Molly Gibson finds a Champion

Lady Cumnor had so far recovered from the violence of her attack, and from the consequent operation, as to be able to be removed to the Towers for change of air; and accordingly she was brought thither by her whole family, with all the pomp and state becoming an invalid peeress. There was every probability that “the family” would make a longer residence at the Towers than they had done for several years, during which time they had been wanderers hither and thither in search of health. Somehow, after all, it was very pleasant and restful to come to the old ancestral home, and every member of the family enjoyed it in his or her own way; Lord Cumnor most especially. His talent for gossip and his love of small details had scarcely fair play in the hurry of a London life, and were much nipped in the bud during his Continental sojournings, as he neither spoke French fluently, nor understood it easily when spoken. Besides, he was a great proprietor, and liked to know how his land was going on; how his tenants were faring in the world. He liked to hear of their births, marriages, and deaths, and had something of a royal memory for faces. In short, if ever a peer was an old woman, Lord Cumnor was that peer; but he was a very good-natured old woman, and rode about on his stout old cob, with his pockets full of half-pence for the children, and little packets of snuff for the old people. Like an old woman, too, he enjoyed an afternoon cup of tea in his wife’s sitting-room, and over his gossip’s beverage he would repeat all that he had learnt in the day. Lady Cumnor was exactly in that state of convalescence when such talk as her lord’s was extremely agreeable to her; but she had condemned the habit of listening to gossip so severely all her life, that she thought it due to consistency to listen first, and enter a supercilious protest afterwards. It had, however, come to be a family habit for all of them to gather together in Lady Cumnor’s room on their return from their daily walks, or drives, or rides, and, over the fire, sipping their tea at her early meal, to recount the morsels of local intelligence they had heard during the morning. When they had said all that they had to say (and not before), they had always to listen to a short homily from her lady-ship on the well-worn texts—the poorness of conversation about persons—the probable falsehood of all they had heard, and the degradation of character implied by its repetition. On one of these November evenings they were all assembled in Lady Cumnor’s room. She was lying—all draped in white, and covered up with an Indian shawl—on a sofa near the fire. Lady Harriet sate on the rug, close before the wood-fire, picking up fallen embers with a pair of dwarf tongs, and piling them on the red and odorous heap in the centre of the hearth. Lady Cuxhaven, a notable from girlhood, was using the blind man’s holiday to net fruit-nets for the walls at Cuxhaven Park. Lady Cumnor’s woman was trying to see to pour out tea by the light of one small wax-candle in the background (for Lady Cumnor could not bear much light to her weakened eyes); and the great leafless branches of the trees outside the house kept sweeping against the windows, moved by the wind that was gathering.

It was always Lady Cumnor’s habit to snub those she loved best. Her husband was perpetually snubbed by her, yet she missed him now that he was later than usual, and professed not to want her tea; but they all knew that it was only because he was not there to hand it to her, and be found fault with for his invariable stupidity in forgetting that she liked to put sugar in, before she took any cream. At length he burst in—

“I beg your pardon, my lady—I’m later than I should have been, I know. Why! haven’t you had your tea yet?” he exclaimed, bustling about to get the cup for his wife.

“You know I never take cream before I’ve sweetened it,” said she, with even more emphasis on the “never” than usual.

“Oh, dear! What a simpleton I am! I think I might have remembered it by this time! You see I met old Sheepshanks, and that’s the reason of it.”

“Of your handing me the cream before the sugar?” asked his wife. It was one of her grim jokes.

“No, no! ha, ha! You’re better this evening, I think, my dear. But, as I was saying, Sheepshanks is such an eternal talker, there’s no getting away from him, and I had no idea it was so late!”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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