Wives And Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell
Chapter X. A Crisis
Mrs Kirkpatrick had been reading aloud till Lady Cumnor fell asleep, the book rested on her knee, just kept from falling by her hold. She was looking out of the window, not seeing the trees in the park, nor the glimpses of the hills beyond, but thinking how pleasant it would be to have a husband once more; - some one who would work while she sate at her elegant ease in a prettily- furnished drawing-room; and she was rapidly investing this imaginary bread- winner with the form and features of the country surgeon, when there was a slight tap at the door, and almost before she could rise, the object of her thoughts came in. She felt herself blush, and she was not displeased at the consciousness. She advanced to meet him, making a sign towards her sleeping ladyship.
'Very good,' said he, in a low voice, casting a professional eye on the slumbering figure; 'can I speak to you for a minute or two in the library?'
'Is he going to offer?' thought she, with a sudden palpitation, and a conviction of her willingness to accept a man whom an hour before she had simply looked upon as one of the category of unmarried men to whom matrimony was possible.
He was only going to make one or two medical inquiries; she found that out very speedily, and considered the conversation as rather flat to her, though it might be instructive to him. She was not aware that he finally made up his mind to propose, during the time that she was speaking - answering his questions in many words, but he was accustomed to winnow the chaff from the corn; and her voice was so soft, her accent so pleasant, that it struck him as particularly agreeable after the broad country accent he was perpetually hearing. Then the harmonious colours of her dress, and her slow and graceful movements, had something of the same soothing effect upon his nerves that a cat's purring has upon some people's. He began to think that he should be fortunate if he could win her, for his own sake. Yesterday he had looked upon her more as a possible stepmother for Molly; to-day he thought more of her as a wife for himself. The remembrance of Lord Cumnor's letter gave her a very becoming consciousness; she wished to attract, and hoped that she was succeeding. Still they only talked of the countess's state for some time; then a lucky shower came on. Mr Gibson did not care a jot for rain, but just now it gave him an excuse for lingering.
'It is very stormy weather,' said he.
'Yes, very. My daughter writes me word, that for two days last week the packet could not sail from Boulogne.'
'Miss Kirkpatrick is at Boulogne, is she?'
'Yes, poor girl; she is at school there, trying to perfect herself in the French language. But, Mr Gibson, you must not call her Miss Kirkpatrick. Cynthia remembers you with so much - affection, I may say. She was your little patient when she had the measles here four years ago, you know. Pray call her Cynthia; she would be quite hurt at such a formal name as Miss Kirkpatrick from you.'
'Cynthia seems to me such an out-of-the-way name, only fit for poetry, not for daily use.'
'It is mine,' said Mrs Kirkpatrick, in a plaintive tone of reproach. 'I was christened Hyacinth, and her poor father would have called her after me. I'm sorry you don't like it.'
Mr Gibson did not know what to say. He was not quite prepared to plunge into the directly personal style. While he was hesitating, she went on, -
'Hyacinth Clare! Once upon a time I was quite proud of my pretty name; and other people thought it pretty, too.'
'I've no doubt - ' Mr Gibson began; and then stopped.
'Perhaps I did wrong in yielding to his wish, to have her called by such a romantic name. It may excite prejudice against her in some people; and, poor child! she will have enough to struggle with. A young daughter is a great charge, Mr Gibson, especially when there is only one parent to look after her.'
'You are quite right,' said he, recalled to the remembrance of Molly; 'though I should have thought that a girl who is so fortunate as to have a mother could not feel the loss of her father so acutely as one who is motherless must suffer from her deprivation.'
'You are thinking of your own daughter. It was careless of me to say what I did. Dear child! how well I remember her sweet little face as she lay sleeping on my bed. I suppose she is nearly grown-up now. She must be near my Cynthia's age. How I should like to see her!'
'I hope you will. I should like you to see her. I should like you to love my poor little Molly, - to love her as your own - ' He swallowed down something that rose in his throat, and was nearly choking him.
'Is he going to offer? Is he?' she wondered; and she began to tremble in the suspense before he next spoke.
'Could you love her as your daughter? Will you try? Will you give me the right of introducing you to her as her future mother; as my wife?'
There! he had done it - whether it was wise or foolish - he had done it; but he was aware that the question as to its wisdom came into his mind the instant that the words were said past recall.
She hid her face in her hands.
'Oh! Mr Gibson,' she said; and then, a little to his surprise, and a great deal to her own, she burst into hysterical tears: it was such a wonderful relief to feel that she need not struggle any more for a livelihood.
'My dear - my dearest,' said he, trying to soothe her with word and caress; but, just at the moment, uncertain what name he ought to use. After her sobbing had abated a little, she said herself, as if understanding his difficulty, -
'Call me Hyacinth - your own Hyacinth. I can't bear "Clare," it does so remind me of being a governess, and those days are all past now.'
'Yes; but surely no one can have been more valued, more beloved than you have been in this family at least.'
'Oh, yes! they have been very good. But still one has always had to remember one's position.'
'We ought to tell Lady Cumnor,' said he, thinking, perhaps, more of the various duties which lay before him, in consequence of the step he had just taken, than of what his future bride was saying.
'You'll tell her, won't you?' said she, looking up in his face with beseeching eyes. 'I always like other people to tell her things, and then I can see how she takes them.'
'Certainly! I will do whatever you wish. Shall we go and see if she is awake now?'
'No! I think not. I had better prepare her. You will come to-morrow, won't you? and you will tell her then.'
'Yes; that will be best. I ought to tell Molly first. She has the right to know. I do hope you and she will love each other dearly.'
'Oh, yes! I'm sure we shall. Then you'll come to-morrow and tell Lady Cumnor? And I'll prepare her.'
'I don't see what preparation is necessary; but you know best, my dear. When can we arrange for you and Molly to meet?'
Just then a servant came in, and the pair started apart.
'Her ladyship is awake, and wishes to see Mr Gibson.'
They both followed the man upstairs; Mrs Kirkpatrick trying hard to look as if nothing had happened, for she particularly wished 'to prepare' Lady Cumnor; that is to say, to give her version of Mr Gibson's extreme urgency, and her own coy unwillingness.
But Lady Cumnor had observant eyes in sickness as well as in health. She had gone to sleep with the recollection of the passage in her husband's letter full in her mind, and, perhaps, it gave a direction to her wakening ideas.
'I'm glad you're not gone, Mr Gibson. I wanted to tell you -- What's the matter with you both? What have you been saying to Clare? I'm sure something has happened.'
There was nothing for it, in Mr Gibson's opinion, but to make a clean breast of it, and tell her ladyship all. He turned round, and took hold of Mrs Kirkpatrick's hand, and said out straight, 'I have been asking Mrs Kirkpatrick to be my wife, and to be a mother to my child; and she has consented. I hardly know how to thank her enough in words.'
'Umph! I don't see any objection. I dare say you'll be very happy. I'm very glad of it! Here! shake hands with me, both of you.' Then laughing a little, she added, 'It does not seem to me that any exertion has been required on my part.'
Mr Gibson looked perplexed at these words. Mrs Kirkpatrick reddened.
'Did she not tell you? Oh, then, I must. It's too good a joke to be lost, especially as everything has ended so well. When Lord Cumnor's letter came this morning - this very morning - I gave it to Clare to read aloud to me, and I saw she suddenly came to a full stop, where no full stop could be, and I thought it was something about Agnes, so I took the letter and read - stay! I'll read the sentence to you. Where's the letter, Clare? Oh! don't trouble yourself, here it is. "How are Clare and Gibson getting on? You despised my advice to help on that affair, but I really think a little match-making would be a very pleasant amusement now that you are shut up in the house; and I cannot conceive any marriage more suitable." You see, you have my lord's full approbation. But I must write, and tell him you have managed your own affairs without any interference of mine. Now we'll just have a little medical talk, Mr Gibson, and then you and Clare shall finish your tete-a-tete.'
They were neither of them quits as desirous of further conversation together as they had been before the passage out of Lord Cumnor's letter had been read aloud. Mr Gibson tried not to think about it, for he was aware that if he dwelt upon it, he might get to fancy all sorts of things, as to the conversation which had ended in his offer. But Lady Cumnor was imperious now, as always.
'Come, no nonsense. I always made my girls go and have tete-a-tetes with the men who were to be their husbands, whether they would or no: there's a great deal to be talked over before every marriage, and you two are certainly old enough to be above affectation. Go away with you.' So there was nothing for it but for them to return to the library; Mrs Kirkpatrick pouting a little, and Mr Gibson feeling more like his own cool, sarcastic self, by many degrees, than he had done when last in that room.
She began, half crying, -
'I cannot tell what poor Kirkpatrick would say if he knew what I have done. He did so dislike the notion of second marriages, poor fellow.'
'Let us hope that he does not know, then; or that, if he does know, he is wiser - I mean, that he sees how second marriages may be most desirable and expedient in some cases.'
Altogether, this second tete-a-tete, done to command, was not so satisfactory as the first; and Mr Gibson was quite alive to the necessity of proceeding on his round to see his patients before very much time had elapsed.
'We shall shake down into uniformity before long, I've no doubt,' said he to himself, as he rode away. 'It's hardly to be expected that our thoughts should run in the same groove all at once. Nor should I like it,' he added. 'It would be very flat and stagnant to have only an echo of one's own opinions from one's wife. Heigho! I must tell Molly about it: dear little woman, I wonder how she'll take it! It's done, in a great measure, for her good.' And then he lost himself in recapitulating Mrs Kirkpatrick's good qualities, and the advantages to be gained to his daughter from the step he had just taken.
It was too late to go round by Hamley that afternoon. The Towers and the Towers' round lay just in the opposite direction to Hamley. So it was the next morning before Mr Gibson arrived at the hall, timing his visit as well as he could so as to have half-an-hour's private talk with Molly before Mrs Hamley came down into the drawing-room. He thought that his daughter would require sympathy after receiving the intelligence he had to communicate; and he knew there was no one more fit to give it than Mrs Hamley.
It was a brilliantly hot summer's morning; men in their shirt-sleeves were in the fields getting in the early harvest of oats; as Mr Gibson rode slowly along, he could see them over the tall hedge-rows, and even hear the soothing measured sound of the fall of the long swathes, as they were mown. The labourers seemed too hot to talk; the dog, guarding their coats and cans, lay panting loudly on the other side of the elm, under which Mr Gibson stopped for an instant to survey the scene, and gain a little delay before the interview that he wished was well over. In another minute he had snapped at himself for his weakness, and put spurs to his horse. He came up to the hall at a good sharp trot; it was earlier than the usual time of his visits, and no one was expecting him; all the stablemen were in the fields, but that signified little to Mr Gibson; he walked his horse about for five minutes or so before taking him into the stable, and loosened his girths, examining him with perhaps unnecessary exactitude. He went into the house by a private door, and made his way into the drawing-room, half expecting, however, that Molly would be in the garden. She had been there, but it was too hot and dazzling now for her to remain out of doors, and she had come in by the open window of the drawing-room. Oppressed with the heat, she had fallen asleep in an easy-chair, her bonnet and open book upon her knee, one arm hanging listlessly down. She looked very soft, and young, and childlike; and a gush of love sprang into her father's heart as he gazed at her.
'Molly!' said he, gently, taking the little brown hand that was hanging down, and holding it in his own. 'Molly!'
She opened her eyes, that for one moment had no recognition in them. Then the light came brilliantly into them and she sprang up, and threw her arms round his neck, exclaiming, -
'Oh, papa, my dear, dear papa! What made you come while I was asleep? I love the pleasure of watching for you.'
Mr Gibson turned a little paler than he had been before. He still held her hand, and drew her to a seat by him on a sofa, without speaking. There was no need; she was chattering away.
'I was up so early! It is so charming to be out here in the fresh morning air. I think that made me sleepy. But isn't it a gloriously hot day? I wonder if the Italian skies they talk about can be bluer than that - that little bit you see just between the oaks - there!'
She pulled her hand away, and used both it and the other to turn her father's head, so that he should exactly see the very bit she meant. She was rather struck by his unusual silence.
'Have you heard from Miss Eyre, papa? How are they all? And this fever that is about? Do you know, papa, I don't think you are looking well? You want me at home to take care of you. How soon may I come home?'
'Don't I look well? That must be all your fancy, goosey. I feel uncommonly well; and I ought to look well, for -- I have a piece of news for you, little woman.' (He felt that he was doing his business very awkwardly, but he was determined to plunge on.) 'Can you guess it?'
'How should I?' said she; but her tone was changed, and she was evidently uneasy, as with the presage of an instinct.
'Why, you see, my love,' said he, again taking her hand, 'that you are in a very awkward position - a girl growing up in such a family as mine - young men - which was a piece of confounded stupidity on my part. And I am obliged to be away so much.'
'But there is Miss Eyre,' said she, sick with the strengthening indefinite presage of what was to come. 'Dear Miss Eyre, I want nothing but her and you.'
'Still there are times like the present when Miss Eyre cannot be with you; her home is not with us; she has other duties. I've been in great perplexity for some time; but at last I've taken a step which will, I hope, make us both happier.'
'You're going to be married again,' said she, helping him out, with a quiet dry voice, and gently drawing her hand out of his.
'Yes. To Mrs Kirkpatrick - you remember her? They call her Clare at the Towers. You recollect how kind she was to you that day you were left there?'
She did not answer. She could not tell what words to use. She was afraid of saying anything, lest the passion of anger, dislike, indignation - whatever it was that was boiling up in her breast - should find vent in cries and screams, or worse, in raging words that could never be forgotten. It was as if the piece of solid ground on which she stood had broken from the shore, and she was drifting out to the infinite sea alone.
Mr Gibson saw that her silence was unnatural, and half-guessed at the cause of it. But he knew that she must have time to reconcile herself to the idea, and still believed that it would be for her eventual happiness. He had, besides, the relief of feeling that the secret was told, the confidence made, which he had been dreading for the last twenty-four hours. He went on recapitulating all the advantages of the marriage; he knew them off by heart now.
'She's a very suitable age for me. I don't know how old she is exactly, but she must be nearly forty. I shouldn't have wished to marry any one younger. She's highly respected by Lord and Lady Cumnor and their family, which is of itself a character. She has very agreeable and polished manners - of course, from the circles she has been thrown into - and you and I , goosey, are apt to be a little brusque, or so; we must brush up our manners now.'
No remark from her on this little bit of playfulness. He went on, -
'She has been accustomed to housekeeping - economical housekeeping, too - for of late years she has had a school at Ashcombe, and has had, of course, to arrange all things for a large family. And last, but not least, she has a daughter - about your age, Molly - who, of course, will come and live with us, and be a nice companion - a sister - for you.'
Still she was silent. At length she said, -
'So I was sent out of the house that all this might be quietly arranged in my absence?'
Out of the bitterness of her heart she spoke, but she was roused out of her assumed impassiveness by the effect produced. Her father started up, and quickly left the room, saying something to himself - what, she could not hear, though she ran after him, followed him through dark stone passages, into the glare of the stable-yard, into the stables -
'Oh, papa, papa - I'm not myself - I don't know what to say about this hateful - detestable -- '
He led his horse out. She did not know if he beard her words. Just as he mounted, he turned round upon her with a grey grim face, -
'I think it's better for both of us, for me to go away now. We may say things difficult to forget. We are both much agitated. By to-morrow we shall be more composed; you will have thought it over, and have seen that the principal - one great motive, I mean - was your good. You may tell Mrs Hamley - I meant to have told her myself. I will come again to-morrow. Good-by, Molly.'
For many minutes after he had ridden away - long after the sound of his horse's hoofs on the round stones of the paved lane, beyond the home-meadows, had died away - Molly stood there, shading her eyes, and looking at the empty space of air in which his form had last appeared. Her very breath seemed suspended; only, two or three times, after long intervals she drew a miserable sigh, which was caught up into a sob. She turned way at last, but could not go into the house, could not tell Mrs Hamley, could not forget how her father had looked and spoken - and left her.
She went out by a side-door - it was the way by which the gardeners passed when they took the manure into the garden - and the walk to which it led was concealed from sight as much as possible by shrubs and evergreens and over- arching trees. No one would know what became of her, and, with the ingratitude of misery, she added to herself, no one would care. Mrs Hamley had her own husband, her own children, her close home interests - she was very good and kind, but there was a bitter grief in Molly's heart, with which the stranger could not intermeddle. She went quickly on to the bourne which she had fixed for herself - a seat almost surrounded by the drooping leaves of a weeping-ash - a seat on the long broad terrace walk on the other side of the wood, that overlooked the pleasant slope of the meadows beyond; the walk had probably been made to command this sunny, peaceful landscape, with trees, and a church spire, two or three red-tiled roofs of old cottages, and a purple bit of rising ground in the distance; and at some previous date, when there might have been a large family of Hamleys residing at the hall, ladies in hoops, and gentlemen in bag- wigs with swords by their sides, might have filled up the breadth of the terrace, as they sauntered, smiling, along. But no one ever cared to saunter there now. It was a deserted walk. The squire or his sons might cross it in passing to a little gate that led to the meadow beyond; but no one loitered there. Molly almost thought that no one knew of the hidden seat under the ash- tree but herself; for there were not more gardeners employed upon the grounds than were necessary to keep the kitchen-gardens and such of the ornamental part as was frequented by the family, or in sight of the house, in good order.
When she had once got to the seat she broke out with a suppressed passion of grief; she did not card to analyze the sources of her tears and sobs - her father was going to be married again - her father was angry with her; she had done very wrong - he had gone away displeased; she had lost his love, he was going to be married - away from her - away from his child - his little daughter - forgetting her own dear, dear mother. So she thought in a tumultuous kind of way, sobbing till she was wearied out, and had to gain strength by being quiet for a time, to break forth into her passion of tears afresh. She had cast herself on the ground - that natural throne for violent sorrow - and leant up against the old moss-grown seat; sometimes burying her face in her hands; sometimes clasping them together, as if by the tight painful grasp of her fingers she could deaden mental suffering.
She did not see Roger Hamley returning from the meadows, nor hear the click of the little white gate. He had been out dredging in ponds and ditches, and had his wet sling-net, with its imprisoned treasures of nastiness, over his shoulder. He was coming home to lunch, having always a fine midday appetite, though he pretended to despise the meal in theory. But he knew that his mother liked his companionship then; she depended much upon her luncheon, and was seldom downstairs and visible to her family much before the time. So he overcame his theory, for the sake of his mother, and had his reward in the hearty relish with which he kept her company in eating.
He did not see Molly as he crossed the terrace-walk on his way homewards. He had gone about twenty yards on the small wood-path at right angles to the terrace, when, looking among the grass and wild plants under the trees, he spied out one which was rare, one which he had been long wishing to find in flower, and saw it at last, with those bright keen eyes of his. Down went his net, skilfully twisted so as to retain its contents, while it lay amid the herbage, and he himself went with light and well-planted footsteps in search of the treasure. He was so great a lover of nature that, without any thought, but habitually, he always avoided treading unnecessarily on any plant; who knew what long-sought growth or insect might develop itself in what now appeared but insignificant?
His steps led him in the direction of the ash-tree seat, much less screened from observation on this side than on the terrace. He stopped; he saw a light- coloured dress on the ground - somebody half-lying on the seat, so still just then, he wondered if the person, whoever it was, had fallen ill or fainted. He paused to watch. In a minute or two the sobs broke out again - the words. It was Miss Gibson crying out in a broken voice, -
'Oh, papa, papa! if you would but come back!'
For a minute or two he thought it would be kinder to leave her believing herself unobserved; he had even made a retrograde step or two, on tip-toe; but then he heard the miserable sobbing again. It was farther than his mother could walk, or else, be the sorrow what it would, she was the natural comforter of this girl, her visitor. However, whether it was right or wrong, delicate or obtrusive, when he heard the sad voice talking again, in such tones of uncomforted, lonely misery, he turned back, and went to the green tent under the ash-tree. She started up when he came thus close to her; she tried to check her sobs, and instinctively smoothed her wet tangled hair back with her hands.
He looked down upon her with grave, kind sympathy, but he did not know exactly what to say.
'Is it lunch-time?' said she, trying to believe that he did not see the traces of her tears and the disturbance of her features - that he had not seen her lying, sobbing her heart out there.
'I don't know. I was going home to lunch. But - you must let me say it - I couldn't go on when I saw your distress. Has anything happened? - anything in which I can help you, I mean; for, of course, I've no right to make the inquiry, if it is any private sorrow, in which I can be of no use.'
She had exhausted herself so much with crying, that she felt as if she could neither stand nor walk just yet. She sate down on the seat, and sighed, and turned so pale, he thought she was going to faint.
'Wait a moment,' said he, quite unnecessarily, for she could not have stirred; and he was off like a shot to some spring of water that he knew of in the wood, and in a minute or two he returned with careful steps, bringing a little in a broad green leaf, turned into an impromptu cup. Little as it was, it did her good.
'Thank you!' she said: 'I can walk back now, in a short time. Don't stop.'
'You must let me,' said he: 'my mother wouldn't like me to leave you to come home alone, while you are so faint.'
So they remained in silence for a little while; he, breaking off and examining one or two abnormal leaves of the ash-tree, partly from the custom of his nature, partly to give her time to recover.
'Papa is going to be married again,' said she, at length.
She could not have said why she told him this; an instant before she spoke, she had no intention of doing so. He dropped the leaf he held in his hand, turned round, and looked at her. Her poor wistful eyes were filling with tears as they met his, with a dumb appeal for sympathy. Her look was much more eloquent than her words. There was a momentary pause before he replied, and then it was more because he felt that he must say something than that he was in any doubt as to the answer to the question he asked.
'You are sorry for it?'
She did not take her eyes away from his, as her quivering lips formed the word 'Yes,' though her voice made no sound. He was silent again now; looking on the ground, kicking softly at a loose pebble with his foot. His thoughts did not come readily to the surface in the shape of words; nor was he apt at giving comfort till he saw his way clear to the real source from which consolation must come. At last he spoke, - almost as if he was reasoning out the matter with himself.
'It seems as if there might be cases where - setting the question of love entirely on one side - it must be almost a duty to find some one to be a substitute for the mother.... I can believe,' said he, in a different tone of voice, and looking at Molly afresh, 'that this step may be greatly for your father's happiness - it may relieve him from many cares, and may give him a pleasant companion.'
'He had me. You don't know what we were to each other - at least, what he was to me,' she added, humbly.
'Still he must have thought it for the best, or he wouldn't have done it. He may have thought it the best for your sake even more than for his own.'
'That is what he tried to convince me of.'
Roger began kicking the pebble again. He had not got hold of the right end of the clue. Suddenly he looked up.
'I want to tell you of a girl I know. Her mother died when she was about sixteen - the eldest of a large family. From that time - all though the bloom of her youth - she gave herself up to her father first as his comforter, afterwards as his companion, friend, secretary - anything you like. He was a man with a great deal of business on hand, and often came home only to set to afresh to preparations for the next day's work. Harriet was always there, ready to help, to talk, or to be silent. It went on for eight or ten years in this way; and then her father married again, - a woman not many years older than Harriet herself. Well - they are just the happiest set of people I know - you wouldn't have thought it likely, would you?'
She was listening, but she had no heart to say anything. Yet she was interested in this little story of Harriet - a girl who had been so much to her father, more than Molly in this early youth of hers could have been to Mr Gibson. 'How was it?' she sighed out at last.
'Harriet thought of her father's happiness before she thought of her own,' Roger answered, with something of severe brevity. Molly needed the bracing. She began to cry again a little.
'If it were for papa's happiness -- '
'He must believe that it is. Whatever you fancy, give him a chance. He cannot have much comfort, I should think, if he sees you fretting or pining, - you who have been so much to him, as you say. The lady herself, too - if Harriet's stepmother had been a selfish woman, and been always clutching after the gratification of her own wishes; but she was not: she was as anxious for Harriet to be happy as Harriet was for her father - and your father's future wife may be another of the same kind, though such people are rare.'
'I don't think she is, though,' murmured Molly, a waft of recollection bringing to her mind the details of her day at the Towers long ago.
Roger did not want to hear Molly's reasons for this doubting speech. He felt as if he had no right to hear more of Mr Gibson's family life, past, present, or to come, than was absolutely necessary for him, in order that he might comfort and help the crying girl, whom he had come upon so unexpectedly. And besides, he wanted to go home, and be with his mother at lunch-time. Yet he could not leave her alone.
'It is right to hope for the best about everybody, and not to expect the worst. This sounds like a truism, but it has comforted me before now, and some day you'll find it useful. One has always to try to think more of others than of oneself, and it is best not to prejudge people on the bad side. My sermons aren't long, are they? Have they given you an appetite for lunch? Sermons always make me hungry, I know.'
He appeared to be waiting for her to get up and come along with him, as indeed he was. But he meant her to perceive that he should not leave her; so she rose up languidly, too languid to say how much she should prefer being left alone, if he would only go away without her. She was very weak, and stumbled over the straggling root of a tree that projected across the path. He, watchful though silent, saw this stumble, and putting out his hand held her up from falling. He still held her hand when the occasion was past; this little physical failure impressed on his heart how young and helpless she was, and he yearned to her, remembering the passion of sorrow in which he had found her, and longing to be of some little tender bit of comfort to her, before they parted - before their tete-a-tete walk was merged in the general familiarity of the household life. Yet he did not know what to say.
'You will have thought me hard,' he burst out at length, as they were nearing the drawing-room windows and the garden-door. 'I never can manage to express what I feel, somehow I always fall to philosophizing, but I am sorry for you. Yes, I am; it's beyond my power to help you, as far as altering facts goes, but I can feel for you, in a way which it's best not to talk about, for it can do no good. Remember how sorry I am for you! I shall often be thinking of you, though I daresay it's best not to talk about it again.'
She said, 'I know you are sorry,' under her breath, and then she broke away, and ran indoors, and upstairs to the solitude of her own room. He went straight to his mother, who was sitting before the untasted luncheon, as much annoyed by the mysterious unpunctuality of her visitor as she was capable of being with anything; for she had heard that Mr Gibson had been, and was gone, and she could not discover if he had left any message for her; and her anxiety about her own health, which some people esteemed hypochondriacal, always made her particularly craving for the wisdom which might fall from her doctor's lips.
'Where have you been, Roger? Where is Molly? - Miss Gibson, I mean,' for she was careful to keep up a barrier of forms between the young man and young woman who were thrown together in the same household.
'I've been out dredging. (By the way, I left my net on the terrace walk.) I found Miss Gibson sitting there, crying as if her heart would break. Her father is going to be married again.'
'Married again! You don't say so.'
'Yes, he is; and she takes it very hardly, poor girl. Mother, I think if you could send some one to her with a glass of wine, a cup of tea, or something of that sort - she was very nearly fainting -- '
'I'll go to her myself, poor child,' said Mrs Hamley, rising.
'Indeed you must not,' said he, laying his hand upon her arm. 'We have kept you waiting already too long; you are looking quite pale. Hammond can take it,' he continued, ringing the bell. She sate down again, almost stunned with surprise.
'Whom is he going to marry?'
'I don't know. I didn't ask, and she didn't tell me.'
'That's so like a man. Why, half the character of the affair lies in the question of whom it is that he is going to marry.'
'I daresay I ought to have asked. But somehow I'm not a good one on such occasions. I was as sorry as could be for her, and yet I couldn't tell what to say.'
'What did you say?'
'I gave her the best advice in my power.'
'Advice! you ought to have comforted her. Poor little Molly!'
'I think that if advice is good it's the best comfort.'
'That depends on what you mean by advice. Hush! here she is.'
To their surprise, Molly came in, trying hard to look as usual. She had bathed her eyes, and arranged her hair; and was making a great struggle to keep from crying, and to bring her voice into order. She was unwilling to distress Mrs Hamley by the sight of pain and suffering. She did not know that she was following Roger's injunctions to think more of others than of herself - but so she was. Mrs Hamley was not sure if it was wise in her to begin on the piece of news she had just heard from her son; but she was too full of it herself to talk of anything else. 'So I hear your father is going to be married, my dear? May I ask whom it is to?'
'Mrs Kirkpatrick. I think she was governess a long time ago at the Countess of Cumnor's. She stays with them a great deal, and they call her Clare, and I believe they are very fond of her.' Molly tried to speak of her future stepmother in the most favourable manner she knew how.
'I think I've heard of her. Then she is not very young? That's as it should be. A widow too. Has she any family?'
'One girl, I believe. But I know so little about her!'
Molly was very near crying again.
'Never mind, my dear. That will all come in good time. Roger, you've hardly eaten anything; where are you going?'
'To fetch my dredging-net. It's full of things I don't want to lose. Besides, I never eat much, as a general thing.' The truth was partly told, not all. He thought he had better leave the other two alone. His mother had such sweet power of sympathy, that she would draw the sting out of the girl's heart in a tete-a- tete. As soon as he was gone, Molly lifted up her poor swelled eyes, and, looking at Mrs Hamley, she said, - 'He was so good to me. I mean to try and remember all he said,'
'I'm glad to hear it, love; very glad. From what he told me, I was afraid he had been giving you a little lecture. He has a good heart, but he isn't so tender in his manner as Osborne. Roger is a little rough sometimes.'
'Then I like roughness. It did me good. It made me feel how badly - oh, Mrs Hamley, I did behave so badly to papa this morning.'
She rose up and threw herself into Mrs Hamley's arms, and sobbed upon her breast. Her sorrow was not now for the fact that her father was going to be married again, but for her own ill-behaviour.
If Roger was not tender in words, he was in deeds. Unreasonable and possibly exaggerated as Molly's grief had appeared to him, it was real suffering to her; and he took some pains to lighten it, in his own way, which was characteristic enough. That evening he adjusted his microscope, and put the treasures he had collected in his morning's ramble on a little table; and then he asked his mother to come and admire. Of course Molly came too, and this was what he had intended. He tried to interest her in his pursuit, cherished her first little morsel of curiosity, and nursed it into a very proper desire for further information. Then he brought out books on the subject, and translated the slightly pompous and technical language into homely every-day speech. Molly had come down to dinner, wondering how the long hours till bedtime would ever pass away: hours during which she must not speak on the one thing that would be occupying her mind to the exclusion of all others; for she was afraid that already she had wearied Mrs Hamley with it during their afternoon tete-a-tete. But prayers and bedtime came long before she had expected; she had been refreshed by a new current of thought, and she was very thankful to Roger. And now there was to-morrow to come, and a confession of penitence to be made to her father.
But Mr Gibson did not want speech or words. He was not fond of expressions of feeling at any time, and perhaps, too, he felt that the less said the better on a subject about which it was evident that his daughter and he were not thoroughly and impulsively in harmony. He read her repentance in her eyes; he saw how much she had suffered; and he had a sharp pang at his heart in consequence. But he stopped her from speaking out her regret at her behaviour the day before, by a 'There, there, that will do. I know all you want to say. I know my little, Molly - my silly little goosey - better than she knows herself. I've brought you an invitation. Lady Cumnor wants you to go and spend next Thursday at the Towers!'
'Do you wish me to go?' said she, her heart sinking.
'I wish you and Hyacinth to become better acquainted - to learn to love each other.'
'Hyacinth!' said Molly, entirely bewildered.
'Yes; Hyacinth! It's the silliest name I ever heard of; but it's hers, and I must call her by it. I can't bear Clare, which is what my lady and all the family at the Towers call her; and "Mrs Kirkpatrick" is formal and nonsensical too, as she'll change her name so soon.'
'When, papa?' asked Molly, feeling as if she were living in a strange, unknown world.
'Not till after Michaelmas.' And then, continuing on his own thoughts, he added, 'And the worst is, she's gone and perpetuated her own affected name by having her daughter called after her. Cynthia! One thinks of the moon, and the man in the moon with his bundle of faggots. I'm thankful you're plain Molly, child.'
'How old is she - Cynthia, I mean?'
'Ay, get accustomed to the name. I should think Cynthia Kirkpatrick was about as old as you are. She's at school in France, picking up airs and graces. She's to come home for the wedding, so you'll be able to get acquainted with her then; though, I think, she's to go back again for another half-year or so.'