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Title: Wives and Daughters
Author: Gaskell, Elizabeth Cleghorn, 1810-1865
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Wives and Daughters" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.

and revised by Joseph E. Loewenstein, M.D.

Editorial note:

      _Wives and Daughters_ was first published serially in the
      _Cornhill Magazine_ from August, 1864, to January, 1866.
      Elizabeth Gaskell died suddenly in November, 1865. She had
      completed all but the last chapter, and in that sense the
      book, which many consider her masterpiece, is unfinished.
      The editor of the _Cornhill Magazine_, Frederick Greenwood,
      appended his comments about Mrs. Gaskell's intentions for
      the conclusion and about Mrs. Gaskell as a person. Those
      comments are included at the end of this e-book. _Wives
      and Daughters_ was first published in book form in 1866 by
      Smith, Elder.

      Both the _Cornhill_ serial and the Smith, Elder first
      edition had eighteen full-page illustrations by George
      du Maurier, and those are included in this e-book. The
      _Cornhill_ edition also had small illustrations at the
      beginning of seventeen chapters, and those too are
      included. The illustrations can be seen by viewing the
      HTML version of this file. See

An Every-Day Story.


Mrs. Gaskell

With Illustrations by George du Maurier

[Illustration: Molly's New Bonnet. (frontispiece)]


         V. CALF-LOVE.
         X. A CRISIS.
        XV. THE NEW MAMMA.
         L. CYNTHIA AT BAY.
            CONCLUDING REMARKS. [By the Editor of _The
              Cornhill Magazine_.]


   MOLLY'S NEW BONNET.                              FRONTISPIECE.
   A LOVE LETTER.                                   CHAPTER V.
   VÆ VICTIS!                                       CHAPTER VIII.
   THE NEW MAMMA.                                   CHAPTER XI.
   UNWELCOME ATTENTIONS.                            CHAPTER XIV.
   FIRST IMPRESSIONS.                               CHAPTER XIX.
   "TU T'EN REPENTIRAS, COLIN."                     CHAPTER XXIV.
   "WHY, OSBORNE, IS IT YOU?"                       CHAPTER XXIX.
   THE BURNING OF THE GORSE.                        CHAPTER XXX.
   THE LAST TURNING.                                CHAPTER XXXIV.
   "OH! IT IS NO WONDER!"                           CHAPTER XXXIV.
   "MAMAN, MAMAN!"                                  CHAPTER LIII.
   "CYNTHIA'S LAST LOVER."                          CHAPTER LVI.



[Illustration (untitled)]

To begin with the old rigmarole of childhood. In a country there was
a shire, and in that shire there was a town, and in that town there
was a house, and in that house there was a room, and in that room
there was a bed, and in that bed there lay a little girl; wide awake
and longing to get up, but not daring to do so for fear of the unseen
power in the next room--a certain Betty, whose slumbers must not
be disturbed until six o'clock struck, when she wakened of herself
"as sure as clockwork," and left the household very little peace
afterwards. It was a June morning, and early as it was, the room was
full of sunny warmth and light.

On the drawers opposite to the little white dimity bed in which Molly
Gibson lay, was a primitive kind of bonnet-stand on which was hung a
bonnet, carefully covered over from any chance of dust with a large
cotton handkerchief, of so heavy and serviceable a texture that if
the thing underneath it had been a flimsy fabric of gauze and lace
and flowers, it would have been altogether "scomfished" (again to
quote from Betty's vocabulary). But the bonnet was made of solid
straw, and its only trimming was a plain white ribbon put over the
crown, and forming the strings. Still, there was a neat little
quilling inside, every plait of which Molly knew, for had she not
made it herself the evening before, with infinite pains? and was
there not a little blue bow in this quilling, the very first bit of
such finery Molly had ever had the prospect of wearing?

Six o'clock now! the pleasant, brisk ringing of the church bells told
that; calling every one to their daily work, as they had done for
hundreds of years. Up jumped Molly, and ran with her bare little feet
across the room, and lifted off the handkerchief and saw once again
the bonnet; the pledge of the gay bright day to come. Then to the
window, and after some tugging she opened the casement, and let in
the sweet morning air. The dew was already off the flowers in the
garden below, but still rising from the long hay-grass in the meadows
directly beyond. At one side lay the little town of Hollingford,
into a street of which Mr. Gibson's front door opened; and delicate
columns, and little puffs of smoke were already beginning to rise
from many a cottage chimney where some housewife was already up, and
preparing breakfast for the bread-winner of the family.

Molly Gibson saw all this, but all she thought about it was, "Oh! it
will be a fine day! I was afraid it never, never would come; or that,
if it ever came, it would be a rainy day!" Five-and-forty years ago,
children's pleasures in a country town were very simple, and Molly
had lived for twelve long years without the occurrence of any event
so great as that which was now impending. Poor child! it is true
that she had lost her mother, which was a jar to the whole tenour of
her life; but that was hardly an event in the sense referred to; and
besides, she had been too young to be conscious of it at the time.
The pleasure she was looking forward to to-day was her first share in
a kind of annual festival in Hollingford.

The little straggling town faded away into country on one side close
to the entrance-lodge of a great park, where lived my Lord and Lady
Cumnor: "the earl" and "the countess," as they were always called by
the inhabitants of the town; where a very pretty amount of feudal
feeling still lingered, and showed itself in a number of simple ways,
droll enough to look back upon, but serious matters of importance
at the time. It was before the passing of the Reform Bill, but a
good deal of liberal talk took place occasionally between two or
three of the more enlightened freeholders living in Hollingford;
and there was a great Tory family in the county who, from time to
time, came forward and contested the election with the rival Whig
family of Cumnor. One would have thought that the above-mentioned
liberal-talking inhabitants would have, at least, admitted the
possibility of their voting for the Hely-Harrison, and thus trying to
vindicate their independence. But no such thing. "The earl" was lord
of the manor, and owner of much of the land on which Hollingford was
built; he and his household were fed, and doctored, and, to a certain
measure, clothed by the good people of the town; their fathers'
grandfathers had always voted for the eldest son of Cumnor Towers,
and following in the ancestral track, every man-jack in the place
gave his vote to the liege lord, totally irrespective of such
chimeras as political opinion.

This was no unusual instance of the influence of the great
land-owners over humbler neighbours in those days before railways,
and it was well for a place where the powerful family, who thus
overshadowed it, were of so respectable a character as the Cumnors.
They expected to be submitted to, and obeyed; the simple worship of
the townspeople was accepted by the earl and countess as a right; and
they would have stood still in amazement, and with a horrid memory
of the French sansculottes who were the bugbears of their youth, had
any inhabitant of Hollingford ventured to set his will or opinions
in opposition to those of the earl. But, yielded all that obeisance,
they did a good deal for the town, and were generally condescending,
and often thoughtful and kind in their treatment of their vassals.
Lord Cumnor was a forbearing landlord; putting his steward a little
on one side sometimes, and taking the reins into his own hands now
and then, much to the annoyance of the agent, who was, in fact, too
rich and independent to care greatly for preserving a post where his
decisions might any day be overturned by my lord's taking a fancy
to go "pottering" (as the agent irreverently expressed it in the
sanctuary of his own home), which, being interpreted, meant that
occasionally the earl asked his own questions of his own tenants,
and used his own eyes and ears in the management of the smaller
details of his property. But his tenants liked my lord all the better
for this habit of his. Lord Cumnor had certainly a little time for
gossip, which he contrived to combine with the failing of personal
intervention between the old land-steward and the tenantry. But,
then, the countess made up by her unapproachable dignity for this
weakness of the earl's. Once a year she was condescending. She and
the ladies, her daughters, had set up a school; not a school after
the manner of schools now-a-days, where far better intellectual
teaching is given to the boys and girls of labourers and work-people
than often falls to the lot of their betters in worldly estate; but
a school of the kind we should call "industrial," where girls are
taught to sew beautifully, to be capital housemaids, and pretty fair
cooks, and, above all, to dress neatly in a kind of charity uniform
devised by the ladies of Cumnor Towers;--white caps, white tippets,
check aprons, blue gowns, and ready curtseys, and "please, ma'ams,"
being _de rigueur_.

Now, as the countess was absent from the Towers for a considerable
part of the year, she was glad to enlist the sympathy of the
Hollingford ladies in this school, with a view to obtaining their aid
as visitors during the many months that she and her daughters were
away. And the various unoccupied gentlewomen of the town responded to
the call of their liege lady, and gave her their service as required;
and along with it, a great deal of whispered and fussy admiration.
"How good of the countess! So like the dear countess--always thinking
of others!" and so on; while it was always supposed that no strangers
had seen Hollingford properly, unless they had been taken to the
countess's school, and been duly impressed by the neat little pupils,
and the still neater needlework there to be inspected. In return,
there was a day of honour set apart every summer, when with much
gracious and stately hospitality, Lady Cumnor and her daughters
received all the school visitors at the Towers, the great family
mansion standing in aristocratic seclusion in the centre of the large
park, of which one of the lodges was close to the little town. The
order of this annual festivity was this. About ten o'clock one of the
Towers' carriages rolled through the lodge, and drove to different
houses, wherein dwelt a woman to be honoured; picking them up by ones
or twos, till the loaded carriage drove back again through the ready
portals, bowled along the smooth tree-shaded road, and deposited its
covey of smartly-dressed ladies on the great flight of steps leading
to the ponderous doors of Cumnor Towers. Back again to the town;
another picking up of womankind in their best clothes, and another
return, and so on till the whole party were assembled either in the
house or in the really beautiful gardens. After the proper amount of
exhibition on the one part, and admiration on the other, had been
done, there was a collation for the visitors, and some more display
and admiration of the treasures inside the house. Towards four
o'clock, coffee was brought round; and this was a signal of the
approaching carriage that was to take them back to their own homes;
whither they returned with the happy consciousness of a well-spent
day, but with some fatigue at the long-continued exertion of behaving
their best, and talking on stilts for so many hours. Nor were
Lady Cumnor and her daughters free from something of the same
self-approbation, and something, too, of the same fatigue; the
fatigue that always follows on conscious efforts to behave as will
best please the society you are in.

For the first time in her life, Molly Gibson was to be included among
the guests at the Towers. She was much too young to be a visitor at
the school, so it was not on that account that she was to go; but it
had so happened that one day when Lord Cumnor was on a "pottering"
expedition, he had met Mr. Gibson, _the_ doctor of the neighbourhood,
coming out of the farm-house my lord was entering; and having some
small question to ask the surgeon (Lord Cumnor seldom passed any
one of his acquaintance without asking a question of some sort--not
always attending to the answer; it was his mode of conversation), he
accompanied Mr. Gibson to the out-building, to a ring in the wall of
which the surgeon's horse was fastened. Molly was there too, sitting
square and quiet on her rough little pony, waiting for her father.
Her grave eyes opened large and wide at the close neighbourhood and
evident advance of "the earl;" for to her little imagination the
grey-haired, red-faced, somewhat clumsy man, was a cross between an
arch-angel and a king.

"Your daughter, eh, Gibson?--nice little girl, how old? Pony wants
grooming though," patting it as he talked. "What's your name,
my dear? He's sadly behindhand with his rent, as I was saying,
but if he's really ill, I must see after Sheepshanks, who is a
hardish man of business. What's his complaint? You'll come to our
school-scrimmage on Thursday, little girl--what's-your-name? Mind you
send her, or bring her, Gibson; and just give a word to your groom,
for I'm sure that pony wasn't singed last year, now, was he? Don't
forget Thursday, little girl--what's-your-name?--it's a promise
between us, is it not?" And off the earl trotted, attracted by the
sight of the farmer's eldest son on the other side of the yard.

Mr. Gibson mounted, and he and Molly rode off. They did not speak
for some time. Then she said, "May I go, papa?" in rather an anxious
little tone of voice.

"Where, my dear?" said he, wakening up out of his own professional

"To the Towers--on Thursday, you know. That gentleman" (she was shy
of calling him by his title), "asked me."

"Would you like it, my dear? It has always seemed to me rather a
tiresome piece of gaiety--rather a tiring day, I mean--beginning so
early--and the heat, and all that."

"Oh, papa!" said Molly, reproachfully.

"You'd like to go then, would you?"

"Yes; if I may!--He asked me, you know. Don't you think I may?--he
asked me twice over."

"Well! we'll see--yes! I think we can manage it, if you wish it so
much, Molly."

Then they were silent again. By-and-by, Molly said,--

"Please, papa--I do wish to go,--but I don't care about it."

"That's rather a puzzling speech. But I suppose you mean you don't
care to go, if it will be any trouble to get you there. I can easily
manage it, however, so you may consider it settled. You'll want a
white frock, remember; you'd better tell Betty you're going, and
she'll see after making you tidy."

Now, there were two or three things to be done by Mr. Gibson, before
he could feel quite comfortable about Molly's going to the festival
at the Towers, and each of them involved a little trouble on his
part. But he was very willing to gratify his little girl; so the
next day he rode over to the Towers, ostensibly to visit some sick
housemaid, but, in reality, to throw himself in my lady's way, and
get her to ratify Lord Cumnor's invitation to Molly. He chose his
time, with a little natural diplomacy; which, indeed, he had often
to exercise in his intercourse with the great family. He rode into
the stable-yard about twelve o'clock, a little before luncheon-time,
and yet after the worry of opening the post-bag and discussing its
contents was over. After he had put up his horse, he went in by the
back-way to the house; the "House" on this side, the "Towers" at the
front. He saw his patient, gave his directions to the housekeeper,
and then went out, with a rare wild-flower in his hand, to find one
of the ladies Tranmere in the garden, where, according to his hope
and calculation, he came upon Lady Cumnor too,--now talking to her
daughter about the contents of an open letter which she held in her
hand, now directing a gardener about certain bedding-out plants.

"I was calling to see Nanny, and I took the opportunity of bringing
Lady Agnes the plant I was telling her about as growing on Cumnor

"Thank you, so much, Mr. Gibson. Mamma, look! this is the _Drosera
rotundifolia_ I have been wanting so long."

"Ah! yes; very pretty I daresay, only I am no botanist. Nanny is
better, I hope? We can't have any one laid up next week, for the
house will be quite full of people,--and here are the Danbys waiting
to offer themselves as well. One comes down for a fortnight of quiet,
at Whitsuntide, and leaves half one's establishment in town, and as
soon as people know of our being here, we get letters without end,
longing for a breath of country air, or saying how lovely the Towers
must look in spring; and I must own, Lord Cumnor is a great deal to
blame for it all, for as soon as ever we are down here, he rides
about to all the neighbours, and invites them to come over and spend
a few days."

"We shall go back to town on Friday the 18th," said Lady Agnes, in a
consolatory tone.

"Ah, yes! as soon as we have got over the school visitors' affair.
But it is a week to that happy day."

"By the way!" said Mr. Gibson, availing himself of the good opening
thus presented, "I met my lord at the Cross-trees Farm yesterday, and
he was kind enough to ask my little daughter, who was with me, to be
one of the party here on Thursday; it would give the lassie great
pleasure, I believe." He paused for Lady Cumnor to speak.

"Oh, well! if my lord asked her, I suppose she must come, but I wish
he was not so amazingly hospitable! Not but what the little girl will
be quite welcome; only, you see, he met a younger Miss Browning the
other day, of whose existence I had never heard."

"She visits at the school, mamma," said Lady Agnes.

"Well, perhaps she does; I never said she did not. I knew there was
one visitor of the name of Browning; I never knew there were two,
but, of course, as soon as Lord Cumnor heard there was another, he
must needs ask her; so the carriage will have to go backwards and
forwards four times now to fetch them all. So your daughter can come
quite easily, Mr. Gibson, and I shall be very glad to see her for
your sake. She can sit bodkin with the Brownings, I suppose? You'll
arrange it all with them; and mind you get Nanny well up to her work
next week."

Just as Mr. Gibson was going away, Lady Cumnor called after him, "Oh!
by-the-by, Clare is here; you remember Clare, don't you? She was a
patient of yours, long ago."

"Clare," he repeated, in a bewildered tone.

"Don't you recollect her? Miss Clare, our old governess," said Lady
Agnes. "About twelve or fourteen years ago, before Lady Cuxhaven was

"Oh, yes!" said he. "Miss Clare, who had the scarlet fever here; a
very pretty delicate girl. But I thought she was married!"

"Yes!" said Lady Cumnor. "She was a silly little thing, and did
not know when she was well off; we were all very fond of her, I'm
sure. She went and married a poor curate, and became a stupid Mrs.
Kirkpatrick; but we always kept on calling her 'Clare.' And now
he's dead, and left her a widow, and she is staying here; and we
are racking our brains to find out some way of helping her to a
livelihood without parting her from her child. She's somewhere about
the grounds, if you like to renew your acquaintance with her."

"Thank you, my lady. I'm afraid I cannot stop to-day. I have a long
round to go; I've stayed here too long as it is, I'm afraid."

Long as his ride had been that day, he called on the Miss Brownings
in the evening, to arrange about Molly's accompanying them to the
Towers. They were tall handsome women, past their first youth, and
inclined to be extremely complaisant to the widowed doctor.

"Eh dear! Mr. Gibson, but we shall be delighted to have her with us.
You should never have thought of asking us such a thing," said Miss
Browning the elder.

"I'm sure I'm hardly sleeping at nights for thinking of it," said
Miss Phoebe. "You know I've never been there before. Sister has
many a time; but somehow, though my name has been down on the
visitors' list these three years, the countess has never named me in
her note; and you know I could not push myself into notice, and go to
such a grand place without being asked; how could I?"

"I told Phoebe last year," said her sister, "that I was sure it was
only inadvertence, as one may call it, on the part of the countess,
and that her ladyship would be as hurt as any one when she didn't
see Phoebe among the school visitors; but Phoebe has got a delicate
mind, you see, Mr. Gibson, and all I could say she wouldn't go, but
stopped here at home; and it spoilt all my pleasure all that day,
I do assure you, to think of Phoebe's face, as I saw it over the
window-blinds, as I rode away; her eyes were full of tears, if you'll
believe me."

"I had a good cry after you was gone, Dorothy," said Miss Phoebe;
"but for all that, I think I was right in stopping away from where
I was not asked. Don't you, Mr. Gibson?"

"Certainly," said he. "And you see you are going this year; and last
year it rained."

"Yes! I remember! I set myself to tidy my drawers, to string myself
up, as it were; and I was so taken up with what I was about that
I was quite startled when I heard the rain beating against the
window-panes. 'Goodness me!' said I to myself, 'whatever will become
of sister's white satin shoes, if she has to walk about on soppy
grass after such rain as this?' for, you see, I thought a deal about
her having a pair of smart shoes; and this year she has gone and got
me a white satin pair just as smart as hers, for a surprise."

"Molly will know she's to put on her best clothes," said Miss
Browning. "We could perhaps lend her a few beads, or artificials, if
she wants them."

"Molly must go in a clean white frock," said Mr. Gibson, rather
hastily; for he did not admire the Miss Brownings' taste in dress,
and was unwilling to have his child decked up according to their
fancy; he esteemed his old servant Betty's as the more correct,
because the more simple. Miss Browning had just a shade of annoyance
in her tone as she drew herself up, and said, "Oh! very well. It's
quite right, I'm sure." But Miss Phoebe said, "Molly will look very
nice in whatever she puts on, that's certain."



At ten o'clock on the eventful Thursday the Towers' carriage began
its work. Molly was ready long before it made its first appearance,
although it had been settled that she and the Miss Brownings were not
to go until the last, or fourth, time of its coming. Her face had
been soaped, scrubbed, and shone brilliantly clean; her frills, her
frock, her ribbons were all snow-white. She had on a black mode cloak
that had been her mother's; it was trimmed round with rich lace, and
looked quaint and old-fashioned on the child. For the first time in
her life she wore kid gloves; hitherto she had only had cotton ones.
Her gloves were far too large for the little dimpled fingers, but as
Betty had told her they were to last her for years, it was all very
well. She trembled many a time, and almost turned faint once with the
long expectation of the morning. Betty might say what she liked about
a watched pot never boiling; Molly never ceased to watch the approach
through the winding street, and after two hours the carriage came
for her at last. She had to sit very forward to avoid crushing the
Miss Brownings' new dresses; and yet not too forward, for fear of
incommoding fat Mrs. Goodenough and her niece, who occupied the
front seat of the carriage; so that altogether the fact of sitting
down at all was rather doubtful, and to add to her discomfort, Molly
felt herself to be very conspicuously placed in the centre of the
carriage, a mark for all the observation of Hollingford. It was far
too much of a gala day for the work of the little town to go forward
with its usual regularity. Maid-servants gazed out of upper windows;
shopkeepers' wives stood on the door-steps; cottagers ran out, with
babies in their arms; and little children, too young to know how
to behave respectfully at the sight of an earl's carriage, huzzaed
merrily as it bowled along. The woman at the lodge held the gate
open, and dropped a low curtsey to the liveries. And now they were
in the Park; and now they were in sight of the Towers, and silence
fell upon the carriage-full of ladies, only broken by one faint
remark from Mrs. Goodenough's niece, a stranger to the town, as they
drew up before the double semicircle flight of steps which led to the
door of the mansion.

"They call that a perron, I believe, don't they?" she asked. But
the only answer she obtained was a simultaneous "hush." It was very
awful, as Molly thought, and she half wished herself at home again.
But she lost all consciousness of herself by-and-by when the party
strolled out into the beautiful grounds, the like of which she
had never even imagined. Green velvet lawns, bathed in sunshine,
stretched away on every side into the finely wooded park; if there
were divisions and ha-has between the soft sunny sweeps of grass, and
the dark gloom of the forest-trees beyond, Molly did not see them;
and the melting away of exquisite cultivation into the wilderness
had an inexplicable charm to her. Near the house there were walls
and fences; but they were covered with climbing roses, and rare
honeysuckles and other creepers just bursting into bloom. There were
flower-beds, too, scarlet, crimson, blue, orange; masses of blossom
lying on the greensward. Molly held Miss Browning's hand very tight
as they loitered about in company with several other ladies, and
marshalled by a daughter of the Towers, who seemed half amused at the
voluble admiration showered down upon every possible thing and place.
Molly said nothing, as became her age and position, but every now and
then she relieved her full heart by drawing a deep breath, almost
like a sigh. Presently they came to the long glittering range of
greenhouses and hothouses, and an attendant gardener was there to
admit the party. Molly did not care for this half so much as for
the flowers in the open air; but Lady Agnes had a more scientific
taste, she expatiated on the rarity of this plant, and the mode of
cultivation required by that, till Molly began to feel very tired,
and then very faint. She was too shy to speak for some time; but at
length, afraid of making a greater sensation if she began to cry, or
if she fell against the stands of precious flowers, she caught at
Miss Browning's hand, and gasped out--

"May I go back, out into the garden? I can't breathe here!"

"Oh, yes, to be sure, love. I daresay it's hard understanding for
you, love; but it's very fine and instructive, and a deal of Latin in
it too."

She turned hastily round not to lose another word of Lady Agnes'
lecture on orchids, and Molly turned back and passed out of the
heated atmosphere. She felt better in the fresh air; and unobserved,
and at liberty, went from one lovely spot to another, now in the open
park, now in some shut-in flower-garden, where the song of the birds,
and the drip of the central fountain, were the only sounds, and the
tree-tops made an enclosing circle in the blue June sky; she went
along without more thought as to her whereabouts than a butterfly
has, as it skims from flower to flower, till at length she grew
very weary, and wished to return to the house, but did not know
how, and felt afraid of encountering all the strangers who would be
there, unprotected by either of the Miss Brownings. The hot sun told
upon her head, and it began to ache. She saw a great wide-spreading
cedar-tree upon a burst of lawn towards which she was advancing, and
the black repose beneath its branches lured her thither. There was
a rustic seat in the shadow, and weary Molly sate down there, and
presently fell asleep.

She was startled from her slumbers after a time, and jumped to her
feet. Two ladies were standing by her, talking about her. They were
perfect strangers to her, and with a vague conviction that she had
done something wrong, and also because she was worn-out with hunger,
fatigue, and the morning's excitement, she began to cry.

"Poor little woman! She has lost herself; she belongs to some of the
people from Hollingford, I have no doubt," said the oldest-looking of
the two ladies; she who appeared to be about forty, though she did
not really number more than thirty years. She was plain-featured, and
had rather a severe expression on her face; her dress was as rich as
any morning dress could be; her voice deep and unmodulated,--what in
a lower rank of life would have been called gruff; but that was not a
word to apply to Lady Cuxhaven, the eldest daughter of the earl and
countess. The other lady looked much younger, but she was in fact
some years the elder; at first sight Molly thought she was the most
beautiful person she had ever seen, and she was certainly a very
lovely woman. Her voice, too, was soft and plaintive, as she replied
to Lady Cuxhaven,--

"Poor little darling! she is overcome by the heat, I have no
doubt--such a heavy straw bonnet, too. Let me untie it for you, my

Molly now found voice to say--"I am Molly Gibson, please. I came here
with Miss Brownings;" for her great fear was that she should be taken
for an unauthorized intruder.

"Miss Brownings?" said Lady Cuxhaven to her companion, as if

"I think they were the two tall large young women that Lady Agnes was
talking about."

"Oh, I daresay. I saw she had a number of people in tow;" then
looking again at Molly, she said, "Have you had anything to eat,
child, since you came? You look a very white little thing; or is it
the heat?"

"I have had nothing to eat," said Molly, rather piteously; for,
indeed, before she fell asleep she had been very hungry.

The two ladies spoke to each other in a low voice; then the elder
said in a voice of authority, which, indeed, she had always used in
speaking to the other, "Sit still here, my dear; we are going to the
house, and Clare shall bring you something to eat before you try to
walk back; it must be a quarter of a mile at least." So they went
away, and Molly sat upright, waiting for the promised messenger. She
did not know who Clare might be, and she did not care much for food
now; but she felt as if she could not walk without some help. At
length she saw the pretty lady coming back, followed by a footman
with a small tray.

"Look how kind Lady Cuxhaven is," said she who was called Clare. "She
chose you out this little lunch herself; and now you must try and eat
it, and you'll be quite right when you've had some food, darling--You
need not stop, Edwards; I will bring the tray back with me."

There was some bread, and some cold chicken, and some jelly, and
a glass of wine, and a bottle of sparkling water, and a bunch of
grapes. Molly put out her trembling little hand for the water; but
she was too faint to hold it. Clare put it to her mouth, and she took
a long draught and was refreshed. But she could not eat; she tried,
but she could not; her headache was too bad. Clare looked bewildered.
"Take some grapes, they will be the best for you; you must try and
eat something, or I don't know how I shall get you to the house."

"My head aches so," said Molly, lifting her heavy eyes wistfully.

"Oh, dear, how tiresome!" said Clare, still in her sweet gentle
voice, not at all as if she was angry, only expressing an obvious
truth. Molly felt very guilty and very unhappy. Clare went on, with a
shade of asperity in her tone: "You see, I don't know what to do with
you here if you don't eat enough to enable you to walk home. And I've
been out for these three hours trapesing about the grounds till I'm
as tired as can be, and missed my lunch and all." Then, as if a new
idea had struck her, she said,--"You lie back in that seat for a few
minutes, and try to eat the bunch of grapes, and I'll wait for you,
and just be eating a mouthful meanwhile. You are sure you don't want
this chicken?"

Molly did as she was bid, and leant back, picking languidly at the
grapes, and watching the good appetite with which the lady ate up the
chicken and jelly, and drank the glass of wine. She was so pretty and
so graceful in her deep mourning, that even her hurry in eating, as
if she was afraid of some one coming to surprise her in the act, did
not keep her little observer from admiring her in all she did.

"And now, darling, are you ready to go?" said she, when she had eaten
up everything on the tray. "Oh, come; you have nearly finished your
grapes; that's a good girl. Now, if you will come with me to the
side entrance, I will take you up to my own room, and you shall lie
down on the bed for an hour or two; and if you have a good nap your
headache will be quite gone."

So they set off, Clare carrying the empty tray, rather to Molly's
shame; but the child had enough work to drag herself along, and was
afraid of offering to do anything more. The "side entrance" was
a flight of steps leading up from a private flower-garden into a
private matted hall, or ante-room, out of which many doors opened,
and in which were deposited the light garden-tools and the bows and
arrows of the young ladies of the house. Lady Cuxhaven must have seen
their approach, for she met them in this hall as soon as they came

"How is she now?" she asked; then glancing at the plates and glasses,
she added, "Come, I think there can't be much amiss! You're a good
old Clare, but you should have let one of the men fetch that tray in;
life in such weather as this is trouble enough of itself."

Molly could not help wishing that her pretty companion would have
told Lady Cuxhaven that she herself had helped to finish up the
ample luncheon; but no such idea seemed to come into her mind. She
only said,--"Poor dear! she is not quite the thing yet; has got a
headache, she says. I am going to put her down on my bed, to see if
she can get a little sleep."

Molly saw Lady Cuxhaven say something in a half-laughing manner
to "Clare," as she passed her; and the child could not keep from
tormenting herself by fancying that the words spoken sounded
wonderfully like "Over-eaten herself, I suspect." However, she felt
too poorly to worry herself long; the little white bed in the cool
and pretty room had too many attractions for her aching head. The
muslin curtains flapped softly from time to time in the scented air
that came through the open windows. Clare covered her up with a light
shawl, and darkened the room. As she was going away Molly roused
herself to say, "Please, ma'am, don't let them go away without me.
Please ask somebody to waken me if I go to sleep. I am to go back
with Miss Brownings."

"Don't trouble yourself about it, dear; I'll take care," said Clare,
turning round at the door, and kissing her hand to little anxious
Molly. And then she went away, and thought no more about it.
The carriages came round at half-past four, hurried a little by
Lady Cumnor, who had suddenly become tired of the business of
entertaining, and annoyed at the repetition of indiscriminating

"Why not have both carriages out, mamma, and get rid of them all at
once?" said Lady Cuxhaven. "This going by instalments is the most
tiresome thing that could be imagined." So at last there had been a
great hurry and an unmethodical way of packing off every one at once.
Miss Browning had gone in the chariot (or "chawyot," as Lady Cumnor
called it;--it rhymed to her daughter, Lady Hawyot--or Harriet,
as the name was spelt in the _Peerage_), and Miss Phoebe had been
speeded along with several other guests, away in a great roomy family
conveyance, of the kind which we should now call an "omnibus." Each
thought that Molly Gibson was with the other, and the truth was, that
she lay fast asleep on Mrs. Kirkpatrick's bed--Mrs. Kirkpatrick _née_

The housemaids came in to arrange the room. Their talking aroused
Molly, who sat up on the bed, and tried to push back the hair from
her hot forehead, and to remember where she was. She dropped down on
her feet by the side of the bed, to the astonishment of the women,
and said,--"Please, how soon are we going away?"

"Bless us and save us! who'd ha' thought of any one being in the bed?
Are you one of the Hollingford ladies, my dear? They are all gone
this hour or more!"

"Oh, dear, what shall I do? That lady they call Clare promised to
waken me in time. Papa will so wonder where I am, and I don't know
what Betty will say."

The child began to cry, and the housemaids looked at each other
in some dismay and much sympathy. Just then, they heard Mrs.
Kirkpatrick's step along the passages, approaching. She was singing
some little Italian air in a low musical voice, coming to her bedroom
to dress for dinner. One housemaid said to the other, with a knowing
look, "Best leave it to her;" and they passed on to their work in the
other rooms.

Mrs. Kirkpatrick opened the door, and stood aghast at the sight of

"Why, I quite forgot you!" she said at length. "Nay, don't cry;
you'll make yourself not fit to be seen. Of course I must take the
consequences of your over-sleeping yourself, and if I can't manage to
get you back to Hollingford to-night, you shall sleep with me, and
we'll do our best to send you home to-morrow morning."

"But papa!" sobbed out Molly. "He always wants me to make tea for
him; and I have no night-things."

"Well, don't go and make a piece of work about what can't be helped
now. I'll lend you night-things, and your papa must do without your
making tea for him to-night. And another time don't over-sleep
yourself in a strange house; you may not always find yourself among
such hospitable people as they are here. Why now, if you don't cry
and make a figure of yourself, I'll ask if you may come in to dessert
with Master Smythe and the little ladies. You shall go into the
nursery, and have some tea with them; and then you must come back
here and brush your hair and make yourself tidy. I think it is a very
fine thing for you to be stopping in such a grand house as this; many
a little girl would like nothing better."

During this speech she was arranging her toilette for dinner--taking
off her black morning gown; putting on her dressing-gown; shaking her
long soft auburn hair over her shoulders, and glancing about the room
in search of various articles of her dress,--a running flow of easy
talk came babbling out all the time.

"I have a little girl of my own, dear! I don't know what she would
not give to be staying here at Lord Cumnor's with me; but, instead
of that, she has to spend her holidays at school; and yet you are
looking as miserable as can be at the thought of stopping for
just one night. I really have been as busy as can be with those
tiresome--those good ladies, I mean, from Hollingford--and one can't
think of everything at a time."

Molly--only child as she was--had stopped her tears at the mention
of that little girl of Mrs. Kirkpatrick's, and now she ventured to

"Are you married, ma'am; I thought she called you Clare?"

In high good-humour Mrs. Kirkpatrick made reply:--"I don't look as
if I was married, do I? Every one is surprised. And yet I have been
a widow for seven months now: and not a grey hair on my head, though
Lady Cuxhaven, who is younger than I, has ever so many."

"Why do they call you 'Clare?'" continued Molly, finding her so
affable and communicative.

"Because I lived with them when I was Miss Clare. It is a pretty
name, isn't it? I married a Mr. Kirkpatrick; he was only a curate,
poor fellow; but he was of a very good family, and if three of his
relations had died without children I should have been a baronet's
wife. But Providence did not see fit to permit it; and we must always
resign ourselves to what is decreed. Two of his cousins married, and
had large families; and poor dear Kirkpatrick died, leaving me a

"You have a little girl?" asked Molly.

"Yes: darling Cynthia! I wish you could see her; she is my only
comfort now. If I have time I will show you her picture when we come
up to bed; but I must go now. It does not do to keep Lady Cumnor
waiting a moment, and she asked me to be down early, to help with
some of the people in the house. Now I shall ring this bell, and when
the housemaid comes, ask her to take you into the nursery, and to
tell Lady Cuxhaven's nurse who you are. And then you'll have tea with
the little ladies, and come in with them to dessert. There! I'm sorry
you've over-slept yourself, and are left here; but give me a kiss,
and don't cry--you really are rather a pretty child, though you've
not got Cynthia's colouring! Oh, Nanny, would you be so very kind as
to take this young lady--(what's your name, my dear? Gibson?),--Miss
Gibson, to Mrs. Dyson, in the nursery, and ask her to allow her to
drink tea with the young ladies there; and to send her in with them
to dessert. I'll explain it all to my lady."

Nanny's face brightened out of its gloom when she heard the name
Gibson; and, having ascertained from Molly that she was "the
doctor's" child, she showed more willingness to comply with Mrs.
Kirkpatrick's request than was usual with her.

Molly was an obliging girl, and fond of children; so, as long as she
was in the nursery, she got on pretty well, being obedient to the
wishes of the supreme power, and even very useful to Mrs. Dyson, by
playing at tricks, and thus keeping a little one quiet while its
brothers and sisters were being arrayed in gay attire,--lace and
muslin, and velvet, and brilliant broad ribbons.

"Now, miss," said Mrs. Dyson, when her own especial charge were all
ready, "what can I do for you? You have not got another frock here,
have you?" No, indeed, she had not; nor if she had had one, could it
have been of a smarter nature than her present thick white dimity.
So she could only wash her face and hands, and submit to the nurse's
brushing and perfuming her hair. She thought she would rather have
stayed in the park all night long, and slept under the beautiful
quiet cedar, than have to undergo the unknown ordeal of "going
down to dessert," which was evidently regarded both by children and
nurses as the event of the day. At length there was a summons from
a footman, and Mrs. Dyson, in a rustling silk gown, marshalled her
convoy, and set sail for the dining-room door.

There was a large party of gentlemen and ladies sitting round the
decked table, in the brilliantly lighted room. Each dainty little
child ran up to its mother, or aunt, or particular friend; but Molly
had no one to go to.

"Who is that tall girl in the thick white frock? Not one of the
children of the house, I think?"

The lady addressed put up her glass, gazed at Molly, and dropped it
in an instant. "A French girl, I should imagine. I know Lady Cuxhaven
was inquiring for one to bring up with her little girls, that they
might get a good accent early. Poor little woman, she looks wild
and strange!" And the speaker, who sate next to Lord Cumnor, made a
little sign to Molly to come to her; Molly crept up to her as to the
first shelter; but when the lady began talking to her in French, she
blushed violently, and said in a very low voice,--

"I don't understand French. I'm only Molly Gibson, ma'am.

"Molly Gibson!" said the lady, out loud; as if that was not much of
an explanation.

Lord Cumnor caught the words and the tone.

"Oh, ho!" said he. "Are you the little girl who has been sleeping in
my bed?"

He imitated the deep voice of the fabulous bear, who asks this
question of the little child in the story; but Molly had never read
the "Three Bears," and fancied that his anger was real; she trembled
a little, and drew nearer to the kind lady who had beckoned her as
to a refuge. Lord Cumnor was very fond of getting hold of what he
fancied was a joke, and working his idea threadbare; so all the time
the ladies were in the room he kept on his running fire at Molly,
alluding to the Sleeping Beauty, the Seven Sleepers, and any other
famous sleeper that came into his head. He had no idea of the misery
his jokes were to the sensitive girl, who already thought herself
a miserable sinner, for having slept on, when she ought to have
been awake. If Molly had been in the habit of putting two and two
together, she might have found an excuse for herself, by remembering
that Mrs. Kirkpatrick had promised faithfully to awaken her in time;
but all the girl thought of was, how little they wanted her in this
grand house; how she must seem like a careless intruder who had no
business there. Once or twice she wondered where her father was, and
whether he was missing her; but the thought of the familiar happiness
of home brought such a choking in her throat, that she felt she must
not give way to it, for fear of bursting out crying; and she had
instinct enough to feel that, as she was left at the Towers, the less
trouble she gave, the more she kept herself out of observation, the

She followed the ladies out of the dining-room, almost hoping that
no one would see her. But that was impossible, and she immediately
became the subject of conversation between the awful Lady Cumnor and
her kind neighbour at dinner.

"Do you know, I thought this young lady was French when I first saw
her? she has got the black hair and eyelashes, and grey eyes, and
colourless complexion which one meets with in some parts of France,
and I know Lady Cuxhaven was trying to find a well-educated girl who
would be a pleasant companion to her children."

"No!" said Lady Cumnor, looking very stern, as Molly thought. "She
is the daughter of our medical man at Hollingford; she came with
the school visitors this morning, and she was overcome by the heat
and fell asleep in Clare's room, and somehow managed to over-sleep
herself, and did not waken up till all the carriages were gone. We
will send her home to-morrow morning, but for to-night she must stay
here, and Clare is kind enough to say she may sleep with her."

There was an implied blame running through this speech, that Molly
felt like needle-points all over her. Lady Cuxhaven came up at this
moment. Her tone was as deep, her manner of speaking as abrupt and
authoritative, as her mother's, but Molly felt the kinder nature

"How are you now, my dear? You look better than you did under the
cedar-tree. So you're to stop here to-night? Clare, don't you think
we could find some of those books of engravings that would interest
Miss Gibson."

Mrs. Kirkpatrick came gliding up to the place where Molly stood; and
began petting her with pretty words and actions, while Lady Cuxhaven
turned over heavy volumes in search of one that might interest the

"Poor darling! I saw you come into the dining-room, looking so shy;
and I wanted you to come near me, but I could not make a sign to you,
because Lord Cuxhaven was speaking to me at the time, telling me
about his travels. Ah, here is a nice book--_Lodge's Portraits_; now
I'll sit by you and tell you who they all are, and all about them.
Don't trouble yourself any more, dear Lady Cuxhaven; I'll take charge
of her; pray leave her to me!"

Molly grew hotter and hotter as these last words met her ear. If
they would only leave her alone, and not labour at being kind to
her; would "not trouble themselves" about her! These words of Mrs.
Kirkpatrick's seemed to quench the gratitude she was feeling to Lady
Cuxhaven for looking for something to amuse her. But, of course, it
was a trouble, and she ought never to have been there.

By-and-by, Mrs. Kirkpatrick was called away to accompany Lady Agnes'
song; and then Molly really had a few minutes' enjoyment. She could
look round the room, unobserved, and, sure, never was any place out
of a king's house so grand and magnificent. Large mirrors, velvet
curtains, pictures in their gilded frames, a multitude of dazzling
lights decorated the vast saloon, and the floor was studded with
groups of ladies and gentlemen, all dressed in gorgeous attire.
Suddenly Molly bethought her of the children whom she had accompanied
into the dining-room, and to whose ranks she had appeared to
belong,--where were they? Gone to bed an hour before, at some quiet
signal from their mother. Molly wondered if she might go, too--if
she could ever find her way back to the haven of Mrs. Kirkpatrick's
bedroom. But she was at some distance from the door; a long way from
Mrs. Kirkpatrick, to whom she felt herself to belong more than to any
one else. Far, too, from Lady Cuxhaven, and the terrible Lady Cumnor,
and her jocose and good-natured lord. So Molly sate on, turning over
pictures which she did not see; her heart growing heavier and heavier
in the desolation of all this grandeur. Presently a footman entered
the room, and after a moment's looking about him, he went up to Mrs.
Kirkpatrick, where she sate at the piano, the centre of the musical
portion of the company, ready to accompany any singer, and smiling
pleasantly as she willingly acceded to all requests. She came now
towards Molly, in her corner, and said to her,--

"Do you know, darling, your papa has come for you, and brought your
pony for you to ride home; so I shall lose my little bedfellow, for
I suppose you must go?"

Go! was there a question of it in Molly's mind, as she stood up
quivering, sparkling, almost crying out loud. She was brought to her
senses, though, by Mrs. Kirkpatrick's next words.

"You must go and wish Lady Cumnor good-night, you know, my dear, and
thank her ladyship for her kindness to you. She is there, near that
statue, talking to Mr. Courtenay."

Yes! she was there--forty feet away--a hundred miles away! All that
blank space had to be crossed; and then a speech to be made!

"Must I go?" asked Molly, in the most pitiful and pleading voice

"Yes; make haste about it; there is nothing so formidable in it, is
there?" replied Mrs. Kirkpatrick, in a sharper voice than before,
aware that they were wanting her at the piano, and anxious to get the
business in hand done as soon as possible.

Molly stood still for a minute, then, looking up, she said, softly,--

"Would you mind coming with me, please?"

"No! not I!" said Mrs. Kirkpatrick, seeing that her compliance was
likely to be the most speedy way of getting through the affair; so
she took Molly's hand, and, on the way, in passing the group at the
piano, she said, smiling, in her pretty genteel manner,--

"Our little friend here is shy and modest, and wants me to accompany
her to Lady Cumnor to wish good-night; her father has come for her,
and she is going away."

Molly did not know how it was afterwards, but she pulled her hand out
of Mrs. Kirkpatrick's on hearing these words, and going a step or
two in advance came up to Lady Cumnor, grand in purple velvet, and
dropping a curtsey, almost after the fashion of the school-children,
she said,--

"My lady, papa is come, and I am going away; and, my lady, I wish
you good-night, and thank you for your kindness. Your ladyship's
kindness, I mean," she said, correcting herself as she remembered
Miss Browning's particular instructions as to the etiquette to be
observed to earls and countesses, and their honourable progeny, as
they were given that morning on the road to the Towers.

She got out of the saloon somehow; she believed afterwards, on
thinking about it, that she had never bidden good-by to Lady
Cuxhaven, or Mrs. Kirkpatrick, or "all the rest of them," as she
irreverently styled them in her thoughts.

Mr. Gibson was in the housekeeper's room, when Molly ran in, rather
to the stately Mrs. Brown's discomfiture. She threw her arms round
her father's neck. "Oh, papa, papa, papa! I am so glad you have
come;" and then she burst out crying, stroking his face almost
hysterically as if to make sure he was there.

"Why, what a noodle you are, Molly! Did you think I was going to give
up my little girl to live at the Towers all the rest of her life? You
make as much work about my coming for you, as if you thought I had.
Make haste, now, and get on your bonnet. Mrs. Brown, may I ask you
for a shawl, or a plaid, or a wrap of some kind to pin about her for
a petticoat?"

He did not mention that he had come home from a long round not half
an hour before, a round from which he had returned dinnerless and
hungry; but, on finding that Molly had not come back from the Towers,
he had ridden his tired horse round by Miss Brownings', and found
them in self-reproachful, helpless dismay. He would not wait to
listen to their tearful apologies; he galloped home, had a fresh
horse and Molly's pony saddled, and though Betty called after him
with a riding-skirt for the child, when he was not ten yards from his
own stable-door, he refused to turn back for it, but went off, as
Dick the stableman said, "muttering to himself awful."

Mrs. Brown had her bottle of wine out, and her plate of cake, before
Molly came back from her long expedition to Mrs. Kirkpatrick's room,
"pretty nigh on to a quarter of a mile off," as the housekeeper
informed the impatient father, as he waited for his child to come
down arrayed in her morning's finery with the gloss of newness worn
off. Mr. Gibson was a favourite in all the Towers' household, as
family doctors generally are; bringing hopes of relief at times
of anxiety and distress; and Mrs. Brown, who was subject to gout,
especially delighted in petting him whenever he would allow her. She
even went out into the stable-yard to pin Molly up in the shawl, as
she sate upon the rough-coated pony, and hazarded the somewhat safe

"I daresay she'll be happier at home, Mr. Gibson," as they rode away.

Once out into the park Molly struck her pony, and urged him on as
hard as he would go. Mr. Gibson called out at last:

"Molly! we're coming to the rabbit-holes; it's not safe to go at such
a pace. Stop." And as she drew rein he rode up alongside of her.

"We're getting into the shadow of the trees, and it's not safe riding
fast here."

"Oh! papa, I never was so glad in all my life. I felt like a lighted
candle when they're putting the extinguisher on it."

"Did you? How d'ye know what the candle feels?"

"Oh, I don't know, but I did." And again, after a pause she
said,--"Oh, I am so glad to be here! It is so pleasant riding here in
the open, free, fresh air, crushing out such a good smell from the
dewy grass. Papa! are you there? I can't see you."

He rode close up alongside of her: he was not sure but what she might
be afraid of riding in the dark shadows, so he laid his hand upon

"Oh! I am so glad to feel you," squeezing his hand hard. "Papa, I
should like to get a chain like Ponto's, just as long as your longest
round, and then I could fasten us two to each end of it, and when I
wanted you I could pull, and if you didn't want to come, you could
pull back again; but I should know you knew I wanted you, and we
could never lose each other."

"I'm rather lost in that plan of yours; the details, as you state
them, are a little puzzling; but if I make them out rightly, I am to
go about the country, like the donkeys on the common, with a clog
fastened to my hind leg."

"I don't mind your calling me a clog, if only we were fastened

"But I do mind you calling me a donkey," he replied.

"I never did. At least I didn't mean to. But it is such a comfort to
know that I may be as rude as I like."

"Is that what you've learnt from the grand company you've been
keeping to-day? I expected to find you so polite and ceremonious,
that I read a few chapters of _Sir Charles Grandison_, in order to
bring myself up to concert pitch."

"Oh, I do hope I shall never be a lord or a lady."

"Well, to comfort you, I'll tell you this: I'm sure you'll never be a
lord; and I think the chances are a thousand to one against your ever
being the other, in the sense in which you mean."

"I should lose myself every time I had to fetch my bonnet, or else
get tired of long passages and great staircases long before I could
go out walking."

"But you'd have your lady's-maid, you know."

"Do you know, papa, I think lady's-maids are worse than ladies. I
should not mind being a housekeeper so much."

"No! the jam-cupboards and dessert would lie very conveniently to
one's hand," replied her father, meditatively. "But Mrs. Brown tells
me that the thought of the dinners often keeps her from sleeping;
there's that anxiety to be taken into consideration. Still, in every
condition of life, there are heavy cares and responsibilities."

"Well! I suppose so," said Molly, gravely. "I know Betty says I wear
her life out with the green stains I get in my frocks from sitting in
the cherry-tree."

"And Miss Browning said she had fretted herself into a headache with
thinking how they had left you behind. I'm afraid you'll be as bad as
a bill of fare to them to-night. How did it all happen, goosey?"

"Oh, I went by myself to see the gardens; they are so beautiful! and
I lost myself, and sat down to rest under a great tree; and Lady
Cuxhaven and that Mrs. Kirkpatrick came; and Mrs. Kirkpatrick brought
me some lunch, and then put me to sleep on her bed,--and I thought
she would waken me in time, and she didn't; and so they'd all gone
away; and when they planned for me to stop till to-morrow, I didn't
like saying how very, very much I wanted to go home,--but I kept
thinking how you would wonder where I was."

"Then it was rather a dismal day of pleasure, goosey, eh?"

"Not in the morning. I shall never forget the morning in that garden.
But I was never so unhappy in all my life, as I have been all this
long afternoon."

Mr. Gibson thought it his duty to ride round by the Towers, and pay
a visit of apology and thanks to the family, before they left for
London. He found them all on the wing, and no one was sufficiently
at liberty to listen to his grateful civilities but Mrs. Kirkpatrick,
who, although she was to accompany Lady Cuxhaven, and pay a visit
to her former pupil, made leisure enough to receive Mr. Gibson, on
behalf of the family; and assured him of her faithful remembrance of
his great professional attention to her in former days in the most
winning manner.



Sixteen years before this time, all Hollingford had been disturbed
to its foundations by the intelligence that Mr. Hall, the skilful
doctor, who had attended them all their days, was going to take
a partner. It was no use reasoning to them on the subject; so Mr.
Browning the vicar, Mr. Sheepshanks (Lord Cumnor's agent), and Mr.
Hall himself, the masculine reasoners of the little society, left
off the attempt, feeling that the _Che sarà sarà_ would prove more
silencing to the murmurs than many arguments. Mr. Hall had told his
faithful patients that, even with the strongest spectacles, his
sight was not to be depended upon; and they might have found out for
themselves that his hearing was very defective, although, on this
point, he obstinately adhered to his own opinion, and was frequently
heard to regret the carelessness of people's communication nowadays,
"like writing on blotting-paper, all the words running into each
other," he would say. And more than once Mr. Hall had had attacks
of a suspicious nature,--"rheumatism" he used to call them, but he
prescribed for himself as if they had been gout--which had prevented
his immediate attention to imperative summonses. But, blind and deaf,
and rheumatic as he might be, he was still Mr. Hall the doctor who
could heal all their ailments--unless they died meanwhile--and he had
no right to speak of growing old, and taking a partner.

He went very steadily to work all the same; advertising in medical
journals, reading testimonials, sifting character and qualifications;
and just when the elderly maiden ladies of Hollingford thought that
they had convinced their contemporary that he was as young as ever,
he startled them by bringing his new partner, Mr. Gibson, to call
upon them, and began "slyly," as these ladies said, to introduce him
into practice. And "who was this Mr. Gibson?" they asked, and echo
might answer the question, if she liked, for no one else did. No
one ever in all his life knew anything more of his antecedents than
the Hollingford people might have found out the first day they saw
him: that he was tall, grave, rather handsome than otherwise; thin
enough to be called "a very genteel figure," in those days, before
muscular Christianity had come into vogue; speaking with a slight
Scotch accent; and, as one good lady observed, "so very trite in
his conversation," by which she meant sarcastic. As to his birth,
parentage, and education,--the favourite conjecture of Hollingford
society was, that he was the illegitimate son of a Scotch duke, by
a Frenchwoman; and the grounds for this conjecture were these:--He
spoke with a Scotch accent; therefore, he must be Scotch. He had
a very genteel appearance, an elegant figure, and was apt--so his
ill-wishers said--to give himself airs; therefore, his father must
have been some person of quality; and, that granted, nothing was
easier than to run this supposition up all the notes of the scale of
the peerage,--baronet, baron, viscount, earl, marquis, duke. Higher
they dared not go, though one old lady, acquainted with English
history, hazarded the remark, that "she believed that one or two
of the Stuarts--hem--had not always been,--ahem--quite correct in
their--conduct; and she fancied such--ahem--things ran in families."
But, in popular opinion, Mr. Gibson's father always remained a duke;
nothing more.

Then his mother must have been a Frenchwoman, because his hair was
so black; and he was so sallow; and because he had been in Paris.
All this might be true, or might not; nobody ever knew, or found out
anything more about him than what Mr. Hall told them, namely, that
his professional qualifications were as high as his moral character,
and that both were far above the average, as Mr. Hall had taken pains
to ascertain before introducing him to his patients. The popularity
of this world is as transient as its glory, as Mr. Hall found out
before the first year of his partnership was over. He had plenty of
leisure left to him now to nurse his gout and cherish his eyesight.
The younger doctor had carried the day; nearly every one sent for
Mr. Gibson. Even at the great houses--even at the Towers, that
greatest of all, where Mr. Hall had introduced his new partner with
fear and trembling, with untold anxiety as to his behaviour, and
the impression he might make on my lord the Earl, and my lady the
Countess, Mr. Gibson was received at the end of a twelvemonth with as
much welcome respect for his professional skill as Mr. Hall himself
had ever been. Nay--and this was a little too much for even the kind
old doctor's good temper--Mr. Gibson had even been invited once to
dinner at the Towers, to dine with the great Sir Astley, the head of
the profession! To be sure, Mr. Hall had been asked as well; but he
was laid up just then with his gout (since he had had a partner the
rheumatism had been allowed to develope itself), and he had not been
able to go. Poor Mr. Hall never quite got over this mortification;
after it he allowed himself to become dim of sight and hard of
hearing, and kept pretty closely to the house during the two winters
that remained of his life. He sent for an orphan grand-niece to keep
him company in his old age; he, the woman-contemning old bachelor,
became thankful for the cheerful presence of the pretty, bonny Mary
Pearson, who was good and sensible, and nothing more. She formed
a close friendship with the daughters of the vicar, Mr. Browning,
and Mr. Gibson found time to become very intimate with all three.
Hollingford speculated much on which young lady would become Mrs.
Gibson, and was rather sorry when the talk about possibilities, and
the gossip about probabilities, with regard to the handsome young
surgeon's marriage, ended in the most natural manner in the world, by
his marrying his predecessor's niece. The two Miss Brownings showed
no signs of going into a consumption on the occasion, although
their looks and manners were carefully watched. On the contrary,
they were rather boisterously merry at the wedding, and poor Mrs.
Gibson it was that died of consumption, four or five years after her
marriage--three years after the death of her great-uncle, and when
her only child, Molly, was just three years old.

Mr. Gibson did not speak much about the grief at the loss of his
wife, which it was supposed that he felt. Indeed, he avoided all
demonstrations of sympathy, and got up hastily and left the room
when Miss Phoebe Browning first saw him after his loss, and burst
into an uncontrollable flood of tears, which threatened to end in
hysterics. Miss Browning declared she never could forgive him for his
hard-heartedness on that occasion; but a fortnight afterwards she
came to very high words with old Mrs. Goodenough, for gasping out her
doubts whether Mr. Gibson was a man of deep feeling; judging by the
narrowness of his crape hat-band, which ought to have covered his
hat, whereas there was at least three inches of beaver to be seen.
And, in spite of it all, Miss Browning and Miss Phoebe considered
themselves as Mr. Gibson's most intimate friends, in right of their
regard for his dead wife, and would fain have taken a quasi-motherly
interest in his little girl, had she not been guarded by a watchful
dragon in the shape of Betty, her nurse, who was jealous of any
interference between her and her charge; and especially resentful and
disagreeable towards all those ladies who, by suitable age, rank, or
propinquity, she thought capable of "casting sheep's eyes at master."

Several years before the opening of this story, Mr. Gibson's position
seemed settled for life, both socially and professionally. He was
a widower, and likely to remain so; his domestic affections were
centred on little Molly, but even to her, in their most private
moments, he did not give way to much expression of his feelings;
his most caressing appellation for her was "Goosey," and he took a
pleasure in bewildering her infant mind with his badinage. He had
rather a contempt for demonstrative people, arising from his medical
insight into the consequences to health of uncontrolled feeling. He
deceived himself into believing that still his reason was lord of
all, because he had never fallen into the habit of expression on any
other than purely intellectual subjects. Molly, however, had her own
intuitions to guide her. Though her papa laughed at her, quizzed her,
joked at her, in a way which the Miss Brownings called "really cruel"
to each other when they were quite alone, Molly took her little
griefs and pleasures, and poured them into her papa's ears, sooner
even than into Betty's, that kind-hearted termagant. The child grew
to understand her father well, and the two had the most delightful
intercourse together--half banter, half seriousness, but altogether
confidential friendship. Mr. Gibson kept three servants; Betty, a
cook, and a girl who was supposed to be housemaid, but who was under
both the elder two, and had a pretty life of it in consequence.
Three servants would not have been required if it had not been Mr.
Gibson's habit, as it had been Mr. Hall's before him, to take two
"pupils" as they were called in the genteel language of Hollingford,
"apprentices" as they were in fact--being bound by indentures, and
paying a handsome premium to learn their business. They lived in the
house, and occupied an uncomfortable, ambiguous, or, as Miss Browning
called it with some truth, "amphibious" position. They had their
meals with Mr. Gibson and Molly, and were felt to be terribly in the
way; Mr. Gibson not being a man who could make conversation, and
hating the duty of talking under restraint. Yet something within him
made him wince, as if his duties were not rightly performed, when,
as the cloth was drawn, the two awkward lads rose up with joyful
alacrity, gave him a nod, which was to be interpreted as a bow,
knocked against each other in their endeavours to get out of the
dining-room quickly; and then might be heard dashing along a passage
which led to the surgery, choking with half-suppressed laughter. Yet
the annoyance he felt at this dull sense of imperfectly fulfilled
duties only made his sarcasms on their inefficiency, or stupidity, or
ill manners, more bitter than before.

Beyond direct professional instruction, he did not know what to do
with the succession of pairs of young men, whose mission seemed to
be, to be plagued by their master consciously, and to plague him
unconsciously. Once or twice Mr. Gibson had declined taking a fresh
pupil, in the hopes of shaking himself free from the incubus, but his
reputation as a clever surgeon had spread so rapidly that his fees
which he had thought prohibitory, were willingly paid, in order that
the young man might make a start in life, with the prestige of having
been a pupil of Gibson of Hollingford. But as Molly grew to be a
little girl instead of a child, when she was about eight years old,
her father perceived the awkwardness of her having her breakfasts
and dinners so often alone with the pupils, without his uncertain
presence. To do away with this evil, more than for the actual
instruction she could give, he engaged a respectable woman, the
daughter of a shopkeeper in the town, who had left a destitute
family, to come every morning before breakfast, and to stay with
Molly till he came home at night; or, if he was detained, until the
child's bed-time.

"Now, Miss Eyre," said he, summing up his instructions the day before
she entered upon her office, "remember this: you are to make good tea
for the young men, and see that they have their meals comfortably,
and--you are five-and-thirty, I think you said?--try and make them
talk,--rationally, I am afraid is beyond your or anybody's power; but
make them talk without stammering or giggling. Don't teach Molly too
much: she must sew, and read, and write, and do her sums; but I want
to keep her a child, and if I find more learning desirable for her,
I'll see about giving it to her myself. After all, I'm not sure that
reading or writing is necessary. Many a good woman gets married
with only a cross instead of her name; it's rather a diluting
of mother-wit, to my fancy; but, however, we must yield to the
prejudices of society, Miss Eyre, and so you may teach the child to

Miss Eyre listened in silence, perplexed but determined to be
obedient to the directions of the doctor, whose kindness she and
her family had good cause to know. She made strong tea; she helped
the young men liberally in Mr. Gibson's absence, as well as in his
presence, and she found the way to unloosen their tongues, whenever
their master was away, by talking to them on trivial subjects in her
pleasant homely way. She taught Molly to read and write, but tried
honestly to keep her back in every other branch of education. It was
only by fighting and struggling hard, that bit by bit Molly persuaded
her father to let her have French and drawing lessons. He was always
afraid of her becoming too much educated, though he need not have
been alarmed; the masters who visited such small country towns as
Hollingford forty years ago, were no such great proficients in their
arts. Once a week she joined a dancing class in the assembly-room
at the principal inn in the town: the "George;" and, being daunted
by her father in every intellectual attempt, she read every book
that came in her way, almost with as much delight as if it had been
forbidden. For his station in life, Mr. Gibson had an unusually
good library; the medical portion of it was inaccessible to Molly,
being kept in the surgery, but every other book she had either read,
or tried to read. Her summer place of study was that seat in the
cherry-tree, where she got the green stains on her frock, that have
already been mentioned as likely to wear Betty's life out. In spite
of this "hidden worm i' th' bud," Betty was to all appearance strong,
alert, and flourishing. She was the one crook in Miss Eyre's lot,
who was otherwise so happy in having met with a suitable well-paid
employment just when she needed it most. But Betty, though agreeing
in theory with her master when he told her of the necessity of having
a governess for his little daughter, was vehemently opposed to any
division of her authority and influence over the child who had been
her charge, her plague, and her delight ever since Mrs. Gibson's
death. She took up her position as censor of all Miss Eyre's sayings
and doings from the very first, and did not for a moment condescend
to conceal her disapprobation. In her heart she could not help
respecting the patience and painstaking of the good lady,--for
a "lady" Miss Eyre was in the best sense of the word, though in
Hollingford she only took rank as a shopkeeper's daughter. Yet Betty
buzzed about her with the teasing pertinacity of a gnat, always ready
to find fault, if not to bite. Miss Eyre's only defence came from the
quarter whence it might least have been expected--from her pupil; on
whose fancied behalf, as an oppressed little personage, Betty always
based her attacks. But very early in the day Molly perceived their
injustice, and soon afterwards she began to respect Miss Eyre for her
silent endurance of what evidently gave her far more pain than Betty
imagined. Mr. Gibson had been a friend in need to her family, so Miss
Eyre restrained her complaints, sooner than annoy him. And she had
her reward. Betty would offer Molly all sorts of small temptations to
neglect Miss Eyre's wishes; Molly steadily resisted, and plodded away
at her task of sewing or her difficult sum. Betty made cumbrous jokes
at Miss Eyre's expense; Molly looked up with the utmost gravity, as
if requesting the explanation of an unintelligible speech; and there
is nothing so quenching to a wag as to be asked to translate his
jest into plain matter-of-fact English, and to show wherein the
point lies. Occasionally Betty lost her temper entirely, and spoke
impertinently to Miss Eyre; but when this had been done in Molly's
presence, the girl flew out into such a violent passion of words
in defence of her silent trembling governess, that even Betty
herself was daunted, though she chose to take the child's anger as
a good joke, and tried to persuade Miss Eyre herself to join in her

"Bless the child! one 'ud think I was a hungry pussy-cat, and she
a hen-sparrow, with her wings all fluttering, and her little eyes
aflame, and her beak ready to peck me just because I happened to
look near her nest. Nay, child! if thou lik'st to be stifled in a
nasty close room, learning things as is of no earthly good when they
is learnt, instead o' riding on Job Donkin's hay-cart, it's thy
look-out, not mine. She's a little vixen, isn't she?" smiling at
Miss Eyre, as she finished her speech. But the poor governess saw no
humour in the affair; the comparison of Molly to a hen-sparrow was
lost upon her. She was sensitive and conscientious, and knew, from
home experience, the evils of an ungovernable temper. So she began to
reprove Molly for giving way to her passion, and the child thought
it hard to be blamed for what she considered her just anger against
Betty. But, after all, these were the small grievances of a very
happy childhood.



[Illustration (untitled)]

Molly grew up among these quiet people in calm monotony of life,
without any greater event than that which has been recorded--the
being left behind at the Towers--until she was nearly seventeen. She
had become a visitor at the school, but she had never gone again to
the annual festival at the great house; it was easy to find some
excuse for keeping away, and the recollection of that day was not
a pleasant one on the whole, though she often thought how much she
should like to see the gardens again.

Lady Agnes was married; there was only Lady Harriet remaining at
home; Lord Hollingford, the eldest son, had lost his wife, and was
a good deal more at the Towers since he had become a widower. He
was a tall ungainly man, considered to be as proud as his mother,
the countess; but, in fact, he was only shy, and slow at making
commonplace speeches. He did not know what to say to people whose
daily habits and interests were not the same as his; he would have
been very thankful for a handbook of small-talk, and would have
learnt off his sentences with good-humoured diligence. He often
envied the fluency of his garrulous father, who delighted in talking
to everybody, and was perfectly unconscious of the incoherence of his
conversation. But, owing to his constitutional reserve and shyness,
Lord Hollingford was not a popular man although his kindness of
heart was very great, his simplicity of character extreme, and his
scientific acquirements considerable enough to entitle him to much
reputation in the European republic of learned men. In this respect
Hollingford was proud of him. The inhabitants knew that the great,
grave, clumsy heir to its fealty was highly esteemed for his wisdom;
and that he had made one or two discoveries, though in what direction
they were not quite sure. But it was safe to point him out to
strangers visiting the little town, as "That's Lord Hollingford--the
famous Lord Hollingford, you know; you must have heard of him, he is
so scientific." If the strangers knew his name, they also knew his
claims to fame; if they did not, ten to one but they would make as
if they did, and so conceal not only their own ignorance, but that
of their companions, as to the exact nature of the sources of his

He was left a widower with two or three boys. They were at a public
school; so that their companionship could make the house in which
he had passed his married life but little of a home to him, and he
consequently spent much of his time at the Towers; where his mother
was proud of him, and his father very fond, but ever so little afraid
of him. His friends were always welcomed by Lord and Lady Cumnor; the
former, indeed, was in the habit of welcoming everybody everywhere;
but it was a proof of Lady Cumnor's real affection for her
distinguished son, that she allowed him to ask what she called "all
sorts of people" to the Towers. "All sorts of people" meant really
those who were distinguished for science and learning, without regard
to rank: and it must be confessed, without much regard to polished
manners likewise.

Mr. Hall, Mr. Gibson's predecessor, had always been received with
friendly condescension by my lady, who had found him established as
the family medical man, when first she came to the Towers on her
marriage; but she never thought of interfering with his custom of
taking his meals, if he needed refreshment, in the housekeeper's
room, not _with_ the housekeeper, _bien entendu_. The comfortable,
clever, stout, and red-faced doctor would very much have preferred
this, even if he had had the choice given him (which he never had) of
taking his "snack," as he called it, with my lord and my lady, in the
grand dining-room. Of course, if some great surgical gun (like Sir
Astley) was brought down from London to bear on the family's health,
it was due to him, as well as to the local medical attendant, to ask
Mr. Hall to dinner, in a formal and ceremonious manner, on which
occasions Mr. Hall buried his chin in voluminous folds of white
muslin, put on his black knee-breeches, with bunches of ribbon at
the sides, his silk stockings and buckled shoes, and otherwise made
himself excessively uncomfortable in his attire, and went forth in
state in a post-chaise from the "George," consoling himself in the
private corner of his heart for the discomfort he was enduring with
the idea of how well it would sound the next day in the ears of the
squires whom he was in the habit of attending: "Yesterday at dinner
the earl said," or "the countess remarked," or "I was surprised to
hear when I was dining at the Towers yesterday." But somehow things
had changed since Mr. Gibson had become "the doctor" _par excellence_
at Hollingford. Miss Brownings thought that it was because he had
such an elegant figure, and "such a distinguished manner;" Mrs.
Goodenough, "because of his aristocratic connections"--"the son of a
Scotch duke, my dear, never mind on which side of the blanket." But
the fact was certain; although he might frequently ask Mrs. Brown
to give him something to eat in the housekeeper's room--he had no
time for all the fuss and ceremony of luncheon with my lady--he was
always welcome to the grandest circle of visitors in the house. He
might lunch with a duke any day that he chose; given that a duke was
forthcoming at the Towers. His accent was Scotch, not provincial. He
had not an ounce of superfluous flesh on his bones; and leanness goes
a great way to gentility. His complexion was sallow, and his hair
black; in those days, the decade after the conclusion of the great
continental war, to be sallow and black-a-vised was of itself a
distinction; he was not jovial (as my lord remarked with a sigh, but
it was my lady who endorsed the invitations), sparing of his words,
intelligent, and slightly sarcastic. Therefore he was perfectly

His Scotch blood (for that he was of Scottish descent there could be
no manner of doubt) gave him just the kind of thistly dignity which
made every one feel that they must treat him with respect; so on that
head he was assured. The grandeur of being an invited guest to dinner
at the Towers from time to time, gave him but little pleasure for
many years, but it was a form to be gone through in the way of his
profession, without any idea of social gratification.

But when Lord Hollingford returned to make the Towers his home,
affairs were altered. Mr. Gibson really heard and learnt things that
interested him seriously, and that gave fresh flavour to his reading.
From time to time he met the leaders of the scientific world;
odd-looking, simple-hearted men, very much in earnest about their
own particular subjects, and not having much to say on any other. Mr.
Gibson found himself capable of appreciating such persons, and also
perceived that they valued his appreciation, as it was honestly
and intelligently given. Indeed, by-and-by, he began to send
contributions of his own to the more scientific of the medical
journals, and thus partly in receiving, partly in giving out
information and accurate thought, a new zest was added to his life.
There was not much intercourse between Lord Hollingford and himself;
the one was too silent and shy, the other too busy, to seek each
other's society with the perseverance required to do away with the
social distinction of rank that prevented their frequent meetings.
But each was thoroughly pleased to come into contact with the other.
Each could rely on the other's respect and sympathy with a security
unknown to many who call themselves friends; and this was a source
of happiness to both; to Mr. Gibson the most so, of course; for
his range of intelligent and cultivated society was the smaller.
Indeed, there was no one equal to himself among the men with whom he
associated, and this he had felt as a depressing influence, although
he never recognized the cause of his depression. There was Mr.
Ashton, the vicar, who had succeeded Mr. Browning, a thoroughly good
and kind-hearted man, but one without an original thought in him;
whose habitual courtesy and indolent mind led him to agree to every
opinion, not palpably heterodox, and to utter platitudes in the most
gentlemanly manner. Mr. Gibson had once or twice amused himself, by
leading the vicar on in his agreeable admissions of arguments "as
perfectly convincing," and of statements as "curious but undoubted,"
till he had planted the poor clergyman in a bog of heretical
bewilderment. But then Mr. Ashton's pain and suffering at suddenly
finding out into what a theological predicament he had been brought,
his real self-reproach at his previous admissions, were so great
that Mr. Gibson lost all sense of fun, and hastened back to the
Thirty-nine Articles with all the good-will in life, as the only
means of soothing the vicar's conscience. On any other subject,
except that of orthodoxy, Mr. Gibson could lead him any lengths; but
then his ignorance on most of them prevented bland acquiescence from
arriving at any results which could startle him. He had some private
fortune, and was not married, and lived the life of an indolent and
refined bachelor; but though he himself was no very active visitor
among his poorer parishioners, he was always willing to relieve their
wants in the most liberal, and, considering his habits, occasionally
in the most self-denying manner, whenever Mr. Gibson, or any one
else, made them clearly known to him. "Use my purse as freely as if
it was your own, Gibson," he was wont to say. "I'm such a bad one at
going about and making talk to poor folk--I daresay I don't do enough
in that way--but I am most willing to give you anything for any one
you may consider in want."

"Thank you; I come upon you pretty often, I believe, and make very
little scruple about it; but if you'll allow me to suggest, it is,
that you shouldn't try to make talk when you go into the cottages;
but just talk."

"I don't see the difference," said the vicar, a little querulously;
"but I daresay there is a difference, and I have no doubt what you
say is quite true. I shouldn't make talk, but talk; and as both are
equally difficult to me, you must let me purchase the privilege of
silence by this ten-pound note."

"Thank you. It's not so satisfactory to me; and, I should think, not
to yourself. But probably the Joneses and Greens will prefer it."

Mr. Ashton would look with plaintive inquiry into Mr. Gibson's face
after some such speech, as if asking if a sarcasm was intended. On
the whole, they went on in the most amicable way; only beyond the
gregarious feeling common to most men, they had very little actual
pleasure in each other's society. Perhaps the man of all others
to whom Mr. Gibson took the most kindly--at least, until Lord
Hollingford came into the neighbourhood--was a certain Squire Hamley.
He and his ancestors had been called squire as long back as local
tradition extended. But there was many a greater land-owner in the
county, for Squire Hamley's estate was not more than eight hundred
acres or so. But his family had been in possession of it long before
the Earls of Cumnor had been heard of; before the Hely-Harrisons
had bought Coldstone Park; no one in Hollingford knew the time when
the Hamleys had not lived at Hamley. "Ever since the Heptarchy,"
said the vicar. "Nay," said Miss Browning, "I have heard that there
were Hamleys of Hamley before the Romans." The vicar was preparing
a polite assent, when Mrs. Goodenough came in with a still more
startling assertion. "I have always heerd," said she, with all the
slow authority of an oldest inhabitant, "that there was Hamleys of
Hamley afore the time of the pagans." Mr. Ashton could only bow, and
say, "Possibly, very possibly, madam." But he said it in so courteous
a manner that Mrs. Goodenough looked round in a gratified way, as
much as to say, "The Church confirms my words; who now will dare
dispute them?" At any rate, the Hamleys were a very old family, if
not aborigines. They had not increased their estate for centuries;
they had held their own, if even with an effort, and had not sold
a rood of it for the last hundred years or so. But they were not
an adventurous race. They never traded, or speculated, or tried
agricultural improvements of any kind. They had no capital in any
bank; nor what perhaps would have been more in character, hoards of
gold in any stocking. Their mode of life was simple, and more like
that of yeomen than squires. Indeed Squire Hamley, by continuing the
primitive manners and customs of his forefathers, the squires of the
eighteenth century, did live more as a yeoman, when such a class
existed, than as a squire of this generation. There was a dignity in
this quiet conservatism that gained him an immense amount of respect
both from high and low; and he might have visited at every house
in the county had he so chosen. But he was very indifferent to the
charms of society; and perhaps this was owing to the fact that the
squire, Roger Hamley, who at present lived and reigned at Hamley,
had not received so good an education as he ought to have done.
His father, Squire Stephen, had been plucked at Oxford, and, with
stubborn pride, he had refused to go up again. Nay, more! he had
sworn a great oath, as men did in those days, that none of his
children to come should ever know either university by becoming a
member of it. He had only one child, the present Squire, and he was
brought up according to his father's word; he was sent to a petty
provincial school, where he saw much that he hated, and then turned
loose upon the estate as its heir. Such a bringing up did not do him
all the harm that might have been anticipated. He was imperfectly
educated, and ignorant on many points; but he was aware of his
deficiency, and regretted it in theory. He was awkward and ungainly
in society, and so kept out of it as much as possible; and he was
obstinate, violent-tempered, and dictatorial in his own immediate
circle. On the other side, he was generous, and true as steel; the
very soul of honour, in fact. He had so much natural shrewdness, that
his conversation was always worth listening to, although he was apt
to start by assuming entirely false premises, which he considered
as incontrovertible as if they had been mathematically proved; but,
given the correctness of his premises, nobody could bring more
natural wit and sense to bear upon the arguments based upon them.

He had married a delicate fine London lady; it was one of those
perplexing marriages of which one cannot understand the reasons. Yet
they were very happy, though possibly Mrs. Hamley would not have sunk
into the condition of a chronic invalid, if her husband had cared a
little more for her various tastes, or allowed her the companionship
of those who did. After his marriage he was wont to say he had got
all that was worth having out of the crowd of houses they called
London. It was a compliment to his wife which he repeated until the
year of her death; it charmed her at first, it pleased her up to the
last time of her hearing it; but, for all that, she used sometimes
to wish that he would recognize the fact that there might still be
something worth hearing and seeing in the great city. But he never
went there again, and though he did not prohibit her going, yet he
showed so little sympathy with her when she came back full of what
she had done on her visit that she ceased caring to go. Not but what
he was kind and willing in giving his consent, and in furnishing her
amply with money. "There, there, my little woman, take that! Dress
yourself up as fine as any on 'em, and buy what you like, for the
credit of Hamley of Hamley; and go to the park and the play, and show
off with the best on 'em. I shall be glad to see thee back again, I
know; but have thy fling while thou'rt about it." Then when she came
back it was, "Well, well, it has pleased thee, I suppose, so that's
all right. But the very talking about it tires me, I know, and I
can't think how you have stood it all. Come out and see how pretty
the flowers are looking in the south garden. I've made them sow all
the seeds you like; and I went over to Hollingford nursery to buy the
cuttings of the plants you admired last year. A breath of fresh air
will clear my brain after listening to all this talk about the whirl
of London, which is like to have turned me giddy."

Mrs. Hamley was a great reader, and had considerable literary taste.
She was gentle and sentimental; tender and good. She gave up her
visits to London; she gave up her sociable pleasure in the company
of her fellows in education and position. Her husband, owing to the
deficiencies of his early years, disliked associating with those
to whom he ought to have been an equal; he was too proud to mingle
with his inferiors. He loved his wife all the more dearly for her
sacrifices for him; but, deprived of all her strong interests, she
sank into ill-health; nothing definite; only she never was well.
Perhaps if she had had a daughter it would have been better for her:
but her two children were boys, and their father, anxious to give
them the advantages of which he himself had suffered the deprivation,
sent the lads very early to a preparatory school. They were to go
on to Rugby and Cambridge; the idea of Oxford was hereditarily
distasteful in the Hamley family. Osborne, the eldest--so called
after his mother's maiden name--was full of taste, and had some
talent. His appearance had all the grace and refinement of his
mother's. He was sweet-tempered and affectionate, almost as
demonstrative as a girl. He did well at school, carrying away many
prizes; and was, in a word, the pride and delight of both father and
mother; the confidential friend of the latter, in default of any
other. Roger was two years younger than Osborne; clumsy and heavily
built, like his father; his face was square, and the expression
grave, and rather immobile. He was good, but dull, his schoolmasters
said. He won no prizes, but brought home a favourable report of his
conduct. When he caressed his mother, she used laughingly to allude
to the fable of the lap-dog and the donkey; so thereafter he left
off all personal demonstration of affection. It was a great question
as to whether he was to follow his brother to college after he
left Rugby. Mrs. Hamley thought it would be rather a throwing
away of money, as he was so little likely to distinguish himself
in intellectual pursuits; anything practical--such as a civil
engineer--would be more the kind of life for him. She thought that
it would be too mortifying for him to go to the same college and
university as his brother, who was sure to distinguish himself--and,
to be repeatedly plucked, to come away wooden-spoon at last. But his
father persevered doggedly, as was his wont, in his intention of
giving both his sons the same education; they should both have the
advantages of which he had been deprived. If Roger did not do well at
Cambridge it would be his own fault. If his father did not send him
thither, some day or other he might be regretting the omission, as
the Squire had done himself for many a year. So Roger followed his
brother Osborne to Trinity, and Mrs. Hamley was again left alone,
after the year of indecision as to Roger's destination, which had
been brought on by her urgency. She had not been able for many years
to walk beyond her garden; the greater part of her life was spent on
a sofa, wheeled to the window in summer, to the fireside in winter.
The room which she inhabited was large and pleasant; four tall
windows looked out upon a lawn dotted over with flower-beds, and
melting away into a small wood, in the centre of which there was a
pond, filled with water-lilies. About this unseen pond in the deep
shade Mrs. Hamley had written many a pretty four-versed poem since
she lay on her sofa, alternately reading and composing verse. She had
a small table by her side on which there were the newest works of
poetry and fiction; a pencil and blotting-book, with loose sheets
of blank paper; a vase of flowers always of her husband's gathering;
winter and summer, she had a sweet fresh nosegay every day. Her maid
brought her a draught of medicine every three hours, with a glass of
clear water and a biscuit; her husband came to her as often as his
love for the open air and his labours out-of-doors permitted; but
the event of her day, when her boys were absent, was Mr. Gibson's
frequent professional visits.

He knew there was real secret harm going on all this time that people
spoke of her as a merely fanciful invalid; and that one or two
accused him of humouring her fancies. But he only smiled at such
accusations. He felt that his visits were a real pleasure and
lightening of her growing and indescribable discomfort; he knew that
Squire Hamley would have been only too glad if he had come every day;
and he was conscious that by careful watching of her symptoms he
might mitigate her bodily pain. Besides all these reasons, he took
great pleasure in the Squire's society. Mr. Gibson enjoyed the
other's unreasonableness; his quaintness; his strong conservatism
in religion, politics, and morals. Mrs. Hamley tried sometimes to
apologize for, or to soften away, opinions which she fancied were
offensive to the doctor, or contradictions which she thought too
abrupt; but at such times her husband would lay his great hand almost
caressingly on Mr. Gibson's shoulder, and soothe his wife's anxiety,
by saying, "Let us alone, little woman. We understand each other,
don't we, doctor? Why, bless your life, he gives me better than he
gets many a time; only, you see, he sugars it over, and says a sharp
thing, and pretends it's all civility and humility; but I can tell
when he's giving me a pill."

One of Mrs. Hamley's often-expressed wishes had been, that Molly
might come and pay her a visit. Mr. Gibson always refused this
request of hers, though he could hardly have given his reasons for
these refusals. He did not want to lose the companionship of his
child, in fact; but he put it to himself in quite a different way.
He thought her lessons and her regular course of employment would be
interrupted. The life in Mrs. Hamley's heated and scented room would
not be good for the girl; Osborne and Roger Hamley would be at home,
and he did not wish Molly to be thrown too exclusively upon them for
young society; or they would not be at home, and it would be rather
dull and depressing for his girl to be all the day long with a
nervous invalid.

But at length the day came when Mr. Gibson rode over, and volunteered
a visit from Molly; an offer which Mrs. Hamley received with the
"open arms of her heart," as she expressed it; and of which the
duration was unspecified.

The cause for the change in Mr. Gibson's wishes just referred to
was as follows:--It has been mentioned that he took pupils, rather
against his inclination, it is true; but there they were, a Mr. Wynne
and Mr. Coxe, "the young gentlemen," as they were called in the
household; "Mr. Gibson's young gentlemen," as they were termed in the
town. Mr. Wynne was the elder, the more experienced one, who could
occasionally take his master's place, and who gained experience by
visiting the poor, and the "chronic cases." Mr. Gibson used to talk
over his practice with Mr. Wynne, and try and elicit his opinions in
the vain hope that, some day or another, Mr. Wynne might start an
original thought. The young man was cautious and slow; he would never
do any harm by his rashness, but at the same time he would always be
a little behind his day. Still Mr. Gibson remembered that he had had
far worse "young gentlemen" to deal with; and was content with, if
not thankful for, such an elder pupil as Mr. Wynne. Mr. Coxe was a
boy of nineteen or so, with brilliant red hair, and a tolerably red
face, of both of which he was very conscious and much ashamed. He was
the son of an Indian officer, an old acquaintance of Mr. Gibson's.
Major Coxe was at some unpronounceable station in the Punjaub, at the
present time; but the year before he had been in England, and had
repeatedly expressed his great satisfaction at having placed his only
child as a pupil to his old friend, and had in fact almost charged
Mr. Gibson with the guardianship as well as the instruction of his
boy, giving him many injunctions which he thought were special in
this case; but which Mr. Gibson with a touch of annoyance assured the
major were always attended to in every case, with every pupil. But
when the poor major ventured to beg that his boy might be considered
as one of the family, and that he might spend his evenings in the
drawing-room instead of the surgery, Mr. Gibson turned upon him with
a direct refusal.

"He must live like the others. I can't have the pestle and mortar
carried into the drawing-room, and the place smelling of aloes."

"Must my boy make pills himself, then?" asked the major, ruefully.

"To be sure. The youngest apprentice always does. It's not hard
work. He'll have the comfort of thinking he won't have to swallow
them himself. And he'll have the run of the pomfret cakes, and the
conserve of hips, and on Sundays he shall have a taste of tamarinds
to reward him for his weekly labour at pill-making."

Major Coxe was not quite sure whether Mr. Gibson was not laughing
at him in his sleeve; but things were so far arranged, and the real
advantages were so great, that he thought it was best to take no
notice, but even to submit to the indignity of pill-making. He was
consoled for all these rubs by Mr. Gibson's manner at last when the
supreme moment of final parting arrived. The doctor did not say much;
but there was something of real sympathy in his manner that spoke
straight to the father's heart, and an implied "you have trusted me
with your boy, and I have accepted the trust in full," in each of the
few last words.

Mr. Gibson knew his business and human nature too well to distinguish
young Coxe by any overt marks of favouritism; but he could not help
showing the lad occasionally that he regarded him with especial
interest as the son of a friend. Besides this claim upon his regard,
there was something about the young man himself that pleased Mr.
Gibson. He was rash and impulsive, apt to speak, hitting the nail on
the head sometimes with unconscious cleverness, at other times making
gross and startling blunders. Mr. Gibson used to tell him that his
motto would always be "kill or cure," and to this Mr. Coxe once made
answer that he thought it was the best motto a doctor could have; for
if he could not cure the patient, it was surely best to get him out
of his misery quietly, and at once. Mr. Wynne looked up in surprise,
and observed that he should be afraid that such putting out of misery
might be looked upon as homicide by some people. Mr. Gibson said
in a dry tone, that for his part he should not mind the imputation
of homicide, but that it would not do to make away with profitable
patients in so speedy a manner; and that he thought that as long as
they were willing and able to pay two-and-sixpence for the doctor's
visit, it was his duty to keep them alive; of course, when they
became paupers the case was different. Mr. Wynne pondered over this
speech; Mr. Coxe only laughed. At last Mr. Wynne said,--

"But you go every morning, sir, before breakfast to see old Nancy
Grant, and you've ordered her this medicine, sir, which is about the
most costly in Corbyn's bill?"

"Have you not found out how difficult it is for men to live up to
their precepts? You've a great deal to learn yet, Mr. Wynne!" said
Mr. Gibson, leaving the surgery as he spoke.

"I never can make the governor out," said Mr. Wynne, in a tone of
utter despair. "What are you laughing at, Coxey?"

"Oh! I'm thinking how blest you are in having parents who have
instilled moral principles into your youthful bosom. You'd go and be
poisoning all the paupers off, if you hadn't been told that murder
was a crime by your mother; you'd be thinking you were doing as you
were bid, and quote old Gibson's words when you came to be tried.
'Please, my lord judge, they were not able to pay for my visits, and
so I followed the rules of the profession as taught me by Mr. Gibson,
the great surgeon at Hollingford, and poisoned the paupers.'"

"I can't bear that scoffing way of his."

"And I like it. If it wasn't for the governor's fun, and the
tamarinds, and something else that I know of, I would run off to
India. I hate stifling rooms, and sick people, and the smell of
drugs, and the stink of pills on my hands;--faugh!"



One day, for some reason or other, Mr. Gibson came home unexpectedly.
He was crossing the hall, having come in by the garden-door--the
garden communicated with the stable-yard, where he had left his
horse--when the kitchen door opened, and the girl who was underling
in the establishment, came quickly into the hall with a note in her
hand, and made as if she was taking it upstairs; but on seeing her
master she gave a little start, and turned back as if to hide herself
in the kitchen. If she had not made this movement, so conscious of
guilt, Mr. Gibson, who was anything but suspicious, would never have
taken any notice of her. As it was, he stepped quickly forwards,
opened the kitchen door, and called out "Bethia" so sharply that she
could not delay coming forwards.

"Give me that note," he said. She hesitated a little.

"It's for Miss Molly," she stammered out.

"Give it to me!" he repeated more quickly than before. She looked as
if she would cry; but still she kept the note tight held behind her

"He said as I was to give it into her own hands; and I promised as I
would, faithful."

"Cook, go and find Miss Molly. Tell her to come here at once."

He fixed Bethia with his eyes. It was of no use trying to escape: she
might have thrown it into the fire, but she had not presence of mind
enough. She stood immovable, only her eyes looked any way rather than
encounter her master's steady gaze. "Molly, my dear!"

"Papa! I did not know you were at home," said innocent, wondering

"Bethia, keep your word. Here is Miss Molly; give her the note."

"Indeed, miss, I couldn't help it!"

Molly took the note, but before she could open it, her father
said,--"That's all, my dear; you needn't read it. Give it to me. Tell
those who sent you, Bethia, that all letters for Miss Molly must pass
through my hands. Now be off with you, goosey, and go back to where
you came from."

[Illustration: A LOVE LETTER.]

"Papa, I shall make you tell me who my correspondent is."

"We'll see about that, by-and-by."

She went a little reluctantly, with ungratified curiosity, upstairs
to Miss Eyre, who was still her daily companion, if not her
governess. He turned into the empty dining-room, shut the door,
broke the seal of the note, and began to read it. It was a flaming
love-letter from Mr. Coxe; who professed himself unable to go on
seeing her day after day without speaking to her of the passion she
had inspired--an "eternal passion," he called it; on reading which
Mr. Gibson laughed a little. Would she not look kindly at him? would
she not think of him whose only thought was of her? and so on, with a
very proper admixture of violent compliments to her beauty. She was
fair, not pale; her eyes were loadstars, her dimples marks of Cupid's
finger, &c.

Mr. Gibson finished reading it; and began to think about it in his
own mind. "Who would have thought the lad had been so poetical? but,
to be sure, there's a 'Shakspeare' in the surgery library: I'll take
it away and put 'Johnson's Dictionary' instead. One comfort is the
conviction of her perfect innocence--ignorance, I should rather
say--for it's easy to see it's the first 'confession of his love,' as
he calls it. But it's an awful worry--to begin with lovers so early.
Why, she's only just seventeen,--not seventeen, indeed, till July;
not for six weeks yet. Sixteen and three-quarters! Why, she's quite
a baby. To be sure--poor Jeanie was not so old, and how I did love
her!" (Mrs. Gibson's name was Mary, so he must have been referring to
some one else.) Then his thoughts wandered back to other days, though
he still held the open note in his hand. By-and-by his eyes fell upon
it again, and his mind came back to bear upon the present time. "I'll
not be hard upon him. I'll give him a hint; he's quite sharp enough
to take it. Poor laddie! if I send him away, which would be the
wisest course, I do believe he's got no home to go to."

After a little more consideration in the same strain, Mr. Gibson went
and sat down at the writing-table and wrote the following formula:--

   _Master Coxe._

("That 'master' will touch him to the quick," said Mr. Gibson to
himself as he wrote the word.)

   Rx. Verecundiæ i oz.
       Fidelitatis Domesticæ i oz.
       Reticentiæ gr. iij.
   M.  Capiat hanc dosim ter die in aquâ purâ.

   R. GIBSON, _Ch._

Mr. Gibson smiled a little sadly as he re-read his words. "Poor
Jeanie," he said aloud. And then he chose out an envelope, enclosed
the fervid love-letter, and the above prescription; sealed it with
his own sharply-cut seal-ring, R. G., in old English letters, and
then paused over the address.

"He'll not like _Master Coxe_ outside; no need to put him to
unnecessary shame." So the direction on the envelope was--

   _Edward Coxe, Esq._

Then Mr. Gibson applied himself to the professional business which
had brought him home so opportunely and unexpectedly, and afterwards
he went back through the garden to the stables; and just as he had
mounted his horse, he said to the stable-man,--"Oh! by the way,
here's a letter for Mr. Coxe. Don't send it through the women; take
it round yourself to the surgery-door, and do it at once."

The slight smile upon his face, as he rode out of the gates, died
away as soon as he found himself in the solitude of the lanes. He
slackened his speed, and began to think. It was very awkward, he
considered, to have a motherless girl growing up into womanhood in
the same house with two young men, even if she only met them at
meal-times; and all the intercourse they had with each other was
merely the utterance of such words as, "May I help you to potatoes?"
or, as Mr. Wynne would persevere in saying, "May I assist you to
potatoes?"--a form of speech which grated daily more and more upon
Mr. Gibson's ears. Yet Mr. Coxe, the offender in this affair which
had just occurred, had to remain for three years more as a pupil in
Mr. Gibson's family. He should be the very last of the race. Still
there were three years to be got over; and if this stupid passionate
calf-love of his lasted, what was to be done? Sooner or later Molly
would become aware of it. The contingencies of the affair were so
excessively disagreeable to contemplate, that Mr. Gibson determined
to dismiss the subject from his mind by a good strong effort. He
put his horse to a gallop, and found that the violent shaking over
the lanes--paved as they were with round stones, which had been
dislocated by the wear and tear of a hundred years--was the very best
thing for the spirits, if not for the bones. He made a long round
that afternoon, and came back to his home imagining that the worst
was over, and that Mr. Coxe would have taken the hint conveyed in
the prescription. All that would be needed was to find a safe place
for the unfortunate Bethia, who had displayed such a daring aptitude
for intrigue. But Mr. Gibson reckoned without his host. It was the
habit of the young men to come in to tea with the family in the
dining-room, to swallow two cups, munch their bread or toast, and
then disappear. This night Mr. Gibson watched their countenances
furtively from under his long eye-lashes, while he tried against his
wont to keep up a dégagé manner, and a brisk conversation on general
subjects. He saw that Mr. Wynne was on the point of breaking out
into laughter, and that red-haired, red-faced Mr. Coxe was redder
and fiercer than ever, while his whole aspect and ways betrayed
indignation and anger.

"He will have it, will he?" thought Mr. Gibson to himself; and he
girded up his loins for the battle. He did not follow Molly and Miss
Eyre into the drawing-room as he usually did. He remained where he
was, pretending to read the newspaper, while Bethia, her face swelled
up with crying, and with an aggrieved and offended aspect, removed
the tea-things. Not five minutes after the room was cleared, came
the expected tap at the door. "May I speak to you, sir?" said the
invisible Mr. Coxe, from outside.

"To be sure. Come in, Mr. Coxe. I was rather wanting to talk to you
about that bill of Corbyn's. Pray sit down."

"It is about nothing of that kind, sir, that I wanted--that I
wished--No, thank you--I would rather not sit down." He, accordingly,
stood in offended dignity. "It is about that letter, sir--that letter
with the insulting prescription, sir."

"Insulting prescription! I am surprised at such a word being applied
to any prescription of mine--though, to be sure, patients are
sometimes offended at being told the nature of their illnesses; and,
I daresay, they may take offence at the medicines which their cases

"I did not ask you to prescribe for me."

"Oh, ho! Then you were the Master Coxe who sent the note through
Bethia! Let me tell you it has cost her her place, and was a very
silly letter into the bargain."

"It was not the conduct of a gentleman, sir, to intercept it, and to
open it, and to read words never addressed to you, sir."

"No!" said Mr. Gibson, with a slight twinkle in his eye and a curl on
his lips, not unnoticed by the indignant Mr. Coxe. "I believe I was
once considered tolerably good-looking, and I daresay I was as great
a coxcomb as any one at twenty; but I don't think that even then I
should quite have believed that all those pretty compliments were
addressed to myself."

"It was not the conduct of a gentleman, sir," repeated Mr. Coxe,
stammering over his words--he was going on to say something more,
when Mr. Gibson broke in,--

"And let me tell you, young man," replied Mr. Gibson, with a sudden
sternness in his voice, "that what you have done is only excusable
in consideration of your youth and extreme ignorance of what are
considered the laws of domestic honour. I receive you into my house
as a member of my family--you induce one of my servants--corrupting
her with a bribe, I have no doubt--"

"Indeed, sir! I never gave her a penny."

"Then you ought to have done. You should always pay those who do your
dirty work."

"Just now, sir, you called it corrupting with a bribe," muttered Mr.

Mr. Gibson took no notice of this speech, but went on--"Inducing one
of my servants to risk her place, without offering her the slightest
equivalent, by begging her to convey a letter clandestinely to my
daughter--a mere child."

"Miss Gibson, sir, is nearly seventeen! I heard you say so only the
other day," said Mr. Coxe, aged twenty. Again Mr. Gibson ignored the

"A letter which you were unwilling to have seen by her father, who
had tacitly trusted to your honour, by receiving you as an inmate of
his house. Your father's son--I know Major Coxe well--ought to have
come to me, and have said out openly, 'Mr. Gibson, I love--or I fancy
that I love--your daughter; I do not think it right to conceal this
from you, although unable to earn a penny; and with no prospect of an
unassisted livelihood, even for myself, for several years, I shall
not say a word about my feelings--or fancied feelings--to the very
young lady herself.' That is what your father's son ought to have
said; if, indeed, a couple of grains of reticent silence wouldn't
have been better still."

"And if I had said it, sir--perhaps I ought to have said it," said
Mr. Coxe, in a hurry of anxiety, "what would have been your answer?
Would you have sanctioned my passion, sir?"

"I would have said, most probably--I will not be certain of my exact
words in a suppositional case--that you were a young fool, but not
a dishonourable young fool, and I should have told you not to let
your thoughts run upon a calf-love until you had magnified it into
a passion. And I daresay, to make up for the mortification I should
have given you, I might have prescribed your joining the Hollingford
Cricket Club, and set you at liberty as often as I could on the
Saturday afternoons. As it is, I must write to your father's agent in
London, and ask him to remove you out of my household, repaying the
premium, of course, which will enable you to start afresh in some
other doctor's surgery."

"It will so grieve my father," said Mr. Coxe, startled into dismay,
if not repentance.

"I see no other course open. It will give Major Coxe some trouble
(I shall take care that he is at no extra expense), but what I think
will grieve him the most is the betrayal of confidence; for I trusted
you, Edward, like a son of my own!" There was something in Mr.
Gibson's voice when he spoke seriously, especially when he referred
to any feeling of his own--he who so rarely betrayed what was passing
in his heart--that was irresistible to most people: the change from
joking and sarcasm to tender gravity.

Mr. Coxe hung his head a little, and meditated.

"I do love Miss Gibson," said he, at length. "Who could help it?"

"Mr. Wynne, I hope!" said Mr. Gibson.

"His heart is pre-engaged," replied Mr. Coxe. "Mine was free as air
till I saw her."

"Would it tend to cure your--well! passion, we'll say--if she wore
blue spectacles at meal-times? I observe you dwell much on the beauty
of her eyes."

"You are ridiculing my feelings, Mr. Gibson. Do you forget that you
yourself were young once?"

"Poor Jeanie" rose before Mr. Gibson's eyes; and he felt a little

"Come, Mr. Coxe, let us see if we can't make a bargain," said he,
after a minute or so of silence. "You have done a really wrong thing,
and I hope you are convinced of it in your heart, or that you will
be when the heat of this discussion is over, and you come to think a
little about it. But I won't lose all respect for your father's son.
If you will give me your word that, as long as you remain a member of
my family--pupil, apprentice, what you will--you won't again try to
disclose your passion--you see I am careful to take your view of what
I should call a mere fancy--by word or writing, looks or acts, in any
manner whatever, to my daughter, or to talk about your feelings to
any one else, you shall remain here. If you cannot give me your word,
I must follow out the course I named, and write to your father's

Mr. Coxe stood irresolute.

"Mr. Wynne knows all I feel for Miss Gibson, sir. He and I have no
secrets from each other."

"Well, I suppose he must represent the reeds. You know the story of
King Midas's barber, who found out that his royal master had the ears
of an ass beneath his hyacinthine curls. So the barber, in default
of a Mr. Wynne, went to the reeds that grew on the shores of a
neighbouring lake, and whispered to them, 'King Midas has the ears of
an ass.' But he repeated it so often that the reeds learnt the words,
and kept on saying them all day long, till at last the secret was no
secret at all. If you keep on telling your tale to Mr. Wynne, are you
sure he won't repeat it in his turn?"

"If I pledge my word as a gentleman, sir, I pledge it for Mr. Wynne
as well."

"I suppose I must run the risk. But remember how soon a young girl's
name may be breathed upon, and sullied. Molly has no mother, and for
that very reason she ought to move among you all, as unharmed as Una

"Mr. Gibson, if you wish it, I'll swear it on the Bible," cried the
excitable young man.

"Nonsense. As if your word, if it's worth anything, wasn't enough!
We'll shake hands upon it, if you like."

Mr. Coxe came forward eagerly, and almost squeezed Mr. Gibson's ring
into his finger.

As he was leaving the room, he said, a little uneasily, "May I give
Bethia a crown-piece?"

"No, indeed! Leave Bethia to me. I hope you won't say another word to
her while she's here. I shall see that she gets a respectable place
when she goes away."

Then Mr. Gibson rang for his horse, and went out on the last visits
of the day. He used to reckon that he rode the world around in the
course of the year. There were not many surgeons in the county who
had so wide a range of practice as he; he went to lonely cottages on
the borders of great commons; to farm-houses at the end of narrow
country lanes that led to nowhere else, and were overshadowed by the
elms and beeches overhead. He attended all the gentry within a circle
of fifteen miles round Hollingford; and was the appointed doctor to
the still greater families who went up to London every February--as
the fashion then was--and returned to their acres in the early weeks
of July. He was, of necessity, a great deal from home, and on this
soft and pleasant summer evening he felt the absence as a great evil.
He was startled at discovering that his little one was growing fast
into a woman, and already the passive object of some of the strong
interests that affect a woman's life; and he--her mother as well as
her father--so much away that he could not guard her as he would
have wished. The end of his cogitations was that ride to Hamley the
next morning, when he proposed to allow his daughter to accept Mrs.
Hamley's last invitation--an invitation that had been declined at the

"You may quote against me the proverb, 'He that will not when he
may, when he will he shall have nay.' And I shall have no reason to
complain," he had said.

But Mrs. Hamley was only too much charmed with the prospect of having
a young girl for a visitor; one whom it would not be a trouble to
entertain; who might be sent out to ramble in the gardens, or told
to read when the invalid was too much fatigued for conversation; and
yet one whose youth and freshness would bring a charm, like a waft
of sweet summer air, into her lonely shut-up life. Nothing could be
pleasanter, and so Molly's visit to Hamley was easily settled.

"I only wish Osborne and Roger had been at home," said Mrs. Hamley,
in her low soft voice. "She may find it dull, being with old people,
like the squire and me, from morning till night. When can she come?
the darling--I am beginning to love her already!"

Mr. Gibson was very glad in his heart that the young men of the house
were out of the way; he did not want his little Molly to be passing
from Scylla to Charybdis; and, as he afterwards scoffed at himself
for thinking, he had got an idea that all young men were wolves in
chase of his one ewe-lamb.

"She knows nothing of the pleasure in store for her," he replied;
"and I'm sure I don't know what feminine preparations she may think
necessary, or how long they may take. You'll remember she is a little
ignoramus, and has had no ... training in etiquette; our ways at
home are rather rough for a girl, I'm afraid. But I know I could not
send her into a kinder atmosphere than this."

When the Squire heard from his wife of Mr. Gibson's proposal, he was
as much pleased as she at the prospect of their youthful visitor;
for he was a man of a hearty hospitality, when his pride did not
interfere with its gratification; and he was delighted to think of
his sick wife's having such an agreeable companion in her hours of
loneliness. After a while he said,--"It's as well the lads are at
Cambridge; we might have been having a love-affair if they had been
at home."

"Well--and if we had?" asked his more romantic wife.

"It wouldn't have done," said the Squire, decidedly. "Osborne
will have had a first-rate education--as good as any man in the
county--he'll have this property, and he's a Hamley of Hamley; not a
family in the shire is as old as we are, or settled on their ground
so well. Osborne may marry where he likes. If Lord Hollingford had a
daughter, Osborne would have been as good a match as she could have
required. It would never do for him to fall in love with Gibson's
daughter--I shouldn't allow it. So it's as well he's out of the way."

"Well! perhaps Osborne had better look higher."

"Perhaps! I say he must." The Squire brought his hand down with a
thump on the table, near him, which made his wife's heart beat hard
for some minutes. "And as for Roger," he continued, unconscious of
the flutter he had put her into, "he'll have to make his own way,
and earn his own bread; and, I'm afraid, he's not getting on very
brilliantly at Cambridge. He mustn't think of falling in love for
these ten years."

"Unless he marries a fortune," said Mrs. Hamley, more by way of
concealing her palpitation than anything else; for she was unworldly
and romantic to a fault.

"No son of mine shall ever marry a wife who is richer than himself
with my good will," said the Squire again, with emphasis, but without
a thump.

"I don't say but what if Roger is gaining five hundred a year by
the time he's thirty, he shall not choose a wife with ten thousand
pounds down; but I do say, if a boy of mine, with only two hundred a
year--which is all Roger will have from us, and that not for a long
time--goes and marries a woman with fifty thousand to her portion,
I'll disown him--it would be just disgusting."

"Not if they loved each other, and their whole happiness depended
upon their marrying each other," put in Mrs. Hamley, mildly.

"Pooh! away with love! Nay, my dear, we loved each other so dearly
we should never have been happy with any one else; but that's a
different thing. People aren't like what they were when we were
young. All the love nowadays is just silly fancy, and sentimental
romance, as far as I can see."

Mr. Gibson thought that he had settled everything about Molly's going
to Hamley before he spoke to her about it, which he did not do, until
the morning of the day on which Mrs. Hamley expected her. Then he
said,--"By the way, Molly! you're to go to Hamley this afternoon;
Mrs. Hamley wants you to go to her for a week or two, and it suits me
capitally that you should accept her invitation just now."

"Go to Hamley! This afternoon! Papa, you've got some odd reason at
the back of your head--some mystery, or something. Please, tell me
what it is. Go to Hamley for a week or two! Why, I never was from
home before this without you in all my life."

"Perhaps not. I don't think you ever walked before you put your feet
to the ground. Everything must have a beginning."

"It has something to do with that letter that was directed to me, but
that you took out of my hands before I could even see the writing of
the direction." She fixed her grey eyes on her father's face, as if
she meant to pluck out his secret.

He only smiled and said,--"You're a witch, goosey!"

"Then it had! But if it was a note from Mrs. Hamley, why might I
not see it? I have been wondering if you had some plan in your head
ever since that day.--Thursday, wasn't it? You've gone about in a
kind of thoughtful, perplexed way, just like a conspirator. Tell me,
papa"--coming up to him, and putting on a beseeching manner--"why
mightn't I see that note? and why am I to go to Hamley all on a

"Don't you like to go? Would you rather not?" If she had said that
she did not want to go he would have been rather pleased than
otherwise, although it would have put him into a great perplexity;
but he was beginning to dread the parting from her even for so short
a time. However, she replied directly,--

"I don't know--I daresay I shall like it when I have thought a little
more about it. Just now I'm so startled by the suddenness of the
affair, I haven't considered whether I shall like it or not. I shan't
like going away from you, I know. Why am I to go, papa?"

"There are three old ladies sitting somewhere, and thinking about
you just at this very minute; one has a distaff in her hands, and is
spinning a thread; she has come to a knot in it, and is puzzled what
to do with it. Her sister has a great pair of scissors in her hands,
and wants--as she always does, when any difficulty arises in the
smoothness of the thread--to cut it off short; but the third, who has
the most head of the three, plans how to undo the knot; and she it is
who has decided that you are to go to Hamley. The others are quite
convinced by her arguments; so, as the Fates have decreed that this
visit is to be paid, there is nothing left for you and me but to

"That's all nonsense, papa, and you're only making me more curious to
find out this hidden reason."

Mr. Gibson changed his tone, and spoke gravely now. "There is a
reason, Molly, and one which I do not wish to give. When I tell you
this much, I expect you to be an honourable girl, and to try and not
even conjecture what the reason may be,--much less endeavour to put
little discoveries together till very likely you may find out what I
want to conceal."

"Papa, I won't even think about your reason again. But then I shall
have to plague you with another question. I've had no new gown this
year, and I've outgrown all my last summer frocks. I've only three
that I can wear at all. Betty was saying only yesterday that I ought
to have some more."

"That'll do that you have got on, won't it? It's a very pretty

"Yes; but, papa" (holding it out as if she was going to dance), "it's
made of woollen, and so hot and heavy; and every day it will be
getting warmer."

"I wish girls could dress like boys," said Mr. Gibson, with a little
impatience. "How is a man to know when his daughter wants clothes?
and how is he to rig her out when he finds it out, just when she
needs them most and hasn't got them?"

"Ah, that's the question!" said Molly, in some despair.

"Can't you go to Miss Rose's? Doesn't she keep ready-made frocks for
girls of your age?"

"Miss Rose! I never had anything from her in my life," replied Molly,
in some surprise; for Miss Rose was the great dressmaker and milliner
of the little town, and hitherto Betty had made the girl's frocks.

"Well, but it seems people consider you as a young woman now, and
so I suppose you must run up milliners' bills like the rest of your
kind. Not that you're to get anything anywhere that you can't pay for
down in ready money. Here's a ten-pound note; go to Miss Rose's, or
Miss anybody's, and get what you want at once. The Hamley carriage
is to come for you at two, and anything that isn't quite ready, can
easily be sent by their cart on Saturday, when some of their people
always come to market. Nay, don't thank me! I don't want to have the
money spent, and I don't want you to go and leave me: I shall miss
you, I know; it's only hard necessity that drives me to send you
a-visiting, and to throw away ten pounds on your clothes. There, go
away; you're a plague, and I mean to leave off loving you as fast as
I can."

"Papa!" holding up her finger as in warning, "you're getting
mysterious again; and though my honourableness is very strong, I
won't promise that it shall not yield to my curiosity if you go on
hinting at untold secrets."

"Go away and spend your ten pounds. What did I give it you for but to
keep you quiet?"

Miss Rose's ready-made resources and Molly's taste combined, did not
arrive at a very great success. She bought a lilac print, because
it would wash, and would be cool and pleasant for the mornings; and
this Betty could make at home before Saturday. And for high-days and
holidays--by which was understood afternoons and Sundays--Miss Rose
persuaded her to order a gay-coloured flimsy plaid silk, which she
assured her was quite the latest fashion in London, and which Molly
thought would please her father's Scotch blood. But when he saw the
scrap which she had brought home as a pattern, he cried out that the
plaid belonged to no clan in existence, and that Molly ought to have
known this by instinct. It was too late to change it, however, for
Miss Rose had promised to cut the dress out as soon as Molly left her

Mr. Gibson had hung about the town all the morning instead of going
away on his usual distant rides. He passed his daughter once or twice
in the street, but he did not cross over when he was on the opposite
side--only gave her a look or a nod, and went on his way, scolding
himself for his weakness in feeling so much pain at the thought of
her absence for a fortnight or so.

"And, after all," thought he, "I'm only where I was when she comes
back; at least, if that foolish fellow goes on with his imaginating
fancy. She'll have to come back some time, and if he chooses to
imagine himself constant, there's still the devil to pay." Presently
he began to hum the air out of the "Beggar's Opera"--

   I wonder any man alive
     Should ever rear a daughter.



Of course the news of Miss Gibson's approaching departure had spread
through the household before the one o'clock dinner-time came; and
Mr. Coxe's dismal countenance was a source of much inward irritation
to Mr. Gibson, who kept giving the youth sharp glances of savage
reproof for his melancholy face, and want of appetite; which he
trotted out, with a good deal of sad ostentation; all of which was
lost upon Molly, who was too full of her own personal concerns to
have any thought or observation to spare from them, excepting once or
twice when she thought of the many days that must pass over before
she should again sit down to dinner with her father.

When she named this to him after the meal was over, and they were
sitting together in the drawing-room, waiting for the sound of the
wheels of the Hamley carriage, he laughed, and said,--

"I'm coming over to-morrow to see Mrs. Hamley; and I daresay I shall
dine at their lunch; so you won't have to wait long before you've the
treat of seeing the wild beast feed."

Then they heard the approaching carriage.

"Oh, papa," said Molly, catching at his hand, "I do so wish I wasn't
going, now that the time is come."

"Nonsense; don't let us have any sentiment. Have you got your keys?
that's more to the purpose."

Yes; she had got her keys, and her purse; and her little box was
put up on the seat by the coachman; and her father handed her in;
the door was shut, and she drove away in solitary grandeur, looking
back and kissing her hand to her father, who stood at the gate, in
spite of his dislike of sentiment, as long as the carriage could
be seen. Then he turned into the surgery, and found Mr. Coxe had
had his watching too, and had, indeed, remained at the window
gazing, moonstruck, at the empty road, up which the young lady had
disappeared. Mr. Gibson startled him from his reverie by a sharp,
almost venomous, speech about some small neglect of duty a day or two
before. That night Mr. Gibson insisted on passing by the bedside of a
poor girl whose parents were worn-out by many wakeful anxious nights
succeeding to hard-working days.

Molly cried a little, but checked her tears as soon as she remembered
how annoyed her father would have been at the sight of them. It
was very pleasant driving quickly along in the luxurious carriage,
through the pretty green lanes, with dog-roses and honeysuckles so
plentiful and rathe in the hedges, that she once or twice was tempted
to ask the coachman to stop till she had gathered a nosegay. She
began to dread the end of her little journey of seven miles; the only
drawback to which was, that her silk was not a true clan-tartan, and
a little uncertainty as to Miss Rose's punctuality. At length they
came to a village; straggling cottages lined the road, an old church
stood on a kind of green, with the public-house close by it; there
was a great tree, with a bench all round the trunk, midway between
the church gates and the little inn. The wooden stocks were close to
the gates. Molly had long passed the limit of her rides, but she knew
this must be the village of Hamley, and that they must be very near
to the hall.

They swung in at the gates of the park in a few minutes, and drove up
through meadow-grass, ripening for hay,--it was no grand aristocratic
deer-park this--to the old red-brick hall; not three hundred yards
from the high-road. There had been no footman sent with the carriage,
but a respectable servant stood at the door, even before they drew
up, ready to receive the expected visitor, and take her into the
drawing-room where his mistress lay awaiting her.

Mrs. Hamley rose from her sofa to give Molly a gentle welcome; she
kept the girl's hand in hers after she had finished speaking, looking
into her face, as if studying it, and unconscious of the faint blush
she called up on the otherwise colourless cheeks.

"I think we shall be great friends," said she, at length. "I like
your face, and I am always guided by first impressions. Give me a
kiss, my dear."

It was far easier to be active than passive during this process of
"swearing eternal friendship," and Molly willingly kissed the sweet
pale face held up to her.

"I meant to have gone and fetched you myself; but the heat oppresses
me, and I did not feel up to the exertion. I hope you had a pleasant

"Very," said Molly, with shy conciseness.

"And now I will take you to your room; I have had you put close to
me; I thought you would like it better, even though it was a smaller
room than the other."

She rose languidly, and wrapping her light shawl round her yet
elegant figure, led the way upstairs. Molly's bedroom opened
out of Mrs. Hamley's private sitting-room; on the other side of
which was her own bedroom. She showed Molly this easy means of
communication, and then, telling her visitor she would await her in
the sitting-room, she closed the door, and Molly was left at leisure
to make acquaintance with her surroundings.

First of all, she went to the window to see what was to be seen.
A flower-garden right below; a meadow of ripe grass just beyond,
changing colour in long sweeps, as the soft wind blew over it; great
old forest-trees a little on one side; and, beyond them again, to be
seen only by standing very close to the side of the window-sill, or
by putting her head out, if the window was open, the silver shimmer
of a mere, about a quarter of a mile off. On the opposite side to the
trees and the mere, the look-out was bounded by the old walls and
high-peaked roofs of the extensive farm-buildings. The deliciousness
of the early summer silence was only broken by the song of the birds,
and the nearer hum of bees. Listening to these sounds, which enhanced
the exquisite sense of stillness, and puzzling out objects obscured
by distance or shadow, Molly forgot herself, and was suddenly
startled into a sense of the present by a sound of voices in the
next room--some servant or other speaking to Mrs. Hamley. Molly
hurried to unpack her box, and arrange her few clothes in the
pretty old-fashioned chest of drawers, which was to serve her
as dressing-table as well. All the furniture in the room was as
old-fashioned and as well-preserved as it could be. The chintz
curtains were Indian calico of the last century--the colours almost
washed out, but the stuff itself exquisitely clean. There was a
little strip of bedside carpeting, but the wooden flooring, thus
liberally displayed, was of finely-grained oak, so firmly joined,
plank to plank, that no grain of dust could make its way into the
interstices. There were none of the luxuries of modern days; no
writing-table, or sofa, or pier-glass. In one corner of the walls was
a bracket, holding an Indian jar filled with pot-pourri; and that and
the climbing honeysuckle outside the open window scented the room
more exquisitely than any toilette perfumes. Molly laid out her white
gown (of last year's date and size) upon the bed, ready for the (to
her new) operation of dressing for dinner, and having arranged her
hair and dress, and taken out her company worsted-work, she opened
the door softly, and saw Mrs. Hamley lying on the sofa.

"Shall we stay up here, my dear? I think it is pleasanter than
down below; and then I shall not have to come upstairs again at

"I shall like it very much," replied Molly.

"Ah! you've got your sewing, like a good girl," said Mrs. Hamley.
"Now, I don't sew much. I live alone a great deal. You see, both
my boys are at Cambridge, and the squire is out of doors all day
long--so I have almost forgotten how to sew. I read a great deal. Do
you like reading?"

"It depends upon the kind of book," said Molly. "I'm afraid I don't
like 'steady reading,' as papa calls it."

"But you like poetry!" said Mrs. Hamley, almost interrupting Molly.
"I was sure you did, from your face. Have you read this last poem of
Mrs. Hemans? Shall I read it aloud to you?"

So she began. Molly was not so much absorbed in listening but that
she could glance round the room. The character of the furniture was
much the same as in her own. Old-fashioned, of handsome material,
and faultlessly clean, the age and the foreign appearance of it gave
an aspect of comfort and picturesqueness to the whole apartment. On
the walls there hung some crayon sketches--portraits. She thought
she could make out that one of them was a likeness of Mrs. Hamley,
in her beautiful youth. And then she became interested in the poem,
and dropped her work, and listened in a manner that was after Mrs.
Hamley's own heart. When the reading of the poem was ended, Mrs.
Hamley replied to some of Molly's words of admiration, by saying:

"Ah! I think I must read you some of Osborne's poetry some day; under
seal of secrecy, remember; but I really fancy they are almost as good
as Mrs. Hemans'."

To be nearly as good as Mrs. Hemans' was saying as much to the young
ladies of that day, as saying that poetry is nearly as good as
Tennyson's would be in this. Molly looked up with eager interest.

"Mr. Osborne Hamley? Does your son write poetry?"

"Yes. I really think I may say he is a poet. He is a very brilliant,
clever young man, and he quite hopes to get a fellowship at Trinity.
He says he is sure to be high up among the wranglers, and that
he expects to get one of the Chancellor's medals. That is his
likeness--the one hanging against the wall behind you."

Molly turned round, and saw one of the crayon sketches--representing
two boys, in the most youthful kind of jackets and trousers, and
falling collars. The elder was sitting down, reading intently.
The younger was standing by him, and evidently trying to call the
attention of the reader off to some object out of doors--out of
the window of the very room in which they were sitting, as Molly
discovered when she began to recognize the articles of furniture
faintly indicated in the picture.

"I like their faces!" said Molly. "I suppose it is so long ago now,
that I may speak of their likenesses to you as if they were somebody
else; may not I?"

"Certainly," said Mrs. Hamley, as soon as she understood what Molly
meant. "Tell me just what you think of them, my dear; it will amuse
me to compare your impressions with what they really are."

"Oh! but I did not mean to guess at their characters. I could not do
it; and it would be impertinent, if I could. I can only speak about
their faces as I see them in the picture."

"Well! tell me what you think of them!"

"The eldest--the reading boy--is very beautiful; but I can't quite
make out his face yet, because his head is down, and I can't see the
eyes. That is the Mr. Osborne Hamley who writes poetry."

"Yes. He is not quite so handsome now; but he was a beautiful boy.
Roger was never to be compared with him."

"No; he is not handsome. And yet I like his face. I can see his eyes.
They are grave and solemn-looking; but all the rest of his face is
rather merry than otherwise. It looks too steady and sober, too good
a face, to go tempting his brother to leave his lesson."

"Ah! but it was not a lesson. I remember the painter, Mr. Green, once
saw Osborne reading some poetry, while Roger was trying to persuade
him to come out and have a ride in the hay-cart--that was the
'motive' of the picture, to speak artistically. Roger is not much of
a reader; at least, he doesn't care for poetry, and books of romance,
or sentiment. He is so fond of natural history; and that takes him,
like the squire, a great deal out of doors; and when he is in, he is
always reading scientific books that bear upon his pursuits. He is a
good, steady fellow, though, and gives us great satisfaction, but he
is not likely to have such a brilliant career as Osborne."

Molly tried to find out in the picture the characteristics of the
two boys, as they were now explained to her by their mother; and in
questions and answers about the various drawings hung round the room
the time passed away until the dressing-bell rang for the six o'clock

Molly was rather dismayed by the offers of the maid whom Mrs. Hamley
had sent to assist her. "I am afraid they expect me to be very
smart," she kept thinking to herself. "If they do, they'll be
disappointed; that's all. But I wish my plaid silk gown had been

She looked at herself in the glass with some anxiety, for the first
time in her life. She saw a slight, lean figure, promising to be
tall; a complexion browner than cream-coloured, although in a year or
two it might have that tint; plentiful curly black hair, tied up in a
bunch behind with a rose-coloured ribbon; long, almond-shaped, soft
gray eyes, shaded both above and below by curling black eyelashes.

"I don't think I am pretty," thought Molly, as she turned away from
the glass; "and yet I'm not sure." She would have been sure, if,
instead of inspecting herself with such solemnity, she had smiled her
own sweet merry smile, and called out the gleam of her teeth, and the
charm of her dimples.

She found her way downstairs into the drawing-room in good time;
she could look about her, and learn how to feel at home in her
new quarters. The room was forty-feet long or so, fitted up with
yellow satin at some distant period; high spindle-legged chairs and
pembroke-tables abounded. The carpet was of the same date as the
curtains, and was thread-bare in many places; and in others was
covered with drugget. Stands of plants, great jars of flowers,
old Indian china and cabinets gave the room the pleasant aspect
it certainly had. And to add to it, there were five high, long
windows on one side of the room, all opening to the prettiest
bit of flower-garden in the grounds--or what was considered as
such--brilliant-coloured, geometrically-shaped beds, converging
to a sun-dial in the midst. The Squire came in abruptly, and in
his morning dress; he stood at the door, as if surprised at the
white-robed stranger in possession of his hearth. Then, suddenly
remembering himself, but not before Molly had begun to feel very hot,
he said--

"Why, God bless my soul, I'd quite forgotten you; you're Miss Gibson,
Gibson's daughter, aren't you? Come to pay us a visit? I'm sure I'm
very glad to see you, my dear."

By this time, they had met in the middle of the room, and he was
shaking Molly's hand with vehement friendliness, intended to make up
for his not knowing her at first.

"I must go and dress, though," said he, looking at his soiled
gaiters. "Madam likes it. It's one of her fine London ways, and she's
broken me into it at last. Very good plan, though, and quite right
to make oneself fit for ladies' society. Does your father dress for
dinner, Miss Gibson?" He did not stay to wait for her answer, but
hastened away to perform his toilette.

They dined at a small table in a great large room. There were so few
articles of furniture in it, and the apartment itself was so vast,
that Molly longed for the snugness of the home dining-room; nay,
it is to be feared that, before the stately dinner at Hamley Hall
came to an end, she even regretted the crowded chairs and tables,
the hurry of eating, the quick unformal manner in which everybody
seemed to finish their meal as fast as possible, and to return to the
work they had left. She tried to think that at six o'clock all the
business of the day was ended, and that people might linger if they
chose. She measured the distance from the sideboard to the table with
her eye, and made allowances for the men who had to carry things
backwards and forwards; but, all the same, this dinner appeared to
her a wearisome business, prolonged because the Squire liked it, for
Mrs. Hamley seemed tired out. She ate even less than Molly, and sent
for fan and smelling-bottle to amuse herself with, until at length
the table-cloth was cleared away, and the dessert was put upon a
mahogany table, polished like a looking-glass.

The Squire had hitherto been too busy to talk, except about the
immediate concerns of the table, and one or two of the greatest
breaks to the usual monotony of his days; a monotony in which he
delighted, but which sometimes became oppressive to his wife. Now,
however, peeling his orange, he turned to Molly--

"To-morrow you'll have to do this for me, Miss Gibson."

"Shall I? I'll do it to-day, if you like, sir."

"No; to-day I shall treat you as a visitor, with all proper ceremony.
To-morrow I shall send you errands, and call you by your Christian

"I shall like that," said Molly.

"I was wanting to call you something less formal than Miss Gibson,"
said Mrs. Hamley.

"My name is Molly. It is an old-fashioned name, and I was christened
Mary. But papa likes Molly."

"That's right. Keep to the good old fashions, my dear."

"Well, I must say I think Mary is prettier than Molly, and quite as
old a name, too," said Mrs. Hamley.

"I think it was," said Molly, lowering her voice, and dropping her
eyes, "because mamma was Mary, and I was called Molly while she

"Ah, poor thing," said the squire, not perceiving his wife's signs
to change the subject, "I remember how sorry every one was when she
died; no one thought she was delicate, she had such a fresh colour,
till all at once she popped off, as one may say."

"It must have been a terrible blow to your father," said Mrs. Hamley,
seeing that Molly did not know what to answer.

"Ay, ay. It came so sudden, so soon after they were married."

"I thought it was nearly four years," said Molly.

"And four years is soon--is a short time to a couple who look to
spending their lifetime together. Every one thought Gibson would have
married again."

"Hush," said Mrs. Hamley, seeing in Molly's eyes and change of colour
how completely this was a new idea to her. But the squire was not so
easily stopped.

"Well--I'd perhaps better not have said it, but it's the truth; they
did. He's not likely to marry now, so one may say it out. Why, your
father is past forty, isn't he?"

"Forty-three. I don't believe he ever thought of marrying again,"
said Molly, recurring to the idea, as one does to that of danger
which has passed by, without one's being aware of it.

"No! I don't believe he did, my dear. He looks to me just like a man
who would be constant to the memory of his wife. You must not mind
what the squire says."

"Ah! you'd better go away, if you're going to teach Miss Gibson such
treason as that against the master of the house."

Molly went into the drawing-room with Mrs. Hamley, but her thoughts
did not change with the room. She could not help dwelling on the
danger which she fancied she had escaped, and was astonished at
her own stupidity at never having imagined such a possibility as
her father's second marriage. She felt that she was answering Mrs.
Hamley's remarks in a very unsatisfactory manner.

"There is papa, with the Squire!" she suddenly exclaimed. There they
were coming across the flower-garden from the stable-yard, her father
switching his boots with his riding whip, in order to make them
presentable in Mrs. Hamley's drawing-room. He looked so exactly like
his usual self, his home-self, that the seeing him in the flesh was
the most efficacious way of dispelling the phantom fears of a second
wedding, which were beginning to harass his daughter's mind; and the
pleasant conviction that he could not rest till he had come over
to see how she was going on in her new home, stole into her heart,
although he spoke but little to her, and that little was all in a
joking tone. After he had gone away, the Squire undertook to teach
her cribbage, and she was happy enough now to give him all her
attention. He kept on prattling while they played; sometimes in
relation to the cards; at others telling her of small occurrences
which he thought might interest her.

"So you don't know my boys, even by sight. I should have thought you
would have done, for they're fond enough of riding into Hollingford;
and I know Roger has often enough been to borrow books from your
father. Roger is a scientific sort of a fellow. Osborne is clever,
like his mother. I shouldn't wonder if he published a book some day.
You're not counting right, Miss Gibson. Why, I could cheat you as
easily as possible." And so on, till the butler came in with a solemn
look, placed a large prayer-book before his master, who huddled the
cards away in a hurry, as if caught in an incongruous employment; and
then the maids and men trooped in to prayers--the windows were still
open, and the sounds of the solitary corncrake, and the owl hooting
in the trees, mingled with the words spoken. Then to bed; and so
ended the day.

Molly looked out of her chamber window--leaning on the sill, and
snuffing up the night odours of the honeysuckle. The soft velvet
darkness hid everything that was at any distance from her; although
she was as conscious of their presence as if she had seen them.

"I think I shall be very happy here," was in Molly's thoughts, as she
turned away at length, and began to prepare for bed. Before long the
Squire's words, relating to her father's second marriage, came across
her, and spoilt the sweet peace of her final thoughts. "Who could he
have married?" she asked herself. "Miss Eyre? Miss Browning? Miss
Phoebe? Miss Goodenough?" One by one, each of these was rejected
for sufficient reasons. Yet the unsatisfied question rankled in her
mind, and darted out of ambush to disturb her dreams.

Mrs. Hamley did not come down to breakfast; and Molly found out
with a little dismay, that the Squire and she were to have it by
themselves. On this first morning he put aside his newspapers--one
an old established Tory journal, with all the local and county
news, which was the most interesting to him; the other the _Morning
Chronicle_, which he called his dose of bitters, and which called out
many a strong expression and tolerably pungent oath. To-day, however,
he was "on his manners," as he afterwards explained to Molly; and he
plunged about, trying to find ground for a conversation. He could
talk of his wife and his sons, his estate, and his mode of farming;
his tenants, and the mismanagement of the last county election.
Molly's interests were her father, Miss Eyre, her garden and pony;
in a fainter degree Miss Brownings, the Cumnor Charity School, and
the new gown that was to come from Miss Rose's; into the midst of
which the one great question, "Who was it that people thought it was
possible papa might marry?" kept popping up into her mouth, like a
troublesome Jack-in-the-box. For the present, however, the lid was
snapped down upon the intruder as often as he showed his head between
her teeth. They were very polite to each other during the meal; and
it was not a little tiresome to both. When it was ended the Squire
withdrew into his study to read the untasted newspapers. It was
the custom to call the room in which Squire Hamley kept his coats,
boots, and gaiters, his different sticks and favourite spud, his
gun and fishing-rods, "the study." There was a bureau in it, and a
three-cornered arm-chair, but no books were visible. The greater part
of them were kept in a large, musty-smelling room, in an unfrequented
part of the house; so unfrequented that the housemaid often neglected
to open the window-shutters, which looked into a part of the grounds
over-grown with the luxuriant growth of shrubs. Indeed, it was a
tradition in the servants' hall that, in the late squire's time--he
who had been plucked at college--the library windows had been boarded
up to avoid paying the window-tax. And when the "young gentlemen"
were at home the housemaid, without a single direction to that
effect, was regular in her charge of this room; opened the windows
and lighted fires daily, and dusted the handsomely-bound volumes,
which were really a very fair collection of the standard literature
in the middle of the last century. All the books that had been
purchased since that time were held in small book-cases between
each two of the drawing-room windows, and in Mrs. Hamley's own
sitting-room upstairs. Those in the drawing-room were quite enough to
employ Molly; indeed, she was so deep in one of Sir Walter Scott's
novels that she jumped as if she had been shot, when an hour or so
after breakfast the Squire came to the gravel-path outside one of the
windows, and called to ask her if she would like to come out of doors
and go about the garden and home-fields with him.

"It must be a little dull for you, my girl, all by yourself, with
nothing but books to look at, in the mornings here; but you see,
madam has a fancy for being quiet in the mornings: she told your
father about it, and so did I, but I felt sorry for you all the same,
when I saw you sitting on the ground all alone in the drawing-room."

Molly had been in the very middle of the _Bride of Lammermoor_, and
would gladly have stayed in-doors to finish it, but she felt the
squire's kindness all the same. They went in and out of old-fashioned
greenhouses, over trim lawns, the Squire unlocked the great walled
kitchen-garden, and went about giving directions to gardeners; and
all the time Molly followed him like a little dog, her mind quite
full of "Ravenswood" and "Lucy Ashton." Presently, every place near
the house had been inspected and regulated, and the Squire was more
at liberty to give his attention to his companion, as they passed
through the little wood that separated the gardens from the adjoining
fields. Molly, too, plucked away her thoughts from the seventeenth
century; and, somehow or other, that one question, which had so
haunted her before, came out of her lips before she was aware--a
literal impromptu,--

"Who did people think papa would marry? That time--long ago--soon
after mamma died?"

She dropped her voice very soft and low, as she spoke the last words.
The Squire turned round upon her, and looked at her face, he knew not
why. It was very grave, a little pale, but her steady eyes almost
commanded some kind of answer.

"Whew," said he, whistling to gain time; not that he had anything
definite to say, for no one had ever had any reason to join Mr.
Gibson's name with any known lady: it was only a loose conjecture
that had been hazarded on the probabilities--a young widower, with a
little girl.

"I never heard of any one--his name was never coupled with any
lady's--'twas only in the nature of things that he should marry
again; he may do it yet, for aught I know, and I don't think it would
be a bad move either. I told him so, the last time but one he was

"And what did he say?" asked breathless Molly.

"Oh: he only smiled and said nothing. You shouldn't take up words so
seriously, my dear. Very likely he may never think of marrying again,
and if he did, it would be a very good thing both for him and for

Molly muttered something, as if to herself, but the Squire might have
heard it if he had chosen. As it was, he wisely turned the current of
the conversation.

"Look at that!" he said, as they suddenly came upon the mere, or
large pond. There was a small island in the middle of the glassy
water, on which grew tall trees, dark Scotch firs in the centre,
silvery shimmering willows close to the water's edge. "We must get
you punted over there, some of these days. I'm not fond of using the
boat at this time of the year, because the young birds are still in
the nests among the reeds and water-plants; but we'll go. There are
coots and grebes."

"Oh, look, there's a swan!"

"Yes; there are two pair of them here. And in those trees there's
both a rookery and a heronry; the herons ought to be here by now, for
they're off to the sea in August, but I've not seen one yet. Stay!
isn't that one--that fellow on a stone, with his long neck bent down,
looking into the water?"

"Yes! I think so. I have never seen a heron, only pictures of them."

"They and the rooks are always at war, which doesn't do for such near
neighbours. If both herons leave the nest they are building, the
rooks come and tear it to pieces; and once Roger showed me a long
straggling fellow of a heron, with a flight of rooks after him, with
no friendly purpose in their minds, I'll be bound. Roger knows a deal
of natural history, and finds out queer things sometimes. He'd have
been off a dozen times during this walk of ours, if he'd been here:
his eyes are always wandering about, and see twenty things where I
only see one. Why! I've known him bolt into a copse because he saw
something fifteen yards off--some plant, maybe, which he'd tell me
was very rare, though I should say I'd seen its marrow at every turn
in the woods; and, if we came upon such a thing as this," touching
a delicate film of a cobweb upon a leaf with his stick, as he spoke,
"why, he could tell you what insect or spider made it, and if it
lived in rotten fir-wood, or in a cranny of good sound timber, or
deep down in the ground, or up in the sky, or anywhere. It's a pity
they don't take honours in Natural History at Cambridge. Roger would
be safe enough if they did."

"Mr. Osborne Hamley is very clever, is he not?" Molly asked, timidly.

"Oh, yes. Osborne's a bit of a genius. His mother looks for great
things from Osborne. I'm rather proud of him myself. He'll get a
Trinity fellowship, if they play him fair. As I was saying at the
magistrates' meeting yesterday, 'I've got a son who will make a noise
at Cambridge, or I'm very much mistaken.' Now, isn't it a queer quip
of Nature," continued the squire, turning his honest face towards
Molly, as if he was going to impart a new idea to her, "that I, a
Hamley of Hamley, straight in descent from nobody knows where--the
Heptarchy, they say--What's the date of the Heptarchy?"

"I don't know," said Molly, startled at being thus appealed to.

"Well! it was some time before King Alfred, because he was the
King of all England, you know; but, as I was saying, here am I, of
as good and as old a descent as any man in England, and I doubt
if a stranger, to look at me, would take me for a gentleman, with
my red face, great hands and feet, and thick figure, fourteen
stone, and never less than twelve even when I was a young man; and
there's Osborne, who takes after his mother, who couldn't tell her
great-grandfather from Adam, bless her; and Osborne has a girl's
delicate face, and a slight make, and hands and feet as small as a
lady's. He takes after madam's side, who, as I said, can't tell who
was her grandfather. Now, Roger is like me, a Hamley of Hamley, and
no one who sees him in the street will ever think that red-brown,
big-boned, clumsy chap is of gentle blood. Yet all those Cumnor
people, you make such ado of in Hollingford, are mere muck of
yesterday. I was talking to madam the other day about Osborne's
marrying a daughter of Lord Hollingford's--that's to say, if he had
a daughter--he's only got boys, as it happens; but I'm not sure if
I should consent to it. I really am not sure; for you see Osborne
will have had a first-rate education, and his family dates from the
Heptarchy, while I should be glad to know where the Cumnor folk were
in the time of Queen Anne?" He walked on, pondering the question of
whether he could have given his consent to this impossible marriage;
and after some time, and when Molly had quite forgotten the subject
to which he alluded, he broke out with--"No! I'm sure I should have
looked higher. So, perhaps, it's as well my Lord Hollingford has only

After a while, he thanked Molly for her companionship, with
old-fashioned courtesy; and told her that he thought, by this time,
madam would be up and dressed, and glad to have her young visitor
with her. He pointed out the deep purple house, with its stone
facings, as it was seen at some distance between the trees, and
watched her protectingly on her way along the field-paths.

"That's a nice girl of Gibson's," quoth he to himself. "But what a
tight hold the wench got of the notion of his marrying again! One had
need be on one's guard as to what one says before her. To think of
her never having thought of the chance of a stepmother. To be sure, a
stepmother to a girl is a different thing to a second wife to a man!"



[Illustration (untitled)]

If Squire Hamley had been unable to tell Molly who had ever been
thought of as her father's second wife, fate was all this time
preparing an answer of a pretty positive kind to her wondering
curiosity. But fate is a cunning hussy, and builds up her plans as
imperceptibly as a bird builds her nest; and with much the same kind
of unconsidered trifles. The first "trifle" of an event was the
disturbance which Jenny (Mr. Gibson's cook) chose to make at Bethia's
being dismissed. Bethia was a distant relation and protégée of
Jenny's, and she chose to say it was Mr. Coxe the tempter who ought
to have "been sent packing," not Bethia the tempted, the victim. In
this view there was quite enough plausibility to make Mr. Gibson
feel that he had been rather unjust. He had, however, taken care to
provide Bethia with another situation, to the full as good as that
which she held in his family. Jenny, nevertheless, chose to give
warning; and though Mr. Gibson knew full well from former experience
that her warnings were words, not deeds, he hated the discomfort, the
uncertainty,--the entire disagreeableness of meeting a woman at any
time in his house, who wore a grievance and an injury upon her face
as legibly as Jenny took care to do.

Down into the middle of this small domestic trouble came another, and
one of greater consequence. Miss Eyre had gone with her old mother,
and her orphan nephews and nieces, to the sea-side, during Molly's
absence, which was only intended at first to last for a fortnight.
After about ten days of this time had elapsed, Mr. Gibson received a
beautifully written, beautifully worded, admirably folded, and most
neatly sealed letter from Miss Eyre. Her eldest nephew had fallen ill
of scarlet fever, and there was every probability that the younger
children would be attacked by the same complaint. It was distressing
enough for poor Miss Eyre--this additional expense, this anxiety--the
long detention from home which the illness involved. But she said
not a word of any inconvenience to herself; she only apologized with
humble sincerity for her inability to return at the appointed time
to her charge in Mr. Gibson's family; meekly adding, that perhaps it
was as well, for Molly had never had the scarlet fever, and even if
Miss Eyre had been able to leave the orphan children to return to her
employments, it might not have been a safe or a prudent step.

"To be sure not," said Mr. Gibson, tearing the letter in two, and
throwing it into the hearth, where he soon saw it burnt to ashes. "I
wish I'd a five-pound house and not a woman within ten miles of me. I
might have some peace then." Apparently, he forgot Mr. Coxe's powers
of making mischief; but indeed he might have traced that evil back
to the unconscious Molly. The martyr-cook's entrance to take away
the breakfast things, which she announced by a heavy sigh, roused Mr.
Gibson from thought to action.

"Molly must stay a little longer at Hamley," he resolved. "They've
often asked for her, and now they'll have enough of her, I think. But
I can't have her back here just yet; and so the best I can do for her
is to leave her where she is. Mrs. Hamley seems very fond of her, and
the child is looking happy, and stronger in health. I'll ride round
by Hamley to-day at any rate, and see how the land lies."

He found Mrs. Hamley lying on a sofa placed under the shadow of the
great cedar-tree on the lawn. Molly was flitting about her, gardening
away under her directions; tying up the long sea-green stalks of
bright budded carnations, snipping off dead roses.

"Oh! here's papa!" she cried out, joyfully, as he rode up to the
white paling which separated the trim lawn and trimmer flower-garden
from the rough park-like ground in front of the house.

"Come in--come here--through the drawing-room window," said Mrs.
Hamley, raising herself on her elbow. "We've got a rose-tree to show
you that Molly has budded all by herself. We are both so proud of

So Mr. Gibson rode round to the stables, left his horse there, and
made his way through the house to the open-air summer-parlour under
the cedar-tree, where there were chairs, table, books, and tangled
work. Somehow, he rather disliked asking for Molly to prolong her
visit; so he determined to swallow his bitter first, and then take
the pleasure of the delicious day, the sweet repose, the murmurous,
scented air. Molly stood by him, her hand on his shoulder. He sate
opposite to Mrs. Hamley.

"I've come here to-day to ask a favour," he began.

"Granted before you name it. Am not I a bold woman?"

He smiled and bowed, but went straight on with his speech.

"Miss Eyre, who has been Molly's governess, I suppose I must call
her--for many years, writes to-day to say that one of the little
nephews she took with her to Newport while Molly was staying here,
has caught the scarlet fever."

"I guess your request. I make it before you do. I beg for dear little
Molly to stay on here. Of course Miss Eyre can't come back to you;
and of course Molly must stay here!"

"Thank you; thank you very much. That was my request."

Molly's hand stole down to his, and nestled in that firm compact

"Papa!--Mrs. Hamley!--I know you'll both understand me--but mayn't I
go home? I am very happy here; but--oh papa! I think I should like to
be at home with you best."

An uncomfortable suspicion flashed across his mind. He pulled her
round, and looked straight and piercingly into her innocent face. Her
colour came at his unwonted scrutiny, but her sweet eyes were filled
with wonder, rather than with any feeling which he dreaded to find.
For an instant he had doubted whether young red-headed Mr. Coxe's
love might not have called out a response in his daughter's breast;
but he was quite clear now.

"Molly, you're rude to begin with. I don't know how you're to make
your peace with Mrs. Hamley, I'm sure. And in the next place, do
you think you're wiser than I am; or that I don't want you at home,
if all other things were conformable? Stay where you are, and be

Molly knew him well enough to be certain that the prolongation of her
visit at Hamley was quite a decided affair in his mind; and then she
was smitten with a sense of ingratitude. She left her father, and
went to Mrs. Hamley, and bent over her and kissed her; but she did
not speak. Mrs. Hamley took hold of her hand, and made room on the
sofa for her.

"I was going to have asked for a longer visit the next time you came,
Mr. Gibson. We are such happy friends, are not we, Molly? and now,
that this good little nephew of Miss Eyre's--"

"I wish he was whipped," said Mr. Gibson.

"--has given us such a capital reason, I shall keep Molly for a real
long visitation. You must come over and see us very often. There's a
room here for you always, you know; and I don't see why you should
not start on your rounds from Hamley every morning, just as well as
from Hollingford."

"Thank you. If you hadn't been so kind to my little girl, I might be
tempted to say something rude in answer to your last speech."

"Pray say it. You won't be easy till you have given it out, I know."

"Mrs. Hamley has found out from whom I get my rudeness," said Molly,
triumphantly. "It's an hereditary quality."

"I was going to say that proposal of yours that I should sleep at
Hamley was just like a woman's idea--all kindness, and no common
sense. How in the world would my patients find me out, seven miles
from my accustomed place? They'd be sure to send for some other
doctor, and I should be ruined in a month."

"Couldn't they send on here? A messenger costs very little."

"Fancy old Goody Henbury struggling up to my surgery, groaning at
every step, and then being told to just step on seven miles farther!
Or take the other end of society:--I don't think my Lady Cumnor's
smart groom would thank me for having to ride on to Hamley every time
his mistress wants me."

"Well, well, I submit. I am a woman. Molly, thou art a woman! Go and
order some strawberries and cream for this father of yours. Such
humble offices fall within the province of women. Strawberries and
cream are all kindness and no common sense, for they'll give him a
horrid fit of indigestion."

"Please speak for yourself, Mrs. Hamley," said Molly, merrily.
"I ate--oh, such a great basketful yesterday, and the squire went
himself to the dairy and brought out a great bowl of cream, when he
found me at my busy work. And I'm as well as ever I was, to-day, and
never had a touch of indigestion near me."

"She's a good girl," said her father, when she had danced out of
hearing. The words were not quite an inquiry, he was so certain of
his answer. There was a mixture of tenderness and trust in his eyes,
as he awaited the reply, which came in a moment.

"She's a darling. I cannot tell you how fond the Squire and I are of
her; both of us. I am so delighted to think she isn't to go away for
a long time. The first thing I thought of this morning when I wakened
up, was that she would soon have to return to you, unless I could
persuade you into leaving her with me a little longer. And now she
must stay--oh, two months at least."

It was quite true that the Squire had become very fond of Molly. The
charm of having a young girl dancing and singing inarticulate ditties
about the house and garden, was indescribable in its novelty to him.
And then Molly was so willing and so wise; ready both to talk and to
listen at the right times. Mrs. Hamley was quite right in speaking
of her husband's fondness for Molly. But either she herself chose a
wrong time for telling him of the prolongation of the girl's visit,
or one of the fits of temper to which he was liable, but which he
generally strove to check in the presence of his wife, was upon him;
at any rate, he received the news in anything but a gracious frame of

"Stay longer! Did Gibson ask for it?"

"Yes! I don't see what else is to become of her; Miss Eyre away and
all. It's a very awkward position for a motherless girl like her to
be at the head of a household with two young men in it."

"That's Gibson's look-out; he should have thought of it before taking
pupils, or apprentices, or whatever he calls them."

"My dear Squire! why, I thought you'd be as glad as I was--as I am to
keep Molly. I asked her to stay for an indefinite time; two months at

"And to be in the house with Osborne! Roger, too, will be at home."

By the cloud in the Squire's eyes, Mrs. Hamley read his mind.

"Oh, she's not at all the sort of girl young men of their age would
take to. We like her because we see what she really is; but lads of
one or two and twenty want all the accessories of a young woman."

"Want what?" growled the Squire.

"Such things as becoming dress, style of manner. They would not at
their age even see that she is pretty; their ideas of beauty would
include colour."

"I suppose all that's very clever; but I don't understand it. All I
know is, that it's a very dangerous thing to shut two young men of
one and three and twenty up in a country-house like this with a girl
of seventeen--choose what her gowns may be like, or her hair, or her
eyes. And I told you particularly I didn't want Osborne, or either of
them, indeed, to be falling in love with her. I'm very much annoyed."

Mrs. Hamley's face fell; she became a little pale.

"Shall we make arrangements for their stopping away while she is
here; staying up at Cambridge, or reading with some one? going abroad
for a month or two?"

"No; you've been reckoning this ever so long on their coming home.
I've seen the marks of the weeks on your almanack. I'd sooner speak
to Gibson, and tell him he must take his daughter away, for it's not
convenient to us--"

"My dear Roger! I beg you will do no such thing. It will be so
unkind; it will give the lie to all I said yesterday. Don't, please,
do that. For my sake, don't speak to Mr. Gibson!"

"Well, well, don't put yourself in a flutter," for he was afraid of
her becoming hysterical; "I'll speak to Osborne when he comes home,
and tell him how much I should dislike anything of the kind."

"And Roger is always far too full of his natural history and
comparative anatomy, and messes of that sort, to be thinking of
falling in love with Venus herself. He has not the sentiment and
imagination of Osborne."

"Ah, you don't know; you never can be sure about a young man! But
with Roger it wouldn't so much signify. He would know he couldn't
marry for years to come."

All that afternoon the Squire tried to steer clear of Molly, to whom
he felt himself to have been an inhospitable traitor. But she was so
perfectly unconscious of his shyness of her, and so merry and sweet
in her behaviour as a welcome guest, never distrusting him for a
moment, however gruff he might be, that by the next morning she had
completely won him round, and they were quite on the old terms again.
At breakfast this very morning, a letter was passed from the Squire
to his wife, and back again, without a word as to its contents; but--


"Yes! very!"

Little did Molly apply these expressions to the piece of news Mrs.
Hamley told her in the course of the day; namely, that her son
Osborne had received an invitation to stay with a friend in the
neighbourhood of Cambridge, and perhaps to make a tour on the
Continent with him subsequently; and that, consequently, he would not
accompany his brother when Roger came home.

Molly was very sympathetic.

"Oh, dear! I am so sorry!"

Mrs. Hamley was thankful her husband was not present, Molly spoke the
words so heartily.

"You have been thinking so long of his coming home. I am afraid it is
a great disappointment."

Mrs. Hamley smiled--relieved.

"Yes! it is a disappointment certainly, but we must think of
Osborne's pleasure. And with his poetical mind, he will write us such
delightful travelling letters. Poor fellow! he must be going into the
examination to-day! Both his father and I feel sure, though, that he
will be a high wrangler. Only--I should like to have seen him, my own
dear boy. But it is best as it is."

Molly was a little puzzled by this speech, but soon put it out of her
head. It was a disappointment to her, too, that she should not see
this beautiful, brilliant young man, his mother's hero. From time to
time her maiden fancy had dwelt upon what he would be like; how the
lovely boy of the picture in Mrs. Hamley's dressing-room would have
changed in the ten years that had elapsed since the likeness was
taken; if he would read poetry aloud; if he would even read his own
poetry. However, in the never-ending feminine business of the day,
she soon forgot her own disappointment; it only came back to her on
first wakening the next morning, as a vague something that was not
quite so pleasant as she had anticipated, and then was banished as a
subject of regret. Her days at Hamley were well filled up with the
small duties that would have belonged to a daughter of the house had
there been one. She made breakfast for the lonely squire, and would
willingly have carried up madam's, but that daily piece of work
belonged to the squire, and was jealously guarded by him. She read
the smaller print of the newspapers aloud to him, city articles,
money and corn markets included. She strolled about the gardens with
him, gathering fresh flowers, meanwhile, to deck the drawing-room
against Mrs. Hamley should come down. She was her companion when she
took her drives in the close carriage; they read poetry and mild
literature together in Mrs. Hamley's sitting-room upstairs. She was
quite clever at cribbage now, and could beat the squire if she took
pains. Besides these things, there were her own independent ways of
employing herself. She used to try to practise an hour daily on
the old grand piano in the solitary drawing-room, because she had
promised Miss Eyre she would do so. And she had found her way into
the library, and used to undo the heavy bars of the shutters if the
housemaid had forgotten this duty, and mount the ladder, sitting on
the steps, for an hour at a time, deep in some book of the old
English classics. The summer days were very short to this happy girl
of seventeen.



On Thursday, the quiet country household was stirred through all
its fibres with the thought of Roger's coming home. Mrs. Hamley had
not seemed quite so well, or quite in such good spirits for two or
three days before; and the squire himself had appeared to be put out
without any visible cause. They had not chosen to tell Molly that
Osborne's name had only appeared very low down in the mathematical
tripos. So all that their visitor knew was that something was out of
tune, and she hoped that Roger's coming home would set it to rights,
for it was beyond the power of her small cares and wiles.

On Thursday, the housemaid apologized to her for some slight
negligence in her bedroom, by saying she had been busy scouring
Mr. Roger's rooms. "Not but what they were as clean as could be
beforehand; but mistress would always have the young gentlemen's
rooms cleaned afresh before they came home. If it had been Mr.
Osborne, the whole house would have had to be done; but, to be sure,
he was the eldest son, so it was but likely." Molly was amused at
this testimony to the rights of heirship; but somehow she herself had
fallen into the family manner of thinking that nothing was too great
or too good for "the eldest son." In his father's eyes, Osborne was
the representative of the ancient house of Hamley of Hamley, the
future owner of the land which had been theirs for a thousand years.
His mother clung to him because they two were cast in the same
mould, both physically and mentally--because he bore her maiden name.
She had indoctrinated Molly with her faith, and, in spite of her
amusement at the housemaid's speech, the girl visitor would have
been as anxious as any one to show her feudal loyalty to the heir,
if indeed it had been he that was coming. After luncheon, Mrs. Hamley
went to rest, in preparation for Roger's return; and Molly also
retired to her own room, feeling that it would be better for her to
remain there until dinner-time, and so to leave the father and mother
to receive their boy in privacy. She took a book of MS. poems with
her; they were all of Osborne Hamley's composition; and his mother
had read some of them aloud to her young visitor more than once.
Molly had asked permission to copy one or two of those which were
her greatest favourites; and this quiet summer afternoon she took
this copying for her employment, sitting at the pleasant open window,
and losing herself in dreamy out-looks into the gardens and woods,
quivering in the noon-tide heat. The house was so still, in its
silence it might have been the "moated grange;" the booming buzz of
the blue flies, in the great staircase window, seemed the loudest
noise in-doors. And there was scarcely a sound out-of-doors but the
humming of bees, in the flower-beds below the window. Distant voices
from the far-away fields where they were making hay--the scent of
which came in sudden wafts distinct from that of the nearer roses
and honeysuckles--these merry piping voices just made Molly feel the
depth of the present silence. She had left off copying, her hand
weary with the unusual exertion of so much writing, and she was
lazily trying to learn one or two of the poems off by heart.

   I asked of the wind, but answer made it none,
   Save its accustomed sad and solitary moan--

she kept saying to herself, losing her sense of whatever meaning the
words had ever had, in the repetition which had become mechanical.
Suddenly there was the snap of a shutting gate; wheels crackling on
the dry gravel, horses' feet on the drive; a loud cheerful voice
in the house, coming up through the open windows, the hall, the
passages, the staircase, with unwonted fulness and roundness of tone.
The entrance-hall downstairs was paved with diamonds of black and
white marble; the low wide staircase that went in short flights
around the hall, till you could look down upon the marble floor from
the top story of the house, was uncarpeted--uncovered. The Squire
was too proud of his beautifully-joined oaken flooring to cover this
stair-case up unnecessarily; not to say a word of the usual state of
want of ready money to expend upon the decorations of his house. So,
through the undraperied hollow square of the hall and staircase every
sound ascended clear and distinct; and Molly heard the Squire's glad
"Hallo! here he is," and madam's softer, more plaintive voice; and
then the loud, full, strange tone, which she knew must be Roger's.
Then there was an opening and shutting of doors, and only a distant
buzz of talking. Molly began again--

   I asked of the wind, but answer made it none.

And this time she had nearly finished learning the poem, when she
heard Mrs. Hamley come hastily into her sitting-room that adjoined
Molly's bedroom, and burst out into an irrepressible half-hysterical
fit of sobbing. Molly was too young to have any complication of
motives which should prevent her going at once to try and give what
comfort she could. In an instant she was kneeling at Mrs. Hamley's
feet, holding the poor lady's hands, kissing them, murmuring soft
words; which, all unmeaning as they were of aught but sympathy with
the untold grief, did Mrs. Hamley good. She checked herself, smiling
sadly at Molly through the midst of her thick-coming sobs.

"It's only Osborne," said she, at last. "Roger has been telling us
about him."

"What about him?" asked Molly, eagerly.

"I knew on Monday; we had a letter--he said he had not done so well
as we had hoped--as he had hoped himself, poor fellow! He said he had
just passed, but was only low down among the _junior optimes_, and
not where he had expected, and had led us to expect. But the Squire
has never been at college, and does not understand college terms, and
he has been asking Roger all about it, and Roger has been telling
him, and it has made him so angry. But the squire hates college
slang;--he has never been there, you know; and he thought poor
Osborne was taking it too lightly, and he has been asking Roger about
it, and Roger--"

There was a fresh fit of the sobbing crying. Molly burst out,--"I
don't think Mr. Roger should have told; he had no need to begin so
soon about his brother's failure. Why, he hasn't been in the house an

"Hush, hush, love!" said Mrs. Hamley. "Roger is so good. You don't
understand. The squire would begin and ask questions before Roger had
tasted food--as soon as ever we had got into the dining-room. And all
he said--to me, at any rate--was that Osborne was nervous, and that
if he could only have gone in for the Chancellor's medals, he would
have carried all before him. But Roger said that after failing like
this, he is not very likely to get a fellowship, which the Squire had
placed his hopes on. Osborne himself seemed so sure of it, that the
squire can't understand it, and is seriously angry, and growing more
so the more he talks about it. He has kept it in two or three days,
and that never suits him. He is always better when he is angry about
a thing at once, and doesn't let it smoulder in his mind. Poor, poor
Osborne! I did wish he had been coming straight home, instead of
going to these friends of his; I thought I could have comforted him.
But now I'm glad, for it will be better to let his father's anger
cool first."

So talking out what was in her heart, Mrs. Hamley became more
composed; and at length she dismissed Molly to dress for dinner, with
a kiss, saying,--

"You're a real blessing to mothers, child! You give one such pleasant
sympathy, both in one's gladness and in one's sorrow; in one's
pride (for I was so proud last week, so confident), and in one's
disappointment. And now your being a fourth at dinner will keep
us off that sore subject; there are times when a stranger in the
household is a wonderful help."

Molly thought over all that she had heard, as she was dressing
and putting on the terrible, over-smart plaid gown in honour of
the new arrival. Her unconscious fealty to Osborne was not in the
least shaken by his having come to grief at Cambridge. Only she was
indignant--with or without reason--against Roger, who seemed to have
brought the reality of bad news as an offering of first-fruits on his
return home.

She went down into the drawing-room with anything but a welcome to
him in her heart. He was standing by his mother; the Squire had not
yet made his appearance. Molly thought that the two were hand in hand
when she first opened the door, but she could not be quite sure. Mrs.
Hamley came a little forwards to meet her, and introduced her in so
fondly intimate a way to her son, that Molly, innocent and simple,
knowing nothing but Hollingford manners, which were anything but
formal, half put out her hand to shake hands with one of whom she had
heard so much--the son of such kind friends. She could only hope he
had not seen the movement, for he made no attempt to respond to it;
only bowed.

He was a tall powerfully-made young man, giving the impression
of strength more than elegance. His face was rather square,
ruddy-coloured (as his father had said), hair and eyes brown--the
latter rather deep-set beneath his thick eyebrows; and he had a trick
of wrinkling up his eyelids when he wanted particularly to observe
anything, which made his eyes look even smaller still at such times.
He had a large mouth, with excessively mobile lips; and another trick
of his was, that when he was amused at anything, he resisted the
impulse to laugh, by a droll manner of twitching and puckering up
his mouth, till at length the sense of humour had its way, and
his features relaxed, and he broke into a broad sunny smile; his
beautiful teeth--his only beautiful feature--breaking out with a
white gleam upon the red-brown countenance. These two tricks of
his--of crumpling up the eyelids, so as to concentrate the power
of sight, which made him look stern and thoughtful; and the odd
twitching of the lips that was preliminary to a smile, which made
him look intensely merry--gave the varying expressions of his face
a greater range "from grave to gay, from lively to severe," than is
common with most men. To Molly, who was not finely discriminative
in her glances at the stranger this first night, he simply appeared
"heavy-looking, clumsy," and "a person she was sure she should never
get on with." He certainly did not seem to care much what impression
he made upon his mother's visitor. He was at that age when young men
admire a formed beauty more than a face with any amount of future
capability of loveliness, and when they are morbidly conscious of the
difficulty of finding subjects of conversation in talking to girls
in a state of feminine hobbledehoyhood. Besides, his thoughts were
full of other subjects, which he did not intend to allow to ooze out
in words, yet he wanted to prevent any of that heavy silence which
he feared might be impending--with an angry and displeased father,
and a timorous and distressed mother. He only looked upon Molly as
a badly-dressed, and rather awkward girl, with black hair and an
intelligent face, who might help him in the task he had set himself
of keeping up a bright general conversation during the rest of the
evening; might help him--if she would, but she would not. She thought
him unfeeling in his talkativeness; his constant flow of words upon
indifferent subjects was a wonder and a repulsion to her. How could
he go on so cheerfully while his mother sat there, scarcely eating
anything, and doing her best, with ill-success, to swallow down the
tears that would keep rising to her eyes; when his father's heavy
brow was deeply clouded, and he evidently cared nothing--at first at
least--for all the chatter his son poured forth? Had Mr. Roger Hamley
no sympathy in him? She would show that she had some, at any rate. So
she quite declined the part, which he had hoped she would have taken,
of respondent, and possible questioner; and his work became more
and more like that of a man walking in a quagmire. Once the Squire
roused himself to speak to the butler; he felt the need of outward
stimulus--of a better vintage than usual.

"Bring up a bottle of the Burgundy with the yellow seal."

He spoke low; he had no spirit to speak in his usual voice. The
butler answered in the same tone. Molly sitting near them, and silent
herself, heard what they said.

"If you please, sir, there are not above six bottles of that seal
left; and it is Mr. Osborne's favourite wine."

The Squire turned round with a growl in his voice.

"Bring up a bottle of the Burgundy with the yellow seal, as I said."

The butler went away wondering. "Mr. Osborne's" likes and dislikes
had been the law of the house in general until now. If he had liked
any particular food or drink, any seat or place, any special degree
of warmth or coolness, his wishes were to be attended to; for he
was the heir, and he was delicate, and he was the clever one of
the family. All the out-of-doors men would have said the same.
Mr. Osborne wished a tree cut down, or kept standing, or had
such-and-such a fancy about the game, or desired something unusual
about the horses; and they had all to attend to it as if it were
law. But to-day the Burgundy with the yellow seal was to be brought;
and it was brought. Molly testified with quiet vehemence of action;
she never took wine, so she need not have been afraid of the man's
pouring it into her glass; but as an open mark of fealty to the
absent Osborne, however little it might be understood, she placed the
palm of her small brown hand over the top of the glass, and held it
there, till the wine had gone round, and Roger and his father were in
full enjoyment of it.

After dinner, too, the gentlemen lingered long over their dessert,
and Molly heard them laughing; and then she saw them loitering
about in the twilight out-of-doors; Roger hatless, his hands in his
pockets, lounging by his father's side, who was now able to talk in
his usual loud and cheerful way, forgetting Osborne. _Væ victis!_

[Illustration: VÆ VICTIS!]

And so in mute opposition on Molly's side, in polite indifference,
scarcely verging upon kindliness on his, Roger and she steered
clear of each other. He had many occupations in which he needed no
companionship, even if she had been qualified to give it. The worst
was, that she found he was in the habit of occupying the library,
her favourite retreat, in the mornings before Mrs. Hamley came down.
She opened the half-closed door a day or two after his return home,
and found him busy among books and papers, with which the large
leather-covered table was strewn; and she softly withdrew before he
could turn his head and see her, so as to distinguish her from one
of the housemaids. He rode out every day, sometimes with his father
about the outlying fields, sometimes far away for a good gallop.
Molly would have enjoyed accompanying him on these occasions, for
she was very fond of riding; and there had been some talk of sending
for her habit and grey pony when first she came to Hamley; only the
Squire, after some consideration, had said he so rarely did more
than go slowly from one field to another, where his labourers were
at work, that he feared she would find such slow work--ten minutes
riding through heavy land, twenty minutes sitting still on horseback,
listening to the directions he should have to give to his men--rather
dull. Now, when if she had had her pony here she might have ridden
out with Roger, without giving him any trouble--she would have taken
care of that--nobody seemed to think of renewing the proposal.

Altogether it was pleasanter before he came home.

Her father rode over pretty frequently; sometimes there were long
unaccountable absences, it was true; when his daughter began to
fidget after him, and to wonder what had become of him. But when
he made his appearance he had always good reasons to give; and the
right she felt that she had to his familiar household tenderness;
the power she possessed of fully understanding the exact value of
both his words and his silence, made these glimpses of intercourse
with him inexpressibly charming. Latterly her burden had always been,
"When may I come home, papa?" It was not that she was unhappy, or
uncomfortable; she was passionately fond of Mrs. Hamley, she was a
favourite of the Squire's, and could not as yet fully understand
why some people were so much afraid of him; and as for Roger, if he
did not add to her pleasure, he scarcely took away from it. But she
wanted to be at home once more. The reason why she could not tell;
but this she knew full well. Mr. Gibson reasoned with her till
she was weary of being completely convinced that it was right and
necessary for her to stay where she was. And then with an effort she
stopped the cry upon her tongue, for she saw that its repetition
harassed her father.

During this absence of hers Mr. Gibson was drifting into matrimony.
He was partly aware of whither he was going; and partly it was
like the soft floating movement of a dream. He was more passive
than active in the affair; though, if his reason had not fully
approved of the step he was tending to--if he had not believed that
a second marriage was the very best way of cutting the Gordian knot
of domestic difficulties, he could have made an effort without any
great trouble, and extricated himself without pain from the mesh
of circumstances. It happened in this manner:--Lady Cumnor having
married her two eldest daughters, found her labours as a chaperone to
Lady Harriet, the youngest, considerably lightened by co-operation;
and, at length, she had leisure to be an invalid. She was, however,
too energetic to allow herself this indulgence constantly; only she
permitted herself to break down occasionally after a long course of
dinners, late hours, and London atmosphere: and then, leaving Lady
Harriet with either Lady Cuxhaven or Lady Agnes Manners, she betook
herself to the comparative quiet of the Towers, where she found
occupation in doing her benevolence, which was sadly neglected in
the hurly-burly of London. This particular summer she had broken
down earlier than usual, and longed for the repose of the country.
She believed that her state of health, too, was more serious than
previously; but she did not say a word of this to her husband or
daughters; reserving her confidence for Mr. Gibson's ears. She
did not wish to take Lady Harriet away from the gaieties of town
which she was thoroughly enjoying, by any complaint of hers, which
might, after all, be ill-founded; and yet she did not quite like
being without a companion in the three weeks or a month that might
intervene before her family would join her at the Towers, especially
as the annual festivity to the school visitors was impending; and
both the school and the visit of the ladies connected with it, had
rather lost the zest of novelty.

"Thursday the 19th, Harriet," said Lady Cumnor, meditatively; "what
do you say to coming down to the Towers on the 18th, and helping me
over that long day. You could stay in the country till Monday, and
have a few days' rest and good air; you would return a great deal
fresher to the remainder of your gaieties. Your father would bring
you down, I know: indeed, he is coming naturally."

"Oh, mamma!" said Lady Harriet, the youngest daughter of the
house--the prettiest, the most indulged; "I cannot go; there's the
water-party up to Maidenhead on the 20th, I should be so sorry to
miss it: and Mrs. Duncan's ball, and Grisi's concert; please, don't
want me. Besides, I should do no good. I can't make provincial
small-talk; I'm not up in the local politics of Hollingford. I should
be making mischief, I know I should."

"Very well, my dear," said Lady Cumnor, sighing, "I had forgotten the
Maidenhead water-party, or I would not have asked you."

"What a pity it isn't the Eton holidays, so that you could have had
Hollingford's boys to help you to do the honours, mamma. They are
such affable little prigs. It was the greatest fun to watch them last
year at Sir Edward's, doing the honours of their grandfather's house
to much such a collection of humble admirers as you get together at
the Towers. I shall never forget seeing Edgar gravely squiring about
an old lady in a portentous black bonnet, and giving her information
in the correctest grammar possible."

"Well, I like those lads," said Lady Cuxhaven; "they are on the way
to become true gentlemen. But, mamma, why shouldn't you have Clare to
stay with you? You like her, and she is just the person to save you
the troubles of hospitality to the Hollingford people, and we should
all be so much more comfortable if we knew you had her with you."

"Yes, Clare would do very well," said Lady Cumnor; "but isn't it her
school-time or something? We must not interfere with her school so
as to injure her, for I am afraid she is not doing too well as it is;
and she has been so very unlucky ever since she left us--first her
husband died, and then she lost Lady Davies' situation, and then Mrs.
Maude's, and now Mr. Preston told your father it was all she could
do to pay her way in Ashcombe, though Lord Cumnor lets her have the
house rent-free."

"I can't think how it is," said Lady Harriet. "She's not very wise,
certainly; but she is so useful and agreeable, and has such pleasant
manners, I should have thought any one who wasn't particular about
education would have been charmed to keep her as a governess."

"What do you mean by not being particular about education? Most
people who keep governesses for their children are supposed to be
particular," said Lady Cuxhaven.

"Well, they think themselves so, I've no doubt; but I call you
particular, Mary, and I don't think mamma was; but she thought
herself so, I'm sure."

"I can't think what you mean, Harriet," said Lady Cumnor, a good deal
annoyed at this speech of her clever, heedless, youngest daughter.

"Oh dear, mamma, you did everything you could think of for us; but
you see you'd ever so many other engrossing interests, and Mary
hardly ever allows her love for her husband to interfere with her
all-absorbing care for the children. You gave us the best of masters
in every department, and Clare to dragonize and keep us up to
our preparation for them, as well as ever she could; but then you
know, or rather you didn't know, some of the masters admired our
very pretty governess, and there was a kind of respectable veiled
flirtation going on, which never came to anything, to be sure; and
then you were often so overwhelmed with your business as a great
lady--fashionable and benevolent, and all that sort of thing--that
you used to call Clare away from us at the most critical times of
our lessons, to write your notes, or add up your accounts, and the
consequence is, that I'm about the most ill-informed girl in London.
Only Mary was so capitally trained by good awkward Miss Benson, that
she is always full to overflowing with accurate knowledge, and her
glory is reflected upon me."

"Do you think what Harriet says is true, Mary?" asked Lady Cumnor,
rather anxiously.

"I was so little with Clare in the school-room. I used to read French
with her; she had a beautiful accent, I remember. Both Agnes and
Harriet were very fond of her. I used to be jealous for Miss Benson's
sake, and perhaps--" Lady Cuxhaven paused a minute--"that made me
fancy that she had a way of flattering and indulging them--not quite
conscientious, I used to think. But girls are severe judges, and
certainly she had had an anxious enough lifetime. I am always so glad
when we can have her, and give her a little pleasure. The only thing
that makes me uneasy now is the way in which she seems to send her
daughter away from her so much; we never can persuade her to bring
Cynthia with her when she comes to see us."

"Now that I call ill-natured," said Lady Harriet; "here is a poor
dear woman trying to earn her livelihood, first as a governess, and
what could she do with her daughter then, but send her to school? and
after that, when Clare is asked to go visiting, and is too modest
to bring her girl with her--besides all the expense of the journey,
and the rigging out--Mary finds fault with her for her modesty and

"Well, after all, we are not discussing Clare and her affairs, but
trying to plan for mamma's comfort. I don't see that she can do
better than ask Mrs. Kirkpatrick to come to the Towers--as soon as
her holidays begin, I mean."

"Here is her last letter," said Lady Cumnor, who had been searching
for it in her escritoire, while her daughters were talking. Holding
her glasses before her eyes, she began to read, "'My wonted
misfortunes appear to have followed me to Ashcombe'--um, um, um;
that's not it--'Mr. Preston is most kind in sending me fruit and
flowers from the Manor-house, according to dear Lord Cumnor's kind
injunction.' Oh, here it is! 'The vacation begins on the 11th,
according to the usual custom of schools in Ashcombe; and I must
then try and obtain some change of air and scene, in order to fit
myself for the resumption of my duties on the 10th of August.' You
see, girls, she would be at liberty, if she has not made any other
arrangement for spending her holidays. To-day is the 15th."

"I'll write to her at once, mamma," Lady Harriet said. "Clare and I
are always great friends; I was her confidant in her loves with poor
Mr. Kirkpatrick, and we've kept up our intimacy ever since. I know of
three offers she had besides."

"I sincerely hope Miss Bowes is not telling her love-affairs to Grace
or Lily. Why, Harriet, you could not have been older than Grace when
Clare was married!" said Lady Cuxhaven, in maternal alarm.

"No; but I was well versed in the tender passion, thanks to novels.
Now I daresay you don't admit novels into your school-room, Mary; so
your daughters wouldn't be able to administer discreet sympathy to
their governess in case she was the heroine of a love-affair."

"My dear Harriet, don't let me hear you talking of love in that way;
it is not pretty. Love is a serious thing."

"My dear mamma, your exhortations are just eighteen years too late.
I've talked all the freshness off love, and that's the reason I'm
tired of the subject."

This last speech referred to a recent refusal of Lady Harriet's,
which had displeased Lady Cumnor, and rather annoyed my lord; as
they, the parents, could see no objection to the gentleman in
question. Lady Cuxhaven did not want to have the subject brought up,
so she hastened to say,--

"Do ask the poor little daughter to come with her mother to the
Towers; why, she must be seventeen or more; she would really be a
companion to you, mamma, if her mother was unable to come."

"I was not ten when Clare married, and I'm nearly nine-and-twenty,"
added Lady Harriet.

"Don't speak of it, Harriet; at any rate you are but eight-and-twenty
now, and you look a great deal younger. There is no need to be always
bringing up your age on every possible occasion."

"There was need of it now, though. I wanted to make out how old
Cynthia Kirkpatrick was. I think she can't be far from eighteen."

"She is at school at Boulogne, I know; and so I don't think she can
be as old as that. Clare says something about her in this letter:
'Under these circumstances' (the ill-success of her school), 'I
cannot think myself justified in allowing myself the pleasure of
having darling Cynthia at home for the holidays; especially as the
period when the vacation in French schools commences differs from
that common in England; and it might occasion some confusion in my
arrangements if darling Cynthia were to come to Ashcombe, and occupy
my time and thoughts so immediately before the commencement of my
scholastic duties as the 8th of August, on which day her vacation
begins, which is but two days before my holidays end.' So, you see,
Clare would be quite at liberty to come to me, and I daresay it would
be a very nice change for her."

"And Hollingford is busy seeing after his new laboratory at the
Towers, and is constantly backwards and forwards. And Agnes wants to
go there for change of air, as soon as she is strong enough after
her confinement. And even my own dear insatiable 'me' will have had
enough of gaiety in two or three weeks, if this hot weather lasts."

"I think I may be able to come down for a few days too, if you will
let me, mamma; and I'll bring Grace, who is looking rather pale and
weedy; growing too fast, I'm afraid. So I hope you won't be dull."

"My dear," said Lady Cumnor, drawing herself up, "I should be ashamed
of feeling dull with my resources; my duties to others and to

So the plan in its present shape was told to Lord Cumnor, who highly
approved of it; as he always did of every project of his wife's. Lady
Cumnor's character was perhaps a little too ponderous for him in
reality, but he was always full of admiration for all her words and
deeds, and used to boast of her wisdom, her benevolence, her power
and dignity, in her absence, as if by this means he could buttress up
his own more feeble nature.

"Very good--very good, indeed! Clare to join you at the Towers!
Capital! I couldn't have planned it better myself! I shall go down
with you on Wednesday in time for the jollification on Thursday. I
always enjoy that day; they are such nice, friendly people, those
good Hollingford ladies. Then I'll have a day with Sheepshanks, and
perhaps I may ride over to Ashcombe and see Preston--Brown Jess can
do it in a day, eighteen miles--to be sure! But there's back again to
the Towers!--how much is twice eighteen--thirty?"

"Thirty-six," said Lady Cumnor, sharply.

"So it is; you're always right, my dear. Preston's a clever, sharp

"I don't like him," said my lady.

"He takes looking after; but he's a sharp fellow. He's such a
good-looking man, too, I wonder you don't like him."

"I never think whether a land-agent is handsome or not. They don't
belong to the class of people whose appearance I notice."

"To be sure not. But he is a handsome fellow; and what should make
you like him is the interest he takes in Clare and her prospects. He
is constantly suggesting something that can be done to her house, and
I know he sends her fruit, and flowers, and game just as regularly as
we should ourselves if we lived at Ashcombe."

"How old is he?" said Lady Cumnor, with a faint suspicion of motives
in her mind.

"About twenty-seven, I think. Ah! I see what is in your ladyship's
head. No! no! he's too young for that. You must look out for some
middle-aged man, if you want to get poor Clare married; Preston won't

"I'm not a match-maker, as you might know. I never did it for my own
daughters. I'm not likely to do it for Clare," said she, leaning back

"Well! you might do a worse thing. I'm beginning to think she'll
never get on as a schoolmistress, though why she shouldn't, I'm sure
I don't know; for she's an uncommonly pretty woman for her age, and
her having lived in our family, and your having had her so often with
you, ought to go a good way. I say, my lady, what do you think of
Gibson? He would be just the right age--widower--lives near the

"I told you just now I was no match-maker, my lord. I suppose we had
better go by the old road--the people at those inns know us?"

And so they passed on to speaking about other things than Mrs.
Kirkpatrick and her prospects, scholastic or matrimonial.



Mrs. Kirkpatrick was only too happy to accept Lady Cumnor's
invitation. It was what she had been hoping for, but hardly daring to
expect, as she believed that the family were settled in London for
some time to come. The Towers was a pleasant and luxurious house in
which to pass her holidays; and though she was not one to make deep
plans, or to look far ahead, she was quite aware of the prestige
which her being able to say she had been staying with "dear Lady
Cumnor" at the Towers, was likely to give her and her school in
the eyes of a good many people; so she gladly prepared to join her
ladyship on the 17th. Her wardrobe did not require much arrangement;
if it had done, the poor lady would not have had much money to
appropriate to the purpose. She was very pretty and graceful; and
that goes a great way towards carrying off shabby clothes; and it was
her taste more than any depth of feeling, that had made her persevere
in wearing all the delicate tints--the violets and grays--which, with
a certain admixture of black, constitute half-mourning. This style of
becoming dress she was supposed to wear in memory of Mr. Kirkpatrick;
in reality because it was both lady-like and economical. Her
beautiful hair was of that rich auburn that hardly ever turns gray;
and partly out of consciousness of its beauty, and partly because the
washing of caps is expensive, she did not wear anything on her head;
her complexion had the vivid tints that often accompany the kind
of hair which has once been red; and the only injury her skin had
received from advancing years was that the colouring was rather more
brilliant than delicate, and varied less with every passing emotion.
She could no longer blush; and at eighteen she had been very proud
of her blushes. Her eyes were soft, large, and china-blue in colour;
they had not much expression or shadow about them, which was perhaps
owing to the flaxen colour of her eyelashes. Her figure was a little
fuller than it used to be, but her movements were as soft and sinuous
as ever. Altogether, she looked much younger than her age, which
was not far short of forty. She had a very pleasant voice, and read
aloud well and distinctly, which Lady Cumnor liked. Indeed, for some
inexplicable reason, she was a greater, more positive favourite with
Lady Cumnor than with any of the rest of the family, though they all
liked her up to a certain point, and found it agreeably useful to
have any one in the house who was so well acquainted with their ways
and habits; so ready to talk, when a little trickle of conversation
was required; so willing to listen, and to listen with tolerable
intelligence, if the subjects spoken about did not refer to serious
solid literature, or science, or politics, or social economy. About
novels and poetry, travels and gossip, personal details, or anecdotes
of any kind, she always made exactly the remarks which are expected
from an agreeable listener; and she had sense enough to confine
herself to those short expressions of wonder, admiration, and
astonishment, which may mean anything, when more recondite things
were talked about.

It was a very pleasant change to a poor unsuccessful schoolmistress
to leave her own house, full of battered and shabby furniture (she
had taken the good-will and furniture of her predecessor at a
valuation, two or three years before), where the look-out was as
gloomy, and the surrounding as squalid, as is often the case in the
smaller streets of a country town, and to come bowling through the
Towers Park in the luxurious carriage sent to meet her; to alight,
and feel secure that the well-trained servants would see after her
bags, and umbrella, and parasol, and cloak, without her loading
herself with all these portable articles, as she had had to do
while following the wheelbarrow containing her luggage in going to
the Ashcombe coach-office that morning; to pass up the deep-piled
carpets of the broad shallow stairs into my lady's own room, cool and
deliciously fresh, even on this sultry day, and fragrant with great
bowls of freshly gathered roses of every shade of colour. There were
two or three new novels lying uncut on the table; the daily papers,
the magazines. Every chair was an easy-chair of some kind or other;
and all covered with French chintz that mimicked the real flowers in
the garden below. She was familiar with the bedroom called hers, to
which she was soon ushered by Lady Cumnor's maid. It seemed to her
far more like home than the dingy place she had left that morning;
it was so natural to her to like dainty draperies, and harmonious
colouring, and fine linen, and soft raiment. She sate down in the
arm-chair by the bed-side, and wondered over her fate something in
this fashion--

"One would think it was an easy enough thing to deck a looking-glass
like that with muslin and pink ribbons; and yet how hard it is to
keep it up! People don't know how hard it is till they've tried as
I have. I made my own glass just as pretty when I first went to
Ashcombe; but the muslin got dirty, and the pink ribbons faded, and
it is so difficult to earn money to renew them; and when one has got
the money one hasn't the heart to spend it all at once. One thinks
and one thinks how one can get the most good out of it; and a new
gown, or a day's pleasure, or some hot-house fruit, or some piece of
elegance that can be seen and noticed in one's drawing-room, carries
the day, and good-by to prettily decked looking-glasses. Now here,
money is like the air they breathe. No one even asks or knows how
much the washing costs, or what pink ribbon is a yard. Ah! it would
be different if they had to earn every penny as I have! They would
have to calculate, like me, how to get the most pleasure out of it.
I wonder if I am to go on all my life toiling and moiling for money?
It's not natural. Marriage is the natural thing; then the husband
has all that kind of dirty work to do, and his wife sits in the
drawing-room like a lady. I did, when poor Kirkpatrick was alive.
Heigho! it's a sad thing to be a widow."

Then there was the contrast between the dinners which she had to
share with her scholars at Ashcombe--rounds of beef, legs of mutton,
great dishes of potatoes, and large batter-puddings, with the tiny
meal of exquisitely cooked delicacies, sent up on old Chelsea china,
that was served every day to the earl and countess and herself at
the Towers. She dreaded the end of her holidays as much as the most
home-loving of her pupils. But at this time that end was some weeks
off, so Clare shut her eyes to the future, and tried to relish the
present to its fullest extent. A disturbance to the pleasant, even
course of the summer days came in the indisposition of Lady Cumnor.
Her husband had gone back to London, and she and Mrs. Kirkpatrick had
been left to the very even tenor of life, which was according to my
lady's wish just now. In spite of her languor and fatigue, she had
gone through the day when the school visitors came to the Towers, in
full dignity, dictating clearly all that was to be done, what walks
were to be taken, what hothouses to be seen, and when the party were
to return to the "collation." She herself remained indoors, with
one or two ladies who had ventured to think that the fatigue or the
heat might be too much for them, and who had therefore declined
accompanying the ladies in charge of Mrs. Kirkpatrick, or those other
favoured few to whom Lord Cumnor was explaining the new buildings
in his farm-yard. "With the utmost condescension," as her hearers
afterwards expressed it, Lady Cumnor told them all about her married
daughters' establishments, nurseries, plans for the education of
their children, and manner of passing the day. But the exertion tired
her; and when every one had left, the probability is that she would
have gone to lie down and rest, had not her husband made an unlucky
remark in the kindness of his heart. He came up to her and put his
hand on her shoulder.

"I'm afraid you're sadly tired, my lady?" he said.

She braced her muscles, and drew herself up, saying coldly,--

"When I am tired, Lord Cumnor, I will tell you so." And her fatigue
showed itself during the rest of the evening in her sitting
particularly upright, and declining all offers of easy-chairs or
foot-stools, and refusing the insult of a suggestion that they
should all go to bed earlier. She went on in something of this
kind of manner as long as Lord Cumnor remained at the Towers. Mrs.
Kirkpatrick was quite deceived by it, and kept assuring Lord Cumnor
that she had never seen dear Lady Cumnor looking better, or so
strong. But he had an affectionate heart, if a blundering head; and
though he could give no reason for his belief, he was almost certain
his wife was not well. Yet he was too much afraid of her to send for
Mr. Gibson without her permission. His last words to Clare were--

"It's such a comfort to leave my lady to you; only don't you be
deluded by her ways. She'll not show she's ill till she can't help
it. Consult with Bradley" (Lady Cumnor's "own woman,"--she disliked
the new-fangledness of "lady's-maid "); "and if I were you, I'd send
and ask Gibson to call--you might make any kind of a pretence,"--and
then the idea he had had in London of the fitness of a match
between the two coming into his head just now, he could not help
adding,--"Get him to come and see you, he's a very agreeable man;
Lord Hollingford says there's no one like him in these parts: and he
might be looking at my lady while he was talking to you, and see if
he thinks her really ill. And let me know what he says about her."

But Clare was just as great a coward about doing anything for Lady
Cumnor which she had not expressly ordered, as Lord Cumnor himself.
She knew she might fall into such disgrace if she sent for Mr. Gibson
without direct permission, that she might never be asked to stay at
the Towers again; and the life there, monotonous in its smoothness of
luxury as it might be to some, was exactly to her taste. She in her
turn tried to put upon Bradley the duty which Lord Cumnor had put
upon her.

"Mrs. Bradley," she said one day, "are you quite comfortable about
my lady's health? Lord Cumnor fancied that she was looking worn and

"Indeed, Mrs. Kirkpatrick, I don't think my lady is herself. I can't
persuade myself as she is, though if you was to question me till
night I couldn't tell you why."

"Don't you think you could make some errand to Hollingford, and see
Mr. Gibson, and ask him to come round this way some day, and make a
call on Lady Cumnor?"

"It would be as much as my place is worth, Mrs. Kirkpatrick. Till my
lady's dying day, if Providence keeps her in her senses, she'll have
everything done her own way, or not at all. There's only Lady Harriet
that can manage her the least, and she not always."

"Well, then--we must hope that there is nothing the matter with her;
and I daresay there is not. She says there is not, and she ought to
know best herself."

But a day or two after this conversation took place, Lady Cumnor
startled Mrs. Kirkpatrick, by saying suddenly,--"Clare, I wish you'd
write a note to Mr. Gibson, saying I should like to see him this
afternoon. I thought he would have called of himself before now. He
ought to have done so, to pay his respects."

Mr. Gibson had been far too busy in his profession to have time for
mere visits of ceremony, though he knew quite well he was neglecting
what was expected of him. But the district of which he may be said to
have had medical charge was full of a bad kind of low fever, which
took up all his time and thought, and often made him very thankful
that Molly was out of the way in the quiet shades of Hamley.

His domestic "rows" had not healed over in the least, though he
was obliged to put the perplexities on one side for the time. The
last drop--the final straw, had been an impromptu visit of Lord
Hollingford's, whom he had met in the town one forenoon. They had had
a good deal to say to each other about some new scientific discovery,
with the details of which Lord Hollingford was well acquainted,
while Mr. Gibson was ignorant and deeply interested. At length Lord
Hollingford said suddenly,--

"Gibson, I wonder if you'd give me some lunch; I've been a good
deal about since my seven-o'clock breakfast, and am getting quite

Now Mr. Gibson was only too much pleased to show hospitality to one
whom he liked and respected so much as Lord Hollingford, and he
gladly took him home with him to the early family dinner. But it was
just at the time when the cook was sulking at Bethia's dismissal--and
she chose to be unpunctual and careless. There was no successor to
Bethia as yet appointed to wait at the meals. So, though Mr. Gibson
knew well that bread-and-cheese, cold beef, or the simplest food
available, would have been welcome to the hungry lord, he could not
get either these things for luncheon, or even the family dinner, at
anything like the proper time, in spite of all his ringing, and as
much anger as he liked to show, for fear of making Lord Hollingford
uncomfortable. At last dinner was ready, but the poor host saw
the want of nicety--almost the want of cleanliness, in all its
accompaniments--dingy plate, dull-looking glass, a table-cloth that,
if not absolutely dirty, was anything but fresh in its splashed and
rumpled condition, and compared it in his own mind with the dainty
delicacy with which even a loaf of brown bread was served up at
his guest's home. He did not apologize directly, but, after dinner,
just as they were parting, he said,--"You see a man like me--a
widower--with a daughter who cannot always be at home--has not the
regulated household which would enable me to command the small
portions of time I can spend there."

He made no allusion to the comfortless meal of which they had both
partaken, though it was full in his mind. Nor was it absent from Lord
Hollingford's as he made reply,--

"True, true. Yet a man like you ought to be free from any thought of
household cares. You ought to have somebody. How old is Miss Gibson?"

"Seventeen. It's a very awkward age for a motherless girl."

"Yes; very. I have only boys, but it must be very awkward with
a girl. Excuse me, Gibson, but we're talking like friends. Have
you never thought of marrying again? It wouldn't be like a first
marriage, of course; but if you found a sensible, agreeable woman of
thirty or so, I really think you couldn't do better than take her to
manage your home, and so save you either discomfort or worry; and,
besides, she would be able to give your daughter that kind of tender
supervision which, I fancy, all girls of that age require. It's a
delicate subject, but you'll excuse my having spoken frankly."

Mr. Gibson had thought of this advice several times since it was
given; but it was a case of "first catch your hare." Where was the
"sensible and agreeable woman of thirty or so?" Not Miss Browning,
nor Miss Phoebe, nor Miss Goodenough. Among his country patients
there were two classes pretty distinctly marked: farmers, whose
children were unrefined and uneducated; squires, whose daughters
would, indeed, think the world was coming to a pretty pass, if they
were to marry a country surgeon.

But the first day on which Mr. Gibson paid his visit to Lady Cumnor,
he began to think it possible that Mrs. Kirkpatrick was his "hare."
He rode away with slack rein, thinking over what he knew of her,
more than about the prescriptions he should write, or the way he was
going. He remembered her as a very pretty Miss Clare: the governess
who had the scarlet fever; that was in his wife's days, a long time
ago; he could hardly understand Mrs. Kirkpatrick's youthfulness
of appearance when he thought how long. Then he had heard of her
marriage to a curate; and the next day (or so it seemed, he could not
recollect the exact duration of the interval), of his death. He knew,
in some way, that she had been living ever since as a governess in
different families; but that she had always been a great favourite
with the family at the Towers, for whom, quite independent of their
rank, he had a true respect. A year or two ago he had heard that she
had taken the good-will of a school at Ashcombe; a small town close
to another property of Lord Cumnor's, in the same county. Ashcombe
was a larger estate than that near Hollingford, but the old
Manor-house there was not nearly so good a residence as the Towers;
so it was given up to Mr. Preston, the land-agent for the Ashcombe
property, just as Mr. Sheepshanks was for that at Hollingford.
There were a few rooms at the Manor-house reserved for the
occasional visits of the family, otherwise Mr. Preston, a handsome
young bachelor, had it all to himself. Mr. Gibson knew that Mrs.
Kirkpatrick had one child, a daughter, who must be much about the
same age as Molly. Of course she had very little, if any, property.
But he himself had lived carefully, and had a few thousands well
invested; besides which, his professional income was good, and
increasing rather than diminishing every year. By the time he had
arrived at this point in his consideration of the case, he was at the
house of the next patient on his round, and he put away all thought
of matrimony and Mrs. Kirkpatrick for the time. Once again, in the
course of the day, he remembered with a certain pleasure that Molly
had told him some little details connected with her unlucky detention
at the Towers five or six years ago, which had made him feel at the
time as if Mrs. Kirkpatrick had behaved very kindly to his little
girl. So there the matter rested for the present, as far as he was

Lady Cumnor was out of health; but not so ill as she had been
fancying herself during all those days when the people about her
dared not send for the doctor. It was a great relief to her to have
Mr. Gibson to decide for her what she was to do; what to eat, drink,
avoid. Such decisions _ab extra_, are sometimes a wonderful relief
to those whose habit it has been to decide, not only for themselves,
but for every one else; and occasionally the relaxation of the strain
which a character for infallible wisdom brings with it, does much to
restore health. Mrs. Kirkpatrick thought in her secret soul that she
had never found it so easy to get on with Lady Cumnor; and Bradley
and she had never done singing the praises of Mr. Gibson, "who always
managed my lady so beautifully."

Reports were duly sent up to my lord, but he and his daughters were
strictly forbidden to come down. Lady Cumnor wished to be weak
and languid, and uncertain both in body and mind, without family
observation. It was a condition so different to anything she had
ever been in before, that she was unconsciously afraid of losing her
prestige, if she was seen in it. Sometimes she herself wrote the
daily bulletins; at other times she bade Clare do it, but she would
always see the letters. Any answers she received from her daughters
she used to read herself, occasionally imparting some of their
contents to "that good Clare." But anybody might read my lord's
letters. There was no great fear of family secrets oozing out in his
sprawling lines of affection. But once Mrs. Kirkpatrick came upon a
sentence in a letter from Lord Cumnor, which she was reading out loud
to his wife, that caught her eye before she came to it, and if she
could have skipped it and kept it for private perusal, she would
gladly have done so. My lady was too sharp for her, though. In her
opinion "Clare was a good creature, but not clever," the truth
being that she was not always quick at resources, though tolerably
unscrupulous in the use of them.

"Read on. What are you stopping for? There is no bad news, is there,
about Agnes?--Give me the letter."

Lady Cumnor read, half aloud,--

"'How are Clare and Gibson getting on? You despised my advice to help
on that affair, but I really think a little match-making would be a
very pleasant amusement now that you are shut up in the house; and I
cannot conceive any marriage more suitable.'"

"Oh!" said Lady Cumnor, laughing, "it was awkward for you to come
upon that, Clare: I don't wonder you stopped short. You gave me a
terrible fright, though."

"Lord Cumnor is so fond of joking," said Mrs. Kirkpatrick, a little
flurried, yet quite recognizing the truth of his last words,--"I
cannot conceive any marriage more suitable." She wondered what Lady
Cumnor thought of it. Lord Cumnor wrote as if there was really a
chance. It was not an unpleasant idea; it brought a faint smile out
upon her face, as she sat by Lady Cumnor, while the latter took her
afternoon nap.



[Illustration (untitled)]

Mrs. Kirkpatrick had been reading aloud till Lady Cumnor fell asleep,
the book rested on her knee, just kept from falling by her hold. She
was looking out of the window, not seeing the trees in the park, nor
the glimpses of the hills beyond, but thinking how pleasant it would
be to have a husband once more;--some one who would work while she
sate at her elegant ease in a prettily-furnished drawing-room; and
she was rapidly investing this imaginary breadwinner with the form
and features of the country surgeon, when there was a slight tap
at the door, and almost before she could rise, the object of her
thoughts came in. She felt herself blush, and she was not displeased
at the consciousness. She advanced to meet him, making a sign towards
her sleeping ladyship.

"Very good," said he, in a low voice, casting a professional eye on
the slumbering figure; "can I speak to you for a minute or two in the

"Is he going to offer?" thought she, with a sudden palpitation, and
a conviction of her willingness to accept a man whom an hour before
she had simply looked upon as one of the category of unmarried men to
whom matrimony was possible.

He was only going to make one or two medical inquiries; she found
that out very speedily, and considered the conversation as rather
flat to her, though it might be instructive to him. She was not aware
that he finally made up his mind to propose, during the time that
she was speaking--answering his questions in many words, but he was
accustomed to winnow the chaff from the corn; and her voice was so
soft, her accent so pleasant, that it struck him as particularly
agreeable after the broad country accent he was perpetually hearing.
Then the harmonious colours of her dress, and her slow and graceful
movements, had something of the same soothing effect upon his nerves
that a cat's purring has upon some people's. He began to think
that he should be fortunate if he could win her, for his own sake.
Yesterday he had looked upon her more as a possible stepmother
for Molly; to-day he thought more of her as a wife for himself.
The remembrance of Lord Cumnor's letter gave her a very becoming
consciousness; she wished to attract, and hoped that she was
succeeding. Still they only talked of the countess's state for some
time: then a lucky shower came on. Mr. Gibson did not care a jot for
rain, but just now it gave him an excuse for lingering.

"It's very stormy weather," said he.

"Yes, very. My daughter writes me word, that for two days last week
the packet could not sail from Boulogne."

"Miss Kirkpatrick is at Boulogne, is she?"

"Yes, poor girl; she is at school there, trying to perfect herself
in the French language. But, Mr. Gibson, you must not call her Miss
Kirkpatrick. Cynthia remembers you with so much--affection, I may
say. She was your little patient when she had the measles here four
years ago, you know. Pray call her Cynthia; she would be quite hurt
at such a formal name as Miss Kirkpatrick from you."

"Cynthia seems to me such an out-of-the-way name, only fit for
poetry, not for daily use."

"It is mine," said Mrs. Kirkpatrick, in a plaintive tone of reproach.
"I was christened Hyacinth, and her poor father would have her called
after me. I'm sorry you don't like it."

Mr. Gibson did not know what to say. He was not quite prepared to
plunge into the directly personal style. While he was hesitating, she
went on--

"Hyacinth Clare! Once upon a time I was quite proud of my pretty
name; and other people thought it pretty, too."

"I've no doubt--" Mr. Gibson began; and then stopped.

"Perhaps I did wrong in yielding to his wish, to have her called by
such a romantic name. It may excite prejudice against her in some
people; and, poor child! she will have enough to struggle with. A
young daughter is a great charge, Mr. Gibson, especially when there
is only one parent to look after her."

"You are quite right," said he, recalled to the remembrance of Molly;
"though I should have thought that a girl who is so fortunate as to
have a mother could not feel the loss of her father so acutely as one
who is motherless must suffer from her deprivation."

"You are thinking of your own daughter. It was careless of me to say
what I did. Dear child! how well I remember her sweet little face as
she lay sleeping on my bed. I suppose she is nearly grown-up now. She
must be near my Cynthia's age. How I should like to see her!"

"I hope you will. I should like you to see her. I should like you to
love my poor little Molly,--to love her as your own--" He swallowed
down something that rose in his throat, and was nearly choking him.

"Is he going to offer? _Is_ he?" she wondered; and she began to
tremble in the suspense before he next spoke.

"Could you love her as your daughter? Will you try? Will you give
me the right of introducing you to her as her future mother; as my

There! he had done it--whether it was wise or foolish--he had done
it! but he was aware that the question as to its wisdom came into his
mind the instant that the words were said past recall.

She hid her face in her hands.

"Oh! Mr. Gibson," she said; and then, a little to his surprise, and a
great deal to her own, she burst into hysterical tears: it was such
a wonderful relief to feel that she need not struggle any more for a

"My dear--my dearest," said he, trying to soothe her with word and
caress; but, just at the moment, uncertain what name he ought to
use. After her sobbing had abated a little, she said herself, as if
understanding his difficulty,--

"Call me Hyacinth--your own Hyacinth. I can't bear 'Clare,' it does
so remind me of being a governess, and those days are all past now."

"Yes; but surely no one can have been more valued, more beloved than
you have been in this family at least."

"Oh, yes! they have been very good. But still one has always had to
remember one's position."

"We ought to tell Lady Cumnor," said he, thinking, perhaps, more of
the various duties which lay before him in consequence of the step he
had just taken, than of what his future bride was saying.

"You'll tell her, won't you?" said she, looking up in his face with
beseeching eyes. "I always like other people to tell her things, and
then I can see how she takes them."

"Certainly! I will do whatever you wish. Shall we go and see if she
is awake now?"

"No! I think not. I had better prepare her. You will come to-morrow,
won't you? and you will tell her then."

"Yes; that will be best. I ought to tell Molly first. She has the
right to know. I do hope you and she will love each other dearly."

"Oh, yes! I'm sure we shall. Then you'll come to-morrow and tell Lady
Cumnor? And I'll prepare her."

"I don't see what preparation is necessary; but you know best, my
dear. When can we arrange for you and Molly to meet?"

Just then a servant came in, and the pair started apart.

"Her ladyship is awake, and wishes to see Mr. Gibson."

They both followed the man upstairs; Mrs. Kirkpatrick trying hard
to look as if nothing had happened, for she particularly wished
"to prepare" Lady Cumnor; that is to say, to give her version of Mr.
Gibson's extreme urgency, and her own coy unwillingness.

But Lady Cumnor had observant eyes in sickness as well as in health.
She had gone to sleep with the recollection of the passage in her
husband's letter full in her mind, and, perhaps, it gave a direction
to her wakening ideas.

"I'm glad you're not gone, Mr. Gibson. I wanted to tell you-- What's
the matter with you both? What have you been saying to Clare? I'm
sure something has happened."

There was nothing for it, in Mr. Gibson's opinion, but to make a
clean breast of it, and tell her ladyship all. He turned round, and
took hold of Mrs. Kirkpatrick's hand, and said out straight, "I have
been asking Mrs. Kirkpatrick to be my wife, and to be a mother to my
child; and she has consented. I hardly know how to thank her enough
in words."

"Umph! I don't see any objection. I daresay you'll be very happy.
I'm very glad of it! Here! shake hands with me, both of you." Then
laughing a little, she added, "It does not seem to me that any
exertion has been required on my part."

Mr. Gibson looked perplexed at these words. Mrs. Kirkpatrick

"Did she not tell you? Oh, then, I must. It's too good a joke to be
lost, especially as everything has ended so well. When Lord Cumnor's
letter came this morning--this very morning--I gave it to Clare to
read aloud to me, and I saw she suddenly came to a full stop, where
no full stop could be, and I thought it was something about Agnes,
so I took the letter and read--stay! I'll read the sentence to you.
Where's the letter, Clare? Oh! don't trouble yourself, here it is.
'How are Clare and Gibson getting on? You despised my advice to help
on that affair, but I really think a little match-making would be a
very pleasant amusement, now that you are shut up in the house; and
I cannot conceive any marriage more suitable.' You see, you have my
lord's full approbation. But I must write, and tell him you have
managed your own affairs without any interference of mine. Now we'll
just have a little medical talk, Mr. Gibson, and then you and Clare
shall finish your tête-à-tête."

They were neither of them quite as desirous of further conversation
together as they had been before the passage out of Lord Cumnor's
letter had been read aloud. Mr. Gibson tried not to think about it,
for he was aware that if he dwelt upon it, he might get to fancy all
sorts of things, as to the conversation which had ended in his offer.
But Lady Cumnor was imperious now, as always.

"Come, no nonsense. I always made my girls go and have tête-à-têtes
with the men who were to be their husbands, whether they would or no:
there's a great deal to be talked over before every marriage, and you
two are certainly old enough to be above affectation. Go away with

So there was nothing for it but for them to return to the library;
Mrs. Kirkpatrick pouting a little, and Mr. Gibson feeling more like
his own cool, sarcastic self, by many degrees, than he had done when
last in that room.

She began, half crying,--

"I cannot tell what poor Kirkpatrick would say if he knew what I have
done. He did so dislike the notion of second marriages, poor fellow!"

"Let us hope that he doesn't know, then; or that, if he does, he
is wiser--I mean, that he sees how second marriages may be most
desirable and expedient in some cases."

Altogether, this second tête-à-tête, done to command, was not so
satisfactory as the first; and Mr. Gibson was quite alive to the
necessity of proceeding on his round to see his patients before very
much time had elapsed.

"We shall shake down into uniformity before long, I've no doubt,"
said he to himself, as he rode away. "It's hardly to be expected that
our thoughts should run in the same groove all at once. Nor should I
like it," he added. "It would be very flat and stagnant to have only
an echo of one's own opinions from one's wife. Heigho! I must tell
Molly about it: dear little woman, I wonder how she'll take it? It's
done, in a great measure, for her good." And then he lost himself in
recapitulating Mrs. Kirkpatrick's good qualities, and the advantages
to be gained to his daughter from the step he had just taken.

It was too late to go round by Hamley that afternoon. The Towers and
the Towers' round lay just in the opposite direction to Hamley. So it
was the next morning before Mr. Gibson arrived at the Hall, timing
his visit as well as he could so as to have half-an-hour's private
talk with Molly before Mrs. Hamley came down into the drawing-room.
He thought that his daughter would require sympathy after receiving
the intelligence he had to communicate; and he knew there was no one
more fit to give it than Mrs. Hamley.

It was a brilliantly hot summer's morning; men in their shirtsleeves
were in the fields getting in the early harvest of oats; as Mr.
Gibson rode slowly along, he could see them over the tall hedge-rows,
and even hear the soothing measured sound of the fall of the long
swathes, as they were mown. The labourers seemed too hot to talk; the
dog, guarding their coats and cans, lay panting loudly on the other
side of the elm, under which Mr. Gibson stopped for an instant to
survey the scene, and gain a little delay before the interview that
he wished was well over. In another minute he had snapped at himself
for his weakness, and put spurs to his horse. He came up to the Hall
at a good sharp trot; it was earlier than the usual time of his
visits, and no one was expecting him; all the stable-men were in
the fields, but that signified little to Mr. Gibson; he walked his
horse about for five minutes or so before taking him into the stable,
and loosened his girths, examining him with perhaps unnecessary
exactitude. He went into the house by a private door, and made his
way into the drawing-room, half expecting, however, that Molly would
be in the garden. She had been there, but it was too hot and dazzling
now for her to remain out of doors, and she had come in by the open
window of the drawing-room. Oppressed with the heat, she had fallen
asleep in an easy-chair, her bonnet and open book upon her knee, one
arm hanging listlessly down. She looked very soft, and young, and
childlike; and a gush of love sprang into her father's heart as he
gazed at her.

"Molly!" said he, gently, taking the little brown hand that was
hanging down, and holding it in his own. "Molly!"

She opened her eyes, that for one moment had no recognition in them.
Then the light came brilliantly into them and she sprang up, and
threw her arms round his neck, exclaiming,--

"Oh, papa, my dear, dear papa! What made you come while I was asleep?
I lose the pleasure of watching for you."

Mr. Gibson turned a little paler than he had been before. He still
held her hand, and drew her to a seat by him on a sofa, without
speaking. There was no need; she was chattering away.

"I was up so early! It is so charming to be out here in the fresh
morning air. I think that made me sleepy. But isn't it a gloriously
hot day? I wonder if the Italian skies they talk about can be bluer
than that--that little bit you see just between the oaks--there!"

She pulled her hand away, and used both it and the other to turn her
father's head, so that he should exactly see the very bit she meant.
She was rather struck by his unusual silence.

"Have you heard from Miss Eyre, papa? How are they all? And this
fever that is about? Do you know, papa, I don't think you are looking
well? You want me at home to take care of you. How soon may I come

"Don't I look well? That must be all your fancy, goosey. I feel
uncommonly well; and I ought to look well, for-- I have a piece of
news for you, little woman." (He felt that he was doing his business
very awkwardly, but he was determined to plunge on.) "Can you guess

"How should I?" said she; but her tone was changed, and she was
evidently uneasy, as with the presage of an instinct.

"Why, you see, my love," said he, again taking her hand, "that you
are in a very awkward position--a girl growing up in such a family
as mine--young men--which was a piece of confounded stupidity on my
part. And I am obliged to be away so much."

"But there is Miss Eyre," said she, sick with the strengthening
indefinite presage of what was to come. "Dear Miss Eyre, I want
nothing but her and you."

"Still there are times like the present when Miss Eyre cannot be with
you; her home is not with us; she has other duties. I've been in
great perplexity for some time; but at last I've taken a step which
will, I hope, make us both happier."

"You're going to be married again," said she, helping him out, with a
quiet dry voice, and gently drawing her hand out of his.

"Yes. To Mrs. Kirkpatrick--you remember her? They call her Clare at
the Towers. You recollect how kind she was to you that day you were
left there?"

She did not answer. She could not tell what words to use. She
was afraid of saying anything, lest the passion of anger,
dislike, indignation--whatever it was that was boiling up in her
breast--should find vent in cries and screams, or worse, in raging
words that could never be forgotten. It was as if the piece of solid
ground on which she stood had broken from the shore, and she was
drifting out to the infinite sea alone.

Mr. Gibson saw that her silence was unnatural, and half-guessed at
the cause of it. But he knew that she must have time to reconcile
herself to the idea, and still believed that it would be for her
eventual happiness. He had, besides, the relief of feeling that the
secret was told, the confidence made, which he had been dreading
for the last twenty-four hours. He went on recapitulating all the
advantages of the marriage; he knew them off by heart now.

"She's a very suitable age for me. I don't know how old she is
exactly, but she must be nearly forty. I shouldn't have wished to
marry any one younger. She's highly respected by Lord and Lady Cumnor
and their family, which is of itself a character. She has very
agreeable and polished manners--of course, from the circles she has
been thrown into--and you and I, goosey, are apt to be a little
brusque, or so; we must brush up our manners now."

No remark from her on this little bit of playfulness. He went on,--

"She has been accustomed to housekeeping--economical housekeeping,
too--for of late years she has had a school at Ashcombe, and has had,
of course, to arrange all things for a large family. And last, but
not least, she has a daughter--about your age, Molly--who, of course,
will come and live with us, and be a nice companion--a sister--for

Still she was silent. At length she said,--

"So I was sent out of the house that all this might be quietly
arranged in my absence?"

Out of the bitterness of her heart she spoke, but she was roused
out of her assumed impassiveness by the effect produced. Her
father started up, and quickly left the room, saying something to
himself--what, she could not hear, though she ran after him, followed
him through dark stone passages, into the glare of the stable-yard,
into the stables--

"Oh, papa, papa--I'm not myself--I don't know what to say about this

He led his horse out. She did not know if he heard her words. Just as
he mounted, he turned round upon her with a grey grim face--

"I think it's better for both of us, for me to go away now. We
may say things difficult to forget. We are both much agitated. By
to-morrow we shall be more composed; you will have thought it over,
and have seen that the principal--one great motive, I mean--was your
good. You may tell Mrs. Hamley--I meant to have told her myself. I
will come again to-morrow. Good-by, Molly."

For many minutes after he had ridden away--long after the sound of
his horse's hoofs on the round stones of the paved lane, beyond the
home-meadows, had died away--Molly stood there, shading her eyes,
and looking at the empty space of air in which his form had last
appeared. Her very breath seemed suspended; only, two or three times,
after long intervals, she drew a miserable sigh, which was caught up
into a sob. She turned away at last, but could not go into the house,
could not tell Mrs. Hamley, could not forget how her father had
looked and spoken--and left her.

She went out through a side-door--it was the way by which the
gardeners passed when they took the manure into the garden--and the
walk to which it led was concealed from sight as much as possible by
shrubs and evergreens and over-arching trees. No one would know what
became of her--and, with the ingratitude of misery, she added to
herself, no one would care. Mrs. Hamley had her own husband, her own
children, her close home interests--she was very good and kind, but
there was a bitter grief in Molly's heart, with which the stranger
could not intermeddle. She went quickly on to the bourne which she
had fixed for herself--a seat almost surrounded by the drooping
leaves of a weeping-ash--a seat on the long broad terrace walk on
the other side of the wood, that overlooked the pleasant slope of
the meadows beyond. The walk had probably been made to command this
sunny, peaceful landscape, with trees, and a church spire, two or
three red-tiled roofs of old cottages, and a purple bit of rising
ground in the distance; and at some previous date, when there might
have been a large family of Hamleys residing at the Hall, ladies
in hoops, and gentlemen in bag-wigs with swords by their sides,
might have filled up the breadth of the terrace, as they sauntered,
smiling, along. But no one ever cared to saunter there now. It was a
deserted walk. The squire or his sons might cross it in passing to a
little gate that led to the meadow beyond; but no one loitered there.
Molly almost thought that no one knew of the hidden seat under the
ash-tree but herself; for there were not more gardeners employed upon
the grounds than were necessary to keep the kitchen-gardens and such
of the ornamental part as was frequented by the family, or in sight
of the house, in good order.

When she had once got to the seat she broke out with suppressed
passion of grief. She did not care to analyze the sources of her
tears and sobs--her father was going to be married again--her father
was angry with her; she had done very wrong--he had gone away
displeased; she had lost his love; he was going to be married--away
from her--away from his child--his little daughter--forgetting her
own dear, dear mother. So she thought in a tumultuous kind of way,
sobbing till she was wearied out, and had to gain strength by being
quiet for a time, to break forth into her passion of tears afresh.
She had cast herself on the ground--that natural throne for violent
sorrow--and leant up against the old moss-grown seat; sometimes
burying her face in her hands; sometimes clasping them together, as
if by the tight painful grasp of her fingers she could deaden mental

She did not see Roger Hamley returning from the meadows, nor hear the
click of the little white gate. He had been out dredging in ponds and
ditches, and had his wet sling-net, with its imprisoned treasures of
nastiness, over his shoulder. He was coming home to lunch, having
always a fine midday appetite, though he pretended to despise the
meal in theory. But he knew that his mother liked his companionship
then; she depended much upon her luncheon, and was seldom downstairs
and visible to her family much before the time. So he overcame his
theory, for the sake of his mother, and had his reward in the hearty
relish with which he kept her company in eating.

He did not see Molly as he crossed the terrace-walk on his way
homewards. He had gone about twenty yards along the small wood-path
at right angles to the terrace, when, looking among the grass and
wild plants under the trees, he spied out one which was rare, one
which he had been long wishing to find in flower, and saw it at last,
with those bright keen eyes of his. Down went his net, skilfully
twisted so as to retain its contents, while it lay amid the herbage,
and he himself went with light and well-planted footsteps in search
of the treasure. He was so great a lover of nature that, without any
thought, but habitually, he always avoided treading unnecessarily on
any plant; who knew what long-sought growth or insect might develop
itself in that which now appeared but insignificant?

His steps led him in the direction of the ash-tree seat, much less
screened from observation on this side than on the terrace. He
stopped; he saw a light-coloured dress on the ground--somebody
half-lying on the seat, so still just then, he wondered if the
person, whoever it was, had fallen ill or fainted. He paused to
watch. In a minute or two the sobs broke out again--the words. It was
Miss Gibson crying out in a broken voice,--

"Oh, papa, papa! if you would but come back!"

For a minute or two he thought it would be kinder to leave her
fancying herself unobserved; he had even made a retrograde step or
two, on tip-toe; but then he heard the miserable sobbing again. It
was farther than his mother could walk, or else, be the sorrow what
it would, she was the natural comforter of this girl, her visitor.
However, whether it was right or wrong, delicate or obtrusive, when
he heard the sad voice talking again, in such tones of uncomforted,
lonely misery, he turned back, and went to the green tent under the
ash-tree. She started up when he came thus close to her; she tried to
check her sobs, and instinctively smoothed her wet tangled hair back
with her hands.

He looked down upon her with grave, kind sympathy, but he did not
know exactly what to say.

"Is it lunch-time?" said she, trying to believe that he did not see
the traces of her tears and the disturbance of her features--that he
had not seen her lying, sobbing her heart out there.

"I don't know. I was going home to lunch. But--you must let me
say it--I couldn't go on when I saw your distress. Has anything
happened?--anything in which I can help you, I mean; for, of course,
I've no right to make the inquiry, if it is any private sorrow, in
which I can be of no use."

She had exhausted herself so much with crying, that she felt as if
she could neither stand nor walk just yet. She sate down on the seat,
and sighed, and turned so pale, he thought she was going to faint.

"Wait a moment," said he,--quite unnecessarily, for she could not
have stirred,--and he was off like a shot to some spring of water
that he knew of in the wood, and in a minute or two he returned with
careful steps, bringing a little in a broad green leaf, turned into
an impromptu cup. Little as it was, it did her good.

"Thank you!" she said: "I can walk back now, in a short time. Don't

"You must let me," said he: "my mother wouldn't like me to leave you
to come home alone, while you are so faint."

So they remained in silence for a little while; he, breaking off and
examining one or two abnormal leaves of the ash-tree, partly from the
custom of his nature, partly to give her time to recover.

"Papa is going to be married again," said she, at length.

She could not have said why she told him this; an instant before she
spoke, she had no intention of doing so. He dropped the leaf he held
in his hand, turned round, and looked at her. Her poor wistful eyes
were filling with tears as they met his, with a dumb appeal for
sympathy. Her look was much more eloquent than her words. There was
a momentary pause before he replied, and then it was more because he
felt that he must say something than that he was in any doubt as to
the answer to the question he asked.

"You are sorry for it?"

She did not take her eyes away from his, as her quivering lips formed
the word "Yes," though her voice made no sound. He was silent again
now; looking on the ground, kicking softly at a loose pebble with his
foot. His thoughts did not come readily to the surface in the shape
of words; nor was he apt at giving comfort till he saw his way clear
to the real source from which consolation must come. At last he
spoke,--almost as if he was reasoning out the matter with himself.

"It seems as if there might be cases where--setting the question of
love entirely on one side--it must be almost a duty to find some one
to be a substitute for the mother. . . I can believe," said he, in
a different tone of voice, and looking at Molly afresh, "that this
step may be greatly for your father's happiness--it may relieve him
from many cares, and may give him a pleasant companion."

"He had me. You don't know what we were to each other--at least, what
he was to me," she added, humbly.

"Still he must have thought it for the best, or he wouldn't have done
it. He may have thought it the best for your sake even more than for
his own."

"That is what he tried to convince me of."

Roger began kicking the pebble again. He had not got hold of the
right end of the clue. Suddenly he looked up.

"I want to tell you of a girl I know. Her mother died when she was
about sixteen--the eldest of a large family. From that time--all
through the bloom of her youth--she gave herself up to her father,
first as his comforter, afterwards as his companion, friend,
secretary--anything you like. He was a man with a great deal of
business on hand, and often came home only to set to afresh to
preparations for the next day's work. Harriet was always there, ready
to help, to talk, or to be silent. It went on for eight or ten years
in this way; and then her father married again,--a woman not many
years older than Harriet herself. Well--they are just the happiest
set of people I know--you wouldn't have thought it likely, would

She was listening, but she had no heart to say anything. Yet she was
interested in this little story of Harriet--a girl who had been so
much to her father, more than Molly in this early youth of hers could
have been to Mr. Gibson. "How was it?" she sighed out at last.

"Harriet thought of her father's happiness before she thought of her
own," Roger answered, with something of severe brevity. Molly needed
the bracing. She began to cry again a little.

"If it were for papa's happiness--"

"He must believe that it is. Whatever you fancy, give him a chance.
He cannot have much comfort, I should think, if he sees you fretting
or pining,--you who have been so much to him, as you say. The lady
herself, too--if Harriet's stepmother had been a selfish woman, and
been always clutching after the gratification of her own wishes; but
she was not: she was as anxious for Harriet to be happy as Harriet
was for her father--and your father's future wife may be another of
the same kind, though such people are rare."

"I don't think she is, though," murmured Molly, a waft of
recollection bringing to her mind the details of her day at the
Towers long ago.

Roger did not want to hear Molly's reasons for this doubting speech.
He felt as if he had no right to hear more of Mr. Gibson's family
life, past, present, or to come, than was absolutely necessary for
him, in order that he might comfort and help the crying girl, whom he
had come upon so unexpectedly. And besides, he wanted to go home, and
be with his mother at lunch-time. Yet he could not leave her alone.

"It is right to hope for the best about everybody, and not to expect
the worst. This sounds like a truism, but it has comforted me before
now, and some day you'll find it useful. One has always to try to
think more of others than of oneself, and it is best not to prejudge
people on the bad side. My sermons aren't long, are they? Have they
given you an appetite for lunch? Sermons always make me hungry, I

He appeared to be waiting for her to get up and come along with him,
as indeed he was. But he meant her to perceive that he should not
leave her; so she rose up languidly, too languid to say how much she
should prefer being left alone, if he would only go away without her.
She was very weak, and stumbled over the straggling root of a tree
that projected across the path. He, watchful though silent, saw
this stumble, and putting out his hand held her up from falling. He
still held her hand when the occasion was past; this little physical
failure impressed on his heart how young and helpless she was, and
he yearned to her, remembering the passion of sorrow in which he had
found her, and longing to be of some little tender bit of comfort to
her, before they parted--before their tête-à-tête walk was merged in
the general familiarity of the household life. Yet he did not know
what to say.

"You will have thought me hard," he burst out at length, as they
were nearing the drawing-room windows and the garden-door. "I
never can manage to express what I feel--somehow I always fall to
philosophizing--but I am sorry for you. Yes, I am; it's beyond my
power to help you, as far as altering facts goes, but I can feel for
you, in a way which it's best not to talk about, for it can do no
good. Remember how sorry I am for you! I shall often be thinking of
you, though I daresay it's best not to talk about it again."

She said, "I know you are sorry," under her breath, and then she
broke away, and ran indoors, and upstairs to the solitude of her own
room. He went straight to his mother, who was sitting before the
untasted luncheon, as much annoyed by the mysterious unpunctuality
of her visitor as she was capable of being with anything; for she
had heard that Mr. Gibson had been, and was gone, and she could not
discover if he had left any message for her; and her anxiety about
her own health, which some people esteemed hypochondriacal, always
made her particularly craving for the wisdom which might fall from
her doctor's lips.

"Where have you been, Roger? Where is Molly?--Miss Gibson, I mean,"
for she was careful to keep up a barrier of forms between the young
man and young woman who were thrown together in the same household.

"I've been out dredging. (By the way, I left my net on the terrace
walk.) I found Miss Gibson sitting there, crying as if her heart
would break. Her father is going to be married again."

"Married again! You don't say so."

"Yes, he is; and she takes it very hardly, poor girl. Mother, I think
if you could send some one to her with a glass of wine, a cup of tea,
or something of that sort--she was very nearly fainting--"

"I'll go to her myself, poor child," said Mrs. Hamley, rising.

"Indeed you must not," said he, laying his hand upon her arm. "We
have kept you waiting already too long; you are looking quite pale.
Hammond can take it," he continued, ringing the bell. She sate down
again, almost stunned with surprise.

"Whom is he going to marry?"

"I don't know. I didn't ask, and she didn't tell me."

"That's so like a man. Why, half the character of the affair lies in
the question of who it is that he is going to marry."

"I daresay I ought to have asked. But somehow I'm not a good one
on such occasions. I was as sorry as could be for her, and yet I
couldn't tell what to say."

"What did you say?"

"I gave her the best advice in my power."

"Advice! you ought to have comforted her. Poor little Molly!"

"I think that if advice is good it's the best comfort."

"That depends on what you mean by advice. Hush! here she is."

To their surprise, Molly came in, trying hard to look as usual. She
had bathed her eyes, and arranged her hair; and was making a great
struggle to keep from crying, and to bring her voice into order.
She was unwilling to distress Mrs. Hamley by the sight of pain and
suffering. She did not know that she was following Roger's injunction
to think more of others than of herself--but so she was. Mrs. Hamley
was not sure if it was wise in her to begin on the piece of news she
had just heard from her son; but she was too full of it herself to
talk of anything else. "So I hear your father is going to be married,
my dear? May I ask whom it is to?"

"Mrs. Kirkpatrick. I think she was governess a long time ago at the
Countess of Cumnor's. She stays with them a great deal, and they call
her Clare, and I believe they are very fond of her." Molly tried to
speak of her future stepmother in the most favourable manner she knew

"I think I've heard of her. Then she's not very young? That's as it
should be. A widow too. Has she any family?"

"One girl, I believe. But I know so little about her!"

Molly was very near crying again.

"Never mind, my dear. That will all come in good time. Roger, you've
hardly eaten anything; where are you going?"

"To fetch my dredging-net. It's full of things I don't want to lose.
Besides, I never eat much, as a general thing." The truth was partly
told, not all. He thought he had better leave the other two alone.
His mother had such sweet power of sympathy, that she would draw the
sting out of the girl's heart when she had her alone. As soon as he
was gone, Molly lifted up her poor swelled eyes, and, looking at Mrs.
Hamley, she said,--"He was so good to me. I mean to try and remember
all he said."

"I'm glad to hear it, love; very glad. From what he told me, I was
afraid he had been giving you a little lecture. He has a good heart,
but he isn't so tender in his manner as Osborne. Roger is a little
rough sometimes."

"Then I like roughness. It did me good. It made me feel how
badly--oh, Mrs. Hamley, I did behave so badly to papa this morning!"

She rose up and threw herself into Mrs. Hamley's arms, and sobbed
upon her breast. Her sorrow was not now for the fact that her father
was going to be married again, but for her own ill-behaviour.

If Roger was not tender in words, he was in deeds. Unreasonable and
possibly exaggerated as Molly's grief had appeared to him, it was
real suffering to her; and he took some pains to lighten it, in his
own way, which was characteristic enough. That evening he adjusted
his microscope, and put the treasures he had collected in his
morning's ramble on a little table; and then he asked his mother to
come and admire. Of course Molly came too, and this was what he had
intended. He tried to interest her in his pursuit, cherished her
first little morsel of curiosity, and nursed it into a very proper
desire for further information. Then he brought out books on the
subject, and translated the slightly pompous and technical language
into homely every-day speech. Molly had come down to dinner,
wondering how the long hours till bedtime would ever pass away:
hours during which she must not speak on the one thing that would
be occupying her mind to the exclusion of all others; for she was
afraid that already she had wearied Mrs. Hamley with it during their
afternoon tête-à-tête. But prayers and bedtime came long before she
expected; she had been refreshed by a new current of thought, and she
was very thankful to Roger. And now there was to-morrow to come, and
a confession of penitence to be made to her father.

But Mr. Gibson did not want speech or words. He was not fond of
expressions of feeling at any time, and perhaps, too, he felt that
the less said the better on a subject about which it was evident that
his daughter and he were not thoroughly and impulsively in harmony.
He read her repentance in her eyes; he saw how much she had suffered;
and he had a sharp pang at his heart in consequence. And he stopped
her from speaking out her regret at her behaviour the day before, by
a "There, there, that will do. I know all you want to say. I know my
little Molly--my silly little goosey--better than she knows herself.
I've brought you an invitation. Lady Cumnor wants you to go and spend
next Thursday at the Towers!"

"Do you wish me to go?" said she, her heart sinking.

"I wish you and Hyacinth to become better acquainted--to learn to
love each other."

"Hyacinth!" said Molly, entirely bewildered.

"Yes; Hyacinth! It's the silliest name I ever heard of; but it's
hers, and I must call her by it. I can't bear Clare, which is
what my lady and all the family at the Towers call her; and 'Mrs.
Kirkpatrick' is formal and nonsensical too, as she'll change her name
so soon."

"When, papa?" asked Molly, feeling as if she were living in a
strange, unknown world.

"Not till after Michaelmas." And then, continuing on his own
thoughts, he added, "And the worst is, she's gone and perpetuated her
own affected name by having her daughter called after her. Cynthia!
One thinks of the moon, and the man in the moon with his bundle of
faggots. I'm thankful you're plain Molly, child."

"How old is she--Cynthia, I mean?"

"Ay, get accustomed to the name. I should think Cynthia Kirkpatrick
was about as old as you are. She's at school in France, picking up
airs and graces. She's to come home for the wedding, so you'll be
able to get acquainted with her then; though, I think, she's to go
back again for another half-year or so."



Mr. Gibson believed that Cynthia Kirkpatrick was to return to England
to be present at her mother's wedding; but Mrs. Kirkpatrick had
no such intention. She was not what is commonly called a woman
of determination; but somehow what she disliked she avoided, and
what she liked she tried to do, or to have. So although in the
conversation, which she had already led to, as to the when and the
how she was to be married, she had listened quietly to Mr. Gibson's
proposal that Molly and Cynthia should be the two bridesmaids, still
she had felt how disagreeable it would be to her to have her young
daughter flashing out her beauty by the side of the faded bride, her
mother; and as the further arrangements for the wedding became more
definite, she saw further reasons in her own mind for Cynthia's
remaining quietly at her school at Boulogne.

Mrs. Kirkpatrick had gone to bed that first night of her engagement
to Mr. Gibson, fully anticipating a speedy marriage. She looked to
it as a release from the thraldom of keeping school--keeping an
unprofitable school, with barely pupils enough to pay for house
rent and taxes, food, washing, and the requisite masters. She saw
no reason for ever going back to Ashcombe, except to wind up her
affairs, and to pack up her clothes. She hoped that Mr. Gibson's
ardour would be such that he would press on the marriage, and urge
her never to resume her school drudgery, but to relinquish it now and
for ever. She even made up a very pretty, very passionate speech for
him in her own mind; quite sufficiently strong to prevail upon her,
and to overthrow the scruples which she felt she ought to have, at
telling the parents of her pupils that she did not intend to resume
school, and that they must find another place of education for their
daughters, in the last week but one of the midsummer holidays.

It was rather like a douche of cold water on Mrs. Kirkpatrick's
plans, when the next morning at breakfast Lady Cumnor began to decide
upon the arrangements and duties of the two middle-aged lovers.

"Of course you can't give up your school all at once, Clare. The
wedding can't be before Christmas, but that will do very well. We
shall all be down at the Towers; and it will be a nice amusement for
the children to go over to Ashcombe, and see you married."

"I think--I am afraid--I don't believe Mr. Gibson will like waiting
so long; men are so impatient under these circumstances."

"Oh, nonsense! Lord Cumnor has recommended you to his tenants, and
I'm sure he wouldn't like them to be put to any inconvenience. Mr.
Gibson will see that in a moment. He's a man of sense, or else he
wouldn't be our family doctor. Now, what are you going to do about
your little girl? Have you fixed yet?"

"No. Yesterday there seemed so little time, and when one is agitated
it is so difficult to think of anything. Cynthia is nearly eighteen,
old enough to go out as a governess, if he wishes it, but I don't
think he will. He is so generous and kind."

"Well! I must give you time to settle some of your affairs to-day.
Don't waste it in sentiment, you're too old for that. Come to a clear
understanding with each other; it will be for your happiness in the
long run."

So they did come to a clear understanding about one or two things.
To Mrs. Kirkpatrick's dismay, she found that Mr. Gibson had no more
idea than Lady Cumnor of her breaking faith with the parents of her
pupils. Though he really was at a serious loss as to what was to
become of Molly till she could be under the protection of his new
wife at her own home, and though his domestic worries teased him more
and more every day, he was too honourable to think of persuading Mrs.
Kirkpatrick to give up school a week sooner than was right for his
sake. He did not even perceive how easy the task of persuasion would
be; with all her winning wiles she could scarcely lead him to feel
impatience for the wedding to take place at Michaelmas.

"I can hardly tell you what a comfort and relief it will be to me,
Hyacinth, when you are once my wife--the mistress of my home--poor
little Molly's mother and protector; but I wouldn't interfere with
your previous engagements for the world. It wouldn't be right."

"Thank you, my own love. How good you are! So many men would think
only of their own wishes and interests! I'm sure the parents of
my dear pupils will admire you--will be quite surprised at your
consideration for their interests."

"Don't tell them, then. I hate being admired. Why shouldn't you say
it is your wish to keep on your school till they've had time to look
out for another?"

"Because it isn't," said she, daring all. "I long to be making you
happy; I want to make your home a place of rest and comfort to you;
and I do so wish to cherish your sweet Molly, as I hope to do, when
I come to be her mother. I can't take virtue to myself which doesn't
belong to me. If I have to speak for myself, I shall say, 'Good
people, find a school for your daughters by Michaelmas,--for after
that time I must go and make the happiness of others.' I can't bear
to think of your long rides in November--coming home wet at night
with no one to take care of you. Oh! if you leave it to me, I shall
advise the parents to take their daughters away from the care of one
whose heart will be absent. Though I couldn't consent to any time
before Michaelmas--that wouldn't be fair or right, and I'm sure you
wouldn't urge me--you are too good."

"Well, if you think that they will consider we have acted uprightly
by them, let it be Michaelmas with all my heart. What does Lady
Cumnor say?"

"Oh! I told her I was afraid you wouldn't like waiting, because of
your difficulties with your servants, and because of Molly--it would
be so desirable to enter on the new relationship with her as soon as

"To be sure; so it would. Poor child! I'm afraid the intelligence of
my engagement has rather startled her."

"Cynthia will feel it deeply, too," said Mrs. Kirkpatrick, unwilling
to let her daughter be behind Mr. Gibson's in sensibility and

"We will have her over to the wedding! She and Molly shall be
bridesmaids," said Mr. Gibson, in the unguarded warmth of his heart.

This plan did not quite suit Mrs. Kirkpatrick: but she thought it
best not to oppose it, until she had a presentable excuse to give,
and perhaps also some reason would naturally arise out of future
circumstances; so at this time she only smiled, and softly pressed
the hand she held in hers.

It is a question whether Mrs. Kirkpatrick or Molly wished the most
for the day to be over which they were to spend together at the
Towers. Mrs. Kirkpatrick was rather weary of girls as a class. All
the trials of her life were connected with girls in some way. She was
very young when she first became a governess, and had been worsted
in her struggles with her pupils, in the first place she ever went
to. Her elegance of appearance and manner, and her accomplishments,
more than her character and acquirements, had rendered it easier
for her than for most to obtain good "situations;" and she had been
absolutely petted in some; but still she was constantly encountering
naughty or stubborn, or over-conscientious, or severe-judging, or
curious and observant girls. And again, before Cynthia was born, she
had longed for a boy, thinking it possible that if some three or
four intervening relations died, he might come to be a baronet; and
instead of a son, lo and behold it was a daughter! Nevertheless, with
all her dislike to girls in the abstract as "the plagues of her life"
(and her aversion was not diminished by the fact of her having kept
a school for "young ladies" at Ashcombe), she really meant to be as
kind as she could be to her new step-daughter, whom she remembered
principally as a black-haired, sleepy child, in whose eyes she had
read admiration of herself. Mrs. Kirkpatrick accepted Mr. Gibson
principally because she was tired of the struggle of earning her own
livelihood; but she liked him personally--nay, she even loved him in
her torpid way, and she intended to be good to his daughter, though
she felt as if it would have been easier for her to have been good to
his son.

Molly was bracing herself up in her way too. "I will be like Harriet.
I will think of others. I won't think of myself," she kept repeating
all the way to the Towers. But there was no selfishness in wishing
that the day was come to an end, and that she did very heartily. Mrs.
Hamley sent her thither in the carriage, which was to wait and bring
her back at night. Mrs. Hamley wanted Molly to make a favourable
impression, and she sent for her to come and show herself before she
set out.

"Don't put on your silk gown--your white muslin will look the nicest,
my dear."

"Not my silk? it is quite new! I had it to come here."

"Still, I think your white muslin suits you the best." "Anything but
that horrid plaid silk" was the thought in Mrs. Hamley's mind; and,
thanks to her, Molly set off for the Towers, looking a little quaint,
it is true, but thoroughly lady-like, if she was old-fashioned. Her
father was to meet her there; but he had been detained, and she had
to face Mrs. Kirkpatrick by herself, the recollection of her last
day of misery at the Towers fresh in her mind as if it had been
yesterday. Mrs. Kirkpatrick was as caressing as could be. She held
Molly's hand in hers, as they sate together in the library, after the
first salutations were over. She kept stroking it from time to time,
and purring out inarticulate sounds of loving satisfaction, as she
gazed in the blushing face.

[Illustration: THE NEW MAMMA.]

"What eyes! so like your dear father's! How we shall love each
other--shan't we, darling? For his sake!"

"I'll try," said Molly, bravely; and then she could not finish her

"And you've just got the same beautiful black curling hair!" said
Mrs. Kirkpatrick, softly lifting one of Molly's curls from off her
white temple.

"Papa's hair is growing grey," said Molly.

"Is it? I never see it. I never shall see it. He will always be to me
the handsomest of men."

Mr. Gibson was really a very handsome man, and Molly was pleased with
the compliment; but she could not help saying,--

"Still he will grow old, and his hair will grow grey. I think he will
be just as handsome, but it won't be as a young man."

"Ah! that's just it, love. He'll always be handsome; some people
always are. And he is so fond of you, dear." Molly's colour flashed
into her face. She did not want an assurance of her own father's love
from this strange woman. She could not help being angry; all she
could do was to keep silent. "You don't know how he speaks of you;
'his little treasure,' as he calls you. I'm almost jealous

Molly took her hand away, and her heart began to harden; these
speeches were so discordant to her. But she set her teeth together,
and "tried to be good."

"We must make him so happy. I'm afraid he has had a great deal to
annoy him at home; but we will do away with all that now. You must
tell me," seeing the cloud in Molly's eyes, "what he likes and
dislikes, for of course you will know."

Molly's face cleared a little; of course she did know. She had not
watched and loved him so long without believing that she understood
him better than any one else: though how he had come to like Mrs.
Kirkpatrick enough to wish to marry her, was an unsolved problem that
she unconsciously put aside as inexplicable. Mrs. Kirkpatrick went
on,--"All men have their fancies and antipathies, even the wisest.
I have known some gentlemen annoyed beyond measure by the merest
trifles; leaving a door open, or spilling tea in their saucers, or
a shawl crookedly put on. Why," continued she, lowering her voice,
"I know of a house to which Lord Hollingford will never be asked
again because he didn't wipe his shoes on both the mats in the hall!
Now you must tell me what your dear father dislikes most in these
fanciful ways, and I shall take care to avoid it. You must be my
little friend and helper in pleasing him. It will be such a pleasure
to me to attend to his slightest fancies. About my dress, too--what
colours does he like best? I want to do everything in my power with a
view to his approval."

Molly was gratified by all this, and began to think that really,
after all, perhaps her father had done well for himself; and that
if she could help towards his new happiness, she ought to do it. So
she tried very conscientiously to think over Mr. Gibson's wishes and
ways; to ponder over what annoyed him the most in his household.

"I think," said she, "papa isn't particular about many things; but I
think our not having the dinner quite punctual--quite ready for him
when he comes in, fidgets him more than anything. You see, he has
often had a long ride, and there is another long ride to come, and he
has only half-an-hour--sometimes only a quarter--to eat his dinner

"Thank you, my own love. Punctuality! Yes; it's a great thing in a
household. It's what I've had to enforce with my young ladies at
Ashcombe. No wonder poor dear Mr. Gibson has been displeased at his
dinner not being ready, and he so hard-worked!"

"Papa doesn't care what he has, if it's only ready. He would take
bread-and-cheese, if cook would only send it in instead of dinner."

"Bread-and-cheese! Does Mr. Gibson eat cheese?"

"Yes; he's very fond of it," said Molly, innocently. "I've known
him eat toasted cheese when he has been too tired to fancy anything

"Oh! but, my dear, we must change all that. I shouldn't like to
think of your father eating cheese; it's such a strong-smelling,
coarse kind of thing. We must get him a cook who can toss him up an
omelette, or something elegant. Cheese is only fit for the kitchen."

"Papa is very fond of it," persevered Molly.

"Oh! but we will cure him of that. I couldn't bear the smell of
cheese; and I'm sure he would be sorry to annoy me."

Molly was silent; it did not do, she found, to be too minute in
telling about her father's likes or dislikes. She had better leave
them for Mrs. Kirkpatrick to find out for herself. It was an awkward
pause; each was trying to find something agreeable to say. Molly
spoke at length. "Please! I should so like to know something about
Cynthia--your daughter."

"Yes, call her Cynthia. It's a pretty name, isn't it? Cynthia
Kirkpatrick. Not so pretty, though, as my old name, Hyacinth Clare.
People used to say it suited me so well. I must show you an acrostic
that a gentleman--he was a lieutenant in the 53rd--made upon it. Oh!
we shall have a great deal to say to each other, I foresee!"

"But about Cynthia?"

"Oh, yes! about dear Cynthia. What do you want to know, my dear?"

"Papa said she was to live with us! When will she come?"

"Oh, was it not sweet of your kind father? I thought of nothing
else but Cynthia's going out as a governess when she had completed
her education; she has been brought up for it, and has had great
advantages. But good dear Mr. Gibson wouldn't hear of it. He said
yesterday that she must come and live with us when she left school."

"When will she leave school?"

"She went for two years. I don't think I must let her leave before
next summer. She teaches English as well as learning French. Next
summer she shall come home, and then shan't we be a happy little

"I hope so," said Molly. "But she is to come to the wedding, isn't
she?" she went on timidly, not knowing how far Mrs. Kirkpatrick would
like the allusion to her marriage.

"Your father has begged for her to come; but we must think about it a
little more before quite fixing it. The journey is a great expense!"

"Is she like you? I do so want to see her."

"She is very handsome, people say. In the bright-coloured
style,--perhaps something like what I was. But I like the dark-haired
foreign kind of beauty best--just now," touching Molly's hair, and
looking at her with an expression of sentimental remembrance.

"Does Cynthia--is she very clever and accomplished?" asked Molly, a
little afraid lest the answer should remove Miss Kirkpatrick at too
great a distance from her.

"She ought to be; I've paid ever so much money to have her taught by
the best masters. But you will see her before long, and I'm afraid we
must go now to Lady Cumnor. It has been very charming having you all
to myself, but I know Lady Cumnor will be expecting us now, and she
was very curious to see you,--my future daughter, as she calls you."

Molly followed Mrs. Kirkpatrick into the morning-room, where Lady
Cumnor was sitting--a little annoyed, because, having completed her
toilette earlier than usual, Clare had not been aware by instinct
of the fact, and so had not brought Molly Gibson for inspection a
quarter of an hour before. Every small occurrence is an event in
the day of a convalescent invalid, and a little while ago Molly
would have met with patronizing appreciation, where now she had to
encounter criticism. Of Lady Cumnor's character as an individual she
knew nothing; she only knew she was going to see and be seen by a
live countess; nay, more, by "_the_ countess" of Hollingford.

Mrs. Kirkpatrick led her into Lady Cumnor's presence by the hand, and
in presenting her, said,--"My dear little daughter, Lady Cumnor!"

"Now, Clare, don't let me have nonsense. She is not your daughter
yet, and may never be,--I believe that one-third of the engagements
I have heard of, have never come to marriages. Miss Gibson, I am very
glad to see you, for your father's sake; when I know you better, I
hope it will be for your own."

Molly very heartily hoped that she might never be known any better
by the stern-looking lady who sate so upright in the easy chair,
prepared for lounging, and which therefore gave all the more effect
to the stiff attitude. Lady Cumnor luckily took Molly's silence for
acquiescent humility, and went on speaking after a further little
pause of inspection.

"Yes, yes, I like her looks, Clare. You may make something of her.
It will be a great advantage to you, my dear, to have a lady who has
trained up several young people of quality always about you just at
the time when you are growing up. I'll tell you what, Clare!"--a
sudden thought striking her,--"you and she must become better
acquainted--you know nothing of each other at present; you are not
to be married till Christmas, and what could be better than that
she should go back with you to Ashcombe! She would be with you
constantly, and have the advantage of the companionship of your young
people, which would be a good thing for an only child! It's a capital
plan; I'm very glad I thought of it!"

Now it would be difficult to say which of Lady Cumnor's two hearers
was the most dismayed at the idea which had taken possession of
her. Mrs. Kirkpatrick had no fancy for being encumbered with a
step-daughter before her time. If Molly came to be an inmate of her
house, farewell to many little background economies, and a still
more serious farewell to many little indulgences, that were innocent
enough in themselves, but which Mrs. Kirkpatrick's former life
had caused her to look upon as sins to be concealed: the dirty
dog's-eared delightful novel from the Ashcombe circulating library,
the leaves of which she turned over with a pair of scissors; the
lounging-chair which she had for use at her own home, straight and
upright as she sate now in Lady Cumnor's presence; the dainty morsel,
savoury and small, to which she treated herself for her own solitary
supper,--all these and many other similarly pleasant things would
have to be foregone if Molly came to be her pupil, parlour-boarder,
or visitor, as Lady Cumnor was planning. One--two things Clare was
instinctively resolved upon: to be married at Michaelmas, and not
to have Molly at Ashcombe. But she smiled as sweetly as if the plan
proposed was the most charming project in the world, while all the
time her poor brains were beating about in every bush for the reasons
or excuses of which she should make use at some future time. Molly,
however, saved her all this trouble. It was a question which of the
three was the most surprised by the words which burst out of her
lips. She did not mean to speak, but her heart was very full, and
almost before she was aware of her thought she heard herself

"I don't think it would be nice at all. I mean, my lady, that I
should dislike it very much; it would be taking me away from papa
just these very few last months. I will like you," she went on,
her eyes full of tears; and, turning to Mrs. Kirkpatrick, she put
her hand into her future stepmother's with the prettiest and most
trustful action. "I will try hard to love you, and to do all I can
to make you happy; but you must not take me away from papa just this
very last bit of time that I shall have him."

Mrs. Kirkpatrick fondled the hand thus placed in hers, and was
grateful to the girl for her outspoken opposition to Lady Cumnor's
plan. Clare was, however, exceedingly unwilling to back up Molly
by any words of her own until Lady Cumnor had spoken and given the
cue. But there was something in Molly's little speech, or in her
straightforward manner, that amused instead of irritating Lady Cumnor
in her present mood. Perhaps she was tired of the silkiness with
which she had been shut up for so many days.

She put up her glasses, and looked at them both before speaking. Then
she said--"Upon my word, young lady! Why, Clare, you've got your work
before you! Not but what there is a good deal of truth in what she
says. It must be very disagreeable to a girl of her age to have a
stepmother coming in between her father and herself, whatever may be
the advantages to her in the long run."

Molly almost felt as if she could make a friend of the stiff old
countess, for her clearness of sight as to the plan proposed being
a trial; but she was afraid, in her new-born desire of thinking for
others, of Mrs. Kirkpatrick being hurt. She need not have feared as
far as outward signs went, for the smile was still on that lady's
pretty rosy lips, and the soft fondling of her hand never stopped.
Lady Cumnor was more interested in Molly the more she looked at her;
and her gaze was pretty steady through her gold-rimmed eye-glasses.
She began a sort of catechism; a string of very straightforward
questions, such as any lady under the rank of countess might have
scrupled to ask, but which were not unkindly meant.

"You are sixteen, are you not?"

"No; I am seventeen. My birthday was three weeks ago."

"Very much the same thing, I should think. Have you ever been to

"No, never! Miss Eyre has taught me everything I know."

"Umph! Miss Eyre was your governess, I suppose? I should not have
thought your father could have afforded to keep a governess. But of
course he must know his own affairs best."

"Certainly, my lady," replied Molly, a little touchy as to any
reflections on her father's wisdom.

"You say 'certainly!' as if it was a matter of course that every
one should know their own affairs best. You are very young, Miss
Gibson--very. You'll know better before you come to my age. And I
suppose you've been taught music, and the use of globes, and French,
and all the usual accomplishments, since you have had a governess? I
never heard of such nonsense!" she went on, lashing herself up. "An
only daughter! If there had been half-a-dozen, there might have been
some sense in it."

Molly did not speak, but it was by a strong effort that she kept
silence. Mrs. Kirkpatrick fondled her hand more perseveringly than
ever, hoping thus to express a sufficient amount of sympathy to
prevent her from saying anything injudicious. But the caress had
become wearisome to Molly, and only irritated her nerves. She took
her hand out of Mrs. Kirkpatrick's, with a slight manifestation of

It was, perhaps, fortunate for the general peace that just at this
moment Mr. Gibson was announced. It is odd enough to see how the
entrance of a person of the opposite sex into an assemblage of either
men or women calms down the little discordances and the disturbance
of mood. It was the case now; at Mr. Gibson's entrance my lady took
off her glasses, and smoothed her brow; Mrs. Kirkpatrick managed
to get up a very becoming blush, and as for Molly, her face glowed
with delight, and the white teeth and pretty dimples came out like
sunlight on a landscape.

Of course, after the first greeting, my lady had to have a private
interview with her doctor; and Molly and her future stepmother
wandered about in the gardens with their arms round each other's
waists, or hand in hand, like two babes in the wood; Mrs. Kirkpatrick
active in such endearments, Molly passive, and feeling within herself
very shy and strange; for she had that particular kind of shy modesty
which makes any one uncomfortable at receiving caresses from a person
towards whom the heart does not go forth with an impulsive welcome.

Then came the early dinner; Lady Cumnor having hers in the quiet of
her own room, to which she was still a prisoner. Once or twice during
the meal, the idea crossed Molly's mind that her father disliked his
position as a middle-aged lover being made so evident to the men in
waiting as it was by Mrs. Kirkpatrick's affectionate speeches and
innuendos. He tried to banish every tint of pink sentimentalism from
the conversation, and to confine it to matter of fact; and when Mrs.
Kirkpatrick would persevere in referring to such things as had a
bearing on the future relationship of the parties, he insisted upon
viewing them in the most matter-of-fact way; and this continued even
after the men had left the room. An old rhyme Molly had heard Betty
use, would keep running in her head and making her uneasy,--

   Two is company,
   Three is trumpery.

But where could she go to in that strange house? What ought she to
do? She was roused from this fit of wonder and abstraction by her
father's saying--"What do you think of this plan of Lady Cumnor's?
She says she was advising you to have Molly as a visitor at Ashcombe
until we are married."

Mrs. Kirkpatrick's countenance fell. If only Molly would be so good
as to testify again, as she had done before Lady Cumnor! But if the
proposal was made by her father, it would come to his daughter from
a different quarter than it had done from a strange lady, be she
ever so great. Molly did not say anything; she only looked pale, and
wistful, and anxious. Mrs. Kirkpatrick had to speak for herself.

"It would be a charming plan, only--Well! we know why we would rather
not have it, don't we, love? And we won't tell papa, for fear of
making him vain. No! I think I must leave her with you, dear Mr.
Gibson, to have you all to herself for these last few weeks. It would
be cruel to take her away."

"But you know, my dear, I told you of the reason why it does not do
to have Molly at home just at present," said Mr. Gibson, eagerly. For
the more he knew of his future wife, the more he felt it necessary
to remember that, with all her foibles, she would be able to stand
between Molly and any such adventures as that which had occurred
lately with Mr. Coxe; so that one of the good reasons for the step he
had taken was always present to him, while it had slipped off the
smooth surface of Mrs. Kirkpatrick's mirror-like mind without leaving
any impression. She now recalled it, on seeing Mr. Gibson's anxious

But what were Molly's feelings at these last words of her father's?
She had been sent from home for some reason, kept a secret from her,
but told to this strange woman. Was there to be perfect confidence
between these two, and she to be for ever shut out? Was she, and what
concerned her--though how she did not know--to be discussed between
them for the future, and she to be kept in the dark? A bitter pang
of jealousy made her heart-sick. She might as well go to Ashcombe,
or anywhere else, now. Thinking more of others' happiness than
of her own was very fine; but did it not mean giving up her very
individuality, quenching all the warm love, the true desires, that
made her herself? Yet in this deadness lay her only comfort; or so it
seemed. Wandering in such mazes, she hardly knew how the conversation
went on; a third was indeed "trumpery," where there was entire
confidence between the two who were company, from which the other was
shut out. She was positively unhappy, and her father did not appear
to see it; he was absorbed with his new plans and his new wife that
was to be. But he did notice it; and was truly sorry for his little
girl: only he thought that there was a greater chance for the future
harmony of the household, if he did not lead Molly to define her
present feelings by putting them into words. It was his general plan
to repress emotion by not showing the sympathy he felt. Yet, when he
had to leave, he took Molly's hand in his, and held it there, in such
a different manner to that in which Mrs. Kirkpatrick had done; and
his voice softened to his child as he bade her good-by, and added the
words (most unusual to him), "God bless you, child!"

Molly had held up all the day bravely; she had not shown anger, or
repugnance, or annoyance, or regret; but when once more by herself in
the Hamley carriage, she burst into a passion of tears, and cried her
fill till she reached the village of Hamley. Then she tried in vain
to smooth her face into smiles, and do away with the other signs of
her grief. She only hoped she could run upstairs to her own room
without notice, and bathe her eyes in cold water before she was seen.
But at the Hall-door she was caught by the squire and Roger coming in
from an after-dinner stroll in the garden, and hospitably anxious to
help her to alight. Roger saw the state of things in an instant, and

"My mother has been looking for you to come back for this last hour,"
he led the way to the drawing-room. But Mrs. Hamley was not there;
the Squire had stopped to speak to the coachman about one of the
horses; they two were alone. Roger said,--

"I'm afraid you've had a very trying day. I have thought of you
several times, for I know how awkward these new relations are."

"Thank you," said she, her lips trembling, and on the point of crying
again. "I did try to remember what you said, and to think more of
others, but it is so difficult sometimes; you know it is, don't you?"

"Yes," said he, gravely. He was gratified by her simple confession
of having borne his words of advice in mind, and tried to act up to
them. He was but a very young man, and he was honestly flattered;
perhaps this led him on to offer more advice, and this time it was
evidently mingled with sympathy. He did not want to draw out her
confidence, which he felt might very easily be done with such a
simple girl; but he wished to help her by giving her a few of the
principles on which he had learnt to rely. "It is difficult," he went
on, "but by-and-by you will be so much happier for it."

"No, I shan't!" said Molly, shaking her head. "It will be very dull
when I shall have killed myself, as it were, and live only in trying
to do, and to be, as other people like. I don't see any end to it.
I might as well never have lived. And as for the happiness you speak
of, I shall never be happy again."

There was an unconscious depth in what she said, that Roger did not
know how to answer at the moment; it was easier to address himself
to the assertion of the girl of seventeen, that she should never be
happy again.

"Nonsense: perhaps in ten years' time you will be looking back on
this trial as a very light one--who knows?"

"I daresay it seems foolish; perhaps all our earthly trials will
appear foolish to us after a while; perhaps they seem so now to
angels. But we are ourselves, you know, and this is _now_, not some
time to come, a long, long way off. And we are not angels, to be
comforted by seeing the ends for which everything is sent."

She had never spoken so long a sentence to him before; and when she
had said it, though she did not take her eyes away from his, as they
stood steadily looking at each other, she blushed a little; she could
not have told why. Nor did he tell himself why a sudden pleasure came
over him as he gazed at her simple expressive face--and for a moment
lost the sense of what she was saying, in the sensation of pity for
her sad earnestness. In an instant more he was himself again. Only
it is pleasant to the wisest, most reasonable youth of one or two
and twenty to find himself looked up to as a Mentor by a girl of

"I know, I understand. Yes: it is _now_ we have to do with. Don't let
us go into metaphysics." Molly opened her eyes wide at this. Had she
been talking metaphysics without knowing it? "One looks forward to
a mass of trials, which will only have to be encountered one by one,
little by little. Oh, here is my mother! she will tell you better
than I can."

And the _tête-à-tête_ was merged in a trio. Mrs. Hamley lay down; she
had not been well all day--she had missed Molly, she said,--and now
she wanted to hear of all the adventures that had occurred to the
girl at the Towers. Molly sate on a stool close to the head of the
sofa, and Roger, though at first he took up a book and tried to read
that he might be no restraint, soon found his reading all a pretence:
it was so interesting to listen to Molly's little narrative, and,
besides, if he could give her any help in her time of need, was it
not his duty to make himself acquainted with all the circumstances of
her case?

And so they went on during all the remaining time of Molly's stay
at Hamley. Mrs. Hamley sympathized, and liked to hear details; as
the French say, her sympathy was given _en détail_, the Squire's
_en gros_. He was very sorry for her evident grief, and almost felt
guilty, as if he had had a share in bringing it about, by the mention
he had made of the possibility of Mr. Gibson's marrying again, when
first Molly came on her visit to them. He said to his wife more than

"'Pon my word, now, I wish I'd never spoken those unlucky words that
first day at dinner. Do you remember how she took them up? It was
like a prophecy of what was to come, now, wasn't it? And she looked
pale from that day, and I don't think she has ever fairly enjoyed her
food since. I must take more care what I say for the future. Not but
what Gibson is doing the very best thing, both for himself and her,
that he can do. I told him so only yesterday. But I'm very sorry for
the little girl, though. I wish I'd never spoken about it, that I do!
but it was like a prophecy, wasn't it?"

Roger tried hard to find out a reasonable and right method of
comfort, for he, too, in his way, was sorry for the girl, who bravely
struggled to be cheerful, in spite of her own private grief, for his
mother's sake. He felt as if high principle and noble precept ought
to perform an immediate work. But they do not, for there is always
the unknown quantity of individual experience and feeling, which
offer a tacit resistance, the amount incalculable by another, to all
good counsel and high decree. But the bond between the Mentor and his
Telemachus strengthened every day. He endeavoured to lead her out
of morbid thought into interest in other than personal things; and,
naturally enough, his own objects of interest came readiest to hand.
She felt that he did her good, she did not know why or how; but after
a talk with him, she always fancied that she had got the clue to
goodness and peace, whatever befell.



[Illustration (untitled)]

Meanwhile the love-affairs between the middle-aged couple were
prospering well, after a fashion; after the fashion that they liked
best, although it might probably have appeared dull and prosaic to
younger people. Lord Cumnor had come down in great glee at the news
he had heard from his wife at the Towers. He, too, seemed to think he
had taken an active part in bringing about the match by only speaking
about it. His first words on the subject to Lady Cumnor were,--

"I told you so. Now didn't I say what a good, suitable thing this
affair between Gibson and Clare would be! I don't know when I've been
so much pleased. You may despise the trade of match-maker, my lady,
but I am very proud of it. After this, I shall go on looking out
for suitable cases among the middle-aged people of my acquaintance.
I shan't meddle with young folks, they are so apt to be fanciful;
but I've been so successful in this, that I do think it's good
encouragement to go on."

"Go on--with what?" asked Lady Cumnor, drily.

"Oh, planning,--you can't deny that I planned this match."

"I don't think you are likely to do either much good or harm by
planning," she replied, with cool, good sense.

"It puts it into people's heads, my dear."

"Yes, if you speak about your plans to them, of course it does. But
in this case you never spoke to either Mr. Gibson or Clare, did you?"

All at once the recollection of how Clare had come upon the passage
in Lord Cumnor's letter flashed on his lady, but she did not say
anything about it, but left her husband to flounder about as best he

"No! I never spoke to them; of course not."

"Then you must be strongly mesmeric, and your will acted upon theirs,
if you are to take credit for any part in the affair," continued his
pitiless wife.

"I really can't say. It's no use looking back to what I said or
did. I'm very well satisfied with it, and that's enough, and I mean
to show them how much I'm pleased. I shall give Clare something
towards her rigging out, and they shall have a breakfast at Ashcombe
Manor-house. I'll write to Preston about it. When did you say they
were to be married?"

"I think they'd better wait till Christmas, and I have told them so.
It would amuse the children, going over to Ashcombe for the wedding;
and if it's bad weather during the holidays I'm always afraid of
their finding it dull at the Towers. It's very different if it's a
good frost, and they can go out skating and sledging in the park. But
these last two years it has been so wet for them, poor dears!"

"And will the other poor dears be content to wait to make a holiday
for your grandchildren? 'To make a Roman holiday.' Pope, or somebody
else, has a line of poetry like that. 'To make a Roman holiday,"--he
repeated, pleased with his unusual aptitude at quotation.

"It's Byron, and it's nothing to do with the subject in hand. I'm
surprised at your lordship's quoting Byron,--he was a very immoral

"I saw him take his oaths in the House of Lords," said Lord Cumnor,

"Well! the less said about him the better," said Lady Cumnor. "I have
told Clare that she had better not think of being married before
Christmas: and it won't do for her to give up her school in a hurry

But Clare did not intend to wait till Christmas; and for this once
she carried her point against the will of the countess, and without
many words, or any open opposition. She had a harder task in setting
aside Mr. Gibson's desire to have Cynthia over for the wedding,
even if she went back to her school at Boulogne directly after the
ceremony. At first she had said that it would be delightful, a
charming plan; only she feared that she must give up her own wishes
to have her child near her at such a time, on account of the expense
of the double journey.

But Mr. Gibson, economical as he was in his habitual expenditure,
had a really generous heart. He had already shown it, in entirely
relinquishing his future wife's life-interest in the very small
property the late Mr. Kirkpatrick had left, in favour of Cynthia;
while he arranged that she should come to his home as a daughter as
soon as she left the school she was at. The life-interest was about
thirty pounds a year. Now he gave Mrs. Kirkpatrick three five-pound
notes, saying that he hoped they would do away with the objections
to Cynthia's coming over to the wedding; and at the time Mrs.
Kirkpatrick felt as if they would, and caught the reflection of his
strong wish, and fancied it was her own. If the letter could have
been written and the money sent off that day while the reflected
glow of affection lasted, Cynthia would have been bridesmaid to
her mother. But a hundred little interruptions came in the way of
letter-writing; and by the next day maternal love had diminished;
and the value affixed to the money had increased: money had been
so much needed, so hardly earned in Mrs. Kirkpatrick's life; while
the perhaps necessary separation of mother and child had lessened
the amount of affection the former had to bestow. So she persuaded
herself, afresh, that it would be unwise to disturb Cynthia at her
studies; to interrupt the fulfilment of her duties just after the
_semestre_ had begun afresh; and she wrote a letter to Madame Lefevre
so well imbued with this persuasion, that an answer which was almost
an echo of her words was returned, the sense of which being conveyed
to Mr. Gibson, who was no great French scholar, settled the vexed
question, to his moderate but unfeigned regret. But the fifteen
pounds were not returned. Indeed, not merely that sum, but a
great part of the hundred which Lord Cumnor had given her for her
trousseau, was required to pay off debts at Ashcombe; for the school
had been anything but flourishing since Mrs. Kirkpatrick had had it.
It was really very much to her credit that she preferred clearing
herself from debt to purchasing wedding finery. But it was one of the
few points to be respected in Mrs. Kirkpatrick that she had always
been careful in payment to the shops where she dealt; it was a little
sense of duty cropping out. Whatever other faults might arise from
her superficial and flimsy character, she was always uneasy till she
was out of debt. Yet she had no scruple in appropriating her future
husband's money to her own use, when it was decided that it was not
to be employed as he intended. What new articles she bought for
herself, were all such as would make a show, and an impression upon
the ladies of Hollingford. She argued with herself that linen, and
all under-clothing, would never be seen; while she knew that every
gown she had, would give rise to much discussion, and would be
counted up in the little town.

So her stock of underclothing was very small, and scarcely any of it
new; but it was made of dainty material, and was finely mended up
by her deft fingers, many a night long after her pupils were in bed;
inwardly resolving all the time she sewed, that hereafter some one
else should do her plain-work. Indeed, many a little circumstance of
former subjection to the will of others rose up before her during
these quiet hours, as an endurance or a suffering never to occur
again. So apt are people to look forward to a different kind of life
from that to which they have been accustomed, as being free from care
and trial! She recollected how, one time during this very summer at
the Towers, after she was engaged to Mr. Gibson, when she had taken
above an hour to arrange her hair in some new mode carefully studied
from Mrs. Bradley's fashion-book--after all, when she came down,
looking her very best, as she thought, and ready for her lover, Lady
Cumnor had sent her back again to her room, just as if she had been
a little child, to do her hair over again, and not to make such a
figure of fun of herself! Another time she had been sent to change
her gown for one in her opinion far less becoming, but which suited
Lady Cumnor's taste better. These were little things; but they were
late samples of what in different shapes she had had to endure for
many years; and her liking for Mr. Gibson grew in proportion to her
sense of the evils from which he was going to serve as a means of
escape. After all, that interval of hope and plain-sewing, intermixed
though it was with tuition, was not disagreeable. Her wedding-dress
was secure. Her former pupils at the Towers were going to present her
with that; they were to dress her from head to foot on the auspicious
day. Lord Cumnor, as has been said, had given her a hundred pounds
for her trousseau, and had sent Mr. Preston a carte-blanche order for
the wedding-breakfast in the old hall in Ashcombe Manor-house. Lady
Cumnor--a little put out by the marriage not being deferred till
her grandchildren's Christmas holidays--had nevertheless given Mrs.
Kirkpatrick an excellent English-made watch and chain; more clumsy
but more serviceable than the little foreign elegance that had hung
at her side so long, and misled her so often.

Her preparations were thus in a very considerable state of
forwardness, while Mr. Gibson had done nothing as yet towards any new
arrangement or decoration of his house for his intended bride. He
knew he ought to do something. But what? Where to begin, when so much
was out of order, and he had so little time for superintendence?
At length he came to the wise decision of asking one of the Miss
Brownings, for old friendship's sake, to take the trouble of
preparing what was immediately requisite; and resolved to leave all
the more ornamental decorations that he proposed, to the taste of his
future wife. But before making his request to the Miss Brownings, he
had to tell them of his engagement, which had hitherto been kept a
secret from the townspeople, who had set down his frequent visits
at the Towers to the score of the countess's health. He felt how he
should have laughed in his sleeve at any middle-aged widower who
came to him with a confession of the kind he had now to make to Miss
Brownings, and disliked the idea of the necessary call: but it was to
be done, so one evening he went in "promiscuous," as they called it,
and told them his story. At the end of the first chapter--that is to
say, at the end of the story of Mr. Coxe's calf-love, Miss Browning
held up her hands in surprise.

"To think of Molly, as I have held in long-clothes, coming to have a
lover! Well, to be sure! Sister Phoebe--" (she was just coming into
the room), "here's a piece of news! Molly Gibson has got a lover!
One may almost say she's had an offer! Mr. Gibson, may not one?--and
she's but sixteen!"

"Seventeen, sister," said Miss Phoebe, who piqued herself on
knowing all about dear Mr. Gibson's domestic affairs. "Seventeen, the
22nd of last June."

"Well, have it your own way. Seventeen, if you like to call her so!"
said Miss Browning, impatiently. "The fact is still the same--she's
got a lover; and it seems to me she was in long-clothes only

"I'm sure I hope her course of true love will run smooth," said Miss

Now Mr. Gibson came in; for his story was not half told, and he
did not want them to run away too far with the idea of Molly's

"Molly knows nothing about it. I haven't even named it to any one
but you two, and to one other friend. I trounced Coxe well, and did
my best to keep his attachment--as he calls it--in bounds. But I
was sadly puzzled what to do about Molly. Miss Eyre was away, and I
couldn't leave them in the house together without any older woman."

"Oh, Mr. Gibson! why did you not send her to us?" broke in Miss
Browning. "We would have done anything in our power for you; for your
sake, as well as her poor dear mother's."

"Thank you. I know you would, but it wouldn't have done to have had
her in Hollingford, just at the time of Coxe's effervescence. He's
better now. His appetite has come back with double force, after the
fasting he thought it right to exhibit. He had three helpings of
black-currant dumpling yesterday."

"I am sure you are most liberal, Mr. Gibson. Three helpings! And, I
daresay, butcher's meat in proportion?"

"Oh! I only named it because, with such very young men, it's
generally see-saw between appetite and love, and I thought the third
helping a very good sign. But still, you know, what has happened
once, may happen again."

"I don't know. Phoebe had an offer of marriage once--" said Miss

"Hush! sister. It might hurt his feelings to have it spoken about."

"Nonsense, child! It's five-and-twenty years ago; and his eldest
daughter is married herself."

"I own he has not been constant," pleaded Miss Phoebe, in
her tender, piping voice. "All men are not--like you, Mr.
Gibson--faithful to the memory of their first-love."

Mr. Gibson winced. Jeannie was his first love; but her name had never
been breathed in Hollingford. His wife--good, pretty, sensible, and
beloved as she had been--was not his second; no, nor his third love.
And now he was come to make a confidence about his second marriage.

"Well, well," said he; "at any rate, I thought I must do something to
protect Molly from such affairs while she was so young, and before I
had given my sanction. Miss Eyre's little nephew fell ill of scarlet

"Ah! by-the-by, how careless of me not to inquire. How is the poor
little fellow?"

"Worse--better. It doesn't signify to what I've got to say now; the
fact was, Miss Eyre couldn't come back to my house for some time, and
I cannot leave Molly altogether at Hamley."

"Ah! I see now, why there was that sudden visit to Hamley. Upon my
word, it's quite a romance."

"I do like hearing of a love-affair," murmured Miss Phoebe.

"Then if you'll let me get on with my story, you shall hear of mine,"
said Mr. Gibson, quite beyond his patience with their constant

"Yours!" said Miss Phoebe, faintly.

"Bless us and save us!" said Miss Browning, with less sentiment in
her tone; "what next?"

"My marriage, I hope," said Mr. Gibson, choosing to take her
expression of intense surprise literally. "And that's what I came to
speak to you about."

A little hope darted up in Miss Phoebe's breast. She had often said
to her sister, in the confidence of curling-time (ladies wore curls
in those days), "that the only man who could ever bring her to think
of matrimony was Mr. Gibson; but that if he ever proposed, she
should feel bound to accept him, for poor dear Mary's sake;" never
explaining what exact style of satisfaction she imagined she should
give to her dead friend by marrying her late husband. Phoebe played
nervously with the strings of her black silk apron. Like the Caliph
in the Eastern story, a whole lifetime of possibilities passed
through her mind in an instant, of which possibilities the question
of questions was, Could she leave her sister? Attend, Phoebe, to
the present moment, and listen to what is being said before you
distress yourself with a perplexity which will never arise.

"Of course it has been an anxious thing for me to decide who I should
ask to be the mistress of my family, the mother of my girl; but I
think I've decided rightly at last. The lady I have chosen--"

"Tell us at once who she is, there's a good man," said
straight-forward Miss Browning.

"Mrs. Kirkpatrick," said the bridegroom elect.

"What! the governess at the Towers, that the countess makes so much

"Yes; she is much valued by them--and deservedly so. She keeps a
school now at Ashcombe, and is accustomed to housekeeping. She has
brought up the young ladies at the Towers, and has a daughter of her
own, therefore it is probable she will have a kind, motherly feeling
towards Molly."

"She's a very elegant-looking woman," said Miss Phoebe, feeling it
incumbent upon her to say something laudatory, by way of concealing
the thoughts that had just been passing through her mind. "I've seen
her in the carriage, riding backwards with the countess: a very
pretty woman, I should say."

"Nonsense, sister," said Miss Browning. "What has her elegance or
prettiness to do with the affair? Did you ever know a widower marry
again for such trifles as those? It's always from a sense of duty of
one kind or another--isn't it, Mr. Gibson? They want a housekeeper;
or they want a mother for their children; or they think their last
wife would have liked it."

Perhaps the thought had passed through the elder sister's mind that
Phoebe might have been chosen, for there was a sharp acrimony in
her tone; not unfamiliar to Mr. Gibson, but with which he did not
choose to cope at this present moment.

"You must have it your own way, Miss Browning. Settle my motives for
me. I don't pretend to be quite clear about them myself. But I am
clear in wishing heartily to keep my old friends, and for them to
love my future wife for my sake. I don't know any two women in the
world, except Molly and Mrs. Kirkpatrick, I regard as much as I do
you. Besides, I want to ask you if you will let Molly come and stay
with you till after my marriage?"

"You might have asked us before you asked Madam Hamley," said Miss
Browning, only half mollified. "We are your old friends; and we were
her mother's friends, too; though we are not county folk."

"That's unjust," said Mr. Gibson. "And you know it is."

"I don't know. You are always with Lord Hollingford, when you can
get at him, much more than you ever are with Mr. Goodenough, or Mr.
Smith. And you are always going over to Hamley."

Miss Browning was not one to give in all at once.

"I seek Lord Hollingford as I should seek such a man, whatever his
rank or position might be: usher to a school, carpenter, shoemaker,
if it were possible for them to have had a similar character of mind
developed by similar advantages. Mr. Goodenough is a very clever
attorney, with strong local interests and not a thought beyond."

"Well, well, don't go on arguing, it always gives me a headache, as
Phoebe knows. I didn't mean what I said, that's enough, isn't it?
I'll retract anything sooner than be reasoned with. Where were we
before you began your arguments?"

"About dear little Molly coming to pay us a visit," said Miss

"I should have asked you at first, only Coxe was so rampant with his
love. I didn't know what he might do, or how troublesome he might be
both to Molly and you. But he has cooled down now. Absence has had
a very tranquillizing effect, and I think Molly may be in the same
town with him, without any consequences beyond a few sighs every time
she's brought to his mind by meeting her. And I've got another favour
to ask of you, so you see it would never do for me to argue with you,
Miss Browning, when I ought to be a humble suppliant. Something must
be done to the house to make it all ready for the future Mrs. Gibson.
It wants painting and papering shamefully, and I should think some
new furniture, but I'm sure I don't know what. Would you be so very
kind as to look over the place, and see how far a hundred pounds
will go? The dining-room walls must be painted; we'll keep the
drawing-room paper for her choice, and I've a little spare money for
that room for her to lay out; but all the rest of the house I'll
leave to you, if you'll only be kind enough to help an old friend."

This was a commission which exactly gratified Miss Browning's love
of power. The disposal of money involved patronage of trades people,
such as she had exercised in her father's lifetime, but had had very
little chance of showing since his death. Her usual good-humour was
quite restored by this proof of confidence in her taste and economy,
while Miss Phoebe's imagination dwelt rather on the pleasure of a
visit from Molly.



Time was speeding on; it was now the middle of August,--if anything
was to be done to the house, it must be done at once. Indeed, in
several ways Mr. Gibson's arrangements with Miss Browning had not
been made too soon. The squire had heard that Osborne might probably
return home for a few days before going abroad; and, though the
growing intimacy between Roger and Molly did not alarm him in the
least, yet he was possessed by a very hearty panic lest the heir
might take a fancy to the surgeon's daughter; and he was in such a
fidget for her to leave the house before Osborne came home, that his
wife lived in constant terror lest he should make it too obvious to
their visitor.

Every young girl of seventeen or so, who is at all thoughtful, is
very apt to make a Pope out of the first person who presents to
her a new or larger system of duty than that by which she has been
unconsciously guided hitherto. Such a Pope was Roger to Molly; she
looked to his opinion, to his authority on almost every subject, yet
he had only said one or two things in a terse manner which gave them
the force of precepts--stable guides to her conduct--and had shown
the natural superiority in wisdom and knowledge which is sure to
exist between a highly educated young man of no common intelligence,
and an ignorant girl of seventeen, who yet was well capable of
appreciation. Still, although they were drawn together in this very
pleasant relationship, each was imagining some one very different for
the future owner of their whole heart--their highest and completest
love. Roger looked to find a grand woman, his equal, and his empress;
beautiful in person, serene in wisdom, ready for counsel, as was
Egeria. Molly's little wavering maiden fancy dwelt on the unseen
Osborne, who was now a troubadour, and now a knight, such as he wrote
about in one of his own poems; some one like Osborne, perhaps, rather
than Osborne himself, for she shrank from giving a personal form
and name to the hero that was to be. The squire was not unwise in
wishing her well out of the house before Osborne came home, if he was
considering her peace of mind. Yet, when she went away from the hall
he missed her constantly; it had been so pleasant to have her there
fulfilling all the pretty offices of a daughter; cheering the meals,
so often tête-à-tête betwixt him and Roger, with her innocent wise
questions, her lively interest in their talk, her merry replies to
his banter.

And Roger missed her too. Sometimes her remarks had probed into his
mind, and excited him to the deep thought in which he delighted; at
other times he had felt himself of real help to her in her hours of
need, and in making her take an interest in books, which treated of
higher things than the continual fiction and poetry which she had
hitherto read. He felt something like an affectionate tutor suddenly
deprived of his most promising pupil; he wondered how she would go
on without him; whether she would be puzzled and disheartened by the
books he had lent her to read; how she and her stepmother would get
along together? She occupied his thoughts a good deal those first
few days after she left the hall. Mrs. Hamley regretted her more,
and longer than did the other two. She had given her the place of
a daughter in her heart; and now she missed the sweet feminine
companionship, the playful caresses, the never-ceasing attentions;
the very need of sympathy in her sorrows, that Molly had shown so
openly from time to time; all these things had extremely endeared her
to the tender-hearted Mrs. Hamley.

Molly, too, felt the change of atmosphere keenly; and she blamed
herself for so feeling even more keenly still. But she could not
help having a sense of refinement, which had made her appreciate the
whole manner of being at the Hall. By her dear old friends the Miss
Brownings she was petted and caressed so much that she became ashamed
of noticing the coarser and louder tones in which they spoke, the
provincialism of their pronunciation, the absence of interest in
things, and their greediness of details about persons. They asked her
questions which she was puzzled enough to answer about her future
stepmother; her loyalty to her father forbidding her to reply fully
and truthfully. She was always glad when they began to make inquiries
as to every possible affair at the Hall. She had been so happy there;
she had liked them all, down to the very dogs, so thoroughly, that it
was easy work replying: she did not mind telling them everything,
even to the style of Mrs. Hamley's invalid dress; nor what wine the
squire drank at dinner. Indeed, talking about these things helped
her to recall the happiest time in her life. But one evening, as
they were all sitting together after tea in the little upstairs
drawing-room, looking into the High Street--Molly discoursing away on
the various pleasures of Hamley Hall, and just then telling of all
Roger's wisdom in natural science, and some of the curiosities he had
shown her, she was suddenly pulled up by this little speech,--

"You seem to have seen a great deal of Mr. Roger, Molly!" said Miss
Browning, in a way intended to convey a great deal of meaning to her
sister and none at all to Molly. But--

   The man recovered of the bite;
   The dog it was that died.

Molly was perfectly aware of Miss Browning's emphatic tone, though at
first she was perplexed as to its cause; while Miss Phoebe was just
then too much absorbed in knitting the heel of her stocking to be
fully alive to her sister's nods and winks.

"Yes; he was very kind to me," said Molly, slowly, pondering over
Miss Browning's manner, and unwilling to say more until she had
satisfied herself to what the question tended.

"I daresay you will soon be going to Hamley Hall again? He's not
the eldest son, you know, Phoebe! Don't make my head ache with your
eternal 'eighteen, nineteen,' but attend to the conversation. Molly
is telling us how much she saw of Mr. Roger, and how kind he was to
her. I've always heard he was a very nice young man, my dear. Tell
us some more about him! Now, Phoebe, attend! How was he kind to you,

"Oh, he told me what books to read; and one day he made me notice how
many bees I saw--"

"Bees, child! What do you mean? Either you or he must have been

"No, not at all. There are more than two hundred kinds of bees in
England, and he wanted me to notice the difference between them and
flies. Miss Browning, I can't help seeing what you fancy," said
Molly, as red as fire, "but it is very wrong; it is all a mistake. I
won't speak another word about Mr. Roger or Hamley at all, if it puts
such silly notions into your head."

"Highty-tighty! Here's a young lady to be lecturing her elders! Silly
notions indeed! They are in your head, it seems. And let me tell you,
Molly, you are too young to let your mind be running on lovers."

Molly had been once or twice called saucy and impertinent, and
certainly a little sauciness came out now.

"I never said what the 'silly notion' was, Miss Browning; did I now,
Miss Phoebe? Don't you see, dear Miss Phoebe, it is all her own
interpretation, and according to her own fancy, this foolish talk
about lovers?"

Molly was flaming with indignation; but she had appealed to the
wrong person for justice. Miss Phoebe tried to make peace after the
fashion of weak-minded people, who would cover over the unpleasant
sight of a sore, instead of trying to heal it.

"I'm sure I don't know anything about it, my dear. It seems to me
that what Dorothy was saying was very true--very true indeed; and I
think, love, you misunderstood her; or, perhaps, she misunderstood
you; or I may be misunderstanding it altogether; so we'd better not
talk any more about it. What price did you say you were going to give
for the drugget in Mr. Gibson's dining-room, sister?"

So Miss Browning and Molly went on till evening, each chafed and
angry with the other. They wished each other good-night, going
through the usual forms in the coolest manner possible. Molly went
up to her little bedroom, clean and neat as a bedroom could be, with
draperies of small delicate patchwork--bed-curtains, window-curtains,
and counterpane; a japanned toilette-table, full of little boxes,
with a small looking-glass affixed to it, that distorted every face
that was so unwise as to look in it. This room had been to the child
one of the most dainty and luxurious places ever seen, in comparison
with her own bare, white-dimity bedroom; and now she was sleeping in
it, as a guest, and all the quaint adornments she had once peeped at
as a great favour, as they were carefully wrapped up in cap-paper,
were set out for her use. And yet how little she had deserved this
hospitable care; how impertinent she had been; how cross she had felt
ever since! She was crying tears of penitence and youthful misery
when there came a low tap to the door. Molly opened it, and there
stood Miss Browning, in a wonderful erection of a nightcap, and
scantily attired in a coloured calico jacket over her scrimpy and
short white petticoat.

"I was afraid you were asleep, child," said she, coming in and
shutting the door. "But I wanted to say to you we've got wrong
to-day, somehow; and I think it was perhaps my doing. It's as well
Phoebe shouldn't know, for she thinks me perfect; and when there's
only two of us, we get along better if one of us thinks the other
can do no wrong. But I rather think I was a little cross. We'll not
say any more about it, Molly; only we'll go to sleep friends,--and
friends we'll always be, child, won't we? Now give me a kiss,
and don't cry and swell your eyes up;--and put out your candle

"I was wrong--it was my fault," said Molly, kissing her.

"Fiddlestick-ends! Don't contradict me! I say it was my fault, and
I won't hear another word about it."

The next day Molly went with Miss Browning to see the changes going
on in her father's house. To her they were but dismal improvements.
The faint grey of the dining-room walls, which had harmonized well
enough with the deep crimson of the moreen curtains, and which
when well cleaned looked thinly coated rather than dirty, was now
exchanged for a pink salmon-colour of a very glowing hue; and the
new curtains were of that pale sea-green just coming into fashion.
"Very bright and pretty," Miss Browning called it; and in the first
renewing of their love Molly could not bear to contradict her. She
could only hope that the green and brown drugget would tone down the
brightness and prettiness. There was scaffolding here, scaffolding
there, and Betty scolding everywhere.

"Come up now, and see your papa's bedroom. He's sleeping upstairs in
yours, that everything may be done up afresh in his."

Molly could just remember, in faint clear lines of distinctness, the
being taken into this very room to bid farewell to her dying mother.
She could see the white linen, the white muslin, surrounding the
pale, wan wistful face, with the large, longing eyes, yearning for
one more touch of the little soft warm child, whom she was too feeble
to clasp in her arms, already growing numb in death. Many a time when
Molly had been in this room since that sad day, had she seen in vivid
fancy that same wan wistful face lying on the pillow, the outline
of the form beneath the clothes; and the girl had not shrunk from
such visions, but rather cherished them, as preserving to her the
remembrance of her mother's outward semblance. Her eyes were full of
tears, as she followed Miss Browning into this room to see it under
its new aspect. Nearly everything was changed--the position of the
bed and the colour of the furniture; there was a grand toilette-table
now, with a glass upon it, instead of the primitive substitute of the
top of a chest of drawers, with a mirror above upon the wall, sloping
downwards; these latter things had served her mother during her short
married life.

"You see, we must have all in order for a lady who has passed so
much of her time in the countess's mansion," said Miss Browning, who
was now quite reconciled to the marriage, thanks to the pleasant
employment of furnishing that had devolved upon her in consequence.
"Cromer, the upholsterer, wanted to persuade me to have a sofa and a
writing-table. These men will say anything is the fashion, if they
want to sell an article. I said, 'No, no, Cromer: bedrooms are for
sleeping in, and sitting-rooms are for sitting in. Keep everything to
its right purpose, and don't try and delude me into nonsense.' Why,
my mother would have given us a fine scolding if she had ever caught
us in our bedrooms in the daytime. We kept our out-door things in
a closet downstairs; and there was a very tidy place for washing
our hands, which is as much as one wants in the daytime. Stuffing
up a bedroom with sofas and tables! I never heard of such a thing.
Besides, a hundred pounds won't last for ever. I sha'n't be able to
do anything for your room, Molly!"

"I'm right down glad of it," said Molly. "Nearly everything in it was
what mamma had when she lived with my great-uncle. I wouldn't have
had it changed for the world; I am so fond of it."

"Well, there's no danger of it, now the money is run out. By the way,
Molly, who's to buy you a bridesmaid's dress?"

"I don't know," said Molly; "I suppose I am to be a bridesmaid; but
no one has spoken to me about my dress."

"Then I shall ask your papa."

"Please, don't. He must have to spend a great deal of money just now.
Besides, I would rather not be at the wedding, if they'll let me stay

"Nonsense, child. Why, all the town would be talking of it. You must
go, and you must be well dressed, for your father's sake."

But Mr. Gibson had thought of Molly's dress, although he had said
nothing about it to her. He had commissioned his future wife to get
her what was requisite; and presently a very smart dressmaker came
over from the county-town to try on a dress, which was both so simple
and so elegant as at once to charm Molly. When it came home all ready
to put on, Molly had a private dressing-up for the Miss Brownings'
benefit; and she was almost startled when she looked into the glass,
and saw the improvement in her appearance. "I wonder if I'm pretty,"
thought she. "I almost think I am--in this kind of dress I mean, of
course. Betty would say, 'Fine feathers make fine birds.'"

When she went downstairs in her bridal attire, and with shy blushes
presented herself for inspection, she was greeted with a burst of

"Well, upon my word! I shouldn't have known you." ("Fine feathers,"
thought Molly, and checked her rising vanity.)

"You are really beautiful--isn't she, sister?" said Miss Phoebe.
"Why, my dear, if you were always dressed, you would be prettier than
your dear mamma, whom we always reckoned so very personable."

"You're not a bit like her. You favour your father, and white always
sets off a brown complexion."

"But isn't she beautiful?" persevered Miss Phoebe.

"Well! and if she is, Providence made her, and not she herself.
Besides, the dressmaker must go shares. What a fine India muslin it
is! it'll have cost a pretty penny!"

Mr. Gibson and Molly drove over to Ashcombe, the night before the
wedding, in the one yellow post-chaise that Hollingford possessed.
They were to be Mr. Preston's, or, rather, my lord's guests at the
Manor-house. The Manor-house came up to its name, and delighted Molly
at first sight. It was built of stone, had many gables and mullioned
windows, and was covered over with Virginian creeper and late-blowing
roses. Molly did not know Mr. Preston, who stood in the doorway
to greet her father. She took standing with him as a young lady
at once, and it was the first time she had met with the kind of
behaviour--half complimentary, half flirting--which some men think
it necessary to assume with every woman under five-and-twenty. Mr.
Preston was very handsome, and knew it. He was a fair man, with
light-brown hair and whiskers; grey, roving, well-shaped eyes, with
lashes darker than his hair; and a figure rendered easy and supple by
the athletic exercises in which his excellence was famous, and which
had procured him admission into much higher society than he was
otherwise entitled to enter. He was a capital cricketer; was so good
a shot, that any house desirous of reputation for its bags on the
12th or the 1st, was glad to have him for a guest. He taught young
ladies to play billiards on a wet day, or went in for the game in
serious earnest when required. He knew half the private theatrical
plays off by heart, and was invaluable in arranging impromptu
charades and tableaux. He had his own private reasons for wishing
to get up a flirtation with Molly just at this time; he had amused
himself so much with the widow when she first came to Ashcombe, that
he fancied that the sight of him, standing by her less polished, less
handsome, middle-aged husband, might be too much of a contrast to be
agreeable. Besides, he had really a strong passion for some one else;
some one who would be absent; and that passion it was necessary for
him to conceal. So that, altogether, he had resolved, even had "the
little Gibson-girl" (as he called her) been less attractive than she
was, to devote himself to her for the next sixteen hours.

They were taken by their host into a wainscoted parlour, where a
wood fire crackled and burnt, and the crimson curtains shut out the
waning day and the outer chill. Here the table was laid for dinner;
snowy table-linen, bright silver, clear sparkling glass, wine and an
autumnal dessert on the sideboard. Yet Mr. Preston kept apologizing
to Molly for the rudeness of his bachelor home, for the smallness of
the room, the great dining-room being already appropriated by his
housekeeper, in preparation for the morrow's breakfast. And then he
rang for a servant to show Molly to her room. She was taken into a
most comfortable chamber; a wood fire on the hearth, candles lighted
on the toilette-table, dark woollen curtains surrounding a snow-white
bed, great vases of china standing here and there.

"This is my Lady Harriet's room when her ladyship comes to the
Manor-house with my lord the earl," said the housemaid, striking
out thousands of brilliant sparks by a well-directed blow at a
smouldering log. "Shall I help you to dress, miss? I always helps her

Molly, quite aware of the fact that she had but her white muslin gown
for the wedding besides that she had on, dismissed the good woman,
and was thankful to be left to herself.

"Dinner" was it called? Why, it was nearly eight o'clock; and
preparations for bed seemed a more natural employment than dressing
at this hour of night. All the dressing she could manage was the
placing of a red damask rose or two in the band of her grey stuff
gown, there being a great nosegay of choice autumnal flowers on the
toilette-table. She did try the effect of another crimson rose in
her black hair, just above her ear; it was very pretty, but too
coquettish, and so she put it back again. The dark-oak panels and
wainscoting of the whole house seemed to glow in warm light; there
were so many fires in different rooms, in the hall, and even one on
the landing of the staircase. Mr. Preston must have heard her step,
for he met her in the hall, and led her into a small drawing-room,
with closed folding-doors on one side, opening into the larger
drawing-room, as he told her. This room into which she entered
reminded her a little of Hamley--yellow-satin upholstery of seventy
or a hundred years ago, all delicately kept and scrupulously clean;
great Indian cabinets, and china jars, emitting spicy odours; a large
blazing fire, before which her father stood in his morning dress,
grave and thoughtful, as he had been all day.

"This room is that which Lady Harriet uses when she comes here with
her father for a day or two," said Mr. Preston. And Molly tried to
save her father by being ready to talk herself.

"Does she often come here?"

"Not often. But I fancy she likes being here when she does. Perhaps
she finds it an agreeable change after the more formal life she leads
at the Towers."

"I should think it was a very pleasant house to stay at," said Molly,
remembering the look of warm comfort that pervaded it. But a little
to her dismay Mr. Preston seemed to take it as a compliment to

"I was afraid a young lady like you might perceive all the
incongruities of a bachelor's home. I'm very much obliged to you,
Miss Gibson. In general I live pretty much in the room in which we
shall dine; and I've a sort of agent's office in which I keep books
and papers, and receive callers on business."

Then they went in to dinner. Molly thought everything that was served
was delicious, and cooked to the point of perfection; but they
did not seem to satisfy Mr. Preston, who apologized to his guests
several times for the bad cooking of this dish, or the omission
of a particular sauce to that; always referring to bachelor's
housekeeping, bachelor's this and bachelor's that, till Molly grew
quite impatient at the word. Her father's depression, which was still
continuing and rendering him very silent, made her uneasy; yet she
wished to conceal it from Mr. Preston; and so she talked away, trying
to obviate the sort of personal bearing which their host would give
to everything. She did not know when to leave the gentlemen, but her
father made a sign to her; and she was conducted back to the yellow
drawing-room by Mr. Preston, who made many apologies for leaving
her there alone. She enjoyed herself extremely, however, feeling at
liberty to prowl about, and examine all the curiosities the room
contained. Among other things was a Louis Quinze cabinet with lovely
miniatures in enamel let into the fine woodwork. She carried a candle
to it, and was looking intently at these faces when her father and
Mr. Preston came in. Her father still looked care-worn and anxious;
he came up and patted her on the back, looked at what she was looking
at, and then went off to silence and the fire. Mr. Preston took the
candle out of her hand, and threw himself into her interests with an
air of ready gallantry.

"That is said to be Mademoiselle de St. Quentin, a great beauty at
the French Court. This is Madame du Barri. Do you see any likeness in
Mademoiselle de St. Quentin to any one you know?" He had lowered his
voice a little as he asked this question.

"No!" said Molly, looking at it again. "I never saw any one half so

"But don't you see a likeness--in the eyes particularly?" he asked
again, with some impatience.

Molly tried hard to find out a resemblance, and was again

"It constantly reminds me of--of Miss Kirkpatrick."

"Does it?" said Molly, eagerly. "Oh! I am so glad--I've never seen
her, so of course I couldn't find out the likeness. You know her,
then, do you? Please tell me all about her."

He hesitated a moment before speaking. He smiled a little before

"She's very beautiful; that of course is understood when I say that
this miniature does not come up to her for beauty."

"And besides?--Go on, please."

"What do you mean by 'besides'?"

"Oh! I suppose she's very clever and accomplished?"

That was not in the least what Molly wanted to ask; but it was
difficult to word the vague vastness of her unspoken inquiry.

"She is clever naturally; she has picked up accomplishments. But she
has such a charm about her, one forgets what she herself is in the
halo that surrounds her. You ask me all this, Miss Gibson, and I
answer truthfully; or else I should not entertain one young lady with
my enthusiastic praises of another."

"I don't see why not," said Molly. "Besides, if you wouldn't do it
in general, I think you ought to do it in my case; for you, perhaps,
don't know, but she is coming to live with us when she leaves school,
and we are very nearly the same age; so it will be almost like having
a sister."

"She is to live with you, is she?" said Mr. Preston, to whom this
intelligence was news. "And when is she to leave school? I thought
she would surely have been at this wedding; but I was told she was
not to come. When is she to leave school?"

"I think it is to be at Easter. You know she's at Boulogne, and it's
a long journey for her to come alone; or else papa wished for her to
be at the marriage very much indeed."

"And her mother prevented it?--I understand."

"No, it wasn't her mother; it was the French schoolmistress, who
didn't think it desirable."

"It comes to pretty much the same thing. And she's to return and live
with you after Easter?"

"I believe so. Is she a grave or a merry person?"

"Never very grave, as far as I have seen of her. Sparkling would
be the word for her, I think. Do you ever write to her? If you do,
pray remember me to her, and tell her how we have been talking about
her--you and I."

"I never write to her," said Molly, rather shortly.

Tea came in; and after that they all went to bed. Molly heard her
father exclaim at the fire in his bedroom, and Mr. Preston's reply--

"I pique myself on my keen relish for all creature comforts, and also
on my power of doing without them, if need be. My lord's woods are
ample, and I indulge myself with a fire in my bedroom for nine months
in the year; yet I could travel in Iceland without wincing from the



The wedding went off much as such affairs do. Lord Cumnor and Lady
Harriet drove over from the Towers, so the hour for the ceremony
was as late as possible. Lord Cumnor came in order to officiate as
the bride's father, and was in more open glee than either bride or
bridegroom, or any one else. Lady Harriet came as a sort of amateur
bridesmaid, to "share Molly's duties," as she called it. They went
from the Manor-house in two carriages to the church in the park, Mr.
Preston and Mr. Gibson in one, and Molly, to her dismay, shut up with
Lord Cumnor and Lady Harriet in the other. Lady Harriet's gown of
white muslin had seen one or two garden-parties, and was not in the
freshest order; it had been rather a freak of the young lady's at the
last moment. She was very merry, and very much inclined to talk to
Molly, by way of finding out what sort of a little personage Clare
was to have for her future daughter. She began:--

"We mustn't crush this pretty muslin dress of yours. Put it over
papa's knee; he doesn't mind it in the least."

"What, my dear, a white dress!--no, to be sure not. I rather like
it. Besides, going to a wedding, who minds anything? It would be
different if we were going to a funeral."

Molly conscientiously strove to find out the meaning of this speech;
but before she had done so, Lady Harriet spoke again, going to the
point, as she always piqued herself on doing:

"I daresay it's something of a trial to you, this second marriage of
your father's; but you'll find Clare the most amiable of women. She
always let me have my own way, and I've no doubt she'll let you have

"I mean to try and like her," said Molly, in a low voice, striving
hard to keep down the tears that would keep rising to her eyes this
morning. "I've seen very little of her yet."

"Why, it's the very best thing for you that could have happened, my
dear," said Lord Cumnor. "You're growing up into a young lady--and
a very pretty young lady, too, if you'll allow an old man to say
so--and who so proper as your father's wife to bring you out, and
show you off, and take you to balls, and that kind of thing? I
always said this match that is going to come off to-day was the most
suitable thing I ever knew; and it's even a better thing for you than
for the people themselves."

"Poor child!" said Lady Harriet, who had caught a sight of Molly's
troubled face, "the thought of balls is too much for her just now;
but you'll like having Cynthia Kirkpatrick for a companion, shan't
you, dear?"

"Very much," said Molly, cheering up a little. "Do you know her?"

"Oh, I've seen her over and over again when she was a little girl,
and once or twice since. She's the prettiest creature that you ever
saw; and with eyes that mean mischief, if I'm not mistaken. But
Clare kept her spirit under pretty well when she was staying with
us,--afraid of her being troublesome, I fancy."

Before Molly could shape her next question, they were at the church;
and she and Lady Harriet went into a pew near the door to wait for
the bride, in whose train they were to proceed to the altar. The earl
drove on alone to fetch her from her own house, not a quarter of a
mile distant. It was pleasant to her to be led to the hymeneal altar
by a belted earl, and pleasant to have his daughter as a volunteer
bridesmaid. Mrs. Kirkpatrick in this flush of small gratifications,
and on the brink of matrimony with a man whom she liked, and who
would be bound to support her without any exertion of her own, looked
beamingly happy and handsome. A little cloud came over her face at
the sight of Mr. Preston,--the sweet perpetuity of her smile was
rather disturbed as he followed in Mr. Gibson's wake. But his face
never changed; he bowed to her gravely, and then seemed absorbed in
the service. Ten minutes, and all was over. The bride and bridegroom
were driving together to the Manor-house, Mr. Preston was walking
thither by a short cut, and Molly was again in the carriage with my
lord, rubbing his hands and chuckling, and Lady Harriet, trying to
be kind and consolatory, when her silence would have been the best

Molly found out, to her dismay, that the plan was for her to return
with Lord Cumnor and Lady Harriet when they went back to the Towers
in the evening. In the meantime Lord Cumnor had business to do with
Mr. Preston, and after the happy couple had driven off on their
week's holiday tour, she was to be left alone with the formidable
Lady Harriet. When they were by themselves after all the others had
been thus disposed of, Lady Harriet sate still over the drawing-room
fire, holding a screen between it and her face, but gazing intently
at Molly for a minute or two. Molly was fully conscious of this
prolonged look, and was trying to get up her courage to return the
stare, when Lady Harriet suddenly said,--

"I like you;--you are a little wild creature, and I want to tame you.
Come here, and sit on this stool by me. What is your name? or what do
they call you?--as North-country people would express it."

"Molly Gibson. My real name is Mary."

"Molly is a nice, soft-sounding name. People in the last century
weren't afraid of homely names; now we are all so smart and fine: no
more 'Lady Bettys' now. I almost wonder they haven't re-christened
all the worsted and knitting-cotton that bears her name. Fancy Lady
Constantia's cotton, or Lady Anna-Maria's worsted."

"I didn't know there was a Lady Betty's cotton," said Molly.

"That proves you don't do fancy-work! You'll find Clare will set
you to it, though. She used to set me at piece after piece: knights
kneeling to ladies; impossible flowers. But I must do her the justice
to add that when I got tired of them she finished them herself. I
wonder how you'll get on together?"

"So do I!" sighed out Molly, under her breath.

"I used to think I managed her, till one day an uncomfortable
suspicion arose that all the time she had been managing me. Still
it's easy work to let oneself be managed; at any rate till one wakens
up to the consciousness of the process, and then it may become
amusing, if one takes it in that light."

"I should hate to be managed," said Molly, indignantly. "I'll try and
do what she wishes for papa's sake, if she'll only tell me outright;
but I should dislike to be trapped into anything."

"Now I," said Lady Harriet, "am too lazy to avoid traps; and I rather
like to remark the cleverness with which they're set. But then,
of course, I know that if I choose to exert myself, I can break
through the withes of green flax with which they try to bind me. Now,
perhaps, you won't be able."

"I don't quite understand what you mean," said Molly.

"Oh, well--never mind; I daresay it's as well for you that you
shouldn't. The moral of all I have been saying is, 'Be a good girl,
and suffer yourself to be led, and you'll find your new stepmother
the sweetest creature imaginable.' You'll get on capitally with her,
I make no doubt. How you'll get on with her daughter is another
affair; but I daresay very well. Now we'll ring for tea; for I
suppose that heavy breakfast is to stand for our lunch."

Mr. Preston came into the room just at this time, and Molly was a
little surprised at Lady Harriet's cool manner of dismissing him,
remembering as she did how Mr. Preston had implied his intimacy with
her ladyship the evening before at dinner-time.

"I cannot bear that sort of person," said Lady Harriet, almost before
he was out of hearing; "giving himself airs of gallantry towards
one to whom his simple respect is all his duty. I can talk to one
of my father's labourers with pleasure, while with a man like that
underbred fop I am all over thorns and nettles. What is it the Irish
call that style of creature? They've some capital word for it, I
know. What is it?"

"I don't know--I never heard it," said Molly, a little ashamed of her

"Oh! that shows you've never read Miss Edgeworth's tales;--now,
have you? If you had, you'd have recollected that there was such
a word, even if you didn't remember what it was. If you've never
read those stories, they would be just the thing to beguile your
solitude--vastly improving and moral, and yet quite sufficiently
interesting. I'll lend them to you while you're all alone."

"I'm not alone. I'm not at home, but on a visit to Miss Brownings."

"Then I'll bring them to you. I know the Miss Brownings; they used
to come regularly on the school-day to the Towers. Pecksy and Flapsy
I used to call them. I like the Miss Brownings; one gets enough of
respect from them at any rate; and I've always wanted to see the
kind of _ménage_ of such people. I'll bring you a whole pile of Miss
Edgeworth's stories, my dear."

Molly sate quite silent for a minute or two; then she mustered up
courage to speak out what was in her mind.

"Your ladyship" (the title was the firstfruits of the lesson, as
Molly took it, on paying due respect)--"your ladyship keeps speaking
of the sort of--the class of people to which I belong as if it was a
kind of strange animal you were talking about; yet you talk so openly
to me that--"

"Well, go on--I like to hear you."

Still silence.

"You think me in your heart a little impertinent--now, don't you?"
said Lady Harriet, almost kindly.

Molly held her peace for two or three moments; then she lifted her
beautiful, honest eyes to Lady Harriet's face, and said,--

"Yes!--a little. But I think you a great many other things."

"We'll leave the 'other things' for the present. Don't you see,
little one, I talk after my kind, just as you talk after your kind.
It's only on the surface with both of us. Why, I daresay some of your
good Hollingford ladies talk of the poor people in a manner which
they would consider as impertinent in their turn, if they could hear
it. But I ought to be more considerate when I remember how often
my blood has boiled at the modes of speech and behaviour of one of
my aunts, mamma's sister, Lady-- No! I won't name names. Any one
who earns his livelihood by any exercise of head or hands, from
professional people and rich merchants down to labourers, she calls
'persons.' She would never in her most slip-slop talk accord them
even the conventional title of 'gentlemen;' and the way in which
she takes possession of human beings, 'my woman,' 'my people,'--but,
after all, it is only a way of speaking. I ought not to have used
it to you; but somehow I separate you from all these Hollingford

"But why?" persevered Molly. "I'm one of them."

"Yes, you are. But--now don't reprove me again for impertinence--most
of them are so unnatural in their exaggerated respect and admiration
when they come up to the Towers, and put on so much pretence by way
of fine manners, that they only make themselves objects of ridicule.
You at least are simple and truthful, and that's why I separate you
in my own mind from them, and have talked unconsciously to you as I
would--well! now here's another piece of impertinence--as I would to
my equal--in rank, I mean; for I don't set myself up in solid things
as any better than my neighbours. Here's tea, however, come in time
to stop me from growing too humble."

It was a very pleasant little tea in the fading September twilight.

Just as it was ended, in came Mr. Preston again:--

"Lady Harriet, will you allow me the pleasure of showing you some
alterations I have made in the flower-garden--in which I have tried
to consult your taste--before it grows dark?"


"Thank you, Mr. Preston. I will ride over with papa some day, and we
will see if we approve of them."

Mr. Preston's brow flushed. But he affected not to perceive Lady
Harriet's haughtiness, and, turning to Molly, he said,--

"Will not you come out, Miss Gibson, and see something of the
gardens? You haven't been out at all, I think, excepting to church."

Molly did not like the idea of going out for a walk with only Mr.
Preston; yet she pined for a little fresh air, would have been glad
to see the gardens, and look at the Manor-house from different
aspects; and, besides this, much as she recoiled from Mr. Preston,
she felt sorry for him under the repulse he had just received.

While she was hesitating, and slowly tending towards consent, Lady
Harriet spoke,--

"I cannot spare Miss Gibson. If she would like to see the place, I
will bring her over some day myself."

When he had left the room, Lady Harriet said,--"I daresay it's my own
lazy selfishness has kept you indoors all day against your will. But,
at any rate, you are not to go out walking with that man. I've an
instinctive aversion to him; not entirely instinctive either; it has
some foundation in fact; and I desire you don't allow him ever to get
intimate with you. He's a very clever land-agent, and does his duty
by papa, and I don't choose to be taken up for libel; but remember
what I say!"

Then the carriage came round, and after numberless last words from
the earl--who appeared to have put off every possible direction to
the moment when he stood, like an awkward Mercury, balancing himself
on the step of the carriage--they drove back to the Towers.

"Would you rather come in and dine with us--we should send you home,
of course--or go home straight?" asked Lady Harriet of Molly. She and
her father had both been sleeping till they drew up at the bottom of
the flight of steps.

"Tell the truth, now and evermore. Truth is generally amusing, if
it's nothing else!"

"I would rather go back to Miss Brownings' at once, please," said
Molly, with a nightmare-like recollection of the last, the only
evening she had spent at the Towers.

Lord Cumnor was standing on the steps, waiting to hand his daughter
out of the carriage. Lady Harriet stopped to kiss Molly on the
forehead, and to say,--

"I shall come some day soon, and bring you a load of Miss Edgeworth's
tales, and make further acquaintance with Pecksy and Flapsy."

"No, don't, please," said Molly, taking hold of her, to detain her.
"You must not come--indeed you must not."

"Why not?"

"Because I would rather not--because I think that I ought not to have
any one coming to see me who laughs at the friends I am staying with,
and calls them names." Molly's heart beat very fast, but she meant
every word that she said.

"My dear little woman!" said Lady Harriet, bending over her and
speaking quite gravely. "I'm very sorry to have called them
names--very, very sorry to have hurt you. If I promise you to be
respectful to them in word and in deed--and in very thought, if I
can--you'll let me then, won't you?"

Molly hesitated. "I'd better go home at once; I shall only say wrong
things--and there's Lord Cumnor waiting all this time."

"Let him alone; he's very well amused hearing all the news of the day
from Brown. Then I shall come--under promise?"

So Molly drove off in solitary grandeur; and Miss Brownings' knocker
was loosened on its venerable hinges by the never-ending peal of Lord
Cumnor's footman.

They were full of welcome, full of curiosity. All through the long
day they had been missing their bright young visitor, and three or
four times in every hour they had been wondering and settling what
everybody was doing at that exact minute. What had become of Molly
during all the afternoon, had been a great perplexity to them; and
they were very much oppressed with a sense of the great honour she
had received in being allowed to spend so many hours alone with
Lady Harriet. They were, indeed, more excited by this one fact than
by all the details of the wedding, most of which they had known
of beforehand, and talked over with much perseverance during the
day. Molly began to feel as if there was some foundation for Lady
Harriet's inclination to ridicule the worship paid by the good people
of Hollingford to their liege lord, and to wonder with what tokens
of reverence they would receive Lady Harriet if she came to pay her
promised visit. She had never thought of concealing the probability
of this call until this evening; but now she felt as if it would be
better not to speak of the chance, as she was not at all sure that
the promise would be fulfilled.

Before Lady Harriet's call was paid, Molly received another visit.

Roger Hamley came riding over one day with a note from his mother,
and a wasps'-nest as a present from himself. Molly heard his powerful
voice come sounding up the little staircase, as he asked if Miss
Gibson was at home from the servant-maid at the door; and she was
half amused and half annoyed as she thought how this call of his
would give colour to Miss Browning's fancies. "I would rather never
be married at all," thought she, "than marry an ugly man,--and dear
good Mr. Roger is really ugly; I don't think one could even call him
plain." Yet Miss Brownings, who did not look upon young men as if
their natural costume was a helmet and a suit of armour, thought
Mr. Roger Hamley a very personable young fellow, as he came into
the room, his face flushed with exercise, his white teeth showing
pleasantly in the courteous bow and smile he gave to all around. He
knew the Miss Brownings slightly, and talked pleasantly to them while
Molly read Mrs. Hamley's little missive of sympathy and good wishes
relating to the wedding; then he turned to her, and though Miss
Brownings listened with all their ears, they could not find out
anything remarkable either in the words he said or the tone in which
they were spoken.

"I've brought you the wasps'-nest I promised you, Miss Gibson. There
has been no lack of such things this year; we've taken seventy-four
on my father's land alone; and one of the labourers, a poor fellow
who ekes out his wages by bee-keeping, has had a sad misfortune--the
wasps have turned the bees out of his seven hives, taken possession,
and eaten up the honey."

"What greedy little vermin!" said Miss Browning.

Molly saw Roger's eyes twinkle at the misapplication of the word; but
though he had a strong sense of humour, it never appeared to diminish
his respect for the people who amused him.

"I'm sure they deserve fire and brimstone more than the poor dear
innocent bees," said Miss Phoebe. "And then it seems so ungrateful
of mankind, who are going to feast on the honey!" She sighed over the
thought, as if it was too much for her.

While Molly finished reading her note, he explained its contents to
Miss Browning.

"My brother and I are going with my father to an agricultural meeting
at Canonbury on Thursday, and my mother desired me to say to you how
very much obliged she should be if you would spare her Miss Gibson
for the day. She was very anxious to ask for the pleasure of your
company, too, but she really is so poorly that we persuaded her to
be content with Miss Gibson, as she wouldn't scruple leaving a young
lady to amuse herself, which she would be unwilling to do if you and
your sister were there."

"I'm sure she's very kind; very. Nothing would have given us more
pleasure," said Miss Browning, drawing herself up in gratified
dignity. "Oh, yes, we quite understand, Mr. Roger; and we fully
recognize Mrs. Hamley's kind intention. We will take the will for the
deed, as the common people express it. I believe that there was an
intermarriage between the Brownings and the Hamleys, a generation or
two ago."

"I daresay there was," said Roger. "My mother is very delicate, and
obliged to humour her health, which has made her keep aloof from

"Then I may go?" said Molly, sparkling with the idea of seeing her
dear Mrs. Hamley again, yet afraid of appearing too desirous of
leaving her kind old friends.

"To be sure, my dear. Write a pretty note, and tell Mrs. Hamley how
much obliged to her we are for thinking of us."

"I'm afraid I can't wait for a note," said Roger. "I must take a
message instead, for I have to meet my father at one o'clock, and
it's close upon it now."

When he was gone, Molly felt so light-hearted at the thoughts of
Thursday that she could hardly attend to what the Miss Brownings were
saying. One was talking about the pretty muslin gown which Molly had
sent to the wash only that morning, and contriving how it could be
had back again in time for her to wear; and the other, Miss Phoebe,
totally inattentive to her sister's speaking for a wonder, was piping
out a separate strain of her own, and singing Roger Hamley's praises.

"Such a fine-looking young man, and so courteous and affable. Like
the young men of our youth now, is he not, sister? And yet they all
say Mr. Osborne is the handsomest. What do you think, child?"

"I've never seen Mr. Osborne," said Molly, blushing, and hating
herself for doing so. Why was it? She had never seen him as she said.
It was only that her fancy had dwelt on him so much.

He was gone--all the gentlemen were gone before the carriage, which
came to fetch Molly on Thursday, reached Hamley Hall. But Molly was
almost glad, she was so much afraid of being disappointed. Besides,
she had her dear Mrs. Hamley the more to herself; the quiet sit in
the morning-room, talking poetry and romance; the midday saunter into
the garden, brilliant with autumnal flowers and glittering dew-drops
on the gossamer webs that stretched from scarlet to blue, and thence
to purple and yellow petals. As they were sitting at lunch, a strange
man's voice and step were heard in the hall; the door was opened,
and a young man came in, who could be no other than Osborne. He was
beautiful and languid-looking, almost as frail in appearance as
his mother, whom he strongly resembled. This seeming delicacy made
him appear older than he was. He was dressed to perfection, and
yet with easy carelessness. He came up to his mother, and stood by
her, holding her hand, while his eyes sought Molly, not boldly or
impertinently, but as if appraising her critically.

"Yes! I'm back again. Bullocks, I find, are not in my line. I
only disappointed my father in not being able to appreciate their
merits, and, I'm afraid, I didn't care to learn. And the smell was
insufferable on such a hot day."

"My dear boy, don't make apologies to me; keep them for your father.
I'm only too glad to have you back. Miss Gibson, this tall fellow is
my son Osborne, as I daresay you have guessed. Osborne--Miss Gibson.
Now, what will you have?"

He looked round the table as he sate down. "Nothing here," said he.
"Isn't there some cold game-pie? I'll ring for that."

Molly was trying to reconcile the ideal with the real. The ideal was
agile, yet powerful, with Greek features and an eagle-eye, capable
of enduring long fasting, and indifferent as to what he ate. The
real was almost effeminate in movement, though not in figure; he had
the Greek features, but his blue eyes had a cold, weary expression
in them. He was dainty in eating, and had anything but a Homeric
appetite. However, Molly's hero was not to eat more than Ivanhoe,
when he was Friar Tuck's guest; and, after all, with a little
alteration, she began to think Mr. Osborne Hamley might turn out a
poetical, if not a chivalrous hero. He was extremely attentive to
his mother, which pleased Molly, and, in return, Mrs. Hamley seemed
charmed with him to such a degree that Molly once or twice fancied
that mother and son would have been happier in her absence. Yet,
again, it struck on the shrewd, if simple girl, that Osborne was
mentally squinting at her in the conversation which was directed to
his mother. There were little turns and 'fioriture' of speech which
Molly could not help feeling were graceful antics of language not
common in the simple daily intercourse between mother and son. But
it was flattering rather than otherwise to perceive that a very fine
young man, who was a poet to boot, should think it worth while to
talk on the tight rope for her benefit. And before the afternoon was
ended, without there having been any direct conversation between
Osborne and Molly, she had reinstated him on his throne in her
imagination; indeed, she had almost felt herself disloyal to her dear
Mrs. Hamley when, in the first hour after her introduction, she had
questioned his claims on his mother's idolatry. His beauty came out
more and more, as he became animated in some discussion with her; and
all his attitudes, if a little studied, were graceful in the extreme.
Before Molly left, the squire and Roger returned from Canonbury.

"Osborne here!" said the Squire, red and panting. "Why the deuce
couldn't you tell us you were coming home? I looked about for you
everywhere, just as we were going into the ordinary. I wanted to
introduce you to Grantley, and Fox, and Lord Forrest--men from the
other side of the county, whom you ought to know; and Roger there
missed above half his dinner hunting about for you; and all the time
you'd stole away, and were quietly sitting here with the women. I
wish you'd let me know the next time you make off. I've lost half my
pleasure in looking at as fine a lot of cattle as I ever saw, with
thinking you might be having one of your old attacks of faintness."

"I should have had one, I think, if I'd stayed longer in that
atmosphere. But I'm sorry if I've caused you anxiety."

"Well! well!" said the Squire, somewhat mollified. "And Roger,
too,--there I've been sending him here and sending him there all the

"I didn't mind it, sir. I was only sorry you were so uneasy. I
thought Osborne had gone home, for I knew it wasn't much in his way,"
said Roger.

Molly intercepted a glance between the two brothers--a look of true
confidence and love, which suddenly made her like them both under the
aspect of relationship--new to her observation.

Roger came up to her, and sat down by her.

"Well, and how are you getting on with Huber; don't you find him very

"I'm afraid," said Molly, penitently, "I haven't read much. Miss
Brownings like me to talk; and, besides, there is so much to do at
home before papa comes back; and Miss Browning doesn't like me to go
without her. I know it sounds nothing, but it does take up a great
deal of time."

"When is your father coming back?"

"Next Tuesday, I believe. He cannot stay long away."

"I shall ride over and pay my respects to Mrs. Gibson," said he. "I
shall come as soon as I may. Your father has been a very kind friend
to me ever since I was a boy. And when I come, I shall expect my
pupil to have been very diligent," he concluded, smiling his kind,
pleasant smile at idle Molly.

Then the carriage came round, and she had the long solitary drive
back to Miss Brownings'. It was dark out of doors when she got there;
but Miss Phoebe was standing on the stairs, with a lighted candle
in her hand, peering into the darkness to see Molly come in.

"Oh, Molly! I thought you'd never come back. Such a piece of news!
Sister has gone to bed; she's had a headache--with the excitement,
I think; but she says it's new bread. Come upstairs softly, my
dear, and I'll tell you what it is! Who do you think has been
here,--drinking tea with us, too, in the most condescending manner?"

"Lady Harriet?" said Molly, suddenly enlightened by the word

"Yes. Why, how did you guess it? But, after all, her call, at any
rate in the first instance, was upon you. Oh, dear Molly! if you're
not in a hurry to go to bed, let me sit down quietly and tell you all
about it; for my heart jumps into my mouth still when I think of how
I was caught. She--that is, her ladyship--left the carriage at 'The
George,' and took to her feet to go shopping--just as you or I may
have done many a time in our lives. And sister was taking her forty
winks; and I was sitting with my gown up above my knees and my feet
on the fender, pulling out my grandmother's lace which I'd been
washing. The worst has yet to be told. I'd taken off my cap, for I
thought it was getting dusk and no one would come, and there was I in
my black silk skull-cap, when Nancy put her head in, and whispered,
'There's a lady downstairs--a real grand one, by her talk;' and in
there came my Lady Harriet, so sweet and pretty in her ways, it was
some time before I remembered I had never a cap on. Sister never
wakened; or never roused up, so to say. She says she thought it was
Nancy bringing in the tea when she heard some one moving; for her
ladyship, as soon as she saw the state of the case, came and knelt
down on the rug by me, and begged my pardon so prettily for having
followed Nancy upstairs without waiting for permission; and was so
taken by my old lace, and wanted to know how I washed it, and where
you were, and when you'd be back, and when the happy couple would be
back: till sister wakened--she's always a little bit put out, you
know, when she first wakens from her afternoon nap,--and, without
turning her head to see who it was, she said, quite sharp,--'Buzz,
buzz, buzz! When will you learn that whispering is more fidgeting
than talking out loud? I've not been able to sleep at all for the
chatter you and Nancy have been keeping up all this time.' You know
that was a little fancy of sister's, for she'd been snoring away as
naturally as could be. So I went to her, and leant over her, and said
in a low voice,--

"'Sister, it's her ladyship and me that has been conversing.'

"'Ladyship here, ladyship there! have you lost your wits, Phoebe,
that you talk such nonsense--and in your skull-cap, too!'

"By this time she was sitting up--and, looking round her, she saw
Lady Harriet, in her velvets and silks, sitting on our rug, smiling,
her bonnet off, and her pretty hair all bright with the blaze of the
fire. My word! sister was up on her feet directly; and she dropped
her curtsey, and made her excuses for sleeping, as fast as might be,
while I went off to put on my best cap, for sister might well say I
was out of my wits to go on chatting to an earl's daughter in an old
black silk skull-cap. Black silk, too! when, if I'd only known she
was coming, I might have put on my new brown silk one, lying idle in
my top drawer. And when I came back, sister was ordering tea for her
ladyship,--our tea, I mean. So I took my turn at talk, and sister
slipped out to put on her Sunday silk. But I don't think we were
quite so much at our ease with her ladyship as when I sat pulling
out my lace in my skull-cap. And she was quite struck with our tea,
and asked where we got it, for she had never tasted any like it
before; and I told her we gave only 3_s._ 4_d._ a pound for it, at
Johnson's--(sister says I ought to have told her the price of our
company-tea, which is 5_s._ a pound, only that was not what we were
drinking; for, as ill-luck would have it, we'd none of it in the
house)--and she said she would send us some of hers, all the way
from Russia or Prussia, or some out-of-the-way place, and we were to
compare and see which we liked best; and if we liked hers best, she
could get it for us at 3_s._ a pound. And she left her love for you;
and, though she was going away, you were not to forget her. Sister
thought such a message would set you up too much, and told me she
would not be chargeable for the giving it you. 'But,' I said, 'a
message is a message, and it's on Molly's own shoulders if she's set
up by it. Let us show her an example of humility, sister, though we
have been sitting cheek-by-jowl in such company.' So sister humphed,
and said she'd a headache, and went to bed. And now you may tell me
your news, my dear."

So Molly told her small events; which, interesting as they might
have been at other times to the gossip-loving and sympathetic Miss
Phoebe, were rather pale in the stronger light reflected from the
visit of an earl's daughter.



[Illustration (untitled)]

On Tuesday afternoon Molly returned home--to the home which was
already strange, and what Warwickshire people would call "unked,"
to her. New paint, new paper, new colours; grim servants dressed
in their best, and objecting to every change--from their master's
marriage to the new oilcloth in the hall, "which tripped 'em up, and
threw 'em down, and was cold to the feet, and smelt just abominable."
All these complaints Molly had to listen to, and it was not a
cheerful preparation for the reception which she already felt to be
so formidable.

The sound of their carriage-wheels was heard at last, and Molly went
to the front door to meet them. Her father got out first, and took
her hand and held it while he helped his bride to alight. Then he
kissed her fondly, and passed her on to his wife; but her veil was so
securely (and becomingly) fastened down, that it was some time before
Mrs. Gibson could get her lips clear to greet her new daughter. Then
there was luggage to be seen about; and both the travellers were
occupied in this, while Molly stood by trembling with excitement,
unable to help, and only conscious of Betty's rather cross looks, as
heavy box after heavy box jammed up the passage.

"Molly, my dear, show--your mamma to her room!"

Mr. Gibson had hesitated, because the question of the name by
which Molly was to call her new relation had never occurred to him
before. The colour flashed into Molly's face. Was she to call her
"mamma?"--the name long appropriated in her mind to some one else--to
her own dead mother. The rebellious heart rose against it, but she
said nothing. She led the way upstairs, Mrs. Gibson turning round,
from time to time, with some fresh direction as to which bag or trunk
she needed most. She hardly spoke to Molly till they were both in
the newly-furnished bedroom, where a small fire had been lighted by
Molly's orders.

"Now, my love, we can embrace each other in peace. O dear, how tired
I am!"--(after the embrace had been accomplished). "My spirits are so
easily affected with fatigue; but your dear papa has been kindness
itself. Dear! what an old-fashioned bed! And what a-- But it doesn't
signify. By-and-by we'll renovate the house--won't we, my dear? And
you'll be my little maid to-night, and help me to arrange a few
things, for I'm just worn out with the day's journey."

"I've ordered a sort of tea-dinner to be ready for you," said Molly.
"Shall I go and tell them to send it in?"

"I'm not sure if I can go down again to-night. It would be very
comfortable to have a little table brought in here, and sit in my
dressing-gown by this cheerful fire. But, to be sure, there's your
dear papa? I really don't think he would eat anything if I were not
there. One must not think about oneself, you know. Yes, I'll come
down in a quarter of an hour."

But Mr. Gibson had found a note awaiting him, with an immediate
summons to an old patient, dangerously ill; and, snatching a mouthful
of food while his horse was being saddled, he had to resume at once
his old habits of attention to his profession above everything.

As soon as Mrs. Gibson found that he was not likely to miss her
presence--he had eaten a very tolerable lunch of bread and cold meat
in solitude, so her fears about his appetite in her absence were not
well founded--she desired to have her meal upstairs in her own room;
and poor Molly, not daring to tell the servants of this whim, had to
carry up first a table, which, however small, was too heavy for her;
and afterwards all the choice portions of the meal, which she had
taken great pains to arrange on the table, as she had seen such
things done at Hamley, intermixed with fruit and flowers that had
that morning been sent in from various great houses where Mr. Gibson
was respected and valued. How pretty Molly had thought her handiwork
an hour or two before! How dreary it seemed as, at last released from
Mrs. Gibson's conversation, she sate down in solitude to cold tea and
the drumsticks of the chicken! No one to look at her preparations,
and admire her deft-handedness and taste! She had thought that her
father would be gratified by it, and then he had never seen it. She
had meant her cares as an offering of good-will to her stepmother,
who even now was ringing her bell to have the tray taken away, and
Miss Gibson summoned to her bedroom.

Molly hastily finished her meal, and went upstairs again.

"I feel so lonely, darling, in this strange house; do come and be
with me, and help me to unpack. I think your dear papa might have put
off his visit to Mr. Craven Smith for just this one evening."

"Mr. Craven Smith couldn't put off his dying," said Molly, bluntly.

"You droll girl!" said Mrs. Gibson, with a faint laugh. "But if this
Mr. Smith is dying, as you say, what's the use of your father's going
off to him in such a hurry? Does he expect any legacy, or anything of
that kind?"

Molly bit her lips to prevent herself from saying something
disagreeable. She only answered,--

"I don't quite know that he is dying. The man said so; and papa can
sometimes do something to make the last struggle easier. At any rate,
it's always a comfort to the family to have him."

"What dreary knowledge of death you have learned for a girl of your
age! Really, if I had heard all these details of your father's
profession, I doubt if I could have brought myself to have him!"

"He doesn't make the illness or the death; he does his best against
them. I call it a very fine thing to think of what he does or tries
to do. And you will think so, too, when you see how he is watched
for, and how people welcome him!"

"Well, don't let us talk any more of such gloomy things, to-night! I
think I shall go to bed at once, I am so tired, if you will only sit
by me till I get sleepy, darling. If you will talk to me, the sound
of your voice will soon send me off."

Molly got a book, and read her stepmother to sleep, preferring that
to the harder task of keeping up a continual murmur of speech.

Then she stole down and went into the dining-room, where the fire
was gone out; purposely neglected by the servants, to mark their
displeasure at their new mistress's having had her tea in her own
room. Molly managed to light it, however, before her father came
home, and collected and re-arranged some comfortable food for him.
Then she knelt down again on the hearth-rug, gazing into the fire in
a dreamy reverie, which had enough of sadness about it to cause the
tears to drop unnoticed from her eyes. But she jumped up, and shook
herself into brightness at the sound of her father's step.

"How is Mr. Craven Smith?" said she.

"Dead. He just recognized me. He was one of my first patients on
coming to Hollingford."

Mr. Gibson sate down in the arm-chair made ready for him, and warmed
his hands at the fire, seeming neither to need food nor talk, as he
went over a train of recollections. Then he roused himself from his
sadness, and looking round the room, he said briskly enough,--

"And where's the new mamma?"

"She was tired, and went to bed early. Oh, papa! must I call her

"I should like it," replied he, with a slight contraction of the

Molly was silent. She put a cup of tea near him; he stirred it, and
sipped it, and then he recurred to the subject.

"Why shouldn't you call her 'mamma?' I'm sure she means to do the
duty of a mother to you. We all may make mistakes, and her ways may
not be quite all at once our ways; but at any rate let us start with
a family bond between us."

What would Roger say was right?--that was the question that rose to
Molly's mind. She had always spoken of her father's new wife as Mrs.
Gibson, and had once burst out at Miss Brownings with a protestation
that she never would call her "mamma." She did not feel drawn to her
new relation by their intercourse that evening. She kept silence,
though she knew her father was expecting an answer. At last he
gave up his expectation, and turned to another subject; told about
their journey, questioned her as to the Hamleys, the Brownings,
Lady Harriet, and the afternoon they had passed together at the
Manor-house. But there was a certain hardness and constraint in his
manner, and in hers a heaviness and absence of mind. All at once she

"Papa, I will call her 'mamma!'"

He took her hand, and grasped it tight; but for an instant or two he
did not speak. Then he said,--

"You won't be sorry for it, Molly, when you come to lie as poor
Craven Smith did to-night."

For some time the murmurs and grumblings of the two elder servants
were confined to Molly's ears, then they spread to her father's, who,
to Molly's dismay, made summary work with them.

"You don't like Mrs. Gibson's ringing her bell so often, don't you?
You've been spoilt, I'm afraid; but if you don't conform to my wife's
desires, you have the remedy in your own hands, you know."

What servant ever resisted the temptation to give warning after such
a speech as that? Betty told Molly she was going to leave, in as
indifferent a manner as she could possibly assume towards the girl
whom she had tended and been about for the last sixteen years. Molly
had hitherto considered her former nurse as a fixture in the house;
she would almost as soon have thought of her father's proposing
to sever the relationship between them; and here was Betty coolly
talking over whether her next place should be in town or country. But
a great deal of this was assumed hardness. In a week or two Betty was
in floods of tears at the prospect of leaving her nursling, and would
fain have stayed and answered all the bells in the house once every
quarter of an hour. Even Mr. Gibson's masculine heart was touched by
the sorrow of the old servant, which made itself obvious to him every
time he came across her by her broken voice and her swollen eyes.

One day he said to Molly, "I wish you'd ask your mamma if Betty might
not stay, if she made a proper apology, and all that sort of thing."

"I don't much think it will be of any use," said Molly, in a mournful
voice. "I know she is writing, or has written, about some
under-housemaid at the Towers."

"Well!--all I want is peace and a decent quantity of cheerfulness
when I come home. I see enough of tears at other people's houses.
After all, Betty has been with us sixteen years--a sort of service
of the antique world. But the woman may be happier elsewhere. Do as
you like about asking mamma; only if she agrees, I shall be quite

So Molly tried her hand at making a request to that effect to Mrs.
Gibson. Her instinct told her she would be unsuccessful; but surely
favour was never refused in so soft a tone.

"My dear girl, I should never have thought of sending an old servant
away,--one who has had the charge of you from your birth, or nearly
so. I could not have had the heart to do it. She might have stayed
for ever for me, if she had only attended to all my wishes; and I am
not unreasonable, am I? But, you see, she complained; and when your
dear papa spoke to her, she gave warning; and it is quite against
my principles ever to take an apology from a servant who has given

"She is so sorry," pleaded Molly; "she says she will do anything you
wish, and attend to all your orders, if she may only stay."

"But, sweet one, you seem to forget that I cannot go against my
principles, however much I may be sorry for Betty. She should not
have given way to ill-temper. As I said before, although I never
liked her, and considered her a most inefficient servant, thoroughly
spoilt by having had no mistress for so long, I should have borne
with her--at least, I think I should--as long as I could. Now I have
all but engaged Maria, who was under-housemaid at the Towers, so
don't let me hear any more of Betty's sorrow, or anybody else's
sorrow, for I'm sure, what with your dear papa's sad stories and
other things, I'm getting quite low."

Molly was silent for a moment or two.

"Have you quite engaged Maria?" asked she.

"No--I said 'all but engaged.' Sometimes one would think you did not
hear things, dear Molly!" replied Mrs. Gibson, petulantly. "Maria
is living in a place where they don't give her as much wages as she
deserves. Perhaps they can't afford it, poor things! I'm always sorry
for poverty, and would never speak hardly of those who are not rich;
but I have offered her two pounds more than she gets at present, so I
think she'll leave. At any rate, if they increase her wages, I shall
increase my offer in proportion; so I think I'm sure to get her. Such
a genteel girl!--always brings in a letter on a salver!"

"Poor Betty!" said Molly, softly.

"Poor old soul! I hope she'll profit by the lesson, I'm sure," sighed
out Mrs. Gibson; "but it's a pity we hadn't Maria before the county
families began to call."

Mrs. Gibson had been highly gratified by the circumstance of so many
calls "from county families." Her husband was much respected; and
many ladies from various halls, courts, and houses, who had profited
by his services towards themselves and their families, thought it
right to pay his new wife the attention of a call when they drove
into Hollingford to shop. The state of expectation into which these
calls threw Mrs. Gibson rather diminished Mr. Gibson's domestic
comfort. It was awkward to be carrying hot, savoury-smelling dishes
from the kitchen to the dining-room at the very time when high-born
ladies, with noses of aristocratic refinement, might be calling.
Still more awkward was the accident which happened in consequence
of clumsy Betty's haste to open the front door to a lofty footman's
ran-tan, which caused her to set down the basket containing the dirty
plates right in his mistress's way, as she stepped gingerly through
the comparative darkness of the hall; and then the young men, leaving
the dining-room quietly enough, but bursting with long-repressed
giggle, or no longer restraining their tendency to practical joking,
no matter who might be in the passage when they made their exit. The
remedy proposed by Mrs. Gibson for all these distressing grievances
was a late dinner. The luncheon for the young men, as she observed
to her husband, might be sent into the surgery. A few elegant cold
trifles for herself and Molly would not scent the house, and she
would always take care to have some little dainty ready for him. He
acceded, but unwillingly, for it was an innovation on the habits of
a lifetime, and he felt as if he should never be able to arrange his
rounds aright with this new-fangled notion of a six o'clock dinner.

"Don't get any dainties for me, my dear; bread-and-cheese is the
chief of my diet, like it was that of the old woman's."

"I know nothing of your old woman," replied his wife; "but really I
cannot allow cheese to come beyond the kitchen."

"Then I'll eat it there," said he. "It's close to the stable-yard,
and if I come in in a hurry I can get it in a moment."

"Really, Mr. Gibson, it is astonishing to compare your appearance and
manners with your tastes. You look such a gentleman, as dear Lady
Cumnor used to say."

Then the cook left; also an old servant, though not so old a one as
Betty. The cook did not like the trouble of late dinners; and, being
a Methodist, she objected on religious grounds to trying any of
Mrs. Gibson's new receipts for French dishes. It was not scriptural,
she said. There was a deal of mention of food in the Bible; but it
was of sheep ready dressed, which meant mutton, and of wine, and
of bread-and-milk, and figs and raisins, of fatted calves, a good
well-browned fillet of veal, and such like; but it had always gone
against her conscience to cook swine-flesh and make raised pork-pies,
and now if she was to be set to cook heathen dishes after the fashion
of the Papists, she'd sooner give it all up together. So the cook
followed in Betty's track, and Mr. Gibson had to satisfy his healthy
English appetite on badly-made omelettes, rissoles, vol-au-vents,
croquets, and timbales; never being exactly sure what he was eating.

He had made up his mind before his marriage to yield in trifles,
and be firm in greater things. But the differences of opinion about
trifles arose every day, and were perhaps more annoying than if they
had related to things of more consequence. Molly knew her father's
looks as well as she knew her alphabet; his wife did not; and being
an unperceptive person, except when her own interests were dependent
upon another person's humour, never found out how he was worried by
all the small daily concessions which he made to her will or her
whims. He never allowed himself to put any regret into shape, even
in his own mind; he repeatedly reminded himself of his wife's good
qualities, and comforted himself by thinking they should work
together better as time rolled on; but he was very angry at a
bachelor great-uncle of Mr. Coxe's, who, after taking no notice of
his red-headed nephew for years, suddenly sent for him, after the old
man had partially recovered from a serious attack of illness, and
appointed him his heir, on condition that his great-nephew remained
with him during the rest of his life. This had happened almost
directly after Mr. and Mrs. Gibson's return from their wedding
journey, and once or twice since that time Mr. Gibson had found
himself wondering why the deuce old Benson could not have made
up his mind sooner, and so have rid his house of the unwelcome
presence of the young lover. To do Mr. Coxe justice, in the very
last conversation he had as a pupil with Mr. Gibson he said, with
hesitating awkwardness, that perhaps the new circumstances in which
he should be placed might make some difference with regard to Mr.
Gibson's opinion on--

"Not at all," said Mr. Gibson, quickly. "You are both of you too
young to know your own minds; and if my daughter was silly enough to
be in love, she should never have to calculate her happiness on the
chances of an old man's death. I dare say he'll disinherit you after
all. He may do, and then you'd be worse off than ever. No! go away,
and forget all this nonsense; and when you've done, come back and see

So Mr. Coxe went away, with an oath of unalterable faithfulness in
his heart; and Mr. Gibson had unwillingly to fulfil an old promise
made to a gentleman farmer in the neighbourhood a year or two before,
and to take the second son of Mr. Browne in young Coxe's place. He
was to be the last of the race of pupils, and as he was rather more
than a year younger than Molly, Mr. Gibson trusted that there would
be no repetition of the Coxe romance.



Among the "county people" (as Mrs. Gibson termed them) who called
upon her as a bride, were the two young Mr. Hamleys. The Squire,
their father, had done his congratulations, as far as he ever
intended to do them, to Mr. Gibson himself when he came to the hall;
but Mrs. Hamley, unable to go and pay visits herself, anxious to show
attention to her kind doctor's new wife, and with perhaps a little
sympathetic curiosity as to how Molly and her stepmother got on
together, made her sons ride over to Hollingford with her cards and
apologies. They came into the newly-furnished drawing-room, looking
bright and fresh from their ride: Osborne first, as usual, perfectly
dressed for the occasion, and with the sort of fine manner which
sate so well upon him; Roger, looking like a strong-built, cheerful,
intelligent country farmer, followed in his brother's train. Mrs.
Gibson was dressed for receiving callers, and made the effect she
always intended to produce, of a very pretty woman, no longer in
first youth, but with such soft manners and such a caressing voice,
that people forgot to wonder what her real age might be. Molly was
better dressed than formerly; her stepmother saw after that. She
disliked anything old or shabby, or out of taste about her; it hurt
her eye; and she had already fidgeted Molly into a new amount of care
about the manner in which she put on her clothes, arranged her hair,
and was gloved and shod. Mrs. Gibson had tried to put her through a
course of rosemary washes and creams in order to improve her tanned
complexion; but about that Molly was either forgetful or rebellious,
and Mrs. Gibson could not well come up to the girl's bedroom every
night and see that she daubed her face and neck over with the
cosmetics so carefully provided for her. Still her appearance was
extremely improved, even to Osborne's critical eye. Roger sought
rather to discover in her looks and expression whether she was happy
or not; his mother had especially charged him to note all these

Osborne and Mrs. Gibson made themselves agreeable to each other
according to the approved fashion when a young man calls on a
middle-aged bride. They talked of the "Shakspeare and musical
glasses" of the day, each vieing with the other in their knowledge
of London topics. Molly heard fragments of their conversation in the
pauses of silence between Roger and herself. Her hero was coming
out in quite a new character; no longer literary or poetical, or
romantic, or critical, he was now full of the last new play, the
singers at the opera. He had the advantage over Mrs. Gibson, who, in
fact, only spoke of these things from hearsay, from listening to the
talk at the Towers, while Osborne had run up from Cambridge two or
three times to hear this, or to see that wonder of the season. But
she had the advantage over him in greater boldness of invention to
eke out her facts; and besides she had more skill in the choice and
arrangement of her words, so as to make it appear as if the opinions
that were in reality quotations, were formed by herself from actual
experience or personal observation; such as, in speaking of the
mannerisms of a famous Italian singer, she would ask,--


"Did you observe her constant trick of heaving her shoulders and
clasping her hands together before she took a high note?"--which was
so said as to imply that Mrs. Gibson herself had noticed this trick.
Molly, who had a pretty good idea by this time of how her stepmother
had passed the last year of her life, listened with no small
bewilderment to this conversation; but at length decided that she
must misunderstand what they were saying, as she could not gather up
the missing links for the necessity of replying to Roger's questions
and remarks. Osborne was not the same Osborne he was when with his
mother at the Hall.

Roger saw Molly glancing at his brother.

"You think my brother looking ill?" said he, lowering his voice.

"No--not exactly."

"He is not well. Both my father and I are anxious about him.
That run on the Continent did him harm, instead of good; and his
disappointment at his examination has told upon him, I'm afraid."

"I was not thinking he looked ill; only changed somehow."

"He says he must go back to Cambridge soon. Possibly it may do him
good; and I shall be off next week. This is a farewell visit to you,
as well as one of congratulation to Mrs. Gibson."

"Your mother will feel your both going away, won't she? But of course
young men will always have to live away from home."

"Yes," he replied. "Still she feels it a good deal; and I'm not
satisfied about her health either. You will go out and see her
sometimes, will you? she is very fond of you."

"If I may," said Molly, unconsciously glancing at her stepmother. She
had an uncomfortable instinct that, in spite of Mrs. Gibson's own
perpetual flow of words, she could, and did, hear everything that
fell from Molly's lips.

"Do you want any more books?" said he. "If you do, make a list out,
and send it to my mother before I leave, next Tuesday. After I am
gone, there will be no one to go into the library and pick them out."

As soon as they had left, Mrs. Gibson began her usual comments on the
departed visitors.

"I do like that Osborne Hamley! What a nice fellow he is! Somehow,
I always do like eldest sons. He will have the estate, won't he? I
shall ask your dear papa to encourage him to come about the house. He
will be a very good, very pleasant acquaintance for you and Cynthia.
The other is but a loutish young fellow, to my mind; there is no
aristocratic bearing about him. I suppose he takes after his mother,
who is but a parvenue, I've heard them say at the Towers."

Molly was spiteful enough to have great pleasure in saying,--

"I think I've heard her father was a Russian merchant, and imported
tallow and hemp. Mr. Osborne Hamley is extremely like her."

"Indeed! But there's no calculating these things. Anyhow, he is the
perfect gentleman in appearance and manner. The estate is entailed,
is it not?"

"I know nothing about it," said Molly.

A short silence ensued. Then Mrs. Gibson said,--

"Do you know, I almost think I must get dear papa to give a little
dinner-party, and ask Mr. Osborne Hamley? I should like to have him
feel at home in this house. It would be something cheerful for him
after the dulness and solitude of Hamley Hall. For the old people
don't visit much, I believe?"

"He's going back to Cambridge next week," said Molly.

"Is he? Well, then, we'll put off our little dinner till Cynthia
comes home. I should like to have some young society for her, poor
darling, when she returns."

"When is she coming?" said Molly, who had always a longing curiosity
for this same Cynthia's return.

"Oh! I'm not sure; perhaps at the new year--perhaps not till Easter.
I must get this drawing-room all new furnished first; and then I mean
to fit up her room and yours just alike. They are just the same size,
only on opposite sides of the passage."

"Are you going to new-furnish that room?" said Molly, in astonishment
at the never-ending changes.

"Yes; and yours, too, darling; so don't be jealous."

"Oh, please, mamma, not mine," said Molly, taking in the idea for the
first time.

"Yes, dear! You shall have yours done as well. A little French bed,
and a new paper, and a pretty carpet, and a dressed-up toilet-table
and glass, will make it look quite a different place."

"But I don't want it to look different. I like it as it is. Pray
don't do anything to it."

"What nonsense, child! I never heard anything more ridiculous!
Most girls would be glad to get rid of furniture only fit for the

"It was my own mamma's before she was married," said Molly, in a
very low voice; bringing out this last plea unwillingly, but with a
certainty that it would not be resisted.

Mrs. Gibson paused for a moment before she replied:

"It's very much to your credit that you should have such feelings,
I'm sure. But don't you think sentiment may be carried too far? Why,
we should have no new furniture at all, and should have to put up
with worm-eaten horrors. Besides, my dear, Hollingford will seem very
dull to Cynthia, after pretty, gay France, and I want to make the
first impressions attractive. I've a notion I can settle her down
near here; and I want her to come in a good temper; for, between
ourselves, my dear, she is a little, leetle wilful. You need not
mention this to your papa."

"But can't you do Cynthia's room, and not mine? Please let mine

"No, indeed! I couldn't agree to that. Only think what would be said
of me by everybody; petting my own child and neglecting my husband's!
I couldn't bear it."

"No one need know."

"In such a tittle-tattle place as Hollingford! Really, Molly, you are
either very stupid or very obstinate, or else you don't care what
hard things may be said about me: and all for a selfish fancy of
your own! No! I owe myself the justice of acting in this matter as I
please. Every one shall know I'm not a common stepmother. Every penny
I spend on Cynthia I shall spend on you too; so it's no use talking
any more about it."

So Molly's little white dimity bed, her old-fashioned chest of
drawers, and her other cherished relics of her mother's maiden-days,
were consigned to the lumber-room; and after a while, when Cynthia
and her great French boxes had come home, the old furniture that had
filled up the space required for the fresh importation of trunks,
disappeared likewise into the same room.

All this time the family at the Towers had been absent; Lady Cumnor
had been ordered to Bath for the early part of the winter, and her
family were with her there. On dull rainy days, Mrs. Gibson used to
bethink her of missing "the Cumnors," for so she had taken to calling
them since her position had become more independent of theirs. It
marked a distinction between her intimacy in the family, and the
reverential manner in which the townspeople were accustomed to speak
of "the earl and the countess." Both Lady Cumnor and Lady Harriet
wrote to their "dear Clare" from time to time. The former had
generally some commissions that she wished to have executed at the
Towers, or in the town; and no one could do them so well as Clare,
who was acquainted with all the tastes and ways of the countess.
These commissions were the cause of various bills for flys and cars
from the George Inn. Mr. Gibson pointed out this consequence to
his wife; but she, in return, bade him remark that a present of
game was pretty sure to follow upon the satisfactory execution of
Lady Cumnor's wishes. Somehow, Mr. Gibson did not quite like this
consequence either; but he was silent about it, at any rate. Lady
Harriet's letters were short and amusing. She had that sort of regard
for her old governess which prompted her to write from time to time,
and to feel glad when the half-voluntary task was accomplished. So
there was no real outpouring of confidence, but enough news of the
family and gossip of the place she was in, as she thought would
make Clare feel that she was not forgotten by her former pupils,
intermixed with moderate but sincere expressions of regard. How
those letters were quoted and referred to by Mrs. Gibson in her
conversations with the Hollingford ladies! She had found out their
effect at Ashcombe; and it was not less at Hollingford. But she was
rather perplexed at kindly messages to Molly, and at inquiries as
to how the Miss Brownings liked the tea she had sent; and Molly
had first to explain, and then to narrate at full length, all the
occurrences of the afternoon at Ashcombe Manor-house, and Lady
Harriet's subsequent call upon her at Miss Brownings'.

"What nonsense!" said Mrs. Gibson, with some annoyance. "Lady Harriet
only went to see you out of a desire of amusement. She would only
make fun of Miss Brownings, and those two will be quoting her and
talking about her, just as if she was their intimate friend."

"I don't think she did make fun of them. She really seemed as if she
had been very kind."

"And you suppose you know her ways better than I do who have known
her these fifteen years? I tell you she turns every one into ridicule
who does not belong to her set. Why, she used always to speak of Miss
Brownings as 'Pecksy and Flapsy.'"

"She promised me she would not," said Molly driven to bay.

"Promised you!--Lady Harriet? What do you mean?"

"Only--she spoke of them as Pecksy and Flapsy--and when she talked of
coming to call on me at their house, I asked her not to come if she
was going to--to make fun of them."

"Upon my word! with all my long acquaintance with Lady Harriet, I
should never have ventured on such impertinence."

"I didn't mean it as impertinence," said Molly sturdily. "And I don't
think Lady Harriet took it as such."

"You can't know anything about it. She can put on any kind of

Just then Squire Hamley came in. It was his first call; and Mrs.
Gibson gave him a graceful welcome, and was quite ready to accept
his apology for its tardiness, and to assure him that she quite
understood the pressure of business on every land-owner who farmed
his own estate. But no such apology was made. He shook her hand
heartily, as a mark of congratulation on her good fortune in having
secured such a prize as his friend Gibson, but said nothing about his
long neglect of duty. Molly, who by this time knew the few strong
expressions of his countenance well, was sure that something was the
matter, and that he was very much disturbed. He hardly attended to
Mrs. Gibson's fluent opening of conversation, for she had already
determined to make a favourable impression on the father of the
handsome young man who was heir to an estate, besides his own
personal agreeableness; but he turned to Molly and, addressing her,
said--almost in a low voice, as if he was making a confidence to her
that he did not intend Mrs. Gibson to hear,--

"Molly, we are all wrong at home! Osborne has lost the fellowship
at Trinity he went back to try for. Then he has gone and failed
miserably in his degree, after all that he said, and that his mother
said; and I, like a fool, went and boasted about my clever son. I
can't understand it. I never expected anything extraordinary from
Roger; but Osborne--! And then it has thrown madam into one of her
bad fits of illness; and she seems to have a fancy for you, child!
Your father came to see her this morning. Poor thing, she's very
poorly, I'm afraid; and she told him how she should like to have you
about her, and he said I might fetch you. You'll come, won't you, my
dear? She's not a poor woman, such as many people think it's the only
charity to be kind to, but she's just as forlorn of woman's care as
if she was poor--worse, I daresay."

"I'll be ready in ten minutes," said Molly, much touched by the
squire's words and manner, never thinking of asking her stepmother's
consent, now that she had heard that her father had given his. As she
rose to leave the room, Mrs. Gibson, who had only half heard what the
Squire had said, and was a little affronted at the exclusiveness of
his confidence, said,--"My dear, where are you going?"

"Mrs. Hamley wants me, and papa says I may go," said Molly; and
almost at the same time the Squire replied,--

"My wife is ill, and as she's very fond of your daughter, she begged
Mr. Gibson to allow her to come to the Hall for a little while, and
he kindly said she might, and I'm come to fetch her."

"Stop a minute, darling," said Mrs. Gibson to Molly--a slight cloud
over her countenance, in spite of her caressing word. "I am sure dear
papa quite forgot that you were to go out with me to-night, to visit
people," continued she, addressing herself to the Squire, "with whom
I am quite unacquainted--and it is very uncertain if Mr. Gibson can
return in time to accompany me--so, you see, I cannot allow Molly to
go with you."

"I shouldn't have thought it would have signified. Brides are always
brides, I suppose; and it's their part to be timid; but I shouldn't
have thought it--in this case. And my wife sets her heart on things,
as sick people do. Well, Molly" (in a louder tone, for these
foregoing sentences were spoken _sotto voce_), "we must put it off
till to-morrow: and it's our loss, not yours," he continued, as
he saw the reluctance with which she slowly returned to her place.
"You'll be as gay as can be to-night, I daresay--"

"No, I shall not," broke in Molly. "I never wanted to go, and now I
shall want it less than ever."

"Hush, my dear," said Mrs. Gibson; and, addressing the Squire, she
added, "The visiting here is not all one could wish for so young a
girl--no young people, no dances, nothing of gaiety; but it is wrong
in you, Molly, to speak against such kind friends of your father's as
I understand these Cockerells are. Don't give so bad an impression of
yourself to the kind Squire."

"Let her alone! let her alone!" quoth he. "I see what she means.
She'd rather come and be in my wife's sick-room than go out for this
visit to-night. Is there no way of getting her off?"

"None whatever," said Mrs. Gibson. "An engagement is an engagement
with me; and I consider that she is not only engaged to Mrs.
Cockerell, but to me--bound to accompany me, in my husband's

The Squire was put out; and when he was put out he had a trick of
placing his hands on his knees and whistling softly to himself. Molly
knew this phase of his displeasure, and only hoped he would confine
himself to this wordless expression of annoyance. It was pretty hard
work for her to keep the tears out of her eyes; and she endeavoured
to think of something else, rather than dwell on regrets and
annoyances. She heard Mrs. Gibson talking on in a sweet monotone, and
wished to attend to what she was saying, but the Squire's visible
annoyance struck sharper on her mind. At length, after a pause of
silence, he started up, and said,--

"Well! it's no use. Poor madam; she won't like it. She'll be
disappointed! But it's but for one evening!--but for one evening! She
may come to-morrow, mayn't she? Or will the dissipation of such an
evening as she describes, be too much for her?"

There was a touch of savage irony in his manner which frightened Mrs.
Gibson into good behaviour.

"She shall be ready at any time you name. I am so sorry: my foolish
shyness is in fault, I believe; but still you must acknowledge that
an engagement is an engagement."

"Did I ever say an engagement was an elephant, madam? However,
there's no use saying any more about it, or I shall forget my
manners. I'm an old tyrant, and she--lying there in bed, poor
girl--has always given me my own way. So you'll excuse me, Mrs.
Gibson, won't you; and let Molly come along with me at ten to-morrow

"Certainly," said Mrs. Gibson, smiling. But when his back was turned,
she said to Molly,--

"Now, my dear, I must never have you exposing me to the ill-manners
of such a man again! I don't call him a squire; I call him a boor,
or a yeoman at best. You must not go on accepting or rejecting
invitations as if you were an independent young lady, Molly. Pay me
the respect of a reference to my wishes another time, if you please,
my dear!"

"Papa had said I might go," said Molly, choking a little.

"As I am now your mamma, your references must be to me, for the
future. But as you are to go you may as well look well dressed. I
will lend you my new shawl for this visit, if you like it, and my set
of green ribbons. I am always indulgent when proper respect is paid
to me. And in such a house as Hamley Hall, no one can tell who may be
coming and going, even if there is sickness in the family."

"Thank you. But I don't want the shawl and the ribbons, please: there
will be nobody there except the family. There never is, I think; and
now that she is so ill"--Molly was on the point of crying at the
thought of her friend lying ill and lonely, and looking for her
arrival. Moreover, she was sadly afraid lest the Squire had gone off
with the idea that she did not want to come--that she preferred that
stupid, stupid party at the Cockerells'. Mrs. Gibson, too, was sorry;
she had an uncomfortable consciousness of having given way to temper
before a stranger, and a stranger, too, whose good opinion she had
meant to cultivate; and she was also annoyed at Molly's tearful face.

"What can I do for you, to bring you back into good temper?" she
said. "First, you insist upon your knowing Lady Harriet better than
I do--I, who have known her for eighteen or nineteen years at least.
Then you jump at invitations without ever consulting me, or thinking
of how awkward it would be for me to go stumping into a drawing-room
all by myself; following my new name, too, which always makes me feel
uncomfortable, it is such a sad come-down after Kirkpatrick! And
then, when I offer you some of the prettiest things I have got, you
say it does not signify how you are dressed. What can I do to please
you, Molly? I, who delight in nothing more than peace in a family, to
see you sitting there with despair upon your face?"

Molly could stand it no longer; she went upstairs to her own
room--her own smart new room, which hardly yet seemed a familiar
place; and began to cry so heartily and for so long a time, that she
stopped at length for very weariness. She thought of Mrs. Hamley
wearying for her; of the old Hall whose very quietness might become
oppressive to an ailing person; of the trust the Squire had had in
her that she would come off directly with him. And all this oppressed
her much more than the querulousness of her stepmother's words.



If Molly thought that peace dwelt perpetually at Hamley Hall
she was sorely mistaken. Something was out of tune in the whole
establishment; and, for a very unusual thing, the common irritation
seemed to have produced a common bond. All the servants were old in
their places, and were told by some one of the family, or gathered,
from the unheeded conversation carried on before them, everything
that affected master or mistress or either of the young gentlemen.
Any one of them could have told Molly that the grievance which lay at
the root of everything, was the amount of the bills run up by Osborne
at Cambridge, and which, now that all chance of his obtaining a
fellowship was over, came pouring down upon the Squire. But Molly,
confident of being told by Mrs. Hamley herself anything which she
wished her to hear, encouraged no confidences from any one else.

She was struck with the change in "madam's" look as soon as she
caught sight of her in the darkened room, lying on the sofa in her
dressing-room, all dressed in white, which almost rivalled the white
wanness of her face. The Squire ushered Molly in with,--

"Here she is at last!" and Molly had scarcely imagined that he had so
much variety in the tones of his voice--the beginning of the sentence
was spoken in a loud congratulatory manner, while the last words
were scarcely audible. He had seen the death-like pallor on his
wife's face; not a new sight, and one which had been presented to him
gradually enough, but which was now always giving him a fresh shock.
It was a lovely tranquil winter's day; every branch and every twig
on the trees and shrubs was glittering with drops of the sun-melted
hoar-frost; a robin was perched on a holly-bush, piping cheerily; but
the blinds were down, and out of Mrs. Hamley's windows nothing of all
this was to be seen. There was even a large screen placed between
her and the wood-fire, to keep off that cheerful blaze. Mrs. Hamley
stretched out one hand to Molly, and held hers firm; with the other
she shaded her eyes.

"She is not so well this morning," said the Squire, shaking his head.
"But never fear, my dear one; here's the doctor's daughter, nearly
as good as the doctor himself. Have you had your medicine? Your
beef-tea?" he continued, going about on heavy tiptoe and peeping into
every empty cup and glass. Then he returned to the sofa; looked at
her for a minute or two, and then softly kissed her, and told Molly
he would leave her in charge.

As if Mrs. Hamley was afraid of Molly's remarks or questions, she
began in her turn a hasty system of interrogatories.

"Now, dear child, tell me all; it's no breach of confidence, for I
shan't mention it again, and I shan't be here long. How does it all
go on--the new mother, the good resolutions? let me help you if I
can. I think with a girl I could have been of use--a mother does not
know boys. But tell me anything you like and will; don't be afraid of

Even with Molly's small experience of illness she saw how much of
restless fever there was in this speech; and instinct, or some
such gift, prompted her to tell a long story of many things--the
wedding-day, her visit to Miss Brownings', the new furniture, Lady
Harriet, &c., all in an easy flow of talk which was very soothing
to Mrs. Hamley, inasmuch as it gave her something to think about
beyond her own immediate sorrows. But Molly did not speak of her own
grievances, nor of the new domestic relationship. Mrs. Hamley noticed

"And you and Mrs. Gibson get on happily together?"

"Not always," said Molly. "You know we didn't know much of each other
before we were put to live together."

"I didn't like what the Squire told me last night. He was very

That sore had not yet healed over; but Molly resolutely kept silence,
beating her brains to think of some other subject of conversation.

"Ah! I see, Molly," said Mrs. Hamley; "you won't tell me your
sorrows, and yet, perhaps, I could have done you some good."

"I don't like," said Molly, in a low voice. "I think papa wouldn't
like it. And, besides, you have helped me so much--you and Mr.
Roger Hamley. I often think of the things he said; they come in so
usefully, and are such a strength to me."

"Ah, Roger! yes. He is to be trusted. Oh, Molly! I've a great deal
to say to you myself, only not now. I must have my medicine and try
to go to sleep. Good girl! You are stronger than I am, and can do
without sympathy."

Molly was taken to another room; the maid who conducted her to it
told her that Mrs. Hamley had not wished her to have her nights
disturbed, as they might very probably have been if she had been in
her former sleeping-room. In the afternoon Mrs. Hamley sent for her,
and with the want of reticence common to invalids, especially to
those suffering from long and depressing maladies, she told Molly of
the family distress and disappointment.

She made Molly sit down near her on a little stool, and, holding her
hand, and looking into her eyes to catch her spoken sympathy from
their expression quicker than she could from her words, she said,--

"Osborne has so disappointed us! I cannot understand it yet. And the
Squire was so terribly angry! I cannot think how all the money was
spent--advances through money-lenders, besides bills. The Squire
does not show me how angry he is now, because he's afraid of another
attack; but I know how angry he is. You see he has been spending ever
so much money in reclaiming that land at Upton Common, and is very
hard pressed himself. But it would have doubled the value of the
estate, and so we never thought anything of economies which would
benefit Osborne in the long run. And now the Squire says he must
mortgage some of the land; and you can't think how it cuts him to
the heart. He sold a great deal of timber to send the two boys to
college. Osborne--oh! what a dear, innocent boy he was: he was the
heir, you know; and he was so clever, every one said he was sure of
honours and a fellowship, and I don't know what all; and he did get
a scholarship, and then all went wrong. I don't know how. That is
the worst. Perhaps the Squire wrote too angrily, and that stopped up
confidence. But he might have told me. He would have done, I think,
Molly, if he had been here, face to face with me. But the Squire, in
his anger, told him not to show his face at home till he had paid off
the debts he had incurred out of his allowance. Out of two hundred
and fifty a year to pay off more than nine hundred, one way or
another! And not to come home till then! Perhaps Roger will have
debts too! He had but two hundred; but, then, he was not the eldest
son. The Squire has given orders that the men are to be turned off
the draining-works; and I lie awake thinking of their poor families
this wintry weather. But what shall we do? I've never been strong,
and, perhaps, I've been extravagant in my habits; and there were
family traditions as to expenditure, and the reclaiming of this land.
Oh! Molly, Osborne was such a sweet little baby, and such a loving
boy: so clever, too! You know I read you some of his poetry: now,
could a person who wrote like that do anything very wrong? And yet
I'm afraid he has."

"Don't you know, at all, how the money has gone?" asked Molly.

"No! not at all. That's the sting. There are tailors' bills,
and bills for book-binding and wine and pictures--those come
to four or five hundred; and though this expenditure is
extraordinary--inexplicable to such simple folk as we are--yet it
may be only the luxury of the present day. But the money for which
he will give no account,--of which, indeed, we only heard through
the Squire's London agents, who found out that certain disreputable
attorneys were making inquiries as to the entail of the estate;--oh!
Molly, worse than all--I don't know how to bring myself to tell
you--as to the age and health of the Squire, his dear father"--(she
began to sob almost hysterically; yet she would go on talking, in
spite of Molly's efforts to stop her)--"who held him in his arms, and
blessed him, even before I had kissed him; and thought always so much
of him as his heir and first-born darling. How he has loved him! How
I have loved him! I sometimes have thought of late that we've almost
done that good Roger injustice."

"No! I'm sure you've not: only look at the way he loves you. Why, you
are his first thought: he may not speak about it, but any one may see
it. And dear, dear Mrs. Hamley," said Molly, determined to say out
all that was in her mind now that she had once got the word, "don't
you think that it would be better not to misjudge Mr. Osborne Hamley?
We don't know what he has done with the money: he is so good (is he
not?) that he may have wanted it to relieve some poor person--some
tradesman, for instance, pressed by creditors--some--"

"You forget, dear," said Mrs. Hamley, smiling a little at the girl's
impetuous romance, but sighing the next instant, "that all the other
bills come from tradesmen, who complain piteously of being kept out
of their money."

Molly was nonplussed for the moment; but then she said,--

"I daresay they imposed upon him. I'm sure I've heard stories of
young men being made regular victims of by the shopkeepers in great

"You're a great darling, child," said Mrs. Hamley, comforted by
Molly's strong partisanship, unreasonable and ignorant though it was.

"And, besides," continued Molly, "some one must be acting wrongly in
Osborne's--Mr. Osborne Hamley's, I mean--I can't help saying Osborne
sometimes, but, indeed, I always think of him as Mr. Osborne--"

"Never mind, Molly, what you call him; only go on talking. It
seems to do me good to hear the hopeful side taken. The Squire has
been so hurt and displeased: strange-looking men coming into the
neighbourhood, too, questioning the tenants, and grumbling about the
last fall of timber, as if they were calculating on the Squire's

"That's just what I was going to speak about. Doesn't it show that
they are bad men? and would bad men scruple to impose upon him, and
to tell lies in his name, and to ruin him?"

"Don't you see, you only make him out weak, instead of wicked?"

"Yes; perhaps I do. But I don't think he is weak. You know yourself,
dear Mrs. Hamley, how very clever he really is. Besides, I would
rather he was weak than wicked. Weak people may find themselves all
at once strong in heaven, when they see things quite clearly; but I
don't think the wicked will turn themselves into virtuous people all
at once."

"I think I've been very weak, Molly," said Mrs. Hamley, stroking
Molly's curls affectionately. "I've made such an idol of my beautiful
Osborne; and he turns out to have feet of clay, not strong enough to
stand firm on the ground. And that's the best view of his conduct,

What with his anger against his son, and his anxiety about his wife;
the difficulty of raising the money immediately required, and his
irritation at the scarce-concealed inquiries made by strangers as to
the value of his property, the poor Squire was in a sad state. He
was angry and impatient with every one who came near him; and then
was depressed at his own violent temper and unjust words. The old
servants, who, perhaps, cheated him in many small things, were
beautifully patient under his upbraidings. They could understand
bursts of passion, and knew the cause of his variable moods as well
as he did himself. The butler, who was accustomed to argue with his
master about every fresh direction as to his work, now nudged Molly
at dinner-time to make her eat of some dish which she had just been
declining, and explained his conduct afterwards as follows:--

"You see, miss, me and cook had planned a dinner as would tempt
master to eat; but when you say, 'No, thank you,' when I hand you
anything, master never so much as looks at it. But if you takes a
thing, and eats with a relish, why first he waits, and then he looks,
and by-and-by he smells; and then he finds out as he's hungry, and
falls to eating as natural as a kitten takes to mewing. That's the
reason, miss, as I gave you a nudge and a wink, which no one knows
better nor me was not manners."

Osborne's name was never mentioned during these cheerless meals. The
Squire asked Molly questions about Hollingford people, but did not
seem much to attend to her answers. He used also to ask her every day
how she thought that his wife was; but if Molly told the truth--that
every day seemed to make her weaker and weaker--he was almost savage
with the girl. He could not bear it; and he would not. Nay, once he
was on the point of dismissing Mr. Gibson because he insisted on a
consultation with Dr. Nicholls, the great physician of the county.

"It's nonsense thinking her so ill as that--you know it's only the
delicacy she's had for years; and if you can't do her any good in
such a simple case--no pain--only weakness and nervousness--it is a
simple case, eh?--don't look in that puzzled way, man!--you'd better
give her up altogether, and I'll take her to Bath or Brighton,
or somewhere for change, for in my opinion it's only moping and

But the Squire's bluff florid face was pinched with anxiety, and worn
with the effort of being deaf to the footsteps of fate as he said
these words which belied his fears.

Mr. Gibson replied very quietly,--

"I shall go on coming to see her, and I know you'll not forbid my
visits. But I shall bring Dr. Nicholls with me the next time I come.
I may be mistaken in my treatment; and I wish to God he may say I am
mistaken in my apprehensions."

"Don't tell me them! I cannot bear them!" cried the Squire. "Of
course we must all die; and she must too. But the cleverest doctor
in England shan't go about coolly meting out the life of such as her.
I daresay I shall die first. I hope I shall. But I'll knock any one
down who speaks to me of death sitting within me. And, besides, I
think all doctors are ignorant quacks, pretending to knowledge they
haven't got. Ay, you may smile at me. I don't care. Unless you can
tell me I shall die first, neither you nor your Dr. Nicholls shall
come prophesying and croaking about this house."

Mr. Gibson went away, heavy at heart from the thought of Mrs.
Hamley's approaching death, but thinking little enough of the
Squire's speeches. He had almost forgotten them, in fact, when about
nine o'clock that evening, a groom rode in from Hamley Hall in hot
haste, with a note from the Squire.


   For God's sake forgive me if I was rude to-day. She is
   much worse. Come and spend the night here. Write for
   Nicholls, and all the physicians you want. Write before
   you start off. They may give her ease. There were
   Whitworth doctors much talked of in my youth for curing
   people given up by the regular doctors; can't you get one
   of them? I put myself in your hands. Sometimes I think it
   is the turning point, and she'll rally after this bout. I
   trust all to you.

   Yours ever,


   P.S.--Molly is a treasure.--God help me!

Of course Mr. Gibson went; for the first time since his marriage
cutting short Mrs. Gibson's querulous lamentations over her life,
as involved in that of a doctor called out at all hours of day and

He brought Mrs. Hamley through this attack; and for a day or two the
Squire's alarm and gratitude made him docile in Mr. Gibson's hands.
Then he returned to the idea of its being a crisis through which his
wife had passed; and that she was now on the way to recovery. But
the day after the consultation with Dr. Nicholls, Mr. Gibson said to

"Molly! I've written to Osborne and Roger. Do you know Osborne's

"No, papa. He's in disgrace. I don't know if the Squire knows; and
she has been too ill to write."

"Never mind. I'll enclose it to Roger; whatever those lads may be to
others, there's as strong brotherly love as ever I saw, between the
two. Roger will know. And, Molly, they are sure to come home as soon
as they hear my report of their mother's state. I wish you'd tell the
Squire what I've done. It's not a pleasant piece of work; and I'll
tell madam myself in my own way. I'd have told him if he'd been at
home; but you say he was obliged to go to Ashcombe on business."

"Quite obliged. He was so sorry to miss you. But, papa, he will be so
angry! You don't know how mad he is against Osborne."

Molly dreaded the Squire's anger when she gave him her father's
message. She had seen quite enough of the domestic relations of
the Hamley family to understand that, underneath his old-fashioned
courtesy, and the pleasant hospitality he showed to her as a guest,
there was a strong will, and a vehement passionate temper, along with
that degree of obstinacy in prejudices (or "opinions," as he would
have called them) so common to those who have, neither in youth nor
in manhood, mixed largely with their kind. She had listened, day
after day, to Mrs. Hamley's plaintive murmurs as to the deep disgrace
in which Osborne was being held by his father--the prohibition of his
coming home; and she hardly knew how to begin to tell him that the
letter summoning Osborne had already been sent off.

Their dinners were tête-à-tête. The Squire tried to make them
pleasant to Molly, feeling deeply grateful to her for the soothing
comfort she was to his wife. He made merry speeches, which sank
away into silence, and at which they each forgot to smile. He
ordered up rare wines, which she did not care for, but tasted out of
complaisance. He noticed that one day she had eaten some brown beurré
pears as if she liked them; and as his trees had not produced many
this year, he gave directions that this particular kind should be
sought for through the neighbourhood. Molly felt that, in many ways,
he was full of good-will towards her; but it did not diminish her
dread of touching on the one sore point in the family. However, it
had to be done, and that without delay.

The great log was placed on the after-dinner fire, the hearth swept
up, the ponderous candles snuffed, and then the door was shut and
Molly and the Squire were left to their dessert. She sat at the side
of the table in her old place. That at the head was vacant; yet, as
no orders had been given to the contrary, the plate and glasses and
napkin were always arranged as regularly and methodically as if Mrs.
Hamley would come in as usual. Indeed, sometimes, when the door
by which she used to enter was opened by any chance, Molly caught
herself looking round as if she expected to see the tall, languid
figure in the elegant draperies of rich silk and soft lace, which
Mrs. Hamley was wont to wear of an evening.

This evening, it struck her, as a new thought of pain, that into
that room she would come no more. She had fixed to give her father's
message at this very point of time; but something in her throat
choked her, and she hardly knew how to govern her voice. The Squire
got up and went to the broad fireplace, to strike into the middle of
the great log, and split it up into blazing, sparkling pieces. His
back was towards her. Molly began, "When papa was here to-day, he
bade me tell you he had written to Mr. Roger Hamley to say that--that
he thought he had better come home; and he enclosed a letter to Mr.
Osborne Hamley to say the same thing."

The Squire put down the poker, but he still kept his back to Molly.

"He sent for Osborne and Roger?" he asked, at length.

Molly answered, "Yes."

Then there was a dead silence, which Molly thought would never end.
The Squire had placed his two hands on the high chimney-piece, and
stood leaning over the fire.

"Roger would have been down from Cambridge on the 18th," said he.
"And he has sent for Osborne, too! Did he know,"--he continued,
turning round to Molly, with something of the fierceness she had
anticipated in voice and look. In another moment he had dropped his
voice. "It's right, quite right. I understand. It has come at length.
Come! come! Osborne has brought it on, though," with a fresh access
of anger in his tones. "She might have" (some word Molly could not
hear--she thought it sounded like "lingered") "but for that. I can't
forgive him; I cannot."

And then he suddenly left the room. While Molly sat there still, very
sad in her sympathy with all, he put his head in again:--

"Go to her, my dear; I cannot--not just yet. But I will soon. Just
this bit; and after that I won't lose a moment. You're a good girl.
God bless you!"

It is not to be supposed that Molly had remained all this time at the
Hall without interruption. Once or twice her father had brought her
a summons home. Molly thought she could perceive that he had brought
it unwillingly; in fact, it was Mrs. Gibson that had sent for her,
almost, as it were, to preserve a "right of way" through her actions.

"You shall come back to-morrow, or the next day," her father had
said. "But mamma seems to think people will put a bad construction on
your being so much away from home so soon after our marriage."

"Oh, papa, I'm afraid Mrs. Hamley will miss me! I do so like being
with her."

"I don't think it is likely she will miss you as much as she would
have done a month or two ago. She sleeps so much now, that she is
scarcely conscious of the lapse of time. I'll see that you come back
here again in a day or two."

So out of the silence and the soft melancholy of the Hall Molly
returned into the all-pervading element of chatter and gossip at
Hollingford. Mrs. Gibson received her kindly enough. Once she had a
smart new winter bonnet ready to give her as a present; but she did
not care to hear any particulars about the friends whom Molly had
just left; and her few remarks on the state of affairs at the Hall
jarred terribly on the sensitive Molly.

"What a time she lingers! Your papa never expected she would last
half so long after that attack. It must be very wearing work to them
all; I declare you look quite another creature since you were there.
One can only wish it mayn't last, for their sakes."

"You don't know how the Squire values every minute," said Molly.

"Why, you say she sleeps a great deal, and doesn't talk much when
she's awake, and there's not the slightest hope for her. And yet, at
such times, people are kept on the tenter-hooks with watching and
waiting. I know it by my dear Kirkpatrick. There really were days
when I thought it never would end. But we won't talk any more of such
dismal things; you've had quite enough of them, I'm sure, and it
always makes me melancholy to hear of illness and death; and yet your
papa seems sometimes as if he could talk of nothing else. I'm going
to take you out to-night, though, and that will give you something
of a change; and I've been getting Miss Rose to trim up one of my
old gowns for you; it's too tight for me. There's some talk of
dancing,--it's at Mrs. Edwards'."

"Oh, mamma, I cannot go!" cried Molly. "I've been so much with her;
and she may be suffering so, or even dying--and I to be dancing!"

"Nonsense! You're no relation, so you need not feel it so much. I
wouldn't urge you, if she was likely to know about it and be hurt;
but as it is, it's all fixed that you are to go; and don't let us
have any nonsense about it. We might sit twirling our thumbs, and
repeating hymns all our lives long, if we were to do nothing else
when people were dying."

"I cannot go," repeated Molly. And, acting upon impulse, and almost
to her own surprise, she appealed to her father, who came into the
room at this very time. He contracted his dark eyebrows, and looked
annoyed as both wife and daughter poured their different sides of the
argument into his ears. He sat down in desperation of patience. When
his turn came to pronounce a decision, he said,--

"I suppose I can have some lunch? I went away at six this morning,
and there's nothing in the dining-room. I have to go off again

Molly started to the door; Mrs. Gibson made haste to ring the bell.

"Where are you going, Molly?" said she, sharply.

"Only to see about papa's lunch."

"There are servants to do it; and I don't like your going into the

"Come, Molly! sit down and be quiet," said her father. "One comes
home wanting peace and quietness--and food too. If I am to be
appealed to, which I beg I may not be another time, I settle that
Molly stops at home this evening. I shall come back late and tired.
See that I have something ready to eat, goosey, and then I'll dress
myself up in my best, and go and fetch you home, my dear. I wish all
these wedding festivities were well over. Ready, is it? Then I'll go
into the dining-room and gorge myself. A doctor ought to be able to
eat like a camel, or like Major Dugald Dalgetty."

It was well for Molly that callers came in just at this time, for
Mrs. Gibson was extremely annoyed. They told her some little local
piece of news, however, which filled up her mind; and Molly found
that, if she only expressed wonder enough at the engagement they had
both heard of from the departed callers, the previous discussion as
to her accompanying her stepmother or not might be entirely passed
over. Not entirely though; for the next morning she had to listen to
a very brilliantly touched-up account of the dance and the gaiety
which she had missed; and also to be told that Mrs. Gibson had
changed her mind about giving her the gown, and thought now that
she should reserve it for Cynthia, if only it was long enough; but
Cynthia was so tall--quite overgrown, in fact. The chances seemed
equally balanced as to whether Molly might not have the gown after



[Illustration (untitled)]

Osborne and Roger came to the Hall; Molly found Roger established
there when she returned after this absence at home. She gathered
that Osborne was coming; but very little was said about him in any
way. The Squire scarcely ever left his wife's room; he sat by her,
watching her, and now and then moaning to himself. She was so much
under the influence of opiates that she did not often rouse up; but
when she did, she almost invariably asked for Molly. On these rare
occasions, she would ask after Osborne--where he was, if he had been
told, and if he was coming? In her weakened and confused state of
intellect she seemed to have retained two strong impressions--one,
of the sympathy with which Molly had received her confidence about
Osborne; the other, of the anger which her husband entertained
against him. Before the squire she never mentioned Osborne's name;
nor did she seem at her ease in speaking about him to Roger; while,
when she was alone with Molly, she hardly spoke of any one else.
She must have had some sort of wandering idea that Roger blamed his
brother, while she remembered Molly's eager defence, which she had
thought hopelessly improbable at the time. At any rate, she made
Molly her confidante about her first-born. She sent her to ask Roger
how soon he would come, for she seemed to know perfectly well that he
was coming.

"Tell me all Roger says. He will tell you."

But it was several days before Molly could ask Roger any questions;
and meanwhile Mrs. Hamley's state had materially altered. At length
Molly came upon Roger sitting in the library, his head buried in his
hands. He did not hear her footstep till she was close beside him.
Then he lifted up his face, red, and stained with tears, his hair all
ruffled up and in disorder.

"I've been wanting to see you alone," she began. "Your mother does
so want some news of your brother Osborne. She told me last week to
ask you about him, but I did not like to speak of him before your

"She has hardly ever named him to me."

"I don't know why; for to me she used to talk of him perpetually. I
have seen so little of her this week, and I think she forgets a great
deal now. Still, if you don't mind, I should like to be able to tell
her something if she asks me again."

He put his head again between his hands, and did not answer her for
some time.

"What does she want to know?" said he, at last. "Does she know that
Osborne is coming soon--any day?"

"Yes. But she wants to know where he is."

"I can't tell you. I don't exactly know. I believe he's abroad, but
I'm not sure."

"But you've sent papa's letter to him?"

"I've sent it to a friend of his who will know better than I do where
he's to be found. You must know that he isn't free from creditors,
Molly. You can't have been one of the family, like a child of the
house almost, without knowing that much. For that and for other
reasons I don't exactly know where he is."

"I will tell her so. You are sure he will come?"

"Quite sure. But, Molly, I think my mother may live some time yet;
don't you? Dr. Nicholls said so yesterday when he was here with
your father. He said she had rallied more than he had ever expected.
You're not afraid of any change that makes you so anxious for
Osborne's coming?"

"No. It's only for her that I asked. She did seem so to crave for
news of him. I think she dreamed of him; and then when she wakened
it was a relief to her to talk about him to me. She always seemed to
associate me with him. We used to speak so much of him when we were

"I don't know what we should any of us have done without you. You've
been like a daughter to my mother."

"I do so love her," said Molly, softly.

"Yes; I see. Have you ever noticed that she sometimes calls you
'Fanny?' It was the name of a little sister of ours who died. I think
she often takes you for her. It was partly that, and partly that at
such a time as this one can't stand on formalities, that made me call
you Molly. I hope you don't mind it?"

"No; I like it. But will you tell me something more about your
brother? She really hungers for news of him."

"She'd better ask me herself. Yet, no! I am so involved by promises
of secrecy, Molly, that I couldn't satisfy her if she once began to
question me. I believe he's in Belgium, and that he went there about
a fortnight ago, partly to avoid his creditors. You know my father
has refused to pay his debts?"

"Yes: at least, I knew something like it."

"I don't believe my father could raise the money all at once without
having recourse to steps which he would exceedingly recoil from. Yet
for the time it places Osborne in a very awkward position."

"I think what vexes your father a good deal is some mystery as to how
the money was spent."

"If my mother ever says anything about that part of the affair," said
Roger, hastily, "assure her from me that there's nothing of vice or
wrong-doing about it. I can't say more: I'm tied. But set her mind at
ease on that point."

"I'm not sure if she remembers all her painful anxiety about this,"
said Molly. "She used to speak a great deal to me about him before
you came, when your father seemed so angry. And now, whenever she
sees me she wants to talk on the old subject; but she doesn't
remember so clearly. If she were to see him, I don't believe she
would recollect why she was uneasy about him while he was absent."

"He must be here soon. I expect him every day," said Roger, uneasily.

"Do you think your father will be very angry with him?" asked Molly,
with as much timidity as if the squire's displeasure might be
directed against her.

"I don't know," said Roger. "My mother's illness may alter him; but
he didn't easily forgive us formerly. I remember once--but that is
nothing to the purpose. I can't help fancying that he has put himself
under some strong restraint for my mother's sake, and that he won't
express much. But it doesn't follow that he will forget it. My father
is a man of few affections, but what he has are very strong; he feels
anything that touches him on these points deeply and permanently.
That unlucky valuing of the property! It has given my father the idea
of post-obits--"

"What are they?" asked Molly.

"Raising money to be paid on my father's death, which, of course,
involves calculations as to the duration of his life."

"How shocking!" said she.

"I'm as sure as I am of my own life that Osborne never did anything
of the kind. But my father expressed his suspicions in language
that irritated Osborne; and he doesn't speak out, and won't justify
himself even as much as he might; and, much as he loves me, I've but
little influence over him, or else he would tell my father all. Well,
we must leave it to time," he added, sighing. "My mother would have
brought us all right, if she'd been what she once was."

He turned away, leaving Molly very sad. She knew that every member of
the family she cared for so much was in trouble, out of which she saw
no exit; and her small power of helping them was diminishing day by
day as Mrs. Hamley sank more and more under the influence of opiates
and stupefying illness. Her father had spoken to her only this very
day of the desirableness of her returning home for good. Mrs. Gibson
wanted her--for no particular reason, but for many small fragments of
reasons. Mrs. Hamley had ceased to want her much, only occasionally
appearing to remember her existence. Her position (her father
thought--the idea had not entered her head) in a family of which
the only woman was an invalid confined to bed, was becoming awkward.
But Molly had begged hard to remain two or three days longer--only
that--only till Friday. If Mrs. Hamley should want her (she argued,
with tears in her eyes), and should hear that she had left the house,
she would think her so unkind, so ungrateful!

"My dear child, she's getting past wanting any one! The keenness of
earthly feelings is deadened."

"Papa, that is worst of all. I cannot bear it. I won't believe it.
She may not ask for me again, and may quite forget me; but I'm sure,
to the very last, if the medicines don't stupefy her, she will look
round for the squire and her children. For poor Osborne most of all;
because he's in sorrow."

Mr. Gibson shook his head, but said nothing in reply. In a minute or
two he asked,--

"I don't like to take you away while you even fancy you can be of use
or comfort to one who has been so kind to you; but, if she hasn't
wanted you before Friday, will you be convinced, will you come home

"If I go then, I may see her once again, even if she hasn't asked for
me?" inquired Molly.

"Yes, of course. You must make no noise, no step; but you may go in
and see her. I must tell you, I'm almost certain she won't ask for

"But she may, papa. I will go home on Friday, if she does not. I
think she will."

So Molly hung about the house, trying to do all she could out of the
sick-room, for the comfort of those in it. They only came out for
meals, or for necessary business, and found little time for talking
to her, so her life was solitary enough, waiting for the call that
never came. The evening of the day on which she had had the above
conversation with Roger, Osborne arrived. He came straight into
the drawing-room, where Molly was seated on the rug, reading by
firelight, as she did not like to ring for candles merely for her
own use. Osborne came in, with a kind of hurry, which almost made
him appear as if he would trip himself up, and fall down. Molly rose.
He had not noticed her before; now he came forwards, and took hold
of both her hands, leading her into the full flickering light, and
straining his eyes to look into her face.

"How is she? You will tell me--you must know the truth! I've
travelled day and night since I got your father's letter."

Before she could frame her answer, he had sate down in the nearest
chair, covering his eyes with his hand.

"She's very ill," said Molly. "That you know; but I don't think she
suffers much pain. She has wanted you sadly."

He groaned aloud. "My father forbade me to come."

"I know!" said Molly, anxious to prevent his self-reproach. "Your
brother was away, too. I think no one knew how ill she was--she had
been an invalid for so long."

"You know-- Yes! she told you a great deal--she was very fond of you.
And God knows how I loved her. If I had not been forbidden to come
home, I should have told her all. Does my father know of my coming

"Yes," said Molly; "I told him papa had sent for you."

Just at that moment the Squire came in. He had not heard of Osborne's
arrival, and was seeking Molly to ask her to write a letter for him.

Osborne did not stand up when his father entered. He was too much
exhausted, too much oppressed by his feelings, and also too much
estranged by his father's angry, suspicious letters. If he had come
forward with any manifestation of feeling at this moment, everything
might have been different. But he waited for his father to see him
before he uttered a word. All that the Squire said when his eye fell
upon him at last was,--

"You here, sir!"

And, breaking off in the directions he was giving to Molly, he
abruptly left the room. All the time his heart was yearning after his
first-born; but mutual pride kept them asunder. Yet he went straight
to the butler, and asked of him when Mr. Osborne had arrived, and how
he had come, and if he had had any refreshment--dinner or what--since
his arrival?

"For I think I forget everything now!" said the poor Squire, putting
his hand up to his head. "For the life of me, I can't remember
whether we've had dinner or not; these long nights, and all this
sorrow and watching, quite bewilder me."

"Perhaps, sir, you will take some dinner with Mr. Osborne. Mrs.
Morgan is sending up his directly. You hardly sate down at
dinner-time, sir, you thought my mistress wanted something."

"Ay! I remember now. No! I won't have any more. Give Mr. Osborne what
wine he chooses. Perhaps _he_ can eat and drink." So the Squire went
away upstairs with bitterness as well as sorrow in his heart.

When lights were brought, Molly was struck with the change in
Osborne. He looked haggard and worn; perhaps with travelling and
anxiety. Not quite such a dainty gentleman either, as Molly had
thought him, when she had last seen him calling on her stepmother,
two months before. But she liked him better now. The tone of his
remarks pleased her more. He was simpler, and less ashamed of showing
his feelings. He asked after Roger in a warm, longing kind of way.
Roger was out: he had ridden to Ashcombe to transact some business
for the Squire. Osborne evidently wished for his return; and hung
about restlessly in the drawing-room after he had dined.

"You're sure I mayn't see her to-night?" he asked Molly, for the
third or fourth time.

"No, indeed. I will go up again if you like it. But Mrs. Jones, the
nurse Dr. Nicholls sent, is a very decided person. I went up while
you were at dinner, and Mrs. Hamley had just taken her drops, and was
on no account to be disturbed by seeing any one, much less by any

Osborne kept walking up and down the long drawing-room, half talking
to himself, half to Molly.

"I wish Roger would come. He seems to be the only one to give me a
welcome. Does my father always live upstairs in my mother's rooms,
Miss Gibson?"

"He has done since her last attack. I believe he reproaches himself
for not having been enough alarmed before."

"You heard all the words he said to me; they were not much of a
welcome, were they? And my dear mother, who always--whether I was to
blame or not--I suppose Roger is sure to come home to-night?"

"Quite sure."

"You are staying here, are you not? Do you often see my mother, or
does this omnipotent nurse keep you out too?"

"Mrs. Hamley hasn't asked for me for three days now, and I don't go
into her room unless she asks. I'm leaving on Friday, I believe."

"My mother was very fond of you, I know."

After a while he said, in a voice that had a great deal of sensitive
pain in its tone,--

"I suppose--do you know whether she is quite conscious--quite

"Not always conscious," said Molly, tenderly. "She has to take so
many opiates. But she never wanders, only forgets, and sleeps."

"Oh, mother, mother!" said he, stopping suddenly, and hanging over
the fire, his hands on the chimney-piece.

When Roger came home, Molly thought it time to retire. Poor girl!
it was getting to be time for her to leave this scene of distress
in which she could be of no use. She sobbed herself to sleep this
Tuesday night. Two days more, and it would be Friday; and she would
have to wrench up the roots she had shot down into this ground. The
weather was bright the next morning; and morning and sunny weather
cheer up young hearts. Molly sate in the dining-room making tea for
the gentlemen as they came down. She could not help hoping that the
Squire and Osborne might come to a better understanding before she
left; for after all, in the dissension between father and son, lay a
bitterer sting than in the illness sent by God. But though they met
at the breakfast-table, they purposely avoided addressing each other.
Perhaps the natural subject of conversation between the two, at such
a time, would have been Osborne's long journey the night before; but
he had never spoken of the place he had come from, whether north,
south, east, or west, and the Squire did not choose to allude to
anything that might bring out what his son wished to conceal. Again,
there was an unexpressed idea in both their minds that Mrs. Hamley's
present illness was much aggravated, if not entirely brought on, by
the discovery of Osborne's debts; so, many inquiries and answers on
that head were tabooed. In fact, their attempts at easy conversation
were limited to local subjects, and principally addressed to Molly
or Roger. Such intercourse was not productive of pleasure, or even
of friendly feeling, though there was a thin outward surface of
politeness and peace. Long before the day was over, Molly wished that
she had acceded to her father's proposal, and gone home with him.
No one seemed to want her. Mrs. Jones, the nurse, assured her time
after time that Mrs. Hamley had never named her name; and her small
services in the sick-room were not required since there was a regular
nurse. Osborne and Roger seemed all in all to each other; and Molly
now felt how much the short conversations she had had with Roger had
served to give her something to think about, all during the remainder
of her solitary days. Osborne was extremely polite, and even
expressed his gratitude to her for her attentions to his mother in
a very pleasant manner; but he appeared to be unwilling to show
her any of the deeper feelings of his heart, and almost ashamed of
his exhibition of emotion the night before. He spoke to her as any
agreeable young man speaks to any pleasant young lady; but Molly
almost resented this. It was only the Squire who seemed to make her
of any account. He gave her letters to write, small bills to reckon
up; and she could have kissed his hands for thankfulness.

The last afternoon of her stay at the Hall came. Roger had gone out
on the Squire's business. Molly went into the garden, thinking over
the last summer, when Mrs. Hamley's sofa used to be placed under
the old cedar-tree on the lawn, and when the warm air seemed to be
scented with roses and sweetbriar. Now, the trees leafless, there was
no sweet odour in the keen frosty air; and looking up at the house,
there were the white sheets of blinds, shutting out the pale winter
sky from the invalid's room. Then she thought of the day her father
had brought her the news of his second marriage: the thicket was
tangled with dead weeds and rime and hoar-frost; and the beautiful
fine articulations of branches and boughs and delicate twigs were
all intertwined in leafless distinctness against the sky. Could she
ever be so passionately unhappy again? Was it goodness, or was it
numbness, that made her feel as though life was too short to be
troubled much about anything? Death seemed the only reality. She had
neither energy nor heart to walk far or briskly; and turned back
towards the house. The afternoon sun was shining brightly on the
windows; and, stirred up to unusual activity by some unknown cause,
the housemaids had opened the shutters and windows of the generally
unused library. The middle window was also a door; the white-painted
wood went halfway up. Molly turned along the little flag-paved path
that led past the library windows to the gate in the white railings
at the front of the house, and went in at the opened door. She had
had leave given to choose out any books she wished to read, and to
take them home with her; and it was just the sort of half-dawdling
employment suited to her taste this afternoon. She mounted on the
ladder to get to a particular shelf high up in a dark corner of the
room; and finding there some volume that looked interesting, she sat
down on the step to read part of it. There she sat, in her bonnet and
cloak, when Osborne suddenly came in. He did not see her at first;
indeed, he seemed in such a hurry that he probably might not have
noticed her at all, if she had not spoken.

"Am I in your way? I only came here for a minute to look for some
books." She came down the steps as she spoke, still holding the book
in her hand.

"Not at all. It is I who am disturbing you. I must just write a
letter for the post, and then I shall be gone. Is not this open door
too cold for you?"

"Oh, no. It is so fresh and pleasant."

She began to read again, sitting on the lowest step of the ladder;
he to write at the large old-fashioned writing-table close to the
window. There was a minute or two of profound silence, in which the
rapid scratching of Osborne's pen upon the paper was the only sound.
Then came a click of the gate, and Roger stood at the open door. His
face was towards Osborne, sitting in the light; his back to Molly,
crouched up in her corner. He held out a letter, and said in hoarse

"Here's a letter from your wife, Osborne. I went past the post-office
and thought--"

Osborne stood up, angry dismay upon his face:--

"Roger! what have you done! Don't you see her?"

Roger looked round, and Molly stood up in her corner, red, trembling,
miserable, as though she were a guilty person. Roger entered the
room. All three seemed to be equally dismayed. Molly was the first to
speak; she came forward and said--

"I am so sorry! I didn't wish to hear it, but I couldn't help it. You
will trust me, won't you?" and turning to Roger she said to him with
tears in her eyes--"Please say you know I shall not tell."

"We can't help it," said Osborne, gloomily. "Only Roger, who knew
of what importance it was, ought to have looked round him before

"So I should," said Roger. "I'm more vexed with myself than you can
conceive. Not but what I'm as sure of you as of myself," continued
he, turning to Molly.

"Yes; but," said Osborne, "you see how many chances there are
that even the best-meaning persons may let out what it is of such
consequence to me to keep secret."

"I know you think it so," said Roger.

"Well, don't let us begin that old discussion again--at any rate,
before a third person."

Molly had had hard work all this time to keep from crying. Now that
she was alluded to as the third person before whom conversation was
to be restrained, she said--

"I'm going away. Perhaps I ought not to have been here. I'm very
sorry--very. But I'll try and forget what I've heard."

"You can't do that," said Osborne, still ungraciously. "But will you
promise me never to speak about it to any one--not even to me, or to
Roger? Will you try to act and speak as if you had never heard it?
I'm sure, from what Roger has told me about you, that if you give me
this promise I may rely upon it."

"Yes; I will promise," said Molly, putting out her hand as a kind of
pledge. Osborne took it, but rather as if the action was superfluous.
She added, "I think I should have done so, even without a promise.
But it is, perhaps, better to bind oneself. I will go away now. I
wish I'd never come into this room."

She put down her book on the table very softly, and turned to leave
the room, choking down her tears until she was in the solitude of her
own chamber. But Roger was at the door before her, holding it open
for her, and reading--she felt that he was reading--her face. He held
out his hand for hers, and his firm grasp expressed both sympathy and
regret for what had occurred.

She could hardly keep back her sobs till she reached her bedroom. Her
feelings had been overwrought for some time past, without finding the
natural vent in action. The leaving Hamley Hall had seemed so sad
before; and now she was troubled with having to bear away a secret
which she ought never to have known, and the knowledge of which had
brought out a very uncomfortable responsibility. Then there would
arise a very natural wonder as to who Osborne's wife was. Molly had
not stayed so long and so intimately in the Hamley family without
being well aware of the manner in which the future lady of Hamley was
planned for. The Squire, for instance, partly in order to show that
Osborne, his heir, was above the reach of Molly Gibson, the doctor's
daughter, in the early days before he knew Molly well, had often
alluded to the grand, the high, and the wealthy marriage which Hamley
of Hamley, as represented by his clever, brilliant, handsome son
Osborne, might be expected to make. Mrs. Hamley, too, unconsciously
on her part, showed the projects that she was constantly devising for
the reception of the unknown daughter-in-law that was to be.

"The drawing-room must be refurnished when Osborne marries"--or
"Osborne's wife will like to have the west suite of rooms to herself;
it will perhaps be a trial to her to live with the old couple; but we
must arrange it so that she will feel it as little as possible."--"Of
course, when Mrs. Osborne comes we must try and give her a new
carriage; the old one does well enough for us."--These, and similar
speeches had given Molly the impression of the future Mrs. Osborne as
of some beautiful grand young lady, whose very presence would make
the old Hall into a stately, formal mansion, instead of the pleasant,
unceremonious home that it was at present. Osborne, too, who had
spoken with such languid criticism to Mrs. Gibson about various
country belles, and even in his own home was apt to give himself
airs--only at home his airs were poetically fastidious, while with
Mrs. Gibson they had been socially fastidious--what unspeakably
elegant beauty had he chosen for his wife? Who had satisfied him; and
yet satisfying him, had to have her marriage kept in concealment from
his parents? At length Molly tore herself up from her wonderings. It
was of no use: she could not find out; she might not even try. The
blank wall of her promise blocked up the way. Perhaps it was not even
right to wonder, and endeavour to remember slight speeches, casual
mentions of a name, so as to piece them together into something
coherent. Molly dreaded seeing either of the brothers again; but they
all met at dinner-time as if nothing had happened. The Squire was
taciturn, either from melancholy or displeasure. He had never spoken
to Osborne since his return, excepting about the commonest trifles,
when intercourse could not be avoided; and his wife's state oppressed
him like a heavy cloud coming over the light of his day. Osborne put
on an indifferent manner to his father, which Molly felt sure was
assumed; but it was not conciliatory for all that. Roger, quiet,
steady, and natural, talked more than all the others; but he too
was uneasy, and in distress on many accounts. To-day he principally
addressed himself to Molly; entering into rather long narrations of
late discoveries in natural history, which kept up the current of
talk without requiring much reply from any one. Molly had expected
Osborne to look something different from usual--conscious, or
ashamed, or resentful, or even "married"--but he was exactly the
Osborne of the morning--handsome, elegant, languid in manner and in
look; cordial with his brother, polite towards her, secretly uneasy
at the state of things between his father and himself. She would
never have guessed the concealed romance which lay _perdu_ under
that every-day behaviour. She had always wished to come into direct
contact with a love-story: here she had, and she only found it very
uncomfortable; there was a sense of concealment and uncertainty about
it all; and her honest straightforward father, her quiet life at
Hollingford, which, even with all its drawbacks, was above-board,
and where everybody knew what everybody was doing, seemed secure and
pleasant in comparison. Of course she felt great pain at quitting
the Hall, and at the mute farewell she had taken of her sleeping
and unconscious friend. But leaving Mrs. Hamley now was a different
thing to what it had been a fortnight ago. Then she was wanted at any
moment, and felt herself to be of comfort. Now her very existence
seemed forgotten by the poor lady whose body appeared to be living so
long after her soul.

She was sent home in the carriage, loaded with true thanks from every
one of the family. Osborne ransacked the greenhouses for flowers for
her; Roger had chosen her out books of every kind. The Squire himself
kept shaking her hand, without being able to speak his gratitude,
till at last he took her in his arms, and kissed her as he would have
done a daughter.



Molly's father was not at home when she returned; and there was no
one to give her a welcome. Mrs. Gibson was out paying calls, the
servants told Molly. She went upstairs to her own room, meaning to
unpack and arrange her borrowed books. Rather to her surprise she saw
the chamber, corresponding to her own, being dusted; water and towels
too were being carried in.

"Is any one coming?" she asked of the housemaid.

"Missus's daughter from France. Miss Kirkpatrick is coming

Was Cynthia coming at last? Oh, what a pleasure it would be to have a
companion, a girl, a sister of her own age! Molly's depressed spirits
sprang up again with bright elasticity. She longed for Mrs. Gibson's
return, to ask her all about it: it must be very sudden, for Mr.
Gibson had said nothing of it at the Hall the day before. No quiet
reading now; the books were hardly put away with Molly's usual
neatness. She went down into the drawing-room, and could not settle
to anything. At last Mrs. Gibson came home, tired out with her walk
and her heavy velvet cloak. Until that was taken off, and she had
rested herself for a few minutes, she seemed quite unable to attend
to Molly's questions.

"Oh, yes! Cynthia is coming home to-morrow, by the 'Umpire,' which
passes through at ten o'clock. What an oppressive day it is for the
time of the year! I really am almost ready to faint. Cynthia heard of
some opportunity, I believe, and was only too glad to leave school a
fortnight earlier than we planned. She never gave me the chance of
writing to say I did, or did not, like her coming so much before the
time; and I shall have to pay for her just the same as if she had
stopped. And I meant to have asked her to bring me a French bonnet;
and then you could have had one made after mine. But I'm very glad
she's coming, poor dear."

"Is anything the matter with her?" asked Molly.

"Oh, no! Why should there be?"

"You called her 'poor dear,' and it made me afraid lest she might be

"Oh, no! It's only a way I got into, when Mr. Kirkpatrick died. A
fatherless girl--you know one always does call them 'poor dears.' Oh,
no! Cynthia never is ill. She's as strong as a horse. She never would
have felt to-day as I have done. Could you get me a glass of wine and
a biscuit, my dear? I'm really quite faint."

Mr. Gibson was much more excited about Cynthia's arrival than her
own mother was. He anticipated her coming as a great pleasure to
Molly, on whom, in spite of his recent marriage and his new wife, his
interests principally centred. He even found time to run upstairs and
see the bedrooms of the two girls; for the furniture of which he had
paid a pretty round sum.

"Well, I suppose young ladies like their bedrooms decked out in this
way! It's very pretty certainly, but--"

"I liked my own old room better, papa; but perhaps Cynthia is
accustomed to such decking up."

"Perhaps; at any rate, she'll see we've tried to make it pretty.
Yours is like hers. That's right. It might have hurt her, if hers had
been smarter than yours. Now, good-night in your fine flimsy bed."

Molly was up betimes--almost before it was light--arranging her
pretty Hamley flowers in Cynthia's room. She could hardly eat her
breakfast that morning. She ran upstairs and put on her things,
thinking that Mrs. Gibson was quite sure to go down to the "George
Inn," where the "Umpire" stopped, to meet her daughter after a two
years' absence. But, to her surprise, Mrs. Gibson had arranged
herself at her great worsted-work frame, just as usual; and she, in
her turn, was astonished at Molly's bonnet and cloak.

"Where are you going so early, child? The fog hasn't cleared away

"I thought you would go and meet Cynthia; and I wanted to go with

"She will be here in half an hour; and dear papa has told the
gardener to take the wheelbarrow down for her luggage. I'm not sure
if he is not gone himself."

"Then are not you going?" asked Molly, with a good deal of

"No, certainly not. She will be here almost directly. And, besides,
I don't like to expose my feelings to every passer-by in High Street.
You forget I have not seen her for two years, and I hate scenes in
the market-place."

She settled herself to her work again; and Molly, after some
consideration, gave up her own going, and employed herself in looking
out of the downstairs window which commanded the approach from the

"Here she is--here she is!" she cried out at last. Her father was
walking by the side of a tall young lady; William the gardener
was wheeling along a great cargo of baggage. Molly flew to the
front-door, and had it wide open to admit the new-comer some time
before she arrived.

"Well! here she is. Molly, this is Cynthia. Cynthia, Molly. You're to
be sisters, you know."

Molly saw the beautiful, tall, swaying figure, against the light of
the open door, but could not see any of the features that were, for
the moment, in shadow. A sudden gush of shyness had come over her
just at the instant, and quenched the embrace she would have given a
moment before. But Cynthia took her in her arms, and kissed her on
both cheeks.

"Here's mamma," she said, looking beyond Molly on to the stairs where
Mrs. Gibson stood, wrapped up in a shawl, and shivering in the cold.
She ran past Molly and Mr. Gibson, who rather averted their eyes from
this first greeting between mother and child.

Mrs. Gibson said--

"Why, how you are grown, darling! You look quite a woman."

"And so I am," said Cynthia. "I was before I went away; I've hardly
grown since,--except, it is always to be hoped, in wisdom."

"Yes! That we will hope," said Mrs. Gibson, in rather a meaning
way. Indeed there were evidently hidden allusions in their seeming
commonplace speeches. When they all came into the full light and
repose of the drawing-room, Molly was absorbed in the contemplation
of Cynthia's beauty. Perhaps her features were not regular; but the
changes in her expressive countenance gave one no time to think of
that. Her smile was perfect; her pouting charming; the play of the
face was in the mouth. Her eyes were beautifully shaped, but their
expression hardly seemed to vary. In colouring she was not unlike
her mother; only she had not so much of the red-haired tints in her
complexion; and her long-shaped, serious grey eyes were fringed with
dark lashes, instead of her mother's insipid flaxen ones. Molly fell
in love with her, so to speak, on the instant. She sate there warming
her feet and hands, as much at her ease as if she had been there all
her life; not particularly attending to her mother--who, all the
time, was studying either her or her dress--measuring Molly and Mr.
Gibson with grave observant looks, as if guessing how she should like

"There's hot breakfast ready for you in the dining-room, when you are
ready for it," said Mr. Gibson. "I'm sure you must want it after your
night journey." He looked round at his wife, at Cynthia's mother, but
she did not seem inclined to leave the warm room again.

"Molly will take you to your room, darling," said she; "it is near
hers, and she has got her things to take off. I'll come down and sit
in the dining-room while you are having your breakfast, but I really
am afraid of the cold now."

Cynthia rose and followed Molly upstairs.

"I'm so sorry there isn't a fire for you," said Molly, "but--I
suppose it wasn't ordered; and, of course, I don't give any orders.
Here is some hot water, though."

"Stop a minute," said Cynthia, getting hold of both Molly's hands,
and looking steadily into her face, but in such a manner that she did
not dislike the inspection.

"I think I shall like you. I am so glad! I was afraid I should not.
We're all in a very awkward position together, aren't we? I like your
father's looks, though."

[Illustration: FIRST IMPRESSIONS.]

Molly could not help smiling at the way this was said. Cynthia
replied to her smile.

"Ah, you may laugh. But I don't know that I am easy to get on with;
mamma and I didn't suit when we were last together. But perhaps we
are each of us wiser now. Now, please leave me for a quarter of an
hour. I don't want anything more."

Molly went into her own room, waiting to show Cynthia down to the
dining-room. Not that, in the moderate-sized house, there was any
difficulty in finding the way. A very little trouble in conjecturing
would enable a stranger to discover any room. But Cynthia had
so captivated Molly, that she wanted to devote herself to the
new-comer's service. Ever since she had heard of the probability
of her having a sister--(she called her a sister, but whether it was
a Scotch sister, or a sister _à la mode de Brétagne_, would have
puzzled most people)--Molly had allowed her fancy to dwell much on
the idea of Cynthia's coming; and in the short time since they had
met, Cynthia's unconscious power of fascination had been exercised
upon her. Some people have this power. Of course, its effects are
only manifested in the susceptible. A school-girl may be found in
every school who attracts and influences all the others, not by her
virtues, nor her beauty, nor her sweetness, nor her cleverness, but
by something that can neither be described nor reasoned upon. It is
the something alluded to in the old lines:--

   Love me not for comely grace,
   For my pleasing eye and face;
   No, nor for my constant heart,--
   For these may change, and turn to ill,
   And thus true love may sever.
   But love me on, and know not why,
   So hast thou the same reason still
   To dote upon me ever.

A woman will have this charm, not only over men but over her own
sex; it cannot be defined, or rather it is so delicate a mixture
of many gifts and qualities that it is impossible to decide on the
proportions of each. Perhaps it is incompatible with very high
principle; as its essence seems to consist in the most exquisite
power of adaptation to varying people and still more various moods;
"being all things to all men." At any rate, Molly might soon have
been aware that Cynthia was not remarkable for unflinching morality;
but the glamour thrown over her would have prevented Molly from any
attempt at penetrating into and judging her companion's character,
even had such processes been the least in accordance with her own

Cynthia was very beautiful, and was so well aware of this fact that
she had forgotten to care about it; no one with such loveliness ever
appeared so little conscious of it. Molly would watch her perpetually
as she moved about the room, with the free stately step of some wild
animal of the forest--moving almost, as it were, to the continual
sound of music. Her dress, too, though now to our ideas it would
be considered ugly and disfiguring, was suited to her complexion
and figure, and the fashion of it subdued within due bounds by her
exquisite taste. It was inexpensive enough, and the changes in it
were but few. Mrs. Gibson professed herself shocked to find that
Cynthia had but four gowns, when she might have stocked herself so
well, and brought over so many useful French patterns, if she had but
patiently waited for her mother's answer to the letter which she had
sent, announcing her return by the opportunity madame had found for
her. Molly was hurt for Cynthia at all these speeches; she thought
they implied that the pleasure which her mother felt in seeing her a
fortnight sooner after her two years' absence was inferior to that
which she would have received from a bundle of silver-paper patterns.
But Cynthia took no apparent notice of the frequent recurrence of
these small complaints. Indeed, she received much of what her mother
said with a kind of complete indifference, that made Mrs. Gibson hold
her rather in awe; and she was much more communicative to Molly than
to her own child. With regard to dress, however, Cynthia soon showed
that she was her mother's own daughter in the manner in which she
could use her deft and nimble fingers. She was a capital workwoman;
and, unlike Molly, who excelled in plain sewing, but had no notion of
dressmaking or millinery, she could repeat the fashions she had only
seen in passing along the streets of Boulogne, with one or two pretty
rapid movements of her hands, as she turned and twisted the ribbons
and gauze her mother furnished her with. So she refurbished Mrs.
Gibson's wardrobe; doing it all in a sort of contemptuous manner, the
source of which Molly could not quite make out.

Day after day the course of these small frivolities was broken in
upon by the news Mr. Gibson brought of Mrs. Hamley's nearer approach
to death. Molly--very often sitting by Cynthia, and surrounded by
ribbon, and wire, and net--heard the bulletins like the toll of a
funeral bell at a marriage feast. Her father sympathized with her. It
was the loss of a dear friend to him too; but he was so accustomed to
death, that it seemed to him but as it was, the natural end of all
things human. To Molly, the death of some one she had known so well
and loved so much, was a sad and gloomy phenomenon. She loathed the
small vanities with which she was surrounded, and would wander out
into the frosty garden, and pace the walk, which was both sheltered
and concealed by evergreens.

At length--and yet it was not so long, not a fortnight since Molly
had left the Hall--the end came. Mrs. Hamley had sunk out of life as
gradually as she had sunk out of consciousness and her place in this
world. The quiet waves closed over her, and her place knew her no

"They all sent their love to you, Molly," said her father. "Roger
said he knew how you would feel it."

Mr. Gibson had come in very late, and was having a solitary dinner
in the dining-room. Molly was sitting near him to keep him company.
Cynthia and her mother were upstairs. The latter was trying on a
head-dress which Cynthia had made for her.

Molly remained downstairs after her father had gone out afresh on
his final round among his town patients. The fire was growing very
low, and the lights were waning. Cynthia came softly in, and taking
Molly's listless hand, that hung down by her side, sat at her feet
on the rug, chafing her chilly fingers without speaking. The tender
action thawed the tears that had been gathering heavily at Molly's
heart, and they came dropping down her cheeks.

"You loved her dearly, did you not, Molly?"

"Yes," sobbed Molly; and then there was a silence.

"Had you known her long?"

"No, not a year. But I had seen a great deal of her. I was almost
like a daughter to her; she said so. Yet I never bid her good-by, or
anything. Her mind became weak and confused."

"She had only sons, I think?"

"No; only Mr. Osborne and Mr. Roger Hamley. She had a daughter
once--'Fanny.' Sometimes, in her illness, she used to call me

The two girls were silent for some time, both gazing into the fire.
Cynthia spoke first:--

"I wish I could love people as you do, Molly!"

"Don't you?" said the other, in surprise.

"No. A good number of people love me, I believe, or at least they
think they do; but I never seem to care much for any one. I do
believe I love you, little Molly, whom I have only known for ten
days, better than any one."

"Not than your mother?" said Molly, in grave astonishment.

"Yes, than my mother!" replied Cynthia, half-smiling. "It's very
shocking, I daresay; but it is so. Now, don't go and condemn me. I
don't think love for one's mother quite comes by nature; and remember
how much I have been separated from mine! I loved my father, if you
will," she continued, with the force of truth in her tone, and then
she stopped; "but he died when I was quite a little thing, and no one
believes that I remember him. I heard mamma say to a caller, not a
fortnight after his funeral, 'Oh, no, Cynthia is too young; she has
quite forgotten him'--and I bit my lips, to keep from crying out,
'Papa! papa! have I?' But it's of no use. Well, then mamma had to go
out as a governess; she couldn't help it, poor thing! but she didn't
much care for parting with me. I was a trouble, I daresay. So I was
sent to school at four years old; first one school, and then another;
and in the holidays, mamma went to stay at grand houses, and I was
generally left with the schoolmistresses. Once I went to the Towers;
and mamma lectured me continually, and yet I was very naughty, I
believe. And so I never went again; and I was very glad of it, for it
was a horrid place."

"That it was!" said Molly, who remembered her own day of tribulation

"And once I went to London, to stay with my uncle Kirkpatrick. He is
a lawyer, and getting on now; but then he was poor enough, and had
six or seven children. It was winter-time, and we were all shut up in
a small house in Doughty Street. But, after all, that wasn't so bad."

"But then you lived with your mother when she began school at
Ashcombe. Mr. Preston told me that, when I stayed that day at the

"What did he tell you?" asked Cynthia, almost fiercely.

"Nothing but that. Oh, yes! He praised your beauty, and wanted me to
tell you what he had said."

"I should have hated you if you had," said Cynthia.

"Of course I never thought of doing such a thing," replied Molly. "I
didn't like him; and Lady Harriet spoke of him the next day, as if he
wasn't a person to be liked."

Cynthia was quite silent. At length she said,--

"I wish I was good!"

"So do I," said Molly, simply. She was thinking again of Mrs.

   Only the actions of the just
   Smell sweet and blossom in the dust,

and "goodness" just then seemed to her to be the only enduring thing
in the world.

"Nonsense, Molly! You are good. At least, if you're not good, what
am I? There's a rule-of-three sum for you to do! But it's no use
talking; I am not good, and I never shall be now. Perhaps I might be
a heroine still, but I shall never be a good woman, I know."

"Do you think it easier to be a heroine?"

"Yes, as far as one knows of heroines from history. I'm capable of a
great jerk, an effort, and then a relaxation--but steady, every-day
goodness is beyond me. I must be a moral kangaroo!"

Molly could not follow Cynthia's ideas; she could not distract
herself from the thoughts of the sorrowing group at the Hall.

"How I should like to see them all! and yet one can do nothing at
such a time! Papa says the funeral is to be on Tuesday, and that,
after that, Roger Hamley is to go back to Cambridge. It will seem
as if nothing had happened! I wonder how the squire and Mr. Osborne
Hamley will get on together."

"He's the eldest son, is he not? Why shouldn't he and his father get
on well together?"

"Oh! I don't know. That is to say, I do know, but I think I ought not
to tell."

"Don't be so pedantically truthful, Molly. Besides, your manner shows
when you speak truth and when you speak falsehood, without troubling
yourself to use words. I knew exactly what your 'I don't know' meant.
I never consider myself bound to be truthful, so I beg we may be on
equal terms."

Cynthia might well say she did not consider herself bound to be
truthful; she literally said what came uppermost, without caring very
much whether it was accurate or not. But there was no ill-nature,
and, in a general way, no attempt at procuring any advantage for
herself in all her deviations; and there was often such a latent
sense of fun in them that Molly could not help being amused with them
in fact, though she condemned them in theory. Cynthia's playfulness
of manner glossed such failings over with a kind of charm; and yet,
at times, she was so soft and sympathetic that Molly could not resist
her, even when she affirmed the most startling things. The little
account she made of her own beauty pleased Mr. Gibson extremely; and
her pretty deference to him won his heart. She was restless too, till
she had attacked Molly's dress, after she had remodelled her

"Now for you, sweet one," said she as she began upon one of Molly's
gowns. "I've been working as connoisseur until now; now I begin as

She brought down her pretty artificial flowers, plucked out of her
own best bonnet to put into Molly's, saying they would suit her
complexion, and that a knot of ribbons would do well enough for her.
All the time she worked, she sang; she had a sweet voice in singing,
as well as in speaking, and used to run up and down her gay French
_chansons_ without any difficulty; so flexible in the art was she.
Yet she did not seem to care for music. She rarely touched the piano,
on which Molly practised with daily conscientiousness. Cynthia was
always willing to answer questions about her previous life, though,
after the first, she rarely alluded to it of herself; but she was a
most sympathetic listener to all Molly's innocent confidences of joys
and sorrows: sympathizing even to the extent of wondering how she
could endure Mr. Gibson's second marriage, and why she did not take
some active steps of rebellion.

In spite of all this agreeable and pungent variety of companionship
at home, Molly yearned after the Hamleys. If there had been a woman
in that family she would probably have received many little notes,
and heard numerous details which were now lost to her, or summed
up in condensed accounts of her father's visits at the Hall, which,
since his dear patient was dead, were only occasional.

"Yes! The Squire is a good deal changed; but he's better than he was.
There's an unspoken estrangement between him and Osborne; one can
see it in the silence and constraint of their manners; but outwardly
they are friendly--civil at any rate. The squire will always respect
Osborne as his heir, and the future representative of the family.
Osborne doesn't look well; he says he wants change. I think he's
weary of the domestic dullness, or domestic dissension. But he feels
his mother's death acutely. It's a wonder that he and his father are
not drawn together by their common loss. Roger's away at Cambridge
too--examination for the mathematical tripos. Altogether the aspect
of both people and place is changed; it is but natural!"

Such is perhaps the summing-up of the news of the Hamleys, as
contained in many bulletins. They always ended in some kind message
to Molly.

Mrs. Gibson generally said, as a comment upon her husband's account
of Osborne's melancholy,--

"My dear! why don't you ask him to dinner here? A little quiet
dinner, you know. Cook is quite up to it; and we would all of us wear
blacks and lilacs; he couldn't consider that as gaiety."

Mr. Gibson took no more notice of these suggestions than by shaking
his head. He had grown accustomed to his wife by this time, and
regarded silence on his own part as a great preservative against long
inconsequential arguments. But every time that Mrs. Gibson was struck
by Cynthia's beauty, she thought it more and more advisable that Mr.
Osborne Hamley should be cheered up by a quiet little dinner-party.
As yet no one but the ladies of Hollingford and Mr. Ashton, the
vicar--that hopeless and impracticable old bachelor--had seen
Cynthia; and what was the good of having a lovely daughter, if there
were none but old women to admire her?

Cynthia herself appeared extremely indifferent upon the subject,
and took very little notice of her mother's constant talk about the
gaieties that were possible, and the gaieties that were impossible,
in Hollingford. She exerted herself just as much to charm the two
Miss Brownings as she would have done to delight Osborne Hamley,
or any other young heir. That is to say, she used no exertion, but
simply followed her own nature, which was to attract every one of
those she was thrown amongst. The exertion seemed rather to be
to refrain from doing so, and to protest, as she often did, by
slight words and expressive looks against her mother's words and
humours--alike against her folly and her caresses. Molly was almost
sorry for Mrs. Gibson, who seemed so unable to gain influence over
her child. One day Cynthia read Molly's thought.

"I'm not good, and I told you so. Somehow, I cannot forgive her
for her neglect of me as a child, when I would have clung to her.
Besides, I hardly ever heard from her when I was at school. And I
know she put a stop to my coming over to her wedding. I saw the
letter she wrote to Madame Lefevre. A child should be brought up with
its parents, if it is to think them infallible when it grows up."

"But though it may know that there must be faults," replied Molly,
"it ought to cover them over and try to forget their existence."

"It ought. But don't you see I have grown up outside the pale of
duty and 'oughts.' Love me as I am, sweet one, for I shall never be



One day, to Molly's infinite surprise, Mr. Preston was announced
as a caller. Mrs. Gibson and she were sitting together in the
drawing-room; Cynthia was out--gone into the town a-shopping--when
the door was opened, the name given, and in walked the young man. His
entrance seemed to cause more confusion than Molly could well account
for. He came in with the same air of easy assurance with which he
had received her and her father at Ashcombe Manor-house. He looked
remarkably handsome in his riding-dress, and with the open-air
exercise he had just had. But Mrs. Gibson's smooth brows contracted a
little at the sight of him, and her reception of him was much cooler
than that which she usually gave to visitors. Yet there was a degree
of agitation in it, which surprised Molly a little. Mrs. Gibson was
at her everlasting worsted-work frame when Mr. Preston entered the
room; but somehow in rising to receive him, she threw down her basket
of crewels, and, declining Molly's offer to help her, she would pick
up all the reels herself, before she asked her visitor to sit down.
He stood there, hat in hand, affecting an interest in the recovery of
the worsted which Molly was sure he did not feel; for all the time
his eyes were glancing round the room, and taking note of the details
in the arrangement.

At length they were seated, and conversation began.

"It is the first time I have been in Hollingford since your marriage,
Mrs. Gibson, or I should certainly have called to pay my respects

"I know you are very busy at Ashcombe. I did not expect you to call.
Is Lord Cumnor at the Towers? I have not heard from her ladyship for
more than a week!"

"No! he seemed still detained at Bath. But I had a letter from him
giving me certain messages for Mr. Sheepshanks. Mr. Gibson is not at
home, I'm afraid?"

"No. He is a great deal out--almost constantly, I may say. I had no
idea that I should see so little of him. A doctor's wife leads a very
solitary life, Mr. Preston!"

"You can hardly call it solitary, I should think, when you have such
a companion as Miss Gibson always at hand," said he, bowing to Molly.

"Oh, but I call it solitude for a wife when her husband is away. Poor
Mr. Kirkpatrick was never happy unless I always went with him;--all
his walks, all his visits, he liked me to be with him. But, somehow,
Mr. Gibson feels as if I should be rather in his way."

"I don't think you could ride pillion behind him on Black Bess,
mamma," said Molly. "And unless you could do that, you could hardly
go with him in his rounds up and down all the rough lanes."

"Oh! but he might keep a brougham! I've often said so. And then I
could use it for visiting in the evenings. Really it was one reason
why I didn't go to the Hollingford Charity Ball. I couldn't bring
myself to use the dirty fly from the 'George.' We really must stir
papa up against next winter, Molly; it will never do for you and--"

She pulled herself up suddenly, and looked furtively at Mr. Preston
to see if he had taken any notice of her abruptness. Of course he
had, but he was not going to show it. He turned to Molly, and said,--

"Have you ever been to a public ball yet, Miss Gibson?"

"No!" said Molly.

"It will be a great pleasure to you when the time comes."

"I'm not sure. I shall like it if I have plenty of partners; but I'm
afraid I shan't know many people."

"And you suppose that young men haven't their own ways and means of
being introduced to pretty girls?"

It was exactly one of the speeches Molly had disliked him for before;
and delivered, too, in that kind of underbred manner which showed
that it was meant to convey a personal compliment. Molly took great
credit to herself for the unconcerned manner with which she went on
with her tatting exactly as if she had never heard it.

"I only hope I may be one of your partners at the first ball you go
to. Pray, remember my early application for that honour, when you are
overwhelmed with requests for dances."

"I don't choose to engage myself beforehand," said Molly, perceiving,
from under her dropped eyelids, that he was leaning forward and
looking at her as though he was determined to have an answer.

"Young ladies are always very cautious in fact, however modest they
may be in profession," he replied, addressing himself in a nonchalant
manner to Mrs. Gibson. "In spite of Miss Gibson's apprehension of not
having many partners, she declines the certainty of having one. I
suppose Miss Kirkpatrick will have returned from France before then?"

He said these last words exactly in the same tone as he had used
before; but Molly's instinct told her that he was making an effort to
do so. She looked up. He was playing with his hat, almost as if he
did not care to have any answer to his question. Yet he was listening
acutely, and with a half smile on his face.

Mrs. Gibson reddened a little, and hesitated,--

"Yes; certainly. My daughter will be with us next winter, I believe;
and I daresay she will go out with us."

"Why can't she say at once that Cynthia is here now?" asked Molly of
herself, yet glad that Mr. Preston's curiosity was baffled.

He still smiled; but this time he looked up at Mrs. Gibson, as he
asked,--"You have good news from her, I hope?"

"Yes; very. By the way, how are our old friends the Robinsons? How
often I think of their kindness to me at Ashcombe! Dear good people,
I wish I could see them again."

"I will certainly tell them of your kind inquiries. They are very
well, I believe."

Just at this moment, Molly heard the familiar sound of the click
and opening of the front door. She knew it must be Cynthia; and,
conscious of some mysterious reason which made Mrs. Gibson wish to
conceal her daughter's whereabouts from Mr. Preston, and maliciously
desirous to baffle him, she rose to leave the room, and meet Cynthia
on the stairs; but one of the lost crewels of worsted had entangled
itself in her gown and feet, and before she had freed herself of the
encumbrance, Cynthia had opened the drawing-room door, and stood
in it, looking at her mother, at Molly, at Mr. Preston, but not
advancing one step. Her colour, which had been brilliant the first
moment of her entrance, faded away as she gazed; but her eyes--her
beautiful eyes--usually so soft and grave, seemed to fill with fire,
and her brows to contract, as she took the resolution to come forward
and take her place among the three, who were all looking at her with
different emotions. She moved calmly and slowly forwards; Mr. Preston
went a step or two to meet her, his hand held out, and the whole
expression of his face that of eager delight.

But she took no notice of the outstretched hand, nor of the chair
that he offered her. She sate down on a little sofa in one of the
windows, and called Molly to her.

"Look at my purchases," said she. "This green ribbon was
fourteen-pence a yard, this silk three shillings," and so she went
on, forcing herself to speak about these trifles as if they were
all the world to her, and she had no attention to throw away on her
mother and her mother's visitor.

Mr. Preston took his cue from her. He, too, talked of the news of
the day, the local gossip--but Molly, who glanced up at him from
time to time, was almost alarmed by the bad expression of suppressed
anger, almost amounting to vindictiveness, which entirely marred his
handsome looks. She did not wish to look again; and tried rather to
back up Cynthia's efforts at maintaining a separate conversation. Yet
she could not help overhearing Mrs. Gibson's strain after increased
civility, as if to make up for Cynthia's rudeness, and, if possible,
to deprecate his anger. She talked perpetually, as though her object
were to detain him; whereas, previous to Cynthia's return, she had
allowed frequent pauses in the conversation, as though to give him
the opportunity to take his leave.

In the course of the conversation between them the Hamleys came up.
Mrs. Gibson was never unwilling to dwell upon Molly's intimacy with
this county family; and when the latter caught the sound of her own
name, her stepmother was saying,--

"Poor Mrs. Hamley could hardly do without Molly; she quite looked
upon her as a daughter, especially towards the last, when, I am
afraid, she had a good deal of anxiety. Mr. Osborne Hamley--I daresay
you have heard--he did not do so well at college, and they had
expected so much--parents will, you know; but what did it signify?
for he had not to earn his living! I call it a very foolish kind of
ambition when a young man has not to go into a profession."

"Well, at any rate, the Squire must be satisfied now. I saw this
morning's _Times_, with the Cambridge examination lists in it. Isn't
the second son called after his father, Roger?"

"Yes," said Molly, starting up, and coming nearer.

"He's senior wrangler, that's all," said Mr. Preston, almost as
though he were vexed with himself for having anything to say that
could give her pleasure. Molly went back to her seat by Cynthia.

"Poor Mrs. Hamley," said she, very softly, as if to herself. Cynthia
took her hand, in sympathy with Molly's sad and tender look, rather
than because she understood all that was passing in her mind, nor did
she quite understand it herself. A death that had come out of time;
a wonder whether the dead knew what passed upon the earth they had
left--the brilliant Osborne's failure, Roger's success; the vanity
of human wishes,--all these thoughts, and what they suggested, were
inextricably mingled up in her mind. She came to herself in a few
minutes. Mr. Preston was saying all the unpleasant things he could
think of about the Hamleys in a tone of false sympathy.

"The poor old Squire--not the wisest of men--has woefully mismanaged
his estate. And Osborne Hamley is too fine a gentleman to understand
the means by which to improve the value of the land--even if he had
the capital. A man who had practical knowledge of agriculture, and
some thousands of ready money, might bring the rental up to eight
thousand or so. Of course, Osborne will try and marry some one with
money; the family is old and well-established, and he mustn't object
to commercial descent, though I daresay the Squire will for him; but
then the young fellow himself is not the man for the work. No! the
family's going down fast; and it's a pity when these old Saxon houses
vanish off the land; but it is 'kismet' with the Hamleys. Even the
senior wrangler--if it is that Roger Hamley--he will have spent all
his brains in one effort. You never hear of a senior wrangler being
worth anything afterwards. He'll be a Fellow of his college, of
course--that will be a livelihood for him at any rate."

"I believe in senior wranglers," said Cynthia, her clear high voice
ringing through the room. "And from all I've ever heard of Mr. Roger
Hamley, I believe he will keep up the distinction he has earned. And
I don't believe that the house of Hamley is so near extinction in
wealth and fame, and good name."

"They are fortunate in having Miss Kirkpatrick's good word," said Mr.
Preston, rising to take his leave.

"Dear Molly," said Cynthia, in a whisper, "I know nothing about your
friends the Hamleys, except that they are your friends, and what you
have told me about them. But I won't have that man speaking of them
so--and your eyes filling with tears all the time. I'd sooner swear
to their having all the talents and good fortune under the sun."

The only person of whom Cynthia appeared to be wholesomely afraid
was Mr. Gibson. When he was present she was more careful in speaking,
and showed more deference to her mother. Her evident respect for him,
and desire to win his good opinion, made her curb herself before him;
and in this manner she earned his favour as a lively, sensible girl,
with just so much knowledge of the world as made her a very desirable
companion to Molly. Indeed, she made something of the same kind of
impression on all men. They were first struck with her personal
appearance; and then with her pretty deprecating manner, which
appealed to them much as if she had said, "You are wise, and I am
foolish--have mercy on my folly." It was a way she had; it meant
nothing really; and she was hardly conscious of it herself; but it
was very captivating all the same. Even old Williams, the gardener,
felt it; he said to his confidante, Molly--

"Eh, miss, but that be a rare young lady! She do have such pretty
coaxing ways. I be to teach her to bud roses come the season--and
I'll warrant ye she'll learn sharp enough, for all she says she bees
so stupid."

If Molly had not had the sweetest disposition in the world she might
have become jealous of all the allegiance laid at Cynthia's feet;
but she never thought of comparing the amount of admiration and
love which they each received. Yet once she did feel a little as
if Cynthia were poaching on her manor. The invitation to the quiet
dinner had been sent to Osborne Hamley, and declined by him. But he
thought it right to call soon afterwards. It was the first time Molly
had seen any of the family since she left the Hall, just before Mrs.
Hamley's death; and there was so much that she wanted to ask. She
tried to wait patiently till Mrs. Gibson had exhausted the first gush
of her infinite nothings; and then Molly came in with her modest
questions. How was the Squire? Had he returned to his old habits? Had
his health suffered?--putting each inquiry with as light and delicate
a touch as if she had been dressing a wound. She hesitated a little,
a very little, before speaking of Roger; for just one moment the
thought flitted across her mind, that Osborne might feel the contrast
between his own and his brother's college career too painfully to
like to have it referred to; but then she remembered the generous
brotherly love that had always existed between the two, and had just
entered upon the subject, when Cynthia in obedience to her mother's
summons, came into the room, and took up her work. No one could have
been quieter--she hardly uttered a word; but Osborne seemed to fall
under her power at once. He no longer gave his undivided attention
to Molly. He cut short his answers to her questions; and by-and-by,
without Molly's rightly understanding how it was, he had turned
towards Cynthia, and was addressing himself to her. Molly saw the
look of content on Mrs. Gibson's face; perhaps it was her own
mortification at not having heard all she wished to know about Roger,
which gave her a keener insight than usual, but certain it is that
all at once she perceived that Mrs. Gibson would not dislike a
marriage between Osborne and Cynthia, and considered the present
occasion as an auspicious beginning. Remembering the secret which she
had been let into so unwillingly, Molly watched his behaviour, almost
as if she had been retained in the interest of the absent wife; but,
after all, thinking as much of the possibility of his attracting
Cynthia as of the unknown and mysterious Mrs. Osborne Hamley. His
manner was expressive of great interest and of strong prepossession
in favour of the beautiful girl to whom he was talking. He was in
deep mourning, which showed off his slight figure and delicate
refined face. But there was nothing of flirting, as far as Molly
understood the meaning of the word, in either looks or words.
Cynthia, too, was extremely quiet; she was always much quieter with
men than with women; it was part of the charm of her soft allurement
that she was so passive. They were talking of France. Mrs. Gibson
herself had passed two or three years of her girlhood there; and
Cynthia's late return from Boulogne made it a very natural subject
of conversation. But Molly was thrown out of it; and with her heart
still unsatisfied as to the details of Roger's success, she had to
stand up at last, and receive Osborne's good-by, scarcely longer or
more intimate than his farewell to Cynthia. As soon as he was gone,
Mrs. Gibson began in his praise.

"Well, really, I begin to have some faith in long descent. What a
gentleman he is! How agreeable and polite! So different from that
forward Mr. Preston," she continued, looking a little anxiously at
Cynthia. Cynthia, quite aware that her reply was being watched for,
said, coolly,--

"Mr. Preston doesn't improve on acquaintance. There was a time,
mamma, when I think both you and I thought him very agreeable."

"I don't remember. You've a clearer memory than I have. But we were
talking of this delightful Mr. Osborne Hamley. Why, Molly, you were
always talking of his brother--it was Roger this, and Roger that--I
can't think how it was you so seldom mentioned this young man."

"I didn't know I had mentioned Mr. Roger Hamley so often," said
Molly, blushing a little. "But I saw much more of him--he was more at

"Well, well! It's all right, my dear. I daresay he suits you best.
But really, when I saw Osborne Hamley close to my Cynthia, I couldn't
help thinking--but perhaps I'd better not tell you what I was
thinking of. Only they are each of them so much above the average in
appearance; and, of course, that suggests things."

"I perfectly understand what you were thinking of, mamma," said
Cynthia, with the greatest composure; "and so does Molly, I have no

"Well! there's no harm in it, I'm sure. Did you hear him say that,
though he did not like to leave his father alone just at present, yet
that when his brother Roger came back from Cambridge, he should feel
more at liberty! It was quite as much as to say, 'If you will ask me
to dinner then, I shall be delighted to come.' And chickens will be
so much cheaper, and cook has such a nice way of boning them, and
doing them up with forcemeat. Everything seems to be falling out
so fortunately. And Molly, my dear, you know I won't forget you.
By-and-by, when Roger Hamley has taken his turn at stopping at home
with his father, we will ask him to one of our little quiet dinners."

Molly was very slow at taking this in; but in about a minute the
sense of it had reached her brain, and she went all over very red and
hot; especially as she saw that Cynthia was watching the light come
into her mind with great amusement.

"I'm afraid Molly isn't properly grateful, mamma. If I were you, I
wouldn't exert myself to give a dinner-party on her account. Bestow
all your kindness upon me."

Molly was often puzzled by Cynthia's speeches to her mother; and this
was one of these occasions. But she was more anxious to say something
for herself; she was so much annoyed at the implication in Mrs.
Gibson's last words.

"Mr. Roger Hamley has been very good to me; he was a great deal at
home when I was there, and Mr. Osborne Hamley was very little there:
that was the reason I spoke so much more of one than the other. If I
had--if he had,"--losing her coherence in the difficulty of finding
words,--"I don't think I should,--oh, Cynthia, instead of laughing at
me, I think you might help me to explain myself!"

Instead, Cynthia gave a diversion to the conversation.

"Mamma's paragon gives me an idea of weakness. I can't quite make out
whether it's in body or mind. Which is it, Molly?"

"He is not strong, I know; but he's very accomplished and clever.
Every one says that,--even papa, who doesn't generally praise young
men. That made the puzzle the greater when he did so badly at

"Then it's his character that is weak. I'm sure there's weakness
somewhere; but he's very agreeable. It must have been very pleasant,
staying at the Hall."

"Yes; but it's all over now."

"Oh, nonsense!" said Mrs. Gibson, wakening up from counting the
stitches in her pattern. "We shall have the young men coming to
dinner pretty often, you'll see. Your father likes them, and I shall
always make a point of welcoming his friends. They can't go on
mourning for a mother for ever. I expect we shall see a great deal of
them; and that the two families will become very intimate. After all,
these good Hollingford people are terribly behindhand, and I should
say, rather commonplace."



[Illustration (untitled)]

It appeared as if Mrs. Gibson's predictions were likely to be
verified; for Osborne Hamley found his way to her drawing-room pretty
frequently. To be sure, sometimes prophets can help on the fulfilment
of their own prophecies; and Mrs. Gibson was not passive.

Molly was altogether puzzled by his manners and ways. He spoke of
occasional absences from the Hall, without exactly saying where he
had been. But that was not her idea of the conduct of a married man;
who, she imagined, ought to have a house and servants, and pay rent
and taxes, and live with his wife. Who this mysterious wife might be
faded into insignificance before the wonder of where she was. London,
Cambridge, Dover, nay, even France, were mentioned by him as places
to which he had been on these different little journeys. These facts
came out quite casually, almost as if he was unaware of what he was
betraying. Sometimes he dropped out such sentences as these:--"Ah,
that would be the day I was crossing! It was stormy indeed! Instead
of our being only two hours, we were nearly five." Or, "I met Lord
Hollingford at Dover last week, and he said," &c. "The cold now is
nothing to what it was in London on Thursday--the thermometer was
down at 15 ." Perhaps, in the rapid flow of conversation, these
small revelations were noticed by no one but Molly; whose interest
and curiosity were always hovering over the secret she had become
possessed of, in spite of all her self-reproach for allowing her
thoughts to dwell on what was still to be kept as a mystery.

It was also evident to her that Osborne was not too happy at home.
He had lost the slight touch of cynicism which he had affected when
he was expected to do wonders at college; and that was one good
result of his failure. If he did not give himself the trouble of
appreciating other people, and their performances, at any rate his
conversation was not so amply sprinkled with critical pepper. He was
more absent, not so agreeable, Mrs. Gibson thought, but did not say.
He looked ill in health; but that might be the consequence of the
real depression of spirits which Molly occasionally saw peeping out
through all his pleasant surface-talk. Now and then, when he was
talking directly to her, he referred to "the happy days that are
gone," or, "to the time when my mother was alive;" and then his voice
sank, and a gloom came over his countenance, and Molly longed to
express her own deep sympathy. He did not often mention his father;
and Molly thought she could read in his manner, when he did, that
something of the painful restraint she had noticed when she was last
at the Hall still existed between them. Nearly every particular she
knew of the family interior she had heard from Mrs. Hamley, and she
was uncertain how far her father was acquainted with them; so she
did not like to question him too closely; nor was he a man to be so
questioned as to the domestic affairs of his patients. Sometimes she
wondered if it was a dream--that short half-hour in the library at
Hamley Hall--when she had learnt a fact which seemed so all-important
to Osborne, yet which made so little difference in his way of
life--either in speech or action. During the twelve or fourteen hours
that she had remained at the Hall afterwards, no further allusion
had been made to his marriage, either by himself or by Roger. It was,
indeed, very like a dream. Probably Molly would have been rendered
much more uncomfortable in the possession of her secret if Osborne
had struck her as particularly attentive in his devotion to Cynthia.
She evidently amused and attracted him, but not in any lively or
passionate kind of way. He admired her beauty, and seemed to feel
her charm; but he would leave her side, and come to sit near Molly,
if anything reminded him of his mother, about which he could talk
to her, and to her alone. Yet he came so often to the Gibsons, that
Mrs. Gibson might be excused for the fancy she had taken into her
head, that it was for Cynthia's sake. He liked the lounge, the
friendliness, the company of two intelligent girls of beauty and
manners above the average; one of whom stood in a peculiar relation
to him, as having been especially beloved by the mother whose memory
he cherished so fondly. Knowing himself to be out of the category
of bachelors, he was, perhaps, too indifferent as to other people's
ignorance, and its possible consequences.

Somehow, Molly did not like to be the first to introduce Roger's name
into the conversation, so she lost many an opportunity of hearing
intelligence about him. Osborne was often so languid or so absent
that he only followed the lead of talk; and as an awkward fellow,
who had paid her no particular attention, and as a second son, Roger
was not pre-eminent in Mrs. Gibson's thoughts; Cynthia had never
seen him, and the freak did not take her often to speak about him.
He had not come home since he had obtained his high place in the
mathematical lists: that Molly knew; and she knew, too, that he was
working hard for something--she supposed a fellowship--and that was
all. Osborne's tone in speaking of him was always the same: every
word, every inflection of the voice breathed out affection and
respect--nay, even admiration! And this from the _nil admirari_
brother, who seldom carried his exertions so far.

"Ah, Roger!" he said one day. Molly caught the name in an instant,
though she had not heard what had gone before. "He is a fellow in a
thousand--in a thousand, indeed! I don't believe there is his match
anywhere for goodness and real solid power combined."

"Molly," said Cynthia, after Mr. Osborne Hamley had gone, "what sort
of a man is this Roger Hamley? One can't tell how much to believe of
his brother's praises; for it is the one subject on which Osborne
Hamley becomes enthusiastic. I've noticed it once or twice before."

While Molly hesitated on which point of the large round to begin her
description, Mrs. Gibson struck in,--

"It just shows what a sweet disposition Osborne Hamley is of--that
he should praise his brother as he does. I daresay he is a senior
wrangler, and much good may it do him! I don't deny that; but as for
conversation, he's as heavy as heavy can be. A great awkward fellow
to boot, who looks as if he did not know two and two made four, for
all he is such a mathematical genius. You would hardly believe he
was Osborne Hamley's brother to see him! I should not think he has a
profile at all."

"What do you think of him, Molly?" said the persevering Cynthia.

"I like him," said Molly. "He has been very kind to me. I know he
isn't handsome like Osborne."

It was rather difficult to say all this quietly, but Molly managed to
do it, quite aware that Cynthia would not rest till she had extracted
some kind of an opinion out of her.

"I suppose he will come home at Easter," said Cynthia, "and then I
shall see him for myself."

"It's a great pity that their being in mourning will prevent their
going to the Easter charity ball," said Mrs. Gibson, plaintively.
"I shan't like to take you two girls, if you are not to have any
partners. It will put me in such an awkward position. I wish we could
join on to the Towers party. That would secure you partners, for they
always bring a number of dancing men, who might dance with you after
they had done their duty by the ladies of the house. But really
everything is so changed since dear Lady Cumnor has been an invalid
that, perhaps, they won't go at all."

This Easter ball was a great subject of conversation with Mrs.
Gibson. She sometimes spoke of it as her first appearance in society
as a bride, though she had been visiting once or twice a week all
winter long. Then she shifted her ground, and said she felt so much
interest in it, because she would then have the responsibility of
introducing both her own and Mr. Gibson's daughter to public notice,
though the fact was that pretty nearly every one who was going to
this ball had seen the two young ladies--though not their ball
dresses--before. But, aping the manners of the aristocracy as far
as she knew them, she intended to "bring out" Molly and Cynthia on
this occasion, which she regarded in something of the light of a
presentation at Court. "They are not out yet," was her favourite
excuse when either of them was invited to any house to which she did
not wish them to go, or they were invited without her. She even made
a difficulty about their "not being out" when Miss Browning--that
old friend of the Gibson family--came in one morning to ask the two
girls to come to a friendly tea and a round game afterwards; this
mild piece of gaiety being designed as an attention to three of Mrs.
Goodenough's grandchildren--two young ladies and their schoolboy
brother--who were staying on a visit to their grand-mamma.

"You are very kind, Miss Browning, but, you see, I hardly like to let
them go--they are not out, you know, till after the Easter ball."

"Till when we are invisible," said Cynthia, always ready with her
mockery to exaggerate any pretension of her mother's. "We are so high
in rank that our sovereign must give us her sanction before we can
play a round game at your house."

Cynthia enjoyed the idea of her own full-grown size and stately gait,
as contrasted with that of a meek, half-fledged girl in the nursery;
but Miss Browning was half puzzled and half affronted.

"I don't understand it at all. In my days girls went wherever it
pleased people to ask them, without this farce of bursting out in all
their new fine clothes at some public place. I don't mean but what
the gentry took their daughters to York, or Matlock, or Bath, to
give them a taste of gay society when they were growing up; and the
quality went up to London, and their young ladies were presented to
Queen Charlotte, and went to a birthday ball, perhaps. But for us
little Hollingford people--why, we knew every child amongst us from
the day of its birth; and many a girl of twelve or fourteen have I
seen go out to a card-party, and sit quiet at her work, and know how
to behave as well as any lady there. There was no talk of 'coming
out' in those days for any one under the daughter of a Squire."

"After Easter, Molly and I shall know how to behave at a card-party,
but not before," said Cynthia, demurely.

"You're always fond of your quips and your cranks, my dear," said
Miss Browning, "and I wouldn't quite answer for your behaviour: you
sometimes let your spirits carry you away. But I'm quite sure Molly
will be a little lady as she always is, and always was, and I have
known her from a babe."

Mrs. Gibson took up arms on behalf of her own daughter, or, rather,
she took up arms against Molly's praises.

"I don't think you would have called Molly a lady the other day,
Miss Browning, if you had found her where I did: sitting up in a
cherry-tree, six feet from the ground at least, I do assure you."

"Oh! but that wasn't pretty," said Miss Browning, shaking her head at
Molly. "I thought you'd left off those tom-boy ways."

"She wants the refinement which good society gives in several ways,"
said Mrs. Gibson, returning to the attack on poor Molly. "She's very
apt to come upstairs two steps at a time."

"Only two, Molly!" said Cynthia. "Why, to-day I found I could manage
four of these broad shallow steps."

"My dear child, what are you saying?"

"Only confessing that I, like Molly, want the refinements which good
society gives; therefore, please do let us go to Miss Brownings'
this evening. I will pledge myself for Molly that she shan't sit in
a cherry-tree; and Molly shall see that I don't go upstairs in an
unladylike way. I will go upstairs as meekly as if I were a come-out
young lady, and had been to the Easter ball."

So it was agreed that they should go. If Mr. Osborne Hamley had been
named as one of the probable visitors, there would have been none of
this difficulty about the affair.

But though he was not there, his brother Roger was. Molly saw him in
a minute when she entered the little drawing-room; but Cynthia did

"And see, my dears," said Miss Phoebe Browning, turning them round
to the side where Roger stood waiting for his turn of speaking
to Molly, "we've got a gentleman for you after all! Wasn't it
fortunate?--just as sister said that you might find it dull--you,
Cynthia, she meant, because you know you come from France--then, just
as if he had been sent from heaven, Mr. Roger came in to call; and I
won't say we laid violent hands on him, because he was too good for
that; but really we should have been near it, if he had not stayed of
his own accord."

The moment Roger had done his cordial greeting to Molly, he asked her
to introduce him to Cynthia.


"I want to know her--your new sister," he added, with the kind smile
Molly remembered so well since the very first day she had seen it
directed towards her, as she sate crying under the weeping ash.
Cynthia was standing a little behind Molly when Roger asked for this
introduction. She was generally dressed with careless grace. Molly,
who was delicate neatness itself, used sometimes to wonder how
Cynthia's tumbled gowns, tossed away so untidily, had the art of
looking so well, and falling in such graceful folds. For instance,
the pale lilac muslin gown she wore this evening had been worn many
times before, and had looked unfit to wear again till Cynthia put
it on. Then the limpness became softness, and the very creases took
the lines of beauty. Molly, in a daintily clean pink muslin, did not
look half so elegantly dressed as Cynthia. The grave eyes that the
latter raised when she had to be presented to Roger had a sort of
child-like innocence and wonder about them, which did not quite
belong to Cynthia's character. She put on her armour of magic that
evening--involuntarily as she always did; but, on the other side, she
could not help trying her power on strangers. Molly had always felt
that she should have a right to a good long talk with Roger when she
next saw him; and that he would tell her, or she should gather from
him all the details she so longed to hear about the Squire--about
the Hall--about Osborne--about himself. He was just as cordial and
friendly as ever with her. If Cynthia had not been there, all would
have gone on as she had anticipated; but of all the victims to
Cynthia's charms he fell most prone and abject. Molly saw it all,
as she was sitting next to Miss Phoebe at the tea-table, acting
right-hand, and passing cake, cream, sugar, with such busy assiduity
that every one besides herself thought that her mind, as well as her
hands, was fully occupied. She tried to talk to the two shy girls,
as in virtue of her two years' seniority she thought herself bound
to do; and the consequence was, she went upstairs with the twain
clinging to her arms, and willing to swear an eternal friendship.
Nothing would satisfy them but that she must sit between them at
vingt-un; and they were so desirous of her advice in the important
point of fixing the price of the counters that she could not ever
have joined in the animated conversation going on between Roger and
Cynthia. Or, rather, it would be more correct to say that Roger was
talking in a most animated manner to Cynthia, whose sweet eyes were
fixed upon his face with a look of great interest in all he was
saying, while it was only now and then she made her low replies.
Molly caught a few words occasionally in intervals of business.

"At my uncle's, we always give a silver threepence for three dozen.
You know what a silver threepence is, don't you, dear Miss Gibson?"

"The three classes are published in the Senate House at nine o'clock
on the Friday morning, and you can't imagine--"

"I think it will be thought rather shabby to play at anything less
than sixpence. That gentleman" (this in a whisper) "is at Cambridge,
and you know they always play very high there, and sometimes ruin
themselves, don't they, dear Miss Gibson?"

"Oh, on this occasion the Master of Arts who precedes the candidates
for honours when they go into the Senate House is called the Father
of the College to which he belongs. I think I mentioned that before,
didn't I?"

So Cynthia was hearing all about Cambridge, and the very examination
about which Molly had felt such keen interest, without having ever
been able to have her questions answered by a competent person;
and Roger, to whom she had always looked as the final and most
satisfactory answerer, was telling the whole of what she wanted to
know, and she could not listen. It took all her patience to make up
little packets of counters, and settle, as the arbiter of the game,
whether it would be better for the round or the oblong counters to be
reckoned as six. And when all was done, and every one sate in their
places round the table, Roger and Cynthia had to be called twice
before they came. They stood up, it is true, at the first sound of
their names; but they did not move--Roger went on talking, Cynthia
listening till the second call; when they hurried to the table and
tried to appear, all on a sudden, quite interested in the great
questions of the game--namely, the price of three dozen counters, and
whether, all things considered, it would be better to call the round
counters or the oblong half-a-dozen each. Miss Browning, drumming the
pack of cards on the table, and quite ready to begin dealing, decided
the matter by saying, "Rounds are sixes, and three dozen counters
cost sixpence. Pay up, if you please, and let us begin at once."
Cynthia sate between Roger and William Orford, the young schoolboy,
who bitterly resented on this occasion his sisters' habit of calling
him "Willie," as he thought it was this boyish sobriquet which
prevented Cynthia from attending as much to him as to Mr. Roger
Hamley; he also was charmed by the charmer, who found leisure to
give him one or two of her sweet smiles. On his return home to his
grand-mamma's, he gave out one or two very decided and rather original
opinions, quite opposed--as was natural--to his sisters'. One was--

"That, after all, a senior wrangler was no great shakes. Any man
might be one if he liked, but there were a lot of fellows that he
knew who would be very sorry to go in for anything so slow."

Molly thought the game never would end. She had no particular turn
for gambling in her; and whatever her card might be, she regularly
put on two counters, indifferent as to whether she won or lost.
Cynthia, on the contrary, staked high, and was at one time very rich,
but ended by being in debt to Molly something like six shillings. She
had forgotten her purse, she said, and was obliged to borrow from the
more provident Molly, who was aware that the round game of which Miss
Browning had spoken to her was likely to require money. If it was
not a very merry affair for all the individuals concerned, it was
a very noisy one on the whole. Molly thought it was going to last
till midnight; but punctually, as the clock struck nine, the little
maid-servant staggered in under the weight of a tray loaded with
sandwiches, cakes, and jelly. This brought on a general move; and
Roger, who appeared to have been on the watch for something of the
kind, came and took a chair by Molly.

"I am so glad to see you again--it seems such a long time since
Christmas," said he, dropping his voice, and not alluding more
exactly to the day when she had left the Hall.

"It is a long time," she replied; "we are close to Easter now. I
have so wanted to tell you how glad I was to hear about your honours
at Cambridge. I once thought of sending you a message through
your brother, but then I thought it might be making too much fuss,
because I know nothing of mathematics, or of the value of a senior
wranglership; and you were sure to have so many congratulations from
people who did know."

"I missed yours though, Molly," said he, kindly. "But I felt sure you
were glad for me."

"Glad and proud too," said she. "I should so like to hear something
more about it. I heard you telling Cynthia--"

"Yes. What a charming person she is! I should think you must be
happier than we expected long ago."

"But tell me something about the senior wranglership, please," said

"It's a long story, and I ought to be helping the Miss Brownings to
hand sandwiches--besides, you wouldn't find it very interesting, it's
so full of technical details."

"Cynthia looked very much interested," said Molly.

"Well! then I refer you to her, for I must go now. I can't for shame
go on sitting here, and letting those good ladies have all the
trouble. But I shall come and call on Mrs. Gibson soon. Are you
walking home to-night?"

"Yes, I think so," replied Molly, eagerly foreseeing what was to

"Then I shall walk home with you. I left my horse at the 'George,'
and that's half-way. I suppose old Betty will allow me to accompany
you and your sister? You used to describe her as something of a

"Betty has left us," said Molly, sadly. "She's gone to live at a
place at Ashcombe."

He made a face of dismay, and then went off to his duties. The short
conversation had been very pleasant, and his manner had had just the
brotherly kindness of old times; but it was not quite the manner he
had to Cynthia; and Molly half thought she would have preferred the
latter. He was now hovering about Cynthia, who had declined the offer
of refreshments from Willie Orford. Roger was tempting her, and with
playful entreaties urging her to take some thing from him. Every word
they said could be heard by the whole room; yet every word was said,
on Roger's part at least, as if he could not have spoken it in that
peculiar manner to any one else. At length, and rather more because
she was weary of being entreated, than because it was his wish,
Cynthia took a macaroon, and Roger seemed as happy as though she
had crowned him with flowers. The whole affair was as trifling and
commonplace as could be in itself; hardly worth noticing; and yet
Molly did notice it, and felt uneasy; she could not tell why. As it
turned out, it was a rainy night, and Mrs. Gibson sent a fly for the
two girls instead of old Betty's substitute. Both Cynthia and Molly
thought of the possibility of their taking the two Orford girls back
to their grandmother's, and so saving them a wet walk; but Cynthia
got the start in speaking about it; and the thanks and the implied
praise for thoughtfulness were hers.

When they got home Mr. and Mrs. Gibson were sitting in the
drawing-room, quite ready to be amused by any details of the evening.

Cynthia began,--

"Oh! it wasn't very entertaining. One didn't expect that," and she
yawned wearily.

"Who were there?" asked Mr. Gibson. "Quite a young party--wasn't it?"

"They'd only asked Lizzie and Fanny Orford, and their brother; but
Mr. Roger Hamley had ridden over and called on Miss Brownings, and
they kept him to tea. No one else."

"Roger Hamley there!" said Mr. Gibson. "He's come home then. I must
make time to ride over and see him."

"You'd much better ask him here," said Mrs. Gibson. "Suppose you
invite him and his brother to dine here on Friday, my dear. It would
be a very pretty attention, I think."

"My dear! these young Cambridge men have a very good taste in wine,
and don't spare it. My cellar won't stand many of their attacks."

"I didn't think you were so inhospitable, Mr. Gibson."

"I'm not inhospitable, I'm sure. If you'll put 'bitter beer' in the
corner of your notes of invitation, just as the smart people put
'quadrilles' as a sign of the entertainment offered, we'll have
Osborne and Roger to dinner any day you like. And what did you think
of my favourite, Cynthia? You hadn't seen him before, I think?"

"Oh! he's nothing like so handsome as his brother; nor so polished;
nor so easy to talk to. He entertained me for more than an hour with
a long account of some examination or other; but there's something
one likes about him."

"Well--and Molly," said Mrs. Gibson, who piqued herself on being an
impartial stepmother, and who always tried hard to make Molly talk as
much as Cynthia,--"what sort of an evening have you had?"

"Very pleasant, thank you." Her heart a little belied her as she said
this. She had not cared for the round game; and she would have cared
for Roger's conversation. She had had what she was indifferent to,
and not had what she would have liked.

"We've had our unexpected visitor, too," said Mr. Gibson. "Just after
dinner, who should come in but Mr. Preston. I fancy he's having
more of the management of the Hollingford property than formerly.
Sheepshanks is getting an old man. And if so, I suspect we shall
see a good deal of Preston. He's 'no blate,' as they used to say in
Scotland, and made himself quite at home to-night. If I'd asked him
to stay, or, indeed, if I'd done anything but yawn, he'd have been
here now. But I defy any man to stay when I've a fit of yawning."

"Do you like Mr. Preston, papa?" asked Molly.

"About as much as I do half the men I meet. He talks well, and has
seen a good deal. I know very little of him, though, except that he's
my lord's steward, which is a guarantee for a good deal."

"Lady Harriet spoke pretty strongly against him that day I was with
her at the Manor-house."

"Lady Harriet's always full of fancies: she likes persons to-day, and
dislikes them to-morrow," said Mrs. Gibson, who was touched on her
sore point whenever Molly quoted Lady Harriet, or said anything to
imply ever so transitory an intimacy with her.

"You must know a good deal about Mr. Preston, my dear. I suppose you
saw a good deal of him at Ashcombe?"

Mrs. Gibson coloured, and looked at Cynthia before she replied.
Cynthia's face was set into a determination not to speak, however
much she might be referred to.

"Yes; we saw a good deal of him--at one time, I mean. He's
changeable, I think. But he always sent us game, and sometimes fruit.
There were some stories against him, but I never believed them."

"What kind of stories?" said Mr. Gibson, quickly.

"Oh, vague stories, you know: scandal, I daresay. No one ever
believed them. He could be so agreeable if he chose; and my lord, who
is so very particular, would never have kept him as agent if they
were true; not that I ever knew what they were, for I consider all
scandal as abominable gossip."

"I'm very glad I yawned in his face," said Mr. Gibson. "I hope he'll
take the hint."

"If it was one of your giant-gapes, papa, I should call it more than
a hint," said Molly. "And if you want a yawning chorus the next time
he comes, I'll join in; won't you, Cynthia?"

"I don't know," replied the latter, shortly, as she lighted her
bed-candle. The two girls had usually some nightly conversation in
one or other of their bed-rooms; but to-night Cynthia said something
or other about being terribly tired, and hastily shut her door.

The very next day, Roger came to pay his promised call. Molly was out
in the garden with Williams, planning the arrangement of some new
flower-beds, and deep in her employment of placing pegs upon the lawn
to mark out the different situations, when, standing up to mark the
effect, her eye was caught by the figure of a gentleman, sitting with
his back to the light, leaning forwards and talking, or listening,
eagerly. Molly knew the shape of the head perfectly, and hastily
began to put off her brown-holland gardening apron, emptying the
pockets as she spoke to Williams.

"You can finish it now, I think," said she. "You know about the
bright-coloured flowers being against the privet-hedge, and where the
new rose-bed is to be?"

"I can't justly say as I do," said he. "Mebbe, you'll just go o'er it
all once again, Miss Molly. I'm not so young as I oncst was, and my
head is not so clear now-a-days, and I'd be loath to make mistakes
when you're so set upon your plans."

Molly gave up her impulse in a moment. She saw that the old gardener
was really perplexed, yet that he was as anxious as he could be to do
his best. So she went over the ground again, pegging and explaining
till the wrinkled brow was smooth again, and he kept saying, "I see,
miss. All right, Miss Molly, I'se gotten it in my head as clear as
patchwork now."

So she could leave him, and go in. But just as she was close to the
garden door, Roger came out. It really was for once a case of virtue
its own reward, for it was far pleasanter to her to have him in a
tête-à-tête, however short, than in the restraint of Mrs. Gibson's
and Cynthia's presence.

"I only just found out where you were, Molly. Mrs. Gibson said you
had gone out, but she didn't know where; and it was the greatest
chance that I turned round and saw you."

"I saw you some time ago, but I couldn't leave Williams. I think he
was unusually slow to-day; and he seemed as if he couldn't understand
my plans for the new flower-beds."

"Is that the paper you've got in your hand? Let me look at it, will
you? Ah, I see! you've borrowed some of your ideas from our garden at
home, haven't you? This bed of scarlet geraniums, with the border of
young oaks, pegged down! That was a fancy of my dear mother's."

They were both silent for a minute or two. Then Molly said,--

"How is the Squire? I've never seen him since."

"No, he told me how much he wanted to see you, but he couldn't make
up his mind to come and call. I suppose it would never do now for you
to come and stay at the Hall, would it? It would give my father so
much pleasure: he looks upon you as a daughter, and I'm sure both
Osborne and I shall always consider you are like a sister to us,
after all my mother's love for you, and your tender care of her at
last. But I suppose it wouldn't do."

"No! certainly not," said Molly, hastily.

"I fancy if you could come it would put us a little to rights. You
know, as I think I once told you, Osborne has behaved differently to
what I should have done, though not wrongly,--only what I call an
error of judgment. But my father, I'm sure, has taken up some notion
of--never mind; only the end of it is that he holds Osborne still in
tacit disgrace, and is miserable himself all the time. Osborne, too,
is sore and unhappy, and estranged from my father. It is just what
my mother would have put right very soon, and perhaps you could
have done it--unconsciously, I mean--for this wretched mystery that
Osborne preserves about his affairs is at the root of it all. But
there's no use talking about it; I don't know why I began." Then,
with a wrench, changing the subject, while Molly still thought of
what he had been telling her, he broke out,--"I can't tell you how
much I like Miss Kirkpatrick, Molly. It must be a great pleasure to
you having such a companion!"

"Yes," said Molly, half smiling. "I'm very fond of her; and I think I
like her better every day I know her. But how quickly you have found
out her virtues!"

"I didn't say 'virtues,' did I?" asked he, reddening, but putting
the question in all good faith. "Yet I don't think one could be
deceived in that face. And Mrs. Gibson appears to be a very friendly
person,--she has asked Osborne and me to dine here on Friday."

"Bitter beer" came into Molly's mind; but what she said was, "And are
you coming?"

"Certainly, I am, unless my father wants me; and I've given Mrs.
Gibson a conditional promise for Osborne, too. So I shall see you all
very soon again. But I must go now. I have to keep an appointment
seven miles from here in half-an-hour's time. Good luck to your
flower-garden, Molly."



Affairs were going on worse at the Hall than Roger had liked to tell.
Moreover, very much of the discomfort there arose from "mere manner,"
as people express it, which is always indescribable and indefinable.
Quiet and passive as Mrs. Hamley had always been in appearance,
she was the ruling spirit of the house as long as she lived. The
directions to the servants, down to the most minute particulars,
came from her sitting-room, or from the sofa on which she lay. Her
children always knew where to find her; and to find her, was to find
love and sympathy. Her husband, who was often restless and angry from
one cause or another, always came to her to be smoothed down and
put right. He was conscious of her pleasant influence over him, and
became at peace with himself when in her presence; just as a child
is at ease when with some one who is both firm and gentle. But the
keystone of the family arch was gone, and the stones of which it
was composed began to fall apart. It is always sad when a sorrow of
this kind seems to injure the character of the mourning survivors.
Yet, perhaps, this injury may be only temporary or superficial; the
judgments so constantly passed upon the way in which people bear the
loss of those whom they have deeply loved, appear to be even more
cruel, and wrongly meted out, than human judgments generally are. To
careless observers, for instance, it would seem as though the Squire
was rendered more capricious and exacting, more passionate and
authoritative, by his wife's death. The truth was, that it occurred
at a time when many things came to harass him, and some to bitterly
disappoint him; and _she_ was no longer there to whom he used to
carry his sore heart for the gentle balm of her sweet words. So the
sore heart ached and smarted intensely; and often, when he saw how
his violent conduct affected others, he could have cried out for
their pity, instead of their anger and resentment: "Have mercy upon
me, for I am very miserable." How often have such dumb thoughts gone
up from the hearts of those who have taken hold of their sorrow
by the wrong end, as prayers against sin! And when the Squire saw
that his servants were learning to dread him, and his first-born to
avoid him, he did not blame them. He knew he was becoming a domestic
tyrant; it seemed as if all circumstances conspired against him, and
as if he was too weak to struggle with them; else, why did everything
in doors and out of doors go so wrong just now, when all he could
have done, had things been prosperous, was to have submitted, in very
imperfect patience, to the loss of his wife? But just when he needed
ready money to pacify Osborne's creditors, the harvest had turned out
remarkably plentiful, and the price of corn had sunk down to a level
it had not touched for years. The Squire had insured his life at the
time of his marriage for a pretty large sum. It was to be a provision
for his wife, if she survived him, and for their younger children.
Roger was the only representative of these interests now; but the
Squire was unwilling to lose the insurance by ceasing to pay the
annual sum. He would not, if he could, have sold any part of the
estate which he inherited from his father; and, besides, it was
strictly entailed. He had sometimes thought how wise a step it
would have been could he have sold a portion of it, and with the
purchase-money have drained and reclaimed the remainder; and at
length, learning from some neighbour that Government would make
certain advances for drainage, &c., at a very low rate of interest,
on condition that the work was done, and the money repaid, within a
given time, his wife had urged him to take advantage of the proffered
loan. But now that she was no longer there to encourage him, and take
an interest in the progress of the work, he grew indifferent to it
himself, and cared no more to go out on his stout roan cob, and sit
square on his seat, watching the labourers on the marshy land all
overgrown with rushes; speaking to them from time to time in their
own strong nervous country dialect: but the interest to Government
had to be paid all the same, whether the men worked well or ill.
Then the roof of the Hall let in the melted snow-water this winter;
and, on examination, it turned out that a new roof was absolutely
required. The men who had come about the advances made to Osborne by
the London money-lender, had spoken disparagingly of the timber on
the estate--"Very fine trees--sound, perhaps, too, fifty years ago,
but gone to rot now; had wanted lopping and clearing. Was there no
wood-ranger or forester? They were nothing like the value young Mr.
Hamley had represented them to be." The remarks had come round to
the squire's ears. He loved the trees he had played under as a boy
as if they were living creatures; that was on the romantic side of
his nature. Merely looking at them as representing so many pounds
sterling, he had esteemed them highly, and had had, until now,
no opinion of another by which to correct his own judgment. So
these words of the valuers cut him sharp, although he affected to
disbelieve them, and tried to persuade himself that he did so. But,
after all, these cares and disappointments did not touch the root of
his deep resentment against Osborne. There is nothing like wounded
affection for giving poignancy to anger. And the Squire believed that
Osborne and his advisers had been making calculations, based upon his
own death. He hated the idea so much--it made him so miserable--that
he would not face it, and define it, and meet it with full inquiry
and investigation. He chose rather to cherish the morbid fancy that
he was useless in this world--born under an unlucky star--that all
things went badly under his management. But he did not become humble
in consequence. He put his misfortunes down to the score of Fate--not
to his own; and he imagined that Osborne saw his failures, and that
his first-born grudged him his natural term of life. All these
fancies would have been set to rights could he have talked them over
with his wife; or even had he been accustomed to mingle much in
the society of those whom he esteemed his equals; but, as has been
stated, he was inferior in education to those who should have been
his mates; and perhaps the jealousy and _mauvaise honte_ that this
inferiority had called out long ago, extended itself in some measure
to the feelings he entertained towards his sons--less to Roger
than to Osborne, though the former was turning out by far the most
distinguished man. But Roger was practical; interested in all
out-of-doors things, and he enjoyed the details, homely enough, which
his father sometimes gave him of the every-day occurrences which
the latter had noticed in the woods and the fields. Osborne, on the
contrary, was what is commonly called "fine;" delicate almost to
effeminacy in dress and in manner; careful in small observances. All
this his father had been rather proud of in the days when he looked
forward to a brilliant career at Cambridge for his son; he had at
that time regarded Osborne's fastidiousness and elegance as another
stepping-stone to the high and prosperous marriage which was to
restore the ancient fortunes of the Hamley family. But now that
Osborne had barely obtained his degree; that all the boastings of his
father had proved vain; that the fastidiousness had led to unexpected
expenses (to attribute the most innocent cause to Osborne's debts),
the poor young man's ways and manners became a subject of irritation
to his father. Osborne was still occupied with his books and his
writings when he was at home; and this mode of passing the greater
part of the day gave him but few subjects in common with his father
when they did meet at meal times, or in the evenings. Perhaps if
Osborne had been able to have more out-of-door amusements it would
have been better; but he was short-sighted, and cared little for the
carefully observant pursuits of his brother; he knew but few young
men of his own standing in the county; his hunting even, of which he
was passionately fond, had been curtailed this season, as his father
had disposed of one of the two hunters he had been hitherto allowed.
The whole stable establishment had been reduced; perhaps because it
was the economy which told most on the enjoyment of both the Squire
and Osborne, and which, therefore, the former took a savage pleasure
in enforcing. The old carriage--a heavy family coach bought in the
days of comparative prosperity--was no longer needed after madam's
death, and fell to pieces in the cobwebbed seclusion of the
coach-house. The best of the two carriage-horses was taken for a gig,
which the Squire now set up; saying many a time to all who might
care to listen to him that it was the first time for generations
that the Hamleys of Hamley had not been able to keep their own coach.
The other carriage-horse was turned out to grass; being too old for
regular work. Conqueror used to come whinnying up to the park palings
whenever he saw the Squire, who had always a piece of bread, or some
sugar, or an apple for the old favourite; and would make many a
complaining speech to the dumb animal, telling him of the change of
times since both were in their prime. It had never been the Squire's
custom to encourage his boys to invite their friends to the Hall.
Perhaps this, too, was owing to his _mauvaise honte_, and also to an
exaggerated consciousness of the deficiencies of his establishment as
compared with what he imagined these lads were accustomed to at home.
He explained this once or twice to Osborne and Roger when they were
at Rugby.

"You see, all you public schoolboys have a kind of freemasonry of
your own, and outsiders are looked on by you much as I look on
rabbits and all that isn't game. Ay, you may laugh, but it is so; and
your friends will throw their eyes askance at me, and never think on
my pedigree, which would beat theirs all to shivers, I'll be bound.
No; I'll have no one here at the Hall who will look down on a Hamley
of Hamley, even if he only knows how to make a cross instead of write
his name."

Then, of course, they must not visit at houses to whose sons the
Squire could not or would not return a like hospitality. On all these
points Mrs. Hamley had used her utmost influence without avail;
his prejudices were immoveable. As regarded his position as head
of the oldest family in three counties, his pride was invincible;
as regarded himself personally--ill at ease in the society of
his equals, deficient in manners, and in education--his morbid
sensitiveness was too sore and too self-conscious to be called

Take one instance from among many similar scenes of the state of
feeling between him and his eldest son, which, if it could not be
called active discord, showed at least passive estrangement.

It took place on an evening in the March succeeding Mrs. Hamley's
death. Roger was at Cambridge. Osborne had also been from home, and
he had not volunteered any information as to his absence. The Squire
believed that Osborne had been either at Cambridge with his brother,
or in London; he would have liked to hear where his son had been,
what he had been doing, and whom he had seen, purely as pieces of
news, and as some diversion from the domestic worries and cares which
were pressing him hard; but he was too proud to ask any questions,
and Osborne had not given him any details of his journey. This
silence had aggravated the Squire's internal dissatisfaction, and
he came home to dinner weary and sore-hearted a day or two after
Osborne's return. It was just six o'clock, and he went hastily into
his own little business-room on the ground-floor, and, after washing
his hands, came into the drawing-room feeling as if he were very
late, but the room was empty. He glanced at the clock over the
mantel-piece, as he tried to warm his hands at the fire. The fire had
been neglected, and had gone out during the day; it was now piled up
with half-dried wood, which sputtered and smoked instead of doing its
duty in blazing and warming the room, through which the keen wind was
cutting its way in all directions. The clock had stopped, no one had
remembered to wind it up, but by the squire's watch it was already
past dinner-time. The old butler put his head into the room, but,
seeing the squire alone, he was about to draw it back, and wait
for Mr. Osborne, before announcing dinner. He had hoped to do this
unperceived, but the squire caught him in the act.

"Why isn't dinner ready?" he called out sharply. "It's ten minutes
past six. And, pray, why are you using this wood? It's impossible to
get oneself warm by such a fire as this."

"I believe, sir, that Thomas--"

"Don't talk to me of Thomas. Send dinner in directly."

About five minutes elapsed, spent by the hungry Squire in all sorts
of impatient ways--attacking Thomas, who came in to look after
the fire; knocking the logs about, scattering out sparks, but
considerably lessening the chances of warmth; touching up the
candles, which appeared to him to give a light unusually insufficient
for the large cold room. While he was doing this, Osborne came in
dressed in full evening dress. He always moved slowly; and this, to
begin with, irritated the Squire. Then an uncomfortable consciousness
of a black coat, drab trousers, checked cotton cravat, and splashed
boots, forced itself upon him as he saw Osborne's point-device
costume. He chose to consider it affectation and finery in Osborne,
and was on the point of bursting out with some remark, when the
butler, who had watched Osborne downstairs before making the
announcement, came in to say dinner was ready.

"It surely isn't six o'clock?" said Osborne, pulling out his dainty
little watch. He was scarcely more unaware than it of the storm that
was brewing.

"Six o'clock! It's more than a quarter past," growled out his father.

"I fancy your watch must be wrong, sir. I set mine by the Horse
Guards only two days ago."

Now, impugning that old steady, turnip-shaped watch of the Squire's
was one of the insults which, as it could not reasonably be resented,
was not to be forgiven. That watch had been given him by his
father when watches were watches long ago. It had given the law to
house-clocks, stable-clocks, kitchen-clocks--nay, even to Hamley
Church clock in its day; and was it now, in its respectable old age,
to be looked down upon by a little whipper-snapper of a French watch
which could go into a man's waistcoat pocket, instead of having to
be extricated, with due effort, like a respectable watch of size and
position, from a fob in the waistband? No! not if the whipper-snapper
were backed by all the Horse Guards that ever were, with the Life
Guards to boot. Poor Osborne might have known better than to cast
this slur on his father's flesh and blood; for so dear did he hold
his watch!

"My watch is like myself," said the squire, 'girning,' as the Scotch
say--"plain, but steady-going. At any rate, it gives the law in my
house. The King may go by the Horse Guards if he likes."

"I beg your pardon, sir," said Osborne, really anxious to keep the
peace, "I went by my watch, which is certainly right by London time;
and I'd no idea you were waiting for me; otherwise I could have
dressed much quicker."

"I should think so," said the Squire, looking sarcastically at his
son's attire. "When I was a young man I should have been ashamed to
have spent as much time at my looking-glass as if I'd been a girl.
I could make myself as smart as any one when I was going to a dance,
or to a party where I was likely to meet pretty girls; but I should
have laughed myself to scorn if I'd stood fiddle-faddling at a glass,
smirking at my own likeness, all for my own pleasure."

Osborne reddened, and was on the point of letting fly some caustic
remark on his father's dress at the present moment; but he contented
himself with saying, in a low voice,--

"My mother always expected us all to dress for dinner. I got into the
habit of doing it to please her, and I keep it up now." Indeed, he
had a certain kind of feeling of loyalty to her memory in keeping
up all the little domestic habits and customs she had instituted or
preferred. But the contrast which the Squire thought was implied by
Osborne's remark, put him beside himself.

"And I, too, try to attend to her wishes. I do; and in more important
things. I did when she was alive; and I do so now."

"I never said you did not," said Osborne, astonished at his father's
passionate words and manner.

"Yes, you did, sir. You meant it. I could see by your looks. I saw
you look at my morning coat. At any rate, I never neglected any wish
of hers in her lifetime. If she'd wished me to go to school again
and learn my A, B, C, I would. By ---- I would; and I wouldn't have
gone playing me, and lounging away my time, for fear of vexing and
disappointing her. Yet some folks older than school-boys--"

The squire choked here; but though the words would not come his
passion did not diminish. "I'll not have you casting up your mother's
wishes to me, sir. You, who went near to break her heart at last!"

Osborne was strongly tempted to get up and leave the room. Perhaps it
would have been better if he had; it might then have brought about
an explanation, and a reconciliation between father and son. But he
thought he did well in sitting still and appearing to take no notice.
This indifference to what he was saying appeared to annoy the Squire
still more, and he kept on grumbling and talking to himself till
Osborne, unable to bear it any longer, said, very quietly, but very

"I am only a cause of irritation to you, and home is no longer home
to me, but a place in which I am to be controlled in trifles, and
scolded about trifles as if I were a child. Put me in a way of making
a living for myself--that much your oldest son has a right to ask of
you--I will then leave this house, and you shall be no longer vexed
by my dress, or my want of punctuality."

"You make your request pretty much as another son did long ago: 'Give
me the portion that falleth to me.' But I don't think what he did
with his money is much encouragement for me to--." Then the thought
of how little he could give his son his "portion," or any part of it,
stopped the Squire.

Osborne took up the speech.

"I'm as ready as any man to earn my living; only the preparation for
any profession will cost money, and money I haven't got."

"No more have I," said the Squire, shortly.

"What is to be done then?" said Osborne, only half believing his
father's words.

"Why, you must learn to stop at home, and not take expensive
journeys; and you must reduce your tailor's bill. I don't ask you
to help me in the management of the land--you're far too fine a
gentleman for that; but if you can't earn money, at least you needn't
spend it."

"I've told you I'm willing enough to earn money," cried Osborne,
passionately at last. "But how am I to do it? You really are very
unreasonable, sir."

"Am I?" said the Squire--cooling in manner, though not in temper, as
Osborne grew warm. "But I don't set up for being reasonable; men who
have to pay away money that they haven't got for their extravagant
sons aren't likely to be reasonable. There's two things you've gone
and done which put me beside myself, when I think of them; you've
turned out next door to a dunce at college, when your poor mother
thought so much of you--and when you might have pleased and gratified
her so if you chose--and, well! I won't say what the other thing is."

"Tell me, sir," said Osborne, almost breathless with the idea that
his father had discovered his secret marriage; but the father was
thinking of the money-lenders, who were calculating how soon Osborne
would come into the estate.

"No!" said the Squire. "I know what I know; and I'm not going to
tell you how I know it. Only, I'll just say this--your friends no
more know a piece of good timber when they see it than you or I know
how you could earn five pounds if it was to keep you from starving.
Now, there's Roger--we none of us made an ado about him; but he'll
have his Fellowship now, I'll warrant him, and be a bishop, or a
chancellor, or something, before we've found out he's clever--we've
been so much taken up thinking about you. I don't know what's come
over me to speak of 'we'--'we' in this way," said he, suddenly
dropping his voice,--a change of tone as sad as sad could be. "I
ought to say 'I;' it will be 'I' for evermore in this world."

He got up and left the room in quick haste, knocking over his chair,
and not stopping to pick it up. Osborne, who was sitting and shading
his eyes with his hand, as he had been doing for some time, looked up
at the noise, and then rose as quickly and hurried after his father,
only in time to hear the study-door locked on the inside the moment
he reached it.

Osborne returned into the dining-room chagrined and sorrowful. But he
was always sensitive to any omission of the usual observances, which
might excite remark; and even with his heavy heart he was careful to
pick up the fallen chair, and restore it to its place near the bottom
of the table; and afterwards so to disturb the dishes as to make it
appear that they had been touched, before ringing for Robinson. When
the latter came in, followed by Thomas, Osborne thought it necessary
to say to him that his father was not well, and had gone into the
study; and that he himself wanted no dessert, but would have a cup
of coffee in the drawing-room. The old butler sent Thomas out of the
room, and came up confidentially to Osborne.

"I thought master wasn't justly himself, Mr. Osborne, before dinner.
And, therefore, I made excuses for him--I did. He spoke to Thomas
about the fire, sir, which is a thing I could in nowise put up
with, unless by reason of sickness, which I am always ready to make
allowances for."

"Why shouldn't my father speak to Thomas?" said Osborne. "But,
perhaps, he spoke angrily, I daresay; for I'm sure he's not well."

"No, Mr. Osborne, it wasn't that. I myself am given to anger; and I'm
blessed with as good health as any man in my years. Besides, anger's
a good thing for Thomas. He needs a deal of it. But it should come
from the right quarter--and that is me, myself, Mr. Osborne. I know
my place, and I know my rights and duties as well as any butler that
lives. And it's my duty to scold Thomas, and not master's. Master
ought to have said, 'Robinson! you must speak to Thomas about letting
out the fire,' and I'd ha' given it him well,--as I shall do now,
for that matter. But as I said before, I make excuses for master,
as being in mental distress and bodily ill-health; so I've brought
myself round not to give warning, as I should ha' done, for certain,
under happier circumstances."

"Really, Robinson, I think it's all great nonsense," said Osborne,
weary of the long story the butler had told him, and to which he
had not half attended. "What in the world does it signify whether
my father speaks to you or to Thomas? Bring me coffee in the
drawing-room, and don't trouble your head any more about scolding

Robinson went away offended at his grievance being called nonsense.
He kept muttering to himself in the intervals of scolding Thomas, and
saying,--"Things is a deal changed since poor missis went. I don't
wonder master feels it, for I'm sure I do. She was a lady who had
always a becoming respect for a butler's position, and could have
understood how he might be hurt in his mind. She'd never ha' called
his delicacies of feelings nonsense--not she; no more would Mr.
Roger. He's a merry young gentleman, and over fond of bringing dirty,
slimy creatures into the house; but he's always a kind word for a man
who is hurt in his mind. He'd cheer up the Squire, and keep him from
getting so cross and wilful. I wish Mr. Roger was here, I do."

The poor Squire, shut up with his grief, and his ill-temper as well,
in the dingy, dreary study where he daily spent more and more of
his indoors life, turned over his cares and troubles till he was as
bewildered with the process as a squirrel must be in going round in
a cage. He had out day-books and ledgers, and was calculating up
back-rents; and every time the sum-totals came to different amounts.
He could have cried like a child over his sums; he was worn out and
weary, angry and disappointed. He closed his books at last with a

"I'm getting old," he said, "and my head's less clear than it used to
be. I think sorrow for her has dazed me. I never was much to boast
on; but she thought a deal of me--bless her! She'd never let me call
myself stupid; but, for all that, I am stupid. Osborne ought to help
me. He's had money enough spent on his learning; but, instead, he
comes down dressed like a popinjay, and never troubles his head to
think how I'm to pay his debts. I wish I'd told him to earn his
living as a dancing-master," said the squire, with a sad smile at his
own wit. "He's dressed for all the world like one. And how he's spent
the money no one knows! Perhaps Roger will turn up some day with a
heap of creditors at his heels. No, he won't--not Roger; he may be
slow, but he's steady, is old Roger. I wish he was here. He's not the
eldest son, but he'd take an interest in the estate; and he'd do up
these weary accounts for me. I wish Roger was here!"



Osborne had his solitary cup of coffee in the drawing-room. He was
very unhappy too, after his fashion. He stood on the hearth-rug
pondering over his situation. He was not exactly aware how hardly
his father was pressed for ready-money; the Squire had never spoken
to him on the subject without being angry; and many of his loose
contradictory statements--all of which, however contradictory they
might appear, had their basis in truth--were set down by his son
to the exaggeration of passion. But it was uncomfortable enough to
a young man of Osborne's age to feel himself continually hampered
for want of a five-pound note. The principal supplies for the
liberal--almost luxurious table at the Hall, came off the estate; so
that there was no appearance of poverty as far as the household went;
and as long as Osborne was content at home, he had everything he
could wish for; but he had a wife elsewhere--he wanted to see her
continually--and that necessitated journeys. She, poor thing! had to
be supported--where was the money for the journeys and for Aimée's
modest wants to come from? That was the puzzle in Osborne's mind
just now. While he had been at college his allowance--heir of the
Hamleys--had been three hundred, while Roger had to be content with a
hundred less. The payment of these annual sums had given the Squire
a good deal of trouble; but he thought of it as a merely temporary
inconvenience; perhaps unreasonably thought so. Osborne was to
do great things; take high honours, get a fellowship, marry a
long-descended heiress, live in some of the many uninhabited rooms at
the Hall, and help the squire in the management of the estate that
would some time be his. Roger was to be a clergyman; steady, slow
Roger was just fitted for that, and when he declined entering the
Church, preferring a life of more activity and adventure, Roger was
to be--anything; he was useful and practical, and fit for all the
employments from which Osborne was shut out by his fastidiousness,
and his (pseudo) genius; so it was well he was an eldest son, for he
would never have done to struggle through the world; and as for his
settling down to a profession, it would be like cutting blocks with
a razor! And now here was Osborne, living at home, but longing to be
elsewhere; his allowance stopped in reality; indeed, the punctual
payment of it during the last year or two had been owing to his
mother's exertions; but nothing had been said about its present
cessation by either father or son; money matters were too sore a
subject between them. Every now and then the Squire threw him a
ten-pound note or so; but the sort of suppressed growl with which it
was given, and the entire uncertainty as to when he might receive
such gifts, rendered any calculation based upon their receipt
exceedingly vague and uncertain.

"What in the world can I do to secure an income?" thought Osborne, as
he stood on the hearth-rug, his back to a blazing fire, his cup of
coffee sent up in the rare old china that had belonged to the Hall
for generations; his dress finished, as dress of Osborne's could
hardly fail to be. One could hardly have thought that this elegant
young man, standing there in the midst of comfort that verged on
luxury, should have been turning over that one great problem in his
mind; but so it was. "What can I do to be sure of a present income?
Things cannot go on as they are. I should need support for two or
three years, even if I entered myself at the Temple, or Lincoln's
Inn. It would be impossible to live on my pay in the army; besides,
I should hate that profession. In fact, there are evils attending all
professions--I couldn't bring myself to become a member of any I've
ever heard of. Perhaps I'm more fitted to take 'orders' than anything
else; but to be compelled to write weekly sermons whether one had
anything to say or not, and, probably, doomed only to associate with
people below one in refinement and education! Yet poor Aimée must
have money. I can't bear to compare our dinners here, overloaded with
joints and game and sweets, as Morgan will persist in sending them
up, with Aimée's two little mutton-chops. Yet what would my father
say if he knew I'd married a Frenchwoman? In his present mood he'd
disinherit me, if that is possible; and he'd speak about her in a way
I couldn't stand. A Roman Catholic, too! Well, I don't repent it. I'd
do it again. Only if my mother had been in good health--if she could
have heard my story, and known Aimée! As it is I must keep it secret;
but where to get money? Where to get money?"

Then he bethought him of his poems--would they sell, and bring him
in money? In spite of Milton, he thought they might; and he went to
fetch his MSS. out of his room. He sate down near the fire, trying to
study them with a critical eye, to represent public opinion as far as
he could. He had changed his style since the Mrs. Hemans' days. He
was essentially imitative in his poetic faculty; and of late he had
followed the lead of a popular writer of sonnets. He turned his poems
over: they were almost equivalent to an autobiographical passage in
his life. Arranging them in their order, they came as follows:--

"To Aimée, Walking with a Little Child."

"To Aimée, Singing at her Work."

"To Aimée, Turning away from me while I told my Love."

"Aimée's Confession."

"Aimée in Despair."

"The Foreign Land in which my Aimée dwells."

"The Wedding Ring."

"The Wife."

When he came to this last sonnet he put down his bundle of papers
and began to think. "The wife." Yes, and a French wife; and a
Roman Catholic wife--and a wife who might be said to have been in
service! And his father's hatred of the French, both collectively
and individually--collectively, as tumultuous brutal ruffians,
who murdered their king, and committed all kinds of bloody
atrocities--individually, as represented by "Boney," and the various
caricatures of "Johnny Crapaud" that had been in full circulation
about five-and-twenty years before this time, when the Squire had
been young and capable of receiving impressions. As for the form of
religion in which Mrs. Osborne Hamley had been brought up, it is
enough to say that Catholic emancipation had begun to be talked about
by some politicians, and that the sullen roar of the majority of
Englishmen, at the bare idea of it, was surging in the distance with
ominous threatenings; the very mention of such a measure before the
Squire was, as Osborne well knew, like shaking a red flag before a

And then he considered that if Aimée had had the unspeakable, the
incomparable blessing of being born of English parents, in the very
heart of England--Warwickshire, for instance--and had never heard
of priests, or mass, or confession, or the Pope, or Guy Fawkes, but
had been born, baptized, and bred in the Church of England, without
having ever seen the outside of a dissenting meeting-house, or a
papist chapel--even with all these advantages, her having been a
(what was the equivalent for "bonne" in English? 'nursery-governess'
was a term hardly invented) nursery-maid, with wages paid down once a
quarter, liable to be dismissed at a month's warning, and having her
tea and sugar doled out to her, would be a shock to his father's old
ancestral pride that he would hardly ever get over.

"If he saw her!" thought Osborne. "If he could but see her!" But if
the Squire were to see Aimée, he would also hear her speak her pretty
broken English--precious to her husband, as it was in it that she
had confessed brokenly with her English tongue, that she loved him
soundly with her French heart--and Squire Hamley piqued himself on
being a good hater of the French. "She would make such a loving,
sweet, docile little daughter to my father--she would go as near as
any one could towards filling up the blank void in this house, if he
would but have her; but he won't; he never would; and he sha'n't have
the opportunity of scouting her. Yet if I called her 'Lucy' in these
sonnets; and if they made a great effect--were praised in _Blackwood_
and the _Quarterly_--and all the world was agog to find out the
author; and I told him my secret--I could if I were successful--I
think then he would ask who Lucy was, and I could tell him all then.
If--how I hate 'ifs.' 'If me no ifs.' My life has been based on
'whens;' and first they have turned to 'ifs,' and then they have
vanished away. It was 'when Osborne gets honours,' and then 'if
Osborne,' and then a failure altogether. I said to Aimée, 'when my
mother sees you,' and now it is 'if my father saw her,' with a very
faint prospect of its ever coming to pass." So he let the evening
hours flow on and disappear in reveries like these; winding up with
a sudden determination to try the fate of his poems with a publisher,
with the direct expectation of getting money for them, and an
ulterior fancy that, if successful, they might work wonders with his

When Roger came home Osborne did not let a day pass before telling
his brother of his plans. He never did conceal anything long from
Roger; the feminine part of his character made him always desirous of
a confidant, and as sweet sympathy as he could extract. But Roger's
opinion had no effect on Osborne's actions; and Roger knew this full
well. So when Osborne began with--"I want your advice on a plan
I have got in my head," Roger replied: "Some one told me that the
Duke of Wellington's maxim was never to give advice unless he could
enforce its being carried into effect; now I can't do that; and you
know, old boy, you don't follow out my advice when you've got it."

"Not always, I know. Not when it doesn't agree with my own opinion.
You're thinking about this concealment of my marriage; but you're
not up in all the circumstances. You know how fully I meant to have
done it, if there hadn't been that row about my debts; and then my
mother's illness and death. And now you've no conception how my
father is changed--how irritable he has become! Wait till you've been
at home a week! Robinson, Morgan--it's the same with them all; but
worst of all with me."

"Poor fellow!" said Roger; "I thought he looked terribly changed:
shrunken, and his ruddiness of complexion altered."

"Why, he hardly takes half the exercise he used to do, so it's no
wonder. He has turned away all the men off the new works, which used
to be such an interest to him; and because the roan cob stumbled with
him one day, and nearly threw him, he won't ride it; and yet he won't
sell it and buy another, which would be the sensible plan; so there
are two old horses eating their heads off, while he is constantly
talking about money and expense. And that brings me to what I was
going to say. I'm desperately hard up for money, and so I've been
collecting my poems--weeding them well, you know--going over them
quite critically, in fact; and I want to know if you think Deighton
would publish them. You've a name in Cambridge, you know; and I
daresay he would look at them if you offered them to him."

"I can but try," said Roger; "but I'm afraid you won't get much by

"I don't expect much. I'm a new man, and must make my name. I should
be content with a hundred. If I'd a hundred pounds I'd set myself to
do something. I might keep myself and Aimée by my writings while I
studied for the bar; or, if the worst came to the worst, a hundred
pounds would take us to Australia."

"Australia! Why, Osborne, what could you do there? And leave my
father! I hope you'll never get your hundred pounds, if that's the
use you're to make of it! Why, you'd break the Squire's heart."

"It might have done once," said Osborne, gloomily, "but it wouldn't
now. He looks at me askance, and shies away from conversation with
me. Let me alone for noticing and feeling this kind of thing. It's
this very susceptibility to outward things that gives me what faculty
I have; and it seems to me as if my bread, and my wife's too, were to
depend upon it. You'll soon see for yourself the terms which I am on
with my father!"

Roger did soon see. His father had slipped into a habit of silence
at meal-times--a habit which Osborne, who was troubled and anxious
enough for his own part, had not striven to break. Father and son
sate together, and exchanged all the necessary speeches connected
with the occasion civilly enough; but it was a relief to them when
their intercourse was over, and they separated--the father to brood
over his sorrow and his disappointment, which were real and deep
enough, and the injury he had received from his boy, which was
exaggerated in his mind by his ignorance of the actual steps Osborne
had taken to raise money. If the money-lenders had calculated the
chances of his father's life or death in making their bargain,
Osborne himself had thought only of how soon and how easily he could
get the money requisite for clearing him from all imperious claims
at Cambridge, and for enabling him to follow Aimée to her home in
Alsace, and for the subsequent marriage. As yet, Roger had never seen
his brother's wife; indeed, he had only been taken into Osborne's
full confidence after all was decided in which his advice could have
been useful. And now, in the enforced separation, Osborne's whole
thought, both the poetical and practical sides of his mind, ran
upon the little wife who was passing her lonely days in farmhouse
lodgings, wondering when her bridegroom husband would come to her
next. With such an engrossing subject, it was, perhaps, no wonder
that he unconsciously neglected his father; but it was none the less
sad at the time, and to be regretted in its consequences.

"I may come in and have a pipe with you, sir, mayn't I?" said Roger,
that first evening, pushing gently against the study-door, which his
father held only half open.

"You'll not like it," said the squire, still holding the door against
him, but speaking in a relenting tone. "The tobacco I use isn't what
young men like. Better go and have a cigar with Osborne."

"No. I want to sit with you, and I can stand pretty strong tobacco."

Roger pushed in, the resistance slowly giving way before him.

"It will make your clothes smell. You'll have to borrow Osborne's
scents to sweeten yourself," said the Squire, grimly, at the same
time pushing a short smart amber-mouthed pipe to his son.

"No; I'll have a churchwarden. Why, father, do you think I'm a baby
to put up with a doll's head like this?" looking at the carving upon

The Squire was pleased in his heart, though he did not choose to
show it. He only said, "Osborne brought it me when he came back from
Germany. That's three years ago." And then for some time they smoked
in silence. But the voluntary companionship of his son was very
soothing to the Squire, though not a word might be said.

The next speech he made showed the direction of his thoughts; indeed,
his words were always a transparent medium through which the current
might be seen.

"A deal of a man's life comes and goes in three years--I've found
that out;" and he puffed away at his pipe again. While Roger was
turning over in his mind what answer to make to this truism, the
squire again stopped his smoking and spoke.

"I remember when there was all that fuss about the Prince of
Wales being made regent, I read somewhere--I daresay it was in a
newspaper--that kings and their heirs-apparent were always on bad
terms. Osborne was quite a little chap then: he used to go out riding
with me on White Surrey;--you won't remember the pony we called White

"I remember it; but I thought it a tall horse in those days."

"Ah! that was because you were such a small lad, you know. I'd seven
horses in the stable then--not counting the farm-horses. I don't
recollect having a care then, except--_she_ was always delicate, you
know. But what a beautiful boy Osborne was! He was always dressed in
black velvet--it was a foppery, but it wasn't my doing, and it was
all right, I'm sure. He's a handsome fellow now, but the sunshine has
gone out of his face."

"He's a good deal troubled about this money, and the anxiety he has
given you," said Roger, rather taking his brother's feelings for

"Not he," said the Squire, taking the pipe out of his mouth, and
hitting the bowl so sharply against the hob that it broke in pieces.
"There! But never mind! I say, not he, Roger! He's none troubled
about the money. It's easy getting money from Jews if you're the
eldest son, and the heir. They just ask, 'How old is your father, and
has he had a stroke, or a fit?' and it's settled out of hand, and
then they come prowling about a place, and running down the timber
and land--Don't let us speak of him; it's no good, Roger. He and I
are out of tune, and it seems to me as if only God Almighty could
put us to rights. It's thinking of how he grieved _her_ at last that
makes me so bitter with him. And yet there's a deal of good in him!
and he's so quick and clever, if only he'd give his mind to things.
Now, you were always slow, Roger--all your masters used to say so."

Roger laughed a little--

"Yes; I'd many a nickname at school for my slowness," said he.

"Never mind!" said the Squire, consolingly. "I'm sure I don't. If you
were a clever fellow like Osborne yonder, you'd be all for caring for
books and writing, and you'd perhaps find it as dull as he does to
keep company with a bumpkin-squire Jones like me. Yet, I daresay,
they think a deal of you at Cambridge," said he, after a pause,
"since you've got this fine wranglership; I'd nearly forgotten
that--the news came at such a miserable time."

"Well, yes! They're always proud of the senior wrangler of the year
up at Cambridge. Next year I must abdicate."

The Squire sat and gazed into the embers, still holding his useless
pipe-stem. At last he said, in a low voice, as if scarcely aware he
had got a listener,--"I used to write to her when she was away in
London, and tell her the home news. But no letter will reach her now!
Nothing reaches her!"

Roger started up.

"Where's the tobacco-box, father? Let me fill you another pipe!"
and when he had done so, he stooped over his father and stroked his
cheek. The Squire shook his head.

"You've only just come home, lad. You don't know me, as I am
now-a-days! Ask Robinson--I won't have you asking Osborne, he ought
to keep it to himself--but any of the servants will tell you I'm not
like the same man for getting into passions with them. I used to
be reckoned a good master, but that's past now! Osborne was once a
little boy, and she was once alive--and I was once a good master--a
good master--yes! It's all past now."

He took up his pipe, and began to smoke afresh, and Roger, after a
silence of some minutes, began a long story about some Cambridge
man's misadventure on the hunting-field, telling it with such humour
that the Squire was beguiled into hearty laughing. When they rose to
go to bed his father said to Roger,--

"Well, we've had a pleasant evening--at least, I have. But perhaps
you haven't; for I'm but poor company now, I know."

"I don't know when I've passed a happier evening, father," said
Roger. And he spoke truly, though he did not trouble himself to find
out the cause of his happiness.



[Illustration (untitled)]

All this had taken place before Roger's first meeting with Molly and
Cynthia at Miss Brownings'; and the little dinner on the Friday at
Mr. Gibson's, which followed in due sequence.

Mrs. Gibson intended the Hamleys to find this dinner pleasant; and
they did. Mr. Gibson was fond of the two young men, both for their
parents' sake and their own, for he had known them since boyhood; and
to those whom he liked Mr. Gibson could be remarkably agreeable. Mrs.
Gibson really gave them a welcome--and cordiality in a hostess is a
very becoming mantle for any other deficiencies there may be. Cynthia
and Molly looked their best, which was all the duty Mrs. Gibson
absolutely required of them, as she was willing enough to take her
full share in the conversation. Osborne fell to her lot, of course,
and for some time he and she prattled on with all the ease of manner
and commonplaceness of meaning which go far to make the "art of
polite conversation." Roger, who ought to have made himself agreeable
to one or the other of the young ladies, was exceedingly interested
in what Mr. Gibson was telling him of a paper on comparative
osteology in some foreign journal of science, which Lord Hollingford
was in the habit of forwarding to his friend the country surgeon.
Yet, every now and then while he listened, he caught his attention
wandering to the face of Cynthia, who was placed between his brother
and Mr. Gibson. She was not particularly occupied with attending to
anything that was going on; her eyelids were carelessly dropped, as
she crumbled her bread on the tablecloth, and her beautiful long
eyelashes were seen on the clear tint of her oval cheek. She was
thinking of something else; Molly was trying to understand with all
her might. Suddenly Cynthia looked up, and caught Roger's gaze of
intent admiration too fully for her to be unaware that he was staring
at her. She coloured a little; but, after the first moment of rosy
confusion at his evident admiration of her, she flew to the attack,
diverting his confusion at thus being caught, to the defence of
himself from her accusation.

"It is quite true!" she said to him. "I was not attending: you see
I don't know even the A B C of science. But, please, don't look so
severely at me, even if I am a dunce!"

"I didn't know--I didn't mean to look severely, I am sure," replied
he, not knowing well what to say.

"Cynthia is not a dunce either," said Mrs. Gibson, afraid lest her
daughter's opinion of herself might be taken seriously. "But I have
always observed that some people have a talent for one thing and
some for another. Now Cynthia's talents are not for science and the
severer studies. Do you remember, love, what trouble I had to teach
you the use of the globes?"

"Yes; and I don't know longitude from latitude now; and I'm always
puzzled as to which is perpendicular and which is horizontal."

"Yet, I do assure you," her mother continued, rather addressing
herself to Osborne, "that her memory for poetry is prodigious. I have
heard her repeat the 'Prisoner of Chillon' from beginning to end."

"It would be rather a bore to have to hear her, I think," said Mr.
Gibson, smiling at Cynthia, who gave him back one of her bright looks
of mutual understanding.

"Ah, Mr. Gibson, I have found out before now that you have no soul
for poetry; and Molly there is your own child. She reads such deep
books--all about facts and figures: she'll be quite a blue-stocking

"Mamma," said Molly, reddening, "you think it was a deep book because
there were the shapes of the different cells of bees in it! but it
was not at all deep. It was very interesting."

"Never mind, Molly," said Osborne. "I stand up for blue-stockings."

"And I object to the distinction implied in what you say," said
Roger. "It was not deep, _ergo_, it was very interesting. Now, a book
may be both deep and interesting."

"Oh, if you are going to chop logic and use Latin words, I think it
is time for us to leave the room," said Mrs. Gibson.

"Don't let us run away as if we were beaten, mamma," said Cynthia.
"Though it may be logic, I, for one, can understand what Mr. Roger
Hamley said just now; and I read some of Molly's books; and whether
it was deep or not I found it very interesting--more so than I should
think the 'Prisoner of Chillon' now-a-days. I've displaced the
Prisoner to make room for Johnnie Gilpin as my favourite poem."

"How could you talk such nonsense, Cynthia!" said Mrs. Gibson, as the
girls followed her upstairs. "You know you are not a dunce. It is all
very well not to be a blue-stocking, because gentle-people don't like
that kind of woman; but running yourself down, and contradicting all
I said about your liking for Byron, and poets and poetry--to Osborne
Hamley of all men, too!"

Mrs. Gibson spoke quite crossly for her.

"But, mamma," Cynthia replied, "I am either a dunce, or I am not. If
I am, I did right to own it; if I am not, he's a dunce if he doesn't
find out I was joking."

"Well," said Mrs. Gibson, a little puzzled by this speech, and
wanting some elucidatory addition.

"Only that if he's a dunce his opinion of me is worth nothing. So,
any way, it doesn't signify."

"You really bewilder me with your nonsense, child. Molly is worth
twenty of you."

"I quite agree with you, mamma," said Cynthia, turning round to take
Molly's hand.

"Yes; but she ought not to be," said Mrs. Gibson, still irritated.
"Think of the advantages you've had."

"I'm afraid I had rather be a dunce than a blue-stocking," said
Molly; for the term had a little annoyed her, and the annoyance was
rankling still.

"Hush; here they are coming: I hear the dining-room door! I never
meant you were a blue-stocking, dear, so don't look vexed.--Cynthia,
my love, where did you get those lovely flowers--anemones, are they?
They suit your complexion so exactly."

"Come, Molly, don't look so grave and thoughtful," exclaimed Cynthia.
"Don't you perceive mamma wants us to be smiling and amiable?"

Mr. Gibson had had to go out to his evening round; and the young men
were all too glad to come up into the pretty drawing-room; the bright
little wood-fire; the comfortable easy-chairs which, with so small
a party, might be drawn round the hearth; the good-natured hostess;
the pretty, agreeable girls. Roger sauntered up to the corner where
Cynthia was standing, playing with a hand-screen.

"There is a charity ball in Hollingford soon, isn't there?" asked he.

"Yes; on Easter Tuesday," she replied.

"Are you going? I suppose you are?"

"Yes; mamma is going to take Molly and me."

"You will enjoy it very much--going together?"

For the first time during this little conversation she glanced up at
him--real honest pleasure shining out of her eyes.

"Yes; going together will make the enjoyment of the thing. It would
be dull without her."

"You are great friends, then?" he asked.

"I never thought I should like any one so much,--any girl I mean."

She put in the final reservation in all simplicity of heart; and in
all simplicity did he understand it. He came ever so little nearer,
and dropped his voice a little.

"I was so anxious to know. I am so glad. I have often wondered how
you two were getting on."

"Have you?" said she, looking up again. "At Cambridge? You must be
very fond of Molly!"

"Yes, I am. She was with us so long; and at such a time! I look upon
her almost as a sister."

"And she is very fond of all of you. I seem to know you all from
hearing her talk about you so much.--All of you!" said she, laying an
emphasis on "all" to show that it included the dead as well as the
living. Roger was silent for a minute or two.

"I didn't know you, even by hearsay. So you mustn't wonder that I was
a little afraid. But as soon as I saw you I knew how it must be; and
it was such a relief!"

"Cynthia," said Mrs. Gibson, who thought that the younger son had had
quite his share of low, confidential conversation, "come here, and
sing that little French ballad to Mr. Osborne Hamley."

"Which do you mean, mamma? 'Tu t'en repentiras, Colin?'"

"Yes; such a pretty, playful little warning to young men," said Mrs.
Gibson, smiling up at Osborne. "The refrain is--

   Tu t'en repentiras, Colin,
     Tu t'en repentiras,
   Car si tu prends une femme, Colin,
     Tu t'en repentiras.

The advice may apply very well when there is a French wife in the
case; but not, I am sure, to an Englishman who is thinking of an
English wife."

[Illustration: "TU T'EN REPENTIRAS, COLIN."]

This choice of a song was exceedingly _mal-àpropos_, had Mrs. Gibson
but known it. Osborne and Roger knowing that the wife of the former
was a Frenchwoman, and, conscious of each other's knowledge, felt
doubly awkward; while Molly was as much confused as though she
herself were secretly married. However, Cynthia carolled the saucy
ditty out, and her mother smiled at it, in total ignorance of any
application it might have. Osborne had instinctively gone to stand
behind Cynthia, as she sate at the piano, so as to be ready to turn
over the leaves of her music if she required it. He kept his hands
in his pockets and his eyes fixed on her fingers; his countenance
clouded with gravity at all the merry quips which she so playfully
sang. Roger looked grave as well, but was much more at his ease than
his brother; indeed, he was half-amused by the awkwardness of the
situation. He caught Molly's troubled eyes and heightened colour, and
he saw that she was feeling this _contretemps_ more seriously than
she needed to do. He moved to a seat by her, and half whispered, "Too
late a warning, is it not?"

Molly looked up at him as he leant towards her, and replied in the
same tone--"Oh, I am so sorry!"

"You need not be. He won't mind it long; and a man must take the
consequences when he puts himself in a false position."

Molly could not tell what to reply to this, so she hung her head
and kept silence. Yet she could see that Roger did not change his
attitude or remove his hand from the back of his chair, and, impelled
by curiosity to find out the cause of his stillness, she looked up at
him at length, and saw his gaze fixed on the two who were near the
piano. Osborne was saying something eagerly to Cynthia, whose grave
eyes were upturned to him with soft intentness of expression, and her
pretty mouth half-open, with a sort of impatience for him to cease
speaking, that she might reply.

"They are talking about France," said Roger, in answer to Molly's
unspoken question. "Osborne knows it well, and Miss Kirkpatrick has
been at school there, you know. It sounds very interesting; shall we
go nearer and hear what they are saying?"

It was all very well to ask this civilly, but Molly thought it would
have been better to wait for her answer. Instead of waiting, however,
Roger went to the piano, and, leaning on it, appeared to join in the
light merry talk, while he feasted his eyes as much as he dared by
looking at Cynthia. Molly suddenly felt as if she could scarcely keep
from crying--a minute ago he had been so near to her, and talking so
pleasantly and confidentially; and now he almost seemed as if he had
forgotten her existence. She thought that all this was wrong; and
she exaggerated its wrongness to herself; "mean," and "envious of
Cynthia," and "ill-natured," and "selfish," were the terms she kept
applying to herself; but it did no good, she was just as naughty at
the last as at the first.

Mrs. Gibson broke into the state of things which Molly thought was to
endure for ever. Her work had been intricate up to this time, and had
required a great deal of counting; so she had had no time to attend
to her duties, one of which she always took to be to show herself to
the world as an impartial stepmother. Cynthia had played and sung,
and now she must give Molly her turn of exhibition. Cynthia's singing
and playing was light and graceful, but anything but correct; but
she herself was so charming, that it was only fanatics for music who
cared for false chords and omitted notes. Molly, on the contrary, had
an excellent ear, if she had ever been well taught; and both from
inclination and conscientious perseverance of disposition, she would
go over an incorrect passage for twenty times. But she was very shy
of playing in company; and when forced to do it, she went through her
performance heavily, and hated her handiwork more than any one.

"Now, you must play a little, Molly," said Mrs. Gibson; "play us that
beautiful piece of Kalkbrenner's, my dear."

Molly looked up at her stepmother with beseeching eyes; but it only
brought out another form of request, still more like a command.

"Go at once, my dear. You may not play it quite rightly; and I know
you are very nervous; but you're quite amongst friends."

So there was a disturbance made in the little group at the piano, and
Molly sate down to her martyrdom.

"Please, go away!" said she to Osborne, who was standing behind her
ready to turn over. "I can quite well do it for myself. And oh! if
you would but talk!"

Osborne remained where he was in spite of her appeal, and gave
her what little approval she got; for Mrs. Gibson, exhausted by
her previous labour of counting her stitches, fell asleep in her
comfortable sofa-corner near the fire; and Roger, who began at first
to talk a little in compliance with Molly's request, found his
conversation with Cynthia so agreeable, that Molly lost her place
several times in trying to catch a sudden glimpse of Cynthia sitting
at her work, and Roger by her, intent on catching her low replies to
what he was saying.

"There, now I've done!" said Molly, standing up quickly as soon as
she had finished the eighteen dreary pages; "and I think I will never
sit down to play again!"

Osborne laughed at her vehemence. Cynthia began to take some part
in what was being said, and thus made the conversation general. Mrs.
Gibson wakened up gracefully, as was her way of doing all things, and
slid into the subjects they were talking about so easily, that she
almost succeeded in making them believe she had never been asleep at



All Hollingford felt as if there was a great deal to be done before
Easter this year. There was Easter proper, which always required new
clothing of some kind, for fear of certain consequences from little
birds, who were supposed to resent the impiety of those that did
not wear some new article of dress on Easter-day. And most ladies
considered it wiser that the little birds should see the new article
for themselves, and not have to take it upon trust, as they would
have to do if it were merely a pocket-handkerchief, or a petticoat,
or any article of under-clothing. So piety demanded a new bonnet, or
a new gown; and was barely satisfied with an Easter pair of gloves.
Miss Rose was generally very busy just before Easter in Hollingford.
Then this year there was the charity ball. Ashcombe, Hollingford, and
Coreham were three neighbouring towns, of about the same number of
population, lying at the three equidistant corners of a triangle. In
imitation of greater cities with their festivals, these three towns
had agreed to have an annual ball for the benefit of the county
hospital to be held in turn at each place; and Hollingford was to be
the place this year.

It was a fine time for hospitality, and every house of any pretension
was as full as it could hold, and flys were engaged long months

If Mrs. Gibson could have asked Osborne, or in default, Roger Hamley
to go to the ball with them and to sleep at their house,--or if,
indeed, she could have picked up any stray scion of a "county family"
to whom such an offer would have been a convenience, she would have
restored her own dressing-room to its former use as the spare-room,
with pleasure. But she did not think it was worth her while to put
herself out for any of the humdrum and ill-dressed women who had been
her former acquaintances at Ashcombe. For Mr. Preston it might have
been worth while to give up her room, considering him in the light of
a handsome and prosperous young man, and a good dancer besides. But
there were more lights in which he was to be viewed. Mr. Gibson, who
really wanted to return the hospitality shown to him by Mr. Preston
at the time of his marriage, had yet an instinctive distaste to the
man, which no wish of freeing himself from obligation, nor even the
more worthy feeling of hospitality, could overcome. Mrs. Gibson
had some old grudges of her own against him, but she was not one
to retain angry feelings, or be very active in her retaliation;
she was afraid of Mr. Preston, and admired him at the same time.
It was awkward too--so she said--to go into a ball-room without
any gentleman at all, and Mr. Gibson was so uncertain! On the
whole--partly for this last-given reason, and partly because
conciliation was the best policy, Mrs. Gibson was slightly in favour
of inviting Mr. Preston to be their guest. But as soon as Cynthia
heard the question discussed--or rather, as soon as she heard it
discussed in Mr. Gibson's absence, she said that if Mr. Preston came
to be their visitor on the occasion, she for one would not go to the
ball at all. She did not speak with vehemence or in anger; but with
such quiet resolution that Molly looked up in surprise. She saw
that Cynthia was keeping her eyes fixed on her work, and that she
had no intention of meeting any one's gaze, or giving any further
explanation. Mrs. Gibson, too, looked perplexed, and once or twice
seemed on the point of asking some question; but she was not angry
as Molly had fully expected. She watched Cynthia furtively and in
silence for a minute or two, and then said that, after all, she could
not conveniently give up her dressing-room; and, altogether, they had
better say no more about it. So no stranger was invited to stay at
Mr. Gibson's at the time of the ball; but Mrs. Gibson openly spoke
of her regret at the unavoidable inhospitality, and hoped that they
might be able to build an addition to their house before the next
triennial Hollingford ball.

Another cause of unusual bustle at Hollingford this Easter was the
expected return of the family to the Towers, after their unusually
long absence. Mr. Sheepshanks might be seen trotting up and down on
his stout old cob, speaking to attentive masons, plasterers, and
glaziers about putting everything--on the outside at least--about
the cottages belonging to "my lord," in perfect repair. Lord Cumnor
owned the greater part of the town; and those who lived under other
landlords, or in houses of their own, were stirred up by the dread
of contrast to do up their dwellings. So the ladders of whitewashers
and painters were sadly in the way of the ladies tripping daintily
along to make their purchases, and holding their gowns up in a bunch
behind, after a fashion quite gone out in these days. The housekeeper
and steward from the Towers might also be seen coming in to give
orders at the various shops; and stopping here and there at those
kept by favourites, to avail themselves of the eagerly-tendered

Lady Harriet came to call on her old governess the day after the
arrival of the family at the Towers. Molly and Cynthia were out
walking when she came--doing some errands for Mrs. Gibson, who had a
secret idea that Lady Harriet would call at the particular time she
did, and had a not uncommon wish to talk to her ladyship without the
corrective presence of any member of her own family.

Mrs. Gibson did not give Molly the message of remembrance that Lady
Harriet had left for her; but she imparted various pieces of news
relating to the Towers with great animation and interest. The Duchess
of Menteith and her daughter, Lady Alice, were coming to the Towers;
would be there the day of the ball; would come to the ball; and the
Menteith diamonds were famous. That was piece of news the first.
The second was that ever so many gentlemen were coming to the
Towers--some English, some French. This piece of news would have come
first in order of importance had there been much probability of their
being dancing men, and, as such, possible partners at the coming
ball. But Lady Harriet had spoken of them as Lord Hollingford's
friends, useless scientific men in all probability. Then, finally,
Mrs. Gibson was to go to the Towers next day to lunch; Lady Cumnor
had written a little note by Lady Harriet to beg her to come; if
Mrs. Gibson could manage to find her way to the Towers, one of the
carriages in use should bring her back to her own home in the course
of the afternoon.

"The dear countess!" said Mrs. Gibson, with soft affection. It was
a soliloquy, uttered after a minute's pause, at the end of all this

And all the rest of that day her conversation had an aristocratic
perfume hanging about it. One of the few books she had brought with
her into Mr. Gibson's house was bound in pink, and in it she studied
"Menteith, Duke of, Adolphus George," &c., &c., till she was fully up
in all the duchess's connections, and probable interests. Mr. Gibson
made his mouth up into a droll whistle when he came home at night,
and found himself in a Towers' atmosphere. Molly saw the shade
of annoyance through the drollery; she was beginning to see it
oftener than she liked, not that she reasoned upon it, or that she
consciously traced the annoyance to its source; but she could not
help feeling uneasy in herself when she knew her father was in the
least put out.

Of course a fly was ordered for Mrs. Gibson. In the early afternoon
she came home. If she had been disappointed in her interview with
the countess she never told her woe, nor revealed the fact that when
she first arrived at the Towers she had to wait for an hour in Lady
Cumnor's morning-room, uncheered by any companionship save that of
her old friend, Mrs. Bradley, till suddenly, Lady Harriet coming in,
she exclaimed, "Why, Clare! you dear woman! are you here all alone?
Does mamma know?" And, after a little more affectionate conversation,
she rushed to find her ladyship, who was perfectly aware of the fact,
but too deep in giving the duchess the benefit of her wisdom and
experience in trousseaux to be at all aware of the length of time
Mrs. Gibson had been passing in patient solitude. At lunch Mrs.
Gibson was secretly hurt by my lord's supposing it to be her dinner,
and calling out his urgent hospitality from the very bottom of the
table, giving as a reason for it, that she must remember it was her
dinner. In vain she piped out in her soft, high voice, "Oh, my lord!
I never eat meat in the middle of the day; I can hardly eat anything
at lunch." Her voice was lost, and the duchess might go away with the
idea that the Hollingford doctor's wife dined early; that is to say,
if her grace ever condescended to have any idea on the subject at
all; which presupposes that she was cognizant of the fact of there
being a doctor at Hollingford, and that he had a wife, and that his
wife was the pretty, faded, elegant-looking woman sending away her
plate of untasted food--food which she longed to eat, for she was
really desperately hungry after her drive and her solitude.

And then after lunch there did come a _tête-à-tête_ with Lady Cumnor,
which was conducted after this wise:--

"Well, Clare! I am really glad to see you. I once thought I should
never get back to the Towers, but here I am! There was such a clever
man at Bath--a Doctor Snape--he cured me at last--quite set me up. I
really think if ever I am ill again I shall send for him: it is such
a thing to find a really clever medical man. Oh, by the way, I always
forget you've married Mr. Gibson--of course he is very clever, and
all that. (The carriage to the door in ten minutes, Brown, and desire
Bradley to bring my things down.) What was I asking you? Oh! how do
you get on with the stepdaughter? She seemed to me to be a young lady
with a pretty stubborn will of her own. I put a letter for the post
down somewhere, and I cannot think where; do help me look for it,
there's a good woman. Just run to my room, and see if Brown can find
it, for it is of great consequence."

Off went Mrs. Gibson, rather unwillingly; for there were several
things she wanted to speak about, and she had not heard half of what
she had expected to learn of the family gossip. But all chance was
gone; for when she came back from her fruitless errand, Lady Cumnor
and the duchess were in full talk, Lady Cumnor with the missing
letter in her hand, which she was using something like a baton to
enforce her words.

"Every iota from Paris! Every i-o-ta!"

Lady Cumnor was too much of a lady not to apologize for useless
trouble, but they were nearly the last words she spoke to Mrs.
Gibson, for she had to go out and drive with the duchess; and the
brougham to take "Clare" (as she persisted in calling Mrs. Gibson)
back to Hollingford followed the carriage to the door. Lady Harriet
came away from her _entourage_ of young men and young ladies, all
prepared for some walking expedition, to wish Mrs. Gibson good-by.

"We shall see you at the ball," she said. "You'll be there with your
two girls, of course, and I must have a little talk with you there;
with all these visitors in the house, it has been impossible to see
anything of you to-day, you know."

Such were the facts, but rose-colour was the medium through which
they were seen by Mrs. Gibson's household listeners on her return.

"There are many visitors staying at the Towers--oh, yes! a great
many: the duchess and Lady Alice, and Mr. and Mrs. Grey, and Lord
Albert Monson and his sister, and my old friend Captain James of the
Blues--many more, in fact. But, of course, I preferred going to Lady
Cumnor's own room, where I could see her and Lady Harriet quietly,
and where we were not disturbed by the bustle downstairs. Of course
we were obliged to go down to lunch, and then I saw my old friends,
and renewed pleasant acquaintances. But I really could hardly get any
connected conversation with any one. Lord Cumnor seemed so delighted
to see me there again: though there were six or seven between us, he
was always interrupting with some civil or kind speech especially
addressed to me. And after lunch Lady Cumnor asked me all sorts of
questions about my new life with as much interest as if I had been
her daughter. To be sure, when the duchess came in we had to leave
off, and talk about the trousseau she is preparing for Lady Alice.
Lady Harriet made such a point of our meeting at the ball; she is
such a good, affectionate creature, is Lady Harriet!"

This last was said in a tone of meditative appreciation.

The afternoon of the day on which the ball was to take place, a
servant rode over from Hamley with two lovely nosegays, "with the
Mr. Hamleys' compliments to Miss Gibson and Miss Kirkpatrick."
Cynthia was the first to receive them. She came dancing into the
drawing-room, flourishing the flowers about in either hand, and
danced up to Molly, who was trying to settle to her reading, by way
of passing the time away till the evening came.

"Look, Molly, look! Here are bouquets for us! Long life to the

"Who are they from?" asked Molly, taking hold of one, and examining
it with tender delight at its beauty.

"Who from? Why, the two paragons of Hamleys, to be sure. Is it not a
pretty attention?"

"How kind of them!" said Molly.

"I'm sure it is Osborne who thought of it. He has been so much
abroad, where it is such a common compliment to send bouquets to
young ladies."

"I don't see why you should think it is Osborne's thought!" said
Molly, reddening a little. "Mr. Roger Hamley used to gather nosegays
constantly for his mother, and sometimes for me."

"Well, never mind whose thought it was, or who gathered them; we've
got the flowers, and that's enough. Molly, I'm sure these red flowers
will just match your coral necklace and bracelets," said Cynthia,
pulling out some camellias, then a rare kind of flower.

"Oh, please, don't!" exclaimed Molly. "Don't you see how carefully
the colours are arranged--they have taken such pains; please, don't."

"Nonsense!" said Cynthia, continuing to pull them out; "see, here are
quite enough. I'll make you a little coronet of them--sewn on black
velvet, which will never be seen--just as they do in France!"

"Oh, I am so sorry! It is quite spoilt," said Molly.

"Never mind! I'll take this spoilt bouquet; I can make it up again
just as prettily as ever; and you shall have this, which has never
been touched." Cynthia went on arranging the crimson buds and flowers
to her taste. Molly said nothing, but kept watching Cynthia's nimble
fingers tying up the wreath.

"There!" said Cynthia, at last, "when that is sewn on black velvet,
to keep the flowers from dying, you'll see how pretty it will look.
And there are enough red flowers in this untouched nosegay to carry
out the idea!"

"Thank you" (very slowly). "But sha'n't you mind having only the
wrecks of the other?"

"Not I; red flowers would not go with my pink dress."

"But--I daresay they arranged each nosegay so carefully!"

"Perhaps they did. But I never would allow sentiment to interfere
with my choice of colours; and pink does tie one down. Now you,
in white muslin, just tipped with crimson, like a daisy, may wear

Cynthia took the utmost pains in dressing Molly, leaving the clever
housemaid to her mother's exclusive service. Mrs. Gibson was more
anxious about her attire than was either of the girls; it had given
her occasion for deep thought and not a few sighs. Her deliberation
had ended in her wearing her pearl-grey satin wedding-gown, with a
profusion of lace, and white and coloured lilacs. Cynthia was the one
who took the affair most lightly. Molly looked upon the ceremony of
dressing for a first ball as rather a serious ceremony; certainly as
an anxious proceeding. Cynthia was almost as anxious as herself; only
Molly wanted her appearance to be correct and unnoticed; and Cynthia
was desirous of setting off Molly's rather peculiar charms--her
cream-coloured skin, her profusion of curly black hair, her beautiful
long-shaped eyes, with their shy, loving expression. Cynthia took
up so much time in dressing Molly to her mind, that she herself had
to perform her toilette in a hurry. Molly, ready dressed, sate on a
low chair in Cynthia's room, watching the pretty creature's rapid
movements, as she stood in her petticoat before the glass, doing up
her hair, with quick certainty of effect. At length, Molly heaved a
long sigh, and said,--

"I should like to be pretty!"

"Why, Molly," said Cynthia, turning round with an exclamation on the
tip of her tongue; but when she caught the innocent, wistful look on
Molly's face, she instinctively checked what she was going to say,
and, half-smiling to her own reflection in the glass, she said,--"The
French girls would tell you, to believe that you were pretty would
make you so."

Molly paused before replying,--

"I suppose they would mean that if you knew you were pretty, you
would never think about your looks; you would be so certain of being
liked, and that it is caring--"

"Listen! that's eight o'clock striking. Don't trouble yourself with
trying to interpret a French girl's meaning, but help me on with my
frock, there's a dear one."

The two girls were dressed, and were standing over the fire waiting
for the carriage in Cynthia's room, when Maria (Betty's successor)
came hurrying into the room. Maria had been officiating as maid to
Mrs. Gibson, but she had had intervals of leisure, in which she had
rushed upstairs, and, under the pretence of offering her services,
had seen the young ladies' dresses, and the sight of so many nice
clothes had sent her into a state of excitement which made her think
nothing of rushing upstairs for the twentieth time, with a nosegay
still more beautiful than the two previous ones.

"Here, Miss Kirkpatrick! No, it's not for you, miss!" as Molly, being
nearer to the door, offered to take it and pass it to Cynthia. "It's
for Miss Kirkpatrick; and there's a note for her besides!"

Cynthia said nothing, but took the note and the flowers. She held the
note so that Molly could read it at the same time she did.

   I send you some flowers; and you must allow me to claim
   the first dance after nine o'clock, before which time I
   fear I cannot arrive.--R. P.

"Who is it?" asked Molly.

Cynthia looked extremely irritated, indignant, perplexed--what was it
turned her cheek so pale, and made her eyes so full of fire?

"It is Mr. Preston," said she, in answer to Molly. "I shall not dance
with him; and here go his flowers--"

Into the very middle of the embers, which she immediately stirred
down upon the beautiful shrivelling petals as if she wished to
annihilate them as soon as possible. Her voice had never been raised;
it was as sweet as usual; nor, though her movements were prompt
enough, were they hasty or violent.

"Oh!" said Molly, "those beautiful flowers! We might have put them in

"No," said Cynthia; "it's best to destroy them. We don't want them;
and I can't bear to be reminded of that man."

"It was an impertinent familiar note," said Molly. "What right had
he to express himself in that way--no beginning, no end, and only
initials! Did you know him well when you were at Ashcombe, Cynthia?"

"Oh, don't let us think any more about him," replied Cynthia. "It is
quite enough to spoil any pleasure at the ball to think that he will
be there. But I hope I shall get engaged before he comes, so that I
can't dance with him--and don't you, either!"

"There! they are calling for us," exclaimed Molly, and with quick
step, yet careful of their draperies, they made their way downstairs
to the place where Mr. and Mrs. Gibson awaited them. Yes; Mr. Gibson
was going,--even if he had to leave them afterwards to attend to any
professional call. And Molly suddenly began to admire her father
as a handsome man, when she saw him now, in full evening attire.
Mrs. Gibson, too--how pretty she was! In short, it was true that no
better-looking a party than these four people entered the Hollingford
ball-room that evening.



At the present time there are few people at a public ball besides the
dancers and their chaperones, or relations in some degree interested
in them. But in the days when Molly and Cynthia were young--before
railroads were, and before their consequences, the excursion-trains,
which take every one up to London now-a-days, there to see their fill
of gay crowds and fine dresses--to go to an annual charity-ball, even
though all thought of dancing had passed by years ago, and without
any of the responsibilities of a chaperone, was a very allowable
and favourite piece of dissipation to all the kindly old maids who
thronged the country towns of England. They aired their old lace and
their best dresses; they saw the aristocratic magnates of the country
side; they gossipped with their coevals, and speculated on the
romances of the young around them in a curious yet friendly spirit.
The Miss Brownings would have thought themselves sadly defrauded
of the gayest event of the year, if anything had prevented their
attending the charity ball, and Miss Browning would have been
indignant, Miss Phoebe aggrieved, had they not been asked to
Ashcombe and Coreham, by friends at each place, who had, like them,
gone through the dancing-stage of life some five-and-twenty years
before, but who liked still to haunt the scenes of their former
enjoyment, and see a younger generation dance on "regardless of their
doom." They had come in one of the two sedan-chairs that yet lingered
in use at Hollingford; such a night as this brought a regular harvest
of gains to the two old men who, in what was called the "town's
livery," trotted backwards and forwards with their many loads of
ladies and finery. There were some postchaises, and some "flys," but
after mature deliberation Miss Browning had decided to keep to the
more comfortable custom of the sedan-chair; "which," as she said to
Miss Piper, one of her visitors, "came into the parlour, and got full
of the warm air, and nipped you up, and carried you tight and cosy
into another warm room, where you could walk out without having to
show your legs by going up steps, or down steps." Of course only one
could go at a time; but here again a little of Miss Browning's good
management arranged everything so very nicely, as Miss Hornblower
(their other visitor) remarked. She went first, and remained in the
warm cloak-room until her hostess followed; and then the two ladies
went arm-in-arm into the ball-room, finding out convenient seats
whence they could watch the arrivals and speak to their passing
friends, until Miss Phoebe and Miss Piper entered, and came to take
possession of the seats reserved for them by Miss Browning's care.
These two younger ladies came in, also arm-in-arm, but with a certain
timid flurry in look and movement very different from the composed
dignity of their seniors (by two or three years). When all four
were once more assembled together, they took breath, and began to

"Upon my word, I really do think this is a better room than our
Ashcombe Court-house!"

"And how prettily it is decorated!" piped out Miss Piper. "How well
the roses are made! But you all have such taste at Hollingford."

"There's Mrs. Dempster," cried Miss Hornblower; "she said she and her
two daughters were asked to stay at Mr. Sheepshanks'. Mr. Preston
was to be there, too; but I suppose they could not all come at once.
Look! and there is young Roscoe, our new doctor. I declare it seems
as if all Ashcombe were here. Mr. Roscoe! Mr. Roscoe! come here and
let me introduce you to Miss Browning, the friend we are staying
with. We think very highly of our young doctor, I can assure you,
Miss Browning."

Mr. Roscoe bowed, and simpered at hearing his own praises. But Miss
Browning had no notion of having any doctor praised, who had come to
settle on the very verge of Mr. Gibson's practice, so she said to
Miss Hornblower,--

"You must be glad, I am sure, to have somebody you can call in, if
you are in any sudden hurry, or for things that are too trifling
to trouble Mr. Gibson about; and I should think Mr. Roscoe would
feel it a great advantage to profit, as he will naturally have the
opportunity of doing, by witnessing Mr. Gibson's skill!"

Probably Mr. Roscoe would have felt more aggrieved by this speech
than he really was, if his attention had not been called off just
then by the entrance of the very Mr. Gibson who was being spoken of.
Almost before Miss Browning had ended her severe and depreciatory
remarks, he had asked his friend Miss Hornblower,--

"Who is that lovely girl in pink, just come in?"

"Why, that's Cynthia Kirkpatrick!" said Miss Hornblower, taking up a
ponderous gold eyeglass to make sure of her fact. "How she has grown!
To be sure, it is two or three years since she left Ashcombe--she was
very pretty then--people did say Mr. Preston admired her very much;
but she was so young!"

"Can you introduce me?" asked the impatient young surgeon. "I should
like to ask her to dance."

When Miss Hornblower returned from her greeting to her former
acquaintance, Mrs. Gibson, and had accomplished the introduction
which Mr. Roscoe had requested, she began her little confidences to
Miss Browning.

"Well, to be sure! How condescending we are! I remember the time when
Mrs. Kirkpatrick wore old black silks, and was thankful and civil
as became her place as a schoolmistress, and as having to earn her
bread. And now she is in a satin; and she speaks to me as if she
just could recollect who I was, if she tried very hard! It isn't so
long ago since Mrs. Dempster came to consult me as to whether Mrs.
Kirkpatrick would be offended, if she sent her a new breadth for
her lilac silk-gown, in place of one that had been spoilt by Mrs.
Dempster's servant spilling the coffee over it the night before; and
she took it and was thankful, for all she's dressed in pearl-grey
satin now! And she would have been glad enough to marry Mr. Preston
in those days."

"I thought you said he admired her daughter," put in Miss Browning to
her irritated friend.

"Well! perhaps I did, and perhaps it was so; I'm sure I can't tell;
he was a great deal at the house. Miss Dixon keeps a school in the
same house now, and I'm sure she does it a great deal better."

"The earl and the countess are very fond of Mrs. Gibson," said Miss
Browning. "I know, for Lady Harriet told us when she came to drink
tea with us last autumn; and they desired Mr. Preston to be very
attentive to her when she lived at Ashcombe."

"For goodness' sake don't go and repeat what I've been saying
about Mr. Preston and Mrs. Kirkpatrick to her ladyship. One may be
mistaken, and you know I only said 'people talked about it.'"

Miss Hornblower was evidently alarmed lest her gossip should be
repeated to the Lady Harriet, who appeared to be on such an intimate
footing with her Hollingford friends. Nor did Miss Browning dissipate
the illusion. Lady Harriet had drunk tea with them, and might do it
again; and, at any rate, the little fright she had put her friend
into was not a bad return for that praise of Mr. Roscoe, which had
offended Miss Browning's loyalty to Mr. Gibson.

Meanwhile Miss Piper and Miss Phoebe, who had not the character of
_esprit-forts_ to maintain, talked of the dresses of the people
present, beginning by complimenting each other.

"What a lovely turban you have got on, Miss Piper, if I may be
allowed to say so: so becoming to your complexion!"

"Do you think so?" said Miss Piper, with ill-concealed gratification;
it was something to have a "complexion" at forty-five. "I got it
at Brown's, at Somerton, for this very ball. I thought I must have
something to set off my gown, which isn't quite so new as it once
was; and I have no handsome jewellery like you"--looking with
admiring eyes at a large miniature set round with pearls, which
served as a shield to Miss Phoebe's breast.

"It is handsome," that lady replied. "It is a likeness of my dear
mother; Dorothy has got my father on. The miniatures were both taken
at the same time; and just about then my uncle died and left us each
a legacy of fifty pounds, which we agreed to spend on the setting of
our miniatures. But because they are so valuable Dorothy always keeps
them locked up with the best silver, and hides the box somewhere; she
never will tell me where, because she says I've such weak nerves, and
that if a burglar, with a loaded pistol at my head, were to ask me
where we kept our plate and jewels, I should be sure to tell him; and
she says, for her part, she would never think of revealing under any
circumstances. (I'm sure I hope she won't be tried.) But that's the
reason I don't wear it often; it's only the second time I've had it
on; and I can't even get at it, and look at it, which I should like
to do. I shouldn't have had it on to-night, but that Dorothy gave
it out to me, saying it was but a proper compliment to pay to the
Duchess of Menteith, who is to be here in all her diamonds."

"Dear-ah-me! Is she really! Do you know I never saw a duchess
before." And Miss Piper drew herself up and craned her neck, as if
resolved to "behave herself properly," as she had been taught to
do at boarding-school thirty years before, in the presence of "her
grace." By-and-by she said to Miss Phoebe, with a sudden jerk out
of position,--"Look, look! that's our Mr. Cholmley, the magistrate"
(he was the great man of Coreham), "and that's Mrs. Cholmley in red
satin, and Mr. George and Mr. Harry from Oxford, I do declare; and
Miss Cholmley, and pretty Miss Sophy. I should like to go and speak
to them, but then it's so formidable crossing a room without a
gentleman. And there is Coxe the butcher and his wife! Why all
Coreham seems to be here! And how Mrs. Coxe can afford such a gown I
can't make out for one, for I know Coxe had some difficulty in paying
for the last sheep he bought of my brother."

Just at this moment the band, consisting of two violins, a harp, and
an occasional clarionet, having finished their tuning, and brought
themselves as nearly into accord as was possible, struck up a brisk
country-dance, and partners quickly took their places. Mrs. Gibson
was secretly a little annoyed at Cynthia's being one of those
to stand up in this early dance, the performers in which were
principally the punctual plebeians of Hollingford, who, when a ball
was fixed to begin at eight, had no notion of being later, and so
losing part of the amusement for which they had paid their money. She
imparted some of her feelings to Molly, sitting by her, longing to
dance, and beating time to the spirited music with one of her pretty
little feet.

"Your dear papa is always so very punctual! To-night it seems almost
a pity, for we really are here before there is any one come that we

"Oh! I see so many people here that I know. There are Mr. and Mrs.
Smeaton, and that nice good-tempered daughter."

"Oh! booksellers and butchers if you will."

"Papa has found a great many friends to talk to."

"Patients, my dear--hardly friends. There are some nice-looking
people here," catching her eye on the Cholmleys; "but I daresay they
have driven over from the neighbourhood of Ashcombe or Coreham, and
have hardly calculated how soon they would get here. I wonder when
the Towers' party will come. Ah! there's Mr. Ashton, and Mr. Preston.
Come, the room is beginning to fill."

So it was, for this was to be a very good ball, people said; and a
large party from the Towers was coming, and a duchess in diamonds
among the number. Every great house in the district was expected to
be full of guests on these occasions; but at this early hour, the
townspeople had the floor almost entirely to themselves; the county
magnates came dropping in later; and chiefest among them all was the
lord-lieutenant from the Towers. But to-night they were unusually
late, and the aristocratic ozone being absent from the atmosphere,
there was a flatness about the dancing of all those who considered
themselves above the plebeian ranks of the tradespeople. They,
however, enjoyed themselves thoroughly, and sprang and bounded
till their eyes sparkled and their cheeks glowed with exercise and
excitement. Some of the more prudent parents, mindful of the next
day's duties, began to consider at what hour they ought to go home;
but with all there was an expressed or unexpressed curiosity to
see the duchess and her diamonds; for the Menteith diamonds were
famous in higher circles than that now assembled; and their fame
had trickled down to it through the medium of ladies'-maids and
housekeepers. Mr. Gibson had had to leave the ball-room for a time,
as he had anticipated, but he was to return to his wife as soon as
his duties were accomplished; and, in his absence, Mrs. Gibson kept
herself a little aloof from the Miss Brownings and those of her
acquaintance who would willingly have entered into conversation with
her, with the view of attaching herself to the skirts of the Towers'
party, when they should make their appearance. If Cynthia would not
be so very ready in engaging herself to every possible partner who
asked her to dance, there were sure to be young men staying at the
Towers who would be on the look-out for pretty girls: and who could
tell to what a dance might lead? Molly, too, though not so good a
dancer as Cynthia, and, from her timidity, less graceful and easy,
was becoming engaged pretty deeply; and, it must be confessed,
she was longing to dance every dance, no matter with whom. Even
she might not be available for the more aristocratic partners Mrs.
Gibson anticipated. She was feeling very much annoyed with the whole
proceedings of the evening when she was aware of some one standing by
her; and, turning a little to one side, she saw Mr. Preston keeping
guard, as it were, over the seats which Molly and Cynthia had just
quitted. He was looking so black that, if their eyes had not met,
Mrs. Gibson would have preferred not speaking to him; as it was, she
thought it unavoidable.

"The rooms are not well-lighted to-night, are they, Mr. Preston?"

"No," said he; "but who could light such dingy old paint as this,
loaded with evergreens, too, which always darken a room?"

"And the company, too! I always think that freshness and brilliancy
of dress go as far as anything to brighten up a room. Look what a set
of people are here: the greater part of the women are dressed in
dark silks, really only fit for a morning. The place will be quite
different, by-and-by, when the county families are in a little more

Mr. Preston made no reply. He had put his glass in his eye,
apparently for the purpose of watching the dancers. If its exact
direction could have been ascertained, it would have been found
that he was looking intently and angrily at a flying figure in pink
muslin: many a one was gazing at Cynthia with intentness besides
himself, but no one in anger. Mrs. Gibson was not so fine an observer
as to read all this; but here was a gentlemanly and handsome young
man, to whom she could prattle, instead of either joining herself on
to objectionable people, or sitting all forlorn until the Towers'
party came. So she went on with her small remarks.

"You are not dancing, Mr. Preston!"

"No! The partner I had engaged has made some mistake. I am waiting to
have an explanation with her."

Mrs. Gibson was silent. An uncomfortable tide of recollections
appeared to come over her; she, like Mr. Preston, watched Cynthia;
the dance was ended, and she was walking round the room in easy
unconcern as to what might await her. Presently her partner, Mr.
Harry Cholmley, brought her back to her seat. She took that vacant
next to Mr. Preston, leaving the one by her mother for Molly's
occupation. The latter returned a moment afterwards to her place.
Cynthia seemed entirely unconscious of Mr. Preston's neighbourhood.
Mrs. Gibson leaned forwards, and said to her daughter,--

"Your last partner was a gentleman, my dear. You are improving in
your selection. I really was ashamed of you before, figuring away
with that attorney's clerk. Molly, do you know whom you have been
dancing with? I have found out he is the Coreham bookseller."

"That accounts for his being so well up in all the books I've been
wanting to hear about," said Molly, eagerly, but with a spice of
malice in her mind. "He really was very pleasant, mamma," she added;
"and he looks quite a gentleman, and dances beautifully!"

"Very well. But remember if you go on this way you will have to shake
hands over the counter to-morrow morning with some of your partners
of to-night," said Mrs. Gibson, coldly.

"But I really don't know how to refuse when people are introduced
to me and ask me, and I am longing to dance. You know to-night it
is a charity ball, and papa said everybody danced with everybody,"
said Molly, in a pleading tone of voice; for she could not quite
thoroughly enjoy herself if she was out of harmony with any one.
What reply Mrs. Gibson would have made to this speech cannot now
be ascertained; for, before she could answer, Mr. Preston stepped
a little forwards, and said, in a tone which he meant to be icily
indifferent, but which trembled with anger,--

"If Miss Gibson finds any difficulty in refusing a partner, she has
only to apply to Miss Kirkpatrick for instructions."

Cynthia lifted up her beautiful eyes, and, fixing them on Mr.
Preston's face, said, very quietly, as if only stating a matter of

"You forget, I think, Mr. Preston: Miss Gibson implied that she
wished to dance with the person who asked her--that makes all the
difference. I can't instruct her how to act in that difficulty."

And to the rest of this little conversation, Cynthia appeared to lend
no ear; and she was almost directly claimed by her next partner. Mr.
Preston took the seat now left empty much to Molly's annoyance. At
first she feared lest he might be going to ask her to dance; but,
instead, he put out his hand for Cynthia's nosegay, which she had
left on rising, entrusted to Molly. It had suffered considerably from
the heat of the room, and was no longer full and fresh; not so much
so as Molly's, which had not, in the first instance, been pulled to
pieces in picking out the scarlet flowers which now adorned Molly's
hair, and which had since been cherished with more care. Enough,
however, remained of Cynthia's to show very distinctly that it was
not the one Mr. Preston had sent; and it was perhaps to convince
himself of this, that he rudely asked to examine it. But Molly,
faithful to what she imagined would be Cynthia's wish, refused to
allow him to touch it; she only held it a little nearer.

"Miss Kirkpatrick has not done me the honour of wearing the bouquet
I sent her, I see. She received it, I suppose, and my note?"

"Yes," said Molly, rather intimidated by the tone in which this was
said. "But we had already accepted these two nosegays."

Mrs. Gibson was just the person to come to the rescue with her
honeyed words on such an occasion as the present. She evidently was
rather afraid of Mr. Preston, and wished to keep at peace with him.

"Oh, yes, we were so sorry! Of course, I don't mean to say we could
be sorry for any one's kindness; but two such lovely nosegays had
been sent from Hamley Hall--you may see how beautiful from what Molly
holds in her hand--and they had come before yours, Mr. Preston."

"I should have felt honoured if you had accepted of mine, since
the young ladies were so well provided for. I was at some pains in
selecting the flowers at Green's; I think I may say it was rather
more recherché than that of Miss Kirkpatrick's, which Miss Gibson
holds so tenderly and securely in her hand."

"Oh, because Cynthia would take out the most effective flowers to put
in my hair!" exclaimed Molly, eagerly.

"Did she?" said Mr. Preston, with a certain accent of pleasure in his
voice, as though he were glad she set so little store by the nosegay;
and he walked off to stand behind Cynthia in the quadrille that was
being danced; and Molly saw him making her reply to him--against her
will, Molly was sure. But, somehow, his face and manner implied power
over her. She looked grave, deaf, indifferent, indignant, defiant;
but, after a half-whispered speech to Cynthia, at the conclusion
of the dance, she evidently threw him an impatient consent to what
he was asking, for he walked off with a disagreeable smile of
satisfaction on his handsome face.

All this time the murmurs were spreading at the lateness of the party
from the Towers, and person after person came up to Mrs. Gibson as
if she were the accredited authority as to the earl and countess's
plans. In one sense this was flattering; but then the acknowledgment
of common ignorance and wonder reduced her to the level of the
inquirers. Mrs. Goodenough felt herself particularly aggrieved; she
had had her spectacles on for the last hour and a half, in order to
be ready for the sight the very first minute any one from the Towers
appeared at the door.

"I had a headache," she complained, "and I should have sent my money,
and never stirred out o' doors to-night; for I've seen a many of
these here balls, and my lord and my lady too, when they were better
worth looking at nor they are now; but every one was talking of the
duchess, and the duchess and her diamonds, and I thought I shouldn't
like to be behindhand, and never ha' seen neither the duchess nor
her diamonds; so I'm here, and coal and candle-light wasting away
at home, for I told Sally to sit up for me; and, above everything,
I cannot abide waste. I took it from my mother, who was such a one
against waste as you never see now-a-days. She was a manager, if
ever there was a one; and brought up nine children on less than
any one else could do, I'll be bound. Why! she wouldn't let us be
extravagant--not even in the matter of colds. Whenever any on us had
got a pretty bad cold, she took the opportunity and cut our hair; for
she said, said she, it was of no use having two colds when one would
do--and cutting of our hair was sure to give us a cold. But, for all
that, I wish the duchess would come."

"Ah! but fancy what it is to me," sighed out Mrs. Gibson; "so long as
I have been without seeing the dear family--and seeing so little of
them the other day when I was at the Towers (for the duchess would
have my opinion on Lady Alice's trousseau, and kept asking me so many
questions it took up all the time)--and Lady Harriet's last words
were a happy anticipation of our meeting to-night. It's nearly twelve

Every one of any pretensions to gentility was painfully affected by
the absence of the family from the Towers; the very fiddlers seemed
unwilling to begin playing a dance that might be interrupted by the
entrance of the great folks. Miss Phoebe Browning had apologized
for them--Miss Browning had blamed them with calm dignity; it was
only the butchers and bakers and candlestick-makers who rather
enjoyed the absence of restraint, and were happy and hilarious.

At last, there was a rumbling, and a rushing, and a whispering, and
the music stopped; so the dancers were obliged to do so too; and in
came Lord Cumnor in his state dress, with a fat, middle-aged woman
on his arm; she was dressed almost like a girl--in a sprigged muslin,
with natural flowers in her hair, but not a vestige of a jewel or a
diamond. Yet it must be the duchess; but what was a duchess without
diamonds?--and in a dress which farmer Hudson's daughter might have
worn! Was it the duchess? Could it be the duchess? The little crowd
of inquirers around Mrs. Gibson thickened, to hear her confirm their
disappointing surmise. After the duchess came Lady Cumnor, looking
like Lady Macbeth in black velvet--a cloud upon her brow, made more
conspicuous by the lines of age rapidly gathering on her handsome
face; and Lady Harriet, and other ladies, amongst whom there was one
dressed so like the duchess as to suggest the idea of a sister rather
than a daughter, as far as dress went. There was Lord Hollingford,
plain in face, awkward in person, gentlemanly in manner; and
half-a-dozen younger men, Lord Albert Monson, Captain James, and
others of their age and standing, who came in looking anything if not
critical. This long-expected party swept up to the seats reserved
for them at the head of the room, apparently regardless of the
interruption they caused; for the dancers stood aside, and almost
dispersed back to their seats, and when "Money-musk" struck up again,
not half the former set of people stood up to finish the dance.

Lady Harriet, who was rather different to Miss Piper, and no more
minded crossing the room alone than if the lookers-on were so many
cabbages, spied the Gibson party pretty quickly out, and came across
to them.

"Here we are at last. How d'ye do, dear? Why, little one" (to Molly),
"how nice you're looking! Aren't we shamefully late?"

"Oh! it's only just past twelve," said Mrs. Gibson; "and I daresay
you dined very late."

"It wasn't that; it was that ill-mannered woman, who went to her own
room after we came out from dinner, and she and Lady Alice stayed
there invisible, till we thought they were putting on some splendid
attire--as they ought to have done--and at half-past ten, when mamma
sent up to them to say the carriages were at the door, the duchess
sent down for some beef-tea, and at last appeared _à l'enfant_ as
you see her. Mamma is so angry with her, and some of the others are
annoyed at not coming earlier, and one or two are giving themselves
airs about coming at all. Papa is the only one who is not affected by
it." Then turning to Molly Lady Harriet asked,--

"Have you been dancing much, Miss Gibson?"

"Yes; not every dance, but nearly all."

It was a simple question enough; but Lady Harriet's speaking at all
to Molly had become to Mrs. Gibson almost like shaking a red rag at
a bull; it was the one thing sure to put her out of temper. But she
would not have shown this to Lady Harriet for the world; only she
contrived to baffle any endeavours at further conversation between
the two, by placing herself betwixt Lady Harriet and Molly, whom the
former asked to sit down in the absent Cynthia's room.

"I won't go back to those people, I am so mad with them; and,
besides, I hardly saw you the other day, and I must have some gossip
with you." So she sat down by Mrs. Gibson, and as Mrs. Goodenough
afterwards expressed it, "looked like anybody else." Mrs. Goodenough
said this to excuse herself for a little misadventure she fell into.
She had taken a deliberate survey of the grandees at the upper end of
the room, spectacles on nose, and had inquired, in no very measured
voice, who everybody was, from Mr. Sheepshanks, my lord's agent, and
her very good neighbour, who in vain tried to check her loud ardour
for information by replying to her in whispers. But she was rather
deaf as well as blind, so his low tones only brought upon him fresh
inquiries. Now, satisfied as far as she could be, and on her way
to departure, and the extinguishing of fire and candle-light, she
stopped opposite to Mrs. Gibson, and thus addressed her by way of
renewal of their former subject of conversation:--

"Such a shabby thing for a duchess I never saw; not a bit of a
diamond near her! They're none of 'em worth looking at except the
countess, and she's always a personable woman, and not so lusty
as she was. But they're not worth waiting up for till this time o'

There was a moment's pause. Then Lady Harriet put her hand out, and

"You don't remember me, but I know you from having seen you at the
Towers. Lady Cumnor is a good deal thinner than she was, but we hope
her health is better for it."

"It's Lady Harriet," said Mrs. Gibson to Mrs. Goodenough, in
reproachful dismay.

"Deary me, your ladyship! I hope I've given no offence! But, you
see--that is to say, your ladyship sees, that it's late hours for
such folks as me, and I only stayed out of my bed to see the duchess,
and I thought she'd come in diamonds and a coronet; and it puts one
out at my age, to be disappointed in the only chance I'm like to have
of so fine a sight."

"I'm put out too," said Lady Harriet. "I wanted to have come early,
and here we are as late as this. I'm so cross and ill-tempered, I
should be glad to hide myself in bed as soon as you will do."

She said this so sweetly that Mrs. Goodenough relaxed into a smile,
and her crabbedness into a compliment.

"I don't believe as ever your ladyship can be cross and ill-tempered
with that pretty face. I'm an old woman, so you must let me say so."
Lady Harriet stood up, and made a low curtsey. Then holding out her
hand, she said,--

"I won't keep you up any longer; but I'll promise one thing in return
for your pretty speech: if ever I am a duchess, I'll come and show
myself to you in all my robes and gewgaws. Good night, madam!"

"There! I knew how it would be!" said she, not resuming her seat.
"And on the eve of a county election too."

"Oh! you must not take old Mrs. Goodenough as a specimen, dear Lady
Harriet. She is always a grumbler! I am sure no one else would
complain of your all being as late as you liked," said Mrs. Gibson.

"What do you say, Molly?" said Lady Harriet, suddenly turning her
eyes on Molly's face. "Don't you think we've lost some of our
popularity,--which at this time means votes--by coming so late. Come,
answer me! you used to be a famous little truth-teller."

"I don't know about popularity or votes," said Molly, rather
unwillingly. "But I think many people were sorry you did not come
sooner; and isn't that rather a proof of popularity?" she added.

"That's a very neat and diplomatic answer," said Lady Harriet,
smiling, and tapping Molly's cheek with her fan.

"Molly knows nothing about it," said Mrs. Gibson, a little off
her guard. "It would be very impertinent if she or any one else
questioned Lady Cumnor's perfect right to come when she chose."

"Well, all I know is, I must go back to mamma now; but I shall make
another raid into these regions by-and-by, and you must keep a place
for me. Ah! there are--Miss Brownings; you see I don't forget my
lesson, Miss Gibson."

"Molly, I cannot have you speaking so to Lady Harriet," said Mrs.
Gibson, as soon as she was left alone with her stepdaughter. "You
would never have known her at all if it had not been for me, and
don't be always putting yourself into our conversation."

"But I must speak if she asks me questions," pleaded Molly.

"Well! if you must, you must, I acknowledge. I'm candid about that at
any rate. But there's no need for you to set up to have an opinion at
your age."

"I don't know how to help it," said Molly.

"She's such a whimsical person; look there, if she's not talking to
Miss Phoebe; and Miss Phoebe is so weak she'll be easily led away
into fancying she is hand and glove with Lady Harriet. If there is
one thing I hate more than another, it is the trying to make out an
intimacy with great people."

Molly felt innocent enough, so she offered no justification of
herself, and made no reply. Indeed she was more occupied in watching
Cynthia. She could not understand the change that seemed to have come
over her. She was dancing, it was true, with the same lightness and
grace as before, but the smooth bounding motion, as of a feather
blown onwards by the wind, was gone. She was conversing with her
partner, but without the soft animation that usually shone out upon
her countenance. And when she was brought back to her seat Molly
noticed her changed colour, and her dreamily abstracted eyes.

"What is the matter, Cynthia?" asked she, in a very low voice.

"Nothing," said Cynthia, suddenly looking up, and in an accent of
what, in her, was sharpness. "Why should there be?"

"I don't know; but you look different to what you did--tired or

"There's nothing the matter, or, if there is, don't talk about it.
It's all your fancy."

This was a rather contradictory speech, to be interpreted by
intuition rather than by logic. Molly understood that Cynthia wished
for quietness and silence. But what was her surprise, after the
speeches that had passed before, and the implication of Cynthia's
whole manner to Mr. Preston, to see him come up to her, and, without
a word, offer his arm and lead her away to dance. It appeared to
strike Mrs. Gibson as something remarkable; for, forgetting her late
passage at arms with Molly, she asked, wonderingly, as if almost
distrusting the evidence of her senses,--

"Is Cynthia going to dance with Mr. Preston?"

Molly had scarcely time to answer before she herself was led off by
her partner. She could hardly attend to him or to the figures of the
quadrille for watching for Cynthia among the moving forms.

Once she caught a glimpse of her standing still--downcast--listening
to Mr. Preston's eager speech. Again she was walking languidly among
the dancers, almost as if she took no notice of those around her.
When she and Molly joined each other again, the shade on Cynthia's
face had deepened to gloom. But, at the same time, if a physiognomist
had studied her expression, he would have read in it defiance and
anger, and perhaps also a little perplexity. While this quadrille had
been going on, Lady Harriet had been speaking to her brother.

"Hollingford!" she said, laying her hand on his arm, and drawing him
a little apart from the well-born crowd amid which he stood, silent
and abstracted, "you don't know how these good people here have been
hurt and disappointed with our being so late, and with the duchess's
ridiculous simplicity of dress."

"Why should they mind it?" asked he, taking advantage of her being
out of breath with eagerness.

"Oh, don't be so wise and stupid; don't you see, we're a show and a
spectacle--it's like having a pantomime with harlequin and columbine
in plain clothes."

"I don't understand how--" he began.

"Then take it upon trust. They really are a little disappointed,
whether they are logical or not in being so, and we must try and make
it up to them; for one thing, because I can't bear our vassals to
look dissatisfied and disloyal, and then there's the election in

"I really would as soon be out of the House as in it."

"Nonsense; it would grieve papa beyond measure--but there's no
time to talk about that now. You must go and dance with some of
the townspeople, and I'll ask Sheepshanks to introduce me to a
respectable young farmer. Can't you get Captain James to make himself
useful? There he goes with Lady Alice! If I don't get him introduced
to the ugliest tailor's daughter I can find for the next dance!" She
put her arm in her brother's as she spoke, as if to lead him to some
partner. He resisted, however--resisted piteously.

"Pray don't, Harriet. You know I can't dance. I hate it; I always
did. I don't know how to get through a quadrille."

"It's a country dance!" said she, resolutely.

"It's all the same. And what shall I say to my partner? I haven't
a notion: I shall have no subject in common. Speak of being
disappointed, they'll be ten times more disappointed when they find I
can neither dance nor talk!"

"I'll be merciful; don't be so cowardly. In their eyes a lord may
dance like a bear--as some lords not very far from me are--if he
likes, and they'll take it for grace. And you shall begin with Molly
Gibson, your friend the doctor's daughter. She's a good, simple,
intelligent little girl, which you'll think a great deal more of, I
suppose, than of the frivolous fact of her being very pretty. Clare!
will you allow me to introduce my brother to Miss Gibson? he hopes to
engage her for this dance. Lord Hollingford, Miss Gibson!"

Poor Lord Hollingford! there was nothing for it but for him to follow
his sister's very explicit lead, and Molly and he walked off to their
places, each heartily wishing their dance together well over. Lady
Harriet flew off to Mr. Sheepshanks to secure her respectable young
farmer, and Mrs. Gibson remained alone, wishing that Lady Cumnor
would send one of her attendant gentlemen for her. It would be so
much more agreeable to be sitting even at the fag-end of nobility
than here on a bench with everybody; hoping that everybody would see
Molly dancing away with a lord, yet vexed that the chance had so
befallen that Molly instead of Cynthia was the young lady singled
out; wondering if simplicity of dress was now become the highest
fashion, and pondering on the possibility of cleverly inducing
Lady Harriet to introduce Lord Albert Monson to her own beautiful
daughter, Cynthia.

Molly found Lord Hollingford, the wise and learned Lord Hollingford,
strangely stupid in understanding the mystery of "Cross hands and
back again, down the middle and up again." He was constantly getting
hold of the wrong hands, and as constantly stopping when he had
returned to his place, quite unaware that the duties of society and
the laws of the dance required that he should go on capering till
he had arrived at the bottom of the room. He perceived that he had
performed his part very badly, and apologized to Molly when once they
had arrived at that haven of comparative peace; and he expressed his
regret so simply and heartily that she felt at her ease with him at
once, especially when he confided to her his reluctance at having to
dance at all, and his only doing it under his sister's compulsion.
To Molly he was an elderly widower, almost as old as her father,
and by-and-by they got into very pleasant conversation. She learnt
from him that Roger Hamley had just been publishing a paper in some
scientific periodical, which had excited considerable attention,
as it was intended to confute some theory of a great French
physiologist, and Roger's article proved the writer to be possessed
of a most unusual amount of knowledge on the subject. This piece
of news was of great interest to Molly; and, in her questions, she
herself evinced so much intelligence, and a mind so well prepared for
the reception of information, that Lord Hollingford at any rate would
have felt his quest of popularity a very easy affair indeed, if he
might have gone on talking quietly to Molly during the rest of the
evening. When he took her back to her place, he found Mr. Gibson
there, and fell into talk with him, until Lady Harriet once more came
to stir him up to his duties. Before very long, however, he returned
to Mr. Gibson's side, and began telling him of this paper of Roger
Hamley's, of which Mr. Gibson had not yet heard. In the midst
of their conversation, as they stood close by Mrs. Gibson, Lord
Hollingford saw Molly in the distance, and interrupted himself to
say, "What a charming little lady that daughter of yours is! Most
girls of her age are so difficult to talk to; but she is intelligent
and full of interest in all sorts of sensible things; well read,
too--she was up in _Le Règne Animal_--and very pretty!"

Mr. Gibson bowed, much pleased at such a compliment from such a man,
were he lord or not. It is very likely that if Molly had been a
stupid listener, Lord Hollingford would not have discovered her
beauty; or the converse might be asserted--if she had not been young
and pretty, he would not have exerted himself to talk on scientific
subjects in a manner which she could understand. But in whatever way
Molly had won his approbation and admiration, there was no doubt that
she had earned it somehow. And, when she next returned to her place,
Mrs. Gibson greeted her with soft words and a gracious smile; for
it does not require much reasoning power to discover, that if it
is a very fine thing to be mother-in-law to a very magnificent
three-tailed bashaw, it presupposes that the wife who makes the
connection between the two parties is in harmony with her mother. And
so far had Mrs. Gibson's thoughts wandered into futurity. She only
wished that the happy chance had fallen to Cynthia's instead of to
Molly's lot. But Molly was a docile, sweet creature, very pretty,
and remarkably intelligent, as my lord had said. It was a pity that
Cynthia preferred making millinery to reading; but perhaps that could
be rectified. And there was Lord Cumnor coming to speak to her, and
Lady Cumnor nodding to her, and indicating a place by her side.

It was not an unsatisfactory ball upon the whole to Mrs. Gibson,
although she paid the usual penalty for sitting up beyond her
ordinary hour in perpetual glare and movement. The next morning
she awoke irritable and fatigued; and a little of the same feeling
oppressed both Cynthia and Molly. The former was lounging in the
window-seat, holding a three-days'-old newspaper in her hand, which
she was making a pretence of reading, when she was startled by her
mother's saying,--

"Cynthia! can't you take up a book and improve yourself? I am sure
your conversation will never be worth listening to, unless you read
something better than newspapers. Why don't you keep up your French?
There was some French book that Molly was reading--_Le Règne Animal_,
I think."

"No! I never read it!" said Molly, blushing. "Mr. Roger Hamley
sometimes read pieces out of it when I was first at the Hall, and
told me what it was about."

"Oh! well. Then I suppose I was mistaken. But it comes to all the
same thing. Cynthia, you really must learn to settle yourself to some
improving reading every morning."

Rather to Molly's surprise, Cynthia did not reply a word; but
dutifully went and brought down from among her Boulogne school-books,
_Le Siècle de Louis XIV_. But after a while, Molly saw that this
"improving reading" was just as much a mere excuse for Cynthia's
thinking her own thoughts as the newspaper had been.



[Illustration (untitled)]

Things were not going on any better at Hamley Hall. Nothing had
occurred to change the state of dissatisfied feeling into which the
Squire and his eldest son had respectively fallen; and the long
continuance merely of dissatisfaction is sure of itself to deepen
the feeling. Roger did all in his power to bring the father and son
together; but sometimes wondered if it would not have been better to
leave them alone; for they were falling into the habit of each making
him their confidant, and so defining emotions and opinions which
would have had less distinctness if they had been unexpressed. There
was little enough relief in the daily life at the Hall to help them
all to shake off the gloom; and it even told on the health of both
the Squire and Osborne. The Squire became thinner, his skin as well
as his clothes began to hang loose about him, and the freshness
of his colour turned to red streaks, till his cheeks looked like
Eardiston pippins, instead of resembling "a Katherine pear on the
side that's next the sun." Roger thought that his father sate indoors
and smoked in his study more than was good for him, but it had
become difficult to get him far afield; he was too much afraid of
coming across some sign of the discontinued drainage works, or being
irritated afresh by the sight of his depreciated timber. Osborne was
wrapt up in the idea of arranging his poems for the press, and so
working out his wish for independence. What with daily writing to
his wife--taking his letters himself to a distant post-office, and
receiving hers there--touching up his sonnets, &c., with fastidious
care--and occasionally giving himself the pleasure of a visit to the
Gibsons, and enjoying the society of the two pleasant girls there,
he found little time for being with his father. Indeed, Osborne was
too self-indulgent or "sensitive," as he termed it, to bear well
with the Squire's gloomy fits, or too frequent querulousness. The
consciousness of his secret, too, made Osborne uncomfortable in his
father's presence. It was very well for all parties that Roger was
not "sensitive," for, if he had been, there were times when it would
have been hard to bear little spurts of domestic tyranny, by which
his father strove to assert his power over both his sons. One of
these occurred very soon after the night of the Hollingford

Roger had induced his father to come out with him; and the Squire
had, on his son's suggestion, taken with him his long unused spud.
The two had wandered far afield; perhaps the elder man had found the
unwonted length of exercise too much for him; for, as he approached
the house, on his return, he became what nurses call in children
"fractious," and ready to turn on his companion for every remark he
made. Roger understood the case by instinct, as it were, and bore it
all with his usual sweetness of temper. They entered the house by
the front door; it lay straight on their line of march. On the old
cracked yellow-marble slab, there lay a card with Lord Hollingford's
name on it, which Robinson, evidently on the watch for their return,
hastened out of his pantry to deliver to Roger.

"His lordship was very sorry not to see you, Mr. Roger, and his
lordship left a note for you. Mr. Osborne took it, I think, when
he passed through. I asked his lordship if he would like to see Mr.
Osborne, who was indoors, as I thought. But his lordship said he was
pressed for time, and told me to make his excuses."

"Didn't he ask for me?" growled the Squire.

"No, sir; I can't say as his lordship did. He would never have
thought of Mr. Osborne, sir, if I hadn't named him. It was Mr. Roger
he seemed so keen after."

"Very odd," said the Squire. Roger said nothing, although he
naturally felt some curiosity. He went into the drawing-room, not
quite aware that his father was following him. Osborne sate at a
table near the fire, pen in hand, looking over one of his poems, and
dotting the _i_'s, crossing the _t_'s, and now and then pausing over
the alteration of a word.

"Oh, Roger!" he said, as his brother came in, "here's been Lord
Hollingford wanting to see you."

"I know," replied Roger.

"And he's left a note for you. Robinson tried to persuade him it was
for my father, so he's added a 'junior' (Roger Hamley, Esq., junior)
in pencil." The Squire was in the room by this time, and what he had
overheard rubbed him up still more the wrong way. Roger took his
unopened note and read it.

"What does he say?" asked the Squire.

Roger handed him the note. It contained an invitation to dinner to
meet M. Geoffroi St. H----, whose views on certain subjects Roger had
been advocating in the article Lord Hollingford had spoken about to
Molly, when he danced with her at the Hollingford ball. M. Geoffroi
St. H---- was in England now, and was expected to pay a visit at
the Towers in the course of the following week. He had expressed a
wish to meet the author of the paper which had already attracted the
attention of the French comparative anatomists; and Lord Hollingford
added a few words as to his own desire to make the acquaintance of a
neighbour whose tastes were so similar to his own; and then followed
a civil message from Lord and Lady Cumnor.

Lord Hollingford's hand was cramped and rather illegible. The squire
could not read it all at once, and was enough put out to decline any
assistance in deciphering it. At last he made it out.

"So my lord lieutenant is taking some notice of the Hamleys at last.
The election is coming on, is it? But I can tell him we're not to be
got so easily. I suppose this trap is set for you, Osborne? What's
this you've been writing that the French mounseer is so taken with?"

"It is not me, sir!" said Osborne. "Both note and call are for

"I don't understand it," said the Squire. "These Whig fellows have
never done their duty by me; not that I want it of them. The Duke
of Debenham used to pay the Hamleys a respect due to 'em--the
oldest landowners in the county--but since he died, and this
shabby Whig lord has succeeded him, I've never dined at the lord
lieutenant's--no, not once."

"But I think, sir, I've heard you say Lord Cumnor used to invite
you,--only you did not choose to go," said Roger.

"Yes. What d'ye mean by that? Do you suppose I was going to desert
the principles of my family, and curry favour with the Whigs? No!
leave that to them. They can ask the heir of the Hamleys fast enough
when a county election is coming on."

"I tell you, sir," said Osborne, in the irritable tone he sometimes
used when his father was particularly unreasonable, "it is not me
Lord Hollingford is inviting; it is Roger. Roger is making himself
known for what he is, a first-rate fellow," continued Osborne--a
sting of self-reproach mingling with his generous pride in his
brother--"and he's getting himself a name; he's been writing
about these new French theories and discoveries, and this foreign
_savant_ very naturally wants to make his acquaintance, and so Lord
Hollingford asks him to dine. It's as clear as can be," lowering his
tone, and addressing himself to Roger; "it has nothing to do with
politics, if my father would but see it."

Of course the Squire heard this little aside with the unlucky
uncertainty of hearing which is a characteristic of the beginning
of deafness; and its effect on him was perceptible in the increased
acrimony of his next speech.

"You young men think you know everything. I tell you it's a palpable
Whig trick. And what business has Roger--if it is Roger the man
wants--to go currying favour with the French? In my day we were
content to hate 'em and to lick 'em. But it's just like your conceit,
Osborne, setting yourself up to say it's your younger brother they're
asking, and not you; I tell you it's you. They think the eldest son
was sure to be called after his father, Roger--Roger Hamley, junior.
It's as plain as a pike-staff. They know they can't catch me with
chaff, but they've got up this French dodge. What business had you to
go writing about the French, Roger? I should have thought you were
too sensible to take any notice of their fancies and theories; but if
it is you they've asked, I'll not have you going and meeting these
foreigners at a Whig house. They ought to have asked Osborne. He's
the representative of the Hamleys, if I'm not; and they can't get me,
let 'em try ever so. Besides, Osborne has got a bit of the mounseer
about him, which he caught with being so fond of going off to the
Continent, instead of coming back to his good old English home."

He went on repeating much of what he had said before, till he
left the room. Osborne had kept on replying to his unreasonable
grumblings, which had only added to his anger; and as soon as the
Squire was fairly gone, Osborne turned to Roger, and said,--

"Of course you'll go, Roger? ten to one he'll be in another mind

"No," said Roger, bluntly enough--for he was extremely disappointed;
"I won't run the chance of vexing him. I shall refuse."

"Don't be such a fool!" exclaimed Osborne. "Really, my father is too
unreasonable. You heard how he kept contradicting himself; and such a
man as you to be kept under like a child by--"

"Don't let us talk any more about it, Osborne," said Roger, writing
away fast. When the note was written, and sent off, he came and put
his hand caressingly on Osborne's shoulder, as he sate pretending
to read, but in reality vexed with both his father and his brother,
though on very different grounds.

"How go the poems, old fellow? I hope they're nearly ready to bring

"No, they're not; and if it weren't for the money, I shouldn't care
if they were never published. What's the use of fame, if one mayn't
reap the fruits of it?"

"Come, now, we'll have no more of that; let's talk about the money.
I shall be going up for my Fellowship examination next week, and then
we'll have a purse in common, for they'll never think of not giving
me a Fellowship now I'm senior wrangler. I'm short enough myself at
present, and I don't like to bother my father; but when I'm Fellow,
you shall take me down to Winchester, and introduce me to the little

"It will be a month next Monday since I left her," said Osborne,
laying down his papers and gazing into the fire, as if by so doing he
could call up her image. "In her letter this morning she bids me give
you such a pretty message. It won't bear translating into English;
you must read it for yourself," continued he, pointing out a line or
two in a letter he drew from his pocket.

Roger suspected that one or two of the words were wrongly spelt;
but their purport was so gentle and loving, and had such a touch of
simple, respectful gratitude in them, that he could not help being
drawn afresh to the little unseen sister-in-law, whose acquaintance
Osborne had made by helping her to look for some missing article of
the children's, whom she was taking for their daily walk in Hyde
Park. For Mrs. Osborne Hamley had been nothing more than a French
_bonne_, very pretty, very graceful, and very much tyrannized over
by the rough little boys and girls she had in charge. She was a
little orphan girl, who had charmed the heads of a travelling English
family, as she had brought madame some articles of lingerie at an
hotel; and she had been hastily engaged by them as _bonne_ to their
children, partly as a pet and plaything herself, partly because it
would be so good for the children to learn French from a native
(of Alsace!). By-and-by her mistress ceased to take any particular
notice of Aimée in the bustle of London and London gaiety; but though
feeling more and more forlorn in a strange land every day, the French
girl strove hard to do her duty. One touch of kindness, however, was
enough to set the fountain gushing; and she and Osborne naturally
fell into an ideal state of love, to be rudely disturbed by the
indignation of the mother, when accident discovered to her the
attachment existing between her children's _bonne_ and a young man
of an entirely different class. Aimée answered truly to all her
mistress's questions; but no worldly wisdom, nor any lesson to be
learnt from another's experience, could in the least disturb her
entire faith in her lover. Perhaps Mrs. Townshend did no more than
her duty in immediately sending Aimée back to Metz, where she had
first met with her, and where such relations as remained to the girl
might be supposed to be residing. But, altogether, she knew so little
of the kind of people or life to which she was consigning her deposed
protégée that Osborne, after listening with impatient indignation to
the lecture which Mrs. Townshend gave him when he insisted on seeing
her in order to learn what had become of his love, that the young man
set off straight for Metz in hot haste, and did not let the grass
grow under his feet until he had made Aimée his wife. All this had
occurred the previous autumn, and Roger did not know of the step his
brother had taken until it was irrevocable. Then came the mother's
death, which, besides the simplicity of its own overwhelming sorrow,
brought with it the loss of the kind, tender mediatrix, who could
always soften and turn his father's heart. It is doubtful, however,
if even she could have succeeded in this, for the Squire looked high,
and over high, for the wife of his heir; he detested all foreigners,
and overmore held all Roman Catholics in dread and abomination
something akin to our ancestors' hatred of witchcraft. All these
prejudices were strengthened by his grief. Argument would always have
glanced harmless away off his shield of utter unreason; but a loving
impulse, in a happy moment, might have softened his heart to what he
most detested in the former days. But the happy moments came not now,
and the loving impulses were trodden down by the bitterness of his
frequent remorse, not less than by his growing irritability; so Aimée
lived solitary in the little cottage near Winchester in which Osborne
had installed her when she first came to England as his wife, and
in the dainty furnishing of which he had run himself so deeply into
debt. For Osborne consulted his own fastidious taste in his purchases
rather than her simple childlike wishes and wants, and looked upon
the little Frenchwoman rather as the future mistress of Hamley Hall
than as the wife of a man who was wholly dependent on others at
present. He had chosen a southern county as being far removed from
those midland shires where the name of Hamley of Hamley was well and
widely known; for he did not wish his wife to assume, if only for a
time, a name which was not justly and legally her own. In all these
arrangements he had willingly striven to do his full duty by her; and
she repaid him with passionate devotion and admiring reverence. If
his vanity had met with a check, or his worthy desires for college
honours had been disappointed, he knew where to go for a comforter;
one who poured out praise till her words were choked in her throat by
the rapidity of her thoughts, and who poured out the small vials of
her indignation on every one who did not acknowledge and bow down to
her husband's merits. If she ever wished to go to the château--that
was his home--and to be introduced to his family, Aimée never hinted
a word of it to him. Only she did yearn, and she did plead, for a
little more of her husband's company; and the good reasons which had
convinced her of the necessity of his being so much away when he was
present to urge them, failed in their efficacy when she tried to
reproduce them to herself in his absence.

The afternoon of the day on which Lord Hollingford called Roger
was going upstairs, three steps at a time, when, at a turn on the
landing, he encountered his father. It was the first time he had seen
him since their conversation about the Towers' invitation to dinner.
The Squire stopped his son by standing right in the middle of the

"Thou'rt going to meet the mounseer, my lad?" said he, half as
affirmation, half as question.

"No, sir; I sent off James almost immediately with a note declining
it. I don't care about it--that's to say, not to signify."

"Why did you take me up so sharp, Roger?" said his father pettishly.
"You all take me up so hastily now-a-days. I think it's hard when a
man mustn't be allowed a bit of crossness when he's tired and heavy
at heart--that I do."

"But, father, I should never like to go to a house where they had
slighted you."

"Nay, nay, lad," said the Squire, brightening up a little; "I think
I slighted them. They asked me to dinner, after my lord was made
lieutenant, time after time, but I never would go near 'em. I call
that my slighting them."

And no more was said at the time; but the next day the Squire again
stopped Roger.

"I've been making Jem try on his livery-coat that he hasn't worn this
three or four years,--he's got too stout for it now."

"Well, he needn't wear it, need he? and Morgan's lad will be glad
enough of it,--he's sadly in want of clothes."

"Ay, ay; but who's to go with you when you call at the Towers? It's
but polite to call after Lord What's-his-name has taken the trouble
to come here; and I shouldn't like you to go without a groom."

"My dear father! I shouldn't know what to do with a man riding at my
back. I can find my way to the stable-yard for myself, or there'll be
some man about to take my horse. Don't trouble yourself about that."

"Well, you're not Osborne, to be sure. Perhaps it won't strike 'em
as strange for you. But you must look up, and hold your own, and
remember you're one of the Hamleys, who've been on the same land for
hundreds of years, while they're but trumpery Whig folk who only came
into the county in Queen Anne's time."



For some days after the ball Cynthia seemed languid, and was very
silent. Molly, who had promised herself fully as much enjoyment in
talking over the past gaiety with Cynthia as in the evening itself,
was disappointed when she found that all conversation on the subject
was rather evaded than encouraged. Mrs. Gibson, it is true, was ready
to go over the ground as many times as any one liked; but her words
were always like ready-made clothes, and never fitted individual
thoughts. Anybody might have used them, and, with a change of proper
names, they might have served to describe any ball. She repeatedly
used the same language in speaking about it, till Molly knew the
sentences and their sequence even to irritation.

"Ah! Mr. Osborne, you should have been there! I said to myself many a
time how you really should have been there--you and your brother, of

"I thought of you very often during the evening!"

"Did you? Now that I call very kind of you. Cynthia, darling! Do you
hear what Mr. Osborne Hamley was saying?" as Cynthia came into the
room just then. "He thought of us all on the evening of the ball."

"He did better than merely remember us then," said Cynthia, with her
soft slow smile. "We owe him thanks for those beautiful flowers,

"Oh!" said Osborne, "you must not thank me exclusively. I believe it
was my thought, but Roger took all the trouble of it."

"I consider the thought as everything," said Mrs. Gibson. "Thought is
spiritual, while action is merely material."

This fine sentence took the speaker herself by surprise; and in such
conversation as was then going on, it is not necessary to accurately
define the meaning of everything that is said.

"I'm afraid the flowers were too late to be of much use, though,"
continued Osborne. "I met Preston the next morning, and of course we
talked about the ball. I was sorry to find he had been beforehand
with us."

"He only sent one nosegay, and that was for Cynthia," said Molly,
looking up from her work. "And it did not come till after we had
received the flowers from Hamley." Molly caught a sight of Cynthia's
face before she bent down again to her sewing. It was scarlet in
colour, and there was a flash of anger in her eyes. Both she and her
mother hastened to speak as soon as Molly had finished, but Cynthia's
voice was choked with passion, and Mrs. Gibson had the word.

"Mr. Preston's bouquet was just one of those formal affairs any one
can buy at a nursery-garden, which always strike me as having no
sentiment in them. I would far rather have two or three lilies of the
valley gathered for me by a person I like, than the most expensive
bouquet that could be bought!"

"Mr. Preston had no business to speak as if he had forestalled you,"
said Cynthia. "It came just as we were ready to go, and I put it into
the fire directly."

"Cynthia, my dear love!" said Mrs. Gibson (who had never heard of the
fate of the flowers until now), "what an idea of yourself you will
give to Mr. Osborne Hamley; but, to be sure, I can quite understand
it. You inherit my feeling--my prejudice--sentimental I grant,
against bought flowers."

Cynthia was silent for a moment; then she said, "I used some of
your flowers, Mr. Hamley, to dress Molly's hair. It was a great
temptation, for the colour so exactly matched her coral ornaments;
but I believe she thought it treacherous to disturb the arrangement,
so I ought to take all the blame on myself."

"The arrangement was my brother's, as I told you; but I am sure he
would have preferred seeing them in Miss Gibson's hair rather than
in the blazing fire. Mr. Preston comes far the worst off." Osborne
was rather amused at the whole affair, and would have liked to probe
Cynthia's motives a little farther. He did not hear Molly saying in
as soft a voice as if she were talking to herself, "I wore mine just
as they were sent," for Mrs. Gibson came in with a total change of

"Speaking of lilies of the valley, is it true that they grow wild
in Hurst Wood? It is not the season for them to be in flower yet;
but when it is, I think we must take a walk there--with our luncheon
in a basket--a little picnic in fact. You'll join us, won't you?"
turning to Osborne. "I think it's a charming plan! You could ride to
Hollingford and put up your horse here, and we could have a long day
in the woods and all come home to dinner--dinner with a basket of
lilies in the middle of the table!"

"I should like it very much," said Osborne; "but I may not be at
home. Roger is more likely to be here, I believe, at that time--a
month hence." He was thinking of the visit to London to sell
his poems, and the run down to Winchester which he anticipated
afterwards--the end of May had been the period fixed for this
pleasure for some time, not merely in his own mind, but in writing to
his wife.

"Oh, but you must be with us! We must wait for Mr. Osborne Hamley,
must not we, Cynthia?"

"I'm afraid the lilies won't wait," replied Cynthia.

"Well, then, we must put it off till dog-rose and honey-suckle time.
You will be at home then, won't you? or does the London season
present too many attractions?"

"I don't exactly know when dog-roses are in flower!"

"Not know, and you a poet? Don't you remember the lines--

   It was the time of roses,
   We plucked them as we passed?"

"Yes; but that doesn't specify the time of year that is the time
of roses; and I believe my movements are guided more by the lunar
calendar than the floral. You had better take my brother for your
companion; he is practical in his love of flowers, I am only

"Does that fine word 'theoretical' imply that you are ignorant?"
asked Cynthia.

"Of course we shall be happy to see your brother; but why can't we
have you too? I confess to a little timidity in the presence of one
so deep and learned as your brother is from all accounts. Give me a
little charming ignorance, if we must call it by that hard word."

Osborne bowed. It was very pleasant to him to be petted and
flattered, even though he knew all the time that it was only
flattery. It was an agreeable contrast to the home that was so dismal
to him, to come to this house, where the society of two agreeable
girls, and the soothing syrup of their mother's speeches, awaited
him whenever he liked to come. To say nothing of the difference that
struck upon his senses, poetical though he might esteem himself, of a
sitting-room full of flowers, and tokens of women's presence, where
all the chairs were easy, and all the tables well covered with pretty
things, to the great drawing-room at home, where the draperies were
threadbare, and the seats uncomfortable, and no sign of feminine
presence ever now lent a grace to the stiff arrangement of the
furniture. Then the meals, light and well-cooked, suited his taste
and delicate appetite so much better than the rich and heavy viands
prepared by the servants at the Hall. Osborne was becoming a little
afraid of falling into the habit of paying too frequent visits to
the Gibsons (and that, not because he feared the consequences of
his intercourse with the two young ladies; for he never thought of
them excepting as friends;--the fact of his marriage was constantly
present to his mind, and Aimée too securely enthroned in his heart,
for him to remember that he might be looked upon by others in the
light of a possible husband); but the reflection forced itself
upon him occasionally, whether he was not trespassing too often on
hospitality which he had at present no means of returning.

But Mrs. Gibson, in her ignorance of the true state of affairs, was
secretly exultant in the attraction which made him come so often
and lounge away the hours in her house and garden. She had no doubt
that it was Cynthia who drew him thither; and if the latter had been
a little more amenable to reason, her mother would have made more
frequent allusions than she did to the crisis which she thought was
approaching. But she was restrained by the intuitive conviction that
if her daughter became conscious of what was impending, and was made
aware of Mrs. Gibson's cautious and quiet efforts to forward the
catastrophe, the wilful girl would oppose herself to it with all
her skill and power. As it was, Mrs. Gibson trusted that Cynthia's
affections would become engaged before she knew where she was, and
that in that case she would not attempt to frustrate her mother's
delicate scheming, even though she did perceive it. But Cynthia had
come across too many varieties of flirtation, admiration, and even
passionate love, to be for a moment at fault as to the quiet friendly
nature of Osborne's attentions. She received him always as a sister
might a brother. It was different when Roger returned from his
election as Fellow of Trinity. The trembling diffidence, the hardly
suppressed ardour of his manner, made Cynthia understand before long
with what kind of love she had now to deal. She did not put it into
so many words--no, not even in her secret heart--but she recognized
the difference between Roger's relation to her and Osborne's long
before Mrs. Gibson found it out. Molly was, however, the first to
discover the nature of Roger's attention. The first time they saw
him after the ball, it came out to her observant eyes. Cynthia had
not been looking well since that evening; she went slowly about the
house, pale and heavy-eyed; and, fond as she usually was of exercise
and the free fresh air, there was hardly any persuading her now to go
out for a walk. Molly watched this fading with tender anxiety, but
to all her questions as to whether she had felt over-fatigued with
her dancing, whether anything had occurred to annoy her, and all
such inquiries, she replied in languid negatives. Once Molly touched
on Mr. Preston's name, and found that this was a subject on which
Cynthia was raw; now, Cynthia's face lighted up with spirit, and her
whole body showed her ill-repressed agitation, but she only said a
few sharp words, expressive of anything but kindly feeling towards
the gentleman, and then bade Molly never name his name to her again.
Still, the latter could not imagine that he was more than intensely
distasteful to her friend, as well as to herself; he could not be
the cause of Cynthia's present indisposition. But this indisposition
lasted so many days without change or modification, that even Mrs.
Gibson noticed it, and Molly became positively uneasy. Mrs. Gibson
considered Cynthia's quietness and languor as the natural consequence
of "dancing with everybody who asked her" at the ball. Partners whose
names were in the "Red Book" would not have produced half the amount
of fatigue, according to Mrs. Gibson's judgment apparently, and if
Cynthia had been quite well, very probably she would have hit the
blot in her mother's speech with one of her touches of sarcasm.
Then, again, when Cynthia did not rally, Mrs. Gibson grew impatient,
and accused her of being fanciful and lazy; at length, and partly
at Molly's instance, there came an appeal to Mr. Gibson, and a
professional examination of the supposed invalid, which Cynthia hated
more than anything, especially when the verdict was, that there was
nothing very much the matter, only a general lowness of tone, and
depression of health and spirits, which would soon be remedied by
tonics, and meanwhile, she was not to be roused to exertion.

"If there is one thing I dislike," said Cynthia to Mr. Gibson, after
he had pronounced tonics to be the cure for her present state, "it is
the way doctors have of giving tablespoonfuls of nauseous mixtures as
a certain remedy for sorrows and cares." She laughed up in his face
as she spoke; she had always a pretty word and smile for him, even in
the midst of her loss of spirits.

"Come! you acknowledge you have 'sorrows' by that speech: we'll make
a bargain: if you'll tell me your sorrows and cares, I'll try and
find some other remedy for them than giving you what you are pleased
to term my nauseous mixtures."

"No," said Cynthia, colouring; "I never said I had sorrows and cares;
I spoke generally. What should I have a sorrow about?--you and Molly
are only too kind to me," her eyes filling with tears.

"Well, well, we'll not talk of such gloomy things, and you shall have
some sweet emulsion to disguise the taste of the bitters I shall be
obliged to fall back upon."

"Please, don't. If you but knew how I dislike emulsions and
disguises! I do want bitters--and if I sometimes--if I'm obliged
to--if I'm not truthful myself, I do like truth in others--at least,
sometimes." She ended her sentence with another smile, but it was
rather faint and watery.

Now the first person out of the house to notice Cynthia's change of
look and manner was Roger Hamley--and yet he did not see her until,
under the influence of the nauseous mixture, she was beginning to
recover. But his eyes were scarcely off her during the first five
minutes he was in the room. All the time he was trying to talk
to Mrs. Gibson in reply to her civil platitudes, he was studying
Cynthia; and at the first convenient pause he came and stood before
Molly, so as to interpose his person between her and the rest of the
room; for some visitors had come in subsequent to his entrance.

"Molly, how ill your sister is looking! What is it? Has she had
advice? You must forgive me, but so often those who live together in
the same house don't observe the first approaches of illness."

Now Molly's love for Cynthia was fast and unwavering, but if anything
tried it, it was the habit Roger had fallen into of always calling
Cynthia Molly's sister in speaking to the latter. From any one else
it would have been a matter of indifference to her, and hardly to be
noticed; it vexed both ear and heart when Roger used the expression;
and there was a curtness of manner as well as of words in her reply.

"Oh! she was over-tired by the ball. Papa has seen her, and says she
will be all right very soon."

"I wonder if she wants change of air?" said Roger, meditatively. "I
wish--I do wish we could have her at the Hall; you and your mother
too, of course. But I don't see how it would be possible--or else how
charming it would be!"

Molly felt as if a visit to the Hall under such circumstances would
be altogether so different an affair to all her former ones, that she
could hardly tell if she should like it or not.

Roger went on,--

"You got our flowers in time, did you not? Ah! you don't know how
often I thought of you that evening! And you enjoyed it too, didn't
you?--you had plenty of agreeable partners, and all that makes a
first ball delightful? I heard that your sister danced every dance."

"It was very pleasant," said Molly, quietly. "But, after all, I'm not
sure if I want to go to another just yet; there seems to be so much
trouble connected with a ball."

"Ah! you are thinking of your sister, and her not being well?"

"No, I was not," said Molly, rather bluntly. "I was thinking of the
dress, and the dressing, and the weariness the next day."

He might think her unfeeling if he liked; she felt as if she had only
too much feeling just then, for it was bringing on her a strange
contraction of heart. But he was too inherently good himself to put
any harsh construction on her speech. Just before he went away, while
he was ostensibly holding her hand and wishing her good-by, he said
to her in a voice too low to be generally heard,--

"Is there anything I could do for your sister? We have plenty of
books, as you know, if she cares for reading." Then, receiving no
affirmative look or word from Molly in reply to this suggestion,
he went on,--"Or flowers? she likes flowers. Oh! and our forced
strawberries are just ready--I will bring some over to-morrow."

"I am sure she will like them," said Molly.

For some reason or other, unknown to the Gibsons, a longer interval
than usual occurred between Osborne's visits, while Roger came almost
every day, always with some fresh offering by which he openly sought
to relieve Cynthia's indisposition as far as it lay in his power.
Her manner to him was so gentle and gracious that Mrs. Gibson became
alarmed, lest, in spite of his "uncouthness" (as she was pleased
to term it), he might come to be preferred to Osborne, who was so
strangely neglecting his own interests, in Mrs. Gibson's opinion. In
her quiet way, she contrived to pass many slights upon Roger; but the
darts rebounded from his generous nature that could not have imagined
her motives, and fastened themselves on Molly. She had often been
called naughty and passionate when she was a child; and she thought
now that she began to understand that she really had a violent
temper. What seemed neither to hurt Roger nor annoy Cynthia made
Molly's blood boil; and now she had once discovered Mrs. Gibson's
wish to make Roger's visits shorter and less frequent, she was
always on the watch for indications of this desire. She read her
stepmother's heart when the latter made allusions to the Squire's
loneliness, now that Osborne was absent from the Hall, and that Roger
was so often away amongst his friends during the day,--

"Mr. Gibson and I should be so delighted if you could have stopped to
dinner; but, of course, we cannot be so selfish as to ask you to stay
when we remember how your father would be left alone. We were saying
yesterday we wondered how he bore his solitude, poor old gentleman!"

Or, as soon as Roger came with his bunch of early roses, it was
desirable for Cynthia to go and rest in her own room, while Molly
had to accompany Mrs. Gibson on some improvised errand or call.
Still Roger, whose object was to give pleasure to Cynthia, and who
had, from his boyhood, been always certain of Mr. Gibson's friendly
regard, was slow to perceive that he was not wanted. If he did not
see Cynthia, that was his loss; at any rate, he heard how she was,
and left her some little thing which he believed she would like, and
was willing to risk the chance of his own gratification by calling
four or five times in the hope of seeing her once. At last there came
a day when Mrs. Gibson went beyond her usual negative snubbiness,
and when, in some unwonted fit of crossness, for she was a very
placid-tempered person in general, she was guilty of positive

Cynthia was very much better. Tonics had ministered to a mind
diseased, though she hated to acknowledge it; her pretty bloom and
much of her light-heartedness had come back, and there was no cause
remaining for anxiety. Mrs. Gibson was sitting at her embroidery
in the drawing-room, and the two girls were at the window, Cynthia
laughing at Molly's earnest endeavours to imitate the French accent
in which the former had been reading a page of Voltaire. For
the duty, or the farce, of settling to "improving reading" in
the mornings was still kept up, although Lord Hollingford, the
unconscious suggestor of the idea, had gone back to town without
making any of the efforts to see Molly again that Mrs. Gibson had
anticipated on the night of the ball. That Alnaschar vision had
fallen to the ground. It was as yet early morning; a delicious,
fresh, lovely June day, the air redolent with the scents of
flower-growth and bloom; and half the time the girls had been
ostensibly employed in the French reading they had been leaning out
of the open window trying to reach a cluster of climbing roses. They
had secured them at last, and the buds lay on Cynthia's lap, but many
of the petals had fallen off; so, though the perfume lingered about
the window-seat, the full beauty of the flowers had passed away. Mrs.
Gibson had once or twice reproved them for the merry noise they were
making, which hindered her in the business of counting the stitches
in her pattern; and she had set herself a certain quantity to do
that morning before going out, and was of that nature which attaches
infinite importance to fulfilling small resolutions, made about
indifferent trifles without any reason whatever.

"Mr. Roger Hamley," was announced. "So tiresome!" said Mrs. Gibson,
almost in his hearing, as she pushed away her embroidery frame. She
put out her cold, motionless hand to him, with a half-murmured word
of welcome, still eyeing her lost embroidery. He took no apparent
notice, and passed on to the window.

"How delicious!" said he. "No need for any more Hamley roses now
yours are out."

"I agree with you," said Mrs. Gibson, replying to him before either
Cynthia or Molly could speak, though he addressed his words to them.
"You have been very kind in bringing us flowers so long; but now our
own are out we need not trouble you any more."

He looked at her with a little surprise clouding his honest face; it
was perhaps more at the tone than the words. Mrs. Gibson, however,
had been bold enough to strike the first blow, and she determined
to go on as opportunity offered. Molly would perhaps have been more
pained if she had not seen Cynthia's colour rise. She waited for her
to speak, if need were; for she knew that Roger's defence, if defence
were required, might be safely entrusted to Cynthia's ready wit.

He put out his hand for the shattered cluster of roses that lay in
Cynthia's lap.

"At any rate," said he, "my trouble--if Mrs. Gibson considers it has
been a trouble to me--will be over-paid, if I may have this."

"Old lamps for new," said Cynthia, smiling as she gave it to him. "I
wish one could always buy nosegays such as you have brought us, as

"You forget the waste of time that, I think, we must reckon as part
of the payment," said her mother. "Really, Mr. Hamley, we must learn
to shut our doors on you if you come so often, and at such early
hours! I settle myself to my own employment regularly after breakfast
till lunch-time; and it is my wish to keep Cynthia and Molly to a
course of improving reading and study--so desirable for young people
of their age, if they are ever to become intelligent, companionable
women; but with early visitors it is quite impossible to observe any
regularity of habits."

All this was said in that sweet, false tone which of late had gone
through Molly like the scraping of a slate-pencil on a slate. Roger's
face changed. His ruddy colour grew paler for a moment, and he looked
grave and not pleased. In another moment the wonted frankness of
expression returned. Why should not he, he asked himself, believe
her? It was early to call; it did interrupt regular occupation. So he
spoke, and said,--

"I believe I have been very thoughtless--I'll not come so early
again; but I had some excuse to-day: my brother told me you had made
a plan for going to see Hurst Wood when the roses were out, and they
are earlier than usual this year--I've been round to see. He spoke of
a long day there, going before lunch--"

"The plan was made with Mr. Osborne Hamley. I could not think of
going without him!" said Mrs. Gibson, coldly.

"I had a letter from him this morning, in which he named your wish,
and he says he fears he cannot be at home till they are out of
flower. I daresay they are not much to see in reality, but the day is
so lovely I thought that the plan of going to Hurst Wood would be a
charming excuse for being out of doors."

"Thank you. How kind you are! and so good, too, in sacrificing your
natural desire to be with your father as much as possible."

"I'm glad to say my father is so much better than he was in the
winter that he spends much of his time out of doors in his fields. He
has been accustomed to go about alone, and I--we think that as great
a return to his former habits as he can be induced to make is the
best for him."

"And when do you return to Cambridge?"

There was some hesitation in Roger's manner as he replied,--

"It is uncertain. You probably know that I am a Fellow of Trinity
now. I hardly yet know what my future plans may be; I am thinking of
going up to London soon."

"Ah! London is the true place for a young man," said Mrs. Gibson,
with decision, as if she had reflected a good deal on the question.
"If it were not that we really are so busy this morning, I should
have been tempted to make an exception to our general rule; one more
exception, for your early visits have made us make too many already.
Perhaps, however, we may see you again before you go?"

"Certainly I shall come," replied he, rising to take his leave, and
still holding the demolished roses in his hand. Then, addressing
himself more especially to Cynthia, he added, "My stay in London will
not exceed a fortnight or so--is there anything I can do for you--or
you?" turning a little to Molly.

"No, thank you very much," said Cynthia, very sweetly, and then,
acting on a sudden impulse, she leant out of the window, and gathered
him some half-opened roses. "You deserve these; do throw that poor
shabby bunch away."

His eyes brightened, his cheeks glowed. He took the offered buds, but
did not throw away the other bunch.

"At any rate, I may come after lunch is over, and the afternoons and
evenings will be the most delicious time of day a month hence." He
said this to both Molly and Cynthia, but in his heart he addressed it
to the latter.

Mrs. Gibson affected not to hear what he was saying, but held out her
limp hand once more to him.

"I suppose we shall see you when you return; and pray tell your
brother how we are longing to have a visit from him again."

When he had left the room, Molly's heart was quite full. She
had watched his face, and read something of his feelings: his
disappointment at their non-acquiescence in his plan of a day's
pleasure in Hurst Wood, the delayed conviction that his presence
was not welcome to the wife of his old friend, which had come so
slowly upon him--perhaps, after all, these things touched Molly more
keenly than they did him. His bright look when Cynthia gave him the
rose-buds indicated a gush of sudden delight more vivid than the pain
he had shown by his previous increase of gravity.

"I can't think why he will come at such untimely hours," said Mrs.
Gibson, as soon as she heard him fairly out of the house. "It's
different from Osborne; we are so much more intimate with him: he
came and made friends with us all the time this stupid brother of
his was muddling his brains with mathematics at Cambridge. Fellow of
Trinity, indeed! I wish he would learn to stay there, and not come
intruding here, and assuming that because I asked Osborne to join in
a picnic it was all the same to me which brother came."

"In short, mamma, one man may steal a horse, but another must not
look over the hedge," said Cynthia, pouting a little.

"And the two brothers have always been treated so exactly alike by
their friends, and there has been such a strong friendship between
them, that it is no wonder Roger thinks he may be welcome where
Osborne is allowed to come at all hours," continued Molly, in high
dudgeon. "Roger's 'muddled brains,' indeed! Roger, 'stupid!'"

"Oh, very well, my dears! When I was young it wouldn't have been
thought becoming for girls of your age to fly out because a little
restraint was exercised as to the hours at which they should receive
the young men's calls. And they would have supposed that there might
be good reasons why their parents disapproved of the visits of
certain gentlemen, even while they were proud and pleased to see some
members of the same family."

"But that was what I said, mamma," said Cynthia, looking at her
mother with an expression of innocent bewilderment on her face. "One
man may--"

"Be quiet, child! All proverbs are vulgar, and I do believe that
is the vulgarest of all. You are really catching Roger Hamley's
coarseness, Cynthia!"

"Mamma," said Cynthia, roused to anger, "I don't mind your abusing
me, but Mr. Roger Hamley has been very kind to me while I've not
been well: I can't bear to hear him disparaged. If he's coarse, I've
no objection to be coarse as well, for it seems to me it must mean
kindliness and pleasantness, and the bringing of pretty flowers and

Molly's tears were brimming over at these words; she could have
kissed Cynthia for her warm partisanship, but, afraid of betraying
emotion, and "making a scene," as Mrs. Gibson called any signs of
warm feeling, she laid down her book hastily, and ran upstairs to
her room, and locked the door in order to breathe freely. There were
traces of tears upon her face when she returned into the drawing-room
half-an-hour afterwards, walking straight and demurely up to her
former place, where Cynthia still sate and gazed idly out of the
window, pouting and displeased; Mrs. Gibson, meanwhile, counting her
stitches aloud with great distinctness and vigour.



During all the months that had elapsed since Mrs. Hamley's death,
Molly had wondered many a time about the secret she had so
unwittingly become possessed of that last day in the Hall library. It
seemed so utterly strange and unheard-of a thing to her inexperienced
mind, that a man should be married, and yet not live with his
wife--that a son should have entered into the holy state of matrimony
without his father's knowledge, and without being recognized as the
husband of some one known or unknown by all those with whom he came
in daily contact, that she felt occasionally as if that little ten
minutes of revelation must have been a vision in a dream. Roger
had only slightly referred to it once, and Osborne had kept entire
silence on the subject ever since. Not even a look, or a pause,
betrayed any allusion to it; it even seemed to have passed out of
their thoughts. There had been the great sad event of their mother's
death to fill their minds on the next occasion of their meeting
Molly; and since then long pauses of intercourse had taken place; so
that she sometimes felt as if both the brothers must have forgotten
how she had come to know their important secret. She even found
herself often entirely forgetting it, but perhaps the consciousness
of it was present to her unawares, and enabled her to comprehend the
real nature of Osborne's feelings towards Cynthia. At any rate, she
never for a moment had supposed that his gentle kind manner towards
Cynthia was anything but the courtesy of a friend. Strange to say, in
these latter days Molly had looked upon Osborne's relation to herself
as pretty much the same as that in which at one time she had regarded
Roger's; and she thought of the former as of some one as nearly a
brother both to Cynthia and herself, as any young man could well be,
whom they had not known in childhood, and who was in nowise related
to them. She thought that he was very much improved in manner, and
probably in character, by his mother's death. He was no longer
sarcastic, or fastidious, or vain, or self-confident. She did not
know how often all these styles of talk or of behaviour were put on
to conceal shyness or consciousness, and to veil the real self from

Osborne's conversation and ways might very possibly have been just
the same as before, had he been thrown amongst new people; but Molly
only saw him in their own circle in which he was on terms of decided
intimacy. Still there was no doubt that he was really improved,
though perhaps not to the extent for which Molly gave him credit; and
this exaggeration on her part arose very naturally from the fact,
that he, perceiving Roger's warm admiration for Cynthia, withdrew a
little out of his brother's way; and used to go and talk to Molly in
order not to intrude himself between Roger and Cynthia. Of the two,
perhaps, Osborne preferred Molly; to her he needed not to talk if the
mood was not on him--they were on those happy terms where silence is
permissible, and where efforts to act against the prevailing mood of
the mind are not required. Sometimes, indeed, when Osborne was in the
humour to be critical and fastidious as of yore, he used to vex Roger
by insisting upon it that Molly was prettier than Cynthia.

"You mark my words, Roger. Five years hence the beautiful Cynthia's
red and white will have become just a little coarse, and her figure
will have thickened, while Molly's will only have developed into more
perfect grace. I don't believe the girl has done growing yet; I'm
sure she's taller than when I first saw her last summer."

"Miss Kirkpatrick's eyes must always be perfection. I cannot fancy
any could come up to them: soft, grave, appealing, tender; and such a
heavenly colour--I often try to find something in nature to compare
them to; they are not like violets--that blue in the eyes is too like
physical weakness of sight; they are not like the sky--that colour
has something of cruelty in it."

"Come, don't go on trying to match her eyes as if you were a draper,
and they a bit of ribbon; say at once 'her eyes are loadstars,' and
have done with it! I set up Molly's grey eyes and curling black
lashes, long odds above the other young woman's; but, of course, it's
all a matter of taste."

And now both Osborne and Roger had left the neighbourhood. In spite
of all that Mrs. Gibson had said about Roger's visits being ill-timed
and intrusive, she began to feel as if they had been a very pleasant
variety, now that they had ceased altogether. He brought in a whiff
of a new atmosphere from that of Hollingford. He and his brother had
been always ready to do numberless little things which only a man can
do for women; small services which Mr. Gibson was always too busy to
render. For the good doctor's business grew upon him. He thought that
this increase was owing to his greater skill and experience, and he
would probably have been mortified if he could have known how many
of his patients were solely biassed in sending for him, by the fact
that he was employed at the Towers. Something of this sort must have
been contemplated in the low scale of payment adopted long ago by
the Cumnor family. Of itself the money he received for going to the
Towers would hardly have paid him for horse-flesh, but then, as Lady
Cumnor in her younger days had worded it,--

"It is such a thing for a man just setting up in practice for himself
to be able to say he attends at this house!"

So the prestige was tacitly sold and paid for; but neither buyer nor
seller defined the nature of the bargain.

On the whole, it was as well that Mr. Gibson spent so much of his
time from home. He sometimes thought so himself when he heard his
wife's plaintive fret or pretty babble over totally indifferent
things, and perceived of how flimsy a nature were all her fine
sentiments. Still, he did not allow himself to repine over the step
he had taken; he wilfully shut his eyes and waxed up his ears to many
small things that he knew would have irritated him if he had attended
to them; and, in his solitary rides, he forced himself to dwell on
the positive advantages that had accrued to him and his through his
marriage. He had obtained an unexceptionable chaperone, if not a
tender mother, for his little girl; a skilful manager of his previous
disorderly household; a woman who was graceful and pleasant to
look at for the head of his table. Moreover, Cynthia reckoned for
something on the favourable side of the balance. She was a capital
companion for Molly; and the two were evidently very fond of each
other. The feminine companionship of the mother and daughter was
agreeable to him as well as to his child,--when Mrs. Gibson was
moderately sensible and not over-sentimental, he mentally added; and
then he checked himself, for he would not allow himself to become
more aware of her faults and foibles by defining them. At any rate,
she was harmless, and wonderfully just to Molly for a stepmother.
She piqued herself upon this indeed, and would often call attention
to the fact of her being unlike other women in this respect. Just
then sudden tears came into Mr. Gibson's eyes, as he remembered how
quiet and undemonstrative his little Molly had become in her general
behaviour to him; but how once or twice, when they had met upon the
stairs, or were otherwise unwitnessed, she had caught him and kissed
him--hand or cheek--in a sad passionateness of affection. But in a
moment he began to whistle an old Scotch air he had heard in his
childhood, and which had never recurred to his memory since; and
five minutes afterwards he was too busily treating a case of white
swelling in the knee of a little boy, and thinking how to relieve the
poor mother, who went out charring all day, and had to listen to the
moans of her child all night, to have any thought for his own cares,
which, if they really existed, were of so trifling a nature compared
to the hard reality of this hopeless woe.

Osborne came home first. He returned, in fact, not long after Roger
had gone away; but he was languid and unwell, and, though he did
not complain, he felt unequal to any exertion. Thus a week or more
elapsed before any of the Gibsons knew that he was at the Hall; and
then it was only by chance that they became aware of it. Mr. Gibson
met him in one of the lanes near Hamley; the acute surgeon noticed
the gait of the man as he came near, before he recognized who it was.
When he overtook him he said,--

"Why, Osborne, is it you? I thought it was an old man of fifty
loitering before me! I didn't know you had come back."

[Illustration: "WHY, OSBORNE, IS IT YOU?"]

"Yes," said Osborne, "I've been at home nearly ten days. I daresay
I ought to have called on your people, for I made a half promise to
Mrs. Gibson to let her know as soon as I returned; but the fact is,
I'm feeling very good-for-nothing,--this air oppresses me; I could
hardly breathe in the house, and yet I'm already tired with this
short walk."

"You'd better get home at once; and I'll call and see you as I come
back from Rowe's."

"No, you mustn't on any account!" said Osborne, hastily; "my father
is annoyed enough about my going from home, so often, he says, though
I hadn't been from it for six weeks. He puts down all my languor
to my having been away,--he keeps the purse-strings, you know," he
added, with a faint smile, "and I'm in the unlucky position of a
penniless heir, and I've been brought up so--In fact, I must leave
home from time to time, and, if my father gets confirmed in this
notion of his that my health is worse for my absences, he'll stop the
supplies altogether."

"May I ask where you do spend your time when you are not at Hamley
Hall?" asked Mr. Gibson, with some hesitation in his manner.

"No!" replied Osborne, reluctantly. "I will tell you this:--I
stay with friends in the country. I lead a life which ought to be
conducive to health, because it is thoroughly simple, rational, and
happy. And now I've told you more about it than my father himself
knows. He never asks me where I've been; and I shouldn't tell him if
he did--at least, I think not."

Mr. Gibson rode on by Osborne's side, not speaking for a moment or

"Osborne, whatever scrapes you may have got into, I should advise
your telling your father boldly out. I know him; and I know he'll be
angry enough at first, but he'll come round, take my word for it;
and, somehow or another, he'll find money to pay your debts and set
you free, if it's that kind of difficulty; and if it's any other
kind of entanglement, why still he's your best friend. It's this
estrangement from your father that's telling on your health, I'll be

"No," said Osborne, "I beg your pardon; but it's not that; I am
really out of order. I daresay my unwillingness to encounter any
displeasure from my father is the consequence of my indisposition;
but I'll answer for it, it is not the cause of it. My instinct tells
me there is something really the matter with me."

"Come, don't be setting up your instinct against the profession,"
said Mr. Gibson, cheerily.

He dismounted, and throwing the reins of his horse round his arm, he
looked at Osborne's tongue and felt his pulse, asking him various
questions. At the end he said,--

"We'll soon bring you about, though I should like a little more quiet
talk with you, without this tugging brute for a third. If you'll
manage to ride over and lunch with us to-morrow, Dr. Nicholls will
be with us; he's coming over to see old Rowe; and you shall have the
benefit of the advice of two doctors instead of one. Go home now,
you've had enough exercise for the middle of a day as hot as this is.
And don't mope in the house, listening to the maunderings of your
stupid instinct."

"What else have I to do?" said Osborne. "My father and I are not
companions; one can't read and write for ever, especially when
there's no end to be gained by it. I don't mind telling you--but in
confidence, recollect--that I've been trying to get some of my poems
published; but there's no one like a publisher for taking the conceit
out of one. Not a man among them would have them as a gift."

"Oho! so that's it, is it, Master Osborne? I thought there was some
mental cause for this depression of health. I wouldn't trouble my
head about it, if I were you, though that's always very easily said,
I know. Try your hand at prose, if you can't manage to please the
publishers with poetry; but, at any rate, don't go on fretting
over spilt milk. But I mustn't lose my time here. Come over to us
to-morrow, as I said; and what with the wisdom of two doctors, and
the wit and folly of three women, I think we shall cheer you up a

So saying, Mr. Gibson remounted, and rode away at the long, slinging
trot so well known to the country people as the doctor's pace.

"I don't like his looks," thought Mr. Gibson to himself at night,
as over his daybooks he reviewed the events of the day. "And then
his pulse. But how often we're all mistaken; and, ten to one, my own
hidden enemy lies closer to me than his does to him--even taking the
worse view of the case."

Osborne made his appearance a considerable time before luncheon
the next morning; and no one objected to the earliness of his call.
He was feeling better. There were few signs of the invalid about
him; and what few there were disappeared under the bright pleasant
influence of such a welcome as he received from all. Molly and
Cynthia had much to tell him of the small proceedings since he went
away, or to relate the conclusions of half-accomplished projects.
Cynthia was often on the point of some gay, careless inquiry as
to where he had been, and what he had been doing; but Molly, who
conjectured the truth, as often interfered to spare him the pain of
equivocation--a pain that her tender conscience would have felt for
him, much more than he would have felt it for himself.

Mrs. Gibson's talk was desultory, complimentary, and sentimental,
after her usual fashion; but still, on the whole, though Osborne
smiled to himself at much that she said, it was soothing and
agreeable. Presently, Dr. Nicholls and Mr. Gibson came in; the former
had had some conference with the latter on the subject of Osborne's
health; and, from time to time, the skilful old physician's sharp and
observant eyes gave a comprehensive look at Osborne.

Then there was lunch, when every one was merry and hungry, excepting
the hostess, who was trying to train her midday appetite into
the genteelest of all ways, and thought (falsely enough) that Dr.
Nicholls was a good person to practise the semblance of ill-health
upon, and that he would give her the proper civil amount of
commiseration for her ailments, which every guest ought to bestow
upon a hostess who complains of her delicacy of health. The old
doctor was too cunning a man to fall into this trap. He would keep
recommending her to try the coarsest viands on the table; and, at
last, he told her if she could not fancy the cold beef to try a
little with pickled onions. There was a twinkle in his eye as he said
this, that would have betrayed his humour to any observer; but Mr.
Gibson, Cynthia, and Molly were all attacking Osborne on the subject
of some literary preference he had expressed, and Dr. Nicholls had
Mrs. Gibson quite at his mercy. She was not sorry when luncheon was
over to leave the room to the three gentlemen; and ever afterwards
she spoke of Dr. Nicholls as "that bear."

Presently, Osborne came upstairs, and, after his old fashion, began
to take up new books, and to question the girls as to their music.
Mrs. Gibson had to go out and pay some calls, so she left the three
together; and after a while they adjourned into the garden, Osborne
lounging on a chair, while Molly employed herself busily in tying up
carnations, and Cynthia gathered flowers in her careless, graceful

"I hope you notice the difference in our occupations, Mr. Hamley.
Molly, you see, devotes herself to the useful, and I to the
ornamental. Please, under what head do you class what you are doing?
I think you might help one of us, instead of looking on like the
Grand Seigneur."

"I don't know what I can do," said he, rather plaintively. "I should
like to be useful, but I don't know how; and my day is past for
purely ornamental work. You must let me be, I'm afraid. Besides, I'm
really rather exhausted by being questioned and pulled about by those
good doctors."

"Why, you don't mean to say they have been attacking you since
lunch!" exclaimed Molly.

"Yes; indeed, they have; and they might have gone on till now if Mrs.
Gibson had not come in opportunely."

"I thought mamma had gone out some time ago!" said Cynthia, catching
wafts of the conversation as she flitted hither and thither among the

"She came into the dining-room not five minutes ago. Do you want her,
for I see her crossing the hall at this very moment?" and Osborne
half rose.

"Oh, not at all!" said Cynthia. "Only she seemed to be in such a
hurry to go out, I fancied she had set off long ago. She had some
errand to do for Lady Cumnor, and she thought she could manage to
catch the housekeeper, who is always in the town on Thursday."

"Are the family coming to the Towers this autumn?"

"I believe so. But I don't know, and I don't much care. They don't
take kindly to me," continued Cynthia, "and so I suppose I'm not
generous enough to take kindly to them."

"I should have thought that such a very unusual blot in their
discrimination would have interested you in them as extraordinary
people," said Osborne, with a little air of conscious gallantry.

"Isn't that a compliment?" said Cynthia, after a pause of mock
meditation. "If any one pays me a compliment, please let it be short
and clear. I'm very stupid at finding out hidden meanings."

"Then such speeches as 'you are very pretty,' or 'you have charming
manners,' are what you prefer. Now, I pique myself on wrapping up my
sugar-plums delicately."

"Then would you please to write them down, and at my leisure I'll
parse them."

"No! It would be too much trouble. I'll meet you half-way, and study
clearness next time."

"What are you two talking about?" said Molly, resting on her light

"It's only a discussion on the best way of administering
compliments," said Cynthia, taking up her flower-basket again, but
not going out of the reach of the conversation.

"I don't like them at all in any way," said Molly. "But, perhaps,
it's rather sour grapes with me," she added.

"Nonsense!" said Osborne. "Shall I tell you what I heard of you at
the ball?"

"Or shall I provoke Mr. Preston," said Cynthia, "to begin upon you?
It's like turning a tap, such a stream of pretty speeches flows out
at the moment." Her lip curled with scorn.

"For you, perhaps," said Molly; "but not for me."

"For any woman. It's his notion of making himself agreeable. If you
dare me, Molly, I'll try the experiment, and you'll see with what

"No, don't, pray!" said Molly, in a hurry. "I do so dislike him!"

"Why?" said Osborne, roused to a little curiosity by her vehemence.

"Oh! I don't know. He never seems to know what one is feeling."

"He wouldn't care if he did know," said Cynthia. "And he might know
he is not wanted."

"If he chooses to stay, he cares little whether he is wanted or not."

"Come, this is very interesting," said Osborne. "It is like the
strophe and anti-strophe in a Greek chorus. Pray, go on."

"Don't you know him?" asked Molly.

"Yes, by sight, and I think we were once introduced. But, you know,
we are much farther from Ashcombe, at Hamley, than you are here, at

"Oh! but he's coming to take Mr. Sheepshanks' place, and then he'll
live here altogether," said Molly.

"Molly! who told you that?" said Cynthia, in quite a different tone
of voice from that in which she had been speaking hitherto.

"Papa,--didn't you hear him? Oh, no! it was before you were down this
morning. Papa met Mr. Sheepshanks yesterday, and he told him it was
all settled: you know we heard a rumour about it in the spring!"

Cynthia was very silent after this. Presently, she said that she had
gathered all the flowers she wanted, and that the heat was so great
she would go indoors. And then Osborne went away. But Molly had set
herself a task to dig up such roots as had already flowered, and to
put down some bedding-out plants in their stead. Tired and heated as
she was she finished it, and then went upstairs to rest, and change
her dress. According to her wont, she sought for Cynthia; there was
no reply to her soft knock at the bedroom-door opposite to her own,
and, thinking that Cynthia might have fallen asleep, and be lying
uncovered in the draught of the open window, she went in softly.
Cynthia was lying upon the bed as if she had thrown herself down on
it without caring for the ease or comfort of her position. She was
very still; and Molly took a shawl, and was going to place it over
her, when she opened her eyes, and spoke,--

"Is that you, dear? Don't go. I like to know that you are there."

She shut her eyes again, and remained quite quiet for a few minutes
longer. Then she started up into a sitting posture, pushed her hair
away from her forehead and burning eyes, and gazed intently at Molly.

"Do you know what I've been thinking, dear?" said she. "I think I've
been long enough here, and that I had better go out as a governess."

"Cynthia! what do you mean?" asked Molly, aghast. "You've been
asleep--you've been dreaming. You're over-tired," continued she,
sitting down on the bed, and taking Cynthia's passive hand, and
stroking it softly--a mode of caressing that had come down to her
from her mother--whether as an hereditary instinct, or as a lingering
remembrance of the tender ways of the dead woman, Mr. Gibson often
wondered within himself when he observed it.

"Oh, how good you are, Molly! I wonder, if I had been brought up like
you, whether I should have been as good. But I've been tossed about

"Then, don't go and be tossed about any more," said Molly, softly.

"Oh, dear! I had better go. But, you see, no one ever loved me like
you, and, I think, your father--doesn't he, Molly? And it's hard to
be driven out."

"Cynthia, I am sure you're not well, or else you're not half awake."

Cynthia sate with her arms encircling her knees, and looking at

"Well!" said she, at last, heaving a great sigh; but, then, smiling
as she caught Molly's anxious face, "I suppose there's no escaping
one's doom; and anywhere else I should be much more forlorn and

"What do you mean by your doom?"

"Ah, that's telling, little one," said Cynthia, who seemed now to
have recovered her usual manner. "I don't mean to have one, though. I
think that, though I am an arrant coward at heart, I can show fight."

"With whom?" asked Molly, really anxious to probe the mystery--if,
indeed, there was one--to the bottom, in the hope of some remedy
being found for the distress Cynthia was in when first Molly entered.

Again Cynthia was lost in thought; then, catching the echo of Molly's
last words in her mind, she said,--

"'With whom?'--oh! show fight with whom?--why, my doom, to be sure.
Am not I a grand young lady to have a doom? Why, Molly, child, how
pale and grave you look!" said she, kissing her all of a sudden. "You
ought not to care so much for me; I'm not good enough for you to
worry yourself about me. I've given myself up a long time ago as a
heartless baggage!"

"Nonsense! I wish you wouldn't talk so, Cynthia!"

"And I wish you wouldn't always take me 'at the foot of the letter,'
as an English girl at school used to translate it. Oh, how hot it
is! Is it never going to get cool again? My child! what dirty hands
you've got, and face too; and I've been kissing you--I daresay I'm
dirty with it, too. Now, isn't that like one of mamma's speeches?
But, for all that, you look more like a delving Adam than a spinning
Eve." This had the effect that Cynthia intended; the daintily clean
Molly became conscious of her soiled condition, which she had
forgotten while she had been attending to Cynthia, and she hastily
withdrew to her own room. When she had gone, Cynthia noiselessly
locked the door; and, taking her purse out of her desk, she began to
count over her money. She counted it once--she counted it twice, as
if desirous of finding out some mistake which should prove it to be
more than it was; but the end of it all was a sigh.

"What a fool!--what a fool I was!" said she, at length. "But even if
I don't go out as a governess, I shall make it up in time."

Some weeks after the time he had anticipated when he had spoken of
his departure to the Gibsons, Roger returned back to the Hall. One
morning when he called, Osborne told them that his brother had been
at home for two or three days.

"And why has he not come here, then?" said Mrs. Gibson. "It is not
kind of him not to come and see us as soon as he can. Tell him I say
so--pray do."

Osborne had gained one or two ideas as to her treatment of Roger the
last time he had called. Roger had not complained of it, or even
mentioned it, till that very morning; when Osborne was on the point
of starting, and had urged Roger to accompany him, the latter had
told him something of what Mrs. Gibson had said. He spoke rather as
if he was more amused than annoyed; but Osborne could read that he
was chagrined at those restrictions placed upon calls which were the
greatest pleasure of his life. Neither of them let out the suspicion
which had entered both their minds--the well-grounded suspicion
arising from the fact that Osborne's visits, be they paid early or
late, had never yet been met with a repulse.

Osborne now reproached himself with having done Mrs. Gibson
injustice. She was evidently a weak, but probably a disinterested,
woman; and it was only a little bit of ill-temper on her part which
had caused her to speak to Roger as she had done.

"I daresay it was rather impertinent of me to call at such an
untimely hour," said Roger.

"Not at all; I call at all hours, and nothing is ever said about it.
It was just because she was put out that morning. I'll answer for it
she's sorry now, and I'm sure you may go there at any time you like
in the future."

Still, Roger did not choose to go again for two or three weeks, and
the consequence was that the next time he called the ladies were out.
Once again he had the same ill-luck, and then he received a little
pretty three-cornered note from Mrs. Gibson:--


   How is it that you are become so formal all on a sudden,
   leaving cards, instead of awaiting our return? Fie for
   shame! If you had seen the faces of disappointment that
   I did when the horrid little bits of pasteboard were
   displayed to our view, you would not have borne malice
   against me so long; for it is really punishing others as
   well as my naughty self. If you will come to-morrow--as
   early as you like--and lunch with us, I'll own I was
   cross, and acknowledge myself a penitent.--Yours ever,


There was no resisting this, even if there had not been strong
inclination to back up the pretty words. Roger went, and Mrs. Gibson
caressed and petted him in her sweetest, silkiest manner. Cynthia
looked lovelier than ever to him for the slight restriction that
had been laid for a time on their intercourse. She might be gay
and sparkling with Osborne; with Roger she was soft and grave.
Instinctively she knew her men. She saw that Osborne was only
interested in her because of her position in a family with whom he
was intimate; that his friendship was without the least touch of
sentiment; and that his admiration was only the warm criticism of
an artist for unusual beauty. But she felt how different Roger's
relation to her was. To him she was _the_ one, alone, peerless. If
his love was prohibited, it would be long years before he could
sink down into tepid friendship; and to him her personal loveliness
was only one of the many charms that made him tremble into passion.
Cynthia was not capable of returning such feelings; she had had too
little true love in her life, and perhaps too much admiration to do
so; but she appreciated this honest ardour, this loyal worship that
was new to her experience. Such appreciation, and such respect for
his true and affectionate nature, gave a serious tenderness to her
manner to Roger, which allured him with a fresh and separate grace.
Molly sate by, and wondered how it would all end, or, rather, how
soon it would all end, for she thought that no girl could resist such
reverent passion; and on Roger's side there could be no doubt--alas!
there could be no doubt. An older spectator might have looked far
ahead, and thought of the question of pounds, shillings, and pence.
Where was the necessary income for a marriage to come from? Roger
had his Fellowship now, it is true; but the income of that would be
lost if he married; he had no profession, and the life interest of
the two or three thousand pounds that he inherited from his mother,
belonged to his father. This older spectator might have been a little
surprised at the _empressement_ of Mrs. Gibson's manner to a younger
son, always supposing this said spectator to have read to the depths
of her worldly heart. Never had she tried to be more agreeable to
Osborne; and though her attempt was a great failure when practised
upon Roger, and he did not know what to say in reply to the delicate
flatteries which he felt to be insincere, he saw that she intended
him to consider himself henceforward free of the house; and he was
too glad to avail himself of this privilege to examine over-closely
into what might be her motives for her change of manner. He shut his
eyes, and chose to believe that she was now desirous of making up for
her little burst of temper on his previous visit.

The result of Osborne's conference with the two doctors had been
certain prescriptions which appeared to have done him much good,
and which would in all probability have done him yet more, could he
have been free of the recollection of the little patient wife in
her solitude near Winchester. He went to her whenever he could; and,
thanks to Roger, money was far more plentiful with him now than it
had been. But he still shrank, and perhaps even more and more, from
telling his father of his marriage. Some bodily instinct made him
dread all agitation inexpressibly. If he had not had this money from
Roger, he might have been compelled to tell his father all, and to
ask for the necessary funds to provide for the wife and the coming
child. But with enough in hand, and a secret, though remorseful,
conviction that as long as Roger had a penny his brother was sure to
have half of it, made him more reluctant than ever to irritate his
father by a revelation of his secret. "Not just yet, not just at
present," he kept saying both to Roger and to himself. "By-and-by, if
we have a boy, I will call it Roger"--and then visions of poetical
and romantic reconciliations brought about between father and son,
through the medium of a child, the offspring of a forbidden marriage,
became still more vividly possible to him, and at any rate it was a
staving-off of an unpleasant thing. He atoned to himself for taking
so much of Roger's Fellowship money by reflecting that, if Roger
married, he would lose this source of revenue; yet Osborne was
throwing no impediment in the way of this event, rather forwarding it
by promoting every possible means of his brother's seeing the lady of
his love. Osborne ended his reflections by convincing himself of his
own generosity.



[Illustration (untitled)]

Mr. Preston was now installed in his new house at Hollingford; Mr.
Sheepshanks having entered into dignified idleness at the house of
his married daughter, who lived in the county town. His successor
had plunged with energy into all manner of improvements; and
among others, he fell to draining a piece of outlying waste and
unreclaimed land of Lord Cumnor's, which was close to Squire Hamley's
property--that very piece for which he had had the Government grant,
but which now lay neglected, and only half drained, with stacks of
mossy tiles, and lines of upturned furrows telling of abortive plans.
It was not often that the Squire rode in this direction now-a-days;
but the cottage of a man who had been the squire's gamekeeper
in those more prosperous days when the Hamleys could afford to
"preserve," was close to the rush-grown ground. This old servant and
tenant was ill, and had sent a message up to the Hall, asking to see
the Squire: not to reveal any secret, or to say anything particular,
but only from the feudal loyalty, which made it seem to the dying man
as if it would be a comfort to shake the hand, and look once more
into the eyes of the lord and master whom he had served, and whose
ancestors his own forbears had served for so many generations. And
the Squire was as fully alive as old Silas to the claims of the tie
that existed between them. Though he hated the thought, and still
more, should hate the sight of the piece of land, on the side of
which Silas's cottage stood, the Squire ordered his horse, and rode
off within half-an-hour of receiving the message. As he drew near
the spot he thought he heard the sound of tools, and the hum of
many voices, just as he used to hear them a year or two before. He
listened with surprise. Yes! Instead of the still solitude he had
expected, there was the clink of iron, the heavy gradual thud of the
fall of barrows-ful of soil--the cry and shout of labourers. But not
on his land--better worth expense and trouble by far than the reedy
clay common on which the men were, in fact, employed. He knew it was
Lord Cumnor's property; and he knew Lord Cumnor and his family had
gone up in the world ("the Whig rascals!"), both in wealth and in
station, as the Hamleys had gone down. But all the same--in spite
of long known facts, and in spite of reason--the Squire's ready
anger rose high at the sight of his neighbour doing what he had been
unable to do, and he a Whig, and his family only in the county since
Queen Anne's time. He went so far as to wonder whether they might
not--the labourers he meant--avail themselves of his tiles, lying so
conveniently close to hand. All these thoughts, regrets, and wonders
were in his mind as he rode up to the cottage he was bound to, and
gave his horse in charge to a little lad, who had hitherto found his
morning's business and amusement in playing at "houses" with a still
younger sister, with some of the Squire's neglected tiles. But he
was old Silas's grandson, and he might have battered the rude red
earthenware to pieces--a whole stack--one by one, and the Squire
would have said little or nothing. It was only that he would not
spare one to a labourer of Lord Cumnor's. No! not one.

Old Silas lay in a sort of closet, opening out of the family
living-room. The small window that gave it light looked right on to
the "moor," as it was called; and by day the check curtain was drawn
aside so that he might watch the progress of the labour. Everything
about the old man was clean, if coarse; and, with Death, the
leveller, so close at hand, it was the labourer who made the first
advances, and put out his horny hand to the Squire.

"I thought you'd come, Squire. Your father came for to see my father
as he lay a-dying."

"Come, come, my man!" said the Squire, easily affected, as he always
was. "Don't talk of dying, we shall soon have you out, never fear.
They've sent you up some soup from the Hall, as I bade 'em, haven't

"Ay, ay, I've had all as I could want for to eat and to drink. The
young squire and Master Roger was here yesterday."

"Yes, I know."

"But I'm a deal nearer Heaven to-day, I am. I should like you to look
after th' covers in th' West Spinney, Squire; them gorse, you know,
where th' old fox had her hole--her as give 'em so many a run. You'll
mind it, Squire, though you was but a lad. I could laugh to think on
her tricks yet." And, with a weak attempt at a laugh, he got himself
into a violent fit of coughing, which alarmed the squire, who thought
he would never get his breath again. His daughter-in-law came in
at the sound, and told the Squire that he had these coughing-bouts
very frequently, and that she thought he would go off in one of them
before long. This opinion of hers was spoken simply out before the
old man, who now lay gasping and exhausted upon his pillow. Poor
people acknowledge the inevitableness and the approach of death in
a much more straightforward manner than is customary among more
educated folk. The Squire was shocked at her hard-heartedness, as
he considered it; but the old man himself had received much tender
kindness from his daughter-in-law; and what she had just said was no
more news to him than the fact that the sun would rise to-morrow. He
was more anxious to go on with his story.

"Them navvies--I call 'em navvies because some on 'em is strangers,
though some on 'em is th' men as was turned off your own works,
squire, when there came orders to stop 'em last fall--they're
a-pulling up gorse and brush to light their fire for warming up their
messes. It's a long way off to their homes, and they mostly dine
here; and there'll be nothing of a cover left, if you don't see after
'em. I thought I should like to tell ye afore I died. Parson's been
here; but I did na tell him. He's all for the earl's folk, and he'd
not ha' heeded. It's the earl as put him into his church, I reckon,
for he said what a fine thing it were for to see so much employment
a-given to the poor, and he never said nought o' th' sort when your
works were agait, Squire."

This long speech had been interrupted by many a cough and gasp for
breath; and having delivered himself of what was on his mind, he
turned his face to the wall, and appeared to be going to sleep.
Presently he roused himself with a start:--

"I know I flogged him well, I did. But he were after pheasants' eggs,
and I didn't know he were an orphan. Lord, forgive me!"

"He's thinking on David Morton, the cripple, as used to go about
trapping vermin," whispered the woman.

"Why, he died long ago--twenty year, I should think," replied the

"Ay, but when grandfather goes off i' this way to sleep after a bout
of talking he seems to be dreaming on old times. He'll not waken up
yet, sir; you'd best sit down if you'd like to stay," she continued,
as she went into the house-place and dusted a chair with her apron.
"He was very particular in bidding me wake him if he were asleep, and
you or Mr. Roger was to call. Mr. Roger said he'd be coming again
this morning--but he'll likely sleep an hour or more, if he's let

"I wish I'd said good-by, I should like to have done that."

"He drops off so sudden," said the woman. "But if you'd be better
pleased to have said it, Squire, I'll waken him up a bit."

"No, no!" the Squire called out as the woman was going to be as good
as her word. "I'll come again, perhaps to-morrow. And tell him I was
sorry; for I am indeed. And be sure and send to the Hall for anything
you want! Mr. Roger is coming, is he? He'll bring me word how he is,
later on. I should like to have bidden him good-by."

So, giving sixpence to the child who had held his horse, the Squire
mounted. He sate still a moment, looking at the busy work going on
before him, and then at his own half-completed drainage. It was a
bitter pill. He had objected to borrowing from Government, in the
first instance; and then his wife had persuaded him to the step; and
after it was once taken, he was as proud as could be of the only
concession to the spirit of progress he ever made in his life. He had
read and studied the subject pretty thoroughly, if also very slowly,
during the time his wife had been influencing him. He was tolerably
well up in agriculture, if in nothing else; and at one time he had
taken the lead among the neighbouring landowners, when he first began
tile-drainage. In those days people used to speak of Squire Hamley's
hobby; and at market ordinaries, or county dinners, they rather
dreaded setting him off on long repetitions of arguments from the
different pamphlets on the subject which he had read. And now the
proprietors all around him were draining--draining; his interest
to Government was running on all the same, though his works were
stopped, and his tiles deteriorating in value. It was not a soothing
consideration, and the Squire was almost ready to quarrel with his
shadow. He wanted a vent for his ill-humour; and suddenly remembering
the devastations on his covers, which he had heard about not a
quarter of an hour before, he rode towards the men busy at work on
Lord Cumnor's land. Just before he got up to them he encountered
Mr. Preston, also on horseback, come to overlook his labourers. The
Squire did not know him personally, but from the agent's manner
of speaking, and the deference that was evidently paid to him, Mr.
Hamley saw that he was a responsible person. So he addressed the
agent:--"I beg your pardon, I suppose you are the manager of these

Mr. Preston replied,--"Certainly. I am that and many other things
besides, at your service. I have succeeded Mr. Sheepshanks in the
management of my lord's property. Mr. Hamley of Hamley, I believe?"

The Squire bowed stiffly. He did not like his name to be asked or
presumed upon in that manner. An equal might conjecture who he was,
or recognize him, but, till he announced himself, an inferior had no
right to do more than address him respectfully as "sir." That was the
Squire's code of etiquette.

"I am Mr. Hamley of Hamley. I suppose you are as yet ignorant of the
boundary of Lord Cumnor's land, and so I will inform you that my
property begins at the pond yonder--just where you see the rise in
the ground."

"I am perfectly acquainted with that fact, Mr. Hamley," said Mr.
Preston, a little annoyed at the ignorance attributed to him. "But
may I inquire why my attention is called to it just now?"

The Squire was beginning to boil over; but he tried to keep his
temper in. The effort was very much to be respected, for it was a
great one. There was something in the handsome and well-dressed
agent's tone and manner inexpressibly irritating to the squire, and
it was not lessened by an involuntary comparison of the capital
roadster on which Mr. Preston was mounted with his own ill-groomed
and aged cob.

"I have been told that your men out yonder do not respect these
boundaries, but are in the habit of plucking up gorse from my covers
to light their fires."

"It is possible they may!" said Mr. Preston, lifting his eyebrows,
his manner being more nonchalant than his words. "I daresay they
think no great harm of it. However, I'll inquire."

"Do you doubt my word, sir?" said the Squire, fretting his mare till
she began to dance about. "I tell you I've heard it only within this
last half-hour."

"I don't mean to doubt your word, Mr. Hamley; it's the last thing
I should think of doing. But you must excuse my saying that the
argument which you have twice brought up for the authenticity of your
statement, 'that you have heard it within the last half-hour,' is not
quite so forcible as to preclude the possibility of a mistake."

"I wish you'd only say in plain language that you doubt my word,"
said the Squire, clenching and slightly raising his horsewhip. "I
can't make out what you mean--you use so many words."

"Pray don't lose your temper, sir. I said I should inquire. You have
not seen the men pulling up gorse yourself, or you would have named
it. I, surely, may doubt the correctness of your information until
I have made some inquiry; at any rate, that is the course I shall
pursue, and if it gives you offence, I shall be sorry, but I shall
do it just the same. When I am convinced that harm has been done to
your property, I shall take steps to prevent it for the future, and
of course, in my lord's name, I shall pay you compensation--it may
probably amount to half-a-crown." He added these last words in a
lower tone, as if to himself, with a slight contemptuous smile on his

"Quiet, mare, quiet," said the Squire, totally unaware that he was
the cause of her impatient movements by the way he was perpetually
tightening her reins; and also, perhaps, he unconsciously addressed
the injunction to himself.

Neither of them saw Roger Hamley, who was just then approaching them
with long, steady steps. He had seen his father from the door of old
Silas's cottage, and, as the poor fellow was still asleep, he was
coming to speak to his father, and was near enough now to hear the
next words.

"I don't know who you are, but I've known land-agents who were
gentlemen, and I've known some who were not. You belong to this last
set, young man," said the squire, "that you do. I should like to try
my horsewhip on you for your insolence."

"Pray, Mr. Hamley," replied Mr. Preston, coolly, "curb your temper a
little, and reflect. I really feel sorry to see a man of your age in
such a passion:"--moving a little farther off, however, but really
more with a desire to save the irritated man from carrying his threat
into execution, out of a dislike to the slander and excitement it
would cause, than from any personal dread. Just at this moment Roger
Hamley came close up. He was panting a little, and his eyes were very
stern and dark; but he spoke quietly enough.

"Mr. Preston, I can hardly understand what you mean by your last
words. But, remember, my father is a gentleman of age and position,
and not accustomed to receive advice as to the management of his
temper from young men like you."


"I desired him to keep his men off my land," said the Squire to
his son--his wish to stand well in Roger's opinion restraining his
temper a little; but though his words might be a little calmer, there
were all other signs of passion present--the discoloured complexion,
the trembling hands, the fiery cloud in his eyes. "He refused, and
doubted my word."

Mr. Preston turned to Roger, as if appealing from Philip drunk to
Philip sober, and spoke in a tone of cool explanation, which, though
not insolent in words, was excessively irritating in manner.

"Your father has misunderstood me--perhaps it is no wonder," trying
to convey, by a look of intelligence at the son, his opinion that the
father was in no state to hear reason. "I never refused to do what
was just and right. I only required further evidence as to the past
wrong-doing; your father took offence at this," and then he shrugged
his shoulders, and lifted his eyebrows in a manner he had formerly
learnt in France.

"At any rate, sir! I can scarcely reconcile the manner and words
to my father, which I heard you use when I first came up, with the
deference you ought to have shown to a man of his age and position.
As to the fact of the trespass--"

"They are pulling up all the gorse, Roger--there'll be no cover
whatever for game soon," put in the Squire.

Roger bowed to his father, but took up his speech at the point it was
at before the interruption.

"I will inquire into it myself at a cooler moment; and if I find that
such trespass or damage has been committed, of course I shall expect
that you will see it put a stop to. Come, father! I am going to
see old Silas--perhaps you don't know that he is very ill." So he
endeavoured to wile the Squire away to prevent further words. He was
not entirely successful.

Mr. Preston was enraged by Roger's calm and dignified manner,
and threw after them this parting shaft, in the shape of a loud

"Position, indeed! What are we to think of the position of a man who
begins works like these without counting the cost, and comes to a
stand-still, and has to turn off his labourers just at the beginning
of winter, leaving--"

They were too far off to hear the rest. The Squire was on the point
of turning back before this, but Roger took hold of the reins of the
old mare, and led her over some of the boggy ground, as if to guide
her into sure footing, but, in reality, because he was determined to
prevent the renewal of the quarrel. It was well that the cob knew
him, and was, indeed, old enough to prefer quietness to dancing; for
Mr. Hamley plucked hard at the reins, and at last broke out with an
oath,--"Damn it, Roger! I'm not a child; I won't be treated as such.
Leave go, I say!"

Roger let go; they were now on firm ground, and he did not wish any
watchers to think that he was exercising any constraint over his
father; and this quiet obedience to his impatient commands did more
to soothe the Squire than anything else could have effected just

"I know I turned them off--what could I do? I'd no more money for
their weekly wages; it's a loss to me, as you know. He doesn't know,
no one knows, but I think your mother would, how it cut me to turn
'em off just before winter set in. I lay awake many a night thinking
of it, and I gave them what I had--I did, indeed. I hadn't got money
to pay 'em, but I had three barren cows fattened, and gave every
scrap of meat to the men, and I let 'em go into the woods and gather
what was fallen, and I winked at their breaking off old branches, and
now to have it cast up against me by that cur--that servant. But I'll
go on with the works, by ----, I will, if only to spite him. I'll
show him who I am. My position, indeed! A Hamley of Hamley takes a
higher position than his master. I'll go on with the works, see if
I don't! I'm paying between one and two hundred a year interest on
Government money. I'll raise some more if I go to the Jews; Osborne
has shown me the way, and Osborne shall pay for it--he shall. I'll
not put up with insults. You shouldn't have stopped me, Roger! I wish
to heaven I'd horsewhipped the fellow!"

He was lashing himself again into an impotent rage, painful to a son
to witness; but just then the little grandchild of old Silas, who
had held the Squire's horse during his visit to the sick man, came
running up, breathless:

"Please, sir, please, squire, mammy has sent me; grandfather has
wakened up sudden, and mammy says he's dying, and would you please
come; she says he'd take it as a kind compliment, she's sure."

So they went to the cottage, the Squire speaking never a word, but
suddenly feeling as if lifted out of a whirlwind and set down in a
still and awful place.



It is not to be supposed that such an encounter as Mr. Preston had
just had with Roger Hamley sweetened the regards in which the two
young men henceforward held each other. They had barely spoken to one
another before, and but seldom met; for the land-agent's employment
had hitherto lain at Ashcombe, some sixteen or seventeen miles from
Hamley. He was older than Roger by several years; but during the
time he had been in the county Osborne and Roger had been at school
and at college. Mr. Preston was prepared to dislike the Hamleys for
many unreasonable reasons. Cynthia and Molly had both spoken of
the brothers with familiar regard, implying considerable intimacy;
their flowers had been preferred to his on the occasion of the ball;
most people spoke well of them; and Mr. Preston had an animal's
instinctive jealousy and combativeness against all popular young men.
Their "position"--poor as the Hamleys might be--was far higher than
his own in the county; and, moreover, he was agent to the great Whig
lord, whose political interests were diametrically opposed to those
of the old Tory squire. Not that Lord Cumnor troubled himself much
about his political interests. His family had obtained property and
title from the Whigs at the time of the Hanoverian succession; and
so, traditionally, he was a Whig, and had belonged in his youth to
Whig clubs, where he had lost considerable sums of money to Whig
gamblers. All this was satisfactory and consistent enough. And if
Lord Hollingford had not been returned for the county on the Whig
interest--as his father had been before him, until he had succeeded
to the title--it is quite probable Lord Cumnor would have considered
the British constitution in danger, and the patriotism of his
ancestors ungratefully ignored. But, excepting at elections, he had
no notion of making Whig and Tory a party cry. He had lived too much
in London, and was of too sociable a nature, to exclude any man who
jumped with his humour from the hospitality he was always ready to
offer, be the agreeable acquaintance Whig, Tory, or Radical. But in
the county of which he was lord-lieutenant, the old party distinction
was still a shibboleth by which men were tested as to their fitness
for social intercourse, as well as on the hustings. If by any chance
a Whig found himself at a Tory dinner-table--or vice versâ--the food
was hard of digestion, and wine and viands were criticized rather
than enjoyed. A marriage between the young people of the separate
parties was almost as unheard-of and prohibited an alliance as that
of Romeo and Juliet's. And of course Mr. Preston was not a man in
whose breast such prejudices would die away. They were an excitement
to him for one thing, and called out all his talent for intrigue on
behalf of the party to which he was allied. Moreover, he considered
it as loyalty to his employer to "scatter his enemies" by any means
in his power. He had always hated and despised the Tories in general;
and after that interview on the marshy common in front of Silas's
cottage, he hated the Hamleys and Roger especially, with a very
choice and particular hatred. "That prig," as hereafter he always
designated Roger--"he shall pay for it yet," he said to himself by
way of consolation, after the father and son had left him. "What a
lout it is!"--watching the receding figures, "The old chap has twice
as much spunk," as the Squire tugged at his bridle reins. "The old
mare could make her way better without being led, my fine fellow. But
I see through your dodge. You're afraid of your old father turning
back and getting into another rage. Position indeed! a beggarly
squire--a man who did turn off his men just before winter, to rot
or starve, for all he cared--it's just like a brutal old Tory." And,
under the cover of sympathy with the dismissed labourers, Mr. Preston
indulged his own private pique very pleasantly.

Mr. Preston had many causes for rejoicing: he might have forgotten
this discomfiture, as he chose to feel it, in the remembrance of
an increase of income, and in the popularity he enjoyed in his new
abode. All Hollingford came forward to do the earl's new agent
honour. Mr. Sheepshanks had been a crabbed, crusty old bachelor,
frequenting inn-parlours on market days, not unwilling to give
dinners to three or four chosen friends and familiars, with whom,
in return, he dined from time to time, and with whom, also, he kept
up an amicable rivalry in the matter of wines. But he "did not
appreciate female society," as Miss Browning elegantly worded his
unwillingness to accept the invitations of the Hollingford ladies.
He was even unrefined enough to speak of these invitations to his
intimate friends aforesaid as "those old women's worrying," but, of
course, they never heard of this. Little quarter-of-sheet notes,
without any envelopes--that invention was unknown in those days--but
sealed in the corners when folded up instead of gummed as they are
fastened at present--occasionally passed between Mr. Sheepshanks
and the Miss Brownings, Mrs. Goodenough or others. From the
first-mentioned ladies the form ran as follows:--"Miss Browning
and her sister, Miss Phoebe Browning, present their respectful
compliments to Mr. Sheepshanks, and beg to inform him that a few
friends have kindly consented to favour them with their company at
tea on Thursday next. Miss Browning and Miss Phoebe will take it
very kindly if Mr. Sheepshanks will join their little circle."

Now for Mrs. Goodenough.

"Mrs. Goodenough's respects to Mr. Sheepshanks, and hopes he is in
good health. She would be very glad if he would favour her with his
company to tea on Monday. My daughter, in Combermere, has sent me a
couple of guinea-fowls, and Mrs. Goodenough hopes Mr. Sheepshanks
will stay and take a bit of supper."

No need for the dates of the days of the month. The good ladies would
have thought that the world was coming to an end if the invitation
had been sent out a week before the party therein named. But not even
guinea-fowls for supper could tempt Mr. Sheepshanks. He remembered
the made-wines he had tasted in former days at Hollingford parties,
and shuddered. Bread-and-cheese, with a glass of bitter-beer, or a
little brandy-and-water, partaken of in his old clothes (which had
worn into shapes of loose comfort, and smelt strongly of tobacco),
he liked better than roast guinea-fowl and birch-wine, even without
throwing into the balance the stiff uneasy coat, and the tight
neckcloth and tighter shoes. So the ex-agent had been seldom, if
ever, seen at the Hollingford tea-parties. He might have had his form
of refusal stereotyped, it was so invariably the same.

"Mr. Sheepshanks' duty to Miss Browning and her sister" (to Mrs.
Goodenough, or to others, as the case might be). "Business of
importance prevents him from availing himself of their polite
invitation; for which he begs to return his best thanks."

But now that Mr. Preston had succeeded, and come to live in
Hollingford, things were changed.

He accepted every civility right and left, and won golden opinions
accordingly. Parties were made in his honour, "just as if he had been
a bride," Miss Phoebe Browning said; and to all of them he went.

"What's the man after?" said Mr. Sheepshanks to himself, when he
heard of his successor's affability, and sociability, and amiability,
and a variety of other agreeable "ilities," from the friends whom the
old steward still retained at Hollingford. "Preston's not a man to
put himself out for nothing. He's deep. He'll be after something
solider than popularity."

The sagacious old bachelor was right. Mr. Preston was "after"
something more than mere popularity. He went wherever he had a chance
of meeting Cynthia Kirkpatrick.

It might be that Molly's spirits were more depressed at this time
than they were in general; or that Cynthia was exultant, unawares to
herself, in the amount of attention and admiration she was receiving
from Roger by day, from Mr. Preston in the evening, but the two girls
seemed to have parted company in cheerfulness. Molly was always
gentle, but very grave and silent. Cynthia, on the contrary, was
merry, full of pretty mockeries, and hardly ever silent. When first
she came to Hollingford one of her great charms had been that she
was such a gracious listener; now her excitement, by whatever caused,
made her too restless to hold her tongue; yet what she said was too
pretty, too witty, not to be a winning and sparkling interruption,
eagerly welcomed by those who were under her sway. Mr. Gibson was
the only one who observed this change, and reasoned upon it. "She's
in a mental fever of some kind," thought he to himself. "She's very
fascinating, but I don't quite understand her."

If Molly had not been so entirely loyal to her friend, she might have
thought this constant brilliancy a little tiresome when brought into
every-day life; it was not the sunshiny rest of a placid lake, it was
rather the glitter of the pieces of a broken mirror, which confuses
and bewilders. Cynthia would not talk quietly about anything now;
subjects of thought or conversation seemed to have lost their
relative value. There were exceptions to this mood of hers, when she
sank into deep fits of silence, that would have been gloomy had it
not been for the never varying sweetness of her temper. If there was
a little kindness to be done to either Mr. Gibson or Molly, Cynthia
was just as ready as ever to do it; nor did she refuse to do anything
her mother wished, however fidgety might be the humour that prompted
the wish. But in this latter case Cynthia's eyes were not quickened
by her heart.

Molly was dejected, she knew not why. Cynthia had drifted a little
apart; that was not it. Her stepmother had whimsical moods; and if
Cynthia displeased her, she would oppress Molly with small kindnesses
and pseudo-affection. Or else everything was wrong, the world was
out of joint, and Molly had failed in her mission to set it right,
and was to be blamed accordingly. But Molly was of too steady a
disposition to be much moved by the changeableness of an unreasonable
person. She might be annoyed, or irritated, but she was not
depressed. That was not it. The real cause was certainly this. As
long as Roger was drawn to Cynthia, and sought her of his own accord,
it had been a sore pain and bewilderment to Molly's heart; but it was
a straightforward attraction, and one which Molly acknowledged, in
her humility and great power of loving, to be the most natural thing
in the world. She would look at Cynthia's beauty and grace, and feel
as if no one could resist it. And when she witnessed all the small
signs of honest devotion which Roger was at no pains to conceal, she
thought, with a sigh, that surely no girl could help relinquishing
her heart to such tender, strong keeping as Roger's character
ensured. She would have been willing to cut off her right hand,
if need were, to forward his attachment to Cynthia; and the
self-sacrifice would have added a strange zest to a happy crisis. She
was indignant at what she considered to be Mrs. Gibson's obtuseness
to so much goodness and worth; and when she called Roger "a country
lout," or any other depreciative epithet, Molly would pinch herself
in order to keep silent. But after all, those were peaceful days
compared to the present, when she, seeing the wrong side of the
tapestry, after the wont of those who dwell in the same house with
a plotter, became aware that Mrs. Gibson had totally changed her
behaviour to Roger, from some cause unknown to Molly.

But he was always exactly the same; "steady as old Time," as Mrs.
Gibson called him, with her usual originality; "a rock of strength,
under whose very shadow there is rest," as Mrs. Hamley had once
spoken of him. So the cause of Mrs. Gibson's altered manner lay not
in him. Yet now he was sure of a welcome, let him come at any hour he
would. He was playfully reproved for having taken Mrs. Gibson's words
too literally, and for never coming before lunch. But he said he
considered her reasons for such words to be valid, and should respect
them. And this was done out of his simplicity, and from no tinge of
malice. Then in their family conversations at home, Mrs. Gibson was
constantly making projects for throwing Roger and Cynthia together,
with so evident a betrayal of her wish to bring about an engagement,
that Molly chafed at the net spread so evidently, and at Roger's
blindness in coming so willingly to be entrapped. She forgot his
previous willingness, his former evidences of manly fondness for the
beautiful Cynthia; she only saw plots of which he was the victim, and
Cynthia the conscious if passive bait. She felt as if she could not
have acted as Cynthia did; no, not even to gain Roger's love. Cynthia
heard and saw as much of the domestic background as she did, and yet
she submitted to the rôle assigned to her! To be sure, this rôle
would have been played by her unconsciously; the things prescribed
were what she would naturally have done; but because they were
prescribed--by implication only, it is true--Molly would have
resisted; have gone out, for instance, when she was expected to stay
at home; or have lingered in the garden when a long country walk was
planned. At last--for she could not help loving Cynthia, come what
would--she determined to believe that Cynthia was entirely unaware of
all; but it was with an effort that she brought herself to believe

It may be all very pleasant "to sport with Amaryllis in the shade,
or with the tangles of Neæra's hair," but young men at the outset of
their independent life have many other cares in this prosaic England
to occupy their time and their thoughts. Roger was Fellow of Trinity,
to be sure; and from the outside it certainly appeared as if his
position, as long as he chose to keep unmarried, was a very easy
one. His was not a nature, however, to sink down into inglorious
ease, even had his fellowship income been at his disposal. He
looked forward to an active life; in what direction he had not yet
determined. He knew what were his talents and his tastes; and did
not wish the former to lie buried, nor the latter, which he regarded
as gifts, fitting him for some peculiar work, to be disregarded or
thwarted. He rather liked awaiting an object, secure in his own
energy to force his way to it, when once he saw it clearly. He
reserved enough of money for his own personal needs, which were
small, and for the ready furtherance of any project he might see
fit to undertake; the rest of his income was Osborne's; given and
accepted in the spirit which made the bond between these two brothers
so rarely perfect. It was only the thought of Cynthia that threw
Roger off his balance. A strong man in everything else, about her
he was as a child. He knew that he could not marry and retain
his fellowship; his intention was to hold himself loose from any
employment or profession until he had found one to his mind, so
there was no immediate prospect--no prospect for many years, indeed,
that he would be able to marry. Yet he went on seeking Cynthia's
sweet company, listening to the music of her voice, basking in her
sunshine, and feeding his passion in every possible way, just like an
unreasoning child. He knew that it was folly--and yet he did it; and
it was perhaps this that made him so sympathetic with Osborne. Roger
racked his brains about Osborne's affairs much more frequently than
Osborne troubled himself. Indeed, he had become so ailing and languid
of late, that even the Squire made only very faint objections to
his desire for frequent change of scene, though formerly he used to
grumble so much at the necessary expenditure it involved.

"After all, it doesn't cost much," the Squire said to Roger one day.
"Choose how he does it, he does it cheaply; he used to come and ask
me for twenty, where now he does it for five. But he and I have
lost each other's language, that's what we have! and my dictionary"
(only he called it "dixonary") "has all got wrong because of those
confounded debts--which he will never explain to me, or talk
about--he always holds me off at arm's length when I begin upon
it--he does, Roger--me, his old dad, as was his primest favourite of
all, when he was a little bit of a chap!"

The Squire dwelt so much upon Osborne's reserved behaviour to
himself, that brooding over this one subject perpetually he became
more morose and gloomy than ever in his manner to Osborne, resenting
the want of the confidence and affection that he thus repelled. So
much so that Roger, who desired to avoid being made the receptacle
of his father's complaints against Osborne--and Roger's passive
listening was the sedative his father always sought--had often
to have recourse to the discussion of the drainage works as a
counter-irritant. The Squire had felt Mr. Preston's speech about
the dismissal of his work-people very keenly; it fell in with the
reproaches of his own conscience, though, as he would repeat to
Roger over and over again,--"I couldn't help it--how could I?--I was
drained dry of ready money--I wish the land was drained as dry as
I am," said he, with a touch of humour that came out before he was
aware, and at which he smiled sadly enough. "What was I to do, I ask
you, Roger? I know I was in a rage--I've had a deal to make me so--and
maybe I didn't think as much about consequences as I should ha'
done, when I gave orders for 'em to be sent off; but I couldn't have
done otherwise if I'd ha' thought for a twelvemonth in cool blood.
Consequences! I hate consequences; they've always been against me;
they have. I'm so tied up I can't cut down a stick more, and that's a
'consequence' of having the property so deucedly well settled; I wish
I'd never had any ancestors. Ay, laugh, lad! it does me good to see
thee laugh a bit, after Osborne's long face, which always grows longer
at sight o' me!"

"Look here, father!" said Roger, suddenly, "I'll manage somehow about
the money for the works. You trust to me; give me two months to turn
myself in, and you shall have some money, at any rate, to begin

The Squire looked at him, and his face brightened as a child's does
at the promise of a pleasure made to him by some one on whom he can
rely. He became a little graver, however, as he said,--"But how will
you get it? It's hard enough work."

"Never mind; I'll get it--a hundred or so at first--I don't yet
know how--but remember, father, I'm a senior wrangler, and a 'very
promising young writer,' as that review called me. Oh, you don't know
what a fine fellow you've got for a son! You should have read that
review to know all my wonderful merits."

"I did, Roger. I heard Gibson speaking of it, and I made him get it
for me. I should have understood it better if they could have called
the animals by their English names, and not put so much of their
French jingo into it."

"But it was an answer to an article by a French writer," pleaded

"I'd ha' let him alone!" said the Squire, earnestly. "We had to
beat 'em, and we did it at Waterloo; but I'd not demean myself by
answering any of their lies, if I was you. But I got through the
review, for all their Latin and French--I did; and if you doubt me,
you just look at the end of the great ledger, turn it upside down,
and you'll find I've copied out all the fine words they said of you:
'careful observer,' 'strong nervous English,' 'rising philosopher.'
Oh! I can nearly say it all off by heart, for many a time when I'm
frabbed by bad debts, or Osborne's bills, or moidered with accounts,
I turn the ledger wrong way up, and smoke a pipe over it, while I
read those pieces out of the review which speak about you, lad!"



Roger had turned over many plans in his mind, by which he thought
that he could obtain sufficient money for the purpose he desired to
accomplish. His careful grandfather, who had been a merchant in the
city, had so tied up the few thousands he had left to his daughter,
that although, in case of her death before her husband's, the latter
might enjoy the life-interest thereof, yet, in case of both their
deaths, their second son did not succeed to the property until he was
five-and-twenty; and if he died before that age, the money that would
then have been his went to one of his cousins on the maternal side.
In short, the old merchant had taken as many precautions about his
legacy as if it had been for tens, instead of units of thousands. Of
course Roger might have slipped through all these meshes by insuring
his life until the specified age; and, probably, if he had consulted
any lawyer, this course would have been suggested to him. But he
disliked taking any one into his confidence on the subject of
his father's want of ready money. He had obtained a copy of his
grandfather's will at Doctors' Commons, and he imagined that all the
contingencies involved in it would be patent to the light of nature
and common sense. He was a little mistaken in this, but not the less
resolved that money in some way he would have in order to fulfil his
promise to his father, and for the ulterior purpose of giving the
squire some daily interest to distract his thoughts from the regrets
and cares that were almost weakening his mind. It was "Roger Hamley,
senior wrangler and Fellow of Trinity, to the highest bidder, no
matter what honest employment," and presently it came down to "any
bidder at all."

Another perplexity and distress at this time weighed upon Roger.
Osborne, heir to the estate, was going to have a child. The Hamley
property was entailed on "heirs male born in lawful wedlock." Was the
"wedlock" lawful? Osborne never seemed to doubt that it was--never
seemed, in fact, to think twice about it. And if he, the husband, did
not, how much less did Aimée, the trustful wife? Yet who could tell
how much misery any shadows of illegality might cast into the future?
One evening Roger, sitting by the languid, careless, dilettante
Osborne, began to question him as to the details of the marriage.
Osborne knew instinctively at what Roger was aiming. It was not that
he did not desire perfect legality in justice to his wife; it was
that he was so indisposed at the time that he hated to be bothered.
It was something like the refrain of Gray's Scandinavian Prophetess:
"Leave me, leave me to repose."

"But do try and tell me how you managed it."

"How tiresome you are, Roger!" put in Osborne.

"Well, I daresay I am. Go on!"

"I've told you Morrison married us. You remember old Morrison at

"Yes; as good and blunder-headed a fellow as ever lived."

"Well, he's taken orders; and the examination for priest's orders
fatigued him so much that he got his father to give him a hundred or
two for a tour on the Continent. He meant to get to Rome, because he
heard that there were such pleasant winters there. So he turned up at
Metz in August."

"I don't see why."

"No more did he. He never was great in geography, you know; and
somehow he thought that Metz, pronounced French fashion, must be on
the road to Rome. Some one had told him so in fun. However, it was
very well for me that I met with him there, for I was determined to
be married, and that without loss of time."

"But Aimée is a Catholic?"

"That's true! but you see I am not. You don't suppose I would do her
any wrong, Roger?" asked Osborne, sitting up in his lounging-chair,
and speaking rather indignantly to Roger, his face suddenly flushing

"No! I'm sure you would not mean it; but, you see, there's a child
coming, and this estate is entailed on 'heirs-male.' Now, I want
to know if the marriage is legal or not? and it seems to me it's a
ticklish question."

"Oh!" said Osborne, falling back into repose, "if that's all, I
suppose you're next heir-male, and I can trust you as I can myself.
You know my marriage is _bonâ fide_ in intention, and I believe
it to be legal in fact. We went over to Strasbourg; Aimée picked
up a friend--a good middle-aged Frenchwoman--who served half
as bridesmaid, half as chaperone, and then we went before the
mayor--préfet--what do you call them? I think Morrison rather enjoyed
the spree. I signed all manner of papers in the prefecture; I did not
read them over, for fear lest I could not sign them conscientiously.
It was the safest plan. Aimée kept trembling so I thought she would
faint; and then we went off to the nearest English chaplaincy,
Carlsruhe, and the chaplain was away, so Morrison easily got the loan
of the chapel, and we were married the next day."

"But surely some registration or certificate was necessary?"

"Morrison said he would undertake all those forms; and he ought to
know his own business. I know I tipped him pretty well for the job."

"You must be married again," said Roger, after a pause, "and
that before the child is born. Have you got a certificate of the

"I daresay Morrison has got it somewhere. But I believe I'm legally
married according to the laws both of England and France; I really
do, old fellow. I've got the préfet's papers somewhere."

"Never mind! you shall be married again in England. Aimée goes to the
Roman Catholic chapel at Prestham, doesn't she?"

"Yes. She is so good I wouldn't disturb her in her religion for the

"Then you shall be married both there and at the church of the parish
in which she lives as well," said Roger, decidedly.

"It's a great deal of trouble, unnecessary trouble, and unnecessary
expense, I should say," said Osborne. "Why can't you leave well
alone? Neither Aimée nor I are of the sort of stuff to turn
scoundrels and deny the legality of our marriage; and if the child
is a boy and my father dies, and I die, why I'm sure you'll do him
justice, as sure as I am of myself, old fellow!"

"But if I die into the bargain? Make a hecatomb of the present
Hamleys all at once, while you are about it. Who succeeds as

Osborne thought for a moment. "One of the Irish Hamleys, I suppose.
I fancy they are needy chaps. Perhaps you're right. But what need to
have such gloomy forebodings?"

"The law makes one have foresight in such affairs," said Roger. "So
I'll go down to Aimée next week when I'm in town, and I'll make all
necessary arrangements before you come. I think you'll be happier if
it is all done."

"I shall be happier if I've a chance of seeing the little woman, that
I grant you. But what is taking you up to town? I wish I'd money to
run about like you, instead of being shut up for ever in this dull
old house."

Osborne was apt occasionally to contrast his position with Roger's
in a tone of complaint, forgetting that both were the results of
character, and also that out of his income Roger gave up so large
a portion for the maintenance of his brother's wife. But if this
ungenerous thought of Osborne's had been set clearly before his
conscience, he would have smote his breast and cried "Mea culpa" with
the best of them; it was only that he was too indolent to keep an
unassisted conscience.

"I shouldn't have thought of going up," said Roger, reddening as if
he had been accused of spending another's money instead of his own,
"if I hadn't had to go up on business. Lord Hollingford has written
for me; he knows my great wish for employment, and has heard of
something which he considers suitable; there's his letter if you care
to read it. But it does not tell anything definitely."

Osborne read the letter and returned it to Roger. After a moment or
two of silence he said,--"Why do you want money? Are we taking too
much from you? It's a great shame of me; but what can I do? Only
suggest a career for me, and I'll follow it to-morrow." He spoke as
if Roger had been reproaching him.

"My dear fellow, don't get those notions into your head! I must
do something for myself sometimes, and I've been on the look-out.
Besides, I want my father to go on with his drainage; it would do
good both to his health and his spirits. If I can advance any part of
the money requisite, he and you shall pay me interest until you can
return the capital."

"Roger, you're the providence of the family," exclaimed Osborne,
suddenly struck by admiration at his brother's conduct, and
forgetting to contrast it with his own.

So Roger went up to London and Osborne followed him, and for two or
three weeks the Gibsons saw nothing of the brothers. But as wave
succeeds to wave, so interest succeeds to interest. "The family,"
as they were called, came down for their autumn sojourn at the
Towers, and again the house was full of visitors, and the Towers'
servants, and carriages, and liveries were seen in the two streets of
Hollingford, just as they might have been seen for scores of autumns

So runs the round of life from day to day. Mrs. Gibson found the
chances of intercourse with the Towers rather more personally
exciting than Roger's visits, or the rarer calls of Osborne Hamley.
Cynthia had an old antipathy to the great family who had made so much
of her mother and so little of her; and whom she considered as in
some measure the cause why she had seen so little of her mother in
the days when the little girl had craved for love and found none.
Moreover, Cynthia missed her slave, although she did not care for
Roger one thousandth part of what he did for her; yet she had found
it not unpleasant to have a man whom she thoroughly respected, and
whom men in general respected, the subject of her eye, the glad
ministrant to each scarce-spoken wish, a person in whose sight
all her words were pearls or diamonds, all her actions heavenly
graciousness, and in whose thoughts she reigned supreme. She had
no modest unconsciousness about her; and yet she was not vain.
She knew of all this worship; and when from circumstances she no
longer received it, she missed it. The Earl and the Countess, Lord
Hollingford and Lady Harriet, lords and ladies in general, liveries,
dresses, bags of game, and rumours of riding parties, were as nothing
to her compared to Roger's absence. And yet she did not love him.
No, she did not love him. Molly knew that Cynthia did not love him.
Molly grew angry with her many and many a time as the conviction of
this fact was forced upon her. Molly did not know her own feelings;
Roger had no overwhelming interest in what they might be; while his
very life-breath seemed to depend on what Cynthia felt and thought.
Therefore Molly had keen insight into her "sister's" heart; and she
knew that Cynthia did not love Roger. Molly could have cried with
passionate regret at the thought of the unvalued treasure lying at
Cynthia's feet; and it would have been a merely unselfish regret.
It was the old fervid tenderness: "Do not wish for the moon, O my
darling, for I cannot give it thee." Cynthia's love was the moon
Roger yearned for; and Molly saw that it was far away and out of
reach, else would she have strained her heart-cords to give it to

"I am his sister," she would say to herself. "That old bond is not
done away with, though he is too much absorbed by Cynthia to speak
about it just now. His mother called me 'Fanny;' it was almost like
an adoption. I must wait and watch, and see if I can do anything for
my brother."

One day Lady Harriet came to call on the Gibsons, or rather on Mrs.
Gibson, for the latter retained her old jealousy if any one else
in Hollingford was supposed to be on intimate terms at the great
house, or in the least acquainted with their plans. Mr. Gibson might
possibly know as much, but then he was professionally bound to
secrecy. Out of the house she considered Mr. Preston as her rival,
and he was aware that she did so, and delighted in teasing her by
affecting a knowledge of family plans and details of affairs of which
she was ignorant. Indoors she was jealous of the fancy Lady Harriet
had evidently taken for her step-daughter, and she contrived to place
quiet obstacles in the way of a too frequent intercourse between the
two. These obstacles were not unlike the shield of the knight in
the old story; only instead of the two sides presented to the two
travellers approaching it from opposite quarters, one of which was
silver, and one of which was gold, Lady Harriet saw the smooth and
shining yellow radiance, while poor Molly only perceived a dull and
heavy lead. To Lady Harriet it was "Molly is gone out; she will be so
sorry to miss you, but she was obliged to go to see some old friends
of her mother's whom she ought not to neglect; as I said to her,
constancy is everything. It is Sterne, I think, who says, 'Thine own
and thy mother's friends forsake not.' But, dear Lady Harriet, you'll
stop till she comes home, won't you? I know how fond you are of her;
in fact" (with a little surface playfulness) "I sometimes say you
come more to see her than your poor old Clare."

To Molly it had previously been,--

"Lady Harriet is coming here this morning. I can't have any one else
coming in. Tell Maria to say I'm not at home. Lady Harriet has always
so much to tell me. Dear Lady Harriet! I've known all her secrets
since she was twelve years old. You two girls must keep out of the
way. Of course she'll ask for you, out of common civility; but
you would only interrupt us if you came in, as you did the other
day;"--now addressing Molly--"I hardly like to say so, but I thought
it was very forward."

"Maria told me she had asked for me," put in Molly, simply.

"Very forward indeed!" continued Mrs. Gibson, taking no further
notice of the interruption, except to strengthen the words to which
Molly's little speech had been intended as a correction.

"I think this time I must secure her ladyship from the chances of
such an intrusion, by taking care that you are out of the house,
Molly. You had better go to the Holly Farm, and speak about those
damsons I ordered, and which have never been sent."

"I'll go," said Cynthia. "It's far too long a walk for Molly; she's
had a bad cold, and isn't as strong as she was a fortnight ago. I
delight in long walks. If you want Molly out of the way, mamma, send
her to the Miss Brownings'--they are always glad to see her."

"I never said I wanted Molly out of the way, Cynthia," replied Mrs.
Gibson. "You always put things in such an exaggerated--I should
almost say, so coarse a manner. I am sure, Molly, my love, you
could never have so misunderstood me; it is only on Lady Harriet's

"I don't think I can walk as far as the Holly Farm; papa would take
the message; Cynthia need not go."

"Well! I'm the last person in the world to tax any one's strength;
I'd sooner never see damson preserve again. Suppose you do go and see
Miss Browning; you can pay her a nice long call, you know she likes
that; and ask after Miss Phoebe's cold from me, you know. They were
friends of your mother's, my dear, and I would not have you break off
old friendships for the world. 'Constancy above everything' is my
motto, as you know, and the memory of the dead ought always to be

"Now, mamma, where am I to go?" asked Cynthia. "Though Lady Harriet
doesn't care for me as much as she does for Molly--indeed, quite the
contrary I should say--yet she might ask after me, and I had better
be safely out of the way."

"True!" said Mrs. Gibson, meditatively, yet unconscious of any satire
in Cynthia's speech.

"She is much less likely to ask for you, my dear: I almost think
you might remain in the house, or you might go to the Holly Farm;
I really do want the damsons; or you might stay here in the
dining-room, you know, so as to be ready to arrange lunch prettily,
if she does take a fancy to stay for it. She is very fanciful,
is dear Lady Harriet! I would not like her to think we made any
difference in our meals because she stayed. 'Simple elegance,' as I
tell her, 'always is what we aim at.' But still you could put out the
best service, and arrange some flowers, and ask cook what there is
for dinner that she could send us for lunch, and make it all look
pretty, and impromptu, and natural. I think you had better stay at
home, Cynthia, and then you could fetch Molly from Miss Brownings' in
the afternoon, you know, and you two could take a walk together."

"After Lady Harriet was fairly gone! I understand, mamma. Off with
you, Molly. Make haste, or Lady Harriet may come and ask for you as
well as mamma. I'll take care and forget where you are going to, so
that no one shall learn from me where you are, and I'll answer for
mamma's loss of memory."

"Child! what nonsense you talk; you quite confuse me with being so
silly," said Mrs. Gibson, fluttered and annoyed as she usually was
with the Lilliputian darts Cynthia flung at her. She had recourse to
her accustomed feckless piece of retaliation--bestowing some favour
on Molly; and this did not hurt Cynthia one whit.

"Molly, darling, there's a very cold wind, though it looks so fine.
You had better put on my Indian shawl; and it will look so pretty,
too, on your grey gown--scarlet and grey; it's not everybody I would
lend it to, but you're so careful."

"Thank you," said Molly: and she left Mrs. Gibson in careless
uncertainty as to whether her offer would be accepted or not.

Lady Harriet was sorry to miss Molly, as she was fond of the
girl; but as she perfectly agreed with Mrs. Gibson's truism about
"constancy" and "old friends," she saw no occasion for saying any
more about the affair, but sat down in a little low chair with her
feet on the fender. This said fender was made of bright, bright
steel, and was strictly tabooed to all household and plebeian feet;
indeed the position, if they assumed it, was considered low-bred and

"That's right, dear Lady Harriet! you can't think what a pleasure it
is to me to welcome you at my own fireside, into my humble home."

"Humble! now, Clare, that's a little bit of nonsense, begging your
pardon. I don't call this pretty little drawing-room a bit of a
'humble home.' It's as full of comforts, and of pretty things too, as
any room of its size can be."

"Ah! how small you must feel it! even I had to reconcile myself to it
at first."

"Well! perhaps your schoolroom was larger, but remember how bare it
was, how empty of anything but deal tables, and forms, and mats. Oh,
indeed, Clare, I quite agree with mamma, who always says you have
done very well for yourself; and Mr. Gibson too! What an agreeable,
well-informed man!"

"Yes, he is," said his wife, slowly, as if she did not like to
relinquish her rôle of a victim to circumstances quite immediately.
"He is very agreeable, very; only we see so little of him; and of
course he comes home tired and hungry, and not inclined to talk to
his own family, and apt to go to sleep."

"Come, come!" said Lady Harriet, "I'm going to have my turn now.
We've had the complaint of a doctor's wife, now hear the moans of a
peer's daughter. Our house is so overrun with visitors! and literally
to-day I have come to you for a little solitude."

"Solitude!" exclaimed Mrs. Gibson. "Would you rather be alone?"
slightly aggrieved.

"No, you dear silly woman; my solitude requires a listener, to
whom I may say, 'How sweet is solitude!' But I am tired of the
responsibility of entertaining. Papa is so open-hearted, he asks
every friend he meets with to come and pay us a visit. Mamma is
really a great invalid, but she does not choose to give up her
reputation for good health, having always considered illness a want
of self-control. So she gets wearied and worried by a crowd of people
who are all of them open-mouthed for amusement of some kind; just
like a brood of fledglings in a nest; so I have to be parent-bird,
and pop morsels into their yellow leathery bills, to find them
swallowed down before I can think of where to find the next. Oh, it's
'entertaining' in the largest, literalist, dreariest sense of the
word. So I have told a few lies this morning, and come off here for
quietness and the comfort of complaining!"

Lady Harriet threw herself back in her chair, and yawned; Mrs. Gibson
took one of her ladyship's hands in a soft sympathizing manner, and

"Poor Lady Harriet!" and then she purred affectionately.

After a pause Lady Harriet started up and said--"I used to take you
as my arbiter of morals when I was a little girl. Tell me, do you
think it wrong to tell lies?"

"Oh, my dear! how can you ask such questions?--of course it is very
wrong,--very wicked indeed, I think I may say. But I know you were
only joking when you said you had told lies."

"No, indeed, I wasn't. I told as plump fat lies as you would wish
to hear. I said I 'was obliged to go into Hollingford on business,'
when the truth was there was no obligation in the matter, only an
insupportable desire of being free from my visitors for an hour or
two, and my only business was to come here, and yawn, and complain,
and lounge at my leisure. I really think I'm unhappy at having told a
story, as children express it."

"But, my dear Lady Harriet," said Mrs. Gibson, a little puzzled as to
the exact meaning of the words that were trembling on her tongue, "I
am sure you thought that you meant what you said, when you said it."

"No, I didn't," put in Lady Harriet.

"And besides, if you didn't, it was the fault of the tiresome people
who drove you into such straits--yes, it was certainly their fault,
not yours--and then you know the conventions of society--ah, what
trammels they are!"

Lady Harriet was silent for a minute or two; then she said,--"Tell
me, Clare; you've told lies sometimes, haven't you?"

"Lady Harriet! I think you might have known me better; but I know you
don't mean it, dear."

"Yes, I do. You must have told white lies, at any rate. How did you
feel after them?"

"I should have been miserable if I ever had. I should have died of
self-reproach. 'The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the
truth,' has always seemed to me such a fine passage. But then I have
so much that is unbending in my nature, and in our sphere of life
there are so few temptations. If we are humble, we are also simple,
and unshackled by etiquette."

"Then you blame me very much? If somebody else will blame me, I
sha'n't be so unhappy at what I said this morning."

"I am sure I never blamed you, not in my innermost heart, dear Lady
Harriet. Blame you, indeed! That would be presumption in me."

"I think I shall set up a confessor! and it sha'n't be you, Clare,
for you have always been only too indulgent to me."

After a pause she said,--"Can you give me some lunch, Clare? I don't
mean to go home till three. My 'business' will take me till then, as
the people at the Towers are duly informed."

"Certainly. I shall be delighted! but you know we are very simple in
our habits."

"Oh, I only want a little bread-and-butter, and perhaps a slice of
cold meat--you must not give yourself any trouble, Clare--perhaps you
dine now? let me sit down just like one of your family."

"Yes, you shall; I won't make any alteration;--it will be so pleasant
to have you sharing our family meal, dear Lady Harriet. But we dine
late, we only lunch now. How low the fire is getting; I really am
forgetting everything in the pleasure of this tête-à-tête!"

So she rang twice; with great distinctness, and with a long pause
between the rings. Maria brought in coals.

But the signal was as well understood by Cynthia as the "Hall of
Apollo" was by the servants of Lucullus. The brace of partridges that
were to have been for the late dinner were instantly put down to the
fire; and the prettiest china brought out, and the table decked with
flowers and fruit, arranged with all Cynthia's usual dexterity and
taste. So that when the meal was announced, and Lady Harriet entered
the room, she could not but think her hostess's apologies had been
quite unnecessary; and be more and more convinced that Clare had
done very well for herself. Cynthia now joined the party, pretty
and elegant as she always was; but somehow she did not take Lady
Harriet's fancy; she only noticed her on account of her being her
mother's daughter. Her presence made the conversation more general,
and Lady Harriet gave out several pieces of news, none of them of any
great importance to her, but as what had been talked about by the
circle of visitors assembled at the Towers.

"Lord Hollingford ought to have been with us," she said, amongst
other things; "but he is obliged, or fancies himself obliged, which
is all the same thing, to stay in town about this Crichton legacy!"

"A legacy? To Lord Hollingford? I am so glad!"

"Don't be in a hurry to be glad! It's nothing for him but trouble.
Didn't you hear of that rich eccentric Mr. Crichton, who died
some time ago, and--fired by the example of Lord Bridgewater,
I suppose--left a sum of money in the hands of trustees, of
whom my brother is one, to send out a man with a thousand fine
qualifications, to make a scientific voyage, with a view to bringing
back specimens of the fauna of distant lands, and so forming the
nucleus of a museum which is to be called the Crichton Museum, and so
perpetuate the founder's name. Such various forms does man's vanity
take! Sometimes it stimulates philanthropy; sometimes a love of

"It seems to me a very laudable and useful object, I am sure," said
Mrs. Gibson, safely.

"I daresay it is, taking it from the public-good view. But it's
rather tiresome to us privately, for it keeps Hollingford in town--or
between it and Cambridge--and each place as dull and empty as can be,
just when we want him down at the Towers. The thing ought to have
been decided long ago, and there's some danger of the legacy lapsing.
The two other trustees have run away to the Continent, feeling, as
they say, the utmost confidence in him, but in reality shirking their
responsibilities. However, I believe he likes it, so I ought not to
grumble. He thinks he is going to be very successful in the choice of
his man--and he belongs to this county, too,--young Hamley of Hamley,
if he can only get his college to let him go, for he is a Fellow of
Trinity, senior wrangler or something; and they're not so foolish as
to send their crack man to be eaten up by lions and tigers!"

"It must be Roger Hamley!" exclaimed Cynthia, her eyes brightening,
and her cheeks flushing.

"He's not the eldest son; he can scarcely be called Hamley of
Hamley!" said Mrs. Gibson.

"Hollingford's man is a Fellow of Trinity, as I said before."

"Then it is Mr. Roger Hamley," said Cynthia; "and he's up in London
about some business! What news for Molly when she comes home!"

"Why, what has Molly to do with it?" asked Lady Harriet. "Is--?" and
she looked into Mrs. Gibson's face for an answer. Mrs. Gibson in
reply gave an intelligent and very expressive glance at Cynthia, who
however did not perceive it.

"Oh, no! not at all,"--and Mrs. Gibson nodded a little at her
daughter, as much as to say, "If any one, that."

Lady Harriet began to look at the pretty Miss Kirkpatrick with fresh
interest; her brother had spoken in such a manner of this young
Mr. Hamley that every one connected with the phoenix was worthy of
observation. Then, as if the mention of Molly's name had brought her
afresh into her mind, Lady Harriet said,--"And where is Molly all
this time? I should like to see my little mentor. I hear she is very
much grown since those days."

"Oh! when she once gets gossiping with the Miss Brownings, she never
knows when to come home," said Mrs. Gibson.

"The Miss Brownings? Oh! I'm so glad you named them! I'm very fond of
them. Pecksy and Flapsy; I may call them so in Molly's absence. I'll
go and see them before I go home, and then perhaps I shall see my
dear little Molly too. Do you know, Clare, I've quite taken a fancy
to that girl!"

So Mrs. Gibson, after all her precautions, had to submit to Lady
Harriet's leaving her half-an-hour earlier than she otherwise would
have done in order to "make herself common" (as Mrs. Gibson expressed
it) by calling on the Miss Brownings.

But Molly had left before Lady Harriet arrived.

Molly went the long walk to the Holly Farm, to order the damsons,
out of a kind of penitence. She had felt conscious of anger at being
sent out of the house by such a palpable manoeuvre as that which
her stepmother had employed. Of course she did not meet Cynthia, so
she went alone along the pretty lanes, with grassy sides and high
hedge-banks not at all in the style of modern agriculture. At first
she made herself uncomfortable with questioning herself as to how
far it was right to leave unnoticed the small domestic failings--the
webs, the distortions of truth which had prevailed in their household
ever since her father's second marriage. She knew that very often
she longed to protest, but did not do it, from the desire of sparing
her father any discord; and she saw by his face that he, too, was
occasionally aware of certain things that gave him pain, as showing
that his wife's standard of conduct was not as high as he would have
liked. It was a wonder to Molly whether this silence was right or
wrong. With a girl's want of toleration, and want of experience to
teach her the force of circumstances, and of temptation, she had
often been on the point of telling her stepmother some forcible home
truths. But, possibly, her father's example of silence, and often
some piece of kindness on Mrs. Gibson's part (for after her way, and
when in a good temper, she was very kind to Molly), made her hold her

That night at dinner, Mrs. Gibson recounted the conversation between
herself and Lady Harriet, giving it a very strong individual
colouring, as was her wont, and telling nearly the whole of what had
passed, although implying that there was a great deal said which was
so purely confidential, that she was bound in honour not to repeat
it. Her three auditors listened to her without interrupting her
much--indeed, without bestowing extreme attention on what she was
saying, until she came to the fact of Lord Hollingford's absence in
London, and the reason for it.

"Roger Hamley going off on a scientific expedition!" exclaimed Mr.
Gibson, suddenly awakened into vivacity.

"Yes. At least it is not settled finally; but as Lord Hollingford
is the only trustee who takes any interest--and being Lord Cumnor's
son--it is next to certain."

"I think I must have a voice in the matter," said Mr. Gibson; and he
relapsed into silence, keeping his ears open, however, henceforward.

"How long will he be away?" asked Cynthia. "We shall miss him sadly."

Molly's lips formed an acquiescing "yes" to this remark, but no sound
was heard. There was a buzzing in her ears as if the others were
going on with the conversation, but the words they uttered seemed
indistinct and blurred; they were merely conjectures, and did not
interfere with the one great piece of news. To the rest of the party
she appeared to be eating her dinner as usual, and, if she were
silent, there was one listener the more to Mrs. Gibson's stream of
prattle, and Mr. Gibson's and Cynthia's remarks.



[Illustration (untitled)]

It was a day or two afterwards, that Mr. Gibson made time to ride
round by Hamley, desirous to learn more exact particulars of this
scheme for Roger than he could obtain from any extraneous source, and
rather puzzled to know whether he should interfere in the project or
not. The state of the case was this:--Osborne's symptoms were, in Mr.
Gibson's opinion, signs of his having a fatal disease. Dr. Nicholls
had differed from him on this head, and Mr. Gibson knew that the old
physician had had long experience, and was considered very skilful
in the profession. Still he believed that he himself was right, and,
if so, the complaint was one which might continue for years in the
same state as at present, or might end the young man's life in an
hour--a minute. Supposing that Mr. Gibson was right, would it be well
for Roger to be away where no sudden calls for his presence could
reach him--away for two years? Yet if the affair was concluded, the
interference of a medical man might accelerate the very evil to be
feared; and after all, Dr. Nicholls might be right, and the symptoms
might proceed from some other cause. Might? Yes. Probably did? No.
Mr. Gibson could not bring himself to say "yes" to this latter form
of sentence. So he rode on, meditating; his reins slack, his head
a little bent. It was one of those still and lovely autumn days
when the red and yellow leaves are hanging-pegs to dewy, brilliant
gossamer-webs; when the hedges are full of trailing brambles, loaded
with ripe blackberries; when the air is full of the farewell whistles
and pipes of birds, clear and short--not the long full-throated
warbles of spring; when the whirr of the partridge's wings is heard
in the stubble-fields, as the sharp hoof-blows fall on the paved
lanes; when here and there a leaf floats and flutters down to the
ground, although there is not a single breath of wind. The country
surgeon felt the beauty of the seasons perhaps more than most men.
He saw more of it by day, by night, in storm and sunshine, or in the
still, soft, cloudy weather. He never spoke about what he felt on
the subject; indeed, he did not put his feelings into words, even to
himself. But if his mood ever approached to the sentimental, it was
on such days as this. He rode into the stable-yard, gave his horse to
a man, and went into the house by a side entrance. In the passage he
met the Squire.

"That's capital, Gibson! what good wind blew you here? You'll have
some lunch? it's on the table, I only just this minute left the
room." And he kept shaking Mr. Gibson's hand all the time till he had
placed him, nothing loth, at the well-covered dining-table.

"What's this I hear about Roger?" said Mr. Gibson, plunging at once
into the subject.

"Aha! so you've heard, have you? It's famous, isn't it? He's a boy to
be proud of, is old Roger. Steady Roger; we used to think him slow,
but it seems to me that slow and sure wins the race. But tell me;
what have you heard? how much is known? Nay, you must have a glass
full. It's old ale, such as we don't brew now-a-days; it's as old
as Osborne. We brewed it that autumn, and we called it the young
squire's ale. I thought to have tapped it on his marriage, but I
don't know when that will come to pass, so we've tapped it now in
Roger's honour."

The old squire had evidently been enjoying the young squire's ale
to the verge of prudence. It was indeed as he said, "as strong as
brandy," and Mr. Gibson had to sip it very carefully as he ate his
cold roast beef.

"Well! and what have you heard? There's a deal to hear, and all good
news, though I shall miss the lad, I know that."

"I did not know it was settled; I only heard that it was in

"Well, it was only in progress, as you call it, till last Tuesday.
He never let me know anything about it, though; he says he thought I
might be fidgety with thinking of the pros and cons. So I never knew
a word on't till I had a letter from my Lord Hollingford--where is
it?" pulling out a great black leathern receptacle for all manner of
papers. And putting on his spectacles, he read aloud their headings.

"'Measurement of timber, new railings,' 'drench for cows, from Farmer
Hayes,' 'Dobson's accounts,'--'um 'um--here it is. Now read that
letter," handing it to Mr. Gibson.

It was a manly, feeling, sensible letter, explaining to the old
father in very simple language the services which were demanded
by the terms of the will to which he and two or three others were
trustees; the liberal allowance for expenses, the still more liberal
reward for performance, which had tempted several men of considerable
renown to offer themselves as candidates for the appointment. Lord
Hollingford then went on to say that, having seen a good deal of
Roger lately, since the publication of his article in reply to the
French osteologist, he had had reason to think that in him the
trustees would find united the various qualities required in a
greater measure than in any of the applicants who had at that time
presented themselves. Roger had deep interest in the subject; much
acquired knowledge, and at the same time, great natural powers of
comparison, and classification of facts; he had shown himself to be
an observer of a fine and accurate kind; he was of the right age, in
the very prime of health and strength, and unshackled by any family
ties. Here Mr. Gibson paused for consideration. He hardly cared to
ascertain by what steps the result had been arrived at--he already
knew what that result was; but his mind was again arrested as his eye
caught on the remuneration offered, which was indeed most liberal;
and then he read with attention the high praise bestowed on the
son in this letter to the father. The Squire had been watching Mr.
Gibson--waiting till he came to this part--and he rubbed his hands
together as he said,--

"Ay! you've come to it at last. It's the best part of the whole,
isn't it? God bless the boy! and from a Whig, mind you, which makes
it the more handsome. And there's more to come still. I say, Gibson,
I think my luck is turning at last," passing him on yet another
letter to read. "That only came this morning; but I've acted on it
already, I sent for the foreman of the drainage works at once, I did;
and to-morrow, please God, they'll be at work again."

Mr. Gibson read the second letter, from Roger. To a certain degree
it was a modest repetition of what Lord Hollingford had said, with
an explanation of how he had come to take so decided a step in life
without consulting his father. He did not wish him to be in suspense
for one reason. Another was that he felt, as no one else could feel
for him, that by accepting this offer, he entered upon the kind of
life for which he knew himself to be most fitted. And then he merged
the whole into business. He said that he knew well the suffering his
father had gone through when he had had to give up his drainage works
for want of money; that he, Roger, had been enabled at once to raise
money upon the remuneration he was to receive on the accomplishment
of his two years' work; and that he had also insured his life, in
order to provide for the repayment of the money he had raised, in
case he did not live to return to England. He said that the sum he
had borrowed on this security would at once be forwarded to his

Mr. Gibson laid down the letter without speaking a word for some
time; then he said,--"He'll have to pay a pretty sum for insuring his
life beyond seas."

"He's got his Fellowship money," said the Squire, a little depressed
at Mr. Gibson's remark.

"Yes; that's true. And he's a strong young fellow, as I know."

"I wish I could tell his mother," said the Squire in an under-tone.

"It seems all settled now," said Mr. Gibson, more in reply to his own
thoughts than to the Squire's remark.

"Yes!" said the Squire; "and they're not going to let the grass grow
under his feet. He's to be off as soon as he can get his scientific
traps ready. I almost wish he wasn't to go. You don't seem quite to
like it, doctor?"

"Yes, I do," said Mr. Gibson in a more cheerful tone than before. "It
can't be helped now without doing a mischief," thought he to himself.
"Why, Squire, I think it a great honour to have such a son. I envy
you, that's what I do. Here's a lad of three or four and twenty
distinguishing himself in more ways than one, and as simple and
affectionate at home as any fellow need to be--not a bit set up."

"Ay, ay; he's twice as much a son to me as Osborne, who has been all
his life set up on nothing at all, as one may say."

"Come, Squire, I mustn't hear anything against Osborne; we may praise
one, without hitting at the other. Osborne hasn't had the strong
health which has enabled Roger to work as he has done. I met a man
who knew his tutor at Trinity the other day, and of course we began
cracking about Roger--it's not every day that one can reckon a senior
wrangler amongst one's friends, and I'm nearly as proud of the lad
as you are. This Mr. Mason told me the tutor said that only half of
Roger's success was owing to his mental powers; the other half was
owing to his perfect health, which enabled him to work harder and
more continuously than most men without suffering. He said that in
all his experience he had never known any one with an equal capacity
for mental labour; and that he could come again with a fresh appetite
to his studies after shorter intervals of rest than most. Now I,
being a doctor, trace a good deal of his superiority to the material
cause of a thoroughly good constitution, which Osborne hasn't got."

"Osborne might have, if he got out o' doors more," said the Squire,
moodily; "but except when he can loaf into Hollingford he doesn't
care to go out at all. I hope," he continued, with a glance of sudden
suspicion at Mr. Gibson, "he's not after one of your girls? I don't
mean any offence, you know; but he'll have the estate, and it won't
be free, and he must marry money. I don't think I could allow it in
Roger; but Osborne's the eldest son, you know."

Mr. Gibson reddened; he was offended for a moment. Then the partial
truth of what the Squire said was presented to his mind, and he
remembered their old friendship, so he spoke quietly, if shortly.

"I don't believe there's anything of the kind going on. I'm not much
at home, you know; but I've never heard or seen anything that should
make me suppose that there is. When I do, I'll let you know."

"Now, Gibson, don't go and be offended. I'm glad for the boys to have
a pleasant house to go to, and I thank you and Mrs. Gibson for making
it pleasant. Only keep off love; it can come to no good. That's
all. I don't believe Osborne will ever earn a farthing to keep a
wife during my life, and if I were to die to-morrow, she would have
to bring some money to clear the estate. And if I do speak as I
shouldn't have done formerly--a little sharp or so--why, it's because
I've been worried by many a care no one knows anything of."

"I'm not going to take offence," said Mr. Gibson, "but let us
understand each other clearly. If you don't want your sons to come
as much to my house as they do, tell them so yourself. I like the
lads, and am glad to see them; but if they do come, you must take the
consequences, whatever they are, and not blame me, or them either,
for what may happen from the frequent intercourse between two young
men and two young women; and what is more, though, as I said, I see
nothing whatever of the kind you fear at present, and have promised
to tell you of the first symptoms I do see, yet farther than that
I won't go. If there's an attachment at any future time, I won't

"I shouldn't so much mind if Roger fell in love with your Molly. He
can fight for himself, you see, and she's an uncommon nice girl. My
poor wife was so fond of her," answered the Squire. "It's Osborne and
the estate I'm thinking of!"

"Well, then, tell him not to come near us. I shall be sorry, but you
will be safe."

"I'll think about it; but he's difficult to manage. I've always to
get my blood well up before I can speak my mind to him."

Mr. Gibson was leaving the room, but at these words he turned and
laid his hand on the Squire's arm.

"Take my advice, Squire. As I said, there's no harm done as yet, as
far as I know. Prevention is better than cure. Speak out, but speak
gently to Osborne, and do it at once. I shall understand how it is if
he doesn't show his face for some months in my house. If you speak
gently to him, he'll take the advice as from a friend. If he can
assure you there's no danger, of course he'll come just as usual,
when he likes."

It was all very fine giving the Squire this good advice; but as
Osborne had already formed the very kind of marriage his father most
deprecated, it did not act quite as well as Mr. Gibson had hoped. The
Squire began the conversation with unusual self-control; but he grew
irritated when Osborne denied his father's right to interfere in any
marriage he might contemplate; denied it with a certain degree of
doggedness and weariness of the subject that drove the Squire into
one of his passions; and although, on after reflection, he remembered
that he had his son's promise and solemn word not to think of either
Cynthia or Molly for his wife, yet the father and son had passed
through one of those altercations which help to estrange men for
life. Each had said bitter things to the other; and, if the brotherly
affection had not been so true between Osborne and Roger, they
too might have become alienated, in consequence of the Squire's
exaggerated and injudicious comparison of their characters and deeds.
But as Roger in his boyhood had loved Osborne too well to be jealous
of the praise and love which the eldest son, the beautiful brilliant
lad, had received, to the disparagement of his own plain awkwardness
and slowness, so now Osborne strove against any feeling of envy or
jealousy with all his might; but his efforts were conscious, Roger's
had been the simple consequence of affection, and the end to poor
Osborne was that he became moody and depressed in mind and body; but
both father and son concealed their feelings in Roger's presence.
When he came home just before sailing, busy and happy, the Squire
caught his infectious energy, and Osborne looked up and was cheerful.

There was no time to be lost. He was bound to a hot climate, and must
take all advantage possible of the winter months. He was to go first
to Paris, to have interviews with some of the scientific men there.
Some of his outfit, instruments, &c., were to follow him to Havre,
from which port he was to embark, after transacting his business in
Paris. The Squire learnt all his arrangements and plans, and even
tried in after-dinner conversations to penetrate into the questions
involved in the researches his son was about to make. But Roger's
visit home could not be prolonged beyond two days.

The last day he rode into Hollingford earlier than he needed to have
done to catch the London coach, in order to bid the Gibsons good-by.
He had been too actively busy for some time to have leisure to bestow
much thought on Cynthia; but there was no need for fresh meditation
on that subject. Her image as a prize to be worked for, to be served
for seven years, and seven years more, was safe and sacred in his
heart. It was very bad, this going away, and wishing her good-by
for two long years; and he wondered much during his ride how far he
should be justified in telling her mother, perhaps in telling her own
sweet self, what his feelings were without expecting, nay, indeed
reprobating, any answer on her part. Then she would know at any
rate how dearly she was beloved by one who was absent; how in all
difficulties or dangers the thought of her would be a polar star,
high up in the heavens, and so on, and so on; for with all a lover's
quickness of imagination and triteness of fancy, he called her
a star, a flower, a nymph, a witch, an angel, or a mermaid, a
nightingale, a siren, as one or another of her attributes rose up
before him.



It was afternoon. Molly had gone out for a walk. Mrs. Gibson had been
paying some calls. Lazy Cynthia had declined accompanying either. A
daily walk was not a necessity to her as it was to Molly. On a lovely
day, or with an agreeable object, or when the fancy took her, she
could go as far as any one; but these were exceptional cases; in
general, she was not disposed to disturb herself from her in-door
occupations. Indeed, not one of the ladies would have left the house,
had they been aware that Roger was in the neighbourhood; for they
were aware that he was to come down but once before his departure,
and that his stay at home then would be but for a short time, and
they were all anxious to wish him good-by before his long absence.
But they had understood that he was not coming to the Hall until
the following week, and therefore they had felt themselves at full
liberty this afternoon to follow their own devices.

Molly chose a walk that had been a favourite with her ever since she
was a child. Something or other had happened just before she left
home that made her begin wondering how far it was right for the sake
of domestic peace to pass over without comment the little deviations
from right that people perceive in those whom they live with. Or
whether, as they are placed in families for distinct purposes, not by
chance merely, there are not duties involved in this aspect of their
lot in life,--whether by continually passing over failings, their own
standard is not lowered,--the practical application of these thoughts
being a dismal sort of perplexity on Molly's part as to whether her
father was quite aware of her stepmother's perpetual lapses from
truth; and whether his blindness was wilful or not. Then she felt
bitterly enough that although she was sure as could be that there
was no real estrangement between her and her father, yet there were
perpetual obstacles thrown in the way of their intercourse; and she
thought with a sigh that if he would but come in with authority, he
might cut his way clear to the old intimacy with his daughter, and
that they might have all the former walks and talks, and quips and
cranks, and glimpses of real confidence once again; things that her
stepmother did not value, yet which she, like the dog in the manger,
prevented Molly's enjoying. But after all Molly was a girl, not so
far removed from childhood; and in the middle of her grave regrets
and perplexities, her eye was caught by the sight of some fine
ripe blackberries flourishing away high up on the hedge-bank among
scarlet hips and green and russet leaves. She did not care much for
blackberries herself; but she had heard Cynthia say that she liked
them; and besides there was the charm of scrambling and gathering
them; so she forgot all about her troubles, and went climbing up the
banks, and clutching at her almost inaccessible prizes, and slipping
down again triumphant, to carry them back to the large leaf which was
to serve her as a basket. One or two of them she tasted, but they
were as vapid to her palate as ever. The skirt of her pretty print
gown was torn out of the gathers, and even with the fruit she had
eaten "her pretty lips with blackberries were all besmeared and
dyed," when having gathered as many and more than she could possibly
carry, she set off home, hoping to escape into her room and mend her
gown before it had offended Mrs. Gibson's neat eye. The front door
was easily opened from the outside, and Molly was out of the clear
light of the open air and in the shadow of the hall, when she saw a
face peep out of the dining-room before she quite recognized whose it
was; and then Mrs. Gibson came softly out, sufficiently at least to
beckon her into the room. When Molly had entered Mrs. Gibson closed
the door. Poor Molly expected a reprimand for her torn gown and
untidy appearance, but was soon relieved by the expression of Mrs.
Gibson's face--mysterious and radiant.

"I've been watching for you, dear. Don't go upstairs into the
drawing-room, love. It might be a little interruption just now. Roger
Hamley is there with Cynthia; and I've reason to think--in fact I did
open the door unawares, but I shut it again softly, and I don't think
they heard me. Isn't it charming? Young love, you know, ah, how sweet
it is!"

"Do you mean that Roger has proposed to Cynthia?" asked Molly.

"Not exactly that. But I don't know; of course I know nothing. Only I
did hear him say that he had meant to leave England without speaking
of his love, but that the temptation of seeing her alone had been too
great for him. It was symptomatic, was it not, my dear? And all I
wanted was to let it come to a crisis without interruption. So I've
been watching for you to prevent your going in and disturbing them."

"But I may go to my own room, mayn't I," pleaded Molly.

"Of course," said Mrs. Gibson, a little testily. "Only I had expected
sympathy from you at such an interesting moment."

But Molly did not hear these last words. She had escaped upstairs,
and shut her door. Instinctively she had carried her leaf full of
blackberries--what would blackberries be to Cynthia now? She felt
as if she could not understand it all; but as for that matter, what
could she understand? Nothing. For a few minutes her brain seemed
in too great a whirl to comprehend anything but that she was being
carried on in earth's diurnal course, with rocks, and stones, and
trees, with as little volition on her part as if she were dead.
Then the room grew stifling, and instinctively she went to the open
casement window, and leant out, gasping for breath. Gradually the
consciousness of the soft peaceful landscape stole into her mind, and
stilled the buzzing confusion. There, bathed in the almost level rays
of the autumn sunlight, lay the landscape she had known and loved
from childhood; as quiet, as full of low humming life as it had been
at this hour for many generations. The autumn flowers blazed out in
the garden below, the lazy cows were in the meadow beyond, chewing
their cud in the green aftermath; the evening fires had just been
made up in the cottages beyond, in preparation for the husband's
home-coming, and were sending up soft curls of blue smoke into the
still air; the children, let loose from school, were shouting merrily
in the distance, and she-- Just then she heard nearer sounds; an
opened door, steps on the lower flight of stairs. He could not
have gone without even seeing her. He never, never would have done
so cruel a thing--never would have forgotten poor little Molly,
however happy he might be! No! there were steps and voices, and the
drawing-room door was opened and shut once more. She laid down her
head on her arms that rested upon the window-sill, and cried,--she
had been so distrustful as to have let the idea enter her mind that
he could go without wishing her good-by--her, whom his mother had so
loved, and called by the name of his little dead sister. And as she
thought of the tender love Mrs. Hamley had borne her she cried the
more, for the vanishing of such love for her off the face of the
earth. Suddenly the drawing-room door opened, and some one was heard
coming upstairs; it was Cynthia's step. Molly hastily wiped her eyes,
and stood up and tried to look unconcerned; it was all she had time
to do before Cynthia, after a little pause at the closed door, had
knocked; and on an answer being given, had said, without opening
the door,--"Molly! Mr. Roger Hamley is here, and wants to wish you
good-by before he goes." Then she went downstairs again, as if
anxious just at that moment to avoid even so short a tête-à-tête with
Molly. With a gulp and a fit of resolution, as a child makes up its
mind to swallow a nauseous dose of medicine, Molly went instantly

Roger was talking earnestly to Mrs. Gibson in the bow of the window
when Molly entered; Cynthia was standing near, listening, but taking
no part in the conversation. Her eyes were downcast, and she did not
look up as Molly drew shyly near.

Roger was saying,--"I could never forgive myself if I had accepted a
pledge from her. She shall be free until my return; but the hope, the
words, her sweet goodness, have made me happy beyond description. Oh,
Molly!" suddenly becoming aware of her presence, and turning to her,
and taking her hand in both of his,--"I think you have long guessed
my secret, have you not? I once thought of speaking to you before I
left, and confiding it all to you. But the temptation has been too
great,--I have told Cynthia how fondly I love her, as far as words
can tell; and she says--" then he looked at Cynthia with passionate
delight, and seemed to forget in that gaze that he had left his
sentence to Molly half finished.

Cynthia did not seem inclined to repeat her saying, whatever it was,
but her mother spoke for her.

"My dear sweet girl values your love as it ought to be valued, I am
sure. And I believe," looking at Cynthia and Roger with intelligent
archness, "I could tell tales as to the cause of her indisposition in
the spring."

"Mother," said Cynthia suddenly, "you know it was no such thing. Pray
don't invent stories about me. I have engaged myself to Mr. Roger
Hamley, and that is enough."

"Enough! more than enough!" said Roger. "I will not accept your
pledge. I am bound, but you are free. I like to feel bound, it makes
me happy and at peace, but with all the chances involved in the next
two years, you must not shackle yourself by promises."

Cynthia did not speak at once; she was evidently revolving something
in her own mind. Mrs. Gibson took up the word.

"You are very generous, I am sure. Perhaps it will be better not to
mention it."

"I would much rather have it kept a secret," said Cynthia,

"Certainly, my dear love. That was just what I was going to say.
I once knew a young lady who heard of the death of a young man in
America, whom she had known pretty well; and she immediately said she
had been engaged to him, and even went so far as to put on weeds; and
it was a false report, for he came back well and merry, and declared
to everybody he had never so much as thought about her. So it was
very awkward for her. These things had much better be kept secret
until the proper time has come for divulging them."

Even then and there Cynthia could not resist the temptation of
saying,--"Mamma, I will promise you I won't put on weeds, whatever
reports come of Mr. Roger Hamley."

"Roger, please!" he put in, in a tender whisper.

"And you will all be witnesses that he has professed to think of me,
if he is tempted afterwards to deny the fact. But at the same time I
wish it to be kept a secret until his return--and I am sure you will
all be so kind as to attend to my wish. Please, _Roger!_ Please,
Molly! Mamma, I must especially beg it of you!"

Roger would have granted anything when she asked him by that name,
and in that tone. He took her hand in silent pledge of his reply.
Molly felt as if she could never bring herself to name the affair
as a common piece of news. So it was only Mrs. Gibson that answered

"My dear child! why 'especially' to poor me? You know I'm the most
trustworthy person alive!"

The little pendule on the chimney-piece struck the half-hour.

"I must go!" said Roger, in dismay. "I had no idea it was so late. I
shall write from Paris. The coach will be at the George by this time,
and will only stay five minutes. Dearest Cynthia--" he took her hand,
and then, as if the temptation was irresistible, he drew her to him
and kissed her. "Only remember you are free!" said he, as he released
her and passed on to Mrs. Gibson.

"If I had considered myself free," said Cynthia, blushing a little,
but ready with her repartee to the last,--"if I had thought myself
free, do you think I would have allowed that?"

Then Molly's turn came, and the old brotherly tenderness came back
into his look, his voice, his bearing.

"Molly! you won't forget me, I know; I shall never forget you, nor
your goodness to--her." His voice began to quiver, and it was best
to be gone. Mrs. Gibson was pouring out, unheard and unheeded, words
of farewell; Cynthia was re-arranging some flowers in a vase on the
table, the defects in which had caught her artistic eye, without
the consciousness penetrating to her mind. Molly stood, numb to the
heart; neither glad nor sorry, nor anything but stunned. She felt the
slackened touch of the warm grasping hand; she looked up--for till
now her eyes had been downcast, as if there were heavy weights to
their lids--and the place was empty where he had been; his quick
step was heard on the stair, the front door was opened and shut;
and then as quick as lightning Molly ran up to the front attic--the
lumber-room, whose window commanded the street down which he
must pass. The window-clasp was unused and stiff, Molly tugged at
it--unless it was open, and her head put out, that last chance would
be gone.

"I must see him again; I must! I must!" she wailed out, as she was
pulling. There he was, running hard to catch the London coach; his
luggage had been left at the George before he came up to wish the
Gibsons good-by. In all his hurry, Molly saw him turn round and shade
his eyes from the level rays of the westering sun, and rake the house
with his glances--in hopes, she knew, of catching one more glimpse of
Cynthia. But apparently he saw no one, not even Molly at the attic
casement; for she had drawn back when he had turned, and kept herself
in shadow; for she had no right to put herself forward as the one to
watch and yearn for farewell signs. None came--another moment--he was
out of sight for years!

[Illustration: THE LAST TURNING.]

She shut the window softly, and shivered all over. She left the attic
and went to her own room; but she did not begin to take off her
out-of-door things till she heard Cynthia's foot on the stairs.
Then she hastily went to the toilet-table, and began to untie her
bonnet-strings; but they were in a knot, and took time to undo.
Cynthia's step stopped at Molly's door; she opened it a little and
said,--"May I come in, Molly?"

"Certainly," said Molly, longing to be able to say "No" all the time.
Molly did not turn to meet her, so Cynthia came up behind her, and
putting her two hands round Molly's waist, peeped over her shoulder,
putting out her lips to be kissed. Molly could not resist the
action--the mute entreaty for a caress. But, in the moment before,
she had caught the reflection of the two faces in the glass; her
own, red-eyed, pale, with lips dyed with blackberry juice, her curls
tangled, her bonnet pulled awry, her gown torn--and contrasted it
with Cynthia's brightness and bloom, and the trim elegance of her
dress. "Oh! it is no wonder!" thought poor Molly, as she turned
round, and put her arms round Cynthia, and laid her head for an
instant on her shoulder--the weary, aching head that sought a loving
pillow in that supreme moment! The next she had raised herself, and
taken Cynthia's two hands, and was holding her off a little, the
better to read her face.

[Illustration: "OH! IT IS NO WONDER!"]

"Cynthia! you do love him dearly, don't you?"

Cynthia winced a little aside from the penetrating steadiness of
those eyes.

"You speak with all the solemnity of an adjuration, Molly!" said she,
laughing a little at first to cover her nervousness, and then looking
up at Molly. "Don't you think I've given a proof of it? But you know
I've often told you I've not the gift of loving; I said pretty much
the same thing to him. I can respect, and I fancy I can admire, and
I can like, but I never feel carried off my feet by love for any one,
not even for you, little Molly, and I'm sure I love you more than--"

"No, don't!" said Molly, putting her hand before Cynthia's mouth, in
almost a passion of impatience. "Don't, don't--I won't hear you--I
ought not to have asked you--it makes you tell lies!"

"Why, Molly!" said Cynthia, in her turn seeking to read Molly's
face, "what's the matter with you? One might think you cared for him

"I?" said Molly, all the blood rushing to her heart suddenly; then it
returned, and she had courage to speak, and she spoke the truth as
she believed it, though not the real actual truth.

"I do care for him; I think you have won the love of a prince amongst
men. Why, I am proud to remember that he has been to me as a brother,
and I love him as a sister, and I love you doubly because he has
honoured you with his love."

"Come, that's not complimentary!" said Cynthia, laughing, but
not ill-pleased to hear her lover's praises, and even willing to
depreciate him a little in order to hear more.

"He's well enough, I daresay, and a great deal too learned and clever
for a stupid girl like me; but even you must acknowledge he's very
plain and awkward; and I like pretty things and pretty people."

"Cynthia, I won't talk to you about him. You know you don't mean what
you are saying, and you only say it out of contradiction, because I
praise him. He shan't be run down by you, even in joke."

"Well, then, we won't talk of him at all. I was so surprised when
he began to speak--so--" and Cynthia looked very lovely, blushing
and dimpling up as she remembered his words and looks. Suddenly she
recalled herself to the present time, and her eye caught on the leaf
full of blackberries--the broad, green leaf, so fresh and crisp when
Molly had gathered it an hour or so ago, but now soft and flabby, and
dying. Molly saw it, too, and felt a strange kind of sympathetic pity
for the poor inanimate leaf.

"Oh! what blackberries! you've gathered them for me, I know!" said
Cynthia, sitting down and beginning to feed herself daintily,
touching them lightly with the ends of her taper fingers, and
dropping each ripe berry into her open mouth. When she had eaten
about half she stopped suddenly short.

"How I should like to have gone as far as Paris with him!" she
exclaimed. "I suppose it wouldn't have been proper; but how pleasant
it would have been! I remember at Boulogne" (another blackberry),
"how I used to envy the English who were going to Paris; it seemed
to me then as if nobody stopped at Boulogne, but dull, stupid

"When will he be there?" asked Molly.

"On Wednesday, he said. I'm to write to him there; at any rate he's
going to write to me."

Molly went about the adjustment of her dress in a quiet,
business-like manner, not speaking much; Cynthia, although sitting
still, seemed very restless. Oh! how much Molly wished that she would

"Perhaps, after all," said Cynthia, after a pause of apparent
meditation, "we shall never be married."

"Why do you say that?" said Molly, almost bitterly. "You have nothing
to make you think so. I wonder how you can bear to think you won't,
even for a moment."

"Oh!" said Cynthia; "you mustn't go and take me _au grand sérieux_. I
daresay I don't mean what I say, but you see everything seems a dream
at present. Still, I think the chances are equal--the chances for and
against our marriage, I mean. Two years! it's a long time! he may
change his mind, or I may; or some one else may turn up, and I may
get engaged to him: what should you think of that, Molly? I'm putting
such a gloomy thing as death quite on one side, you see; yet in two
years how much may happen!"

"Don't talk so, Cynthia, please don't," said Molly, piteously. "One
would think you didn't care for him, and he cares so much for you!"

"Why, did I say I didn't care for him? I was only calculating
chances. I'm sure I hope nothing will happen to prevent the marriage.
Only, you know it may, and I thought I was taking a step in wisdom,
in looking forward to all the evils that might befall. I'm sure all
the wise people I've ever known thought it a virtue to have gloomy
prognostics of the future. But you're not in a mood for wisdom or
virtue, I see; so I'll go and get ready for dinner, and leave you to
your vanities of dress."

She took Molly's face in both her hands, before Molly was aware
of her intention, and kissed it playfully. Then she left Molly to



Mr. Gibson was not at home at dinner--detained by some patient, most
probably. This was not an unusual occurrence; but it _was_ rather an
unusual occurrence for Mrs. Gibson to go down into the dining-room,
and sit with him as he ate his deferred meal when he came in an hour
or two later. In general, she preferred her easy-chair, or her corner
of the sofa, upstairs in the drawing-room, though it was very rarely
that she would allow Molly to avail herself of her stepmother's
neglected privilege. Molly would fain have gone down and kept her
father company every night that he had these solitary meals; but for
peace and quietness she gave up her own wishes on the matter.

Mrs. Gibson took a seat by the fire in the dining-room, and patiently
waited for the auspicious moment when Mr. Gibson, having satisfied
his healthy appetite, turned from the table, and took his place by
her side. She got up, and with unaccustomed attention moved the wine
and glasses so that he could help himself without moving from his

"There, now! are you comfortable? for I have a great piece of news to
tell you!" said she, when all was arranged.

"I thought there was something on hand," said he, smiling. "Now for

"Roger Hamley has been here this afternoon to bid us good-by."

"Good-by! Is he gone? I didn't know he was going so soon!" exclaimed
Mr. Gibson.

"Yes: never mind, that's not it."

"But tell me; has he left this neighbourhood? I wanted to have seen

"Yes, yes. He left love and regret, and all that sort of thing
for you. Now let me get on with my story: he found Cynthia alone,
proposed to her, and was accepted."

"Cynthia? Roger proposed to her, and she accepted him?" repeated Mr.
Gibson, slowly.

"Yes, to be sure. Why not? you speak as if it was something so very

"Did I? But I am surprised. He's a very fine young fellow, and I
wish Cynthia joy; but do you like it? It will have to be a very long

"Perhaps," said she, in a knowing manner.

"At any rate he will be away for two years," said Mr. Gibson.

"A great deal may happen in two years," she replied.

"Yes! he will have to run many risks, and go into many dangers, and
will come back no nearer to the power of maintaining a wife than when
he went out."

"I don't know that," she replied, still in the arch manner of one
possessing superior knowledge. "A little bird did tell me that
Osborne's life is not so very secure; and then--what will Roger be?
Heir to the estate."

"Who told you that about Osborne?" said he, facing round upon her,
and frightening her with his sudden sternness of voice and manner.
It seemed as if absolute fire came out of his long dark sombre eyes.
"_Who_ told you, I say?"

She made a faint rally back into her former playfulness.

"Why? can you deny it? Is it not the truth?"

"I ask you again, Hyacinth, who told you that Osborne Hamley's life
is in more danger than mine--or yours?"

"Oh, don't speak in that frightening way. My life is not in danger,
I'm sure; nor yours either, love, I hope."

He gave an impatient movement, and knocked a wine-glass off the
table. For the moment she felt grateful for the diversion, and
busied herself in picking up the fragments: "bits of glass were so
dangerous," she said. But she was startled by a voice of command,
such as she had never yet heard from her husband.

"Never mind the glass. I ask you again, Hyacinth, who told you
anything about Osborne Hamley's state of health?"

"I am sure I wish no harm to him, and I daresay he is in very good
health, as you say," whispered she, at last.

"Who told--?" began he again, sterner than ever.

"Well, if you will know, and will make such a fuss about it," said
she, driven to extremity, "it was you yourself--you or Dr. Nicholls,
I am sure I forget which."

"I never spoke to you on the subject, and I don't believe Nicholls
did. You'd better tell me at once what you're alluding to, for I'm
resolved I'll have it out before we leave this room."

"I wish I'd never married again," she said, now fairly crying, and
looking round the room, as if in vain search for a mouse-hole in
which to hide herself. Then, as if the sight of the door into the
store-room gave her courage, she turned and faced him.

"You should not talk your medical secrets so loud then, if you don't
want people to hear them. I had to go into the store-room that day
Dr. Nicholls was here; cook wanted a jar of preserve, and stopped me
just as I was going out--I am sure it was for no pleasure of mine,
for I was sadly afraid of stickying my gloves--it was all that you
might have a comfortable dinner."

She looked as if she was going to cry again, but he gravely motioned
her to go on, merely saying,--

"Well! you overheard our conversation, I suppose?"

"Not much," she answered eagerly, almost relieved by being thus
helped out in her forced confession. "Only a sentence or two."

"What were they?" he asked.

"Why, you had just been saying something, and Dr. Nicholls said, 'If
he has got aneurism of the aorta his days are numbered.'"

"Well. Anything more?"

"Yes; you said, 'I hope to God I may be mistaken; but there is a
pretty clear indication of symptoms, in my opinion.'"

"How do you know we were speaking of Osborne Hamley?" he asked;
perhaps in hopes of throwing her off the scent. But as soon as she
perceived that he was descending to her level of subterfuge, she took
courage, and said in quite a different tone to the cowed one which
she had been using:

"Oh! I know. I heard his name mentioned by you both before I began to

"Then you own you did listen?"

"Yes," said she, hesitating a little now.

"And pray how do you come to remember so exactly the name of the
disease spoken of?"

"Because I went--now don't be angry, I really can't see any harm in
what I did--"

"Then, don't deprecate anger. You went--"

"Into the surgery, and looked it out. Why might not I?"

Mr. Gibson did not answer--did not look at her. His face was very
pale, and both forehead and lips were contracted. At length he roused
himself, sighed, and said,--

"Well! I suppose as one brews one must bake."

"I don't understand what you mean," pouted she.

"Perhaps not," he replied. "I suppose that it was what you heard on
that occasion that made you change your behaviour to Roger Hamley?
I've noticed how much more civil you were to him of late."

"If you mean that I have ever got to like him as much as Osborne,
you are very much mistaken; no, not even though he has offered to
Cynthia, and is to be my son-in-law."

"Let me know the whole affair. You overheard,--I will own that it was
Osborne about whom we were speaking, though I shall have something to
say about that presently--and then, if I understand you rightly, you
changed your behaviour to Roger, and made him more welcome to this
house than you had ever done before, regarding him as proximate heir
to the Hamley estates?"

"I don't know what you mean by 'proximate.'"

"Go into the surgery, and look into the dictionary, then," said he,
losing his temper for the first time during the conversation.

"I knew," said she through sobs and tears, "that Roger had taken
a fancy to Cynthia; any one might see that; and as long as Roger
was only a younger son, with no profession, and nothing but his
fellowship, I thought it right to discourage him, as any one would
who had a grain of common sense in them; for a clumsier, more common,
awkward, stupid fellow I never saw--to be called 'county,' I mean."

"Take care; you'll have to eat your words presently when you come to
fancy he'll have Hamley some day."

"No, I shan't," said she, not perceiving his exact drift. "You are
vexed now because it is not Molly he's in love with; and I call it
very unjust and unfair to my poor fatherless girl. I am sure I have
always tried to further Molly's interests as if she was my own

Mr. Gibson was too indifferent to this accusation to take any notice
of it. He returned to what was of far more importance to him.

"The point I want to be clear about is this. Did you or did you not
alter your behaviour to Roger in consequence of what you overheard of
my professional conversation with Dr. Nicholls? Have you not favoured
his suit to Cynthia since then, on the understanding gathered from
that conversation that he stood a good chance of inheriting Hamley?"

"I suppose I did," said she, sulkily. "And if I did, I can't
see any harm in it, that I should be questioned as if I were
in a witness-box. He was in love with Cynthia long before that
conversation, and she liked him so much. It was not for me to cross
the path of true love. I don't see how you would have a mother show
her love for her child if she may not turn accidental circumstances
to her advantage. Perhaps Cynthia might have died if she had been
crossed in love; her poor father was consumptive."

"Don't you know that all professional conversations are confidential?
That it would be the most dishonourable thing possible for me to
betray secrets which I learn in the exercise of my profession?"

"Yes, of course, you."

"Well! and are not you and I one in all these respects? You cannot do
a dishonourable act without my being inculpated in the disgrace. If
it would be a deep disgrace for me to betray a professional secret,
what would it be for me to trade on that knowledge?"

He was trying hard to be patient; but the offence was of that class
which galled him insupportably.

"I don't know what you mean by trading. Trading in a daughter's
affections is the last thing I should do; and I should have thought
you would be rather glad than otherwise to get Cynthia well married,
and off your hands."

Mr. Gibson got up, and walked about the room, his hands in his
pockets. Once or twice he began to speak, but he stopped impatiently
short without going on.

"I don't know what to say to you," he said at length. "You either
can't or won't see what I mean. I'm glad enough to have Cynthia here.
I have given her a true welcome, and I sincerely hope she will find
this house as much a home as my own daughter does. But for the future
I must look out of my doors, and double-lock the approaches if I am
so foolish as to-- However, that's past and gone; and it remains with
me to prevent its recurrence as far as I can for the future. Now let
us hear the present state of affairs."

"I don't think I ought to tell you anything about it. It is a secret,
just as much as your mysteries are."

"Very well; you have told me enough for me to act upon, which I
most certainly shall do. It was only the other day I promised the
Squire to let him know if I suspected anything--any love affair, or
entanglement, much less an engagement, between either of his sons and
our girls."

"But this is not an engagement; he would not let it be so; if you
would only listen to me, I could tell you all. Only I do hope you
won't go and tell the Squire and everybody. Cynthia did so beg that
it might not be known. It is only my unfortunate frankness that has
led me into this scrape. I never could keep a secret from those whom
I love."

"I must tell the Squire. I shall not mention it to any one else. And
do you quite think it was consistent with your general frankness to
have overheard what you did, and never to have mentioned it to me?
I could have told you then that Dr. Nicholls' opinion was decidedly
opposed to mine, and that he believed that the disturbance about
which I consulted him on Osborne's behalf was merely temporary. Dr.
Nicholls would tell you that Osborne is as likely as any man to live
and marry and beget children."

If there was any skill used by Mr. Gibson so to word this speech
as to conceal his own opinion, Mrs. Gibson was not sharp enough to
find it out. She was dismayed, and Mr. Gibson enjoyed her dismay; it
restored him to something like his usual frame of mind.

"Let us review this misfortune, for I see you consider it as such,"
said he.

"No, not quite a misfortune," said she. "But, certainly, if I had
known Dr. Nicholls' opinion--" she hesitated.

"You see the advantage of always consulting me," he continued
gravely. "Here is Cynthia engaged--"

"Not engaged, I told you before. He would not allow it to be
considered an engagement on her part."

"Well, entangled in a love-affair with a lad of three-and-twenty,
with nothing beyond his fellowship and a chance of inheriting an
encumbered estate; no profession even, abroad for two years, and
I must go and tell his father all about it to-morrow."

"Oh dear! Pray say that, if he dislikes it, he has only to express
his opinion."

"I don't think you can act without Cynthia in the affair. And if I am
not mistaken, Cynthia will have a pretty stout will of her own on the

"Oh, I don't think she cares for him very much; she is not one to be
always falling in love, and she does not take things very deeply to
heart. But, of course, one would not do anything abruptly; two years'
absence gives one plenty of time to turn oneself in."

"But a little while ago we were threatened with consumption and an
early death if Cynthia's affections were thwarted."

"Oh, you dear creature, how you remember all my silly words! It might
be, you know. Poor dear Mr. Kirkpatrick was consumptive, and Cynthia
may have inherited it, and a great sorrow might bring out the latent
seeds. At times I am so fearful. But I daresay it is not probable,
for I don't think she takes things very deeply to heart."

"Then I'm quite at liberty to give up the affair, acting as Cynthia's
proxy, if the Squire disapproves of it?"

Poor Mrs. Gibson was in a strait at this question.

"No!" she said at last. "We cannot give it up. I am sure Cynthia
would not; especially if she thought others were acting for her. And
he really is very much in love. I wish he were in Osborne's place."

"Shall I tell you what I should do?" said Mr. Gibson, in real
earnest. "However it may have been brought about, here are two young
people in love with each other. One is as fine a young fellow as ever
breathed; the other a very pretty, lively, agreeable girl. The father
of the young man must be told, and it is most likely he will bluster
and oppose; for there is no doubt it is an imprudent affair as far as
money goes. But let them be steady and patient, and a better lot need
await no young woman. I only wish it were Molly's good fortune to
meet with such another."

"I will try for her; I will indeed," said Mrs. Gibson, relieved by
his change of tone.

"No, don't. That's one thing I forbid. I'll have no 'trying' for

"Well, don't be angry, dear! Do you know I was quite afraid you were
going to lose your temper at one time."

"It would have been of no use!" said he, gloomily, getting up as if
to close the sitting. His wife was only too glad to make her escape.
The conjugal interview had not been satisfactory to either. Mr.
Gibson had been compelled to face and acknowledge the fact, that the
wife he had chosen had a very different standard of conduct from
that which he had upheld all his life, and had hoped to have seen
inculcated in his daughter. He was more irritated than he chose to
show; for there was so much of self-reproach in his irritation that
he kept it to himself, brooded over it, and allowed a feeling of
suspicious dissatisfaction with his wife to grow up in his mind,
which extended itself by-and-by to the innocent Cynthia, and
caused his manner to both mother and daughter to assume a certain
curt severity, which took the latter at any rate with extreme
surprise. But on the present occasion he followed his wife up to the
drawing-room, and gravely congratulated the astonished Cynthia.

"Has mamma told you?" said she, shooting an indignant glance at her
mother. "It is hardly an engagement; and we all pledged ourselves to
keep it a secret, mamma among the rest!"

"But, my dearest Cynthia, you could not expect--you could not have
wished me to keep a secret from my husband?" pleaded Mrs. Gibson.

"No, perhaps not. At any rate, sir," said Cynthia, turning towards
him with graceful frankness, "I am glad you should know it. You have
always been a most kind friend to me, and I daresay I should have
told you myself, but I did not want it named; if you please, it must
still be a secret. In fact, it is hardly an engagement--he" (she
blushed and sparkled a little at the euphuism, which implied that
there was but one "he" present in her thoughts at the moment) "would
not allow me to bind myself by any promise until his return!"

Mr. Gibson looked gravely at her, irresponsive to her winning looks,
which at the moment reminded him too forcibly of her mother's ways.
Then he took her hand, and said, seriously enough,--"I hope you are
worthy of him, Cynthia, for you have indeed drawn a prize. I have
never known a truer or warmer heart than Roger's; and I have known
him boy and man."

Molly felt as if she could have thanked her father aloud for this
testimony to the value of him who was gone away. But Cynthia pouted a
little before she smiled up in his face.

"You are not complimentary, are you, Mr. Gibson?" said she. "He
thinks me worthy, I suppose; and if you have so high an opinion
of him, you ought to respect his judgment of me." If she hoped to
provoke a compliment she was disappointed, for Mr. Gibson let go her
hand in an absent manner, and sate down in an easy chair by the fire,
gazing at the wood embers as if hoping to read the future in them.
Molly saw Cynthia's eyes fill with tears, and followed her to the
other end of the room, where she had gone to seek some working

"Dear Cynthia," was all she said; but she pressed her hand while
trying to assist in the search.

"Oh, Molly, I am so fond of your father; what makes him speak so to
me to-night?"

"I don't know," said Molly; "perhaps he's tired."

They were recalled from further conversation by Mr. Gibson. He had
roused himself from his reverie, and was now addressing Cynthia.

"I hope you will not consider it a breach of confidence, Cynthia, but
I must tell the Squire of--of what has taken place to-day between
you and his son. I have bound myself by a promise to him. He was
afraid--it's as well to tell you the truth--he was afraid" (an
emphasis on this last word) "of something of this kind between his
sons and one of you two girls. It was only the other day I assured
him there was nothing of the kind on foot; and I told him then I
would inform him at once if I saw any symptoms."

Cynthia looked extremely annoyed.

"It was the one thing I stipulated for--secrecy."

"But why?" said Mr. Gibson. "I can understand your not wishing to
have it made public under the present circumstances. But the nearest
friends on both sides! Surely you can have no objection to that?"

"Yes, I have," said Cynthia; "I would not have had any one know if I
could have helped it."

"I'm almost certain Roger will tell his father."

"No, he won't," said Cynthia; "I made him promise, and I think he is
one to respect a promise"--with a glance at her mother, who, feeling
herself in disgrace with both husband and child, was keeping a
judicious silence.

"Well, at any rate, the story would come with so much better a grace
from him that I shall give him the chance; I won't go over to the
Hall till the end of the week; he may have written and told his
father before then."

Cynthia held her tongue for a little while. Then she said, with
tearful pettishness,--

"A man's promise is to override a woman's wish, then, is it?"

"I don't see any reason why it should not."

"Will you trust in my reasons when I tell you it will cause me
a great deal of distress if it gets known?" She said this in so
pleading a voice, that if Mr. Gibson had not been thoroughly
displeased and annoyed by his previous conversation with her mother,
he must have yielded to her. As it was, he said, coldly,--"Telling
Roger's father is not making it public. I don't like this exaggerated
desire for such secrecy, Cynthia. It seems to me as if something more
than is apparent was concealed behind it."

"Come, Molly," said Cynthia, suddenly; "let us sing that duet I've
been teaching you; it's better than talking as we are doing."

It was a little lively French duet. Molly sang it carelessly, with
heaviness at her heart; but Cynthia sang it with spirit and apparent
merriment; only she broke down in hysterics at last, and flew
upstairs to her own room. Molly, heeding nothing else--neither her
father nor Mrs. Gibson's words--followed her, and found the door of
her bedroom locked, and for all reply to her entreaties to be allowed
to come in, she heard Cynthia sobbing and crying.

It was more than a week after the incidents just recorded before
Mr. Gibson found himself at liberty to call on the Squire; and he
heartily hoped that long before then, Roger's letter might have
arrived from Paris, telling his father the whole story. But he saw at
the first glance that the Squire had heard nothing unusual to disturb
his equanimity. He was looking better than he had done for months
past; the light of hope was in his eyes, his face seemed of a healthy
ruddy colour, gained partly by his resumption of outdoor employment
in the superintendence of the works, and partly because the happiness
he had lately had through Roger's means, caused his blood to flow
with regular vigour. He had felt Roger's going away, it is true; but
whenever the sorrow of parting with him pressed too heavily upon him,
he filled his pipe, and smoked it out over a long, slow, deliberate,
re-perusal of Lord Hollingford's letter, every word of which he knew
by heart; but expressions in which he made a pretence to himself
of doubting, that he might have an excuse for looking at his son's
praises once again. The first greetings over, Mr. Gibson plunged into
his subject.

"Any news from Roger yet?"

"Oh, yes; here's his letter," said the Squire, producing his black
leather case, in which Roger's missive had been placed along with the
other very heterogeneous contents.

Mr. Gibson read it, hardly seeing the words after he had by one rapid
glance assured himself that there was no mention of Cynthia in it.

"Hum! I see he doesn't name one very important event that has
befallen him since he left you," said Mr. Gibson, seizing on the
first words that came. "I believe I'm committing a breach of
confidence on one side; but I'm going to keep the promise I made
the last time I was here. I find there is something--something
of the kind you apprehended--you understand--between him and my
step-daughter, Cynthia Kirkpatrick. He called at our house to wish
us good-by, while waiting for the London coach, found her alone, and
spoke to her. They don't call it an engagement, but of course it is

"Give me back the letter," said the Squire, in a constrained kind of
voice. Then he read it again, as if he had not previously mastered
its contents, and as if there might be some sentence or sentences he
had overlooked.

"No!" he said at last, with a sigh. "He tells me nothing about it.
Lads may play at confidences with their fathers, but they keep a deal
back." The Squire appeared more disappointed at not having heard of
this straight from Roger than displeased at the fact itself, Mr.
Gibson thought. But he let him take his time.

"He's not the eldest son," continued the Squire, talking as it
were to himself. "But it's not the match I should have planned
for him. How came you, sir," said he, firing round on Mr. Gibson,
suddenly--"to say when you were last here, that there was nothing
between my sons and either of your girls? Why, this must have been
going on all the time!"

"I'm afraid it was. But I was as ignorant about it as the babe
unborn. I only heard of it on the evening of the day of Roger's

"And that's a week ago, sir. What's kept you quiet ever since?"

"I thought that Roger would tell you himself."

"That shows you've no sons. More than half their life is unknown to
their fathers. Why, Osborne there, we live together--that's to say,
we have our meals together, and we sleep under the same roof--and
yet--Well! well! life is as God has made it. You say it's not an
engagement yet? But I wonder what I'm doing? Hoping for my lad's
disappointment in the folly he's set his heart on--and just when he's
been helping me. Is it a folly, or is it not? I ask you, Gibson, for
you must know this girl. She hasn't much money, I suppose?"

"About thirty pounds a year, at my pleasure during her mother's

"Whew! It's well he's not Osborne. They'll have to wait. What family
is she of? None of 'em in trade, I reckon, from her being so poor?"

"I believe her father was grandson of a certain Sir Gerald
Kirkpatrick. Her mother tells me it is an old baronetcy. I know
nothing of such things."

"That's something. I do know something of such things, as you are
pleased to call them. I like honourable blood."

Mr. Gibson could not help saying, "But I'm afraid that only
one-eighth of Cynthia's blood is honourable; I know nothing further
of her relations excepting the fact that her father was a curate."

"Professional. That's a step above trade at any rate. How old is

"Eighteen or nineteen."


"Yes, I think so; most people do; but it's all a matter of taste.
Come, Squire, judge for yourself. Ride over and take lunch with us
any day you like. I may not be in; but her mother will be there, and
you can make acquaintance with your son's future wife."

This was going too fast, however; presuming too much on the quietness
with which the Squire had been questioning him. Mr. Hamley drew back
within his shell, and spoke in a surly manner as he replied,--

"Roger's 'future wife!' He'll be wiser by the time he comes home. Two
years among the black folk will have put more sense in him."

"Possible, but not probable, I should say," replied Mr. Gibson.
"Black folk are not remarkable for their powers of reasoning, I
believe, so that they haven't much chance of altering his opinion
by argument, even if they understood each other's language; and
certainly if he shares my taste, their peculiarity of complexion will
only make him appreciate white skins the more."

"But you said it was no engagement," growled the Squire. "If he
thinks better of it, you won't keep him to it, will you?"

"If he wishes to break it off, I shall certainly advise Cynthia to
be equally willing, that's all I can say. And I see no reason for
discussing the affair further at present. I've told you how matters
stand because I promised you I would, if I saw anything of this kind
going on. But in the present condition of things, we can neither make
nor mar; we can only wait." And he took up his hat to go. But the
Squire was discontented.

"Don't go, Gibson. Don't take offence at what I've said, though I'm
sure I don't know why you should. What's the girl like in herself?"

"I don't know what you mean," said Mr. Gibson. But he did; only he
was vexed, and did not choose to understand.

"Is she--well, is she like your Molly?--sweet-tempered and
sensible--with her gloves always mended, and neat about the feet, and
ready to do anything one asks her just as if doing it was the very
thing she liked best in the world?"

Mr. Gibson's face relaxed now, and he could understand all the
Squire's broken sentences and unexplained meanings.

"She is much prettier than Molly to begin with, and has very winning
ways. She's always well-dressed and smart-looking, and I know she
hasn't much to spend on her clothes, and always does what she's asked
to do, and is ready enough with her pretty, lively answers. I don't
think I ever saw her out of temper; but then I'm not sure if she
takes things keenly to heart, and a certain obtuseness of feeling
goes a great way towards a character for good temper, I've observed.
Altogether I think Cynthia is one in a hundred."

The Squire meditated a little. "Your Molly is one in a thousand, to
my mind. But then, you see, she comes of no family at all,--and I
don't suppose she'll have a chance of much money." This he said as if
he were thinking aloud, and without reference to Mr. Gibson, but it
nettled the latter, and he replied somewhat impatiently,--

"Well, but as there's no question of Molly in this business, I don't
see the use of bringing her name in, and considering either her
family or her fortune."

"No, to be sure not," said the Squire, rousing up. "My wits had gone
far afield, and I'll own I was only thinking what a pity it was she
wouldn't do for Osborne. But, of course, it's out of the
question--out of the question."

"Yes," said Mr. Gibson, "and if you will excuse me, Squire, I really
must go now, and then you'll be at liberty to send your wits afield
uninterrupted." This time he was at the door before the Squire
called him back. He stood impatiently hitting his top-boots with his
riding-whip, waiting for the interminable last words.

"I say, Gibson, we're old friends, and you're a fool if you take
anything I say as an offence. Madam your wife and I didn't hit it off
the only time I ever saw her. I won't say she was silly, but I think
one of us was silly, and it wasn't me. However, we'll pass that over.
Suppose you bring her, and this girl Cynthia (which is as outlandish
a Christian name as I'd wish to hear), and little Molly out here to
lunch some day,--I'm more at my ease in my own house,--and I'm more
sure to be civil, too. We need say nothing about Roger,--neither the
lass nor me,--and you keep your wife's tongue quiet, if you can. It
will only be like a compliment to you on your marriage, you know--and
no one must take it for anything more. Mind, no allusion or mention
of Roger, and this piece of folly. I shall see the girl then, and
I can judge her for myself; for, as you say, that will be the best
plan. Osborne will be here too; and he's always in his element
talking to women. I sometimes think he's half a woman himself, he
spends so much money and is so unreasonable."

The Squire was pleased with his own speech and his own thought, and
smiled a little as he finished speaking. Mr. Gibson was both pleased
and amused; and he smiled too, anxious as he was to be gone. The next
Thursday was soon fixed upon as the day on which Mr. Gibson was to
bring his womenkind out to the Hall. He thought that, on the whole,
the interview had gone off a good deal better than he had expected,
and felt rather proud of the invitation of which he was the bearer.
Therefore Mrs. Gibson's manner of receiving it was an annoyance to
him. She, meanwhile, had been considering herself as an injured woman
ever since the evening of the day of Roger's departure; what business
had any one had to speak as if the chances of Osborne's life being
prolonged were infinitely small, if in fact the matter was uncertain?
She liked Osborne extremely, much better than Roger; and would gladly
have schemed to secure him for Cynthia, if she had not shrunk from
the notion of her daughter's becoming a widow. For if Mrs. Gibson had
ever felt anything acutely it was the death of Mr. Kirkpatrick; and,
amiably callous as she was in most things, she recoiled from exposing
her daughter wilfully to the same kind of suffering which she herself
had experienced. But if she had only known Dr. Nicholls' opinion she
would never have favoured Roger's suit; never. And then Mr. Gibson
himself; why was he so cold and reserved in his treatment of her
since that night of explanation? She had done nothing wrong; yet she
was treated as though she were in disgrace. And everything about
the house was flat just now. She even missed the little excitement
of Roger's visits, and the watching of his attentions to Cynthia.
Cynthia too was silent enough; and as for Molly, she was absolutely
dull and out of spirits, a state of mind so annoying to Mrs. Gibson
just now, that she vented some of her discontent upon the poor girl,
from whom she feared neither complaint nor repartee.



The evening of the day on which Mr. Gibson had been to see the
Squire, the three women were alone in the drawing-room, for Mr.
Gibson had had a long round and was not as yet come in. They had had
to wait dinner for him; and for some time after his return there was
nothing done or said but what related to the necessary business of
eating. Mr. Gibson was, perhaps, as well satisfied with his day's
work as any of the four; for this visit to the Squire had been
weighing on his mind ever since he had heard of the state of things
between Roger and Cynthia. He did not like the having to go and
tell of a love-affair so soon after he had declared his belief
that no such thing existed; it was a confession of fallibility
which is distasteful to most men. If the Squire had not been of
so unsuspicious and simple a nature, he might have drawn his own
conclusions from the apparent concealment of facts, and felt doubtful
of Mr. Gibson's perfect honesty in the business; but being what
he was, there was no danger of such unjust misapprehension. Still
Mr. Gibson knew the hot hasty temper he had to deal with, and had
expected more violence of language than he really encountered; and
the last arrangement by which Cynthia, her mother, and Molly--who, as
Mr. Gibson thought to himself, and smiled at the thought, was sure to
be a peacemaker, and a sweetener of intercourse--were to go to the
Hall and make acquaintance with the Squire, appeared like a great
success to Mr. Gibson, for achieving which he took not a little
credit to himself. Altogether, he was more cheerful and bland than he
had been for many days; and when he came up into the drawing-room for
a few minutes after dinner, before going out again to see his town
patients, he whistled a little under his breath, as he stood with his
back to the fire, looking at Cynthia, and thinking that he had not
done her justice when describing her to the Squire. Now this soft,
almost tuneless whistling, was to Mr. Gibson what purring is to a
cat. He could no more have done it with an anxious case on his mind,
or when he was annoyed by human folly, or when he was hungry, than
he could have flown through the air. Molly knew all this by instinct,
and was happy without being aware of it, as soon as she heard the low
whistle which was no music after all. But Mrs. Gibson did not like
this trick of her husband's; it was not refined she thought, not even
"artistic;" if she could have called it by this fine word it would
have compensated her for the want of refinement. To-night it was
particularly irritating to her nerves; but since her conversation
with Mr. Gibson about Cynthia's engagement, she had not felt herself
in a sufficiently good position to complain.

Mr. Gibson began,--"Well, Cynthia; I've seen the Squire to-day, and
made a clean breast of it."

Cynthia looked up quickly, questioning with her eyes; Molly stopped
her netting to listen; no one spoke.

"You're all to go there on Thursday to lunch; he asked you all, and I
promised for you."

Still no reply; natural, perhaps, but very flat.

"You'll be glad of that, Cynthia, shan't you?" asked Mr. Gibson. "It
may be a little formidable, but I hope it will be the beginning of a
good understanding between you."

"Thank you!" said she, with an effort. "But--but won't it make it
public? I do so wish not to have it known, or talked about, not till
he comes back or close upon the marriage."

"I don't see how it should make it public," said Mr. Gibson. "My
wife goes to lunch with my friend, and takes her daughters with
her--there's nothing in that, is there?"

"I am not sure that I shall go," put in Mrs. Gibson. She did not
know why she said it, for she fully intended to go all the time; but
having said it, she was bound to stick to it for a little while; and,
with such a husband as hers, the hard necessity was sure to fall upon
her of having to find a reason for her saying. Then it came, quick
and sharp.

"Why not?" said he, turning round upon her.

"Oh, because--because I think he ought to have called on Cynthia
first; I've that sort of sensitiveness I can't bear to think of her
being slighted because she is poor."

"Nonsense!" said Mr. Gibson. "I do assure you, no slight whatever
was intended. He does not wish to speak about the engagement to any
one--not even to Osborne--that's your wish, too, isn't it, Cynthia?
Nor does he intend to mention it to any of you when you go there;
but, naturally enough, he wants to make acquaintance with his future
daughter-in-law. If he deviated so much from his usual course as to
come calling here--"

"I am sure I don't want him to come calling here," said Mrs. Gibson,
interrupting. "He was not so very agreeable the only time he did
come. But I am that sort of a character that I cannot put up with
any neglect of persons I love, just because they are not smiled upon
by fortune." She sighed a little ostentatiously as she ended her

"Well, then, you won't go!" said Mr. Gibson, provoked, but not
wishing to have a long discussion, especially as he felt his temper

"Do you wish it, Cynthia?" said Mrs. Gibson, anxious for an excuse to

But her daughter was quite aware of this motive for the question, and
replied quietly,--"Not particularly, mamma. I am quite willing to
refuse the invitation."

"It is already accepted," said Mr. Gibson, almost ready to vow
that he would never again meddle in any affair in which women were
concerned, which would effectually shut him out from all love-affairs
for the future. He had been touched by the Squire's relenting,
pleased with what he had thought would give others pleasure, and this
was the end of it!

"Oh, do go, Cynthia!" said Molly, pleading with her eyes as well as
her words. "Do; I am sure you will like the Squire; and it is such a
pretty place, and he'll be so much disappointed."

"I should not like to give up my dignity," said Cynthia, demurely.
"And you heard what mamma said!"

It was very malicious of her. She fully intended to go, and was
equally sure that her mother was already planning her dress for the
occasion in her own mind. Mr. Gibson, however, who, surgeon though
he was, had never learnt to anatomize a woman's heart, took it all
literally, and was excessively angry both with Cynthia and her
mother; so angry that he did not dare to trust himself to speak. He
went quickly to the door, intending to leave the room; but his wife's
voice arrested him; she said,--

"My dear, do you wish me to go? if you do, I will put my own feelings
on one side."

"Of course I do!" he said, short and stern, and left the room.

"Then I'll go!" said she, in the voice of a victim--those words were
meant for him, but he hardly heard them. "And we'll have a fly from
the 'George,' and get a livery-coat for Thomas, which I've long been
wanting, only dear Mr. Gibson did not like it, but on an occasion
like this I'm sure he won't mind; and Thomas shall go on the box,

"But, mamma, I've my feelings too," said Cynthia.

"Nonsense, child! when all is so nicely arranged too."

So they went on the day appointed. Mr. Gibson was aware of the change
of plans, and that they were going after all; but he was so much
annoyed by the manner in which his wife had received an invitation
that appeared to him so much kinder than he had expected from his
previous knowledge of the Squire, and his wishes on the subject of
his sons' marriage, that Mrs. Gibson heard neither interest nor
curiosity expressed by her husband as to the visit itself, or the
reception they met with. Cynthia's indifference as to whether the
invitation was accepted or not had displeased Mr. Gibson. He was not
up to her ways with her mother, and did not understand how much of
this said indifference had been assumed in order to countervent Mrs.
Gibson's affectation and false sentiment. But for all his annoyance
on the subject, he was, in fact, very curious to know how the visit
had gone off, and took the first opportunity of being alone with
Molly to question her about the lunch of the day before at Hamley

"And so you went to Hamley yesterday after all?"

"Yes; I thought you would have come. The Squire seemed quite to
expect you."

"I thought of going there at first; but I changed my mind like
other people. I don't see why women are to have a monopoly of
changeableness. Well! how did it go off? Pleasantly, I suppose, for
both your mother and Cynthia were in high spirits last night."

"Yes. The dear old Squire was in his best dress and on his best
behaviour, and was so prettily attentive to Cynthia, and she looked
so lovely, walking about with him, and listening to all his talk
about the garden and farm. Mamma was tired, and stopped in-doors, so
they got on very well, and saw a great deal of each other."

"And my little girl trotted behind?"

"Oh, yes. You know I was almost at home, and besides--of course--"
Molly went very red, and left the sentence unfinished.

"Do you think she's worthy of him?" asked her father, just as if she
had completed her speech.

"Of Roger, papa? oh, who is? But she is very sweet, and very, very

"Very charming if you will, but somehow I don't quite understand her.
Why does she want all this secrecy? Why was she not more eager to go
and pay her duty to Roger's father? She took it as coolly as if I'd
asked her to go to church!"

"I don't think she did take it coolly; I believe I don't quite
understand her either, but I love her dearly all the same."

"Umph; I like to understand people thoroughly, but I know it's not
necessary to women. D'ye really think she's worthy of him?"

"Oh, papa--" said Molly, and then she stopped; she wanted to speak in
favour of Cynthia, but somehow she could form no reply that pleased
her to this repeated inquiry. He did not seem much to care whether he
got an answer or not, for he went on with his own thoughts, and the
result was that he asked Molly if Cynthia had heard from Roger.

"Yes; on Wednesday morning."

"Did she show it to you? But of course not. Besides, I read the
Squire's letter, which told all about him."

Now Cynthia, rather to Molly's surprise, had told her that she might
read the letter if she liked, and Molly had shrunk from availing
herself of the permission, for Roger's sake. She thought that he
would probably have poured out his heart to the one sole person, and
that it was not fair to listen, as it were, to his confidences.

"Was Osborne at home?" asked Mr. Gibson. "The Squire said he did
not think he would have come back; but the young fellow is so

"No, he was still from home." Then Molly blushed all over crimson,
for it suddenly struck her that Osborne was probably with his
wife--that mysterious wife, of whose existence she was cognizant,
but of whom she knew so little, and of whom her father knew nothing.
Mr. Gibson noticed the blush with anxiety. What did it mean? It was
troublesome enough to find that one of the Squire's precious sons
had fallen in love within the prohibited ranks; and what would not
have to be said and done if anything fresh were to come out between
Osborne and Molly? He spoke out at once to relieve himself of this
new apprehension.

"Molly, I was taken by surprise by this affair between Cynthia and
Roger Hamley--if there's anything more on the tapis let me know at
once, honestly and openly. I know it's an awkward question for you to
reply to; but I wouldn't ask it unless I had good reasons." He took
her hand as he spoke. She looked up at him with clear, truthful eyes,
which filled with tears as she spoke. She did not know why the tears
came; perhaps it was because she was not so strong as formerly.

"If you mean that you're afraid that Osborne thinks of me as Roger
thinks of Cynthia, papa, you are quite mistaken. Osborne and I are
friends and nothing more, and never can be anything more. That's all
I can tell you."

"It's quite enough, little one. It's a great relief. I don't want to
have my Molly carried off by any young man just yet; I should miss
her sadly." He could not help saying this in the fulness of his heart
just then, but he was surprised at the effect these few tender words
produced. Molly threw her arms round his neck, and began to sob
bitterly, her head lying on his shoulder. "There, there!" said he,
patting her on the back, and leading her to the sofa, "that will do.
I get quite enough of tears in the day, shed for real causes, not to
want them at home, where, I hope, they are shed for no cause at all.
There's nothing really the matter, is there, my dear?" he continued,
holding her a little away from him that he might look in her face.
She smiled at him through her tears; and he did not see the look of
sadness which returned to her face after he had left her.

"Nothing, dear, dear papa--nothing now. It is such a comfort to have
you all to myself--it makes me happy."

Mr. Gibson knew all implied in these words, and felt that there was
no effectual help for the state of things which had arisen from his
own act. It was better for them both that they should not speak out
more fully. So he kissed her, and said,--

"That's right, dear! I can leave you in comfort now, and indeed I've
stayed too long already gossiping. Go out and have a walk--take
Cynthia with you, if you like. I must be off. Good-by, little one."

His commonplace words acted like an astringent on Molly's relaxed
feelings. He intended that they should do so; it was the truest
kindness to her; but he walked away from her with a sharp pang at his
heart, which he stunned into numbness as soon as he could by throwing
himself violently into the affairs and cares of others.



[Illustration (untitled)]

The honour and glory of having a lover of her own was soon to fall
to Molly's share; though, to be sure, it was a little deduction from
the honour that the man who came with the full intention of proposing
to her, ended by making Cynthia an offer. It was Mr. Coxe, who came
back to Hollingford to follow out the purpose he had announced to Mr.
Gibson nearly two years before, of inducing Molly to become his wife
as soon as he should have succeeded to his uncle's estate. He was now
a rich, though still a red-haired, young man. He came to the George
Inn, bringing his horses and his groom; not that he was going to ride
much, but that he thought such outward signs of his riches might help
on his suit; and he was so justly modest in his estimation of himself
that he believed that he needed all extraneous aid. He piqued himself
on his constancy; and indeed, considering that he had been so much
restrained by his duty, his affection, and his expectations to his
crabbed old uncle, that he had not been able to go much into society,
and very rarely indeed into the company of young ladies, such
fidelity to Molly was very meritorious, at least in his own eyes. Mr.
Gibson too was touched by it, and made it a point of honour to give
him a fair field, all the time sincerely hoping that Molly would not
be such a goose as to lend a willing ear to a youth who could never
remember the difference between apophysis and epiphysis. He thought
it as well not to tell his wife more of Mr. Coxe's antecedents than
that he had been a former pupil; who had relinquished ("all that he
knew of," understood) the medical profession because an old uncle
had left him enough of money to be idle. Mrs. Gibson, who felt that
she had somehow lost her place in her husband's favour, took it into
her head that she could reinstate herself if she was successful
in finding a good match for his daughter Molly. She knew that her
husband had forbidden her to try for this end, as distinctly as
words could express a meaning; but her own words so seldom expressed
her meaning, or if they did, she held to her opinions so loosely,
that she had no idea but that it was the same with other people.
Accordingly she gave Mr. Coxe a very sweet and gracious welcome.

"It is such a pleasure to me to make acquaintance with the former
pupils of my husband. He has spoken to me so often of you that I
quite feel as if you were one of the family, as indeed I am sure that
Mr. Gibson considers you."

Mr. Coxe felt much flattered, and took the words as a happy omen for
his love-affair. "Is Miss Gibson in?" asked he, blushing violently.
"I knew her formerly--that is to say, I lived in the same house
with her, for more than two years, and it would be a great pleasure

"Certainly, I am sure she will be so glad to see you. I sent her
and Cynthia--you don't know my daughter Cynthia, I think, Mr. Coxe?
she and Molly are such great friends--out for a brisk walk this
frosty day, but I think they will soon come back." She went on saying
agreeable nothings to the young man, who received her attentions
with a certain complacency, but was all the time much more engaged
in listening to the well-remembered click at the front door,--the
shutting it to again with household care, and the sound of the
familiar bounding footstep on the stair. At last they came. Cynthia
entered first, bright and blooming, fresh colour in her cheeks and
lips, fresh brilliance in her eyes. She looked startled at the sight
of a stranger, and for an instant she stopped short at the door, as
if taken by surprise. Then in came Molly softly behind her, smiling,
happy, dimpled; but not such a glowing beauty as Cynthia.

"Oh, Mr. Coxe, is it you?" said she, going up to him with an
outstretched hand, and greeting him with simple friendliness.

"Yes; it seems such a long time since I saw you. You are so much
grown--so much--well, I suppose I mustn't say what," he replied,
speaking hurriedly, and holding her hand all the time, rather to
her discomfiture. Then Mrs. Gibson introduced her daughter, and the
two girls spoke of the enjoyment of their walk. Mr. Coxe marred his
cause in that very first interview, if indeed he ever could have
had any chance, by his precipitancy in showing his feelings, and
Mrs. Gibson helped him to mar it by trying to assist him. Molly lost
her open friendliness of manner, and began to shrink away from him
in a way which he thought was a very ungrateful return for all his
faithfulness to her these two years past; and after all she was not
the wonderful beauty his fancy or his love had painted her. That Miss
Kirkpatrick was far more beautiful and much easier of access. For
Cynthia put on all her pretty airs--her look of intent interest in
what any one was saying to her, let the subject be what it would,
as if it was the thing she cared most about in the whole world; her
unspoken deference; in short, all the unconscious ways she possessed
by instinct of tickling the vanity of men. So while Molly quietly
repelled him, Cynthia drew him to her by her soft attractive ways;
and his constancy fell before her charms. He was thankful that he had
not gone too far with Molly, and grateful to Mr. Gibson for having
prohibited all declarations two years ago; for Cynthia, and Cynthia
alone, could make him happy. After a fortnight's time, during which
he had entirely veered round in his allegiance, he thought it
desirable to speak to Mr. Gibson. He did so with a certain sense
of exultation in his own correct behaviour in the affair, but at
the same time feeling rather ashamed of the confession of his own
changeableness which was naturally involved. Now it had so happened
that Mr. Gibson had been unusually little at home during the
fortnight that Mr. Coxe had ostensibly lodged at the "George," but
in reality had spent the greater part of his time at Mr. Gibson's
house--so that he had seen very little of his former pupil, and on
the whole he had thought him improved, especially after Molly's
manner had made her father pretty sure that Mr. Coxe stood no chance
in that quarter. But Mr. Gibson was quite ignorant of the attraction
which Cynthia had had for the young man. If he had perceived it, he
would have nipped it in the bud pretty quickly, for he had no notion
of any girl, even though only partially engaged to one man, receiving
offers from others, if a little plain speaking could prevent it. Mr.
Coxe had asked for a private interview; they were sitting in the old
surgery, now called the consulting-room, but still retaining so much
of its former self as to be the last place in which Mr. Coxe could
feel himself at ease. He was red up to the very roots of his red
hair, and kept turning his glossy new hat round and round in his
fingers, unable to find out the proper way of beginning his sentence,
so at length he plunged in, grammar or no grammar.

"Mr. Gibson, I daresay you'll be surprised, I'm sure I am at--at what
I want to say; but I think it's the part of an honourable man, as you
said yourself, sir, a year or two ago, to--to speak to the father
first, and as you, sir, stand in the place of a father to Miss
Kirkpatrick, I should like to express my feelings, my hopes, or
perhaps I should say wishes, in short--"

"Miss Kirkpatrick?" said Mr. Gibson, a good deal surprised.

"Yes, sir!" continued Mr. Coxe, rushing on now he had got so far. "I
know it may appear inconstant and changeable, but I do assure you, I
came here with a heart as faithful to your daughter as ever beat in a
man's bosom. I most fully intended to offer myself and all that I had
to her acceptance before I left; but really, sir, if you had seen her
manner to me every time I endeavoured to press my suit a little--it
was more than coy, it was absolutely repellent, there could be no
mistaking it,--while Miss Kirkpatrick--" he looked modestly down, and
smoothed the nap of his hat, smiling a little while he did so.

"While Miss Kirkpatrick--?" repeated Mr. Gibson, in such a stern
voice, that Mr. Coxe, landed esquire as he was now, felt as much
discomfited as he used to do when he was an apprentice, and Mr.
Gibson had spoken to him in a similar manner.

"I was only going to say, sir, that so far as one can judge from
manner, and willingness to listen, and apparent pleasure in my
visits--altogether, I think I may venture to hope that Miss
Kirkpatrick is not quite indifferent to me,--and I would wait,--you
have no objection, have you, sir, to my speaking to her, I mean?"
said Mr. Coxe, a little anxious at the expression on Mr. Gibson's
face. "I do assure you I haven't a chance with Miss Gibson," he
continued, not knowing what to say, and fancying that his inconstancy
was rankling in Mr. Gibson's mind.

"No! I don't suppose you have. Don't go and fancy it is that which is
annoying me. You're mistaken about Miss Kirkpatrick, however. I don't
believe she could ever have meant to give you encouragement!"

Mr. Coxe's face grew perceptibly paler. His feelings, if evanescent,
were evidently strong.

"I think, sir, if you could have seen her--I don't consider myself
vain, and manner is so difficult to describe. At any rate, you can
have no objection to my taking my chance, and speaking to her."

"Of course, if you won't be convinced otherwise, I can have no
objection. But if you'll take my advice, you will spare yourself the
pain of a refusal. I may, perhaps, be trenching on confidence, but I
think I ought to tell you that her affections are otherwise engaged."

"It cannot be!" said Mr. Coxe. "Mr. Gibson, there must be some
mistake. I have gone as far as I dared in expressing my feelings,
and her manner has been most gracious. I don't think she could have
misunderstood my meaning. Perhaps she has changed her mind? It is
possible that, after consideration, she has learnt to prefer another,
is it not?"

"By 'another,' you mean yourself, I suppose. I can believe in such
inconstancy" (he could not help, in his own mind, giving a slight
sneer at the instance before him), "but I should be very sorry to
think that Miss Kirkpatrick could be guilty of it."

"But she may--it is a chance. Will you allow me to see her?"

"Certainly, my poor fellow"--for, intermingled with a little
contempt, was a good deal of respect for the simplicity, the
unworldliness, the strength of feeling, even though the feeling was
evanescent--"I will send her to you directly."

"Thank you, sir. God bless you for a kind friend!"

Mr. Gibson went upstairs to the drawing-room, where he was pretty
sure he should find Cynthia. There she was, as bright and careless as
usual, making up a bonnet for her mother, and chattering to Molly as
she worked.

"Cynthia, you will oblige me by going down into my consulting-room at
once. Mr. Coxe wants to speak to you!"

"Mr. Coxe?" said Cynthia. "What can he want with me?"

Evidently, she answered her own question as soon as it was asked, for
she coloured, and avoided meeting Mr. Gibson's severe, uncompromising
look. As soon as she had left the room, Mr. Gibson sat down,
and took up a new _Edinburgh_ lying on the table, as an excuse
for conversation. Was there anything in the article that made
him say, after a minute or two, to Molly, who sat silent and
wondering--"Molly, you must never trifle with the love of an honest
man. You don't know what pain you may give."

Presently Cynthia came back into the drawing-room, looking very
much confused. Most likely she would not have returned if she had
known that Mr. Gibson was still there; but it was such an unheard-of
thing for him to be sitting in that room in the middle of the day,
reading or making pretence to read, that she had never thought of his
remaining. He looked up at her the moment she came in, so there was
nothing for it but putting a bold face on it, and going back to her

"Is Mr. Coxe still downstairs?" asked Mr. Gibson.

"No. He is gone. He asked me to give you both his kind regards. I
believe he is leaving this afternoon." Cynthia tried to make her
manner as commonplace as possible; but she did not look up, and her
voice trembled a little.

Mr. Gibson went on looking at his book for a few minutes; but Cynthia
felt that more was coming, and only wished it would come quickly, for
the severe silence was very hard to bear. It came at last.

"I trust this will never occur again, Cynthia!" said he, in grave
displeasure. "I should not feel satisfied with the conduct of any
girl, however free, who could receive marked attentions from a young
man with complacency, and so lead him on to make an offer which she
never meant to accept. But what must I think of a young woman in
your position, engaged--yet 'accepting most graciously,' for that
was the way Coxe expressed it--the overtures of another man? Do you
consider what unnecessary pain you have given him by your thoughtless
behaviour? I call it thoughtless, but it's the mildest epithet I can
apply to it. I beg that such a thing may not occur again, or I shall
be obliged to characterize it more severely."


Molly could not imagine what "more severely" could be, for her
father's manner appeared to her almost cruel in its sternness.
Cynthia coloured up extremely, then went pale, and at length raised
her beautiful appealing eyes full of tears to Mr. Gibson. He was
touched by that look, but he resolved immediately not to be mollified
by any of her physical charms of expression, but to keep to his sober
judgment of her conduct.

"Please, Mr. Gibson, hear my side of the story before you speak so
hardly to me. I did not mean to--to flirt. I merely meant to make
myself agreeable,--I can't help doing that,--and that goose of a Mr.
Coxe seems to have fancied I meant to give him encouragement."

"Do you mean that you were not aware that he was falling in love with
you?" Mr. Gibson was melting into a readiness to be convinced by that
sweet voice and pleading face.

"Well, I suppose I must speak truly." Cynthia blushed and
smiled--ever so little--but it was a smile, and it hardened Mr.
Gibson's heart again. "I did think once or twice that he was becoming
a little more complimentary than the occasion required; but I hate
throwing cold water on people, and I never thought he could take it
into his silly head to fancy himself seriously in love, and to make
such a fuss at the last, after only a fortnight's acquaintance."

"You seem to have been pretty well aware of his silliness (I
should rather call it simplicity). Don't you think you should have
remembered that it might lead him to exaggerate what you were doing
and saying into encouragement?"

"Perhaps. I daresay I'm all wrong, and that he is all right," said
Cynthia, piqued and pouting. "We used to say in France, that '_les
absens ont toujours tort_,' but really it seems as if here--" she
stopped. She was unwilling to be impertinent to a man whom she
respected and liked. She took up another point of her defence, and
rather made matters worse. "Besides, Roger would not allow me to
consider myself as finally engaged to him; I would willingly have
done it, but he would not let me."

"Nonsense. Don't let us go on talking about it, Cynthia! I've said
all that I mean to say. I believe that you were only thoughtless, as
I told you before. But don't let it happen again." He left the room
at once, to put a stop to the conversation, the continuance of which
would serve no useful purpose, and perhaps end by irritating him.

"Not guilty, but we recommend the prisoner not to do it again. It's
pretty much that, isn't it, Molly?" said Cynthia, letting her tears
downfall, even while she smiled. "I do believe your father might make
a good woman of me yet, if he would only take the pains, and wasn't
quite so severe. And to think of that stupid little fellow making all
this mischief! He pretended to take it to heart, as if he had loved
me for years instead of only for days. I daresay only for hours if
the truth were told."

"I was afraid he was becoming very fond of you," said Molly; "at
least it struck me once or twice; but I knew he could not stay long,
and I thought it would only make you uncomfortable if I said anything
about it. But now I wish I had!"

"It wouldn't have made a bit of difference," replied Cynthia. "I knew
he liked me, and I like to be liked; it's born in me to try to make
every one I come near fond of me; but then they shouldn't carry it
too far, for it becomes very troublesome if they do. I shall hate
red-haired people for the rest of my life. To think of such a man as
that being the cause of your father's displeasure with me!"

Molly had a question at her tongue's end that she longed to put; she
knew it was indiscreet, but at last out it came almost against her

"Shall you tell Roger about it?"

Cynthia replied, "I've not thought about it--no! I don't think I
shall--there's no need. Perhaps, if we are ever married--"

"Ever married!" said Molly, under her breath. But Cynthia took no
notice of the exclamation until she had finished the sentence which
it interrupted.

"--and I can see his face and know his mood, I may tell it him then;
but not in writing, and when he is absent; it might annoy him."

"I am afraid it would make him uncomfortable," said Molly,
simply. "And yet it must be so pleasant to be able to tell him
everything--all your difficulties and troubles."

"Yes; only I don't worry him with these things; it's better to
write him merry letters, and cheer him up among the black folk. You
repeated 'Ever married,' a little while ago; do you know, Molly, I
don't think I ever shall be married to him? I don't know why, but I
have a strong presentiment, so it's just as well not to tell him all
my secrets, for it would be awkward for him to know them if it never
came off!"

Molly dropped her work, and sat silent, looking into the future; at
length she said, "I think it would break his heart, Cynthia!"

"Nonsense. Why, I'm sure that Mr. Coxe came here with the intention
of falling in love with you--you needn't blush so violently. I'm sure
you saw it as plainly as I did, only you made yourself disagreeable,
and I took pity on him, and consoled his wounded vanity."

"Can you--do you dare to compare Roger Hamley to Mr. Coxe?" asked
Molly, indignantly.

"No, no, I don't!" said Cynthia in a moment. "They are as different
as men can be. Don't be so dreadfully serious over everything, Molly.
You look as oppressed with sad reproach, as if I had been passing on
to you the scolding your father gave me."

"Because I don't think you value Roger as you ought, Cynthia!" said
Molly stoutly, for it required a good deal of courage to force
herself to say this, although she could not tell why she shrank so
from speaking.

"Yes, I do! It's not in my nature to go into ecstasies, and I don't
suppose I shall ever be what people call 'in love.' But I am glad he
loves me, and I like to make him happy, and I think him the best and
most agreeable man I know, always excepting your father when he isn't
angry with me. What can I say more, Molly? would you like me to say I
think him handsome?"

"I know most people think him plain, but--"

"Well, I'm of the opinion of most people then, and small blame to
them. But I like his face--oh, ten thousand times better than Mr.
Preston's handsomeness!" For the first time during the conversation
Cynthia seemed thoroughly in earnest. Why Mr. Preston was introduced
neither she nor Molly knew; it came up and out by a sudden impulse;
but a fierce look came into the eyes, and the soft lips contracted
themselves as Cynthia named his name. Molly had noticed this look
before, always at the mention of this one person.

"Cynthia, what makes you dislike Mr. Preston so much?"

"Don't you? Why do you ask me? and yet, Molly," said she, suddenly
relaxing into depression, not merely in tone and look, but in the
droop of her limbs--"Molly, what should you think of me if I married
him after all?"

"Married him! Has he ever asked you?"

But Cynthia, instead of replying to this question, went on, uttering
her own thoughts,--"More unlikely things have happened. Have you
never heard of strong wills mesmerizing weaker ones into submission?
One of the girls at Madame Lefevre's went out as a governess to a
Russian family, who lived near Moscow. I sometimes think I'll write
to her to find me a situation in Russia, just to get out of the daily
chance of seeing that man!"

"But sometimes you seem quite intimate with him, and talk to him--"

"How can I help it?" said Cynthia impatiently. Then recovering
herself she added: "We knew him so well at Ashcombe, and he's not a
man to be easily thrown off, I can tell you. I must be civil to him;
it's not from liking, and he knows it's not, for I've told him so.
However, we won't talk about him. I don't know how we came to do it,
I'm sure: the mere fact of his existence, and of his being within
half a mile of us, is bad enough. Oh! I wish Roger was at home,
and rich, and could marry me at once, and carry me away from that
man! If I'd thought of it, I really believe I would have taken poor
red-haired Mr. Coxe."

"I don't understand it at all," said Molly. "I dislike Mr. Preston,
but I should never think of taking such violent steps as you speak
of, to get away from the neighbourhood in which he lives."

"No, because you are a reasonable little darling," said Cynthia,
resuming her usual manner, and coming up to Molly, and kissing her.
"At least you'll acknowledge I'm a good hater!"

"Yes. But still I don't understand it."

"Oh, never mind! There are old complications with our affairs at
Ashcombe. Money matters are at the root of it all. Horrid poverty--do
let us talk of something else! Or, better still, let me go and finish
my letter to Roger, or I shall be too late for the African mail!"

"Isn't it gone? Oh, I ought to have reminded you! It will be too
late. Did you not see the notice at the post-office that letters
ought to be in London on the morning of the 10th instead of the
evening. Oh, I am so sorry!"

"So am I, but it can't be helped. It is to be hoped it will be the
greater treat when he does get it. I've a far greater weight on my
heart, because your father seems so displeased with me. I was fond
of him, and now he is making me quite a coward. You see, Molly,"
continued she, a little piteously, "I've never lived with people with
such a high standard of conduct before; and I don't quite know how to

"You must learn," said Molly tenderly. "You'll find Roger quite as
strict in his notions of right and wrong."

"Ah, but he's in love with me!" said Cynthia, with a pretty
consciousness of her power. Molly turned away her head, and was
silent; it was of no use combating the truth, and she tried rather
not to feel it--not to feel, poor girl, that she too had a great
weight on her heart, into the cause of which she shrank from
examining. That whole winter long she had felt as if her sun was all
shrouded over with grey mist, and could no longer shine brightly for
her. She wakened up in the morning with a dull sense of something
being wrong; the world was out of joint, and, if she were born to set
it right, she did not know how to do it. Blind herself as she would,
she could not help perceiving that her father was not satisfied with
the wife he had chosen. For a long time Molly had been surprised at
his apparent contentment; sometimes she had been unselfish enough to
be glad that he was satisfied; but still more frequently nature would
have its way, and she was almost irritated at what she considered
his blindness. Something, however, had changed him now: something
that had arisen at the time of Cynthia's engagement. He had become
nervously sensitive to his wife's failings, and his whole manner
had grown dry and sarcastic, not merely to her, but sometimes to
Cynthia,--and even--but this very rarely, to Molly herself. He was
not a man to go into passions, or ebullitions of feeling: they would
have relieved him, even while degrading him in his own eyes; but
he became hard, and occasionally bitter in his speeches and ways.
Molly now learnt to long after the vanished blindness in which her
father had passed the first year of his marriage; yet there were no
outrageous infractions of domestic peace. Some people might say that
Mr. Gibson "accepted the inevitable;" he told himself in more homely
phrase "that it was no use crying over spilt milk:" and he, from
principle, avoided all actual dissensions with his wife, preferring
to cut short a discussion by a sarcasm, or by leaving the room.
Moreover, Mrs. Gibson had a very tolerable temper of her own, and her
cat-like nature purred and delighted in smooth ways, and pleasant
quietness. She had no great facility for understanding sarcasm; it
is true it disturbed her, but as she was not quick at deciphering
any depth of meaning, and felt it unpleasant to think about it, she
forgot it as soon as possible. Yet she saw she was often in some kind
of disfavour with her husband, and it made her uneasy. She resembled
Cynthia in this: she liked to be liked; and she wanted to regain
the esteem which she did not perceive she had lost for ever. Molly
sometimes took her stepmother's part in secret; she felt as if
she herself could never have borne her father's hard speeches so
patiently; they would have cut her to the heart, and she must either
have demanded an explanation, and probed the sore to the bottom, or
sat down despairing and miserable. Instead of which Mrs. Gibson,
after her husband had left the room, on these occasions would say in
a manner more bewildered than hurt--

"I think dear papa seems a little put out to-day; we must see that he
has a dinner that he likes when he comes home. I have often perceived
that everything depends on making a man comfortable in his own

And thus she went on, groping about to find the means of reinstating
herself in his good graces--really trying, according to her lights,
till Molly was often compelled to pity her in spite of herself, and
although she saw that her stepmother was the cause of her father's
increased astringency of disposition. For, indeed, he had got into
that kind of exaggerated susceptibility with regard to his wife's
faults, which may be best typified by the state of bodily irritation
that is produced by the constant recurrence of any particular noise:
those who are brought within hearing of it, are apt to be always on
the watch for the repetition, if they are once made to notice it, and
are in an irritable state of nerves.

So that poor Molly had not passed a cheerful winter, independently of
any private sorrows that she might have in her own heart. She did not
look well, either: she was gradually falling into low health, rather
than bad health. Her heart beat more feebly and slower; the vivifying
stimulant of hope--even unacknowledged hope--was gone out of her
life. It seemed as if there was not, and never could be in this
world, any help for the dumb discordancy between her father and his
wife. Day after day, month after month, year after year, would Molly
have to sympathize with her father, and pity her stepmother, feeling
acutely for both, and certainly more than Mrs. Gibson felt for
herself. Molly could not imagine how she had at one time wished for
her father's eyes to be opened, and how she could ever have fancied
that if they were, he would be able to change things in Mrs. Gibson's
character. It was all hopeless, and the only attempt at a remedy was
to think about it as little as possible. Then Cynthia's ways and
manners about Roger gave Molly a great deal of uneasiness. She did
not believe that Cynthia cared enough for him; at any rate, not with
the sort of love that she herself would have bestowed, if she had
been so happy--no, that was not it--if she had been in Cynthia's
place. She felt as if she should have gone to him both hands held
out, full and brimming over with tenderness, and been grateful for
every word of precious confidence bestowed on her. Yet Cynthia
received his letters with a kind of carelessness, and read them with
a strange indifference, while Molly sat at her feet, so to speak,
looking up with eyes as wistful as a dog's waiting for crumbs, and
such chance beneficences.

She tried to be patient on these occasions, but at last she must
ask--"Where is he, Cynthia? What does he say?" By this time Cynthia
had put down the letter on the table by her, smiling a little from
time to time, as she remembered the loving compliments it contained.

"Where? Oh, I didn't look exactly--somewhere in Abyssinia--Huon. I
can't read the word, and it doesn't much signify, for it would give
me no idea."

"Is he well?" asked greedy Molly.

"Yes, now. He has had a slight touch of fever, he says; but it's all
over now, and he hopes he is getting acclimatized."

"Of fever!--and who took care of him? he would want nursing,--and so
far from home. Oh, Cynthia!"

"Oh, I don't fancy he had any nursing, poor fellow! One doesn't
expect nursing, and hospitals, and doctors in Abyssinia; but he had
plenty of quinine with him, and I suppose that is the best specific.
At any rate he says he is quite well now!"

Molly sat silent for a minute or two.

"What is the date of the letter, Cynthia?"

"I didn't look. December the--December the 10th."

"That's nearly two months ago," said Molly.

"Yes; but I determined I wouldn't worry myself with useless anxiety,
when he went away. If anything did--go wrong, you know," said
Cynthia, using a euphuism for death, as most people do (it is an
ugly word to speak plain out in the midst of life), "it would be all
over before I even heard of his illness, and I could be of no use to
him--could I, Molly?"

"No. I daresay it is all very true; only I should think the Squire
could not take it so easily."

"I always write him a little note when I hear from Roger, but I don't
think I'll name this touch of fever--shall I, Molly?"

"I don't know," said Molly. "People say one ought, but I almost wish
I hadn't heard it. Please, does he say anything else that I may

"Oh, lovers' letters are so silly, and I think this is sillier than
usual," said Cynthia, looking over her letter again. "Here's a piece
you may read, from that line to that," indicating two places. "I
haven't read it myself for it looked dullish--all about Aristotle and
Pliny--and I want to get this bonnet-cap made up before we go out to
pay our calls."

Molly took the letter, the thought crossing her mind that he had
touched it, had had his hands upon it, in those far distant desert
lands, where he might be lost to sight and to any human knowledge
of his fate; even now her pretty brown fingers almost caressed the
flimsy paper with their delicacy of touch as she read. She saw
references made to books, which, with a little trouble, would be
accessible to her here in Hollingford. Perhaps the details and the
references would make the letter dull and dry to some people, but not
to her, thanks to his former teaching and the interest he had excited
in her for his pursuits. But, as he said in apology, what had he to
write about in that savage land, but his love, and his researches,
and travels? There was no society, no gaiety, no new books to write
about, no gossip in Abyssinian wilds.

Molly was not in strong health, and perhaps this made her a little
fanciful; but certain it is that her thoughts by day and her dreams
by night were haunted by the idea of Roger lying ill and untended in
those savage lands. Her constant prayer, "O my Lord! give her the
living child, and in no wise slay it," came from a heart as true as
that of the real mother in King Solomon's judgment. "Let him live,
let him live, even though I may never set eyes upon him again. Have
pity upon his father! Grant that he may come home safe, and live
happily with her whom he loves so tenderly--so tenderly, O God." And
then she would burst into tears, and drop asleep at last, sobbing.



Cynthia was always the same with Molly: kind, sweet-tempered, ready
to help, professing a great deal of love for her, and probably
feeling as much as she did for any one in the world. But Molly had
reached to this superficial depth of affection and intimacy in the
first few weeks of Cynthia's residence in her father's house; and if
she had been of a nature prone to analyse the character of one whom
she loved dearly, she might have perceived that, with all Cynthia's
apparent frankness, there were certain limits beyond which her
confidence did not go; where her reserve began, and her real self was
shrouded in mystery. For instance, her relations with Mr. Preston
were often very puzzling to Molly. She was sure that there had been a
much greater intimacy between them formerly at Ashcombe, and that the
remembrance of this was often very galling and irritating to Cynthia,
who was as evidently desirous of forgetting it as he was anxious
to make her remember it. But why this intimacy had ceased, why
Cynthia disliked him so extremely now, and many other unexplained
circumstances connected with these two facts, were Cynthia's secrets;
and she effectually baffled all Molly's innocent attempts during
the first glow of her friendship for Cynthia, to learn the girlish
antecedents of her companion's life. Every now and then Molly came
to a dead wall, beyond which she could not pass--at least with the
delicate instruments which were all she chose to use. Perhaps Cynthia
might have told all there was to tell to a more forcible curiosity,
which knew how to improve every slip of the tongue and every fit of
temper to its own gratification. But Molly's was the interest of
affection, not the coarser desire of knowing everything for a little
excitement; and as soon as she saw that Cynthia did not wish to tell
her anything about that period of her life, Molly left off referring
to it. But if Cynthia had preserved a sweet tranquillity of manner
and an unvarying kindness for Molly during the winter of which there
is question, at present she was the only person to whom the beauty's
ways were unchanged. Mr. Gibson's influence had been good for her as
long as she saw that he liked her; she had tried to keep as high a
place in his good opinion as she could, and had curbed many a little
sarcasm against her mother, and many a twisting of the absolute
truth when he was by. Now there was a constant uneasiness about her
which made her more cowardly than before; and even her partisan,
Molly, could not help being aware of the distinct equivocations she
occasionally used when anything in Mr. Gibson's words or behaviour
pressed her too hard. Her repartees to her mother were less frequent
than they had been, but there was often the unusual phenomenon
of pettishness in her behaviour to her. These changes in humour
and disposition, here described all at once, were in themselves a
series of delicate alterations of relative conduct spread over many
months--many winter months of long evenings and bad weather, which
bring out discords of character, as a dash of cold water brings out
the fading colours of an old fresco.

During much of this time Mr. Preston had been at Ashcombe; for Lord
Cumnor had not been able to find an agent whom he liked to replace
Mr. Preston; and while the inferior situation remained vacant Mr.
Preston had undertaken to do the duties of both. Mrs. Goodenough had
had a serious illness; and the little society at Hollingford did not
care to meet while one of their habitual set was scarcely out of
danger. So there had been very little visiting; and though Miss
Browning said that the absence of the temptations of society was very
agreeable to cultivated minds, after the dissipations of the previous
autumn, when there were parties every week to welcome Mr. Preston,
yet Miss Phoebe let out in confidence that she and her sister had
fallen into the habit of going to bed at nine o'clock, for they found
cribbage night after night, from five o'clock till ten, rather too
much of a good thing. To tell the truth, that winter, if peaceful,
was monotonous in Hollingford; and the whole circle of gentility
there was delighted to be stirred up in March by the intelligence
that Mr. Kirkpatrick, the newly-made Q.C., was coming on a visit for
a couple of days to his sister-in-law, Mrs. Gibson. Mrs. Goodenough's
room was the very centre of gossip; gossip had been her daily bread
through her life, gossip was meat and wine to her now.

"Dear-ah-me!" said the old lady, rousing herself so as to sit upright
in her easy-chair, and propping herself with her hands on the arms;
"who would ha' thought she'd such grand relations! Why, Mr. Ashton
told me once that a Queen's counsel was as like to be a judge as a
kitten is like to be a cat. And to think of her being as good as
a sister to a judge! I saw one oncst; and I know I thought as I
shouldn't wish for a better winter-cloak than his old robes would
make me, if I could only find out where I could get 'em second-hand.
And I know she'd her silk gowns turned and dyed and cleaned, and, for
aught I know, turned again, while she lived at Ashcombe. Keeping a
school, too, and so near akin to this Queen's counsel all the time!
Well, to be sure, it wasn't much of a school--only ten young ladies
at the best o' times; so perhaps he never heard of it."

"I've been wondering what they'll give him to dinner," said Miss
Browning. "It is an unlucky time for visitors; no game to be had,
and lamb so late this year, and chicken hardly to be had for love or

"He'll have to put up with calf's head, that he will," said Mrs.
Goodenough, solemnly. "If I'd ha' got my usual health I'd copy out
a receipt of my grandmother's for a rolled calf's head, and send it
to Mrs. Gibson--the doctor has been very kind to me all through this
illness--I wish my daughter in Combermere would send me some autumn
chickens--I'd pass 'em on to the doctor, that I would; but she's been
a-killing of 'em all, and a-sending of them to me, and the last she
sent she wrote me word was the last."

"I wonder if they'll give a party for him!" suggested Miss Phoebe.
"I should like to see a Queen's counsel for once in my life. I have
seen javelin-men, but that's the greatest thing in the legal line I
ever came across."

"They'll ask Mr. Ashton, of course," said Miss Browning. "The three
black graces, Law, Physic, and Divinity, as the song calls them.
Whenever there's a second course, there's always the clergyman of the
parish invited in any family of gentility."

"I wonder if he's married!" said Mrs. Goodenough. Miss Phoebe had
been feeling the same wonder, but had not thought it maidenly to
express it, even to her sister, who was the source of knowledge,
having met Mrs. Gibson in the street on her way to Mrs. Goodenough's.

"Yes, he's married, and must have several children, for Mrs. Gibson
said that Cynthia Kirkpatrick had paid them a visit in London, to
have lessons with her cousins. And she said that his wife was a most
accomplished woman, and of good family, though she brought him no

"It's a very creditable connection, I'm sure; it's only a wonder
to me as how we've heard so little talk of it before," said Mrs.
Goodenough. "At the first look of the thing, I shouldn't ha' thought
Mrs. Gibson was one to hide away her fine relations under a bushel;
indeed, for that matter, we're all of us fond o' turning the best
breadth o' the gown to the front. I remember, speaking o' breadths,
how I've undone my skirts many a time and oft to put a stain or a
grease-spot next to poor Mr. Goodenough. He'd a soft kind of heart
when first we was married, and he said, says he, 'Patty, link thy
right arm into my left one, then thou'lt be nearer to my heart;' and
so we kept up the habit, when, poor man, he'd a deal more to think on
than romancing on which side his heart lay; so, as I said, I always
put my damaged breadths on the right hand, and when we walked arm in
arm, as we always did, no one was never the wiser."

"I should not be surprised if he invited Cynthia to pay him another
visit in London," said Miss Browning. "If he did it when he was poor,
he's twenty times more likely to do it now he's a Queen's counsel."

"Ay, work it by the rule o' three, and she stands a good chance. I
only hope it won't turn her head; going up visiting in London at her
age. Why, I was fifty before ever I went!"

"But she has been in France; she's quite a travelled young lady,"
said Miss Phoebe.

Mrs. Goodenough shook her head for a whole minute before she gave
vent to her opinion.

"It's a risk," said she, "a great risk. I don't like saying so to
the doctor, but I shouldn't like having my daughter, if I was him,
so cheek-by-jowl with a girl as was brought up in the country where
Robespierre and Bonyparte was born."

"But Buonaparte was a Corsican," said Miss Browning, who was much
farther advanced both in knowledge and in liberality of opinions than
Mrs. Goodenough. "And there's a great opportunity for cultivation of
the mind afforded by intercourse with foreign countries. I always
admire Cynthia's grace of manner, never too shy to speak, yet never
putting herself forwards; she's quite a help to a party; and if she
has a few airs and graces, why they're natural at her age! Now as for
dear Molly, there's a kind of awkwardness about her--she broke one of
our best china cups last time she was at a party at our house, and
spilt the coffee on the new carpet; and then she got so confused that
she hardly did anything but sit in a corner and hold her tongue all
the rest of the evening."

"She was so sorry for what she'd done, sister," said Miss Phoebe,
in a gentle tone of reproach; she was always faithful to Molly.

"Well, and did I say she wasn't? but was there any need for her to be
stupid all the evening after?"

"But you were rather sharp,--rather displeased--"

"And I think it my duty to be sharp, ay, and cross too, when I see
young folks careless. And when I see my duty clear, I do it; I'm not
one to shrink from it, and they ought to be grateful to me. It's
not every one that will take the trouble of reproving them, as Mrs.
Goodenough knows. I'm very fond of Molly Gibson, very, for her own
sake and for her mother's too; I'm not sure if I don't think she's
worth half-a-dozen Cynthias, but for all that she shouldn't break my
best china teacup, and then sit doing nothing for her livelihood all
the rest of the evening."

By this time Mrs. Goodenough gave evident signs of being tired;
Molly's misdemeanors and Miss Browning's broken teacup were not as
exciting subjects of conversation as Mrs. Gibson's newly-discovered
good luck in having a successful London lawyer for a relation.

Mr. Kirkpatrick had been, like many other men, struggling on in his
profession, and encumbered with a large family of his own; he was
ready to do a good turn for his connections, if it occasioned him no
loss of time, and if (which was, perhaps, a primary condition) he
remembered their existence. Cynthia's visit to Doughty Street nine
or ten years ago had not made much impression upon him after he had
once suggested its feasibility to his good-natured wife. He was even
rather startled every now and then by the appearance of a pretty
little girl amongst his own children, as they trooped in to dessert,
and had to remind himself who she was. But as it was his custom
to leave the table almost immediately and to retreat into a small
back-room called his study, to immerse himself in papers for the rest
of the evening, the child had not made much impression upon him; and
probably the next time he remembered her existence was when Mrs.
Kirkpatrick wrote to him to beg him to receive Cynthia for a night on
her way to school at Boulogne. The same request was repeated on her
return; but it so happened that he had not seen her either time; and
only dimly remembered some remarks which his wife had made on one of
these occasions, that it seemed to her rather hazardous to send so
young a girl so long a journey without making more provision for her
safety than Mrs. Kirkpatrick had done. He knew that his wife would
fill up all deficiencies in this respect as if Cynthia had been her
own daughter; and thought no more about her until he received an
invitation to attend Mrs. Kirkpatrick's wedding with Mr. Gibson, the
highly-esteemed surgeon of Hollingford, &c. &c.--an attention which
irritated instead of pleasing him. "Does the woman think I have
nothing to do but run about the country in search of brides and
bridegrooms, when this great case of Houghton _v._ Houghton is coming
on, and I haven't a moment to spare?" he asked of his wife.

"Perhaps she never heard of it," suggested Mrs. Kirkpatrick.

"Nonsense! the case has been in the papers for days."

"But she mayn't know you are engaged in it."

"She mayn't," said he, meditatively--such ignorance was possible.

But now the great case of Houghton _v._ Houghton was a thing of the
past; the hard struggle was over, the comparative table-land of Q.
C.-dom gained, and Mr. Kirkpatrick had leisure for family feeling and
recollection. One day in the Easter vacation he found himself near
Hollingford; he had a Sunday to spare, and he wrote to offer himself
as a visitor to the Gibsons from Friday till Monday, expressing
strongly (what he really felt, in a less degree,) his wish to make
Mr. Gibson's acquaintance. Mr. Gibson, though often overwhelmed with
professional business, was always hospitable; and moreover, it was
always a pleasure to him to get out of the somewhat confined mental
atmosphere which he had breathed over and over again, and have a
whiff of fresh air: a glimpse of what was passing in the great world
beyond his daily limits of thought and action. So he was ready to
give a cordial welcome to his unknown relation. Mrs. Gibson was
in a flutter of sentimental delight, which she fancied was family
affection, but which might not have been quite so effervescent if Mr.
Kirkpatrick had remained in his former position of struggling lawyer,
with seven children, living in Doughty Street.

When the two gentlemen met they were attracted towards each other
by a similarity of character, with just enough difference in their
opinions to make the experience of each, on which such opinions
were based, valuable to the other. To Mrs. Gibson, although the
bond between them counted for very little in their intercourse, Mr.
Kirkpatrick paid very polite attention; and was, in fact, very glad
that she had done so well for herself as to marry a sensible and
agreeable man, who was able to keep her in comfort, and to behave
to her daughter in so liberal a manner. Molly struck him as a
delicate-looking girl, who might be very pretty if she had a greater
look of health and animation: indeed, looking at her critically,
there were beautiful points about her face--long soft grey eyes,
black curling eyelashes, rarely-showing dimples, perfect teeth;
but there was a languor over all, a slow depression of manner,
which contrasted unfavourably with the brightly-coloured Cynthia,
sparkling, quick, graceful, and witty. As Mr. Kirkpatrick expressed
it afterwards to his wife, he was quite in love with that girl;
and Cynthia, as ready to captivate strangers as any little girl
of three or four, rose to the occasion, forgot all her cares and
despondencies, remembered no longer her regret at having lost
something of Mr. Gibson's good opinion, and listened eagerly and made
soft replies, intermixed with naïve sallies of droll humour, till
Mr. Kirkpatrick was quite captivated. He left Hollingford, almost
surprised to have performed a duty, and found it a pleasure. For Mrs.
Gibson and Molly he had a general friendly feeling; but he did not
care if he never saw them again. But for Mr. Gibson he had a warm
respect, a strong personal liking, which he should be glad to have
ripen into a friendship, if there was time for it in this bustling
world. And he fully resolved to see more of Cynthia; his wife must
know her; they must have her up to stay with them in London, and show
her something of the world. But, on returning home, Mr. Kirkpatrick
found so much work awaiting him that he had to lock up embryo
friendships and kindly plans in some safe closet of his mind,
and give himself up, body and soul, to the immediate work of his
profession. But, in May, he found time to take his wife to the
Academy Exhibition, and some portrait there striking him as being
like Cynthia, he told his wife more about her and his visit to
Hollingford than he had ever had leisure to do before; and the
result was that on the next day a letter was sent off to Mrs. Gibson,
inviting Cynthia to pay a visit to her cousins in London, and
reminding her of many little circumstances that had occurred when she
was with them as a child, so as to carry on the clue of friendship
from that time to the present.

On its receipt, this letter was greeted in various ways by the four
people who sate round the breakfast-table. Mrs. Gibson read it to
herself first. Then, without telling what its contents were, so that
her auditors were quite in the dark as to what her remarks applied,
she said,--

"I think they might have remembered that I am a generation nearer to
them than she is, but nobody thinks of family affection now-a days;
and I liked him so much, and bought a new cookery-book, all to make
it pleasant and agreeable and what he was used to." She said all this
in a plaintive, aggrieved tone of voice; but as no one knew to what
she was referring, it was difficult to offer her consolation. Her
husband was the first to speak.

"If you want us to sympathize with you, tell us what is the nature of
your woe."

"Why, I daresay it's what he means as a very kind attention, only I
think I ought to have been asked before Cynthia," said she, reading
the letter over again.

"Who's _he_? and what's meant for a 'kind attention'?"

"Mr. Kirkpatrick, to be sure. This letter is from him; and he wants
Cynthia to go and pay them a visit, and never says anything about you
or me, my dear. And I'm sure we did our best to make it pleasant; and
he should have asked us first, I think."

"As I couldn't possibly have gone, it makes very little difference to

"But I could have gone; and, at any rate, he should have paid us
the compliment: it's only a proper mark of respect, you know. So
ungrateful, too, when I gave up my dressing-room on purpose for him!"

"And I dressed for dinner every day he was here, if we are each to
recapitulate all our sacrifices on his behalf. But, for all that, I
didn't expect to be invited to his house. I shall be only too glad if
he will come again to mine."

"I've a great mind not to let Cynthia go," said Mrs. Gibson

"I can't go, mamma," said Cynthia, colouring. "My gowns are all so
shabby, and my old bonnet must do for the summer."

"Well, but you can buy a new one; and I'm sure it is high time you
should get yourself another silk gown. You must have been saving up a
great deal, for I don't know when you've had any new clothes."

Cynthia began to say something, but stopped short. She went on
buttering her toast, but she held it in her hand without eating it;
without looking up either, as, after a minute or two of silence, she
spoke again:--

"I cannot go. I should like it very much; but I really cannot go.
Please, mamma, write at once, and refuse it."

"Nonsense, child! When a man in Mr. Kirkpatrick's position comes
forward to offer a favour, it does not do to decline it without
giving a sufficient reason. So kind of him as it is, too!"

"Suppose you offer to go instead of me?" proposed Cynthia.

"No, no! that won't do," said Mr. Gibson, decidedly. "You can't
transfer invitations in that way. But, really, this excuse about your
clothes does appear to be very trivial, Cynthia, if you have no other
reason to give."

"It is a real, true reason to me," said Cynthia, looking up at him
as she spoke. "You must let me judge for myself. It would not do
to go there in a state of shabbiness, for even in Doughty Street,
I remember, my aunt was very particular about dress; and now that
Margaret and Helen are grown up, and they visit so much,--pray don't
say anything more about it, for I know it would not do."

"What have you done with all your money, I wonder?" said Mrs. Gibson.
"You've twenty pounds a year, thanks to Mr. Gibson and me; and I'm
sure you haven't spent more than ten."

"I hadn't many things when I came back from France," said Cynthia, in
a low voice, and evidently troubled by all this questioning. "Pray
let it be decided at once; I can't go, and there's an end of it." She
got up, and left the room rather suddenly.

"I don't understand it at all," said Mrs. Gibson. "Do you, Molly?"

"No. I know she doesn't like spending money on her dress, and is very
careful." Molly said this much, and then was afraid she had made

"But then she must have got the money somewhere. It always has struck
me that if you have not extravagant habits, and do not live up to
your income, you must have a certain sum to lay by at the end of the
year. Have I not often said so, Mr. Gibson?"


"Well, then, apply the same reasoning to Cynthia's case; and then, I
ask, what has become of the money?"

"I cannot tell," said Molly, seeing that she was appealed to. "She
may have given it away to some one who wants it."

Mr. Gibson put down his newspaper.

"It's very clear that she has neither got the dress nor the money
necessary for this London visit, and that she doesn't want any more
inquiries to be made on the subject. She likes mysteries, in fact,
and I detest them. Still, I think it's a desirable thing for her to
keep up the acquaintance, or friendship, or whatever it is to be
called, with her father's family; and I shall gladly give her ten
pounds; and if that's not enough, why, either you must help her out,
or she must do without some superfluous article of dress or another."

"I'm sure there never was such a kind, dear, generous man as you are,
Mr. Gibson," said his wife. "To think of your being a stepfather!
and so good to my poor fatherless girl! But, Molly my dear, I
think you'll acknowledge that you too are very fortunate in your
stepmother. Are not you, love? And what happy _tête-à-têtes_ we shall
have together when Cynthia goes to London! I'm not sure if I don't
get on better with you even than with her, though she is my own
child; for, as dear papa says so truly, there is a love of mystery
about her; and if I hate anything, it is the slightest concealment
or reserve. Ten pounds! Why, it will quite set her up, buy her a
couple of gowns and a new bonnet, and I don't know what all! Dear Mr.
Gibson, how generous you are!"

Something very like "Pshaw!" was growled out from behind the

"May I go and tell her?" said Molly, rising up.

"Yes, do, love. Tell her it would be so ungrateful to refuse; and
tell her that your father wishes her to go; and tell her, too, that
it would be quite wrong not to avail herself of an opening which may
by-and-by be extended to the rest of the family. I am sure if they
ask me--which certainly they ought to do--I won't say before they
asked Cynthia, because I never think of myself, and am really the
most forgiving person in the world, in forgiving slights;--but when
they do ask me, which they are sure to do, I shall never be content
till, by putting in a little hint here and a little hint there, I've
induced them to send you an invitation. A month or two in London
would do you so much good, Molly."

Molly had left the room before this speech was ended, and Mr. Gibson
was occupied with his newspaper; but Mrs. Gibson finished it to
herself very much to her own satisfaction; for, after all, it was
better to have some one of the family going on the visit, though she
might not be the right person, than to refuse it altogether, and
never to have the opportunity of saying anything about it. As Mr.
Gibson was so kind to Cynthia, she too would be kind to Molly, and
dress her becomingly, and invite young men to the house; do all
the things, in fact, which Molly and her father did not want to
have done, and throw the old stumbling-blocks in the way of their
unrestrained intercourse, which was the one thing they desired to
have, free and open, and without the constant dread of her jealousy.



Molly found Cynthia in the drawing-room, standing in the bow-window,
looking out on the garden. She started as Molly came up to her.

"Oh, Molly," said she, putting her arms out towards her, "I am always
so glad to have you with me!"

It was outbursts of affection such as these that always called
Molly back, if she had been ever so unconsciously wavering in her
allegiance to Cynthia. She had been wishing downstairs that Cynthia
would be less reserved, and not have so many secrets; but now it
seemed almost like treason to have wanted her to be anything but what
she was. Never had any one more than Cynthia the power spoken of by
Goldsmith when he wrote--

	He threw off his friends like a huntsman his pack,
	For he knew when he liked he could whistle them back.

"Do you know, I think you'll be glad to hear what I've got to tell
you," said Molly. "I think you would really like to go to London;
shouldn't you?"

"Yes, but it's of no use liking," said Cynthia. "Don't you begin
about it, Molly, for the thing is settled; and I can't tell you why,
but I can't go."

"It is only the money, dear. And papa has been so kind about it. He
wants you to go; he thinks you ought to keep up relationships; and he
is going to give you ten pounds."

"How kind he is!" said Cynthia. "But I ought not to take it. I wish I
had known you years ago; I should have been different to what I am."

"Never mind that! We like you as you are; we don't want you
different. You'll really hurt papa if you don't take it. Why do you
hesitate? Do you think Roger won't like it?"

"Roger! no, I wasn't thinking about him! Why should he care? I shall
be there and back again before he even hears about it."

"Then you will go?" said Molly.

Cynthia thought for a minute or two. "Yes, I will," said she, at
length. "I daresay it's not wise; but it will be pleasant, and I'll
go. Where is Mr. Gibson? I want to thank him. Oh, how kind he is!
Molly, you're a lucky girl!"

"I?" said Molly, quite startled at being told this; for she had been
feeling as if so many things were going wrong, almost as if they
would never go right again.

"There he is!" said Cynthia. "I hear him in the hall!" And down
she flew, and laying her hands on Mr. Gibson's arm, she thanked
him with such warm impulsiveness, and in so pretty and caressing a
manner, that something of his old feeling of personal liking for her
returned, and he forgot for a time the causes of disapproval he had
against her.

"There, there!" said he, "that's enough, my dear! It's quite right
you should keep up with your relations; there's nothing more to be
said about it."

"I do think your father is the most charming man I know," said
Cynthia, on her return to Molly; "and it's that which always makes
me so afraid of losing his good opinion, and fret so when I think he
is displeased with me. And now let us think all about this London
visit. It will be delightful, won't it? I can make ten pounds go ever
so far; and in some ways it will be such a comfort to get out of

"Will it?" said Molly, rather wistfully.

"Oh, yes! You know I don't mean that it will be a comfort to leave
you; that will be anything but a comfort. But, after all, a country
town is a country town, and London is London. You need not smile at
my truisms; I've always had a sympathy with M. de la Palisse,--

   M. de la Palisse est mort
      En perdant sa vie;
   Un quart d'heure avant sa mort
      Il était en vie,"

sang she, in so gay a manner that she puzzled Molly, as she often
did, by her change of mood from the gloomy decision with which she
had refused to accept the invitation only half an hour ago. She
suddenly took Molly round the waist, and began waltzing round the
room with her, to the imminent danger of the various little tables,
loaded with "_objets d'art_" (as Mrs. Gibson delighted to call them)
with which the drawing-room was crowded. She avoided them, however,
with her usual skill; but they both stood still at last, surprised
at Mrs. Gibson's surprise, as she stood at the door, looking at the
whirl going on before her.

"Upon my word, I only hope you are not going crazy, both of you!
What's all this about, pray?"

"Only because I'm so glad I'm going to London, mamma," said Cynthia,

"I'm not sure if it's quite the thing for an engaged young lady to
be so much beside herself at the prospect of gaiety. In my time, our
great pleasure in our lovers' absence was in thinking about them."

"I should have thought that would have given you pain, because you
would have had to remember that they were away, which ought to have
made you unhappy. Now, to tell you the truth, just at the moment I
had forgotten all about Roger. I hope it wasn't very wrong. Osborne
looks as if he did all my share as well as his own of the fretting
after Roger. How ill he looked yesterday!"

"Yes," said Molly; "I didn't know if any one besides me had noticed
it. I was quite shocked."

"Ah," said Mrs. Gibson, "I'm afraid that young man won't live
long--very much afraid," and she shook her head ominously.

"Oh, what will happen if he dies!" exclaimed Molly, suddenly sitting
down, and thinking of that strange, mysterious wife who never made
her appearance, whose very existence was never spoken about--and
Roger away too!

"Well, it would be very sad, of course, and we should all feel it
very much, I've no doubt; for I've always been very fond of Osborne;
in fact, before Roger became, as it were, my own flesh and blood, I
liked Osborne better: but we must not forget the living, dear Molly,"
(for Molly's eyes were filling with tears at the dismal thoughts
presented to her). "Our dear good Roger would, I am sure, do all in
his power to fill Osborne's place in every way; and his marriage need
not be so long delayed."

"Don't speak of that in the same breath as Osborne's life, mamma,"
said Cynthia, hastily.

"Why, my dear, it is a very natural thought. For poor Roger's sake,
you know, one wishes it not to be so very, very long an engagement;
and I was only answering Molly's question, after all. One can't help
following out one's thoughts. People must die, you know--young, as
well as old."

"If I ever suspected Roger of following out his thoughts in a similar
way," said Cynthia, "I'd never speak to him again."

"As if he would!" said Molly, warm in her turn. "You know he never
would; and you shouldn't suppose it of him, Cynthia--no, not even for
a moment!"

"I can't see the great harm of it all, for my part," said Mrs.
Gibson, plaintively. "A young man strikes us all as looking very
ill--and I'm sure I'm sorry for it; but illness very often leads to
death. Surely you agree with me there, and what's the harm of saying
so? Then Molly asks what will happen if he dies; and I try to answer
her question. I don't like talking or thinking of death any more than
any one else; but I should think myself wanting in strength of mind
if I could not look forward to the consequences of death. I really
think we're commanded to do so, somewhere in the Bible or the

"Do you look forward to the consequences of my death, mamma?" asked

"You really are the most unfeeling girl I ever met with," said Mrs.
Gibson, really hurt. "I wish I could give you a little of my own
sensitiveness, for I have too much for my happiness. Don't let us
speak of Osborne's looks again; ten to one it was only some temporary
over-fatigue, or some anxiety about Roger, or perhaps a little fit
of indigestion. I was very foolish to attribute it to anything more
serious, and dear papa might be displeased if he knew I had done
so. Medical men don't like other people to be making conjectures
about health; they consider it as trenching on their own particular
province, and very proper, I'm sure. Now let us consider about your
dress, Cynthia; I could not understand how you had spent your money,
and made so little show with it."

"Mamma! it may sound very cross, but I must tell Molly, and you, and
everybody, once for all, that as I don't want and didn't ask for more
than my allowance, I'm not going to answer any questions about what
I do with it." She did not say this with any want of respect; but she
said it with quiet determination, which subdued her mother for the
time; though often afterwards, when Mrs. Gibson and Molly were alone,
the former would start the wonder as to what Cynthia could possibly
have done with her money, and hunt each poor conjecture through woods
and valleys of doubt, till she was wearied out; and the exciting
sport was given up for the day. At present, however, she confined
herself to the practical matter in hand; and the genius for millinery
and dress, inherent in both mother and daughter, soon settled a great
many knotty points of contrivance and taste, and then they all three
set to work to "gar auld claes look amaist as weel's the new."

Cynthia's relations with the Squire had been very stationary ever
since the visit she had paid to the Hall the previous autumn. He had
received them all at that time with hospitable politeness, and he
had been more charmed with Cynthia than he liked to acknowledge to
himself when he thought the visit all over afterwards.

"She's a pretty lass, sure enough," thought he, "and has pretty ways
about her too, and likes to learn from older people, which is a good
sign; but somehow I don't like madam her mother; but still she is her
mother, and the girl's her daughter; yet she spoke to her once or
twice as I shouldn't ha' liked our little Fanny to have spoken, if
it had pleased God for her to ha' lived. No, it's not the right way,
and it may be a bit old-fashioned, but I like the right way. And then
again she took possession o' me, as I may say, and little Molly had
to run after us in the garden walks that are too narrow for three,
just like a little four-legged doggie; and the other was so full of
listening to me, she never turned round for to speak a word to Molly.
I don't mean to say they're not fond of each other, and that's in
Roger's sweetheart's favour; and it's very ungrateful in me to go and
find fault with a lass who was so civil to me, and had such a pretty
way with her of hanging on every word that fell from my lips. Well!
a deal may come and go in two years! and the lad says nothing to me
about it. I'll be as deep as him, and take no more notice of the
affair till he comes home and tells me himself."

So although the Squire was always delighted to receive the little
notes which Cynthia sent him every time she heard from Roger, and
although this attention on her part was melting the heart he tried
to harden, he controlled himself into writing her the briefest
acknowledgments. His words were strong in meaning, but formal
in expression; she herself did not think much about them, being
satisfied to do the kind actions that called them forth. But her
mother criticised them and pondered them. She thought she had hit
on the truth when she decided in her own mind that it was a very
old-fashioned style, and that he and his house and his furniture
all wanted some of the brightening up and polishing which they were
sure to receive, when--she never quite liked to finish the sentence
definitely, although she kept repeating to herself that "there was no
harm in it."

To return to the Squire. Occupied as he now was, he recovered his
former health, and something of his former cheerfulness. If Osborne
had met him half-way, it is probable that the old bond between father
and son might have been renewed; but Osborne either was really an
invalid, or had sunk into invalid habits, and made no effort to
rally. If his father urged him to go out--nay, once or twice he
gulped down his pride, and asked Osborne to accompany him--Osborne
would go to the window and find out some flaw or speck in the wind
or weather, and make that an excuse for stopping in-doors over his
books. He would saunter out on the sunny side of the house in a
manner that the Squire considered as both indolent and unmanly. Yet
if there was a prospect of his leaving home, which he did pretty
often about this time, he was seized with a hectic energy: the clouds
in the sky, the easterly wind, the dampness of the air, were nothing
to him then; and as the Squire did not know the real secret cause
of this anxiety to be gone, he took it into his head that it arose
from Osborne's dislike to Hamley and to the monotony of his father's

"It was a mistake," thought the Squire. "I see it now. I was never
great at making friends myself: I always thought those Oxford and
Cambridge men turned up their noses at me for a country booby, and
I'd get the start and have none o' them. But when the boys went to
Rugby and Cambridge, I should ha' let them have had their own friends
about 'em, even though they might ha' looked down on me; it was the
worst they could ha' done to me; and now what few friends I had have
fallen off from me, by death or somehow, and it is but dreary work
for a young man, I grant it. But he might try not to show it so plain
to me as he does. I'm getting case-hardened, but it does cut me to
the quick sometimes--it does. And he so fond of his dad as he was
once! If I can but get the land drained I'll make him an allowance,
and let him go to London, or where he likes. Maybe he'll do better
this time, or maybe he'll go to the dogs altogether; but perhaps it
will make him think a bit kindly of the old father at home--I should
like him to do that, I should!"

It is possible that Osborne might have been induced to tell his
father of his marriage during their long solitary intercourse, if the
Squire, in an unlucky moment, had not given him his confidence about
Roger's engagement with Cynthia. It was on one wet Sunday afternoon,
when the father and son were sitting together in the large empty
drawing-room. Osborne had not been to church in the morning; the
Squire had, and he was now trying hard to read one of Blair's
sermons. They had dined early; they always did on Sundays; and either
that, or the sermon, or the hopeless wetness of the day, made the
afternoon seem interminably long to the Squire. He had certain
unwritten rules for the regulation of his conduct on Sundays. Cold
meat, sermon-reading, no smoking till after evening prayers, as
little thought as possible as to the state of the land and the
condition of the crops, and as much respectable sitting in-doors in
his best clothes as was consistent with going to church twice a day,
and saying the responses louder than the clerk. To-day it had rained
so unceasingly that he had remitted the afternoon church; but oh,
even with the luxury of a nap, how long it seemed before he saw the
Hall servants trudging homewards, along the field-path, a covey of
umbrellas! He had been standing at the window for the last half-hour,
his hands in his pockets, and his mouth often contracting itself into
the traditional sin of a whistle, but as often checked into sudden
gravity--ending, nine times out of ten, in a yawn. He looked askance
at Osborne, who was sitting near the fire absorbed in a book. The
poor Squire was something like the little boy in the child's story,
who asks all sorts of birds and beasts to come and play with him;
and, in every case, receives the sober answer, that they are too busy
to have leisure for trivial amusements. The father wanted the son to
put down his book, and talk to him: it was so wet, so dull, and a
little conversation would so wile away the time! But Osborne, with
his back to the window where his father was standing, saw nothing
of all this, and went on reading. He had assented to his father's
remark that it was a very wet afternoon, but had not carried on the
subject into all the varieties of truisms of which it was susceptible.
Something more rousing must be started, and this the Squire felt. The
recollection of the affair between Roger and Cynthia came into his
head, and, without giving it a moment's consideration, he began,--

"Osborne! Do you know anything about this--this attachment of

Quite successful. Osborne laid down his book in a moment, and turned
round to his father.

"Roger! an attachment! No! I never heard of it--I can hardly believe
it--that is to say, I suppose it is to--"

And then he stopped; for he thought he had no right to betray his own
conjecture that the object was Cynthia Kirkpatrick.

"Yes. He is though. Can you guess who to? Nobody that I particularly
like--not a connection to my mind--yet she's a very pretty girl; and
I suppose I was to blame in the first instance."

"Is it--?"

"It's no use beating about the bush. I've gone so far, I may as well
tell you all. It's Miss Kirkpatrick, Gibson's stepdaughter. But it's
not an engagement, mind you--"

"I'm very glad--I hope she likes Roger back again--"

"Like--it's only too good a connection for her not to like it: if
Roger is of the same mind when he comes home, I'll be bound she'll be
only too happy!"

"I wonder Roger never told me," said Osborne, a little hurt, now he
began to consider himself.

"He never told me either," said the Squire. "It was Gibson, who came
here, and made a clean breast of it, like a man of honour. I'd been
saying to him, I couldn't have either of you two lads taking up with
his lasses. I'll own it was you I was afraid of--it's bad enough with
Roger, and maybe will come to nothing after all; but if it had been
you, I'd ha' broken with Gibson and every mother's son of 'em, sooner
than have let it go on; and so I told Gibson."

"I beg your pardon for interrupting you, but, once for all, I claim
the right of choosing my wife for myself, subject to no man's
interference," said Osborne, hotly.

"Then you'll keep your wife with no man's interference, that's all;
for ne'er a penny will you get from me, my lad, unless you marry to
please me a little, as well as yourself a great deal. That's all I
ask of you. I'm not particular as to beauty, or as to cleverness, and
piano-playing, and that sort of thing; if Roger marries this girl, we
shall have enough of that in the family. I shouldn't much mind her
being a bit older than you, but she must be well-born, and the more
money she brings the better for the old place."

"I say again, father, I choose my wife for myself, and I don't admit
any man's right of dictation."

"Well, well!" said the Squire, getting a little angry in his turn.
"If I'm not to be father in this matter, thou sha'n't be son. Go
against me in what I've set my heart on, and you'll find there's the
devil to pay, that's all. But don't let us get angry, it's Sunday
afternoon for one thing, and it's a sin; and besides that, I've not
finished my story."

For Osborne had taken up his book again, and under pretence of
reading, was fuming to himself. He hardly put it away even at his
father's request.

"As I was saying, Gibson said, when first we spoke about it, that
there was nothing on foot between any of you four, and that if there
was, he would let me know; so by-and-by he comes and tells me of

"Of what--I don't understand how far it has gone?"

There was a tone in Osborne's voice the Squire did not quite like;
and he began answering rather angrily.

"Of this, to be sure--of what I'm telling you--of Roger going and
making love to this girl, that day he left, after he had gone away
from here, and was waiting for the 'Umpire' in Hollingford. One would
think you quite stupid at times, Osborne."

"I can only say that these details are quite new to me; you never
mentioned them before, I assure you."

"Well; never mind whether I did or not. I'm sure I said Roger was
attached to Miss Kirkpatrick, and be hanged to her; and you might
have understood all the rest as a matter of course."

"Possibly," said Osborne, politely. "May I ask if Miss Kirkpatrick,
who appeared to me to be a very nice girl, responds to Roger's

"Fast enough, I'll be bound," said the Squire, sulkily. "A Hamley of
Hamley isn't to be had every day. Now, I'll tell you what, Osborne,
you're the only marriageable one left in the market, and I want to
hoist the old family up again. Don't go against me in this; it really
will break my heart if you do."

"Father, don't talk so," said Osborne. "I'll do anything I can to
oblige you, except--"

"Except the only thing I've set my heart on your doing."

"Well, well, let it alone for the present. There's no question of my
marrying just at this moment. I'm out of health, and I'm not up to
going into society, and meeting young ladies and all that sort of
thing, even if I had an opening into fitting society."

"You should have an opening fast enough. There'll be more money
coming in, in a year or two, please God. And as for your health, why,
what's to make you well, if you cower over the fire all day, and
shudder away from a good honest tankard as if it were poison?"

"So it is to me," said Osborne, languidly, playing with his book as
if he wanted to end the conversation and take it up again. The Squire
saw the movements, and understood them.

"Well," said he, "I'll go and have a talk with Will about poor old
Black Bess. It's Sunday work enough, asking after a dumb animal's
aches and pains."

But after his father had left the room Osborne did not take up his
book again. He laid it down on the table by him, leant back in his
chair, and covered his eyes with his hand. He was in a state of
health which made him despondent about many things, though, least
of all, about what was most in danger. The long concealment of his
marriage from his father made the disclosure of it far, far more
difficult than it would have been at first. Unsupported by Roger, how
could he explain it all to one so passionate as the Squire? how tell
of the temptation, the stolen marriage, the consequent happiness, and
alas! the consequent suffering?--for Osborne had suffered, and did
suffer, greatly in the untoward circumstances in which he had placed
himself. He saw no way out of it all, excepting by the one strong
stroke of which he felt himself incapable. So with a heavy heart he
addressed himself to his book again. Everything seemed to come in his
way, and he was not strong enough in character to overcome obstacles.
The only overt step he took in consequence of what he had heard from
his father, was to ride over to Hollingford the first fine day after
he had received the news, and go to see Cynthia and the Gibsons. He
had not been there for a long time; bad weather and languor combined
had prevented him. He found them full of preparations and discussions
about Cynthia's visit to London; and she herself not at all in
the sentimental mood proper to respond to his delicate intimations
of how glad he was in his brother's joy. Indeed, it was so long
after the time, that Cynthia scarcely perceived that to him the
intelligence was recent, and that the first bloom of his emotions
had not yet passed away. With her head a little on one side,
she was contemplating the effect of a knot of ribbons, when he
began, in a low whisper, and leaning forward towards her as he
spoke,--"Cynthia--I may call you Cynthia now, mayn't I?--I'm so glad
of this news; I've only just heard of it, but I'm so glad!"

"What news do you mean?" She had her suspicions; but she was annoyed
to think that from one person her secret was passing to another and
another, till, in fact, it was becoming no secret at all. Still,
Cynthia could always conceal her annoyance when she chose. "Why are
you to begin calling me Cynthia now?" she went on, smiling. "The
terrible word has slipped out from between your lips before, do you

This light way of taking his tender congratulation did not quite
please Osborne, who was in a sentimental mood, and for a minute or so
he remained silent. Then, having finished making her bow of ribbon,
she turned to him, and continued in a quick low voice, anxious to
take advantage of a conversation between her mother and Molly,--

"I think I can guess why you made that pretty little speech just
now. But do you know you ought not to have been told? And, moreover,
things are not quite arrived at the solemnity of--of--well--an
engagement. He would not have it so. Now, I sha'n't say any more; and
you must not. Pray remember you ought not to have known; it is my
own secret, and I particularly wished it not to be spoken about; and
I don't like its being so talked about. Oh, the leaking of water
through one small hole!"

And then she plunged into the talk of the other two, making the
conversation general. Osborne was rather discomfited at the
non-success of his congratulations; he had pictured to himself the
unbosoming of a love-sick girl, full of rapture, and glad of a
sympathizing confidant. He little knew Cynthia's nature. The more she
suspected that she was called upon for a display of emotion, the less
would she show; and her emotions were generally under the control of
her will. He had made an effort to come and see her; and now he leant
back in his chair, weary and a little dispirited.

"You poor dear young man," said Mrs. Gibson, coming up to him with
her soft, soothing manner; "how tired you look! Do take some of that
eau-de-Cologne and bathe your forehead. This spring weather overcomes
me too. 'Primavera' I think the Italians call it. But it is very
trying for delicate constitutions, as much from its associations as
from its variableness of temperature. It makes me sigh perpetually;
but then I am so sensitive. Dear Lady Cumnor always used to say I was
like a thermometer. You've heard how ill she has been?"

"No," said Osborne, not very much caring either.

"Oh, yes, she is better now; but the anxiety about her has tried me
so: detained here by what are, of course, my duties, but far away
from all intelligence, and not knowing what the next post might

"Where was she then?" asked Osborne, becoming a little more

"At Spa. Such a distance off! Three days' post! Can't you conceive
the trial? Living with her as I did for years; bound up in the family
as I was."

"But Lady Harriet said, in her last letter, that they hoped she would
be stronger than she had been for years," said Molly, innocently.

"Yes--Lady Harriet--of course--every one who knows Lady Harriet knows
that she is of too sanguine a temperament for her statements to be
perfectly relied on. Altogether--strangers are often deluded by Lady
Harriet--she has an off-hand manner which takes them in; but she does
not mean half she says."

"We will hope she does in this instance," said Cynthia, shortly.
"They're in London now, and Lady Cumnor hasn't suffered from the

"They say so," said Mrs. Gibson, shaking her head, and laying an
emphasis on the word "say." "I am perhaps over-anxious, but I wish--I
wish I could see and judge for myself. It would be the only way of
calming my anxiety. I almost think I shall go up with you, Cynthia,
for a day or two, just to see her with my own eyes. I don't quite
like your travelling alone either. We will think about it, and you
shall write to Mr. Kirkpatrick, and propose it, if we determine upon
it. You can tell him of my anxiety; and it will be only sharing your
bed for a couple of nights."



That was the way in which Mrs. Gibson first broached her intention
of accompanying Cynthia up to London for a few days' visit. She had
a trick of producing the first sketch of any new plan before an
outsider to the family circle; so that the first emotions of others,
if they disapproved of her projects, had to be repressed, until the
idea had become familiar to them. To Molly it seemed too charming
a proposal ever to come to pass. She had never allowed herself to
recognize the restraint she was under in her stepmother's presence;
but all at once she found it out when her heart danced at the idea
of three whole days--for that it would be at the least--of perfect
freedom of intercourse with her father; of old times come back again;
of meals without perpetual fidgetiness after details of ceremony and
correctness of attendance.

"We'll have bread-and-cheese for dinner, and eat it on our knees;
we'll make up for having had to eat sloppy puddings with a fork
instead of a spoon all this time, by putting our knives in our mouths
till we cut ourselves. Papa shall pour his tea into his saucer if
he's in a hurry; and if I'm thirsty, I'll take the slop-basin. And
oh, if I could but get, buy, borrow, or steal any kind of an old
horse; my grey skirt isn't new, but it will do;--that would be too
delightful! After all, I think I can be happy again; for months and
months it has seemed as if I had got too old ever to feel pleasure,
much less happiness again."

So thought Molly. Yet she blushed, as if with guilt, when Cynthia,
reading her thoughts, said to her one day,--

"Molly, you're very glad to get rid of us, are not you?"

"Not of you, Cynthia; at least, I don't think I am. Only, if you but
knew how I love papa, and how I used to see a great deal more of him
than I ever do now--"

"Ah! I often think what interlopers we must seem, and are in fact--"

"I don't feel you as such. You, at any rate, have been a new delight
to me--a sister; and I never knew how charming such a relationship
could be."

"But mamma?" said Cynthia, half-suspiciously, half-sorrowfully.

"She is papa's wife," said Molly, quietly. "I don't mean to say I'm
not often very sorry to feel I'm no longer first with him; but it
was"--the violent colour flushed into her face till even her eyes
burnt, and she suddenly found herself on the point of crying; the
weeping ash-tree, the misery, the slow dropping comfort, and the
comforter came all so vividly before her--"it was Roger!"--she went
on looking up at Cynthia, as she overcame her slight hesitation at
mentioning his name--"Roger, who told me how I ought to take papa's
marriage, when I was first startled and grieved at the news. Oh,
Cynthia, what a great thing it is to be loved by him!"

Cynthia blushed, and looked fluttered and pleased.

"Yes, I suppose it is. At the same time, Molly, I'm afraid he'll
expect me to be always as good as he fancies me now, and I shall have
to walk on tiptoe all the rest of my life."

"But you are good, Cynthia," put in Molly.

"No, I'm not. You're just as much mistaken as he is; and some day I
shall go down in your opinions with a run, just like the hall clock
the other day when the spring broke."

"I think he'll love you just as much," said Molly.

"Could you? Would you be my friend if--if it turned out ever that I
had done very wrong things? Would you remember how very difficult it
has sometimes been to me to act rightly?" (she took hold of Molly's
hand as she spoke). "We won't speak of mamma, for your sake as much
as mine or hers; but you must see she isn't one to help a girl with
much good advice, or good-- Oh, Molly, you don't know how I was
neglected just at a time when I wanted friends most. Mamma does not
know it; it is not in her to know what I might have been if I had
only fallen into wise, good hands. But I know it; and what's more,"
continued she, suddenly ashamed of her unusual exhibition of feeling,
"I try not to care, which I daresay is really the worst of all; but I
could worry myself to death if I once took to serious thinking."

"I wish I could help you, or even understand you," said Molly, after
a moment or two of sad perplexity.

"You can help me," said Cynthia, changing her manner abruptly. "I can
trim bonnets, and make head-dresses; but somehow my hands can't fold
up gowns and collars, like your deft little fingers. Please will
you help me to pack? That's a real, tangible piece of kindness, and
not sentimental consolation for sentimental distresses, which are,
perhaps, imaginary after all."

In general, it is the people that are left behind stationary, who
give way to low spirits at any parting; the travellers, however
bitterly they may feel the separation, find something in the change
of scene to soften regret in the very first hour of separation. But
as Molly walked home with her father from seeing Mrs. Gibson and
Cynthia off to London by the "Umpire" coach, she almost danced along
the street.

"Now, papa!" said she, "I'm going to have you all to myself for a
whole week. You must be very obedient."

"Don't be tyrannical, then. You're walking me out of breath, and
we're cutting Mrs. Goodenough, in our hurry."

So they crossed over the street to speak to Mrs. Goodenough.

"We've just been seeing my wife and her daughter off to London. Mrs.
Gibson has gone up for a week!"

"Deary, deary, to London, and only for a week! Why, I can remember
its being a three days' journey! It'll be very lonesome for you, Miss
Molly, without your young companion!"

"Yes!" said Molly, suddenly feeling as if she ought to have taken
this view of the case. "I shall miss Cynthia very much."

"And you, Mr. Gibson; why, it'll be like being a widower over again!
You must come and drink tea with me some evening. We must try and
cheer you up a bit amongst us. Shall it be Tuesday?"

In spite of the sharp pinch which Molly gave to his arm, Mr. Gibson
accepted the invitation, much to the gratification of the old lady.

"Papa, how could you go and waste one of our evenings! We have but
six in all, and now but five; and I had so reckoned on our doing all
sorts of things together."

"What sort of things?"

"Oh, I don't know: everything that is unrefined and ungenteel," added
she, slily looking up into her father's face.

His eyes twinkled, but the rest of his face was perfectly grave. "I'm
not going to be corrupted. With toil and labour I've reached a very
fair height of refinement. I won't be pulled down again."

"Yes, you will, papa. We'll have bread-and-cheese for lunch this
very day. And you shall wear your slippers in the drawing-room every
evening you'll stay quietly at home; and oh, papa, don't you think I
could ride Nora Creina? I've been looking out the old grey skirt, and
I think I could make myself tidy."

"Where is the side-saddle to come from?"

"To be sure, the old one won't fit that great Irish mare. But I'm not
particular, papa. I think I could manage somehow."

"Thank you. But I'm not quite going to return into barbarism. It may
be a depraved taste, but I should like to see my daughter properly

"Think of riding together down the lanes--why, the dog-roses must be
all out in flower, and the honeysuckles, and the hay--how I should
like to see Merriman's farm again! Papa, do let me have one ride with
you! Please do. I'm sure we can manage it somehow."

And "somehow" it was managed. "Somehow" all Molly's wishes came to
pass; there was only one little drawback to this week of holiday and
happy intercourse with her father. Everybody would ask them out to
tea. They were quite like bride and bridegroom; for the fact was,
that the late dinners which Mrs. Gibson had introduced into her own
house, were a great inconvenience in the calculations of the small
tea-drinkings at Hollingford. How ask people to tea at six, who dined
at that hour? How, when they refused cake and sandwiches at half-past
eight, how induce other people who were really hungry to commit a
vulgarity before those calm and scornful eyes? So there had been a
great lull of invitations for the Gibsons to Hollingford tea-parties.
Mrs. Gibson, whose object was to squeeze herself into "county
society," had taken this being left out of the smaller festivities
with great equanimity; but Molly missed the kind homeliness of the
parties to which she had gone from time to time as long as she could
remember; and though, as each three-cornered note was brought in,
she grumbled a little over the loss of another charming evening
with her father, she really was glad to go again in the old way
among old friends. Miss Browning and Miss Phoebe were especially
compassionate towards her in her loneliness. If they had had their
will she would have dined there every day; and she had to call upon
them very frequently in order to prevent their being hurt at her
declining the dinners. Mrs. Gibson wrote twice during her week's
absence to her husband. That piece of news was quite satisfactory
to the Miss Brownings, who had of late held themselves a great deal
aloof from a house where they chose to suppose that their presence
was not wanted. In their winter evenings they had often talked over
Mr. Gibson's household, and having little besides conjecture to go
upon, they found the subject interminable, as they could vary the
possibilities every day. One of their wonders was how Mr. and Mrs.
Gibson really got on together; another was whether Mrs. Gibson was
extravagant or not. Now two letters during the week of her absence
showed what was in those days considered a very proper amount of
conjugal affection. Yet not too much--at elevenpence-halfpenny
postage. A third letter would have been extravagant. Sister looked to
sister with an approving nod as Molly named the second letter, which
arrived in Hollingford the very day before Mrs. Gibson was to return.
They had settled between themselves that two letters would show the
right amount of good feeling and proper understanding in the Gibson
family: more would have been extravagant; only one would have been
a mere matter of duty. There had been rather a question between
Miss Browning and Miss Phoebe as to which person the second letter
(supposing it came) was to be addressed to. It would be very conjugal
to write twice to Mr. Gibson; and yet it would be very pretty if
Molly came in for her share.

"You've had another letter, you say, my dear?" asked Miss Browning.
"I daresay Mrs. Gibson has written to you this time?"

"It is a large sheet, and Cynthia has written on one half to me, and
all the rest is to papa."

"A very nice arrangement, I'm sure. And what does Cynthia say? Is she
enjoying herself?"

"Oh, yes, I think so. They've had a dinner-party; and one night,
when mamma was at Lady Cumnor's, Cynthia went to the play with her

"Upon my word! and all in one week? I do call that dissipation. Why,
Thursday would be taken up with the journey, and Friday with resting,
and Sunday is Sunday all the world over; and they must have written
on Tuesday. Well! I hope Cynthia won't find Hollingford dull, that's
all, when she comes back."

"I don't think it's likely," said Miss Phoebe, with a little simper
and a knowing look, which sate oddly on her kindly innocent face.
"You see a great deal of Mr. Preston, don't you, Molly?"

"Mr. Preston!" said Molly, flushing up with surprise. "No! not much.
He's been at Ashcombe all winter, you know! He has but just come back
to settle here. What should make you think so?"

"Oh! a little bird told us," said Miss Browning. Molly knew that
little bird from her childhood, and had always hated it, and longed
to wring its neck. Why could not people speak out and say that they
did not mean to give up the name of their informant? But it was a
very favourite form of fiction with the Miss Brownings, and to Miss
Phoebe it was the very acme of wit.

"The little bird was flying about one day in Heath Lane, and it saw
Mr. Preston and a young lady--we won't say who--walking together in
a very friendly manner, that is to say, he was on horseback; but the
path is raised above the road, just where there is the little wooden
bridge over the brook--"

"Perhaps Molly is in the secret, and we ought not to ask her about
it," said Miss Phoebe, seeing Molly's extreme discomfiture and

"It can be no great secret," said Miss Browning, dropping the
little-bird formula, and assuming an air of dignified reproval at
Miss Phoebe's interruption, "for Miss Hornblower says Mr. Preston
owns to being engaged--"

"At any rate it isn't to Cynthia, that I know positively," said Molly
with some vehemence. "And pray put a stop to any such reports; you
don't know what mischief they may do. I do so hate that kind of
chatter!" It was not very respectful of Molly to speak in this way
to be sure, but she thought only of Roger; and the distress any such
reports might cause, should he ever hear of them (in the centre of
Africa!) made her colour up scarlet with vexation.

"Heighty-teighty! Miss Molly! don't you remember that I am old enough
to be your mother, and that it is not pretty behaviour to speak so to
us--to me! 'Chatter' to be sure. Really, Molly--"

"I beg your pardon," said Molly, only half-penitent.

"I daresay you did not mean to speak so to sister," said Miss
Phoebe, trying to make peace.

Molly did not answer all at once. She wanted to explain how much
mischief might be done by such reports.

"But don't you see," she went on, still flushed by vexation, "how
bad it is to talk of such things in such a way? Supposing one of
them cared for some one else, and that might happen, you know; Mr.
Preston, for instance, may be engaged to some one else?"

"Molly! I pity the woman! Indeed I do. I have a very poor opinion of
Mr. Preston," said Miss Browning, in a warning tone of voice; for a
new idea had come into her head.

"Well, but the woman, or young lady, would not like to hear such
reports about Mr. Preston."

"Perhaps not. But for all that, take my word for it, he's a great
flirt, and young ladies had better not have much to do with him."

"I daresay it was all accident their meeting in Heath Lane," said
Miss Phoebe.

"I know nothing about it," said Molly, "and I daresay I have been
impertinent, only please don't talk about it any more. I have my
reasons for asking you." She got up, for by the striking of the
church clock she had just found out that it was later than she had
thought, and she knew that her father would be at home by this time.
She bent down and kissed Miss Browning's grave and passive face.

"How you are growing, Molly!" said Miss Phoebe, anxious to cover
over her sister's displeasure. "'As tall and as straight as a
poplar-tree!' as the old song says."

"Grow in grace, Molly, as well as in good looks!" said Miss Browning,
watching her out of the room. As soon as she was fairly gone, Miss
Browning got up and shut the door quite securely, and then sitting
down near her sister, she said, in a low voice, "Phoebe, it was
Molly herself that was with Mr. Preston in Heath Lane that day when
Mrs. Goodenough saw them together!"

"Gracious goodness me!" exclaimed Miss Phoebe, receiving it at once
as gospel. "How do you know?"

"By putting two and two together. Didn't you notice how red Molly
went, and then pale, and how she said she knew for a fact that Mr.
Preston and Cynthia Kirkpatrick were not engaged?"

"Perhaps not engaged; but Mrs. Goodenough saw them loitering
together, all by their own two selves--"

"Mrs. Goodenough only crossed Heath Lane at the Shire Oak, as she was
riding in her phaeton," said Miss Browning sententiously. "We all
know what a coward she is in a carriage, so that most likely she had
only half her wits about her, and her eyes are none of the best when
she is standing steady on the ground. Molly and Cynthia have got
their new plaid shawls just alike, and they trim their bonnets alike,
and Molly is grown as tall as Cynthia since Christmas. I was always
afraid she'd be short and stumpy, but she's now as tall and slender
as anyone need be. I'll answer for it, Mrs. Goodenough saw Molly, and
took her for Cynthia."

When Miss Browning "answered for it" Miss Phoebe gave up doubting.
She sate some time in silence revolving her thoughts. Then she said:

"It wouldn't be such a very bad match after all, sister." She spoke
very meekly, awaiting her sister's sanction to her opinion.

"Phoebe, it would be a bad match for Mary Pearson's daughter. If
I had known what I know now we'd never have had him to tea last

"Why, what do you know?" asked Miss Phoebe.

"Miss Hornblower told me many things; some that I don't think
you ought to hear, Phoebe. He was engaged to a very pretty Miss
Gregson, at Henwick, where he comes from; and her father made
inquiries, and heard so much that was bad about him that he made his
daughter break off the match, and she's dead since!"

"How shocking!" said Miss Phoebe, duly impressed.

"Besides, he plays at billiards, and he bets at races, and some
people do say he keeps race-horses."

"But isn't it strange that the earl keeps him on as his agent?"

"No! perhaps not. He's very clever about land, and very sharp in all
law affairs; and my lord isn't bound to take notice--if indeed he
knows--of the manner in which Mr. Preston talks when he has taken too
much wine."

"Taken too much wine! Oh, sister, is he a drunkard? and we have had
him to tea!"

"I didn't say he was a drunkard, Phoebe," said Miss Browning,
pettishly. "A man may take too much wine occasionally, without being
a drunkard. Don't let me hear you using such coarse words, Phoebe!"

Miss Phoebe was silent for a time after this rebuke.

Presently she said, "I do hope it wasn't Molly Gibson."

"You may hope as much as you like, but I'm pretty sure it was.
However, we'd better say nothing about it to Mrs. Goodenough; she has
got Cynthia into her head, and there let her rest. Time enough to set
reports afloat about Molly when we know there's some truth in them.
Mr. Preston might do for Cynthia, who's been brought up in France,
though she has such pretty manners; but it may have made her not
particular. He must not, and he shall not, have Molly, if I go into
church and forbid the banns myself; but I'm afraid--I'm afraid
there's something between her and him. We must keep on the look-out,
Phoebe. I'll be her guardian angel, in spite of herself."



[Illustration (untitled)]

Mrs. Gibson came back full of rose-coloured accounts of London. Lady
Cumnor had been gracious and affectionate, "so touched by my going
up to see her so soon after her return to England," Lady Harriet
charming and devoted to her old governess, Lord Cumnor "just like
his dear usual hearty self;" and as for the Kirkpatricks, no Lord
Chancellor's house was ever grander than theirs, and the silk gown of
the Q.C. had floated over housemaids and footmen. Cynthia, too, was
so much admired; and as for her dress, Mrs. Kirkpatrick had showered
down ball-dresses and wreaths, and pretty bonnets and mantles, like a
fairy godmother. Mr. Gibson's poor present of ten pounds shrank into
very small dimensions compared with all this munificence.

"And they're so fond of her, I don't know when we shall have her
back," was Mrs. Gibson's winding-up sentence. "And now, Molly, what
have you and papa been doing? Very gay, you sounded in your letter.
I had not time to read it in London; so I put it in my pocket, and
read it in the coach coming home. But, my dear child, you do look
so old-fashioned with your gown made all tight, and your hair all
tumbling about in curls. Curls are quite gone out. We must do your
hair differently," she continued, trying to smooth Molly's black
waves into straightness.

"I sent Cynthia an African letter," said Molly, timidly. "Did you
hear anything of what was in it?"

"Oh, yes, poor child! It made her very uneasy, I think; she said she
did not feel inclined to go to Mr. Rawson's ball, which was on that
night, and for which Mrs. Kirkpatrick had given her the ball-dress.
But there was really nothing for her to fidget herself about. Roger
only said he had had another touch of fever, but was better when he
wrote. He says every European has to be acclimatized by fever in that
part of Abyssinia where he is."

"And did she go?" asked Molly.

"Yes, to be sure. It is not an engagement; and if it were, it is not
acknowledged. Fancy her going and saying, 'A young man that I know
has been ill for a few days in Africa, two months ago, therefore I
don't want to go to the ball to-night.' It would have seemed like
affectation of sentiment; and if there's one thing I hate it is

"She would hardly enjoy herself," said Molly.

"Oh, yes, but she did. Her dress was white gauze, trimmed with
lilacs, and she really did look--a mother may be allowed a little
natural partiality--most lovely. And she danced every dance, although
she was quite a stranger. I am sure she enjoyed herself, from her
manner of talking about it next morning."

"I wonder if the Squire knows."

"Knows what? Oh, yes, to be sure--you mean about Roger. I daresay he
doesn't, and there's no need to tell him, for I've no doubt it is all
right now." And she went out of the room to finish her unpacking.

Molly let her work fall, and sighed. "It will be a year the day after
to-morrow since he came here to propose our going to Hurst Wood, and
mamma was so vexed at his calling before lunch. I wonder if Cynthia
remembers it as well as I do. And now, perhaps-- Oh! Roger, Roger! I
wish--I pray that you were safe home again! How could we all bear it,

She covered her face with her hands, and tried to stop thinking.
Suddenly she got up, as if stung by a venomous fancy.

"I don't believe she loves him as she ought, or she could not--could
not have gone and danced. What shall I do if she does not? What shall
I do? I can bear anything but that."

But she found the long suspense as to his health hard enough to
endure. They were not likely to hear from him for a month at least,
and before that time had elapsed Cynthia would be at home again.
Molly learnt to long for her return before a fortnight of her absence
was over. She had had no idea that perpetual tête-à-têtes with Mrs.
Gibson could, by any possibility, be so tiresome as she found them.
Perhaps Molly's state of delicate health, consequent upon her rapid
growth during the last few months, made her irritable; but really
often she had to get up and leave the room to calm herself down after
listening to a long series of words, more frequently plaintive or
discontented in tone than cheerful, and which at the end conveyed
no distinct impression of either the speaker's thought or feeling.
Whenever anything had gone wrong, whenever Mr. Gibson had coolly
persevered in anything to which she had objected; whenever the cook
had made a mistake about the dinner, or the housemaid broken any
little frangible article; whenever Molly's hair was not done to her
liking, or her dress did not become her, or the smell of dinner
pervaded the house, or the wrong callers came, or the right callers
did not come--in fact, whenever anything went wrong, poor Mr.
Kirkpatrick was regretted and mourned over, nay, almost blamed, as
if, had he only given himself the trouble of living, he could have
helped it.

"When I look back to those happy days, it seems to me as if I had
never valued them as I ought. To be sure--youth, love,--what did we
care for poverty! I remember dear Mr. Kirkpatrick walking five miles
into Stratford to buy me a muffin because I had such a fancy for one
after Cynthia was born. I don't mean to complain of dear papa--but
I don't think--but, perhaps I ought not to say it to you. If Mr.
Kirkpatrick had but taken care of that cough of his; but he was so
obstinate! Men always are, I think. And it really was selfish of
him. Only I daresay he did not consider the forlorn state in which I
should be left. It came harder upon me than upon most people, because
I always was of such an affectionate sensitive nature. I remember a
little poem of Mr. Kirkpatrick's, in which he compared my heart to a
harpstring, vibrating to the slightest breeze."

"I thought harpstrings required a pretty strong finger to make them
sound," said Molly.

"My dear child, you've no more poetry in you than your father. And as
for your hair! it's worse than ever. Can't you drench it in water to
take those untidy twists and twirls out of it?"

"It only makes it curl more and more when it gets dry," said Molly,
sudden tears coming into her eyes as a recollection came before her
like a picture seen long ago and forgotten for years--a young mother
washing and dressing her little girl; placing the half-naked darling
on her knee, and twining the wet rings of dark hair fondly round her
fingers, and then, in an ecstasy of fondness, kissing the little
curly head.

The receipt of Cynthia's letters made very agreeable events. She
did not write often, but her letters were tolerably long when they
did come, and very sprightly in tone. There was constant mention
made of many new names, which conveyed no idea to Molly, though Mrs.
Gibson would try and enlighten her by running commentaries like the

"Mrs. Green! ah, that's Mr. Jones's pretty cousin, who lives in
Russell Square with the fat husband. They keep their carriage; but
I'm not sure if it is not Mr. Green who is Mrs. Jones's cousin. We
can ask Cynthia when she comes home. Mr. Henderson! to be sure--a
young man with black whiskers, a pupil of Mr. Kirkpatrick's
formerly,--or was he a pupil of Mr. Murray's? I know they said he had
read law with somebody. Ah, yes! they are the people who called the
day after Mr. Rawson's ball, and who admired Cynthia so much, without
knowing I was her mother. She was very handsomely dressed indeed, in
black satin; and the son had a glass eye, but he was a young man of
good property. Coleman! yes, that was the name."

No more news of Roger until some time after Cynthia had returned from
her London visit. She came back looking fresher and prettier than
ever, beautifully dressed, thanks to her own good taste, and her
cousin's generosity, full of amusing details of the gay life she had
been enjoying, yet not at all out of spirits at having left it behind
her. She brought home all sorts of pretty and dainty devices for
Molly; a neck-ribbon made up in the newest fashion, a pattern for a
tippet, a delicate pair of light gloves, embroidered as Molly had
never seen gloves embroidered before, and many another little sign of
remembrance during her absence. Yet somehow or other, Molly felt that
Cynthia was changed in her relation to her. Molly was aware that she
had never had Cynthia's full confidence, for with all her apparent
frankness and _naïveté_ of manner, Cynthia was extremely reserved and
reticent. She knew this much of herself, and had often laughed about
it to Molly, and the latter had by this time found out the truth of
her friend's assertion. But Molly did not trouble herself much about
it. She too knew that there were many thoughts and feelings that
flitted through her mind which she should never think of telling
to any one, except perhaps--if they were ever very much thrown
together--to her father. She knew that Cynthia withheld from her more
than thoughts and feelings--that she withheld facts. But then, as
Molly reflected, these facts might involve details of struggle and
suffering--might relate to her mother's neglect--and altogether be of
so painful a character, that it would be well if Cynthia could forget
her childhood altogether, instead of fixing it in her mind by the
relation of her grievances and troubles. So it was not now by any
want of confidence that Molly felt distanced as it were. It was
because Cynthia rather avoided than sought her companionship; because
her eyes shunned the straight, serious, loving look of Molly's;
because there were certain subjects on which she evidently disliked
speaking, not particularly interesting things as far as Molly could
perceive, but it almost seemed as if they lay on the road to points
to be avoided. Molly felt a sort of sighing pleasure in noticing
Cynthia's changed manner of talking about Roger. She spoke of him
tenderly now; "poor Roger," as she called him; and Molly thought
that she must be referring to the illness which he had mentioned
in his last letter. One morning in the first week after Cynthia's
return home, just as he was going out, Mr. Gibson ran up into the
drawing-room, hat on, booted and spurred, and hastily laid an open