By Frances Hodgson Burnett
JAMES R. OSGOOD AND COMPANY - 1884
This my first novel was written several years ago, and published (without any revision by me) first in a ladies' magazine under the name of "Dorothea," and afterwards in book form as "Dolly." For reasons not necessary to state here, all control over the book had passed from my hands. It has been for some time out of print; but, having at last obtained control of the copyright, I have made such corrections as seemed advisable, given it the name I originally intended for it, and now issue it through my regular publishers.
FRANCES HODGSON BURNETT.
Washington, November, 1883.
CHAPTER I. ~ IN WHICH WE HOLD COUNSEL.
It was a nondescript sort of a room, taking it altogether. A big, sunny room, whose once handsome papering and corniceing had grown dingy, and whose rich carpeting had lost its color and pile in places, and yet asserted its superiority to its surroundings with an air of lost grandeur in every shabby medallion. There were pictures in abundance on the walls, and more than one of them were gems in their way, despite the evidence all bore to being the work of amateurs. The tables were carved elaborately, and the faded, brocaded chairs were of the order pouf, and as inviting as they were disreputable in appearance; there was manuscript music among the general litter, a guitar hung from the wall by a tarnished blue and silver ribbon, and a violin lay on the piano; and yet, notwithstanding the air of free-and-easy disorder, one could hardly help recognizing a sort of vagabond comfort and luxury in the Bohemian surroundings. It was so very evident that the owners must enjoy life in an easy, light-hearted, though perhaps light-headed fashion; and it was also so very evident that their light hearts and light heads rose above their knowledge of their light purses.
They were congregated together now, holding a grand family council around the centre-table, and Dolly was the principal feature, as usual; and, embarrassing as the subject of said council was, not one of them looked as if it was other than a most excellent joke that Dolly, having been invited into the camps of the Philistines, should find she had nothing to put on to grace the occasion. And as to Dolly,—well, that young person stood in the midst of them in her shabby, Frenchy little hat, slapping one pink palm with a shabby, shapely kid glove, her eyes alight, her comical dismay and amusement displaying itself even in the arch of her brows.
"And so the Philistine leader pounced upon me herself," she was saying. "You know the 'Ark,' Phil? Well, they were all in the Ark,—the Rev. Bilberry in front, and the boys and girls filling up the corners; so you may imagine the effect produced when they stopped, and Lady Augusta bent over the side to solemnly proclaim her intention of inviting me to partake of coffee and conversation on Friday night, with an air of severely wondering whether I would dare to say 'No!'"
"Why did n't you say it?" said Aimee. "You know it will be an awful bore, Dolly. Those Bilberry clan gatherings always are. You have said so yourself often enough."
"Of course I have," returned Dolly. "And of course it will be, but it would be dreadfully indiscreet to let the Bilberry element know I thought so. The Bilberry doors once closed against us, where is our respectability, and Phil's chance of success among the Philistines? It is bad enough, of course, but there is reason to be thankful that I am the only victim. The rest of you would be sure to blunder into the B. B. B.'s [meaning the Bilberry black books], and that would be an agreeable state of affairs. 'Toinette, look at Tod, he is sitting in the coal-box eating Phil's fusees."
In 'Toinette we find Mrs. Phil, a handsome creature, young enough to have been in the school-room, but with the face and figure of a Greek goddess, and a pair of eyes lovely enough to haunt one's dreams as a memory for a lifetime, and as to the rest, an inconsistent young madcap, whose beauty and spirit seemed only a necessary part of the household arrangements, and whose son and heir, in the person of the enterprising Tod (an abbreviate of Theodore), was the source of unlimited domestic enjoyment and the object of much indiscreet adoration. It was just like Philip Crewe, this marrying on probabilities; and it was equally like the rest of them to accept the state of affairs as an excellent joke, and regard the result as an exquisite piece of pleasantry. 'Toinette herself was only another careless, unworldly addition to the family circle, and enjoyed her position as thoroughly as the rest did; and as to Tod, what a delicate satire upon responsibilities Tod was, and how tranquilly he comported himself under a regime which admitted of free access into dangerous places, and a lack of personal restraint which allowed him all the joys the infantile mind can revel in!
At Dolly's exclamation Toinette rushed at him in his stronghold, and extricated him from the coal-box with demonstrations of dismay.
"Look at his white dress!" she wailed pathetically. "I only put it on a few minutes ago; and he has eaten two dozen fusees, if this was n't an empty box when he found it. I hope they won't disagree with him, Phil."
"They won't," said Phil, composedly. "Nothing does. Dust him, and proceed to business. I want to hear the rest of Dolly's story."
"I think," said Mollie, "that he ate Shem and Ham this morning, for I could only find Japheth after he had been playing with his Noah's Ark. Go on, Dolly."
"Wait until I have taken off my things," said Dolly, "and then we 'll talk it over. We must talk it over, you know, if I am to go."
She took off her hat, and then laid her shawl aside,—a little scarlet shawl, draped about her figure and tossed over one shoulder smartly, and by no means ungracefully,—and so stood revealed; and it must be admitted she was well worth looking at. Not a beauty, but a fresh, wholesome little body, with a real complexion, an abundance of hair, and large-irised, wide-awake eyes, changeable as to color, because capricious in expression; the sort of girl, in fact, who would be likely to persuade people ultimately that, considering circumstances, absolute beauty could be easily dispensed with, and, upon the whole, would rather detract from the general charm of novelty, which, in her case, reigned supreme.
"It is n't the mere fact of being a beauty that makes women popular," she would say; "it's the being able to persuade people that you are one,—or better than one. Don't some historians tell us that Cleopatra had red hair and questionable eyes, and yet she managed to blind the world so completely, that no one is sure whether it is true or not, and to this day the generality of people are inclined to believe that it was her supernatural beauty that dragged Marc Antony to the dust at her feet."
Aimee's face was more nearly perfect than Dolly's; Mollie's was more imposing, child as she was; 'Toi-nette threw her far into the shade in the matter of statuesque splendor; but still it was Dolly who did all the difficult things, and had divers tragic adventures with questionable adorers, whose name was legion, and who were a continual source of rejoicing and entertainment to the family.
Having tossed hat and shawl on to the table, among the manuscript music, paint-brushes, and palettes, this young person slipped into the most comfortable chair near the fire, and, having waited for the rest to seat themselves, proceeded to open the council. Mollie, who was sixteen, large, fair, beautiful, and not as tidy as she might have been, dropped into a not ungraceful position at her feet. Aimee, who was a little maiden with a tender, spirituelle face, and all the forethought of the family, sat near, with some grave perplexity in her expression. 'Toinette and Tod, posed in the low nursery-chair,—the girl's firm, white arm flung around the child,—swung lightly to and fro, fit models for an artist.
"You would make a first-class picture,—the lot of you," commented Phil, amicably.
"Never mind the picture," said Mollie, drawing her disreputable slippers up under her wrapper. "We want to hear how Dolly thinks of going to the Bilberrys'. Oh, Dolly, how heavenly it would be if you had a turquoise-blue sat—"
"Heavenly!" interrupted Dolly. "I should think so. Particularly celestial for Lady Augusta, who looks mahogany-colored in it, and peculiarly celestial for a poor relation from Vagabondia. It would be as much as my reputation was worth. She would never forgive me. You must learn discretion, Mollie."
"There is some consolation in knowing you can't get it," said 'Toinette. "You won't be obliged to deny yourself or be indiscreet. But what are you going to wear, Dolly?"
"That is for the council to decide," Dolly returned. "First, we must settle on what we want, and then we must settle on the way to get it."
"Other people go the other way about it," said Aimee.
"If we were only rich!" said Mollie.
"But it is a most glaringly patent fact that we are not," said Dolly. "There is one thing certain, however,—it must be white."
"A simple white muslin," suggested 'Toinette, struggling in the grasp of the immortal Tod,—"a simple white muslin, with an equally simple wild flower in your hair, a la Amanda Fitzallan. How the Dowager Bilberry would like that."
"And a wide blue sash," suggested Mollie. "And the sleeves tied up with bows. And tucks, Dolly. Girls, just think of Dolly making great eyes at an eligible Philistine, in white muslin and a sash and tucks!"
She was a hardened little sinner, this Dolly, her only redeeming point being that she was honest enough about her iniquities,—so honest that they were really not such terrible iniquities after all, and were regarded as rather good fun by the habitues of Vaga-bondia proper. She laughed just as heartily as the rest of them at Mollie's speech. She could no more resist the temptation of making great eyes at eligible Philistines than she could help making them at the entertaining but highly ineligible Bohemians, who continually frequented Phil's studio. The fear of man was not before her eyes; and the life she had led had invested her with a whimsical yet shrewd knowledge of human nature, and a business-like habit of looking matters in the face, which made her something of a novelty; and when is not novelty irresistible? And as to the masculine Philistines,—well, the audacity of Dolly's successes in the very midst of the enemy's camp had been the cause of much stately demoralization of Philistine battalions.
At her quietest she created small sensations and attracted attention; but in her wicked moods, when she was in a state of mind to prompt her to revenge the numerous small slights and overt acts of lofty patronage she met with, the dowagers stood in some secret awe of her propensities, and not without reason. Woe betide the daring matron who measured swords with her at such times. Great would be her confusion and dire her fall before the skirmish was over, and nothing was more certain than that she would retire from the field a wiser if not a better woman. After being triumphantly routed with great slaughter on two or three occasions, the enemy had discovered this, and decided mentally that it was more discreet to let "little Miss Crewe" alone, considering that, though it was humiliating to be routed, even by one of their own forces, it was infinitely more so to be routed by an innocent-looking young person, whose position was questionable, and who actually owed her vague shadow of respectability to her distant but august relative, the Lady Augusta Decima Crewe Bilberry, wife of the Rev. Marmaduke Sholto Bilberry, and mother of the plenteous crop of young Bilberrys, to whom little Miss Crewe was music teacher and morning governess.
So it was that Mollie's joke about the tucks and white muslin gained additional point from the family recollection of past experiences.
"But," said Dolly, when the laugh had subsided, "it won't do to talk nonsense all day. Here 's where we stand, you know. Coffee and conversation on Friday night on one side, and nothing but my draggled old green tarlatan on the other, and it's Tuesday now."
"And the family impecuniosity being a fact well established in the family mind," began Phil, with composure.
"But that 's nonsense," interrupted Aimee. "And, as Dolly says, nonsense won't do now. But," with a quaint sigh, "we always do talk nonsense."
But here a slight diversion was created. Mrs. Phil jumped up, with an exclamation of delight, and, dropping Tod on to Mollie's lap, disappeared through the open door.
"I will be back in a minute," she called back to them, as she ran up-stairs. "I have just thought of something."
"Girls," said Mollie, "it's her white merino."
And so it was. In a few minutes she reappeared with it,—a heap of soft white folds in her arms, and a yard or so of the train dragging after her upon the carpet,—the one presentable relic of a once inconsistently elaborate bridal trousseau, at present in a rather tumbled and rolled-up condition, but still white and soft and thick, and open to unlimited improvement.
"I had forgotten all about it," she said, triumphantly. "I have never needed it at all, and I knew I never should when I bought it, but it looked so nice when I saw it that I could n't help buying it. I once thought of cutting it up into things for Tod; but it seems to me, Dolly, it 's what you want exactly, and Tod can trust to Providence,—things always come somehow."
It was quite characteristic of Vagabondia that there should be more rejoicing over this one stray sheep of good luck than there would have been over any ninety and nine in the ordinary folds of more prosperous people. And Mrs. Phil rejoiced as heartily as the rest. It was her turn now, and she was as ready to sacrifice her white merino on the shrine of the household impecuniosity as she would be to borrow Dolly's best bonnet, or Mollie's shoes, or Aimee's gloves, when occasion demanded such a course. So the merino was laid upon the table, and the council rose to examine, comment, and suggest.
"A train," said Dolly, concisely; "no trimming, and swan's-down. Even the Bilberry could n't complain of that, I 'm sure."
Mollie, resting her smooth white elbows on the table in a comfortably lounging posture, regarded the garment with great longing in her drowsy brown eyes.
"I wish it was white satin," she observed, somewhat irrelevantly, "and I was going to wear it at a real ball, with real lace, you know, and a court train, and flowers, and a fan."
Dolly looked down at her handsome childish face good-naturedly. She was such an incongruous mixture of beauty and utter simplicity, this easy-going baby of sixteen, that Dolly could not have helped liking her heartily under any circumstances, even supposing there had been no tie of relationship between them.
"I wish it was white satin and you were going to wear it," she said. "White satin is just the sort of thing for you, Mollie. Never mind, wait until the figurative ship comes in."
"And in the interval," suggested Aimee, "put a stitch or so in that wrapper of yours. It has been torn for a week now, and Tod tumbles over it half a dozen times every morning before breakfast."
Mollie cast her eyes over her shoulder to give it an indifferent glance as it rested on the faded carpet behind her.
"I wish Lady Augusta would mend things before she sends them to us," she said, with sublime naivete, and then, at the burst of laughter which greeted her words, she stopped short, staring at the highly entertained circle with widely opened, innocent eyes. "What are you laughing at?" she said. "I 'm sure she might. She is always preaching about liking to have something to occupy her time, and it would be far more charitable of her to spend her time in that way than in persistently going into poor houses where the people don't want her, and reading tracts to them that they don't want to hear."
Dolly's appreciation of the audacity of the idea reached a climax in an actual shriek of delight.
"If I had five pounds, which I have not, and never shall have," she said, "I would freely give it just to see Lady Augusta hear you say that, my dear. Five pounds! I would give ten—twenty—fifty, if need be. It would be such an exquisite joke."
But Mollie did not regard the matter in this light. To her unsophisticated mind Lady Augusta represented nothing more than periodical boredom in the shape of occasional calls, usually made unexpectedly, when the house was at its worst, and nobody was especially tidy,—calls invariably enlivened by severe comments upon the evil propensities of poor relations in general, and the shocking lack of respectability in this branch of the order in particular. Worldly wisdom was not a family trait, Dolly's half-whimsical assumption of it being the only symptom of the existence of such a gift, and Mollie was the most sublimely thoughtless of the lot. Mrs. Phil had never been guilty of a discreet act in her life. Phil himself regarded consequences less than he regarded anything else, and Aimee's childish staidness and forethought had certainly not an atom of worldliness in it. Accordingly, Dolly was left to battle with society, and now and then, it must be admitted, the result of her brisk affrays did her no small credit.
For a very short space of time the merino was being disposed of to an advantage; Dolly seating herself in her chair again to renovate the skirt; Aimee unpicking the bodice, and Mollie looking on with occasional comments.
"Here is Griffith," she said, at last, glancing over her shoulder at a figure passing the window; and the next minute the door was opened without ceremony, and "Grif" made his appearance upon the scene.
Being called upon to describe Griffith Donne, one would hardly feel inclined to describe him as being imposing in personal appearance. He was a thin, undersized young man, rather out at elbows and shabby of attire, and with a decided air of Bohemia about him; but his youthful face was singularly pleasing and innocent, and his long-lashed, brown-black eyes were more than good-looking,—they were absolutely beautiful in a soft, pathetic way,—beautiful as the eyes of the loveliest of women.
He came into the room as if he was used to coming into it in an every-day fashion; and Dolly, looking up, gave him a smile and a nod.
"Ah, you are all here, are you?" he said. "What is on hand now? What is all this white stuff for?" And he drew a chair up close by Dolly's side, and lifted the merino in his hand.
"For Friday night," answered Aimee. "Bilberry's again, Griffith. Coffee and conversation this time."
Griffith looked at Dolly inquiringly, but Dolly only laughed and shrugged her plump shoulders wickedly.
"Look here," he said, with a disapproving air, "it ain't true, is it, Dolly? You are not going to make a burnt-offering of yourself on the Bilberry shrine again, are you?"
But Dolly only laughed the more as she took the merino from him.
"If you want a breadth of merino to hold, take another one," she said. "I want that. And as to being a burnt-offering on the shrine of Bilberry, my dear Griffith, you must know it is policy," and immediately went on with her unpicking again, while Griffith, bending over in an attitude more remarkable for ease than grace, looked on at her sharp little glancing scissors with an appearance of great interest.
It would perhaps be as well to pause here to account for this young man's evident freedom in the family circle. It was very plain that he was accustomed to coming and going when he pleased, and it was easy to be adduced from his manner that, to him, Dolly was the chief attraction in the establishment. The fact was, he was engaged to Dolly, and had been engaged to her for years, and in all probability, unless his prospects altered their aspect, would be engaged to her for years to come. In past time, when both were absurdly young, and ought to have been at school, the two had met,—an impressionable, good-natured, well-disposed couple of children, who fell in love with each other unreasoningly and honestly, giving no thought to the future. They were too young to be married, of course, and indeed had not troubled themselves about anything so matter of fact; they had fallen in love, and enjoyed it, and, strange to say, had been enjoying it ever since, and falling in love more deeply every day of their affectionate, inconsequent, free-and-easy lives. What did it matter to them that neither owned a solitary sixpence, for which they had not a thousand uses? What did it matter to Dolly that Griffith's literary career had so far been so unremunerative that a new suit is as an event, and an extra shilling an era? What did it matter to Griffith that Dolly's dresses were re-trimmed and re-turned and re-furbished, until their reappearance with the various seasons was the opening of a High Carnival of jokes? Love is not a matter of bread and butter in Vaga-bondia, thank Heaven! Love is left to Bohemia as well as to barren Respectability, and, as Griffith frequently observed with no slight enthusiasm, "When it comes to figure, where's the feminine Philistine whose silks and satins and purple and fine raiment fit like Dolly's do?" So it went on, and the two adored each other with mutual simplicity, and, having their little quarrels, always made them up again with much affectionate remorse, and, scorning the prudential advice of outsiders, believed in each other and the better day which was to come, when one or the other gained worldly goods enough to admit of a marriage in which they were to be happy in their own way,—which, I may add, was a way simple and tender, unselfish and faithful, enough.
It was quite evident, however, that Griffith was not in the best of spirits this morning. He was not as sanguine as Dolly by nature, and outward influences tended rather to depress him occasionally. But he never was so low-spirited that Dolly could not cheer him, consequently he always came to her with his troubles; and to her credit, be it said, she never failed to understand and deal with them tenderly, commonplace though they were. So she understood his mood very well to-day. Something had gone wrong at "the office." ("The office" was the editorial den which swallowed him up, and held him in bondage from morning until night; appropriating his labor for a very small pecuniary compensation, too, it may be added.) "Old Flynn," as the principal was respectfully designated, had been creating one of his periodical disturbances, or he had been snubbed, which, by the way, was not a rare event, and to poor Griffith slights were stings and patronage poison. He could not laugh at the enemy and scorn discomfiture as Dolly could, and the consequence of an encounter with the Philistines on his part was usually a desperate fit of low spirits, which made him wretched, bitter, and gloomy by turns.
This morning it appeared that his spirits had reached their lowest ebb, and before many minutes had passed he was pouring forth his tribulations with much frankness and simplicity. Mr. Griffith Donne's principal trial was the existence of an elderly maiden aunt, who did not approve of him, and was in the habit of expressing her disapproval in lengthy epistolary correspondence, invariably tending to severe denunciation of his mode of life, and also invariably terminating with the announcement that unless he "desisted" (from what, or in what manner, not specified) she should consider it her bounden duty to disinherit him forthwith. One of these periodical epistles, having arrived before he had breakfasted, had rather destroyed Griffith's customary equanimity, and various events of the morning had not improved his frame of mind; consequently he came to Dolly for comfort.
"And she's coming to London, too," he ended, after favoring the assemblage with extracts from the letter. "And, of course, she will expect me to do the dutiful. Confound her money! I wish she would build an asylum for irate, elderly spinsters with it, and retire into it for the remainder of her natural life. I don't want it, and"—with praiseworthy ingenuousness—"I shouldn't get it if I did!"
"But," said Dolly, when they found themselves alone for a few minutes, "it would be an agreeable sort of thing to have, Griffith, upon the whole, wouldn't it?"
They were standing close together by the fire, Griffith with his arm thrown round the girl's waist, and she with both her plump, flexible hands clasped on his shoulder and her chin resting on them, and her big, round eyes gazing up into his. She was prone to affectionate, nestling attitudes and coaxing ways—with Griffith it may be understood—her other adorers were treated cavalierly enough.
"A nice sort of thing," echoed Griffith. "I should think it would. I should like to have it for your sake. I don't care for it so much for myself, you know, Dolly, but I want the time to come when I can buy you such things as Old Flynn's nieces wear. It would n't be a waste of good material on such a figure as yours. I have an idea of my own about a winter dress I intend you to have when we are rich,—a dark blue velvet, and a hat with a white plume in, and one of those muff affairs made of long white silky fur—"
"Angora," said Dolly, her artless enjoyment of the idea shining in her eyes. "Angora, Griffith."
"I don't know what it's called," answered Griffith, "but it is exactly your style, and I have thought about it a dozen times. Ah, if we were only rich!"
Dolly laughed joyously, clasping her hands a little closer over his shoulder. Their conversations upon prospects generally ended in some such pleasantly erratic remarks. They never were tired of supposing that they were rich; and really, in default of being rich, it must be admitted that there is some consolation in being in a frame of mind which can derive happiness from such innocent day-dreams.
"Just think of the house we would have," she said, "and the fun we could all have together, if you and I were rich and—and married, Griffith. We should be happy if we were married, and not rich, but if we were rich and married—goodness, Griffith!" and she opened her eyes wide and looked so enjoyable altogether, that Griffith, being entirely overcome by reason of the strength of his feelings upon the subject, caught her in both arms and embraced her heartily, and only released her in an extremely but charmingly crushed and dishevelled condition, after he had kissed her about half a dozen times.
It did not appear, upon the whole, that she objected to the proceeding. She took it quite naturally and unaffectedly, as if she was used to it, and regarded it as a part of the programme. Indeed, it was quite a refreshing sight to see her put both her little hands up to her disarranged hair and settle the crimps serenely.
"We should have the chances to find true people if we were rich," she said. "And then we could take care, of Aimee and Mollie, and help them to make grand marriages."
But that very instant Griffith's face fell somewhat.
"Dolly," he said, "have you never thought—not even thought that you would like to have made a grand marriage yourself?" And though there was not the least shade of a reason for the change in his mood, it was glaringly evident that he was at once rendered absolutely prostrate with misery at the thought.
These sudden pangs of remorse at his own selfishness in holding the girl bound to him, were his weakness, and Dolly's great difficulty was to pilot him safely through his shoals of doubt and self-reproach, and she had her own way of managing it. Just now her way of managing it was to confront him bravely, coming quite close to him again, and taking hold of one of his coat buttons.
"I have thought of it a hundred times," she said, "but not since I have belonged to you; and as I have belonged to you ever since I was fifteen years old, I should think what I thought before then can hardly have the right to trouble us now. You never think of marrying any one but me, do you, Griffith?"
"Think of marrying any one else!" exclaimed Griffith, indignantly. "I would n't marry a female Rajah with a diamond—"
"I know you wouldn't," Dolly interrupted. "I believe in you, Griffith. Why won't you believe in me?" And the eyes lifted to his were so perfectly honest and straightforward that the sourest of cynics must have believed them, and Griffith was neither sour nor a cynic, but simply an unsuccessful, affectionate, contradictory young man, too susceptible to outward influences for his own peace of mind.
He was a very unfortunate young man, it may as well be observed at once, and his misfortunes were all the harder to bear because he was not to blame for them. He had talent, and was industrious and indefatigable, and yet, somehow or other, the Fates seemed to be against him. If he had been less honest or less willing, he might perhaps have been more successful; but in his intercourse with the world's slippery ones he customarily found himself imposed upon. He had done hard work for which he had never been paid, and work for which he had been paid badly; he had fought honestly to gain footing, and, somehow or other, luck had seemed to be against him, for certainly he had not gained it yet. Honest men admired and respected him, and men of intellectual worth prophesied better days; but so far it had really seemed that the people who were willing to befriend him were powerless, and those who were powerful cared little about the matter. So he alternately struggled and despaired, and yet retained his good nature, and occasionally enjoyed life heartily in defiance of circumstances. With every member of the Crewe household he was popular, from Tod to Mrs. Phil. His engagement to Dolly they regarded as a satisfactory arrangement. That he was barely able to support himself, and scarcely possessed a presentable suit of clothes, was to their minds the most inconsequent of trifles. It was unfortunate, perhaps, but unavoidable; and their sublime trust in the luck which was to ripen in all of them at some indefinite future time, was their hope in this case. Some time or other he would "get into something," they had decided, and then he would marry Dolly, and they would all enjoy the attendant festivities. And in the mean time they allowed the two to be happy, and made Griffith welcome, inviting him to their little impromptu suppers, and taking care never to be de trop on the occasion of tete-a-tete conversations.
The tete-a-tete of the morning ended happily as usual. Dolly went back to her unpicking, and Griffith, finding his ghost of self-reproach laid for the time being, watched her in a supremely blissful state of mind. He never tired of watching her, he frequently told her in enthusiastic confidence. The charm in Dolly Crewe was her adaptability; she was never out of place, and it had been said that she suited herself to her accompaniments far oftener than her accompaniments suited themselves to her. Seeing her in a shabby dress, seated in the shabby parlor, one instinctively felt that shabbiness was not so utterly unbearable after all, and acknowledged that it had a brightness of its own. Meeting her at a clan gathering in the camps of the Philistines, one always found her in excellent spirits, and quite undamped in her enjoyment of the frequently ponderous rejoicings. In the Bilberry school-room, among dog-eared French grammars and lead-pencilled music, education did not appear actually dispiriting; and now, as she sat by the fire, with the bright, sharp little scissors in lier hand, and the pile of white merino on her knees and trailing on the hearth-rug at her feet, Griffith found her simply irresistible. Ah! the bliss that revealed itself in the prospect of making her Mrs. Donne, and taking possession of her entirely! The joy of seeing her seated in an arm-chair of his own, by a fire which was solely his property, in a room which was nobody else's paradise! He could imagine so well how she would regard such a state of affairs as a nice little joke, and would pretend to adapt herself to her position with divers daring witcheries practised upon himself to the dethroning of his reason; how she would make innocent, wicked speeches, and be coaxing and dazzling and mock-matronly by turns; and above all, how she would enjoy it, and make him enjoy it, too; and yet sometimes, when they were quiet and alone, would drop all her whimsical little airs and graces, and make such tender, unselfish, poetic little speeches, that he would find himself startled in life wonder at the depth and warmth and generosity of her girlish heart. He often found her surprising him-after this manner, and the surprise usually came when he had just been most nearly betrayed into thinking of her as an adorable little collection of witcheries and whimsicalities, and forgetting that she had other moods. More than once she had absolutely brought tears into his eyes, and a thrill to his heart, by some sudden, pathetic, trustful speech, made after she had been dazzling and bewildering for hours with her pretty coquetries and daring flashes of wit. No one but Griffith ever saw her in these intense moods. The rest of them saw her intense enough sometimes but the sudden, uncontrollable flashes of light Griffith saw now and then, fairly staggered him. And the poor fellow's love for her was something akin to adoration. There was only this one woman upon earth to him, and his whole soul was bound up in her. It was for her he struggled against disappointment, it was for her he hoped, it was only the desperate strength of his love for her that made disappointment so terribly bitter to him. Certainly his love made him better and sweeter-tempered and more energetic than he would have been if his life had not been so full of it. His one ambition was to gain success to lay at her feet. To him success meant Dolly, and Dolly meant Paradise, an honest Paradise, in which primeval bliss reigned supreme and trial was unknown. Consequently the bright little scissors glanced before his eyes a sort of loadstar.
"I did n't tell you that nephew of Old Flynn's had come back, did I?" he said, at length.
"No," answered Dolly, snipping diligently. "You never mentioned him. What nephew, and where did he come from?"
"A fellow of the name of Gowan, who has been travelling in the East for no particular reason for the last ten years. He called on Flynn, at the office, today, for the first time; and if I had been called upon to kick him out, I should have regarded it as a cheerful and improving recreation."
"Why?" laughed Dolly. "Is he one of the Philistines?"
"Philistine!" echoed Griffith, with disgust. "I should think so. A complacent idiot in a chronic state of fatigue.. Drove up to the door in a cab,—his own, by the way, and a confoundedly handsome affair it is,—gave the reins to his tiger, and stared at the building tranquilly for at least two minutes before he came in, stared at Old Flynn when he did come in, stared at me, shook hands with Old Flynn exhaustedly, and then subsided into listening and paring his nails during the remainder of the interview."
"Which might or might not be discreet under the circumstances," said Dolly. "Perhaps he had nothing to say. Never mind, Grif. Let us console ourselves with the thought that we are not as these utterly worthless explorers of the East are," with a flourish of the scissors.
"Better is a dinner of herbs in Vagabondia, with a garnish of conversation and bon-mots, than a stalled ox among the Philistines with dulness."
But about an hour after Griffith had taken his departure, as she was bending over the table, industriously clipping at the merino, a thought suddenly crossed her mind, which made her drop her scissors and look up meditatively.
"By the way," she began, all at once. "Yes, it must be! How was it I did not think of it when Grif was talking? I am sure, it was Gowan, Lady Augusta said. To be sure it was. Mollie, this exploring nephew of the Flynns is to partake of coffee and conversation with us at the Bilberrys' on Friday, if I am not mistaken, and I never remembered it until now."
CHAPTER II ~ IN THE CAMPS OF THE PHILISTINES.
A TOILET in Vagabondia was an event. Not an ordinary toilet, of course, but a toilet extraordinary,—such as is necessarily called forth by some festive gathering or unusual occasion. It was also an excitement after a manner, and not a disagreeable one. It made demands upon the inventive and creative powers of the whole family, and brought to light hidden resources. It also aroused energy, and, being a success, was rejoiced over as a brilliant success. Respectability might complacently retire to its well-furnished chamber, and choose serenely from its unlimited supply of figurative purple and legendary fine linen, without finding a situation either dramatic or amusing; but in Vagabondia this was not the case. Having contrived to conjure up, as it were, from the secret places of the earth an evening dress, are not gloves still necessary? and, being safe as regards gloves, do not the emergencies of the toilet call for minor details seemingly unimportant, but still not to be done without? Finding this to be the case, the household of Crewe rallied all its forces upon such occasions, and set aside all domestic arrangements for the time being. It was not impossible that Dolly should have prepared for a rejoicing without the assistance of Mollie and Aimee, Mrs. Phil and Tod, with occasional artistic suggestions from Phil and any particular friend of the family who chanced to be below-stairs, within hearing distance. It might not have appeared an impossibility, I should say, to ordinary people, but the household of Crewe regarded it as such, and accordingly, on the night of the Bilberry gathering, accompanied Dolly in a body to her tiring-room.
Upon the bed lay the merino dress, white, modest, and untrimmed, save for the swan's-down accompaniments, but fitting to a shade and exhibiting an artistic sweep of train.
"It is a discreet sort of garment," said Dolly, by way of comment; "and it is 'suitable to our social position.' Do you remember when Lady Augusta said that about my black alpaca, girls? Pleasant little observation, was n't it? 'Toinette, I trust hair-pins are not injurious to infantile digestive organs. If they are, perhaps it would be as well to convince Tod that such is the case. What is the matter, Mollie?"
Mollie, leaning upon the dressing-table in her favorite attitude, was looking rather discontented. She was looking very pretty, also, it might be said. Her sleepy, warm brown eyes, being upraised to Dolly, showed larger and warmer and browner than usual; the heavy brown locks, tumbling down over her shoulders, caught a sort of brownish, coppery shade in the flare of gas-light; there was a flush on her soft cheeks, and her ripe lips were curved in a lovely dissatisfaction. Hence Dolly's remark.
"I wish I was going," said the child.
Dolly's eyes flew open wide, in a very sublimity of astonishment.
"Wish you were going?" she echoed. "To the Bilberrys'?"
"Yes, even there. I want to go somewhere. I think I should enjoy myself a little anywhere. I should like to see the people, and hear them talk, and find out what they do, and wear an evening dress."
Dolly gazed at her in mingled pity and bewilderment.
"Mollie," she said, "you are very innocent; and I always knew you were very innocent; but I did not know you were as innocent as this,—so utterly free from human guile that you could imagine pleasure in a Bilberry rejoicing. And I believe," still regarding her with that questioning pity, "—I believe you really could. I must keep an eye on you, Mollie. You are too unsophisticated to be out of danger."
It was characteristic of her good-natured sympathy for the girl that it should occur to her the next minute that perhaps it might please her to see herself donned even in such modest finery as the white merino. She understood her simple longings after unattainable glories so thoroughly, and she was so ready to amuse her to the best of her ability. So she suggested it.
"Put it on, Mollie," she said, "and let us see how you would look in it. I should like to see you in full dress."
The child rose with some faint stir of interest in her manner and went to the bed.
"It wouldn't be long enough for me if it wasn't for the train," she said; "but the train will make it long enough nearly, and I can pull it together at the waist."
She put it on at the bedside, and then came forward to the toilet-table; and Dolly, catching sight of her in the glass as she advanced, turned round with a start.
Standing in the light; the soft heavy white folds draping themselves about her statuesque curves of form as they might have draped themselves about the limbs of some young marble Grace or Goddess, with her white arms and shoulders uncovered, with her unchildish yet youthful face, with her large-irised eyes, her flush of momentary pleasure and half awkwardness, she was just a little dazzling, and Dolly did not hesitate to tell her so.
"You are a beauty, Mollie," she said. "And you are a woman in that dress. If you were only a Bilberry now, what a capital your face would be to you, and what a belle you would be!"
Which remarks, if indiscreet, were affectionate, and made in perfect good faith.
But when, having donned the merino herself, she made her way down the dark staircase to the parlor, there was a vague ghost of uneasiness in her mind, and it was the sight of Mollie in full dress which had aroused it.
"She is so very pretty," she said to herself. "I scarcely knew how very pretty she was until I turned round from the glass to look at her. What a pity it is that we are not rich enough to do her justice, and let her enjoy herself as other girls do. And—and," with a little sigh, "I am afraid we are a dreadfully careless lot. I wonder if Phil ever thinks about it? And she is so innocent and ignorant too. I hope she won't fall in love with anybody disreputable. I wish I knew how to take care of her."
And yet when she went into the parlor to run the gauntlet of family inspection, and walked across the floor to show the sweep of her train, and tried her little opera hood on Tod before putting it on herself, a casual observer would certainly have decided that she had never had a serious thought in her life. Griffith was there, of course. At such times his presence was considered absolutely necessary, and his admiration was always unbounded. His portion it was to tuck her under his arm and lead her out to the cab when the train and wraps were arranged and the hood put on. This evening, when he had made her comfortable and shut the door, she leaned out of the window at the last moment to speak to him.
"I forgot to tell you, Griffith," she said, "Lady Augusta said something about a Mr. Gowan to Mr. Bilberry the other day when she invited me. I wonder if it is the Gowan you were telling me about? He is to be there to-night."
"Of course it is," answered Griffith, with sudden discontent. "He is just the sort of fellow the Bil-berrys would lionize."
It was rather incorrect of Dolly to feel, as she did, a sudden flash of anticipation. She could not help it. This intense appreciation of a novel or dramatic encounter with an eligible Philistine was her great weakness, and she made no secret of it even with her lover, which was unwise if frank.
She gave her fan a wicked flirt, and her eyes flashed as she did it.
"A mine of valuable information lies unexplored before me," she said. "I must make minute inquiries concerning the habits and peculiarities of the people of the East. I shall take the lion in tow, and Lady Augusta's happiness will be complete."
Griffith turned pale—his conquering demon was jealousy.
"Look here, Dolly," he began.
But Dolly settled herself in her seat again, and waved her hand with an air of extreme satisfaction. She did not mean to make him miserable, and would have been filled with remorse if she had quite understood the extent of the suffering she imposed upon him sometimes merely through her spirit, and the daring onslaughts she made upon people for whom she cared little or nothing. She understood his numerous other peculiarities pretty thoroughly, but she did not understand his jealousy, for the simple reason that she had never been jealous in her life.
"Tell the cabman to drive on," she said, with a flourish. "There is balm to be found even in Bilberry."
And when the man drove on she composed herself comfortably in a corner of the vehicle, in perfect unconsciousness of the fact that she had left a thorn behind, rankling in the bosom of the poor fellow who watched her from the pavement.
She was rather late, she found, on reaching her destination. The parlors were full, and the more enterprising of the guests were beginning to group themselves in twos and threes, and make spasmodic efforts at conversation. But conversation at a Bilberry assemblage was rarely a success,—it was so evident that to converse was a point of etiquette, and it was so patent that conversation was expected from everybody, whether they had anything to say or not.
Inoffensive individuals of retiring temperament, being introduced to each other solemnly and with ceremony, felt that to be silent was to be guilty of a glaring breach of Bilberry decorum, and, casting about in mental agony for available remarks, found none, and were overwhelmed with amiable confusion. Lady Augusta herself, in copper-colored silk of the most unbending quality and make, was not conducive to cheerfulness. Yet Dolly's first thought on catching sight of her this evening was a cheerful if audacious one.
"She looks as if she was dressed in a boiler," she commented, inwardly. "I wonder if I shall ever live so long—I wonder if I ever could live long enough to submit to a dress like that. And yet she seems to be almost happy in the possession of it. But, I dare say, that is the result of conscious virtue."
It was a very fortunate thing for Dolly that she was not easily discomposed. Most girls entering a room full of people, evidently unemployed, and in consequence naturally prone to not too charitable criticism of new-comers, might have lost self-possession. Not so Dolly Crewe. Being announced, she came in neither with unnecessary hurry nor timidly, and with not the least atom of shrinking from the eyes turned toward her; and, simple and unassuming a young person as she appeared on first sight, more than one pair of eyes in question found themselves attracted by the white merino, the white shoulders, the elaborate tresses, and the serene, innocent-looking orbs.
Lady Augusta advanced slightly to meet her, with a grewsome rustling of copper-colored stiffness. She did not approve of Dolly at any time, but she specially disapproved of her habit of setting time at defiance and ignoring the consequences.
"I am very glad to see you," she said, with the air of a potentate issuing a proclamation. "I thought"—somewhat severely—"that you were not coming at all."
"Did you?" remarked Dolly, with tranquillity.
"Yes," returned her ladyship. "And I could not understand it. It is nine o'clock now, and I believe I mentioned eight as the hour."
"I dare say you did," said Dolly, unfurling her small downy fan, and using it with much serene grace; "but I wasn't ready at eight. I hope you are very well."
"Thank you," replied her ladyship, icily. "I am very well. Will you go and take a seat by Euphemia? I allowed her to come into the room to-night, and I notice that her manner is not so self-possessed as I should wish."
Dolly gave a little nod of acquiescence, and looked across the room to where the luckless Euphemia sat edged in a corner behind a row of painfully conversational elderly gentlemen, who were struggling with the best intentions to keep up a theological discourse with the Rev. Marmaduke. Euphemia was the eldest Miss Bilberry. She was overgrown and angular, and suffered from chronic embarrassment, which was not alleviated by the eye of her maternal parent being upon her. She was one of Dolly's pupils, and cherished a secret but enthusiastic admiration for her. And, upon the whole, Dolly was fond of the girl. She was good-natured and unsophisticated, and bore the consciousness of her physical and mental imperfections with a humility which was almost touching to her friend sometimes. Catching Dolly's eye on this occasion, she glanced at her imploringly, and then, catching the eye of her mother, blushed to the tips of her ears, and relapsed into secret anguish of mind.
But Dolly, recognizing her misery, smiled reassuringly, and made her way across the room to her, insinuating herself through the theological phalanx.
"I am so glad you are here at last," said the girl. "I was so afraid you would n't come. And oh, how nice you look, and how beautifully you manage your train! I could never do it in the world. I should be sure to tumble over it. But nothing ever seems to trouble you at all. You haven't any idea how lovely you were when you went across the room to mamma.. Everybody looked at you, and I don't wonder at it."
"They would have looked at anybody," answered Dolly, laughing. "They had nothing else to do."
"That is quite true, poor things," sighed Euphemia, sympathetically. "You don't know the worst yet, either. You don't know how stupid they are and can be, Dolly. That old gentleman near the screen has not spoken one word yet, and he keeps sighing and wiping the top of his bald head with his pocket-handkerchief until I can't keep my eyes off him, and I am afraid he has noticed me. I don't mean any harm, I'm sure, but I have got nothing to do myself, and I can't help it. But what I was going to say was, that people looked at you as they did not look at others who came in. You seem different some way. And I'm sure that Mr. Gowan of mamma's has been staring at you until it is positively rude of him."
Dolly's slowly moving fan became stationary for a moment.
"Mr. Gowan," she said. "Who is Mr. Gowan?"
"One of mamma's people," answered Euphemia, "though I'm sure I can't quite understand how he can be one of them. He looks so different from the rest. He is very rich, you know, and very aristocratic, and has travelled a great deal He has been all over the world, they say. There he is at that side-table."
Dolly's eyes, travelling round the assemblage with complacent indifference, rested at last on the side-table where the subject of Euphemia's remarks sat.
He really was an eligible Philistine, it seemed, despite Griffith's unflattering description of him.
He was a long-limbed, graceful man, with an aquiline face and superb eyes, which at this moment were resting complacently upon Dolly herself. It was not exactly admiration, either, which they expressed, it was something of a more entertaining nature, at least so Dolly found it,—it was nothing more nor less than a slowly awakening interest in her which paid her the compliment of rising above the surface of evident boredom and overcoming lassitude. It looked as if he was just beginning to study her, and found the game worth the candle. Dolly met his glance with steadiness, and as she met it she measured him. Then she turned to Euphemia again and fluttered the fan slowly and serenely.
"He's nice, is n't he?" commented the guileless Phemie. "If the rest of them were like him, I don't think we should be so stupid, but as it is, you know, he can't talk when there is nobody to talk to."
"No," said Dolly. "One could hardly expect it of him. But I wonder why he does not say something to that thin lady in the dress-cap."
"Oh, dear!" exclaimed Phemie, "I don't wonder in the least. That is Miss Berenice MacDowlas, Dolly."
"Miss Berenice MacDowlas!" echoed Dolly, with a start. "You don't say so?"
"Yes," answered Euphemia. "Do you know her? You spoke as if you did."
"Well—yes—no," answered Dolly, with a half laugh. "I should say I know somebody who does."
And she looked as if she was rather enjoying some small joke of her own. The fact was that Miss MacDowlas was no other than Griffith's amiable aunt. But, of course, it would not have done to tell this to Euphemia Bilberry. Euphemia's ideas on the subject of the tender passion were as yet crude and unformed, and Dolly Crewe was not prone to sentimental confidences, so, as yet, Euphemia and indeed the whole Bilberry family, remained in blissful ignorance of the very existence of such a person as Mr. Griffith Donne.
If personal appearance was to be relied upon, Miss MacDowlas was not a promising subject for diplomatic beguiling.
"We have no need to depend upon her," was Dolly's mental decision. "One glimpse of life in Vagabondia would end poor Griffith's chances with her. I wonder what she would think if she could see Tod in all his glory when 'Toinette and Phil are busy painting."
And her vivid recollection of the personal adornments of Tod at such times brought a smile to her lips.
She made herself very comfortable in her corner, and, exerting herself to her utmost to alleviate Euphemia's sufferings, succeeded so-far that the girl forgot everything else but her enjoyment of her friend's caustic speeches and satirical little jokes. Dolly was not afraid of results, and, standing in do awe of public opinion, gave herself up to the encouraging of any shadow of amusement quite heartily. She was so entertaining in a small way upon this occasion, that Euphemia's frame of mind became in some degree ecstatic. From her place of state across the room, Lady Augusta regarded them with disapproval. It was so very evident that they were enjoying themselves, and that this shocking Dorothea Crewe was not to be suppressed. (Dorothea, be it known, was Dolly's baptismal name, and Lady Augusta held to its full pronunciation as a matter of duty.) It was useless, however, to disapprove. Behind the theological phalanx Dolly sat enthroned plainly in the best of spirits, and in rather a dangerous mood, to judge from outward appearances. There was nothing of the poor relation about her at least. The little snowy fan was being manipulated gracefully and with occasional artistic nourishes, her enjoyable roulades of laughter tinkled audaciously, her white shoulders were expressive, her gestures charming, and, above all, people were beginning to look at her admiringly, if not with absolute envy. Something must be done.
Lady Augusta moved across the room, piloting her way between people on ottomans and people on chairs, rustling with awe-inspiring majesty; and, reaching the corner at last, she spoke to the daring Dolly over the heads of the phalanx.
"Dorothea," she said, "we should like a little music."
This she had expected would be a move which could not fail to set the young person in her right place. It would show her that her time was not her own, and that she was expected to make herself useful; and it would also set to rights any little mistake lookers-on might have previously labored under as to her position. But even this did not destroy Dolly's equanimity. She finished the small joke she had been making to Phemie, and then turned to her august relative with a sweet but trying smile.
"Music?" she said. "Certainly." And arose at once.
Then Lady Augusta saw her mistake. It was only another chance for Miss Dolly to display herself to advantage, after all. When she arose from her seat in the corner, and gave a glance of inspection to her train over her bare white shoulder, people began to look at her again; and when she crossed the room, she was an actual Sensation,—and to create a sensation in the Bilberry parlors was to attain a triumph. Worse than this, also, as her ladyship passed the bald-headed individual by the screen, that gentleman—who was a lion as regarded worldly possessions—condescended to make his first remark for the evening.
"Pretty girl, that," he said. "Nice girl,—fine figure. Relative?"
"My daughter's governess, sir," replied her ladyship, rigidly.
And in Dolly's passage across the room another incident occurred which was not lost upon the head of the house of Bilberry. Near the seat of Mr. Ralph Gowan stood a vacated chair, which obstructed the passage to the piano, and, observing it, the gentleman in question rose and removed it, bowing obsequiously in reply to Dolly's slight gesture of thanks, and when she took her place at the instrument he moved to a seat near by, and settled himself to listen with the air of a man who expected to enjoy the performance.
And he evidently did enjoy it, for a very pleasant little performance it was. The songs had a thrill of either pathos or piquancy in every word and note, and the audience found they were listening in spite of themselves.
When they were ended, Ralph Gowan sought out Lady Augusta in her stronghold, and placidly proposed being introduced to her young guest; and since it was evident that he intended to leave her no alternative, her ladyship was fain to comply; and so, before half the evening was over, Dolly found herself being entertained as she had never been entertained before in the camps of the Philistines at least. And as to the Eastern explorer, boredom was forgotten for the time, and he gave himself up entirely to the amusing and enjoying of this piquant young person with the white shoulders.
"Crewe," he said to her during the course of their first conversation. "I am sure Lady Augusta said 'Crewe.' Then you are relatives, I suppose?"
"Poor relations," answered Dolly, coolly, and without a shadow of discomfiture. "I am the children's governess. Trying, is n't it?"
Ralph Gowan met the gaze of the bright eyes admiringly. Even at this early period of their acquaintance he was falling into the snare every other man fell into,—the snare of finding that Dolly Crewe was startlingly unlike anybody else.
"Not for the children," he said. "Under such circumstances education must necessarily acquire a new charm."
"Thank you," said Dolly.
When supper was announced, Lady Augusta made another attack and was foiled again. She came to their corner, and, bending over Dolly, spoke to her in stage-whisper.
"I will bring young Mr. Jessup to take you into the supper-room, Dorothea," she said.
But Dolly's plans were already arranged, and even if such had not been the case she would scarcely have rejoiced at the prospect of the escort of young Mr. Jessup, who was a mild young idiot engaged in the study of theology.
"Thank you, Lady Augusta," she said, cheerfully, "but I have promised Mr. Gowan."
And Lady Augusta had the pleasure of seeing her leave the room a minute later, with her small glove slipped through Ralph Gowan's arm, and the plainly delighted face of that gentleman inclined attentively toward the elaborate Frenchy coiffure.
At the supper-table little Miss Crewe was a prominent feature. At her end of the table conversation flourished and cheerfulness reigned. Even Euphemia and young Mr. Jessup, who had come down together in a mutual agony of embarrassment, began to pluck up spirit and hazard occasional remarks, and finally even joined in the laughter at Dolly's witticism.
People lower down the table glanced up across the various dishes, and envied the group who seemed to set the general heaviness and discontent at defiance.
Dolly, accompanied by coffee and cakes, was more at home and more delightful than ever, so delightful, indeed, that Ralph Gowan began to regard even Lady Augusta with gratitude, since it was to her he was, to some extent, indebted for his new acquaintance.
"She is a delightful—yes, a delightful girl!" exclaimed young Mr. Jessup, confidentially addressing-Euphemia, and blushing vividly at his own boldness. "I never heard such a laugh as she has in my life. It is actually exhilarating. It quite raises one's spirits," with mild naivete.
Euphemia began to brighten at once. She could talk about Dolly Crewe if she could talk about nothing else.
"Oh, but you have n't seen anything of her yet," she said, in a burst of enthusiasm. "If you could only see her every day, as I do, and hear the witty things she says, and see how self-possessed she is, when other people would be perfectly miserable with confusion, there would be no wonder at your saying you never saw anybody like her. I never did, I am sure. And then, you know, somehow or other, she always looks so well in everything she wears,—even in the shabbiest things, and her things are nearly always shabby enough, for they are dreadfully poor. She is always finding new ways of wearing things or new ways of doing her hair or—or something. It is the way her dresses fit, I think. Oh, dear, how I do wish the dressmaker could make mine fit as hers do! Just look at that white merino, now, for instance. It is the plainest dress in the room, and there is not a bit of fuss or trimming about it, and yet see how soft the folds look and how it hangs,—the train, you know. It reminds me of a picture,—one of those pictures in fashionable monthlies,—illustrations of love stories, you know."
"It is a very pretty dress," said young Mr. Jessup, eying it with great interest. "What did you say the stuff was called?"
"Merino," answered Phemie.
"Merino," repeated Mr. Jessup. "I will try and remember. I should like my sister Lucinda Maria to have a dress like it."
And he regarded it with growing admiration just tempered by the effect of a mental picture of Lucinda Maria, who was bony and of remarkable proportions, attired in its soft and flowing counterpart, with white swan's-down adorning her bare shoulders.
"May I ask," said Miss MacDowlas, at the bottom of the table, to Lady Augusta,—"may I ask who that young lady with the fresh completion is,—the young lady in white at the other end?"
"That is my governess," replied her ladyship, freezingly. "Miss Dorothea Crewe."
And Miss MacDowlas settled her eye-glass and gave Miss Dorothea Crewe the benefit of a prolonged examination.
"Crewe," she said, at length. "Poor relation, I suppose?" with some sharpness of manner. Dignity was lost upon Miss MacDowlas.
"A branch of my family who are no great credit to it," was the majestic rejoinder.
"Oh, indeed," was the lady's sole remark, and then Miss MacDowlas returned to her coffee, still, however, keeping her double eye-glass across her nose and casting an occasional glance at Dolly.
And just at this particular moment Dolly was unconsciously sealing Ralph Gowan's fate for him. Quite unconsciously, I repeat, for the most serious of Dolly's iniquities were generally unconscious. When she flirted, her flirtations were of so frank and open a nature, that, bewildered and fascinated though her victims might be, they must have been blind indeed to have been deceived, and so there were those who survived them and left the field safe, though somewhat sore at heart. But when she was in her honest, earnest, life-enjoying moods, and meant no harm,—when she was simply enjoying herself and trying to amuse her masculine companion, when her gestures were unconscious and her speeches unstudied, when she laughed through sheer merriment and was charmingly theatrical because she could not help it and because little bits of pathos and comedy were natural to her at times, then it was that the danger became deadly; then it was that her admirers were regardless of consequences, and defied results. And she was in just such a mood to-night.
"Come and see us?" she was saying. "Of course you may; and if you come, you shall have an insight into the domestic workings of modern Vagabondia. You shall be introduced to half a dozen people who toil not, neither do they spin successfully, for their toiling and spinning seems to have little result, after all. You shall see shabbiness and the spice of life hand-in-hand; and, I dare say, you will find that the figurative dinner of herbs is not utterly destitute of a flavor of piquancy. You shall see people who enjoy themselves in sheer defiance of circumstances, and who find a pathos in every-day events, which, in the camps of the Philistines, mean nothing. Yes, you may come if you care to." And Ralph Gowan, looking down at the changeful eyes, saw an almost tender light shining in their depths,—summoned up all at once perhaps by one of those inexplicable touches of pathos of which she had spoken.
But even coffee and conversation must come to an end at last, and so the end of this evening came. People began to drop away one by one, bidding their hostess good-night with the air of individuals who had performed a duty, and were relieved to find it performed and disposed of for the time being. So Dolly, leaving her companion with a bright farewell, and amiably disposing of Lady Augusta, slipped up-stairs to the retiring-room for her wraps. In the course of three minutes she came down again, the scarlet shawl draped around her, and the highly ornamental hood donned. She was of so little consequence in the Bilberry household that no one met her when she reappeared. Even the servants knew that her convenience or inconvenience was of small moment, so the task of summoning her cab would have devolved upon herself, had it not been for a little incident, which might have been either an accident or otherwise. As she came down the staircase a gentleman crossed the threshold of the parlor and came to meet her,—and this gentleman was no other than Ralph Gowan.
"Let me have the pleasure of putting you into your—"
"Cab," ended Dolly, with a trill of a laugh,—it was so evident that he had been going to say "carriage." "Thank you, with the greatest of pleasure. Indeed, it is rather a relief to me, for they generally keep me waiting. And I detest waiting."
He handed her into her seat, and lingered to see that she was comfortable, perhaps with unnecessary caution; and then, when she gave him her hand through the window, he held it for a moment longer than was exactly called for by the exigencies of the occasion.
"You will not forget that you have given me permission to call," he said, hesitating slightly.
"Oh, dear no!" she answered. "I shall not forget. We are always glad to see people—in Vagabondia."
And as the cab drove off, she waved the hand he had held in an airy gesture of adieu, gave him a bewildering farewell nod, and, withdrawing her face from the window, disappeared in the shadow within.
"Great Jove!" meditated Ralph Gowan, when he had seen the last of her. "And this is a nursery governess,—a sort of escape-valve for the spleen and ill moods of that woman in copper-color. She teaches them French and music, I dare say, and makes those spicy little jokes of hers over the dog-eared arithmetic. Ah, well! such is impartial Fortune," And he strolled back into the house again, to make his adieus to Lady Augusta, with the bewitching Greuze face fresh in his memory.
But, for her part, Dolly, having left him behind in the Philistine camp, was nestling comfortably in the dark corner of her cab, thinking of Griffith, as she always did think of him when she found herself alone for a moment.
"I wonder if he will be at home when I get there," she said. "Poor fellow! he would find it dull enough without me, unless they were all in unusually good spirits. I wonder if the time ever will come when we shall have a little house of our own, and can go out together or stay at home, just as we like."
CHAPTER III. ~ IN WHICH THE TRAIN IS LAID.
"After a holiday comes a rest day." The astuteness of this proverb continually proved itself in Vagabondia, and this was more particularly the case when the holiday had been Dolly's, inasmuch as Dolly was invariably called upon to "fight her battles o'er again," and recount her experiences the day following a visit, for the delectation of the household. Had there appeared in the camps a Philistine of notoriety, then that Philistine must play his or her part again through the medium of Dolly's own inimitable powers of description or representation; had any little scene occurred possessing a spice of flavoring, or illustrating any Philistine peculiarity, then Dolly was quite equal to the task of putting it upon the family stage, and re-enacting it with iniquitous seasonings and additions of her own. And yet the fun was never of an ill-natured sort. When Dolly gave them a correct embodiment of Lady Augusta in reception of her guests, with an accurate description of the "great Copper-Boiler costume," the bursts of applause meant nothing more than that Dolly's imitative gifts were in good condition, and that the "great Copper-Boiler costume" was a success. Then, the feminine mind being keenly alive to an interest in earthly vanities, an enlargement on Philistine adornments was considered necessary, and Dolly always rendered herself popular by a minute description of the reigning fashions, as displayed by the Bilberry element. She found herself quite repaid for the trouble of going into detail, by the unsophisticated pleasure in Mollie's eyes alone, for to Mollie outward furnishings seemed more than worthy of description and discussion.
Accordingly, the morning after Lady Augusta's conversazione, Dolly gave herself up to the task of enlivening the household. It was Saturday morning, fortunately, and on Saturday her visits to the Bilberry mansion were dispensed with, so she was quite at liberty to seat herself by the fire, with Tod in her arms, and recount the events of the evening. Somehow or other, she had almost regarded him as a special charge from the first. She had always been a favorite with him, as she was a favorite with most children. She was just as natural and thoroughly at home with Tod in her arms, or clambering over her feet, or clutching at the trimmings of her dress, as she was under any other circumstances; and when on this occasion Griffith came in at noon to hear the news, and found her kneeling upon the carpet with outstretched hands teaching the pretty little tottering fellow to walk, he felt her simply irresistible.
"Come to Aunt Dolly," she was saying. "Tod, come to Aunt Dolly." And then she looked up laughing. "Look at him, Griffith," she said. "He has walked all the way from that arm-chair." And then she made a rush at the child, and caught him in her arms with a little whirl, and jumped up with such a light-hearted enjoyment of the whole affair that it was positively exciting to look at her.
It was quite natural—indeed, it would have been quite unnatural if she had not found her usual abiding-place in her lover's encircling arm at once, even with Tod conveniently established on one of her own, and evidently regarding his own proximity upon such an occasion as remarkable if nothing else. That arm of Griffith's usually did slip around her waist even at the most ordinary times, and long use had so accustomed Dolly to the habit that she would have experienced some slight feeling of astonishment if the familiarity had been omitted.
It was rather a surprise to the young man to find that Miss MacDowlas had appeared upon the scene, and that she had partaken of coffee and conversation in the flesh the evening before.
"But it's just like her," he said. "She is the sort of relative who always does turn up unexpectedly, Dolly. How does she look?"
"Juvenescent," said Dolly; "depressingly so to persons who rely upon her for the realizing of expectations. A very few minutes satisfied me that I should never become Mrs. Griffith Donne upon her money. It is a very fortunate thing for us that we are of Vagabondian antecedents, Griffith,—just see how we might trouble ourselves, and wear our patience out over Miss MacDowlas, if we troubled ourselves about anything. This being utterly free from the care of worldly possessions makes one touchingly disinterested. Since we have nothing to expect, we are perfectly willing to wait until we get it."
She had thought so little about Ralph Gowan,—once losing sight of him, as he stood watching her on the pavement, that in discussing other subjects she had forgotten to mention him, and it was only Mollie's entrance into the room that brought him upon the carpet.
Coming in, with her hair bunched up in a lovely, disorderly knot, and the dimple on her left cheek artistically accentuated by a small patch of black, the youngest Miss Crewe yet appeared to advantage, when, after appropriating Tod, she slipped down into a sitting posture with him on the carpet, in the midst of the amplitude of folds of Lady Augusta's once gorgeous wrapper.
"Have you told him about the great Copper-Boiler costume, Dolly?" she said, bending down so that one brown tress hung swaying before Tod's eyes. "Has she, Griffith?"
"Yes," answered Griffith, looking at her with a vague sense of admiration. He shared all Dolly's enthusiasm on the subject of Mollie's prettiness.
"Was n't it good? I wish I was as cool as Dolly is. And poor Phemie—and the gentleman who made love to you all the evening, Dolly. What was his name? Was n't it Gowan?"
Griffith's eyes turned toward Dolly that instant.
"Gowan!" he exclaimed. "You didn't say anything about him. You didn't even say he was there."
"Did n't she?" said Mollie, looking up with innocently wide-open eyes. "Why, he made love to her all—"
"I wish you would n't talk such rubbish, Mollie," Dolly interrupted her—a trifle sharply because she understood the cloud on her lover's face so well. "Who said Mr. Gowan made love to me? Not I, you may be sure. I told you he talked to me, and that was all."
"You did not tell me that much," said Griffith, dryly.
It would scarcely have been human nature for Dolly not to have fired a little then, in spite of herself. She was constitutionally good-natured, but she was not seraphic, and her lover's rather excusable jealousy was specially hard to bear, when, as upon this occasion, it had no real foundation.
"I did not think it necessary," she said; "and, besides, I forgot; but if you wish to know the particulars," with a stiff little air of dignity, "I can give them you. Mr. Gowan was there, and found the evening stupid, as every one else did. There was no one else to talk to, so he talked to me, and when I came home he put me into the cab. And, the fact is, he is a good-natured Philistine enough. That is all, I believe, unless you would like me to try to record all he said."
"No, thank you," answered Griffith, and instantly began to torture himself with imagining what he really had said, making the very natural mistake of imagining what he would have said himself, and then giving Ralph Gowan credit for having perpetrated like tender gallantries. He never could divest himself of the idea that every living man found Dolly as entrancing as he found her himself. It could only be one man's bitter-sweet portion to be as desperately and inconsolably in love with her as he was himself, and no other than himself, or a man who might be his exact prototype, could have cherished a love at once so strong and so weak. There had been other men who had loved Dolly Crewe,—-adored her for a while, in fact, and imagined themselves wretches because they had been unsuccessful; but they had generally outlived their despair, and their adoration, cooling for want of sustenance, had usually settled down into a comfortable admiring liking for the cause of their misery, but it would never have been so with Griffith. This ordinary, hard-working, ill-paid young man had passionate impulse and hidden power of suffering enough in his restive nature to make a broken hope a broken life to him. His long-cherished love for the shabbily attired, often-snubbed, dauntless young person yclept Dorothea Crewe was the mainspring of his existence. He would have done daring deeds of valor for her sake, if circumstances had called upon him to comfort himself in such tragic manner; had he been a knight of olden time, he would just have been the chivalrous, hotheaded, but affectionate young man to have entered the lists in his love's behalf, and tilted against tremendous odds, and died unvanquished; but living in the nineteenth century, his impetuosity, being necessarily restrained, became concentrated upon one point, and chafed him terribly at times. Without Dolly, he would have been without an object in life; with Dolly, he was willing to face any amount of discouragement and misfortune; and at this stage of his affection—after years of belief in that far-off blissful future—to lose her would have brought him wreck and ruin.
So when Dolly, in the full consciousness of present freedom from iniquity, withdrew herself from his encircling arm and turned her attention to Tod and Mollie, he was far more wretched than he had any right to be, and stood watching them, and gnawing his slender mustache, gloomy and distrustful.
But this could not last long, of course. They might quarrel, but they always made friends; and when in a short time Mollie, doubtless feeling herself a trifle in the way, left the room with the child, Dolly's impulsive warm-heartedness got the better of her upon this occasion as upon all others.
She came back to her lover's side and laid her hand on his arm.
"Don't let us quarrel about Ralph Gowan, Griffith," she said. "It was my fault; I ought to have told you."
He fairly crushed her in his remorseful embrace almost before she had finished her appeal. His distrust of her was as easily overcome as it was roused; one touch of her hand, one suspicion of a tremor in her voice, always conquered him and reduced him to penitent submission.
"You are an angel," he said, "and I am an unfeeling clod. No other woman would bear with me as you do. God bless you, Dolly."
She nestled within his arms and took his caresses almost gratefully. Perhaps it would have been wiser to have shown him how deep a sting his want of faith gave her sometimes, but she was always so glad when their misunderstandings were at an end, that she would not have so revenged herself upon him for the world. The cool, audacious self she exhibited in the camps of the Philistines was never shown to Griffith; in her intercourse with him she was only a slightly intensified edition of the child he had fallen in love with years before,—a bright, quick-witted child, with a deep nature and an immense faculty for loving and clinging to people. Dolly at twenty-two was pretty much what she had been at fifteen, when they had quarrelled and made up again, loved each other and romanced over the future brilliancy of prospect which now seemed just as far off as ever.
In five minutes after the clearing away of the temporary cloud, they were in a seventh heaven of bliss, as usual. In some of his wanderings about town, Griffith had met with a modest house, which would have been the very thing for them if they had possessed about double the income of which they were at present in receipt. He often met with houses of this kind; they seemed, in fact, to present themselves to his longing vision every week of his life; and I think it rather to his credit to mention that he never failed to describe them to Dolly, and enlarge upon their merits with much eloquence. Furniture warehouses also were a source of some simple pleasure to them. If they possessed the income (not that they had the remotest prospect of possessing it), and rented the house, naturally they would require furniture, and it was encouraging to know that the necessary articles might be bought if the money was forthcoming. Consequently a low-priced table or a cheap sofa was a consolation, if not a source of rejoicing, and their happiest hours were spent in counting the cost of parlor carpets never to be purchased, and window curtains of thin air. They even economized sternly in minor matters, and debated the expenditure of an extra shilling as closely as if it had been a matter entailing the deepest anxiety; and on the whole, perhaps, practical persons might have condemned their affectionate, hopeful weakness as childish and nonsensical, but they were happy in the indulgence of it, at all events, and surely they might have been engaged in a less tender and more worldly pastime. There were other people, perhaps, weak and imprudent themselves it may be, who would have seen a touch of simple pathos in this unconsciously shown faith in Fortune and her not too kindly moods.
"Old Flynn ought to raise my salary, you know, Dolly," said Griffith. "I work hard enough for him, confound him!" somewhat irrelevantly, but with laudable and not unamiable vigor. He meant no harm to "Old Flynn;" he would have done a good-natured thing for him at any moment, the mild expletive was simply the result of adopted custom. "There is n't a fellow in the place who does as much as I do. I worked from seven in the morning till midnight every day last week, and I wrote half his editorials for him, and nobody knows he does n't get them up himself. If he would only give me two hundred instead of one, just see how we could live."
"We could live on a hundred and fifty," put in Dolly, with an air of practical speculation which did her credit, "if we were economical."
"Well, say a hundred and fifty, then," returned Griffith, quite as seriously, "for we should be economical. Say a hundred and fifty. It would be nothing to him,—confound him!—but it would be everything in the world to us. That house in the suburbs was only thirty pounds, taxes and all, and it was just the very thing we should want if we were married."
"How many rooms?" asked Dolly.
"Six, and kitchen and cupboards and all that sort of contrivances. I asked particularly—went to see the landlord to inquire and see what repairing he would do if we wanted the place. There is a garden of a few yards in the front, too, and one or two rose-bushes. I don't know whether they ever bloom, but if they do, you could wear them in your hair. I thought of that the minute I saw them. The first time I saw you, Dolly, you had a rose in your hair, and I remember thinking I had never seen a flower worn in the same way. Other girls do n't wear things as you wear them somehow or other."
Dolly acknowledged the compliment with a laugh and a coaxing, patronizing little squeeze of his arm. .
"You think they don't," she said, "you affectionate old fellow, that is it. Well, and what did the landlord say? Would he beautify?"
"Well, yes, I think he would if the matter was pressed," said Griffith, returning to the subject with a vigor of enjoyment inspiriting to behold. "And, by the way, Dolly, I saw a small sofa at a place in town which was just the right size to fit into a sort of alcove there is in the front parlor."
"Did you inquire the price?" said Dolly.
"Well—no," cheerfully; "but I can, if you would like to know it. You see, I had n't any money, and did n't know when I should have any, and I felt rather discouraged at the time, and I had an idea the price would make me feel worse, so I did not go in. But it was a comfortable, plump little affair, covered with green,—the sort of thing I should like to have in our house, when we have one. It would be so comfortable to throw one's self down on to after a hard day's work, particularly if one had a headache."
"Yes," said Dolly; and then, half unconsciously and quite in spite of herself, the ghost of a sigh escaped her. She could not help wishing things were a trifle more real sometimes, bright and whimsically unworldly as she was.
"What did that mean?" Griffith asked her.
She wakened up, as it were, and looked as happy as ever in an instant, creeping a trifle closer to him in her loving anxiety to blind him to the presence of the little pain in her heart.
"Nothing," she said, briskly. And then—"We don't want much, do we, Griffith?"
"No," said Griffith, a certain grim sense of humor getting the better of him. "And we have n't got it."
She laughed outright at the joke quite enjoyably. Even the grimmest of jocosities wins its measure of respect in Vagabondia, and besides, her laugh removed the impression her sigh might have created. She was herself again at once.
"Never mind," she said. (It was always "never mind.") "Never mind, it will all come right in the end. Humble merit must be rewarded, and if humble merit isn't, we can only console ourselves with the reasonable reflection that there must be something radically wrong with the state of society. Who knows whether you may not 'get into something,' as Phil says, which may be twenty times better than anything Old Flynn can give you!" with characteristic Vagabondian hopefulness.
Just at this juncture Phil himself entered, or, rather, half entered, for he only put his head—a comely, curled head surmounted by a disreputable velvet cap—half into the room.