. His mate, after fitting a nosebag on
the horse, came at a call to assist him, and together they lifted out a
painted wooden steed wrapped in straw, and carried it to the store.
Having deposited it there, they returned and unloaded another. Five
horses they disembarked and housed thus; and then, like men relieved of
a job, spat on their hands and turned to work their boat down through
the locks. For twenty minutes the children lay prone and watched them,
Tilda still keeping a hand on the scruff of 'Dolph's neck. Then, as the
boat, having gained a clear reach of water, faded down in the gathering
dusk, she arose and stretched herself.
"For anyone but Bill I wouldn' risk it," she said. "But maybe his
credit depends on gettin' them 'osses delivered to-night."
She took Arthur Miles by the hand, found the road, and dragged him
uphill at a trot towards the group of red brick buildings that showed
between the trees.
The buildings consisted of a cottage and a long stable or coach-house
contiguous. This presented a blank white-washed wall to the road, but a
Gloire de Dijon rose spread itself over the cottage front, almost
smothering a board with the inscription: _S. Holly and Son, Carters and
Tilda knocked, and her knock was answered by a sour-visaged woman.
"Well, an' what can I do for you?" asked the woman, staring down from
her doorstep on the children.
"If you please, ma'am, is Mr. 'Olly at 'ome?"
"No, he ain't."
"I knew it," said Tilda tranquilly. "But by all accounts 'e's got a
The woman still stared, divided between surprise and mistrust.
"You're mistakin'," Tilda pursued. "I ain't come with any scandal about
the fam'ly. A grown-up son, I mean--with a 'orse an' cart. Because, if
so, there's five gallopin' 'orses down at the wharf waitin' to be taken
over to Henley-in-Arden."
"Oh?" said the woman. "My 'usband left word Gustavus was to fetch 'em
along if they arrived. But who sent you with the message?"
"I've a friend in Gavel's business," Tilda answered with dignity.
"'E's what you might call Gavel's right 'and man--an' 'e's 'andy with
'is right, too, when 'e's put out. If 'e should 'ear--I'm advisin' for
yer _good_, mind--if 'e should 'ear as five 'orses was 'ung up on the
wharf 'ere through S. 'Olly an' Son's neglect, you may look out for
ructions. An' that's all I promise."
She turned back towards the wharf, and even as Arthur Miles turned to
follow they could hear the woman calling loudly, summoning her son from
his tea in the kitchen.
"I reckon," commented Tilda, "I put the fear o' Bill into that woman.
You may 'a noticed I didn' like her looks."
She led the way back to the wharf in some elation. Twilight was
gathering there and over the canal. She had rounded the corner of the
store, when, happening to glance towards the _Success to Commerce_,
moored under the bank a bare twenty yards away, she halted, and with a
gasp shrank close into the shadow.
"Collar 'Dolph! Grip old on 'im for the Lord's sake!" she whispered,
and clutched Arthur Miles by the arm.
On the bank beside the boat stood a man.
"But what's the matter?" the boy demanded.
"'Ush! Oh, 'ush an' lie close! It's Glasson!"
ADVENTURE OF THE FURRED COLLAR.
"'_Do you know me, my lord?'
'Excellent well; you are a fishmonger._'"--HAMLET.
He stood on the edge of the wharf--a black figure in an Inverness cape--
with his back towards the angle of the store where the children hid.
There was no mistaking him. For two nights he had haunted Tilda's
dreams; and she could have picked him out, even in the twilight, from
among a thousand.
She gave another gasp, and with that her presence of mind returned.
He had not seen them; he was watching the barge. The angle of the store
would still hide them if they tip-toed to the wharf gate. But they must
be noiseless as mice; they must reach the road, and then--
She caught up 'Dolph by the scruff of his neck, tucked him under her
arm, and whispered to Arthur Miles to steal after her. But before she
had taken three paces another fright brought her heart into her mouth.
Footsteps were coming down the road. They could not belong to the
wagoner's son. He would be bringing his horse and cart. The footsteps
were light, too--light and hurried, and not to be associated with
Almost desperate at this cutting off of retreat, Tilda pulled Arthur
Miles towards a wooden stairway, unrailed, painted over with Stockholm
tar, built against the outside of the store, and leading to its upper
"Up! and quick!" she commanded, pushing him before her. She followed
panting, leaning against the wall for support, for 'Dolph was no light
burden, and his weight taxed her hurt leg painfully.
The door of the loft stood ajar. She staggered in after the boy,
dropped the dog, and closed all but a chink, at which she posted
herself, drawing quick breaths.
In the darkness behind her Arthur Miles listened. The footsteps drew
nearer, paused, and after a moment were audible again in the yard below.
"Good Lord--it's Gavel!"
"Eh?" The boy drew closer to her shoulder.
"It's Gavel, come in a sweat for 'is 'orses. I didn' reckernise 'im for
the moment--dressed out in a fur coat an' Trilby 'at. But it's Gavel,
an' 'e's walkin' straight into Glasson's arms. Stand by to do a bolt
soon as 'e turns the corner."
"But I don't see what he has to do with--with--" Arthur Miles hesitated
before the terrible name.
"Glasson? Oh, nothin'; on'y ten to one Gavel's met with the Mortimers,
an', Glasson bein' on the track already--W'y, what elst is the man 'ere
"He shan't take me," said the boy after a pause, and in a strained low
voice which, nevertheless, had no tremor in it. "Not if I throw myself
off the ladder."
"You stop that talk, please," threatened Tilda. "It's wicked; an'
besides, they 'aven't caught us yet. Do what I tell yer, an' stand by
She crept to the other door, which commanded the canal front, unbarred
it softly, and opened the upper hatch a few inches. Through this
aperture, by standing on tip-toe, she could watch the meeting of the two
"When I call, run for yer life."
But a minute--two minutes--passed, and the command did not come.
Arthur Miles, posted by the bolt-hole, held his breath at the sound of
voices without, by the waterside. The tones of one he recognised with a
shiver. They were raised, and although he could not catch the words,
apparently in altercation. Forgetting orders, he tip-toed across to
Mr. James Gavel, proprietor of Imperial Steam Roundabouts--as well as of
half a dozen side-shows, including a Fat Lady and a Try-your-Strength
machine--was a small man with a purplish nose and a temper kept
irritable by alcohol; and to-day the Fates had conspired to rub that
temper on the raw. He swore aloud, and partly believed, that ever since
coming to Henley-in-Arden he was bewitched.
He had come at the instance, and upon the guarantee, of Sir Elphinstone
Breward, Baronet, C.B., K.C.V.O., a local landowner, who, happening to
visit Warwick on County Council business, which in its turn happened to
coincide with a fair day, had been greatly struck by the title
"Imperial" painted over Mr. Gavel's show, and with soldierly promptness
had engaged the whole outfit--Roundabouts, Fat Lady and all--for his
forthcoming Primrose Fete.
If beside his addiction to alcohol Mr. Gavel had a weakness, it was the
equally British one of worshipping a title. Flattered by the honest
baronet's invitation, he had met it almost more than half-way; and had
dispatched six of his shabbiest horses to Birmingham to be repainted for
the fete, and labelled "Kitchener," "Bobs," "Cecil Rhodes," "Doctor
Jim," "Our Joe," and "Strathcona"--names (as he observed) altogether
more up to date than the "Black Prince," "Brown Bess," "Saladin," and
others they superseded.
Respect for his patron had further prompted Mr. Gavel, on the morning of
the fete, to don a furred overcoat, and to swear off drink for the day.
This abstinence, laudable in itself, disastrously affected his temper,
and brought him before noon into wordy conflict with his engineer.
The quarrel, suppressed for the time, flamed out afresh in the
afternoon, and, unfortunately, at a moment when Sir Elphinstone, as
chairman, was introducing the star orator from London. Opprobrious
words had reached the ears of the company gathered on the platform, and
Sir Elphinstone had interrupted his remarks about Bucking Up and
Thinking Imperially to send a policeman through the crowd with
instructions to stop that damned brawling.
If the great Napoleon may be forgiven for losing his temper when at five
in the afternoon from the slope of La Belle Alliance he watched the
Prussians breaking through the opposite woods, while Grouchy yet
tarried, let it be pleaded in excuse for Mr. Gavel that ever since
eleven a.m. he had been awaiting the arrival of his six newly-painted
horses. The Birmingham decorator had pledged himself to deliver them
early at Preston Bagot, and Mr. Gavel knew him for a man of his word.
He had made arrangements for their prompt conveyance to the field.
He did not doubt, but he was undeniably anxious.
Imagine, then, his feelings when at four o'clock or a little later a
wagon--the wagon of his hiring--rolled into the enclosure bringing one
horse only, and in place of the others a pile of tent-cloths and
theatrical boxes, on which sat and smiled Mr. and Mrs. Mortimer, his
He had been drinking ginger-ale all day, and in copious draughts.
It must be confessed that he lost his temper woefully, and so
vociferously that Sir Elphinstone this time descended from the platform,
and strode across the meadow to demand what the devil he meant by it.
Nor was even this the last drop in the cup of Mr. Gavel's bitterness;
for the baronet, struck by Mr. Mortimer's appearance and genteel
address, at once invited him to set up his tent and save the situation
so desperately compromised.
Sam Bossom, perceiving that the wagon stood on ground well adapted for
pitching a tent, cheerfully proceeded to unload. Mr. Gavel watched in
speechless rage. Old Holly, the carrier, suggested that there was no
need to give up hope of the horses. They might turn up yet before dark.
Boats came down the canal at all hours of the day.
"Then why couldn't you have waited and given 'em a chance?" foamed the
proprietor; and commanding Holly to turn the empty wagon and follow, he
strode off in the direction of the Wharf. The afternoon was hot.
His furred coat oppressed him; his shoes--of patent leather, bought
ready-made--pinched his feet. On the road he came to a public-house,
entered, and gulped down two "goes" of whisky. Still the wagon lagged
behind. Re-emerging, he took the road again, his whole man hot within
his furred coat as a teapot within a cosy.
In this temper, then, Mr. Gavel came to the wharf at Preston Bagot
locks, and finding the _Success to Commerce_ moored there with a tall
man apparently in charge, demanded if he came from Birmingham.
"Or thereabouts," answered the tall man, eyeing him. "From there or
thereabouts. And, if I mistake not, you are the--er--person of whom I
came in search."
The man's voice took Mr. Gavel somewhat aback. It did not resemble an
ordinary bargee's. But at the moment he could no more check the
explosion of his wrath than you can hold back a cork in the act of
popping from a bottle of soda-water.
"Curse your laziness!" exploded Mr. Gavel; "and this is your notion of
searching for me, is it?"
"It appears to be a pretty successful one," said Dr. Glasson.
"I've discovered you, anyhow; and now I suggest to you that swearing
won't help the reckoning between us."
"Oh, stow your fine talk! I've heard of sea-lawyers, and I suppose
you're a canal specimen. Carriage was paid at the other end, and you
know it. I catch you here loafing, and I'm going to dispute the bill--
which means that you'll get the sack, my friend, whether I recover the
money or no. Pounds out of pocket I am by this, not to speak of
reputation. Where are they? Where have you put 'em?"
"That's what I'll trouble _you_ to answer, sir."
"My hosses! . . . You don't mean to tell me--" Mr. Gavel smote his brow.
"But you said just now you were looking for me!" he cried.
"You act well, sir," said Dr. Glasson sternly. "It is your profession.
But, as it happens, I have made inquiries along the canal, and am proof
against your bluster. A boat, the _Success to Commerce_--a bargeman in
a furred overcoat--the combination is unusual, and not (I put it to you)
likely to be repeated on this short stretch of waterway. Confess, Mr.--
confess, sir, your game is up. Kidnapping is an ugly offence in this
country, and, in short, I advise you without more ado to hand over the
Mr. Gavel leaned back against a crane for support.
"Children? What children?" he repeated, staring.
Clearly here was some hideous blunder, and he perceived at length that
the person addressing him in no way resembled a bargee.
"But--but my hosses?" he gasped.
Just then the sound of wheels fell on his ears, and both men faced
about. Mr. Gavel made sure that this must be old Holly with his wagon.
But no; there came around the corner a cart with a single horse, driven
by a lad; and the lad, pulling up before the store, went in, and in less
than a minute reappeared staggering under a heavy burden.
"But, Hallo!" cried Mr. Gavel, pulling himself together, and striding
towards the cart. "It _is_--" he began incredulously; but after a
second look raised his voice in triumphant recognition and demand.
"My hosses! What are you doing with my hosses?"
"Yours, be they?" the lad answered. "Well, I'm takin' 'em to Henley, as
you sent word."
"_I_ sent word?" echoed Mr. Gavel.
"_Somebody_ sent word," the lad persisted. "An' in the devil of a
'urry, 'cordin' to the child what brought it. But, as I said to mother,
where's the sense in sendin' messages by children?"
"There was two on 'em--a boy an' a girl--"
"Ah!" interrupted Dr. Glasson. "Describe them, please."
The lad scratched his head.
"Mother took the message. I was indoors, havin' tea, an' didn' see more
'n a glimpse. But here comes father," he added briskly, as again wheels
were heard on the road, and old Holly drove into the yard with his
"You must admit, sir," said Dr. Glasson, addressing Mr. Gavel, "that
circumstances are beginning to look too strong for you."
"Oh, to--with circumstances!" retorted Mr. Gavel. "Mortimer's in this,
for a fiver. I don't see how--I don't make head or tail of it; but the
tail you've got hold of belongs to the wrong dog. Kidnapping, is it?
A couple of children you want? Suspect me, do you? Well, suspect away.
_I_ don't mind. I've got my hosses; and when we're loaded up you can
climb on board the wagon, if you like, and we'll pay a call on Mortimer.
I bet he's your man; and the harder you pinch Mortimer to make him
squeal, the better you'll please me."
"Arthur Miles," demanded Tilda in a harsh whisper, "what're yer doin'
"Listening," answered the boy simply.
"I 'opes yer likes it! . . . We're in a tight corner, Arthur Miles, an'
nothing for it but bolt while they're talkin'."
"We might hide here in the dark--but, of course, you know best."
"O' course I do," Tilda agreed. "'Ide 'ere? An' who's to warn the
She stooped and again caught 'Dolph under her arm. Then she
straightened herself up and stood listening to the voices, clearly
audible from the entrance of the store below.
"Tip-toe, mind! There's on'y a board between us--and quiet, for your
They stole to the steps and paused for a moment, peering into the gloom.
Here too their enemies' voices were audible, but around the corner of
the store, the coast was clear. They crept down the steps and gained
the road. In the highway Tilda drew breath.
"Things look pretty bad," she said; "but things ain't altogether so bad
as they look. Where we're goin' we'll find Bill; an' Bill's a tower o'
"But we don't even know the way," objected Arthur Miles.
"No, but 'Dolph does. 'Ere, 'Dolph"--she set down the dog--"you got to
lead us where the others went; an' at the end of it there's a little
surprise for yer. 'Ear?"
'Dolph heard, shook himself, wagged his tail, and padded forward into
the gathering darkness; ran a little way and halted, until they overtook
him. He understood.
"If they catch up with us we must nip into a gateway," panted Tilda.
But as yet there was no sound of wheels on the road behind. They passed
the Hollys' cottage and stable, and braved the undiscovered country.
The road twisted between tall hedgerows, black in the shadow of elms.
No rain had fallen for many days, and the powdered dust lay so thick
underfoot, that twice or thrice Tilda halted--still holding the boy's
hand--in doubt if they had wandered off upon turf. But always, as they
hesitated thus, 'Dolph came trotting back to reassure them.
In this manner, trotting and pausing, they had covered a bare
three-quarters of a mile when there smote on their ears a throbbing of
the air--a thud-thud which Arthur Miles took for the beat of a factory
engine, so like it was to the echoes that had floated daily, and all day
long, across the Orphanage wall; but Tilda, after hearkening a moment,
announced it to be the bass of Gavel's steam organ. The hoot of a
whistle presently confirmed her guess.
'Dolph was steering them steadily towards the sound; and a glow in the
sky, right ahead and easily discernible, would have guided them even
without his help. Tilda recognised that glow also.
"And the best is, it means Bill," she promised.
But they did not catch the tune itself until they were close upon the
meadow. At the top of a rise in the road it broke on them, the scene
almost simultaneously with its music; and a strange scene it was, and
curiously beautiful--a slope, and below the slope a grassy meadow set
with elms; a blaze of light, here and there in the open spaces; in one
space a steam roundabout revolving with mirrors, in another the soft
glow of naphtha-lamps through tent cloth; glints of light on the
boughs, dark shadows of foliage, a moving crowd, its murmur so silenced
by music and the beat of a drum that it seemed to sway to and fro
without sound, now pressing forward into the glare, now dissolving into
Arthur Miles paused, trembling. He had never seen the like. But Tilda
had recovered all her courage.
"This," she assured him, "is a little bit of all right," and taking his
hand, led him down the slope and posted him in the shadow of a
"Wait here," she enjoined; and he waited, while she descended cautiously
towards the roundabout with its revolving mirrors.
He lost sight of her. He lay still where she had commanded him to lie,
watching the many twinkling lights, watching the roundabout turn and
flash and come to a stop, watching the horseplay of boys and maidens as
one set clambered off laughing and another pressed forward into their
places. The tune droned in his ears, came to an end, went on again.
He drowsed to its recurrent beat. From his couch in the wet shadow he
gazed up at the stars riding overhead, above the elms.
At the end of twenty minutes Tilda stole back to him; and, softly though
she came, her footfall woke him out of his dreams with a start.
Yet, and though he could barely discern her from the shadow of the
thorn-bush, he knew on the instant that she brought disappointment.
"What's the matter?" he asked.
"Everything's the matter. Bill's gone!"
ADVENTURE OF THE PRIMROSE FETE.
"_Confusion and Exeunt._"--OLD STAGE DIRECTION.
"Gone?" echoed the boy blankly.
"'Ad a row with Gavel this very aft'rnoon. Got the sack, with a week's
pay, an' packed up his kit after tea an' 'ooked it. Bess Burton told
me all about it, knowin' me an' Bill to be friends--she's the woman
sits at the pay-table an' gives the change. 'E wouldn' tell nobody
where 'e was goin'. Ain't cryin' about it, are yer?"
"No," he answered, as she peered close to him in the darkness.
"Only we'd built everything on Bill, hadn't we?"
Tilda did not answer this question.
"That's the way with Bill," she said loyally. "Folks never know 'is
worth till they miss 'im. Bess allowed to me that before the evenin's
out Gavel will be offerin' 'is shirt to 'ave 'im back--an' Bess don't
know the worst neither. They've put on a boy to work the engine, an'
Bill 'as told me things about that boiler o' Gavel's . . . I couldn' get
near enough to read the pressure, but by the way 'e was pilin' in
She broke off and gazed down the slope. Even as once the poet Gray
looked down from the Windsor's heights up the distant prospect of Eton
College, so did she regard the cluster of naphtha lights around the
galloping horses on which, unconscious of their doom, the little victims
"But there's no call to give up an' cry about it," she resumed bravely.
"We're in a tight place, but it's our turn to play. (That's another
sayin' o' Bill's. Oh, dear, I wish you'd known 'im!) You see, we know
where Glasson is an' what 'e's up to, an' can look out accordin'.
That's one card to us. An' the next is, I've seen Sam Bossom an' warned
'im. 'E was standin' outside 'is show, an' not darin' to go in; the
reason bein' Mortimer 'ad picked up a girl from the shootin' gallery,
that used to belong to 'is company, and 'e an' she an' Mrs. Mortimer are
doing the last act of _Othello_ life size an' tuppence coloured, an' Sam
says 'e can't look on an' command 'is feelin's. 'E was considerable
surprised to see me, an' started scoldin'; but I left 'im promisin' that
'e'd put a stop to Glasson some'ow, if it had to be on the point o' the
jaw; an' we're to nip across and 'ide under the Grand Stand until he
comes for us or sends word. See it?"
She pointed across to a crowded platform on the farther slope--a
structure of timber draped with scarlet cloth, and adorned with palms
and fairy lamps. It stood on the rise a little above and to the left of
the roundabout, the flares of which lit up the faces and gay dresses of
Sir Elphinstone's guests gathered there to watch the show.
The two children made down the slope towards it, very cautiously,
fetching a circuit of the crowd. But as they reached the bottom of the
dip, on a sudden the crowd spread itself in lines right across their
path. Along these lines three or four men ran shouting, with ropes and
lanterns in their hands; and for one horrible moment it flashed on Tilda
that all this agitation must be the hue-and-cry.
"Clear the course! Course, course! Just startin'--the great Ladies'
Race! Clear the course!"
So it was only a race, after all! Tilda gripped the boy's hand tightly,
and held him at stand-still some paces in rear of the crowd. But of
this caution there was little need. All the faces were turned the other
way; all the crowd pressed forwards against the ropes which the
lantern-bearers drew taut to fence off the course. A pistol-shot
cracked out. Someone cried, "They're off!" and a murmur grew and
rolled nearer--rising, as it approached, from a murmur into great
waves--waves of Homeric laughter.
The race went by, and a stranger race Tilda had never beheld.
The competitors were all women, of all ages--village girls, buxom
matrons, withered crones--and each woman held a ladle before her in
which an egg lay balanced. Some were in sun-bonnets, others in their
best Sunday headdress. Some had kilted their skirts high. Others were
all dishevelled with the ardour of the race. The leader--a gaunt
figure with spoon held rigidly before her, with white stockinged legs,
and a truly magnificent stride--had come and passed before Tilda could
believe her eyes. After a long interval three others tottered by in a
cluster. The fifth dropped her egg and collapsed beside it, to be
hauled to her feet and revived by the stewards amid inextinguishable
laughter from the crowd. In all, fourteen competitors rolled in, some
with empty ladles, some laughing and protesting that not a step farther
could they stir. But, long before the crowd closed in, Tilda saw the
winner breast a glimmering line of tape stretched at the end of the
course, and heard the shouts saluting her victory.
"But who is it?"
"Miss Sally, if ever you heard the like! . . . But there! blood will
"It's years since I seen her," said a woman.
"You don't say! Never feared man nor devil, my mother used to tell.
An' to run in a race along with the likes of Jane Pratt! But you never
can reckon wi' the gentry--what they'll do, or what they won't."
"With half the county, too, lookin' on from the Grand Stand! I bet Sir
"And I'll bet Miss Sally don't care how hard he cusses. She could do a
bit o' that too in her time, by all accounts."
"Ay, a monstrous free-spoken lady always. Swearin' don't sit well upon
womankind, I allow--not as a rule. But when there's blood, a damn up
or down--what is it? For my part I never knew a real gentleman--or lady
for that matter--let out a downright thumper but I want to cry
'Old England for ever!'"
Finding it hopeless to skirt the crowd, the children made a plunge
through it, with 'Dolph at their heels. But as the crush abated and
they breasted the farther slope, Tilda made two discoveries; the first,
that whereas a few minutes since the platform had held a company of
people among its palms and fairy-lamps, it was now deserted; the second,
that the mob at the winning-post had actually shouldered Miss Sally, and
was carrying her in triumph towards the platform, with a brass band
bobbing ahead and blaring _See, the Conquering Hero comes!_
This second discovery was serious, for the procession's line of march
threatened to intercept them. But luckily the bandsmen, who set the
pace, moved slowly, and by taking hands and running the children reached
the platform in time, skirted its darker side, and dived under its
scarlet draperies into the cavernous darkness beneath the boards.
Here they drew breath, and Tilda again clutched the dog. They were in
time, but with a very little to spare. In less than a minute the mob
surged all around the platform, shouting, hooraying.
"Three cheers for Miss Sally! The Ham--where's the Ham? Give Miss Sally
the Ham! Silence, there--silence for Sir Elphinstone! Speech from Sir
By and by the hubbub died down a little, but still there were cries of
"Sir Elphinstone for ever!" "Miss Sally for ever!" and "Your sister's
won the Ham, sir!" A high-pitched voice on the outskirts of the throng
began to chant--
"For really it was a remarkable 'am!"
But got no further, being drowned first by sporadic, uneasy laughter,
and then by a storm of hisses. A tremendous roar of laughter followed,
and this (although Tilda could not guess it) was evoked by Miss Sally's
finding the ham where it stood derelict on a table among the greenhouse
plants, lifting it off its plate and brandishing it before the eyes of
Tilda could see nothing of this. But she was listening with all her
might, and as the uproar died down again she caught the accents of a
man's voice attempting a speech.
"My friends," it was saying, still lifting itself higher against the
good-humoured interruptions, "my very good friends--impossible not to be
gratified--expression of good will--venture to say, on the whole--
thoroughly enjoyable afternoon. My sister"--(interruptions and cheers
for Miss Sally)--"my sister begs me to say--highly gratified--spirit of
the thing--but, if I may plead, some degree of fatigue only natural--
won't misunderstand if I ask--disperse--quietly as possible--eh?
Oh, yes, 'God save the King,' by all means--much obliged, reminder--
thank you--yes, certainly."
Thereupon the band played the National Anthem, and the throng, after yet
another outbreak of cheering, dispersed. Followed a silence in the
darkness under the platform, broken only by the distant thudding bass of
the roundabout's steam organ; and then between the boards there sounded
a liquid chuckle, much like a blackbird's, and a woman's voice said--
"Come, my dear brother, say it out! The Countess has gone; everybody
has gone--she must have stampeded 'em, by the way--and as the Jew said,
when a thunderstorm broke on the picnic, 'Here's a fuss over a little
bit of ham!' Well, my dear, there has always been this about Sally--
a man can swear before her _sans gene_. So, to give you a start, how
did they take it?"
"If after these years I didn't know you to be incorrigible--" growled
the voice of Sir Elphinstone.
"'For ladies of all ages,' the bills said."
"I am quoting your own bill--I'll bet a fiver, too, that you drafted it.
Anyway, I'm rising forty--though I'd defy 'em to tell it by my teeth.
And since they passed me for a lady--oh, Elphinstone, it _was_ a lark!
And I never thought I had the wind for it. You remember Kipling--you
are always quoting that young man--"
'The dun he fled like a stag of ten, but the mare like a
"Well, that's how it was: 'Like a barren doe,' I give you my word."
"My dear Sally!"
"Shameless, was it? My dear Elphinstone, you've only to bill it, and
I'll do Lady Godiva for 'em next year--at _my_ time of life. But if you
don't like Kipling, what do you say to this?"
'For really this was a remarkable Ham,
A twenty-pound solid Imperial Ham,
And old Mrs. Liddicott
Tucked up her petticoat--'
"Which reminds me that the crowd specially cheered my white Balbriggans.
They are out of date, but I could never fancy my legs in anything but
"What on earth are you reading?"
"The local paper--Opposition. Haven't you seen it? There's a whole
column in verse about you, Elphinstone; hits you off to a hair, and none
so badly written. I'd a mind to show it to the Countess and Lady Mary,
but slipped it under the table cloth and at the last moment forgot it in
your eloquence. You really must listen--"
'Sir Elphinstone Breward
He rang for his steward,
And "Damme," said he, looking up from his letters,
This side of the county
That feeds on my bounty
's forgotten all proper respect of its betters.'
"The devil!" interrupted Sir Elphinstone. "It's that dirty little
"You recognise the style? It gets neater, to my thinking, as it goes
'Agitators and pillagers
Stir up my villagers--
Worst of those fellows, so easily led!
Some haven't food enough,
Else it ain't good enough,
Others object to sleep three in a bed.'
'Deuce take their gratitude!
"Life"--that's the attitude--
"Dullish and hard, on the parish half-crown!"
Dull? Give 'em circuses!
Hard? Ain't there work'uses?
What _can_ they see to attract 'em to town?'
"--Neat, in its way," commented Miss Sally, pausing.
"Neat? _I_ call it subversive and damnable!"
"Listen! The next is a stinger--"
'Something quite recent, now:
"Drainage ain't decent," now:
Damme, when _was_ it? I've known, if you please,
Old tenants, better ones,
Never heard _they_ required w.c.'s--'
"My _dear_ Sally!"
"I read you the thing as it's printed," said Miss Sally, with another
["Ain't it just 'eavingly?" whispered Tilda below, clutching the boy's
arm while she listened.
"The voice of 'er. If I could on'y speak words that way!"]
"He goes on," pursued Miss Sally, "to tell how you and Saunders--that's
your new bailiff's name, is it not?--cooked up this woman's race between
you as a step towards saving the Empire. The language is ribald in
places, I allow; but I shouldn't greatly wonder if that, more or less,
is how it happened. And any way I've come to the rescue, and kept the
Imperial Ham in the family."
"I have sometimes thought, Sally--if you will forgive my putting it
brutally--that you are half a Radical yourself."
Thereat, after a moment's pause, the lady laughed musically. Almost in
the darkness you could see her throwing back her head and laughing.
She had a noble contralto voice, with a rich mannish purr in it.
"You are mistaken, Elphinstone. But even so, my excellent brother, you
might understand it--if your estate lay in the west and ran with Miles
Tilda's small body stiffened with a gasp, 'Miles Chandon'--the name had
sounded on her hearing distinct as the note of a bell. There was no
mistake: it hummed in her ears yet. Or was it the blood rushing to her
ears as she sat bolt upright in the darkness, listening, breathing hard?
Sir Elphinstone, for some reason, had not answered his sister. When at
length he spoke, it was in a changed tone, at once careless and more
"See anything of Chandon in these days?"
"Nothing at all; or--to put the same thing differently--just so much of
him as his tenants see. We were talking of tenantry. Miles Chandon
leaves everything to his steward. Now, between ourselves, all stewards,
land agents, bailiffs--whatever you choose to call 'em--are the curse of
our system, and Miles Chandon's happens to be the worst specimen."
"H'm," said Sir Elphinstone reflectively. "Poor devil!" he added, a few
moments later, and then--Miss Sally giving him no encouragement to
pursue the subject--"Ten minutes past seven--the car will be waiting.
What do you say to getting home for dinner?"
"If I may bring the Ham." Miss Sally laughed and pushed back her chair.
"Wait a minute--we will wrap it up in the poem. 'Exit Atalanta,
carrying her Ham in a newspaper'--how deliciously vulgar! Elphinstone,
you have always been the best of brothers; you are behaving
beautifully--and--and I never could resist shocking you; but we're pretty
fond of one another, eh?"
"I've consistently spoilt you, if that's what you mean," he grumbled.
They were leaving the platform. Tilda whispered to the boy to take hold
"And I'm goin' to leave yer for a bit." She edged past him on hands and
knees towards the vallance draperies. "You 'eard what she said?
Well, keep quiet 'ere an' don't be frightened. If Sam comes, tell 'im
I'll be back in five minutes."
She dived out beneath the vallance, caught a glimpse of Miss Sally and
Sir Elphinstone making their way at a brisk pace through the crowd, and
hurried up the slope in pursuit. It was difficult to keep them in
sight, for everyone made way upon recognising them, but showed less
consideration for a small panting child; and the head of the field, by
the exit gate, was packed by a most exasperating throng pressing to
admire a giant motor-car that waited in the roadway with lamps blazing
and a couple of men in chauffeurs' dress keeping guard in attitudes of
sublime _hauteur_. Sir Elphinstone, with Miss Sally on his arm, reached
the car while yet Tilda struggled in the gateway. A policeman roughly
ordered her back. She feigned to obey, and dropping out of sight,
crawled forth past the policeman's boots, with her head almost butting
the calves of a slow-moving yeoman farmer. Before she could straighten
herself up Sir Elphinstone had climbed into the car after his sister,
and the pair were settling down in their rugs. One of the chauffeurs
was already seated, the other, having set the machine throbbing, was
already clambering to his seat. The crowd set up three parting cheers,
and Miss Sally, remembering her Ham, held it aloft in farewell.
But while Miss Sally waved and laughed, of a sudden, amid the laughter
and cheers and throbbing of the motor, a small child sprang out of the
darkness and clung upon the step.
Miss Sally stared down upon the upturned face.
"Miles Chandon, lady?--where does 'e live?--For the Lord's sake--"
But already Sir Elphinstone had called the order. The car shot away
"Elphinstone--a moment, please! Stop! The child--"
"Eh? . . . Stop the car! . . . Anything wrong?"
Miss Sally peered back into the darkness.
"There was a child . . . We have hurt her, I fear. Tell George to jump
down and inquire."
But Tilda was not hurt. On the contrary, she was running and dodging
the crowd at that moment as fast as her hurt leg permitted. For in the
press of it, not three yards away, by the light of the side lamp, she
had caught sight of Dr. Glasson and Gavel.
They were on foot, and Gavel had seen her, she could make no doubt.
He was bearing down straight upon her.
Not until she had run fifty yards did she pluck up courage to look back.
Gavel was nowhere in sight. The car had come to a standstill, and the
people were yelling. Was it after her? Was _this_ the hue-and-cry?
They were certainly yelling--and behaving too, in the strangest fashion.
They seemed by one impulse to be running from the car and crowding back
towards the gate. They were fighting--positively fighting--their way
into the field. The police could not stop them, but were driven in with
a rush; and in the centre of this rush Tilda caught sight of Gavel
again. His back was turned to her. He was struggling for admission,
and like a maniac. Glasson she could not see.
Sir Elphinstone had climbed out of the car, and came striding back
demanding to know what was the matter. It stuck in his head that a
child had been hurt, perhaps killed.
A dozen voices answered--
"The roundabouts!" "Explosion at the roundabouts!" "Engine blown up--
twenty killed an' injured, they say!"
"Explosion? . . . Nonsense!"
Tilda saw him thrust his way into the gateway, his tall figure towering
above the pack there as he halted and gazed down the hill. In the
darkness and confusion it was easy enough for her to scramble upon the
hedge unobserved, and at the cost of a few scratches only. From the top
of the hedge she too gazed.
The roundabout had come to a standstill. Around it, at a decent
distance, stood a dark circle of folk. But its lights still blazed, its
mirrors still twinkled. She could detect nothing amiss.
What had happened? Tilda had forgotten Miss Sally, and was anxious now
but for Arthur Miles. A dozen fears suggested themselves. She ought
never to have left him. . . .
She dropped from the hedge into the field, and ran downhill to the
platform. It stood deserted, the last few fairy-lamps dying down amid
the palms and greenery. In the darkness at its rear there was no need
of caution, and she plunged under the vallance boldly.
"Arthur! Arthur Miles! Are you all right? . . . Where are you?"
A thin squeal answered her, and she drew back, her skin contracting in a
shudder, even to the roots of her hair. For, putting out her hand, she
had touched flesh--naked, human flesh.
"Wh--who are you?" she stammered, drawing back her fingers.
"I'm the Fat Lady," quavered a voice. "Oh, help me! I'm wedged here and
ADVENTURE OF THE FAT LADY.
"_Gin a body meet a body._"--BURNS.
"But what's 'appened?" demanded Tilda, recovering herself a little.
"And ow? And oh! what's become of the boy, Arthur Miles?"
"There _is_ a boy, somewhere at the back of me," the Fat Lady answered;
"and a dog too. You can talk to them across me; but I couldn't move,
not if I was crushin' them ever so."
Tilda called softly to the prisoners, and to her relief Arthur Miles
answered out of the darkness, assuring her, albeit in a muffled voice,
that they were both safe.
"But what's the _meanin'_ of it?" Tilda demanded again.
"The igsplosion's the meanin' of it."
"But there ain't _been_ no explosh'n. And anyway," said Tilda, "you
ain't tellin' me you been _blown_ 'ere?"
"Igsplosion or no igsplosion," replied the Fat Lady incontestably,
"'ere I h'am."
"_Sure_ yer can't move?" Tilda coaxed.
At this the Fat Lady showed some irritation.
"I ought to know what I'm capable of by this time. . . . If you could
run along and fetch somebody with a tackle and pulley now--"
"I got a friend comin' presently. 'E's quite a 'andy young feller,
_an'_ tender-'earted: 'e won't leave yer like this, no fear. . . . But,
o' course, it'll be a shock to 'im, 'appenin' in upon us an' findin'--
well, so much _more_'n 'e expected. I'm thinkin' 'ow to break it to 'im
gently, 'ere in the dark." Tilda considered for a while. "It might
'elp if I knew yer name. 'Twouldn' be fair--would it?--to start off
that we'd got a surprise for 'im, an' would 'e guess?"
"He'll find out, fast enough, when he strikes a light," said the Fat
Lady between resigned despair and professional pride. "But my name's
Mrs. Lobb, when you introjuice him."
"I don't know why you should suppose it."
"No," said Tilda after musing a moment; "there ain't no real reason, o'
course. On'y I thought--An' you not mentionin' a nusband, under the
To her astonishment, Mrs. Lobb gave way and shook with mountainous sobs.
"I'm a maiden lady," she confessed, "and I'll conceal it no longer,
when, God knows, I may be lyin' here punished for my vanity. . . . But
'twasn't all vanity, neither: it sounded more comfortable. If it had
been vanity, I'd ha' chosen Montmorency or St. Clair--not Lobb.
Wouldn't I now? . . . Of course, you won't understand, at your age; but
there's a sort of _sheltered_ feelin'. An' I'm a bundle of nerves.
You should see me," wound up Mrs. Lobb enigmatically, "with a mouse."
But at this moment Tilda whispered "'Ush!" Someone was stealthily
lifting the vallance. "Is that you, Sam?" she challenged.
"Aye, aye, missie. All safe?"
"_And_ snug. . . . Can yer risk striking a match? Fact is, we got a
lady friend 'ere, an' she wants yer 'elp badly."
Sam struck a sulphur match.
"Good Lord!" he breathed, staring across the blue flame, and still as he
stared his eyes grew larger and rounder.
"'Er name's Lobb," explained Tilda. "I oughter a-told yer."
"'Ow did it 'appen?" asked Sam in an awed voice.
"Igsplosion," said the Fat Lady.
"Is--is there _goin'_ to be one?"
The match burned low in Sam's trembling fingers, and he dropped it with
an exclamation of pain.
"There _was_ one," said the Fat Lady. "At Gavel's roundabouts.
Leastways, the folks came chargin' into my tent, which is next door,
cryin' out that the boiler was blowin' up. I travel with Gavel, sir--as
his Fat Lady--"
"Oh!" Sam drew a long breath.
"Which, when I heard it, sir, and the outcries, I burst out through the
back of the tent--bein' a timorous woman--and ran for shelter.
My fright, sir, I'll leave you to imagine. And then, as I crawled under
the boards here, a dog flew at me--and bein' taken unawares--on all
fours, too--I rolled over with my legs twisted--and here I am stuck.
There's one joist pinnin' my left shoulder, and my leg's jammed under
another; and stir I cannot."
Sam lit another match.
"I was fearin'--" he began, but broke off. "If you could manage, ma'am,
to draw up your knee an inch or so--or if you wouldn' mind my takin' a
"Not at all," said Mrs. Lobb. "I'm used to bein' pinched."
Sam gripped the knee-pan firmly, and hauled.
"O-ow!" cried Mrs. Lobb. But the wrench had set her free to uncross her
legs, and she did so, murmuring her gratitude.
There had been (Sam now explained) a false alarm. In the midst of
the merry-making, and while the roundabouts were crowded and going
at full speed, the boy in charge of the engine had taken occasion
to announce to the lady at the pay-table that his pressure was a
hundred-and-forty-seven, and what had taken the safety valve he couldn't
think. Whereupon the lady at the pay-table had started up, scattering
her coins, and shrieked; and this had started the stampede. "Which,"
added Sam in a whisper to Tilda, "was lucky for us in a way; becos
Glasson, after tacklin' Mortimer be'ind the scenes an' threatenin' to
have his blood in a bottle, had started off with Gavel to fetch the
perlice. An' the question is if they won't be watchin' the gates by
"In _my_ young days," announced the Fat Lady, with disconcerting
suddenness, "it was thought rude to whisper."
Tilda took a swift resolution.
"The truth is, ma'am, we're in trouble, an' 'idin' 'ere. I wouldn' dare
to tell yer, on'y they say that people o' your--I mean, in your--"
"Profession," suggested the Fat Lady.
"--Are kind-'earted by nature. I belongs, ma'am--leastways, I _did_,--
to Maggs's Circus--if you know it--"
"I've heard Maggs's troupe very well spoken of. But, as you'll
understand, I do very little visitin'."
"I was 'appy enough with Maggs's, ma'am. But first of all a pony laid
me up with a kick, an' then I stole Arthur Miles 'ere out of the 'Oly
Tilda broke down for a moment, recovered herself, and with sobs told her
For a while, after she had ended it, the Fat Lady kept silence. Sam,
breathing hard, still doubtful of the child's bold policy, feared what
this silence might portend.
"Give me your hand, young man," said the Fat Lady at length.
Sam reached out in the darkness, and grasped hers fervently.
"I didn't ask you to shake it. I want to be helped out to the fresh
air, and then these children'll march straight home with me to my
"But," stammered Sam, not yet clear that he had found an ally, "--but
that's leadin' 'em straight into Gavel's arms!"
"Young man," replied the lady austerely, "it leads into no man's arms."
But a moment later she dropped her voice, and added with a touch of
pathos, "I'm the loneliest woman in the world, outside of show hours;
and if you thought a little you might know it."
"I see," said Sam contritely.
"And, what's more, inside my own caravan I've my wits about me.
Outside and among folks--well, maybe you've seen an owl in the daylight
with the small birds mobbin' him. . . . Now about yourself and the
Mortimers--from this child's story there's no evidence yet to connect
her or the boy with either of you. The man Hucks knows, and that
carrier fellow at the wharf saw them for a minute, with Mortimer
standin' by. But that's no evidence for the police; and, anyway, this
Glasson can't touch you until he gets hold of the children. If you'll
leave it to me, he shan't do that for twenty-four hours. And now--isn't
it time you were packing up your show? You'll be gettin' back to the
boat to-night, I suppose? What about the Mortimers?" Sam explained
that he would be driving back with the tent, and intended to sleep on
board. The Mortimers would repose themselves at a small public-house,
"The Vine Leaf." In the morning they would join forces again and proceed
to Stratford. Address there: "The Red Cow."
He delivered this explanation jerkily, in the intervals of lugging the
lady forth from her durance. Tilda, scrambling forth ahead of her,
noted with inexpressible relief that the aspect of the field was
entirely changed. The crowd had melted away, the flares of the
roundabout were extinguished, and a faint glow of lamplight through
canvas told where the Mortimer's tent, far to the left, awaited
dismemberment. Five or six lanterns dotted the lower slopes, where the
smaller shows--the Aunt Sally, the coconut shies and the swing-boats--
were being hastily packed. Overhead, in a clean heaven, rode the stars,
and by their glimmer the children saw their new protectress draw herself
up in all her Amazonian amplitude. She wore a low bodice of pink, with
spangles, and a spangled skirt descended to her knees. Beneath them her
columnar calves were bare as an infant's. She extended an arm, and
pointed towards her caravan.
"Bear around to the right," she commanded. "Keep a look-out on me when
I get to the van, and creep up as quietly as you can when I reach the
step and bend to pull up my socks. Good night, young man--one good turn
deserves another: and now be off, you two . . . Yes, you may bring the
dog. Only I hope he doesn't suffer from fleas, for a flea with me is a
They ran around, gained the steps in safety, and were admitted to the
Fat Lady's virgin bower. It lay in darkness, and enjoining them to
stand still and keep silence, she drew the blinds discreetly before
lighting her lamp. She did this (Tilda noted) with extreme deftness,
reaching out a hand to a dark shelf and picking up the match-box as
accurately as though she saw it. At once, too, Tilda noted that in the
lamp's rays the whole interior of the caravan shone like a new pin.
A stove stood at the end facing the doorway, and beside the stove a
closed washstand of polished teak. A dressing-table, a wardrobe, and a
dresser-sideboard fitted with lockers occupied one side; along the other
ran a couch with a padded back, which, let down, became a mattress and
converted the couch into a bed. All the lockers gleamed with brasswork;
all the draperies were of muslin or dimity, immaculately white; and
looking-glass panelled the doors of every cupboard. These many mirrors
caused the interior to appear even fuller of the Fat Lady than it
actually was. They reflected her from every angle, and multiplied her
into a crowd.
"Dear me!" she said, glancing around on these reflections, "I'll have to
turn you out again while I undress. But that won't take long, and
you'll be safe enough beneath the van."
So after providing them with a hunk of cake apiece from one of the
sideboard lockers, and peeping forth to make sure the coast was clear,
she dismissed them with instructions to creep into the darkness under
the steps, and there lie quiet until she summoned them.
Ten minutes later she leaned forth again and called "Coo-ee!" very
softly, and they returned to find her in the white bed, recumbent in a
coquettish nightgown. She had folded and stowed her day garments away--
Tilda could not imagine where--and a mattress and rugs lay on the floor,
ready spread for the children. Nor was this all. On the sideboard
stood a plateful of biscuits, and on the stove a spirit-lamp, with a
kettle already beginning to sing, and a teapot and three cups and
With a turn of the hand, scarcely stirring from her recumbent posture,
the Fat Lady closed the door and shot its small brass bolt. Then with a
quick series of movements, reaching forward as soon as the kettle
boiled, she filled the teapot, emptied the rest of the boiling water
into the flashing nickel basin of the washstand, set down the kettle,
turned and shut a cold-water tap, and invited the children to wash
The aroma of the tea--real China tea it was--and the fragrance of
scented soap--genuine Old Brown Windsor--went straight through their
senses to the children's hearts. In all their lives they had known no
experience so delicious.
Mrs. Lobb noted with approval that the boy drew aside and yielded Tilda
the first turn at the basin. When his came she watched him, and by and
by observed, "He washes like a gentleman, too."
"Not," she explained as the children drank their tea--"not that I have
ever seen a gentleman wash. But women know what's dainty." Here she
fell into a muse. "I've often pictered Mr. Lobb washing. These little
things make so much difference." She sighed. "Well now, if you've
finished your supper, we'll say our prayers and get to sleep."
"Prayers?" queried Tilda.
As a rule, when anything happened outside her experience she sat quiet
and let it happen, reserving criticism. But, chancing to look up, she
had seen the boy wince at the word.
Mrs. Lobb, less observant, had taken down a Bible from the shelf above
her. She opened it and read--
'And they departed from Kibroth-hattaavah, and encamped at
Hazeroth. And they departed from Hazeroth, and pitched in Rithmah.
And they departed from Rithmah, and pitched at Rimmoth-parez--'
"It don't always apply," she explained, breaking off, "but takin' it
straight through, you'd be surprised how often it sends you to sleep
with a bit of comfort."
She read half a dozen verses, closed the book, and recited the Lord's
"' . . . For Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, for ever
and ever. Amen.' Now we'll go to sleep, and don't be frightened when
they harness up in an hour or two. We'll be in Stratford before
daybreak. Good night, my dears--you may reach up and give me a kiss
apiece if you 're so minded; and I hope to goodness you don't snore!"
When they awoke, sure enough Mrs. Lobb announced that they had reached
Stratford. In their dreams they had felt the van moving; but now it had
come to a standstill, and, peeping forth, they saw that it stood in a
broad green meadow and but a little way from a river. There were swans
on the river, paddling about or slowly drifting in the pale light; and
across the river they saw many clustered roofs, with a church spire to
the left set among noble elms.
"That's where Shakespeare's buried," said the Fat Lady; "and the great
brick building yonder--to the right, between us and the bridge--that's
the Memorial Theatre where they act his plays. There's his statue, too,
beside the water, and back in the town they keep the house he was born
in. You can't get away from Shakespeare here. If you buy a bottle of
beer, he's on the label; and if you want a tobacco-jar, they'll sell
you his head and shoulders in china, with the bald top fitted for a
cover. It's a queer place, is Stratford."
The boy gazed. To him it was a marvellous place; and somewhere it held
his secret--the secret of the Island.
"Talkin' of beer," said Tilda, "we mustn' forget Sam Bossom. At the
'Red Cow,' he said."
"But that won't be till evening," the Fat Lady warned her.
"And meantime what am I to do with you. You can't hide here all day:
for one reason, I got to get up and dress. And it may be dangerous in
the town for you before nightfall. Luckily, Gavel don't know either one
of you by sight; but there's the chance of this Glasson havin' come
along with him. For all I know, Gavel may have given him a shake-down,
and Gavel's is the next van but one."
The children implored her to let them forth before the rest of the
show-people awoke. They would fend for themselves, Tilda engaged, and
remain in hiding all day along the river-bank below the town.
Really, when the Fat Lady thought it over, this appeared the only
feasible plan. But first she insisted on cooking them a breakfast of
fried sausages and boiled eggs, which she managed to do without stirring
from her couch, directing Tilda how to light the stove, and where to
find the utensils and the provender; and next she packed a basket for
them with a loaf of bread and some slices of cold ham.
Thus furnished, they bade her good-bye for the day, left the dubious
'Dolph in her charge, and tip-toeing past the rear of the caravan where
slept the dreaded Gavel, gained the meadow's end, passed a weed-grown
ruinated lock below the churchyard, and struck into a footpath that led
down-stream between the river and a pretty hanging copse. Below this a
high road crossed the river. Following it, they passed over a small
tributary stream that wound between lines of pollard willows, and so
headed off to their right and regained the Avon's bank.
The boy led. It seemed that the westward-running stream called to him,
and that his feet trod to the tune of it. Tilda remembered this later.
He was always a silent boy, and he gave no explanation; but she saw
that the running water woke a new excitement in him. So long as they
had followed the stagnant canal he had been curious, alert, inquisitive
of every bend and bush. It was as if he had understood water by
instinct, and yet the water had hitherto baffled and disappointed him.
Now it ran, and he ran too. She had much ado to keep pace with him. By
and by she halted by a clump of willows and seated herself, announcing
hypocritically that she was tired.
He heard, and came back contritely.
"I forgot," he said. "What has become of your crutch?"
"I left it be'ind yesterday, in the boat. There wasn' no time to go
back for it."
"I am very sorry."
Tilda's conscience smote her.
"There ain't no reason to fret about _me_," she said reassuringly.
"But what's taken you? There's no catchin' up with the water, however
fast you run."
"It leads down to the Island. It _must_," he announced, conning the
She too conned it, but could read nothing of his faith in the wimpled
The light in his eyes impressed if it did not convince her.
"Well, maybe we'll 'ave a try to-morrow," she conceded after a while.
"But business is business. We must get back to Stratford an' consult
Sam Bossom. And then there's a letter to be written to 'Ucks.
I promised 'im, you know."
They shared their meal by the river bank; and when it was eaten, sat for
a time on the scooped-out brink while Avon ran at their feet--Arthur
Miles searching again in the thumbed pages of _The Tempest_ for a hint
that might perchance have escaped him; Tilda as sedulously intent on a
page of a ladies' newspaper in which the bread had been wrapped.
It informed her, under the heading of _Answers to Correspondents by
"Smart Set,"_ of an excellent home for Anglo-Indian children (gravel
soil), of a new way to clean Brussels lace, of the number of gowns
required in these days for a week-end visit, of a scale of tips for
gamekeepers. It directed her to a manicure, and instructed her how to
build a pergola for an Italian garden, supposing that she lived in
Suffolk and could spare half an acre facing east. She drank in all this
information with an impartial appetite.
"What a favourite it is still, the mushroom 'at!" she spelled out
slowly. "W'y the other day, at Messrs. Freebody and Williams's in
Regent Street, there it confronted me again in a whole bevy of new model
shapes. The medium, in brown Ottoman silk, fronted with wings of fine
brown or blue lustre, is quite ridiculously cheap at 27s. 6d. And a
large hat in black satin, swathed with black chiffon in which lurks just
a touch of real ermine, asks you no more than 35s. 9d. Truly age cannot
wither nor custom stale the infinite variety of the mushroom.'"
"What nonsense are you reading?" the boy demanded.
"Nonsense?" echoed Tilda. "What's nonsense? It's--it's 'eavingly--and
anyway it ain't no farther off than your Island."
They resumed their way, slightly huffed one with another; passed a group
of willows; and came to a halt, surprised and irresolute.
In the centre of a small sunny clearing they beheld a tent, with the
litter of a camp equipage scattered on the turf about it; and between
the tent and the river, where shone the flank of a bass-wood canoe
moored between the alders, an artist had set up his easel. He was a
young man, tall and gaunt, and stood back a little way from his canvas
with paint-brush held at a slope, while across it he studied the subject
of his picture--a grey bridge and the butt-end of a grey building, with
a sign-board overtopping the autumnal willows.
For a few seconds the children observed him in silence. But some sound
must have warned him; for by and by he turned a quick, eager face, and
caught sight of them.
"Ah!" he exclaimed, scanning them rapidly up and down. "The very
thing!--that is to say"--after a second and more prolonged scrutiny--
"the boy. He just fills the bill. 'Youthful Shakespeare Mews his
Mighty Youth. The scene: Binton Bridges, beside Avon.'"
"Binton Bridges?" echoed Tilda, and walked forward to scan the
"I must put that down," said the artist, drawing out a notebook and
pencil. "Ignorance of Juvenile Population in respect of Immediate
Surroundings. Implied Reproach against Britain's Primary Schools."
But by this time the girl was standing under the sign-board and staring
up at it. Four figures were depicted thereon in gay colours--a king, a
priest, a soldier, and a John Bull farmer. Around them ran this
"Do you 'appen to know, sir," she asked, coming back, "if there's a
young woman employed 'ere?"
"There is," answered the artist. "I happen to know, because she won't
let me paint her, although I offered ten dollars."
"That's a good sign," said Tilda.
"Oh, is it now?" he queried, staring after her as she marched boldly
towards the house and was lost to sight between the willow-stems.
ADVENTURES OF THE "FOUR ALLS" AND OF THE CELESTIAL CHEMIST
"'_Friend Sancho,' said Don Quixote, 'this Island that I promised you
can neither stir nor fly._'"--CERVANTES.
"Now what precisely did your sister mean by that?" asked the artist,
withdrawing his gaze and fixing it on Arthur Miles.
"She is not my sister," said the boy.
The artist--he was an extraordinarily tall young man, with a keen
hatchet face, restless brown eyes, and straight auburn hair parted
accurately in the middle--considered for a moment, then nodded.
"That's so. It comes out, soon as you talk . . . Well, see here now,
we'll start right away. That's how Art hits me--once I take hold of a
notion, I must sling in and get going. It's my temperament; and what's
Art--right _there_, please--what's Art, after all, but expressed
temperament? You catch the idea? You're the Infant Shakespeare, the
youth to fortune and to fame unknown--"
'His listless length at noontide would he stretch'--
"Stretch what you have of it--"
'And pore upon the brook that babbles by.'
"But I don't want you to paint me," rebelled the boy.
"Goodness! Why not?"
For a moment or two Arthur Miles faced the question almost sullenly.
"I don't want my likeness taken," he explained at length.
"My young friend," the artist cheerfully assured him, "if that's your
trouble, dismiss it. I can't paint a likeness for nuts."
"You are sure?"
"Well, I should say I have a grounded expectation, seeing that I claim a
bigger circle of friends than any other fellow that ever studied with
Carolus; and apart from their liking for me, their conviction that never
under any circumstances could I catch a likeness is about the only thing
they have in common. I don't say it's the cement of their friendship;
but, anyway, it's an added tie."
"If Tilda doesn't mind--"
The boy hesitated, with a glance over his shoulder.
"We'll consult the lady when the portrait's finished. If she
recognises you, I'll destroy the canvas; and I can't say fairer than
that . . . No, I shan't regret it. We'll call it an offering to the
gods . . . And now," pursued the young man, flinging in a charcoal
outline in fiery haste, "we'll consider the brakes open."
It took him perhaps thirty seconds to block in the figure, and at once
he fell to mixing his palette, his fingers moving with a nervous,
delicate haste. He held a brush between his teeth during the operation;
but no sooner was it over, and the gag removed, than his speech began to
gush in quick, impetuous jerks, each jerk marking an interval as, after
flinging a fresh splash of paint upon the canvas, he stepped back half a
pace to eye its effect.
"That's my theory--what's Art but temperament? expressed temperament?
Now I'm a fellow that could never stick long to a thing--never in my
life. I've not told you that I'm American, by the way. My name's
Jessup--George Pulteney Jessup, of Boise City, Idaho. My father--he's
about the most prominent citizen in the State of Idaho. You don't get
any ways far west of the Rockies before you bump against Nahum P.
Jessup--and you'll be apt to hurt yourself by bumping too hard. . . . My
father began by setting it down to fickleness. He said it came of
having too much money to play with. Mind you, he didn't complain.
He sent for me into his office, and 'George,' he said, 'there's some
fathers, finding you so vola_tile_, would take the line of cutting down
your allowance; but that's no line for me. To begin with,' he said,
'it would set up a constraint between us, and constraint in my family
relations is what, God helping me, I'll never allow. And next, whatever
I saved on you I'd just have to re-invest, and I'm over-capitalised as
it is--you 'd never guess the straits I'm put to daily in keeping fair
abreast of fifteen per cent., which is my notion of making two ends
meet. And, lastly, it ain't natural. If a man's born vola_tile_,
vola_tile_ he is; and the sensible plan, I take it, is to lean your ear
to Nature, the Mighty Mother, and find a career that has some use for
that kind of temperament. Now,' said my father, 'I know a little about
most legitimate careers, from ticket-punching up to lobbying, and
there's not one in which a man would hand in testimonials that he was
vola_tile_. But,' says my father, 'what about Art? I've never taken
stock of that occupation, myself: I never had time. But I remember once
in New York going to a theatre and seeing Booth act William
Shakespeare's _Macbeth_; and not twenty minutes later, after all the
ghosts and murderings, I happened into a restaurant, and saw the same
man drinking cocktails and eating Blue Point oysters--with twice my
appetite too. And Booth was at the very top of his profession.'"
"Yes," said Arthur Miles, by this time greatly interested. "That's like
Mr. Mortimer, too."
"Mortimer?" Mr. Jessup queried; and then, getting no answer, "Is he an
The boy nodded.
"A prominent one?"
"I--I believe so. I mean, he says he _ought_ to be."
"I'd like to make his acquaintance. It's queer, too, a child like you
knowing about actors. What's your name?"
"I don't know," said Arthur Miles, with another glance in the direction
of the inn, "that Tilda would like me to tell."
The young artist eyed him.
"Well, never mind; we were talking about my father. That's how he came
to send me to Paris to study Art. And since then I've done some
thinking. It works out like this," he pursued, stepping back and
studying his daub between half-closed eyes, "the old man had struck ore
as usual. I never knew a mind fuller of common sense--just homely