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CHAPTER VII.
Bertram soon lost himself among the crowd on the lawn, among all the county people and the village people, making his way out and in, in a solitude which never feels so great as among a crowd. It seemed wonderful to him, as it is specially to those who have been more or less in what is called “Society,” that he saw nobody whom he knew. That is a thing almost impossible to happen for those that are born within that charmed circle. Whether at the end of the world or in the midst of it, it is incredible that you should see an assemblage of human creatures without discovering one who is familiar at least, if not friendly—unless, indeed, you wander into regions unknown to society; and Mrs. Wradisley and her guests would{104} all have been indignant indeed had that been for a moment imagined of them. But yet this is a thing that does happen now and then, and Bertram traversed the lawns and flower gardens and conservatories without meeting a single face which he recognized or being greeted by one voice he had ever heard before. To be sure, this was partly owing to the fact that the person of whom he was specially in search was a very small person, to be distinguished at a very low pitch of stature near to the ground, not a tall on a level with the other forms. There were a few children among the groups on the lawn, and he pursued a white frock in various directions, which, when found, proved to contain some one who was not Tiny; but at last he came to that little person clinging to Lucy’s skirts as she moved about among her mother’s guests. Lucy turned round upon Bertram with a little surprise to find him so near her, and then a little rising glow of color and a look in her mild eyes of mingled curiosity and compassion, which penetrated him with sudden consciousness, annoyance,{105} yet amusement. Already it was evident Ralph had found a moment a tell his tale. “Oh, Mr. Bertram!” Lucy said. She would have said precisely the same in whatever circumstances; the whole difference was in the tone.

Then a small voice was uplifted at her feet. “It is the gemplemans,” Tiny said.

“So you remember me, little one? though we only saw each other in the dark. Will you come for a walk with me, Tiny?” Bertram said.

The child looked at him with serious eyes. Now that he saw her in daylight she was not the common model of the angelic child, but dark, with a little olive tint in her cheeks and dark brown hair waving upon her shoulders. He scarcely recognized, except by the serious look, the little runaway of the previous night, yet recognized something in her for which he was not at all prepared, which he could not explain to himself. Why did the child look at him so? And he looked at her, not with the half fantastic, amused liking which had made him seek her out, but seriously{106} too, infected by her survey of him, which was so penetrating and so grave. After Tiny had given him this investigating look, she put her little velvety hand into his, with the absolute confidence of her age, “’Ess, me go for a walk,” she said.

“Now, Tiny, talk properly to this gentleman; let him see what a lady you can be when you please,” said Lucy. “She’s too old to talk like that, isn’t she, Mr. Bertram? She is nearly five! and she really can talk just as well as I can, when she likes. Tiny! now remember!” Lucy was very earnest in her desire that Tiny should do herself justice; but once more lifted the swift, interrogative look which seemed to say, as he knew she would, “Oh, Mr. Bertram—why?”

“Where shall we go for our walk, Tiny?” Bertram said.

“Take Tiny down to the pond; nobody never take me down to the wasser. Mamma says Tiny tumble in, but gemplemans twite safe. Come, come, afore mummie sees and says no.{107}”

“But, Tiny, if you’re sure your mother would say no—”

“Qwick, qwick!” cried Tiny. “If mummie says nuffin, no matter; but if she says no!”—this was uttered with a little stamp of the foot and raised voice as if in imitation of a familiar prohibition—“then Tiny tan’t go. Come along, quick, quick.”

It was clear that Tiny’s obedience was to the letter, not the spirit.

“But I don’t know the way,” said Bertram, holding a little back.

“Come, come!” cried the child, dragging him on. “Tiny show you the way.”

“And what if we both fall in, Tiny?”

“You’s too old, too big gemplemans to fall into the wasser—too big to have any mummie.”

“Alas! that’s true,” he said.

“Then never mind,” said the little girl. “No mummie, no nursie, nobody to scold you. You can go in the boat if you like. Come! Oh, Tiny do, do want to go in the boat; and there’s flowers on the udder side,{108} fordet-me-nots!—wants to get fordet-me-nots. Come, gemplemans, come!”

“Would you like to ride on my shoulder? and then we shall go quicker,” he said.

She stood still at once, and held out her arms to be lifted up. Now Bertram was not the kind of man who makes himself into the horse, the bear, the lion, as occasion demands, for the amusement of children. He was more surprised to find himself with this little creature seated on his shoulder, than she was on her elevated seat, where indeed she was entirely at her ease, guiding him with imperative tugs at the collar of his coat and beating her small foot against his breast, as if she had the most perfect right to his attention and devotion. “This way, this way,” sang Tiny; “that way nasty way, down among the thorns—this way nice way; get fordet-me-nots for mummie; mummie never say nuffin—Tiny tan go!”

He found himself thus hurrying over the park, with the child’s voice singing its little monologue over his head, flushed with rebellion against the unconscious mother, much amused at himself. And yet it was not{109} amusement; it was a curious sensation which Bertram could not understand. It is not quite an unexampled thing to fall in love with a child at first sight; but he was not aware that he had ever done it before, and to be turned so completely by the child into the instrument of her little rebellions and pleasures was more wonderful still. He laughed within himself, but his laugh went out of him like the flame of a candle in the wind. He felt more like to cry, if he had been a subject for crying. But why he could not tell. Never was man in a more disturbed and perplexed state of mind. Guided by Tiny’s pullings and beatings, he got to the pond at last, a pond upon the other side of which there was, strange to say, visible among the russet foliage, one little clump of belated forget-me-nots quite out of season. The child’s quick eye had noted them as she had gone by with her nurse on some recent walk. Bertram knew a great many things, but it is very doubtful whether he was aware that it was wonderful to find forget-me-nots so late. And Tiny was a sight to{110} see when he put her down in the stern of the boat and pulled across the pond with a few long strokes. Her eyes, which had a golden light in their darkness, shone with triumph and delight; the brown of her little sunburnt face glowed transparent as if there was a light within; her dark curls waved; the piquancy of the complexion so unusual in a child, the chant of her little voice shouting, “Fordet-me-nots, fordet-me-nots!” her little rapture of eagerness and pleasure carried him altogether out of himself. He had loved that complexion in his day; perhaps it was some recollection, some resemblance, which was at the bottom of this strange absorption in the little creature of whose very existence he had not been aware till last night. Now, if he had been called on to give his very life for Tiny he would have been capable of it, without knowing why; and, indeed, there would have been a very likely occasion of giving his life for Tiny, or of sacrificing hers, as her mother foresaw, if he had not caught her as she stretched herself out of the boat to reach the flowers. His grip{111} of her was almost violent—and there was a moment during which Tiny’s little glow disappeared in a sudden thunder-cloud, changing the character of her little face, and a small incipient stamp of passion on the planks betrayed rebellion ready to rise. But Tiny looked at Bertram, who held her very firmly, fixed him with much the same look as she had given him at their first meeting, and suddenly changed countenance again. What did that look mean? He had said laughingly on the previous night that it was a look of recognition. She suddenly put her two little hands round his neck, and said, “Tiny will be dood.” And the effect of the little rebel’s embrace was that tears—actual wet tears, which for a moment blinded eyes which had looked every kind of wonder and terror in the face—surprised him before he knew. What did it mean? What did it mean? It was too wonderful for words.

The flowers were gathered after this in perfect safety and harmony; Tiny puddling with her hands in the mud to get the nearest ones “nice and long,” as she said, while Bertram{112} secured those that were further off. And then there arose a great difficulty as to how to carry these wet and rather muddy spoils. Tiny’s pretty frock, which she held out in both hands to receive them like a ballet dancer, could not be thought of.

“For what would your mother say if your frock was wet and dirty?” said Bertram, seriously troubled.

“Mummie say, ‘Oh, Tiny, Tiny, naughty schild,’” said the little girl, with a very grave face; “never come no more to garden party.”

Finally an expedient was devised in the shape of Bertram’s handkerchief tied together at the corners, and swung upon a switch of willow which was light enough for Tiny to carry; in which guise the pair set out again toward the house and the smart people, Tiny once more on Bertram’s shoulder, with the bundle of flowers bobbing in front of his nose, and, it need not be said, some trace of the gathering of the flowers and of the muddy edges of the pool, and the moss-grown planks of the boat showing on both performers—on{113} Tiny’s frock, which was a little wet, and on Bertram’s coat, marked by the beating of the little feet, which had gathered a little mud and greenness too. Tiny began to question him on the returning way.

“Gemplemans too big to have got a mummie,” said Tiny; “have you got a little girl?”

Not getting any immediate answer to this question, she sang it over him in her way, repeating it again and again—“Have zoo dot a little girl?”—her dialect varying according to her caprice, until the small refrain got into his head.

The man was utterly confused and troubled; he could not give Tiny any answer, nor could he answer the wonderful maze of questions and thoughts which this innocent demand of hers awakened in his breast. When they came within sight of the lawn and its gay crowd, Bertram bethought him that it would be better to put his little rider down, and to present her to perhaps an anxious or angry mother on a level, which would make her impaired toilet less conspicuous.{114} After all, there was nothing so wonderful in the fact that a little girl had dirtied her frock. He had no occasion to feel so guilty and disturbed about it. And this is how it happened that the adventurers appeared quite humbly, Tiny not half pleased to descend from her eminence and carrying now over her shoulder, as Bertram suggested, the stick which supported her packet of flowers, while he walked rather shamefaced by her, holding her hand, and looking out with a little trepidation for the mother, who, after all, could not bring down very condign punishment upon him for running away with her child.

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