“I suppose so.”
“No supposin’ about it. You must a-been. Wot’s more, you talked about the waves comin’ in an’ not reachin’—’us,’ you said. ’Oo was it with yer? Think now! Man or woman?”
“A woman,” he answered after a pause, knitting his brows.
Then happened something for which—so quiet his words had been—Tilda was in no wise prepared. He turned his eyes on her, and they were as the eyes of a child born blind; blank, yet they sought; tortured, yet dry of tears. His head was tilted back, and a little sideways. So may you see an infant’s as he nuzzles to his mother’s breast. The two hands seemed to grope for a moment, then fell limp at his side.
“Oh, ’ush!” besought Tilda, though in fact he had uttered no sound. “‘Ush, an’ put on your shirt, an’ come ’ome! We’ll get Mrs. Mortimer to dry it off by the stove.”
She helped him on with it, took him by the hand, and led him back unresisting.
They reached the canal bank in time to see Sam Bossom leading Old Jubilee down the towpath, on his way to borrow a cart at Ibbetson’s. And ’Dolph—whom Tilda had left with strict orders to remain on board— no sooner caught sight of the children than he leapt ashore and came cringing.
The dog appeared to be in mortal terror; a terror at which the children no longer wondered as they drew near the boat. Terrible sounds issued from the cabin—cries of a woman imploring mercy, fierce guttural oaths of a man determined to grant none.
“Good Lord!” exclaimed Tilda, gripping Arthur Miles more tightly by the hand and hurrying him into a run. “Whatever’s taken the couple?”
She paused at the gangway and listened, peering forward.
“Oh, banish me, my lord, but kill me not!” wailed the voice of Mrs. Mortimer.
“Down, base one!” shouted her husband’s.
“Kill me to-morrow; let me live to-night!”
“Nay, if you strive—a little more stress, dear, on ‘to-night,’ if I may suggest—Nay, if you strive—!”
“Shall we take it again, Stanislas? You used to take the pillow at ‘Kill me not.’”
“I believe I did, my bud. We are rusty—a trifle rusty—the both of us.”
“Kill me to-morrow; let me live—” entreated Mrs. Mortimer.
“What’s all this, you two?” demanded Tilda, springing down the cabin steps and hurling herself between them.
“Hullo! Come in!” answered Mr. Mortimer genially. “This? Well, I hope it is an intellectual treat. I have always looked upon Mrs. Mortimer’s Desdemona as such, even at rehearsal.”
“Day after day, day after day
Rime of the Ancient Mariner
“Well, and ’ow did the performance go off?”
When Tilda awoke at seven o’clock next morning, the Success to Commerce had made three good miles in the cool of the dawn, and come to anchor again (so to speak) outside the gates of Knowsley top lock, where, as Sam Bossom explained later, the canal began to drop from its summit level. Six locks, set pretty close together, here formed a stairway for its descent, and Sam would hear no word of breakfast until they had navigated the whole flight.