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- Wives and Daughters - 6/139 -
'Is that what you've learnt from the grand company you've been keeping to-day? I expected to find you so polite and ceremonious, that I read a few chapters of _Sir Charles Grandison_, in order to bring myself up to concert pitch.'
'Oh, I do hope I shall never be a lord or a lady.'
'Well, to comfort you, I'll tell you this. I am sure you'll never be a lord; and I think the chances are a thousand to one against your ever being the other, in the sense in which you mean.'
'I should lose myself every time I had to fetch my bonnet, or else get tired of long passages and great staircases long before I could go out walking.'
'But you'd have your lady's-maid, you know.'
'Do you know, papa, I think lady's-maids are worse than ladies. I should not mind being a housekeeper so much.'
'No! the jam-cupboards and dessert would lie very conveniently to one's hand,' replied her father, meditatively. 'But Mrs. Brown tells me that the thought of the dinners often keeps her from sleeping; there's that anxiety to be taken into consideration. Still, in every condition of life there are heavy cares and responsibilities.'
'Well! I suppose so,' said Molly, gravely. 'I know Betty says I wear her life out with the green stains I get in my frocks from sitting in the cherry-tree.'
'And Miss Browning said she had fretted herself into a headache with thinking how they had left you behind. I am afraid you'll be as bad as a bill of fare to them to-night. How did it all happen, goosey?'
'Oh, I went by myself to see the gardens; they are so beautiful! and I lost myself, and sate down to rest under a great tree; and Lady Cuxhaven and that Mrs. Kirkpatrick came; and Mrs. Kirkpatrick brought me some lunch, and then put me to sleep on her bed,--and I thought she would waken me in time, and she did not; and so they'd all gone away; and when they planned for me to stop till to-morrow, I didn't like saying how very, very much I wanted to go home,--but I kept thinking how you would wonder where I was.'
'Then it was rather a dismal day of pleasure, goosey, eh?'
'Not in the morning. I shall never forget the morning in that garden. But I was never so unhappy in all my life, as I have been all this long afternoon.'
Mr. Gibson thought it his duty to ride round by the Towers, and pay a visit of apology and thanks to the family, before they left for London. He found them all on the wing, and no one was sufficiently at liberty to listen to his grateful civilities but Mrs. Kirkpatrick, who, although she was to accompany Lady Cuxhaven, and pay a visit to her former pupil, made leisure enough to receive Mr. Gibson, on behalf of the family; and assured him of her faithful remembrance of his great professional attention to her in former days in the most winning manner.
MOLLY GIBSON'S CHILDHOOD
Sixteen years before this time, all Hollingford had been disturbed to its foundations by the intelligence that Mr. Hall, the skilful doctor, who had attended them all their days, was going to take a partner. It was no use reasoning to them on the subject; so Mr Browning the vicar, Mr. Sheepshanks (Lord Cumnor's agent), and Mr Hall himself, the masculine reasoners of the little society, left off the attempt, feeling that the _Che sara sara_ would prove more silencing to the murmurs than many arguments. Mr. Hall had told his faithful patients that, even with the strongest spectacles, his sight was not to be depended upon; and they might have found out for themselves that his hearing was very defective, although, on this point, he obstinately adhered to his own opinion, and was frequently heard to regret the carelessness of people's communication nowadays, 'like writing on blotting-paper, all the words running into each other,' he would say. And more than once Mr. Hall had had attacks of a suspicious nature,-- 'rheumatism' he used to call them; but he prescribed for himself as if they had been gout,--which had prevented his immediate attention to imperative summonses. But, blind and deaf, and rheumatic as he might be, he was still Mr. Hall, the doctor who could heal all their ailments--unless they died meanwhile--and he had no right to speak of growing old, and taking a partner.
He went very steadily to work all the same; advertising in medical journals, reading testimonials, sifting character and qualifications; and just when the elderly maiden ladies of Hollingford thought that they had convinced their contemporary that he was as young as ever, he startled them by bringing his new partner, Mr. Gibson, to call upon them, and began 'slyly,' as these ladies said, to introduce him into practice. And 'who was this Mr Gibson?' they asked, and echo might answer the question, if she liked, for no one else did. No one ever in all his life knew anything more of his antecedents than the Hollingford people might have found out the first day they saw him: that he was tall, grave, rather handsome than otherwise; thin enough to be called 'a very genteel figure,' in those days, before muscular Christianity had come into vogue; speaking with a slight Scotch accent; and, as one good lady observed, 'so very trite in his conversation,' by which she meant sarcastic. As to his birth, parentage, and education,--the favourite conjecture of Hollingford society was, that he was the illegitimate son of a Scotch duke, by a Frenchwoman; and the grounds for this conjecture were these:--He spoke with a Scotch accent; therefore, he must be Scotch. He had a very genteel appearance, an elegant figure, and was apt--so his ill-wishers said--to give himself airs. Therefore, his father must have been some person of quality; and, that granted, nothing was easier than to run this supposition up all the notes of the scale of the peerage,--baronet, baron, viscount, earl, marquis, duke. Higher they dared not go, though one old lady, acquainted with English history, hazarded the remark, that 'she believed that one or two of the Stuarts--hem--had not always been,-- ahem--quite correct in their--conduct; and she fancied such--ahem-- things ran in families.' But, in popular opinion, Mr. Gibson's father always remained a duke; nothing more.
Then his mother must have been a Frenchwoman, because his hair was so black; and he was so sallow; and because he had been in Paris. All this might be true, or might not; nobody ever knew, or found out anything more about him than what Mr. Hall told them, namely, that his professional qualifications were as high as his moral character, and that both were far above the average, as Mr. Hall had taken pains to ascertain before introducing him to his patients. The popularity of this world is as transient as its glory, as Mr. Hall found out before the first year of his partnership was over. He had plenty of leisure left to him now to nurse his gout and cherish his eyesight. The younger doctor had carried the day; nearly every one sent for Mr Gibson now; even at the great houses--even at the Towers, that greatest of all, where Mr. Hall had introduced his new partner with fear and trembling, with untold anxiety as to his behaviour, and the impression he might make on my lord the Earl, and MY lady the Countess. Mr. Gibson was received at the end of a twelvemonth with as much welcome respect for his professional skill as Mr. Hall himself had ever been. Nay--and this was a little too much for even the kind old doctor's good temper--Mr. Gibson had even been invited once to dinner at the Towers, to dine with the great Sir Astley, the head of the profession! To be sure, Mr. Hall had been asked as well; but he was laid up just then with his gout, since he had had a partner the rheumatism had been allowed to develop itself, and he had not been able to go. Poor Mr. Hall never quite got over this mortification; after it he allowed himself to become dim of sight and hard of hearing, and kept pretty closely to the house during the two winters that remained of his life. He sent for an orphan grand- niece to keep him company in his old age; he, the woman-contemning old bachelor, became thankful for the cheerful presence of the pretty, bonny Mary Preston, who was good and sensible, and nothing more. She formed a close friendship with the daughters of the vicar, Mr. Browning, and Mr. Gibson found time to become very intimate with all three. Hollingford speculated much on which young lady would become Mrs Gibson, and was rather sorry when the talk about possibilities, and the gossip about probabilities with regard to the handsome young surgeon's marriage, ended in the most natural manner in the world, by his marrying his predecessor's niece. The two Miss Brownings showed no signs of going into a consumption on the occasion, although their looks and manners were carefully watched. On the contrary, they were rather boisterously merry at the wedding, and poor Mrs. Gibson it was that died of consumption, four or five years after her marriage--three years after the death of her great-uncle, and when her only child, Molly, was just three years old.
Mr. Gibson did not speak much about the grief at the loss of his wife, which it is to be supposed that he felt. Indeed, he avoided all demonstration of sympathy, and got up hastily and left the room when Miss Phoebe Browning first saw him after his loss, and burst into an uncontrollable flood of tears, which threatened to end in hysterics. Miss Browning afterwards said she never could forgive him for his hard- heartedness on that occasion; but a fortnight afterwards she came to very high words with old Mrs. Goodenough, for gasping out her doubts whether Mr. Gibson was a man of deep feeling; judging by the narrowness of his crape hat-band, which ought to have covered his hat, whereas there was at least three inches of beaver to be seen. And, in spite of it all, Miss Browning and Miss Phoebe considered themselves as Mr. Gibson's most intimate friends, in right of their regard for his dead wife, and would fain have taken a quasi-motherly interest in his little girl, had she not been guarded by a watchful dragon in the shape of Betty, her nurse, who was jealous of any interference between her and her charge; and especially resentful and disagreeable towards all those ladies who, by suitable age, rank, or propinquity, she thought capable of 'casting sheep's eyes at master.'
Several years before the opening of this story, Mr. Gibson's position seemed settled for life, both socially and professionally. He was a widower, and likely to remain so; his domestic affections were centred on little Molly, but even to her, in their most private moments, he did not give way to much expression of his feelings; his most caressing appellation for her was 'Goosey,' and he took a pleasure in bewildering her infant mind with his badinage. He had rather a contempt for demonstrative people, arising from his medical insight into the consequences to health of uncontrolled feeling. He deceived himself into believing that still his reason was lord of all, because he had never fallen into the habit of expression on any other than purely intellectual subjects. Molly, however, had her own intuitions to guide her. Though her papa laughed at her, quizzed her, joked at her, in a way which the Miss Brownings called 'really cruel' to each other when they were quite alone, Molly took her little griefs and pleasures, and poured them into her papa's ears, sooner even than into Betty's, that kind-hearted termagant. The child grew to understand her father well,
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