The garden was cool and solitary. I walked about, wondering what my feelings of happiness would be, if I could ever become engaged to this dear wonder. As to marriage, and fortune, and all that, I believe I was almost as innocently undesigning then, as when I loved little Em'ly. To be allowed to call her 'Dora', to write to her, to dote upon and worship her, to have reason to think that when she was with other people she was yet mindful of me, seemed to me the summit of human ambition — I am sure it was the summit of mine. There is no doubt whatever that I was a lackadaisical young spooney; but there was a purity of heart in all this, that prevents my having quite a contemptuous recollection of it, let me laugh as I may.
I had not been walking long, when I turned a corner, and met her. I tingle again from head to foot as my recollection turns that corner, and my pen shakes in my hand.
'You — are — out early, Miss Spenlow,' said I.
'It's so stupid at home,' she replied, 'and Miss Murdstone is so absurd! She talks such nonsense about its being necessary for the day to be aired, before I come out. Aired!' (She laughed, here, in the most melodious manner.) 'On a Sunday morning, when I don't practise, I must do something. So I told papa last night I must come out. Besides, it's the brightest time of the whole day. Don't you think so?'
I hazarded a bold flight, and said (not without stammering) that it was very bright to me then, though it had been very dark to me a minute before.
'Do you mean a compliment?' said Dora, 'or that the weather has really changed?'
I stammered worse than before, in replying that I meant no compliment, but the plain truth; though I was not aware of any change having taken place in the weather. It was in the state of my own feelings, I added bashfully: to clench the explanation.
I never saw such curls — how could I, for there never were such curls! — as those she shook out to hide her blushes. As to the straw hat and blue ribbons which was on the top of the curls, if I could only have hung it up in my room in Buckingham Street, what a priceless possession it would have been!
'You have just come home from Paris,' said I.
'Yes,' said she. 'Have you ever been there?'
'Oh! I hope you'll go soon! You would like it so much!'
Traces of deep-seated anguish appeared in my countenance. That she should hope I would go, that she should think it possible I could go, was insupportable. I depreciated Paris; I depreciated France. I said I wouldn't leave England, under existing circumstances, for any earthly consideration. Nothing should induce me. In short, she was shaking the curls again, when the little dog came running along the walk to our relief.
He was mortally jealous of me, and persisted in barking at me. She took him up in her arms — oh my goodness! — and caressed him, but he persisted upon barking still. He wouldn't let me touch him, when I tried; and then she beat him. It increased my sufferings greatly to see the pats she gave him for punishment on the bridge of his blunt nose, while he winked his eyes, and licked her hand, and still growled within himself like a little double-bass. At length he was quiet — well he might be with her dimpled chin upon his head! — and we walked away to look at a greenhouse.
'You are not very intimate with Miss Murdstone, are you?' said Dora. — 'My pet.'
(The two last words were to the dog. Oh, if they had only been to me!)
'No,' I replied. 'Not at all so.'
'She is a tiresome creature,' said Dora, pouting. 'I can't think what papa can have been about, when he chose such a vexatious thing to be my companion. Who wants a protector? I am sure I don't want a protector. Jip can protect me a great deal better than Miss Murdstone, — can't you, Jip, dear?'
He only winked lazily, when she kissed his ball of a head.
'Papa calls her my confidential friend, but I am sure she is no such thing — is she, Jip? We are not going to confide in any such cross people, Jip and I. We mean to bestow our confidence where we like, and to find out our own friends, instead of having them found out for us — don't we, Jip?'
Jip made a comfortable noise, in answer, a little like a tea-kettle when it sings. As for me, every word was a new heap of fetters, riveted above the last.
'It is very hard, because we have not a kind Mama, that we are to have, instead, a sulky, gloomy old thing like Miss Murdstone, always following us about — isn't it, Jip? Never mind, Jip. We won't be confidential, and we'll make ourselves as happy as we can in spite of her, and we'll tease her, and not please her — won't we, Jip?'
If it had lasted any longer, I think I must have gone down on my knees on the gravel, with the probability before me of grazing them, and of being presently ejected from the premises besides. But, by good fortune the greenhouse was not far off, and these words brought us to it.