“Oh, Prince Udo,” said Hyacinth earnestly, “it is so good of you to have come. I feel that this—this little accident is really my fault for having asked you here.”
“Not at all, dear lady. It is the sort of little accident that might have happened to anybody, anywhere. If I can still be of assistance to you, pray inform me. Though my physical powers may not for the moment be quite what they were, I flatter myself that my mental capabilities are in no way diminished.” He took another bite of his sandwich and wagged his head wisely at her.
“Let’s come over here,” said Hyacinth.
She moved across to an old stone seat in the wall, Udo following with the plate, and made room for him by her side. There is, of course, a way of indicating to a gentleman that he may sit next to you on the Chesterfield, and tell you what he has been doing in town lately, and there is also another way of patting the sofa for Fido to jump up and be-a-good-dog-and-lie-down-sir. Hyacinth achieved something very tactful in between, and Udo jumped up gracefully.
“Now we can talk,” said Hyacinth. “You noticed that lady, the Countess Belvane, whom I presented to you?”
“What did you think of her?”
Udo was old enough to know what to say to that.
“I hardly looked at her,” he said. And he added with a deep bow, “Naturally when your Royal Highness—oh, I beg your pardon, are my ears in your way?”
“It’s all right,” said Hyacinth, rearranging her hair. “Well, it was because of that woman that I sent for you.”
“But I can’t marry her like this, your Royal Highness.”
Hyacinth turned a startled face towards him. Udo perceived that he had blundered. To hide his confusion he took another sandwich and ate it very quickly.
“I want your help against her,” said Hyacinth, a little distantly; “she is plotting against me.”
“Oh, your Royal Highness, now I see,” said Udo, and he wagged his head as much as to say, “You’ve come to the right man this time.”
“I don’t trust her,” said Hyacinth impressively.
“Well, now, Princess, I’m not surprised. I’ll tell you something about that woman.”
“Well, when I was announced just now, what happened? You, yourself, Princess, were not unnaturally a little alarmed; those two little girls were surprised and excited; but what of this Countess Belvane? What did she do?”
“What did she do?”
“Nothing,” said Udo impressively. “She was neither surprised nor alarmed.”
“Why, now I come to think of it, I don’t believe she was.”
“And yet,” said Udo half pathetically, half proudly, “Princes don’t generally look like this. Now, why wasn’t she surprised?”
Hyacinth looked bewildered.
“Did she know you were sending for me?” Udo went on.
“Because you had found out something about her?”
“Then depend upon it, she’s done it. What a mind that woman must have!”
“But how could she do it?” exclaimed Hyacinth. “Of course it’s just the sort of thing shewould do if she could.”
Udo didn’t answer. He was feeling rather annoyed with Belvane, and had got off his seat and was trotting up and down so as not to show his feelings before a lady.
“How could she do it?” implored Hyacinth.
“Oh, she’s in with some enchanter or somebody,” said Udo impatiently as he trotted past.
Suddenly he had an idea. He stopped in front of her.
“If only I were sure I was a lion.”
He tried to roar, exclaimed hastily that it was only a practice one, and roared again. “No, I don’t think I’m a lion after all,” he admitted sadly.
“Well,” said Hyacinth, “we must think of a plan.”
“We must think of a plan,” said Udo, and he came and sat meekly beside her again. He could conceal it from himself no longer that he was not a lion. The fact depressed him.
“I suppose I have been weak,” went on Hyacinth, “but ever since the men went away she has been the ruling spirit of the country. I think she is plotting against me; I know she is robbing me. I asked you here so that you could help me to find her out.”
Udo nodded his head importantly.
“We must watch her,” he announced.
“We must watch her,” agreed Hyacinth. “It may take months——”
“Did you say months?” said Udo, turning to her excitedly.
“Well, it’s——” he gave a deprecating little cough. “I know it’s very silly of me but—oh, well, let’s hope it will be all right.”
“Why, whatever is the matter?”
Udo was decidedly embarrassed. He wriggled. He drew little circles with his hind paw on the ground and he shot little coy glances at her.
“Well, I”—and he gave a little nervous giggle—”I have a sort of uneasy feeling that I may be one of those animals”—he gave another conscious little laugh—”that have to go to sleep all through the winter. It would be very annoying—if I”—his paw became very busy here—”if I had to dig a little hole in the ground, just when the plot was thickening.”
“Oh, but you won’t,” said Hyacinth, in distress.
They were both silent for a moment, thinking of the awful possibilities. Udo’s tail had fallen across Hyacinth’s lap, and she began to play with it absently.
“Anyway,” she said hopefully, “it’s only July now.”
“Ye—es,” said Udo. “I suppose I should get—er—busy about November. We ought to find out something before then. First of all we’d better—— Oh!” He started up in dismay. “I’ve just had a horrible thought. Don’t I have to collect a little store of nuts and things?”
“I should have to start that pretty soon,” said Udo thoughtfully. “You know, I shouldn’t be very handy at it. Climbing about after nuts,” he went on dreamily, “what a life for a——”
“Oh, don’t!” pleaded Hyacinth. “Surely only squirrels do that?”
“Yes—yes. Now, if I were a squirrel. I should—may I have my tail for a moment?”
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” said Hyacinth, very much confused as she realised the liberty she had been taking, and she handed his tail back to him.
“Not at all,” said Udo.
He took it firmly in his right hand. “Now then,” he said, “we shall see. Watch this.”
Sitting on his back legs he arched his tail over his head, and letting go of it suddenly, began to nibble at a sandwich held in his two front paws. . . .
A pretty picture for an artist.
But a bad model. The tail fell with a thud to the ground.
“There!” said Udo triumphantly. “That proves it. I’m not a squirrel.”
“Oh, I’m so glad,” said Hyacinth, completely convinced, as any one would have been, by this demonstration.
“Yes, well, that’s all right then. Now we can make our plans. First of all we’d better——” He stopped suddenly, and Hyacinth saw that he was gazing at his tail.
“Yes?” she said encouragingly.
He picked up his tail and held it out in front of him. There was a large knot in the middle of it.
“Now, what have I forgotten?” he said, rubbing his head thoughtfully.
“Oh, dear Prince Udo, I’m so sorry. I’m afraid I did that without thinking.”
Udo, the gallant gentleman, was not found wanting.
“A lover’s knot,” he said, with a graceful incli—no, he stopped in time. But really, those ears of his made ordinary politeness quite impossible.
“Oh, Udo,” said Hyacinth impulsively, “if only I could help you to get back to your proper form again.”
“Yes, if only,” said Udo, becoming practical again; “but how are we going to do it? Just one more watercress sandwich,” he said apologetically; “they go with the ears so well.”
“I shall threaten the Countess,” said Hyacinth excitedly. “I shall tell her that unless she makes the enchanter restore you to your proper form, I shall put her in prison.”
Udo was not listening. He had gone off into his own thoughts. “Banana fritters and watercress sandwiches,” he was murmuring to himself. “I suppose I must be the only animal of the kind in the world.”
“Of course,” went on Hyacinth, half to herself, “she might get the people on her side, the ones that she’s bribed. And if she did——”
“That’s all right, that’s all right,” said Udo grandly. “Leave her to me. There’s something about your watercress that inspires me to do terrible deeds. I feel a new—whatever I am.”
One gathers reluctantly from this speech that Udo had partaken too freely.
“Of course,” said Hyacinth, “I could write to my father, who might send some of his men back, but I shouldn’t like to do that. I shouldn’t like him to think that I had failed him.”
“Extraordinary how I take to these things,” said Udo, allowing himself a little more room on the seat. “Perhaps I am a rabbit after all. I wonder what I should look like behind wire netting.” He took another bite and went on, “I wonder what I should do if I saw a ferret. I suppose you haven’t got a ferret on you, Princess?”
“I beg your pardon, Prince? I’m afraid I was thinking of something else. What did you say?”
“Nothing, nothing. One’s thoughts run on.” He put his hand out for the plate, and discovered that it was empty. He settled himself more comfortably, and seemed to be about to sink into slumber when his attention was attracted suddenly by the knot in his tail. He picked it up and began lazily to undo it. “I wish I could lash my tail,” he murmured; “mine seems to be one of the tails that don’t lash.” He began very gingerly to feel the tip of it. “I wonder if I’ve got a sting anywhere.” He closed his eyes, muttering, “Sting Countess neck, sting all over neck, sting lots stings,” and fell peacefully asleep.
It was a disgraceful exhibition. Roger Scurvilegs tries to slur it over; talks about the great heat of the sun, and the notorious effect of even one or two watercress sandwiches on an empty—on a man who has had nothing to eat for several days. This is to palter with the facts. The effect of watercress sandwiches upon Udo’s arrangements (however furnished) we have all just seen for ourselves; but what Roger neglects to lay stress upon is the fact that it was the effect of twenty-one or twenty-two watercress sandwiches. There is no denying that it was a disgraceful exhibition. If I had been there, I should certainly have written to his father about it.
Hyacinth looked at him uneasily. Her first feeling was one of sympathy. “Poor fellow,” she thought, “he’s had a hard time lately.” But it is a strain on the sympathy to gaze too long on a mixture of lion, rabbit, and woolly lamb, particularly when the rabbit part has its mouth open and is snoring gently.
Besides, what could she do with him? She had two of them on her hands now: the Countess and the Prince. Belvane was in an even better position than before. She could now employ Udo to help her in her plots against the Princess. “Grant to me so and so, or I’ll keep the enchantment for ever on his Royal Highness.” And what could a poor girl do?
Well, she would have to come to some decision in the future. Meanwhile the difficulties of the moment were enough. The most obvious difficulty was his bedroom. Was it quite the sort of room he wanted now? Hyacinth realised suddenly that to be hostess to such a collection of animals as Udo was would require all the tact she possessed. Perhaps he would tell her what he wanted when he woke up. Better let him sleep peacefully now.
She looked at him, smiled in spite of herself, and went quickly down into the Palace.