“What nonsense are you reading?” the boy demanded.
“Nonsense?” echoed Tilda. “What’s nonsense? It’s—it’s ’eavingly—and anyway it ain’t no farther off than your Island.”
They resumed their way, slightly huffed one with another; passed a group of willows; and came to a halt, surprised and irresolute.
In the centre of a small sunny clearing they beheld a tent, with the litter of a camp equipage scattered on the turf about it; and between the tent and the river, where shone the flank of a bass-wood canoe moored between the alders, an artist had set up his easel. He was a young man, tall and gaunt, and stood back a little way from his canvas with paint-brush held at a slope, while across it he studied the subject of his picture—a grey bridge and the butt-end of a grey building, with a sign-board overtopping the autumnal willows.
For a few seconds the children observed him in silence. But some sound must have warned him; for by and by he turned a quick, eager face, and caught sight of them.
“Ah!” he exclaimed, scanning them rapidly up and down. “The very thing!—that is to say”—after a second and more prolonged scrutiny— “the boy. He just fills the bill. ’Youthful Shakespeare Mews his Mighty Youth. The scene: Binton Bridges, beside Avon.’”
“Binton Bridges?” echoed Tilda, and walked forward to scan the sign-board.
“I must put that down,” said the artist, drawing out a notebook and pencil. “Ignorance of Juvenile Population in respect of Immediate Surroundings. Implied Reproach against Britain’s Primary Schools.”
But by this time the girl was standing under the sign-board and staring up at it. Four figures were depicted thereon in gay colours—a king, a priest, a soldier, and a John Bull farmer. Around them ran this legend—
“Do you ’appen to know, sir,” she asked, coming back, “if there’s a young woman employed ’ere?”
“There is,” answered the artist. “I happen to know, because she won’t let me paint her, although I offered ten dollars.”
“That’s a good sign,” said Tilda.
“Oh, is it now?” he queried, staring after her as she marched boldly towards the house and was lost to sight between the willow-stems.
ADVENTURES OF THE “FOUR ALLS” AND OF THE CELESTIAL CHEMIST
“‘Friend Sancho,’ said Don Quixote, ’this Island that I promised you can neither stir nor fly.’”—CERVANTES.
“Now what precisely did your sister mean by that?” asked the artist, withdrawing his gaze and fixing it on Arthur Miles.
“She is not my sister,” said the boy.
The artist—he was an extraordinarily tall young man, with a keen hatchet face, restless brown eyes, and straight auburn hair parted accurately in the middle—considered for a moment, then nodded.