Wives and Daughters, by Elizabeth Gaskell

Chapter VIII

Drifting into Danger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘What about him?’ asked Molly, eagerly.

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

There was a fresh fit of the sobbing crying. Molly burst out —

‘I don’t think Mr. Roger should have told; he had no need to begin so soon about his brother’s failure. Why, he hasn’t been in the house an hour!’

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Bring up a bottle of the Burgundy with the yellow seal.’

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

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

The squire turned round with a growl in his voice.

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

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

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

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

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

During this absence of hers Mr. Gibson was drifting into matrimony. He was partly aware of whither he was going; and partly it was like the soft floating movement of a dream. He was more passive than active in the affair; though, if his reason had not fully approved of the step he was tending to — if he had not believed that a second marriage was the very best way of cutting the Gordian knot of domestic difficulties, he could have made an effort without any great trouble to himself, and extricated himself without pain from the mesh of circumstances. It happened in this manner:—

Lady Cumnor having married her two eldest daughters, found her labours as a chaperone to Lady Harriet, the youngest, considerably lightened by cooperation; and, at length, she had leisure to be an invalid. She was, however, too energetic to allow herself this indulgence constantly; only she permitted herself to break down occasionally after a long course of dinners, late hours, and London atmosphere: and then, leaving Lady Harriet with either Lady Cuxhaven or Lady Agnes Manners, she betook herself to the comparative quiet of the Towers, where she found occupation in doing her benevolence, which was sadly neglected in the hurly-burly of London. This particular summer she had broken down earlier than usual, and longed for the repose of the country. She believed that her state of health, too, was more serious than previously; but she did not say a word of this to her husband or daughters; reserving her confidence for Mr. Gibson’s cars. She did not wish to take Lady Harriet away from the gaieties of town which she was thoroughly enjoying, by any complaint of hers, which might, after all, be ill-founded; and yet she did not quite like being without a companion in the three weeks or a month that might intervene before her family would join her at the Towers, especially as the annual festivity to the school visitors was impending; and both the school and the visit of the ladies connected with it, had rather lost the zest of novelty.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Thirty-six,’ said Lady Cumnor, sharply.

‘So it is; you’re always right, my dear. Preston’s a clever, sharp fellow.’

‘I don’t like him,’ said my lady.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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