ON the following day, Arthur and I reached the Hall in good time, as only a few of the guests-- it was to be a party of eighteen--had as yet arrived; and these were talking with the Earl, leaving us the opportunity of a few words apart with our hostess.
`Who is that very learned-looking man with the large spectacles?' Arthur enquired. `I haven't met him here before, have I?'
`No, he's a new friend of ours,' said Lady Muriel: `a German, I believe. He is such a dear old thing! And quite the most learned man I ever met--with one exception, of course!' she added humbly, as Arthur drew himself up with an air of offended dignity.
`And the young lady in blue, just beyond him, talking to that foreign-looking man. Is she learned, too?'
`I don't know,' said Lady Muriel. `But I'm told she's a wonderful pianoforte-player. I hope you'll hear her tonight. I asked that foreigner to take her in, because he's very musical, too. He's a French Count, I believe; and he sings splendidly!'
`Science--music--singing--you have indeed got a complete party!' said Arthur. `I feel quite a privileged person, meeting all these stars. I do love music!'
`But the party isn't quite complete!' said Lady Muriel. `You haven't brought us those two beautiful children,' she went on, turning to me. `He brought them here to tea, you know, one day last summer,' again addressing Arthur: `and they are such darlings!'
`They are, indeed,' I assented.
`But why haven't you brought them with you? You promised my father you would.'
`I'm very sorry,' I said; `but really it was impossible to bring them with me.' Here I most certainly meant to conclude the sentence: and it was with a feeling of utter amazement, which I cannot adequately describe, that I heard myself going on speaking. `--but they are to join me here in the course of the evening' were the words, uttered in my voice, and seeming to come from my lips.
`I'm so glad!' Lady Muriel joyfully replied. `I shall enjoy introducing them to some of my friends here! When do you expect them?'
I took refuge in silence. The only honest reply would have been `That was not my remark. I didn't say it, and it isn't true!' But I had not the moral courage to make such a confession. The character of a `lunatic' is not, I believe, very difficult to acquire; but it is amazingly difficult to get rid of: and it seemed quite certain that any such speech as that would quite justify the issue of a writ `de lunatico inquirendo'.
Lady Muriel evidently thought I had failed to hear her question, and turned to Arthur with a remark on some other subject; and I had time to recover from my shock of surprise--or to awake out of my momentary `eerie' condition, whichever it was.
When things around me seemed once more to be real, Arthur was saying `I'm afraid there's no help for it: they must be finite in number.'
`I should be sorry to have to believe it,' said Lady Muriel. `Yet, when one comes to think of it, there are no new melodies, now-a-days. What people talk of as "the last new song" always recalls to me some tune I've known as a child!'
`The day must come--if the world lasts long enough--' said Arthur, `when every possible tune will have been composed--every possible pun perpetrated--' (Lady Muriel wrung her hands, like a tragedy-queen) `and, worse than that, every possible book written! For the number of words is finite.'
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