Chapter X. The Evening Star
 

'Oh, Connie dear, I had such a fright! Do you know you must never venture to give me anything when any one is there--especially Aunt Jane. I am sure it was her. she is always spying about?'

'Well, but dearest Dolly, I couldn't tell that she would be there, and when I got your letter I could not keep it back, you know, so I made Mary come up and call on Lady Merrifield for the chance of being able to give it to you--and I thought it was so lucky Miss Mohun was there, for she and Mary were quite swallowed up in their dear G.F.S.'

'You don't know Aunt Jane! And the worst of it is she always makes Aunt Lilias twice as cross! I did get into such a row only because I didn't want to go driving with the two old aunts in the dark and cold, and be scolded all the way there and back.'

'When you had a letter to read too!'

'And then Aunt Lily said all manner of cross things about giving notes between us. I was so glad I could say I didn't, for you know I didn't give it to you, and it wasn't between us.'

'You cunning child!' laughed Constance, rather amused at the sophistry.

'Besides,' argued Dolores, 'what right has she to interfere between my uncle and my friends and me?

'You dear! Yes, it is all jealousy!'

'I have heard--or I have read,' said Dolores, 'that when people ask questions they have no right to put, it is quite fair to give them a denial, or at least to go as near the wind as one can.'

'To be sure,' assented Constance, 'or one would not get on at all! But you have no told me a word about your letters.'

'Father's letter? Oh, he tells me a great deal about his voyage, and all the funny creatures they get up with the dredge. I think he will be sure to write a book about them, and make great discoveries. And now he is staying with Aunt Phyllis in New Zealand, and he is thinking, poor father, how well off I must be with Aunt Lilias. He little knows!'

'Oh, but you could write to him, dearest!'

'He wouldn't get the letter for so long. Besides, I don't think I could say anything he would care about. Gentlemen don't, you know.'

'No! gentlemen can't enter into our feelings, or know what it is to be rubbed against and never appreciated. But your uncle! Was the letter from him?'

'Oh yes! And where do you think he is? At Darminster--editing a paper there. It is called the Darminster Politician. He said he sent a copy here.'

"Oh yes, I know; Mary and I could not think where it came from. It had a piece of a story in it, and some poetry. I wonder if he would put in my 'Evening Star.'"

'You may read his letter if you like; you see he says he would run over to see me if it were not for the dragons.'

'I wish he could come and meet you here. It would be so romantic, but you see Mary is half a dragon herself, and would be afraid of Lady Merrifield'--then, reading the letter,--'How droll! How clever! What a delightful man he must be! How very strange that all your family should be so prejudiced against him! I'll tell you what, Dolores, I will write and subscribe for the Darminster Politician my own self--I must see the rest of that story--and then Mary can't make any objection; I can't stand never seeing anything but Church Bells, and then you can read it too, darling.'

'Oh, thank you, Connie. Then I shall have got him one subscriber, as he asks me to do. I am afraid I shan't get any more, for I thought Aunt Lily was in a good humour yesterday, and I put one of the little advertisement papers he sent out on the table, and she found it, and only said something about wondering who had sent the advertisement of that paper that Mr. Leadbitter didn't approve of. She is so dreadfully fussy and particular. She won't let even Gillian read anything she hasn't looked over, and she doesn't like anything that isn't goody goody.'

'My poor darling! But couldn't you write and get your uncle to look at some of my poor little verses that have never seen the light?'

'I dare say I could,' said Dolores, pleased to be able to patronize. 'Oh, but you must not write on both sides of the paper, I know, for father and mother were always writing for the press.'

'Oh, I'll copy them out fresh! Here's the 'Evening Star.' It was suggested by the sound of the guns firing at the autumn manoevres; here's the 'Bereaved Mother's Address to her Infant:'

                'Sweet little bud of stainless white,
                 Thou'lt blossom in the garden of light.'

'Mary thought that so sweet she asked Miss Mohun to send it to Friendly Leaves, but she wouldn't--Miss Mohun I mean; she said she didn't think they would accept it, and that the lines didn't scan. Now I'm sure its only Latin and Greek that scan! English rhymes, and doesn't scan! That's the difference!'

'To be sure!' said Dolores, 'but Aunt Jane always does look out for what nobody else cares about. Still I wouldn't send the baby-verses to Uncle Alfred, for they do sound a little bit goody, and the 'Evening Star' would be better.'

The verses were turned over and discussed until the summons came to tea, poured out by kind old Miss Hacket, who had delighted in providing her young guests with buttered toast and tea cakes.

Dolores went home quite exhilarated and unusually amiable.

Her letter to her father was finished the next day. It contained the following information.

'Uncle Alfred is at Darminster. He is sub-editor to the Politician, the Liberal county paper. I do not suppose Aunt Lilias will let me see him, for she does not like anything that dear mother did. There is a childish obsolete tone of mind here; I suppose it is because they have never lived in London, and the children are all so young of their age, and so rude, Wilfred most especially. Even Gillian, who is sixteen, likes quite childish games, and Mysie, who is my age, is a mere child in tastes, and no companion. I do wish I could have gone with you.'

Lady Merrifield wrote by the same mail, 'Your Dolores is quite well, and shows herself both clever and well taught. Miss Vincent thinks highly of her abilities, and gets on with her better than any one else, except the daughter of our late Vicar, for whom she has set up a strong girlish friendship. She plainly has very deep affections, which are not readily transferred to new claimants, but I feel sure that we shall get on in time.'

Miss Mohun wrote, 'Lily and I enjoyed your letter together. Dolly looks all the better for country life, though I am afraid she has not learnt to relish it, nor to assimilate with the Merrifield children as I expected. I don't think Lily has quite fathomed her as yet, but 'cela viendra' with patience, only mayhap not without a previous explosion. I fancy it takes a long time for an only child to settle in among a large family. It was a great pity you could not see Lily yourself. To my dismay I encountered Flinders in the street at Darminster last week. I believe he is on the staff of a paper there, happily Dolly does not know it, nor do I think he knows where she is.'

In another three weeks, Constance was in the utmost elation, for 'On hearing the cannonade of the Autumn Manoeuvres' was in print, and Miss Hacket was so much delighted that justice should be done to her sister's abilities, that she forgot Mr. Leadbitter's disapproval, and ordered half a dozen copies of the Politician for the present, and one for the future.

Dolores, walking home in the twilight, could not help showing Gillian, in confidence, the precious slip, though it was almost too dark to read the small type.

'Newspaper poetry, I thought that always was trumpery,' said Gillian, making a youthfully sweeping assertion.

'Many great poets have begun with a periodical press,' said Dolores, picking up a sentence which she had somewhere read.

'I thought you hated English poetry, Dolly! You always grumble at having to learn it.'

'Oh, that is lessons.'

"'Il Penseroso,' for instance."

'This is a very different thing.'

'That it certainly is,' said Gillian, beginning to read--

              'How lovely mounts the evening star
               Climbing the sunset skies afar.'

'What a wonderful evening! Why, the evening star was going up backward!'

'You only want to make nonsense of it.'

'It is not I that make nonsense!' said Gillian, 'why, don't you see, Dolly, which way the sun and everything moves?'

'This is the evening star,' said Dolores, sulkily. 'It was just rising.'

'I do believe you think it rises in the west.'

'You always see it there. You showed it to me only last Sunday.'

'Do you think it had just risen?'

'Of course the stars rise when the sun sets.'

Gillian could hardly move for laughing. 'My dear Dolores, you to be daughter to a scientific man! Don't you know that the stars are in the sky, going on all the time, only we can't see them till the sunlight is gone?'

But Dolores was too much offended to attend, and only grunted. She wanted to get the cutting away from Gillian, but there was no doing so.

              'The mist is rising o'er the mead,
               With silver hiding grass and reed;
               'Tis silent all, on hill and heath,
               The evening winds, they hardly breathe;
               What sudden breaks the silent charm,
               The echo wakes with wild alarm.
               With rapid, loud, and furious rattle,
               Sure 'tis the voice of deadly battle,
               Bidding the rustic swain to fly
               Before his country's enemy.'

'Did anybody ever hear of a sham fight in the evening?' cried the soldier's daughter indignantly. 'There, I can't see any more of it.'

'Give it to me, then.'

'You are welcome! Where did it come from? Let me look. C.H. Oh, did Constance Hacket write it? Nobody else could be so delicious, or so far superior to Milton.'

'You knew it all the time, and that was the reason you made game of it.'

'No, indeed it was not, Dolores. I did not guess. You should have told me at first.'

'You would have gone on about it all the same.'

'No, indeed, I hope not. I did not mean to vex you; but how was I to know it was so near your heart?'

'I ought to have known better than to have shown it to you! You are always laughing at her and me all over the house--and now--'

'Come, Dolly. I never meant to hurt your feelings. I will promise not to tell the others about it.'

No answer. There was something hard and swelling in Dolores's throat.

'Won't that do?' said Gillian. 'You know I can't say that I admire it, but I'm sorry I hurt you, and I'll take care the others don't tease you about it.'

Dolores made hardly any answer, but it was a sort of pacification, and Gillian said not a word to the younger ones. Still she thought it no breach of her promise, when they were all gone to bed, and she the sole survivor, to tell her mother how inadvertently she had affronted Dolores by cutting up the verses, before she knew whose they were.

'I am sorry,' said Lady Merrifield. 'Anything that tends to keep Dolores aloof from us is a pity.'

'But, mama, I had no notion whose they were.'

'You saw that she was pleased with them.'

'Yes, but that was the more ridiculous. Fancy the evening star climbing up--up--you know in the sunset!'

'Portentous, certainly! Yet still I wish you could have found it in your heart to take advantage of any feeler towards sympathy.'

'How could I pretend to admire such stuff?'

'You need not pretend; but there are two ways of taking hold of a thing without being untrue. If you had been a little wiser and more forbearing you need not have given Dolores such a shock as would drive her in upon herself. Depend upon it, the older you grow, the more dangerous you will find it to begin by hitting the blots.'

Gillian looked on in some curiosity when the next day good Miss Hacket, enchanted with her dear Connie's success, trotted up to display the lines to Lady Merrifield, who on her side felt bound to set an example alike of tenderness and sincerity, and was glad to be able to observe, 'The lines run very smoothly. This must be a great pleasure to her.'

'Indeed it is! Connie is so clever. I always say I can't think where she got it from; but we always tried to give her very advantage, and she was quite a favourite pupil at Miss Dormer's. Is not it a sweet idea, the stillness of the evening broken by the sounds of battle, and then it proving to be only our brave defenders?'

'Yes,' was the answer. 'I have often thought of that, and of what it might be to hear those volleys of musketry in earnest. It has made me very thankful.'

So Miss Hacket went away gratified, and Gillian owned that it would have been useless to wound the good lady's feelings by criticism, though her mother made her understand that if her opinion had been asked, or Connie herself had shown the verses, it would have been desirable to point out the faults, in a kindly spirit. The wonder was, how they could have found their way into the paper, and they were followed by more with the like signature.

Indeed, the great sensational tale, 'The Waif of the Moorland,' was being copied out of the books where it had been first written. Dolores had sounded Mr. Flinders on the subject, and he had replied that he could ensure its consideration by a publisher, but that her fair friend must be aware that an untried author must be prepared for some risk.

Constance could hardly abstain from communicating her hopes to her sister; but Mr. Leadbitter--to whom the poetry was duly shown--had given such a character of the Darminster Politician that Miss Hacket besought Constance to have no more to do with it. Besides, she was so entirely a lady, and so conscientious, that all her tender blindness would not have prevented her from being shocked at encouraging, or profiting by, a surreptitious correspondence.

Constance declared that Mr. Leadbitter's objection to the paper was merely political, and her sister was too willing that she should be gratified to protest any further. The copying had to be done in secret, since it was impossible to confess the hopes founded on Mr. Flinders, and it therefore lasted several weeks, each fresh portion being communicated to Dolores on Sunday afternoons. There were at first a few scruples on Constance's part whether this were exactly a Sunday occupation; but Dolores pronounced that 'the Sabbatarian system was gone out,' and after Constance had introduced the ghostly double of her vanished waif walking in a surpliced procession, she persuaded herself that there was a sufficient aroma of religion about the story to bring it within the pale of Sunday books.

The days were shortening so that Lady Merrifield had doubts as to the fitness of letting the girls return in the dark, but Gillian would have been grieved to relinquish her class, and the matter was adjusted by the two remaining till evensong, when there was sure to be sufficient escort for them to come home with.

Therewith arrived the holidays and Jasper, whose age came between those of Gillian and Mysie. Dolores had looked forward to his coming, for, by all the laws of fiction, he was bound to be the champion of the orphan niece, and finally to develop into her lover and hero. In 'No Home,' when Clare's aunt locked her up and fed her on bread and water for playing the piano better than her spiteful cousin Augusta, Eric, the boy of the family, had solaced her with cold pie and ice-creams drawn up in a basket by a cord from the window. He had likewise forced from his cruel mother the locket which proved Clare's identity with the mourning countess's golden-haired grandchild and heiress, and he had finally been rewarded with her hand, becoming in some mysterious manner Lord Eric.

Jasper, however, or Japs, as his family preferred to call him, proved to be a big, shy boy, not at all delighted with the introduction of a stranger among his sisters, neither golden-haired nor all-accomplished, only making him feel his home invaded, and looking at him with her great eyes.

'Is that girl here for good?' he asked, when he found himself with Harry and Gillian.

'Yes, of course,' said the cousin, 'while her father is away, and that is for three years.'

Jasper whistled.

'Aunt Ada said,' added Gillian, 'that if she got too tiresome, mamma had Uncle Maurice's leave to send her to school.'

'That would be no good to me,' said Jasper, 'for she would still be here in the holidays.'

'Has she been getting worse?' asked Harry.

'No, I don't know that she has,' said Gillian, 'except that she runs after that Constance more than ever. But, I say, Jasper, mamma says she is particularly anxious that there should be no teasing of her; and you can hinder Wilfred better than anybody can. She wants her to be really at home, and one--'

But though Jasper was very fond both of mother and sister, he would not stand a second-hand lecture, and broke in with an inquiry about chances of rabbit-shooting.

Among his juniors he heard more opinions and more undisguised, when the whole party had rushed out together to the stable-yard to inspect the rabbits and other live-stock.

'And Dolly says you are a fright,' sighed Mysie, condoling with a very awkward-looking puppy which she was nursing.

'She! she thinks everything a fright!' said Valetta.

'Except Constance,' added Wilfred.

'Who is ugliest of all!' politely chimed in Fergus.

'Oh, Japs, she is such a nasty girl--Dolly, I mean!' cried Valetta.

"You know you ought not to say 'nasty,'" exclaimed Mysie.

'Well, but she is!' insisted Val. 'She squashed a dear little lady- bird, and said it would sting!'

'She really thought it would,' said Mysie.

At which the young barbarians shouted aloud with contempt, and Valetta added. 'She is afraid of everything--cows and dogs and frogs.'

'I got a whole match-box full of grasshoppers to shut up in her desk and make her squall,' said Wilfred, 'only the girls went and turned them out.'

'It was so cruel to the poor grasshoppers,' said Mysie. 'One had his horn broken, and dragged his leg.'

'What does she do?' asked Jasper.

'She's always cross,' said Fergus.

'And she won't play,' added Valetta. 'And never will lend us anything of hers.'

'And she's a regular sneak,' said Wilfred. 'She wants to tell of everything--only we stopped that and she doesn't dare now.'

'You see,' said Mysie, gravely, 'she has always lived alone and in London, and that makes her horribly stupid about everything sensible. We thought we should soon teach her to be nice; and mamma says we shall if we are patient.'

'We'll teach her, won't we, Japs!' said Wilfred, aside, in an ominous voice.

'She is only thirteen,' added Valetta, 'and she pretends to be grown up, and only to care for a grown-up young lady--that Constance Hacket.'

'Yes,' added Mysie, 'only think--they write poetry!'

'What rot it must be!' said Jasper. 'There's a man in my house that writes poetry, and don't they chaff him! And this must be ever so much worse.'

'Oh, that it is,' said Valetta. 'I heard Mr. Poulter and Miss Vincent laughing about it like anything.'

'But they get it put into print,' said Mysie, still impressed. 'Miss Hacket brought it up to give to mamma, and there's ever so much of it shut up in the drawing-room blotting-book with the malachite knobs. I can't think why they laugh--I think it is very pretty. Old Miss Hacket read me the one about "My Lost Dove."'

'Mysie always will stick up for Dolores,' said Valetta in a grumbling voice.

'I always meant her to be my friend,' said Mysie, disconsolately.

'Well, I'm glad she's not,' said Jasper. 'What a sell it would have been for me to find you chummy with a stupid, poetry-writing, good-for- nothing girl like that, instead of my jolly old Mice!'

And at that minute all Dolly's slights were fully compensated for!

There was a lurking purpose in the boys' minds that if Dolores would not join in fun, yet still fun should be extracted from her. Jasper had brought home a box of Japanese fireworks, and Wilfred, who was superintending his unpacking, proposed to light the serpent and place it in Dolores's path as she was going up to bed; but Jasper was old enough to reply that he would have no concern with anything so low and snobbish as such a trick. In fact, there was in Jasper's mind a decided line between bullying and teasing, which did not exist as yet in Wilfred's conscience. And, altogether, Dolores was in a state of mind that made her stiff letters to her father betray low spirits and discontent.

On Sunday, while waiting for the early dinner, Jasper and Mysie happened to be together in the drawing-room, and Mysie took the opportunity of showing her brother the different cuttings of poetry. The lines were smooth, and some had a certain swing in them such as Mysie, with an unformed taste, a love for Miss Hacket, and amazement that the words of a familiar acquaintance of her own should appear in print, genuinely admired. But the eyes of a youth exercised in 'chaffing' the productions of one of his fellow 'men' were infinitely more critical. Besides, what could be more shocking to the General's son than the confusion between the evening gun and the sham fight? And Mysie had been reduced to confusion for not detecting the faults, and then pardoned in consideration of being only a girl, by the time the gong summoned them to the Sunday roast beef.

The dinner over, the female part of the family, scampered headlong upstairs, while Harry repaired with his mother to her room to talk over a letter from his father respecting his plans on leaving Oxford. The other boys hung about the hall, until Gillian and Dolores came down equipped for walking. 'Hollo, Gill! All right! Where's Mysie? We'll be off! Mysie! Mice! Mouse! Val!'

'You must wait for them, Japs,' said Gillian. 'They are having their dresses changed; and, don't you remember, I always go to Miss Hacket's.'

'Botheration! What for?'

'You know very well.'

'Oh yes. To help her to write touching verses about the sweet dead dove, with voice and plumage soft as love, eh? Only, Gill, I'm afraid your memory is failing, if you don't know the evening gun from rifle practice.'

'Nonsense! that's no concern of mine,' said Gillian, opening the front door, very anxious to get Dolores away from hearing anything worse.

'Oh, that's your modesty. Only such a conjunction could have produced such a scene that the evening star came up backwards to look at it!'

'For shame, Jasper! How in the world did you get hold of that?'

'Too sweet a thing not to meet with universal fame,' said Jasper, to whom it was exquisite fun to assume that Gillian devoted her Sunday afternoons to the concoction of such poetry with Constance Hacket, and thus to revenge himself for his disgust and jealousy at having his favourite companion and slave engrossed. Wilfred hopped about like an imp in ecstasy, grinning in the face of Dolores, whom Gillian longed to free from her tormentors. The shout was welcome, as Mysie and Valetta came tearing down the drive after them.

'Japs! Japs! Oh, we couldn't come before because nurse would make us take off our Sunday serges. Come and let out the dogs. Mamma says we may see if there are any nice fir cones in the plantation to gild for the Christmas-tree.'

'And you won't come?' said Jasper. 'The Muses must meet. What a poem you will produce!

                'Hear I a cannon or a rifle,
                 That is an unessential trifle!'

'What nonsense boys do talk!' said Gillian, turning her back on them with regret; for much as she loved her class, she better loved a walk with Jasper, and here was Dolores on her hands in a state of exasperation, believing her to have broken her promise, and muttering,

'You set him on.'

'No, indeed I never did! You know I promised.'

'There are plenty of ways of getting out of a promise.'

'Speak for yourself, Dolores.'

There were ten minutes of offended silence, and then Gillian said, 'This is nonsense! You may believe me, I was sorry I laughed at the first verses you showed me, and mamma said I ought not. We never spoke of it, but Miss Hacket has been giving mamma all the poems, and Jasper must have got at them. Don't you see?'

'Oh yes, you say so,' said Dolores, sulkily.

'You don't believe me!'

'You promised that your brothers should never hear of it.'

'I promised for myself. I couldn't promise for what was put into a newspaper and trumpeted all over the place,' said Gillian, really angry now.

Dolores could not deny this, but she was hurt by the word trumpeted; and besides, her own slippery behaviour was weakening her trust in other people's sincerity, and she only gave a kind of grunt; but Gillian, recovering herself a little, and remembering her mother's words, proceeded to argue. 'Besides, it was me whom Jasper meant to tease, not you.'

'I don't care which it was. He is as bad as the rest of them!'

Gillian attempted no more conciliation, and they arrived in silence at the Casement Cottages, where Constance was awaiting her friend in the greatest excitement; for she had despatched 'The Waif of the Moorland' to Mr. Flinders in the course of the week, and had received a letter from him in return, saying that a personal interview with the gifted authoress would be desirable.

'And I do long to see him; don't you, darling?

'It is very hard that he should be kept away from me,' said Dolores, trying to stir up some tender feelings.

'That it is, my poor sweet! I thought whether he could come to me for a merely literary consultation without Mary's knowing anything further about it, and then we could contrive for you to come down and meet him; but there are so many horrid prejudices that I suppose it would not be safe.'

'I don't see how I could come down here without the others. Aunt Lily won't let me come alone, and though it is holiday time, that is no good, for those horrid boys are always about, and I see that Jasper is going to be worse even than Wilfred.

Various ways and means were discussed, but no excuse seemed available for either Constance's going to Darminster, or for Mr. Flinders coming to Silverton, without exciting suspicion.