Wives and Daughters, by Elizabeth Gaskell

Chapter VI

A Visit to the Hamleys

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 the 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 tomorrow to see Mrs. Hamley; and I dare say 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 was not 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 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 drive?’

‘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, m dear? I think it is pleasanter than down below; and then I shall not have to come upstairs again at dressing-time.’

‘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 dinner.

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 ready.’

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 grey eyes, shaded both above and below by curling black eye-lashes.

‘I don’t think I am pretty,’ thought Molly, as she turned away from the glass; ‘and yet I am 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 threadbare 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,’ he said, 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 today, if you like, sir.’

‘No; today I shall treat you as a visitor, with all proper ceremony. To-morrow I shall send you errands, and call you by your Christian name.’

‘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 lived.’

‘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 are 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 this mother. I should not 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 the 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-inthe-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 indoors 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 here.’

‘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 you!’

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 is 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 have not seen one yet. Stay! is not 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 does not 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 would 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 have known him bolt into a copse because he saw something fifteen yards off — some plant, maybe, which he would 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 is 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, is it not 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 when — 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 could not 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 their 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 am sure I should have looked higher. So, perhaps, it’s as well my Lord Hollingford has only boys.’

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 step-mother. To be sure, a step-mother to a girl is a different thing to a second wife to a man!’

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