Brightening Prospects

It was a day or two afterwards that Mr. Gibson made time to ride round by Hamley, desirous to learn more exact particulars of this scheme for Roger than he could obtain from any extraneous source, and rather puzzled to know whether he should interfere in the project or not. The state of the case was this. Osborne’s symptoms were, in Mr. Gibson’s opinion, signs of his having a fatal disease. Dr. Nicholls had differed from him on this head, and Mr. Gibson knew that the old physician had had long experience, and was considered very skilful in the profession. Still, he believed that he himself was right, and, if so, the complaint was one which might continue for years in the same state as at present, or might end the young man’s life in an hour —a minute. Supposing that Mr. Gibson was right, would it be well for Roger to be away where no sudden calls for his presence could reach him—away for two years? Yet, if the affair was concluded, the interference of a medical man might accelerate the very evil to be feared; and, after all, Dr. Nicholls might be right, and the symptoms might proceed from some other cause. Might? Yes. Probably did? No. Mr. Gibson could not bring himself to say “yes” to this latter form of sentence. So he rode on, meditating; his reins slack, his head a little bent. It was one of those still and lovely autumn days, when the red and yellow leaves are hanging-pegs to dewy, brilliant gossamerwebs; when the hedges are full of trailing brambles, loaded with ripe blackberries; when the air is full of the farewell whistles and pipes of birds, clear and short—not the long full-throated warbles of spring; when the whirr of the partridge’s wing is heard in the stubble-fields, as the sharp hoof-blows fall on the paved lanes; when here and there a leaf floats and flutters down to the ground, although there is not a single breath of wind. The country surgeon felt the beauty of the seasons, perhaps more than most men. He saw more of it by day, by night, in storm and sunshine, or in the still, soft cloudy weather. He never spoke about what he felt on the subject; indeed, he did not put his feelings into words, even to himself. But, if his mood ever approached to the sentimental, it was on such days as this. He rode into the stable-yard, gave his horse to a man, and went into the house by a side entrance. In the passage he met the Squire.

“That’s capital, Gibson! What good wind blew you here? You’ll have some lunch? it’s on the table, I only just this minute left the room.” And he kept shaking Mr. Gibson’s hand all the time till he had placed him, nothing loth, at the well-covered dining-table.

“What’s this I hear about Roger?” said Mr. Gibson, plunging at once into the subject.

“Aha! so you’ve heard, have you? It’s famous, isn’t it? He’s a boy to be proud of, is old Roger! Steady Roger; we used to think him slow, but it seems to me that slow and sure wins the race. But tell me; what have you heard; how much is known? Nay, you must have a glassful! It’s old ale, such as we don’t brew now-a-days; it’s as old as Osborne. We brewed it that autumn, and we called it ‘the young Squire’s ale.’ I thought to have tapped it on his marriage; but I don’t know when that will come to pass, so we’ve tapped it now in Roger’s honour.”

The old Squire had evidently been enjoying “the young Squire’s ale” to the verge of prudence. It was indeed, as he said, “as strong as brandy”; and Mr. Gibson had to sip it very carefully, as he ate his cold roast-beef.

“Well! and what have you heard? There’s a deal to hear, and all good news; though I shall miss the lad, I know that.”

“I did not know that it was settled; I only heard that it was in progress.”

“Well, it was only in progress, as you call it, till last Tuesday. He never let me know anything about it, though; he says he thought I might be fidgety with thinking of the pros and cons. So I never knew a word on’t till I had a letter from my Lord Hollingford—where is it?” pulling out a great black leathern receptacle for all manner of papers. And, putting on his spectacles, he read aloud their headings.

“ ‘Measurement of timber,’—‘new railways,’ ‘drench for cows, from Farmer Hayes,’ ‘Dobson’s accounts,’—’um ’um— here it is. Now, read that letter!” handing it to Mr. Gibson.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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