“Ye’ve put on a lot,” she cried; “but, oh, my Gawd, don’t it warm yer! Come on, Polly—come on.”
She dragged out a wooden stool, an empty soap-box, and bundled the sacks into a heap to be sat upon. She swept the things from the table and set them in their paper wrappings on the floor.
“Let’s all sit down close to it—close,” she said, “an’ get warm an’ eat, an’ eat.”
She was the leaven which leavened the lump of their humanity. What this leaven is—who has found out? But she—little rat of the gutter—was formed of it, and her mere pure animal joy in the temporary animal comfort of the moment stirred and uplifted them from their depths.
They drew near and sat upon the substitutes for seats in a circle—and the fire threw up flame and made a glow in the fog hanging in the black hole of a room.
It was Glad who set the battered kettle on and when it boiled made tea. The other two watched her, being under her spell. She handed out slices of bread and sausage and pudding on bits of paper. Polly fed with tremulous haste; Glad herself with rejoicing and exulting in flavors. Antony Dart ate bread and meat as he had eaten the bread and dripping at the stall—accepting his normal hunger as part of the dream.
Suddenly Glad paused in the midst of a huge bite.
“Mister,” she said, “p’raps that cove’s waitin’ fer yer. Let’s ’ave ’im in. I’ll go and fetch ’im.”
She was getting up, but Dart was on his feet first.
“I must go,” he said. “He is expecting me and—”
“Aw,” said Glad, “lemme go along o’ yer, mister—jest to show there’s no ill feelin’.”
“Very well,” he answered.
It was she who led, and he who followed. At the door she stopped and looked round with a grin.
“Keep up the fire, Polly,” she threw back. “Ain’t it warm and cheerful? It’ll do the cove good to see it.”
She led the way down the black, unsafe stairway. She always led.
Outside the fog had thickened again, but she went through it as if she could see her way.
At the entrance to the court the thief was standing, leaning against the wall with fevered, unhopeful waiting in his eyes. He moved miserably when he saw the girl, and she called out to reassure him.
“I ain’t up to no ’arm,” she said; “I on’y come with the gent.”
Antony Dart spoke to him.
“Did you get food?”
The man shook his head.
“I turned faint after you left me, and when I came to I was afraid I might miss you,” he answered. “I daren’t lose my chance. I bought some bread and stuffed it in my pocket. I’ve been eating it while I’ve stood here.”
“Come back with us,” said Dart. “We are in a place where we have some food.”
He spoke mechanically, and was aware that he did so. He was a pawn pushed about upon the board of this day’s life.