"Quite so!" the orator replied with an air of relief. "I thank you! Ars est celare Naturam but that isn't it." And, for a few peaceful moments, the orator brooded, frowningly, over the quotation. The welcome opportunity was seized, and another voice struck into the silence.
"What a lovely old ruin it is!" cried a young lady in spectacles, the very embodiment of the March of Mind, looking at Lady Muriel, as the proper recipient of all really original remarks. "And don't you admire those autumn-tints on the trees? I do, intensely!"
Lady Muriel shot a meaning glance at me; but replied with admirable gravity. "Oh yes indeed, indeed! So true!"
"And isn't strange, said the young lady, passing with startling suddenness from Sentiment to Science, "that the mere impact of certain coloured rays upon the Retina should give us such exquisite pleasure?"
"You have studied Physiology, then?" a certain young Doctor courteously enquired.
"Oh, yes! Isn't it a sweet Science?"
Arthur slightly smiled. "It seems a paradox, does it not," he went on, "that the image formed on the Retina should be inverted?"
"It is puzzling," she candidly admitted. "Why is it we do not see things upside-down?"
"You have never heard the Theory, then, that the Brain also is inverted?"
"No indeed! What a beautiful fact! But how is it proved?"
"Thus," replied Arthur, with all the gravity of ten Professors rolled into one. "What we call the vertex of the Brain is really its base: and what we call its base is really its vertex: it is simply a question of nomenclature."
This last polysyllable settled the matter.
"How truly delightful!" the fair Scientist exclaimed with enthusiasm. "I shall ask our Physiological Lecturer why he never gave us that exquisite Theory!"
"I'd give something to be present when the question is asked!" Arthur whispered to me, as, at a signal from Lady Muriel, we moved on to where the hampers had been collected, and devoted ourselves to the more substantial business of the day.
We 'waited' on ourselves, as the modern barbarism (combining two good things in such a way as to secure the discomforts of both and the advantages of neither) of having a picnic with servants to wait upon you, had not yet reached this out-of-the-way region--and of course the gentlemen did not even take their places until the ladies had been duly provided with all imaginable creature-comforts. Then I supplied myself with a plate of something solid and a glass of something fluid, and found a place next to Lady Muriel.
It had been left vacant--apparently for Arthur, as a distinguished stranger: but he had turned shy, and had placed himself next to the young lady in spectacles, whose high rasping voice had already cast loose upon Society such ominous phrases as "Man is a bundle of Qualities!", "the Objective is only attainable through the Subjective!". Arthur was bearing it bravely: but several faces wore a look of alarm, and I thought it high time to start some less metaphysical topic.
"In my nursery days," I began, "when the weather didn't suit for an out-of-doors picnic, we were allowed to have a peculiar kind, that we enjoyed hugely. The table cloth was laid under the table, instead of upon it: we sat round it on the floor: and I believe we really enjoyed that extremely uncomfortable kind of dinner more than we ever did the orthodox arrangement!"
"I've no doubt of it," Lady Muriel replied.
"There's nothing a well-regulated child hates so much as regularity. I believe a really healthy boy would thoroughly enjoy Greek Grammar-- if only he might stand on his head to learn it! And your carpet-dinner certainly spared you one feature of a picnic, which is to me its chief drawback."
"The chance of a shower?" I suggested.
"No, the chance--or rather the certainty of live things occurring in combination with one's food! Spiders are my bugbear. Now my father has no sympathy with that sentiment--have you, dear?" For the Earl had caught the word and turned to listen.