“It is very good,” say I, in a choked voice; “very—so civil and pretty —but it is not very funny, is it?”
I receive no answer. I am still in my pocket-handkerchief, and he might be gone, but that I hear his quick, angry breathing, and know, by instinct, that he is standing over me, looking like a handsome thunder-cloud. I dare not look up at him, lest another mad cachinnation, such as sometimes overtakes one for the punishment of one’s sins in church, should again lay violent hands upon me.
“I think I like ‘Why was Balaam like a Life-Guardsman?’ better, on the whole” I say, presently, peeping through my fingers, and speaking with a suspicious tremble in my voice.
“I have no doubt it is far superior,” he answers, in a fierce and sulky tone, that he in vain tries to make sound playful. “’Balaam like a Life-Guardsman?’ and why was he, may I ask? Something humorous about his donkey, I suppose.”
“Because he had a queer ass (cuirass),” reply I, again exploding, and hiding my face in the back of the chair.
“A queer ass!” (in a tone of the profoundest contempt); “you have no more sentiment in you than this table!” smiting it with his bare hand.
“I know I have not,” say I, sitting up, and holding my hand to my side to ease the pain my excessive mirth has caused; “they always said so at home. Oh, here is the general! we will make him umpire, which is funniest, yours or mine!”
Sir Roger enters, and glances in some surprise from Frank’s crimson face to my convulsed one.
“Oh, general, do we not look as if we had been having an affecting parting?” cry I, jumping up and running to him. “Do not I look as if I had been crying? Quite the contrary, I assure you. But Musgrave and I have been asking each other such amusing riddles—would you like to hear them? Mine is good, plain, vulgar English; but his is French, so we will begin with it—’Mon premier—’”
I stop suddenly, for Mr. Musgrave is looking at me with an expression simply murderous.
“Well, what are you stopping for? I am on the horns of expectation— ‘Mon premier—’”
“After all, it is not so funny as I thought,” I answer, brusquely. “I think we will keep it for some wet Sunday afternoon, when we are short of something to do.”
The day of departure has really come. “We have eaten our last bif-teck aux pommes frites” and drank our last cup of coffee in the Saxe. I have had my last look at the familiar square, at the great dome of the Frauen Kirchen, at the high houses with their dormer-windows, at the ugly big statue standing with its stiff black back rudely turned to the hotel, at the piled hay-carts. We are really and truly off. Our faces are set Barbara-ward, Bobby-ward, jackdaw-ward. I am in such rampaging spirits, that I literally do not know what to do with myself. I feel that I should like to tuck my tail, if I had one, between my legs, like Vick; and race round and round in an insane and unmeaning circle, as she does on the lawn at home, when oppressed by the overflow of her own gayety.