Overcome by these reminiscences, Mr. Mortimer let his chin sink, his legs dangle, and rode forward a pace or two in the classical attitude of the Last Survivor from Cabul; but anon looked up with set jaw and resolution in his eye, took a grip with his knees, and challenged—
“Give a man a horse he can
Give a man a boat he can sail,
And his something or other—I forget
the exact expression—
On sea nor shore shall fail!”
—“Fling wide the gate, Smiles!” He was now the Dashing Cavalier, life-sized. “Take care of yourself, poppet!”
He gave his bridle-rein a shake (so to speak), turned, blew a kiss to his spouse, dug heel and jogged forth chanting—
“Tirra tirra by the
Sang Sir Lancelot!”
MR. MORTIMER’S ADVENTURE.
“Old mole! canst work i’ the earth so fast?”—HAMLET
All the way along the canal bank Mr. Mortimer continued to carol. Mercurial man! Like all actors he loved applause, but unlike the most of them he was capable of supplying it when the public failed; and this knack of being his own best audience had lifted him, before now, out of quite a number of Sloughs of Despond and carried him forward singing.
He had left care behind him in Mr. Hucks’s yard, and so much of noble melancholy as he kept (for the sake of artistic effect) took a tincture from the sunset bronzing the smoke-laden sky and gilding the unlovely waterway. Like the sunset, Mr. Mortimer’s mood was serene and golden. His breast, expanding, heaved off all petty constricting worries, “like Samson his green wythes”: they fell from him as he rode, and as he rode he chanted—
“The sun came dazzling thro’
And flamed upon the brazen greaves
Of bold Sir Lancelot . . .”
Old Jubilee—if, like John Gilpin’s horse, he wondered more and more— was a philosophical beast and knew his business. Abreast of the boat, beside the angle of the Orphanage wall, he halted for his rider to alight, and began to nose for herbage among the nettles. Nor did he betray surprise when Mr. Mortimer, after a glance down the towpath towards the iron bridge and the tram-lights passing there, walked off and left him to browse.
Fifteen minutes passed. The last flush of sunset had died out of the sky, and twilight was deepening rapidly, when Mr. Mortimer came strolling back. Apparently—since he came empty-handed—his search for a saucepan had been unsuccessful. Yet patently the disappointment had not affected his spirits, for at sight of Old Jubilee still cropping in the dusk he stood still and gave utterance to a lively whoop.
The effect of this sobered him. Old Jubilee was not alone. Hurriedly out of the shadow of the Orphanage wall arose a grey-white figure—a woman. It seemed that she had been kneeling there. Now, as Mr. Mortimer advanced, she stood erect, close back against the masonry, waiting for him to pass.