The Dolly Dialogues/Chapter 1
A LIBERAL EDUCATION.
'There's ingratitude for you!' Miss Dolly Foster exclaimed suddenly.
'Where?' I asked, rousing myself from meditation.
She pointed at a young man who had just passed where we sat. He was dressed very smartly, and was walking with a lady attired in the height of fashion.
'I made that man,' said Dolly, 'and now he cuts me dead before the whole of the Row! It's atrocious! Why, but for me, do you suppose he'd be at this moment engaged to three thousand a year and—and the plainest girl in London?'
'Not that,' I pleaded; 'think of——'
'Well, very plain, anyhow. I was quite ready to bow to him. I almost did.'
'In fact you did?'
'I didn't. I declare I didn't.'
'Oh, well, you didn't then. It only looked like it.'
'I met him,' said Miss Dolly, 'three years ago. At that time he was—oh, quite unpresentable. He was everything he shouldn't be. He was a teetotaler, you know, and he didn't smoke, and he was always going to concerts. Oh, and he wore his hair long, and his trousers short, and his hat on the back of his head. And his umbrella——'
'Where did he wear that?'
'He carried that, Mr. Carter. Don't be silly! Carried it unrolled, you know, and generally a paper parcel in the other hand; and he had spectacles, too.'
'He has certainly changed outwardly at least.'
'Yes, I know; well, I did that. I took him in hand, and I just taught him, and now——!'
'Yes, I know that. But how did you teach him? Give him Saturday evening lectures, or what?'
'Oh, every-evening lectures, and most-morning walks. And I taught him to dance, and I broke his wretched fiddle with my own hands!'
'What very arbitrary distinctions you draw.'
'I don't know what you mean. I do like a man to be smart, anyhow. Don't you, Mr. Carter? You're not so smart as you might be. Now, shall I take you in hand?' And she smiled upon me.
'Let's hear your method. What did you do to him?'
' Phil Meadows? Oh, nothing. I just slipped in a remark here and there, whenever he talked nonsense. I used to speak just at the right time, you know.'
'But how had your words such influence, Miss Foster?'
'Oh, well, you know, Mr. Carter, I made it a condition that he should do just what I wanted in little things like that. Did he think I was going to walk about with a man carrying a brown-paper parcel—as if he had been to the shop for a pound of tea?'
'Still, I don't see why he should alter all his——'
'Oh, you are stupid! Of course, he liked me, you know.'
'Oh, did he? I see.'
'You seem to think that very funny.'
'Not that he did—but that, apparently, he doesn't.'
'Well, you got out of that rather neatly—for you. No, he doesn't now. You see, he misunderstood my motive. He thought—well, I do believe he thought I cared for him, you know. Of course I didn't.'
'Not a bit?'
'Just as a friend—and a pupil, you know. And when he'd had his hair cut and bought a frock-coat (fancy! he'd never had one!), he looked quite nice. He has nice eyes. Did you notice them?'
'Well, you're so unobservant.'
'Oh, not always. I've observed that your——'
'Please don't! It's no use, is it?'
I looked very unhappy. There is an understanding that I am very unhappy since Miss Foster's engagement to the Earl of Mickleham was announced.
'What was I saying before—before you—you know—oh, about Phil Meadows, of course. I did like him very much, you know, or I shouldn't have taken all that trouble. Why, his own mother thanked me!'
'I have no more to say,' said I.
'But she wrote me a horrid letter afterwards.'
'You're so very elliptical.'
'So very what, Mr. Carter?'
'You leave so much out, I mean. After what?'
'Why, after I sent him away. Didn't I tell you? Oh, we had the most awful scene. He raved, Mr. Carter. He called me the most horrid names, and——'
'Tore his hair?'
'It wasn't long enough to get hold of,' she tittered. 'But don't laugh. It was really dreadful. And so unjust! And then, next day, when I thought it was comfortably over, you know, he came back, and—and apologised, and called himself the most awful names, and—well, that was really worse.'
'What did the fellow complain of?' I asked in wondering tones.
'Oh, he said I'd destroyed his faith in women, you know, and that I'd led him on, and that I was—well, he was very rude indeed. And he went on writing me letters like that for a whole year! It made me quite uncomfortable.'
'But he didn't go back to short trousers and a fiddle, did he?' I asked anxiously.
'Oh, no. But he forgot all he owed me, and he told me that his heart was dead, and that he should never love anyone again.'
'But he's going to marry that girl.'
'Oh, he doesn't care about her,' said Miss Dolly reassuringly. 'It's the money, you know. He hadn't a farthing of his own. Now he'll be set up for life.'
'And it's all due to you!' said I admiringly.
'Well, it is really.'
'I don't call her such a bad-looking girl though.' (I hadn't seen her face.)
'Mr. Carter! She's hideous!'
I dropped that subject.
'And now,' said Miss Dolly again, 'he cuts me dead!'
'It is the height of ingratitude. Why, to love you was a liberal education!'
'Yes, wasn't it? How nicely you put that. "A liberal education!" I shall tell Archie.' (Archie is Lord Mickleham.)
'What, about Phil Meadows?'
'Goodness me, no, Mr. Carter. Just what you said, you know.'
'But why not tell Mickleham about Phil Meadows?' I urged. 'It's all to your credit, you know.'
'Yes, I know, but men are so foolish. You see, Archie thinks——'
'Of course he does.'
'You might let me finish.'
'Archie thinks you were never in love before.'
'Yes, he does. Well, of course, I wasn't in love with Phil——'
'Not a little bit?'
'Nor with anyone else?'
Miss Dolly prodded the path with her parasol.
'Nor with anyone else?' I asked again.
Miss Dolly looked for an instant in my direction.
'Nor with anyone else?' I said.
Miss Dolly looked straight in front of her.
'Nor with——' I began.
'Hullo, old chappie, where did you spring from?'
'Why, Archie!' cried Miss Dolly.
'Oh, how are you, Mickleham, old man? Take this seat; I'm just off—just off. Yes, I was, upon my honour—got to meet a man at the club. Good-bye, Miss Foster. Jove! I'm late!'
And as I went I heard Miss Dolly say, 'I thought you were never coming, Archie dear!' Well, she didn't think he was coming just then. No more did I.