"We've been there just twenty minutes," he said, "and I've done nothing but listen to you and Lady Muriel talking: and yet, somehow, I feel exactly as if I had been talking with her for an hour at least!"
And so he had been, I felt no doubt: only, as the time had been put back to the beginning of the tete-a-tete he referred to, the whole of it had passed into oblivion, if not into nothingness! But I valued my own reputation for sanity too highly to venture on explaining to him what had happened.
For some cause, which I could not at the moment divine, Arthur was unusually grave and silent during our walk home. It could not be connected with Eric Lindon, I thought, as he had for some days been away in London: so that, having Lady Muriel almost 'all to himself'-- for I was only too glad to hear those two conversing, to have any wish to intrude any remarks of my own--he ought, theoretically, to have been specially radiant and contented with life. "Can he have heard any bad news?" I said to myself. And, almost as if he had read my thoughts, he spoke.
"He will be here by the last train," he said, in the tone of one who is continuing a conversation rather than beginning one.
"Captain Lindon, do you mean?"
"Yes--Captain Lindon," said Arthur: "I said 'he,' because I fancied we were talking about him. The Earl told me he comes tonight, though to-morrow is the day when he will know about the Commission that he's hoping for. I wonder he doesn't stay another day to hear the result, if he's really so anxious about it as the Earl believes he is."
"He can have a telegram sent after him," I said: "but it's not very soldier-like, running away from possible bad news!"
"He's a very good fellow," said Arthur: "but I confess it would be good news for me, if he got his Commission, and his Marching Orders, all at once! I wish him all happiness--with one exception. Good night!" (We had reached home by this time.) "I'm not good company to-night-- better be alone."
It was much the same, next day. Arthur declared he wasn't fit for Society, and I had to set forth alone for an afternoon-stroll. I took the road to the Station, and, at the point where the road from the 'Hall' joined it, I paused, seeing my friends in the distance, seemingly bound for the same goal.
"Will you join us?" the Earl said, after I had exchanged greetings with him, and Lady Muriel, and Captain Lindon. "This restless young man is expecting a telegram, and we are going to the Station to meet it."
"There is also a restless young woman in the case," Lady Muriel added.
"That goes without saying, my child," said her father. "Women are always restless!"
"For generous appreciation of all one's best qualities," his daughter impressively remarked, "there's nothing to compare with a father, is there, Eric?"
"Cousins are not 'in it,'" said Eric: and then somehow the conversation lapsed into two duologues, the younger folk taking the lead, and the two old men following with less eager steps.
"And when are we to see your little friends again?" said the Earl. "They are singularly attractive children."
"I shall be delighted to bring them, when I can," I said! "But I don't know, myself, when I am likely to see them again."
"I'm not going to question you," said the Earl: "but there's no harm in mentioning that Muriel is simply tormented with curiosity! We know most of the people about here, and she has been vainly trying to guess what house they can possibly be staying at."
"Some day I may be able to enlighten her: but just at present--"
"Thanks. She must bear it as best she can. I tell her it's a grand opportunity for practising patience. But she hardly sees it from that point of view. Why, there are the children!"
So indeed they were: waiting (for us, apparently) at a stile, which they could not have climbed over more than a few moments, as Lady Muriel and her cousin had passed it without seeing them. On catching sight of us, Bruno ran to meet us, and to exhibit to us, with much pride, the handle of a clasp-knife--the blade having been broken off--which he had picked up in the road.