Wives and Daughters, by Elizabeth Gaskell

Chapter XXXV

The Mother’s Manoeuvre

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 subject.

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 she moved the wine and glasses so that he could help himself without moving from his chair.

‘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 it!’

‘Roger Hamley has been here this afternoon to bid us good-by.’

‘Good-by! Is he gone? I did not 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 him.’

‘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 surprising.’

‘Did I? But I am surprised. He is a very fine young fellow, and I wish Cynthia joy; but do you like it? It will have to be a very long engagement.’

‘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 sunken 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 threw 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 had better tell me at once what you are 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 this 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 had got aneurism of the aortal 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 listen.’

‘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 have 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-inlaw.’

‘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 daughter.’

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 love 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 am 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 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 and believes 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 tomorrow.’

‘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 subject.’

‘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 dare say it is not probable, for I don’t think she takes things very deeply to heart.’

‘Then I am 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 Molly.’

‘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 to 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 the feeling 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 of 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 materials.

‘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 today 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 am 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 was 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 last 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 out-of-door 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 reperusal 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 lets 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 does not 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 one.’

‘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 am 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 departure.’

‘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 has not much money, I suppose?’

‘About thirty pounds a year, at my pleasure during her mother’s life.’

‘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 she?’

‘Eighteen or nineteen.’

‘Pretty?’

‘Yes, I think so; most people do; but it is 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 have not 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 have 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 discontent.

‘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 is 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 is always well-dressed and smart-looking, and I know she has not much to spend on her clothes, and always does what she is 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 gentleman, and he replied somewhat impatiently —

‘Well, but as there is 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 would not 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 did not 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 was not 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 womankind 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.

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