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- The Two Sides of the Shield - 3/61 -
Dolly, in a very grown-up voice, speaking partly from her own observation, and partly repeating what she had caught from her elders.
'Oh yes, I know her,' said Maude. 'She asked me questions about all I did, and she did bother mamma so about a maid she recommended that we are never going to take another from her.'
'Aunt Phyllis comes between them, I believe; but she has married a sailor captain and gone to settle in New Zealand, and I have not seen her since I was a very little girl. Then there's Aunt Emily, who is a very great swell indeed. Her husband was a canon, Lord Henry Grey; but he is dead, and she lives at Brighton, a regular fat, comfortable down- pillow of a woman, who isn't bad to lunch with, only she sends one out to the Parade with her maid, as if one was a baby. Mother used to laugh at her. And I think there was an older one who went to India and died long ago.'
'I have seen your two uncles. There's Major Mohun. Oh! he is fun!'
'Yes, dear old Uncle Regie! I wish he was not in Ireland. He will be so sorry to miss seeing father off, but he can't get leave. And there was a clergyman who is dead, and father grieved for very much. I think he did something to make them all nicer to mother, for it was just after that we went to stay at Beechcroft with Uncle William. You know him, and how mother used to call him the very model of a country squire; and I like his wife, Aunt Alethea. Only it is very pokey and slow down there, and they are always after flannel petticoats and soup kitchens, and all the old fads that are exploded. I should get awfully tired of it before a year was out, only I should not be teased with strange children, and there would be no one to be jealous of me.'
'Can't you get your father to change and send you there?'
'Not a chance. You see Aunt Lilias had offered, and they haven't, and I must go on with my education. I hope, though I shall have no advantages, I shall still be able to go up for the Cambridge examination, if Aunt Lilias has not prejudices, as I dare say she has, since of course none of her own will be able to try.'
'You'll come up to us for the examination, Dolly dear, and we shall do it together, and that will be nice!'
'If they will let me; but I don't expect to be allowed to do anything that I wish. Only perhaps father may be come home by that time.'
'Is it three years?'
'Yes. It is a terrible time, isn't it? However, when I'm seventeen perhaps he will talk to me, and I can really keep house.'
'And then you'll come back here?'
'Do you know, Maudie--listen--I've another uncle, belonging to mother.'
'Oh, Dolly! I thought she had no one!'
'He told me he was my Uncle Alfred once when he met me in the park with Fraulein, and gave me a note for mother. He is called Mr. Flinders.'
'But I thought your mother was daughter to Professor Hay?'
'But this is a half-brother; my grandmother was married before. Uncle Alfrey has an immense light beard, and I think he is very poor. He came once or twice to see mother, and they always sent me out of the room; but I am sure she gave him money--not father's housekeeping money, but what she got for herself by writing. Once I heard father go out of the house, saying, 'Well, it's your own to do as you please with.' And then mother went to her room, and I know she cried. It was the only time that ever mother cried!' And as Maude listened, much impressed--'Once when she had got eleven pounds, and we were going to have bought father such a binocular for a secret as a birthday present, Mr. Flinders came, and she gave him ten of it, and we could only buy just a few slides for father. And she told me she was grieved, but she could not help it, and it would be time for me to understand when I was older.'
'I don't think this Uncle Alfrey can be nice,' said Maude.
''Tis quite disgusting if he kisses me,' said Dolly; 'but you see he is poor, and all the Mohuns are stuck up, except father, and they wanted mother to despise him, and not help him. And you see, she stuck to him. I don't like him much; but you see nobody ever was like her! Oh, Maude, if she wasn't dead!'
And poor Dolores cried as she had not done even at the time of the accident, or in the terrible week that followed, or at the desolate home coming.
The cool twilight of a long sunny summer's day was freshening the pleasant garden of a country house, and three people were walking slowly along a garden path enjoying the contrast with the heat, glare, and noise of the day. The central one was a tall, slender lady, with a light shawl hung round her shoulders. On one side was a youth who had begun to overtop her, on the other a girl of shorter and sturdier mould, who only reached up to her shoulder.
'So she is coming!' the girl said.
'Yes, Uncle Maurice has answered my letter very kindly.'
'I should think he would be very much obliged,' observed the boy.
'Please, mamma, do tell us all about it,' said the girl. 'You know I stopped directly when you made me a sign not to go on asking questions before the little ones. And you said you should have to make us your friends while papa and the grown-ups are away.'
'Well, Gillian, I know you can be discreet when you are warned, and perhaps it is best that you should know how things stand. Do you remember anything about it, Hal?'
'Only a general perception that there were tempests in the higher regions, but I think that was more from hearing Alley and Phyl talk than from my native sagacity.'
'So I should suppose, since you were only six years old, at the utmost.'
'But Uncle Maurice always was under a cloud, wasn't he, especially at Beechcroft, where I never saw him or his wife in the holidays except once, when I believe she was not at all liked, and was thought to be very proud, and stuck-up, and pretentious.'
'But was she just nobody? not a lady?' cried Gillian. 'Aunt Emily always called her, '"Poor thing."'
'Perhaps she did the same by Aunt Emily,' returned Hal.
'And I am sure I have heard Aunt Ada say that she wasn't a lady; and Aunt Jane that she had all sorts of discreditable connections.'
'Come now, Gill, if you chatter so, how is mamma to get a word in between?'
'I'm afraid we have all been hard on her, poor thing!'
'There now, mamma has done it, just like Aunt Emily!'
'Anybody would be poor who got killed in a glacier!'
'No, but one doesn't say poor when people are--nice.'
'When I said poor,' now put in Lady Merrifield, 'it was not so much that I was thinking of her death as of her having come into a family where nobody welcomed her, and I really do not suppose it was her fault.'
'Moreover, she seemed to do very well without a welcome,' added Hal.
'Who is interrupting now?' cried Gillian, 'but was she a lady?'
'I never saw her, you know,' said the mother; 'but from all I ever heard of her, I should think she was, and cleverer and more highly educated than any of us.'
'Yes,' said Hal, 'that was the kind of pretension that exasperated them all at Beechcroft, especially Uncle William.'
'I wonder if Dolores will have it!' said Gillian. 'I suppose she will know much more than we do.'
'Probably, being the only child of such parents, and with every advantage London can give. Maurice was always much the cleverest of us all, and with a very strong mechanical and scientific turn, so that I now think it might have been better to have let him follow his bent. But when we were young there was a good deal of mistrust of anything outside the beaten tracks of gentlemanlike professions, and my dear old father did not like what he heard of the course of study for those lines. Things were not as they are now. So Maurice went to Cambridge, and was fifth wrangler of his year, and then had to go to the bar. It somehow always gave him a thwarted, injured feeling of working against the grain, and he cultivated all these scientific pursuits to the utmost, getting more and more into opinions and society that distressed grandpapa and Uncle William. So he fell in with Mr. Hay, a professor at a German university. I can hear William's tone of utter contempt and disgust. I believe this poor man was exceedingly learned, and had made some remarkable discoveries, but he was very poor, and lived in lodgings at Bonn with his daughter in the small way people are content to do in Germany. As to his opinions, we all took it for granted that he was a freethinker; but I can't tell how that might be. Maurice lodged in the same house one year when he went to learn German and attend lectures, and he went back again every long vacation. At last came your dear grandfather's death. Maurice hurried away from Beechcroft immediately after the funeral, and the next thing that was heard of him was that he had married Miss Hay. It was no wonder that your Uncle William was bitterly hurt and offended at the apparent disrespect to our father, and would make no move towards Maurice.'
'It was when we were at the Cape, wasn't it?' asked Hal.
'Yes, the year Gillian was born. Well, your dear Uncle Claude went to
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