The children shouted assent.
‘How in the world does she know them?’ thought the bewildered officer.
The children mounted the elephant.
‘Now, Major Apsley,’ said Miss Blossom, ‘I have found your children.’
‘I owe you thanks, Madam; I have been very anxious, but—’
’It is more than your thanks I want. I want you to do something for me, a very little thing,’ said Miss Blossom, with the air of a supplicating angel, the violet eyes dewy with tears.
‘I am sure I shall be delighted to do anything you ask, but—’
‘Will you promise? It is a very little thing indeed!’ and her hands were clasped in entreaty. ‘Please promise!’
‘Well, I promise.’
’Then keep your word: it is a little thing! Take Tommy home this instant, let nobody speak to him or touch him—and—make him take a bath, and see him take it.’
‘Take a bath!’
’Yes, at once, in your presence. Then ask him . . . any questions you please, but pay extreme attention to his answers and his face, and the sound of his voice. If that is not enough do the same with Batsy. And after that I think you had better not let the children out of your sight for a short time.’
‘These are very strange requests.’
’And it was by a strange piece of luck that I met you driving home to see if the lost children were found, and secured your attention before it could be pre-engaged.’
‘But where did you find them and why?’
Miss Blossom interrupted him, ’Here is the address of Dr. Maitland, I have written it on my own card; he can answer some questions you may want to ask. Later I will answer anything. And now in the name of God,’ said the girl reverently, with sudden emotion, ’you will keep your promise to the letter?’
‘I will,’ said the Major, and Miss Blossom waved her parasol to the children. ‘You must give the poor elephant a rest, he is tired,’ she cried, and the tender-hearted Batsy needed no more to make her descend from the great earth-shaking beast. The children attacked her with kisses, and then walked off, looking back, each holding one of the paternal hands, and treading, after the manner of childhood, on the paternal toes.
Miss Blossom walked till she met an opportune omnibus.
About an hour later a four-wheeler bore a woman with blazing eyes, and a pile of trunks gaping untidily, from the Major’s house in St. John’s Wood Road.
The Honourable Company had won its first victory: Major Apsley, having fulfilled Miss Blossom’s commands, had seen what she expected him to see, and was disentangled from Miss Limmer.
The children still call their new stepmother None-so-pretty.
IV. ADVENTURE OF THE RICH UNCLE
‘His God is his belly, Mr. Graham,’ said the client, ’and if the text strikes you as disagreeably unrefined, think how it must pain me to speak thus of an uncle, if only by marriage.’