The Two Sides of the Shield by Charlotte M. Yonge
Chapter XIII. An Egyptian Sphynx
Aunt Adeline was afraid of winter journeys as well as of the tumultuous festivities of Silverton; so at twelve o'clock. Colonel Mohun drove the pony-carriage to meet the little trim Brownie who stepped out of the station, the porter carrying behind her a huge thing, long, and swathed in brown paper. 'It is quite light; it won't hurt,' she said, 'It must go with us. Put your legs across it, Regie. That's right.'
'Then what becomes of yours?'
'Mine can go anywhere,' said Miss Mohun, crumpling herself up in some mysterious manner under the fur rug, while they drove off, her luggage sticking far off on either side of the splashboard.
'What, in the name of wonder, are you smuggling in there?'
'If you must know, it is the body of a mummy over whose dissection you will have to assist.'
'Ah! Rotherwood is coming.'
'And his little girl. Just like him. Lily gets a note this morning from London, telling her to telegraph if she can't have them by the 5.20 train. I've just been ordering a fly. It seems that Lady Rotherwood, going to meet Ivinghoe at the station, coming from school, found he had measles coming out! So they packed off his sister to Beechcroft without having seen him, and thence Rotherwood took her to London.'
'And is having a fine frolic with her, no doubt; but he might as well have given Lily more notice, considering that a marquess or two makes more difference to her household than it does to his.'
'Oh! she is glad enough, only in some trepidation as to how Mrs. Halfpenny may receive the unspecified maid that the child may bring.'
'How jolly we shall be! I wish Ada had come.'
'I tried to drag her out, but it gets harder and harder to shake her up. You must come back with me and see her.'
'I say, Jane, have you seen Maurice's child lately?'
'Not very. She wouldn't come with the others last week.'
'What do you think about her? I thought leaving her with Lily would have been the making of her. Indeed, I told Maurice there could not be a better brought up set anywhere than the Merrifields, and that Lily would mother her like one of her own; and now I find her moping about, looking regularly down in the mouth. I got hold of her one day and tried to find out what was the matter, but she only said she would not complain. Can they bully her?'
'I'll tell you what, Maurice, Lily is a great deal too kind to her. She has a kind of temper that won't let them make friends with her.'
'Come now! She was a nice jolly little girl at home. She and I have had no end of larks together, and it is hard to blame her for fretting after her home, poor child--Aye! I know you never liked her, or she might have done better with you and Ada than turned in among a lot of imps.'
'I'm thankful it was otherwise!'
'Now do, Jane, set your mind to it. Don't be prejudiced, but make those sharp eyes of some use. I really feel bound to give Maurice an account of Dolly, and tell him what is best for her.'
'I believe,' said Jane, 'that there is some counter-influence at work, and I am trying to find it out; but, after all, I believe patience is the only thing, and that Lily will conquer her if nobody meddles.'
''Tis not Lily I am afraid of, but her children.'
'Nonsense, Regie; one would think you had never been turned loose into school to be licked into shape.'
'She is a girl, not a cub like me.'
'A worse cub, for she has not your temper, sir, and, moreover, you had had the wholesome discipline of a large family. Besides, nobody teases but Wilfred. Gillian and Mysie behave like angels to the tiresome puss.'
'Well, I'm bound to believe you, Jenny, but I don't like the looks of it.'
Aunt Jane's mysterious parcel was greeted rapturously, and conveyed into the dining-room, which had a semi-circular end, filled with glass, and capable of being shut off with heavy curtains when the season made snugness desirable. This bay had been set apart from the first for her operations, the tree, whose second season it was, having been taken up and already erected in the centre of the room, not much the worse for last year's excursion, for, if rather stunted, that was all the better. No one was excluded from the decoration thereof, since that was the best part of the sport to those too old for the mystery--and yet young enough to fasten sconces where their candles would infallibly set fire to the twigs above them. The only defaulters were Jasper, who had preferred going down to the meadows with his gun; and Dolores, who had retired to the drawing-room with a book, on having a paper star removed from immediate risk of conflagration. 'They were determined not to let her help,' she said.
So she only emerged when the workers halted for a merry, hurried meal in the schoolroom, where Jasper appeared, very late, very cross at having had to make himself fit to be seen, and, likewise, at having brought home no spoil, the snipes having been so malicious as to escape him. Having sallied forth before the post came in, it was only now that it broke on him that visitors were expected, and he did not like it at all.
'I thought we had got rid of a11 the enemy!' he growled, at his end of the table.
'That's what he calls Constance.' thought Dolores.
'Polite,' observed Gillian.
'This will be worse still, being lord and ladies grumbled on Jasper, 'I hate swells.'
'Oh! but these aren't like horrid, common, fine lords and ladies,' cried Mysie; 'why, you know all mamma's old stories about the fun they had with cousin Rotherwood.
'What's the good of that! That's a hundred years ago. He'll just make mamma and Uncle Regie of no good at all! And then there's a girl too--' (in a tone of inconceivable disgust) 'I don't want strange girls--an awful stuck-up swell of a Londoner, not able to do anything! I wish I had gone to spend Christmas with Bruce! I would if I had known it was to be like this.'
The speech brought Mysie to the verge of tears. Aunt Jane's sharp ears heard it, and she looked at the head of the table, expecting to hear a rebuke; but Lady Merrifield turned a deaf ear on that side. Only after the meal, she called her son, 'Jasper,' she said, 'I want to send a note to Redford, if you like to ride over with it. You need not come home till eight o'clock, if it is moonlight, it the boys are disengaged, and if you do really wish to keep out of the way.'
Jasper's eyes fell under hers.
'Mamma, I don't want that.'
'Only you said more than you meant, Japs. If it relieves your mind, it hurts other people. But I do want the note taken, so go and come back in time for the sports; which I don't think you will find much damaged.'
Meantime, Aunt Jane had ensconced herself behind the curtains; where she admitted no one but Miss Vincent and Uncle Reginald, and in process of time, mamma and Macrae. The others were still fully employed in garnishing the tree, though it was only to bear lights, ornaments and sweets. All solid articles had been for some time past committed to a huge box, or ottoman, the veteran companion of the family travels, which stood in the centre of the bay. Into its capacious interior everybody had been dropping parcels of various sizes and shapes, with addresses in all sorts of hands, which were to find their destination on this great evening. This was part of the mystery that kept Mysie and Valetta in one continual dance and caper. It was all they could do not to peep between the curtains when the privileged mortals went in and out, bearing all sorts of mysterious loads well covered up from all eyes. Wilfred did make one attempt, but something extraordinary snapped at his nose, with a sharp crack, and drove him back with a start.
A lamp had been taken thither, and there really was nothing more to do to the tree, the scraps of packing had been picked up, and the hands, tingling from fir-needle pricks, had been washed, though not without protest from Valetta that it wasn't worth while, and from Wilfred that it was all along of these horrid swells--!
The sound of wheels summoned Lady Merrifield and her brother from the place of mystery, and they were in the hall when a fresh gust of keen air came in from the door, an ulstered figure hurried in, and something small and furred was put into the lady's embrace.
'Here's my Fly, Lily--! Look, Fly, here they all are--all the cousins. Off with the hat. Let us see your funny little face.'
It was a funny little smiling face, set in short, light, wavy hair, not exactly pretty, but with a bright, quaint, confiding look, as if used to be shown off by her father, and ready to make friends on the spot. 'And how is your boy?' as the round of greetings was completed, and the wraps thrown off.
'Going on capitally, better than he deserves, the young scamp, for suppressing all symptoms for fear he should be hindered from coming home. His mother was in a proper fright, she showed him to the doctor on the way, who told her to put him to bed at once, and send his sister out of the house. She never set eyes on him, or I would not have brought her here.'
'I am exceedingly glad you have,' said Lady Merrifield, bending for another kiss.
'And Lily, I've done another awful thing. Victoria kept old nurse to help with Ivinghoe, and we brought the Swiss bonne, Louise, away with us, but the poor thing found her sister very ill in London, and I hadn't the heart to bring her away, so Phyllis said she would do for herself, if your maid, or some of them, would have an eye to her.'
'There! I'm doubly glad, Rotherwood! If I had any fears it was not of you, or Phyllis; but that like Vich Ian Vhor, she should have her tail on. And, oh! Rotherwood, do you know what you are in for?'
'High jinks of some sort, I've no doubt. We picked up a couple of boxes at Gunter's and Miller's with a view thereto. Who is master of the revels?'
'Jane. She's too deep in preparations to come forth at present. Gillian, will you take Phyllis to the nursery, and take care of her. We are to have a very high tea at half-past six; but, Rotherwood, I promise that another day you shall have a respectable dinner in this house.'
'Return to the prose of life, eh, Lily? Well, Fly, what do you think of it?'
'Oh, daddy, aren't you glad we came?' she cried, dancing off, in Gillian's wake, arm-in-arm with Mysie and Valetta, while he called after her, 'Find the boxes, and make them over to the right quarter.'
This was enough to make the whole bevy of children rush away, and only the three elders remained. Lord Rotherwood said, 'This is short notice. Lily; but I did not know Reginald was here, and I thought you might want help. Don't be frightened, only a queer thing has happened. I went to W.'s bank yesterday. I thought they looked at me as if something was up, and by-and-by one of the partners came and took me into his private room. There he showed me a cheque, and asked my opinion whether the writing was Maurice's. And I should say it decidedly was, but it was actually for seventy pounds, payable to order of Miss Dolores M. Mohun.'
'Yes, and dated the 19th of August.'
'Just before Maurice went.'
There was a sudden silence, for the door opened; but it was to admit Miss Mohun, who began, 'Oh! Rotherwood, you are too munificent. Why, what's the matter?' Lady Merrifield hastily explained, as far as she yet understood, what had brought him.
'How did they get the cheque?' she asked.
'Sent up from the country bank where it had been cashed--Darminster.'
'Ah!' came from both the aunts.
Lord Rotherwood went on. 'They asked me who Miss Dolores Mohun was, and I could do no otherwise than tell them, and likewise where to find her, but I explained that she is a mere child; and I told them I would come down here, so I hope you will have as little annoyance as possible.'
'It is very good of you, Rotherwood, but I can't understand it at all. Was her name on the back?'
'Certainly; I told them I thought the whole thing must be a well got up forgery, and a confidential clerk was to go down today to Darminster to try to find out who gave it in there.'
'Darminster! Flinders!' ejaculated Miss Mohun.
'Regie,' exclaimed Lady Merrifield; 'what did you say about having seen some one like Dolores at Darminster station?'
'I was nearly jumping out after her. I should have said it was herself, if it had not been impossible. Why she was with you at Rockstone, and it was a pouring, dripping day,' said the colonel.
'No, she was not. She begged to spend the day with Constance Hacket, and we picked her up as we came home. Poor child, what has she been doing? I have not looked after her properly.'
'But need she have had anything to do with it?' said Colonel Mohun. 'How should a cheque of Maurice's come into her possession?'
'She did tell me,' said Lady Merrifield,' that her father had left one with her to pay for some German scientific book that might be sent for him.'
'I see, then!' cried Miss Mohun. 'That wretch Flinders must have got into communication with her, and induced her to fill up her father's cheque for him.'
'But why should it be Flinders?' said Lord Rotherwood.
'Jane found out that he is living at Darminster, and has been trying to put me on my guard,' returned Lady Merrifield.
'It is all that fellow Flinders, depend upon it,' said Colonel Mohun. 'He is quite capable of it, and you'll find poor Dolly has nothing to do with it. Quite preposterous. And look here, Lily, let the poor child alone to enjoy herself tonight. Most likely Rotherwood's clerk, or detective, or whatever he may be, will have ferreted out the rights of the matter at Darminster. I sincerely hope he will, and have Flinders in custody, and then you would have upset her and accused her all for nothing.'
'I am glad you think so, Regie,' said Lady Merrifield. 'I am thankful enough to wait, and hope it will be explained without spoiling the children's evening.'
'All right,' said the visitor; 'I only hope I have not spoilt yours.'
'Oh! one learns to throw things off. I shall believe it is all Flinders, and none of it the child's,' said Lady Merrifield, carefully avoiding a glance that could show her any gesture of dissent on the part of her sister, and only looking up for her brother's nod of approval. 'Besides, how foolish it would be to worry myself when I have two such protectors! It was very good in you, Rotherwood, I only hope we shall take good care of your Fly, and that her mother will be satisfied about her.'
'She knew the little woman and I should have a lark together,' said he. 'The governess was safe out of reach, holiday-making, so I could have her all to myself. Victoria suggested her brother's, and we must go there before we have done, but business and the pantomime by good luck took us to London first. So when I wrote to you from the bank, I also let her know that I was obliged to take the little woman down here first. I couldn't take her to High Court till Louise is available again.'
'So much the better, I'm sure.'
'And what I was going to say is, that Rotherwood has been startlingly munificent and splendid,' said Aunt Jane. 'We shall have a set of new surprises.'
'I don't in the least know what I brought. I only told each of them to put up such a box as they sent out for Christmas concerns. Do precisely what you please with them.'
'Come and see, Lily, for I think there will be enough to reserve a fresh lot of things for Miss Hacket's affair. By-the-by, Regie, did you say it rained at Darminster?'
'Poured all the way down.'
'Well, we had it quite fine.'
'Was it fine here?'
'Yes, certainly,' said Lady Merrifield,' or Primrose would not have gone out. Take care of Rotherwood, Regie. You know his room.'
And the two sisters crossed the hall, where the 'very high tea' was being laid; hearing from the regions above sounds of exquisite glee and merriment, as perfect and almost as inexpressive of anything else as the singing of birds, so that they themselves could not help answering with a laugh, before they vanished into the chamber of mystery.
Indeed, Phyllis's conversation was like a fairy tale. Her brother's illness, which was not enough to damp any one's spirits, had prevented or hindered a grand children's party as the Butterfly's Ball, where she was to have been the Butterfly, and Lord Ivinghoe the Grasshopper, and all the children were to appear as one of the characters in Roscoe's pretty poem. Never was anything more delightful to the imagination of the little cousins, and they could not marvel enough at her seeming so little uneasy about anything so charming, and quite ready and eager to throw herself headlong into all their present enjoyments, making wonderful surmises as to the mystery in preparation.
Dolores heard the laughing, and it did not suit with her vaguely uneasy and injured frame of mind; feeling dreadfully lonely too, as she came downstairs, dressed for the evening, but not knowing where to go, for the dining-room was engrossed, the schoolroom was dark and the fire out, the drawing-room occupied by the two gentlemen. She crouched down in one of the big arm-chairs on either side of the hearth in the hall, and began to read by the firelight. Presently Jasper came in from his ride, and began taking off his greatcoat, leggings, and boots, whistling as he did so, then, perceiving the tempting object of a black leg sticking out of the chair, he stole up across the soft carpet, and caught hold of the ankle. He received a vigorous kick in return (which perhaps he expected) but what he did not expect was the black figure that rose up in outraged dignity and indignation. 'For shame! I won't be insulted!'
'Whew! I thought 'twas Val! I beg your pardon.'
'I shall ask my aunt if I am to be insulted.'
'Well, if you choose to take it in that way--A man can't do more than beg pardon! I'm sure I would never have presumed to touch you if I had known it was your Dolorousness.'
And he turned to walk away, just as the babbling ripple of laughter began to flow downstairs, and a whole mass of little girls intertwined together was descending. 'I always hop,' said a voice new to him, 'except on the great staircase, and mother doesn't like it there. But this is such a jolly stair. Can't you hop?'
Hopping in a threefold embrace on a slippery stair was hardly a safe pastime, and before Jasper had time to utter more than' Holloa there! take care!' there descended suddenly on him an avalanche of little girls, 'knocking him off his feet, so that all promiscuously rolled down two or three steps together. Fergus and Primrose, who had somehow been holding on behind,' remained upright, but nevertheless screaming. The shrieks of the fallen were, however, laughter. There was a soft rug below, and by the time the gentlemen had rushed out of the dining-room, and the ladies from the curtained recess, giggling below and legs above were chiefly apparent.
'Any one hurt?' was of course Lady Merrifield's cry.
'Oh no, mamma. Only we are so mixed up we can't get up,' called out Mysie.
'Is this arm you or me?' exclaimed Phyllis, following up the joke.
'Come, sort yourselves, ladies and gentlemen,' said Lord Rotherwood. 'What's this, a Fly's wing?'
'No, it's mine,' cried Val, as his hand pulled her out, and the others extricated themselves, still laughing, go that they could hardly stand, and Fly declaring, 'Oh, daddy, daddy, it is such fun! I am so glad we came,' and taking a gratuitous leap into the air.
'Every one to her taste,' said Lady Merrifield, 'I congratulate those to whom a compound tumble-down-stairs is felicity.'
'She has found her congenial element, you see,' said her father, as the elders proceeded upstairs to their toilette.' 'Tis laughing-gas with her to be with other children, and the most laughingest of all are naturally yours, old Lily.'
Meanwhile Jasper, risen on his stocking soles, looked all over at the little figure, dressed old picture fashion, in the simplest white frock with blue sash, and short-cut hair tied back with blue.
'Well, you are a jolly little girl,' he said, 'and a cool customer, too! What do you mean by knocking a fellow over the first time you see him?'
'And what do you mean by coming like a great--huge--big elephant in our way to stop up the stairs?' demanded Fly, in return.
'Do you mean to insinivate that 'twas I that made you fall?' said Jasper--'I, that was quietly walking up the stairs, when down there came on me a shower--not cats and dogs, but worserer, far worserer! Why, I'm kilt! my nose is flat as a pancake, I shan't recover my beauty all the evening for the great swells that are coming.'
'Jasper, Japs,' called his mother's warning voice, 'you must come up and dress, for tea is going in.'
He obeyed, rushing two steps at a time; but meeting, at the bottom of the attic flight, his sister Gillian, he demanded, 'Gill, what awfully jolly little girl have they got down there?'
'Why, Fly, of course, Lady Phyllis Devereux--'
'No, no, nothing swell, a comical little soul, with no nonsense about her, in a white thing.'
'Well, that's Phyllis. There's no one else there.'
'I say. Gill, 'tis like sunshine and clouds. She and the other, I mean. Why, I gave a little pull to a foot I saw in the armchair, thinking it belonged to Val, and out breaks my Lady of the Rueful Countenance, vowing she'll complain that I've insulted her; and as to the other, the whole lot of them tumbled over me together on the stairs, and she did nothing but laugh and chaff.'
'I hope she is not a romp,' said the staid Gillian, sagely, as she went downstairs.
But on that score she was soon satisfied. Phyllis Devereux was a thorough little lady, wild and merry as she was, and enchanted to be in the rare fairyland of child companionship. And that indeed she had, Mysie and Valetta, between whose ages she stood, hung to her inseparably, and Jasper was quite transformed from his grim superciliousness into her devoted knight. At tea-time there was a competition for the seats next to her, determined by Valetta's taking one side, in right of the birthday, and Jasper the other, because he secured it, and Mysie gave way to him because he was Japs, and she always did. While Dolores laid up a store of moralizings on the adulation paid to the little lady of title, and at the same time speculated what concatenation of circumstances could ever make her Lady Dolores Mohun. On the whole, it would be more likely that her father should gain a peerage by putting down a Fijian rebellion than that it should be discovered that his mother, Lady Emily, had been the true heiress of the marquessate, and even so, an uncomfortable number of people must be disposed of before it could come to him. She had one consolation, however, for Uncle Reginald, always kind to her, was particularly affectionate this evening, as if he would not have that little foolish Fly set up before her.
The tea and the tree both went off joyously. There is no need to describe the spectacle to folks who can count their Christmas-trees by the years of their life and the memorable part of this one was that much of the fruit that had been left hanging on it was now metamorphosed into something much more gorgeous--oranges had become eggs full of sugar-plums, gutta-percha monkeys grinned on the branches, golden flowers had sprung to life on the ends of the twigs, a lovely jewel-like lantern crowned the whole, and as to sweets, everybody- servants and all--had some delightful devices containing them, whether drum, bird, or bird's nest.
Before the distribution was over, it was observed that Aunt Jane and Uncle Reginald, also Harry, had vanished from the scene. There was a pause, during which such tapers as began to burn perilously low, were extinguished, an operation as delightful apparently as the fixing them. Presently a horn was heard, and a start or shudder of mysterious ecstasy pervaded the audience, as a tall figure came through the curtains, and announced:
'Ladies and gentlemen, I have the honour to inform you that a fresh discovery has been made in the secret chambers of the Pyramid of Chops, otherwise known as Te-Gun-Ter-ra. A mummy has been disinterred, which is about to be opened by the celebrated Egyptologist, Herr Professor Freudigfeldius, who has likewise discovered the means of making such a conjuration of the Sphynx that she will not only summon each of the present company by name, but will require of each of them to reply to a question. The penalty of a refusal is well known!'
Therewith the curtains were drawn back, and a scene was presented which made some of the spectators start. Behind was the semblance of a wall marked with the joints of large stones, and lighted (apparently) with two brass lamps. On the floor lay extended an enormous mummy, with the regulation canvas case, and huge flaps of ears, between which appeared a small, painted face, and below lay a long, gaily coloured scroll in hieroglyphics. Exalted stiffly in a seat placed on a seeming block of stone, was a figure, with elbows, as it were glued to its sides, and hands crossed, altogether stone-coloured and monumental, and with the true Sphynx head, surrounded with beetles, lizards, and other mystic creatures (very chocolate-coloured). And beside her stood the Herr Professor, in a red fez, long dark gown, and spectacles, a flowing beard concealing the rest of his face. How delightful to see such an Egyptologist! Even though one perfectly knew the family beard and fez; also that the gown was papa's old dressing-gown, captured for the theatrical wardrobe. And how grand to hear him speak, even though his broken English continually became more vernacular.
'Liebes Herrschaft,' he began, 'I would, nobles, gentry, and ladies say. You here see the embalmed rests of the celebrated monarch Nic-nac- ci-no. Lately up have I them graben, and likewise his tutelar Sphynx have found, and have even to give signs of animation compelled.'
Touching the effigy with his wand, she emitted certain growls and hisses, which made Primrose hide her face in alarm at anything so uncanny, and Lord Rotherwood observe--
'Nearly related to the cat-goddess Pasht; I thought so.'
'There was something of the lion or cat in the Sphynx,' said Gillian, gravely, while the three little girls clasped each other's hands with delightful thrills of awe and expectation.
'Observe,' continued the Professor, 'the outer case with the features of the deceased is painted. I should conclude that King Nic-nac, etcetera, had been of a peculiarly jolly--I mean frolich--nature, judging by the grin on his face. We proceed--'
As he laid his hand on the wrapper, the Sphynx gave utterance to sounds so like the bad language of a cat that some looked round for one. The Professor waved at her, and she subsided. He turned back the covering, and demanded, 'Will the amiable Fraulein there. Mademoiselle Valetta, come and see what treasures she can discover in the secrets of the tomb?'
Val, who in right of her birthday, had expected the first call, jumped up, but the Sphynx made awful noises as she advanced, and the Professor explained that she would have to answer the Sphynx's question first.
'But I don't know Egyptian,' she observed.
'Never mind, it will sound like English.'
It did so, for it was, 'How many months old art thou, maiden?'
Val's arithmetic was slightly scared. She clasped her hand nervously, and was indebted to the Professor for the sotto voce hint, 'twelve nines,' before she uttered 'a hundred and eight.'
The Sphynx relapsed into stoniness, and the Herr Professor guided the hands, which trembled a little, to the interior of the mummy, whence they drew out a basket, labelled (wonderful to relate) 'Val,' and containing--oh! such treasures, a blue egg full of needlework implements, a new book, an Indian ivory case, a skipping-rope, a shuttlecock, and other delights past description. The exhibition of them was only beginning when the Professor called for Primrose, who was too much frightened to come alone, and therefore was permitted to be brought by Mrs. Halfpenny. The Sphynx was particularly amiable on this occasion, and only asked 'When Primroses came?' and as the little one, in her shy fright did not reply, nurse did so, with, 'Come, missie, can't you find a word to tell that mamma's Primrose came in spring.' This was allowed to pass, and Mrs. Halfpenny bore off her child, clutching a doll's cradle, stuffed with pretty things, and for herself a bundle wrapped up in a shawl from Sir Jasper himself.
After Primrose was gone to bed, the Sphynx became much more ill- tempered and demonstrative, snarling considerably at the approach of some of the party, some of whom replied with convulsive laughter, some, such as Jasper, with demonstrations of 'poking up the Sphynx.' She had a question for everybody--Fly was asked, 'Which was best, a tree or a Butterfly's ball?' and answered, with truthful politeness, that where Mysie and Val were was best of all. She carried off a collection that had hastily been made of Indian curiosities, photographs of her two friends, and a book; and her father, after being asked, 'What was the best of insects?' and replying, 'On the whole, I think it is my house- fly, even when she isn't a butterfly,' received a letter-weight of brass, fashioned like an enormous fly, which Lady Merrifield had snatched up from the table for the purpose. The maids giggled at the well-known conundrums proposed to them, and Dolores had a very easy question --' What was the weather this day week?'
'A horrid wet day,' she promptly answered, and found herself endowed with a parcel containing some of the best presents of all, bangles from the Indian box, a beautiful pair of stork-like scissors, a writing- case, etc.
'The Sphynx's invention is running low,' observed Jasper to Gillian, when the creature put the same question about last week's weather to Herbert, the page-boy, as a prelude to his discovering the treasures of the mummy, as a knife and an umbrella. His view of the weather was that it was 'A fine day ma'am! yes, a fine day.'
Macrae came last, and the Sphynx asked him which of the two contrary views was right.
'It was fine, ma'am, that I know. For I walked down with nurse, and little Miss Primrose into Silverton, to help to carry her in case she was tired, and we never had occasion to put up an umbrella.'
Wherewith Macrae received his combination of gifts and retired; the mummy being completely rifled, and the construction of the body, a frame of light, open wicker-work, revealed. Aunt Jane had had it made at the basketmaker's, while as to the head and covering, her own ingenious fingers had painted and fashioned them. Everybody had to look at everybody's presents, a lengthened operation, and then there was a splendid game at blindman's-buff in the hall, in which all the elders joined, except mamma, who had to go and sit in the nursery with the restless and excited Primrose while Mrs. Halfpenny and Lots went down to the servants' festivity.
When she came down again, it was to quiet the tempest of merriment, and send off the younger folks in succession to bed, till only the four elders and Hal remained on the scene, waiting till there was reason to think the household would be ready for prayers.
'It was Dolores that you saw at Darminster, Reginald,' said Miss Mohun, quietly.
'You Sphynx woman, how do you know?'
'You said it was raining at Darminster.'
'Yes, that it was, everywhere beyond the tunnel through the Darfield hills.'
'Exactly, I know they make a line in the rainfall. Well, here it was dry, but Dolores called it a wet day.'
'Now I call that too bad, Jane, to lay a trap for the poor child in the game,' cried Colonel Mohun, just as if they had still been boy and girl together.
'It was to satisfy my own mind,' she said, colouring a little. 'I didn't want any one to act on it. Indeed, I think there will be no occasion.'
'Besides,' he added, 'it is nothing to go upon! No doubt, if it wasn't raining, it was the next thing to it here, and bow was she to recollect at this distance of time? I won't have her caught out in that way!'
'I am glad she has a champion, Regie,' said Lady Merrifield. 'Here come the servants.'