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152                                WILLIAM
with looks of frozen horror upon their faces they cowered in the only corner that was invisible from the window.
Their suspicions were only too correct. The four new-comers sat down at the table. Apparently the hostess after preparing the meal had gone to the post and had there met her three visitors on their way to her house. One of them was talking in a thin, plaintive wail:
" I nearly didn't come, my dear. I'm so wretched that I simply don't know what to do with myself. I don't think that anyone's ever gone through what I'm going through to-day."
" What's happened ? " said one of the others.
" It's Toto. . . . Hadn't you heard, dear ? He's lost. He got lost last night. I haven't seen him." The voice quavered into tears. " I haven't seen him since four o'clock yesterday afternoon. I've lived an eternity since then. Every second as long as an hour. You don't know what he is to me. To you, of course, he's just a dog, but to me he's—he's everything." The bereaved one was abandoning herself luxuriously to her grief—" everything in the world. He's really valuable, of course, but that's not what upsets me so much. It's he himself. He's my little friend and comrade, you know. I always call him that—my little friend and comrade. And he's go-o-o-o-o-one ! "
Apparently Toto's mistress here abandoned herself yet more luxuriously to her grief. William peeped out cautiously. She was a small woman with red hair, a ludicrously grief-stricken expression and a green hat that was too small for her. Her hostess had evidently heard her tale before and was making strenuous efforts to divert the stream.
" Yes, it is terribly sad, Mrs. Hoskins, and we all sympathise with you. Now we want to tell Mrs. Peters all about our little society."
But Mrs. Hoskins was not to be diverted thus from her elegy of grief.
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