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- Wives and Daughters - 120/139 -


taking hold of chair or table for support or guidance till he reached Mr. Gibson. He did not speak when he held the doctor by the hand; he only hung down his head, and kept on a feeble shaking of welcome.

'I'm brought very low, sir. I suppose it's God's doing; but it comes hard upon me. He was my firstborn child.' He said this almost as if speaking to a stranger, and informing him of facts of which he was ignorant.

'Here's Molly,' said Mr. Gibson, choking a little himself, and pushing her forwards.

'I beg your pardon; I did not see you at first. My mind is a good deal occupied just now.' He sate heavily down, and then seemed almost to forget they were there. Molly wondered what was to come next. Suddenly her father spoke,--

'Where's Roger?' said he. 'Is he not likely to be soon at the Cape?' He got up and looked at the directions of one or two unopened letters brought by that morning's post; among them was one in Cynthia's handwriting. Both Molly and he saw it at the same time. How long it was since yesterday! But the squire took no notice of their proceedings or their looks.

'You will be glad to have Roger at home as soon as may be, I think, sir. Some months must elapse first; but I'm sure he will return as speedily as possible.'

The squire said something in a very low voice. Both father and daughter strained their ears to hear what it was. They both believed it to be, 'Roger is not Osborne!' And Mr. Gibson spoke on that belief. He spoke more quietly than Molly had ever heard him do before.

'No! we know that. I wish that anything that Roger could do, or that I could do, or that any one could do, would comfort you; but it is past human comfort.'

'I do try to say, God's will be done, sir,' said the squire, looking up at Mr. Gibson for the first time, and speaking with more life in his voice; 'but it is harder to be resigned than happy people think.' They were all silent for a while. The squire himself was the first to speak again,--'He was my first child, sir; my eldest son. And of late years we weren't'--his voice broke down, but he controlled himself--'we weren't quite as good friends as could be wished; and I'm not sure--not sure that he knew how I loved him.' And now he cried aloud with an exceeding bitter cry.

'Better so!' whispered Mr. Gibson to Molly. 'When he is a little calmer, don't be afraid; tell him all you know, exactly as it happened.'

Molly began. Her voice sounded high and unnatural to herself, as if some one else was speaking, but she made her words clear. The squire did not attempt to listen, at first, at any rate.

'One day when I was here, at the time of Mrs. Hamley's last illness' (the squire here checked his convulsive breathing), 'I was in the library, and Osborne came in. He said he had only come in for a book, and that I was not to mind him, so I went on reading. Presently, Roger came along the flagged garden-path just outside the window (which was open). He did not see me in the corner where I was sitting, and said to Osborne, "Here's a letter from your wife!"'

Now the squire was all attention; for the first time his tear-swollen eyes met the eyes of another, and he looked at Molly with searching anxiety, as he repeated, 'His wife! Osborne married!' Molly went on,--

'Osborne was angry with Roger for speaking out before me, and they made me promise never to mention it to any one; or to allude to it to either of them again. I never named it to papa till last night.'

'Go on,' said Mr. Gibson. 'Tell the squire about Osborne's call,--what you told me!' Still the squire hung on her lips, listening with open mouth and eyes.

'Some months ago Osborne called. He was not well, and wanted to see papa. Papa was away, and I was alone. I don't exactly remember how it came about, but he spoke to me of his wife for the first and only time since the affair in the library.' She looked at her father, as if questioning him as to the desirableness of telling the few further particulars that she knew. The squire's mouth was dry and stiff, but he tried to say, 'Tell me all,--everything.' And Molly understood the half-formed words.

'He said his wife was a good woman, and that he loved her dearly; but she was a French Roman Catholic, and a'--another glance at her father-- 'she had been a servant once. That was all; except that I have her address at home. He wrote it down and gave it me.'

'Well, well!' moaned the squire. 'It's all over now. All over. All past and gone. We'll not blame him,--no; but I wish he'd a told me; he and I to live together with such a secret in one of us. It's no wonder to me now--nothing can be a wonder again, for one never can tell what's in a man's heart. Married so long! and we sitting together at meals--and living together. Why, I told him everything! Too much, may be, for I showed him all my passions and ill-tempers! Married so long! Oh, Osborne, Osborne, you should have told me!'

'Yes, he should!' said Mr. Gibson. 'But I daresay he knew how much you would dislike such a choice as he had made. But he should have told you!'

'You know nothing about it, sir,' said the squire sharply. 'You don't know the terms we were on. Not hearty or confidential. I was cross to him many a time, angry with him for being dull, poor lad--and he with all this weight on his mind. I won't have people interfering and judging between me and my sons. And Roger too! He could know it all, and keep it from me!'

'Osborne evidently had bound him down to secrecy, just as he bound me,' said Molly; 'Roger could not help himself.'

'Osborne was such a fellow for persuading people, and winning them over,' said the squire, dreamily. 'I remember--but what's the use of remembering? It's all over, and Osborne is dead without opening his heart to me. I could have been tender to him, I could. But he'll never know it now!'

'But we can guess what wish he had strongest in his mind at the last, from what we do know of his life.' said Mr. Gibson.

'What, sir?' said the squire, with sharp suspicion of what was coming.

'His wife must have been his last thought, must she not?'

'How do I know she was his wife? Do you think he'd go and marry a French baggage of a servant? It may be all a tale trumped up.'

'Stop, squire. I don't care to defend my daughter's truth or accuracy. But with the dead man's body lying upstairs--his soul with God--think twice before you say more hasty words, impugning his character; if she was not his wife, what was she?'

'I beg your pardon. I hardly know what I am saying. Did I accuse Osborne? Oh, my lad, my lad--thou might have trusted thy old dad! He used to call me his "old dad" when he was a little chap not bigger than this,' indicating a certain height with his hand. 'I never meant to say he was not--not what one would wish to think him now--his soul with God, as you say very justly--for I am sure it is there--'

'Well! but, squire,' said Mr. Gibson, trying to check the other's rambling, 'to return to his wife--'

'And the child,' whispered Molly to her father. Low as the whisper was, it struck on the squire's ear.

'What?' said he, turning round to her suddenly, '--child! You never named that? Is there a child? Husband and father, and I never knew! God bless Osborne's child! I say, God bless it!' He stood up reverently, and the other two instinctively rose. He closed his hands as if in momentary prayer. Then exhausted he sate down again, and put out his hand to Molly.

'You're a good girl. Thank you. Tell me what I ought to do, and I'll do it.' This to Mr. Gibson.

'I am almost as much puzzled as you are, squire,' replied he. 'I fully believe the whole story; but I think there must be some written confirmation of it, which perhaps ought to be found at once, before we act. Most probably this is to be discovered among Osborne's papers. Will you look over them at once? Molly shall return with me, and find the address that Osborne gave her, while you are busy--'

'She'll come back again?' said the squire eagerly. 'You--she won't leave me to myself?'

'No! She shall come back this evening. I'll manage to send her somehow. But she has no clothes but the habit she came in, and I want my horse that she rode away upon.'

'Take the carriage,' said the squire. 'Take anything. I'll give orders. You'll come back again, too?'

'No! I'm afraid not, to-day. I'll come to-morrow, early. Molly shall return this evening, whenever it suits you to send for her.'

'This afternoon; the carriage shall be at your house at three. I dare not look at Osborne's--at the papers without one of you with me; and yet I shall never rest till I know more.'

'I will send the desk in by Robinson before I leave. And--can you give me some lunch before I go?'

Little by little he led the squire to eat a morsel or so of food; and so, strengthening him physically, and encouraging him mentally, Mr. Gibson hoped that he would begin his researches during Molly's absence.

There was something touching in the squire's wistful looks after Molly as she moved about. A stranger might have imagined her to be his daughter instead of Mr. Gibson's. The meek, broken-down, considerate ways of the bereaved father never showed themselves more strongly than when he called them back to his chair, out of which he seemed too languid to rise, and said, as if by an after-thought,--'Give my love to Miss Kirkpatrick; tell her I look upon her as quite one of the family. I shall be glad to see her after--after the funeral. I don't think I can before.'

'He knows nothing of Cynthia's resolution to give up Roger,' said Mr Gibson as they rode away. 'I had a long talk with her last night, but she was as resolute as ever. From what your mamma tells me, there is a


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