The roundabout had come to a standstill. Around it, at a decent distance, stood a dark circle of folk. But its lights still blazed, its mirrors still twinkled. She could detect nothing amiss.
What had happened? Tilda had forgotten Miss Sally, and was anxious now but for Arthur Miles. A dozen fears suggested themselves. She ought never to have left him. . . .
She dropped from the hedge into the field, and ran downhill to the platform. It stood deserted, the last few fairy-lamps dying down amid the palms and greenery. In the darkness at its rear there was no need of caution, and she plunged under the vallance boldly.
“Arthur! Arthur Miles! Are you all right? . . . Where are you?”
A thin squeal answered her, and she drew back, her skin contracting in a shudder, even to the roots of her hair. For, putting out her hand, she had touched flesh—naked, human flesh.
“Wh—who are you?” she stammered, drawing back her fingers.
“I’m the Fat Lady,” quavered a voice. “Oh, help me! I’m wedged here and can’t move!”
ADVENTURE OF THE FAT LADY.
“Gin a body meet a body.”—BURNS.
“But what’s ’appened?” demanded Tilda, recovering herself a little. “And ow? And oh! what’s become of the boy, Arthur Miles?”
“There is a boy, somewhere at the back of me,” the Fat Lady answered; “and a dog too. You can talk to them across me; but I couldn’t move, not if I was crushin’ them ever so.”
Tilda called softly to the prisoners, and to her relief Arthur Miles answered out of the darkness, assuring her, albeit in a muffled voice, that they were both safe.
“But what’s the meanin’ of it?” Tilda demanded again.
“The igsplosion’s the meanin’ of it.”
“But there ain’t been no explosh’n. And anyway,” said Tilda, “you ain’t tellin’ me you been blown ’ere?”
“Igsplosion or no igsplosion,” replied the Fat Lady incontestably, “’ere I h’am.”
“Sure yer can’t move?” Tilda coaxed.
At this the Fat Lady showed some irritation.
“I ought to know what I’m capable of by this time. . . . If you could run along and fetch somebody with a tackle and pulley now—”
“I got a friend comin’ presently. ’E’s quite a ’andy young feller, an’ tender-’earted: ’e won’t leave yer like this, no fear. . . . But, o’ course, it’ll be a shock to ’im, ‘appenin’ in upon us an’ findin’— well, so much more’n ‘e expected. I’m thinkin’ ’ow to break it to ’im gently, ’ere in the dark.” Tilda considered for a while. “It might ’elp if I knew yer name. ‘Twouldn’ be fair—would it?—to start off that we’d got a surprise for ‘im, an’ would ’e guess?”
“He’ll find out, fast enough, when he strikes a light,” said the Fat Lady between resigned despair and professional pride. “But my name’s Mrs. Lobb, when you introjuice him.”