- CHAPTER IV THE ADVENTURERS
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IT was three days after their talk in the area, when Phosie had demonstrated her ability to dance for a living, that Little Gus agreed to run away.
An unmerited thrashing from his master, whose temper was spoilt by long experience of errand-boys, settled the question. Gus had not neglected his work, but he was naturally stupid, and his master was unable to discriminate.
He went to Phosie, sore and indignant, threw himself unconditionally into her hands, and received his marching orders.
They were to leave Airy Street on the following morning, meeting by agreement outside a certain sweet shop some distance away, and set out at once to conquer London.
Although Phosie no longer lived in the quaint world of her childhood, surrounded by imaginary pets and firmly believing in the existence of fairies—fairies who were as real to her as "the country" where they lived and which she had never seen—it only meant she had shifted her ground. She saw the streets and houses, not indeed under the spell of enchantment, but all in a haze of adventure and romance.
She and Little Gus were about to enter on a life of excitement and delight. They would forget Airy Street, work for their living, buy books, wander in the parks, win the love of innumerable friends, and make their fortunes. Beyond making their fortunes she did not speculate. There is nothing like being strictly practical.| | 31
Fortune favoured her on the day of liberation.
Mrs Simmons, who had been out to supper on the previous evening, did not get up to breakfast, leaving the lodgers to Phosie's care.
Having cooked the first-floor's bacon, made the second-floor's tea, and told the third-floor it was nearly eight o'clock, according to instructions, she packed her store of clothes into a bundle—poor Eddy Moore's heart would have ached to see that little bundle!—ate a piece of bread and butter, cleaned her shoes, and finally tapped at Mrs Simmons's door. Mrs Simmons grunted from within.
"Shall I get you your breakfast, Mrs Simmons?" said Phosie through the door.
"Come in, can't you?" said her mistress.
Phosie obeyed. The closeness of the air, the remains of a supper on a table, the look of the woman on the tumbled bed, gave her a minute of nausea. She recovered herself quickly and stood at the door, waiting for orders.
"Pull up the blind a bit, Phose, and take away that stale food. I don't think I can eat anything. My head's something awful this morning," said Mrs Simmons, yawning horribly.
The girl, with an effort mastering her repugnance to enter, raised the blind over the closely-bolted window and packed the tray, while Mrs Simmons pulled herself into a dirty flannel dressing-jacket and rubbed her face all over, regardless of features, like a baby.
"Shall I open the window a little, Mrs Simmons?" said Phosie, boldly. "It's very stuffy."
"Mind your own business!" said Mrs Simmons. "I don't want to be blown out of bed with the draught. You make me a strong cup o' tea and a round of buttered toast, and bring up the knuckle of ham. Look sharp!"
When Phosie returned she guessed, by the smell of brandy in the room, that her mistress had been indulging in the first drink of the day. She made the room as tidy as she could, and set the neat tray on a chair by the bed. | | 32 Mrs Simmons did not thank her, but she began to eat her breakfast with great energy for such a sufferer.
"Oh, my poor head!" she muttered at intervals, dragging shreds of meat off the knuckle with evident relish. "Oh, my poor, dear head!"
The girl smiled and looked at her from the door, with her mat of coarse black hair and flannel dressing-jacket open at the big throat, and that was the last she ever saw of Mrs Simmons.
Phosie filled the kettle and put it on the stove, ready for Mrs Simmons to wash up the breakfast things; filled the scuttle with coals; gave the cat a saucer of milk; made her own slip of a room tidy, and then put on her hat and little cape.
She wrote a few words of good-bye on a piece of paper and left it on the kitchen table. She had told Little Gus to do the same. Before leaving the house she ran upstairs and stealthily laid her face for a second against the door of the room where her father had slept. A pang of loneliness shot through her. She felt as if she were leaving him behind.
"Good-bye, my daddy!" she whispered to the closed door, patted it with her hand, and slipped noiselessly away.
It was a hot, sunny morning. Phosie closed the area door as quietly as she could, and hurried up the steps into the street.
A man was passing the house carrying a basket filled with roses, violets and other flowers. A whiff of delicate perfume swept over her face, forever after to be associated in her mind with the hour of freedom.
Phosie's eyes rested with delight on the confusion of soft but vivid colours, and her feet fairly danced along the pavement of Airy Street.
Two women, who were disputing in high-pitched voices at the corner, stopped as she passed and looked after her. She had given an absurd little caper, unable to check her- | | 33 self, and they both happened to see it. A laugh ended their quarrel.
A pretty child greeted her from the steps of a neighbour's house, and she stopped a second to exchange a kiss.
A young woman, plodding along with a barrow of vegetables, nodded good morning, although she had never seen Phosie before, and told her baby, enthroned on an old sack on top of the lettuces, to wave his hand.
She had never found the sky so blue or the sunshine so brilliant. It would not have surprised her if the stones had turned into gold. The rumble of more busy roads in the distance summoned her like martial music. The spirit of Adventure fired her blood.
Little Gus was waiting at the appointed spot. She burst out laughing when she saw him. He was leaning against a wall, his cap at the back of his head, and all his worldly possessions tied up in a bit of old blue apron. He looked a picture of human misery.
"Is there anything the matter, Gus?" said Phosie, trying to be sympathetic.
He sniffed loudly, it was a habit of his, and looked at his fellow-adventurer with rueful eyes.
"What's to 'appen next?" he asked.
Phosie confided her plans.
"We are going to find Mr and Mrs Dovey," she said. "They are old friends of mine. They used to live in our house, and when they went away Mrs Dovey gave me her address. She will tell us where to sleep, and perhaps we can live with them till we get some work to do."
"All right, but look 'ere! You won't catch me not goin' to another butcher—never!" said Little Gus.
"No, you must get something better than that," agreed Phosie.
They had started to walk down the street as they talked, but now Phosie stopped and laughed again.
"We're going back to Airy Street!" she exclaimed. | | 34 "That'll never do. Stop a minute while I look again where Mrs Dovey lives."
She took a carefully-folded letter out of her pocket, and held it for her companion to read at the same time.
"You see she lives in Hammersmith," said Phosie. "Now, I wonder where that is."
Little Gus suggested it might be near the Borough or Smithfield Meat Market, the only parts of London he seemed to have heard about.
They consulted a policeman, and Phosie listened carefully to his advice regarding trains or omnibuses. Gus stared helplessly up and down Edgware Road, too depressed to pay attention.
"We can walk a little now I know the way," said Phosie, and started off again at a brisk pace.
The policeman glanced after them. He was a serious, youthful Scotchman, so he knew a pretty girl when he saw one.
The open sweep of roads at Marble Arch, with the beautiful waving branches of the park beyond, captivated Phosie. She stood at the edge of the curb, absorbed in the continual threat of entanglement in the traffic, the never-ending movement in the scene.
Gus was much more interested in a deformed beggar, watching the unfortunate man's method of wriggling along on his hands and knees with morbid curiosity. He clutched Phosie's sleeve nervously as they crossed the busy road, but once within Hyde Park, westward bound, even Little Gus was moved to pleasure.
They walked on the grass, shaded by the leafy boughs, their unaccustomed eyes roving over the seemingly endless greensward, the vivid flower-beds and even paths.
They rested for half an hour within sight of the fountains in Kensington Gardens, and eagerly devoured a couple of buns which Phosie had bought in Edgware Road. Already it seemed a long, long time since they left Airy Street.| | 35
Mid-day found them at Hammersmith, slightly discouraged by having wandered out of their way in passing through Bayswater. Little Gus complained of fatigue. Phosie was obliged to spend another penny in refreshments.
It was a difficult matter to find the mean street from which Mrs Dovey had written. The boy began to lag behind, and even Phosie, undaunted as she was, felt ill at ease and a little nervous in the bustle and noise of unknown roads.
They strayed into a busy market, lined with fruit and vegetable stalls, where Little Gus pleaded for bananas, stared open-mouthed at a man doing a good trade with the latest penny novelties, and found horrible fascination in watching a boy skinning rabbits.
They were jostled into a crowded thoroughfare, where women with perambulators serenely wheeled their infants along the narrow pavement, all trying to be near the shop windows, regardless of the rules of the road.
It was with a sense of gratitude and relief, intensified by the knowledge that her old friends were at hand, that Phosie read the longed-for name on a gas-lamp at the corner of a little street of poor houses, with crowds of children of all ages playing about the pavement.
Quickly finding the number she wanted Phosie picked her way between two little boys who were engaged in sharing a large round sweet, of the kind vendored as "The Old Original English Bullseye," rolling it from one to the other along the ground between their sucks.
She knocked boldly at the open door. Gus remained in the street below, in charge of the bundles. After a lengthy pause a young woman appeared out of the darkness of the passage, and civilly asked her business.
"I want to see Mr and Mrs Dovey, if you please," said Phosie, her voice shaking with excitement.
"Dovey?" repeated the woman, vaguely. "I don't | | 36 know that name. You don't mean Saunders, or Levy, I suppose?"
"Oh, no!"said Phosie, quickly. "I mean Mrs Dovey. She's an old lady and her husband plays the cornet."
"They've gone!" broke in a shrill voice from the distance, belonging to a second woman, whose figure could be dimly discerned hanging over the banisters. "I know the people she means, Mrs Saunders. They've gone. They went a couple of months ago, before you moved in."
"They've gone," said the woman at the door, echoing the hopeless words in Phosie's ears.
"Do you know where they have gone?" she asked a little faintly.
"No!" said the shrill voice, with decision. "No idea, nor nobody else in the house. What did you want them for?"
"They were friends of mine, but it doesn't matter. Thank you!" said the girl, shrinking away from the sharp curiosity of the two women.
She walked briskly down the street, her head high, and Little Gus pattered along beside her.
"Well? Ain't we goin' in? What's up?" he asked breathlessly.
"Mr and Mrs Dovey are not there," she answered slowly. "We must do without them, Gus."
"Oh, Gawd!" groaned the boy.
Phosie seized upon his hand.
"It's all right, dear! Don't you be frightened," she said.
He sniffed more loudly than usual for a few minutes, clinging to her hand.
"I s'pose—we're goin' back again then?" he said.
"Oh, Gus!" exclaimed Phosie. "Back to Airy Street? Back to the old grind? Back to dirt and darkness? No! No!"
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