"Or a wittier, or a lovelier?"
To all of which the Vice-Warden simply replied "Don't you be a great blethering goose! Our only chance is to keep those two brats out of sight. If you can manage that, you may leave the rest to me. I'll make him believe Uggug to be a model of cleverness and all that."
"We must change his name to Bruno, of course?" said my Lady.
The Vice-Warden rubbed his chin. "Humph! No!" he said musingly. "Wouldn't do. The boy's such an utter idiot, he'd never learn to answer to it."
"Idiot, indeed!" cried my Lady. "He's no more an idiot than I am!"
"You're right, my dear," the Vice-Warden soothingly I replied. "He isn't, indeed!"
My Lady was appeased. "Let's go in and receive the Ambassador," she said, and beckoned to the Professor. "Which room is he waiting in?" she inquired.
"In the Library, Madam."
"And what did you say his name was?" said the Vice-Warden.
The Professor referred to a card he held in his hand. "His Adiposity the Baron Doppelgeist."
"Why does he come with such a funny name?" said my Lady.
"He couldn't well change it on the journey," the Professor meekly replied, "because of the luggage."
"You go and receive him," my Lady said to the Vice-Warden, "and I'll attend to the children."
THE BARONS EMBASSY.
I was following the Vice-Warden, but, on second thoughts, went after my Lady, being curious to see how she would manage to keep the children out of sight.
I found her holding Sylvie's hand, and with her other hand stroking Bruno's hair in a most tender and motherly fashion: both children were looking bewildered and half-frightened.
"My own darlings," she was saying, "I've been planning a little treat for you! The Professor shall take you a long walk into the woods this beautiful evening: and you shall take a basket of food with you, and have a little picnic down by the river!"
Bruno jumped, and clapped his hands. "That are nice!" he cried. "Aren't it, Sylvie?"
Sylvie, who hadn't quite lost her surprised look, put up her mouth for a kiss. "Thank you very much," she said earnestly.
My Lady turned her head away to conceal the broad grin of triumph that spread over her vast face, like a ripple on a lake. "Little simpletons!" she muttered to herself, as she marched up to the house. I followed her in.
"Quite so, your Excellency," the Baron was saying as we entered the Library. "All the infantry were under my command." He turned, and was duly presented to my Lady.
"A military hero?" said my Lady. The fat little man simpered. "Well, yes," he replied, modestly casting down his eyes. "My ancestors were all famous for military genius."
My Lady smiled graciously. "It often runs in families," she remarked: "just as a love for pastry does."
The Baron looked slightly offended, and the Vice-Warden discreetly changed the subject. "Dinner will soon be ready," he said. "May I have the honour of conducting your Adiposity to the guest-chamber?"
"Certainly, certainly!" the Baron eagerly assented. "It would never do to keep dinner waiting!" And he almost trotted out of the room after the Vice-Warden.
He was back again so speedily that the Vice-warden had barely time to explain to my Lady that her remark about "a love for pastry" was "unfortunate. You might have seen, with half an eye," he added, "that that's his line. Military genius, indeed! Pooh!"
"Dinner ready yet?" the Baron enquired, as he hurried into the room.
"Will be in a few minutes," the Vice-Warden replied. "Meanwhile, let's take a turn in the garden. You were telling me," he continued,
as the trio left the house, "something about a great battle in which you had the command of the infantry--"
"True," said the Baron. "The enemy, as I was saying, far outnumbered us: but I marched my men right into the middle of--what's that?" the Military Hero exclaimed in agitated tones, drawing back behind the Vice-Warden, as a strange creature rushed wildly upon them, brandishing a spade.
"It's only the Gardener!" the Vice-Warden replied in an encouraging tone. "Quite harmless, I assure you.