‘O Rupert,’ said Helen, ‘I am sure the garden is always quite dry.’
‘Except when it is wet,’ said Elizabeth.
‘That was certainly the case when I was there two years ago,’ observed Rupert; ’I could not stir two steps from the door without meeting with a pool deep enough to swim a man-of-war.’
‘Rupert,’ said Elizabeth, ’I hereby give notice, that whosoever says one single word against the perfect dryness, cleanliness, and beauty, of dear Dykelands, commits high treason against Miss Helen Woodbourne; and as protecting disconsolate damsels is the bounden duty of a true knight and cavalier, I advise you never to mention the subject, on pain of being considered a discourteous recreant.’
‘Lizzie, how can you?’ said Helen peevishly.
‘How strange it is,’ said Anne, ’that so many old family houses should have been built in damp places.’
‘Our ancestors were once apparently frogs,’ said Rupert; unhappily reminding Helen of her sister’s parody.
‘Well,’ said Elizabeth, ’I can understand why monasteries should have been built in damp places, near rivers or bogs, both for the sake of the fish, and to be useful in draining; but why any other mortal except Dutchmen, tadpoles, and newts, should delight in mud and mire, passes my poor comprehension.’
Rupert pointed to a frog which Dora’s foot had startled from its hiding-place, and said, ’Pray, why, according to my theory, should not the human kind have once been frogs? leap-frog being only a return to our natural means of progression.’
‘And bull-frogs in a course of becoming stalwart gentlemen,’ said Anne.
‘Yes, we often hear of a croaking disposition, do not we, Helen?’ said Elizabeth; ’you see both that propensity, and a love of marshes, are but indications of a former state of existence.’
’And I am sure that your respectable neighbour, Mr. Turner, is a toad on his hind legs,’ said Rupert.
‘Minus the precious jewel,’ said Elizabeth.
‘By-the-bye,’ said Rupert, ’is there not some mystery about that gentleman? This morning I hazarded a supposition, in the drawing-room, that the lost darling we have heard so much of, might have been dissected for the benefit of Mr. Turner’s pupils, and thereupon arose a most wonderful whispering between Kate and one of your sweet cousins there, Lizzie, about some nephew, an Adolphus or Augustus, or some such name; but the more questions I asked, the more dark and mysterious did the young ladies become.’
‘I wonder if it is possible!’ cried Elizabeth, with a sudden start.
‘What is possible?’ asked Anne.
‘That Rupert should be right,’ said Elizabeth; ’was Mrs. Hazleby in the room when you spoke ?’
‘Yes, but what of that?’ said Rupert.
‘That you, talking at random,’ said Elizabeth, ’very nearly betrayed Harriet’s grand secret.’
‘Really, the affair becomes quite exciting,’ said Rupert; ’pray do not leave me in suspense, explain yourself.’