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   Chapter 6 A MORNING CALL.

Phoebe, Junior By Mrs. Oliphant Characters: 16512

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Sir Robert Dorset and his daughter called, as in duty bound, upon their relation two days after her ball. "You had better come with us, Ursula," said Miss Dorset. "Sophy does not care about visits, and Mrs. Copperhead asked a great many questions about you. She is very tender-hearted to the -- young." Anne had almost said to the poor, for it is difficult to remember always that the qualifications by which we distinguish our friends when they are not present, are not always satisfactory to their own ears. "She was like you once, you know," she added, half apologetically. Ursula, who was not in the least disposed to take offence, did not ask how, but assented, as she would have assented had Cousin Anne told her to get ready to go to the moon. She went upstairs and put on her little felt hat, which had been made handsome by the long drooping feather bestowed upon her by Sophy, and the blue serge jacket which corresponded with her dress. She had not any great opinion of her own good looks, but she hoped that she was "lady-like," notwithstanding the simplicity of her costume. This was her only aspiration. In her heart she admired the tall straight angular kind of beauty possessed by her cousins, and did not think much of her own roundness and softness, which seemed to Ursula a very inferior "style;" but yet if she looked lady-like that was always something, and both Sir Robert and his daughter looked at her approvingly as she stood buttoning her gloves, waiting for them.

"If there are other city gentlemen there mind you make yourself very agreeable, Ursula," said Cousin Sophy, which vexed the girl a little. Whether the people were city gentlemen or not, of course, she said to herself, she would try to be nice-was not that a girl's first duty? She tried for her part to be nice to everybody, to talk when she could, and receive the recompense of pleased looks. To walk with her friends up the long line of Regent Street, with many a sidelong glance into the shop-windows, was very pleasant to Ursula. Sometimes even Cousin Anne would be tempted to stop and look, and point things out to her father. Unfortunately, the things Miss Dorset remarked were chiefly handsome pieces of furniture, beautiful carpets, and the like, which were totally out of Ursula's way.

"There is just the kind of carpet I want for the drawing-room," Anne said, looking at something so splendid that Ursula thought it was good enough for the Queen. But Sir Robert shook his head.

"The drawing-room carpet will do very well," he said. "It will last out my day, and your brother will prefer to please himself."

This brought a little cloud upon Anne Dorset's placid face, for she too, like Mr. Beecham, had a brother whose wife it was not agreeable to think of as mistress in the old house. She went on quickly after that looking in at no more shops. Perhaps she who could buy everything she wanted (as Ursula thought) had on the whole more painful feelings in looking at them, than had the little girl beside her, whose whole thoughts were occupied by the question whether she would have enough money left to buy her sister Janey one of those new neckties which were "the fashion." Janey did not often get anything that was the fashion. But at any rate Ursula made notes and laid up a great many things in her mind to tell Janey of-which would be next best.

Mrs. Copperhead was seated in a corner of her vast drawing-room when her visitors arrived, and her pale little countenance brightened at sight of them. They were the nearest approach to "her own people" that the poor soul possessed. She received their compliments upon her ball with deprecating looks.

"I am sure you are very good-very good to say so. I am afraid it was not much amusement to you. They were not the kind of people-"

"I scarcely knew a soul," said Sir Robert; "it was a curious sensation. It does one good now and then to have a sensation like that. It shows you that after all you are not such a fine fellow as you thought yourself. Once before I experienced something of the same feeling. It was at a ball at the Tuileries-but even then, after a while, I found English people I knew, though I didn't know the French grandees; but, by Jove! except yourself and Mr. Copperhead, Clara, I knew nobody here."

Mrs. Copperhead felt the implied censure more than she was intended to feel it.

"Mr. Copperhead does not care about cultivating fashionable people," she said, with a little spirit. "He prefers his old friends."

"That is very nice of him," cried Anne, "so much the kindest way. I liked it so much. At most balls we go to, people come and ask me to dance for duty, pretending not to see that my dancing days are over."

"She talks nonsense," said Sir Robert. "Clara, I must trust to you to put this notion out of Anne's head. Why should her dancing days be over? I am not a Methuselah, I hope. She has no right to shelve herself so early, has she? I hope to see her make a good match before I die."

"So long as she is happy-" said Mrs. Copperhead, faltering. She was not any advocate for good matches. "Oh, there is Mr. Copperhead!" she added, with a little start, as a resounding knock was heard. "He does not often come home so early; he will be very glad to see you, Sir Robert. Are you going to stay long in town, Miss May?"

"Not long, only till the children arrive," said Anne, looking compassionately at the rich man's nervous wife. She had been quiet enough, so long as she was alone. Now a little fever seemed to be awakened in her. She turned to Ursula and began to talk to her quickly-

"Do you like being in town? It is not a good time of the year. It is nicer in May, when everything looks cheerful; but I always live in London. You will come back for the season, I suppose?"

"Oh no," said Ursula. "I never was in London before. Cousin Anne brought me for a great pleasure. I have been twice to the theatre, and at the ball here."

"Oh yes, I forgot, you were at the ball-and you danced, did you dance? I cannot remember. There were so many people. Oh yes, I recollect. I spoke to Clarence-"

"I danced three times," said Ursula. "I never was at a ball before. It was very nice. Mr. Copperhead was so kind-"

"What is that about Mr. Copperhead being kind? Was I kind? I am always kind-ask my wife, she will give me a good character," said the master of the house, coming up to them. "Ah, the Baronet! how do you do, Sir Robert? I don't often see you in my house."

"You saw us the other evening," said Sir Robert, courteously, "and we have just come, Anne and I, to let Clara know how much we enjoyed it. It was really splendid. I don't know when I have seen so much-um-luxury-so great a display of-of-beautiful things-and-and wealth."

"Glad to hear you were pleased," said Mr. Copperhead, "no expense was spared at least. I don't often throw away my money in that way, but when I do I like things to be regardless of expense. That is our way in the city; other people have to make a deal of gentility go a long way, but with us, who don't stand on our gentility-"

"It is not much to stand upon, certainly, in the way of giving balls," said Sir Robert. "I quite agree with you that money should not be spared when a good effect is to be produced. Anne, my dear, if you have said all you have to say to Clara, you must recollect that we have a great deal to do-"

"You are not going the moment I come in," said Mr. Copperhead. "Come, we must have some tea or something. Not that I care very much for tea, but I suppose you'll be shocked if I offer you anything else in the afternoon. Haven't you ordered tea, Mrs. Copperhead? I can't teach my wife hospitality, Sir Robert-not as I understand it. She'd see you come and go a dozen times, I'll be bound, without once thinking of offering anything. That ain't my way. Tea! and directly, do you hear."

"Yes," said Mrs. Copperhead, in a nervous tremor; "bring tea, Burton, please. It is rather early, but I do so hope you will stay." She gave Miss Dorset an appealing glance, and Anne was too kind to resist the appeal.

"To be sure they'll stay," said Mr. Copperhead. "Ladies never say no to a cup of tea, and ours ought to be good if there's any virtue in mon

ey. Come and look at my Turner, Sir Robert. I ain't a judge of art, but it cost a precious lot, if that is any test. They tell me it's one of the best specimens going. Come this way."

"You won't mind?" said poor Mrs. Copperhead. "He is very hospitable, he cannot bear that any one should go without taking something. It is old-fashioned, but then Mr. Copperhead-"

"It is a most kind fashion, I think," said Anne Dorset, who had a superstitious regard for other people's feelings, "and Mr. Copperhead is quite right, I never say no to a cup of tea."

Just then Clarence came in with his hands in his pockets, so curiously like his father in his large somewhat loose figure, as unlike him in aspect and expression, that even the gentle Anne could scarcely help smiling. When he had shaken hands with Miss Dorset he dropped naturally into a seat beside Ursula, who, dazzled by his position as son of the house, and flattered by what she called his "kindness," was as much pleased by this sign of preference as if Clarence Copperhead had been a hero.

"I hope you have recovered my father's ball," he said.

"Recovered! Mr. Copperhead."

"Yes, you think it uncivil; but I myself have scarcely recovered yet. The sort of people he chose to collect-people whom nobody knew."

"But, Mr. Copperhead," said Ursula, "if it was his old friends, as your mother says, how much more noble of him than if they had been fine people he did not care for! As for me, I don't know any one anywhere. It was all the same to me."

"That was very lucky for you," said the young man. "My good cousins did not take it so easily. They are your cousins, too?"

"Oh, yes-they are so good," cried Ursula. "Cousin Sophy laughs at me sometimes, but Cousin Anne is as kind as an angel. They have always been good to us all our lives."

"You live near them, perhaps? Sir Robert has been kind enough to ask me to the Hall."

"No, not near. We live at Carlingford. It is not a place like the Dorsets'; it is a poor little town where papa is one of the clergymen. We are not county people like them," said Ursula, with anxious honesty, that he might not have a false idea of her pretensions. "I have never been anywhere all my life, and that is why they brought me here. It was by far the most beautiful party I ever saw," she added, with a little enthusiasm. "I never was at a real dance before."

"I am glad you thought it pretty," said Clarence. "I suppose it was pretty; when the rooms are nice," and he looked round the handsome room, not without a little complacency, "and when there is plenty of light and flowers, and well-dressed people, I suppose no dance can help being a pretty sight. That was about all. There was no one worth pointing out."

"Oh, there were some very pretty people," said Ursula; "there was a young lady in black. She was always dancing. I should have liked to know her. You danced with her a great many times, Mr. Copperhead."

"Ah!" said Clarence. He was not more foolish than his neighbours, but it flattered him that his dancing with one person should have been noticed, especially by a pretty creature, who herself had attracted him and shared the privilege. "That was Miss Beecham. I did not dance with her above three or four times. Of course," he said, apologetically, "we are old friends."

Ursula did not know why he should apologize. She did not intend to flirt, not having any knowledge of that pastime as yet. She was quite simple in her mention of the other girl, who had attracted her attention. Now having said all she could remember to say, she stopped talking, and her eyes turned to the elder Mr. Copperhead, who came back, followed by Sir Robert. There was a largeness about the rich man, which Ursula, not used to rich men, gazed at with surprise. He seemed to expand himself upon the air, and spread out his large person, as she had never known any one else do. And Sir Robert, following him, looked so strangely different. He was very reluctant to be so led about, and, as it were, patronized by the master of the house, and his repugnance took a curious form. His nose was slightly drawn up, as if an odour of something disagreeable had reached him. Ursula, in her innocence, wondered what it was.

"Here's the Baronet, Clarence," said Mr. Copperhead, who was slightly flushed; "and he doubts the Turner being genuine. My Turner! Go off at once to those picture people, Christie, whatever you call them, and tell them I want proofs that it's genuine. I am not the sort of man, by George! to be cheated, and they ought to know that. They have had many a hundred pounds of my money, but they shall never have another penny if I don't get proofs. It ain't pleasant, I can tell you, to hear the Baronet, or any one else for that matter, running down my pictures."

"I did not run it down," said Sir Robert, with another little curl of his nostrils. (What could there be in this grand big house that could make a disagreeable smell?) "I only said that I had seen copies that were so wonderfully good that none but an expert could tell the difference; that was all. I don't say that yours is one of them."

"No; nor no one shall!" cried Mr. Copperhead. "We shall have the experts, as you call them, and settle it. By George! there shall be nothing uncertain in my house. You can tell the men it is Sir Robert Dorset who suggested it. There's nothing like a title (even when it isn't much of a title) to keep people up to their work. Not meaning any disrespect to Sir Robert, I could buy him and his up five times over. But I ain't Sir Robert, and never will be. Say Sir Robert, Clarence, my boy; that'll bear weight."

"It was an unfortunate observation on my part," said Sir Robert, stiffly. "I have a picture myself, which I bought for a Correggio, and which is a mere copy, I believe, though a very nice one. I hold my tongue on the subject, and nobody is the wiser. Anne, my dear, I think we must go now."

"That would never suit me," said the rich man; "holding my tongue ain't my way, is it, Mrs. Copperhead? What! going, after all, without your tea? I am afraid, ma'am, the Baronet is touchy, and doesn't like what I said. But nobody minds me, I assure you. I say what I think, but I don't mean any harm."

"Oh, no," said Anne, drawing herself up, while her father took leave of poor little tremulous Mrs. Copperhead. "We really must go; we have stayed longer than we meant to stay. Ursula-"

"Your little companion?" said Mr. Copperhead. "Ah; you should take care, Miss Dorset, of these little persons. They stand in the way of the young ladies themselves often enough, I can tell you. And so can Mrs. Copperhead; she knows."

He laughed, and both Anne and Ursula became aware that something offensive was meant; but what it was, neither of them could make out. Mrs. Copperhead, whose intelligence had been quickened on that point, perceived it, and trembled more and more.

"Good-bye, dear," she said to Ursula in an agony. "Though we are not cousins, we are connections, through your kind Cousin Anne; for she lets me call her my Cousin Anne too. Perhaps you will come and pay me a visit sometimes, if-if you can be spared."

"Oh, yes; I should be very glad," said Ursula, confused.

She did not understand why Sir Robert should be in such a hurry, when both young Mr. Copperhead and his mother were so kind. As for the other Mr. Copperhead, he did not interest Ursula. But he went down to the door with them in an excess of civility, offering Anne his arm, which she was obliged to take, much against her will; and even Ursula felt a passing pang of humiliation when the footman threw open the great door before them, and no carriage was visible.

"Oh, you are walking!" said Mr. Copperhead, with one of his big laughs.

After all, a laugh could hurt nobody. Why was it that they all felt irritated and injured? Even Sir Robert grew scarlet, and when they were outside on the broad pavement turned almost angrily upon his daughter.

"I tell you what, Anne," he said; "not if it was to save my life, shall I ever enter that brute's doors again."

"Oh, papa; poor Mrs. Copperhead!" cried kind Anne, with a wail in her voice. That was all the reply she made.

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