“Kick of a pony.”
“Seems to me you’ve been a good deal mixed up with animals, for your age. What about your pa and ma?”
“Never ’ad none, I thank Gord.”
“Eh?” The young man laid down his shovel, lifted the flap of his sou’wester, and scratched the back of his head slowly. “Let me get the hang o’ that, now.”
“I’ve seen fathers and mothers,” said the sage child, nodding at him; “and them as likes ’em is welcome to ’em.”
“Gor-a-mussy!” half-groaned the young man. “If you talk like that, they’ll take you in, right enough; but as to your gettin’ out—”
“I’ll get out, one way or ’nother—you see!” Tilda promised. “All you ‘ave to do is to take charge o’ this crutch an’ look after the dog.”
“Oh, I’ll look after ’im!”
The child shook a forefinger at ’Dolph, forbidding him to follow her. The dog sank on his haunches, wagging a tail that swept the grasses in perplexed protest, and watched her as she retraced her way along the towpath.
Tilda did not once look back. She was horribly frightened; but she had pledged her word now, and it was irredeemable. From the hurrying traffic of the street she took a final breath of courage, and tugged at the iron bell-pull depending beside the Orphanage gate. A bell clanged close within the house, and the sound of it almost made her jump out of her boots.
“And with that sound the castle all to-brast; so she took him, and they two fared forth hand in hand.” “QUEST OF THE GRAIL.”
The front door opened, and a slatternly woman in a soiled print dress came shuffling down the flagged pathway to the gate. She wore cloth boots, and Tilda took note that one of them was burst.
“Go away,” said the woman, opening the gate just wide enough to thrust out her head. “We don’t give nothing to beggars.”
“I could ’a told you that,” retorted Tilda. “But as it ’appens, I ain’t one.” She pointed to a brass letter-plate beside the wicket—it was pierced with a slit, and bore the legend, For Voluntary Donations. “Seems you collect a bit, though. Like it better, I dessay.”
“Look here, if you’ve come with a message, let’s ‘ave it, an’ take yourself off. It’s washing-day in the ‘ouse, an’ I’m busy.”
“Ah!” said Tilda politely, “I’m glad I came before you begun. I want”—here she unfolded her scrap of paper and made pretence to read—“I want to see the Reverend Doctor Purdie J. Glasson.”
“Then you can’t,” snapped the woman, and was about to shut the door in her face, but desisted and drew back with a cry as a formidable yellow dog slipped through the opening, past her skirts, and into the garden.
It was ’Dolph, of course. Anxiety for his mistress had been too much for him, and had snapped the bonds of obedience; and knowing full well that he was misbehaving, he had come up furtively, unperceived. But now, having crossed the Rubicon, the rogue must brazen things out— which he did by starting a cat out of one of the dingy laurels, chivvying her some way into the house, and returning to shake himself on the front doorstep and bark in absurd triumph.