Old Mrs. Martin, a neighbour, saw him first, and announced the fact with a scream that brought a dozen people round her. Bereft of speech, she mouthed dumbly at Mr. Blows.
“I ain’t touch—touched her,” said that gentleman, earnestly. “I ain’t— been near ’er.”
The crowd regarded him wild-eyed. Fresh members came running up, and pushing for a front place fell back hastily on the main body and watched breathlessly. Mr. Blows, disquieted by their silence, renewed his protestations.
“I was coming ’long——”
He broke off suddenly and, turning round, gazed with some heat at a gentleman who was endeavouring to ascertain whether an umbrella would pass through him. The investigator backed hastily into the crowd again, and a faint murmur of surprise arose as the indignant Mr. Blows rubbed the place.
“He’s alive, I tell you,” said a voice. “What cheer, Jack!”
“Ullo, Bill,” said Mr. Blows, genially.
Bill came forward cautiously, and, first shaking hands, satisfied himself by various little taps and prods that his friend was really alive.
“It’s all right,” he shouted; “come and feel.”
At least fifty hands accepted the invitation, and, ignoring the threats and entreaties of Mr. Blows, who was a highly ticklish subject, wandered briskly over his anatomy. He broke free at last and, supported by Bill and a friend, set off for the Peal o’ Bells.
By the time he arrived there his following had swollen to immense proportions. Windows were thrown up, and people standing on their doorsteps shouted inquiries. Congratulations met him on all sides, and the joy of Mr. Joseph Carter was so great that Mr. Blows was quite affected.
In high feather at the attention he was receiving, Mr. Blows pushed his way through the idlers at the door and ascended the short flight of stairs which led to the room where the members of the Ancient Order of Camels were holding their lodge. The crowd swarmed up after him.
The door was locked, but in response to his knocking it opened a couple of inches, and a gruff voice demanded his business. Then, before he could give it, the doorkeeper reeled back into the room, and Mr. Blows with a large following pushed his way in.
The president and his officers, who were sitting in state behind a long table at the end of the room, started to their feet with mingled cries of indignation and dismay at the intrusion. Mr. Blows, conscious of the strength of his position, walked up to them.
[Illustration: “Mr. Blows, conscious of the strength of his position, walked up to them.”]
“Mr. Blows!” gasped the president.
“Ah, you didn’t expec’ see me,” said Mr. Blows, with a scornful laugh “They’re trying do me, do me out o’ my lill bit o’ money, Bill.”
“But you ain’t got no money,” said his bewildered friend.
Mr. Blows turned and eyed him haughtily; then he confronted the staring president again.