Chapter VI. Persecution
 

On Monday afternoon Dolores was sitting at the end of the long garden walk, upon a green garden-bench, with a crocodile's head and tail roughly carved. The shouts of the others were audible in the distance beyond the belt of trees. Aunt Lily had driven into the town to meet her sisters, taking Fergus with her, whereas Dolores had never been out in the carriage. There was partiality! Though, to be sure, Fergus was to have a tooth out! Harry and Gillian were playing with the rest, and she had been invited to join, but she had made answer that she hated romping, and on being assured that no romping was necessary, she replied that she only wanted to read in peace. She had refused the "Thorn Fortress,' which she was told would explain the game, and had hunted out "Clare, or No Home,' to compare her lot with that of the homeless one.

Certainly, she had not yet been sent to bed with a box on the ear because a countess had shown symptoms of noticing her more than her ugly, over-dressed cousin. But then Aunt Lily would not allow her to walk down alone to the Casement Villas to see dear Constance, and would let that farmer keep all those dreadful cows in the paddock, so that even going escorted was a terror to her.

Nor had her handsome mourning been taken from her and old clothes of her cousin substituted for it. No, but she had been cruelly pulled about between Mrs. Halfpenny and the Silverton dressmaker with a mouthful of pins; and Aunt Lily had insisted on her dress being trimmed with velvet, instead of the jingling jet she preferred.

Did they intercept her letters? She had had one from her father, sent from Falmouth, but only one from Maude Sefton in ten days! Moreover, she had one from Constance in her apron pocket, arrived that very afternoon, asking her to come down with Gillian on the Sundays, that the friends might enjoy themselves together while the classes were going on; but she made sure that all were so jealous of her friendship with Constance that no consent would be given.

She did not hear or notice the whisperings in the laurels behind her--

'Do you see that sulky old Croat, smoking his pipe under the tree?'

'No, he is a Black Brunswicker.'

'Nonsense, Willie; the Black Brunswickers weren't till Bonaparte's time.'

'I don't care, he is anything black and nasty; here goes!'

'Oh stop; don't shoot. I believe he is only a vivandiere. Besides, it's treacherous--'

'I tell you he is laying a train to blow up the tower. There!'

An arrow struck the bench beside Dolores, who, more angry than she had ever been in her life, snatched it up, unheeding that it had no point to speak of, rushed headlong in pursuit, while, with a tremendous shout, Valetta and Wilfred flew before her to a waste overgrown place at the end of the kitchen garden.

'We've shot a Croat!'

'No, a Black Brunswicker.'

'Oh ah! They are coming--the enemy! Into the fortress! Bar the wolf's passage!'

And as Dolores struggled through the bushes, she saw the whole family dashing into an outhouse, and the door slammed. She pushed against it, but an unearthly compound of howls, yells, shouts and bangs replied.

'Gillian! Harry, I say,' she cried in great anger; 'come out, I want to speak to you.'

But her voice was lost in the war-whoops within, and the louder she knocked, the louder grew the din, till she walked off, swelling with grief and indignation. Mysie, after all her professions of friendship, to use her in this way! And Harry and Gillian, who should have kept the others within bounds!

Slowly she crossed the lawn, just as Lady Merrifield, the other two aunts, and Fergus, all came out from the glass door of the drawing- room. Aunt Jane, a trim little dark-eyed woman, looking at two and forty much the same as she might have done at five and twenty; and Aunt Adeline, pretty and delicately fair, with somewhat of the same grace as Lady Merrifield, but more languor, and an air as if everything about her were for effect. Though not specially fond of theses aunts, Dolores was glad to have them as witnesses of her ill-usage.

'There stands Dolly, like a statue of Diana, dart in hand,' exclaimed Aunt Adeline.

'Yes,' said Dolores; 'I wish to know, Aunt Lilias, if Wilfred and Valetta are to call me names, and shoot arrows at me?'

'What do you mean, my dear?'

'They came at me while I was sitting quietly reading--there--and shot at me, and called me such horrid names I can't repeat them, and ran away. Then the others, Gillian and Harry and all, would not listen to me, but shut themselves up in an out-house and shouted at me.'

'I think there must be some mistake, Dolores,' said her aunt. 'Where are they?'

'Out beyond there,' said Dolores, pointing in the direction in which Fergus was running.

Lady Merrifield set off with her, and the other two ladies followed more slowly.

'I thought it would not do,' said Aunt Jane.

'Lily's children are so rough,' added Aunt Adeline.

'I am not so sure that the fault is theirs,' was the reply. 'She is a priggish little puss, who wants shaking up.'

'Ah! here come the hordes,' sighed Adeline, shrinking a little, as the entire population, summoned by Fergus, came pouring forth to meet the advancing mother.

'How is this, Wilfred? Have you been shooting arrows at your cousin?'

'Mama!' cried Valetta, indignantly, 'he did not shoot at her; he only pretended, and shot the old crocodile-bench. He never meant any more. It was only play.'

'Have you not been forbidden to shoot in the direction of any person?'

'Nor I didn't!' said Wilfred. 'I only shot the crocodile. I never tried to hit her. She is quite big enough to miss.'

'And she did look such a nice Croat, mamma,' added Valetta. 'We were scouts out of the Thorn Fortress, Willie and I, and it was such a jolly dodge to steal upon one of the enemy.'

'You should have warned her.'

Then it would not have been a surprise,' said Val, seriously.

'Was she not at play with you?'

'No, mamma,' said Mysie. 'We asked her, and she would not. I say,' pausing in consternation, 'Dolores, was it you that came and called at the door of the Wolf's passage?'

'Of course. I wanted to show Gillian how Wilfred behaved to me.'

I thought it was Fergus come home to be the enemy.'

'Didn't you know her voice?' asked the mother

'We were all making such a noise ourselves in the dark,' said Gillian, 'that there was no hearing any one; and Primrose was rather frightened, so that Hal was attending to her. Indeed, Dolores, I am very sorry. If we had guessed that it was you, we would have opened the door at once, and then you would have known that it was all fun and play, and not have troubled mamma about it.'

'Wilfred and Valetta knew,' said Dolores, rather sullenly.

'Oh! but it was such fun,' said Val.

'It was fun that became unkindness on your part,' said her mother. 'You ought not to have kept it up without warning to her. And what do I hear about names? I hope that was also misunderstanding of the game. What did you call her?'

'Only a Croat,' said Valetta, indignantly, 'and a Black Brunswicker.'

'Was that it, Dolores?'

'Perhaps,' she muttered, disconcerted by a laugh from her Aunt Jane.

'I do not know what you took them for,' said Lady Merrifield, 'but you see some part of this trouble arose from a mistake on you part. Now, Wilfred and Valetta, remember that is not right to force a person into play against her will. And as to the shooting near, but not at her, you both know perfectly well that it is forbidden. So give me your bow, Wilfred. I shall keep it for a week, that you may remember obedience.'

Wilfred looked sullen, but obeyed. Dolores could not call her aunt unjust, but as she look round, she met glances that made her think it prudent to shelter herself among the elders. Aunt Jane asked what the game was.

'The Thorn Fortress,' said Gillian. 'It comes out of that delightful S.P.C.K. book so called, where, in the 'Thirty Years' War,' all the people of a village took refuge from the soldiers in a field in the middle of a forest guarded by a tremendous hedge of thorns. Val had it for a birthday present, and the children have been acting it ever since.'

'It has quite put out the Desert Island passion, which used to be a regular stage in these children's lives. Every voyage we have taken, somebody has come to ask whether there was any hope of being wrecked on one.'

'Fergus even asked when we crossed from Dublin,' said Gillian.

'He was put up to that, to keep up the tradition,' observed Harry.

On reaching the house, the elders proceeded to five o'clock tea in the drawing-room, the juniors to gouter in the dining-room. As Dolores entered, she beheld a row of all her five younger cousins drawn up looking at her as if se had committed high treason, and she was instantly addressed--

'Tell-take tit!' began Valetta.

'Sneak!' cried Wilfred.

'I will call her Croat!' added Fergus.

'Worse than Croat! Bashi Bazouk!' exclaimed Valetta.

'Worse than Crow!' chimed in Primrose.

'Oh, Dolores! How could you?' said Mysie.

'To get poor Willie punished!' said Val.

Dolores stood her ground. 'It was time to speak when it came to shooting arrows at me.'

'Hush! hush! Willie,' cried Mysie. 'I told you so. Now Dolores, listen. Nobody ever tells of anybody when it is only being tiresome and they don't mean it, or there never would be any peace at all. That's honour! Do you see? One may go to Gill sometimes.'

'One's a sneak if one does,' put in Wilfred; but Mysie, unheeding went on--

'And Gill can help without a fuss or going to mamma.'

'Mamma always knows,' said Val.

'Mamma knows all about everything,' said Mysie. 'I think it's nature; ad if she does not always take notice at the time, she will have it out sooner or later.' Then resuming the thread of her discourse: 'So you see, Dolly, we have made up our minds that we will forgive you this time, because you are an only child and don't know what's what, and that's some excuse. Only you mustn't go on telling tales whenever an evident happens.'

Dolores thought it was she who ought to forgive, but the force against her was overpowering, though still she hesitated. 'But if I promise not to tell,' she said, 'how do I know what may be done to me?'

'You might trust us,' cried Mysie, with flashing eyes.

'And I can tell you,' added Wilfred, 'that if you do tell, it will be ever so much the worse for you--girl that you are.'

'War to the knife! Cried Valetta, and everybody except Mysie joined in the outcry. 'War to the knife with traitors in the camp.'

Mysie managed to produce a pause, and again acted orator. 'You see, Dolores, if you did tell, it would not be possible for mamma or Gill to be always looking after you, and I couldn't do you much good--and if all these three are set against you, and are horrid to you, and I couldn't do you much good--horrid to you, you'll have no peace in your life; and, after all, we only ask of you to give and take in a good- natured sort of way, and not to be always making a fuss about everything you don't like. It is the only way, I assure you.'

Dolores saw the fates were against her, and said--

'Very well.'

'You promise?'

'Yes.'

'Then we forgive you, and here's the box of chocolate things Aunt Ada brought. We'll have a cigar all round and be friends. Smoke the pipe of peace.'

Dolores afterwards thought how grand it would have been to have replied, 'Dolores Mohun will never be intimidated;' but the fact was that her spirit did quail at the thought of the tortures which the two boys might inflict on her if Mysie abandoned her to their mercy, and she was relieved, as well as surprised to find that her offence was condoned, and she was treated as if nothing had happened.

Meantime Aunt Jane was asking in the drawing-room, 'How do you get on?'

'Fairly well,' was Lady Merrifield's answer. 'We shall work together in time.'

'What does Gill say?' asked the aunt, rather mischievously.

'Well,' said the young lady, 'I don't think we get on at all, not even poor Mysie, who works steadily on at her, gets snubbed a dozen times a day, and never seems to feel it.'

I hoped her father would have sent her to school,' said Aunt Adeline. 'I knew she would be troublesome. She has all her mother's pride.'

'The proudest people are those who have least to be proud of,' said Aunt Jane.

'School would have hardened the crust and kept up the alienation,' said Lady Merrifield.

'Perhaps not. It might teach her to value the holidays, and learn that blood is thicker than water,' said Miss Jane.

'It is always in reserve,' added Miss Adeline.

'Yes, Maurice told her to send her if I grew tired of her, as he said,' replied Lady Merrifield, 'but of course I should not think of that unless for very strong reasons.'

'Oh, mamma!' and Gillian remained with her mouth open.

'Well?' said Aunt Jane.

'I meant to have told you mamma, but Mr. Leadbitter came in about the G.F.S. and stopped me, and I have never seen you to speak to since. Yesterday you know, I stayed from evensong to look after the little ones, and you said Dolores might do as she pleased, so she stayed at home. The children were looking at the book of Bible Pictures, and it came out that Dolly knew nothing at all about Joshua and the walls of Jericho, nor Gideon and the lamps in the pitchers, nor anything else. Then, when I was surprised, she said that it was not the present system to perplex children with the myths of ancient Jewish history.'

Gillian was speaking rapidly, in the growing consciousness that her mother had rather have had this communication reserved for her private ear--and her answer was, 'Poor child!'

'Just what I should expect!' said Aunt Jane.

'Probably it was jargon half understood, and repeated in defence of her ignorance,' said Lady Merrifield. 'She is an odd mixture of defiant loyalty and self-defence.'

'What shall you do about this kind of talk?' asked her sister.

'One must hear it sooner or later,' said Harry.

'That is true,' returned his mother, 'but I suppose Fergus and Primrose did not hear or understand.'

'Oh no, mamma. I know they did not, for they were squabbling because Primrose wanted to turn over before Fergus had done with Gideon.'

'Then I don't think there is any harm done. If it comes before Mysie or Val I will talk to them, and I mean to take this poor child alone for a little while each day in the week and try to get at her.'

'There's another thing,' said Gillian. 'Is she to go down with me always to Casement Cottages on Sunday afternoons when I take the class?'

'To teach or to learn?' ironically exclaimed Aunt Jane.

'Neither,' said Gillian. 'To chatter to Constance Hacket. They both spoke to me about it yesterday before I went home, and I believe Constance has written a note to her to ask her today! Fancy, that goose told me my sweet cousin was a dear, and that we didn't appreciate her. Even Miss Hacket gave me quite a lecture on kindness and consideration to an orphan stranger.'

'Not uncalled for, perhaps,' said Aunt Jane. 'I hope you received it in an edifying manner.'

'Now, Aunt Jane! Well, I believe I said we were as kind as she would let us be, especially Mysie.'

Lady Merrifield here made the move to conduct her sisters to their rooms; Miss Mohun detained her when they had reached hers, and had left Adeline to rest on her sofa. The two, though very unlike, had still the habits of absolute confidential intimacy belonging to sisters next in age.

'Lily,' said Miss Mohun, 'Gillian spoke of a note. Did Maurice give you any directions about this child's correspondence?'

'You know I did not see him. I was so much disappointed. I would give anything to have talked her over with him.'

'I am not sure that you would have gained much. I doubt whether he knows much about her, poor fellow. But the letters?'

'He wrote that she had been a good deal with Professor Sefton's family, and he thought they might like to keep up their intercourse.'

'Nothing about Flinders? He ought to have warned you.'

'No. Who is he?'

'A half-brother--no, a step-brother to poor Mary. He was the son by a former marriage of her father's first wife, and has been always a thorn in their sides. He is a low, dissipated kind of creature; writes theatrical criticisms for third-rate papers, or something of that kind, when he is at his best. I believe Mary was really fond of him, and helped him more than Maurice could well bear, and since her death the man has perfectly pestered him with appeals to her memory. I really believe one reason he welcomed this post was to get out of his reach.'

'You always know everything Jenny. Now how did you know this?'

'I called once in the midst of an interview between him and Mary. And afterwards I came on poor Maurice when he was really very much provoked, and had it all out; ad since her death--well, I saw him get a begging letter from the man, and he spoke of it again. I wish I had advised him to warn you against the wretch.'

'I don't suppose he knows where the child is. He is no relation to her, you say?'

'None at all, happily. But on that occasion, when I was an uncomfortable third, Maurice was very angry that she should have been allowed to call him Uncle Alfred; and Mary screwed up her little mouth, and evidently rather liked the aggravation to Mohun pride.'

'Poor Maurice, so he had a skeleton! Well, I don't see how it can hurt us. The man probably knows nothing about us, and even if he could trace the girl, he must know that she can do nothing for him.'

'You had better keep an eye on her letters. He is quite capable of asking for the poor child's half sovereigns. I wish Maurice had given you authority.'

'Perhaps he spoke to her about it. At any rate, what he said of the Seftons is quite sufficient to imply that there is no sanction to any other correspondence.'

'That is true. Really, Lily, I believe you are the most likely person to do some good with her, though I don't think you know what you are in for. But Gillian does!'

'I believe it is very good for the children to have to exercise a little forbearance. In spite of all our knocking about the world, our family exclusiveness is pretty much what ours was in the old Beechcroft days--'

'When Rotherwood and Robert Mohun were out only outsiders and the Westons came on us like new revelations!'

'It is curious to look back on,' said Lady Merrifield. 'It seems to me that the system, or no system, on which we were brought up was rather passing away even then.'

'Specks we growed,' said Jane. 'What do you call the system?'

'Just that people thought it their own business to bring up their children themselves, and let the actual technical teaching depend upon opportunities, whereas now they get them taught, but let the bringing up take it chance.'

'People lived with their children then--yes, I see what you mean, Lily. Poor Eleanor, intending with all her might to be a mother to us, brought us up, as you call it, with all her powers; but public opinion would never have suffered us to get merely the odd sort of teaching that she could give us. It was regular, or course; but oh! do you remember the old atlas, with Germany divided into circles, and everything as it was before the Congress of Vienna?'

'You liked geography; I hated it.'

'Yes, I was young enough to come in for the elder boys' old school atlases, which had some sense in them. It seems to me that we had more the spirit of working for ourselves according to our individual tastes than people have now. We learnt, they are taught.'

'Well! and what did we learn?'

'As much as we could carry,' said Aunt Jane, laughing. 'Assimilate, if you like it better; and I doubt if people will turn out to have done more now. What becomes of all the German that is crammed down girl's throats, whether they have a turn for languages or not? Do they ever read a German book? Now you learnt it for love of Fouque and Max Piccolomini, and you have kept it up ever since.'

'Yes, by cramming it down my children's throats. But what I complain of, Jane, in the young folk that come across me is not over-knowledge, but want of knowledge--want of general culture. This Dolores, for instance, can do what she has been taught better than Mysie, some tings better than Gillian, but she has absolutely no interest in general knowledge, not even in the glaciers which she has seen; she does not know whether Homer wrote in Greek or Latin, considers "Marmion' a lesson, cannot tell a planet from a star, and neither knows nor cares anything about the two Napoleons. Now we seem to have breathed in such things. Why! I remember being made into Astyanax for a very unwilling Andromache (poor Eleanor) for caress, and being told to shudder at the bright copper coal-scuttle, before Harry went to school.'

'Of course poor Maurice could not cultivate his child. Yet, after all, we grew up without a mother; but then the dear old Baron lived among us, and knew what we were doing, instead of shutting us up in a schoolroom with some one, with only knowledge, not culture. Those very late dinners have quite upset all the intelligent intercourse between fathers and children not come out.'

'Yes, Jasper and I have felt that difficulty. But after all, Jenny, when I look back, I cannot say I think ours was a model bringing up. What a strange year that was after Eleanor's marriage!'

'Ah! you felt responsible and were too young for it, but to me it was a very jolly time, though I suppose I was an ingredient in your troubles. Yes, we brought ourselves up; but I maintain that it was better alternative than being drilled so hard as never to think of anything but arrant idling out of lesson-time.'

'Lessons should be lessons, and play, play, is one of the professor's maxims to which that poor child has treated us.'

'Ah! on that system, where would have been all your grand heraldic pedigrees? I've got them still.'

'Oh! Jenny, you good old Brownie, have you? How I should like to look at them again and show them the Gillian and Mysie. Do you remember the little scalloped line we drew round all the true knights?'

'Ay! and where would have been all your romancing about Sir Maurice de Mohun, the pride of his name? For my part, I much prefer a cavalier dead two hundred years ago as the object of a girl's enthusiasm--if enthusiasm she must have--to the existing lieutenant, or even curate.'

'Certainly; I should be sorry to have been bred up to history with individual interest and romance squeezed out of it. You see when Jasper came home from the Crimea he exactly continued mine.'

'You have fulfilled your ideal better than falls to the lot of most people, even to the item of knighthood.'

'Ah! you should have heard us grumble over the expense of it. And, after all, I dare say Sir Maurice found his knight's fee quite as inconvenient! Oh!' with a start, 'there's the first bell, and here have I been dawdling here instead of minding my business! But it is so nice to have you! I day, Jenny, we will have one of our good old games at threadpaper verses and all the rest tonight. I want you to show the children how we used to play at them.'

And the party played at paper games for nearly two hours that evening, to the extreme delight of Gillian, Mysie, and Harry, to say nothing of their mother and aunts, who played with all their might, even Aunt Adeline lighting up into droll, quiet humour. Only Dolores was first bewildered, then believed herself affronted, and soon gave up altogether, wondering that grown-up people could be so foolish.