Chapter XVIII. Mysie and Dolores.
 

Things were going on more quietly at Silverton. That is to say, there were no outward agitations, for the house was anything but quiet. Lady Merrifield had no great love for children's parties, where, as she said, they sat up too late, to eat and drink what was not good for them, and to get presents that they did not care about; and though at Dublin it had been necessary on her husband's account to give and take such civilities, she had kept out of the exchange at Silverton. But, on the other hand, there were festivals, and she promoted a full amount of special treats at home among themselves, or with only an outsider or two, and she endured any amount of noise, provided it was not quarrelsome, over-boisterous, or at unfit times.

There was the school tea, and magic-lantern, when Mr. Pollock acted as exhibitor, and Harry as spokesman, and worked them up gradually from grave and beautiful scenes like the cedars of Lebanon, the Parthenon and Colosseum, with full explanations, through dissolving views of cottage and bridge by day and night, summer and winter, of life-boat rescue, and the siege of Sevastopol, with shells flying, on to Jack and the Beanstalk and the New Tale of a Tub, the sea-serpent, and the nose- grinding! Lady Phyllis's ecstacy was surpassing, more especially as she found her beloved little maid-of-all-work, and was introduced to all that small person's younger brothers and sisters.

Here they met Miss Hacket, who was in charge of a class. She comported herself just as usual, and Gillian's dignity and displeasure gave way before her homely cordiality. Constance had not come, as indeed nothing but childhood, sympathy with responsibility for childhood, could make the darkness, stuffiness, and noise of the exhibition tolerable. Even Lady Merrifield trusted her flock to its two elders, and enjoyed a tete-a-tete evening with her brother, who profited by it to advise her strongly to send Dolores to their sister Jane before harm was done to her own children.

'I would not see that little Mysie of yours spoilt for all the world,' said he.

'Nor I; but I don't think it likely to happen.'

'Do you know that they are always after each other, chattering in their bedrooms at night. I hear them through the floor.'

'Only one night--Mysie told me all about it--I believe Mysie will do more for that poor child than any of us.'

Uncle Regie shrugged his shoulders a little.

'Yes, I know I was wrong before, when I wouldn't take Jane's warning; but that was not about one of my own, and, besides, poor Dolores is very much altered.'

'I'll tell you what, Lily, when any one, I don't care who, man, or woman, or child, once is given up to that sort of humbug and deceit, carrying it on a that girl, Dolores, had done, I would never trust again an inch beyond what I could see. It eats into the very marrow of the bones--everything is acting afterwards.'

'That would be saying no repentance was possible--that Jacob never could become Israel.'

'I only say I have never seen it.'

'Then I hope you will, nay, that you do. I believe your displeasure is the climax of all Dolly's troubles.'

But Colonel Reginald Mohun could not forgive the having been so entirely deceived where he had so fully trusted; and there was no shaking his opinion that Dolores was essentially deceitful and devoid of feeling and that the few demonstrations of emotion that were brought before him were only put on to excite the compassion of her weakly, good-natured aunt, so he only answered, 'You always were a soft one Lily.'

To which she only answered, 'We shall see knowing that in his present state of mind he would only set down the hopeful tokens that she perceived either to hypocrisy on the girl's side, or weakness on hers.

Dolores had indeed gone with the others rather because she could not bear remaining to see her uncle's altered looks than because she expected much pleasure. And she had the satisfaction of sitting by Mysie, and holding her hand, which had become a very great comfort in her forlorn state--so great that she forebore to hurt her cousin's feelings by discoursing of the dissolving views she had seen at a London party. Also she exacted a promise that this station should always be hers.

Mysie, on her side, was in some of the difficulties of a popular character, for Fly felt herself deserted, and attacked her on the first opportunity.

'What does make you always go after Dolly instead of me, Mysie? Do you like her so much better?'

'Oh no! but you have them all, and she has nobody.'

'Well, but she has been so horridly naughty, hasn't she?'

'I don't think she meant it.'

'One never does. At least, I'm sure I don't--and mamma always says it is nonsense to say that.'

'I'm not sure whether it is always,' said Mysie, thoughtfully, 'for sometimes one does worse than one knows. Once I made a mouse-trap of a beautiful large sheet of bluey paper, and it turned out to be an order come down to papa. Mamma and Alethea gummed it up as well as ever they could again, but all the officers had to know what had happened to it.'

'And were you punished?'

'I was not allowed to go into papa's room without one of the elder ones till after my next birthday, but that wasn't so bad as papa's being so vexed, and everybody knowing it; and Major Denny would talk about mice and mouse-traps every time he saw me till I quite hated my name.'

'And I'm sure you didn't mean to cut up an important paper.'

'No; but I did do a little wrong, for we had no leave to take anything not quite in the waste basket, and this had been blown off the table, and was on the floor outside. They didn't punish me so much I think because of that. Papa said it was partly his own fault for not securing it when he was called off. You see little wrongs that one knows turn out great wrongs that one would never think of, and that is so very dreadful, and makes me so very sorry for Dolores.'

'I didn't think you would like a cross, naughty girl like that more than your own Fly.'

'No, no! Fly, don't say that. I don't really like her half so well, you know, only if you would help me to be kind to her.'

'I am sure my mother wouldn't wish me to have anything to do with her. I don't think she would have let me come here if she had known what sort of girl she is.'

'But your papa knew when he left you--'

'Oh, papa! yes; but he can never see anything amiss in a Mohun; I heard her say so. And he wants me to be friends with you; dear, darling friends like him and your Uncle Claude, Mysie, so you must be, and not be always after that Dolores.'

'I want to be friends with both. One can have two friends.'

'No! no! no! not two best friends. And you are my best friend, Mysie, ever so much better than Alberta Fitzhugh, if only you'll come always to me this little time when I'm here, and sit by me instead of that Dolly.'

'I do love you very much, Fly.'

'And you'll sit by me at the penny reading to-night?'

'I promised Dolly. But she may sit on the other side.'

'No,' said Phyllis, with jealous perverseness. 'I don't care if that Dolly is to be on the other side, you'll talk to nobody but her! Now, Mysie, I had been writing to ask daddy to let you come home with me, you yourself, to the Butterfly's Ball, but if you won't sit by me, you may stay with your dear Dolores.'

'Oh, Fly! When you know I promised, and there is the other side.'

But Fly had been courted enough by all the cousinhood to have become exacting and displeased at having any rival to the honour of her hand-- so she pouted and said, 'I don't care about it, if you have her. I shall sit between Val and Jasper.'

One must be thirteen, with a dash of the sentiment of a budding friendship, to enter into all that 'sitting by' involves; and in Mysie's case, here was her compassionate promise standing not only between her and the avowed preference of one so charming as Fly, but possibly depriving her of the chances of the wonders of the Butterfly's Ball. No wonder that disconsolate tears came into her eyes as she uttered another pleading, 'Oh, Fly, how can you?'

'You must choose,' said the offended young lady; 'you can't have us both.'

To which argument she stuck, being offended as well as scandalized at being set aside for such a culprit as Dolores, whose misdemeanours and discourtesy were equally shocking to her imagination.

Mysie could confide her troubles to no one, for she was aware that caring about sitting together was treated by the elders as egregious folly; but a promise was a promise with her, and she held staunchly to her purpose, though between Dolores and Miss Vincent she lost all those delightful asides which enhanced the charms of the amusing parts of the penny reading and beguiled the duller ones--of which there were many, since it was more concert than penny reading, people being rather shy of committing themselves to reading--Hal, Mr. Pollock and the schoolmaster being the only volunteers in that line.

Gillian had, sorely against the grain, to play a duet with Constance Hacket. The two young ladies had met one another with freezing civility in the classroom, and to those who understood matters, the stiffness of their necks and shoulders, as they sat at the piano, spoke unutterable things. But there had never been any real liking between Constance and the younger Merrifields, and the mother did not trouble herself much about this, knowing that the vexation of the elder sister, about whom she did care, would pass off with friendly intercourse.

Fly's displeasure did not last long, for Mysie bad more attractions for her than any one else, and she was a good-humoured creature. There was a joyous Twelfth-Night, with home-made cake and home-characters, prepared by mamma and Gillian, and followed up by games, in which Dolores had a share, promoted by her aunt, who was very anxious to keep her from feeling set apart from every one; but this was difficult to manage, as she was so generally disliked, that even Gillian was only good-natured to her in accordance with her mother's desire that she should not be treated as 'out of the pale of humanity.' Mysie alone sought her out and brought her forward with any real earnestness, and good little Mysie had a somewhat difficult part to play between kindness to her and Fly's occasional little jealous tiffs and decided disapproval. Mysie never thought, however, about the situation or its difficulties, she simply followed the moment's call of kindness to Dolores, and, when it was possible, followed her own inclinations, and enjoyed Fly's lively society.

And Dolores was certainly softening and improving. A word to Mrs. Halfpenny had secured the two girls being permitted to say their prayers together in Dolores's room unmolested; and what was a reality to a contemporary became less and less to Dolores a mere lesson imposed by the authority of an elder. That link between religious instruction and daily life, which is all important, yet so difficult to find, was being gradually put into Dolores's hands by her little cousin-friend. Lady Merrifield hoped and guessed it might be thus, from the questions that Mysie asked her at times, and from the quickened attention Dolores showed to her religious lessons, and her less dull and indifferent air at church.

It could not be said that she was different with the others. She was depressed, and wanted spirits for enjoyment, nor would active romping diversions ever be pleasant to her. She had not the nature for them, and was not young enough to learn to like them. It could not but seem foolish to her to race about as a Croat or a savage, and she only beheld with wonder Gillian's genuine delight in games not merely entered into for the sake of the little ones. But there was a strong devotion growing up in her to her aunt and to Mysie, and what they asked of her she did--even when on a wet day her aunt condemned her to learn battledore and shuttle-cock of Gillian, who was equally to be pitied for the awkwardness of her pupil and the banter of her brothers, while Dolly picked up her shuttlecock and tossed it off with grim determination, as if doing penance for this dismal half hour. She managed better in the games where ready sharpness of intellect or memory was wanted, and she liked these, and would have liked them still better if Uncle Reginald had not always looked astonished if she laughed.

She did her part, too, in the little play, being one of the chorus of the maidens who 'make a vow to make a row.' Lady Merrifield had, according to the general request, saved disputes by casting the parts, Gillian being the sage old woman who brought the damsels to reason. Fly, the prime mover of the tumult, and Mysie, her confidante, while Val and Dolly made up the mob. A little manipulation of skirts, tennis-aprons, ribbons, and caps made very nice peasant costumes. Hal was the self-important Bailli, and Jasper the drummer, the part of gens-d'armes being all that Wilfred and Fergus could be trusted with.

Lord Rotherwood came back, and his little daughter's ecstacy was goodly to see, as she danced about her daddy, almost bursting with the secret of what he was to see after dinner, and showing herself so brilliantly well and happy that he congratulated himself upon her mother's satisfaction.

While the elders were at dinner, Gillian, with Miss Vincent's help, finished off the arrangements. There were no outsiders, except the Vicar and Mr. Pollock who had been asked to dinner, for Lady Merrifield said she never liked to make her children an exhibition.

'You are an old-fashioned Lily,' said her cousin, 'and happily not concerned with popularity. It is a fine thing to be able to consult one's children's absolute best.'

The performance went off beautifully--at least so thought both actors and spectators. The dignity of the Bailli and the meddling of the drummer were alike delightful; Fly was charmingly arch and mutinous; Mysie very straightforward; and the least successful personation was that of Gillian, who had a fit of stage-fright, forgot sentences, and whirred her spinning-wheel nervously, all the worse for being scolded by her brothers behind the scenes, and assured that she was making a mull of the whole affair. And she had been so spirited at the rehearsals, but she was at a self-conscious age, and could not forget the four spectators. Very little was required of Dolores, but that little she did simply and well, and Lord Rotherwood, after watching her all the evening, observed to Lady Merrifield, 'I should say your difficulties were diminishing, are they not? The thunder-cloud seems to be a little lightened.'

'I am so glad you think so, Rotherwood. I feel sure that all this distress has drawn her nearer to us, only Regie won't believe it.'

'Regie is prejudiced.'

'Is he? I thought him specially fond of Maurice's child, and that this was revulsion of feeling; but what I am afraid of is, that he will never believe in her or like her again, whatever she may be, and she is really fond of him.'

'Yes, Reginald is not over disposed to believe in any woman's truth-- outside his own family and sisters. Poor fellow! I can't say he was well used.'

'What? I suppose be has bad his romance like other people--his little episode, as my husband calls it.'

'Yes; and I am afraid we were accountable for it. You remember we were at Harthope Castle for the first two years after I was married, while Rotherwood was brought up to the requirements of the Victorian age.

The ---th was quartered at Harfield, within easy distance, and a splendid looking fellow like Regie was invaluable to Victoria, whenever she wanted anything to go off well. Well, in those days I had a ward, my mother's great niece, Maude Conway. A pretty winsome creature it was, and an heiress in a moderate sort of way, and poor old Redge, after all his little affairs, and he had had his share of them, was evidently in for it at last. Victoria thought, as well as myself, it was the best thing for them both. He was the sound-hearted, good fellow to keep her matters straight, and she had enough for comfort without overweighting the balance. So they were engaged but unluckily they had to wait till she was of age, about eight months off, and they were both ridiculously shy, and would not have the thing known, though Victoria said it was unwise. I don't think even Jane suspected it.'

'No; I don't think she could have done so.'

'Well, there was the season, and Victoria was not in condition for going out, and Maude was all for staying quietly with her; but old Lady Conway came about--a regular schemer--a woman I never could abide. She had married off her own daughters, and wanted her niece to practise on, that was the fact. Victoria says she always knew that she, Maude I mean, was very impressionable and impulsive, and so she wanted to have her out of harm's way; but one could not prevent her aunt from getting hold of her and taking her out. Then people told us of her goings on with that scamp Clanmacklosky and that sister of his. Victoria talked to her by the yard, but she denied it, and we thought it all gossip. Regie came up for a couple of nights, and she was as sweet on him as ever, and sent him away thinking it all right; but the end of it was, she fought off going down to Rotherwood with us, but went to Brighton with Lady Conway, and the next thing we heard was that she wrote to throw Reginald over, and she married Clanmacklosky a month after she was twenty-one! I don't think I ever saw Victoria so cut up, for we had really liked the girl and thought well of her. To this hour I believe it was all that woman's doing, and that poor Maude has supped sorrow. She has lost all her good looks.'

'And Regie has never got over it?'

'Not so as to believe in a woman again.'

'He used to be rather a joke for susceptibility, and was still a regular boy when we went out to Gibraltar. I thought him much graver.'

'Exactly; since that affair his soul has gone into his regiment. It's a wife to him, and luckily he got his promotion in time, so as not to be shelved.'

'I suppose it was really an escape.'

'I don't know--she would have done very well in his hands. She is the sort of woman to be as you make her, and even now is a world too good for Clan. Victoria can never be quite cordial with her, but I can't see the poor harassed thing without thinking what a sweet creature she once was, and wishing I'd had the sense to look after her better. But what I came here for, Lily, was to say you must let me have that Mysie of yours, since you won't come yourself to this concern of ours. I'm afraid you won't think much good has come of us, but we couldn't do the Country Mouse much harm in a fortnight; and you know it is the wish of my heart that my lonely Fly should grow up on such terms with your flock as Florence and I did with you all.'

He pleaded quite piteously, and he was backed up by a letter from his wife, very grateful for her little Phyllis's happy visit, reiterating the invitation to Lady Merrifield, and begging that if she still could not come herself, she would at least send Jasper and Mysie for the Butterfly's Ball. Mysie's fancy dress would be ready for her, only waiting for the final touches after it was tried on. Lady Florence Devereux, too, was near at hand, and wrote to promise to look after Mysie.

There was no refusing after this. Lady Florence was not far from being like a sister to her cousins. She had tended her mother's old age, and had subsequently settled down into the lady of all work of Rotherwood parish. Lady Merrifield had much confidence in her, and indeed all she saw of Fly gave her a great respect for Lady Rotherwood's management of her child. Harry was going to his uncle's at Beechcroft for some shooting, and would bring Mysie home when Jasper went back to school.

So Gillian was called to her mother's room to be told first of the arrangement, which certainly in some aspects was rather hard on her.

'I could not help it, my dear,' said Lady Merrifield, 'without absolutely asking for an invitation for you.'

'No, mamma; and it is Mysie who is Fly's friend, being the same age and all. It is quite right, and I understand it.'

'My dear, I am so glad I can do such a thing as this. If there were small jealousies among you, I could not venture on letting you be set aside, for I know the disappointment was quite as great to you as to Mysie, when we gave it up.'

'But she was better about it than I,' said Gillian; 'mamma, your trusting me in that way is better than a dozen balls. Besides, I know I should hate being there without you; I'm a great old thing, as Jasper says, neither fish nor fowl, you know, not come out, and not a little girl in the schoolroom, and it would be very horrid going to a grand place like that on one's own account.'

'That's right, Gillyflower. 'Tis very wholesome to discover the sourness of the grapes. And as I think grandmamma is really coming, I shall want you at home, and to look after Dolores.'

'That's the worst of it, mamma; I shall never get on with her as Mysie does.'

'We must do our best, for I do think really the poor child is improving.'

'Lessons will begin again! That's one comfort,' said Gillian, rather quaintly, thinking of the length of time that Dolores would thus be off her hands.

'And now call Mysie. I must speak to her.'

As for Mysie, she was in a state of rapture. She knew her bliss before her mother had communicated it, for Lord Rotherwood could not refrain from telling his daughter that consent was gained, and Fly darted headlong to embrace Mysie, dance round her and rejoice. The boys declared that Mysie at once sprang into the air like a chamois, and that her head touched the ceiling, but this is believed to be a figment of Jasper's.

It was only on the summons to her mother's room that Mysie discovered that Gillian was not going with her. It dimmed the lustre of her delight for a little while, 'Oh, Gill, aren't you very sorry? You ought to have had the first turn.'

'Never mind, Mysie, you are Fly's friend,'--and the two sisters' looks at one another at that moment were a real pleasure to their mother.

Mysie was of a less shy nature than Gillian, as well as at a less awkward age, so that the visiting without her mother was less formidable, and she rushed about wild with delight; but Dolores was very disconsolate.

'Every one I care for goes away and changes,' she said in her melancholy little sentiment.

'But it's only for a fortnight, Dolly, I don't think I could change so fast.'

'Oh yes, you will, among all those swells. You like Fly ever so much better than me.'

Mysie looked grieved and puzzled, but then exclaimed, in the tone of a discovery, 'There are different sorts of likings, Dolly, don't you see. I do love Fly very much, but you know you are like a sort of almost twin sister to me. I like her best, but I care about you most!'

With which curious distinction Dolores had to put up.