“I like to listen to the ripple of the water among the grass and pebbles; the tongue and lips of the lake are lapping and whispering all along. It is the merest poetry; but you are so romantic, you excuse me.”
There was an angry curve in Feltram’s eyebrows, and a cynical smile, and something in the tone which to the satirical Baronet was almost insulting. But even had he been less curious, I don’t think he would have betrayed his mortification; for an odd and unavowed influence which he hated was gradually establishing in Feltram an ascendency which sometimes vexed and sometimes cowed him.
“You are not to tell,” said Feltram, drawing near him in the dusk. “The secret is yours when you promise.”
“Of course I promise,” said Sir Bale. “If I believed it, you don’t think I could be such an ass as to tell it; and if I didn’t believe it, I’d hardly take the trouble.”
Feltram stooped, and dipping the hollow of his hand in the water, he raised it full, and said he, “Hold out your hand—the hollow of your hand—like this. I divide the water for a sign—share to me and share to you.” And he turned his hand, so as to pour half the water into the hollow palm of Sir Bale, who was smiling, with some uneasiness mixed in his mockery.
“Now, you promise to keep all secrets respecting the teller and the finder, be that who it may?”
“Yes, I promise,” said Sir Bale.
“Now do as I do,” said Feltram. And he shed the water on the ground, and with his wet fingers touched his forehead and his breast; and then he joined his hand with Sir Bale’s, and said, “Now you are my safe man.”
Sir Bale laughed. “That’s the game they call ‘grand mufti,’” said he.
“Exactly; and means nothing,” said Feltram, “except that some day it will serve you to remember by. And now the names. Don’t speak; listen—you may break the thought else. The winner of the first is Beeswing; of the second, Falcon; and of the third, Lightning.”
He had stood for some seconds in silence before he spoke; his eyes were closed; he seemed to bring up thought and speech with difficulty, and spoke faintly and drowsily, both his hands a little raised, and the fingers extended, with the groping air of a man who moves in the dark. In this odd way, slowly, faintly, with many a sigh and scarcely audible groan, he gradually delivered his message and was silent. He stood, it seemed, scarcely half awake, muttering indistinctly and sighing to himself. You would have said that he was exhausted and suffering, like a man at his last hour resigning himself to death.
At length he opened his eyes, looked round a little wildly and languidly, and with another great sigh sat down on a large rock that lies by the margin of the lake, and sighed heavily again and again. You might have fancied that he was a second time recovering from drowning.
Then he got up, and looked drowsily round again, and sighed like a man worn out with fatigue, and was silent.