Wives and Daughters, by Elizabeth Gaskell

Chapter XIV

Molly Finds Herself Patronized

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 over 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 yours.’

‘I mean to try and like her,’ said Molly, in a low voice, trying 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 today 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 volunteered 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 comfort.

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 got 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 ignorance.

‘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 the 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 menage 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 talked 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 an 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 people.’

‘But why?’ persevered Molly. ‘I’m one of them.’

‘Yes, you I 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 tete-a-tete walk with Mr. Preston; yet she pined for a little fresh air, would have liked to have seen the gardens, and have looked 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 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 tete-a-tete 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 lords, 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 if 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 the 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 the 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 to you 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 society.’

‘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 Molly 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 mid-day 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. ‘Is there not 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 afternoon.’

‘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 sate down by her.

‘Well, and how are you getting on with Huber; don’t you find him very interesting?’

‘I’m afraid,’ said Molly, penitently, ‘I haven’t read much. The 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 ‘condescending.’

‘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 sate 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 3s. 4d. a pound for it, at Johnson’s —(sister says I ought to have told her the price of our company-tea, which is 5s. 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 3s. 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.

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Last updated Friday, March 14, 2014 at 22:18