The Three Badgers

Still more dreamily I found myself following this imperious voice into a room where the Earl, his daughter, and Arthur, were seated. "So you're come at last!" said Lady Muriel, in a tone of playful reproach.

"I was delayed," I stammered. Though what it was that had delayed me I should have been puzzled to explain! Luckily no questions were asked.

The carriage was ordered round, the hamper, containing our contribution to the Picnic, was duly stowed away, and we set forth.

There was no need for me to maintain the conversation. Lady Muriel and Arthur were evidently on those most delightful of terms, where one has no need to check thought after thought, as it rises to the lips, with the fear 'this will not be appreciated---- this will give offence----this will sound too serious----this will sound flippant': like very old friends, in fullest sympathy, their talk rippled on.

"Why shouldn't we desert the Picnic and go in some other direction?" she suddenly suggested. "A party of four is surely self-sufficing? And as for food, our hamper----"

"Why shouldn't we? What a genuine lady's argument!" laughed Arthur. "A lady never knows on which side the onus probandi ----the burden of proving----lies!"

"Do men always know?" she asked with a pretty assumption of meek docility.

"With one exception----the only one I can think of Dr. Watts, who has asked the senseless question

'Why should I deprive my neighbour
  • Of his goods against his will?' Fancy that as an argument for Honesty! His position seems to be 'I'm only honest because I see no reason to steal.' And the thief's answer is of course complete and crushing. 'I deprive my neighbour of his goods because I want them myself. And I do it against his will because there's no chance of getting him to consent to it!'"

    "I can give you one other exception," I said: "an argument I heard only to-day---and not by a lady. 'Why shouldn't I walk on my own forehead?'"

    "What a curious subject for speculation!" said Lady Muriel, turning to me, with eyes brimming over with laughter. "May we know who propounded the question? And did he walk on his own forehead?"

    "I ca'n't remember who it was that said it!" I faltered. "Nor where I heard it!"

    "Whoever it was, I hope we shall meet him at the Picnic!" said Lady Muriel. "It's a far more interesting question than 'Isn't this a picturesque ruin?' Aren't those autumn-tints lovely?' I shall have to answer those two questions ten times, at least, this afternoon!"

    "That's one of the miseries of Society!" said Arthur. "Why ca'n't people let one enjoy the beauties of Nature without having to say so every minute? Why should Life be one long Catechism?"

    "It's just as bad at a picture-gallery," the Earl remarked. "I went to the R.A. last May, with a conceited young artist: and he did torment me! I wouldn't have minded his criticizing the pictures himself: but I had to agree with him----or else to argue the point, which would have been worse!"

    "It was depreciatory criticism, of course?" said Arthur.

    "I don't see the 'of course' at all."

    "Why, did you ever know a conceited man dare to praise a picture? The one thing he dreads (next to not being noticed) is to be proved fallible! If you once praise a picture, your character for infallibility hangs by a thread. Suppose it's a figure-picture, and you venture to say 'draws well.' Somebody measures

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