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- Wives and Daughters - 4/139 -
'Don't trouble yourself about it, dear; I'll take care,' said Clare, turning round at the door, and kissing her hand to little anxious Molly. And then she went away, and thought no more about it. The carriages came round at half-past four, hurried a little by Lady Cumnor, who had suddenly become tired of the business of entertaining, and annoyed at the repetition of indiscriminating admiration.
'Why not have both carriages out, mamma, and get rid of them all at once?' said Lady Cuxhaven. 'This going by instalments is the most tiresome thing that could be imagined.' So at last there had been a great hurry and an unmethodical way of packing off every one at once. Miss Browning had gone in the chariot (or 'chawyot,' as Lady Cumnor called it;--it rhymed to her daughter, Lady Hawyot--or Harriet, as the name was spelt in the _Peerage_), and Miss Phoebe had been speeded along with several other guests, away in a great roomy family conveyance, of the kind which we should now call an 'omnibus.' Each thought that Molly Gibson was with the other, and the truth was, that she lay fast asleep on Mrs. Kirkpatrick's bed--Mrs. Kirkpatrick _nee_ Clare.
The housemaids came in to arrange the room. Their talking aroused Molly, who sate up on the bed, and tried to push back the hair from her hot forehead, and to remember where she was. She dropped down on her feet by the side of the bed, to the astonishment of the women, and said,--'Please, how soon are we going away?'
'Bless us and save us! who'd ha' thought of any one being in the bed? Are you one of the Hollingford ladies, my dear? They are all gone this hour or more!'
'Oh, dear, what shall I do? That lady they call Clare promised to waken me in time. Papa will so wonder where I am, and I don't know what Betty will say.'
The child began to cry, and the housemaids looked at each other in some dismay and much sympathy. Just then, they heard Mrs Kirkpatrick's step along the passages, approaching. She was singing some little Italian air in a low musical voice, coming to her bedroom to dress for dinner. One housemaid said to the other, with a knowing look, 'Best leave it to her;' and they passed on to their work in the other rooms.
Mrs. Kirkpatrick opened the door, and stood aghast at the sight of Molly.
'Why, I quite forgot you!' she said at length. 'Nay, don't cry; you'll make yourself not fit to be seen. Of course I must take the consequences of your over-sleeping yourself, and if I can't manage to get you back to Hollingford to-night, you shall sleep with me, and we'll do our best to send you home to-morrow morning.'
'But papa!' sobbed out Molly. 'He always wants me to make tea for him; and I have no night-things.'
'Well, don't go and make a piece of work about what can't be helped now. I'll lend you night-things, and your papa must do without your making tea for him to-night. And another time don't over-sleep yourself in a strange house; you may not always find yourself among such hospitable people as they are here. Why now, if you don't cry and make a figure of yourself, I'll ask if you may come in to dessert with Master Smythe and the little ladies. You shall go into the nursery, and have some tea with them; and then you must come back here and brush your hair and make yourself tidy. I think it is a very fine thing for you to be stopping in such a grand house as this; many a little girl would like nothing better.'
During this speech she was arranging her _toilette_ for dinner--taking off her black morning gown; putting on her dressing-gown; shaking her long soft auburn hair over her shoulders, and glancing about the room in search of various articles of her dress,--a running flow of easy talk came babbling out all the time.
'I have a little girl of my own, dear! I don't know what she would not give to be staying here at Lord Cumnor's with me; but, instead of that, she has to spend her holidays at school; and yet you are looking as miserable as can be at the thought of stopping for just one night. I really have been as busy as can be with those tiresome--those good ladies, I mean, from Hollingford--and one can't think of everything at a time.'
Molly--only child as she was--had stopped her tears at the mention of that little girl of Mrs. Kirkpatrick's, and now she ventured to say,--
'Are you married, ma'am; I thought she called you Clare?'
In high good humour Mrs. Kirkpatrick made reply:--'I don't look as if I was married, do I? Every one is surprised. And yet I have been a widow for seven months now: and not a grey hair on my head, though Lady Cuxhaven, who is younger than I, has ever so many.'
'Why do they call you "Clare"?' continued Molly, finding her so affable and communicative.
'Because I lived with them when I was Miss Clare. It is a pretty name, isn't it? I married a Mr. Kirkpatrick; he was only a curate, poor fellow; but he was of a very good family, and if three of his relations had died without children I should have been a baronet's wife. But Providence did not see fit to permit it; and we must always resign ourselves to what is decreed. Two of his cousins married, and had large families; and poor dear Kirkpatrick died, leaving me a widow.'
'But you have a little girl?' asked Molly.
'Yes; darling Cynthia! I wish you could see her; she is my only comfort now. If I have time I will show you her picture when we come up to bed; but I must go now. It does not do to keep Lady Cumnor waiting a moment, and she asked me to be down early, to help with some of the people in the house. Now I shall ring this bell, and when the housemaid comes, ask her to take you into the nursery, and to tell Lady Cuxhaven's nurse who you are. And then you'll have tea with the little ladies, and come in with them to dessert. There! I'm sorry you've overslept yourself, and are left here; but give me a kiss, and don't cry--you really are rather a pretty child, though you've not got Cynthia's colouring! Oh, Nanny, would you be so very kind as to take this young lady--(what's your name, my dear? Gibson?),--Miss Gibson, to Mrs. Dyson, in the nursery, and ask her to allow her to drink tea with the young ladies there; and to send her in with them to dessert. I'll explain it all to my lady.'
Nanny's face brightened out of its gloom when she heard the name Gibson; and, having ascertained from Molly that she was 'the doctor's' child, she showed more willingness to comply with Mrs Kirkpatrick's request than was usual with her.
Molly was an obliging girl, and fond of children; so, as long as she was in the nursery, she got on pretty well, being obedient to the wishes of the supreme power, and even very useful to Mrs. Dyson, by playing at bricks, and thus keeping a little one quiet while its brothers and sisters were being arrayed in gay attire,--lace and muslin, and velvet, and brilliant broad ribbons.
'Now, miss,' said Mrs. Dyson, when her own especial charge were all ready, 'what can I do for you? You have not got another frock here, have you?' No, indeed, she had not; nor if she had had one, would it have been of a smarter nature than her present thick white dimity. So she could only wash her face and hands, and submit to the nurse's brushing and perfuming her hair. She thought she would rather have stayed in the park all night long, and slept under the beautiful quiet cedar, than have to undergo the unknown ordeal of 'going down to dessert,' which was evidently regarded both by children and nurses as the event of the day. At length there was a summons from a footman, and Mrs. Dyson, in a rustling silk gown, marshalled her convoy, and set sail for the dining-room door.
There was a large party of gentlemen and ladies sitting round the decked table, in the brilliantly lighted room. Each dainty little child ran up to its mother, or aunt, or particular friend; but Molly had no one to go to.
'Who is that tall girl in the thick white frock? Not one of the children of the house, I think?'
The lady addressed put up her glass, gazed at Molly, and dropped it in an instant. 'A French girl, I should imagine. I know Lady Cuxhaven was inquiring for one to bring up with her little girls, that they might get a good accent early. Poor little woman, she looks wild and strange!' And the speaker, who sate next to Lord Cumnor, made a little sign to Molly to come to her; Molly crept up to her as to the first shelter; but when the lady began talking to her in French, she blushed violently, and said, in a very low voice,--
'I don't understand French. I'm only Molly Gibson, ma'am.'
'Molly Gibson!' said the lady, out loud; as if that was not much of an explanation.
Lord Cumnor caught the words and the tone.
'Oh, ho!' said he. 'Are you the little girl who has been sleeping in my bed?'
He imitated the deep voice of the fabulous bear, who asks this question of the little child in the story; but Molly had never read the 'Three Bears,' and fancied that his anger was real; she trembled a little, and drew nearer to the kind lady who had beckoned her as to a refuge. Lord Cumnor was very fond of getting hold of what he fancied was a joke, and working his idea threadbare; so all the time the ladies were in the room he kept on his running fire at Molly, alluding to the Sleeping Beauty, the Seven Sleepers, and any other famous sleeper that came into his head. He had no idea of the misery his jokes were to the sensitive girl, who already thought herself a miserable sinner, for having slept on, when she ought to have been awake. If Molly had been in the habit of putting two and two together, she might have found an excuse for herself, by remembering that Mrs. Kirkpatrick had promised faithfully to awaken her in time; but all the girl thought of was, how little they wanted her in this grand house; how she must seem like a careless intruder who had no business there. Once or twice she wondered where her father was, and whether he was missing her; but the thought of the familiar happiness of home brought such a choking in her throat, that she felt she must not give way to it, for fear of bursting out crying; and she had instinct enough to feel that, as she was left at the Towers, the less trouble she gave, the more she kept herself out of observation, the better.
She followed the ladies out of the dining-room, almost hoping that no one would see her. But that was impossible, and she immediately became the subject of conversation between the awful Lady Cumnor and her kind neighbour at dinner.
'Do you know, I thought this young lady was French when I first saw
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