Down through the manhole, too—O bliss!—came the sound of a man’s whistle.
“Ph’ut! Phee-ee—uht! Darn that fool of a dog! Ph’w—”
“For the Lord’s sake!” called Tilda, pushing the boy up the coal-shute ahead of her and panting painfully as her feet sank and slid in the black pile.
“Eh? . . . Hullo!” A man’s face peered down, shutting off the daylight. “Well, in all my born days—”
He reached down a hand.
“The boy first,” gasped Tilda, “—and quick!”
IN WHICH CHILDE ARTHUR LOSES ONE MOTHER AND GAINS ANOTHER.
“But and when they came to Easter Gate, Easter Gate stood wide; ‘y’ are late, y’ are late,’ the Porter said; ’This morn my Lady died.’”—OLD BALLAD.
“Well, in all my born days!” said the young coalheaver again, as he landed the pair on the canal bank.
He reached down a hand and drew up ’Dolph by the scruff of his neck. The dog shook himself, and stood with his tail still wagging.
“Shut down the hole,” Tilda panted, and catching sight of the iron cover, while the young man hesitated she began to drag at it with her own hands.
“Steady on there!” he interposed. “I got five hundred more to deliver.”
“You don’t deliver another shovelful till we’re out o’ this,” said Tilda positively, stamping the cover in place and standing upon it for safety. “What’s more, if anyone comes an’ arsks a question, you ha’n’t seen us.”
“Neither fur nor feather of ye,” said the young man, and grinned.
She cast a look at the boy; another up and down the towing-path.
“Got such a thing as a cake o’ soap hereabouts? You wouldn’, I suppose—” and here she sighed impatiently.
“I ’ave, though. Always keeps a bit in my trouser pocket.” He produced it with pride.
Said Tilda, “I don’t know yername, but you’re more like a Garden Angel than any I’ve met yet in your walk o’ life. Hand it over, an’ keep a look-out while I wash this child’s face. I can’t take ’im through the streets in this state.” She turned upon the boy. “Here, you just kneel down—so—with your face over the water, an’ as near as you can manage.” He obeyed in silence. He was still trembling. “That’s right, on’y take care you don’t overbalance.” She knelt beside him, dipped both hands in the water, and began to work the soap into a lather. “What’s the ’andiest way to the Good Samaritan?” she asked, speaking over her shoulder.
“Meanin’ the ’orspital?”
“Yes.” She took the boy’s passive face between her hands and soaped it briskly. “The ’andiest way, an’ the quietest, for choice.”