Drifting into Danger

On Thursday, the quiet country-household was stirred through all its fibres with the thought of Roger’s coming home. Mrs. Hamley had not seemed quite so well, or quite in such good spirits for two or three days before; and the Squire himself had appeared to be put out without any visible cause. They had not chosen to tell Molly that Osborne’s name had only appeared very low down in the mathematical tripos. So all that their visitor knew was that something was out of tune, and she hoped that Roger’s coming home would set it to rights; for it was beyond the power of her small cares and wiles.

On Thursday, the housemaid apologised to her for some slight negligence in her bedroom, by saying she had been busy scouring Mr. Roger’s rooms. “Not but what they were as clean as could be beforehand; but mistress would always have the young gentlemen’s rooms cleaned afresh, before they came home. If it had been Mr. Osborne, the whole house would have had to be done; but, to be sure, he was the eldest son, so it was but likely.” Molly was amused at this testimony to the rights of heirship; but, somehow, she herself had fallen into the family manner of thinking that nothing was too great or too good for “the eldest son.” In his father’s eyes, Osborne was the representative of the ancient house of Hamley of Hamley, the future owner of the land which had been theirs for a thousand years. His mother clung to him, because they two were cast in the same mould, both physically and mentally—because he bore her maiden-name. She had indoctrinated Molly with her faith, and, in spite of her amusement at the housemaid’s speech, the girl visitor would have been as anxious as any one to show her feudal loyalty to the heir, if indeed it had been he that was coming. After luncheon, Mrs. Hamley went to rest, in preparation for Roger’s return; and Molly also retired to her own room, feeling that it would be better for her to remain there until dinner-time, and so to leave the father and mother to receive their boy in privacy. She took a book of MS. poems with her; they were all of Osborne Hamley’s composition, and his mother had read some of them aloud to her young visitor more than once. Molly had asked permission to copy one or two of those which were her greatest favourites; and this quiet summer-afternoon she took this copying for her employment, sitting at the pleasant open window, and losing herself in the dreamy outlooks into the gardens and woods, quivering in the noon-tide heat. The house was so still, in its silence it might have been the “moated grange”; the bomming buzz of the blue flies, in the great staircase window, seemed the loudest noise indoors. And there was scarcely a sound out-of-doors but the humming of bees, in the flower-beds below the window. Distant voices from the far-away fields where they were making hay—the scent of which came in sudden wafts, distinct from that of the nearer roses and honeysuckles—these merry piping voices just made Molly feel the depth of the present silence. She had left off copying, her hand weary with the unusual exertion of so much writing; and she was lazily trying to learn one or two of the poems off by heart.

“I asked of the wind, but answer made it none,
Save its accustomed sad and solitary moan”—

she kept saying to herself, losing her sense of whatever meaning the words had ever had, in the repetition which had become mechanical. Suddenly, there was the snap of a shutting gate; wheels crackling on the dry gravel; horses’ feet on the drive; a loud cheerful voice in the house, coming up through the open windows, the hall, the passages, the staircase, with unwonted fulness and roundness of tone. The entrance- hall downstairs was paved with diamonds of black and white marble; the low wide staircase that went in short flights around the hall, till you could look down upon the marble floor from the top storey of the house, was uncarpeted—uncovered. The Squire was too proud of his beautifully-joined oaken flooring to cover this staircase up unnecessarily; not to say a word of the usual state of want of ready money to expend upon the decorations of his house. So, through the undraperied hollow square of the hall and staircase every sound ascended clear and distinct; and Molly heard the Squire’s glad “Hallo! here he is!” and Madam’s softer, more plaintive voice; and then the loud, full, strange tone, which she knew must be Roger’s. Then there was an opening and shutting of doors, and only a distant buzz of talking. Molly began again—

“I asked of the wind, but answer made it none.”

And this time she had nearly finished learning the poem, when she heard Mrs. Hamley come hastily into her sitting-room that adjoined Molly’s bedroom, and burst out into an irrepressible, half-hysterical

  By PanEris using Melati.

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