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- Wives and Daughters - 5/139 -

her? she has got the black hair and eyelashes, and grey eyes, and colourless complexion which one meets with in some parts of France, and I knew Lady Cuxhaven was trying to find a well-educated girl who would be a pleasant companion to her children.'

'No!' said Lady Cumnor, looking very stern, as Molly thought. 'She is the daughter of our medical man at Hollingford; she came with the school visitors this morning, and she was overcome by the heat and fell asleep in Clare's room, and somehow managed to oversleep herself, and did not waken up till all the carriages were gone. We will send her home to-morrow morning, but for to-night she must stay here, and Clare is kind enough to say she may sleep with her.'

There was an implied blame running through this speech, that Molly felt like needle-points all over her. Lady Cuxhaven came up at this moment. Her tone was as deep, her manner of speaking as abrupt and authoritative, as her mother's, but Molly felt the kinder nature underneath.

'How are you now, my dear? You look better than you did under the cedar-tree. So you're to stop here to-night? Clare, don't you think we could find some of those books of engravings that would interest Miss Gibson.'

Mrs. Kirkpatrick came gliding up to the place where Molly stood; and began petting her with pretty words and actions, while Lady Cuxhaven turned over heavy volumes in search of one that might interest the girl.

'Poor darling! I saw you come into the dining-room, looking so shy; and I wanted you to come near me, but I could not make a sign to you, because Lord Cuxhaven was speaking to me at the time, telling me about his travels. Ah, here is a nice book--_Lodge's Portraits_; now I'll sit by you and tell you who they all are, and all about them. Don't trouble yourself any more, dear Lady Cuxhaven; I'll take charge of her; pray leave her to me!'

Molly grew hotter and hotter as these last words met her car. If they would only leave her alone, and not labour at being kind to her; would 'not trouble themselves' about her! These words of Mrs Kirkpatrick's seemed to quench the gratitude she was feeling to Lady Cuxhaven for looking for something to amuse her. But, of course, it was a trouble, and she ought never to have been there.

By-and-by, Mrs. Kirkpatrick was called away to accompany Lady Agnes' song; and then Molly really had a few minutes' enjoyment. She could look round the room, unobserved, and, sure, never was any place out of a king's house so grand and magnificent. Large mirrors, velvet curtains, pictures in their gilded frames, a multitude of dazzling lights decorated the vast saloon, and the floor was studded with groups of ladies and gentlemen, all dressed in gorgeous attire. Suddenly Molly bethought her of the children whom she had accompanied into the dining- room, and to whose ranks she had appeared to belong,--where were they? Gone to bed an hour before, at some quiet signal from their mother. Molly wondered if she might go, too--if she could ever find her way back to the haven of Mrs Kirkpatrick's bedroom. But she was at some distance from the door; a long way from Mrs. Kirkpatrick, to whom she felt herself to belong more than to any one else. Far, too, from Lady Cuxhaven, and the terrible Lady Cumnor, and her jocose and good-natured lord. So Molly sate on, turning over pictures which she did not see; her heart growing heavier and heavier in the desolation of all this grandeur. Presently a footman entered the room, and after a moment's looking about him, he went up to Mrs. Kirkpatrick, where she sate at the piano, the centre of the musical portion of the company, ready to accompany any singer, and smiling pleasantly as she willingly acceded to all requests. She came now towards Molly, in her corner, and said to her,--

'Do you know, darling, your papa has come for you, and brought your pony for you to ride home; so I shall lose my little bedfellow, for I suppose you must go.'

Go! was there a question of it in Molly's mind, as she stood up quivering, sparkling, almost crying out loud. She was brought to her senses, though, by Mrs. Kirkpatrick's next words,

'You must go and wish Lady Cumnor good-night, you know, my dear, and thank her ladyship for her kindness to you, She is there, near that statue, talking to Mr. Courtenay.'

Yes! she was there--forty feet away--a hundred miles away! All that blank space had to be crossed; and then a speech to be made!

'Must I go?' asked Molly, in the most pitiful and pleading voice possible.

'Yes; make haste about it; there is nothing so formidable in it, is there?' replied Mrs. Kirkpatrick, in a sharper voice than before, aware that they were wanting her at the piano, and anxious to get the business in hand done as soon as possible.

Molly stood still for a minute, then, looking up, she said, softly,--

'Would you mind coming with me, please?'

'No! not I!' said Mrs. Kirkpatrick, seeing that her compliance was likely to be the most speedy way of getting through the affair; so she took Molly's hand, and, on the way, in passing the group at the piano, she said, smiling, in her pretty genteel manner,--

'Our little friend here is shy and modest, and wants me to accompany her to Lady Cumnor to wish good-night; her father has come for her, and she is going away.'

Molly did not know how it was afterwards, but she pulled her hand out of Mrs. Kirkpatrick's on hearing these words, and going a step or two in advance came up to Lady Cumnor, grand in purple velvet, and dropping a curtsey, almost after the fashion of the school-children, she said,--

'My lady, papa is come, and I am going away; and, my lady, I wish you good-night, and thank you for your kindness. Your ladyship's kindness, I mean,' she said, correcting herself as she remembered Miss Browning's particular instructions as to the etiquette to be observed to earls and countesses, and their honourable progeny, as they were given this morning on the road to the Towers.

She got out of the saloon somehow; she believed afterwards, on thinking about it, that she had never bidden good-by to Lady Cuxhaven, or Mrs. Kirkpatrick, or 'all the rest of them,' as she irreverently styled them in her thoughts.

Mr. Gibson was in the housekeeper's room, when Molly ran in, rather to the stately Mrs. Brown's discomfiture. She threw her arms round her father's neck. 'Oh, papa, papa, papa! I am so glad you have come;' and then she burst out crying, stroking his face almost hysterically as if to make sure he was there.

'Why, what a noodle you are, Molly! Did you think I was going to give up my little girl to live at the Towers all the rest of her life? You make as much work about my coming for you, as if you thought I had. Make haste now, and get on your bonnet. Mrs. Brown, may I ask you for a shawl, or a plaid, or a wrap of some kind to pin about her for a petticoat?'

He did not mention that he had come home from a long round not half an hour before, a round from which he had returned dinnerless and hungry; but, on finding that Molly had not returned from the Towers, he had ridden his tired horse round by Miss Brownings', and found them in self-reproachful, helpless dismay. He would not wait to listen to their tearful apologies; he galloped home, had a fresh horse and Molly's pony saddled, and though Betty called after him with a riding-skirt for the child, when he was not ten yards from his own stable-door, he had refused to turn back for it, but gone off, as Dick the stableman said, 'muttering to himself awful.'

Mrs. Brown had her bottle of wine out, and her plate of cake, before Molly came back from her long expedition to Mrs. Kirkpatrick's room, 'pretty nigh on to a quarter of a mile off,' as the housekeeper informed the impatient father, as he waited for his child to come down arrayed in her morning's finery with the gloss of newness worn off. Mr. Gibson was a favourite in all the Towers' household, as family doctors generally are; bringing hopes of relief at times of anxiety and distress; and Mrs. Brown, who was subject to gout, especially delighted in petting him whenever he would allow her. She even went out into the stable-yard to pin Molly up in the shawl, as she sate upon the rough- coated pony, and hazarded the somewhat safe conjecture,--

'I dare say she'll be happier at home, Mr. Gibson,' as they rode away.

Once out into the park Molly struck her pony, and urged him on as hard as he would go, Mr. Gibson called out at last,--

'Molly! we're coming to the rabbit-holes; it's not safe to go at such a pace. Stop.' And as she drew rein he rode up alongside of her.

'We're getting into the shadow of the trees, and it's not safe riding fast here.'

'Oh! papa, I never was so glad in all my life. I felt like a lighted candle when they're putting the extinguisher on it.'

'Did you? How d'ye know what the candle feels?'

'Oh, I don't know, but I did.' And again, after a pause, she said,-- 'Oh, I am so glad to be here! It is so pleasant riding here in the open free, fresh air, crushing out such a good smell from the dewy grass. Papa! are you there? I can't see you.'

He rode close up alongside of her: he was not sure but what she might be afraid of riding in the dark shadows, so he laid his hand upon hers.

'Oh! I am so glad to feel you,' squeezing his hand hard. 'Papa, I should like to get a chain like Ponto's,' just as long as your longest round, and then I could fasten us two to each end of it, and when I wanted you I could pull, and if you did not want to come, you could pull back again; but I should know you knew I wanted you, and we could never lose each other.'

'I'm rather lost in that plan of yours; the details, as you state them, are a little puzzling; but if I make them out rightly, I am to go about the country, like the donkeys on the common, with a clog fastened to my hind leg.'

'I don't mind your calling me a clog, if only we were fastened together.'

'But I do mind your calling me a donkey,' he replied.

'I never did. At least I did not mean to. But it is such a comfort to know that I may be as rude as I like.'

Wives and Daughters - 5/139

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