"Your husband and I have gone through it together. It provides that he shall exercise the full authority of Warden, and shall have the disposal of the annual revenue attached to the office, until my return, or, failing that, until Bruno comes of age: and that he shall then hand over, to myself or to Bruno as the case may be, the Wardenship, the unspent revenue, and the contents of the Treasury, which are to be preserved, intact, under his guardianship."
All this time the Sub-Warden was busy, with the Chancellor's help, shifting the papers from side to side, and pointing out to the Warden the place whew he was to sign. He then signed it himself, and my Lady and the Chancellor added their names as witnesses.
"Short partings are best," said the Warden. "All is ready for my journey. My children are waiting below to see me off" He gravely kissed my Lady, shook hands with his brother and the Chancellor, and left the room.
[Image...'What a game!']
The three waited in silence till the sound of wheels announced that the Warden was out of hearing: then, to my surprise, they broke into peals of uncontrollable laughter.
"What a game, oh, what a game!" cried the Chancellor. And he and the Vice-Warden joined hands, and skipped wildly about the room. My Lady was too dignified to skip, but she laughed like the neighing of a horse, and waved her handkerchief above her head: it was clear to her very limited understanding that something very clever had been done, but what it was she had yet to learn.
"You said I should hear all about it when the Warden had gone," she remarked, as soon as she could make herself heard.
"And so you shall, Tabby!" her husband graciously replied, as he removed the blotting-paper, and showed the two parchments lying side by side. "This is the one he read but didn't sign: and this is the one he signed but didn't read! You see it was all covered up, except the place for signing the names--"
"Yes, yes!" my Lady interrupted eagerly, and began comparing the two Agreements.
"'Item, that he shall exercise the authority of Warden, in the Warden's absence.' Why, that's been changed into 'shall be absolute governor for life, with the title of Emperor, if elected to that office by the people.' What! Are you Emperor, darling?"
"Not yet, dear," the Vice-Warden replied. "It won't do to let this paper be seen, just at present. All in good time."
My Lady nodded, and read on. "'Item, that we will be kind to the poor.' Why, that's omitted altogether!"
"Course it is!" said her husband. "We're not going to bother about the wretches!"
"Good," said my Lady, with emphasis, and read on again. "'Item, that the contents of the Treasury be preserved intact.' Why, that's altered into 'shall be at the absolute disposal of the Vice-Warden'! "Well, Sibby, that was a clever trick! All the Jewels, only think! May I go and put them on directly?"
"Well, not just yet, Lovey," her husband uneasily replied. "You see the public mind isn't quite ripe for it yet. We must feel our way. Of course we'll have the coach-and-four out, at once. And I'll take the title of Emperor, as soon as we can safely hold an Election. But they'll hardly stand our using the Jewels, as long as they know the Warden's alive. We must spread a report of his death. A little Conspiracy--"
"A Conspiracy!" cried the delighted lady, clapping her hands. "Of all things, I do like a Conspiracy! It's so interesting!"
The Vice-Warden and the Chancellor interchanged a wink or two. "Let her conspire to her heart's content!" the cunning Chancellor whispered. "It'll do no harm!"
"And when will the Conspiracy--"
"Hist!', her husband hastily interrupted her, as the door opened, and Sylvie and Bruno came in, with their arms twined lovingly round each other--Bruno sobbing convulsively, with his face hidden on his sister's shoulder, and Sylvie more grave and quiet, but with tears streaming down her cheeks.
"Mustn't cry like that!" the Vice-Warden said sharply, but without any effect on the weeping children.