The boy led. It seemed that the westward-running stream called to him, and that his feet trod to the tune of it. Tilda remembered this later. He was always a silent boy, and he gave no explanation; but she saw that the running water woke a new excitement in him. So long as they had followed the stagnant canal he had been curious, alert, inquisitive of every bend and bush. It was as if he had understood water by instinct, and yet the water had hitherto baffled and disappointed him. Now it ran, and he ran too. She had much ado to keep pace with him. By and by she halted by a clump of willows and seated herself, announcing hypocritically that she was tired.
He heard, and came back contritely.
“I forgot,” he said. “What has become of your crutch?”
“I left it be’ind yesterday, in the boat. There wasn’ no time to go back for it.”
“I am very sorry.”
Tilda’s conscience smote her.
“There ain’t no reason to fret about me,” she said reassuringly. “But what’s taken you? There’s no catchin’ up with the water, however fast you run.”
“It leads down to the Island. It must,” he announced, conning the stream.
She too conned it, but could read nothing of his faith in the wimpled surface.
The light in his eyes impressed if it did not convince her.
“Well, maybe we’ll ’ave a try to-morrow,”
she conceded after a while.
“But business is business. We must get back to Stratford an’ consult
Sam Bossom. And then there’s a letter to be written to ’Ucks.
I promised ’im, you know.”
They shared their meal by the river bank; and when it was eaten, sat for a time on the scooped-out brink while Avon ran at their feet—Arthur Miles searching again in the thumbed pages of The Tempest for a hint that might perchance have escaped him; Tilda as sedulously intent on a page of a ladies’ newspaper in which the bread had been wrapped.
It informed her, under the heading of Answers to Correspondents by “Smart Set," of an excellent home for Anglo-Indian children (gravel soil), of a new way to clean Brussels lace, of the number of gowns required in these days for a week-end visit, of a scale of tips for gamekeepers. It directed her to a manicure, and instructed her how to build a pergola for an Italian garden, supposing that she lived in Suffolk and could spare half an acre facing east. She drank in all this information with an impartial appetite.
“What a favourite it is still, the mushroom ’at!” she spelled out slowly. “W’y the other day, at Messrs. Freebody and Williams’s in Regent Street, there it confronted me again in a whole bevy of new model shapes. The medium, in brown Ottoman silk, fronted with wings of fine brown or blue lustre, is quite ridiculously cheap at 27s. 6d. And a large hat in black satin, swathed with black chiffon in which lurks just a touch of real ermine, asks you no more than 35s. 9d. Truly age cannot wither nor custom stale the infinite variety of the mushroom.’”