“I’d better go down,” said Lilly to himself.
So he began running down the four long flights of stone stairs, past the many doors of the multifarious business premises, and out into the market. A little crowd had gathered, and a large policeman was just rowing into the centre of the interest. Lilly, always a hoverer on the edge of public commotions, hung now hesitating on the outskirts of the crowd.
“What is it?” he said, to a rather sniffy messenger boy.
“Drunk,” said the messenger boy: except that, in unblushing cockney, he pronounced it “Drank.”
Lilly hung further back on the edge of the little crowd.
“Come on here. Where d’ you want to go?” he heard the hearty tones of the policeman.
“I’m all right. I’m all right,” came the testy drunken answer.
“All right, are yer! All right, and then some,—come on, get on your pins.”
“I’m all right! I’m all right.”
The voice made Lilly peer between the people. And sitting on the granite setts, being hauled up by a burly policeman, he saw our acquaintance Aaron, very pale in the face and a little dishevelled.
“Like me to tuck the sheets round you, shouldn’t you? Fancy yourself snug in bed, don’t you? You won’t believe you’re right in the way of traffic, will you now, in Covent Garden Market? Come on, we’ll see to you.” And the policeman hoisted the bitter and unwilling Aaron.
Lilly was quickly at the centre of the affair, unobtrusive like a shadow, different from the other people.
“Help him up to my room, will you?” he said to the constable. “Friend of mine.”
The large constable looked down on the bare-headed wispy, unobtrusive Lilly with good-humoured suspicion and incredulity. Lilly could not have borne it if the policeman had uttered any of this cockney suspicion, so he watched him. There was a great gulf between the public official and the odd, quiet little individual—yet Lilly had his way.
“Which room?” said the policeman, dubious.
Lilly pointed quickly round. Then he said to Aaron:
“Were you coming to see me, Sisson? You’ll come in, won’t you?”
Aaron nodded rather stupidly and testily. His eyes looked angry. Somebody stuck his hat on his head for him, and made him look a fool. Lilly took it off again, and carried it for him. He turned and the crowd eased. He watched Aaron sharply, and saw that it was with difficulty he could walk. So he caught him by the arm on the other side from the policeman, and they crossed the road to the pavement.
“Not so much of this sort of thing these days,” said the policeman.
“Not so much opportunity,” said Lilly.
“More than there was, though. Coming back to the old days, like. Working round, bit by bit.”
They had arrived at the stairs. Aaron stumbled up.
“Steady now! Steady does it!” said the policeman, steering his charge. There was a curious breach of distance between Lilly and the constable.