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Hollingford; he had a Sunday to spare, and he wrote to offer himself as a visitor to the Gibsons from Friday to Monday, expressing strongly (what he really felt, in a less degree,) his wish to make Mr. Gibson's acquaintance. Mr. Gibson, though often overwhelmed with professional business, was always hospitable; and moreover, it was always a pleasure to him to get out of the somewhat confined mental atmosphere which he had breathed over and over again, and have a whiff of fresh air: a glimpse of what was passing in the great world beyond his daily limits of thought and action. So he was ready to give a cordial welcome to his unknown relation. Mrs. Gibson was in a flutter of sentimental delight, which she fancied was family affection, but which might not have been quite so effervescent if Mr Kirkpatrick had remained in his former position of struggling lawyer, with seven children, living in Doughty Street.
When the two gentlemen met they were attracted towards each other by a similarity of character, with just enough difference in their opinions to make the experience of each, on which such opinions were based, valuable to the other. Mrs. Gibson, although the bond between them, counted for very little in their intercourse. Mr. Kirkpatrick paid her very polite attention; and was, in fact, very glad that she had done so well for herself as to marry a sensible and agreeable man, who was able to keep her in comfort, and to behave to her daughter in so liberal a manner. Molly struck him as a delicate-looking girl, who might be very pretty if she had had a greater look of health and animation: indeed, looking at her critically, there were beautiful points about her face-- long soft grey eyes, black curling eyelashes, rarely-showing dimples, perfect teeth; but there was a languor over all, a slow depression of manner, which contrasted unfavourably with the brightly-coloured Cynthia, sparkling, quick, graceful, and witty. As Mr. Kirkpatrick expressed it afterwards to his wife, he was quite in love with that girl; and Cynthia, as ready to captivate strangers as any little girl of three or four, rose to the occasion, forgot all her cares and despondencies, remembered no longer her regret at having lost something of Mr. Gibson's good opinion, and listened eagerly and made soft replies, intermixed with naive sallies of droll humour, till Mr. Kirkpatrick was quite captivated. He left Hollingford, almost surprised to have performed a duty, and found it a pleasure. For Mrs. Gibson and Molly he had a general friendly feeling; but he did not care if he never saw them again. But for Mr. Gibson he had a warm respect, a strong personal liking, which he should be glad to have ripen into a friendship, if there was time for it in this bustling world. And he fully resolved to see more of Cynthia; his wife must know her; they must have her up to stay with them in London, and show her something of the world. But, on returning home, Mr. Kirkpatrick found so much work awaiting him that he had to lock up embryo friendships and kindly plans in some safe closet of his mind, and give himself up, body and soul, to the immediate work of his profession. But, in May, he found time to take his wife to the Academy Exhibition,' and some portrait there, striking him as being like Cynthia, he told his wife more about her and his visit to Hollingford than he had ever had leisure to do before; and the result was that on the next day a letter was sent off to Mrs. Gibson, inviting Cynthia to pay a visit to her cousins in London, and reminding her of many little circumstances that had occurred when she was with them as a child, so as to carry on the clue of friendship from that time to the present.
On its receipt this letter was greeted in various ways by the four people who sate round the breakfast-table. Mrs. Gibson read it to herself first. Then, without telling what its contents were, so that her auditors were quite in the dark as to what her remarks applied, she said,--
'I think they might have remembered that I am a generation nearer to them than she is, but nobody thinks of family affection now-a-days; and I liked him so much, and bought a new cookery-book, all to make it pleasant and agreeable and what he was used to.' She said all this in a plaintive, aggrieved tone of voice; but as no one knew to what she was referring, it was difficult to offer her consolation. Her husband was the first to speak.
'If you want us to sympathize with you, tell us what is the nature of your woe.'
'Why, I daresay it's what he means as a very kind attention, only I think I ought to have been asked before Cynthia,' said she, reading the letter over again.
'Who's _he_? and what's meant for a "kind attention"?'
'Mr. Kirkpatrick, to be sure. This letter is from him; and he wants Cynthia to go and pay them a visit, and never says anything about you or me, my dear. And I'm sure we did our best to make it pleasant; and he should have asked us first, I think.'
'As I could not possibly have gone, it makes very little difference to me.'
'But I could have gone; and, at any rate, he should have paid us the compliment: it's only a proper mark of respect, you know. So ungrateful, too, when I gave up my dressing-room on purpose for him!'
'And I dressed for dinner every day he was here, if we are each to recapitulate all our sacrifices on his behalf. But for all that I did not expect to be invited to his house. I shall be only too glad if he will come again to mine.'
'I've a great mind not to let Cynthia go,' said Mrs. Gibson, reflectively.
'I can't go, mamma,' said Cynthia, colouring. 'My gowns are all so shabby, and my old bonnet must do for this summer.'
'Well, but you can buy a new one; and I'm sure it is high time you should get yourself another silk-gown. You must have been saving up a great deal, for I don't know when you've had any new clothes.'
Cynthia began to say something, but stopped short. She went on buttering her toast, but she held it in her hand without eating it; without looking up either, as, after a minute or two of silence, she spoke again,--
'I cannot go. I should like it very much; but I really cannot go. Please, mamma, write at once, and refuse it.'
'Nonsense, child! When a man in Mr. Kirkpatrick's position comes forward to offer a favour, it does not do to decline it without giving a sufficient reason. So kind of him as it is, too!'
'Suppose you offer to go instead of me?' proposed Cynthia.
'No, no! that won't do,' said Mr. Gibson, decidedly. 'You can't transfer invitations in that way. But really this excuse about your clothes does appear to be very trivial, Cynthia, if you have no other reason to give.'
'It is a real, true reason to me,' said Cynthia, looking up at him as she spoke. 'You must let me judge for myself. It would not do to go there in a state of shabbiness, for even in Doughty Street, I remember, my aunt was very particular about dress; and now that Margaret and Helen are grown up, and they visit so much,--pray don't say anything more about it, for I know it would not do.'
'What have you done with all your money, I wonder?' said Mrs. Gibson. 'You've twenty pounds a year, thanks to Mr. Gibson and me; and I'm sure you haven't spent more than ten.'
'I had not many things when I came back from France,' said Cynthia, in a low voice, and evidently troubled by all this questioning. 'Pray let it be decided at once; I can't go, and there's an end of it.' She got up, and left the room rather suddenly.
'I don't understand it at all,' said Mrs. Gibson. 'Do you, Molly?'
'No. I know she does not like spending money on her dress, and is very careful.' Molly said this much, and then was afraid she had made mischief.
'But then she must have got the money somewhere. It always has struck me that if you have not extravagant habits, and do not live up to your income, you must have a certain sum to lay by at the end of the year. Have I not often said so, Mr. Gibson?'
'Well, then, apply the same reasoning to Cynthia's case; and then, I ask, what has become of the money?'
'I cannot tell,' said Molly, seeing that she was appealed to. 'She may have given it away to some one who wants it.'
Mr. Gibson put down his newspaper.
'It is very clear that she has neither got the dress nor the money necessary for this London visit, and that she does not want any more inquiries to be made on the subject. She likes mysteries, in fact, and I detest them. Still, I think it is a desirable thing for her to keep up the acquaintance, or friendship, or whatever it is to be called, with her father's family; and I shall gladly give her ten pounds; and if that's not enough, why, either you must help her out, or she must do without some superfluous article of dress or another.'
'I'm sure there never was such a kind, dear, generous man as you are, Mr. Gibson,' said his wife. 'To think of your being a stepfather! and so good to my poor fatherless girl! But, Molly my dear, I think you'll acknowledge that you too are very fortunate in your stepmother. Are not you, love? And what happy tete-a-tetes we shall have together when Cynthia goes to London. I'm not sure if I don't get on better with you even than with her, though she is my own child; for, as dear papa says so truly, there is a love of mystery about her; and if I hate anything, it is the slightest concealment or reserve. Ten pounds! Why, it will quite set her up, buy her a couple of gowns and a new bonnet, and I don't know what all! Dear Mr. Gibson, how generous you are!'
Something very like 'Pshaw!' was growled out from behind the newspaper.
'May I go and tell her?' said Molly, rising up.
'Yes, do, love. Tell her it would be so ungrateful to refuse; and tell her that your father wishes her to go; and tell her, too, that it would be quite wrong not to avail herself of an opening which may by-and-by be extended to the rest of the family. I am sure if they ask me--which certainly they ought to do--I won't say before they asked Cynthia, because I never think of myself, and am really the most forgiving person in the world, in forgiving slights;--but when they do ask me, which they are sure to do, I shall never be content till, by putting in a little hint here and a little hint there, I've induced them to send you an invitation. A month or two in London would do you so much good, Molly.'
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