“Pining for liberty, hey?” said the doctor. (She saw what was passing through his mind, and despised him for it.) “Well, suppose, now, we let you out for just half an hour?”
Tilda clapped her palms together, and her eyes shone. To herself she said: “Kiddin’ of me, that’s what they are. Want to get me out of the way while they shift the beddin’. Lemme get back my clothes, that’s all, an’ I’ll teach him about pinin’ for liberty.”
“But,” said the doctor severely, lifting a finger, “you’re to keep to the pavement mind—just outside, where it’s nice and shady. Only so far as the next turning and back; no crossing anywhere or getting in the way of traffic, and only for half an hour. The chimes from St. Barnabas will tell you, if you can’t read the clock.”
She had learnt to read the time before she was five years old, and had a mind to tell him, but checked herself and merely nodded her head.
“Half an hour, and the pavement only. Is that understood?”
It annoyed her—when, an hour later, she began to dress for the adventure—to find herself weaker than she had at all supposed. Although she forbore to mention it to the Second Nurse, there was an irresponsible funny feeling in her legs. They seemed to belong to her but by fits and starts. But the clothes were hers: the merino skirt a deal too short for her—she had grown almost an inch in her bed-lying— the chip hat, more badly crushed than ever, a scandal of a hat, but still hers. The dear, dear clothes! She held them in both hands and nuzzled into them, inhaling her lost self in the new-old scent of liberty.
When at length her hat was donned, the notion took her to stand by the sick woman’s bed to show herself.
Consciousness had drained away deep into the sick woman’s eyes. It wavered there darkly, submerged, half-suspended, as you may see the weed waver in a dim seapool. Did a bubble, a gleam, float up from the depths? At any rate, the child nodded bravely.
“Goin’ to fetch ’im, don’t you fret!”
HOW TRUE TILDA CAME TO DOLOROUS GARD
“Dauntless the slug-horn to my lips I set. And blew ’Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came.’” Browning.
Fifty years before, the Hospital of the Good Samaritan had been the pet “charity” of a residential suburb. Factories and slums had since crowded in upon it, ousting the residents and creeping like a tide over the sites of their gardens and villas. The street kept its ancient width, and a few smoke-blackened trees—lilacs, laburnums, limes, and one copper-beech—still dignified the purlieus. Time, ruthless upon these amenities, had spared, and even enlarged, the hospital.
It stood on the shaded side of the street. Nevertheless, the sunshine, reflected from the facade of mean houses across the way, dazzled Tilda as she crossed the threshold of the great doorway and hopped down the steps. There were five steps, and on the lowest she paused, leaning a moment on her crutch before taking the final plunge into liberty.