CERTAIN SMALL PHARAOHS THAT KNEW NOT JOSEPH
It was all Sweetheart's fault, and this is how it came about.
She and I were at Dryburgh Abbey, sitting quietly on a rustic seat, and looking toward the aisle in which slept the Great Dead. The long expected had happened, and we had made pilgrimage to our Mecca. Yet, in spite of the still beauty of the June day, I could see that a shadow lay upon our Sweetheart's brow.
"Oh, I know he was great," she burst out at last, "and what you read me out of the Life was nice. I like hearing about Sir Walter—but—"
I knew what was coming.
"But what?" I said, looking severely at the ground, so that I might be able to harden my heart against the pathos of Sweetheart's expression.
"But—I can't read the novels—indeed I can't. I have tried Waverley at least twenty times. And as for Rob Roy—"
Even the multiplication table failed here, and at this, variously a-sprawl on the turf beneath, the smaller fry giggled.
"Course," said Hugh John, who was engaged in eating grass like an ox, "we know it is true about Rob Roy. She read us one whole volume, and there wasn't no Rob Roy, nor any fighting in it. So we pelted her with fir-cones to make her stop and read over Treasure Island to us instead!"
"Yes, though we had heard it twenty times already," commented Sir Toady Lion, trying his hardest to pinch his brother's legs on the sly.
"Books wifout pictures is silly!" said a certain Maid Margaret, a companion new to the honourable company, who was weaving daisy-chains, her legs crossed beneath her, Turk fashion. In literature she had got as far as words of one syllable, and had a poor opinion even of them.
"I had read all Scott's novels long before I was your age," I said reprovingly.
The children received this announcement with the cautious silence with which every rising generation listens to the experiences of its elders when retailed by way of odious comparison.
"Um-m!" said Sir Toady, the licensed in speech; "we know all that. Oh, yes; and you didn't like fruit, and you liked medicine in a big spoon, and eating porridge and—"
"Oh, we know—we know!" cried all the others in chorus. Whereupon I informed them what would have happened to us thirty years ago if we had ventured to address our parents in such fashion. But Sweetheart, with the gravity of her age upon her, endeavoured to raise the discussion to its proper level.
"Scott writes such a lot before you get at the story," she objected, knitting her brows; "why couldn't he just have begun right away?"
"With Squire Trelawney and Dr. Livesey drawing at their pipes in the oak-pannelled dining room, and Black Dog outside the door, and Pew coming tapping along the road with his stick!" cried Hugh John, turning off a sketchy synopsis of his favourite situations in fiction.
"Now that's what I call a proper book!" said Sir Toady, hastily rolling himself out of the way of being kicked. (For with these unusual children, the smooth ordinary upper surfaces of life covered a constant succession of private wars and rumours of wars, which went on under the table at meals, in the schoolroom, and even, it is whispered, in church.)
As for blithe Maid Margaret, she said nothing, for she was engaged in testing the capacities of a green slope of turf for turning somersaults upon....