Trouble at Hamley Hall

If Molly thought that peace dwelt perpetually at Hamley Hall, she was sorely mistaken. Something was out of tune in the whole establishment; and, for a very unusual thing, the common irritation seemed to have produced a common bond. All the servants were old in their places, and were told by some one of the family, or gathered, from the unheeded conversation carried on before them, everything that affected master or mistress or either of the young gentlemen. Any one of them could have told Molly that the grievance which lay at the root of everything was the amount of the bills run up by Osborne at Cambridge, and which, now that all chance of his obtaining a fellowship was over, came pouring down upon the Squire. But Molly, confident of being told by Mrs. Hamley herself anything which she wished her to hear, encouraged no confidences from any one else.

She was struck with the change in “madam’s” look, as soon as she caught sight of her in the darkened room, lying on the sofa in her dressing-room, all dressed in white, which almost rivalled the white wanness of her face. The Squire ushered Molly in with—

“Here she is at last!” and Molly had scarcely imagined that he had so much variety in the tones of his voice—the beginning of the sentence was spoken in a loud, congratulatory manner, while the last words were scarcely audible. He had seen the death-like pallor on his wife’s face; not a new sight, and one which had been presented to him gradually enough, but which was now always giving him a fresh shock. It was a lovely, tranquil winter’s day; every branch and every twig on the trees and shrubs was glittering with drops of the sun-melted hoar-frost; a robin was perched on a holly-bush, piping cheerily; but the blinds were down, and out of Mrs. Hamley’s windows nothing of all this was to be seen. There was even a large screen placed between her and the wood-fire, to keep off that cheerful blaze. Mrs. Hamley stretched out one hand to Molly, and held hers firm; with the other she shaded her eyes.

“She is not so well this morning,” said the Squire, shaking his head. “But never fear, my dear one; here’s the doctor’s daughter, nearly as good as the doctor himself. Have you had your medicine? Your beef- tea?” he continued, going about on heavy tiptoe and peeping into every empty cup and glass. Then he returned to the sofa; looked at her for a minute or two, and then softly kissed her, and told Molly he would leave her in charge.

As if Mrs. Hamley were afraid of Molly’s remarks or questions, she began in her turn a hasty system of interrogatories.

“Now, dear child, tell me all; it’s no breach of confidence, for I shan’t mention it again, and I shan’t be here long. How does it all go on—the new mother, the good resolutions? let me help you if I can. I think with a girl I could have been of use—a mother does not know boys. But tell me anything you like and will; don’t be afraid of details!”

Even with Molly’s small experience of illness, she saw how much of restless fever there was in this speech; and instinct, or some such gift, prompted her to tell a long story of many things—the wedding-day, her visit to the Miss Brownings’, the new furniture, Lady Harriet, &c., all in an easy flow of talk which was very soothing to Mrs. Hamley, inasmuch as it gave her something to think about beyond her own immediate sorrows. But Molly did not speak of her own grievances, nor of the new domestic relationship. Mrs. Hamley noticed this.

“And you and Mrs. Gibson get on happily together?”

“Not always,” said Molly. “You know we didn’t know much of each other, before we were put to live together.”

“I didn’t like what the Squire told me last night. He was very angry.”

That sore had not yet healed over; but Molly resolutely kept silence, beating her brains to think of some other subject of conversation.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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