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- Wives and Daughters - 139/139 -
'Lover _versus_ father!' thought he, half sadly. 'Lover wins.' And he, too, became indifferent to all that remained of his dinner. Mrs Gibson pattered on; and nobody listened.
The day of Roger's departure came. Molly tried hard to forget it in working away at a cushion she was preparing as a present to Cynthia; people did worsted-work in those days. One, two, three. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven; all wrong; she was thinking of something else, and had to unpick it. It was a rainy day, too; and Mrs. Gibson, who had planned to go out and pay some calls, had to stay indoors. This made her restless and fidgety. She kept going backwards and forwards to different windows in the drawing-room to look at the weather, as if she imagined that while it rained at one window, it might be fine weather at another.
'Molly--come here! who is that man wrapped up in a cloak,--there,--near the Park wall, under the beech-tree--he has been there this half-hour and more, never stirring, and looking at this house all the time! I think it's very suspicious.'
Molly looked, and in an instant recognized Roger under all his wraps. Her first instinct was to draw back. The next to come forwards, and say,--'Why, mamma, it's Roger Hamley! Look now--he's kissing his hand; he's wishing us good-by in the only way he can!' And she responded to his sign; but she was not sure if he perceived her modest quiet movement, for Mrs. Gibson became immediately so demonstrative that Molly fancied that her eager foolish pantomimic motions must absorb all his attention.
'I call this so attentive of him,' said Mrs. Gibson, in the midst of a volley of kisses of her hand. 'Really it is quite romantic. It reminds me of former days--but he will be too late! I must send him away; it is half-past twelve!' And she took out her watch and held it up, tapping it with her forefinger, and occupying the very centre of the window. Molly could only peep here and there, dodging now up, now down, now on this side, now on that, of the perpetually-moving arms. She fancied she saw something of a corresponding movement on Roger's part. At length he went away, slowly, slowly, and often looking back, in spite of the tapped watch. Mrs. Gibson at last retreated, and Molly quietly moved into her place to see his figure once more before the turn of the road hid it from her view. He, too, knew where the last glimpse of the Gibsons' house was to be obtained, and once more he turned, and his white handkerchief floated on the air. Molly waved hers high up, with eager longing that it should be seen. And then, he was gone! and Molly returned to her worsted-work, happy, glowing, sad, content, and thinking to herself how sweet is--friendship!
When she came to a sense of the present, Mrs. Gibson was saying,--
'Upon my word, though Roger Hamley has never been a great favourite of mine, this little attention of his has reminded me very forcibly of a very charming young man--a _soupirant_, as the French would call him-- Lieutenant Harper--you must have heard me speak of him, Molly?'
'I think I have!' said Molly, absently.
'Well, you remember how devoted he was to me when I was at Mrs Duncombe's, my first situation, and I only seventeen. And when the recruiting party was ordered to another town, poor Mr. Harper came and stood opposite the schoolroom window for nearly an hour, and I know it was his doing that the band played "The girl I left behind me," when they marched out the next day. Poor Mr. Harper! It was before I knew dear Mr. Kirkpatrick! Dear me. How often my poor heart has had to bleed in this life of mine! not but what dear papa is a very worthy man, and makes me very happy. He would spoil me, indeed, if I would let him. Still he is not as rich as Mr. Henderson.'
That last sentence contained the germ of Mrs. Gibson's present grievance. Having married Cynthia, as her mother put it--taking credit to herself as if she had had the principal part in the achievement--she now became a little envious of her daughter's good fortune in being the wife of a young, handsome, rich and moderately fashionable man, who lived in London. She naively expressed her feelings on this subject to her husband one day when she was really not feeling quite well, and when consequently her annoyances were much more present to her mind than her sources of happiness.
'It is such a pity!' said she, 'that I was born when I was. I should so have liked to belong to this generation.'
'That's sometimes my own feeling,' said he. 'So many new views seem to be opened in science, that I should like, if it were possible, to live till their reality was ascertained, and one saw what they led to. But I don't suppose that's your reason, my dear, for wishing to be twenty or thirty years younger.'
'No, indeed. And I did not put it in that hard unpleasant way; I only said I should like to belong to this generation. To tell the truth, I was thinking of Cynthia. Without vanity, I believe I was as pretty as she is--when I was a girl, I mean; I had not her dark eye-lashes, but then my nose was straighter. And now look at the difference! I have to live in a little country town with three servants, and no carriage; and she with her inferior good looks will live in Sussex Place,' and keep a man and a brougham, and I don't know what. But the fact is, in this generation there are so many more rich young men than there were when I was a girl.'
'Oh, ho! so that's your reason, is it, my dear. If you had been young now you might have married somebody as well off as Walter?'
'Yes!' said she. 'I think that was my idea. Of course I should have liked him to be you. I always think if you had gone to the bar you might have succeeded better, and lived in London, too. I don't think Cynthia cares much where she lives, yet you see it has come to her.'
'Oh, you dear, facetious man. Now that's just the thing to have captivated a jury. I don't believe Walter will ever be so clever as you are. Yet he can take Cynthia to Paris, and abroad, and everywhere. I only hope all this indulgence won't develope the faults in Cynthia's character. It's a week since we heard from her, and I did write so particularly to ask her for the autumn fashions before I bought my new bonnet. But riches are a great snare.'
'Be thankful you are spared temptation, my dear.'
'No, I'm not. Every body likes to be tempted. And, after all, it's very easy to resist temptation, if one wishes.'
'I don't find it so easy,' said her husband.
'Here's medicine for you, mamma,' said Molly, entering with a letter held up in her hand. 'A letter from Cynthia.'
'Oh, you dear little messenger of good news! There was one of the heathen deities in Mangnall's _Questions_ whose office that was. The letter is dated from Calais. They're coming home! She's bought me a shawl and a bonnet! The dear creature! Always thinking of others before herself. Good fortune cannot spoil her. They've a fortnight left of their holiday! Their house is not quite ready; they're coming here. Oh, now, Mr. Gibson, we must have the new dinner service at Watts's I've set my heart on so long! "Home" Cynthia calls this house. I'm sure it has been a home to her, poor darling! I doubt if there is another man in the world who would have treated his stepdaughter like dear papa! And, Molly, you must have a new gown.'
'Come, come! Remember I belong to the last generation,' said Mr Gibson.
'And Cynthia will not notice what I wear,' said Molly, bright with pleasure at the thought of seeing her again.
'No! but Walter will. He has such a quick eye for dress, and I think I rival papa; if he is a good stepfather, I'm a good stepmother, and I could not bear to see my Molly shabby, and not looking her best. I must have a new gown too. It won't do to look as if we had nothing but the dresses which we wore at the wedding!'
But Molly stood against the new gown for herself, and urged that if Cynthia and Walter were to come to visit them often, they had better see them as they really were, in dress, habits, and appointments. When Mr. Gibson had left the room, Mrs. Gibson softly reproached Molly for her obstinacy.
'You might have allowed me to beg for a new gown for you, Molly, when you knew how much I had admired that figured silk at Brown's the other day. And now, of course, I can't be so selfish as to get it for myself, and you to have nothing. You should learn to understand the wishes of other people. Still, on the whole, you are a dear, sweet girl, and I only wish--well, I know what I wish; only dear papa does not like it to be talked about. And now cover me up close, and let me go to sleep, and dream about my dear Cynthia and my new shawl!'
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