"From bad to worse!" the old man said to himself, dreamily, when the children had finished their rather confused account of the Ambassador's visit, gathered no doubt from general report, as they had not seen him themselves. "From bad to worse! That is their destiny. I see it, but I cannot alter it. The selfishness of a mean and crafty man--the selfishness of an ambitious and silly woman--- the selfishness of a spiteful and loveless child all tend one way, from bad to worse! And you, my darlings, must suffer it awhile, I fear. Yet, when things are at their worst, you can come to me. I can do but little as yet--"
Gathering up a handful of dust and scattering it in the air, he slowly and solemnly pronounced some words that sounded like a charm, the children looking on in awe-struck silence:--
"Let craft, ambition, spite, Be quenched in Reason's night, Till weakness turn to might, Till what is dark be light, Till what is wrong be right!"
The cloud of dust spread itself out through the air, as if it were alive, forming curious shapes that were for ever changing into others.
"It makes letters! It makes words!" Bruno whispered, as he clung, half-frightened, to Sylvie. "Only I ca'n't make them out! Read them, Sylvie!"
"I'll try," Sylvie gravely replied. "Wait a minute--if only I could see that word--"
"I should be very ill!', a discordant voice yelled in our ears.
"Were I to swallow this,' he said, 'I should be very ill!'"
A JESTER AND A BEAR.
Yes, we were in the garden once more: and, to escape that horrid discordant voice, we hurried indoors, and found ourselves in the library--Uggug blubbering, the Professor standing by with a bewildered air, and my Lady, with her arms clasped round her son's neck, repeating, over and over again, "and did they give him nasty lessons to learn? My own pretty pet!"
"What's all this noise about?" the Vice-warden angrily enquired, as he strode into the room. "And who put the hat-stand here?"
And he hung his hat up on Bruno, who was standing in the middle of the room, too much astonished by the sudden change of scene to make any attempt at removing it, though it came down to his shoulders, making him look something like a small candle with a large extinguisher over it.
The Professor mildly explained that His Highness had been graciously pleased to say he wouldn't do his lessons.
"Do your lessons this instant, you young cub!" thundered the Vice-Warden. "And take this!" and a resounding box on the ear made the unfortunate Professor reel across the room.
"Save me!" faltered the poor old man, as he sank, half-fainting, at my Lady's feet.
"Shave you? Of course I will!" my Lady replied, as she lifted him into a chair, and pinned an anti-macassar round his neck. "Where's the razor?"
The Vice-Warden meanwhile had got hold of Uggug, and was belabouring him with his umbrella. "Who left this loose nail in the floor?" he shouted, "Hammer it in, I say!
Hammer it in!" Blow after blow fell on the writhing Uggug, till he dropped howling to the floor.
[Image...'Hammer it in!']
Then his father turned to the 'shaving' scene which was being enacted, and roared with laughter. "Excuse me, dear, I ca'n't help it!" he said as soon as he could speak. "You are such an utter donkey! Kiss me, Tabby!"
And he flung his arms round the neck of the terrified Professor, who raised a wild shriek., but whether he received the threatened kiss or not I was unable to see, as Bruno, who had by this time released himself from his extinguisher, rushed headlong out of the room, followed by Sylvie; and I was so fearful of being left alone among all these crazy creatures that I hurried after them.
We must go to Father!" Sylvie panted, as they ran down the garden. "I'm sure things are at their worst! I'll ask the Gardener to let us out again."
"But we ca'n't walk all the way!" Bruno whimpered. "How I wiss we had a coach-and-four, like Uncle!"
And, shrill and wild, rang through the air the familiar voice:--
"He thought he saw a Coach-and-Four That stood beside his bed: He looked again, and found it was A Bear without a Head. 'Poor thing,' he said, 'poor silly thing! It's waiting to be fed!'"
[Image...A bear without a head]
"No, I ca'n't let you out again!" he said, before the children could speak.