Hollingford in a Bustle

All Hollingford felt as if there was a great deal to be done before Easter this year. There was Easter proper, which always required new clothing of some kind, for fear of certain consequences from little birds, who were supposed to resent the impiety of those that did not wear some new article of dress on Easter-day. And most ladies considered it wiser that the little birds should see the new article for themselves, and not have to take it upon trust, as they would have to do if it were merely a pocket-handkerchief, or a petticoat, or any article of underclothing. So piety demanded a new bonnet, or a new gown, and was barely satisfied with an Easter pair of gloves. Miss Rose was generally very busy just before Easter in Hollingford. Then this year there was the charity ball. Ashcombe, Hollingford, and Coreham were three neighbouring towns, of about the same number of population, lying at the three equidistant corners of a triangle. In imitation of greater cities with their festivals, these three towns had agreed to have an annual ball for the benefit of the county-hospital, to be held in turn at each place; and Hollingford was to be the place this year.

It was a fine time for hospitality, and every house of any pretension was as full as it could hold, and flys were engaged long months before.

If Mrs. Gibson could have asked Osborne, or in default, Roger Hamley to go to the ball with them and to sleep at their house—or if, indeed, she could have picked up any stray scion of a “county family” to whom such an offer would have been a convenience, she would have restored her own dressing-room to its former use as the spare-room, with pleasure. But she did not think it was worth her while to put herself out for any of the humdrum and ill-dressed women who had been her former acquaintances at Ashcombe. For Mr. Preston it might have been worth while to give up her room, considering him in the light of a handsome and prosperous young man, and a good dancer besides. But there were more lights in which he was to be viewed. Mr. Gibson, who really wanted to return the hospitality shown to him by Mr. Preston at the time of his marriage, had yet an instinctive distaste to the man, which no wish of freeing himself from obligation, nor even the more worthy feeling of hospitality, could overcome. Mrs. Gibson had some old grudges of her own against him, but she was not one to retain angry feelings, or be very active in her retaliation; she was afraid of Mr. Preston, and admired him at the same time. It was awkward too—so she said—to go into a ballroom without any gentleman at all, and Mr. Gibson was so uncertain! On the whole—partly for this last-given reason, and partly because conciliation was the best policy, Mrs. Gibson was slightly in favour of inviting Mr. Preston to be their guest. But, as soon as Cynthia heard the question discussed—or rather, as soon as she heard it discussed in Mr. Gibson’s absence—she said that if Mr. Preston came to be their visitor on the occasion, she for one would not go to the ball at all. She did not speak with vehemence or in anger; but with such quiet resolution that Molly looked up in surprise. She saw that Cynthia was keeping her eyes fixed on her work, and that she had no intention of meeting any one’s gaze, or giving any further explanation. Mrs. Gibson, too, looked perplexed, and once or twice seemed on the point of asking some question; but she was not angry, as Molly had fully expected. She watched Cynthia furtively and in silence for a minute or two, and then said that, after all, she could not conveniently give up her dressing-room; and, altogether, they had better say no more about it. So no stranger was invited to stay at Mr. Gibson’s at the time of the ball; but Mrs. Gibson openly spoke of her regret at the unavoidable inhospitality, and hoped that they might be able to build an addition to their house before the next triennial Hollingford gaiety.

Another cause of unusual bustle at Hollingford this Easter was the expected return of the family to the Towers, after their unusually long absence. Mr. Sheepshanks might be seen trotting up and down on his stout old cob, speaking to attentive masons, plasterers, and glaziers about putting everything—on the outside at least—about the cottages belonging to “my lord,” in perfect repair. Lord Cumnor owned the greater part of the town; and those who lived under other landlords, or in houses of their own, were stirred up by the dread of contrast to do up their dwellings. So the ladders of white-washers and painters were sadly in the way of the ladies tripping daintily along to make their purchases, and holding their gowns up in a bunch behind, after a fashion quite gone out in these days. The housekeeper and steward from the Towers might also be seen coming in to give orders at the various shops; and stopping here and there at those kept by favourites, to avail themselves of the eagerly-tendered refreshments.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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