A Fluke, and what came of it

The honour and glory of having a lover of her own was soon to fall to Molly’s share; though, to be sure, it was a little deduction from the honour, that the man who came with the full intention of proposing to her ended by making Cynthia an offer. It was Mr. Coxe, who came back to Hollingford to follow out the purpose he had announced to Mr. Gibson nearly two years before, of inducing Molly to become his wife, as soon as he should have succeeded to his uncle’s estate. He was now a rich, though still a red-haired, young man. He came to the George Inn, bringing his horses and his groom; not that he was going to ride much, but that he thought such outward signs of his riches might help on his suit; and he was so justly modest in his estimation of himself, that he believed that he needed all extraneous aid. He piqued himself on his constancy; although, indeed, considering that he had been so much restrained by his duty and affection to, and his expectations from, his crabbed old uncle, that he had not been able to go much into society, and very rarely indeed into the company of young ladies, such fidelity to Molly was not very meritorious, except in his own eyes. Mr. Gibson too was touched by it, and made it a point of honour to give him a fair field, all the time sincerely hoping that Molly would not be such a goose as to lend a willing ear to a youth who could never remember the difference between apophysis and epiphysis. He thought it as well not to tell his wife more of Mr. Coxe’s antecedents than that he had been a former pupil; who had relinquished (“all that he knew of”, understood) the medical profession, because an old uncle had left him enough of money to be idle. Mrs. Gibson, who felt that she had somehow lost her place in her husband’s favour, took it into her head that she could reinstate herself if she was successful in finding a good match for his daughter Molly. She knew that he had forbidden her to try for this end, as distinctly as words could express a meaning; but her own words so seldom expressed her meaning, or, if they did, she held to her opinions so loosely, that she had no idea but that it was the same with other people. Accordingly, she gave Mr. Coxe a very sweet and gracious welcome.

“It is such a pleasure to me to make acquaintance with the former pupils of my husband. He has spoken to me so often of you that I quite feel as if you were one of the family, as indeed I am sure that Mr. Gibson considers you.”

Mr. Coxe felt much flattered, and took the words as a happy omen for his love-affair. “Is Miss Gibson in?” asked he, blushing violently. “I knew her formerly—that is to say, I lived in the same house with her, for more than two years, and it would be a great pleasure to—to—”

“Certainly, I am sure she will be so glad to see you. I sent her and Cynthia—you don’t know my daughter Cynthia, I think, Mr. Coxe? she and Molly are such great friends— out for a brisk walk this frosty day; but I think they will soon come back.” She went on saying agreeable nothings to the young man, who received her attentions with a certain complacency, but was all the time much more engaged in listening to the well-remembered click at the front door— the shutting it to again with household care, and the sound of the familiar bounding footstep on the stair. At last they came. Cynthia entered first, bright and blooming, fresh colour in her cheeks and lips, fresh brilliance in her eyes. She looked startled at the sight of a stranger, and for an instant she stopped short at the door, as if taken by surprise. Then in came Molly softly behind her, smiling, happy, dimpled; but not such a glowing beauty as Cynthia.

“Oh, Mr. Coxe, is it you?” said she, going up to him with an outstretched hand, and greeting him with simple friendliness.

“Yes; it seems such a long time since I saw you. You are so much grown—so much—well, I suppose I mustn’t say what,” he replied, speaking hurriedly, and holding her hand all the time, rather to her discomfiture. Then Mrs. Gibson introduced her daughter, and the two girls spoke of the enjoyment of their walk. Mr. Coxe marred his cause in that very first interview, if indeed he ever could have had any chance, by his precipitancy in showing his feelings; and Mrs. Gibson helped him to mar it by trying to assist him. Molly lost her open friendliness of manner, and began to shrink away from him in a way which he thought was a very ungrateful return for all his faithfulness to her these two years past; and, after all, she was not the wonderful beauty his fancy or his love had painted her. That Miss Kirkpatrick was far more beautiful and much easier of access. For Cynthia put on all her pretty airs—her look of intent interest in what any one was saying to her, let the subject be what it would, as if it was the thing she cared most about in the

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