CHAPTER IWHAT WILL BECOME OF ME?
A London dining-room was lighted with gas, which showed a table of small dimensions, with a vase of somewhat dirty and dilapidated grasses in the centre, and at one end a soup tureen, from which a gentleman had helped himself and a young girl of about thirteen, without much apparent consciousness of what he was about, being absorbed in a pile of papers, pamphlets, and letters, while she on her side kept a book pinned open by a gravy spoon. The elderly maid-servant, who set the dishes before them, handed the vegetables and changed the plates, really came as near to feeding the pair as was possible with people above three years old.
The one was a dark, thin man, with a good deal of white in his thick beard and scanty hair, the absence of which made the breadth of his forehead the more remarkable. The girl would have shown an equally remarkable brow, but that her dark hair was cut square over it, so as to take off from its height, and give a heavy over-hanging look to the upper part of the face, which below was tin and sallow, well-featured, but with a want of glow and colour. The thick masses of dark hair were plaited into a very long thick tail behind, hanging down over a black evening frock, whose white trimmings were, like everything else about the place, rather dingy. She was far less absorbed than her father, and raised a quick, wistful brown eye whenever he made the least sound, or shuffled his papers. Indeed, it seemed that she was reading in order to distract her anxiety rather than for the sake of occupation.
It was not till after the last pieces of cheese had been offered and refused, and the maid had retired, leaving some dull crackers and veteran biscuits, with two decanters and a claret-jug, that he spoke.
But he only cleared his throat, and looked at his letter again, while she fixed her eager eyes upon him so earnestly that he let his fall again, and looked once more over his letters before he spoke again.
'Dolores,' and the tone was dry, as if all feeling were driven from it.
'You know that I have accepted this appointment?'
'And that I shall be absent three years at the least?'
'Then comes the question, how you are to be disposed of in the meantime?'
'Could not I go with you?' she said, under her breath.
'No, my dear.' And somehow the tone had more tenderness in it, though it was so explicit. 'I shall have no fixed residence, no one with whom to leave you; and the climate is not fit for you. Your Aunt Lilias has kindly offered to take charge of you.'
'If you would only let me stay here with Caroline and Fraulein. I like it so much better.'
'That cannot be, Dolly. I have this morning promised to let the house as it is to Mr. Smithson.'
'If Caroline takes my advice, she will remain here as his housekeeper, and I think she will. Well, what is it? You do not mean that you would prefer going to your Aunts Jane and Ada?'
'Oh no, no; only if I might go to school.'
'This is nonsense, Dolores....