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ETHELBERTA'S DRESSING-ROOM-MR. DONCASTLE's House.
HE dressing of Ethelberta for
the dinner-party was an undertaking into which Picotee threw her whole skill as tiring-woman. Her energies were brisker that day than they had been at any time since the Julians first made preparations for departure from town; for a letter bad come to her from Faith, telling of their arrival at the old cathedral city, which was found to suit their inclinations and habits infinitely better than London; and that she would like
Picotee to visit them there some day. Picotee felt, and so probably felt the writer of the letter, that such a visit would not be very practicable just now; but it was a pleasant idea, and for fastening dreams upon was better than nothing.
Such musings were encouraged also by Ethelberta's remarks as the dressing went on. VOL. XXXIII.—NO. 193.
“We will have a change soon,” she said ; we
out of town for a few days. It will do good in many ways. I am getting so alarmed about the health of the children ; their faces are becoming so white and thin and pinched, that an old acquaintance would hardly know them; and they were so plump when they came. You are looking as pale as a ghost, and I daresay I am too. A week or two at Knollsea will set us
“Oh, how charming !" said Picotee, gladly. Knollsea was a village on the coast, not very far from Melchester, the new home of Christopher; not very far, that is to say, in the eye of a sweetheart; but seeing that there was, as the crow flies, a stretch of twenty miles between the two places, and that more than half the distance was without a railway, an elderly gentleman might have considered their situations somewhat remote from each other. “Why have you chosen Knollsea ?” enquired Picotee.
Launt's letter from Rouen-have you seen it?”
af her baptism; and she
“She wants us to get a copy is not absolutely certain which of the parishes"ın nuwhant Knollsea they were living in when she was born. Mother, being a year younger, cannot tell of course. First I thought of writing to the clongimon of each parish, but that would be troublesome; and if we go down there for a few days, and take some lodgings, we shall be able to find out all about it at leisure, Gwendoline and Joey can attend to mother and the people downstairs, especially as father will look in every evening until he goes out of town, to see if they are getting on properly. It will be such a weight off my soul to slip away from acquaintances here. At the same time I ought not to speak so, for they have been very kind. I wish we could go to Rouen afterwards ; aunt repeats her invitation as usual. However, there is time enough to think of that."
Ethelberta was dressed at last, and beholding the lonely look of poor Picotee when about to leave the room, she could not help having a sympathetic feeling that it was rather hard for her sister to be denied so small an enjoyment as a menial peep at a feast when she herself was to sit down to it as guest. .“If you
still want to go and see the procession downstairs you may do so," she said reluctantly; "provided that you take care of your tongue when you come in contact with Menlove, and adhere to father's instructions as to how long you may stay. It may be in the highest degree unwise; but never mind, go.”
Then Ethelberta departed for the scene of action, just at the hour of the sun's lowest decline, when it was fading away, yellow and mild as candle-light, and when upper windows facing north-west reflected dissolving views of tawny cloud with brazen edges, the original picture of the same being hidden from sight hy soiled walls and slaty slopes.
Before entering the presence of host and hostess, Ethelberta contrived to exchange a few words with her father.
“ In excellent time," he whispered. “About half of thein are here." “ Mr. Neigh?” “ Not yet; he's coming." “ Lord Mountclere?”
He came absurdly early; ten minutes before anybody else, so that Mrs. D. could hardly get on her bracelets and things soon enough to scramble down stairs and receive him ; and he's as nervous as a boy. Keep up your spirits, dear, and don't mind me.”
“I will, father. And let Picotee see me at dinner if you can. She is very
anxious to look at me. She will be here directly.” And Ethelberta joined the chamberful of assembled guests, among whom for the present we lose sight of her.
Meanwhile the evening outside the house was deepening in tone, and the lamps began to blink up. Her sister having departed, Picotee hastily arrayed herself in a little black jacket and chip hat, and tripped across the park to the same point. Chickerel had directed a maidservant known as Jane to receive his daughter and make her comfortable, and that friendly person, who spoke as if she had known Picotee five-and-twenty years, took her to the housekeeper's room, where the visitor deposited her jacket and hat, and rested awhile. A quick-eyed, light-haired, slight-built woman came in when Jane Are you
Miss Chickerel ? ” she said to Picotee. “Yes,” said Picotee, guessing that this was Menlove, and fearing her a little.
“Jane tells me that you have come to visit your father, and would like to look at the company going to dinner. Well, they are not much to see, you know; but such as they are you are welcome to the sight of. Come along with me.”
“ I think I would rather wait for father, if you will excuse me,
“ Your father is busy now; it is no use for you to think of saying anything to him."
Picotee followed her guide up a back staircase to the height of several flights, and then, crossing a landing, they descenderl to the upper part of the front stairs.
“Now look over the bannister, and you will see them all in a minute," said Mrs. Menlove. “Oh, you need not be timid; you can look out as far as you like. We are all independent here; no slavery for us : it is not as it is in the country, where servants are considered to be of different blood and bone from their employers, and to have no eyes for anything but their work. Here they are coming."
Picotee then had the pleasure of looking down upon a series of human crowns—some black, some white, some strangely built upon, some smooth and shining—descending the staircase in disordered column and great discomfort, their owners trying to talk, but breaking off in the midst of syllables to look to their footing. The young girl's eyes had not drooped over the handrail more than a few moments when she softly exclaimed, “ There she is, there she is! How lovely she looks, does she not?"
“ Who?" said Mrs. Menlove.
Picotee recollected herself, and hastily drew in her impulses. “My dear mistress," she said blandly. “ That is she on Mr. Doncastle's arm. And look, who is that funny old man the elderly lady is helping downstairs ?”
"He is our honoured guest, Lord Mountclere. Mrs. Doncastle will have him all through the dinner, and after that he will devote himself to Mrs. Petherwin, your dear mistress. He keeps looking towards her now, and no doubt thinks it a nuisance that she is not with him. Well, it is useless to stay here. Come a little further—we'll follow them." Menlove began to lear the way downstairs, but Picotee held back.
“Won't they see us ?" she said.
“ No. And if they do, it doesn't matter. Mrs. Doncastle would not object in the least to the daughter of her respected head man being accidentally seen in the hall.”
They descended to the bottom and stood in the hall. "Oh, there's futher !” whispered Picotee, with childlike gladness, as Chickerel became visible to her by the door. The butler nodded to his daughter, and became again engrossed in his duties.
“I wish I could see her—my mistress--again," said Picotee.
“You seem mightily concerned about your mistress," said Menlove. “Do you want to see if you have dressed her properly ?”
“Yes, partly; and I like her, too. She is very kind to me.”
“You will have a chance of seeing her soon. When the door is nicely open you can look in for a moment. I must leave you now for a few minutes, but I will come again."
Menlove departed, and Picotee stood waiting. She wondered how Ethelberta was getting on, and whether she enjoyed herself as much as it seemed her duty to do. Picotee then turned her attention to the hall, every article of furniture therein appearing worthy of scrutiny to her unaccustomed eyes. Here she walked and looked about till an excellent opportunity offered itself of seeing how affairs progressed in the diningroom. Through the partly opened door there became visible a sideboard which first attracted her attention by its richness. It was, indeed, a noticeable example of modern art-workmanship, in being exceptionally large, with curious ebony mouldings at different stages; and, while the heavy cupboard-doors at the bottom were enriched with inlays of paler wood, other panels were decorated with tiles, as if the massive composition had been erected on the spot as part of the solid building. However, it was on a space higher up that Picotee's eyes and thoughts were fixed. In the great mirror above the middle ledge she could see reflected the upper part of the dining-room, and this suggested to her that she might see
Ethelberta in the same way by standing on a chair, which, quick as thought, she did.
To Picotee's dazed young vision her beautiful sister appeared as the chief figure of a glorious pleasure-parliament of both sexes, surrounded by whole regiments of candles grouped here and there about the room. She and her companions were seated before a large flower-bed, or small hanging garden, fixed at about the level of the elbow, the attention of all being concentrated rather upon the uninteresting margin of the bed, and upon each other, than on the beautiful natural objects growing in the middle, as it seemed to Picotee. In the buzz of conversation Ethelberta's clear voice could occasionally be heard, and her young sister could see that her eyes were bright, and her face beaming, as if divers social wants and looming penuriousness had never been within her experience. Mr. Doncastle was quite absorbed in what she was saying. So was the queer
old man whom Menlove had called Lord Mountclere.
“The dashing widow looks very well, does she not?” said a person at Picotee's elbow. It was her conductor, whom Picotee had quite forgotten. “She will do some damage here to-night you will find. How long have you been with her ?”
“Oh, a long time—I mean rather a short time," stammered Picotee.
“I know her well enough,” continued Menlove. “I was her maid once, or rather her mother-in-law's, but that was long before you
knew her. I did not by any means find het so lovable as you seem to think her when I had to do with her at close quarters. An awful flirt-awful. Don't
find her so ?” “I don't know." ** If you
don't yet you will know. But come down from your perch -the dining-room door will not be open again—and I will show you about the rooms upstairs. This is a larger house than Mrs. Petherwin's, as you see. Just come and look at the drawing-rooms.”
Wishing much to get rid of Menlove, yet fearing to offend her, Picotee followed upstairs. Dinner was almost over by this time, and when they entered the front drawing-room a young man-servant and maid were there rekindling the lights.
“Now, let's have a game of cat-and-mice," said the maid-servant, cheerily. “There's plenty of time before they come up."
“Agreed," said Menlove, promptly. “You will play, will you not, Miss Chickerel ?”
“No, indeed," said Picotee, aghast. “Never mind, then ; you look on.”
Away then ran the housemaid and Menlove, and the young footman started at their heels. Round the room, over the furniture, under the furniture, through the furniture, out of one window, along the balcony, in at another window, again round the room-so they glided with the swiftness of swallows and the noiselessness of ghosts. Then the housemaid drew a jew's-harp from her pocket, and struck up a lively