“If only she could take us on!” said Arthur Miles.
“We’d ’ave to drop a big stone for that,” Tilda opined.
And with that suddenly ’Dolph, who had been chasing a robin, and immersed in that futile sport, started to bark—uneasily and in small yaps at first, then in paroxysms interrupted by eager whines.
“W’y wot the matter with ’im?” asked Tilda.
For the dog had sprung upon the parapet and stood there, with neck extended and body quivering as he saluted the on-coming tug.
“’E can’t see . . . No, surely, it can’t be—” said Tilda, staring.
The tug was so near by this time that they could read her name, Severn Belle, on the bows. Two men stood on her deck—one aft at the tiller (for she had no wheel-house), the other a little forward of midships, leaning over the port bulwarks; this latter a stoker apparently, or an engineer, or a combination of both; for he was capless, and wore a smoke-grimed flannel shirt, open at the breast.
Tilda could see this distinctly as the tug drew near; for the man was looking up, staring steadily at the dog on the parapet. His chest was naked. A cake of coal-dust obscured his features.
“It can’t be,” said Tilda; and then, as the tug drew close, she flung herself against the parapet. “Bill! Oh, Bill!”
“Cheer-oh!” answered a voice, now already among the echoes of the arch.
“Oh, Bill! . . . Where?” She had run across the roadway. “Oh, Bill— take us!”
The boy running too—yet not so quickly as ’Dolph—caught a vision of a face upturned in blankest amazement as tug and barges swept down stream out of reach. But still Tilda hailed, beating back the dog, to silence his barking.
“Oh, Bill! Where’re yer goin’?”
As she had cried it, so in agony she listened for the response. It came; but Arthur Miles could not distinguish the word, nor tell if Tilda had heard better. She had caught his hand, and they were running together as fast as their small legs could carry them.
The chase was hopeless from the first. The tug, in midstream, gave no sign of drawing to shore. Somehow—but exactly how the boy could never tell—they were racing after her down the immense length of the green meadow.
It seemed endless, did this meadow. But it ended at last, by a grassy shore where the two rivers met, cutting off and ending all hope. And here, for the first and only time on their voyage, all Tilda’s courage forsook her.
“Bill! Oh, Bill!” she wailed, standing at the water’s edge and stretching forth her hands across the relentless flood.
But the dog, barking desperately beside her, drowned her voice, and no answer came.
THE S.S. EVAN EVANS
“Then three times round went our gallant ship.”—OLD SONG.