'How educate? How pretend in a new manner? How wait?'
'Educate the grown-up people,' replied Alice. 'We part to-night. Yes, Redforth,' - for the colonel tucked up his cuffs, - 'part to- night! Let us in these next holidays, now going to begin, throw our thoughts into something educational for the grown-up people, hinting to them how things ought to be. Let us veil our meaning under a mask of romance; you, I, and Nettie. William Tinkling being the plainest and quickest writer, shall copy out. Is it agreed?'
The colonel answered sulkily, 'I don't mind.' He then asked, 'How about pretending?'
'We will pretend,' said Alice, 'that we are children; not that we are those grown-up people who won't help us out as they ought, and who understand us so badly.'
The colonel, still much dissatisfied, growled, 'How about waiting?'
'We will wait,' answered little Alice, taking Nettie's hand in hers, and looking up to the sky, 'we will wait - ever constant and true - till the times have got so changed as that everything helps us out, and nothing makes us ridiculous, and the fairies have come back. We will wait - ever constant and true - till we are eighty, ninety, or one hundred. And then the fairies will send US children, and we will help them out, poor pretty little creatures, if they pretend ever so much.'
'So we will, dear,' said Nettie Ashford, taking her round the waist with both arms and kissing her. 'And now if my husband will go and buy some cherries for us, I have got some money.'
In the friendliest manner I invited the colonel to go with me; but he so far forgot himself as to acknowledge the invitation by kicking out behind, and then lying down on his stomach on the grass, pulling it up and chewing it. When I came back, however, Alice had nearly brought him out of his vexation, and was soothing him by telling him how soon we should all be ninety.
As we sat under the willow-tree and ate the cherries (fair, for Alice shared them out), we played at being ninety. Nettie complained that she had a bone in her old back, and it made her hobble; and Alice sang a song in an old woman's way, but it was very pretty, and we were all merry. At least, I don't know about merry exactly, but all comfortable.
There was a most tremendous lot of cherries; and Alice always had with her some neat little bag or box or case, to hold things. In it that night was a tiny wine-glass. So Alice and Nettie said they would make some cherry-wine to drink our love at parting.
Each of us had a glassful, and it was delicious; and each of us drank the toast, 'Our love at parting.' The colonel drank his wine last; and it got into my head directly that it got into his directly. Anyhow, his eyes rolled immediately after he had turned the glass upside down; and he took me on one side and proposed in a hoarse whisper, that we should 'Cut 'em out still.'
'How did he mean?' I asked my lawless friend.
'Cut our brides out,' said the colonel, 'and then cut our way, without going down a single turning, bang to the Spanish main!'
We might have tried it, though I didn't think it would answer; only we looked round and saw that there was nothing but moon-light under the willow-tree, and that our pretty, pretty wives were gone. We burst out crying. The colonel gave in second, and came to first; but he gave in strong.
We were ashamed of our red eyes, and hung about for half-an-hour to whiten them.