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.