The Bride at Home

Among the “county-people” (as Mrs. Gibson termed them) who called upon her as a bride, were the two young Mr. Hamleys. The Squire, their father, had done his congratulations, as far as he ever intended to do them, to Mr. Gibson himself when he came to the Hall; but Mrs. Hamley, unable to go and pay visits herself, anxious to show attention to her kind doctor’s new wife, and with perhaps a little sympathetic curiosity as to how Molly and her stepmother got on together, made her sons ride over to Hollingford with her cards and apologies. They came into the newly-furnished drawing-room, looking bright and fresh from their ride: Osborne first, as usual, perfectly dressed for the occasion, and with the sort of fine manner which state so well upon him; Roger, looking like a strong-built, cheerful, intelligent country-farmer, followed in his brother’s train. Mrs. Gibson was dressed for receiving callers, and made the effect she always intended to produce, of a very pretty woman, no longer in her first youth, but with such soft manners and such a caressing voice that people forgot to wonder what her real age might be. Molly was better dressed than formerly; her stepmother saw after that. She disliked anything old or shabby, or out of taste about her; it hurt her eye; and she had already fidgeted Molly into a new amount of care about the manner in which she put on her clothes, arranged her hair, and was gloved and shod. Mrs. Gibson had tried to put her through a course of rosemary washes and creams in order to improve her tanned complexion; but about that Molly was either forgetful or rebellious, and Mrs. Gibson could not well come up to the girl’s bed-room every night and see that she daubed her face and neck over with the cosmetics so carefully provided for her. Still, her appearance was extremely improved, even to Osborne’s critical eye. Roger sought rather to discover in her looks and expression whether she was happy or not; his mother had especially charged him to note all these signs.

Osborne and Mrs. Gibson made themselves agreeable to each other, according to the approved fashion when a young man calls on a middle-aged bride. They talked of the “Shakspeare and musical glasses” of the day, each vieing with the other in their knowledge of London topics. Molly heard fragments of their conversation, in the pauses of silence between Roger and herself. Her hero was coming out in quite a new character; no longer literary or poetical, or romantic or critical, he was now full of the last new play, of the singers at the opera. He had the advantage over Mrs. Gibson, who, in fact, only spoke of these things from hearsay, from listening to the talk at the Towers; while Osborne had run up from Cambridge two or three times to hear this, or to see that, wonder of the season. But she had the advantage over him in greater boldness of invention to eke out her facts; and, besides, she had more skill in the choice and arrangement of her words, so as to make it appear as if the opinions that were in reality quotations were formed by herself from actual experience of personal observation; for instance, in speaking of the mannerisms of a famous Italian singer, she would ask—

“Did you observe her constant trick of heaving her shoulders and clasping her hands together, before she took a high note?”—which was so said as to imply that Mrs. Gibson herself had noticed this trick. Molly, who had a pretty good idea by this time of how her stepmother had passed the last year of her life, listened with no small bewilderment to this conversation; but at length decided that she must have misunderstood what they were saying, as she could not gather up the missing links, because of the necessity of replying to Roger’s questions and remarks. Osborne was not the same Osborne he was when with his mother at the Hall.

Roger saw Molly glancing at his brother.

“You think my brother looking ill?” said he, lowering his voice.

“No—not exactly.”

“He is not well. Both my father and I are anxious about him. That run on the Continent did him harm, instead of good; and his disappointment at his examination has told upon him, I’m afraid.”

“I was not thinking he looked ill; only changed somehow.”

“He says he must go back to Cambridge soon. Possibly it may do him good; and I shall be off next week. This is a farewell visit to you, as well as one of congratulation to Mrs. Gibson.”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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