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Chapter 16

Chapter 16


A CHANGED CROCODILE.

The Marvellous--the Mysterious--had quite passed out of my life for the
moment: and the Common-place reigned supreme. I turned in the
direction of the Earl's house, as it was now 'the witching hour' of five,
and I knew I should find them ready for a cup of tea and a quiet chat.

Lady Muriel and her father gave me a delightfully warm welcome. They were
not of the folk we meet in fashionable drawing-rooms who conceal all
such feelings as they may chance to possess beneath the impenetrable mask
of a conventional placidity. 'The Man with the Iron Mask' was, no doubt,
a rarity and a marvel in his own age: in modern London no one would turn
his head to give him a second look! No, these were real people.
When they looked pleased, it meant that they were pleased: and when
Lady Muriel said, with a bright smile, "I'm very glad to see you again!",
I knew that it was true.

Still I did not venture to disobey the injunctions--crazy as I felt
them to be--of the lovesick young Doctor, by so much as alluding to his
existence: and it was only after they had given me full details of a
projected picnic, to which they invited me, that Lady Muriel exclaimed,
almost as an after-thought, "and do, if you can, bring Doctor Forester
with you! I'm sure a day in the country would do him good. I'm afraid
he studies too much--"

It was 'on the tip of my tongue' to quote the words "His only books are
woman's looks!" but I checked myself just in time--with something of
the feeling of one who has crossed a street, and has been all but run
over by a passing 'Hansom.'

"--and I think he has too lonely a life," she went on, with a gentle
earnestness that left no room whatever to suspect a double meaning.
"Do get him to come! And don't forget the day, Tuesday week. We can
drive you over. It would be a pity to go by rail--- there is so much
pretty scenery on the road. And our open carriage just holds four."

"Oh, I'll persuade him to come!" I said with confidence--thinking
"it would take all my powers of persuasion to keep him away!"

The picnic was to take place in ten days: and though Arthur readily
accepted the invitation I brought him, nothing that I could say would
induce him to call--either with me or without me on the Earl and his
daughter in the meanwhile. No: he feared to " wear out his welcome,"
he said: they had "seen enough of him for one while": and, when at last
the day for the expedition arrived, he was so childishly nervous and
uneasy that I thought it best so to arrange our plans that we should go
separately to the house--my intention being to arrive some time after
him, so as to give him time to get over a meeting.

With this object I purposely made a considerable circuit on my way to
the Hall (as we called the Earl's house): "and if I could only manage
to lose my way a bit," I thought to myself, "that would suit me capitally!"

In this I succeeded better, and sooner, than I had ventured to hope for.
The path through the wood had been made familiar to me, by many a
solitary stroll, in my former visit to Elveston; and how I could have
so suddenly and so entirely lost it--even though I was so engrossed in
thinking of Arthur and his lady-love that I heeded little else--was a
mystery to me. "And this open place," I said to myself, "seems to have
some memory about it I cannot distinctly recall--surely it is the very
spot where I saw those Fairy-Children! But I hope there are no snakes
about!" I mused aloud, taking my seat on a fallen tree. "I certainly
do not like snakes--and I don't suppose Bruno likes them, either!"

"No, he doesn't like them!" said a demure little voice at my side.
"He's not afraid of them, you know. But he doesn't like them.
He says they're too waggly!"

Words fail me to describe the beauty of the little group--couched on a
patch of moss, on the trunk of the fallen tree, that met my eager gaze:
Sylvie reclining with her elbow buried in the moss, and her rosy cheek
resting in the palm of her hand, and Bruno stretched at her feet with
his head in her lap.

"Too waggly?" was all I could say in so sudden an emergency.

"I'm not praticular," Bruno said, carelessly: "but I do like straight
animals best--"

"But you like a dog when it wags its tail, Sylvie interrupted.
"You know you do, Bruno!"

"But there's more of a dog, isn't there, Mister Sir?" Bruno appealed to me.
"You wouldn't like to have a dog if it hadn't got nuffin but a head and
a tail?"

I admitted that a dog of that kind would be uninteresting.

"There isn't such a dog as that," Sylvie thoughtfully remarked.

"But there would be," cried Bruno, "if the Professor shortened it up
for us!"

"Shortened it up?" I said. "That's something new. How does he do it?"

"He's got a curious machine "Sylvie was beginning to explain.

"A welly curious machine," Bruno broke in, not at all willing to have
the story thus taken out of his mouth, "and if oo puts
in--some-finoruvver--at one end, oo know and he turns the handle--and
it comes out at the uvver end, oh, ever so short!"

"As short as short! "Sylvie echoed.

"And one day when we was in Outland, oo know--before we came to
Fairyland me and Sylvie took him a big Crocodile. And he shortened it
up for us. And it did look so funny! And it kept looking round, and
saying 'wherever is the rest of me got to?' And then its eyes looked
unhappy--"

"Not both its eyes," Sylvie interrupted.

"Course not!" said the little fellow. "Only the eye that couldn't see
wherever the rest of it had got to. But the eye that could see
wherever--"

"How short was the crocodile?" I asked, as the story was getting a
little complicated.

"Half as short again as when we caught it --so long," said Bruno,
spreading out his arms to their full stretch.

I tried to calculate what this would come to, but it was too hard for me.
Please make it out for me, dear Child who reads this!

"But you didn't leave the poor thing so short as that, did you?"

"Well, no. Sylvie and me took it back again and we got it stretched
to--to--how much was it, Sylvie?"

"Two times and a half, and a little bit more," said Sylvie.

"It wouldn't like that better than the other way, I'm afraid?"

"Oh, but it did though!" Bruno put in eagerly. "It were proud of its
new tail! Oo never saw a Crocodile so proud! Why, it could go round
and walk on the top of its tail, and along its back, all the way to its
head!"

Not quite all the way," said Sylvie. "It couldn't, you know."

"Ah, but it did, once!" Bruno cried triumphantly. "Oo weren't
looking--but I watched it. And it walked on tippiety-toe, so as it
wouldn't wake itself, 'cause it thought it were asleep. And it got
both its paws on its tail. And it walked and it walked all the way
along its back. And it walked and it walked on its forehead.
And it walked a tiny little way down its nose! There now!"

This was a good deal worse than the last puzzle. Please, dear Child,
help again!

"I don't believe no Crocodile never walked along its own forehead!"
Sylvie cried, too much excited by the controversy to limit the number
of her negatives.

"Oo don't know the reason why it did it!', Bruno scornfully retorted.
"It had a welly good reason. I heerd it say 'Why shouldn't I walk on
my own forehead?' So a course it did, oo know!"

"If that's a good reason, Bruno," I said, "why shouldn't you get up
that tree?"

"Shall, in a minute," said Bruno: "soon as we've done talking.
Only two peoples ca'n't talk comfably togevver, when one's getting up
a tree, and the other isn't!"

It appeared to me that a conversation would scarcely be 'comfable'
while trees were being climbed, even if both the 'peoples' were doing it:
but it was evidently dangerous to oppose any theory of Bruno's;
so I thought it best to let the question drop, and to ask for an account
of the machine that made things longer.

This time Bruno was at a loss, and left it to Sylvie.
"It's like a mangle," she said: "if things are put in, they get squoze--"

"Squeezeled!" Bruno interrupted.

"Yes." Sylvie accepted the correction, but did not attempt to pronounce
the word, which was evidently new to her. "They get--like that--and
they come out, oh, ever so long!"

"Once," Bruno began again, "Sylvie and me writed--"

"Wrote!" Sylvie whispered.

"Well, we wroted a Nursery-Song, and the Professor mangled it longer
for us. It were 'There was a little Man, And he had a little gun,
And the bullets--'"

"I know the rest," I interrupted. "But would you say it long I mean
the way that it came out of the mangle?"

"We'll get the Professor to sing it for you," said Sylvie.
"It would spoil it to say it."

"I would like to meet the Professor," I said. "And I would like to
take you all with me, to see some friends of mine, that live near here.
Would you like to come?"

"I don't think the Professor would like to come," said Sylvie.
"He's very shy. But we'd like it very much. Only we'd better not come
this size, you know."

The difficulty had occurred to me already: and I had felt that perhaps
there would be a slight awkwardness in introducing two such tiny
friends into Society. "What size will you be?" I enquired.

"We'd better come as--common children," Sylvie thoughtfully replied.
"That's the easiest size to manage."

"Could you come to-day?" I said, thinking "then we could have you at
the picnic!"

Sylvie considered a little. "Not to-day," she replied. "We haven't
got the things ready. We'll come on--Tuesday next, if you like.
And now, really Bruno, you must come and do your lessons."

"I wiss oo wouldn't say 'really Bruno!'" the little fellow pleaded,
with pouting lips that made him look prettier than ever.
"It always show's there's something horrid coming! And I won't kiss you,
if you're so unkind."

"Ah, but you have kissed me!" Sylvie exclaimed in merry triumph.

"Well then, I'll unkiss you!" And he threw his arms round her neck for
this novel, but apparently not very painful, operation.

"It's very like kissing!" Sylvie remarked, as soon as her lips were
again free for speech.

"Oo don't know nuffin about it! It were just the conkery!" Bruno
replied with much severity, as he marched away.

Sylvie turned her laughing face to me. "Shall we come on Tuesday?"
she said.

"Very well," I said: "let it be Tuesday next.
But where is the Professor? Did he come with you to Fairyland?"

"No," said Sylvie. "But he promised he'd come and see us, some day.
He's getting his Lecture ready. So he has to stay at home."

"At home?" I said dreamily, not feeling quite sure what she had said.

"Yes, Sir. His Lordship and Lady Muriel are at home.
Please to walk this way."