Scandal and its Victims

When Mr. Gibson returned to Hollingford, he found an accumulation of business waiting for him, and he was much inclined to complain of the consequences of the two days’ comparative holiday, which had resulted in over-work for the week to come. He had hardly time to speak to his family, he had so immediately to rush off to pressing cases of illness. But Molly managed to arrest him in the hall, standing there with his greatcoat held out ready for him to put on, but whispering as she did so—

“Papa! Mr. Osborne Hamley was here to see you yesterday. He looks very ill, and he’s evidently frightened about himself.”

Mr. Gibson faced about, and looked at her for a moment; but all he said was—

“I’ll go and see him; don’t tell your mother where I am gone; you’ve not mentioned this to her, I hope?”

“No,” said Molly, for she had only told Mrs. Gibson of Osborne’s call, not of the occasion for it.

“Don’t say anything about it; there’s no need. Now I think of it, I can’t possibly go to-day—but I will go.”

Something in her father’s manner disheartened Molly, who had persuaded herself that Osborne’s evident illness was partly “nervous,” by which she meant imaginary. She had dwelt upon his looks of enjoyment at Miss Phœbe’s perplexity, and thought that no one really believing himself to be in danger could have given the merry glances which he had done; but, after seeing the seriousness of her father’s face, she recurred to the shock she had experienced on first seeing Osborne’s changed appearance. All this time Mrs. Gibson was busy reading a letter from Cynthia which Mr. Gibson had brought from London; for every opportunity of private conveyance was seized upon, when postage was so high; and Cynthia had forgotten so many things in her hurried packing, that she now sent a list of the clothes which she required. Molly almost wondered that it had not come to her; but she did not understand the sort of reserve that was springing up in Cynthia’s mind towards her. Cynthia herself struggled with the feeling, and tried to fight against it by calling herself “ungrateful;” but the truth was, she believed that she no longer held her former high place in Molly’s estimation, and she could not help turning away from one who knew things to her discredit. She was fully aware of Molly’s prompt decision and willing action, where action was especially disagreeable, on her behalf; she knew that Molly would never bring up the past errors and difficulties; but still, the consciousness that the good, straightforward girl had learnt that Cynthia had been guilty of so much underhand work cooled her regard, and restrained her willingness of intercourse. Reproach herself with ingratitude as she would, she could not help feeling glad to be away from Molly; it was awkward to speak to her as if nothing had happened; it was awkward to write to her about forgotten ribbons and laces, when their last conversation had been on such different subjects, and had called out such vehement expressions of feeling. So Mrs. Gibson held the list in her hand, and read out the small fragments of news that were intermixed with notices of Cynthia’s requirements.

“Helen cannot be so very ill,” said Molly at length, “or Cynthia would not want her pink muslin and daisy wreath.”

“I don’t see that that follows, I’m sure,” replied Mrs. Gibson rather sharply. “Helen would never be so selfish as to tie Cynthia to her side, however ill she was. Indeed, I should not have felt that it was my duty to let Cynthia go to London at all, if I had thought she was to be perpetually exposed to the depressing atmosphere of a sick-room. Besides, it must be so good for Helen to have Cynthia coming in with bright pleasant accounts of the parties she has been to—even if Cynthia disliked gaiety, I should desire her to sacrifice herself and go out as much as she could, for Helen’s sake. My idea of nursing is that one should not be always thinking of one’s own feelings and wishes, but doing those things which will most serve to beguile the weary hours of an invalid. But then so few people have had to consider the subject so deeply as I have done!”

Mr. Gibson here thought fit to sigh, before going on with Cynthia’s letter. As far as Molly could make any sense out of this rather incoherent epistle, very incoherently read aloud to her, Cynthia was really pleased, and glad to be of use and comfort to Helen, but at the same time very ready to be easily persuaded

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