The Half-sisters

It appeared as if Mrs. Gibson’s predictions were likely to be verified; for Osborne Hamley found his way to her drawing-room pretty frequently. To be sure, sometimes prophets can help on the fulfilment of their own prophecies; and Mrs. Gibson was not passive.

Molly was altogether puzzled by his manners and ways. He spoke of occasional absences from the Hall, without exactly saying where he had been. But that was not her idea of the conduct of a married man; who, she imagined, ought to have a house and servants, and pay rent and taxes, and live with his wife. Who this mysterious wife might be, faded into insignificance before the wonder of where she was. London, Cambridge, Dover, nay, even France, were mentioned by him as places to which he had been no these different little journeys. These facts came out quite casually, almost as if he was unaware of what he was betraying. Sometimes he dropped out such sentences as these:—“Ah, that would be the day I was crossing! It was stormy indeed! Instead of our being only two hours, we were nearly five.” Or, “I met Lord Hollingford at Dover last week, and he said,” &c. “The cold now is nothing to what it was in London on Thursday—the thermometer was down at 15°.” Perhaps, in the rapid flow of conversation, these small revelations were noticed by no one but Molly; whose interest and curiosity were always hovering over the secret she had become possessed of, in spite of all her self-reproach for allowing her thoughts to dwell on what was still to be kept as a mystery.

It was also evident to her that Osborne was not too happy at home. He had lost the slight touch of cynicism which he had affected when he was expected to do wonders at college; and that was one good result of his failure. If he did not give himself the trouble of appreciating other people and their performances, at any rate his conversation was not so amply sprinkled with critical pepper. He was more absent, not so agreeable, Mrs. Gibson thought, but did not say. He looked ill in health; but that might be the consequence of the real depression of spirits which Molly occasionally saw peeping out through all his pleasant surface- talk. Now and then, when he was talking directly to her, he referred to “the happy days that are gone” or “to the time when my mother was alive”; and then his voice sank, and a gloom came over his countenance, and Molly longed to express her own deep sympathy. He did not often mention his father; and Molly thought she could read in his manner, when he did, that something of the painful restraint she had noticed, when she was last at the Hall, still existed between them. Nearly every particular she knew of the family interior she had heard from Mrs. Hamley, and she was uncertain how far her father was acquainted with them; so she did not like to question him too closely; nor was he a man to be so questioned as to the domestic affairs of his patients. Sometimes she wondered if it was a dream—that short half-hour in the library at Hamley Hall—when she had learnt a fact which seemed so all-important to Osborne, yet which made so little difference in his way of life—either in speech or action. During the twelve or fourteen hours that she had remained at the Hall afterwards, no further allusion had been made to his marriage, either by himself or by Roger. It was, indeed, very like a dream. Probably Molly would have been rendered much more uncomfortable in the possession of her secret, if Osborne had struck her as particularly attentive in his devotion to Cynthia. She evidently amused and attracted him, but not in any lively or passionate kind of way. He admired her beauty, and seemed to feel her charm; but he would leave her side, and come to sit near Molly, if anything reminded him of his mother, about which he could talk to her, and to her alone. Yet he came so often to the Gibsons’, that Mrs. Gibson might be excused for the fancy she had taken into her head, that it was for Cynthia’s sake. He liked the lounge, the friendliness, the company of two intelligent girls of beauty and manners above the average; one of whom stood in a peculiar relation to him, as having been especially beloved by the mother whose memory he cherished so fondly. Knowing himself to be out of the category of bachelors, he was, perhaps, too indifferent as to other people’s ignorance and its possible consequences.

Somehow, Molly did not like to be the first to introduce Roger’s name into the conversation; so she lost many an opportunity of hearing intelligence about him. Osborne was often so languid or so absent that he only followed the lead of talk; and, as an awkward fellow, who had paid her no particular attention, and, as a second son, Roger was not pre-eminent in Mrs. Gibson’s thoughts; Cynthia had never seen him, and the freak did not take her often to speak about him. He had not come home since he had obtained his high place in the mathematical lists; that Molly knew; and she knew, too, that he was working hard for something —she supposed a fellowship—and that was all. Osborne’s tone in speaking of him

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