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Fair Play

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Aunt Mary had given the new little girl one of Elizabeth’s gowns. She looked very well in it. Elizabeth had begged for a pink gown-- simply begged, and then the first time she put it on Mama had looked her up and down and said “Well. Perhaps it is not your colour, my dear.”

So her next gown was blue, and everyone agreed that it suited her much better, so that was all right. And pink gowns suited the new little girl, it seemed; perhaps that meant Mama would have more made for her, and Elizabeth could borrow them.

It was in this charitable mood that she went searching for Dido, who Mama said was her new cousin. And wasn’t that odd, that she had a brand-new cousin her own age! Had they been cousins all along and never known it, or had Dido not been her cousin yet, before she came to Kenwood? Perhaps Papa would know. She would have to ask him, later.

At any rate, Dido was to be found in the library, curled up into the deepest, softest chair (it was Elizabeth’s favorite, as well, which was a credit to Dido’s good taste) and clutching her doll.

“Hello,” Elizabeth said, and Dido looked at her, wide-eyed and shy; she almost looked frightened. But that was silly. There was nothing at all to be afraid of at Kenwood House, except perhaps the tree outside Elizabeth’s bedroom window, which cast a weird, witchy shadow on her wall when the moon was just so. And Dido didn’t even know about that yet.

“Would you like to play dolls with me?” Elizabeth asked, and Dido brightened.

“This is Henrietta,” Elizabeth said, once they were upstairs in her room, “and this is Martha, and Blanchefleur is from France and has real stays and panniers but she’s made of wax so she has to be played with gently.”

Dido nodded solemnly.

“Does your doll have a name?” Elizabeth asked.

“She’s called Marie,” said Dido, and held her up for Elizabeth to see. Marie was a wooden doll with jointed arms, like Martha, but she had no hair and her paint was very worn; her dress looked like it had been sewn from old rags. Elizabeth frowned. All of her dolls had gowns made from Mama and Aunt Mary’s sewing scraps, in bright silk and crisp white linen. And Blanchefleur had been given her already dressed, to show the latest fashions; that gown had real Valenciennes lace on the cuffs!

“I think one of Martha’s dresses might fit Marie,” Elizabeth ventured.

In fact, none of them did. “Really, I don’t mind,” Dido insisted, but she bit her lip and looked near tears. Elizabeth, who had spent a great deal of time being drilled in etiquette by Mama and Aunt Mary, felt that she was being a dreadful host, and, to her sinking suspicion, perhaps not a very good cousin either. She had not meant to make Marie look shabby.

Fortunately, inspiration struck. “I know!” Elizabeth cried. She flew to the chest at the foot of her bed, and stuck head and shoulders inside to look for the solution. “Aha!”

She emerged brandishing her prize. “This is Catherine,” Elizabeth told Dido. “Would you like to have her?”

“To keep?” Dido frowned. “Am I allowed?”

“I don’t see why not,” Elizabeth said. “I have been neglecting her, since I got Martha, and I think she has been lonely. And anyway, she has black curls like yours, so you should have her.” In truth, Catherine’s yarn hair had been braided and pinned up in neat coils when she arrived. But that had been some time ago, and Elizabeth could hardly be blamed for her present appearance.

Dido seemed skeptical of this argument, unfortunately. She looked Catherine over carefully, considering. She was a cloth doll, not wax or wood like the others, and her clothes were fine but made in a simpler style. She still had tiny mother-of-pearl buttons on her gown, and delicate embroidery on her petticoats; she was a perfectly nice doll.

Elizabeth felt a tiny pang of regret, both for neglecting Catherine and for giving her up so hastily. Well, there was nothing to be done for it now.

Having concluded her inspection, Dido said “She doesn’t really look like me.” She had an odd way of speaking, Elizabeth noticed. Did people from the Caribbean have their own accent, like people from Scotland or Yorkshire? Perhaps it was an accent particular to mulattoes. Elizabeth would have to ask Papa, after she asked about how cousinship worked.

“I suppose not,” Elizabeth allowed. Catherine was sewn from bleached white muslin, and even several years of playtime had not dirtied her overmuch. Her eyes were black buttons, though, and-- hm. “I have an idea,” Elizabeth told her cousin.

“Are you sure we’re allowed?” Dido asked, nervous again, as she followed Elizabeth down to the breakfast room.

“Even if we aren’t, the worst Mama will do is scold, and the worst Papa will do is look very stern and disappointed,” Elizabeth reassured her. “Aunt Mary might set us a sampler to embroider, I suppose. Those are tedious. Did you have to do samplers, in the Caribbean?”

“I--no. Only chores,” Dido said.

“Chores! Well, you needn’t worry about that anymore,” Elizabeth said. “Though I think we shall have lessons, soon. I am to learn French! It’s very exciting.”

After a few minutes more of stealthy movement, Elizabeth halted at the door to the corridor, bringing Dido up short. “Shh,” said Elizabeth. “Just a moment.” Dido’s eyes were very wide. Elizabeth felt very brave. She rather liked having Dido along for adventures.

When she was sure there was no-one in the hall, she ushered Dido after her to the breakfast-room door. “They never clear away breakfast until after ten o’ clock,” she told Dido. “And no-one ever drinks the coffee once it’s cold.”

“And you really don’t mind?” Dido asked.

“You need her to keep Marie company,” Elizabeth said. “And I have Henrietta, and she looks just like me. It’s only fair.”

She considered, for a moment, how Dido might be unburdened of any feeling of obligation towards her.

“If you get another pink gown, can I borrow it sometimes?” she asked. “Then we’d be even.”

Dido smiled, clearly relieved. “All right,” she said.

“Good,” said Elizabeth. It wouldn’t do to have her cousin feeling beholden to her. And anyway, she was curious to see if her plan would work. She slipped through the door to the breakfast room, Dido close at her heels, and headed for the coffee pot.

Mama did scold, later, and Aunt Mary spent a very tiresome half-hour demanding to know what had possessed them to soak a doll in coffee. But after a while she did not seem to be asking Elizabeth or Dido in particular, but the universe in general, and so Elizabeth and Dido slipped quietly out of the room to rejoin Martha and Marie and the rest, upstairs.

Catherine had dried out very well, too. “She still smells of coffee, a little,” Elizabeth said, wrinkling her nose.

“I like it,” said Dido. “And you were right; she looks very nice this way. Thank you.”

Later, they raided Mama’s scrap bag for enough pink silk to make Catherine a new dress; Elizabeth thought it would look very pretty when it was done. In the meantime, her old one still suited very well, and Dido looked awfully glad, playing with her. Elizabeth felt warmly satisfied at having made her new cousin happy, and rather pleased on her own account for having secured a new playmate.

“The boot boy told me there’s a cat with kittens in the stables,” she informed her cousin. “Shall we go see them?”

“Oh, yes!” said Dido. “I should like that very much.” They linked arms and set off across the lawn together, close enough that their skirts rustled against each other. As soon as they left the path, Elizabeth sped up, and after a moment Dido did the same, until they were both running headlong across the grass, each urging the other faster, elbows still linked.

Elizabeth held Henrietta secure under her free arm, and Dido, Catherine. “Come on!” Dido cried. “Let’s go faster!”

Elizabeth laughed, and hitched her skirts up, and kept pace with her cousin all the way to the stables.

And the kittens were very satisfactory, too.