`I quite foresee that we--I mean this clever little boy and myself--' Lady Muriel said to me, evidently with the kind wish to bring me into the conversation, `--are going to become famous--of course all our inventions are common property now--for a new Code of Rules for Letter-writing! Please invent some more, little boy!'
`Well, another thing greatly needed, little girl, is some way of expressing that we don't mean anything.'
`Explain yourself, little boy! Surely you can find no difficulty in expressing a total absence of meaning?'
`I mean that you should be able, when you don't mean a thing to be taken seriously, to express that wish. For human nature is so constituted that whatever you write seriously is taken as a joke, and whatever you mean as a joke is taken seriously! At any rate, it is so in writing to a lady!'
`Ah! you're not used to writing to ladies!' Lady Muriel remarked, leaning back in her chair, and gazing thoughtfully into the sky. `You should try.'
`Very good,' said Arthur `How many ladies may I begin writing to? As many as I can count on the fingers of both hands?'
`As many as you can count on the thumbs of one hand!' his lady-love replied with much severity. `What a very naughty little boy he is! Isn't he?' (with an appealing glance at me).
`He's a little fractious,' I said. `Perhaps he's cutting a tooth.' While to myself I said `How exactly like Sylvie talking to Bruno!'
`He wants his tea.' (The naughty little boy volunteered the information.) `He's getting very tired, at the mere prospect of the great party to-morrow!'
`Then he shall have a good rest before-hand!' she soothingly replied. `The tea isn't made yet. Come, little boy, lean well back in your chair, and think about nothing--or about me, whichever you prefer!'
`All the same, all the same!' Arthur sleepily murmured, watching her with loving eyes, as she moved her chair away to the tea table, and began to make the tea. `Then he'll wait for his tea, like a good, patient little boy!'
`Shall I bring you the London Papers?' said Lady Muriel. `I saw them lying on the table as I came out, but my father said there was nothing in them, except that horrid murder-trial.' (Society was just then enjoying its daily thrill of excitement in studying the details of a specially sensational murder in a thieves' den in the East of London.)
`I have no appetite for horrors,' Arthur replied. `But I hope we have learned the lesson they should teach us--though we are very apt to read it backwards!'
`You speak in riddles,' said Lady Muriel. `Please explain yourself. See now,' suiting the action to the word, `I am sitting at your feet, just as if you were a second Gamaliel! Thanks, no.' (This was to me, who had risen to bring her chair back to its former place.) `Pray don't disturb yourself. This tree and the grass make a very nice easy-chair. What is the lesson that one always reads wrong?'
Arthur was silent for a minute. `I would like to be clear what it is I mean,' he said, slowly and thoughtfully, `before I say anything to you--because you think about it.'
Anything approaching to a compliment was so unusual an utterance for Arthur, that it brought a flush of pleasure to her cheek, as she replied `It is you, that give me the ideas to think about.'
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