The Two Sides of the Shield by Charlotte M. Yonge
Chapter XXII. Nay.
'What a mull they have made of it!' were Mr. Maurice Mohun's first words when he found the compartment free for a tete-a-tete with his brother.
'All's well that ends well,' was the brief reply.
'Well, indeed! Mary would not have thought so.' To which the colonel had nothing to say.
'It serves me out,' his brother went on presently. 'I ought to have done something for that wretched fellow before I went, or, at any rate, have put Dolly on her guard; but I always shirked the very thought of him.'
'Nothing would have kept him out of harm's way.'
'It might have kept the child; but she must have been thicker with him than I ever knew. However I shall have her with me for the future, and in better hands.'
'You really mean to take her out?'
'That's what brought me home. She isn't happy; that is plain from her letters; and Jane does not know what to make of her, nor Lilias either.'
'When were your last letters dated?'
'The last week in September.'
'Early days,' muttered the colonel.
'I thought it an experiment, you know; but you said so much about Lily's girls being patterns, that I thought Jasper Merrifield might have made her more rational and less flighty, and all that sort of thing; but of course it was a very different tone from what the child was used to, and you couldn't tell what the young barbarians were out of sight.'
'So I began to think last winter; but I fancy you will find that she and Lily understand one another a good deal better than they did at first.'
'I thought she did not receive my intelligence as a deliverance. I am glad if she can carry away an affectionate remembrance, but I want to have her under my own eye.'
'I suppose that's all right,' was the half reluctant reply.
'There's Phyllis. She is full of good sense, with no nonsense about her or May, and her girls are downright charming.'
'Very likely; but I say, Maurice, you must not underrate Lilias. She has gone through a good deal with Dolores, and I believe she has been the making of her. You've had to leave the poor child a good deal to herself and Fraulein, and, as you see by this affair, she had some ways that made it hard for Lily to deal with her at first.'
Her father plainly did not like this. 'There was no harm in the poor child, but as I should have foreseen, there's always an atmosphere of sentiment and ritual and flummery about Lilias, totally different from what she was used to.'
Colonel Mohun had nearly said, 'So much the better,' but turned it into, 'I think you will change your opinion.'
Brothers and sisters, and cousins, whatever they may be to the external world, always remain relatively to each other pretty much as they knew one another when a single home held them all. The familiar Christian names seemed to revive the old ways, and it was amusing to see the somewhat grave and silent colonel treated by his elder brother as the dashing, heedless boy, needing to be looked after, while his sister Jane remained the ready helper and counsellor, and Lady Merrifield was still in his eyes the unpractical, fanciful Lily with an unfortunately suggestive rhyme to her name.
Perhaps it maintained him in this opinion, that when he had answered all questions about Captain and Mrs. Harry May, and had dilated on their pretty house in the suburbs of Auckland, his sisters expected him to tell of the work of the Church among the Maoris and Fijians. He laughed at them for thinking colonists troubled their heads about natives.
'I know Phyllis does. One of Harry May's brothers went out as a missionary.'
'Disenchanted and came home again when his wife came into a fortune.'
'Not a bit of it,' said Aunt Jane. 'I know him and all about him. He stayed till his health broke, and now he is one of the most useful men in the country. He is coming to speak for the S.P.G. at Rockquay, Lily; and you must come and meet him and his charming wife. They will tell you a very different story about Harry's doings.'
'Well,' allowed Mr. Mohun, 'there are apparitions of brown niggers done up as smart as twopence prancing about the house. Perfectly uninteresting, you know, the savage sophisticated out of his picturesqueness. I made a point of asking no questions, not knowing what I might be let in for.'
'Then you heard nothing of Mr. Ward, the Melanesian missionary, whom Phyllis keeps a room for when he comes to New Zealand to recruit.'
'The man who was convicted of murder on circumstantial evidence! Oh yes. I heard of him. I believe the labour-traffic agents heartily wish him at Portland still, he makes the natives so much too sharp.'
'Aye,' said the colonel, 'as long as Britons aren't slaves they have no objection to anything but the name for other people.'
'Wait till you get out there, Regie, and see what they all say about those lazy fellows--except, of course, ladies and parsons, and a few whom they've bitten, like May.'
'The few are on the Christian side, of course,' said Lady Merrifield, with irony in her tone.
Indeed, she was not at all sure that half this colonial prejudice was not assumed in order to tease her, just as in former times her brother would make game of her enthusiasms about school children; for he was altogether returned to his old self, his sister Jane, who had seen the most of him, testifying that the original Maurice had revived, as never in the course of his married life.
Dolores tried to forget or disbelieve the words she had heard about his having come to fetch her away, and said no word about them until they had been unmistakably repeated. Then she felt a sort of despair at the idea of being separated from her aunt and Mysie, for indeed they had penetrated to affections deeper than had ever been consciously stirred in her before. Yet she was old enough to shrink from allowing to her father that she preferred staying with them to going with him, and it was to her Aunt Jane that she had recourse. That lady, after returning from her expedition to bring her sister Adeline to Silverton, was surprised by a timid knock at the door, and Dolores's entrance.
'Oh, if you please, Aunt Jane, may I come in? I do so want to speak to you alone. Don't you think it is a sad pity that I should go away from the Cambridge examination? Could not you tell my father so?'
'You want to stay for the Cambridge examination,' said Aunt Jane, a little amused at the manner of touching on the subject, though sorry for the girl.
'I have been taking great pains under Miss Vincent, and it does seem a pity to miss it.'
'I don't think it will make much difference to you.'
'Oh, but I do want to be thoroughly well educated. I meant to go through them all, like Gillian and Mysie, and I am sure father must wish it too. I know he meant it when he went out last year.'
'Yes, he did,' said Miss Mohun. 'It was very unlucky that he did not get any of our later letters.'
'I have tried to tell him that it is all different now, but he does not seem to care,' said Dolores.
'He has quite made up his mind,' said her aunt.
'Has he quite?' said Dolores. 'I thought perhaps if you talked to him about the examination and the confirmation too--'
'But, Dolly, you are not going to a heathen country. Your confirmation will be as much attended to in New Zealand as here.'
'Oh, but I should be confirmed with Mysie, and Aunt Lily would read with me, and help me!'
'Yes, I see.'
'Do please tell him. Aunt Jane. He heeds what you say more than any one. Do tell him that the only hope of my being good is if I stay with Aunt Lily just these few years!'
'Ah, Dolly, that is what you really mean and care about--not the Cambridge business.'
'Of course it is. Please tell him, Aunt Jane--somehow I can't--that I was bad and foolish when I wrote all the letters he had; but now I know better, and--and--I don't want to vex him, but I shall be ever so much better a daughter to him if he will leave me with Aunt Lily, to learn some of her goodness'--and there were tears in her eyes, for these months had softened her greatly.
'My poor Dolly!' said Aunt Jane, much more tenderly than she generally spoke. 'I am very sorry for you. I do think Aunt Lily has been the making of you, and that it is very hard that you should have to be uprooted from her, just as you had learnt to value her, I will tell your father so; but honestly, I do not think it is likely to make him change his mind.'
Miss Mohun sought her brother out the next day, and told him that they had all been waiting in patience when thinking that his daughter's residence at Silverton was an unsuccessful experiment. The explosion she had predicted had come, and Dolores had been a different creature ever since, owing to Lady Merrifield's management of her in the crisis; and she added that the girl was most unwilling to leave her aunt, and that she herself thought it would be much better to leave her for a few years to the advantages of her present training, where her affections had been gained. Mr. Mohun could not see it in the same light. The intimacy with Constance Hacket was in his eyes a folly, consequent on his sister's passion for Sunday schools and charities; and Jane, being infected with the like ardour, he disregarded her explanations. The underhand correspondence could not have been carried on without great blindness and carelessness, or, at least, injudiciousness, on Lady Merrifield's part, and there was no denying that she had trusted to a sense of honour that was nonexistent. Nor did he appreciate Jane's argument that the conquest of the heart and will had thus been far more thoroughly gained than it would have been by constant thwarting and watching. It was hard to forgive such an exposure as had taken place, or to believe that it had not been brought about by unjustifiable errors, more especially as Lady Merrifield was the first to accuse herself of them. Moreover, he had become sensible of a strong natural yearning for the presence of his only child, and he had been so much struck with his sister Phyllis's family that he sincerely believed himself consulting the girl's best interests. He was by no means an irreligious or ungodly man, but he had always thought his sister Lilias more or less of an enthusiast, and he did not wish to see Dolores the same. Perhaps, indeed, the poor child's manifest clinging to her aunt and cousins made him all the more resolute to remove her before her affection should be entirely weaned from himself.
He made his headquarters at Silverton, and during the next two months modified his opinions so far as to confess to his sister Jane that Lilias was a much more sensible woman than he had believed her, and had her children well in hand. He even allowed that Dolores was improved, and owed much to her kindness; and when the first sting of the exposure was over, he could see that the treatment had been far from injudicious as regarded the girl's own character. He was even glad that warm love and friendship had grown up towards her aunt and cousins; but all this left his purpose unchanged; although, after the first, nothing was said about it, Dolores tried to forget it, and hoped that the sight of her going on well and peaceably would convince him of the inexpediency of disturbing her. She could not even mention it to Mysie, lest the dread should become a reality by being uttered. So no more passed on the subject till it became necessary to take her outfit in hand, and he also wished to take her to Beechcroft, that the old family home which he regarded with fresh tenderness might be impressed on her memory.
Then, though she never durst directly oppose the fate which he destined for her, she surprised him by a violent burst of tears and sobbing, and an entreaty that he would not take her away from Aunt Lily and Mysie a moment sooner than could be helped.
She clung to everything, even to the guinea-pigs, and she was the first in the Easter holidays to beg for the 'Thorn Fortress.' Indeed, Mysie was a little shocked at her grief, as disloyal and unfilial. 'One ought not to mind going anywhere with one's father,' she said; 'we all thought it a great honour for Phyllis and Alethea.'
'They are grown up!' said Dolores, 'and Aunt Lily does get into one so! Oh, don't say there's Aunt Phyllis. I hate the very name of her.'
'She must be nice,' said Mysie, 'Whenever the 'grown-ups' are pleased with me they say I am getting like her, as if it was the best thing one could be.'
'But I don't want Mysie old and grown up, I want my Mysie now, as you are!--And you'll forget and leave off writing, like Maude Sefton.'
'Never!' cried Mysie. 'Eight across the world you will always be my own twin cousin.'
The wishes of the girl were so far fulfilled that Lady Merrifield took her to London to provide her outfit, and Mysie accompanied them. A room and its dressing-room received the three at old Mrs. Merrifield's, and the two cousins thought their close quarters ineffably precious.
Mysie was introduced to Maude Sefton, who seemed entirely unconscious of her treachery to friendship. 'One had so little time, and couldn't always be writing,' she said, when Dolores reproached her; 'exercises were enough to tire out one's hand!'
They also drank tea with Lady Phyllis Devereux and her governess. Fly could not pour forth questions and reminiscences fast enough about all the beloved animals at Silverton, not forgetting the little G.F.S. nursemaid, for whom she had actually made an apron in her plain-work lessons. Moreover, she deemed Dolores's fate most enviable, to be going off with her father to strange countries, away from lessons, and masters, and towns. It would be almost as good as Leila on the island.
As to the Beechcroft visit, Mr. and Mrs. Mohun collected all the brothers and sisters in England there for a week, and still Mysie and Dolores were allowed to be together, squeezed into a corner of Lady Merrifield's room. It was high summer, bright and glowing, and so dry, and even the invalidish sisters, Lady Henry Gray and Miss Adeline Mohun could not object to the sitting out on the lawn, among the dragon- flies, as in days of yore.
Much of old thought and feeling was then and there taken up again, and it was on one of the last evenings of the visit that Mr. Mohun, walking up and down the alley with Lady Merrifield, said--
'Well, Lily, I think my determination to take Dolly away was hasty. I cannot leave her now, but if I had understood all that I see at present, I should have been both content and grateful to have her among your children. I am afraid I have been ungracious.'
'I never thought so, Maurice. It is quite right that she should be with you, and Phyllis will do every-thing for her much better than I.'
'Poor child! I believe she is very sorry to go,' said Mr. Mohun; 'but, at any rate, she will remember Silverton as, I hope, a lasting influence on her life.'
Dolores truly believed that so it would be, and that her aunt's guidance would be always looked back upon as the turning-point of her life.
'It is my own fault,' she said, as on the last night she clung tearfully to Lady Merrifield; 'if I had behaved better I might have gone on just like one of your own.'
'You will still be in my heart like one of my own, dear child,' said Lady Merrifield. 'We know the way in which we all can hold together as one; keep to that, and the distance apart will matter the less.'
And as they watched Dolores and her father driven away to the station the next morning, Jane Mohun laid her hand on her sister's arm and said, 'You thought you had made a great failure. Lily, but is not the other side of a failure often a success?'
By-and-by came letters from Dolores. She seemed after the first to have enjoyed her journey, for, as she wrote to Lady Merrifield, in a letter, very private, and all to her own self, 'Father was so very good and kind to me, I don't know how to tell you. It was as if a little bit of mother had got into him, and now I am here I think I shall like the Mays. Indeed, I am trying to remember your advice, and not beginning by hating everybody and thinking who they are not. Aunt Phyllis is very nice indeed, and sometimes her eyes and mouth get like Mysie's, and her voice is just exactly yours. Only she is plump and roundabout, not a dear, tall, graceful figure like my White Lily Aunt. Please don't call it nonsense, for indeed I mean it, and Aunt Phyllis does like your photograph so much. I have the whole group hung up in my room, and you over it, and I wish you all good morning every day, for I never, never, as long as I live, shall love anybody like you and Mysie.'