“‘The Last Days of Pompeii,’” say I, stupidly, and yet laughing again; not because I think my witticism good, which no human being could do, but because I must laugh for very gladness. Another longer pause. (Shall I present the bag the night we arrive, or wait till next day?)
“I have got a riddle to ask you,” says Frank; abruptly, and firing the observation off somewhat like a bomb-shell.
“Have you?” say I, absently. “I hope it is a good one.”
“Of course, you must judge of that—’Mon premier—’”
“It is in French!” cry I, with an accent of disgust.
“Well, why should not it be?” (rather tartly).
“No reason whatever, only that I warn you beforehand I shall not understand it: I always shiver when people tell me a French anecdote; I never know when the point has arrived: I always laugh too soon or too late.”
He says nothing, but looks black.
“Go on!” say I, laughing. “We will try, if you like.”
“Mon—premier—est—le—premier—de tout,” he says, pronouncing each word very separately and distinctly. “Do you understand that?”
I nod. “My first is the first of all—yes.”
“Mon second n’a pas de second.”
“My second has no second—yes.”
“Mon tout”—(turning his long, sleepy eyes sentimentally toward me)— “je ne saurai vous le dire.”
“My whole—I cannot tell it you!—then why on earth did you ask me?” cry I, breaking out into hearty, wholesome laughter.
Again he blackens.
“Well, have you guessed it?”
“Guessed it!” I echo, recovering my gravity. “Not I!—my first is the first of all—my second has no second—my whole, I cannot tell it you!— I do not believe it is a riddle at all! it is a hoax—a take-in, like ‘Why does a miller wear a white hat?’”
“It is nothing of the kind,” he answers, looking thoroughly annoyed. “Must I tell you the answer?”
“I shall certainly never arrive at it by my unassisted genius,” I reply, yawning. “Ah! there is M. Dom going out riding! Alas! never again shall I see him mount that peacocking steed!”
“It is ‘Adieu!’” says my companion, blurting it out in a rage, seeing that I will not be interested in or excited by it.
“Adieu!” repeat I, standing with my mouth wide open, looking perfectly blank. “How?”
“You do not see?” he says. (His face has grown scarlet.) “Well, you must excuse me for saying that you are rather—” He breaks off and begins again, very fast this time. “My first is the first of all—is not A the first letter in the alphabet? My second has no second—has God (Dieu) any second? My whole—I cannot say it to you—Adieu!”
The contrast between the sentimentality of the words, and the brusque and defiant anger of his tone, is so abrupt, that I am sorry to say, I laugh again: indeed, I retire from the balcony into the saloon inside, throw myself into a chair, and, covering my face with my handkerchief, roar—