“He is going—p’raps—to turn into a fairy prince soon,” explained Tessa. “I’m not sure that he quite likes the idea though. He would rather kill a dragon. P’raps he’ll do both.”
“P’raps,” agreed Bernard.
He led the little girl along the vernadah under the bobbing lanterns. Tessa looked about her critically. “There aren’t any other children, are there?” she said.
“Not one,” said Bernard, “unless you count me. We are going to dine together, you and I, quite alone—if you can put up with me. And after that we will hold a reception for grown-ups only.”
“I shall like that,” said Tessa graciously. “Ah, here is Peter! Peter, will you please bring a box for Scooter while I have my dinner? He wants to go snake-hunting,” she added to Bernard. “And if he does that, I shan’t have him again for the rest of the evening.”
“You don’t get snakes this time of year, do you?” asked Bernard.
“Oh yes, sometimes. I saw one the other day when I was out with Major Ralston. He tried to kill it with his stick, but it got away. And Scooter wasn’t there. They like to hide under bits of carpet like this,” said Tessa in an instructive tone, pointing to the strip that had been laid in her honour. “Are you afraid of snakes, Uncle St. Bernard?”
“Yes,” said Bernard with simplicity. “Aren’t you?”
Tessa looked slightly surprised at the admission. “I don’t know. I expect I am. Peter isn’t. Peter’s very brave.”
“He has been more or less brought up with them,” said Bernard. “Scorpions too. He smiled the other day when I fled from a scorpion in the garden. And I believe he has a positively fatherly feeling for rats.”
Tessa shivered a little. “Scooter killed a rat the other day, and it squealed dreadfully. I don’t think he ought to do things like that, but of course he doesn’t know any better.”
“He looks as if he knows a lot,” said Bernard.
“Yes, I wish he would learn to talk. He’s awful clever. Do you think we could ever teach him?” asked Tessa.
Bernard shook his head. “No. It would take a magician to do that. We are not clever enough, either of us. Peter now—”
“Oh, is Peter a magician?” said Tessa, with shining eyes. “Peter, dear Peter,” turning to him ecstatically as he appeared with a box in which to imprison her darling, “do you think you could possibly teach my little Scooter to talk?”
Peter smiled all over his bronze countenance. “Missy sahib, only the Holy Ones can do that,” he said.
Tessa’s face fell. “That’s as bad as telling you to pray for anything, isn’t it?” she said to Bernard. “And my prayers never come true. Do yours?”
“They always get answered,” said Bernard, “some time or other.”
“Oh, do they?” Tessa regarded him with interest. “Does God come and talk to you then?” she said.
He smiled a little. “He speaks to all who wait to hear, my princess,” he said.