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 with 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 sarà sarà 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 this 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—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— ahem—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 him now to nurse his gout and cherish his eyesight. The younger doctor had carried the day; nearly every one sent for Mr. Gibson. 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 Pearson, who was

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