Tilda clapped her hands.
“Mind you,” he went on, “I’m not includin’ any orphan. I got no consarn with one. I haven’t so much as seen him.”
He paused, with his eyes fixed severely on Tilda’s.
“O’ course not.”
“And if, when you go back to the van and tell the Mortimers, you should leave the door open for a minute, forgetful-like, why that’s no affair o’ mine.”
“I’m a’most certain to forget,” owned Tilda. “If you’d been brought up half yer time in a tent—”
“To be sure. Now attend to this. I give Sam Bossom instructions to take the boat down to Stratford with three passengers aboard—you and the Mortimers—as a business speckilation; and it may so happen—I don’t say it will, mind you—that sooner or later Mortimer’ll want to pick up an extry hand to strengthen his company. Well, he knows his own business, and inside o’ limits I don’t interfere. Still, I’m financin’ this voyage, as you might say, and someone must keep me informed. F’r instance, if you should be joined by a party as we’ll agree to call William Bennetts, I should want to know how William Bennetts was doin’, and what his purfessional plans were; and if you could find out anything more about W. B.—that he was respectably connected, we’ll say—why so much the better. Understand?”
“You want Mr. Mortimer to write?” asked Tilda dubiously.
“No, I don’t. I want you to write—that’s to say, if you can.”
“I can print letters, same as the play-bills.”
“That’ll do. You can get one o’ the Mortimers to address the envelopes. And now,” said Mr. Hucks, “I ’d best be off and speak to Sam Bossom to get out the boat. Show-folks,” he added thoughtfully, “likes travellin’ by night, I’m told. It’s cooler.”
Two hours later, as the Brewery clock struck eleven, a canal-boat, towed by a glimmering grey horse, glided southward under the shadow of the Orphanage wall. It passed this and the iron bridge, and pursued its way through the dark purlieus of Bursfield towards the open country. Its rate of progression was steady, and a trifle under three miles an hour.
Astride the grey horse sat Mr. Mortimer, consciously romantic. The darkness, the secrecy of the flight—the prospect of recovered liberty—beyond this, the goal! As he rode, Mr. Mortimer murmured beatifically—
“To Stratford! To Stratford-on-Avon!” Sam Bossom stood on the small after-deck and steered. In the cabin Mrs. Mortimer snatched what repose was possible on a narrow side-locker to a person of her proportions; and on the cabin floor at her feet, in a nest of theatrical costumes, the two children slept dreamlessly, tired out, locked in each others arms.
“O, a bargeman’s is the life for me, Though there’s nothin’ to be seen but scener-ee!”—OLD SONG.