Chapter XX. Confessions of a Country Mouse.
 

Here were the travellers at home again, and Mysie clinging to her mother, with, 'Oh, Mamma!' and a look of perfect rest. They arrived at the same time as Dolores had come, so late that Mysie was tired out, and only half awake. She was consigned to Mrs. Halfpenny after her first kiss, but as she passed along the corridor, a door was thrown back, and a white figure sprang upon her. 'Oh, Mysie! Mysie!' and in spite of the nurse's chidings, held her fast in an embrace of delight. Dolores had been lying awake watching for her, and implored permission at least to look on while she was going to bed!

Harry meanwhile related his experiences to his mother and Gillian over the supper-table. The Butterfly's Ball had been a great success. He had never seen anything prettier in his life. Plants and lights had been judiciously disposed so as to make the hall a continuation of the conservatory, almost a fairy land, and the children in their costumes had been more like fairies than flesh and blood, pinafore and bread- and-butter beings. There was a most perfect tableau at the opening of the scenery constructed with moss and plants, so as to form a bower, where the Butterfly and Grasshopper, with their immediate attendants, welcomed their company, and afterwards formed the first quadrille, Lady Phyllis, with Mysie and two other little girls staying in the house, being the butterflies, and Lord Ivinghoe and three more boys of the same ages, the grasshoppers, in pages' dresses of suitable colours.

'I never thought,' said Harry, 'that our little brown mouse would come out so pretty or so swell.'

'She wanted to be the dormouse,' said Gillian.

'That was impracticable. They were all heath butterflies of different sorts, wings very correctly coloured and dresses to correspond. Phyllis the ringlet with the blue lining, Mysie, the blue one, little Lady Alberta, the orange-tip, and the other child the burnet moth.'

'How did Mysie dance?'

'Very fairly, if she had not looked so awfully serious. The dancing- mistress, French, of course, had trained them, it was more ballet than quadrille, and they looked uncommonly pretty. Uncle William granted that, though he grumbled at the whole concern as nonsense, and wondered you should send your nice little girl into it to have her head turned.'

'Do you think she was happy?'

'Oh, yes, of course. She always is, but she was in prodigious spirits when we started to come home. Lady Rotherwood said I was to tell you that no child could be more truthful and conscientious. Still somehow she did not look like the swells. Except that once, when she was got up regardless of expense for the ball, she always had the country mouse look about her. She hadn't--'

'The 'Jenny Say Caw,' as Macrae calls it?' said his mother. 'Well, I can endure that! You need not look so disgusted, Gill. You didn't hear of her getting into any scrape, did you?'

'No,' said Hal. 'Stay, I believe she did break some glass or other, and blurted out her confession in full assembly, but I was over at Beechcroft, and I am happy to say I didn't see her.'

Mysie's tap came early to her mother's door the next morning, and it was in the midst of her toilette that Lady Merrifield was called on to hear the confession that had been weighing on the little girl's mind.

'I was too sleepy to tell you last night, mamma, but I did want to do so.'

'Well, then, my dear, begin at the beginning, for I could not understand your letter.'

'The beginning was, mamma, that we had just come in from our walk, and we went out into the schoolroom balcony, because we could see round the corner who was coming up the drive. And we began playing at camps, with umbrellas up as tents. Ivinghoe, and Alberta, and I. Ivy was general, and I was the sentry, with my umbrella shut up, and over my shoulder. I was the only one who knew how to present arms. I heard something coming, and called out, 'Who goes there?' and Alberta jumped up in such a hurry that the points other tent--her umbrella, I mean-- scratched my face, and before I could recover arms, over went my umbrella, perpendicular, straight smash through the glass of the conservatory, and we heard it.'

'And what did you do? Of course you told!'

"Oh yes! I jumped up and said, 'I'll go and tell Lady Rotherwood.' I knew I must before I got into a fright, and Ivinghoe said I couldn't then, and he would speak to his mother and make it easy for me, and Ply says he really meant it; but I thought then that's the way the bad ones always get the others into concealments and lies. So I wouldn't listen a moment, and I ran down, with him after me, saying, 'Hear reason, Mysie.' And I ran full butt up against some-body--Lord Ormersfield it was, I found--but I didn't know then. I only said something about begging pardon, and dashed on, and opened the door. I saw a whole lot of fine people all at five-o'clock tea, but I couldn't stop to get more frightened, and I went up straight to Lady Rotherwood and said, 'Please, I did it.' Mamma do you think I ought not?"

'There are such things as fit places and times, my dear. What did she say?'

"At first she just said, 'My dear, I cannot attend to you now, run away;' but then in the midst, a thought seemed to strike her, and she said, rather frightened, 'Is any one hurt?' and I said, Oh no; only my umbrella has gone right through the roof of the conservatory, and I thought I ought to come and tell her directly. 'That was the noise,' said some of the people, and everybody got up and went to look. And there were Fly and Ivy, who had got in some other way, and the umbrella was sticking right upright in the top of one of those palm-trees with leaves like screens, and somebody said it was a new development of fruit. Lady Rotherwood asked them what they were doing there, and Ivy said they had come to see what harm was done. Dear Fly ran up to her and said, 'We were all at play together, mother; it was not one more than another;' but Lady Rotherwood only said, 'That's enough, Phyllis, I will come to you by-and-by in the schoolroom,' and she would have sent us away if Cousin Rotherwood himself had not come in just then, and asked what was the matter. I heard some of the answers; they were very odd, mamma. One was, 'A storm of umbrellas and of untimely confessions;' and another was, 'Truth in undress.'"

'Oh, my dear? I hope you were fit to be seen?'

'I forgot about that, mamma, I had taken off my ulster, and had my little scarlet flannel underbody, so as to make a better soldier.'

'Oh!' groaned Lady Merrifield.

'And then that dear, good Fly gave a jump and flew at him, and said, 'Oh, daddy, daddy, it's Mysie, and she has been telling the truth like-- like Frank, or Sir Thomas More, or George Washington, or anybody.' She really did say so, mamma.'

'I can quite believe it of her, Mysie! And how did Cousin Rotherwood respond?'

'He sat down upon one of the seats, and took Fly on one knee and me on the other, though we were big for it--just like papa, you know--and made us tell him all about it. Lady Rotherwood got the others out of the way somehow--I don't know how, for my back was that way, and I think Ivinghoe went after them, but there was some use in talking to Cousin Rotherwood; he has got some sense, and knows what one means, as if he was at the dear, nice playing age, and Ivinghoe was his stupid old father in a book.'

'Exactly,' said Lady Merrifield, delighted, and longing to laugh.

'But that was the worst of it,' said Mysie, sadly; 'he was so nice that I said all sorts of things I didn't mean or ought to have said. I told him I would pay for the glass if he would only wait till we had helped Dolores pay for those books that the cheque was for, because the man came alive again, after her wicked uncle said he was dead, and so somehow it all came out; how you made up to Miss Constance and couldn't come to the Butterfly's Ball for want of new dresses.'

'Oh, Mysie, you should not have said that! I thought you were to be trusted!'

'Yes, mamma, I know,' said Mysie, meekly. 'I recollected as soon as I had said it; and told him, and he kissed me and promised he would never tell anyone, and made Fly promise that she never would. But I have been so miserable about it ever since, mamma; I tried to write it in a letter, but I am afraid you didn't half understand.'

'I only saw that something was on your mind, my dear. Now that is all over, I do not so much mind Cousin Rotherwood's knowing, he has always been so like a brother; but I do hope both he and Fly will keep their word. I am more sorry for my little girl's telling than about his knowing.'

'And Ivinghoe said my running in that way on all the company was worse than breaking the glass or the palm-tree. Was it, mamma?'

'Well, you know, Mysie, there is a time for all things, and very likely it vexed Lady Rotherwood more to be invaded by such a little wild colt.'

'But not Cousin Rotherwood himself, mamma,' said Mysie, 'for he said I was quite right, and an honourable little fellow, just like old times. And so I told Ivy. And he said in such a way, 'Every one knew what his father was.' So I told him his father was ten thousand times nicer than ever he would be if be lived a hundred years, and I could not bear him if he talked in that wicked, disrespectful way, and Fly kissed me for it, mamma, and said her daddy was worth a hundred of such a prig as he was.'

'My dear, I am afraid neither you nor Fly showed your good manners.'

'It was only Ivinghoe, mamma, and I'm sure I don't care what he thinks, if he could talk of his father in that way. Isn't it what you call metallical--no--ironical?'

'Indeed, Mysie, I don't wonder it made you very angry, and I can't be sorry you showed your indignation.'

'But please, mamma, what ought I to have done about the glass?'

'I don't quite know; I think a very wise little girl might have gone to Cousin Florence's room and consulted her. It would have been better than making an explosion before so many people. Florence was kind to you, I hope.'

'Oh yes, mamma, it was almost like being at home in her room; and she has such a dear little house at the end of the park.'

A good deal more oozed out from Mysie to different auditors at different times. By her account everything was delightful, and yet mamma concluded that all had not absolutely fulfilled the paradisiacal expectation with which her country mouse had viewed Rotherwood from afar. Lady Rotherwood was very kind, and so was the governess, and Cousin Florence especially. Cousin Florence's house felt just like a bit of home. It really was the dearest little house--and fluffy cat and kittens, and the sweetest love birds. It was perfectly delicious when they drank tea there, but unluckily she was not allowed to go thither without the governess or Louise, as it was all across the park, and a bit of village.

And Fly? Oh, Fly was always dear and good and funny; but there was Alberta to be attended to, and other little girls sometimes, and it was not like having her here at home; nor was there any making a row in the galleries, nor playing at anything really jolly, though the great pillars in the hall seemed made for tying cords to make a spider's web. It was always company, except when Cousin Rotherwood called them into his den for a little fun. But he had gentlemen to entertain most of the time, and the only day that he could have taken them to see the farm and the pheasants, Lady Rotherwood said that Phyllis was a little hoarse and must not get a cold before the ball.

And as to the Butterfly's Ball itself? Imagination had depicted a splendid realization of the verses, and it was flat to find it merely a children's fancy ball, no acting at all, only dancing, and most of the children not attempting any characteristic dress, only with some insect attached to head or shoulder; nothing approaching to the fun of the rehearsal at Silverton, as indeed Fly had predicted. The only attempt at representation had cost Mysie more trouble than pleasure, for the training to dance together had been a difficult and wearisome business. Two of the grass-hoppers had been greatly displeased about it, and called it a beastly shame, words much shocking gentle Mysie from aristocratic lips. One of them had been as sulky, angry, and impracticable as possible, just like a log, and the other had consoled himself with all manner of tricks, especially upon the teacher and on Ivinghoe. He would skip like a real grasshopper, he made faces that set all laughing, he tripped Ivinghoe up, he uttered saucy speeches that Mysie considered too shocking to repeat, but which convulsed every one with laughter, Fly most especially, and her governess had punished her for it. 'She would not punish me,' said Mysie, 'though I know I was just as bad, and I think that was a shame!' At last the practising had to be carried on without the boys, and yet, when it came to the point, both the recusants behaved as well and danced as suitably as if they had submitted to the training like their sisters! And oh! the dressing, that was worse.

'I did not think I was so stupid,' said Mysie, 'but I heard Louise tell mademoiselle that I was trop bourgeoise, and mademoiselle answered that I was plutot petite paysanne, and would never have l'air de distinction.

'Abominable impertinence!' cried Gillian.

"They thought I did not understand,' said Mysie, 'and I knew it was fair to tell them, so I said, 'Mais non, car je suis la petite souris de compagne.'"

'Well done, Mysie!' cried her sister.

'They did jump, and Louise began apologizing in a perfect gabble, and mademoiselle said I had de l'esprit, but I am sure I did not mean it.'

'But how could they?' exclaimed Gillian. 'I'm sure Mysie looks like a lady, a gentleman's child--I mean as much as Fly or any one else.'

'I trust you all look like gentlewomen, and are such in refinement and manners, but there is an air, which comes partly of birth, partly of breeding, and that none of you, except, perhaps, Alethea, can boast of, and about which papa and I don't care one rush.'

'Has Fly got it, mamma?' said Valetta. 'She seemed like one of ourselves.'

'Oh, yes,' put in Dolores. 'It was what made me think her stuck up. I should have known her for a swell anywhere.'

'I'm sure Fly has no airs!' exclaimed Val, hotly, and Gillian was ready to second her; but Lady Merrifield explained. 'The absence of airs is one ingredient, Val, both in being ladylike, and in the distinction in which the maid justly perceived our Mouse to be deficient. Come, you foolish girls, don't look concerned. Nobody but the maid would have ever let Mysie perceive the difference.'

Mysie coloured and answered, 'I don't know; I saw the Fitzhughs look at me at first as if they did not think I belonged, and Ivinghoe was always so awfully polite that I thought he was laughing at me.'

'Ivinghoe must be horrid,' broke out Valetta.

'The Fitzhughs said they would knock it out of him at Eton,' returned Mysie. 'They got very nice after the first day, and said Fly and I were twice as jolly fellows as he was.'

It further appeared that Mysie had had plenty of partners at the ball, and on all occasions her full share of notice, the country neighbours welcoming her as her mother's daughter, but most of them saying she was far more like her Aunt Phyllis than her own mother. The dancing and excitement so late at night had, however, tired her overmuch, she had cramp all the remainder of the night, could eat no breakfast the next day, and was quite miserable.

'I should like to have cried for you, mamma' she said, 'but they were all quite used to it, and not a bit tired. However, Cousin Florence came in, and she was so kind. She took me to the little west room, and made me lie on the sofa, and read to me till I went to sleep, and I was all right after dinner and had a ride on Fly's old pony, Dormouse. She has the loveliest new one, all bay, with a black mane and tail, called Fairy, but Alberta had that. Oh it was so nice.'

Altogether Lady Merrifield was satisfied that her little girl had not been spoilt for home by her taste of dissipation, though she did not hear the further confidence to Dolores in the twilight by the schoolroom fire.

'Do you know, Dolly, though Fly is such a darling, and they all wanted to be kind as well as they knew how, I came to understand how horrid you must have felt when you came among the whole lot of us.'

'But you knew Fly already?'

'That made it better, but I don't like it. To feel one does not belong, and to be afraid to open a door for fear it should be somebody's room, and not quite to know who every one is. Oh, dear! it is enough to make anybody cross and stupid. Oh, I am so glad to be back again.'

'I'm sure I am glad you are,' and there was a little kissing match. 'You'll always come to my room, won't you? Do you know, when Constance came to luncheon, I only shook hands, I wouldn't try to kiss her. Was that unforgiving?'

'I am sure I couldn't,' said Mysie; 'did she try?'

'I don't think so; I don't think I ever could kiss her; for I never should have said what was not true without her, and that is what makes Uncle Reginald so angry still. He would not kiss me even when he went away. Oh, Mysie! that's worse than anything,' and Dolores's face contracted with tears very near at hand. 'I did always so love Uncle Regie, and he won't forgive me, and father will be just the same.'

'Poor dear, dear Dolly,' said Mysie, hugging her.

'But you know fathers always forgive, and we will try and make a little prayer about it, like the Prodigal Son's, you know.'

'I don't blow properly,' said Dolores.

'I think I can say him,' said Mysie, and the little girls sat with enfolded arms, while Mysie reverently went through the parable.

'But he had been very wicked indeed,' objected Dolores, 'what one calls dissipated. Isn't that making too much of such things as girls like us can do.'

'I don't know,' said Mysie, knitting her young brows; 'you see if we are as bad as ever we can be while we are at home, it is really and truly as bad in us ourselves as in shocking people that run away, because it shows we might have done anything if we had not been taken care of. And the poor son felt as if he could not be pardoned, which is just what you do feel.'

'Aunt Lily forgives me,' said Dolores, wistfully.

'And your father will, I'm sure,' said Mysie, 'though he is yet a great way off. And as to Uncle Regie, I do wish something would happen that you could tell the truth about. If you had only broken the palm-tree instead of me, and I didn't do right even about that! But if any mischief does happen, or accident, I promise you, Dolly, you shall have the telling of it, if you have had ever so little to do with it, and then mamma will write to Uncle Regie that you have proved yourself truthful.'

Dolores did not seem much consoled by this curious promise, and Mysie's childishness suddenly gave way to something deeper. 'I suppose,' she said, 'if one is true, people find it out and trust one.'

'People can't see into one,' said Dolly.

'Mamma says there is a bright side and a dark side from which to look at everybody and everything,' said Mysie.

'I know that,' said Dolores; 'I looked at the dark side of you all when I came here.'

'Some day,' said Mysie, 'your bright side will come round to Uncle Regie, as it has to us, you dear, dear old Dolly.'

'But do you know, Mysie,' whispered Dolores, in her embrace, 'there's something more dreadful that I'm very much afraid of. Do you know there hasn't been a letter from father since he was staying with Aunt Phyllis--not to me, nor Aunt Jane, nor anybody!'

'Well, he couldn't write when he was at sea, I mean there wasn't any post.'

'It would not take so long as this to get to Fiji; and besides. Uncle Regie telegraphed to ask about that dreadful cheque, and there hasn't been any answer at all.'

'Perhaps he is gone about sailing somewhere in the Pacific Ocean; I heard Uncle William saying so to Cousin Rotherwood.' He said, 'Maurice is not a fellow to resist a cruise.'

'Then they are thinking about it. They are anxious.'

'Not very,' said Mysie, 'for they think he is sure to be gone on a cruise. They said something about his going down like a carpenter into the deep sea.'

'Making deep-sea soundings, like Dr. Carpenter! A carpenter, indeed!' said Dolores, laughing for a moment. 'Oh! if it is that, I don't mind.'

The weight was lifted, but by-and-by, when the two girls said their prayers together, poor Dolores broke forth again, 'Oh, Mysie, Mysie, your papa has all--all of you, besides mamma, to pray that he may be kept safe, and my father has only me, only horrid me, to pray for him, and even I have never cared to do it really till just lately! Oh, poor, poor father! And suppose he should be drowned, and never, never have forgiven me!'

It was a trouble and misery that recurred night after night, though apparently it weighed much less during the day--and nobody but Mysie knew how much Dolores was suffering from it. Lady Merrifield was increasingly anxious as time went on, and still no mail brought letters from Mr. Mohun, but confidence based on his erratic habits, and the uncertainty of communication began to fail. And as she grieved more for the possible loss, she became more and more tender to her niece, and strange to say, in spite of the terror that gnawed so achingly every night, and of the ordeal that the Lent Assizes would bring, Dolores was happier and more peaceful than ever before at Silverton, and developed more of her bright side.

'I really think,' wrote Lady Merrifield to Miss Mohun, 'that she is growing more simple and child-like, poor little maid. She is apparently free from all our apprehensions about dear Maurice, and I would not inspire her with them for the world. Neither does she seem to dread the trial, as I do for her, nor to guess what cross- examination may be. Constance Hacket has been subpoenaed, and her sister expatiates on her nervousness. It is one comfort that Reginald must be there as a witness, so that it is not in the power of Irish disturbances to keep him from us! May we only be at ease about Maurice by that time!'