"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.