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- Two Little Women on a Holiday - 7/37 -
Mrs. Berry did not appear at the table, and evidently was not expected, as no place was set for her.
Mr. Forbes sat at the head, and two girls at either side. A grave- faced, important looking butler directed the service, and two footmen assisted. Everything was of the best, and wonderfully cooked and served, but Dolly and Dotty could scarcely eat for the novelty and interest of the scene.
"Come, come, Miss Fayre, eat your terrapin," counselled Mr. Forbes, "it is not so good cold."
"Oh, gracious, Uncle Jeff," exclaimed the volatile Alicia, "don't call those kids Miss! Call 'em Dotty and Dolly, do."
"Can't remember which is which," declared her uncle, looking at the two D's. "I can remember the last names, because the Fayre girl is fair, and the Rose girl is rosy. I shall call them Rosy and Fairy, I think."
"All right, Mr. Forbes," and Dolly smiled and dimpled at the pretty conceit.
"And you two must call me something less formal," he said. "Suppose you call me Uncle Forbes, as you are not really my nieces."
This seemed a fine plan and was readily adopted.
"And now," Mr. Forbes went on, "I don't mind confessing that I've no idea what to do with you girls. By way of entertainment, I mean."
"Oh, Uncle Jeff," said Bernice, "it's enough entertainment just to be here in New York for a week. Why, we will have all we can do to see the shops and the sights--I suppose we can go around sight-seeing?"
"Bless my soul, yes. Of course you can. Go where you like. Order the motors whenever you choose. Mrs. Berry will do all you want her to; just tell her your plans. All I ask is that I shan't be troubled with you during the day."
"Why, uncle," cried Alicia, "won't we see you at all in the daytime?"
"No. I am a very busy man. I cannot have my work interrupted by a pack of foolish chatterers."
"Whatever did you ask us for?" Alicia's round face wore a look of surprised inquiry.
"Never you mind, miss. I had a very good reason for asking you, but one doesn't always tell his reasons. However, I expect to see you every night at the dinner table, and for an hour or so afterward in the drawing room. The rest of the time you must amuse yourselves. Have you any friends in New York, any of you?"
"I have a few," said Dotty, as the inquiring glance turned in her direction.
"Invite them to the house when you choose," said Mr. Forbes, hospitably, if curtly.
"Oh, no, sir," said Dotty, quickly. "They wouldn't fit in."
Mr. Forbes chuckled. "You have a sense of the fitness of things, Miss Rosy. Why wouldn't they fit in?"
"Why, they're plain people. Not grand and elegant like you."
"Oho! So I'm grand and elegant, am I? And are you grand and elegant, too?"
Dotty considered. "Yes," she said, finally, "I am, while I'm here. I'm very adaptable, and while I'm in New York, I mean to be just as grand and elegant as the house itself."
Mr. Forbes burst into hearty laughter. "Good for you!" he cried. "When you're in Rome do as the Romans do. And you, Fairy of the golden curls. Are you going to be grand, also?"
"I can't," returned Dolly, simply. "I can only be myself, wherever I am. But I shall enjoy all the beautiful things as much as Dotty."
Again Mr. Forbes laughed. "You're a great pair," he said. "I'm glad I discovered you. And now, Bernice and Alicia, haven't you any young friends in town you'd like to invite to see you here? Remember the house is yours."
"Oh, Uncle Jeff," cried Alicia, "you are too good! Do you mean it? Can we do just as we like? Invite parties, and all that?"
"Yes, indeed. Why not? Have the best time possible, and see to it that those two little friends of yours have a good time, too."
"But won't you go with us anywhere?" asked Bernice; "I thought you'd take us to see places where we can't go alone."
"Bless my soul! Take a lot of chattering magpies sightseeing! No, not if I know it! Mrs. Berry will take you; and on a pinch, I might let my secretary accompany you, say to see the downtown big buildings or the bright lights at night."
"Oh, do you have a secretary?" asked Alicia. "What's he like?"
"Fenn? Oh, he's a good sort. Very dependable and really accommodating. He'll be of great help to you, I'm sure."
"What is your business, Mr. Forbes?" asked Dolly, who was much interested in this strange type of man. She had never seen any one like him, and he seemed to her a sort of fairy godfather, who waved his wand and gave them all sorts of wonderful gifts.
"I haven't any business, my dear. My occupation and amusement is collecting specimens for my collection. I am an entomologist and ornithologist, if you know what those big words mean."
"Yes, sir, I do." And Dolly smiled back at him. "Mayn't we see your collection?"
"I'm not sure about that, I don't show it to everybody. It is up on the fourth floor of this house, and no one is allowed up there unless accompanied by myself or Mr. Fenn. By the way, remember that, all of you. On no account go up to the fourth floor. Not that you'd be likely to, for you have no call above the second floor, where your rooms are. But this is a special command. The house is yours, as I said, but that means only this first floor and the one above it."
"Goodness me, Uncle Jeff!" said Alicia, "you needn't lay down the law so hard! We're not absolute babes, to be so strictly cautioned and forbidden! If you desire us not to go up the second flight of stairs, of course we won't."
"That's right, my dear, don't. But I do lay it down as a law, and it is the only law I shall impose on you. Except for that you can follow out your own sweet wills."
"But," said Dotty, her dark eyes brilliant with the excitement of the occasion, "I'm not always sure as to what is proper. I want to do just what is right. Is it correct for us to go about alone, in your big motor, with your chauffeur? Can we go to the art galleries and the shops alone?"
"Bless my soul! I don't know." The big man looked absolutely helpless. "Surely you must know such things yourselves. What do your mothers let you do at home? Oh, well, if you're uncertain, ask Mrs. Berry, she'll know. She's an all-round capable person, and she'll know all the unwritten laws about chaperonage and such things. Do as she bids you."
This was satisfactory, and Dotty began at once to make plans for the next day.
"Let's go to the Metropolitan Museum first," she said.
"All right," chimed in Alicia, "we'll go there in the morning, then. But to-morrow is Wednesday, and I want to go to a matinee in the afternoon. Can't we, Uncle Jeff?"
"Of course you can. Tell Fenn, he'll see about tickets for you. Just tell Mrs. Berry to see Fenn about it."
"Oh," sighed the outspoken Dotty, "it is just like Fairyland! Tell Fenn! Just as if Fenn were a magician!"
"He is," said Mr. Forbes, smiling at her enthusiasm. "I couldn't keep house without Fenn. He's my right hand man for everything. You girls mustn't claim too much of his time and attention, for I keep him on the jump most of the time myself."
"Does your collection keep you so busy?" asked Dolly, whose secret longing was to see that same collection, which greatly interested her.
"Yes, indeed. There's always work to be done in connection with it. I've a lot of new specimens just arrived to-day, awaiting classification and tabulation."
After dinner they all returned to the drawing-room. Mr. Forbes seemed desirous of keeping up a general conversation, but it was hard to find a subject to interest him. He would talk a few moments, and then lapse into absent-mindedness and almost forget the girls' presence.
At times, he would get up from his chair, and stalk up and down the room, perhaps suddenly pausing in front of one of them, and asking a direct question.
"How old are you?" he asked abruptly of Alicia.
"Sixteen," she replied. "I was sixteen last October."
"You look like your mother at that age. She was my only sister. She has now been dead--"
"Ten years," prompted Alicia. "I was a little child when she died."
"And who looks after you now? Your father's sister, isn't it?"
"Yes, Uncle Jeff. My Aunt Nellie. But I'm at school, you know. I shall be there the next four years, I suppose."
"Yes, yes, to be sure. Yes, yes, of course. And you, Bernice? You have no mother, either. But who looks after you?"
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