SYLVIE and BRUNO by LEWIS CARROLL
Is all our Life, then but a dream Seen faintly in the goldern gleam Athwart Time's dark resistless stream?
Bowed to the earth with bitter woe Or laughing at some raree-show We flutter idly to and fro.
Man's little Day in haste we spend, And, from its merry noontide, send No glance to meet the silent end.
Preface [Moved to the end]
CHAPTER 1 Less Bread! More Taxes! CHAPTER 2 L'amie Inconnue CHAPTER 3 Birthday Presents CHAPTER 4 A Cunning Conspiracy CHAPTER 5 A Beggar's Palace CHAPTER 6 The Magic Locket CHAPTER 7 The Barons Embassy CHAPTER 8 A Ride on a Lion CHAPTER 9 A Jester and a Bear CHAPTER 10 The Other Professor CHAPTER 11 Peter and Paul CHAPTER 12 A Musical Gardener CHAPTER 13 A Visit to Dogland CHAPTER 14 Fairy-Sylvie CHAPTER 15 Bruno's Revenge CHAPTER 16 A Changed Crocodile CHAPTER 17 The Three Badgers CHAPTER 18 Queer Street, number forty CHAPTER 19 How to make a Phlizz CHAPTER 20 Light come, light go CHAPTER 21 Through the Ivory Door CHAPTER 22 Crossing the Line CHAPTER 23 An outlandish watch CHAPTER 24 The Frogs' Birthday-treat CHAPTER 25 Looking Easward Preface [Moved to the end]
SYLVIE AND BRUNO
LESS BREAD! MORE TAXES!
—and then all the people cheered again, and one man, who was more excited than the rest, flung his hat high into the air, and shouted (as well as I could make out) "Who roar for the Sub-Warden?" Everybody roared, but whether it was for the Sub-Warden, or not, did not clearly appear: some were shouting "Bread!" and some "Taxes!", but no one seemed to know what it was they really wanted.
All this I saw from the open window of the Warden's breakfast-saloon, looking across the shoulder of the Lord Chancellor, who had sprung to his feet the moment the shouting began, almost as if he had been expecting it, and had rushed to the window which commanded the best view of the market-place.
"What can it all mean?" he kept repeating to himself, as, with his hands clasped behind him, and his gown floating in the air, he paced rapidly up and down the room. "I never heard such shouting before— and at this time of the morning, too! And with such unanimity! Doesn't it strike you as very remarkable?"
I represented, modestly, that to my ears it appeared that they were shouting for different things, but the Chancellor would not listen to my suggestion for a moment. "They all shout the same words, I assure you!" he said: then, leaning well out of the window, he whispered to a man who was standing close underneath, "Keep'em together, ca'n't you? The Warden will be here directly. Give'em the signal for the march up!" All this was evidently not meant for my ears, but I could scarcely help hearing it, considering that my chin was almost on the Chancellor's shoulder.
The 'march up' was a very curious sight:
a straggling procession of men, marching two and two, began from the other side of the market-place, and advanced in an irregular zig-zag fashion towards the Palace, wildly tacking from side to side, like a sailing vessel making way against an unfavourable wind so that the head of the procession was often further from us at the end of one tack than it had been at the end of the previous one.
Yet it was evident that all was being done under orders, for I noticed that all eyes were fixed on the man who stood just under the window, and to whom the Chancellor was continually whispering. This man held his hat in one hand and a little green flag in the other: whenever he waved the flag the procession advanced a little nearer, when he dipped it they sidled a little farther off, and whenever he waved his hat they all raised a hoarse cheer. "Hoo-roah!" they cried, carefully keeping time with the hat as it bobbed up and down. "Hoo-roah! Noo! Consti! Tooshun! Less! Bread! More! Taxes!"
"That'll do, that'll do!" the Chancellor whispered. "Let 'em rest a bit till I give you the word. He's not here yet!" But at this moment the great folding-doors of the saloon were flung open, and he turned with a guilty start to receive His High Excellency. However it was only Bruno, and the Chancellor gave a little gasp of relieved anxiety.
"Morning!" said the little fellow, addressing the remark, in a general sort of way, to the Chancellor and the waiters. "Doos oo know where Sylvie is? I's looking for Sylvie!"
"She's with the Warden, I believe, y'reince!" the Chancellor replied with a low bow. There was, no doubt, a certain amount of absurdity in applying this title (which, as of course you see without my telling you, was nothing but 'your Royal Highness' condensed into one syllable) to a small creature whose father was merely the Warden of Outland: still, large excuse must be made for a man who had passed several years at the Court of Fairyland, and had there acquired the almost impossible art of pronouncing five syllables as one.
But the bow was lost upon Bruno, who had run out of the room, even while the great feat of The Unpronounceable Monosyllable was being triumphantly performed.
Just then, a single voice in the distance was understood to shout "A speech from the Chancellor!" "Certainly, my friends!" the Chancellor replied with extraordinary promptitude. "You shall have a speech!" Here one of the waiters, who had been for some minutes busy making a queer-looking mixture of egg and sherry, respectfully presented it on a large silver salver. The Chancellor took it haughtily, drank it off thoughtfully, smiled benevolently on the happy waiter as he set down the empty glass, and began. To the best of my recollection this is what he said.
"Ahem! Ahem! Ahem! Fellow-sufferers, or rather suffering fellows—" ("Don't call 'em names!" muttered the man under the window. "I didn't say felons!" the Chancellor explained.) "You may be sure that I always sympa—" ("'Ear, 'ear!" shouted the crowd, so loudly as quite to drown the orator's thin squeaky voice) "—that I always sympa—" he repeated. ("Don't simper quite so much!" said the man under the window. "It makes yer look a hidiot!" And, all this time, "'Ear, 'ear!" went rumbling round the market-place, like a peal of thunder.) "That I always sympathise!" yelled the Chancellor, the first moment there was silence. "But your true friend is the Sub-Warden! Day and night he is brooding on your wrongs—I should say your rights— that is to say your wrongs—no, I mean your rights—" ("Don't talk no more!" growled the man under the window. "You're making a mess of it!") At this moment the Sub-Warden entered the saloon. He was a thin man, with a mean and crafty face, and a greenish-yellow complexion; and he crossed the room very slowly, looking suspiciously about him as if be thought there might be a savage dog hidden somewhere. "Bravo!" he cried, patting the Chancellor on the back. "You did that speech very well indeed. Why, you're a born orator, man!"
"Oh, that's nothing! the Chancellor replied, modestly, with downcast eyes. "Most orators are born, you know."
The Sub-Warden thoughtfully rubbed his chin. "Why, so they are!" he admitted. "I never considered it in that light. Still, you did it very well. A word in your ear!"
The rest of their conversation was all in whispers: so, as I could hear no more, I thought I would go and find Bruno.
I found the little fellow standing in the passage, and being addressed by one of the men in livery, who stood before him, nearly bent double from extreme respectfulness, with his hands hanging in front of him like the fins of a fish. "His High Excellency," this respectful man was saying, "is in his Study, y'reince!" (He didn't pronounce this quite so well as the Chancellor.) Thither Bruno trotted, and I thought it well to follow him.
The Warden, a tall dignified man with a grave but very pleasant face, was seated before a writing-table, which was covered with papers, and holding on his knee one of the sweetest and loveliest little maidens it has ever been my lot to see. She looked four or five years older than Bruno, but she had the same rosy cheeks and sparkling eyes, and the same wealth of curly brown hair. Her eager smiling face was turned upwards towards her father's, and it was a pretty sight to see the mutual love with which the two faces—one in the Spring of Life, the other in its late Autumn—were gazing on each other.
"No, you've never seen him," the old man was saying: "you couldn't, you know, he's been away so long—traveling from land to land, and seeking for health, more years than you've been alive, little Sylvie!" Here Bruno climbed upon his other knee, and a good deal of kissing, on a rather complicated system, was the result.
"He only came back last night," said the Warden, when the kissing was over: "he's been traveling post-haste, for the last thousand miles or so, in order to be here on Sylvie's birthday. But he's a very early riser, and I dare say he's in the Library already. Come with me and see him. He's always kind to children. You'll be sure to like him."
"Has the Other Professor come too?" Bruno asked in an awe-struck voice.
"Yes, they arrived together. The Other Professor is—well, you won't like him quite so much, perhaps. He's a little more dreamy, you know."
"I wiss Sylvie was a little more dreamy," said Bruno.
"What do you mean, Bruno?" said Sylvie.
Bruno went on addressing his father. "She says she ca'n't, oo know. But I thinks it isn't ca'n't, it's wo'n't."
"Says she ca'n't dream!" the puzzled Warden repeated.
"She do say it," Bruno persisted. "When I says to her 'Let's stop lessons!', she says 'Oh, I ca'n't dream of letting oo stop yet!'"
"He always wants to stop lessons," Sylvie explained, "five minutes after we begin!"
"Five minutes' lessons a day!" said the Warden. "You won't learn much at that rate, little man!"
"That's just what Sylvie says," Bruno rejoined. "She says I wo'n't learn my lessons. And I tells her, over and over, I ca'n't learn 'em. And what doos oo think she says? She says 'It isn't ca'n't, it's wo'n't!'"
"Let's go and see the Professor," the Warden said, wisely avoiding further discussion. The children got down off his knees, each secured a hand, and the happy trio set off for the Library—followed by me. I had come to the conclusion by this time that none of the party (except, for a few moments, the Lord Chancellor) was in the least able to see me.
"What's the matter with him?" Sylvie asked, walking with a little extra sedateness, by way of example to Bruno at the other side, who never ceased jumping up and down.
[Image...Visiting the profesor]
"What was the matter—but I hope he's all right now—was lumbago, and rheumatism, and that kind of thing. He's been curing himself, you know: he's a very learned doctor. Why, he's actually invented three new diseases, besides a new way of breaking your collar-bone!"
"Is it a nice way?" said Bruno.
"Well, hum, not very," the Warden said, as we entered the Library. "And here is the Professor. Good morning, Professor! Hope you're quite rested after your journey!"
A jolly-looking, fat little man, in a flowery dressing-gown, with a large book under each arm, came trotting in at the other end of the room, and was going straight across without taking any notice of the children. "I'm looking for Vol. Three," he said. "Do you happen to have seen it?"
"You don't see my children, Professor!" the Warden exclaimed, taking him by the shoulders and turning him round to face them.
The Professor laughed violently: then he gazed at them through his great spectacles, for a minute or two, without speaking.
At last he addressed Bruno. "I hope you have had a good night, my child?" Bruno looked puzzled. "I's had the same night oo've had," he replied. "There's only been one night since yesterday!"
It was the Professor's turn to look puzzled now. He took off his spectacles, and rubbed them with his handkerchief. Then he gazed at them again. Then he turned to the Warden. "Are they bound?" he enquired.
"No, we aren't," said Bruno, who thought himself quite able to answer this question.
The Professor shook his head sadly. "Not even half-bound?"
"Why would we be half-bound?" said Bruno.
"We're not prisoners!"
But the Professor had forgotten all about them by this time, and was speaking to the Warden again. "You'll be glad to hear," he was saying, "that the Barometer's beginning to move—"
"Well, which way?" said the Warden—adding, to the children, "Not that I care, you know. Only he thinks it affects the weather. He's a wonderfully clever man, you know. Sometimes he says things that only the Other Professor can understand. Sometimes he says things that nobody can understand! Which way is it, Professor? Up or down?"
"Neither!" said the Professor, gently clapping his hands. "It's going sideways—if I may so express myself."
"And what kind of weather does that produce?" said the Warden. "Listen, children! Now you'll hear something worth knowing!"
"Horizontal weather," said the Professor, and made straight for the door, very nearly trampling on Bruno, who had only just time to get out of his way.
"Isn't he learned?" the Warden said, looking after him with admiring eyes. "Positively he runs over with learning!"
"But he needn't run over me!" said Bruno.
The Professor was back in a moment: he had changed his dressing-gown for a frock-coat, and had put on a pair of very strange-looking boots, the tops of which were open umbrellas. "I thought you'd like to see them," he said. "These are the boots for horizontal weather!"
[Image...Boots for horizontal weather]
"But what's the use of wearing umbrellas round one's knees?"
"In ordinary rain," the Professor admitted, "they would not be of much use. But if ever it rained horizontally, you know, they would be invaluable—simply invaluable!"
"Take the Professor to the breakfast-saloon, children," said the Warden. "And tell them not to wait for me. I had breakfast early, as I've some business to attend to." The children seized the Professor's hands, as familiarly as if they had known him for years, and hurried him away. I followed respectfully behind.
As we entered the breakfast-saloon, the Professor was saying "—and he had breakfast by himself, early: so he begged you wouldn't wait for him, my Lady. This way, my Lady," he added, "this way!" And then, with (as it seemed to me) most superfluous politeness, he flung open the door of my compartment, and ushered in "—a young and lovely lady!" I muttered to myself with some bitterness. "And this is, of course, the opening scene of Vol. I. She is the Heroine. And I am one of those subordinate characters that only turn up when needed for the development of her destiny, and whose final appearance is outside the church, waiting to greet the Happy Pair!"
"Yes, my Lady, change at Fayfield," were the next words I heard (oh that too obsequious Guard!), "next station but one." And the door closed, and the lady settled down into her corner, and the monotonous throb of the engine (making one feel as if the train were some gigantic monster, whose very circulation we could feel) proclaimed that we were once more speeding on our way. "The lady had a perfectly formed nose," I caught myself saying to myself, "hazel eyes, and lips—" and here it occurred to me that to see, for myself, what "the lady" was really like, would be more satisfactory than much speculation.
I looked round cautiously, and—was entirely disappointed of my hope. The veil, which shrouded her whole face, was too thick for me to see more than the glitter of bright eyes and the hazy outline of what might be a lovely oval face, but might also, unfortunately, be an equally unlovely one. I closed my eyes again, saying to myself "—couldn't have a better chance for an experiment in Telepathy! I'll think out her face, and afterwards test the portrait with the original."
At first, no result at all crowned my efforts, though I 'divided my swift mind,' now hither, now thither, in a way that I felt sure would have made AEneas green with envy: but the dimly-seen oval remained as provokingly blank as ever—a mere Ellipse, as if in some mathematical diagram, without even the Foci that might be made to do duty as a nose and a mouth. Gradually, however, the conviction came upon me that I could, by a certain concentration of thought, think the veil away, and so get a glimpse of the mysterious face—as to which the two questions, "is she pretty?" and "is she plain?", still hung suspended, in my mind, in beautiful equipoise.
Success was partial—and fitful—still there was a result: ever and anon, the veil seemed to vanish, in a sudden flash of light: but, before I could fully realise the face, all was dark again. In each such glimpse, the face seemed to grow more childish and more innocent: and, when I had at last thought the veil entirely away, it was, unmistakeably, the sweet face of little Sylvie!
"So, either I've been dreaming about Sylvie," I said to myself, "and this is the reality. Or else I've really been with Sylvie, and this is a dream! Is Life itself a dream, I wonder?"
To occupy the time, I got out the letter, which had caused me to take this sudden railway-journey from my London home down to a strange fishing-town on the North coast, and read it over again:-
"DEAR OLD FRIEND,
"I'm sure it will be as great a pleasure to me, as it can possibly be to you, to meet once more after so many years: and of course I shall be ready to give you all the benefit of such medical skill as I have: only, you know, one mustn't violate professional etiquette! And you are already in the hands of a first-rate London doctor, with whom it would be utter affectation for me to pretend to compete. (I make no doubt he is right in saying the heart is affected: all your symptoms point that way.) One thing, at any rate, I have already done in my doctorial capacity—secured you a bedroom on the ground-floor, so that you will not need to ascend the stairs at all.
"I shalt expect you by last train on Friday, in accordance with your letter: and, till then, I shalt say, in the words of the old song, 'Oh for Friday nicht! Friday's lang a-coming!'
"P.S. Do you believe in Fate?"
This Postscript puzzled me sorely. "He is far too sensible a man," I thought, "to have become a Fatalist. And yet what else can he mean by it?" And, as I folded up the letter and put it away, I inadvertently repeated the words aloud. "Do you believe in Fate?"
The fair 'Incognita' turned her head quickly at the sudden question. "No, I don't!" she said with a smile. "Do you?"
"I—I didn't mean to ask the question!" I stammered, a little taken aback at having begun a conversation in so unconventional a fashion.
The lady's smile became a laugh—not a mocking laugh, but the laugh of a happy child who is perfectly at her ease. "Didn't you?" she said. "Then it was a case of what you Doctors call 'unconscious cerebration'?"
"I am no Doctor," I replied. "Do I look so like one? Or what makes you think it?"
She pointed to the book I had been reading, which was so lying that its title, "Diseases of the Heart," was plainly visible.
"One needn't be a Doctor," I said, "to take an interest in medical books. There's another class of readers, who are yet more deeply interested—"
"You mean the Patients?" she interrupted, while a look of tender pity gave new sweetness to her face. "But," with an evident wish to avoid a possibly painful topic, "one needn't be either, to take an interest in books of Science. Which contain the greatest amount of Science, do you think, the books, or the minds?"
"Rather a profound question for a lady!" I said to myself, holding, with the conceit so natural to Man, that Woman's intellect is essentially shallow. And I considered a minute before replying. "If you mean living minds, I don't think it's possible to decide. There is so much written Science that no living person has ever read: and there is so much thought-out Science that hasn't yet been written. But, if you mean the whole human race, then I think the minds have it: everything, recorded in books, must have once been in some mind, you know."
"Isn't that rather like one of the Rules in Algebra?" my Lady enquired. ("Algebra too!" I thought with increasing wonder.) "I mean, if we consider thoughts as factors, may we not say that the Least Common Multiple of all the minds contains that of all the books; but not the other way?"
"Certainly we may!" I replied, delighted with the illustration. "And what a grand thing it would be," I went on dreamily, thinking aloud rather than talking, "if we could only apply that Rule to books! You know, in finding the Least Common Multiple, we strike out a quantity wherever it occurs, except in the term where it is raised to its highest power. So we should have to erase every recorded thought, except in the sentence where it is expressed with the greatest intensity."
My Lady laughed merrily. "Some books would be reduced to blank paper, I'm afraid!" she said.
"They would. Most libraries would be terribly diminished in bulk. But just think what they would gain in quality!"
"When will it be done?" she eagerly asked. "If there's any chance of it in my time, I think I'll leave off reading, and wait for it!"
"Well, perhaps in another thousand years or so—"
"Then there's no use waiting!", said my Lady. "Let's sit down. Uggug, my pet, come and sit by me!"
"Anywhere but by me!" growled the Sub-warden. "The little wretch always manages to upset his coffee!"
I guessed at once (as perhaps the reader will also have guessed, if, like myself, he is very clever at drawing conclusions) that my Lady was the Sub-Warden's wife, and that Uggug (a hideous fat boy, about the same age as Sylvie, with the expression of a prize-pig) was their son. Sylvie and Bruno, with the Lord Chancellor, made up a party of seven.
[Image...A portable plunge-bath]
"And you actually got a plunge-bath every morning?" said the Sub-Warden, seemingly in continuation of a conversation with the Professor. "Even at the little roadside-inns?"
"Oh, certainly, certainly!" the Professor replied with a smile on his jolly face. "Allow me to explain. It is, in fact, a very simple problem in Hydrodynamics. (That means a combination of Water and Strength.) If we take a plunge-bath, and a man of great strength (such as myself) about to plunge into it, we have a perfect example of this science. I am bound to admit," the Professor continued, in a lower tone and with downcast eyes, "that we need a man of remarkable strength. He must be able to spring from the floor to about twice his own height, gradually turning over as he rises, so as to come down again head first."
"Why, you need a flea, not a man!" exclaimed the Sub-Warden.
"Pardon me," said the Professor. "This particular kind of bath is not adapted for a flea. Let us suppose," he continued, folding his table-napkin into a graceful festoon, "that this represents what is perhaps the necessity of this Age—the Active Tourist's Portable Bath. You may describe it briefly, if you like," looking at the Chancellor, "by the letters A.T.P.B."
The Chancellor, much disconcerted at finding everybody looking at him, could only murmur, in a shy whisper, "Precisely so!"
"One great advantage of this plunge-bath," continued the Professor, "is that it requires only half-a-gallon of water—"
"I don't call it a plunge-bath," His Sub-Excellency remarked, "unless your Active Tourist goes right under!"
"But he does go right under," the old man gently replied. "The A.T. hangs up the P. B. on a nail—thus. He then empties the water-jug into it—places the empty jug below the bag—leaps into the air—descends head-first into the bag—the water rises round him to the top of the bag—and there you are!" he triumphantly concluded. "The A.T. is as much under water as if he'd gone a mile or two down into the Atlantic!"
"And he's drowned, let us say, in about four minutes—"
"By no means!" the Professor answered with a proud smile. "After about a minute, he quietly turns a tap at the lower end of the P. B.—all the water runs back into the jug and there you are again!"
"But how in the world is he to get out of the bag again?"
"That, I take it," said the Professor, "is the most beautiful part of the whole invention. All the way up the P.B., inside, are loops for the thumbs; so it's something like going up-stairs, only perhaps less comfortable; and, by the time the A. T. has risen out of the bag, all but his head, he's sure to topple over, one way or the other—the Law of Gravity secures that. And there he is on the floor again!"
"A little bruised, perhaps?"
"Well, yes, a little bruised; but having had his plunge-bath: that's the great thing."
"Wonderful! It's almost beyond belief!" murmured the Sub-Warden. The Professor took it as a compliment, and bowed with a gratified smile.
"Quite beyond belief!" my Lady added—meaning, no doubt, to be more complimentary still. The Professor bowed, but he didn't smile this time. "I can assure you," he said earnestly, "that, provided the bath was made, I used it every morning. I certainly ordered it—that I am clear about—my only doubt is, whether the man ever finished making it. It's difficult to remember, after so many years—"
At this moment the door, very slowly and creakingly, began to open, and Sylvie and Bruno jumped up, and ran to meet the well-known footstep.
"It's my brother!" the Sub-warden exclaimed, in a warning whisper. "Speak out, and be quick about it!"
The appeal was evidently addressed to the Lord Chancellor, who instantly replied, in a shrill monotone, like a little boy repeating the alphabet, "As I was remarking, your Sub-Excellency, this portentous movement—"
"You began too soon!" the other interrupted, scarcely able to restrain himself to a whisper, so great was his excitement. "He couldn't have heard you. Begin again!" "As I was remarking," chanted the obedient Lord Chancellor, "this portentous movement has already assumed the dimensions of a Revolution!"
"And what are the dimensions of a Revolution?" The voice was genial and mellow, and the face of the tall dignified old man, who had just entered the room, leading Sylvie by the hand, and with Bruno riding triumphantly on his shoulder, was too noble and gentle to have scared a less guilty man: but the Lord Chancellor turned pale instantly, and could hardly articulate the words "The dimensions your— your High Excellency? I—I—scarcely comprehend!"
"Well, the length, breadth, and thickness, if you like it better!" And the old man smiled, half-contemptuously.
The Lord Chancellor recovered himself with a great effort, and pointed to the open window. "If your High Excellency will listen for a moment to the shouts of the exasperated populace—" ("of the exasperated populace!" the Sub-Warden repeated in a louder tone, as the Lord Chancellor, being in a state of abject terror, had dropped almost into a whisper) "—you will understand what it is they want. "
And at that moment there surged into the room a hoarse confused cry, in which the only clearly audible words were "Less—bread—More—taxes!" The old man laughed heartily. "What in the world—" he was beginning: but the Chancellor heard him not. "Some mistake!" he muttered, hurrying to the window, from which he shortly returned with an air of relief. "Now listen!" he exclaimed, holding up his hand impressively. And now the words came quite distinctly, and with the regularity of the ticking of a clock, "More—bread—Less taxes!'"
"More bread!" the Warden repeated in astonishment. "Why, the new Government Bakery was opened only last week, and I gave orders to sell the bread at cost-price during the present scarcity! What can they expect more?"
"The Bakery's closed, y'reince!" the Chancellor said, more loudly and clearly than he had spoken yet. He was emboldened by the consciousness that here, at least, he had evidence to produce: and he placed in the Warden's hands a few printed notices, that were lying ready, with some open ledgers, on a side-table.
"Yes, yes, I see!" the Warden muttered, glancing carelessly through them. "Order countermanded by my brother, and supposed to be my doing! Rather sharp practice! It's all right!" he added in a louder tone. "My name is signed to it: so I take it on myself. But what do they mean by 'Less Taxes'? How can they be less? I abolished the last of them a month ago!"
"It's been put on again, y'reince, and by y'reince's own orders!", and other printed notices were submitted for inspection.
The Warden, whilst looking them over, glanced once or twice at the Sub-Warden, who had seated himself before one of the open ledgers, and was quite absorbed in adding it up; but he merely repeated "It's all right. I accept it as my doing."
"And they do say," the Chancellor went on sheepishly—looking much more like a convicted thief than an Officer of State, "that a change of Government, by the abolition of the Sub-Warden—-I mean," he hastily added, on seeing the Warden's look of astonishment, "the abolition of the office of Sub-Warden, and giving the present holder the right to act as Vice-Warden whenever the Warden is absent —would appease all this seedling discontent I mean," he added, glancing at a paper he held in his hand, "all this seething discontent!"
"For fifteen years," put in a deep but very harsh voice, "my husband has been acting as Sub-Warden. It is too long! It is much too long!" My Lady was a vast creature at all times: but, when she frowned and folded her arms, as now, she looked more gigantic than ever, and made one try to fancy what a haystack would look like, if out of temper.
"He would distinguish himself as a Vice!" my Lady proceeded, being far too stupid to see the double meaning of her words. "There has been no such Vice in Outland for many a long year, as he would be!"
"What course would you suggest, Sister?" the Warden mildly enquired.
My Lady stamped, which was undignified: and snorted, which was ungraceful. "This is no jesting matter!" she bellowed.
"I will consult my brother, said the Warden. "Brother!"
"—and seven makes a hundred and ninety-four, which is sixteen and two-pence," the Sub-Warden replied. "Put down two and carry sixteen."
The Chancellor raised his hands and eyebrows, lost in admiration. "Such a man of business!" he murmured.
"Brother, could I have a word with you in my Study?" the Warden said in a louder tone. The Sub-Warden rose with alacrity, and the two left the room together.
My Lady turned to the Professor, who had uncovered the urn, and was taking its temperature with his pocket-thermometer. "Professor!" she began, so loudly and suddenly that even Uggug, who had gone to sleep in his chair, left off snoring and opened one eye. The Professor pocketed his thermometer in a moment, clasped his hands, and put his head on one side with a meek smile
"You were teaching my son before breakfast, I believe?" my Lady loftily remarked. "I hope he strikes you as having talent?"
"Oh, very much so indeed, my Lady!" the Professor hastily replied, unconsciously rubbing his ear, while some painful recollection seemed to cross his mind. "I was very forcibly struck by His Magnificence, I assure you!"
"He is a charming boy!" my Lady exclaimed. "Even his snores are more musical than those of other boys!"
If that were so, the Professor seemed to think, the snores of other boys must be something too awful to be endured: but he was a cautious man, and he said nothing.
"And he's so clever!" my Lady continued. "No one will enjoy your Lecture more by the way, have you fixed the time for it yet? You've never given one, you know: and it was promised years ago, before you—
"Yes, yes, my Lady, I know! Perhaps next Tuesday or Tuesday week—"
"That will do very well," said my Lady, graciously. "Of course you will let the Other Professor lecture as well?"
"I think not, my Lady? the Professor said with some hesitation. "You see, he always stands with his back to the audience. It does very well for reciting; but for lecturing—"
"You are quite right," said my Lady. "And, now I come to think of it, there would hardly be time for more than one Lecture. And it will go off all the better, if we begin with a Banquet, and a Fancy-dress Ball—"
"It will indeed!" the Professor cried, with enthusiasm.
"I shall come as a Grass-hopper," my Lady calmly proceeded. "What shall you come as, Professor?"
The Professor smiled feebly. "I shall come as—as early as I can, my Lady!"
"You mustn't come in before the doors are opened," said my Lady.
"I ca'n't," said the Professor. "Excuse me a moment. As this is Lady Sylvie's birthday, I would like to—" and he rushed away.
Bruno began feeling in his pockets, looking more and more melancholy as he did so: then he put his thumb in his mouth, and considered for a minute: then he quietly left the room.
He had hardly done so before the Professor was back again, quite out of breath. "Wishing you many happy returns of the day, my dear child!" he went on, addressing the smiling little girl, who had run to meet him. "Allow me to give you a birthday-present. It's a second-hand pincushion, my dear. And it only cost fourpence-halfpenny!"
"Thank you, it's very pretty!" And Sylvie rewarded the old man with a hearty kiss.
"And the pins they gave me for nothing!" the Professor added in high glee. "Fifteen of 'em, and only one bent!"
"I'll make the bent one into a hook!" said Sylvie. "To catch Bruno with, when he runs away from his lessons!"
"You ca'n't guess what my present is!" said Uggug, who had taken the butter-dish from the table, and was standing behind her, with a wicked leer on his face.
"No, I ca'n't guess," Sylvie said without looking up. She was still examining the Professor's pincushion.
"It's this!" cried the bad boy, exultingly, as he emptied the dish over her, and then, with a grin of delight at his own cleverness, looked round for applause.
Sylvie coloured crimson, as she shook off the butter from her frock: but she kept her lips tight shut, and walked away to the window, where she stood looking out and trying to recover her temper.
Uggug's triumph was a very short one: the Sub-Warden had returned, just in time to be a witness of his dear child's playfulness, and in another moment a skilfully-applied box on the ear had changed the grin of delight into a howl of pain.
"My darling!" cried his mother, enfolding him in her fat arms. "Did they box his ears for nothing? A precious pet!"
"It's not for nothing!" growled the angry father. "Are you aware, Madam, that I pay the house-bills, out of a fixed annual sum? The loss of all that wasted butter falls on me! Do you hear, Madam!"
"Hold your tongue, Sir!" My Lady spoke very quietly—almost in a whisper. But there was something in her look which silenced him. "Don't you see it was only a joke? And a very clever one, too! He only meant that he loved nobody but her! And, instead of being pleased with the compliment, the spiteful little thing has gone away in a huff!"
The Sub-Warden was a very good hand at changing a subject. He walked across to the window. "My dear," he said, "is that a pig that I see down below, rooting about among your flower-beds?"
"A pig!" shrieked my Lady, rushing madly to the window, and almost pushing her husband out, in her anxiety to see for herself. "Whose pig is it? How did it get in? Where's that crazy Gardener gone?"
At this moment Bruno re-entered the room, and passing Uggug (who was blubbering his loudest, in the hope of attracting notice) as if he was quite used to that sort of thing, he ran up to Sylvie and threw his arms round her. "I went to my toy-cupboard," he said with a very sorrowful face, "to see if there were somefin fit for a present for oo! And there isn't nuffin! They's all broken, every one! And I haven't got no money left, to buy oo a birthday-present! And I ca'n't give oo nuffin but this!" ("This" was a very earnest hug and a kiss.)
"Oh, thank you, darling!" cried Sylvie. "I like your present best of all!" (But if so, why did she give it back so quickly?)
His Sub-Excellency turned and patted the two children on the head with his long lean hands. "Go away, dears!" he said. "There's business to talk over. "
Sylvie and Bruno went away hand in hand: but, on reaching the door, Sylvie came back again and went up to Uggug timidly. "I don't mind about the butter," she said, "and I—I'm sorry he hurt you!" And she tried to shake hands with the little ruffian: but Uggug only blubbered louder, and wouldn't make friends. Sylvie left the room with a sigh.
The Sub-Warden glared angrily at his weeping son. "Leave the room, Sirrah!" he said, as loud as he dared. His wife was still leaning out of the window, and kept repeating "I ca'n't see that pig! Where is it?"
"It's moved to the right now it's gone a little to the left," said the Sub-Warden: but he had his back to the window, and was making signals to the Lord Chancellor, pointing to Uggug and the door, with many a cunning nod and wink.
[Image...Removal of Uggug]
The Chancellor caught his meaning at last, and, crossing the room, took that interesting child by the ear the next moment he and Uggug were out of the room, and the door shut behind them: but not before one piercing yell had rung through the room, and reached the ears of the fond mother.
"What is that hideous noise?" she fiercely asked, turning upon her startled husband.
"It's some hyaena—or other," replied the Sub-Warden, looking vaguely up to the ceiling, as if that was where they usually were to be found. "Let us to business, my dear. Here comes the Warden." And he picked up from the floor a wandering scrap of manuscript, on which I just caught the words 'after which Election duly holden the said Sibimet and Tabikat his wife may at their pleasure assume Imperial—' before, with a guilty look, he crumpled it up in his hand.
A CUNNING CONSPIRACY.
The Warden entered at this moment: and close behind him came the Lord Chancellor, a little flushed and out of breath, and adjusting his wig, which appeared to have been dragged partly off his head.
"But where is my precious child?" my Lady enquired, as the four took their seats at the small side-table devoted to ledgers and bundles and bills.
"He left the room a few minutes ago with the Lord Chancellor," the Sub-Warden briefly explained.
"Ah!" said my Lady, graciously smiling on that high official. "Your Lordship has a very taking way with children! I doubt if any one could gain the ear of my darling Uggug so quickly as you can!" For an entirely stupid woman, my Lady's remarks were curiously full of meaning, of which she herself was wholly unconscious.
The Chancellor bowed, but with a very uneasy air. "I think the Warden was about to speak," he remarked, evidently anxious to change the subject.
But my Lady would not be checked. "He is a clever boy," she continued with enthusiasm, "but he needs a man like your Lordship to draw him out!"
The Chancellor bit his lip, and was silent. He evidently feared that, stupid as she looked, she understood what she said this time, and was having a joke at his expense. He might have spared himself all anxiety: whatever accidental meaning her words might have, she herself never meant anything at all.
"It is all settled!" the Warden announced, wasting no time over preliminaries. "The Sub-Wardenship is abolished, and my brother is appointed to act as Vice-Warden whenever I am absent. So, as I am going abroad for a while, he will enter on his new duties at once."
"And there will really be a Vice after all?" my Lady enquired.
"I hope so!" the Warden smilingly replied.
My Lady looked much pleased, and tried to clap her hands: but you might as well have knocked two feather-beds together, for any noise it made. "When my husband is Vice," she said, "it will be the same as if we had a hundred Vices!"
"Hear, hear!" cried the Sub-Warden.
"You seem to think it very remarkable," my Lady remarked with some severity, "that your wife should speak the truth!"
"No, not remarkable at all!" her husband anxiously explained. "Nothing is remarkable that you say, sweet one!"
My Lady smiled approval of the sentiment, and went on. "And am I Vice-Wardeness?"
"If you choose to use that title," said the Warden: "but 'Your Excellency' will be the proper style of address. And I trust that both 'His Excellency' and 'Her Excellency' will observe the Agreement I have drawn up. The provision I am most anxious about is this." He unrolled a large parchment scroll, and read aloud the words "'item, that we will be kind to the poor.' The Chancellor worded it for me," he added, glancing at that great Functionary. "I suppose, now, that word 'item' has some deep legal meaning?"
"Undoubtedly!" replied the Chancellor, as articulately as he could with a pen between his lips. He was nervously rolling and unrolling several other scrolls, and making room among them for the one the Warden had just handed to him. "These are merely the rough copies," he explained: "and, as soon as I have put in the final corrections—" making a great commotion among the different parchments, "—a semi-colon or two that I have accidentally omitted—" here he darted about, pen in hand, from one part of the scroll to another, spreading sheets of blotting-paper over his corrections, "all will be ready for signing."
"Should it not be read out, first?" my Lady enquired.
"No need, no need!" the Sub-Warden and the Chancellor exclaimed at the same moment, with feverish eagerness.
"No need at all," the Warden gently assented. "Your husband and I have gone through it together. It provides that he shall exercise the full authority of Warden, and shall have the disposal of the annual revenue attached to the office, until my return, or, failing that, until Bruno comes of age: and that he shall then hand over, to myself or to Bruno as the case may be, the Wardenship, the unspent revenue, and the contents of the Treasury, which are to be preserved, intact, under his guardianship."
All this time the Sub-Warden was busy, with the Chancellor's help, shifting the papers from side to side, and pointing out to the Warden the place whew he was to sign. He then signed it himself, and my Lady and the Chancellor added their names as witnesses.
"Short partings are best," said the Warden. "All is ready for my journey. My children are waiting below to see me off" He gravely kissed my Lady, shook hands with his brother and the Chancellor, and left the room.
[Image...'What a game!']
The three waited in silence till the sound of wheels announced that the Warden was out of hearing: then, to my surprise, they broke into peals of uncontrollable laughter.
"What a game, oh, what a game!" cried the Chancellor. And he and the Vice-Warden joined hands, and skipped wildly about the room. My Lady was too dignified to skip, but she laughed like the neighing of a horse, and waved her handkerchief above her head: it was clear to her very limited understanding that something very clever had been done, but what it was she had yet to learn.
"You said I should hear all about it when the Warden had gone," she remarked, as soon as she could make herself heard.
"And so you shall, Tabby!" her husband graciously replied, as he removed the blotting-paper, and showed the two parchments lying side by side. "This is the one he read but didn't sign: and this is the one he signed but didn't read! You see it was all covered up, except the place for signing the names—"
"Yes, yes!" my Lady interrupted eagerly, and began comparing the two Agreements.
"'Item, that he shall exercise the authority of Warden, in the Warden's absence.' Why, that's been changed into 'shall be absolute governor for life, with the title of Emperor, if elected to that office by the people.' What! Are you Emperor, darling?"
"Not yet, dear," the Vice-Warden replied. "It won't do to let this paper be seen, just at present. All in good time."
My Lady nodded, and read on. "'Item, that we will be kind to the poor.' Why, that's omitted altogether!"
"Course it is!" said her husband. "We're not going to bother about the wretches!"
"Good," said my Lady, with emphasis, and read on again. "'Item, that the contents of the Treasury be preserved intact.' Why, that's altered into 'shall be at the absolute disposal of the Vice-Warden'! "Well, Sibby, that was a clever trick! All the Jewels, only think! May I go and put them on directly?"
"Well, not just yet, Lovey," her husband uneasily replied. "You see the public mind isn't quite ripe for it yet. We must feel our way. Of course we'll have the coach-and-four out, at once. And I'll take the title of Emperor, as soon as we can safely hold an Election. But they'll hardly stand our using the Jewels, as long as they know the Warden's alive. We must spread a report of his death. A little Conspiracy—"
"A Conspiracy!" cried the delighted lady, clapping her hands. "Of all things, I do like a Conspiracy! It's so interesting!"
The Vice-Warden and the Chancellor interchanged a wink or two. "Let her conspire to her heart's content!" the cunning Chancellor whispered. "It'll do no harm!"
"And when will the Conspiracy—"
"Hist!', her husband hastily interrupted her, as the door opened, and Sylvie and Bruno came in, with their arms twined lovingly round each other—Bruno sobbing convulsively, with his face hidden on his sister's shoulder, and Sylvie more grave and quiet, but with tears streaming down her cheeks.
"Mustn't cry like that!" the Vice-Warden said sharply, but without any effect on the weeping children. "Cheer 'em up a bit!" he hinted to my Lady.
"Cake!" my Lady muttered to herself with great decision, crossing the room and opening a cupboard, from which she presently returned with two slices of plum-cake. "Eat, and don't cry!" were her short and simple orders: and the poor children sat down side by side, but seemed in no mood for eating.
For the second time the door opened—or rather was burst open, this time, as Uggug rushed violently into the room, shouting "that old Beggars come again!"
"He's not to have any food—" the Vice-warden was beginning, but the Chancellor interrupted him. "It's all right," he said, in a low voice: "the servants have their orders."
"He's just under here," said Uggug, who had gone to the window, and was looking down into the court-yard.
"Where, my darling?" said his fond mother, flinging her arms round the neck of the little monster. All of us (except Sylvie and Bruno, who took no notice of what was going on) followed her to the window. The old Beggar looked up at us with hungry eyes. "Only a crust of bread, your Highness!" he pleaded.
He was a fine old man, but looked sadly ill and worn. "A crust of bread is what I crave!" he repeated. "A single crust, and a little water!"
"Here's some water, drink this!"
Uggug bellowed, emptying a jug of water over his head.
"Well done, my boy!" cried the Vice-Warden.
"That's the way to settle such folk!"
"Clever boy!", the Wardeness chimed in. "Hasn't he good spirits?"
"Take a stick to him!" shouted the Vice-Warden, as the old Beggar shook the water from his ragged cloak, and again gazed meekly upwards.
"Take a red-hot poker to him!" my Lady again chimed in.
Possibly there was no red-hot poker handy: but some sticks were forthcoming in a moment, and threatening faces surrounded the poor old wanderer, who waved them back with quiet dignity. "No need to break my old bones," he said. "I am going. Not even a crust!"
"Poor, poor old man!" exclaimed a little voice at my side, half choked with sobs. Bruno was at the window, trying to throw out his slice of plum-cake, but Sylvie held him back.
"He shalt have my cake!" Bruno cried, passionately struggling out of Sylvie's arms.
"Yes, yes, darling!" Sylvie gently pleaded. "But don't throw it out! He's gone away, don't you see? Let's go after him." And she led him out of the room, unnoticed by the rest of the party, who were wholly absorbed in watching the old Beggar.
The Conspirators returned to their seats, and continued their conversation in an undertone, so as not to be heard by Uggug, who was still standing at the window.
"By the way, there was something about Bruno succeeding to the Wrardenship," said my Lady. "How does that stand in the new Agreement?"
The Chancellor chuckled. "Just the same, word for word," he said, "with one exception, my Lady. Instead of 'Bruno,' I've taken the liberty to put in—" he dropped his voice to a whisper, "to put in 'Uggug,' you know!"
"Uggug, indeed!" I exclaimed, in a burst of indignation I could no longer control. To bring out even that one word seemed a gigantic effort: but, the cry once uttered, all effort ceased at once: a sudden gust swept away the whole scene, and I found myself sitting up, staring at the young lady in the opposite corner of the carriage, who had now thrown back her veil, and was looking at me with an expression of amused surprise.
A BEGGAR'S PALACE.
That I had said something, in the act of waking, I felt sure: the hoarse stifled cry was still ringing in my ears, even if the startled look of my fellow-traveler had not been evidence enough: but what could I possibly say by way of apology?
"I hope I didn't frighten you?" I stammered out at last. "I have no idea what I said. I was dreaming."
"You said 'Uggug indeed!'" the young lady replied, with quivering lips that would curve themselves into a smile, in spite of all her efforts to look grave. "At least—you didn't say it—you shouted it!"
"I'm very sorry," was all I could say, feeling very penitent and helpless. "She has Sylvie's eyes!" I thought to myself, half-doubting whether, even now, I were fairly awake. "And that sweet look of innocent wonder is all Sylvie's too. But Sylvie hasn't got that calm resolute mouth nor that far-away look of dreamy sadness, like one that has had some deep sorrow, very long ago—" And the thick-coming fancies almost prevented my hearing the lady's next words.
"If you had had a 'Shilling Dreadful' in your hand," she proceeded, "something about Ghosts or Dynamite or Midnight Murder—one could understand it: those things aren't worth the shilling, unless they give one a Nightmare. But really—with only a medical treatise, you know—" and she glanced, with a pretty shrug of contempt, at the book over which I had fallen asleep.
Her friendliness, and utter unreserve, took me aback for a moment; yet there was no touch of forwardness, or boldness, about the child for child, almost, she seemed to be: I guessed her at scarcely over twenty—all was the innocent frankness of some angelic visitant, new to the ways of earth and the conventionalisms or, if you will, the barbarisms—of Society. "Even so," I mused, "will Sylvie look and speak, in another ten years."
"You don't care for Ghosts, then," I ventured to suggest, unless they are really terrifying?"
"Quite so," the lady assented. "The regular Railway-Ghosts—I mean the Ghosts of ordinary Railway-literature—are very poor affairs. I feel inclined to say, with Alexander Selkirk, 'Their tameness is shocking to me'! And they never do any Midnight Murders. They couldn't 'welter in gore,' to save their lives!"
"'Weltering in gore' is a very expressive phrase, certainly. Can it be done in any fluid, I wonder?"
"I think not," the lady readily replied—quite as if she had thought it out, long ago. "It has to be something thick. For instance, you might welter in bread-sauce. That, being white, would be more suitable for a Ghost, supposing it wished to welter!"
"You have a real good terrifying Ghost in that book?" I hinted.
"How could you guess?" she exclaimed with the most engaging frankness, and placed the volume in my hands. I opened it eagerly, with a not unpleasant thrill like what a good ghost-story gives one) at the 'uncanny' coincidence of my having so unexpectedly divined the subject of her studies.
It was a book of Domestic Cookery, open at the article Bread Sauce.'
I returned the book, looking, I suppose, a little blank, as the lady laughed merrily at my discomfiture. "It's far more exciting than some of the modern ghosts, I assure you! Now there was a Ghost last month—I don't mean a real Ghost in in Supernature—but in a Magazine. It was a perfectly flavourless Ghost. It wouldn't have frightened a mouse! It wasn't a Ghost that one would even offer a chair to!"
"Three score years and ten, baldness, and spectacles, have their advantages after all!", I said to myself. "Instead of a bashful youth and maiden, gasping out monosyllables at awful intervals, here we have an old man and a child, quite at their ease, talking as if they had known each other for years! Then you think," I continued aloud, "that we ought sometimes to ask a Ghost to sit down? But have we any authority for it? In Shakespeare, for instance—there are plenty of ghosts there—does Shakespeare ever give the stage-direction 'hands chair to Ghost'?"
The lady looked puzzled and thoughtful for a moment: then she almost clapped her hands. "Yes, yes, he does!" she cried. "He makes Hamlet say 'Rest, rest, perturbed Spirit!"'
"And that, I suppose, means an easy-chair?"
"An American rocking-chair, I think—"
"Fayfield Junction, my Lady, change for Elveston!" the guard announced, flinging open the door of the carriage: and we soon found ourselves, with all our portable property around us, on the platform.
The accommodation, provided for passengers waiting at this Junction, was distinctly inadequate—a single wooden bench, apparently intended for three sitters only: and even this was already partially occupied by a very old man, in a smock frock, who sat, with rounded shoulders and drooping head, and with hands clasped on the top of his stick so as to make a sort of pillow for that wrinkled face with its look of patient weariness.
"Come, you be off!" the Station-master roughly accosted the poor old man. "You be off, and make way for your betters! This way, my Lady!" he added in a perfectly different tone. "If your Ladyship will take a seat, the train will be up in a few minutes." The cringing servility of his manner was due, no doubt, to the address legible on the pile of luggage, which announced their owner to be "Lady Muriel Orme, passenger to Elveston, via Fayfield Junction."
As I watched the old man slowly rise to his feet, and hobble a few paces down the platform, the lines came to my lips:-
"From sackcloth couch the Monk arose, With toil his stiffen'd limbs he rear'd; A hundred years had flung their snows On his thin locks and floating beard."
[Image...'Come, you be off!']
But the lady scarcely noticed the little incident. After one glance at the 'banished man,' who stood tremulously leaning on his stick, she turned to me. "This is not an American rocking-chair, by any means! Yet may I say," slightly changing her place, so as to make room for me beside her, "may I say, in Hamlet's words, 'Rest, rest—'" she broke off with a silvery laugh.
"—perturbed Spirit!"' I finished the sentence for her. "Yes, that describes a railway-traveler exactly! And here is an instance of it," I added, as the tiny local train drew up alongside the platform, and the porters bustled about, opening carriage-doors—one of them helping the poor old man to hoist himself into a third-class carriage, while another of them obsequiously conducted the lady and myself into a first-class.
She paused, before following him, to watch the progress of the other passenger. "Poor old man!" she said. "How weak and ill he looks! It was a shame to let him be turned away like that. I'm very sorry—" At this moment it dawned on me that these words were not addressed to me, but that she was unconsciously thinking aloud. I moved away a few steps, and waited to follow her into the carriage, where I resumed the conversation.
"Shakespeare must have traveled by rail, if only in a dream: 'perturbed Spirit' is such a happy phrase."
"'Perturbed' referring, no doubt," she rejoined, "to the sensational booklets peculiar to the Rail. If Steam has done nothing else, it has at least added a whole new Species to English Literature!"
"No doubt of it," I echoed. "The true origin of all our medical books—and all our cookery-books—"
"No, no!" she broke in merrily. "I didn't mean our Literature! We are quite abnormal. But the booklets—the little thrilling romances, where the Murder comes at page fifteen, and the Wedding at page forty —surely they are due to Steam?"
"And when we travel by Electricity if I may venture to develop your theory we shall have leaflets instead of booklets, and the Murder and the Wedding will come on the same page."
"A development worthy of Darwin!", the lady exclaimed enthusiastically. "Only you reverse his theory. Instead of developing a mouse into an elephant, you would develop an elephant into a mouse!" But here we plunged into a tunnel, and I leaned back and closed my eyes for a moment, trying to recall a few of the incidents of my recent dream.
"I thought I saw—" I murmured sleepily: and then the phrase insisted on conjugating itself, and ran into "you thought you saw—he thought he saw—" and then it suddenly went off into a song:—
"He thought he saw an Elephant, That practised on a fife: He looked again, and found it was A letter from his wife. 'At length I realise,' he said, "The bitterness of Life!'"
And what a wild being it was who sang these wild words! A Gardener he seemed to be yet surely a mad one, by the way he brandished his rake—madder, by the way he broke, ever and anon, into a frantic jig—maddest of all, by the shriek in which he brought out the last words of the stanza!
It was so far a description of himself that he had the feet of an Elephant: but the rest of him was skin and bone: and the wisps of loose straw, that bristled all about him, suggested that he had been originally stuffed with it, and that nearly all the stuffing had come out.
Sylvie and Bruno waited patiently till the end of the first verse. Then Sylvie advanced alone (Bruno having suddenly turned shy) and timidly introduced herself with the words "Please, I'm Sylvie!"
"And who's that other thing?', said the Gardener.
"What thing?" said Sylvie, looking round. "Oh, that's Bruno. He's my brother."
"Was he your brother yesterday?" the Gardener anxiously enquired.
"Course I were!" cried Bruno, who had gradually crept nearer, and didn't at all like being talked about without having his share in the conversation.
"Ah, well!" the Gardener said with a kind of groan. "Things change so, here. Whenever I look again, it's sure to be something different! Yet I does my duty! I gets up wriggle-early at five—"
"If I was oo," said Bruno, "I wouldn't wriggle so early. It's as bad as being a worm!" he added, in an undertone to Sylvie.
"But you shouldn't be lazy in the morning, Bruno," said Sylvie. "Remember, it's the early bird that picks up the worm!"
"It may, if it likes!" Bruno said with a slight yawn. "I don't like eating worms, one bit. I always stop in bed till the early bird has picked them up!"
"I wonder you've the face to tell me such fibs!" cried the Gardener.
To which Bruno wisely replied "Oo don't want a face to tell fibs wiz—only a mouf."
Sylvie discreetly changed the subject. "And did you plant all these flowers?" she said.
"What a lovely garden you've made! Do you know, I'd like to live here always!"
"In the winter-nights—" the Gardener was beginning.
"But I'd nearly forgotten what we came about!" Sylvie interrupted. "Would you please let us through into the road? There's a poor old beggar just gone out—and he's very hungry—and Bruno wants to give him his cake, you know!"
"It's as much as my place is worth!', the Gardener muttered, taking a key from his pocket, and beginning to unlock a door in the garden-wall.
"How much are it wurf? "Bruno innocently enquired.
But the Gardener only grinned. "That's a secret!" he said. "Mind you come back quick!" he called after the children, as they passed out into the road. I had just time to follow them, before he shut the door again.
We hurried down the road, and very soon caught sight of the old Beggar, about a quarter of a mile ahead of us, and the children at once set off running to overtake him.
Lightly and swiftly they skimmed over the ground, and I could not in the least understand how it was I kept up with them so easily. But the unsolved problem did not worry me so much as at another time it might have done, there were so many other things to attend to.
The old Beggar must have been very deaf, as he paid no attention whatever to Bruno's eager shouting, but trudged wearily on, never pausing until the child got in front of him and held up the slice of cake. The poor little fellow was quite out of breath, and could only utter the one word "Cake!" not with the gloomy decision with which Her Excellency had so lately pronounced it, but with a sweet childish timidity, looking up into the old man's face with eyes that loved 'all things both great and small.'
The old man snatched it from him, and devoured it greedily, as some hungry wild beast might have done, but never a word of thanks did he give his little benefactor—only growled "More, more!" and glared at the half-frightened children.
"There is no more!", Sylvie said with tears in her eyes. "I'd eaten mine. It was a shame to let you be turned away like that. I'm very sorry—"
I lost the rest of the sentence, for my mind had recurred, with a great shock of surprise, to Lady Muriel Orme, who had so lately uttered these very words of Sylvie's—yes, and in Sylvie's own voice, and with Sylvie's gentle pleading eyes!
"Follow me!" were the next words I heard, as the old man waved his hand, with a dignified grace that ill suited his ragged dress, over a bush, that stood by the road side, which began instantly to sink into the earth. At another time I might have doubted the evidence of my eyes, or at least have felt some astonishment: but, in this strange scene, my whole being seemed absorbed in strong curiosity as to what would happen next.
When the bush had sunk quite out of our sight, marble steps were seen, leading downwards into darkness. The old man led the way, and we eagerly followed.
The staircase was so dark, at first, that I could only just see the forms of the children, as, hand-in-hand, they groped their way down after their guide: but it got lighter every moment, with a strange silvery brightness, that seemed to exist in the air, as there were no lamps visible; and, when at last we reached a level floor, the room, in which we found ourselves, was almost as light as day.
It was eight-sided, having in each angle a slender pillar, round which silken draperies were twined. The wall between the pillars was entirely covered, to the height of six or seven feet, with creepers, from which hung quantities of ripe fruit and of brilliant flowers, that almost hid the leaves. In another place, perchance, I might have wondered to see fruit and flowers growing together: here, my chief wonder was that neither fruit nor flowers were such as I had ever seen before. Higher up, each wall contained a circular window of coloured glass; and over all was an arched roof, that seemed to be spangled all over with jewels.
With hardly less wonder, I turned this way and that, trying to make out how in the world we had come in: for there was no door: and all the walls were thickly covered with the lovely creepers.
"We are safe here, my darlings!" said the old man, laying a hand on Sylvie's shoulder, and bending down to kiss her. Sylvie drew back hastily, with an offended air: but in another moment, with a glad cry of "Why, it's Father!", she had run into his arms.
[Image...A beggar's palace]
"Father! Father!" Bruno repeated: and, while the happy children were being hugged and kissed, I could but rub my eyes and say "Where, then, are the rags gone to?"; for the old man was now dressed in royal robes that glittered with jewels and gold embroidery, and wore a circlet of gold around his head.
THE MAGIC LOCKET.
"Where are we, father?" Sylvie whispered, with her arms twined closely around the old man's neck, and with her rosy cheek lovingly pressed to his.
"In Elfland, darling. It's one of the provinces of Fairyland."
"But I thought Elfland was ever so far from Outland: and we've come such a tiny little way!"
"You came by the Royal Road, sweet one. Only those of royal blood can travel along it: but you've been royal ever since I was made King of Elfland that's nearly a month ago. They sent two ambassadors, to make sure that their invitation to me, to be their new King, should reach me. One was a Prince; so he was able to come by the Royal Road, and to come invisibly to all but me: the other was a Baron; so he had to come by the common road, and I dare say he hasn't even arrived yet."
"Then how far have we come?" Sylvie enquired.
"Just a thousand miles, sweet one, since the Gardener unlocked that door for you."
"A thousand miles!" Bruno repeated. "And may I eat one?"
"Eat a mile, little rogue?"
"No," said Bruno. "I mean may I eat one of that fruits?"
"Yes, child," said his father: "and then you'll find out what Pleasure is like—the Pleasure we all seek so madly, and enjoy so mournfully!"
Bruno ran eagerly to the wall, and picked a fruit that was shaped something like a banana, but had the colour of a strawberry.
He ate it with beaming looks, that became gradually more gloomy, and were very blank indeed by the time he had finished.
"It hasn't got no taste at all!" he complained. "I couldn't feel nuffin in my mouf! It's a—what's that hard word, Sylvie?"
"It was a Phlizz," Sylvie gravely replied. "Are they all like that, father?"
"They're all like that to you, darling, because you don't belong to Elfland—yet. But to me they are real."
Bruno looked puzzled. "I'll try anuvver kind of fruits!" he said, and jumped down off the King's knee. "There's some lovely striped ones, just like a rainbow!" And off he ran.
Meanwhile the Fairy-King and Sylvie were talking together, but in such low tones that I could not catch the words: so I followed Bruno, who was picking and eating other kinds of fruit, in the vain hope of finding some that had a taste. I tried to pick so me myself—but it was like grasping air, and I soon gave up the attempt and returned to Sylvie.
"Look well at it, my darling," the old man was saying, "and tell me how you like it."
"'It's just lovely," cried Sylvie, delightedly. "Bruno, come and look!" And she held up, so that he might see the light through it, a heart-shaped Locket, apparently cut out of a single jewel, of a rich blue colour, with a slender gold chain attached to it.
"It are welly pretty," Bruno more soberly remarked: and he began spelling out some words inscribed on it. "All—will—love—Sylvie," he made them out at last. "And so they doos!" he cried, clasping his arms round her neck. "Everybody loves Sylvie!"
"But we love her best, don't we, Bruno?" said the old King, as he took possession of the Locket. "Now, Sylvie, look at this." And he showed her, lying on the palm of his hand, a Locket of a deep crimson colour, the same shape as the blue one and, like it, attached to a slender golden chain.
"Lovelier and lovelier!" exclaimed Sylvie, clasping her hands in ecstasy. "Look, Bruno!"
"And there's words on this one, too," said Bruno. "Sylvie—will—love—all."
"Now you see the difference," said the old man: "different colours and different words.
Choose one of them, darling. I'll give you which ever you like best."
[Image...The crimson locket]
Sylvie whispered the words, several times over, with a thoughtful smile, and then made her decision. "It's very nice to be loved," she said: "but it's nicer to love other people! May I have the red one, Father?"
The old man said nothing: but I could see his eyes fill with tears, as he bent his head and pressed his lips to her forehead in a long loving kiss. Then he undid the chain, and showed her how to fasten it round her neck, and to hide it away under the edge of her frock. "It's for you to keep you know he said in a low voice, not for other people to see. You'll remember how to use it?
Yes, I'll remember, said Sylvie.
"And now darlings it's time for you to go back or they'll be missing you and then that poor Gardener will get into trouble!"
Once more a feeling of wonder rose in my mind as to how in the world we were to get back again—since I took it for granted that wherever the children went I was to go—but no shadow of doubt seemed to cross their minds as they hugged and kissed him murmuring over and over again "Good-bye darling Father!" And then suddenly and swiftly the darkness of midnight seemed to close in upon us and through the darkness harshly rang a strange wild song:—
He thought he saw a Buffalo Upon the chimney-piece: He looked again, and found it was His Sister's Husband's Niece. 'Unless you leave this house,' he said, 'I'll send for the Police!'
[Image...'He thought he saw a buffalo']
"That was me!" he added, looking out at us, through the half-opened door, as we stood waiting in the road.' "And that's what I'd have done—as sure as potatoes aren't radishes—if she hadn't have tooken herself off! But I always loves my pay-rints like anything."
"Who are oor pay-rints?" said Bruno.
"Them as pay rint for me, a course!" the Gardener replied. "You can come in now, if you like."
He flung the door open as he spoke, and we got out, a little dazzled and stupefied (at least I felt so) at the sudden transition from the half-darkness of the railway-carriage to the brilliantly-lighted platform of Elveston Station.
A footman, in a handsome livery, came forwards and respectfully touched his hat. "The carriage is here, my Lady," he said, taking from her the wraps and small articles she was carrying: and Lady Muriel, after shaking hands and bidding me "Good-night!" with a pleasant smile, followed him.
It was with a somewhat blank and lonely feeling that I betook myself to the van from which the luggage was being taken out: and, after giving directions to have my boxes sent after me, I made my way on foot to Arthur's lodgings, and soon lost my lonely feeling in the hearty welcome my old friend gave me, and the cozy warmth and cheerful light of the little sitting-room into which he led me.
"Little, as you see, but quite enough for us two. Now, take the easy-chair, old fellow, and let's have another look at you! Well, you do look a bit pulled down!" and he put on a solemn professional air. "I prescribe Ozone, quant. suff. Social dissipation, fiant pilulae quam plurimae: to be taken, feasting, three times a day!"
"But, Doctor!" I remonstrated. "Society doesn't 'receive' three times a day!"
"That's all you know about it!" the young Doctor gaily replied. "At home, lawn-tennis, 3 P.M. At home, kettledrum, 5 P.M. At home, music (Elveston doesn't give dinners), 8 P.M. Carriages at 10. There you are!"
It sounded very pleasant, I was obliged to admit. "And I know some of the lady-society already," I added. "One of them came in the same carriage with me"
"What was she like? Then perhaps I can identify her."
"The name was Lady Muriel Orme. As to what she was like—well, I thought her very beautiful. Do you know her?"
"Yes—I do know her." And the grave Doctor coloured slightly as he added "Yes, I agree with you. She is beautiful."
"I quite lost my heart to her!" I went on mischievously. "We talked—"
"Have some supper!" Arthur interrupted with an air of relief, as the maid entered with the tray. And he steadily resisted all my attempts to return to the subject of Lady Muriel until the evening had almost worn itself away. Then, as we sat gazing into the fire, and conversation was lapsing into silence, he made a hurried confession.
"I hadn't meant to tell you anything about her," he said (naming no names, as if there were only one 'she' in the world!) "till you had seen more of her, and formed your own judgment of her: but somehow you surprised it out of me. And I've not breathed a word of it to any one else. But I can trust you with a secret, old friend! Yes! It's true of me, what I suppose you said in jest.
"In the merest jest, believe me!" I said earnestly. "Why, man, I'm three times her age! But if she's your choice, then I'm sure she's all that is good and—"
"—and sweet," Arthur went on, "and pure, and self-denying, and true-hearted, and—" he broke off hastily, as if he could not trust himself to say more on a subject so sacred and so precious. Silence followed: and I leaned back drowsily in my easy-chair, filled with bright and beautiful imaginings of Arthur and his lady-love, and of all the peace and happiness in store for them.
I pictured them to myself walking together, lingeringly and lovingly, under arching trees, in a sweet garden of their own, and welcomed back by their faithful gardener, on their return from some brief excursion.
It seemed natural enough that the gardener should be filled with exuberant delight at the return of so gracious a master and mistress and how strangely childlike they looked! I could have taken them for Sylvie and Bruno less natural that he should show it by such wild dances, such crazy songs!
"He thought he saw a Rattlesnake That questioned him in Greek: He looked again, and found it was The Middle of Next Week. 'The one thing I regret,' he said, 'Is that it cannot speak!"
—least natural of all that the Vice-Warden and 'my Lady' should be standing close beside me, discussing an open letter, which had just been handed to him by the Professor, who stood, meekly waiting, a few yards off.
"If it were not for those two brats," I heard him mutter, glancing savagely at Sylvie and Bruno, who were courteously listening to the Gardener's song, "there would be no difficulty whatever."
"Let's hear that bit of the letter again," said my Lady. And the Vice-Warden read aloud:-
"—and we therefore entreat you graciously to accept the Kingship, to which you have been unanimously elected by the Council of Elfland: and that you will allow your son Bruno of whose goodness, cleverness, and beauty, reports have reached us—to be regarded as Heir-Apparent."
"But what's the difficulty?" said my Lady.
"Why, don't you see? The Ambassador, that brought this, is waiting in the house: and he's sure to see Sylvie and Bruno: and then, when he sees Uggug, and remembers all that about 'goodness, cleverness, and beauty,' why, he's sure to—"
"And where will you find a better boy than Uggug?" my Lady indignantly interrupted. "Or a wittier, or a lovelier?"
To all of which the Vice-Warden simply replied "Don't you be a great blethering goose! Our only chance is to keep those two brats out of sight. If you can manage that, you may leave the rest to me. I'll make him believe Uggug to be a model of cleverness and all that."
"We must change his name to Bruno, of course?" said my Lady.
The Vice-Warden rubbed his chin. "Humph! No!" he said musingly. "Wouldn't do. The boy's such an utter idiot, he'd never learn to answer to it."
"Idiot, indeed!" cried my Lady. "He's no more an idiot than I am!"
"You're right, my dear," the Vice-Warden soothingly I replied. "He isn't, indeed!"
My Lady was appeased. "Let's go in and receive the Ambassador," she said, and beckoned to the Professor. "Which room is he waiting in?" she inquired.
"In the Library, Madam."
"And what did you say his name was?" said the Vice-Warden.
The Professor referred to a card he held in his hand. "His Adiposity the Baron Doppelgeist."
"Why does he come with such a funny name?" said my Lady.
"He couldn't well change it on the journey," the Professor meekly replied, "because of the luggage."
"You go and receive him," my Lady said to the Vice-Warden, "and I'll attend to the children."
THE BARONS EMBASSY.
I was following the Vice-Warden, but, on second thoughts, went after my Lady, being curious to see how she would manage to keep the children out of sight.
I found her holding Sylvie's hand, and with her other hand stroking Bruno's hair in a most tender and motherly fashion: both children were looking bewildered and half-frightened.
"My own darlings," she was saying, "I've been planning a little treat for you! The Professor shall take you a long walk into the woods this beautiful evening: and you shall take a basket of food with you, and have a little picnic down by the river!"
Bruno jumped, and clapped his hands. "That are nice!" he cried. "Aren't it, Sylvie?"
Sylvie, who hadn't quite lost her surprised look, put up her mouth for a kiss. "Thank you very much," she said earnestly.
My Lady turned her head away to conceal the broad grin of triumph that spread over her vast face, like a ripple on a lake. "Little simpletons!" she muttered to herself, as she marched up to the house. I followed her in.
"Quite so, your Excellency," the Baron was saying as we entered the Library. "All the infantry were under my command." He turned, and was duly presented to my Lady.
"A military hero?" said my Lady. The fat little man simpered. "Well, yes," he replied, modestly casting down his eyes. "My ancestors were all famous for military genius."
My Lady smiled graciously. "It often runs in families," she remarked: "just as a love for pastry does."
The Baron looked slightly offended, and the Vice-Warden discreetly changed the subject. "Dinner will soon be ready," he said. "May I have the honour of conducting your Adiposity to the guest-chamber?"
"Certainly, certainly!" the Baron eagerly assented. "It would never do to keep dinner waiting!" And he almost trotted out of the room after the Vice-Warden.
He was back again so speedily that the Vice-warden had barely time to explain to my Lady that her remark about "a love for pastry" was "unfortunate. You might have seen, with half an eye," he added, "that that's his line. Military genius, indeed! Pooh!"
"Dinner ready yet?" the Baron enquired, as he hurried into the room.
"Will be in a few minutes," the Vice-Warden replied. "Meanwhile, let's take a turn in the garden. You were telling me," he continued,
as the trio left the house, "something about a great battle in which you had the command of the infantry—"
"True," said the Baron. "The enemy, as I was saying, far outnumbered us: but I marched my men right into the middle of—what's that?" the Military Hero exclaimed in agitated tones, drawing back behind the Vice-Warden, as a strange creature rushed wildly upon them, brandishing a spade.
"It's only the Gardener!" the Vice-Warden replied in an encouraging tone. "Quite harmless, I assure you. Hark, he's singing! Its his favorite amusement."
And once more those shrill discordant tones rang out:—
"He thought he saw a Banker's Clerk Descending from the bus: He looked again, and found it was A Hippopotamus: 'If this should stay to dine,' he said, 'There won't be mutch for us!'"
Throwing away the spade, he broke into a frantic jig, snapping his fingers, and repeating, again and again,
"There won't be much for us! There won't be much for us!"
[Image...It was a hippoptamus]
Once more the Baron looked slightly offended, but the Vice-Warden hastily explained that the song had no allusion to him, and in fact had no meaning at all. "You didn't mean anything by it, now did you?" He appealed to the Gardener, who had finished his song, and stood, balancing himself on one leg, and looking at them, with his mouth open.
"I never means nothing," said the Gardener: and Uggug luckily came up at the moment, and gave the conversation a new turn.
"Allow me to present my son," said the Vice-warden; adding, in a whisper, "one of the best and cleverest boys that ever lived! I'll contrive for you to see some of his cleverness. He knows everything that other boys don't know; and in archery, in fishing, in painting, and in music, his skill is—but you shall judge for yourself. You see that target over there? He shall shoot an arrow at it. Dear boy,"he went on aloud, "his Adiposity would like to see you shoot. Bring his Highness' bow and arrows!"
Uggug looked very sulky as he received the bow and arrow, and prepared to shoot. Just as the arrow left the bow, the Vice-Warden trod heavily on the toe of the Baron, who yelled with the pain.
"Ten thousand pardons! "he exclaimed. "I stepped back in my excitement. See! It is a bull's-eye!"
The Baron gazed in astonishment. "He held the bow so awkwardly, it seemed impossible!" he muttered. But there was no room for doubt: there was the arrow, right in the centre of the bull's-eye!
"The lake is close by," continued the Vice-warden. "Bring his Highness' fishing-rod!" And Uggug most unwillingly held the rod, and dangled the fly over the water.
"A beetle on your arm!" cried my Lady, pinching the poor Baron's arm worse than if ten lobsters had seized it at once. "That kind is poisonous," she explained. "But what a pity! You missed seeing the fish pulled out!"
An enormous dead cod-fish was lying on the bank, with the hook in its mouth.
"I had always fancied," the Baron faltered, "that cod were salt-water fish?"
"Not in this country," said the Vice-Warden. "Shall we go in? Ask my son some question on the way any subject you like!" And the sulky boy was violently shoved forwards, to walk at the Baron's side.
"Could your Highness tell me," the Baron cautiously began, "how much seven times nine would come to?"
"Turn to the left!" cried the Vice-Warden, hastily stepping forwards to show the way—-so hastily, that he ran against his unfortunate guest, who fell heavily on his face.
"So sorry!" my Lady exclaimed, as she and her husband helped him to his feet again. "My son was in the act of saying 'sixty-three' as you fell!"
The Baron said nothing: he was covered with dust, and seemed much hurt, both in body and mind. However, when they had got him into the house, and given him a good brushing, matters looked a little better.
Dinner was served in due course, and every fresh dish seemed to increase the good-humour of the Baron: but all efforts, to get him to express his opinion as to Uggug's cleverness, were in vain, until that interesting youth had left the room, and was seen from the open window, prowling about the lawn with a little basket, which he was filling with frogs.
"So fond of Natural History as he is, dear boy!" said the doting mother. "Now do tell us, Baron, what you think of him!"
"To be perfectly candid, said the cautious Baron, "I would like a little more evidence. I think you mentioned his skill in—"
"Music?" said the Vice-Warden. "Why, he's simply a prodigy! You shall hear him play the piano? And he walked to the window. "Ug—I mean my boy! Come in for a minute, and bring the music-master with you! To turn over the music for him," he added as an explanation.
Uggug, having filled his basket with frogs, had no objection to obey, and soon appeared in the room, followed by a fierce-looking little man, who asked the Vice-Warden "Vot music vill you haf?"
"The Sonata that His Highness plays so charmingly," said the Vice-Warden. "His Highness haf not—" the music-master began, but was sharply stopped by the Vice-warden.
"Silence, Sir! Go and turn over the music for his Highness. My dear," (to the Wardeness) "will you show him what to do? And meanwhile, Baron, I'll just show you a most interesting map we have—of Outland, and Fairyland, and that sort of thing."
By the time my Lady had returned, from explaining things to the music-master, the map had been hung up, and the Baron was already much bewildered by the Vice-Warden's habit of pointing to one place while he shouted out the name of another.
[Image...The map of fairyland]
My Lady joining in, pointing out other places, and shouting other names, only made matters worse; and at last the Baron, in despair, took to pointing out places for himself, and feebly asked "Is that great yellow splotch Fairyland?"
"Yes, that's Fairyland," said the Vice-warden: "and you might as well give him a hint," he muttered to my Lady, "about going back to-morrow. He eats like a shark! It would hardly do for me to mention it."
His wife caught the idea, and at once began giving hints of the most subtle and delicate kind. "Just see what a short way it is back to Fairyland! Why, if you started to-morrow morning, you'd get there in very little more than a week!"
The Baron looked incredulous. "It took me a full month to come," he said.
"But it's ever so much shorter, going back, you know!'
The Baron looked appealingly to the Vice-warden, who chimed in readily. "You can go back five times, in the time it took you to come here once—if you start to-morrow morning!"
All this time the Sonata was pealing through the room. The Baron could not help admitting to himself that it was being magnificently played: but he tried in vain to get a glimpse of the youthful performer. Every time he had nearly succeeded in catching sight of him, either the Vice-Warden or his wife was sure to get in the way, pointing out some new place on the map, and deafening him with some new name.
He gave in at last, wished a hasty good-night, and left the room, while his host and hostess interchanged looks of triumph.
"Deftly done!" cried the Vice-Warden. "Craftily contrived! But what means all that tramping on the stairs?" He half-opened the door, looked out, and added in a tone of dismay, "The Baron's boxes are being carried down!"
"And what means all that rumbling of wheels?" cried my Lady. She peeped through the window curtains. "The Baron's carriage has come round!" she groaned.