“In my nursery days,” I began, “when the weather didn’t suit for an
out-of-doors picnic, we were allowed to have a peculiar kind, that we
enjoyed hugely. The table cloth was laid under the table, instead of
upon it: we sat round it on the floor: and I believe we really enjoyed
that extremely uncomfortable kind of dinner more than we ever did the
“I’ve no doubt of it,” Lady Muriel replied.
“There’s nothing a well-regulated child hates so much as regularity.
I believe a really healthy boy would thoroughly enjoy Greek Grammar–
if only he might stand on his head to learn it! And your carpet-dinner
certainly spared you one feature of a picnic, which is to me its chief
“The chance of a shower?” I suggested.
“No, the chance–or rather the certainty of live things occurring in
combination with one’s food! Spiders are my bugbear. Now my father has
no sympathy with that sentiment–have you, dear?” For the Earl had
caught the word and turned to listen.
“To each his sufferings, all are men,” he replied in the sweet sad
tones that seemed natural to him: “each has his pet aversion.”
“But you’ll never guess his!” Lady Muriel said, with that delicate
silvery laugh that was music to my ears.
I declined to attempt the impossible.
“He doesn’t like snakes!” she said, in a stage whisper. “Now, isn’t
that an unreasonable aversion? Fancy not liking such a dear, coaxingly,
clingingly affectionate creature as a snake!”
“Not like snakes!” I exclaimed. “Is such a thing possible?”
“No, he doesn’t like them,” she repeated with a pretty mock-gravity.
“He’s not afraid of them, you know. But he doesn’t like them.
He says they’re too waggly!”
I was more startled than I liked to show. There was something so
uncanny in this echo of the very words I had so lately heard from that
little forest-sprite, that it was only by a great effort I succeeded in
saying, carelessly, “Let us banish so unpleasant a topic. Won’t you
sing us something, Lady Muriel? I know you do sing without music.”
“The only songs I know–without music–are desperately sentimental,
I’m afraid! Are your tears all ready?”
“Quite ready! Quite ready!” came from all sides, and Lady Muriel–not
being one of those lady-singers who think it de rigueur to decline to
sing till they have been petitioned three or four times, and have
pleaded failure of memory, loss of voice, and other conclusive reasons
for silence–began at once:–
[Image…’Three badgers on a mossy stone’]
“There be three Badgers on a mossy stone,
Beside a dark and covered way:
Each dreams himself a monarch on his throne,
And so they stay and stay
Though their old Father languishes alone,
They stay, and stay, and stay.
“There be three Herrings loitering around,
Longing to share that mossy seat:
Each Herring tries to sing what she has found
That makes Life seem so sweet.
Thus, with a grating and uncertain sound,
They bleat, and bleat, and bleat,
“The Mother-Herring, on the salt sea-wave,
Sought vainly for her absent ones:
The Father-Badger, writhing in a cave,
Shrieked out ‘ Return, my sons!
You shalt have buns,’ he shrieked,’ if you’ll behave!
Yea, buns, and buns, and buns!’
“‘I fear,’ said she, ‘your sons have gone astray?
My daughters left me while I slept.’
‘Yes ‘m,’ the Badger said: ‘it’s as you say.’
‘They should be better kept.’
Thus the poor parents talked the time away,
And wept, and wept, and wept.”
Here Bruno broke off suddenly. “The Herrings’ Song wants anuvver tune,
Sylvie,” he said. “And I ca’n’t sing it not wizout oo plays it for me!”
[Image…’Three badgers, writhing in a cave’]
Instantly Sylvie seated herself upon a tiny mushroom, that happened
to grow in front of a daisy, as if it were the most ordinary
musical instrument in the world, and played on the petals as if they
were the notes of an organ. And such delicious tiny music it was!
Such teeny-tiny music!
Bruno held his head on one side, and listened very gravely for a few
moments until he had caught the melody. Then the sweet childish voice
rang out once more:–