The Dolly Dialogues/Chapter 16
A QUICK CHANGE.
'Why not go with Archie?' I asked, spreading out my hands.
'It will be dull enough, anyhow,' said Dolly fretfully. 'Besides, it's awfully bourgeois to go to the theatre with one's husband.'
'Bourgeois,' I observed, 'is an epithet which the riff-raff apply to what is respectable, and the aristocracy to what is decent.'
'But it's not a nice thing to be, all the same,' said Dolly, who is impervious to the most penetrating remark.
'You're in no danger of it,' I hastened to assure her.
'How should you describe me, then?' she asked, leaning forward, with a smile.
'I should describe you, Lady Mickleham,' I replied discreetly, 'as being a little lower than the angels.'
Dolly's smile was almost a laugh as she asked,—
'How much lower, please, Mr. Carter?'
'Just by the depth of your dimples,' said I thoughtlessly.
Dolly became immensely grave.
'I thought,' said she, 'that we never mentioned them now, Mr. Carter.'
'Did we ever?' I asked innocently.
'I seemed to remember once: do you recollect being in very low spirits one evening at Monte?'
'I remember being in very low water more than one evening there.'
'Yes: you told me you were terribly hard up.
'There was an election in our division that year,' I remarked, 'and I remitted 30 per cent. of my rents.'
'You did—to M. Blanc,' said Dolly. 'Oh, and you were very dreary! You said you'd wasted your life and your time and your opportunities.'
'Oh, you mustn't suppose I never have any proper feelings,' said I complacently.
'I think you were hardly yourself.'
'Do be more charitable.'
'And you said that your only chance was in gaining the affection of——'
'Surely I was not such an—so foolish?' I implored.
'Yes, you were. You were sitting close by me——'
'Oh, then, it doesn't count,' said I, rallying a little.
'On a bench. You remember the bench?'
'No, I don't,' said I, with a kind but firm smile.
'Not the bench?'
Dolly looked at me, then she asked in an insinuating tone,—
'When did you forget it, Mr. Carter?'
'The day you were buried,' I rejoined.
'I see. Well, you said then what you couldn't possibly have meant——'
'I daresay. I often did.'
'That they were——'
'That what were?'
'Why, the—the—what we're talking about.'
'What we were——? Oh, to be sure, the—the blemishes?'
'Yes, the blemishes. You said they were the most——'
'Oh, well, it was a.'
'I was afraid you weren't a bit sincere,' said Dolly humbly.
'Well, judge me by yourself,' said I with a candid air.
'But I said nothing!' cried Dolly.
'It was incomparably the most artistic thing to do,' said I.
'I'm sometimes afraid you don't do me justice, Mr. Carter,' remarked Dolly with some pathos.
I did not care to enter upon that discussion, and a pause followed. Then Dolly, in a timid manner, asked me,—
'Do you remember the dreadful thing that happened the same evening?'
'That chances to remain in my memory,' I admitted.
'I've always thought it kind of you never to speak of it,' said she.
'It is best forgotten,' said I, smiling.
'We should have said the same about anybody,' protested Dolly.
'Certainly. We were only trying to be smart,' said I.
'And it was horribly unjust.'
'I quite agree with you, Lady Mickleham.'
'Besides, I didn't know anything about him then. He had only arrived that day, you see.'
'Really we were not to blame,' I urged.
'Oh, but doesn't it seem funny?'
'A strange whirligig, no doubt,' I mused.
There was a pause. Then the faintest of smiles appeared on Dolly's face.
'He shouldn't have worn such clothes,' she said, as though in self-defence. 'Anybody would have looked absurd in them.'
'It was all the clothes,' I agreed. 'Besides, when a man doesn't know a place, he always moons about and looks——'
'Yes. Rather awkward, doesn't he, Mr. Carter?'
'And the mere fact of his looking at you——'
'At us, please.'
'Is nothing, although we made a grievance of it at the time.'
'That was very absurd of you,' said Dolly.
'It was certainly unreasonable of us,' said I.
'We ought to have known he was a gentleman.'
'But we scouted the idea of it,' said I.
'It was a most curious mistake to make,' said Dolly.
'Oh, well, it's all put right now,' said I.
'Oh, Mr. Carter, do you remember mamma's face when we described him?'
'That was a terrible moment,' said I, with a shudder.
'I said he was—ugly,' whispered Dolly.
'And I said—something worse,' murmured I.
'And mamma knew at once from our description that it was——'
'She saw it in a minute,' said I.
'And then you went away.'
'Well, I rather suppose I did,' said I.
'Mamma is just a little like the Dowager sometimes,' said Dolly.
'There is a touch now and then,' I conceded.
'And when I was introduced to him the next day I absolutely blushed.'
'I don't altogether wonder at that,' I observed.
'But it wasn't as if he'd heard what we were saying.'
'No; but he'd seen what we were doing.'
'Well, what were we doing?' cried Dolly defiantly.
'Conversing confidentially,' said I.
'And a week later you went home!'
'Just one week later,' said I.
There was a long pause.
'Well, you'll take me to the theatre?' asked Dolly, with something which, if I were so disposed, I might consider a sigh.
'I've seen the piece twice,' said I.
'How tiresome of you! You've seen everything twice!'
'I've seen some things much oftener,' I observed.
'I'll get a nice girl for you to talk to, and I'll have a young man.'
'I don't want my girl to be too nice,' I observed.
'She shall be pretty,' said Dolly generously.
'I don't mind if I do come with you,' said I. 'What becomes of Archie?'
'He's going to take his mother and sisters to the Albert Hall.'
My face brightened.
'I am unreasonable,' I admitted.
'Sometimes you are,' said Dolly.
'I have much to be thankful for. Have you ever observed a small boy eat a penny ice?'
'Of course I have,' said Dolly.
'What does he do when he's finished it?'
'Stops, I suppose.'
'On the contrary,' said I. 'He licks the glass.'
'Yes, he does,' said Dolly meditatively.
'It's not so bad—licking the glass,' said I.
Dolly stood opposite me smiling. At this moment Archie entered. He had been working at his lathe. He is very fond of making things which he doesn't want, and then giving them to people who have no use for them.
'How are you, old chap?' he began. 'I've just finished an uncommon pretty——'
He stopped, paralysed by a cry from Dolly.
'Archie, what in the world are you wearing?'
I turned a startled gaze upon Archie.
'It's just an old suit I routed out,' said he apologetically.
I looked at Dolly; her eyes were close shut and she gasped,—
'My dear, dear boy, go and change it!'
'I don't see why it's not——'
'Go and change it, if you love me,' besought Dolly.
'Oh, all right.'
'You look hideous in it,' she said, her eyes still shut.
Archie, who is very docile, withdrew. A guilty silence reigned for some moments. Then Dolly opened her eyes.
'It was the suit,' she said, with a shudder. 'Oh, how it all came back to me!'
'I could wish,' I observed, taking my hat, 'that it would all come back to me.'
'I wonder if you mean that!'
'As much as I ever did,' said I earnestly.
'And that is——?'
'How tiresome you are!' she said, turning away with a smile.
Outside I met Archie in another suit.
'A quick change, eh, my boy?' said he.
'It took just a week,' I remarked absently.