Light come, light go
Lady Muriel's smile of welcome could not quite conceal the look of surprise with which she regarded my new companions.
I presented them in due form. "This is Sylvie, Lady Muriel. And this is Bruno."
"Any surname?" she enquired, her eyes twinkling with fun.
"No," I said gravely. "No surname."
She laughed, evidently thinking I said it in fun; and stooped to kiss the children a salute to which Bruno submitted with reluctance: Sylvie returned it with interest.
While she and Arthur (who had arrived before me) supplied the children with tea and cake, I tried to engage the Earl in conversation: but he was restless and distrait, and we made little progress. At last, by a sudden question, he betrayed the cause of his disquiet.
"Would you let me look at those flowers you have in your hand?"
"Willingly!" I said, handing him the bouquet. Botany was, I knew, a favourite study of his: and these flowers were to me so entirely new and mysterious, that I was really curious to see what a botanist would say of them.
They did not diminish his disquiet. On the contrary, he became every moment more excited as he turned them over. "These are all from Central India!" he said, laying aside part of the bouquet. "They are rare, even there: and I have never seen them in any other part of the world. These two are Mexican----This one----" (He rose hastily, and carried it to the window, to examine it in a better light, the flush of excitement mounting to his very forehead) "---is. I am nearly sure----but I have a book of Indian Botany here----" He took a volume from the book-shelves, and turned the leaves with trembling fingers. "Yes! Compare it with this picture! It is the exact duplicate! This is the flower of the Upas-tree, which usually grows only in the depths of forests; and the flower fades so quickly after being plucked, that it is scarcely possible to keep its form or colour even so far as the outskirts of the forest! Yet this is in full bloom! Where did you get these flowers?" he added with breathless eagerness.
I glanced at Sylvie, who, gravely and silently, laid her finger on her lips, then beckoned to Bruno to follow her, and ran out into the garden; and I found myself in the position of a defendant whose two most important witnesses have been suddenly taken away. "Let me give you the flowers!" I stammered out at last, quite 'at my wit's end' as to how to get out of the difficulty. "You know much more about them than I do!"
"I accept them most gratefully! But you have not yet told me----" the Earl was beginning, when we were interrupted, to my great relief, by the arrival of Eric Lindon.
To Arthur, however, the new-comer was, I saw clearly, anything but welcome. His face clouded over: he drew a little back from the circle, and took no further part in the conversation, which was wholly maintained, for some minutes, by Lady Muriel and her lively cousin, who were discussing some new music that had just arrived from London.
"Do just try this one!" he pleaded. "The music looks easy to sing at sight, and the song's quite appropriate to the occasion."
"Then I suppose it's
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