Mr. Gibson's Neighbours

Molly grew up among these quiet people in calm monotony of life, without any greater event than that which has been recorded—the being left behind at the Towers—until she was nearly seventeen. She had become a visitor at the school, but she had never gone again to the annual festival at the great house; it was easy to find some excuse for keeping away, and the recollection of that day was not a pleasant one on the whole, though she often thought how much she should like to see the gardens again.

Lady Agnes was married; there was only Lady Harriet remaining at home; Lord Hollingford, the eldest son, had lost his wife, and was a good deal more at the Towers since he had become a widower. He was a tall, ungainly man, considered to be as proud as his mother, the countess; but, in fact, he was only shy, and slow at making commonplace speeches. He did not know what to say to people whose daily habits and interests were not the same as his; he would have been very thankful for a hand-book of small-talk, and would have learnt off his sentences with good-humoured diligence. He often envied the fluency of his garrulous father, who delighted in talking to everybody, and was perfectly unconscious of the incoherence of his conversation. But, owing to his constitutional reserve and shyness, Lord Hollingford was not a popular man, although his kindness of heart was very great, his simplicity of character extreme, and his scientific acquirements considerable enough to entitle him to much reputation in the European republic of learned men. In this respect Hollingford was proud of him. The inhabitants knew that the great, grave, clumsy heir to its fealty was highly esteemed for his wisdom; and that he had made one or two discoveries, though in what direction they were not quite sure. But it was safe to point him out to strangers visiting the little town, as “That’s Lord Hollingford—the famous Lord Hollingford, you know; you must have heard of him, he is so scientific.” If the strangers knew his name, they also knew his claims to fame; if they did not, ten to one but they would appear as if they did, and so conceal not only their own ignorance, but that of their companions, as to the exact nature of the sources of his reputation.

He was left a widower with two or three boys. They were at a public school; so that their companionship could make the house in which he had passed his married life but little of a home to him, and he consequently spent much of his time at the Towers; where his mother was proud of him, and his father very fond, but ever so little afraid of him. His friends were always welcomed by Lord and Lady Cumnor; the former, indeed, was in the habit of welcoming everybody everywhere; but it was a proof of Lady Cumnor’s real affection for her distinguished son, that she allowed him to ask what she called “all sorts of people” to the Towers. “All sorts of people” meant really those who were distinguished for science and learning, without regard to rank; and, it must be confessed, without much regard to polished manners likewise.

Mr. Hall, Mr. Gibson’s predecessor, had always been received with friendly condescension by my lady, who had found him established as the family medical man, when first she came to the Towers on her marriage; but she never thought of interfering with his custom of taking his meals, if he needed refreshment, in the housekeeper’s room, not with the housekeeper, bien entendu. The comfortable, clever, stout. and red-faced doctor would very much have preferred this, even if he had had the choice given him (which he never had) of taking his “snack,” as he called it, with my lord and my lady, in the grand dining- room. Of course, if some great surgical gun (like Sir Astley) was brought down from London to bear on the family’s health, it was due to him, as well as to the local medical attendant, to ask Mr. Hall to dinner, in a formal ceremonious manner; on which occasion Mr. Hall buried his chin in voluminous folds of white muslin, put on his knee-breeches, with bunches of ribbon at the sides, his silk stockings and buckled shoes, and otherwise made himself excessively uncomfortable in his attire, and went forth in state in a post-chaise from the “Cumnor Arms,” consoling himself in the private corner of his heart for the discomfort he was enduring with the idea of how well it would sound the next day in the ears of the squires whom he was in the habit of attending: “Yesterday at dinner the earl said,” or “the countess remarked,” or “I was surprised to hear when I was dining at the Towers yesterday.” But somehow things had changed since Mr. Gibson had become “the doctor” par excellence at Hollingford. Miss Brownings thought that it was because he had such an elegant figure, and “such a distinguished manner;” Mrs. Goodenough, “because of his aristocratic connections”—“the son of a Scotch duke, my dear, never mind on which side of the blanket.” But the fact was certain; although he might frequently ask Mrs. Brown to give him something to eat in the housekeeper’s room—he had no time for all the fuss and ceremony of

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