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- The Two Sides of the Shield - 40/61 -


Butterfly's Ball. Eh, young ladies, what will you come out as?'

'Oh daddy, daddy, is it? Has mamma asked them? Oh! it is more delicious than anything ever was. Mysie, Mysie, what will you be?'

'The sly little dormouse crept out of his hole,' quoted Mysie, in a very low, happy voice.

'And I will be a jolly old frog,' shouted Fergus, finding the ordinance of silence broken and making the most of it, on the presumption that the whole family were invited. However, the tone, rather than the uncomprehended words of his mother's answer, 'Nobody asked you, sir,' she said, reduced him to silence, and it became understood, through Fly's inquiries, that the invitation included Lady Merrifield must make her acceptance doubtful. And besides, the question which three were to go was the unspoken drawback to full bliss, and yet the delight was exceedingly great in the prospect, great enough to make the contrast of gloom in poor Dolores's spirit all the darker, as she sat, left out of everything, and she could not now say, with absolute injustice, though she still clung to the belief that there was more misfortune than fault in her disgrace.

She crept away, shivering with unhappiness, to the schoolroom, while the others frisked off discussing the wonderful Butterfly's Ball. Lady Merrifield looked in on her, and she hardened herself to endure either another probing or fresh reproaches, but all she heard was, 'My dear, I cannot talk over this sad affair now, as I have to go out. But, if you can, I think you had better write to your father about it, and let him understand exactly how it happened. Or, if you had rather write than speak in explaining it to me, you can do so, and we can consider tomorrow what is to be done about it.'

Then she went out with her brother and cousin to drive to some Industrial schools which Lord Rotherwood wanted to see.

CHAPTER XV.

THE BUTTERFLY'S BALL.

Miss Mohun went to the Casement Cottages with Gillian to see what the elder Miss Hacket might wish and whether they could be of use to her; the young people being left to exercise themselves within call in case the Tree was to be continued.

This proved to be an act of great kindness, for poor Mary Hacket was suffering all the distress of an upright and honourable woman at her sister's abuse of confidence; and had felt as if Colonel Mohun's summons to his nieces was the close of all intimacy with such an unworthy household. Moreover, the evenings entertainment could not be given up and Gillian was despatched to summon the eager assistants, while Aunt Jane repeated her assurances that Lady Merrifield perfectly understood Miss Hacket's ignorance of the doings in Constance's room-- listening patiently even when the tender-hearted woman began to excuse her sister for having accepted Dolores's lamentations at being cut off from her so. called uncle. 'Dear Connie is so romantic, and so easily touched,' she said, 'though, of course, it was very wrong of her to suppose that Lady Merrifield could do anything harsh or unkind. She is in great grief now, poor darling, she feels so bitterly that her friend led her into it by deceiving her about the relationship and character.'

This, Aunt Jane did not think the worst part of the affair, and she said that the girl had been brought up to call the man Uncle Alfred, and very possibly did not understand that he was only so by courtesy, nor that he was so utterly untrustworthy.

'I thought so,' said Mary Hacket. 'I told Connie that such a child could not possibly have been a willing party to his fraud--for fraud, I fear, it was--Miss Mohun. Do you think there is any hope of her recovering the sum she advanced.'

'I am afraid there is not, even if the wretched man is apprehended.'

'Ah! if she had only told me what she wanted it for!'

'I hope it was all her own.'

'Oh, Miss Mohun, no doubt you know that two sisters living together must accommodate one another a little, and Connie's dress expenses, at her age, are necessarily more than mine. But here come the dear children, and we ought to dismiss all painful subjects, though I declare I am so nervous I hardly know what I am about.'

However, by Miss Mohun's help, the good lady rose to the occasion, and when once busy, the trouble was thrown off, so that no guests would have detected how unhappy she had been in the forenoon. Constance soon came down, and confided to Gillian a parcel directed to Miss D. Mohun, containing all the notes written to her, and all the books lent to her, by the false friend whom she had cast off, after which she threw herself into the interests of the present.

The London ornaments, and the residue of the gifts and bonbons, made the Christmas-tree a most memorable one to the G.F.S. mind.

As to Fly, she fraternized to a great extent with a very small maid, in a very long, brown dress, and very thick boots, who did not taste a single bonbon, and being asked whether she understood that they were good to eat, replied that she was keeping them for 'our Bertie and Minnie;' and, on encouragement, launched into such a description of her charges--the blacksmith's small children--that Lady Phyllis went back, not without regrets that she could not be a little nurse who had done with school at twelve years old, and spent her days at the back of a perambulator.

'Oh, daddy,' she said, 'I do wish you had come down; it was such lovely fun--the best tree I ever saw. Why wouldn't you come?'

'If thirty odd years should pass over that little head of yours, my Lady Fly, and you should then meet with Mysie and Val, maybe you will then learn the reason why.'

'We will recollect that in thirty years' time.'

'When our children go to a Christmas-tree.'

'And we sit over the fire instead.'

'Oh! but should we ever not care for a dear, delightful Christmas- tree?'

'If we had each other instead.'

'Then we would all go still together!'

'And tell our little boys and girls all about this one, and the Butterfly's Ball!'

'Perhaps our husbands would want us, and not let us go.'

'Oh! I don't want a husband. He'd be in the way. We'd send him off to India or somewhere, like Aunt Lily's.'

'Don't, Fly; it is not at all nice to have papa away.'

'Oh yes, it would be ten hundred times better if he were at home.'

Such were the mingled sentiments of the triad, as they went upstairs to bed, linked together in their curious fashion.

Some time later, a bedroom discussion of affairs was held by Lady Merrifield and Miss Mohun, who had not had a moment alone together all day, to converse upon the two versions of the disaster which the latter had extracted from Dolores and Constance, and which fairly agreed, though Constance had been by far the most voluble, and somewhat ungenerously violent against her former friend, at least so Lady Merrifield remarked.

'You should take into account the authoress's disappointed vanity.'

'Yes, poor thing! How he must have nattered her!'

'Besides, there is the loss of the money, which, I fear, falls as seriously on good Miss Hacket as on the goose herself.'

'Does it, indeed? That must not be. How much is it?'

'Fifteen pounds; and that foolish Constance fancies that poor Dolores assisted in duping her. I really had to defend the girl; though I am just as angry myself when I watch her adamantine sullenness.'

'I am the person to be angry with for having allowed the intimacy, in spite of your warnings, Jenny.'

'You were too innocent to know what girls are made of. Oh yes, you are very welcome to have six of your own, but you might have six dozen without knowing what a girl brought up at a second-rate boarding-school is capable of, or what it is to have had no development of conscience. What shall you do? send her to school?'

'After that recommendation of yours?'

'I didn't propose a second-rate boarding-school, ma'am. There's a High School starting after the holidays at Rockstone. Let me have her, and send her there.'

'Ada would not like it.'

'Never mind Ada, I'll settle her. I would keep Dolly well up to her lessons, and prevent these friendships.'

'I suppose you would manage her better than I have been able to do,' said Lady Merrifield, reluctantly. 'Yet I should like to try again; I don't want to let her go. Is it the old story of duty and love, Jane? Have I failed again through negligence and ignorance, and deceived myself by calling weakness and blindness love?'

'You don't fail with your own, Lily. Rotherwood runs about admiring them, and saying he never saw a better union of freedom and obedience. It was really a treat to see Gillian's ways tonight; she had so much consideration, and managed her sisters so well.'

'Ah, but there's their father! I do so dread spoiling them for him before he comes home; but then he is a present influence with us all the time.'

'They would all clap their hands if I carried Dolly off.'


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