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- The Two Sides of the Shield - 6/61 -
'Oh, let me put that on.'
'Bless me, miss, it has blue braid, and you in mourning for your poor mamma!'
Dolores stood abashed, but a grey alpaca, which she had always much disliked, came out next, and Mrs. Halfpenny decided that with her black ribbons that would do, though it turned out to be rather shockingly short, and to show a great display of black legs; but as the box containing the clothes in present wear had not come to hand, this must stand for the present--and besides, a voice was heard, saying, 'Is Dora ready?' and a young person darted up, put her arms round her neck, and kissed her before she knew what she was about. 'Mamma said I should come because I am just your age, thirteen and a half,' she said. 'I'm Mysie, though my proper name is Maria Millicent.'
Dolores looked her over. She was a good deal taller than herself, and had rich-looking shining brown hair, dark brown eyes full of merriment, and a bright rosy colour, and she danced on her active feet as if she were full of perpetual life. 'All happy and not caring,' thought Dolores.
'Now don't fash Miss Mohun with your tricks. She has stood like a lamb,' said Mrs. Halfpenny reprovingly. 'There, we'll not keep her to find an apron.'
'I don't wear pinafores,' said Mysie, 'but I don't mind pretty aprons like this. 'Why, my sisters had them for tennis, before they went out to India. Come along, Dora,' grasping her hand.
'My name isn't Dora,' said the new-comer, as they went down the passage.
'No,' said Mysie, in a low voice; 'but mamma told Gill--that's Gillian, and me, that we had better not tell anybody, because if the boys heard they might tease you so about it; for Wilfred is a tease, and there's no stopping him when mamma isn't there. So she said she would call you Dora, or Dolly, whichever you liked, and you are not a bit like a Dolly.'
'They always called me Dolly,' said Dolores; 'and if I am not to have my name, I like that best; but I had rather have my proper name.'
'Oh, very well,' said Mysie; 'it is more out of the way, only it is very long.'
By this time they had descended a long narrow flight of uncarpeted stairs, 'the back ones,' as Mysie explained, and had reached a slippery oak hall with high-backed chairs, and all the odds and ends of a family-garden hats, waterproofs, galoshes, bats, rackets, umbrellas, etc., ranged round, and a great white cockatoo upon a stand, who observed--'Mysie, Cockie wants his breakfast,' as they went by towards the door, whence proceeded a hubbub of voices and a clatter of knives and jingle of teaspoons and cups, a room that as Mysie threw open the door seemed a blaze of sunshine, pouring in at the large window, and reflected in the glass and silver. Yes, and in the bright eyes and glossy hair of the party who sat round the breakfast-table, further brightened by the fire, pleasant in the early autumn.
Eyes, as it seemed to Dolores, eyes without number were levelled on her, as Mysie led her in, saying--
'Here's a place by mamma; she kept it for you, between her and Uncle William.'
'No, don't all jump up at once and rush at her,' said Lady Merrifield. 'Give her a little time. Here, my dear;' and she held out her hand and drew in the stranger to her, kissing her kindly, and placing her in a chair close to herself, as she presided over the teacups--not at the end, but at the middle of the table--while all that could be desired to eat and drink found its way at once to Dolores, who had arrived at being hungry now, and was glad to have the employment for hands and eyes, instead of feeling herself gazed at. She was not so much occupied, however, as not to perceive that Uncle William's voice had a free, merry ring in it, such as she had never heard in his visits to her father, and that there was a great deal of fun and laughter going on over the thin sheets of an Indian letter, which Aunt Lily was reading aloud.
No one seemed to be attending to anything else, when Dolores ventured to cast a glance around and endeavour to count heads as she sat between her uncle and aunt. Two boys and a girl were opposite. Harry, who had come to meet them last night, was at one end of the table, a tall girl, but still a schoolroom girl, was at the other, and Mysie had been lost sights of on her own side of the table; also there was a very tiny girl on a high chair on the other side of her mamma. 'Seven,' thought Dolores with sinking heart. 'Eight oppressors!'
They were mostly brown-eyed, well-grown creatures. One boy, at the further corner, had a cast in his eye, and was thin and wizen-looking, and when he saw her eyes on him, he made up an ugly face, which he got rid of like a flash of lightning before any one else could see it, but her heart sank all the more for it. He must be Wilfred, the teaser.
Aunt Lilias was a tall, slender woman, dressed in some kind of soft grey, with a little carnation colour at her throat, and a pretty lace cap on her still rich, abundant, dark brown hair, where diligent search could only detect a very few white threads. Her complexion was always of a soft, paly, brunette tint, and though her cheeks showed signs that she was not young, her dark, soft, long-lashed eyes and sweet-looking lips made her face full of life and freshness; and the figure and long slender hands had the kind of grace that some people call willowy, but which is perhaps more like the general air of a young birch tree, or, as Hal had once said, 'Early pointed architecture reminded him of his mother.'
The little one was getting restless, and two of the boys began filliping crumbs at one another.
'Wilfred! Fergus!' said the mother quite low and gently; but they stopped directly. 'We will say grace,' she said, lifting the little one down. 'Now, Primrose.'
Every one stood up, to Dolores' surprise, a pair of little fat hands were put together, a little clear voice said a few words of thanksgiving perfectly pronounced.
'You may go, if you like,' she said. 'Hal, take care of Prim.'
Up jumped the two boys and a sprite of a girl, who took the hand of little Primrose, a beautiful little maiden with rich chestnut wavy curls. They all paused at the door, the boys making a salute, the girls a little curtsey. Primrose's was as pretty a little 'bob' as ever was seen.
'I am glad you keep that custom up,' said Mr. Mohun.
'Jasper had been brought up to it, and wished it to be the habit among us; and I find it a great protection against bouncing and rudeness.'
But Dolly's blood boiled at such stupid, antiquated, military nonsense. She would never give in to it, if they made her live on bread and water!
The uncle and aunt, who perhaps had lengthened out their breakfast from politeness to her, had finished when she had, and the pony-chaise came to the door, in which Hal was to drive Uncle William to the station. Everybody flocked to the door to bid him good-bye, and then Aunt Lilias stooped down to ask Dolores if she were quite rested and felt quite well, Mysie standing anxiously by as if she felt her a great charge.
'Quite well, quite rested, thank you,' the girl answered in her stiff, shy way.
'There is half an hour to spare before Miss Vincent comes. The children generally spend it in feeding the creatures. I am not going to give a holiday, because I think people get more pleasantly acquainted over something, than over nothing, to do, but you need not begin lessons to-day if you had rather settle your thoughts and write your letters.'
'I had rather begin at once,' said Dolores, who thought she would now establish her pre-eminence at the cost of any amount of jealousy.
'Very well, then, when you hear the gong--'
'Mamma,' said Mysie solemnly, after long waiting, 'she says she had rather not be called out of her name.'
'I thought you had been called Dolly, my dear.'
'Yes, at home,' with a strong emphasis.
'Well, my dear, I dare say it may be better to keep to your proper name at once. We won't take liberties with it, till you feel as if you could call this home,' said Lady Merrifield, looking as if she would have kissed her niece on the slightest encouragement, but no one ever looked less kissable than Dolores Mohun at that moment. Was it not cruel and hypocritical to talk of this tiresome multitude as ever making home?
TURNED IN AMONG THEM
'Do you like pets?' asked Mysie eagerly, as her mother left the two girls together.
'I never had any,' said Dolores.
'Oh how dreadful! Why, old Cockie, and Aga and Begum, the two oldest pussies, have been everywhere with us. And, besides, there's Basto, the big Pyrenean dog, and,--oh, here comes little Quiz, mamma's little Maltese--Quiz, Quiz.'
Dolores started, she did not like either dogs or cats; and the little spun-glass looking dog smelt about her.
'I must go and feed my guinea-pig,' said Mysie; 'won't you come? Here are some over shoes and Poncho.'
Dolores was afraid Poncho was another beast, but it turned out to be a sort of cape, and she discovered that all the cloaks and most of the sticks had names of their own. She was afraid to be left standing on the steps alone lest any amount of animals or boys should fall on her
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