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My Lady Caprice(Chapter4)

2006-08-28 23:21

  IV. Moon Magic

  The Three Jolly Anglers is an inn of a distinctly jovial aspect, with its toppling gables, its creaking sign, and its bright lattices, which, like merry little twinkling eyes, look down upon the eternal river to-day with the same half-waggish, half-kindly air as they have done for generations.

  Upon its battered sign, if you look closely enough, you may still see the Three Anglers themselves, somewhat worn and dim with time and stress of weather, yet preserving their jollity through it all with an heroic fortitude - as they doubtless will do until they fade away altogether.

  It is an inn with raftered ceilings, and narrow, winding passageways; an inn with long, low chambers full of unexpected nooks and corners, with great four-post beds built for tired giants it would seem, and wide, deep chimneys reminiscent of Gargantuan rounds of beef; an inn whose very walls seem to exude comfort, as it were - the solid comfortable comfort of a bygone age.

  Of all the many rooms here to be found I love best that which is called the Sanded Parlour. Never were wainscoted walls of a mellower tone, never was pewter more gleaming, never were things more bright and speckless, from the worn, quaint andirons on the hearth to the brass-bound blunderbuss, with the two ancient fishing-rods above. At one end of the room was a long, low casement, and here I leaned, watching the river near-by, and listening to its never-ceasing murmur. I had dined an hour ago; the beef had been excellent - it always is at the Three Jolly Anglers - and the ale beyond all criticism; also my pipe seemed to have an added flavour.

  Yet despite all this I did not enjoy that supreme content - that philosophical calm which such beef and such ale surely warranted. But then, who ever heard of Love and Philosophy going together?

  Away over the uplands a round, harvest moon was beginning to rise, flecking the shadowy waters with patches of silver, and, borne to my ears upon the warm, still air, came the throb of distant violins. This served only to deepen my melancholy, reminding me that somebody or other was giving a ball to-night; and Lisbeth was there, and Mr. Selwyn was there, of course, and I - I was here - alone with the brass-bound blunderbuss, the ancient fishing-rods and the antique andirons on the hearth; with none to talk to save the moon, and the jasmine that had crept in at the open casement. And noting the splendour of the night, I experienced towards Lisbeth a feeling of pained surprise, that she should prefer the heat and garish glitter of a ball-room to walking beneath such a moon with me.

  Indeed, it was a wondrous night! one of those warm still nights which seem full of vague and untold possibilities! A night with magic in the air, when elves and fairies dance within their grassy rings, or biding amid the shade of trees, peep out at one between the leaves; or again, some gallant knight on mighty steed may come pacing slowly from the forest shadows, with the moonlight bright upon his armour.

  Yes, surely there was magic in the air to-right! I half wished that some enchanter might, by a stroke of his fairy wand, roll back the years and leave me in the brutal, virile, Good Old Times, when men wooed and won their loves by might and strength of arm, and not by gold, as is so often the case in these days of ours. To be mounted upon my fiery steed, lance in hand and sword on thigh, riding down the leafy alleys of the woods yonder, led by the throbbing, sighing melody. To burst upon the astonished dancers like a thunder-clap; to swing her up to my saddle-bow, and clasped in each other's arms, to plunge into the green mystery of forest.

  My fancies had carried me thus far when I became aware of a small, furtive figure, dodging from one patch of shadow to another. Leaning from the window, I made out the form of a somewhat disreputable urchin, who, dropping upon hands and knees, proceeded to crawl towards me over the grass with a show of the most elaborate caution.

  "Hallo!" I exclaimed, "halt and give the counter-sign!" The urchin sat up on his heels and stared at me with a pair of very round, bright eyes.

  "Please, are you Mr. Uncle Dick?" he inquired.

  "Oh," I said, "you come from the Imp, I presume." The boy nodded a round head, at the same time fumbling with something in his pocket.

  "And whom may you be?" I inquired, conversationally.

  "I'm Ben, I am."

  "The gardener's boy?" Again the round head nodded acquiescence, as with much writhing and twisting he succeeded in drawing a heterogeneous collection of articles from his pocket, whence he selected a very dirty and crumpled piece of paper.

  "He wants a ladder so's he can git out, but it's too big fer me to lift, so he told me to give you this here so's you would come an' rescue him - please, Mr. Uncle Dick." With which lucid explanation Ben handed me the crumpled note.

  Spreading it out upon the windowsill, I managed to make out as follows:

  DEAR UNKEL DICK: I'm riting this with my hart's blood bekors I'm a prisner in a gloomie dungun. It isn't really my hart's blood it's only red ink, so don't worry. Aunty lisbath cent me to bed just after tea bekors she said I'm norty, and when she'd gone Nurse locked me in so i can't get out and I'm tired of being a prisner, so please i want you to get the ladda and let me eskape, please unkel dick, will you.

  yours till deth,REGINALD AUGUSTUS.

  Auntie was reading Ivanhoe to us and I've been the Black Knight and you can be Gurth the swine-herd if you like.

  "So that's the way of it?" I said.

  "Well! well! such an appeal shall not go unanswered, at least. Wait there, my trusty Benjamin, and I'll be with you anon." Pausing only to refill my tobacco-pouch and get my cap, I sallied out into the fragrant night, and set off along the river, the faithful Benjamin trotting at my heels.

  Very soon we were skirting blooming flower-beds, and crossing trim lawns, until at length we reached a certain wing of the house from a window of which a pillow-case was dangling by means of a string.

  "That's for provisions!" volunteered Ben; "we pertended he was starving, so he lets it down an' I fill it with onions out of the vegetable garden." At this moment the curly head of the Imp appeared at the window, followed by the major portion of his person.

  "Oh, Uncle Dick!" he cried in a loud stage-whisper, "I think you had better be the Black Knight, 'cause you're so big, you know."

  "Imp," I said, "get in at once, do you want to break your neck?"

  The Imp obediently wriggled into safety.

  "The ladder's in the tool-house, Uncle Dick - Ben'll show you. Will you get it, please?" he pleaded in a wheedling tone.

  "First of all, my Imp, why did your Auntie Lisbeth send you to bed - had you been a very naughty boy?"

  "No-o!" he answered, after a moment's pause, "I don't think I was so very naughty - I only painted Dorothy like an Indian chief - green, with red spots, an' she looked fine, you know."

  "Green, with red spots!" I repeated.

  "Yes; only auntie didn't seem to like it."

  "I fear your Auntie Lisbeth lacks an eye for colour."

  "Yes, 'fraid so; she sent me to bed for it, you know."

  "Still, Imp, under the circumstances I think it would be best if you got undressed and went to sleep."

  "Oh, but I can't, Uncle Dick!"

  "Why not, my Imp?"

  "'Cause the moon's so very bright, an' everything looks so fine down there, an' I'm sure there's fairies about - Moon-fairies, you know, and I'm 'miserable."

  "Miserable, Imp?"

  "Yes, Auntie Lisbeth never came to kiss me good-night, an' so I can't go to sleep, Uncle Dick!"

  "Why that alters the case, certainly."

  "Yes, an' the ladder's in the tool-house."

  "Imp," I said, as I turned to follow Benjamin, "oh, you Imp!"

  There are few things in this world more difficult to manage than a common or garden ladder; among other peculiarities it has a most unpleasant knack of kicking out suddenly just as everything appears to be going smoothly, which is apt to prove disconcerting to the novice. However, after sundry mishaps of the kind, I eventually got it reared up to the window, and a moment afterwards the Imp had climbed down and stood beside me, drawing the breath of freedom.

  As a precautionary measure we proceeded to hide the ladder in a clump of rhododendrons hard by, and had but just done so when Benjamin uttered a cry of warning and took to his heels, while the Imp and I sought shelter behind a friendly tree. And not a whit too soon, for, scarcely had we done so, when two figures came round a corner of the house - two figures who walked very slowly and very close together.

  "Why it's Betty-the cook, you know-an' Peter!" whispered the Imp.

  Almost opposite our hiding-place Betty paused to sigh heavily and stare up at the moon.

  "Oh, Peter!" she murmured, "look at that there orb!"

  "Ar!" said Peter, gazing obediently upward.

  "Peter, ain't it 'eavenly; don't it stir your very soul?"

  "Ar!" said Peter.

  "Peter, are you sure you loves me more than that Susan thing at the doctor's?" A corduroy coat-sleeve crept slowly about Betty's plump waist, and there came the unmistakable sound of a kiss.

  "Really and truly, Peter?"

  "Ar!" said Peter, "so 'elp me Sam!" The kissing sound was repeated, and they walked on once more, only closer than ever now on account of the corduroy coat-sleeve.

  "Those two are in love, you know," nodded the Imp. "Peter says the cheese-cakes she makes are enough to drive any man into marrying her, whether he wants to or not, an' I heard Betty telling Jane that she adored Peter, 'cause he had so much soul! Why is it," he inquired, thoughtfully, as he watched the two out of sight, "why is it, Uncle Dick, that people in love always look so silly?"

  "Do you think so?" I asked, as I paused to light my pipe.

  "'Course I do!" returned the Imp; "what's any one got to put their arm round girls for, just as if they wanted holding up - I think it's awfull' silly!"

  "Of course it is, Imp - your wisdom is unassailable - still, do you know, I can understand a man being foolish enough to do it - occasionally."

  "But you never would, Uncle Dick?"

  "Alas, Imp!" I said, shaking my head, "Fortune seems to preclude all chances of it."

  "'Course you wouldn't," he exclaimed; "an' Ivanhoe wouldn't - "

  "Ah, but he did!" I put in; "have you forgotten Rowena?"

  "Oh!" cried the Imp dolefully, "do you really think he ever put his arm round her?"

  "Sure of it," I nodded. The Imp seemed much cast down, and even shocked.

  "But there was the Black Knight," he said, brightening suddenly - "Richard of the Lion Heart, you know - he never did!"

  "Not while he was fighting, of course, but afterwards, if history is to be believed, he very frequently did; and we are all alike, Imp - everybody does sooner or later."

  "But why? Why should any one want to put their arm round a girl, Uncle Dick?"

  "For the simple reason that the girl is there to put it round, I suppose. And now, Imp, let us talk of fish."

  Instinctively we had wandered towards the river, and now we stood to watch the broad, silver path made by the moon across the mystery of its waters.

  "I love to see the shine upon the river like that," said the Imp, dreamily; "Auntie Lisbeth says it's the path that the Moon-fairies come down by to bring you nice dreams when you've been good. I've got out of bed lots of times an' watched an' watched, but I've never seen them come. Do you think there are fairies in the moon, Uncle Dick?"

  "Undoubtedly," I answered; "how else does it keep so bright? I used to wonder once how they managed to make it shine so."

  "It must need lots of rubbing!" said the Imp; "I wonder if they ever get tired?"

  "Of course they do, Imp, and disheartened, too, sometimes, like the rest of us, and then everything is black, and people wonder where the moon is. But they are very brave, these Moon-fairies, and they never quite lose hope, you know; so they presently go back to their rubbing and polishing, always starting at one edge. And in a little while we see it begin to shine again, very small and thin at first, like a - "

  "Thumb-nail!"

  "Yes, just like a thumb-nail; and so they go on working and working at it until it gets as big and round and bright as it is to-night."

  Thus we walked together through a fairy world, the Imp and I, while above the murmur of the waters, above the sighing of the trees, came the soft, tremulous melody of the violins.

  "I do wish I had lived when there were knights like Ivanhoe," burst out the Imp suddenly; "it must have been fine to knock a man off his horse with your lance."

  "Always supposing he didn't knock you off first, Imp."

  "Oh! I should have been the sort of knight that nobody could knock off, you know. An' I'd have wandered about on my faithful charger, fighting all sorts of caddish barons, and caitiffs, an' slaying giants; an' I'd have rescued lovely ladies from castles grim - though I wouldn't have put my arm round them, of course!"

  "Perish the thought, my Imp!"

  "Uncle Dick!" he said, insinuatingly, "I do wish you'd be the Black Knight, an' let me be Ivanhoe."

  "But there are no caitiffs and things left for us to fight, Imp, and no lovely ladies to rescue from castles grim, alas!"

  Now we had been walking on, drawn almost imperceptibly by the magic thread of the melody, which had led us, by devious paths, to a low stone wall, beyond which we could see the gleam of lighted windows and the twinkle of fairy-lamps among the trees. And over there, amid the music and laughter, was Lisbeth in all the glory of her beauty, happy, of course, and light-hearted; and here, beneath the moon, was I.

  "We could pretend this was a castle grim, you know, Uncle Dick, full of dungeons an' turrets, an' that we were going to rescue Auntie Lisbeth."

  "Imp," I said, "that's really a great idea."

  "I wish I'd brought my trusty sword," he sighed, searching about for something to supply its place; "I left it under my pillow, you know."

  Very soon, however, he had procured two sticks, somewhat thin and wobbly, yet which, by the magic of imagination, became transformed into formidable, two-edged swords, with one of which he armed me, the other he flourished above his head.

  "Forward, gallant knights!" he cried; "the breach! the breach! On! on! St. George, for Merrie England!" With the words he clambered upon the wall and disappeared upon the other side.

  For a moment I hesitated, and then, inspired by the music and the thought of Lisbeth, I followed suit. It was all very mad, of course, but who cared for sanity on such a night - certainly not I.

  "Careful now, Imp!" I cautioned; "if any one should see us they'll take us for thieves, or lunatics, beyond a doubt."

  We found ourselves in an enclosed garden with a walk which led between rows of fruit trees. Following this, it brought us out upon a broad stretch of lawn, with here and there a great tree, and beyond, the gleaming windows of the house. Filled with the spirit of adventure, we approached, keeping in the shadow as much as possible, until we could see figures that strolled to and fro upon the terrace or promenaded the walks below.

  The excitement of dodging our way among so many people was intense; time and again we were only saved from detection by more than one wandering couple, owing to the fact that all their attention was centred in themselves. For instance, we were skirmishing round a clump of laurels, to gain the shadow of the terrace, when we almost ran into the arms of a pair; but they didn't see us for the very good reason that she was staring at the moon, and he at her.

  "So sweet of you, Archibald!" she was saying.

  "What did she call him 'bald for, Uncle Dick?" inquired the Imp in a loud stage-whisper, as I dragged him down behind the laurels. 'He's not a bit bald, you know! An' I say, Uncle Dick, did you see his arm, it was round - "

  "Yes - yes!" I nodded.

  "Just like Peter's, you know."

  "Yes - yes, I saw."

  "I wonder why she called him - "

  "Hush!" I broke in, "his name is Archibald, I suppose."

  "Well, I hope when I grow up nobody will ever call me - "

  "Hush!" I said again, "not a word - there's your Auntie Lisbeth! She was, indeed, standing upon the terrace, within a yard of our hiding-place, and beside her was Mr. Selwyn.

  "Uncle Dick," whispered the irrepressible Imp, "do you think if we watch long enough that Mr. Selwyn will put his arm round - "

  "Shut up!" I whispered savagely. Lisbeth was clad in a long, trailing gown of dove-coloured silk - one of those close-fitting garments that make the uninitiated, such as myself, wonder how they are ever got on. Also, she wore a shawl, which I was sorry for, because I have always been an admirer of beautiful things, and Lisbeth's neck and shoulders are glorious. Mr. Selwyn stood beside her with a plate of ice cream in his hand, which he handed to her, and they sat down. As I watched her and noticed her weary, bored air, and how wistfully she gazed up at the silver disc of the moon, I experienced a feeling of decided satisfaction.

  "Yes," said Lisbeth, toying absently with the ice cream, "he painted Dorothy's face with stripes of red and green enamel, and goodness only knows how we can ever get it all off!"

  Mr. Selwyn was duly shocked and murmured something about 'the efficacy of turpentine' in such an emergency.

  "Of course, I had to punish him," continued Lisbeth, "so I sent him to bed immediately after tea, and never went to say good-night, or tuck him up as I usually do, and it has been worrying me all the evening."

  Mr. Selwyn was sure that he was all right, and positively certain that at this moment he was wrapped in balmy slumber. Despite my warning grasp, the Imp chuckled, but we were saved by the band striking up. Mr. Selwyn rose, giving his arm to Lisbeth, and they re-entered the ball-room. One by one the other couples followed suit until the long terrace was deserted. Now, upon Lisbeth's deserted chair, showing wonderfully pink in the soft glow of the Chinese lanterns, was the ice cream.

  "Uncle Dick," said the Imp in his thoughtful way, "I think I'll be a bandit for a bit."

  "Anything you like," I answered rashly, "so long as we get away while we can."

  "All right," he whispered, "I won't be a minute," and before I could stop him he had scrambled down the steps and fallen to upon the ice cream.

  The wonderful celerity with which the Imp wolfed down that ice cream was positively awe-inspiring. In less time almost than it takes to tell the plate was empty. Yet scarcely had he swallowed the last mouthful when he heard Mr. Selwyn's voice close by. In his haste the Imp dropped his cap, a glaring affair of red and white, and before he could recover it Lisbeth reappeared, followed by Mr. Selwyn.

  - "It certainly is more pleasant out here!" he was saying.

  Lisbeth came straight towards the cap-it was a moral impossibility that she could fail to see it - yet she sank into her chair without word or sign. Mr. Selwyn, on the contrary, stood with the empty ice plate in his hand, staring at it in wide-eyed astonishment.

  "It's gone!" he exclaimed.

  "Oh!" said Lisbeth.

  "Most extraordinary!" Said Mr. Selwyn, fixing his monocle and staring harder than ever; "I wonder where it can have got to?"

  "Perhaps it melted!" Lisbeth suggested, "and I should so have loved an ice!" she sighed.

  "Then, of course, I'll get you another, with pleasure," he said and hurried off, eyeing the plate dubiously as he went.

  No sooner was Lisbeth alone than she kicked aside the train of her dress and picked up the tell-tale cap.

  "Imp!" she whispered, rising to her feet, "Imp, come here at once, sir!" There was a moment's breathless pause, and then the Imp squirmed himself into view.

  "Hallo, Auntie Lisbeth!" he said, with a cheerfulness wholly assumed.

  "Oh!" she cried, distressfully, "whatever does this mean; what are you doing here? Oh, you naughty boy!"

  "Lisbeth," I said, as I rose in my turn and confronted her, "Do not blame the child - the fault is mine - let me explain; by means of a ladder - "

  "Not here," she whispered, glancing nervously towards the ball-room.

  "Then come where I can."

  "Impossible!"

  "Not at all; you have only to descend these steps and we can talk undisturbed."

  "Ridiculous!" she said, stooping to replace the Imp's cap; but being thus temptingly within reach, she was next moment beside us in the shadows.

  "Dick, how could you, how dared you?"

  "You see, I had to explain," I answered very humbly; "I really couldn't allow this poor child to bear the blame of my fault - "

  "I'm not a 'poor child,' Uncle Dick," expostulated the Imp; "I'm a gallant knight and - "

  " - The blame of my fault, Lisbeth," I continued, "I alone must face your just resentment, for - "

  "Hush!" she whispered, glancing hastily about.

  " - For, by means of a ladder, Lisbeth, a common or garden ladder - "

  "Oh, do be quiet!" she said, and laid her hand upon my lips, which I immediately imprisoned there, but for a moment only; the next it was snatched away as there came the unmistakable sound of some one approaching.

  "Come along, Auntie Lisbeth," whispered the Imp, "fear not, we'll rescue you."

  Oh! surely there was magic in the air to-night; for, with a swift, dexterous movement, Lisbeth had swept her long train across her arm, and we were running hand in hand, all three of us, running across lawns and down winding paths between yew hedges, sometimes so close together that I could feel a tress of her fragrant hair brushing my face with a touch almost like a caress. Surely, surely, there was magic in the air to-night!

  Suddenly Lisbeth stopped, flushed and panting.

  "Well!" she exclaimed, staring from me to the Imp, and back again, "was ever anything so mad!"

  "Everything is mad to-night," I said; "it's the moon!"

  "To think of my running away like this with two - two - "

  "Interlopers," I suggested.

  "I really ought to be very, very angry with you - both of you, she said, trying to frown.

  "No, don't be angry with us, Auntie Lisbeth," pleaded the Imp, "'cause you are a lovely lady in a castle grim, an' we are two gallant knights, so we had to come an' rescue you; an' you never came to kiss me good-night, an' I'm awfull' sorry 'bout painting Dorothy's face - really!"

  "Imp," cried Lisbeth, falling on her knees regardless of her silks and laces, "Imp, come and kiss me." The Imp drew out a decidedly grubby handkerchief, and, having rubbed his lips with it, obeyed.

  "Now, Uncle Dick!" he said, and offered me the grubby handkerchief. Lisbeth actually blushed.

  "Reginald!" she exclaimed, "whatever put such an idea into your head?"

  "Oh! everybody's always kissing somebody you know," he nodded; "an' it's Uncle Dick's turn now."

  Lisbeth rose from her knees and began to pat her rebellious hair into order. Now, as she raised her arms, her shawl very naturally slipped to the ground; and standing there, with her eyes laughing up at me beneath their dark lashes, with the moonlight in her hair, and gleaming upon the snow of her neck and shoulders, she had never seemed quite so bewilderingly, temptingly beautiful before.

  "Dick," she said, "I must go back at once - before they miss me."

  "Go back!" I repeated, "never - that is, not yet."

  "But suppose any one saw us!" she said, with a hairpin in her mouth.

  "They shan't," I answered; "you will see to that, won't you, Imp?"

  "'Course I will, Uncle Dick!"

  "Then go you, Sir Knight, and keep faithful ward behind yon apple tree, and let no base varlet hither come; that is, if you see any one, be sure to tell me." The Imp saluted and promptly disappeared behind the apple tree in question, while I stood watching Lisbeth's dexterous fingers and striving to remember a line from Keats descriptive of a beautiful woman in the moonlight. Before I could call it to mind, however, Lisbeth interrupted me.

  "Don't you think you might pick up my shawl instead of staring at me as if I was - "

  "The most beautiful woman in the world!" I put in.

  - "Who is catching her death of cold," she laughed, yet for all her light tone her eyes drooped before mine as I obediently wrapped the shawl about her, in the doing of which, my arm being round her, very naturally stayed there, and - wonder of wonders, was not repulsed. And at this very moment, from the shadowy trees behind us, came the rich, clear song of a nightingale.

  Oh! most certainly the air was full of magic to-night!

  "Dick," said Lisbeth very softly as the trilling notes died away, "I thought one could only dream such a night as this is."

  "And yet life might hold many such for you and me, if you would only let it, Lisbeth," I reminded her. She did not answer.

  "Not far from the village of Down, in Kent," I began.

  "There stands a house," she put in, staring up at the moon with dreamy eyes.

  "A very old house, with twisted Tudor chimneys and pointed gables - you see I have it all by heart, Dick - a house with wide stairways and long pannelled chambers - "

  "Very empty and desolate at present," I added. "And amongst other things, there is a rose-garden - they call it My Lady's Garden, Lisbeth, though no lady has trod its winding paths for years and years. But I have dreamed, many and many a time, that we stood among the roses, she and I, upon just such another night as this is. So I keep the old house ready and the gardens freshly trimmed, ready for my lady's coming; must I wait much longer, Lisbeth?" As I ended the nightingale took up the story, pleading my cause for me, filling the air with a melody now appealing, now commanding, until it gradually died away in one long note of passionate entreaty.

  Lisbeth sighed and turned towards me, but as she did so I felt a tug at my coat, and, looking round, beheld the Imp.

  "Uncle Dick," he said, his eyes studiously averted, doubtless on account of the position of my arm, "here's Mr. Selwyn!"

  With a sudden exclamation Lisbeth started from me and gathered up her skirts to run.

  "Whereaway, my Imp?"

  "Coming across the lawn."

  "Reginald," I said, solemnly, listen to me; you must sally out upon him with lance in rest, tell him you are a Knight-errant, wishful to uphold the glory of that faire ladye, your Auntie Lisbeth, and whatever happens you must manage to keep him away from here, do you understand?"

  "Yes, only I do wish I'd brought my trusty sword, you know," he sighed.

  "Never mind that now, Imp."

  "Will Auntie Lisbeth be quite - "

  "She will be all right."

  "I suppose if you put your arm - "

  "Never mind my arm, Imp, go!"

  "Then fare thee well!" said he, and with a melodramatic flourish of his lance, trotted off.

  "What did he mean about your arm, Dick?"

  "Probably this!" I answered, slipping it around her again.

  "But you must get away at once," whispered Lisbeth; "if Mr. Selwyn should see you - "

  "I intend that he shall. Oh, it will be quite simple; while he is talking to me you can get back to the - "

  "Hush!" she whispered, laying her fingers on my lips; "listen!"

  "Hallo, Mr. Selwyn!" came in the Imp's familiar tones.

  "Why, good Heavens!" exclaimed another voice, much too near to be pleasant, "what on earth are you doing here - and at this time of night?"

  "Looking for base varlets!"

  "Don't you know that all little boys - all nice little boys - should have been in bed hours ago?"

  "But I'm not a nice little boy; I'm a Knight-errant; would you like to get a lance, Mr. Selwyn, an' break it with me to the glory of my Auntie Lisbeth?"

  "The question is, what has become of her?" said Mr. Selwyn. We waited almost breathlessly for the answer.

  "Oh! I 'specks she's somewhere looking at the moon; everybody looks at the moon, you know; Betty does, an' the lady with the man with a funny name 'bout being bald, an'-"

  "I think you had better come up to the house," said Mr. Se1wyn.

  "Do you think you could get me an ice cream if I did?" asked the Imp, persuasively; "nice an' pink, you know, with - "

  "An ice!" repeated Mr. Selwyn; "I wonder how many you have had already to-night?"

  The time for action was come. "Lisbeth," I said, "we must go; such happiness as this could not last; how should it? I think it is given us to dream over in less happy days. For me it will be a memory to treasure always, and yet there might be one thing more - a little thing Lisbeth - can you guess?" She did not speak, but I saw the dimple come and go at the corner of her mouth, so I stooped and kissed her. For a moment, all too brief, we stood thus, with the glory of the moonlight about us; then I was hurrying across the lawn after Selwyn and the Imp.

  "Ah, Mr. Selwyn!" I said as I overtook them, "so you have found him, have you?" Mr. Selwyn turned to regard me, surprise writ large upon him, from the points of his immaculate, patent-leather shoes, to the parting of his no less immaculate hair.

  "So very good of you," I continued; "you see he is such a difficult object to recover when once he gets mislaid; really, I'm awfully obliged." Mr. Selwyn's attitude was politely formal. He bowed.

  "What is it to-night," he inquired, "pirates?"

  "Hardly so bad as that," I returned; "to-night the air is full of the clash of armour and the ring of steel; if you do not hear it that is not our fault."

  "An' the woods are full of caddish barons and caitiff knaves, you know, aren't they, Uncle Dick?"

  "Certainly," I nodded, with lance and spear-point twinkling through the gloom, but in the silver glory of the moon, Mr. Selwyn, walk errant damozels and ladyes faire, and again, if you don't see them, the loss is yours." As I spoke, away upon the terrace a grey shadow paused a moment ere it was swallowed in the brilliance of the ball-room; seeing which I did not mind the slightly superior smile that curved Mr. Selwyn's very precise moustache; after all, my rhapsody had not been altogether thrown away. As I ended, the opening bars of a waltz floated out to us. Mr. Selwyn glanced back over his shoulder.

  "Ah! I suppose you can find your way out?" he inquired.

  "Oh, yes, thanks."

  "Then if you will excuse me, I think I'll leave you to - ah - to do it; the next dance is beginning, and - ah - "

  "Certainly," I said, "of course - good-night, and much obliged - really!" Mr. Selwyn bowed, and, turning away, left us to our own resources.

  "I should have liked another ice, Uncle Dick," sighed the Imp, regretfully.

  "Knights never ate ice cream!" I said, as we set off along the nearest path.

  "Uncle Dick," said the Imp suddenly, "do you 'spose Mr. Selwyn wants to put his arm round Auntie Lis - "

  "Possibly!"

  "An' do you 'spose that Auntie Lisbeth wants Mr. Selwyn to - "

  "I don't know - of course not - er - kindly shut up, will you, Imp?"

  "I only wanted to know, you know," he murmured.

  Therewith we walked on in silence and I fell to dreaming of Lisbeth again, of how she had sighed. of the look in her eves as she turned to me with her answer trembling on her lips - the answer which the Imp had inadvertently cut short. In this frame of mind I drew near to that corner of the garden where she had stood with me, that quiet, shady corner, which henceforth would remain enshrined within my memory for her sake which -

  I stopped suddenly short at the sight of two figures - one in the cap and apron of a waiting maid and the other in the gorgeous plush and cold braid of a footman; and they were standing upon the very spot where Lisbeth and I had stood, and in almost the exact attitude - it was desecration. I stood stock still despite the Imp's frantic tugs at my coat all other feelings swallowed up in one of half-amused resentment. Thus the resplendent footman happened to turn his head, presently espied me, and removing his plush-clad arm from the waist of the trim maid-servant, and doubling his fists, strode towards us with a truly terrible mien.

  "And w'ot might your game be?" he inquired, with that supercilious air inseparable to plush and gold braid; "oh, I know your kind, I do - I know yer!"

  "Then, fellow," quoth I, "I know not thee, by Thor, I swear it and Og the Terrible, King of Bashan!"

  "'Ogs is it?" said he indignantly, "don't get trying to come over me with yer 'ogs; no nor yet yer fellers! The question is, wo't are you 'anging round 'ere for?" Now, possibly deceived by my pacific attitude, or inspired by the bright eyes of the trim maid-servant, he seized me, none too gently, by the collar, to the horrified dismay of the Imp.

  "Nay, but I will, give thee moneys - "

  "You are a-going to come up to the 'ouse with me, and no blooming nonsense either; d'ye 'ear ?"

  "Then must I needs smite thee for a barbarous (dog - hence - base slave - begone!" Wherewith I delivered what is technically known in "sporting" circles as a "right hook in the ear," followed by a "left swing to the chin," and my assailant immediately disappeared behind a bush, with a flash of pink silk calves and buckled shoes. Then, while the trim maidservant filled the air with her lamentations, the imp and I ran hot-foot for the wall, over which I bundled him neck and crop, and we set off pellmell along the river-path.

  "Oh, Uncle Dick,'' he panted, "how - how fine you are! you knocked yon footman - I mean varlet - from his saddle like - like anything. Oh, I do wish you would play like this every night!"

  "Heaven forbid!" I exclaimed fervently.

  Coming at last to the shrubbery gate, we paused awhile to regain our breath.

  "Uncle Dick," said the Imp, regarding me with a thoughtful eye, "did you see his arm - I mean before you smote him 'hip and thigh' ?"

  "I did."

  "it was round her waist."

  "Imp, it was."

  "Just like Peter's?"

  "Yes."

  "An' the man with the funny name ?"

  "Archibald's, yes,"

  "An' - an - "

  "And mine," I put in, seeing he paused.

  "Uncle Dick - why ?"

  "Ah! who knows, Imp - perhaps it was the Moon-magic. And now by my troth! 'tis full time all good knights were snoring, so hey for bed and the Slumber-world!"

  The ladder was dragged from its hiding place, and the Imp, having mounted, watched me from his window as I returned it to the laurels for very obvious reasons.

  "We didn't see any fairies, did we, Uncle Dick?"

  "Well, I think I did, Imp, just for a moment; I may have been mistaken, of course, but anyhow, it has been a very wonderful night all the same. And so - God rest you, fair Knight!"

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