Wives and Daughters
by Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Nevertheless she prepared a handsome present for the bride: a Bible and a Prayer-book bound in velvet with silver-clasps; and also a collection of household account-books, at the beginning of which Lady Cumnor wrote down with her own hand the proper weekly allowance of bread, butter, eggs, meat, and groceries per head, with the London prices of the articles, so that the most inexperienced housekeeper might ascertain if her expenditure exceeded her means, as she expressed herself in the note which she sent with the handsome, dull present.

'If you are driving into Hollingford, Harriet, perhaps you will take these books to Miss Kirkpatrick,' said Lady Cumnor, after she had sealed her note with all the straightness and correctness befitting a countess of her immaculate character. 'I understand they are all going up to London to-morrow for this wedding, in spite of what I said to Clare of the duty of being married in one's own parish-church. She told me at the time that she entirely agreed with me, but that her husband had such a strong wish for a visit to London, that she did not know how she could oppose him consistently with her wifely duty. I advised her to repeat to him my reasons for thinking that they would be ill-advised to have the marriage in town; but I am afraid she has been overruled. That was her one great fault when she lived with us; she was always so yielding, and never knew how to say "No."'

'Mamma!' said Lady Harriet, with a little sly coaxing in her tone. 'Do you think you would have been so fond of her, if she had opposed you, and said, "No," when you wished her to say, "Yes?"'

'To be sure I should, my dear. I like everybody to have an opinion of their own; only when my opinions are based on thought and experience, which few people have had equal opportunities of acquiring, I think it is but proper deference in others to allow themselves to be convinced. In fact, I think it is only obstinacy which keeps them from acknowledging that they are. I am not a despot, I hope?' she asked, with some anxiety.

'If you are, dear mamma,' said Lady Harriet, kissing the stern uplifted face very fondly, 'I like a despotism better than a republic, and I must be very despotic over my ponies, for it is already getting very late for my drive round by Ash-holt.' But when she arrived at the Gibsons', she was detained so long there by the state of the family, that she had to give up her going to Ash-holt.

Molly was sitting in the drawing-room pale and trembling, and keeping herself quiet only by a strong effort. She was the only person there when Lady Harriet entered; the room was all in disorder, strewed with presents and paper, and pasteboard boxes, and half-displayed articles of finery.

'You look like Marius sitting amidst the ruins of Carthage, my dear! What's the matter? Why have you got on that woe-begone face? This marriage is not broken off, is it? Though nothing would surprise me where the beautiful Cynthia is concerned.'

'Oh, no! that's all right. But I have caught a fresh cold, and papa says he thinks I had better not go to the wedding.'

'Poor little one! And it's the first visit to London too!'

'Yes. But what I most care for is the not being with Cynthia to the last; and then, papa'—she stopped, for she could hardly go on without open crying, and she did not want to do that. Then she cleared her voice. 'Papa,' she continued, 'has so looked forward to this holiday,— and seeing—and—, and going—oh! I can't tell you where; but he has quite a list of people and sights to be seen,—and now he says he should not be comfortable to leave me all alone for more than three days,—two for travelling, and one for the wedding.' Just then Mrs. Gibson came in, ruffled too after her fashion, though the presence of Lady Harriet was wonderfully smoothing.

'My dear Lady Harriet—how kind of you! Ah, yes, I see this poor unfortunate child has been telling you of her ill-luck; just when everything was going on so beautifully; I am sure it was that open window at your back, Molly,—you know you would persist that it could do you no harm, and now you see the mischief I am sure I shan't be able to enjoy myself—and at my only child's wedding too—without you; for I can't think of leaving you without Maria. I would rather sacrifice anything myself than think of you, uncared for, and dismal at home.'

'I am sure Molly is as sorry as any one,' said Lady Harriet.

'No. I don't think she is,' said Mrs. Gibson, with happy disregard of the chronology of events, 'or she would not have sate with her back to an open window the day before yesterday, when I told her not. But it can't be helped now. Papa too—but it is my duty to make the best of everything, and look at the cheerful side of life. I wish I could persuade her to do the same' (turning and addressing Lady Harriet). 'But you see it is a great mortification to a girl of her age to lose her first visit to London.'

'It is not that,' began Molly; but Lady Harriet made her a little sign to be silent while she herself spoke.

'Now, Clare! you and I can manage it all, I think, if you will but help me in a plan I have got in my head. Mr. Gibson shall stay as long as ever he can in London; and Molly shall be well cared for, and have some change of air and scene too, which is really what she needs as much as anything, in my poor opinion. I can't spirit her to the wedding and give her a sight of London; but I can carry her off to the Towers, and nurse her myself; and send daily bulletins up to London, so that Mr. Gibson may feel quite at ease, and stay with you as long as you like, What do you say to it, Clare?'

'Oh, I could not go,' said Molly; 'I should only be a trouble to everybody.'

'Nobody asked you for your opinion, little one. If we wise elders decide that you are to go, you must submit in silence.'

Meanwhile Mrs. Gibson was rapidly balancing advantages and disadvantages. Amongst the latter, jealousy came in predominant. Amongst the former,—it would sound well; Maria could then accompany Cynthia and herself as 'their maid,'—Mr. Gibson would stay longer with her, and it was always desirable to have a man at her beck and call in such a place as London; besides that, this identical man was gentlemanly and good-looking, and a favourite with her prosperous brother-in-law. The ayes had it.

'What a charming plan! I cannot think of anything kinder or pleasanter for this poor darling. Only—what will Lady Cumnor say? I am modest for my family as much as for myself. She won't—'

'You know mamma's sense of hospitality is never more gratified than when the house is quite full; and papa is just like her. Besides she is fond of you, and grateful to our good Mr. Gibson, and will be fond of you, little one, when she knows you as I do.'

Molly's heart sank within her at the prospect. Excepting on the one evening of her father's wedding-day, she had never even seen the outside of the Towers since that unlucky day in her childhood when she had fallen asleep on Clare's bed. She had a dread of the countess, a dislike to the house, only it seemed as if it was a solution to the problem of what to do with her, which had been perplexing every one all morning, and so evidently that it had caused her much distress. She kept silence, though her lips quivered from time to time. Oh, if the Miss Brownings had not chosen this very time of all others to pay their monthly visit to Miss Hornblower! if she could only have gone there, and lived with them in their quaint, quiet, primitive way, instead of having to listen, without remonstrance, to hearing plans discussed about her, as if she was an inanimate chattel.

'She shall have the south pink room, opening out of mine by one door, you remember; and the dressing-room shall be made into a cozy little sitting-room for her, in case she likes to be by herself. Parkes shall attend upon her, and I am sure Mr. Gibson must know Parkes's powers as a nurse by this time. We shall have all manner of agreeable people in the house to amuse her downstairs; and when she has got rid of this access of cold, I will drive her out every day, and write daily bulletins, as I said. Pray tell Mr. Gibson all that, and let it be considered as settled. I will come for her in the close carriage to- morrow, at eleven. And now may I see the lovely bride elect, and give her mamma's present, and my own good wishes?'

So Cynthia came in, and demurely received the very proper present, and the equally correct congratulations, without testifying any very great delight or gratitude at either; for she was quite quick enough to detect that there was no great afflux of affection accompanying either. But when she heard her mother quickly recapitulating all the details of the plan for Molly, Cynthia's eyes did sparkle with gladness; and almost to Lady Harriet's surprise, she thanked her as if she had conferred a personal favour upon her, Cynthia. Lady Harriet saw, too, that in a very quiet way, she had taken Molly's hand, and was holding it all the time, as if loth to think of their approaching separation— somehow, she and Lady Harriet were brought nearer together by this little action than they had ever been before.

If Molly had hoped that her father might have raised some obstacles to the project, she was disappointed. But, indeed, she did not when she perceived how he seemed to feel that, by placing her under the care of Lady Harriet and Parkes, he should be relieved from anxiety; and how he spoke of this change of air and scene as being the very thing he had been wishing to secure for her; country air, and absence of excitement as this would be; for the only other place where he could have secured her these advantages, and at the same time sent her as an invalid, was to Hamley Hall; and he dreaded the associations there with the beginning of her present illness.

So Molly was driven off in state the next day, leaving her own home all in confusion with the assemblage of boxes and trunks in the hall, and all the other symptoms of the approaching departure of the family for London and the wedding. All the morning Cynthia had been with her in her room, attending to the arrangement of Molly's clothes, instructing her what to wear with what, and rejoicing over the pretty smartnesses, which, having been prepared for her as bridesmaid, were now to serve as adornments for her visit to the Towers. Both Molly and Cynthia spoke about dress as if it was the very object of their lives; for each dreaded the introduction of more serious subjects; Cynthia more for Molly than herself. Only when the carriage was announced, and Molly was preparing to go downstairs, Cynthia said,—

'I am not going to thank you, Molly, or to tell you how I love you.'

'Don't,' said Molly, 'I can't bear it.'

'Only you know you're to be my first visitor, and if you wear brown ribbons to a green gown, I'll turn you out of the house!' So they parted. Mr. Gibson was there in the hall to hand Molly in. He had ridden hard; and was now giving her two or three last injunctions as to her health.

'Think of us on Thursday,' said he. 'I declare I don't know which of her three lovers she may not summon at the very last moment to act the part of bridegroom. I'm determined to be surprised at nothing; and will give her away with a good grace to whoever comes.'

They drove away, and until they were out of sight of the house, Molly had enough to do to keep returning the kisses of the hand wafted to her by her stepmother out of the drawing-room window, while at the same time her eyes were fixed on a white handkerchief fluttering out of the attic from which she herself had watched Roger's departure nearly two years before. What changes time had brought!

When Molly arrived at the Towers she was convoyed into Lady Cumnor's presence by Lady Harriet. It was a mark of respect to the lady of the house, which the latter knew that her mother would expect; but she was anxious to get it over, and take Molly up into the room which she had been so busy in arranging for her. Lady Cumnor was, however, very kind, if not positively gracious.

'You are Lady Harriet's visitor, my dear,' said she, 'and I hope she will take good care of you. If not, come and complain of her to me.' It was as near an approach to a joke as Lady Cumnor ever perpetrated, and from it Lady Harriet knew that her mother was pleased by Molly's manners and appearance.

'Now, here you are in your own kingdom; and into this room I shan't venture to come without express permission. Here is the last new Quarterly, and the last new novel, and the last new essays. Now, my dear, you need not come down again to-day unless you like it. Parkes shall bring you everything and anything you want. You must get strong as fast as you can, for all sorts of great and famous people are coming to-morrow and the next day, and I think you'll like to see them. Suppose for to-day you only come down to lunch, and if you like it, in the evening. Dinner is such a wearily long meal, if one is not strong; and you would not miss much, for there is only my cousin Charles in the house now, and he is the personification of sensible silence.'

Molly was only too glad to allow Lady Harriet to decide everything for her. It had begun to rain, and was, altogether, a gloomy day for August; and there was a small fire of scented wood burning cheerfully in the sitting-room appropriated to her. High up, it commanded a wide and pleasant view over the park, and from it could be seen the spire of Hollingford Church, which gave Molly a pleasant idea of neighbourhood to home. She was left alone, lying on the sofa—books near her, wood crackling and blazing, wafts of wind bringing the beating rain against the window, and so enhancing the sense of indoor comfort by the outdoor contrast. Parkes was unpacking for her. Lady Harriet had introduced Parkes to Molly by saying, 'Now, Molly, this is Mrs. Parkes, the only person I ever am afraid of. She scolds me if I dirty myself with my paints, just as if I was a little child; and she makes me go to bed when I want to sit up,'—Parkes was smiling grimly all the time;—'so to get rid of her tyranny I give her you as victim. Parkes, rule over Miss Gibson with a rod of iron; make her eat and drink, and rest and sleep, and dress as you think wisest and best.'

Parkes had begun her reign by putting Molly on the sofa, and saying, 'If you will give me your keys, Miss, I will unpack your things, and let you know when it is time for me to arrange your hair, preparatory to luncheon.' For if Lady Harriet used familiar colloquialisms from time to time, she certainly had not learnt it from Parkes, who piqued herself on the correctness of her language.

When Molly went down to lunch she found 'cousin Charles,' with his aunt, Lady Cumnor. He was a certain Sir Charles Morton, the son of Lady Cumnor's only sister: a plain, sandy-haired man of thirty-five or so; immensely rich, very sensible, awkward, and reserved. He had had a chronic attachment, of many years' standing, to his cousin, Lady Harriet, who did not care for him in the least, although it was the marriage very earnestly desired for her by her mother. Lady Harriet was, however, on friendly terms with him, ordered him about, and told him what to do, and what to leave undone, without having even a doubt as to the willingness of his obedience. She had given him his cue about Molly.

'Now, Charles, the girl wants to be interested and amused without having to take any trouble for herself; she is too delicate to be very active either in mind or body. Just look after her when the house gets full, and place her where she can hear and see everything and everybody, without any fuss and responsibility.'

So Sir Charles began this day at luncheon by taking Molly under his quiet protection. He did not say much to her; but what he did say was thoroughly friendly and sympathetic; and Molly began, as he and Lady Harriet intended that she should, to have a kind of pleasant reliance upon him. Then in the evening while the rest of the family were at dinner—after Molly's tea and hour of quiet repose, Parkes came and dressed her in some of the new clothes prepared for the Kirkpatrick visit, and did her hair in some new and pretty way, so that when Molly looked at herself in the cheval-glass, she scarcely knew the elegant reflection to be that of herself. She was fetched down by Lady Harriet into the great long formidable drawing-room, which, as an interminable place of pacing, had haunted her dreams ever since her childhood. At the further end sate Lady Cumnor at her tapestry work; the light of fire and candle seemed all concentrated on that one bright part where presently Lady Harriet made tea, and Lord Cumnor went to sleep, and Sir Charles read passages aloud from the Edinburgh Review to the three ladies at their work.

When Molly went to bed she was constrained to admit that staying at the Towers as a visitor was rather pleasant than otherwise; and she tried to reconcile old impressions with new ones, until she fell asleep. There was another comparatively quiet day before the expected guests began to arrive in the evening. Lady Harriet took Molly a drive in her little pony-carriage; and for the first time for many weeks Molly began to feel the delightful spring of returning health; the dance of youthful spirits in the fresh air cleared by the previous day's rain.



'If you can without fatigue, dear, do come down to dinner to-day; you'll then see the people one by one as they appear, instead of having to encounter a crowd of strangers. Hollingford will be here too. I hope you'll find it pleasant.'

So Molly made her appearance at dinner that day; and got to know, by sight at least, some of the most distinguished of the visitors at the Towers. The next day was Thursday, Cynthia's wedding-day; bright and fine in the country, whatever it might be in London. And there were several letters from the home-people awaiting Molly when she came downstairs to the late breakfast. For every day, every hour, she was gaining strength and health, and she was unwilling to continue her invalid habits any longer than was necessary. She looked so much better that Sir Charles noticed it to Lady Harriet; and several of the visitors spoke of her this morning as a very pretty, lady-like, and graceful girl. This was Thursday; on Friday, as Lady Harriet had told her, some visitors from the more immediate neighbourhood were expected to stay over the Sunday: but she had not mentioned their names, and when Molly went down into the drawing-room before dinner, she was almost startled by perceiving Roger Hamley in the centre of a group of gentlemen, who were all talking together eagerly, and, as it seemed to her, making him the object of their attention. He made a hitch in his conversation, lost the precise meaning of a question addressed to him, answered it rather hastily, and made his way to where Molly was sitting, a little behind Lady Harriet. He had heard that she was staying at the Towers, but he was almost as much surprised as she was by his unexpected appearance, for he had only seen her once or twice since his return from Africa, and then in the guise of an invalid. Now in her pretty evening dress, with her hair beautifully dressed, her delicate complexion flushed a little with timidity, yet her movements and manners bespeaking quiet ease, Roger hardly recognized her, although he acknowledged her identity. He began to feel that admiring deference which most young men experience when conversing with a very pretty girl: a sort of desire to obtain her good opinion in a manner very different to his old familiar friendliness. He was annoyed when Sir Charles, whose especial charge she still was, came up to take her in to dinner. He could not quite understand the smile of mutual intelligence that passed between the two, each being aware of Lady Harriet's plan of sheltering Molly from the necessity of talking, and acting in conformity with her wishes as much as with their own. Roger found himself puzzling, and watching them from time to time during dinner. Again in the evening he sought her out, but found her again preoccupied with one of the young men staying in the house, who had had the advantage of two days of mutual interest, and acquaintance with the daily events and jokes and anxieties of the family-circle. Molly could not help wishing to break off all this trivial talk and to make room for Roger: she had so much to ask him about everything at the Hall; he was, and had been such a stranger to them all for these last two months, and more. But though each wanted to speak to the other more than to any one else in the room, it so happened that everything seemed to conspire to prevent it. Lord Hollingford carried off Roger to the cluster of middle-aged men; he was wanted to give his opinion upon some scientific subject. Mr. Ernulphus Watson, the young man referred to above, kept his place by Molly, as the prettiest girl in the room, and almost dazed her by his never-ceasing flow of clever small-talk. She looked so tired and pale at last that the ever-watchful Lady Harriet sent Sir Charles to the rescue, and after a few words with Lady Harriet, Roger saw Molly quietly leave the room; and a sentence or two which he heard Lady Harriet address to her cousin made him know that it was for the night. Those sentences might bear another interpretation to the obvious one.

'Really, Charles, considering that she is in your charge, I think you might have saved her from the chatter and patter of Mr. Watson; I can only stand it when I am in the strongest health.'

Why was Molly in Sir Charles' charge? why? Then Roger remembered many little things that might serve to confirm the fancy he had got into his head; and he went to bed puzzled and annoyed. It seemed to him such an incongruous, hastily-got-up sort of engagement, if engagement it really was. On Saturday they were more fortunate; they had a long tete-a-tete in the most public place in the house—on a sofa in the hall where Molly was resting at Lady Harriet's command before going upstairs after a walk. Roger was passing through, and saw her, and came to her. Standing before her, and making pretence of playing with the gold-fish in a great marble basin close at hand,—

'I was very unlucky,' said he. 'I wanted to get near you last night, but it was quite impossible. You were so busy talking to Mr. Watson, until Sir Charles Morton came and carried you off—with such an air of authority! Have you known him long?'

Now this was not at all the manner in which Roger had predetermined that he would speak of Sir Charles to Molly; but the words came out in spite of himself.

'No! not long. I never saw him before I came here—on Tuesday. But Lady Harriet told him to see that I did not get tired, for I wanted to come down; but you know I have not been strong. He is a cousin of Lady Harriet's, and does all she tells him to do.'

'Oh! he is not handsome; but I believe he is a very sensible man.'

'Yes! I should think so. He is so silent though, that I can hardly judge.'

'He bears a very high character in the county,' said Roger, willing now to give him his full due.

Molly stood up.

'I must go upstairs,' she said; 'I only sate down here for a minute or two because Lady Harriet bade me.'

'Stop a little longer,' said he. 'This is really the pleasantest place; this basin of water-lilies gives one the idea, if not the sensation, of coolness; besides—it seems so long since I saw you, and I have a message from my father to give you. He is very angry with you.'

'Angry with me?' said Molly, in surprise.

'Yes! He heard that you had come here for change of air; and he was offended that you had not come to us—to the Hall, instead. He said that you should have remembered old friends!'

Molly took all this quite gravely, and did not at first notice the smile on his face.

'Oh! I am so sorry!' said she. 'But will you please tell him how it all happened. Lady Harriet called the very day when it was settled that I was not to go to—' Cynthia's wedding she was going to add, but she suddenly stopped short, and, blushing deeply, changed the expression,— 'go to London, and she planned it all in a minute, and convinced mamma and papa, and had her own way. There was really no resisting her.'

'I think you will have to tell all this to my father yourself, if you mean to make your peace. Why can you not come on to the Hall when you leave the Towers?'

To go in the cool manner suggested from one house to another, after the manner of a royal progress, was not at all according to Molly's primitive home-keeping notions. She made answer,—

'I should like it very much, some time. But I must go home first. They will want me more than ever now—'

Again she felt herself touching on a sore subject, and stopped short. Roger became annoyed at her so constantly conjecturing what he must be feeling on the subject of Cynthia's marriage. With sympathetic perception she had discerned that the idea must give him pain; and perhaps she also knew that he would dislike to show the pain: but she had not the presence of mind or ready wit to give a skilful turn to the conversation. All this annoyed Roger, he could hardly tell why. He determined to take the metaphorical bull by the horns. Until that was done, his footing with Molly would always be insecure; as it always is between two friends, who mutually avoid a subject to which their thoughts perpetually recur.

'Ah, yes!' said he. 'Of course you must be of double importance now Miss Kirkpatrick has left you. I saw her marriage in The Times yesterday.'

His tone of voice was changed in speaking of her, but her name had been named between them, and that was the great thing to accomplish.

'Still,' he continued, 'I think I must urge my father's claim for a short visit, and all the more, because I can really see the apparent improvement in your health since I came,—only yesterday. Besides, Molly,' it was the old familiar Roger of former days who spoke now, 'I think you could help us at home. Aimee is shy and awkward with my father, and he has never taken quite kindly to her,—yet I know they would like and value each other, if some one could but bring them together,—and it would be such a comfort to me if this could take place before I have to leave.'

'To leave—are you going away again?'

'Yes. Have you not heard? I did not complete my engagement. I am going again in September for six months.'

'I remember. But somehow I fancied—you seemed to have settled down into the old ways at the Hall.'

'So my father appears to think. But it is not likely I shall ever make it my home again; and that is partly the reason why I want my father to adopt the notion of Aimee's living with him. Ah, here are all the people coming back from their walk. However, I shall see you again: perhaps this afternoon we may get a little quiet time, for I have a great deal to consult you about.'

They separated then, and Molly went upstairs very happy, very full and warm at her heart; it was so pleasant to have Roger talking to her in this way, like a friend; she had once thought that she could never look upon the great brown-bearded celebrity in the former light of almost brotherly intimacy, but now it was all coming right. There was no opportunity for renewed confidences that afternoon. Molly went a quiet decorous drive as fourth with two dowagers and one spinster; but it was very pleasant to think that she should see him again at dinner, and again to-morrow. On the Sunday evening, as they all were sitting and loitering on the lawn before dinner, Roger went on with what he had to say about the position of his sister-in-law in his father's house: the mutual bond between the mother and grandfather being the child; who was also, through jealousy, the bone of contention and the severance. There were many little details to be given in order to make Molly quite understand the difficulty of the situations on both sides; and the young man and the girl became absorbed in what they were talking about, and wandered away into the shade of the long avenue. Lady Harriet separated herself from a group and came up to Lord Hollingford, who was sauntering a little apart, and putting her arm within his with the familiarity of a favourite sister, she said,—

'Don't you think that your pattern young man, and my favourite young woman are finding out each other's good qualities?'

He had not been observing as she had been.

'Who do you mean?' said he.

'Look along the avenue; who are those?'

'Mr. Hamley and—is it not Miss Gibson? I can't quite make out. Oh! if you're letting your fancy run off in that direction, I can tell you it's quite waste of time. Roger Hamley is a man who will soon have an European reputation!'

'That's very possible, and yet it does not make any difference in my opinion. Molly Gibson is capable of appreciating him.'

'She is a very pretty, good little country-girl. I don't mean to say anything against her, but—'

'Remember the Charity Ball; you called her "unusually intelligent" after you had danced with her there. But after all we are like the genie and the fairy in the Arabian Nights' Entertainment, who each cried up the merits of the Prince Caramalzaman and the Princess Badoura.'

'Hamley is not a marrying man.'

'How do you know?'

'I know that he has very little private fortune, and I know that science is not a remunerative profession, if profession it can be called.'

'Oh, if that's all—a hundred things may happen—some one may leave him a fortune—or this tiresome little heir that nobody wanted, may die.'

'Hush, Harriet, that's the worst of allowing yourself to plan far ahead for the future; you are sure to contemplate the death of some one, and to reckon upon the contingency as affecting events.'

'As if lawyers were not always doing something of the kind!'

'Leave it to those to whom it is necessary. I dislike planning marriages or looking forward to deaths about equally.'

'You are getting very prosaic and tiresome, Hollingford!'

'Only getting!' said he smiling. 'I thought you had always looked upon me as a tiresome matter-of-fact fellow.'

'Now, if you're going to fish for a compliment, I am gone. Only remember my prophecy when my vision comes to pass; or make a bet, and whoever wins shall spend the money on a present to Prince Caramalzaman or Princess Badoura, as the case may be.'

Lord Hollingford remembered his sister's words as he heard Roger say to Molly as he was leaving the Towers on the following day,—

'Then I may tell my father that you will come and pay him a visit next week? You don't know what pleasure it will give him.' He had been on the point of saying 'will give us,' but he had an instinct which told him it was as well to consider Molly's promised visit as exclusively made to his father.

The next day Molly went home; she was astonished at herself for being so sorry to leave the Towers; and found it difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile the long-fixed idea of the house as a place wherein to suffer all a child's tortures of dismay and forlornness with her new and fresh conception. She had gained health, she had had pleasure, the faint fragrance of a new and unacknowledged hope had stolen into her life. No wonder that Mr. Gibson was struck with the improvement in her looks, and Mrs. Gibson impressed with her increased grace.

'Ah, Molly,' said she, 'it's really wonderful to see what a little good society will do for a girl. Even a week of association with such people as one meets with at the Towers is, as somebody said of a lady of rank whose name I have forgotten, "a polite education in itself." There is something quite different about you—a je ne scais quoi—that would tell me at once that you have been mingling with the aristocracy. With all her charms, it was what my darling Cynthia wanted; not that Mr. Henderson thought so, for a more devoted lover can hardly be conceived. He absolutely bought her a parure of diamonds, I was obliged to say to him that I had studied to preserve her simplicity of taste, and that he must not corrupt her with too much luxury. But I was rather disappointed at their going off without a maid. It was the one blemish in the arrangements, the spot in the sun. Dear Cynthia, when I think of her, I do assure you, Molly, I make it my nightly prayer that I may be able to find you just such another husband. And all this time you have never told me who you met at the Towers?'

Molly ran over a list of names. Roger Hamley's came last.

'Upon my word! That young man is pushing his way up!'

'The Hamleys are a far older family than the Cumnors,' said Molly, flushing up.

'Now, Molly, I can't have you democratic. Rank is a great distinction. It is quite enough to have dear papa with democratic tendencies. But we won't begin to quarrel. Now that you and I are left alone we ought to be bosom friends, and I hope we shall be. Roger Hamley did not say much about that unfortunate little Osborne Hamley, I suppose.'

'On the contrary. He says his father dotes on the child; and he seemed very proud of him, himself.'

'I thought the squire must be getting very much infatuated with something. I daresay the French mother takes care of that. Why! he has scarcely taken any notice of you for this month or more, and before that you were everything.'

It was about six weeks since Cynthia's engagement had become publicly known, and that might have had something to do with the squire's desertion, Molly thought. But she said,—

'The squire has sent me an invitation to go and stay there next week if you have no objection, mamma. They seem to want a companion for Mrs. Osborne Hamley, who is not very strong.'

'I can hardly tell what to say,—I don't like your having to associate with a Frenchwoman of doubtful rank; and I can't bear the thought of losing my child—my only daughter now. I did ask Helen Kirkpatrick, but she can't come for some time; and the house is going to be altered. Papa has consented to build me another room at last, for Cynthia and Mr. Henderson will, of course, come and see us; we shall have many more visitors, I expect, and your bedroom will make a capital lumber-room; and Maria wants a week's holiday. I am always so unwilling to put any obstacles in the way of any one's pleasure,—weakly unwilling, I believe,—but it certainly would be very convenient to have you out of the house for a few days; so, for once, I will waive my own wish for your companionship, and plead your cause with papa.'

The Miss Brownings came to call and hear the double batch of news. Mrs. Goodenough had come the very day on which they had returned from Miss Hornblower's, to tell them the astounding fact of Molly Gibson having gone on a visit to the Towers; not to come back at night, but to sleep there, to be there for two or three days, just as if she was a young lady of quality. So the Miss Brownings came to hear all the details of the wedding from Mrs. Gibson, and the history of Molly's visit at the Towers as well. But Mrs. Gibson did not like this divided interest, and some of her old jealousy of Molly's intimacy at the Towers had returned.

'Now, Molly,' said Miss Browning, 'let us hear how you behaved among the great folks. You must not be set up with all their attention; remember that they pay it to you for your good father's sake.'

'Molly is, I think, quite aware,' put in Mrs. Gibson, in her most soft and languid tone, 'that she owes her privilege of visiting at such a house to Lady Cumnor's kind desire to set my mind quite at liberty at the time of Cynthia's marriage. As soon as ever I had returned home, Molly came back; indeed I should not have thought it right to let her intrude upon their kindness beyond what was absolutely necessary.'

Molly felt extremely uncomfortable at all this, although perfectly aware of the entire inaccuracy of the statement.

'Well, but, Molly!' said Miss Browning, 'never mind whether you went there on your own merits, or your worthy father's merits, or Mrs Gibson's merits; but tell us what you did when you were there.'

So Molly began an account of their sayings and doings, which she could have made far more interesting to Miss Browning and Miss Phoebe if she had not been conscious of her stepmother's critical listening. She had to tell it all with a mental squint; the surest way to spoil a narration. She was also subject to Mrs. Gibson's perpetual corrections of little statements which she knew to be facts. But what vexed her most of all was Mrs. Gibson's last speech before the Miss Brownings left.

'Molly had fallen into rambling ways with this visit of hers, of which she makes so much, as if nobody had ever been in a great house but herself. She is going to Hamley Hall next week,—getting quite dissipated in fact.'

Yet to Mrs. Goodenough, the next caller on the same errand of congratulation, Mrs. Gibson's tone was quite different. There had always been a tacit antagonism between the two, and the conversation now ran as follows:—

Mrs. Goodenough began,—

'Well! Mrs. Gibson, I suppose I must wish you joy of Miss Cynthia's marriage; I should condole with some mothers as had lost their daughters; but you're not one of that sort, I reckon.'

Now, as Mrs. Gibson was not quite sure to which 'sort' of mothers the greatest credit was to be attached, she found it a little difficult how to frame her reply.

'Dear Cynthia!' she said. 'One can't but rejoice in her happiness! And yet—' she ended her sentence by sighing.

'Ay. She was a young woman as would always have her followers; for, to tell the truth, she was as pretty a creature as ever I saw in my life. And all the more she needed skilful guidance. I am sure I, for one, am as glad as can be she's done so well by herself. Folks say Mr. Henderson has a handsome private fortune over and above what he makes by the law.' 'There is no fear but that my Cynthia will have everything this world can give!' said Mrs. Gibson with dignity.

'Well, well! she was always a bit of a favourite of mine; and as I was saying to my grand-daughter there' (for she was accompanied by a young lady, who looked keenly to the prospect of some wedding-cake), 'I was never one of those who ran her down and called her a flirt and a jilt. I'm glad to hear she's like to be so well off. And now, I suppose, you'll be turning your mind to doing something for Miss Molly there?'

'If you mean by that, doing anything that can, by hastening her marriage, deprive me of the company of one who is like my own child, you are very much mistaken, Mrs. Goodenough. And pray remember, I am the last person in the world to match-make. Cynthia made Mr Henderson's acquaintance at her uncle's in London.'

'Ay! I thought her cousin was very often ill, and needing her nursing, and you were very keen she should be of use. I am not saying but what it is right in a mother; I'm only putting in a word for Miss Molly.'

'Thank you, Mrs. Goodenough,' said Molly, half-angry, half-laughing. 'When I want to be married, I'll not trouble mamma. I'll look out for myself.'

'Molly is becoming so popular, I hardly know how we shall keep her at home,' said Mrs. Gibson. 'I miss her sadly; but, as I said to Mr Gibson, let young people have change, and see a little of the world while they are young. It has been a great advantage to her being at the Towers while so many clever and distinguished people were there. I can already see a difference in her tone of conversation: an elevation in her choice of subjects. And now she is going to Hamley Hall. I can assure you I feel quite a proud mother, when I see how she is sought after. And my other daughter—my Cynthia—writing such letters from Paris!'

'Things is a deal changed since my days, for sure,' said Mrs Goodenough. 'So, perhaps, I'm no judge. When I was married first, him and me went in a postchaise to his father's house, a matter of twenty mile off at the outside; and sate down to as good a supper amongst his friends and family as you'd wish to see. And that was my first wedding jaunt. My second was when I better knowed my worth as a bride, and thought that now or never I must see London. But I were reckoned a very extravagant sort of a body to go so far, and spend my money, though Harry had left me uncommon well off. But now young folks go off to Paris, and think nothing of the cost: and it's well if wilful waste don't make woeful want before they die. But I'm thankful somewhat is being done for Miss Molly's chances, as I said afore. It's not quite what I should have liked to have done for my Bessy though. But times are changed, as I said just now.'



The conversation ended there for the time. Wedding-cake and wine were brought in, and it was Molly's duty to serve them out. But those last words of Mrs. Goodenough's tingled in her ears, and she tried to interpret them to her own satisfaction in any way but the obvious one. And that, too, was destined to be confirmed; for directly after Mrs. Goodenough took her leave, Mrs. Gibson desired Molly to carry away the tray to a table close to an open corner window, where the things might be placed in readiness for any future callers; and underneath this open window went the path from the house-door to the road. Molly heard Mrs. Goodenough saying to her grand-daughter,—

'That Mrs. Gibson is a deep un. There's Mr. Roger Hamley as like as not to have the Hall estate, and she sends Molly a-visiting—' and then she passed out of hearing. Molly could have burst out crying, with a full sudden conviction of what Mrs. Goodenough had been alluding to: her sense of the impropriety of Molly's going to visit at the Hall when Roger was at home. To be sure Mrs. Goodenough was a commonplace, unrefined woman. Mrs. Gibson did not seem to have even noticed the allusion. Mr. Gibson took it all as a matter of course that Molly should go to the Hall as simply now, as she had done before. Roger had spoken of it in so straightforward a manner as showed he had no conception of its being an impropriety,—this visit,—this visit until now so happy a subject of anticipation. Molly felt as if she could never speak to any one of the idea to which Mrs. Goodenough's words had given rise; as if she could never be the first to suggest the notion of impropriety, which presupposed what she blushed to think of. Then she tried to comfort herself by reasoning. If it had been wrong, forward, or indelicate, really improper in the slightest degree, who would have been so ready as her father to put his veto upon it? But reasoning was of no use after Mrs. Goodenough's words had put fancies into Molly's head. The more she bade these fancies begone the more they answered her (as Daniel O'Rourke did the man in the moon, when he bade Dan get off his seat on the sickle, and go into empty space), 'The more ye ask us the more we won't stir.' One may smile at a young girl's miseries of this description; but they are very real and stinging miseries to her. All that Molly could do was to resolve on a single eye to the dear old squire, and his mental and bodily comforts; to try and heal up any breaches which might have occurred between him and Aimee; and to ignore Roger as much as possible. Good Roger! Kind Roger! Dear Roger! It would be very hard to avoid him as much as was consistent with common politeness; but it would be right to do it; and when she was with him she must be as natural as possible, or he might observe some difference; but what was natural? How much ought she avoid being with him? Would he ever notice if she was more chary of her company, more calculating of her words? Alas! the simplicity of their intercourse was spoilt henceforwards! She made laws for herself; she resolved to devote herself to the squire and to Aimee, and to forget Mrs. Goodenough's foolish speeches; but her perfect freedom was gone; and with it half her chance, that is to say, half her chance would have been lost over any strangers who had not known her before; they would probably have thought her stiff and awkward, and apt to say things and then retract them. But she was so different from her usual self that Roger noticed the change in her as soon as she arrived at the Hall. She had carefully measured out the days of her visit; they were to be exactly the same number as she had spent at the Towers. She feared lest if she stayed at the Hall a shorter time the squire might be annoyed. Yet how charming the place looked in its early autumnal glow as she drove up! And there was Roger at the hall-door waiting to receive her, watching for her coming. And now he retreated, apparently to summon his sister-in-law, who came now timidly forwards in her deep widow's mourning, holding her boy in her arms as if to protect her shyness; but he struggled down, and ran towards the carriage, eager to greet his friend the coachman, and to obtain a promised ride. Roger did not say much himself; he wanted to make Aimee feel her place as daughter of the house; but she was too timid to speak much, and she only took Molly by the hand and led her into the drawing-room, where, as if by a sudden impulse of gratitude for all the tender nursing she had received during her illness, she put her arms round Molly and kissed her long and well. And after that they came to be friends.

It was nearly lunch-time, and the squire always made his appearance at that meal, more for the pleasure of seeing his grandson eat his dinner, than for any hunger of his own. To-day Molly quickly saw the whole state of the family affairs. She thought that even had Roger said nothing about them at the Towers, she should have found out that neither the father nor the daughter-in-law had as yet found the clue to each other's characters, although they had now been living for several months in the same house. Aimee seemed to forget her English in her nervousness, and to watch with the jealous eyes of a dissatisfied mother all the proceedings of the squire towards her little boy. They were not of the wisest kind it must be owned; the child sipped the strong ale with evident relish, and clamoured for everything which he saw the others enjoying. Aimee could hardly attend to Molly for her anxiety as to what her boy was doing and eating; yet she said nothing. Roger took the end of the table opposite to that at which sate grandfather and grandchild. After the boy's first wants were gratified the squire addressed himself to Molly.

'Well! and so you can come here a-visiting though you have been among the grand folks. I thought you were going to cut us, Miss Molly, when I heard you was gone to the Towers—could not find any other place to stay at while father and mother were away, but an earl's, eh?'

'They asked me, and I went,' said Molly; 'now you've asked me, and I've come here.'

'I think you might ha' known you'd be always welcome here, without waiting for asking. Why, Molly! I look upon you as a kind of a daughter more than Madam there!' dropping his voice a little, and perhaps supposing that the child's babble would drown the signification of his words.—'Nay, you need not look at me so pitifully—she does not follow English readily.'

'I think she does!' said Molly, in a low voice, not looking up, however, for fear of catching another glimpse at Aimee's sudden forlornness of expression and deepened colour. She felt grateful, as if for a personal favour, when she heard Roger speaking to Aimee the moment afterwards in the tender tones of brotherly friendliness; and presently these two were sufficiently engaged in a tete-a-tete conversation to allow Molly and the squire to go on talking.

'He's sturdy chap, is not he?' said the squire, stroking the little Roger's curly head. 'And he can puff four puffs at grandpapa's pipe without being sick, can't he?'

'I s'ant puff any more puffs,' said the boy, resolutely. 'Mamma says no. I s'ant.'

'That's just like her!' said the squire, dropping his voice this time however. 'As if it could do the child any harm!'

Molly made a point of turning the conversation from all personal subjects after this, and kept the squire talking about the progress of his drainage during the rest of lunch. He offered to take her to see it; and she acceded to the proposal, thinking, meantime, how little she need have anticipated the being thrown too intimately with Roger, who seemed to devote himself to his sister-in-law. But, in the evening, when Aimee had gone upstairs to put her boy to bed, and the squire was asleep in his easy chair, a sudden flush of memory brought Mrs. Goodenough's words again to her mind. She was virtually tete-a-tete with Roger, as she had been dozens of times before, but now she could not help assuming an air of constraint: her eyes did not meet his in the old frank way; she took up a book at a pause in the conversation, and left him puzzled and annoyed at the change in her manner. And so it went on during all the time of her visit. If sometimes she forgot and let herself go into all her old naturalness, by-and-by she checked herself, and became comparatively cold and reserved. Roger was pained at all this—more pained day after day; more anxious to discover the cause. Aimee, too, silently noticed how different Molly became in Roger's presence. One day she could not help saying to Molly,—

'Don't you like Roger? You would if you only knew how good he was! He is learned, but that is nothing; it is his goodness that one admires and loves.'

'He is very good,' said Molly. 'I have known him long enough to know that.'

'But you don't think him agreeable? He is not like my poor husband, to be sure; and you knew him well, too. Ah! tell me about him once again. When you first knew him? When his mother was alive?'

Molly had grown very fond of Aimee; when the latter was at her ease she had very charming and attaching ways; but feeling uneasy in her position in the squire's house, she was almost repellent to him; and he, too, put on his worst side to her. Roger was most anxious to bring them together, and had several consultations with Molly as to the best means of accomplishing this end. As long as they talked upon this subject she spoke to him in the quiet sensible manner which she inherited from her father; but when their discussions on this point were ended, she fell back into her piquant assumption of dignified reserve. It was very difficult to her to maintain this strange manner, especially when once or twice she fancied that it gave him pain; and she would go into her own room and suddenly burst into tears on these occasions, and wish that her visit was ended, and that she was once again in the eventless tranquillity of her own home. Yet presently her fancy changed, and she clung to the swiftly passing hours, as if she would still retain the happiness of each. For, unknown to her, Roger was exerting himself to make her visit pleasant. He was not willing to appear as the instigator of all the little plans for each day, for he felt as if somehow he did not hold the same place in her regard as formerly. Still, one day Aimee suggested a nutting expedition—another day they gave little Roger the unheard-of pleasure of tea out-of-doors —there was something else agreeable for a third; and it was Roger who arranged all these simple pleasures—such as he knew Molly would enjoy. But to her he only appeared as the ready forwarder of Aimee's devices. The week was nearly gone, when one morning the squire found Roger sitting in the old library—with a book before him, it is true, but so deep in thought that he was evidently startled by his father's unexpected entrance.

'I thought I should find thee here, my lad! We'll have the old room done up again before winter; it smells musty enough, and yet I see it's the place for thee! I want thee to go with me round the five-acre. I'm thinking of laying it down in grass. It's time for you to be getting into the fresh air, you look quite woebegone over books, books, books; there never was a thing like 'em for stealing a man's health out of him!'

So Roger went out with his father, without saying many words till they were at some distance from the house. Then he brought out a sentence with such abruptness that he repaid his father for the start the latter had given him a quarter of an hour before.

'Father, you remember I'm going out again to the Cape next month! You spoke of doing up the library. If it is for me, I shall be away all the winter.'

'Can't you get off it?' pleaded his father. 'I thought maybe you'd forgotten all about it—'

'Not likely!' said Roger, half-smiling.

'Well, but they might have found another man to finish up your work.'

'No one can finish it but myself. Besides, an engagement is an engagement. When I wrote to Lord Hollingford to tell him I must come home, I promised to go out again for another six months.'

'Ay. I know. And perhaps it will put it out of thy mind. It will always be hard on me to part from thee. But I daresay it's best for you.'

Roger's colour deepened. 'You are alluding to—to Miss Kirkpatrick— Mrs. Henderson, I mean. Father, let me tell you once for all I think that was rather a hasty affair. I am pretty sure now that we were not suited to each other. I was wretched when I got her letter—at the Cape I mean—but I believe it was for the best.'

'That's right. That's my own boy,' said the squire, turning round and shaking hands with his son with vehemence. 'And now I'll tell you what I heard the other day, when I was at the magistrates' meeting. They were all saying she had jilted Preston.'

'I don't want to hear anything against her: she may have her faults, but I can never forget how I once loved her.'

'Well, well! Perhaps it's right. I was not so bad about it, was I, Roger? Poor Osborne need not ha' been so secret with me. I asked your Miss Cynthia out here—and her mother and all—my bark is worse than my bite. For if I had a wish on earth it was to see Osborne married as befitted one of an old stock, and he went and chose out this French girl, of no family at all, only a—'

'Never mind what she was; look at what she is! I wonder you are not more taken with her humility and sweetness, father!'

'I don't even call her pretty,' said the squire, uneasily, for he dreaded a repetition of the arguments which Roger had often used to make him give Aimee her proper due of affection and position. 'Now your Miss Cynthia was pretty, I will say that for her, the baggage! and to think that when you two lads flew right in your father's face, and picked out girls below you in rank and family, you should neither of you have set your fancies on my little Molly there. I daresay I should ha' been angry enough at the time, but the lassie would ha' found her way to my heart, as never this French lady, nor t' other one, could ha' done.'

Roger did not answer.

'I don't see why you might not put up for her still. I'm humble enough now, and you're not heir as Osborne was who married a servant-maid. Don't you think you could turn your thoughts upon Molly Gibson, Roger.'

'No!' said Roger, shortly. 'It's too late—too late. Don't let us talk any more of my marrying. Is not this the five-acre field?' And soon he was discussing the relative values of meadow, arable and pasture land with his father, as heartily as if he had never known Molly, or loved Cynthia. But the squire was not in such good spirits, and went but heavily into the discussion. At the end of it he said apropos de bottes,—

'But don't you think you could like her if you tried, Roger?'

Roger knew perfectly well to what his father was alluding, but for an instant he was on the point of pretending to misunderstand. At length, however, he said, in a low voice,—

'I shall never try, father. Don't let us talk any more about it. As I said before, it is too late.'

The squire was like a child to whom some toy has been refused; from time to time the thought of his disappointment in this matter recurred to his mind; and then he took to blaming Cynthia as the primary cause of Roger's present indifference to womankind.

It so happened that on Molly's last morning at the Hall, she received her first letter from Cynthia—Mrs. Henderson. It was just before breakfast-time: Roger was out of doors, Aimee had not as yet come down; Molly was alone in the dining-room, where the table was already laid. She had just finished reading her letter when the squire came in, and she immediately and joyfully told him what the morning had brought to her. But when she saw the squire's face she could have bitten her tongue out for having named Cynthia's name to him. He looked vexed and depressed.

'I wish I might never hear of her again. I do. She's been the bane of my Roger, that's what she has. I have not slept half the night, and it's all her fault. Why, there's my boy saying now that he has no heart for ever marrying, poor lad! I wish it had been you, Molly, my lads had taken a fancy for. I told Roger so t'other day, and I said that for all you were beneath what I ever thought to see them marry,—well—it's of no use—it's too late, now, as he said. Only never let me hear that baggage's name again, that's all. And no offence to you, either, lassie. I know you love the wench; but if you'll take an old man's word, you're worth a score of her. I wish young men would think so too,' he muttered as he went to the side-table to carve the ham, while Molly poured out the tea—her heart very hot all the time, and effectually silenced for a space. It was with the greatest difficulty that she could keep tears of mortification from falling. She felt altogether in a wrong position in that house, which had been like a home to her until this last visit. What with Mrs. Goodenough's remarks, and now this speech of the squire's, implying—at least to her susceptible imagination—that his father had proposed her as a wife to Roger, and that she had been rejected, she was more glad than she could express, or even think, that she was going home this very morning. Roger came in from his walk while she was in this state of feeling. He saw in an instant that something had distressed Molly; and he longed to have the old friendly right of asking her what it was. But she had effectually kept him at too great a distance during the last few days for him to feel at liberty to speak to her in the old straightforward brotherly way; especially now, when he perceived her efforts to conceal her feelings, and the way in which she drank her tea in feverish haste, and accepted bread only to crumble it about her plate, untouched. It was all that he could do to make talk under these circumstances; but he backed up her efforts as well as he could until Aimee came down, grave and anxious; her boy had not had a good night, and did not seem well; he had fallen into a feverish sleep now, or she could not have left him. Immediately the whole table was in a ferment. The squire pushed away his plate, and could eat no more; Roger was trying to extract a detail or a fact out of Aimee, who began to give way to tears. Molly quickly proposed that the carriage, which had been ordered to take her home at eleven, should come round immediately—she had everything ready packed up, she said,—and bring back her father at once. By leaving directly, she said it was probable they might catch him after he had returned from his morning visits in the town, and before he had set off on his more distant round. Her proposal was agreed to, and she went upstairs to put on her things. She came down all ready into the drawing-room, expecting to find Aimee and the squire there; but during her absence word had been brought to the anxious mother and grandfather that the child had wakened up in a panic, and both had rushed up to their darling. But Roger was in the drawing-room awaiting Molly, with a large bunch of the choicest flowers.

'Look, Molly!' said he, as she was on the point of leaving the room again, on finding him there alone. 'I gathered these flowers for you before breakfast.' He came to meet her reluctant advance.

'Thank you!' said she. 'You are very kind. I am very much obliged to you.'

'Then you must do something for me,' said he, determined not to notice the restraint of her manner, and making the rearrangement of the flowers which she held a sort of link between them, so that she could not follow her impulse, and leave the room.—'Tell me,—honestly as I know you will if you speak at all,—have not I done something to vex you since we were so happy at the Towers together?'

His voice was so kind and true,—his manner so winning yet wistful, that Molly would have been thankful to tell him all; she believed that he could have helped her more than any one to understand how she ought to behave rightly; he would have disentangled her fancies,—if only he himself had not lain at the very core and centre of all her perplexity and dismay. How could she tell him of Mrs. Goodenough's words troubling her maiden modesty? How could she ever repeat what his father had said that morning, and assure him that she, no more than he, wished that their old friendliness should be troubled by the thought of a nearer relationship?

'No, you never vexed me in my whole life, Roger,' said she, looking straight at him for the first time for many days.

'I believe you, because you say so. I have no right to ask further. Molly, will you give me back one of those flowers, as a pledge of what you have said?'

'Take whichever you like,' said she, eagerly offering him the whole nosegay to choose from.

'No; you must choose, and you must give it me.'

Just then the squire came in. Roger would have been glad if Molly had not gone on so eagerly to ransack the bunch for the choicest flower in his father's presence; but she exclaimed,—

'Oh, please, Mr. Hamley, do you know which is Roger's favourite flower?'

'No. A rose, I daresay. The carriage is at the door, and, Molly my dear, I don't want to hurry you, but—'

'I know. Here, Roger,—here is a rose!

('And red as a rose was she.')

I will find papa as soon as ever I get home. How is the little boy?'

'I'm afraid he's beginning of some kind of a fever.'

And the squire took her to the carriage, talking all the way of the little boy; Roger following, and hardly heeding what he was doing in the answer to the question he kept asking himself: 'Too late—or not? Can she ever forget that my first foolish love was given to one so different?'

While she, as the carriage rolled away, kept saying to herself,—'We are friends again. I don't believe he will remember what the dear squire took it into his head to suggest, for many days. It is so pleasant to be on the old terms again; and what lovely flowers!'



Roger had a great deal to think of as he turned away from looking after the carriage as long as it could be seen. The day before, he had believed that Molly had come to view all the symptoms of his growing love for her,—symptoms which he thought had been so patent,—as disgusting inconstancy to the inconstant Cynthia; that she had felt that an attachment which could be so soon transferred to another was not worth having; and that she had desired to mark all this by her changed treatment of him, and so to nip it in the bud. But this morning her old sweet, frank manner had returned—in their last interview, at any rate. He puzzled himself hard to find out what could have distressed her at breakfast-time. He even went so far as to ask Robinson whether Miss Gibson had received any letters that morning; and when he heard that she had had one, he tried to believe that the letter was in some way the cause of her sorrow. So far so good. They were friends again after their unspoken difference; but that was not enough for Roger. He felt every day more and more certain that she, and she alone, could make him happy. He had felt this, and had partly given up all hope, while his father had been urging upon him the very course he most desired to take. No need for 'trying' to love her, he said to himself,—that was already done. And yet he was very jealous on her behalf. Was that love worthy of her which had once been given to Cynthia? Was not this affair too much a mocking mimicry of the last? Again just on the point of leaving England for a considerable time! If he followed her now to her own home,—in the very drawing-room where he had once offered to Cynthia! And then by a strong resolve he determined on this course. They were friends now, and he kissed the rose that was her pledge of friendship. If he went to Africa, he ran some deadly chances; he knew better what they were now than he had done when he went before. Until his return he would not even attempt to win more of her love than he already had. But once safe home again, no weak fancies as to what might or might not be her answer should prevent his running all chances to gain the woman who was to him the one who excelled all. His was not the poor vanity that thinks more of the possible mortification of a refusal than of the precious jewel of a bride that may be won. Somehow or another, please God to send him back safe, he would put his fate to the touch. And till then he would be patient. He was no longer a boy to rush at the coveted object; he was a man capable of judging and abiding.

Molly sent her father, as soon as she could find him, to the Hall; and then sate down to the old life in the home drawing-room, where she missed Cynthia's bright presence at every turn. Mrs. Gibson was in rather a querulous mood, which fastened itself upon the injury of Cynthia's letter being addressed to Molly, and not to herself.

'Considering all the trouble I had with her trousseau, I think she might have written to me.'

'But she did—her first letter was to you, mamma,' said Molly, her real thoughts still intent upon the Hall—upon the sick child—upon Roger, and his begging for the flower.

'Yes, just a first letter, three pages long, with an account of her crossing; while to you she can write about fashions, and how the bonnets are worn in Paris, and all sorts of interesting things. But poor mothers must never expect confidential letters, I have found that out.'

'You may see my letter, mamma,' said Molly, 'there is really nothing in it.'

'And to think of her writing, and crossing to you who don't value it, while my poor heart is yearning after my lost child! Really life is somewhat hard to bear at times.'

Then there was a silence—for a while.

'Do tell me something about your visit, Molly. Is Roger very heartbroken? Does he talk much about Cynthia?'

'No. He does not mention her often; hardly ever, I think.'

'I never thought he had much feeling. If he had had, he would not have let her go so easily.'

'I don't see how he could help it. When he came to see her after his return, she was already engaged to Mr. Henderson—he had come down that very day,' said Molly, with perhaps more heat than the occasion required.

'My poor head!' said Mrs. Gibson, putting her hands up to her head. 'One may see you've been stopping with people of robust health, and— excuse my saying it, Molly, of your friends—of unrefined habits, you've got to talk in so loud a voice. But do remember my head, Molly. So Roger has quite forgotten Cynthia, has he? Oh! what inconstant creatures men are! He will be falling in love with some grandee next, mark my words! They are making a pet and a lion of him, and he's just the kind of weak young man to have his head turned by it all; and to propose to some fine lady of rank, who would no more think of marrying him than of marrying her footman.'

'I don't think it is likely,' said Molly, stoutly. 'Roger is too sensible for anything of the kind.'

'That's just the fault I always found with him; sensible and cold- hearted! Now, that's a kind of character which may be very valuable, but which revolts me. Give me warmth of heart, even with a little of that extravagance of feeling which misleads the judgment, and conducts into romance. Poor Mr. Kirkpatrick! That was just his character. I used to tell him that his love for me was quite romantic. I think I have told you about his walking five miles in the rain to get me a muffin once when I was ill?'

'Yes!' said Molly. 'It was very kind of him.'

'So imprudent, too! Just what one of your sensible, cold-hearted, commonplace people would never have thought of doing. With his cough and all.'

'I hope he didn't suffer for it?' replied Molly, anxious at any cost to keep off the subject of the Hamleys, upon which she and her stepmother always disagreed, and on which she found it difficult to keep her temper.

'Yes, indeed, he did! I don't think he ever got over the cold he caught that day. I wish you had known him, Molly. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if you had been my real daughter, and Cynthia dear papa's, and Mr. Kirkpatrick and your own dear mother had all lived. People talk a good deal about natural affinities. It would have been a question for a philosopher.' She began to think on the impossibilities she had suggested.

'I wonder how the poor little boy is?' said Molly, after a pause, speaking out her thoughts.

'Poor little child! When one thinks how little his prolonged existence is to be desired, one feels that his death would be a boon.'

'Mamma! what do you mean?' asked Molly, much shocked. 'Why every one cares for his life as the most precious thing! You have never seen him! He is the bonniest, sweetest little fellow that can be! What do you mean?'

'I should have thought that the squire would have desired a better-born heir than the offspring of a servant,—with all his ideas about descent, and blood, and family. And I should have thought that it was a little mortifying to Roger—who must naturally have looked upon himself as his brother's heir—to find a little interloping child, half French, half English, stepping into his shoes!'

'You don't know how fond they are of him,—the squire looks upon him as the apple of his eye.'

'Molly! Molly! pray don't let me hear you using such vulgar expressions. When shall I teach you true refinement—that refinement which consists in never even thinking a vulgar, commonplace thing? Proverbs and idioms are never used by people of education. "Apple of his eye!" I am really shocked.'

'Well, mamma, I'm very sorry; but after all, what I wanted to say as strongly as I could was, that the squire loves the little boy as much as his own child; and that Roger—oh! what a shame to think that Roger—' And she stopped suddenly short, as if she were choked.

'I don't wonder at your indignation, my dear!' said Mrs. Gibson. 'It is just what I should have felt at your age. But one learns the baseness of human nature with advancing years. I was wrong, though, to undeceive you so early—but depend upon it, the thought I alluded to has crossed Roger Hamley's mind!'

'All sorts of thoughts cross one's mind—it depends upon whether one gives them harbour and encouragement,' said Molly.

'My dear, if you must have the last word, don't let it be a truism. But let us talk on some more interesting subject. I asked Cynthia to buy me a silk gown in Paris, and I said I would send her word what colour I fixed upon—I think dark blue is the most becoming to my complexion; what do you say?'

Molly agreed, sooner than take the trouble of thinking about the thing at all; she was far too full of her silent review of all the traits in Roger's character which had lately come under her notice, and that gave the lie direct to her stepmother's supposition. Just then they heard Mr. Gibson's step downstairs. But it was some time before he made his entrance into the room where they were sitting.

'How is little Roger?' said Molly, eagerly.

'Beginning with scarlet fever, I'm afraid. It's well you left when you did, Molly. You've never had it. We must stop up all intercourse with the Hall for a time. If there's one illness I dread, it is this.'

'But you go and come back to us, papa.'

'Yes. But I always take plenty of precautions. However, no need to talk about risks that lie in the way of one's duty. It is unnecessary risks that we must avoid.'

'Will he have it badly?' asked Molly.

'I can't tell. I shall do my best for the wee laddie.'

Whenever Mr. Gibson's feelings were touched, he was apt to recur to the language of his youth. Molly knew now that he was much interested in the case.

For some days there was imminent danger to the little boy; for some weeks there was a more chronic form of illness to contend with; but when the immediate danger was over and the warm daily interest was past, Molly began to realize that, from the strict quarantine her father evidently thought it necessary to establish between the two houses, she was not likely to see Roger again before his departure for Africa. Oh! if she had but made more of the uncared-for days that she had passed with him at the Hall! Worse than uncared for; days on which she had avoided him; refused to converse freely with him; given him pain by her change of manner; for she had read in his eyes, heard in his voice, that he had been perplexed and pained, and now her imagination dwelt on and exaggerated the expression of his tones and looks.

One evening after dinner, her father said,—

'As the country-people say, I've done a stroke of work to-day. Roger Hamley and I have laid our heads together, and we have made a plan by which Mrs. Osborne and her boy will leave the Hall.'

'What did I say the other day, Molly?' said Mrs. Gibson, interrupting, and giving Molly a look of extreme intelligence.

'And go into lodgings at Jennings' farm; not four hundred yards from the Park-field gate,' continued Mr. Gibson. 'The squire and his daughter-in-law have got to be much better friends over the little fellow's sick-bed; and I think he sees now how impossible it would be for the mother to leave her child, and go and be happy in France, which has been the notion running in his head all this time. To buy her off, in fact. But that one night, when I was very uncertain whether I could bring him through, they took to crying together, and condoling with each other; and it was just like tearing down a curtain that had been between them; they have been rather friends than otherwise ever since. Still Roger'—(Molly's cheeks grew warm and her eyes soft and bright; it was such a pleasure to hear his name)—'and I both agree that his mother knows much better how to manage the boy than his grandfather does. I suppose that was the one good thing she got from that hardhearted mistress of hers. She certainly has been well trained in the management of children. And it makes her impatient, and annoyed, and unhappy, when she sees the squire giving the child nuts and ale, and all sorts of silly indulgences, and spoiling him in every possible way. Yet she's a coward, and doesn't speak out her mind. Now by being in lodgings, and having her own servants—nice pretty rooms they are, too; we went to see them, and Mrs. Jennings promises to attend well to Mrs Osborne Hamley, and is very much honoured, and all that sort of thing—not ten minutes' walk from the Hall, too, so that she and the little chap may easily go backwards and forwards as often as they like, and yet she may keep the control over her child's discipline and diet. In short, I think I've done a good day's work,' he continued, stretching himself a little; and then with a shake rousing himself, and making ready to go out again; to see a patient who had sent for him in his absence.

'A good day's work!' he repeated to himself as he ran downstairs. 'I don't know when I have been so happy!' For he had not told Molly all that had passed between him and Roger. Roger had begun a fresh subject of conversation just as Mr. Gibson was hastening away from the Hall, after completing the new arrangement for Aimee and her child.

'You know that I set off next Tuesday, Mr. Gibson, don't you?' said Roger, a little abruptly.

'To be sure. I hope you'll be as successful in all your scientific objects as you were the last time, and have no sorrows awaiting you when you come back.'

'Thank you. Yes. I hope so. You don't think there's any danger of infection now, do you?'

'No! If the disease were to spread through the household, I think we should have had some signs of it before now. One is never sure, remember, with scarlet fever.

Roger was silent for a minute or two. 'Should you be afraid,' he said at length, 'of seeing me at your house?'

'Thank you; but I think I would rather decline the pleasure of your society there at present. It's only three weeks or a month since the child began. Besides, I shall be over here again before you go. I'm always on my guard against symptoms of dropsy. I have known it supervene.'

'Then I shall not see Molly again!' said Roger, in a tone and with a look of great disappointment.

Mr. Gibson turned his keen, observant eyes upon the young man, and looked at him in as penetrating a manner as if he had been beginning with an unknown illness. Then the doctor and the father compressed his lips and gave vent to a long intelligent whistle. 'Whew!' said he.

Roger's bronzed cheeks took a deeper shade.

'You will take a message to her from me, won't you? A message of farewell?' he pleaded.

'Not I. I'm not going to be a message-carrier between any young man and young woman. I'll tell my womankind I forbade you to come near the house, and that you're sorry to go away without bidding good-by. That's all I shall say.'

'But you do not disapprove?—I see you guess why. Oh! Mr. Gibson, just speak to me one word of what must be in your heart, though you are pretending not to understand why I would give worlds to see Molly again before I go.'

'My dear boy!' said Mr. Gibson, more affected than he liked to show, and laying his hand on Roger's shoulder. Then he pulled himself up, and said gravely enough,—

'Mind, Molly is not Cynthia. If she were to care for you, she is not one who could transfer her love to the next comer.'

'You mean not as readily as I have done,' replied Roger. 'I only wish you could know what a different feeling this is to my boyish love for Cynthia.'

'I wasn't thinking of you when I spoke; but, however, as I might have remembered afterwards that you were not a model of constancy, let us hear what you have to say for yourself.'

'Not much. I did love Cynthia very much. Her manners and her beauty bewitched me; but her letters,—short, hurried letters,—sometimes showing that she really hadn't taken the trouble to read mine through,— I cannot tell you the pain they gave me! Twelve months' solitude, in frequent danger of one's life—face to face with death—sometimes ages a man like many years' experience. Still I longed for the time when I should see her sweet face again, and hear her speak. Then the letter at the Cape!—and still I hoped. But you know how I found her, when I went to have the interview which I trusted might end in the renewal of our relations,—engaged to Mr Henderson. I saw her walking with him in your garden, coquetting with him about a flower, just as she used to do with me. I can see the pitying look in Molly's eyes as she watched me; I can see it now. And I could beat myself for being such a blind fool as to— What must she think of me? how she must despise me, choosing the false Duessa.'

'Come, come! Cynthia isn't so bad as that. She's a very fascinating, faulty creature.'

'I know! I know! I will never allow any one to say a word against her. If I called her the false Duessa it was because I wanted to express my sense of the difference between her and Molly as strongly as I could. You must allow for a lover's exaggeration. Besides, all I wanted to say was,—Do you think that Molly, after seeing and knowing that I had loved a person so inferior to herself, could ever be brought to listen to me?'

'I don't know. I can't tell. And even if I could, I would not. Only if it's any comfort to you, I may say what my experience has taught me. Women are queer, unreasoning creatures, and are just as likely as not to love a man who has been throwing away his affection.'

'Thank you, sir!' said Roger, interrupting him. 'I see you mean to give me encouragement. And I had resolved never to give Molly a hint of what I felt till I returned,—and then to try and win her by every means in my power. I determined not to repeat the former scene in the former place,—in your drawing-room,—however I might be tempted. And perhaps, after all, she avoided me when she was here last.'

'Now, Roger, I've listened to you long enough. If you've nothing better to do with your time than to talk about my daughter, I have. When you come back it will be time enough to enquire how far your father would approve of such an engagement.'

'He himself urged it upon me the other day—but then I was in despair— I thought it was too late.'

'And what means you are likely to have of maintaining a wife,—I always thought that point was passed too lightly over when you formed your hurried engagement to Cynthia. I'm not mercenary,—Molly has some money independently of me,—that she by the way knows nothing of,—not much; —and I can allow her something. But all these things must be left till your return.'

'Then you sanction my attachment?'

'I don't know what you mean by sanctioning it. I can't help it. I suppose losing one's daughter is a necessary evil. Still,'—seeing the disappointed expression on Roger's face—'it is but fair to you to say I'd rather give my child,—my only child, remember!—to you, than to any man in the world!'

'Thank you!' said Roger, shaking hands with Mr. Gibson, almost against the will of the latter. 'And I may see her, just once, before I go?'

'Decidedly not. There I come in as doctor as well as father. No!'

'But you will take a message, at any rate?'

'To my wife and to her conjointly. I will not separate them. I will not in the slightest way be a go-between.'

'Very well,' said Roger. 'Tell them both as strongly as you can how I regret your prohibition. I see I must submit. But if I don't come back, I'll haunt you for having been so cruel.'

'Come, I like that. Give me a wise man of science in love! No one beats him in folly. Good-by.'

'Good-by, You will see Molly this afternoon!'

'To be sure. And you will see your father. But I don't heave such portentous sighs at the thought.'

Mr. Gibson gave Roger's message to his wife and to Molly that evening at dinner. It was but what the latter had expected, after all her father had said of the very great danger of infection; but now that her expectation came in the shape of a final decision, it took away her appetite. She submitted in silence; but her observant father noticed that after this speech of his, she only played with the food on her plate, and concealed a good deal of it under her knife and fork.

'Lover versus father!' thought he, half sadly. 'Lover wins.' And he, too, became indifferent to all that remained of his dinner. Mrs Gibson pattered on; and nobody listened.

The day of Roger's departure came. Molly tried hard to forget it in working away at a cushion she was preparing as a present to Cynthia; people did worsted-work in those days. One, two, three. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven; all wrong; she was thinking of something else, and had to unpick it. It was a rainy day, too; and Mrs. Gibson, who had planned to go out and pay some calls, had to stay indoors. This made her restless and fidgety. She kept going backwards and forwards to different windows in the drawing-room to look at the weather, as if she imagined that while it rained at one window, it might be fine weather at another.

'Molly—come here! who is that man wrapped up in a cloak,—there,—near the Park wall, under the beech-tree—he has been there this half-hour and more, never stirring, and looking at this house all the time! I think it's very suspicious.'

Molly looked, and in an instant recognized Roger under all his wraps. Her first instinct was to draw back. The next to come forwards, and say,—'Why, mamma, it's Roger Hamley! Look now—he's kissing his hand; he's wishing us good-by in the only way he can!' And she responded to his sign; but she was not sure if he perceived her modest quiet movement, for Mrs. Gibson became immediately so demonstrative that Molly fancied that her eager foolish pantomimic motions must absorb all his attention.

'I call this so attentive of him,' said Mrs. Gibson, in the midst of a volley of kisses of her hand. 'Really it is quite romantic. It reminds me of former days—but he will be too late! I must send him away; it is half-past twelve!' And she took out her watch and held it up, tapping it with her forefinger, and occupying the very centre of the window. Molly could only peep here and there, dodging now up, now down, now on this side, now on that, of the perpetually-moving arms. She fancied she saw something of a corresponding movement on Roger's part. At length he went away, slowly, slowly, and often looking back, in spite of the tapped watch. Mrs. Gibson at last retreated, and Molly quietly moved into her place to see his figure once more before the turn of the road hid it from her view. He, too, knew where the last glimpse of the Gibsons' house was to be obtained, and once more he turned, and his white handkerchief floated on the air. Molly waved hers high up, with eager longing that it should be seen. And then, he was gone! and Molly returned to her worsted-work, happy, glowing, sad, content, and thinking to herself how sweet is—friendship!

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17     Next Part
Home - Random Browse