The Dolly Dialogues/Chapter 2
The other day I paid a call on Miss Dolly Foster for the purpose of presenting to her my small offering on the occasion of her marriage to Lord Mickleham. It was a pretty little bit of jewellery—a pearl heart, broken (rubies played the part of blood) and held together by a gold pin, set with diamonds, the whole surmounted by an earl's coronet. I had taken some trouble about it, and I was grateful when Miss Dolly asked me to explain the symbolism.
'It is my heart,' I observed. 'The fracture is of your making: the pin——'
Here Miss Dolly interrupted: to tell the truth I was not sorry, for I was fairly gravelled for the meaning of the pin.
'What nonsense, Mr. Carter!' said she; 'but it's awfully pretty. Thanks, so very, very much. Aren't relations funny people?'
'If you wish to change the subject, pray do,' said I. 'I'll change anything except my affections.'
'Look here,' she pursued, holding out a bundle of letters. 'Here are the congratulatory epistles from relations. Shall I read you a few?'
'It will be a most agreeable mode of passing the time,' said I.
'This is from Aunt Georgiana—she's a widow—lives at Cheltenham. "My dearest Dorothea——"'
'Dorothea's my name, Mr. Carter. It means the gift of heaven, you know.'
'Precisely. Pray proceed, Miss Dolly. I did not at first recognise you.'
'"My dearest Dorothea, I have heard the news of your engagement to Lord Mickleham with deep thankfulness. To obtain the love of an honest man is a great prize. I hope you will prove worthy of it. Marriage is a trial and an opportunity——"'
'Hear, hear!' said I. 'A trial for the husband and——'
'Be quiet, Mr. Carter. "A trial and an opportunity. It searches the heart and it affords a sphere of usefulness which——" So she goes on, you know. I don't see why I need be lectured just because I'm going to be married, do you, Mr. Carter?'
'Let's try another,' said I. 'Whose is that on pink paper?'
'Oh, that's Georgy Vane's. She's awful fun. "Dear old Dolly,—So you've brought it off. Hearty congrats. I thought you were going to be silly and throw away——" There's nothing else there, Mr. Carter. Look here. Listen to this. It's from Uncle William. He's a clergyman, you know. "My dear Niece,—I have heard with great gratification of your engagement. Your aunt and I unite in all good wishes. I recollect Lord Mickleham's father when I held a curacy near Worcester. He was a regular attendant at church and a supporter of all good works in the diocese. If only his son takes after him" (fancy Archie!) "you have secured a prize. I hope you have a proper sense of the responsibilities you are undertaking. Marriage affords no small opportunities; it also entails certain trials——"'
'Why, you're reading Aunt Georgiana again.'
'Am I? No, it's Uncle William.'
'Then let's try a fresh cast—unless you'll finish Georgy Vane's.'
'Well, here's Cousin Susan's. She's an old maid, you know. It's very long. Here's a bit: "Woman has it in her power to exercise a sacred influence. I have not the pleasure of knowing Lord Mickleham, but I hope, my dear, that you will use your power over him for good. It is useless for me to deny that when you stayed with me I thought you were addicted to frivolity. Doubtless marriage will sober you. Try to make a good use of its lessons. I am sending you a biscuit tin"—and so on.'
'A very proper letter,' said I.
Miss Dolly indulged in a slight grimace and took up another letter.
'This,' she said, 'is from my sister-in-law, Mrs. Algernon Foster.'
'A daughter of Lord Doldrums, wasn't she?'
'Yes. "My dear Dorothea,—I have heard your news. I do hope it will turn out happily. I believe that any woman who conscientiously does her duty can find happiness in married life. Her husband and children occupy all her time and all her thoughts, and if she can look for few of the lighter pleasures of life she has at least the knowledge that she is of use in the world. Please accept the accompanying volumes" (it's Browning) "as a small——" I say, Mr. Carter, do you think it's really like that?'
'There is still time to draw back,' I observed.
'Oh, don't be silly. Here, this is my brother Tom's. "Dear Dol,—I thought Mickleham rather an ass when I met him, but I daresay you know best. What's his place like? Does he take a moor? I thought I read that he kept a yacht. Does he? Give him my love and a kiss. Good luck, old girl.—Tom. P.S.—I'm glad it's not me, you know."'
'A disgusting letter,' I observed.
'Not at all,' said Miss Dolly, dimpling. 'It's just like dear old Tom. Listen to grandpapa's. "My dear Granddaughter,—The alliance" (I rather like it's being called an alliance, Mr. Carter. It sounds like the Royal Family, doesn't it?) "you are about to contract is in all respects a suitable one. I send you my blessing, and a small cheque to help towards your trousseau.—Yours affectionately, Jno. Wm Foster."'
'That,' said I, 'is the best up to now.'
'Yes, it's 500,' said she, smiling. 'Here's old Lady M.'s.'
'Whose?' I exclaimed.
'Archie's mother's, you know. "My dear Dorothea (as I suppose I must call you now),—Archibald has informed us of his engagement, and I and the girls" (there are five girls, Mr. Carter) "hasten to welcome his bride. I am sure Archie will make his wife very happy. He is rather particular (like his dear father), but he has a good heart, and is not fidgety about his meals. Of course we shall be delighted to move out of The Towers at once. I hope we shall see a great deal of you soon. Archie is full of your praises, and we thoroughly trust his taste. Archie——" It's all about Archie, you see.'
'Naturally,' said I.
'Well, I don't know. I suppose I count a little, too. Oh, look here. Here's Cousin Fred's—but he's always so silly. I shan't read you his.'
'Oh, just a bit of it,' I pleaded.
'Well, here's one bit. "I suppose I can't murder him, so I must wish him joy. All I can say is, Dolly, that he's the luckiest" (something I can't read—either fellow or—devil) "I ever heard of. I wonder if you've forgotten that evening——"'
'Well, go on.' For she stopped.
'Oh, there's nothing else.'
'In fact, you have forgotten the evening?'
'Entirely,' said Miss Dolly, tossing her head. 'But he sends me a love of a bracelet. He can't possibly pay for it, poor boy.'
'Young knave!' said I severely. (I had paid for my pearl heart.)
'Then come a lot from girls. Oh, there's one from Maud Tottenham—she's a second cousin, you know—it's rather amusing. "I used to know your fiancé slightly. He seemed very nice, but it's a long while ago, and I never saw much of him. I hope he is really fond of you, and that it is not a mere fancy. Since you love him so much, it would be a pity if he did not care deeply for you."'
'Interpret, Miss Dolly,' said I.
'She tried to catch him herself,' said Miss Dolly.
'Ah, I see. Is that all?'
'The others aren't very interesting.'
'Then let's finish Georgy Vane's.'
'Really?' she asked, smiling.
'Oh, if you don't mind, I don't,' said she, laughing, and she hunted out the pink note and spread it before her. 'Let me see. Where was I? Oh, here. "I thought you were going to be silly and throw away your chances on some of the men who used to flirt with you. Archie Mickleham may not be a genius, but he's a good fellow and a swell and rich; he's not a pauper like Phil Meadows, or a snob, like Charlie Dawson or——" Shall I go on, Mr. Carter? No, I won't. I didn't see what it was."
'Yes, you shall go on.'
'Oh, no, I can't,' and she folded up the letter.
'Then I will,' and I'm ashamed to say I snatched the letter. Miss Dolly jumped to her feet. I fled behind the table. She ran round. I dodged.
'"Or——"' I began to read.
'Stop,' cried she.
'"Or a young spendthrift like that man—I forget his name—whom you used to go on with at such a pace at Monte Carlo last winter."'
'Stop!' she cried, stamping her foot. I read on:
'"No doubt he was charming, my dear, and no doubt anybody would have thought you meant it; but I never doubted you. Still, weren't you just a little——"'
'Stop!' she cried. 'You must stop, Mr. Carter.'
So then I stopped. I folded the letter and handed it back to her. Her cheeks flushed red as she took it.
'I thought you were a gentleman,' said she, biting her lip.
'I was at Monte Carlo last winter myself,' said I.
'Lord Mickleham,' said the butler, throwing open the door.