The Dolly Dialogues/Chapter 20
ONE WAY IN.
I had a very curious dream the other night. In fact, I dreamt that I was dead. I passed through a green baize door and found myself in a small square room. Opposite me was another door, inscribed 'Elysian Fields,' and in front of it, at a large table with a raised ledge, sat Rhadamanthus. As I entered I saw a graceful figure vanish through the door opposite.
'It's no use trying to deceive me,' I observed. 'That was Mrs. Hilary, I think; if you don't mind, I'll join her.'
'I'm afraid I must trouble you to take a seat for a few moments, Mr. Carter,' said Rhadamanthus, 'while I run over your little account.'
'Any formalities which are usual,' I murmured politely, as I sat down.
Rhadamanthus turned over the leaves of a large book.
'Carter—Samuel Travers, isn't it?' he asked.
'Yes. For goodness' sake don't confuse me with Vincent Carter. He only paid five shillings in the pound.'
'Your case presents some peculiar features, Mr. Carter,' said Rhadamanthus. 'I hope I am not censorious, but—well, that fine at Bow Street?'
'I was a mere boy,' said I, with some warmth, 'and my solicitor grossly mismanaged the case.'
'Well, well!' said he soothingly. 'But haven't you spent a great deal of time at Monte Carlo?'
'A man must be somewhere,' said I.
Rhadamanthus scratched his nose.
'I should have wasted the money anyhow,' I added.
'I suppose you would,' he conceded. 'But what of this caveat lodged by the Dowager Lady Mickleham? That's rather serious, you know; isn't it now—joking apart?'
'I am disappointed,' I remarked, 'to find a man of your experience paying any attention to such an ill-natured old woman.'
'We have our rules,' he replied, 'and I'm afraid, Mr. Carter, that until that caveat is removed——
'You don't mean that?'
'Really, I'm afraid so.'
'Then I may as well go back,' said I, taking my hat.
At this moment there was a knock at the door.
'Although I can't oblige you with an order of admission,' said Rhadamanthus very civilly, 'perhaps it would amuse you to listen to a case or two. There's no hurry, you know. You've got lots of time before you.'
'It will be an extremely interesting experience,' said I, sitting down again.
The door opened, and, as I expected (I don't know why, but it happens like that in dreams), Dolly Mickleham came in. She did not seem to see me. She bowed to Rhadamanthus, smiled, and took a chair immediately opposite the table.
'Mickleham—Dorothea—Countess of——' she said.
'Formerly, I think, Dolly Foster?' asked Rhadamanthus.
'I don't see what that's got to do with it,' said Dolly.
'The account runs on,' he explained, and began to consult his big book. Dolly leant back in her chair, slowly peeling off her gloves. Rhadamanthus shut the book with a bang.
'It's not the least use,' he said decisively. 'It wouldn't be kind to pretend that it was, Lady Mickleham.'
'Dear, dear,' said Dolly. 'What's the matter?'
'Half the women in London have petitioned against you.'
'Have they really?' cried Dolly, to all appearance rather delighted. 'What do they say, Mr. Rhadamanthus? Is it in that book? Let me look.' And she held out her hand.
'The book's too heavy for you to hold,' said he.
'I'll come round,' said Dolly. So she went round and leant over his shoulder and read the book.
'What's that scent you've got on?' asked Rhadamanthus.
'Bouquet du diable,' said she. (I had never heard of the perfume before.) 'Isn't it sweet?'
'I haven't smelt it since I was a boy,' sighed Rhadamanthus.
'Poor old thing!' said Dolly. 'I'm not going to read all this, you know.' And, with a somewhat contemptuous smile, she walked back to her chair. 'They ought to be ashamed of themselves,' she added, as she sat down. 'It's just because I'm not a fright.'
'Aren't you a fright?' asked Rhadamanthus. 'Where are my spectacles?'
He put them on and looked at Dolly.
'I must go in, you know,' said Dolly, smiling at Rhadamanthus. 'My husband has gone in!'
'I shouldn't have thought you'd consider that conclusive,' said he, with a touch of satire in his tone.
'Don't be horrid!' said Dolly, pouting.
There was a pause. Rhadamanthus examined Dolly through his spectacles.
'This is a very painful duty,' said he at last. 'I have sat here for a great many years, and I have seldom had a more painful duty.'
'It's very absurd of you,' said Dolly.
'I can't help it, though,' said he.
'Do you really mean that I'm not to go in?'
'I do, indeed,' said Rhadamanthus.
Dolly rose. She leant her arms on the raised ledge which ran along the table, and she leant her chin on her hands.
'Really?' she said.
'Really,' said he, looking the other way.
A sudden change came over Dolly's face. Her dimples vanished: her eyes grew pathetic and began to shine rather than to sparkle: her lip quivered just a little.
'You're very unkind,' she said in an extremely low tone. 'I had no idea you would be so unkind.'
Rhadamanthus seemed very uncomfortable.
'Don't do that,' he said quite sharply, fidgeting with the blotting-paper.
Dolly began to move slowly round the table. Rhadamanthus sat still. When she was standing close by him, she put her hand lightly on his arm and said,—
'Please do, Mr. Rhadamanthus.'
'It's as much as my place is worth,' he grumbled.
Dolly's eyes shone still, but the faintest little smile began to play about her mouth.
'Some day,' she said (with total inappropriateness, now I come to think of it, though it did not strike me so at the time), 'you'll be glad to remember having done a kind thing. When you're old—because you are not really old now, you know—you will say, "I'm glad I didn't send poor Dolly Mickleham away crying."'
Rhadamanthus uttered an inarticulate sound—half impatience, half, I fancy, something else.
'We are none of us perfect, I daresay. If I asked your wife——'
'I haven't got a wife,' said Rhadamanthus.
'That's why you're so hard-hearted,' said Dolly. 'A man who's got a wife is never hard on other women.'
There was another pause. Then Rhadamanthus, looking straight at the blotting-paper, said,—
'Oh, well, don't bother me. Be off with you;' and as he spoke the door behind him opened.
Dolly's face broke out into sudden sunshine. Her eyes danced, her dimples capered over her chin.
'Oh, you old dear!' she cried, and, stooping swiftly, she kissed Rhadamanthus. 'You're horribly bristly!' she laughed: and then, before he could move, she ran through the door.
I rose from my seat, taking my hat and stick in my hand. I felt, as you may suppose, that I had been there long enough. When I moved Rhadamanthus looked up, and with an attempt at unconsciousness observed,—
'We will proceed with your case now, if you please, Mr. Carter.'
I look him full in the face. Rhadamanthus blushed! I pursued my way towards the door.
'Stop,' he said in a blustering tone. 'You can't go there, you know.'
I smiled significantly.
'Isn't it rather too late for that sort of thing?' I asked. 'You seem to forget that I have been here for the last quarter of an hour.'
'I didn't know she was going to do it,' he protested.
'Oh, of course,' said I, 'that will be your story. Mine, however, I shall tell in my own way.'
Rhadamanthus blushed again. Evidently he felt that he was in a delicate position. We were standing thus, facing one another, when the door began to open again, and Dolly put her head out.
'Oh, it's you, is it?' she said. 'I thought I heard your voice. Come along and help me to find Archie.'
'This gentleman says I'm not to come in,' said I.
'Oh, what nonsense! Now, you really mustn't be silly, Mr. Rhadamanthus, or I shall have to—— Mr. Carter, you weren't there, were you?'
'I was—and a more interesting piece of scandal it has seldom been——'
'Hush! I didn't do anything. Now, you know I didn't, Mr. Carter!'
'No,' said I, 'you didn't. But Rhadamanthus, taking you unawares——'
'Oh, be off with you—both of you!' cried Rhadamanthus.
'That's sensible,' said Dolly. 'Because, you know, there really isn't any harm in poor Mr. Carter.'
Rhadamanthus vanished. Dolly and I went inside.
'I suppose everything will be very different here,' said Dolly, and I think she sighed.
Whether it were or not I don't know, for just then I awoke, and found myself saying aloud, in answer to the dream-voice and the dream-face (which had not gone altogether with the dream),—
'Not everything'—a speech that, I agree, I ought not to have made, even though it were only in a dream.
Printed at the 'Westminster Gazette' Office, Tudor-st., London, E.C.