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- The Two Sides of the Shield - 4/61 -
see Maurice in London, and found there was much excuse. Maurice had learnt that the old professor was dying, and his daughter had nothing, and would have had to be a governess, so that Maurice had married her in haste in order to be able to help them.'
'Then it really was very kind and noble in him!' exclaimed Gillian.
'And I believe every one would have felt it so; but for his unfortunately reserved way of concealing the extent of the acquaintance, and showing that he would not be interfered with. Claude did his best to close the breach, but there had been something to forgive on both sides, and perhaps SHE was prouder than the Mohuns themselves. Oh! my dears, I hope you will never have a family quarrel among you! It is so sad to look back upon a change after the happy years when we were all together, and were laughing and making fun of one another!'
'But you were quite out of it, mamma.'
'So I was in a way, but I knew nothing of the justification till too late for any advances from us to take much effect. I am four years older than Maurice, we had never been a pair, and had never corresponded. And when I wrote to him and to his wife, I only received stiff, formal answers. They were abroad when we were in London on coming home, and they would not come to see us at Belfast, so that I could never make acquaintance with her; but I believe she was an excellent wife, suiting him admirably in every way, and I expect to find this little daughter of theirs very well brought up, and much forwarder than honest old Mysie.'
'Mysie is in perfect raptures at the notion of having a cousin here exactly of her own age,' said Gillian. 'What she would wish is that the two should be so much alike as to be taken for twins. I have been trying to remember Dolores on that dreadful Sunday at the hotel, when Uncle Maurice came to see us, just when papa was setting off for Bombay, but it all seems confusion. I can think of nothing but a little black, shy figure. I remember Phyllis telling me that she thought I ought to do something to entertain her, but I could not think of a word to say to her.'
'For which perhaps she was thankful,' said her brother.
'I am not sure. You are all too apt, when you are shy, to console yourself with fancying that you are doing as you would be done by. It might have worried her then perhaps, but it would have made it easier for her to begin among us now! I am very glad her father consents to my having her! I do hope we may make her happy.'
'Happy!' said Gillian. 'Anybody must be happy with such a number to play with, and with you to mother her, mamma.'
'I am afraid she will not feel me much like her own mother, poor child! But it will not be for want of the will. When I look back now I feel sorry for myself for the early loss of my mother, for though we were all merry enough as children and young people, there always seems to have been a lack of something fostering and repressing. There was a kind of desolateness in our life, though we did not understand it at the time. I am thankful you have not known it, my dears.' There was a strange rush of tears nearly choking her voice, and she shook them away with a sort of laugh. 'That I should cry for that at this time of day!'
Gillian raised her face for a kiss, and even Harry did the same. Their hearts were very full, as the perception swept over them in one flash what their lives would have been without mamma. It seemed like the solid earth giving way under their feet!
'I am very sorry for poor Dolores,' said Gillian presently. 'It seems as if we could never be kind enough to her.'
'Yes. Indeed I hope we may do something towards supplying her with a real home, wandering sprites as we have been,' said Lady Merrifield.
'What a name it is! Dolores! It is as bad as Peter Grievous! How did she get it?' grumbled Harry.
'That I cannot tell, but I think we must call her Dora or Dolly, as I fancy your Aunt Jane told me she was called at home. I hope Wilfred will not get hold of it and tease her about it. You must defend her from that.'
'If we can,' said Gillian; 'but Wilfred is rather an imp.'
'Yes,' said Harry. 'I found Primrose reduced to the verge of distraction yesterday because 'Willie would call her Leg of Mutton.''
'I hope you boxed his ears!' cried Gillian.
'I did give it to him well,' said Hal, laughing.
'Thank you,' said his mother. 'A big brother is more effective in such cases than any one else can be. Wilfred is the only one of you all who ever seemed to take pleasure in causing pain--and I hardly know how to meet the propensity.'
'He is the only one who is not quite certain to be nice with Dolores,' said Gillian.
'And I really don't quite see how to manage,' said the mother. 'If we show him our anxiety to shield her, it is very likely to direct his attention that way.'
'She must take her chance,' said Hal, 'and if she is any way rational, she can soon put a stop to it.'
'But, oh dear! I wish he could go to school,' said Gillian.
'So do I, my dear,' returned her mother; 'but you know the doctors say we must not risk it for another year, and I can only hope that as he grows stronger, he may become more manly. Meantime we must be patient with him, and Hal can help more than any one else. There--what's that striking?'
'Then we must make haste in, or we shall not have finished supper before ten.'
Lilias Mohun had married a soldier, and after many wanderings through military stations, the health and education of a large proportion of her family had necessitated her remaining at home with them, while her husband held a command in India, taking out with him the two grown-up daughters and the second son, who was on his staff. She was established in a large house not far from a country town, for the convenience of daily governess, tutor, and masters. She herself had grown up on the old system which made education depend more on the family than on the governess, and she preferred honestly the company and training of her children to going into society in her husband's absence. Therefore she arranged her habits with a view to being constantly with them, and though exchanging calls, and occasionally accepting invitations in the neighbourhood, it was an understood thing that she went out very little. The chief exceptions were when her eldest son, Harry, was at home from Oxford. He was devotedly fond of her, and all the more pleased and proud to take her about with him because it had not always been possible that his holidays in his school life should be spent at home, and thus the privilege was doubly prized.
The two sisters above and one brother below him were in India with their father, and Gillian was not yet out of the schoolroom, though this did not cut her off from being her mother's prime companion. Then followed a schoolboy at Wellington, named Jasper, two more girls, a brace of boys, and the five-year-old baby of the establishment-- sufficient reasons to detain Lady Merrifield in England after more than twenty years of travels as a soldier's wife, so that scarcely three of her children had the same birthplace. She had been able to see very little of her English relations, being much tied by the number of her children while all were very young, and the expense of journeys; but she was now within easy reach of her two unmarried sisters, and after the Cape, Gibraltar, Malta, and Dublin, the homes of her eldest sister, and of her eldest brother did not seem very far off.
Indeed Beechcroft, the home of her childhood, had always been the headquarters of herself and her children on their rare visits to England. Her elder boys had been sure of a welcome there in the holidays, and loved it scarcely less than she did herself; and when looking for her present abode, the whole family had stayed there for three months. Her brother Maurice, however, she had scarcely seen, and she had been much pained at being included in his persistent avoidance of the whole family, who felt that he resented their displeasure at his marriage even more since his wife's death than he had done during her lifetime, as if he felt doubly bound, for her sake, not to forgive and forget. At least so said some of the family, while others hoped that his distaste to all intercourse with them only arose from the apathy succeeding a great blow.
A passage was offered to Mr. Mohun in a Queen's ship, and this hurried the preparations so much that to Dolores it appeared that there was nothing but bustle and confusion, from the day of her conversation with Maude, until she found herself in the railway carriage returning from Plymouth with her eldest uncle. Her father had intended to take her himself to Silverfold; but detentions at the office in London, and then a telegram from Plymouth, had disconcerted his plans, and when he found that his eldest brother would come and meet him at the last, he was glad to yield to his little daughter's earnest desire to be with him as long as possible.
Shy and reserved as both were, and almost incapable of finding expression for their feelings, they still clung closely together, though the only tears the girl was seen to shed came in church on the last Sunday evening, blinding and choking, and she could barely restrain her sobs. Her father would have taken her out, but she resisted, and leant against him, while he put his arm round her. After this, whenever it was possible, she crept up to him, and he held her close.
There had been no further discussion on her home. Lady Merrifield had written kindly to her, as well as to her father, but that was small consolation to one so well instructed by story books in the hypocrisy of aunts until fathers were at a distance. And her father was so manifestly gratified by the letter, that it would be of no use to say a word to him now. Her fate was determined, and, as she heroically told
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