’Dolph was steering them steadily towards the sound; and a glow in the sky, right ahead and easily discernible, would have guided them even without his help. Tilda recognised that glow also.
“And the best is, it means Bill,” she promised.
But they did not catch the tune itself until they were close upon the meadow. At the top of a rise in the road it broke on them, the scene almost simultaneously with its music; and a strange scene it was, and curiously beautiful—a slope, and below the slope a grassy meadow set with elms; a blaze of light, here and there in the open spaces; in one space a steam roundabout revolving with mirrors, in another the soft glow of naphtha-lamps through tent cloth; glints of light on the boughs, dark shadows of foliage, a moving crowd, its murmur so silenced by music and the beat of a drum that it seemed to sway to and fro without sound, now pressing forward into the glare, now dissolving into the penumbra.
Arthur Miles paused, trembling. He had never seen the like. But Tilda had recovered all her courage.
“This,” she assured him, “is a little bit of all right,” and taking his hand, led him down the slope and posted him in the shadow of a thorn-bush.
“Wait here,” she enjoined; and he waited, while she descended cautiously towards the roundabout with its revolving mirrors.
He lost sight of her. He lay still where she had commanded him to lie, watching the many twinkling lights, watching the roundabout turn and flash and come to a stop, watching the horseplay of boys and maidens as one set clambered off laughing and another pressed forward into their places. The tune droned in his ears, came to an end, went on again. He drowsed to its recurrent beat. From his couch in the wet shadow he gazed up at the stars riding overhead, above the elms.
At the end of twenty minutes Tilda stole back to him; and, softly though she came, her footfall woke him out of his dreams with a start. Yet, and though he could barely discern her from the shadow of the thorn-bush, he knew on the instant that she brought disappointment.
“What’s the matter?” he asked.
“Everything’s the matter. Bill’s gone!”
ADVENTURE OF THE PRIMROSE FETE.
“Confusion and Exeunt.”—OLD STAGE DIRECTION.
“Gone?” echoed the boy blankly.
“’Ad a row with Gavel this very aft’rnoon. Got the sack, with a week’s pay, an’ packed up his kit after tea an’ ’ooked it. Bess Burton told me all about it, knowin’ me an’ Bill to be friends—she’s the woman sits at the pay-table an’ gives the change. ‘E wouldn’ tell nobody where ‘e was goin’. Ain’t cryin’ about it, are yer?”
“No,” he answered, as she peered close to him in the darkness. “Only we’d built everything on Bill, hadn’t we?”
Tilda did not answer this question.