I will get up and take a little airy walk of my own. Dear ladies, as your excellent Sheridan said, I go—and leave my character behind me."
He got up, put the cage on the table, and paused for a moment to count the mice in it. "One, two, three, four——Ha!" he cried, with a look of horror, "where, in the name of Heaven, is the fifth—the youngest, the whitest, the most amiable of all—my Benjamin of mice!"
Neither Laura nor I were in any favorable disposition to be amused. The Count's glib cynicism had revealed a new aspect of his nature from which we both recoiled. But it was impossible to resist the comical distress of so very large a man at the loss of so very small a mouse. We laughed in spite of ourselves; and when Madame Fosco rose to set the example of leaving the boat-house empty, so that her husband might search it to its remotest corners, we rose also to follow her out.
Before we had taken three steps, the Count's quick eye discovered the lost mouse under the seat that we had been occupying. He pulled aside the bench, took the little animal up in his hand, and then suddenly stopped, on his knees, looking intently at a particular place on the ground just beneath him.
When he rose to his feet again, his hand shook so that he could hardly put the mouse back in the cage, and his face was of a faint livid yellow hue all over.
"Percival!" he said, in a whisper. "Percival! come here."
Sir Percival had paid no attention to any of us for the last ten minutes. He had been entirely absorbed in writing figures on the sand, and then rubbing them out again with the point of his stick.
"What's the matter now?" he asked, lounging carelessly into the boat-house.
"Do you see nothing there?" said the Count, catching him nervously by the collar with one hand, and pointing with the other to the place near which he had found the mouse.
"I see plenty of dry sand," answered Sir Percival, "and a spot of dirt in the middle of it."
"Not dirt," whispered the Count, fastening the other hand suddenly on Sir Percival's collar, and shaking it in his agitation. "Blood."
Laura was near enough to hear the last word, softly as he whispered it. She turned to me with a look of terror.
"Nonsense, my dear," I said. "There is no need to be alarmed. It is only the blood of a poor little stray dog."