Gammon and Spinach

MY landlady's welcome had an extra heartiness about it: and though, with a rare delicacy of feeling, she made no direct allusion to the friend whose companionship had done so much to brighten life for me, I felt sure that it was a kindly sympathy with my solitary state that made her so specially anxious to do all she could think of to ensure my comfort, and make me feel at home.

The lonely evening seemed long and tedious: yet I lingered on, watching the dying fire, and letting Fancy mould the red embers into the forms and faces belonging to bygone scenes. Now it seemed to be Bruno's roguish smile that sparkled for a moment, and died away: now it was Sylvie's rosy cheek: and now the Professor's jolly round face, beaming with delight. `You're welcome, my little ones!' he seemed to say. And then the red coal, which for the moment embodied the dear old Professor, began to wax dim, and with its dying lustre the words seemed to die away into silence. I seized the poker, and with an artful touch or two revived the waning glow, while Fancy--no coy minstrel she--sang me once again the magic strain I loved to hear.

`You're welcome, little ones!' the cheery voice repeated. `I told them you were coming. Your rooms are all ready for you. And the Emperor and the Empress--well, I think they're rather pleased than otherwise! In fact, Her Highness said "I hope they'll be in time for the Banquet!" Those were her very words, I assure you!'

`Will Uggug be at the Banquet?' Bruno asked. And both children looked uneasy at the dismal suggestion.

`Why, of course he will!' chuckled the Professor. `Why, it's his birthday, don't you know? And his health will be drunk, and all that sort of thing. What would the Banquet be without him?'

`Ever so much nicer,' said Bruno. But he said it in a very low voice, and nobody but Sylvie heard him.

The Professor chuckled again. `It'll be a jolly Banquet, now you've come, my little man! I am so glad to see you again!'

`I 'fraid we've been very long in coming,' Bruno politely remarked.

`Well, yes,' the Professor assented. `However, you're very short, now you're come: that's some comfort.' And he went on to enumerate the plans for the day. `The Lecture comes first,' he said. `That the Empress insists on. She says people will eat so much at the Banquet, they'll be too sleepy to attend to the Lecture afterwards--and perhaps she's right. There'll just be a little refreshment, when the people first arrive--as a kind of surprise for the Empress, you know. Ever since she's been--well, not quite so clever as she once was--we've found it desirable to concoct little surprises for her. Then comes the Lecture--

`What? The Lecture you were getting ready--ever so long ago?' Sylvie enquired.

`Yes--that's the one,' the Professor rather reluctantly admitted. `It has taken a goodish time to prepare. I've got so many other things to attend to. For instance, I'm Court-Physician. I have to keep all the Royal Servants in good health--and that reminds me!' he cried, ringing the bell in a great hurry. `This is Medicine- Day! We only give Medicine once a week. If we were to begin giving it every day, the bottles would soon be empty!'

`But if they were ill on the other days?' Sylvie suggested.

`What, ill on the wrong day!' exclaimed the Professor. `Oh, that would never do! A Servant would be dismissed at once, who was ill on the wrong day! This is the Medicine for to-day,' he went on, taking down a large jug from a shelf. `I mixed it, myself, first thing this morning. Taste it!' he said, holding out the jug to Bruno. `Dip in your finger, and taste it!'

Bruno did so, and made such an excruciatingly wry face that Sylvie exclaimed in alarm, `Oh, Bruno, you mustn't!'

  By PanEris using Melati.

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