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One of them, with a gold-tipped cigarette held gracefully between two slender fingers, was my languid-looking young aristocrat. He was blowing out smoke in a lazy blue stream. The moment he saw me, however, he turned away as if he desired to escape observation, and ducked down so as to hide his face behind his companions.

I wondered why on earth he should want to avoid me. Could this be the Count? No, the young man with the halo of cigarette smoke stood three inches taller. Who, then, at Schlangenbad could wish to avoid my notice? It was a singular mystery; for I was quite certain the supercilious young man was trying his best to prevent my seeing him. That evening, after dinner, the Cantankerous Old Lady burst out suddenly, 'Well, I can't for the life of me imagine [Pg 36] why Harold hasn't turned up here. The wretch knew I was coming; and I heard from our Ambassador at Rome last week that he was going to be at Schlangenbad.

I saw it at a glance. The old lady turned towards me sharply. I could see she was asking herself whether this was a conspiracy, and whether I had come there on purpose to meet 'Harold. I did not blench. If I had answered the truth, I should have said, 'I know he is here, because I saw a good-looking young man evidently trying to avoid you this morning; and if a young man has the misfortune to be born your nephew, and also to have expectations from you, it is easy to understand that he would prefer to keep out of your way as long as possible.

Moreover, I reflected that I had no particular reason for wishing to do Mr. Harold a bad turn; and that it would be kinder to him, as well as to her, to conceal the reasons on which I based my instinctive inference. So I took up a strong strategic position. I merely jumped at it as you spoke. A tall, languid young man; large, poetical eyes; an artistic moustache—just a trifle Oriental-looking.

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Why on earth hasn't he been round to see me? I reflected that I knew why; but I did not say so.

Silence is golden. I also remarked mentally on that curious human blindness which had made me conclude at first that the supercilious young man was trying to avoid me , when I might have guessed it was far more likely he was trying to avoid my companion. I was a nobody; Lady Georgina Fawley was a woman of European reputation.

Nonsense, child; he knows I come here on this precise date regularly every summer; and if he didn't know, is it likely I should try any other inn, when this is the only moderately decent house to stop at in Schlangenbad?

By Edward Lear.

And the morning coffee undrinkable at that; while the hash— such hash! But that's the way in Germany. He's an ungrateful monster; if he comes now, I shall refuse to see him. Next morning after breakfast, however, in spite of these threats, she hailed me forth with her on the Harold hunt. She had sent the concierge to inquire at all the hotels already, it seemed, and found her truant at none of them; now she ransacked the pensions. At last she hunted him down in a house on the hill.

I could see she was really hurt.

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Why, when did you arrive? And what a colour you've got! You're looking so well! He cast me an appealing glance. I answered, mutely, 'Not for worlds,' with a faltering pair of downcast eyelids. He had hit her weak point dexterously. Hereditary gout—the sins of the fathers visited as usual. But why didn't you come to see me? It strikes me as insufficient.

His gentle drawl was a capital foil to Lady Georgina's acidulous soprano.

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It seemed to disarm her. She turned to me with a benignant wave of her hand. Harold Tillington. You've heard me talk of poor Tom Cayley, Harold? This is poor Tom Cayley's daughter. Harold stood on the defensive.


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But I do better: I dissemble. I will plead forgetfulness now of Captain Cayley, since you force it on me. It is not likely I shall have to plead it of Captain Cayley's daughter. The Cantankerous Old Lady darted a lightning glance at him.

It was a glance of quick suspicion. I fear I burned crimson.


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We walked out on the terrace and a little way up the zigzag path. The day was superb. I found Mr. Tillington, in spite of his studiously languid and supercilious air, a most agreeable companion. He knew Europe. He was full of talk of Rome and the Romans. He had epigrammatic wit, curt, keen, and pointed. We sat down on a bench; he kept Lady Georgina and myself amused for an hour by his crisp sallies. Besides, he had been everywhere and seen everybody. Culture and agriculture seemed all one to him. When we rose to go in, Lady Georgina remarked, with emphasis, 'Of course, Harold, you'll come and take up your diggings at our hotel?

How can you ask? Free quarters. Nothing would give me greater pleasure. She glanced at him keenly again. I saw she had expected him to fake up some lame excuse for not joining us; and I fancied she was annoyed at his prompt acquiescence, which had done her out of the chance for a family disagreement. She let her piercing eye descend upon me once more. I was aware that I had been talking with frank ease of manner to Mr. Tillington, and that I had said several things which clearly amused him.

The Project Gutenberg eBook, Nonsense Books, by Edward Lear

Then I remembered all at once our relative positions. Tillington would like to remain in his present quarters till the end of the week, while I am with you, Lady Georgina; after that, he could have my room; it might be more convenient. His eye caught mine quickly.