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- The Two Sides of the Shield - 5/61 -
Maude in their last interview, she was determined to make the best of it. She would endure the unjust aunt, and jealous, silly cousins, and be so clever, and wise, and superior, that she would force them to admire and respect her, and by-and-by follow her example, and be good and sensible, so that when father came home, he would find them acknowledging that they owed everything to her; she had saved two or three of their lives, nursed half of them when the other half were helpless, fainting, and hysterical, and, in short, been the Providence of the household. Then father would look at her, and say, 'My Mary again!' and he would take her home, and talk to her with the free confidence he had shown her mother, and would be comforted.
This was the hope that had carried her through the last parting, when she went on board with her uncle and saw her father's cabin, and looked with a dull kind of entertainment at all the curious arrangements of the big ship. It seemed more like sight-seeing than good-bye, when at last they were sent on shore, and hurried up to the station just in time for the train.
Uncle William was a very unapproachable person. He did not profess to understand little girls. He looked at Dolores rather anxiously, afraid, perhaps, that she was crying, and put her into the carriage, then rushed out and brought back a handful of newspapers, giving her the Graphic, and hiding himself in the Times.
She felt too dull and stunned to read, or to look at the pictures, though she held the paper in her hands, and she gazed out dreamily at the Ton's and rocks and woody ravines of Dartmoor as they flew past her, the leaves and ferns all golden brown with autumn colouring. She had had little sleep that night; her little legs had all the morning been keeping up with the two men's hasty steps, and though an excellent meal had been set before her in the ship, she had not been able to swallow much, and she was a good deal worn out. So when at last they reached Exeter, and finding there would be two hours to wait, her uncle asked whether she would come down into the town with him and see the Cathedral, she much preferred to stay where she was. He put her under the care of the woman in the waiting-room, who gave her some tea, took off her hat, and made her lie down on a couch, where she slept quite sound for more than an hour, until she was roused by some ladies coming in with a crying baby.
It was, she thought, nearly time to go on, for the gas was being lighted. She put on her hat, and went out to look for her uncle on the platform, so as to get into a better light to see the face of her mother's little Swiss watch, which her father had just made over to her. She had just made out that there was not more than a quarter of an hour to spare, when she heard an exclamation.
'By Jove! if that ain't Mary's little girl!' and, looking up she saw Mr. Flinders' huge, bushy, light-coloured beard. 'Is your father here?' he asked.
'No; he sailed this afternoon.'
'Always my luck! Ticket wasted! Sailed--really?'
'Oh yes. We did not come back till the ship was out of harbour.'
He muttered some exclamation, and asked--
'Whom are you with?'
'Uncle William. Mr. Mohun--my eldest uncle. He will be back directly.'
Mr. Flinders whistled a note of discontent.
'Going to rusticate with him, poor little mite?' he asked.
'No. I'm to live with my Aunt Lilias--Lady Merrifield.'
'At Silverfold Grange, near Silverfold.'
'Well, you'll get among the swells. They'll make you cut all your poor mother's connections. So there's an end of it. She was a good creature--she was!'
'I'll never forget any one that belongs to her,' said Dolores. 'Oh, there's Uncle William!' as on the top of the stairs she spied the welcome sight of his grey locks and burly figure. Before he had descended, her other uncle had vanished, and she fancied she had heard something about, 'Mum about our meeting. Ta ta!'
Uncle William's eyes being less sharp than hers, he was on his way to the waiting-room before she joined him, and as he had not seen her encounter, she would not tell him. They were settled in the carriage again, and she was tolerably refreshed. Mr. Mohun fell asleep, and she, after reading by the lamp-light as long as she could find anything to read, gazed at the odd reflections in the windows till she, too, nodded and dozed, half waking at every station.
At last, she was aware of a stop in earnest, voices, and being called. There was her uncle saying, 'Well, Hal, here we are!' and she was lifted out and set on the platform, with gas all round. Her uncle was saying, 'We didn't get away in time for the express,' and a young man was answering, 'We'd better put Dolly into the waggonette at once. Then I'll see to the luggage.'
Very like a parcel, so stiff were her legs, she was bundled into the dark cavern of a closed waggonette, and, after a little lumbering, her uncle and the young man got in after her, saying something about eleven o'clock.
She was more awake now, and knew that they were driving through lighted streets, and then, after an interval, turned into darkness, upon gravel, and stopped at last before a door full of light, with figures standing up dark in it. She heard a 'Well, William!' 'Well Lily, here we are at last!' Then there were arms embracing her, and a kiss on each cheek, as a soft voice said, 'My poor little girl! They wanted to sit up for you, but it was too late, and I dare say you had rather be quiet.'
She was led into a lamp-lit room, which dazzled her. It was spread with food, but she was too much tired to eat, and her aunt saw how it was, and telling Harry to take care of his uncle, she took the hand-- though it did not close on hers--and, climbing up what seemed to Dolores an endless number of stairs, she said--
'You are up high, my dear; but I thought you would like a room to yourself.'
'Poked away in an attic,' was Dolores's dreamy thought; while her aunt added, to a tall, thin woman, who came out with a lamp in her hand--
'She is so tired that she had better go to bed directly, Mrs. Halfpenny. You will make her comfortable, and don't let her be disturbed in the morning till she has had her sleep out.'
Dolly found herself undressed, without many words, till it came to-- 'Your prayers, Miss Dora. I am sure you've need not to miss them.'
She did not like to be told, besides, poor child, prayers were not much more than a form to her. She did not contest the point, but knelt down and muttered something, then laid her weary head on the pillow, was tucked up by Mrs. Halfpenny, and left in the dark. It was a dreary half sleep into which she fell. The noise of the train seemed to be still in her ears, and at the same time she was always being driven up --up--up endless stairs, by tall, cruel aunts; or they were shutting her up to do all their children's work, and keeping away father's letters from her. Then she awoke and told herself it was a dream, but she missed the noises of the street, and the patch of light on the wall from the gas lamps, and recollected that father was gone, and she was really in the power of one of these cruel aunts; and she felt like screaming, only then she might have been heard; and a great horrid clock went on making a noise like a church bell, and striking so many odd quarters that there was no guessing when morning was coming. And after all, why should she wish it to come? Oh, if she could but sleep the three years while father was away!
At last, however, she fell into a really calm sleep, and when she awoke, the room was full of light, but her watch had stopped; she had been too much tired to remember to wind it; and she lay a little while hearing sounds that made it clear that the world was astir, and she could see that preparations had been made for her getting up.
'They shan't begin by scolding me for being late,' she thought, and she began her toilette.
Just as she came to her hair, the old nurse knocked and asked whether she wanted help.
'Thank you, I've been used to dress myself,' said Dolores, rather proudly.
'I'll help you now, missy, for prayers are over, and they are all gone to breakfast, only my lady said you were not to be disturbed, and Miss Mysie will be up presently again to bring you down.'
She spoke low, and in an accent that Dolores afterwards learnt was Scotch; and she was a tall, thin, bony woman, with sandy hair, who looked as if she had never been young. She brushed and plaited the dark hair in a manner that seemed to the owner more wearisome and less tender than Caroline's fashion; and did not talk more than to inquire into the fashion of wearing it, and to say that Miss Mohun's boxes had been sent from London, demanding the keys that they might be unpacked.
'I can do that myself,' said Dolores, who did not like any stranger to meddle with her things.
'Ye could tak them oot, nae doubt, but I must sort them. It's my lady's orders,' said Mrs. Halfpenny, with all the determination of the sergeant, her husband, and Dolores, with a sense of despair, and a sort of expectation that she should be deprived of all her treasures on one plea or another, gave up the keys.
Mrs. Halfpenny then observed that the frock which had been worn for the last two days on the railway, and evening and morning, needed a better brushing and setting to rights than she had had time to give it. She had better take out another. Which box were her frocks in?
Dolores expected her heartless relations to insist on her leaving off her mourning, and she knew she ought to struggle and shed tears over it; but, to tell the truth, she was a good deal tired of her hot and fusty black; and when she had followed Mrs. Halfpenny into a passage where the boxes stood uncorded; and the first dress that came to light was a pretty fresh-looking holland that had been sent home just before the accident, she exclaimed--
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