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A Hero of Romance by Richard Marsh

Bertie was like a plaything in his hands


The

presence of the shops caused him an additional pang. The display of costly goods in their windows seemed to add to his misery. Even the possession of his fourpence, as compared to the value of such treasures, would have placed him at a disadvantage.

But without it he was poor indeed. He was fascinated by the fruit shops; all the fruits of the earth, those in season and those out, seemed gathered there. He glued his nose to the window and looked and longed.

"Now then, what are you doing there? move on out of that!"

A policeman, in a shiny cape, from which the wet was dripping, roughly shouldered him on. He was not even allowed to look. This was not at all the sort of thing he had expected. His idea of his entry into the great city had been altogether different. He was to come as the king of boys, if not of men; as something remarkable, as a heaven-born conqueror; something to be talked of; the centre of all eyes directly he was seen. To sleep upon the sodden grass, to be penniless, cold, wet, and hungry, to be shouldered by policemen, to be bidden to move on, these things had not entered into his calculations when that night at Mecklemburg House he had dreamed those golden dreams.

He struggled on; his feet became more painful; he was limping; rest he must. He turned down a bye-street, and then down a friendly entry, and leaned against the wall.

Was this what he had come for, to lean in the rain against a wall, and to be thankful for the chance of leaning? He had not read in lives of Robin Hood, and Turpin, and Crusoe, and Jack the Giant-Killer, of episodes like this. But then, perhaps, his acquaintance with the histories of those gentlemen was not so perfect as it might have been.

Suddenly he heard the sound of rapidly approaching footsteps. Some one was coming along the side-street as though racing for his life. A lad about his own age came darting round the corner in such terrific haste that he almost ran into Bertie's arms.

"Catch hold! here's a present for you."

The runner gasped out the words, without pausing in his flight. Like an arrow from a bow he darted on, leaving Bertie standing there. To his amazement Bailey found that he had thrust something in his hand; his surprise was intensified when he discovered what it was,--it was a purse. The runner had turned another corner and was already out of sight.

Bertie, in his bewilderment, could do nothing else but gaze. Such unexpected generosity, coming at such a moment, was so astonishing that it was almost as though the gift had fallen from the skies. A good fat purse! It was like the stories after all. He could feel that it was heavy; he almost thought that he could feel that it was full. Suppose it were full of gold! Had it fallen from the skies?

All this occupied an instant. The next he was conscious that some one else was coming up the street; apparently some one else in equal haste; apparently more than one. Cries rang in his ears; he could not quite distinguish the words which were shouted, but at their sound, for some reason, a cold chill went down his back.

Some one came round the corner; some one who seized him as though he were some wild thing.

"Got you, have I! thought you'd double, did you, and slip out when I'd run past? Artful, but it didn't quite do,--not this time, at any rate."

His captor shook him as a terrier shakes a rat. It was a policeman, a huge, bearded fellow, six feet high. Bertie was like a plaything in his hands. On hearing some one coming, the boy, without any thought of what he was doing, had slipped the hand which held the purse behind his back. The policeman was down on it at once.


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