Molly Gibson at Hamley Hall

The conversation ended there for the time. Wedding-cake and wine were brought in, and it was Molly’s duty to serve them out. But those last words of Mrs. Goodenough’s tingled in her ears, and she tried to interpret them to her own satisfaction in any way but the obvious one. And that, too, was destined to be confirmed; for, directly after Mrs. Goodenough took her leave, Mrs. Gibson desired Molly to carry away the tray to a table close to an open corner window, where the things might be placed in readiness for any future callers; and underneath this open window went the path from the house-door to the road. Molly heard Mrs. Goodenough saying to her granddaughter—

“That Mrs. Gibson is a deep ’un. There’s Mr. Roger Hamley as like as not to have the Hall estate, and she sends Molly a-visiting”—and then she passed out of hearing. Molly could have burst out crying, with a full sudden conviction of what Mrs. Goodenough had been alluding to: her sense of the impropriety of Molly’s going to visit at the Hall when Roger was at home. To be sure, Mrs. Goodenough was a commonplace, unrefined woman. Mrs. Gibson did not seem to have even noticed the allusion. Mr. Gibson took it all as a matter of course, that Molly should go to the Hall as simply now as she had done before. Roger had spoken of it in so straightforward a manner as showed he had no conception of its being an impropriety—this visit— this visit, until now so happy a subject of anticipation. Molly felt as if she could never speak to any one of the idea to which Mrs. Goodenough’s words had given rise; as if she could never be the first to suggest the notion of impropriety, which pre-supposed what she blushed to think of. Then she tried to comfort herself by reasoning. If it had been forward or indelicate, really improper in the slightest degree, who would have been so ready as her father to put his veto upon it? But reasoning was of no use, after Mrs. Goodenough’s words had put fancies into Molly’s head. The more she bade these fancies begone the more they answered her (as Daniel O’Rourke did the man in the moon, when he bade Dan get off his seat on the sickle, and go into empty space): “The more ye ask us, the more we won’t stir.” One may smile at a young girl’s miseries of this kind; but they are very real and stinging miseries to her. All that Molly could do was to resolve on a single eye to the dear old Squire, and his mental and bodily comforts; to try and heal up any breaches which might have occurred between him and Aimée; and to ignore Roger as much as possible. Good Roger! Kind Roger! Dear Roger! It would be very hard to avoid him as much as was consistent with common politeness; but it would be right to do it; and, when she was with him, she must be as natural as possible, or he might observe some difference; but what was natural? How much ought she to avoid being with him? Would he even notice if she was more chary of his company, more calculating of her words? Alas! the simplicity of their intercourse was spoilt henceforwards! She made laws for herself; she resolved to devote herself to the Squire and to Aimée, and to forget Mrs. Goodenough’s foolish speeches; but her perfect freedom was gone, and with it half her chance—that is to say, half her chance would have been lost with any strangers who had not known her before; they would probably have thought her stiff and awkward, and apt to say things and then retract them. But she was so different from her usual self that Roger noticed the change in her, as soon as she arrived at the Hall. She had carefully measured out the days of her visit; they were to be exactly the same number as she had spent at the Towers. She feared lest, if she stayed a shorter time, the Squire might be annoyed. Yet how charming the place looked in its early autumnal glow, as she drove up! And there was Roger at the hall-door, waiting to receive her, watching for her coming. And then he retreated, apparently to summon his sister-in-law, who came now timidly forwards in her deep widow’s-mourning, holding her boy in her arms as if to protect her shyness; but he struggled down, and ran towards the carriage, eager to greet his friend the coachman, and to obtain a promised ride. Roger did not say much himself; he wanted to make Aimée feel her place as daughter of the house; but she was too timid to speak much. And she only took Molly by the hand and led her into the drawing-room; where, as if by a sudden impulse of gratitude for all the tender nursing she had received during her illness, she put her arms round Molly, and kissed her long and well. And after that they came to be friends.

It was nearly lunch-time, and the Squire always made his appearance at that meal, more for the pleasure of seeing his grandson eat his dinner than for any hunger of his own. To-day, Molly quickly saw the whole state of the family affairs. She thought that, even had Roger said nothing about them at the Towers, she should have seen that neither the father nor the daughter-in-law had as yet found the clue to each other’s characters, although they had now been living for several months in the same house. Aimée seemed to forget her English in her nervousness, and to watch, with the jealous eyes of a dissatisfied mother,

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