“If you please,” he said politely, “I want change for this—if you can spare it.”
“Bless my soul!” exclaimed the man, staring. “What, another?”
“The bird-seller up the road had no change about him. And—and, if you please,” went on Dick hardily, with a glance at the girl, “she hurt her hands putting out a fire just now. I expect my father gave her the money for that. But she must have burnt her hands dreffully!”—Dicky had not quite outgrown his infantile lisp—“and if she’s come for stuff to put on them, please I want to pay for it.”
“But I don’t want you to,” put in the girl, still hesitating by the counter.
“But I’d rather insisted Dicky.
“Tut!” said the drug-seller. “A matter of twopence won’t break either of us. Captain Vyell’s boy, are you? Well, then, I’ll take your coppers on principle.”
He counted out the change, and Dicky—who was not old enough yet to do sums—pretended to find it correct. But he was old enough to have acquired charming manners, and after thanking the drug-seller, gave the girl quite a grown-up little bow as he passed out.
She would have followed, but the man said, “Stay a moment. What’s your name?”
“I was sixteen last month.”
“Then listen to a word of advice, Ruth Josselin, and don’t you take money like that from fine gentlemen like the Collector. They don’t give it to the ugly ones. Understand?”
“Thank you,” she said. “I am going to give it back;” and slipping the guinea into her pocket, she said “Good evening,” and walked swiftly out in the wake of the child.
The drug-seller looked after her shrewdly. He was a moral man.
Ruth, hurrying out upon the side-walk, descried the child a few paces up the road. He had come to a halt; was, in fact, plucking up his courage to go and demand the bird-cage. She overtook him.
“I was sent out to look for you,” she said. “I oughtn’t to have wasted time buying that ointment; but my hands were hurting me. Please, you are to come home and change your clothes for dinner.”
“I’ll come in a minute,” said Dicky, “if you’ll stand here and wait.”
He might be called by that word again; and without knowing why, he dreaded her hearing it. She waited while he trotted forward, nerving himself to face the crowd again. Lo! when he reached the booth, all the bystanders had melted away. The bird-seller was covering up his cages with loose wrappers, making ready to pack up for the night.
“Hello!” he said cheerfully. “Thought I’d lost you for good.”
He took the child’s money and handed the canary cage across the sill; also the bird-whistle, wrapped in a scrap of paper. Many times in the course of a career which brought him much fighting and some little fame, Dicky Vyell remembered this his first lesson in courage—that if you walk straight up to an enemy, as likely as not you find him vanished.