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- The Two Sides of the Shield - 30/61 -
about foot-warmers that he had promised.
'Uncle Reginald!' again exclaimed Dolores, 'I am sure it was he!'
'Oh dear! What an escape!' answered Constance, breathless with surprise, and settling herself with disgust and difficulty next to a fat old farmer, as three or four more people entered and jammed them close together.
'Who is he?' she presently whispered.
'Colonel Mohun. His regiment is at Galway. I know he talked of getting over this winter if he possibly could; but Aunt Lily went away before the post was come in.'
'We shall have to take great care when we get out.'
Here the train started, and conversation in undertones became impossible, more especially as two of the farmers in the carriage were coming back from the Smithfield Cattle Show, and were discussing the prize oxen with all their might. It was very stuffy and close. Constance looked ineffably fastidious and uncomfortable, and Dolores gazed at the clouded window, and dull little lamp overhead, put in to enliven the deepening twilight. This avoiding of Uncle Reginald brought more before her mind a sense of wrong-doing than anything that had gone before. She was fond of this uncle, who always made her father's house his headquarters when in London, and used to play with her when she was a small child, and always to take her to the Zoological Gardens, till she declared she was too old to care for such a childish show, and then he and her father both laughed at her so much that she would never have forgiven anybody else; and she found he enjoyed it for his own sake far more than she did. However, he always did take her out for walks and sights that were sure to be amusing with him. Father, too, was quite bright and alive when he was in the house, and thus Dolores had nothing but pleasant associations connected with this uncle, and had heard of the chances of his coming like a ray of light, though without much hope, since the state of Ireland had prevented him from being able even to run over to take leave of her father. And now he was come, she must hide from him like a guilty thing! There was no spirit of opposition against him in her mind, and thus she could feel that she was doing something sad and strange. Moreover, she began to feel that her promise about the cheque had been a rash one, and the echo of her father's voice came back on her, saying, 'Surely, Mary, you know better than to believe a word out of Flinders's mouth.'
But then she thought of her mother's rare tears glistening in her eyes, and the answer, 'Poor Alfred! I cannot give him up. Everything has been against him.'
It was quite dark before Silverton was reached, at half-past five, with three quarters of an hour to spare before the other travellers were expected. Most of their fellow passengers had got out at previous stations, so that Constance was able to open the door and jump out so perilously before the train had quite stopped, that a porter caught her with a sharp word of reproof. She grasped Dolores's hand and scudded across the platform, giving the return tickets almost before the collector was ready. A cautious guard even exclaimed, 'What's those two young women up to?' but was answered at once, 'They're all right! That's nought but one of the old parson's daughters, as have been out with a return to Darminster.'
'A sweetheartin'?' demanded one of the bystanders, and there was a laugh.
Constance heard the tones and vulgar laugh, though not the words, and she was in such a panic as she hurried down the steps that she did not stop to look out for a cab. The place was small, and they were not very plentiful at any time, and she was mortally afraid, though she hardly knew why, of being over-taken and questioned by Colonel Mohun, who might know his niece, though he would not know her; but Dolores was tired, and had a headache, and did not at all like the walk in the dirt, and fog, and dark, after turning from the gas lit station.
'We were to have a cab, Constance.'
'We can't,' was the answer, still hurrying on. 'He would come out upon us.'
'He is much more likely to overtake us this way!' said Dolores, thinking of her uncle's long strides.
'Well, we can't turn back now!' said Constance, getting almost into a run, which lasted till they were past the paddock gate. Dolores, panting to keep up with her, had half a mind to turn up there and go straight home; but there might be any number of oxen in the way, and almost worse, she might meet Jasper and Wilfred, or if Uncle Reginald overtook her, what would he think?
The pair slackened their pace a little when they had satisfied themselves that the break in the dark hedge beside them was the gate. They heard wheels, and presently saw the lamps of a cab, bearing down, halt at the gate they had left behind, and turn in.
'We should have been off first,' said Dolores.
'If we could have got a cab in time?'
'One can always get cabs.'
'Oh! no, not at all for certain.'
'This is a nasty, stupid, out-of-the-way place,' said Dolores, wanting to say something cross.
'It isn't a vulgar place, full of traffic,' returned Constance, equally cross.
'Well, I never meant to walk home in this way! I'm sure my feet are wet. I wish I had waited and gone with Uncle Regie.'
'Now, Dolly, what do you mean? You would not have it all betrayed?'
'I've a great mind to tell Uncle Regie all about it.'
'Now, Dolly! When you said so much about the Mohun pride and scorn of your poor, dear uncle.'
'Uncle Regie is not proud. And he would know what to do.'
'But,' cried Constance, in a fright, 'you would never tell him! You promised that it should be a secret, and I should be in such a dreadful scrape with Lady Merrifield and Mary.'
'Well! it was your doing, and you had all the pleasure of it, flourishing about the platform with him.'
'How can you be so disagreeable, Dolores, when you know it was all on business. Though I do think he is the most interesting man I ever did see.'
'Just because he flattered you.'
However, there is no need to tell how many cross and quarrelsome things the two tired friends said to each other. They were sitting on opposite sides of the fire, one very gloomy, and the other very pettish, when the waggonette stopped at the gate, to put out Miss Hacket and take up Dolores. Hands pulled her up the step, and a hubbub of merry voices received her in the dark.
'Good girl, not to keep us waiting.'
'Oh, Dolly, Dolly, Macrae says Uncle Regie's come!'
'Oh, Dolly, it has been such fun!'
'Take care of my parcel!'
'Ah, ha! you don't know what is in there.'
'Here's something under my feet!'
'Oh! take care! 'Tisn't my--'
'Hush, hush, Val--'
And so it went on till on the steps was seen in full light among the boys, Uncle Reginald, ready to lift every one out with a kiss.'
'Ha! Dolly, is that you?' he said, as they came into the hall. 'I saw such a likeness of you at one station that I was as near as possible jumping out to speak to her. She had on just that fur tippet!'
'That comes of living in Ireland, Regie,' said Aunt Lily. 'Once in a shop at Belfast, a lady darted up to me with "And it's I that am glad to see you, me dear. And how's me sweet little god-daughter? Oh! and it isn't yourself. And aren't you Mrs. Phelim O'Shaugnessy?'" And under cover of this, Dolores retreated to her own room. She took off her things, and then looked at the cheque.
Professor Muhlwasser was a clever German, always at work on science, counting, in the most minute and accurate manner, such details as the rays in a sea anemone's tentacles, or the eggs in a shrimp's roe. He was engaged on a huge book, in numbers, of which Mr. Maurice Mohun had promised to take two copies--but whereas extravagances upon peculiar hobbies were apt not to be tolerated in the family, and it was really uncertain whether the work would ever be completed, Mr. Mohun had preferred leaving a cheque for the payment in his little daughter's hand, rather than entrust it to one of the brothers, who would have howled and growled at such a waste of good money on such a subject. Thus he had told Dolores to back the draft, get it changed, and send the amount by a postal order to Germany, if the books and account should come, which he thought very doubtful.
And now the professor was dead, Dolores looked at the cheque, and supposed she could do as she pleased with it. Mother helped Uncle Alfred. Yes, but mother earned all she sent him herself! Perhaps he would not ask again. How much more he had talked to Constance than to herself. Dolly wished she had not seen him to get into this difficulty. She was tired, cold, and damp. Oh! if she had never gone, and not been half caught by Uncle Regie!
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