An uncomfortable silence followed this announcement. Lady Muriel ventured no further conjectures, but quietly examined the fastenings of the windows, which opened as doors. They all proved to be well fastened, inside.
Not yet at the end of her resources, Lady Muriel rang the bell. `Ask the housekeeper to step here,' she said, `and to bring the children's walking-things with her.'
`I've brought them, my Lady,' said the obsequious housekeeper, entering after another minute of silence. `I thought the young lady would have come to my room to put on her boots. Here's your boots, my love!' she added cheerfully, looking in all directions for the children. There was no answer, and she turned to Lady Muriel with a puzzled smile. `Have the little darlings hid themselves?'
`I don't see them, just now,' Lady Muriel replied, rather evasively. `You can leave their things here, Wilson. I'll dress them, when they're ready to go.'
The two little hats, and Sylvie's walking-jacket, were handed round among the ladies, with many exclamations of delight. There certainly was a sort of witchery of beauty about them. Even the little boots did not miss their share of favourable criticism. `Such natty little things!' the musical young lady exclaimed, almost fondling them as she spoke. `And what tiny tiny feet they must have!'
Finally, the things were piled together on the centre-ottoman, and the guests, despairing of seeing the children again, began to wish good-night and leave the house.
There were only some eight or nine left--to whom the Count was explaining, for the twentieth time, how he had had his eye on the children during the last verse of the song; how he had then glanced round the room, to see what effect `de great chest-note' had had upon his audience; and how, when he looked back again, they had both disappeared--when exclamations of dismay began to be heard on all sides, the Count hastily bringing his story to an end to join in the outcry.
The walking-things had all disappeared!
After the utter failure of the search for the children, there was a very halfhearted search made for their apparel. The remaining guests seemed only too glad to get away, leaving only the Count and our four selves.
The Count sank into an easy-chair, and panted a little.
`Who then are these dear children, I pray you?' he said. `Why come they, why go they, in this so little ordinary a fashion? That the music should make itself vanish--that the hats, the boots, should make themselves to vanish--how is it, I pray you?'
`I've no idea where they are!' was all I could say, on finding myself appealed to, by general consent, for an explanation.
The Count seemed about to ask further questions, but checked himself.
`The hour makes himself to become late," he said. `I wish to you a very good night, my Lady. I betake myself to my bed--to dream--if that indeed I be not dreaming now!' And he hastily left the room.
`Stay awhile, stay awhile!' said the Earl, as I was about to follow the Count. `You are not a guest, you know! Arthur's friend is at home here!'
`Thanks!' I said, as with true English instincts, we drew our chairs together round the fire-place, though no fire was burning--Lady Muriel having taken the heap of music on her knee, to have one more search for the strangely-vanished song.
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