The Two Sides of the Shield by Charlotte M. Yonge
Chapter VII. G.F.S.
The first thought of Dolores was that she should see Constance Hacket, when she heard 'Hurrah for a holiday!' resounding over the house.
As she came out of her room Mysie met her. 'Hurrah! Aunt Jane has got us a holiday that we may help get ready for the G.F.S.! Mamma has sent down notes to Miss Vincent and Mr. Pollock. Oh! jolly, jolly!'
And, obvious of past offences, Mysie caught her cousin's arms, and whirled her round and round in an exulting dance, extremely unpleasant to so quiet a personage. 'Don't!' she cried. 'You hurt! You make me dizzy!'
'My certie, Miss Mysie!' exclaimed Mrs. Halfpenny at the same time, 'ye're daft! Gae doon canny, and keep your apron on, for if I see a stain on that clean dress--'
Mysie hopped downstairs without waiting to hear the terrible consequences.'
Aunt Adeline did not come down to breakfast, but Aunt Jane appeared, fresh and glowing, just in time for prayers, having been with Gillian and Harry to survey the scene of operations, and to judge of the day, which threatened showers, the grass being dank and sparkling with something more than September dews.
'The tables must be in the coach-house,' said Lady Merrifield. 'Happily, our equipages are not on a large scale, and we must not get the poor girls' best things drenched.'
'No; and it is rather disheartening to have to address double ranks of umbrellas,' said Aunt Jane. 'Is the post come?'
'It is always infamously late here,' said Harry. 'We complained, as the appointed hour is eight, but we were told 'all the other ladies were satisfied.' I do believe they think no one not in business has a right to wish for letters before nine.'
'Here it comes, though,' said Gillian; and in due time the locked letter-bag was delivered to Lady Merrifield, and Primrose waited eagerly to act as postman.
It was not the day for the Indian mail, but Aunt Jane expected some last directions, and Lady Merrifield the final intelligence as to the numbers of each contingent of girls. Dolores was on the qui vive for a letter from Maude Sefton, and devoured her aunt and the bag with her eyes. She was quite sure that among the bundle of post-cards that were taken out there was a letter. Also she saw her aunt give a little start, and put it aside, and when she demanded. 'Is there no letter for me?' Lady Merrifield's answer was,' None, my dear, from Miss Sefton.'
Hot indignation glowed in Dolores's cheeks and eyes, more especially as she perceived a look pass between the two aunts. She sat swelling while talk about the chances of rain was passing round her, the forecasts in the paper, the cats washing their faces, the swallows flying low, the upshot being that it might be fine, but that emergencies were to be prepared for. All the time that Lady Merrifield was giving orders to children and servants for the preparations, Dolores kept her station, and the instant there was a vacant moment, she said fiercely--
'Aunt Lilias, I know there is a letter for me. Let me have it.'
'Your father told me you might have letter from Miss Sefton, and there is none from her,' said Lady Merrifield, with a somewhat perplexed air.
'I may have letters from whom I choose.'
'My dear, that is not the custom in general with girls of your age, and I know your father would not wish it. Tell me, is there any one you have reason to expect to hear from?'
Dolores had an instinct that all the Mohuns were set against the person she was thinking of, but she had an answer ready, true, but which would serve her purpose.
'There was a person, Herr Muhlwausser, that father ordered some scientific plates from--of microscopic zoophytes. He said he did not know whether anything would come of it, but, in case it should, he gave my address, and left me a cheque to pay him with. I have it in my desk upstairs.'
'Very well, my dear,' said Lady Merrifield, 'you shall have the letter when it comes.'
'The men are come, my lady, to put up the tables. Miss Mohun says will you come down?' came the information at that moment, sweeping away Aunt Lilias and everybody else into the whirl of preparation; while Dolores remained, feeling absolutely certain that a letter was being withheld from her, and she stood on the garden steps burning with hot indignation, when Mysie, armed with the key of the linen-press, flashed past her breathlessly, exclaiming--
'Aren't you coming down, Dolly? 'Tis such fun! I'm come for some table-cloths.'
This didn't stir Dolores, but presently Mysie returned again, followed by Mrs. Halfpenny, grumbling that 'A' the bonnie napery that she had packed and carried sae mony miles by sea and land should be waured on a wheen silly feckless taupies that 'tis the leddies' wull to cocker up till not a lass of 'em will do a stroke of wark, nor gie a ceevil answer to her elders.'
Mysie, with a bundle of damask cloths under her arm, paused to repeat, 'Are you not coming Dolly? Your dear Miss Constance is there looking for you?'
This did move Dolores, and she followed to the coach-house, where everybody was buzzing about like bees, the tables and forms being arranged, and upon them dishes with piles of fruit and cakes, contributions from other associates. All the vases, great and small, were brought out, and raids were made on the flower garden to fill them. Little scarlet flags, with the name of each parish in white, were placed to direct the parties of guests to their places, and Harry, Macrae, and the little groom were adorning the beams with festoons. The men from the coffee-tavern supplied the essentials, but the ladies undertook the decoration, and Aunt Adeline, in a basket-chair, with her feet on a box, directed the ornamentation with great taste and ability. Constance Hacket had been told off to make up a little bouquet to lay beside each plate, and Dolores volunteered to help her.
'Well, dearest, will you come to me on Sunday?'
'I don't know. I have not been able to ask Aunt Lilias yet, and Gillian was very cross about it.'
'What did she say?'
'She said she did not think Aunt Lilias approved of visiting and gossiping on Sunday.'
'Oh! now. What does Gillian do herself?' said Constance in a hurt voice. 'She does come and teach, certainly, but she stays ever so long talking after the class is over. Why should we gossip more than she does?'
'Yes; but people's own children can do no wrong.'
There Constance became inattentive. Mr. Poulter had come up, and wanted to be useful, so she jumped up with a handful of nosegays to instruct him in laying them by each plate, leaving Dolores to herself, which she found dull. The other two, however, came back again, and the work continued, but the talk was entirely between the gentleman and lady, chiefly about music for the choral society, and the voices of the singers, about which Dolores neither knew nor cared.
By one o'clock the long tables were a pretty sight, covered with piles of fruit and cakes, vases of flowers and little flags, establishments of teacups at intervals, and a bouquet and pretty card at every one of the plates.
Then came early dinner at the house, and such rest as could be had after it, till the pony-chaise, waggonette, and Mrs. Blackburne's carriage came to the door to convey to church all whom they could carry, the rest walking.
The church was a sea of neat round hats, mostly black, with a considerable proportion of feathers, tufts, and flowers. On their dark dresses were pinned rosettes of different-coloured ribbon, to show to which parish they belonged. There was a bright, short service, in which the clear, high voices of the multitudinous maidens quite overcame those of the choir boys, and then an address, respecting which Constance pronounced that 'Canon Fremont was always so sweet,' and Dolores assented, without in the least knowing what it had been about.
Constance, who had driven down, was to have kept guard, in the walk from church, over the white-rosed Silverton detachment; but another shower was impending, and Miss Hacket, declaring that Conny must not get wet, rushed up and packed her into the waggonette, where Dolores was climbing after, when at a touch from Gillian, Lady Merrifield looked round.
'Dolores,' she said, 'you forget that Miss Hacket walked to church.'
Dolores turned on the step, her face looking as black as thunder, and Miss Hacket protested that she was not tired, and could not leave her girls.
'Never mind the girls, I will look after them; I meant to walk. Don't stand on the step. Come down,' she added sharply, but not in time, for the horses gave a jerk, and, with a scream from Constance, down tumbled Dolores, or would have tumbled, but that she was caught between her aunt and Miss Hacket, who with one voice admonished her never to do that again, for there was nothing more dangerous. Indeed, there was more anger in Lady Merrifield's tone than her niece had yet heard, and as there was no making out that there was the least injury to the girl, she was forced to walk home, in spite of all Miss Hacket's protestations and refusals, which had nearly ended in her exposing herself to the same peril as Dolores, only that Lady Merrifield fairly pushed her in and shut the door on her. Nothing would have compensated to Dolores but that her Constance should have jumped out to accompany her and bewail her aunt's cruelty, but devotion did not reach to such an extent. Her aunt, however, said in a tone that might be either apology or reproof--
'My dear, I could not let poor Miss Hacket walk after all she has done and with all she has to do today.'
Dolores vouchsafed no answer, but Aunt Jane said--
'All which applies doubly to you, Lily.'
'Not a bit; I am not run about like all of you,' she answered, brightly. 'Besides, it is such fun! I feel like Whit Monday at Beechcroft! Don't you remember the pink and blue glazed calico banners crowned with summer snowballs? And the big drum? What a nice-looking set of girls! How pleasant to see rosy, English faces tidily got up! They were rosy enough in Ireland, but a great deal too picturesque. Now these are a sort of flower of maidenhood--'
'You are getting quite poetical, Lily.'
'It's the effect of walking in procession--there's something quite exhilarating in it; ay, and of having a bit of old Beechcroft about me. Do tell me who that lady is; I ought to know her, I'm sure! Oh, Miss Smith, good morning. How many girls have you brought? Oh! the crimson rosettes, are they? York and Lancaster?--indeed. I'm glad we have some shelter for them; I'm afraid there is another shower. Have you no umbrella, my dear? Come under mine.'
It was a fierce scud of hail, hitting rather than wetting, but Dolores had the satisfaction of declaring the edges of her dress to be damp and going off to change it, though Aunt Jane pinched the kilting and said the damp was imperceptible, and Wilfred muttered, 'Made of sugar, only not so sweet.'
In fact, she hoped that Constance, who had told of her hatred to these great functions and willingness to do anything to avoid them, would avail herself of the excuse; but though the young lady must have seen her go, she never attempted to follow; and Dolores, feeling her own room dull, came down again to find the drawing-room empty, and on the next gleam of sunshine, she decided on going to seek her friend.
What a hum and buzz pervaded the stable-yard! There was a coach-house with all its great doors open, and the rows of girls awakening from their first shy and hungry silence into laughter and talking. There were big urns and fountains steaming, active hands filling cups, all the cousins, all their congeners, and four or five clergymen acting as waiters, Aunt Adeline pouring out tea a the upper table for any associate who had time to swallow it, and Constance Hacket talking away to a sandy-haired curate, without so much as seeing her friend! Only Wilfred, at sight of his cousin again, getting up a violent mock cough, declaring that he thought she had gone to bed with congealed lungs or else Brown Titus, as the old women called it. His mother, however, heard the cough--which, indeed, was too remarkable a sound not to attract any one--and with a short, sharp word to him to take care, she put Dolores down under Aunt Ada's wing, and provided her with a lovely peach and a delicious Bath bun. Constance just looked up and nodded, saying, 'You dear little thing, I couldn't think what was become of you,' and then went on with her sandy curate, about--what was it?-- Dolores know not, only that it seemed very interesting, and she was left out of it.
Down came the rain, a hopeless downpour, and there was a consultation among the elders, some laughing, some doubtful looks, and at last Harry, with Macrae and one of the curates, disappeared. Then grace was sung, and speeches followed--one by the rector, Mr. Leadbitter, fatherly and prosy;--a paper read by the Branch Secretary, about affairs in general; and a very amusing speech by Miss Mohun, full of anecdotes of example and warning. 'You know,' she said, 'all the school story-books end--when the grown up books marry their people-- with the good girl going out to service under her young lady, and there she lives happy ever after! But some of us know better! We don't know how far the marrying ones always do live very happy ever after--'
'For shame, Jenny!' muttered Lady Merrifield.
'But,' went on Miss Mohun, 'even you that have been lucky enough to get under your own young ladies know that life here is all new beginnings at the bottom, just as when you were very proud of yourselves for getting out of the infant school, you found it was only being at the bottom of the upper one; and I can tell the twelve-year-olds--I see some of them--that it is often a finer thing to be at the head of the school than the last in the house. Ay, you've got to work up there again, and it is a long business and a steady business, but it is to be done. I knew a girl, thirty-five years ago, that my sister-in-law took from school, and she was not a genius either, and I am quite sure she could not do rule-of-three, nor tell what is the capital of Dahomey, as I dare say every one here can do, but I'll tell you what she did, and that was, her best, and there she has been ever since; and the last time I saw her was sitting up in her housekeeper's room, in her silk gown, with her master's grandchildren hanging about her, respected and loved by us all. And I knew another, a much clever girl at school, with prettier ways to begin with, but--I'm sorry to say, her finger were too clever, and it was not very happy ever after, though she did right herself.' And then Aunt Jane went on to the difficulties of having to deal with such quantities of pots and pans, and knives and forks, and cloths and brushes, each with a use of its very own, just as if she had been a scullery-maid herself; telling how sense and memory must be brought to bear on these things just as much as in analyzing a sentence, and how even those would not do without the higher motive of faithfulness to Him whose servants we all are. Her finish was a picture of the roving servant girl, always saying, 'I don't like it,' and always seeking novelty, illustrated by her experience of a little maid who left one place because she could not sleep alone, and another because the little girl slept with her, a third because it was so lonesome, and a fourth because it was so noisy, and quitted her fifth within a half year because she could not eat twice cooked meat.
Aunt Jane varied her voice in the most comical way, and the girls, as well as all her audience, laughed heartily.
'Bravo, Jenny!' said a voice close to her, and a gentleman with a rather bald head, a fluffy, light beard touched with white, dancing eyes, and a slim, youthful figure, was seen standing in the group.
Lady Merrifield and her sisters cried with one glad voice, 'Oh! Rotherwood!' holding out their hands.
'Yes. I found I'd a few hours between the trains, so I ran down to look you up. I met Harry at the house, and he told me I should find Jane qualifying for the female parliament.'
'It's such a pity you should fall on all this turmoil,' said Aunt Ada.
'Pity! I wouldn't have missed Jenny's wisdom for the world. What is it, Lily? Temperance, or have you set up a Salvation Army?
'G.F.S., of course, you Rotherwood of old! And now you are come, you shall save me from what has been my bugbear for the last week. You shall give the premiums.'
'Come, it's no use making faces and pretending you know nothing about it,' added Miss Mohun. 'I know very well that Florence is deep in it!'
'Ay, they'll have you over to repeat that splendid harangue about pots and pans!' said he, bowing at Lady Merrifield's introductions of him to the bystanders, and obediently accepting the sheaf of envelopes, while Mr. Leadbitter made it known that the premiums would be given by the Marquess of Rotherwood. Certainly it was a much more lively business than if Lady Merrifield had performed it, for he had something droll to observe to each girl. One he pretended to envy, telling her he had worked hard for may a year, and never got such a card as that for it--far less five shillings. Another he was sure kept her pans bright, and always knew which was which; a very little one was asked if she had gone from her cradle, and so on, always sending them away with a broad smile, and professing great respect for the three seven-year- card maidens who came up last. Then in a concluding speech he demanded--where were the premiums for the mistresses, who, he was quite sure, deserved them quite as much or more than the maids!
While everybody was still laughing, Lady Merrifield asked Mr. Leadbitter to explain that as it was still raining hard, she must ask all to adjourn to the great loft over the stable, where they could enjoy themselves. Each associate was to gather her own flock and bring them in order. Lady Merrifield said she would lead the way, Lord Rotherwood coming with her, picking up little Primrose in his arms to carry her upstairs to the loft.
Every one was moving. Dolores was among a crowd of strangers. She heard them saying how delightful Lord Rotherwood was, and charming and handsome and graceful Lady Merrifield, with her beautiful eyes. It worried Dolores, who thought it rather foolish to be pretty, except in the case of persecuted orphan, and, moreover, admiration of her aunt always seemed to her disparagement of her mother. And where was Constance?
She followed the stream, and, climbing some stairs, came out into a large, long, empty hay-loft, over what had once been hunting stables-- the children's wet-day play-place. The deputation dispatched to the house had managed to get up there the schoolroom piano, and one of the curates sat down to it, and began playing dance music, while Miss Mohun, Miss Hacket, and the other ladies began arranging couples for a country dance--all girls, of course, except that Lord Rotherwood danced with the tiny premium girl, and Harry with Primrose. Wilfred and Fergus could not be incited to make the attempt; Mysie offered herself to Dolores, but in vain. 'I hate dancing,' was all the answer she got, and she went off to persuade Lois, the nursery girl. Constance Hacket arranged herself on a chair, and looked out from between two curates; there was no getting at her.
Then there came a pause; Lord Rotherwood spoke to Gillian, and must have asked her to point Dolores out, for presently he made his way to the little dark figure in the window, and, kindly laying his hand on her shoulder, asked whether she had heard from her father yet.
'No, I suppose you can't,' he added. 'It is a great break-up for you; but you are a lucky girl to be taken in here! It reminds me of what Beechcroft used to be to me when I was a stray fish, though not quite so lonely as you are. Make the most of it, for there aren't many in these days like Aunt Lily there!'
'He little knows,' thought Dolores, as a waltz began to be played.
'They want an example,' he said. 'Come along. You know how, I'm sure --a Londoner like you!'
Pairs were whirling about the floor in full career in a short time, to the astonishment of other maidens who had never seen dancing in their lives. Dolores, afraid to refuse, and certainly flattered, really was wonderfully exhilarated and brightened by her career wither good- natured cousin.
'I do believe Cousin Rotherwood has shaken her out of the dumps,' observed Gillian to Aunt Jane, who returned--
'He can do it if any one can.'
The funny thing was the effect upon Constance, who, in the next pause, shook off her curates, advanced to Dolores, who was recovering her breath under the window, called her a dear thing whom she had not been able to get to all this time, sat rather forward with an arm round her waist for the next half-hour, and, when Sir Roger de Coverley was getting up, proposed that they should be partners, but not till she had seen Lord Rotherwood pair himself off with Mysie.
'I must,' said he to Lady Merrifield, 'it's so like dancing with honest Phyl.'
'The greatest compliment you could have, Mysie,' said her mother, looking very much pleased.
The last yellow patches of evening sunshine on the sloping roof faded; watches were looked at, the music turned to the National Anthem, everybody stood up, or stood still, and sung it. Then at the close, Mr. Leadbitter stood by the piano and said--
'One word more, my young friends. Some of you may have been surprised at this evening's amusement, but we want you to understand that there is no harm in dancing itself, provided that the place, the manner, and the companions are fit. I hope that you will all prove the truth of my words, by not taking this pleasant evening as an excuse for running into places of temptation. Now, good night, with many thanks to Lady Merrifield for the happy day she has given us.'
A voice added, 'Three cheers for Lady Merrifield!' and the G.F.S. showed itself by no means backward in the matter of cheering. There was a hunting up of ulsters and umbrellas; one associate after another got her flock together, and clattered downstairs, either to get into vans, to walk to the station, or to disperse to their homes in the town.
Meantime Lord Rotherwood had time to explain that he was on his way to fetch his wife home from some German baths, where she had gone to recruit after the season; and, as he meant to cross at night, had come to spend a few hours with his cousin. There was still an hour to spare, during which Lady Merrifield insisted that he must have more solid food than G.F.S. provided.
'Lily,' said Miss Mohun, as the elders walked to the house together, 'it strikes me that Rotherwood could satisfy your mind about that letter. He would know the handwriting. You remember a certain brother--very much in law--of Maurice's?'
'I have reason to do so,' said Lord Rotherwood. 'You don't mean that he has been troubling Lily?'
'No; but from the nature of the animal it is much to be apprehended that he will,' said Miss Mohun, 'if he knows that the child is here.'
'In fact,' said Lady Merrifield, 'Jane has made me suppress, till examination, a letter to her, in case it should be from him. It is a horrid thing to do. What do you think, Rotherwood?'
'There should be no correspondence. Did not Maurice warn you? Then he ought. Look here, Lily. His wife--under strong compulsion from the fellow, I should think--begged me to find some employment for him. I got him a secretaryship to our Board of--what d'ye call it? I'll do Maurice the justice to say that he was considerably cool about it; but the end of it was that there was an unaccountable deficit, and my lady said it served me right. I was a fool, as I always am, and gave way to the poor woman about not bringing it home to him. And she insisted on making it up to me by degrees--out of her literary work, I fancy--for I don't think Maurice knew the extent of the peculation. Ever since I've been getting begging letters from the fellow at intervals. If he had the impertinence to molest you, Lily, simply refer him to me.'
'And if he writes to the child?'
'Return him the letter. Say she can have no such thing without her father's consent.'
'Is this a case in point?' said Lady Merrifield, producing the letter.
'No,' said he, holding it up in the waning light. 'I know the fellow's fist too well! This is a gentleman's hand.'
'What a relief!' said Lady Merrifield.
'Nay, don't be in a hurry,' said Miss Mohun. 'Don't give it to her unopened. Your only safety is in maintaining your right to see all the child's letters, except what her father specified.'
'Don't you wish it was you, Brownie?' asked her cousin.
'I hate it!' said Lady Merrifield; 'but I suppose I ought! However, there's no harm in this, that's a comfort; it is simply that the gentleman that the house is let to has found this note to her somewhere about, and thinks she would wish to have it. I think it is her mother's hand. How nice of him!'
'Now, Lily, don't go and be too apologetic,' said Jane. 'Assert your right, or you'll have it all over again.'
'Without Jenny to do prudence,' said Lord Rotherwood, while Lady Merrifield, hardly hearing either of them, hurried on in search of her niece, but they would have been satisfied if they could have heard her.
'My dear, here's your letter. I am so sorry to have been too much hindered to look at it before. You must not mind, Dolly. I know it is very disagreeable; but every one who has the care of precious articles like young ladies is bound to look after them.'
Dolores took the letter with a kind of acknowledgement, but no more, for its detention offended her, and she was aggrieved at the prospect of future inspection, as another cruel stroke inflicted upon her.
Aunt Adeline was found in the drawing-room, where she had entertained such ladies as were afraid of the damp, or who did not approve of the dancing, and would not look on at it. Thence all went off to a merry meal, where the elders plunged into old stories, and went on capping each others' recollections and making fun, to the extreme delight of the young folk, who had often been entertained with tales of Beechcroft. Aunt Ada declared that she had not laughed so much for ten years, and Aunt Jane declared that it was too bad to lower their dignity and be so absurd before all these young things.
'It's having four of the old set together!' said Lord Rotherwood; 'a chance one doesn't get every day. I wonder how soon Maurice and Phyllis will meet.'
'It depends on whether the Zenobia touches at Auckland before going to the Fijis,' said Lady Merrifield.
'There is at least a sort of neighbourhood between them,' said Miss Mohun, 'though it may be about as close as between us and Sicily.'
'She is looking out for Maurice,' said Aunt Ada. 'She wrote, only it was too late, to propose his bringing Dolores to be at least nearer to him.'
'Just like Phyllis!' ejaculated the marquess. 'You have one of your flock with something of her countenance, Lily.'
'I am so glad you see it, Rotherwood. It is what I am always trying to believe in, and I hope the likeness is a little within as well as without--but we poor creatures who have been tumbled about the world get sophisticated, and can't attain to the sweet, blundering freshness of "Honest Simplicity."'
'It is a plant that must be spontaneous--can't be grown to order.'
'His lordship's carriage at the door,' announced Macrae.
'Ah, well! Trains must be caught, I suppose. I'm glad you're settled here, Lilias. I feel as if a sort of reflex of old Beechcroft were attainable now.'
'I hope it won't be a G.F.S. day next time you come!'
'Oh, it was very jolly. I shall bring my child next time, if I can get her out of the clutches of the governesses for a day, but it is a hard matter. They look daggers at me if I put my head into the schoolroom.'
'You always were a dangerous element there, you know.'
'Poor dear Eleanor! What did I not make her go through! But she never went the length of one of my lady's governesses, who declared that she had as much call to interfere in my stable, as I had with her schoolroom.'
'What mischief were you doing there?'
'Well, if you must know, I was enlivening a very dry and Cromwellian abridgement with some of Lily's old cavalier anecdotes, so Lily was at the bottom of it, you see.'
'But did she fall on you then and there?'
'No, no. I trust my beard is too grey for that. But she looked at me with impressive dignity such as neither poor little Fly nor I could stand, and afterwards betook herself to Victoria, who, I am happy to say, sent her to the right about.'
'As I am about to do,' said Lady Merrifield; 'for if you don't miss your train, it will be by cruelty to animals. No, you've not got time to shake hands with all that rabble. Be off with you.'
'Ah! I shall tell Victoria that if she sees me tomorrow it's all owing to your unpitying punctuality,' said he, shaking himself into his overcoat.
'Dear old fellow!' said Lady Merrifield, as she turned from the front door, while he drove off. 'He is like a gust of old Beechcroft air! But I should think Victoria had a handful.'
'She knew what she was doing,' said Aunt Ada. 'I always thought she married him for the sake of breaking him in.'
'And very well she has done it, too,' returned Aunt Jane. 'Only now and then he gets a holiday, and then the real creature breaks out again. But it is much better so. He would not have been of half so much good otherwise.'
Lady Merrifield looked from one to the other, but said no more, for all the young folks were round her; but every one was so much tired, children, servants, and all, that prayers were read early, and all went to their rooms. Yet, tired as she was, Lady Merrifield sat on in her sister Jane's room, in her dressing-gown, talking according to another revival of olden time.
'What did Ada mean about Rotherwood? Isn't he happy?'
'Oh yes, very happy; and it is much the best thing that could have happened. It is only another of the proofs that life is very long, especially for men.'
'Come, now, tell me all about it. You don't know how often I feel as if I had been buried and dug up again.'
'There are things one can't write about. Poor fellow! he never really wanted to marry anybody but Phyllis.'
'No! you don't mean it! I never knew it.'
'No, for you were in the utmost parts of the earth; and he was very good, so that I don't believe honest Phyl herself, or any one without eyes, guessed it; but he had it all out with our father, who begged him, almost on that allegiance he had always shown, to abstain from beginning about it. You see, not only are they first cousins, but our mother and his father both were consumptive, and there was dear Claude even then regularly breaking down every winter, and Ada needing to be looked after like a hothouse plan. I'm sure, when I think of the last generation of Devereuxes, I wonder so many of us have been tough enough to weather the dangerous age; and there had been an alarm or two about Rotherwood himself. Well, he was very good, half from obedience, half from being convinced that it would be a selfish thing, and especially from being wholly convinced that Phyl's feelings were not stirred. That was the way I came to know about it, for papa took me out for a drive in the old gig to ask what I thought about her heart, and I could truly and honestly say she had never found it, cared for Rotherwood just as she did for Reggie, and was not the sort to think whether a man was attentive to her. Besides, she was eighteen, and he thirty-one, and she thought him venerable. I believe, if he had asked her then, she might have taken him (because Cousin Rotherwood wished it), but she would have had to fall in love in the second place instead of the first. Well, he was very good, poor old fellow, except that by way of taking himself off, and diverting his mind, he went dear-stalking with such unnecessary vehemence that a Scotch mist was very nearly the death of him, and he discovered that he had as many lungs as other people. If you could only have seen our dear old father then, how distressed and how guilty he felt, and how he used to watch Phyllis, and examine Alethea and me as to whether she seemed more than reasonably concerned for Rotherwood had come and hit the right nail on the head he might have carried her off.'
'But he didn't.'
'No; for, you see, he was ill enough to convince himself, as well as other people, that he was a consumptive Devereux after all.'
'Oh yes! I remember the shock with which I heard like a doom that he was going the way of the others; and hen he and the dear Claude came out in his yacht to us at Gibraltar, and were so bright! We had a wonderful little journey into Spain together, and how Jasper enjoyed it! Little did I think I was never to see Claude here again. But it was true, was it not, that all Rotherwood's care gave the dear fellow much more comfort--perhaps kept him longer?'
'I am sure it was so. Rotherwood soon got over his own attachment--the missing an English winter was all he needed; but he would hear of nothing but devoting himself to Claude. Papa and Claude were both uneasy at his going off from all his cares and duties, but I believe-- and Claude knew it--that he actually could not settle down quietly while Phyllis remained unmarried, and that having Claude to nurse and carry about from climate was the comfort of his life. Or, I believe, dear Claude would have been glad to have been left in peace to do what he could. Well, then Phyllis and Ada went to stay in the Close with Emily, and Ada wrote conscious letters and came home bridling and blushing about Captain May, so that we were quite prepared for his turning up at Beechcroft, but not at all for what I saw before he had been ten minutes in the house, that it was Phyllis that he meant, and had meant all along! Dear Harry! it almost made up for its not being Rotherwood. Well, poor Ada! It hadn't gone too deep, happily, and I opened her eyes in time to hinder any demonstration that could have left pain and shame--at least, I think so; but poor Ada has had too many little fits for one to have told much more than another. I believe Phyl did tell Harry that he meant Ada, but she let herself be convinced to the contrary; and the only objection I have to it is his having taken that appointment at Auckland, and carried her out of reach of any of us. However, it was better for Rotherwood, and when she was gone, and his occupation over with our dear Claude, his mother was always at him to let her see him married before she died. And so he let her have her way. No, don't look concerned. Lady Rotherwood is an excellent, good woman, just the wife for him, and he knows it, and does as she tells him most faithfully and gratefully. They are pattern-folk from top to toe, and so is the boy. But the girl! He would have his way, and named her Phyllis--Fly he calls her. She is a little skittish elf--Rotherwood himself all over; and doesn't he worship her! and doesn't he think it a holiday to carry her off to play pranks with! and isn't he happy to get amongst a good lot of us, and be his old self again!'