"To each his sufferings, all are men," he replied in the sweet sad tones that seemed natural to him: "each has his pet aversion."
"But you'll never guess his!" Lady Muriel said, with that delicate silvery laugh that was music to my ears.
I declined to attempt the impossible.
"He doesn't like snakes!" she said, in a stage whisper. "Now, isn't that an unreasonable aversion? Fancy not liking such a dear, coaxingly, clingingly affectionate creature as a snake!"
"Not like snakes!" I exclaimed. "Is such a thing possible?"
"No, he doesn't like them," she repeated with a pretty mock-gravity. "He's not afraid of them, you know. But he doesn't like them. He says they're too waggly!"
I was more startled than I liked to show. There was something so uncanny in this echo of the very words I had so lately heard from that little forest-sprite, that it was only by a great effort I succeeded in saying, carelessly, "Let us banish so unpleasant a topic. Won't you sing us something, Lady Muriel? I know you do sing without music."
"The only songs I know--without music--are desperately sentimental, I'm afraid! Are your tears all ready?"
"Quite ready! Quite ready!" came from all sides, and Lady Muriel--not being one of those lady-singers who think it de rigueur to decline to sing till they have been petitioned three or four times, and have pleaded failure of memory, loss of voice, and other conclusive reasons for silence--began at once:--
[Image...'Three badgers on a mossy stone']
"There be three Badgers on a mossy stone, Beside a dark and covered way: Each dreams himself a monarch on his throne, And so they stay and stay Though their old Father languishes alone, They stay, and stay, and stay.
"There be three Herrings loitering around, Longing to share that mossy seat: Each Herring tries to sing what she has found That makes Life seem so sweet. Thus, with a grating and uncertain sound, They bleat, and bleat, and bleat,
"The Mother-Herring, on the salt sea-wave, Sought vainly for her absent ones: The Father-Badger, writhing in a cave, Shrieked out ' Return, my sons! You shalt have buns,' he shrieked,' if you'll behave! Yea, buns, and buns, and buns!'
"'I fear,' said she, 'your sons have gone astray? My daughters left me while I slept.' 'Yes 'm,' the Badger said: 'it's as you say.' 'They should be better kept.' Thus the poor parents talked the time away, And wept, and wept, and wept."
Here Bruno broke off suddenly. "The Herrings' Song wants anuvver tune, Sylvie," he said. "And I ca'n't sing it not wizout oo plays it for me!"
[Image...'Three badgers, writhing in a cave']
Instantly Sylvie seated herself upon a tiny mushroom, that happened to grow in front of a daisy, as if it were the most ordinary musical instrument in the world, and played on the petals as if they were the notes of an organ. And such delicious tiny music it was! Such teeny-tiny music!
Bruno held his head on one side, and listened very gravely for a few moments until he had caught the melody. Then the sweet childish voice rang out once more:--
"Oh, dear beyond our dearest dreams, Fairer than all that fairest seems! To feast the rosy hours away, To revel in a roundelay! How blest would be A life so free--- Ipwergis-Pudding to consume, And drink the subtle Azzigoom!
"And if in other days and hours, Mid other fluffs and other flowers, The choice were given me how to dine--- 'Name what thou wilt: it shalt be thine!' Oh, then I see The life for me Ipwergis-Pudding to consume, And drink the subtle Azzigoom!"
"Oo may leave off playing now, Sylvie. I can do the uvver tune much better wizout a compliment."
"He means 'without accompaniment,'" Sylvie whispered, smiling at my puzzled look: and she pretended to shut up the stops of the organ.
"The Badgers did not care to talk to Fish: They did not dote on Herrings' songs: They never had experienced the dish To which that name belongs: And oh, to pinch their tails,' (this was their wish,) 'With tongs, yea, tongs, and tongs!'"
I ought to mention that he marked the parenthesis, in the air, with his finger.