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 was supposed that he felt. Indeed, he avoided all demonstrations of sympathy, and got up hastily and left the room, when Miss Phœbe Browning first saw him after his loss, and burst into an uncontrollable flood of tears, which threatened to end in hysterics. Miss Browning declared 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 Phœbe considered themselves as Mr. Gibson’s most intimate friends, in right of their regard for his dead wife; and they 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 whom, by suitable age, rank, or propinquity, she thought capable of “casting sheeps’ 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, and the two had the most delightful intercourse together—half banter, half seriousness, but altogether confidential friendship. Mr. Gibson kept three servants: Betty, a cook, and a girl who was supposed to be housemaid, but who was under both the elder two, and had a pretty life of it in consequence. Three servants would not have been required if it had not been Mr. Gibson’s habit, as it had been Mr. Hall’s before him, to take two “pupils”, as they were called in the genteel language of Hollingford—“apprentices” as they were in fact, being bound by indentures, and paying a handsome premium to learn their business. They lived in the house, and occupied an uncomfortable, ambiguous, or, as Miss Browning called it with some truth, “amphibious”, position. They had their meals with Mr. Gibson and Molly, and were felt to be terribly in the way; Mr. Gibson not being a man who could make conversation, and hating the duty of talking under restraint. Yet something within him made him wince, as if his duties were not rightly performed, when, as the cloth was drawn, the two awkward lads rose up with joyful alacrity; gave him a nod, which was to be interpreted as a bow; knocked against each other in their endeavours to get out of the dining-room quickly; and then might be heard dashing along a passage which led to the surgery, choking with half-suppressed laughter. Yet the annoyance he felt at this dull sense of imperfectly-fulfilled duties only made his sarcasms on their inefficiency, or stupidity, or ill-manners, more bitter than before.

Beyond direct professional instruction, he did not know what to do with the succession of pairs of young men, whose mission seemed to be to be plagued by their master consciously, and to plague him unconsciously.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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