all directions for the speaker. “That were me!” he gleefully
proclaimed, in his own voice.
“She can indeed walk very well on the flat,” I said. “And I think I
was the Flat.”
By this time we were near the Hall. “This is where my friends live,”
I said. “Will you come in and have some tea with them?”
Bruno gave a little jump of joy: and Sylvie said “Yes, please.
You’d like some tea, Bruno, wouldn’t you? He hasn’t tasted tea,”
she explained to me, “since we left Outland.”
“And that weren’t good tea!” said Bruno. “It were so welly weak!”
LIGHT COME, LIGHT GO.
Lady Muriel’s smile of welcome could not quite conceal the look of
surprise with which she regarded my new companions.
I presented them in due form. “This is Sylvie, Lady Muriel. And this
“Any surname?” she enquired, her eyes twinkling with fun.
“No,” I said gravely. “No surname.”
She laughed, evidently thinking I said it in fun; and stooped to kiss
the children a salute to which Bruno submitted with reluctance: Sylvie
returned it with interest.
While she and Arthur (who had arrived before me) supplied the children
with tea and cake, I tried to engage the Earl in conversation: but he
was restless and distrait, and we made little progress. At last, by a
sudden question, he betrayed the cause of his disquiet.
“Would you let me look at those flowers you have in your hand?”
“Willingly!” I said, handing him the bouquet. Botany was, I knew, a
favourite study of his: and these flowers were to me so entirely new
and mysterious, that I was really curious to see what a botanist would
say of them.
They did not diminish his disquiet. On the contrary, he became every
moment more excited as he turned them over. “These are all from
Central India!” he said, laying aside part of the bouquet.
“They are rare, even there: and I have never seen them in any other part
of the world. These two are Mexican–This one–” (He rose hastily, and
carried it to the window, to examine it in a better light, the flush of
excitement mounting to his very forehead) “—is. I am nearly sure
–but I have a book of Indian Botany here–” He took a volume from
the book-shelves, and turned the leaves with trembling fingers. “Yes!
Compare it with this picture! It is the exact duplicate! This is the
flower of the Upas-tree, which usually grows only in the depths of
forests; and the flower fades so quickly after being plucked, that it
is scarcely possible to keep its form or colour even so far as the
outskirts of the forest! Yet this is in full bloom! Where did you get
these flowers?” he added with breathless eagerness.
I glanced at Sylvie, who, gravely and silently, laid her finger on her
lips, then beckoned to Bruno to follow her, and ran out into the garden;
and I found myself in the position of a defendant whose two most
important witnesses have been suddenly taken away. “Let me give you
the flowers!” I stammered out at last, quite ‘at my wit’s end’ as
to how to get out of the difficulty. “You know much more about them
than I do!”
“I accept them most gratefully! But you have not yet told me–” the
Earl was beginning, when we were interrupted, to my great relief, by
the arrival of Eric Lindon.
To Arthur, however, the new-comer was, I saw clearly, anything but
welcome. His face clouded over: he drew a little back from the circle,
and took no further part in the conversation, which was wholly
maintained, for some minutes, by Lady Muriel and her lively cousin,
who were discussing some new music that had just arrived from London.
“Do just try this one!” he pleaded. “The music looks easy to sing at
sight, and the song’s quite appropriate to the occasion.”
“Then I suppose it’s
‘Five o’clock tea!
Ever to thee
Faithful I’ll be,
Five o’clock tea!”‘
laughed Lady Muriel, as she sat down to the piano, and lightly struck a
few random chords.
“Not quite: and yet it is a kind of ‘ever to thee faithful I’ll be!’