It takes you three hours and a half to hear and enjoy an opera. Suppose I can take it in, and enjoy it, in half-an-hour. Why, I can enjoy seven operas, while you are listening; to one!"
"Always supposing you have an orchestra capable of playing them," I said. "And that orchestra has yet to be found!"
The old man smiled. "I have heard an 'air played," he said, "and by no means a short one--played right through, variations and all, in three seconds!"
"When? And how?" I asked eagerly, with a half-notion that I was dreaming again.
"It was done by a little musical-box," he quietly replied. "After it had been wound up, the regulator, or something, broke, and it ran down, as I said, in about three seconds. But it must have played all the notes, you know!"
"Did you enjoy it? I asked, with all the severity of a cross-examining barrister.
"No, I didn't!" he candidly confessed. "But then, you know, I hadn't been trained to that kind of music!"
"I should much like to try your plan," I said, and, as Sylvie and Bruno happened to run up to us at the moment, I left them to keep the Earl company, and strolled along the platform, making each person and event play its part in an extempore drama for my especial benefit. "What, is the Earl tired of you already?" I said, as the children ran past me.
"No!" Sylvie replied with great emphasis. "He wants the evening-paper. So Bruno's going to be a little news-boy!"
"Mind you charge a good price for it!" I called after them.
Returning up the platform, I came upon Sylvie alone. "Well, child," I said, "where's your little news-boy? Couldn't he get you an evening-paper?"
"He went to get one at the book-stall at the other side," said Sylvie; "and he's coming across the line with it--oh, Bruno, you ought to cross by the bridge!" for the distant thud, thud, of the Express was already audible.
Suddenly a look of horror came over her face. "Oh, he's fallen down on the rails!" she cried, and darted past me at a speed that quite defied the hasty effort I made to stop her.
But the wheezy old Station-Master happened to be close behind me: he wasn't good for much, poor old man, but he was good for this; and, before I could turn round, he had the child clasped in his arms, saved from the certain death she was rushing to. So intent was I in watching this scene, that I hardly saw a flying figure in a light grey suit, who shot across from the back of the platform, and was on the line in another second. So far as one could take note of time in such a moment of horror, he had about ten clear seconds, before the Express would be upon him, in which to cross the rails and to pick up Bruno. Whether he did so or not it was quite impossible to guess: the next thing one knew was that the Express had passed, and that, whether for life or death, all was over. When the cloud of dust had cleared away, and the line was once more visible, we saw with thankful hearts that the child and his deliverer were safe.
"All right!" Eric called to us cheerfully, as he recrossed the line. "He's more frightened than hurt!"
[Image...Crossing the line]
He lifted the little fellow up into Lady Muriel's arms, and mounted the platform as gaily as if nothing had happened: but he was as pale as death, and leaned heavily on the arm I hastily offered him, fearing he was about to faint. "I'll just--sit down a moment--" he said dreamily: "--where's Sylvie?"
Sylvie ran to him, and flung her arms round his neck, sobbing as if her heart would break. "Don't do that, my darling!" Eric murmured, with a strange look in his eyes. "Nothing to cry about now, you know. But you very nearly got yourself killed for nothing!"
"For Bruno!" the little maiden sobbed. "And he would have done it for me. Wouldn't you, Bruno?"
"Course I would!" Bruno said, looking round with a bewildered air.
Lady Muriel kissed him in silence as she put him down out of her arms. Then she beckoned Sylvie to come and take his hand, and signed to the children to go back to where the Earl was seated.