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- The Two Sides of the Shield - 50/61 -
prepared by mamma and Gillian, and followed up by games, in which Dolores had a share, promoted by her aunt, who was very anxious to keep her from feeling set apart from every one; but this was difficult to manage, as she was so generally disliked, that even Gillian was only good-natured to her in accordance with her mother's desire that she should not be treated as 'out of the pale of humanity.' Mysie alone sought her out and brought her forward with any real earnestness, and good little Mysie had a somewhat difficult part to play between kindness to her and Fly's occasional little jealous tiffs and decided disapproval. Mysie never thought, however, about the situation or its difficulties, she simply followed the moment's call of kindness to Dolores, and, when it was possible, followed her own inclinations, and enjoyed Fly's lively society.
And Dolores was certainly softening and improving. A word to Mrs. Halfpenny had secured the two girls being permitted to say their prayers together in Dolores's room unmolested; and what was a reality to a contemporary became less and less to Dolores a mere lesson imposed by the authority of an elder. That link between religious instruction and daily life, which is all important, yet so difficult to find, was being gradually put into Dolores's hands by her little cousin-friend. Lady Merrifield hoped and guessed it might be thus, from the questions that Mysie asked her at times, and from the quickened attention Dolores showed to her religious lessons, and her less dull and indifferent air at church.
It could not be said that she was different with the others. She was depressed, and wanted spirits for enjoyment, nor would active romping diversions ever be pleasant to her. She had not the nature for them, and was not young enough to learn to like them. It could not but seem foolish to her to race about as a Croat or a savage, and she only beheld with wonder Gillian's genuine delight in games not merely entered into for the sake of the little ones. But there was a strong devotion growing up in her to her aunt and to Mysie, and what they asked of her she did--even when on a wet day her aunt condemned her to learn battledore and shuttle-cock of Gillian, who was equally to be pitied for the awkwardness of her pupil and the banter of her brothers, while Dolly picked up her shuttlecock and tossed it off with grim determination, as if doing penance for this dismal half hour. She managed better in the games where ready sharpness of intellect or memory was wanted, and she liked these, and would have liked them still better if Uncle Reginald had not always looked astonished if she laughed.
She did her part, too, in the little play, being one of the chorus of the maidens who 'make a vow to make a row.' Lady Merrifield had, according to the general request, saved disputes by casting the parts, Gillian being the sage old woman who brought the damsels to reason. Fly, the prime mover of the tumult, and Mysie, her confidante, while Val and Dolly made up the mob. A little manipulation of skirts, tennis-aprons, ribbons, and caps made very nice peasant costumes. Hal was the self-important Bailli, and Jasper the drummer, the part of gens-d'armes being all that Wilfred and Fergus could be trusted with.
Lord Rotherwood came back, and his little daughter's ecstacy was goodly to see, as she danced about her daddy, almost bursting with the secret of what he was to see after dinner, and showing herself so brilliantly well and happy that he congratulated himself upon her mother's satisfaction.
While the elders were at dinner, Gillian, with Miss Vincent's help, finished off the arrangements. There were no outsiders, except the Vicar and Mr. Pollock who had been asked to dinner, for Lady Merrifield said she never liked to make her children an exhibition.
'You are an old-fashioned Lily,' said her cousin, 'and happily not concerned with popularity. It is a fine thing to be able to consult one's children's absolute best.'
The performance went off beautifully--at least so thought both actors and spectators. The dignity of the Bailli and the meddling of the drummer were alike delightful; Fly was charmingly arch and mutinous; Mysie very straightforward; and the least successful personation was that of Gillian, who had a fit of stage-fright, forgot sentences, and whirred her spinning-wheel nervously, all the worse for being scolded by her brothers behind the scenes, and assured that she was making a mull of the whole affair. And she had been so spirited at the rehearsals, but she was at a self-conscious age, and could not forget the four spectators. Very little was required of Dolores, but that little she did simply and well, and Lord Rotherwood, after watching her all the evening, observed to Lady Merrifield, 'I should say your difficulties were diminishing, are they not? The thunder-cloud seems to be a little lightened.'
'I am so glad you think so, Rotherwood. I feel sure that all this distress has drawn her nearer to us, only Regie won't believe it.'
'Regie is prejudiced.'
'Is he? I thought him specially fond of Maurice's child, and that this was revulsion of feeling; but what I am afraid of is, that he will never believe in her or like her again, whatever she may be, and she is really fond of him.'
'Yes, Reginald is not over disposed to believe in any woman's truth-- outside his own family and sisters. Poor fellow! I can't say he was well used.'
'What? I suppose be has bad his romance like other people--his little episode, as my husband calls it.'
'Yes; and I am afraid we were accountable for it. You remember we were at Harthope Castle for the first two years after I was married, while Rotherwood was brought up to the requirements of the Victorian age.
The ---th was quartered at Harfield, within easy distance, and a splendid looking fellow like Regie was invaluable to Victoria, whenever she wanted anything to go off well. Well, in those days I had a ward, my mother's great niece, Maude Conway. A pretty winsome creature it was, and an heiress in a moderate sort of way, and poor old Redge, after all his little affairs, and he had had his share of them, was evidently in for it at last. Victoria thought, as well as myself, it was the best thing for them both. He was the sound-hearted, good fellow to keep her matters straight, and she had enough for comfort without overweighting the balance. So they were engaged but unluckily they had to wait till she was of age, about eight months off, and they were both ridiculously shy, and would not have the thing known, though Victoria said it was unwise. I don't think even Jane suspected it.'
'No; I don't think she could have done so.'
'Well, there was the season, and Victoria was not in condition for going out, and Maude was all for staying quietly with her; but old Lady Conway came about--a regular schemer--a woman I never could abide. She had married off her own daughters, and wanted her niece to practise on, that was the fact. Victoria says she always knew that she, Maude I mean, was very impressionable and impulsive, and so she wanted to have her out of harm's way; but one could not prevent her aunt from getting hold of her and taking her out. Then people told us of her goings on with that scamp Clanmacklosky and that sister of his. Victoria talked to her by the yard, but she denied it, and we thought it all gossip. Regie came up for a couple of nights, and she was as sweet on him as ever, and sent him away thinking it all right; but the end of it was, she fought off going down to Rotherwood with us, but went to Brighton with Lady Conway, and the next thing we heard was that she wrote to throw Reginald over, and she married Clanmacklosky a month after she was twenty-one! I don't think I ever saw Victoria so cut up, for we had really liked the girl and thought well of her. To this hour I believe it was all that woman's doing, and that poor Maude has supped sorrow. She has lost all her good looks.'
'And Regie has never got over it?'
'Not so as to believe in a woman again.'
'He used to be rather a joke for susceptibility, and was still a regular boy when we went out to Gibraltar. I thought him much graver.'
'Exactly; since that affair his soul has gone into his regiment. It's a wife to him, and luckily he got his promotion in time, so as not to be shelved.'
'I suppose it was really an escape.'
'I don't know--she would have done very well in his hands. She is the sort of woman to be as you make her, and even now is a world too good for Clan. Victoria can never be quite cordial with her, but I can't see the poor harassed thing without thinking what a sweet creature she once was, and wishing I'd had the sense to look after her better. But what I came here for, Lily, was to say you must let me have that Mysie of yours, since you won't come yourself to this concern of ours. I'm afraid you won't think much good has come of us, but we couldn't do the Country Mouse much harm in a fortnight; and you know it is the wish of my heart that my lonely Fly should grow up on such terms with your flock as Florence and I did with you all.'
He pleaded quite piteously, and he was backed up by a letter from his wife, very grateful for her little Phyllis's happy visit, reiterating the invitation to Lady Merrifield, and begging that if she still could not come herself, she would at least send Jasper and Mysie for the Butterfly's Ball. Mysie's fancy dress would be ready for her, only waiting for the final touches after it was tried on. Lady Florence Devereux, too, was near at hand, and wrote to promise to look after Mysie.
There was no refusing after this. Lady Florence was not far from being like a sister to her cousins. She had tended her mother's old age, and had subsequently settled down into the lady of all work of Rotherwood parish. Lady Merrifield had much confidence in her, and indeed all she saw of Fly gave her a great respect for Lady Rotherwood's management of her child. Harry was going to his uncle's at Beechcroft for some shooting, and would bring Mysie home when Jasper went back to school.
So Gillian was called to her mother's room to be told first of the arrangement, which certainly in some aspects was rather hard on her.
'I could not help it, my dear,' said Lady Merrifield, 'without absolutely asking for an invitation for you.'
'No, mamma; and it is Mysie who is Fly's friend, being the same age and all. It is quite right, and I understand it.'
'My dear, I am so glad I can do such a thing as this. If there were small jealousies among you, I could not venture on letting you be set aside, for I know the disappointment was quite as great to you as to Mysie, when we gave it up.'
'But she was better about it than I,' said Gillian; 'mamma, your trusting me in that way is better than a dozen balls. Besides, I know I should hate being there without you; I'm a great old thing, as Jasper
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