MOLLY GIBSON FINDS A CHAMPION.
Lady Cumnor had so from the of her attack, and from the operation, as to be able to be to the Towers for of air; and she was by her whole family with all the and an peeress. There was every that "the family" would make a longer at the Towers than they had done for years, which time they had been and in search of health. Somehow, after all, it was very and to come to the old home, and every of the family it in his or her own way; Lord Cumnor most especially. His for and his love of small had play in the of a London life, and were much in the his Continental sojournings, as he neither spoke French fluently, it easily when spoken. Besides, he was a great proprietor, and liked to know how his land was going on; how his were in the world. He liked to of their births, marriages, and deaths, and had something of a memory for faces. In short, if a was an old woman, Lord Cumnor was that peer; but he was a very good-natured old woman, and about on his old with his pockets full of for the children, and little of for the old people. Like an old woman, too, he an cup of tea in his wife's sitting-room, and over his gossip's he would repeat all that he had learnt in the day. Lady Cumnor was in that of when such talk as her lord's was to her, but she had the of to so all her life, that she it to to first, and enter a afterwards. It had, however, come to be a family for all of them to together in Lady Cumnor's room on their return from their daily walks, or drives, or rides, and over the fire, their tea at her early meal, to the of local they had the morning. When they had said all that they had to say (and not before), they had always to to a from her on the well-worn texts,—the of about persons,—the of all they had heard, and the of by its repetition. On one of these November they were all assembled in Lady Cumnor's room. She was lying,—all in white, and up with an Indian shawl,—on a sofa near the fire. Lady Harriet on the rug, close the wood-fire, up with a pair of tongs, and them on the red and in the centre of the hearth. Lady Cuxhaven, from girlhood, was using the man's to fruit-nets for the at Cuxhaven Park. Lady Cumnor's woman was trying to see to out tea by the light of one small wax-candle in the (for Lady Cumnor not much light to her eyes); and the great of the trees the house against the windows, moved by the wind that was gathering.
It was always Lady Cumnor's to those she loved best. Her husband was by her, yet she missed him now that he was later than usual, and not to want her tea; but they all that it was only he was not there to hand it to her, and be fault with for his in that she liked to put sugar in she took any cream. At length he in:—
"I your pardon, my lady,—I'm later than I should have been, I know. Why! haven't you had your tea yet?" he exclaimed, about to the cup for his wife.
"You know I take I've it," said she, with more on the "never" than usual.
"Oh, dear! What a I am! I think I might have it by this time. You see I met old Sheepshanks, and that's the of it."
"Of your me the the sugar?" asked his wife. It was one of her jokes.
"No, no! ha, ha! You're this evening, I think, my dear. But, as I was saying, Sheepshanks is such an talker, there's no away from him, and I had no idea it was so late!"
"Well, I think the least you can do is to tell us something of Mr. Sheepshanks' now you have away from him."
"Conversation! did I call it conversation? I don't think I said much. I listened. He has always a great to say. More than Preston, for instance. And, by the way, he was telling me something about Preston;—old Sheepshanks thinks he'll be married long,—he says there's a great of going on about him and Gibson's daughter. They've been meeting in the park, and corresponding, and all that of thing that is likely to end in a marriage."
"I shall be very sorry," said Lady Harriet. "I always liked that girl; and I can't papa's model land-agent."
"I it's not true," said Lady Cumnor, in a very to Lady Harriet. "Papa up one day to them the next."
"Ah, but this did like truth. Sheepshanks said all the old ladies in the town had got of it, and were making a great out of it."
"I don't think it a story. I wonder what Clare be doing to allow such on," said Lady Cuxhaven.
"I think it is much more likely that Clare's own daughter—that Miss Kirkpatrick—is the of this story," said Lady Harriet. "She always looks like a of comedy; and those ladies were of a good of intriguing, if I rightly. Now little Molly Gibson has a about her which would her at once from any proceedings. Besides, 'clandestine!' why, the child is truth itself. Papa, are you sure Mr. Sheepshanks said it was Miss Gibson that was Hollingford scandal? Wasn't it Miss Kirkpatrick? The of her and Mr. Preston making a match of it doesn't so incongruous; but if it's my little friend Molly, I'll go to church and the banns."
"Really, Harriet, I can't think what always makes you take such an in all these Hollingford affairs."
"Mamma, it's only for tat. They take the most in all our and doings. If I were going to be married, they would want to know every possible particular,—when we met, what we said to each other, what I wore, and he offered by or in person. I'm sure those good Miss Brownings were well-informed as to Mary's methods of her nursery, and her girls; so it's only a proper return of the to want to know on our how they are going on. I'm of papa's faction. I like to all the local gossip."
"Especially when it is with a of and impropriety, as in this case," said Lady Cumnor, with the of a invalid. Lady Harriet with annoyance. But then she her courage, and said with more than before,—
"I am in this about Molly Gibson, I own. I like and respect her; and I do not like to her name with that of Mr. Preston. I can't help papa has some mistake."
"No, my dear. I'm sure I'm what I heard. I'm sorry I said anything about it, if it you or my lady there. Sheepshanks did say Miss Gibson, though, and he on to say it was a the girl had got herself so talked about; for it was the way they had on that gave to all the chatter. Preston himself was a very match for her, and nobody have to it. But I'll try and a more piece of news. Old Margery at the is dead; and they don't know where to some one to teach clear-starching at your school; and Robert Hall last year by his apples." So they away from Molly and her affairs; only Lady Harriet what she had over in her own mind with and wonder.
"I her against him the day of her father's wedding. And what a straightforward, out-spoken it was then! I don't it; it's only one of old Sheepshanks' stories, and deafness."
The next day Lady Harriet over to Hollingford, and for the settling of her she called on Miss Brownings, and the subject. She would not have spoken about the she had to any who were not warm friends of Molly's. If Mr. Sheepshanks had to to it when she had been with her father, she would very soon have him by one of the looks she full well how to assume. But she as if she must know the truth, and she thus to Miss Browning:
"What is all this I about my little friend Molly Gibson and Mr. Preston?"
"Oh, Lady Harriet! have you of it? We are so sorry!"
"Sorry for what?"
"I think, your ladyship's pardon, we had not say any more till we know how much you know," said Miss Browning.
"Nay," Lady Harriet, laughing a little, "I shan't tell what I know till I am sure you know more. Then we'll make an if you like."
"I'm it's no laughing for Molly," said Miss Browning, her head. "People do say such things!"
"But I don't them; I don't," in Miss Phœbe, crying.
"No more will I, then," said Lady Harriet, taking the good lady's hand.
"It's all very fine, Phœbe, saying you don't them, but I should like to know who it was that me, sadly against my will, I am sure."
"I only told you the as Mrs. Goodenough told them me, sister; but I'm sure if you had patient Molly as I have done, up in a of a room, looking at the Beauties of England and Wales till she must have been of them, and no one speaking to her; and she as and sweet as at the end of the evening, though maybe a pale—facts or no facts, I won't anything against her."
So there Miss Phœbe, in of facts.
"And, as I said before, I'm of your opinion," said Lady Harriet.
"But how your away her with Mr. Preston in all of and open-air places?" asked Miss Browning,—who, to do her justice, would have been only too to join Molly's partisans, if she have her for logical at the same time. "I so as to send for her father and tell him all about it. I at least he would have Mr. Preston; but he to have taken no notice of it."
"Then we may be sure he some way of that we don't," said Lady Harriet, decisively. "After all, there may be a hundred and fifty perfectly natural and explanations."
"Mr. Gibson of none when I it my to speak to him," said Miss Browning.
"Why, that Mr. Preston is to Miss Kirkpatrick, and Molly is and messenger?"
"I don't see that your ladyship's much the blame. Why, if he is to Cynthia Kirkpatrick, he not visit her openly at her home in Mr. Gibson's house? Why Molly herself to proceedings?"
"One can't account for everything," said Lady Harriet, a little impatiently, for was going hard against her. "But I choose to have in Molly Gibson. I'm sure she's not done anything very wrong. I've a great mind to go and call on her—Mrs. Gibson is to her room with this influenza—and take her with me on a of calls through this little town,—on Mrs. Goodenough, or Badenough, who to have been all these stories. But I've not time to-day. I've to meet papa at three, and it's three now. Only remember, Miss Phœbe, it's you and I against the world, in of a damsel."
"Don Quixote and Sancho Panza!" said she to herself as she ran Miss Browning's old-fashioned staircase.
"Now, I don't think that's of you, Phœbe," said Miss Browning in some displeasure, as soon as she was alone with her sister. "First, you me against my will, and make me very unhappy; and I have to do things, all you've me that are true; and then you turn and cry, and say you don't a word of it all, making me out a regular and backbiter. No! it's of no use. I shan't to you." So she left Miss Phœbe in tears, and locked herself up in her own room.
Lady Harriet, meanwhile, was by her father's side, to all he to say, but in over the and possibilities that might account for these Molly and Mr. Preston. It was a case of de l'âne et l'on en oreilles. At a turn in the road they saw Mr. Preston a little way them, them on his good horse, point device, in his attire.
The earl, in his thread-bare coat, and on his old cob, called out cheerfully,—
"Aha! here's Preston. Good-day to you. I was just wanting to ask you about that of pasture-land on the Home Farm. John Brickkill wants to it up and it. It's not two at the best."
While they were talking over this of land, Lady Harriet came to her resolution. As soon as her father had finished, she said,—"Mr. Preston, you will allow me to ask you one or two questions to my mind, for I am in some little at present."
Lady Harriet one or two Questions.
Lady Harriet one or two Questions.
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"Certainly; I shall only be too happy to give you any in my power." But the moment after he had this speech, he Molly's speech—that she would her case to Lady Harriet. But the had been returned, and the was now up. She had come off conqueror, he the vanquished. Surely she would have been so as to after that.
"There are reports about Miss Gibson and you among the of Hollingford. Are we to you on your to that lady?"
"Ah! by the way, Preston, we ought to have done it before," Lord Cumnor, in goodwill. But his said quietly, "Mr. Preston has not yet told us if the reports are well founded, papa."
She looked at him with the air of a person an answer, and a answer.
"I am not so fortunate," he, trying to make his appear fidgety, without observation.
"Then I may that report?" asked Lady Harriet quickly. "Or is there any for that in time it may come true? I ask such reports, if unfounded, do to ladies."
"Keep other off," put in Lord Cumnor, looking a good pleased at his own discernment. Lady Harriet on:—
"And I take a great in Miss Gibson."
Mr. Preston saw from her manner that he was "in for it," as he it to himself. The question was, how much or how little did she know?
"I have no or of having a nearer in Miss Gibson than I have at present. I shall be if this answer your from your perplexity."
He not help the touch of that these last words. It was not in the themselves, in the in which they were spoken, in the look which them, it was in all; it a of Lady Harriet's right to question him as she did; and there was something of in it as well. But this touch of put Lady Harriet's up; and she was not one to check herself, in any course, for the opinion of an inferior.
"Then, sir! are you aware of the you may do to a lady's if you meet her, and her in long conversations, when she is walking by herself, by any one? You give rise—you have to reports."
"My dear Harriet, are not you going too far? You don't know—Mr. Preston may have intentions—unacknowledged intentions."
"No, my lord. I have no with to Miss Gibson. She may be a very lady—I have no she is. Lady Harriet to push me into such a position that I cannot but myself to be—it is not enviable—not to own—but I am, in fact, a man; by Miss Kirkpatrick, after a long engagement. My with Miss Gibson were not of the most kind—as you may when I tell you she was, I believe, the instigator—certainly, she was the agent in this last step of Miss Kirkpatrick's. Is your ladyship's curiosity" (with an on this last word) "satisfied with this of mine?"
"Harriet, my dear, you've gone too far—we had no right to into Mr. Preston's private affairs."
"No more I had," said Lady Harriet, with a of frankness: the she had to Mr. Preston for many a long day; since the time, years ago, when, on his handsomeness, he had a of with Lady Harriet, and paid her personal as he would have done to an equal.
"But he will me, I hope," she, still in that manner which him that he now a much higher place in her than he had had at the of their interview, "when he that the of the Hollingford ladies have been speaking of my friend, Miss Gibson, in the most manner; from the of that with Mr. Preston, the nature of which he has just such a on me by explaining."
"I think I need Lady Harriet to this of mine as confidential," said Mr. Preston.
"Of course, of course!" said the earl; "every one will that." And he home, and told his wife and Lady Cuxhaven the whole Lady Harriet and Mr. Preston; in the confidence, of course. Lady Harriet had to a good many on manners, and proper for a days after this. However, she herself by calling on the Gibsons; and, that Mrs. Gibson (who was still an invalid) was asleep at the time, she no in off the Molly for a walk, which Lady Harriet so that they twice passed through all the length of the of the town, at Grinstead's for an hour, and up by Lady Harriet's calling on the Miss Brownings, who, to her regret, were not at home.
"Perhaps, it's as well," said she, after a minute's consideration. "I'll my card, and put your name it, Molly."
Molly was a little puzzled by the manner in which she had been taken of, like an chattel, for all the afternoon, and exclaimed,—"Please, Lady Harriet—I cards; I have not got any, and on the Miss Brownings, of all people; why, I am in and out I like."
"Never mind, little one. To-day you shall do properly, and according to full etiquette."
"And now tell Mrs. Gibson to come out to the Towers for a long day; we will send the for her she will let us know that she is to come. Indeed, she had come for a days; at this time of the year it doesn't do for an to be out in the evenings, in a carriage." So spoke Lady Harriet, on the white door-steps at Miss Brownings', and Molly's hand while she her good-by. "You'll tell her, dear, that I came to see her—but that her asleep, I ran off with you, and don't about her to with us for of air—mamma will like it, I'm sure—and the carriage, and all that. And now good-by, we've done a good day's work! And than you're aware of," she, still Molly, though the was out of hearing. "Hollingford is not the place I take it to be, if it doesn't in Miss Gibson's after my to-day's of that child about."