"Yes," I thought, "I am to hear his song of triumph from his own lips!"
The night I arrived we had much to say on other matters: and, tired with the journey, I went to bed early, leaving the happy secret still untold. Next day, however, as we chatted on over the remains of luncheon, I ventured to put the momentous question. "Well, old friend, you have told me nothing of Lady Muriel--nor when the happy day is to be?"
"The happy day," Arthur said, looking unexpectedly grave, "is yet in the dim future. We need to know--or, rather, she needs to know me better. I know her sweet nature, thoroughly, by this time. But I dare not speak till I am sure that my love is returned."
"Don't wait too long!" I said gaily. "Faint heart never won fair lady!"
"It is 'faint heart,' perhaps. But really I dare not speak just yet."
"But meanwhile," I pleaded, "you are running a risk that perhaps you have not thought of. Some other man--"
"No," said Arthur firmly. "She is heart-whole: I am sure of that. Yet, if she loves another better than me, so be it! I will not spoil her happiness. The secret shall die with me. But she is my first-- and my only love!"
"That is all very beautiful sentiment," I said, "but it is not practical. It is not like you.
He either fears his fate too much, Or his desert is small, Who dares not put it to the touch, To win or lose it all."
"I dare not ask the question whether there is another!" he said passionately. "It would break my heart to know it!"
"Yet is it wise to leave it unasked? You must not waste your life upon an 'if'!"
"I tell you I dare not!', "May I find it out for you?" I asked, with the freedom of an old friend.
"No, no!" he replied with a pained look. "I entreat you to say nothing. Let it wait."
"As you please," I said: and judged it best to say no more just then. "But this evening," I thought, "I will call on the Earl. I may be able to see how the land lies, without so much as saying a word!"
It was a very hot afternoon--too hot to go for a walk or do anything-- or else it wouldn't have happened, I believe.
In the first place, I want to know--dear Child who reads this!--why Fairies should always be teaching us to do our duty, and lecturing us when we go wrong, and we should never teach them anything? You can't mean to say that Fairies are never greedy, or selfish, or cross, or deceitful, because that would be nonsense, you know. Well then, don't you think they might be all the better for a little lecturing and punishing now and then?
I really don't see why it shouldn't be tried, and I'm almost sure that, if you could only catch a Fairy, and put it in the corner, and give it nothing but bread and water for a day or two, you'd find it quite an improved character--it would take down its conceit a little, at all events.
The next question is, what is the best time for seeing Fairies? I believe I can tell you all about that.
The first rule is, that it must be a very hot day--that we may consider as settled: and you must be just a little sleepy--but not too sleepy to keep your eyes open, mind. Well, and you ought to feel a little--what one may call "fairyish "--the Scotch call it "eerie," and perhaps that's a prettier word; if you don't know what it means, I'm afraid I can hardly explain it; you must wait till you meet a Fairy, and then you'll know.
And the last rule is, that the crickets should not be chirping. I can't stop to explain that: you must take it on trust for the present.
So, if all these things happen together, you have a good chance of seeing a Fairy--or at least a much better chance than if they didn't.
The first thing I noticed, as I went lazily along through an open place in the wood, was a large Beetle lying struggling on its back, and I went down upon one knee to help the poor thing to its feet again. In some things, you know, you ca'n't be quite sure what an insect would like: for instance, I never could quite settle, supposing I were a moth, whether I would rather be kept out of the candle, or be allowed to fly straight in and get burnt--or again, supposing I were a spider, I'm not sure if I should be quite pleased to have my web torn down, and the fly let loose--but I feel quite certain that, if I were a beetle and had rolled over on my back, I should always be glad to be helped up again.