“Oh, never mind me!” Bernard rejoined. “Have something to eat and turn in! Yes, of course I’ll join you with pleasure.” He clapped an affectionate hand upon his brother’s shoulder. “It’s a boy, I’m told. Old fellow, I congratulate you—may he be a blessing to you all your lives! I’ll drink his health if it isn’t too early.”
Everard broke into a brief, discordant laugh. “You’d better go to church, St. Bernard,” he said, “and pray for us!”
He swung away abruptly with the words and crossed the room. The crystal-clear rays of the new day smote full upon him as he moved, and Bernard saw for the first time that his hair was streaked with grey.
To Bernard, sprawling at his ease with a pipe on the verandah some hours later, the appearance of a small girl with bare brown legs and a very abbreviated white muslin frock, hugging an unwilling mongoose to her breast, came as a surprise; for she entered as one who belonged to the establishment.
“Who are you, please?” she demanded imperiously, halting before him while she disentangled the unfortunate Scooter’s rebellious legs from her hair.
Bernard sat up and removed his pipe. Meeting eyes of the darkest, intensest blue that he had ever seen, he gave her appropriate greeting,
“Good morning, Princess Bluebell! I am a humble, homeless beggar, at present living upon the charity of my brother, Captain Monck.”
She came a step nearer. “Why do you call me that? You are not Captain Monck’s brother really, are you?”
He spread out his hands with a deprecating gesture. “I never contradict royal ladies, Princess, but I have always been taught to believe so.”
“Why do you call me Princess?” she asked, halting between suspicion and gratification.
“Because it is quite evident that you are one. There is a—bossiness about you that proclaims the fact aloud.” Bernard smiled upon her—the smile of open goodfellowship. “Beggars always know princesses when they see them,” he said.
She scrutinized him severely for a moment or two, then suddenly melted into a gleaming, responsive smile that illuminated her little pale face like a shaft of sunlight. She came close to him, and very graciously proffered Scooter for a caress. “You needn’t be afraid of him. He doesn’t bite,” she said.
“I suppose he is a bewitched prince, is he?” asked Bernard, as he stroked the furry little animal.
The great blue eyes were still fixed upon him. “No,” said Tessa, after a thoughtful moment or two. “He’s only a mongoose. But I think you are a bewitched prince. You’re so big. And they always pretend to be beggars too,” she added.
“And the princesses always fall in love with them before they find out,” said Bernard, looking quizzical.
Tessa frowned a little. “I don’t think falling in love is a very nice game,” she said. “I’ve seen a lot of it.”