She rode back, exclaiming, ’Nowhere. He is nowhere, and nobody knows. He will arrive. But he is not yet. Now,’ she bent coaxingly down to me, ’can you not a few words of German? Only a smallest sum! It is the Markgrafin, my good aunt, would speak wid you, and she can no English-only she is eager to behold you, and come! You will know, for my sake, some scrap of German—ja? You will—nicht wahr? Or French? Make your glom-pudding of it, will you?’
I made a shocking plum-pudding of it. Temple was no happier.
The margravine, a fine vigorous lady with a lively mouth and livelier eyes of a restless grey that rarely dwelt on you when she spoke, and constantly started off on a new idea, did me the honour to examine me, much as if I had offered myself for service in her corps of grenadiers, and might do in time, but was decreed to be temporarily wanting in manly proportions.
She smiled a form of excuse of my bungling half-English horrid French, talked over me and at me, forgot me, and recollected me, all within a minute, and fished poor Temple for intelligible replies to incomprehensible language in the same manner, then threw her head back to gather the pair of us in her sight, then eyed me alone.
‘C’est peut-etre le fils de son petit papa, et c’est tout dire.’
Such was her summary comment.
But not satisfied with that, she leaned out of the carriage, and, making an extraordinary grimace appear the mother in labour of the difficult words, said, ‘Doos yo’ laff?’
There was no helping it: I laughed like a madman, giving one outburst and a dead stop.
Far from looking displeased, she nodded. I was again put to the dreadful test.
‘Can yo’ mak’ laff?’
It spurred my wits. I had no speech to ‘mak’ laff’ with. At the very instant of my dilemma I chanced to see a soberly-clad old townsman hustled between two helpless women of the crowd, his pipe in his mouth, and his hat, wig, and handkerchief sliding over his face, showing his bald crown, and he not daring to cry out, for fear his pipe should be trodden under foot.
‘He can, your Highness.’
Her quick eyes caught the absurd scene. She turned to one of her ladies and touched her forehead. Her hand was reached out to me; Temple she patted on the shoulder.
‘He can—ja: du auch.’
A grand gentleman rode up. They whispered, gazed at the tent, and appeared to speak vehemently. All the men’s faces were foreign: none of them had the slightest resemblance to my father’s. I fancied I might detect him disguised. I stared vainly. Temple, to judge by the expression of his features, was thinking. Yes, thought I, we might as well be at home at old Riversley, that distant spot! We ’re as out of place here as frogs in the desert!
Riding to and fro, and chattering, and commotion, of which the margravine was the centre, went on, and the band played beautiful waltzes. The workmen in and out of the tent were full of their business, like seamen under a storm.