He was not quite clear whether it was a compliment or not, to express it so plainly. "You mean a Jester? Yes, that's what I intended. And what do you think your disguise is to be?" And he proceeded to unfold the parcel, the lady watching him in rapture.
"Oh, how lovely!" she cried, when at last the dress was unfolded. "What a splendid disguise! An Esquimaux peasant-woman!"
"An Esquimaux peasant, indeed!" growled the other. "Here, put it on, and look at yourself in the glass. Why, it's a Bear, ca'n't you use your eyes?" He checked himself suddenly, as a harsh voice yelled through the room
"He looked again, and found it was A Bear without a Head!"
But it was only the Gardener, singing under the open window. The Vice-Warden stole on tip-toe to the window, and closed it noiselessly, before he ventured to go on. "Yes, Lovey, a Bear: but not without a head, I hope! You're the Bear, and me the Keeper. And if any one knows us, they'll have sharp eyes, that's all!"
"I shall have to practise the steps a bit," my Lady said, looking out through the Bear's mouth: "one ca'n't help being rather human just at first, you know. And of course you'll say 'Come up, Bruin!', won't you?"
"Yes, of course," replied the Keeper, laying hold of the chain, that hung from the Bear's collar, with one hand, while with the other he cracked a little whip. "Now go round the room in a sort of a dancing attitude. Very good, my dear, very good. Come up, Bruin! Come up, I say!"
[Image...'Come up, bruin!']
He roared out the last words for the benefit of Uggug, who had just come into the room, and was now standing, with his hands spread out, and eyes and mouth wide open, the very picture of stupid amazement. "Oh, my!" was all he could gasp out.
The Keeper pretended to be adjusting the bear's collar, which gave him an opportunity of whispering, unheard by Uggug, "my fault, I'm afraid! Quite forgot to fasten the door. Plot's ruined if he finds it out! Keep it up a minute or two longer. Be savage!" Then, while seeming to pull it back with all his strength, he let it advance upon the scared boy: my Lady, with admirable presence of mind, kept up what she no doubt intended for a savage growl, though it was more like the purring of a cat: and Uggug backed out of the room with such haste that he tripped over the mat, and was heard to fall heavily outside-- an accident to which even his doting mother paid no heed, in the excitement of the moment.
The Vice-Warden shut and bolted the door. "Off with the disguises!" he panted. "There's not a moment to lose. He's sure to fetch the Professor, and we couldn't take him in, you know!" And in another minute the disguises were stowed away in the cupboard, the door unbolted, and the two Conspirators seated lovingly side-by-side on the sofa, earnestly discussing a book the Vice-Warden had hastily snatched off the table, which proved to be the City-Directory of the capital of Outland.
The door opened, very slowly and cautiously, and the Professor peeped in, Uggug's stupid face being just visible behind him.
"It is a beautiful arrangement!" the Vice-warden was saying with enthusiasm. "You see, my precious one, that there are fifteen houses in Green Street, before you turn into West Street."
"Fifteen houses! Is it possible?" my Lady replied. "I thought it was fourteen!" And, so intent were they on this interesting question, that neither of them even looked up till the Professor, leading Uggug by the hand, stood close before them.
My Lady was the first to notice their approach. "Why, here's the Professor!" she exclaimed in her blandest tones. "And my precious child too! Are lessons over?"
"A strange thing has happened!" the Professor began in a trembling tone. "His Exalted Fatness" (this was one of Uggug's many titles) "tells me he has just seen, in this very room, a Dancing-Bear and a Court-Jester!"
The Vice-Warden and his wife shook with well-acted merriment.
Not in this room, darling!" said the fond mother.