‘Oh, are you French? Étes vous française?’

Pas de tous. ’Suis anglaise.’

‘Then why not talk English? I want to know if—

Permettez-moi expliquer. You see, I’m rather under a cloud,’ said Matilda. ‘I’m staying with my aunt, and I was told I must behave particularly well today, as lots of people were coming for a garden party, and I was told to imitate Claude, that’s my young cousin, who never does anything wrong except by accident, and then is always apologetic about it. It seems they thought I ate too much raspberry trifle at lunch, and they said Claude never eats too much raspberry trifle. Well, Claude always goes to sleep for half an hour after lunch, because he’s told to, and I waited till he was asleep, and tied his hands and started forcible feeding with a whole bucketful of raspberry trifle that they were keeping for the garden party. Lots of it went on to his sailor-suit and some of it on to the bed, but a good deal went down Claude’s throat, and they can’t say again that he has never been known to eat too much raspberry trifle. That is why I am not allowed to go to the party, and as an additional punishment I must speak French all the afternoon. I’ve had to tell you all this in English, as there were words like “forcible feeding” that I didn’t know the French for; of course I could have invented them, but if I had said nourriture obligatoire you wouldn’t have had the least idea what I was talking about. Mais maintenant, nous parlons français.’

‘Oh, very well, très bien,’ said Mrs Stossen reluctantly; in moments of flurry such French as she knew was not under very good control. ‘Là, à l’autre côté de la porte, est un cochon—’

Un cochon? Ah, le petit charmant!’ exclaimed Matilda with enthusiasm.

Mais non, pas du tout petit, et pas du tout charmant; un bête féroce—’

Une bête,’ corrected Matilda, ‘a pig is masculine as long as you call it a pig, but if you lose your temper with it and call it a ferocious beast it becomes one of us at once. French is a dreadfully unsexing language.’

‘For goodness’ sake let us talk English then,’ said Mrs Stossen. ‘Is there any way out of this garden except through the paddock where the pig is?’

‘I always go over the wall, by way of the plum tree,’ said Matilda.

‘Dressed as we are we could hardly do that,’ said Mrs Stossen; it was difficult to imagine her doing it in any costume.

‘Do you think you could go and get some one who would drive the pig away?’ asked Miss Stossen.

‘I promised my aunt I would stay here till five o’clock; it’s not four yet.’

‘I am sure, under the circumstances, your aunt would permit—’

‘My conscience would not permit,’ said Matilda with cold dignity.

‘We can’t stay here till five o’clock,’ exclaimed Mrs Stossen with growing exasperation.

‘Shall I recite to you to make the time pass quicker?’ asked Matilda obligingly. ‘ “Belinda, the little Breadwinner,” is considered my best piece, or, perhaps, it ought to be something in French. Henri Quatre’s address to his soldiers is the only thing I really know in that language.’

‘If you will go and fetch some one to drive that animal away I will give you something to buy yourself a nice present,’ said Mrs Stossen.

Matilda came several inches lower down the medlar tree.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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