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Lewis Carroll's Sylvie and Bruno: Chapter 14
For a full month the business, for which I had returned to London,
detained me there: and even then it was only the urgent advice of my
physician that induced me to leave it unfinished and pay another visit
Arthur had written once or twice during the month; but in none of his
letters was there any mention of Lady Muriel. Still, I did not augur
ill from his silence: to me it looked like the natural action of a lover,
who, even while his heart was singing "She is mine!", would fear to
paint his happiness in the cold phrases of a written letter, but would
wait to tell it by word of mouth. "Yes," I thought, "I am to hear his
song of triumph from his own lips!"
The night I arrived we had much to say on other matters: and, tired
with the journey, I went to bed early, leaving the happy secret still
untold. Next day, however, as we chatted on over the remains of
luncheon, I ventured to put the momentous question. "Well, old friend,
you have told me nothing of Lady Muriel--nor when the happy day is to be?"
"The happy day," Arthur said, looking unexpectedly grave, "is yet in
the dim future. We need to know--or, rather, she needs to know me better.
I know her sweet nature, thoroughly, by this time. But I dare not speak
till I am sure that my love is returned."
"Don't wait too long!" I said gaily. "Faint heart never won fair lady!"
"It is 'faint heart,' perhaps. But really I dare not speak just yet."
"But meanwhile," I pleaded, "you are running a risk that perhaps you
have not thought of. Some other man--"
"No," said Arthur firmly. "She is heart-whole: I am sure of that.
Yet, if she loves another better than me, so be it! I will not spoil
her happiness. The secret shall die with me. But she is my first----and
my only love!"
"That is all very beautiful sentiment," I said, "but it is not practical.
It is not like you.
He either fears his fate too much,
Or his desert is small,
Who dares not put it to the touch,
To win or lose it all."
"I dare not ask the question whether there is another!" he said
passionately. "It would break my heart to know it!"
"Yet is it wise to leave it unasked? You must not waste your life upon
"I tell you I dare not!"
"May I find it out for you?" I asked, with
the freedom of an old friend.
"No, no!" he replied with a pained look. "I entreat you to say nothing.
Let it wait."
"As you please," I said: and judged it best to say no more just then.
"But this evening," I thought, "I will call on the Earl. I may be
able to see how the land lies, without so much as saying a word!"
It was a very hot afternoon--too hot to go for a walk or do anything--
or else it wouldn't have happened, I believe.
In the first place, I want to know--dear Child who reads this!--why
Fairies should always be teaching us to do our duty, and lecturing us
when we go wrong, and we should never teach them anything? You can't
mean to say that Fairies are never greedy, or selfish, or cross, or
deceitful, because that would be nonsense, you know. Well then, don't
you think they might be all the better for a little lecturing and
punishing now and then?
I really don't see why it shouldn't be tried, and I'm almost sure that,
if you could only catch a Fairy, and put it in the corner, and give it
nothing but bread and water for a day or two, you'd find it quite an
improved character--it would take down its conceit a little, at all
The next question is, what is the best time for seeing Fairies?
I believe I can tell you all about that.
The first rule is, that it must be a very hot
day--that we may consider
as settled: and you must be just a little
sleepy--but not too sleepy to
keep your eyes open, mind. Well, and you ought to feel a little--what
one may call "fairyish"--the Scotch call it "eerie," and perhaps
that's a prettier word; if you don't know what it means, I'm afraid I
can hardly explain it; you must wait till you meet a Fairy, and then
And the last rule is, that the crickets should not be chirping.
I can't stop to explain that: you must take it on trust for the present.
So, if all these things happen together, you have a good chance of
seeing a Fairy--or at least a much better chance than if they didn't.
The first thing I noticed, as I went lazily along through an open place
in the wood, was a large Beetle lying struggling on its back,
and I went down upon one knee to help the poor thing to its feet again.
In some things, you know, you ca'n't be quite sure what an insect would
like: for instance, I never could quite settle, supposing I were a
moth, whether I would rather be kept out of the candle, or be allowed
to fly straight in and get burnt--or again, supposing I were a spider,
I'm not sure if I should be quite pleased to have my web torn down,
and the fly let loose--but I feel quite certain that, if I were a beetle
and had rolled over on my back, I should always be glad to be helped up
So, as I was saying, I had gone down upon one knee, and was just
reaching out a little stick to turn the Beetle over, when I saw a sight
that made me draw back hastily and hold my breath, for fear of making
any noise and frightening the little creature a way.
Not that she looked as if she would be easily frightened: she seemed so
good and gentle that I'm sure she would never expect that any one could
wish to hurt her. She was only a few inches high, and was dressed in
green, so that you really would hardly have noticed her among the long
grass; and she was so delicate and graceful that she quite seemed to
belong to the place, almost as if she were one of the flowers. I may
tell you, besides, that she had no wings (I don't believe in Fairies
with wings), and that she had quantities of long brown hair and large
earnest brown eyes, and then I shall have done all I can to give you an
idea of her.
Sylvie (I found out her name afterwards) had knelt down, just as I was
doing, to help the Beetle; but it needed more than a little stick for
her to get it on its legs again; it was as much as she could do,
with both arms, to roll the heavy thing over; and all the while she
was talking to it, half scolding and half comforting, as a nurse might
do with a child that had fallen down.
"There, there! You needn't cry so much about it. You're not killed
yet--though if you were, you couldn't cry, you know, and so it's a
general rule against crying, my dear! And how did you come to tumble
over? But I can see well enough how it was--I needn't ask you that--walking
over sand-pits with your chin in the air, as usual.
Of course if you go among sand-pits like that, you must expect to tumble.
You should look."
The Beetle murmured something that sounded like "I did look," and Sylvie
went on again.
"But I know you didn't! You never do! You always walk with your chin
up--you're so dreadfully conceited. Well, let's see how many legs are
broken this time. Why, none of them, I declare! And what's the good
of having six legs, my dear, if you can only kick them all about in the
air when you tumble? Legs are meant to walk with, you know. Now don't
begin putting out your wings yet; I've more to say. Go to the frog
that lives behind that buttercup--give him my
compliments--can you say 'compliments'?"
The Beetle tried and, I suppose, succeeded.
"Yes, that's right. And tell him he's to give you some of that salve I
left with him yesterday. And you'd better get him to rub it in for you.
He's got rather cold hands, but you mustn't mind that."
I think the Beetle must have shuddered at this idea, for Sylvie went on
in a graver tone. "Now you needn't pretend to be so particular as all
that, as if you were too grand to be rubbed by a frog. The fact is,
you ought to be very much obliged to him. Suppose you could get nobody
but a toad to do it, how would you like that?"
There was a little pause, and then Sylvie added "Now you may go.
Be a good beetle, and don't keep your chin in the air." And then began
one of those performances of humming, and whizzing, and restless banging
about, such as a beetle indulges in when it has decided on flying, but
hasn't quite made up its mind which way to go. At last, in one of its
awkward zigzags, it managed to fly right into my face, and, by the time
I had recovered from the shock, the little Fairy was gone.
I looked about in all directions for the little creature, but there was
no trace of her--and my 'eerie' feeling was quite gone off, and the
crickets were chirping again merrily--so I knew she was really gone.
And now I've got time to tell you the rule about the crickets.
They always leave off chirping when a Fairy goes
by--because a Fairy's a
kind of queen over them, I suppose--at all events it's a much grander
thing than a cricket--so whenever you're walking out, and the crickets
suddenly leave off chirping, you may be sure that they see a Fairy.
I walked on sadly enough, you may be sure. However, I comforted myself
with thinking "It's been a very wonderful afternoon, so far. I'll just
go quietly on and look about me, and I shouldn't wonder if I were to
come across another Fairy somewhere."
Peering about in this way, I happened to notice a plant with rounded
leaves, and with queer little holes cut in the middle of several of
them. "Ah, the leafcutter bee!" I carelessly
remarked--you know I am
very learned in Natural History (for instance, I can always tell
kittens from chickens at one glance)--and I was passing on, when a
sudden thought made me stoop down and examine the leaves.
Then a little thrill of delight ran through me--for I noticed that the
holes were all arranged so as to form letters; there were three leaves
side by side, with "B," "R," and "U" marked on them, and after some
search I found two more, which contained an "N" and an "O."
And then, all in a moment, a flash of inner light seemed to illumine a
part of my life that had all but faded into oblivion--the strange
visions I had experienced during my journey to Elveston: and with a
thrill of delight I thought "Those visions are destined to be linked
with my waking life!"
By this time the 'eerie' feeling had come back again, and I suddenly
observed that no crickets were chirping; so I felt quite sure that
"Bruno" was somewhere very near.
And so indeed he was--so near that I had very nearly walked over him
without seeing him; which would have been dreadful, always supposing
that Fairies can be walked over--my own belief is that they are
something of the nature of Will-o'-the-Wisps: and there's no walking
Think of any pretty little boy you know, with rosy cheeks, large dark
eyes, and tangled brown hair, and then fancy him made small enough to
go comfortably into a coffee-cup, and you'll have a very fair idea of
"What's your name, little one?" I began, in as soft a voice as I could
manage. And, by the way, why is it we always begin by asking little
children their names? Is it because we fancy a name will help to make
them a little bigger? You never thought of asking a real large man
his name, now, did you? But, however that may be, I felt it quite
necessary to know his name; so, as he didn't answer my question,
I asked it again a little louder. "What's your name, my little man?"
"What's oors?" he said, without looking up.
I told him my name quite gently, for he was much too small to be angry
"Duke of Anything?" he asked, just looking at me for a moment,
and then going on with his work.
"Not Duke at all," I said, a little ashamed of having to confess it.
"Oo're big enough to be two Dukes," said the little creature.
"I suppose oo're Sir Something, then?"
"No," I said, feeling more and more ashamed. "I haven't got any title."
The Fairy seemed to think that in that case I really wasn't worth the
trouble of talking to, for he quietly went on digging, and tearing the
flowers to pieces.
After a few minutes I tried again. "Please tell me what your name is."
"Bruno," the little fellow answered, very readily. "Why didn't oo say
"That's something like what we used to be taught in the nursery,"
I thought to myself, looking back through the long years (about a hundred
of them, since you ask the question), to the time when I was a little
child. And here an idea came into my head, and I asked him "Aren't you
one of the Fairies that teach children to be good?"
"Well, we have to do that sometimes," said Bruno, "and a dreadful
bother it is." As he said this, he savagely tore a heartsease in two,
and trampled on the pieces.
"What are you doing there, Bruno?" I said.
"Spoiling Sylvie's garden," was all the answer Bruno would give at
first. But, as he went on tearing up the flowers, he muttered to
himself "The nasty cross thing wouldn't let me go and play this
morning,--said I must finish my lessons first--lessons, indeed!
I'll vex her finely, though!"
"Oh, Bruno, you shouldn't do that!" I cried.
"Don't you know that's revenge? And revenge is a wicked, cruel,
"River-edge?" said Bruno. "What a funny word! I suppose oo call it
cruel and dangerous 'cause, if oo wented too far and tumbleded in,
oo'd get drownded."
"No, not river-edge," I explained: "revenge" (saying the word very
slowly). But I couldn't help thinking that Bruno's explanation did
very well for either word.
"Oh!" said Bruno, opening his eyes very wide, but without trying to
repeat the word.
"Come! Try and pronounce it, Bruno!" I said, cheerfully. "Re-venge,
But Bruno only tossed his little head, and said he couldn't; that his
mouth wasn't the right shape for words of that kind. And the more I
laughed, the more sulky the little fellow got about it.
"Well, never mind, my little man!" I said.
"Shall I help you with that job?"
"Yes, please," Bruno said, quite pacified.
"Only I wiss I could think of somefin to vex her more than this.
Oo don't know how hard it is to make her angry!"
"Now listen to me, Bruno, and I'll teach you quite a splendid kind of
"Somefin that'll vex her finely?" he asked with gleaming eyes.
"Something that will vex her finely. First, we'll get up all the weeds
in her garden. See, there are a good many at this
end--quite hiding the
"But that won't vex her!" said Bruno.
"After that," I said, without noticing the remark, "we'll water this
highest bed--up here. You see it's getting quite dry and dusty."
Bruno looked at me inquisitively, but he said nothing this time.
"Then after that," I went on, "the walks want sweeping a bit; and I
think you might cut down that tall nettle--it's so close to the garden
that it's quite in the way----"
"What is oo talking about?" Bruno impatiently interrupted me.
"All that won't vex her a bit!"
"Won't it?" I said, innocently. "Then, after that, suppose we put in
some of these coloured pebbles--just to mark the divisions between the
different kinds of flowers, you know. That'll have a very pretty
Bruno turned round and had another good stare at me. At last there
came an odd little twinkle into his eyes, and he said, with quite a new
meaning in his voice, "That'll do nicely. Let's put 'em in rows--all the red together, and all the blue together."
"That'll do capitally," I said; "and then--what kind of flowers does
Sylvie like best?"
Bruno had to put his thumb in his mouth and consider a little before he
could answer. "Violets," he said, at last.
"There's a beautiful bed of violets down by the
"Oh, let's fetch 'em!" cried Bruno, giving a little skip into the air.
"Here! Catch hold of my hand, and I'll help oo along. The grass is
rather thick down that way."
I couldn't help laughing at his having so entirely forgotten what a big
creature he was talking to. "No, not yet, Bruno," I said: "we must
consider what's the right thing to do first. You see we've got quite a
business before us."
"Yes, let's consider," said Bruno, putting his thumb into his mouth again,
and sitting down upon a dead mouse.
"What do you keep that mouse for?" I said. "You should either bury it,
or else throw it into the brook."
"Why, it's to measure with!" cried Bruno.
"How ever would oo do a garden without one? We make each bed three
mouses and a half long, and two mouses wide."
I stopped him, as he was dragging it off by the tail to show me how it
was used, for I was half afraid the 'eerie' feeling might go off before
we had finished the garden, and in that case I should see no more of
him or Sylvie. "I think the best way will be for you to weed the beds,
while I sort out these pebbles, ready to mark the walks with."
"That's it!" cried Bruno. "And I'll tell oo about the caterpillars
while we work."
"Ah, let's hear about the caterpillars," I said, as I drew the pebbles
together into a heap and began dividing them into colours.
And Bruno went on in a low, rapid tone, more as if he were talking to
himself. "Yesterday I saw two little caterpillars, when I was sitting
by the brook, just where oo go into the wood. They were quite green,
and they had yellow eyes, and they didn't see me. And one of them had
got a moth's wing to carry--a great brown moth's wing, oo know, all dry,
with feathers. So he couldn't want it to eat, I should think--perhaps
he meant to make a cloak for the winter?"
"Perhaps," I said, for Bruno had twisted up the last word into a sort
of question, and was looking at me for an answer.
One word was quite enough for the little fellow, and he went on
merrily. "Well, and so he didn't want the other caterpillar to see the
moth's wing, oo know--so what must he do but try to carry it with all
his left legs, and he tried to walk on the other set. Of course he
toppled over after that."
"After what?" I said, catching at the last word, for, to tell the
truth, I hadn't been attending much.
"He toppled over," Bruno repeated, very gravely, "and if oo ever saw a
caterpillar topple over, oo'd know it's a welly serious thing, and not
sit grinning like that--and I sha'n't tell oo no more!"
"Indeed and indeed, Bruno, I didn't mean to grin. See, I'm quite grave
But Bruno only folded his arms, and said "Don't tell me.
I see a little twinkle in one of oor eyes--just like the moon."
"Why do you think I'm like the moon, Bruno?" I asked.
"Oor face is large and round like the moon," Bruno answered, looking at
me thoughtfully. "It doosn't shine quite so bright--but it's more
I couldn't help smiling at this. "You know I sometimes wash my face,
Bruno. The moon never does that."
"Oh, doosn't she though!" cried Bruno; and he leant forwards and added
in a solemn whisper, "The moon's face gets dirtier and dirtier every
night, till it's black all across. And then, when it's dirty all
over--so--" (he passed his hand across his own rosy cheeks as he spoke)
"then she washes it."
"Then it's all clean again, isn't it?"
"Not all in a moment," said Bruno. "What a deal of teaching oo wants!
She washes it little by little--only she begins at the other edge,
By this time he was sitting quietly on the dead mouse with his arms
folded, and the weeding wasn't getting on a bit: so I had to say "Work
first, pleasure afterwards: no more talking till that bed's finished."
Next: Bruno's Revenge