The Dolly Dialogues/Chapter 15
THE HOUSE OPPOSITE.
We were talking over the sad case of young Algy Groom; I was explaining to Mrs. Hilary exactly what had happened.
'His father gave him,' said I, 'a hundred pounds to keep him for three months in Paris while he learnt French.'
'And very liberal too,' said Mrs. Hilary.
'It depends where you dine,' said I. 'However, that question did not arise, for Algy went to the Grand Prix the day after he arrived——'
'A horse race?' asked Mrs. Hilary with great contempt.
'Certainly the competitors are horses,' I rejoined. 'And there he, most unfortunately, lost the whole sum, without learning any French to speak of.'
'How disgusting!' exclaimed Mrs. Hilary, and little Miss Phyllis gasped in horror.
'Oh, well,' said Hilary, with much bravery (as it struck me), 'his father's very well off.'
'That doesn't make it a bit better,' declared his wife.
'There's no mortal sin in a little betting, my dear. Boys will be boys——'
'And even that,' I interposed, 'wouldn't matter if we could only prevent girls from being girls.'
Mrs. Hilary, taking no notice whatever of me, pronounced sentence. 'He grossly deceived his father,' she said, and took up her embroidery.
'Most of us have grossly deceived our parents before now,' said I. 'We should all have to confess to something of the sort.'
'I hope you're speaking for your own sex,' observed Mrs. Hilary.
'Not more than yours,' said I. 'You used to meet Hilary on the pier when your father wasn't there—you told me so.'
'Father had authorised my acquaintance with Hilary.'
'I hate quibbles,' said I.
There was a pause. Mrs. Hilary stitched; Hilary observed that the day was fine.
'Now,' I pursued carelessly, 'even Miss Phyllis here has been known to deceive her parents.'
'Oh, let the poor child alone, anyhow,' said Mrs. Hilary.
'Haven't you?' said I to Miss Phyllis.
I expected an indignant denial. So did Mrs. Hilary, for she remarked with a sympathetic air,—
'Never mind his folly, Phyllis dear.'
'Haven't you, Miss Phyllis?' said I.
Miss Phyllis grew very red. Fearing that I was causing her pain, I was about to observe on the prospects of a Dissolution when a shy smile spread over Miss Phyllis's face.
'Yes, once,' said she with a timid glance at Mrs. Hilary, who immediately laid down her embroidery.
'Out with it,' I cried triumphantly. 'Come along, Miss Phyllis. We won't tell, honour bright!'
Miss Phyllis looked again at Mrs. Hilary. Mrs. Hilary is human.
'Well, Phyllis dear,' said she, 'after all this time I should think it my duty——'
'It only happened last summer,' said Miss Phyllis.
Mrs. Hilary looked rather put out.
'Still,' she began.
'We must have the story,' said I.
Little Miss Phyllis put down the sock she had been knitting.
'I was very naughty,' she remarked. 'It was my last term at school.'
'I know that age,' said I to Hilary.
'My window looked out towards the street. You're sure you won't tell? Well, there was a house opposite——'
'And a young man in it,' said I.
'How did you know that?' asked Miss Phyllis, blushing immensely.
'No girls' school can keep up its numbers without one,' I explained.
'Well, there was, anyhow,' said Miss Phyllis. 'And I and two other girls went to a course of lectures at the Town Hall on literature or something of that kind. We used to have a shilling given us for our tickets.'
'Precisely,' said I. 'A hundred pounds!'
'No, a shilling,' corrected Miss Phyllis. 'A hundred pounds! How absurd, Mr. Carter! Well, one day I—I——'
'You're sure you wish to go on, Phyllis?' asked Mrs. Hilary.
'You're afraid, Mrs. Hilary,' said I severely.
'Nonsense, Mr. Carter. I thought Phyllis might——'
'I don't mind going on,' said Miss Phyllis smiling. 'One day I—I lost the other girls.'
'The other girls are always easy to lose,' I observed.
'And on the way there—oh, you know, he went to the lectures.'
'The young dog!' said I, nudging Hilary. 'I should think he did!'
'On the way there it became rather—rather foggy.'
'Blessings on it,' I cried; for little Miss Phyllis's demure, but roguish expression delighted me.
'And he—he found me in the fog.'
'What are you doing, Mr. Carter?' cried Mrs. Hilary angrily.
'Nothing, nothing,' said I. I believe I had winked at Hilary.
'And—and we couldn't find the Town Hall.'
'Oh, Phyllis!' groaned Mrs. Hilary.
Little Miss Phyllis looked alarmed for a moment. Then she smiled.
'But we found the confectioner's,' said she.
'The Grand Prix,' said I, pointing my forefinger at Hilary.
'He had no money at all,' said Miss Phyllis.
'It's ideal!' said I.
'And—and we had tea on—on——'
'The shilling?' I cried in rapture.
'Yes,' said little Miss Phyllis, 'on the shilling. And he saw me home.'
'Details, please,' said I.
Little Miss Phyllis shook her head.
'And left me at the door.'
'Was it still foggy?' I asked.
'Yes. Or he wouldn't have——'
'Now what did he——?'
'Come to the door, Mr. Carter,' said Miss Phyllis, with obvious wariness. 'Oh, and it was such fun!'
'I'm sure it was.'
'No, I mean when we were examined in the lectures. I bought the local paper, you know, and read it up, and I got top marks easily, and Miss Green wrote to mother to say how well I had done.'
'It all ends most satisfactorily,' I observed.
'Yes, didn't it?' said little Miss Phyllis.
Mrs. Hilary was grave again.
'And you never told your mother, Phyllis?' she asked.
'N-no, Cousin Mary,' said Miss Phyllis.
I rose and stood with my back to the fire. Little Miss Phyllis took up her sock again, but a smile still played about the corners of her mouth.
'I wonder,' said I, looking up at the ceiling, 'what happened at the door.' Then, as no one spoke, I added,—
'Pooh! I know what happened at the door.'
'I'm not going to tell you anything more,' said Miss Phyllis.
'But I should like to hear it in your own——'
Miss Phyllis was gone! She had suddenly risen and run from the room!
'It did happen at the door,' said I.
'Fancy Phyllis!' mused Mrs. Hilary.
'I hope,' said I, 'that it will be a lesson to you.'
'I shall have to keep my eye on her,' said Mrs. Hilary.
'You can't do it,' said I in easy confidence. I had no fear of little Miss Phyllis being done out of her recreations. 'Meanwhile,' I pursued, 'the important thing is this: my parallel is obvious and complete.'
'There's not the least likeness,' said Mrs. Hilary sharply.
'As a hundred pounds are to a shilling so is the Grand Prix to the young man opposite,' I observed, taking my hat, and holding out my hand to Mrs Hilary.
'I am very angry with you,' she said. 'You've made the child think there was nothing wrong in it.'
'Oh! nonsense,' said I. 'Look how she enjoyed telling it.'
Then, not heeding Mrs. Hilary, I launched into an apostrophe.
'O! divine House Opposite,' I cried. 'Charming House Opposite! What is a man's own dull uneventful home compared with that glorious House Opposite! If only I might dwell for ever in the House Opposite!'
'I haven't the least notion what you mean,' remarked Mrs. Hilary stiffly. 'I suppose it's something silly—or worse.'
I looked at her in some puzzle.
'Have you no longing for the House Opposite?' I asked.
Mrs. Hilary looked at me. Her eyes ceased to be absolutely blank. She put her arm through Hilary's and answered gently,—
'I don't want the House Opposite.'
'Ah,' said I, giving my hat a brush, 'but maybe you remember the House—when it was Opposite?'
Mrs. Hilary, one arm still in Hilary's, gave me her hand.
She blushed and smiled.
'Well,' said she, 'it was your fault; so I won't scold Phyllis.'
'No, don't, my dear,' said Hilary, with a laugh.
As for me, I went downstairs, and, in absence of mind, bade my cabman drive to the House Opposite. But I have never got there.