Wives and Daughters/Chapter XXXIX
Molly found Cynthia in the drawing-room, standing in the bow-window, looking out on the garden. She started as Molly came up to her.
'Oh, Molly,' said she, putting her arms out towards her, 'I am always so glad to have you with me!'
It was outbursts of affection such as these that always called Molly back, if she had been ever so unconsciously wavering in her allegiance to Cynthia. She had been wishing downstairs that Cynthia would be less reserved, and not have so many secrets; but now it seemed almost like treason to have wanted her to be anything but what she was. Never had any one more than Cynthia the power spoken of by Goldsmith when he wrote,—
He threw off his friends like a huntsman his pack, For he knew when he liked he could whistle them back.'
'Do you know, I think you'll be glad to hear what I've got to tell you?' said Molly. 'I think you would really like to go to London; should not you?'
'Yes, but it is of no use liking,' said Cynthia. 'Don't you begin about it, Molly, for the thing is settled; and I can't tell you why, but I can't go.'
'It is only the money, dear. And papa has been so kind about it. He wants you to go; he thinks you ought to keep up relationships; and he is going to give you ten pounds.'
'How kind he is!' said Cynthia. 'But I ought not to take it. I wish I had known you years ago; I should have been different to what I am.'
'Never mind that! We like you as you are; we don't want you different. You'll really hurt papa if you don't take it. Why do you hesitate? Do you think Roger won't like it?'
'Roger! No, I was not thinking about him! Why should he care? I shall be there and back again before he even hears about it.'
'Then you will go?' said Molly.
Cynthia thought for a minute or two. 'Yes, I will,' said she, at length. 'I daresay it's not wise, but it will be pleasant, and I'll go. Where is Mr. Gibson? I want to thank him. Oh, how kind he is! Molly, you're a lucky girl!'
'I?' said Molly, quite startled at being told this; for she had been feeling as if so many things were going wrong, almost as if they would never go right again.
'There he is!' said Cynthia. 'I hear him in the hall!' And down she flew, and laying her hands on Mr. Gibson's arm, she thanked him with such warm impulsiveness, and in so pretty and caressing a manner, that something of his old feeling of personal liking for her returned, and he forgot for a time the causes of disapproval he had against her.
'There, there!' said he, 'that's enough, my dear! It is quite right you should keep up with your relations; there's nothing more to be said about it.'
'I do think your father is the most charming man I know,' said Cynthia, on her return to Molly; 'and it's that which always makes me so afraid of losing his good opinion, and fret go when I think he is displeased with me. And now let us think all about this London visit. It will be delightful, won't it? I can make ten pounds go ever so far; and in some ways it will be such a comfort to get out of Hollingford.'
'Will it?' said Molly, rather wistfully.
'Oh, yes! You know I don't mean that it will be a comfort to leave you; that will be anything but a comfort. But, after all, a country town is a country town, and London is London. You need not smile at my truisms; I've always had a sympathy with M. de la Palisse,—
- 'M. de la Palisse est mort
- En perdant sa vie;
- Un quart d'heure avant sa mort
- Il etait en vie,'
sang she, in so gay a manner that she puzzled Molly, as she often did, by her change of mood from the gloomy decision with which she had refused to accept the invitation only half an hour ago. She suddenly took Molly round the waist, and began waltzing round the room with her, to the imminent danger of the various little tables, loaded with objets d'art (as Mrs. Gibson delighted to call them) with which the drawing-room was crowded. She avoided them, however, with her usual skill; but they both stood still at last, surprised at Mrs. Gibson's surprise, as she stood at the door, looking at the whirl going on before her.
'Upon my word, I only hope you are not going crazy, both of you? What's all this about, pray?'
'Only because I'm so glad I'm going to London, mamma,' said Cynthia, demurely.
'I'm not sure if it's quite the thing for an engaged young lady to be so much beside herself at the prospect of gaiety. In my time, our great pleasure in our lovers' absence was in thinking about them.'
'I should have thought that would have given you pain, because you would have had to remember that they were away, which ought to have made you unhappy. Now, to tell you the truth, just at the moment I had forgotten all about Roger. I hope it was not very wrong. Osborne looks as if he did all my share as well as his own of the fretting after Roger. How ill he looked yesterday!'
'Yes,' said Molly; 'I did not know if any one besides me had noticed it. I was quite shocked.'
'Ah,' said Mrs. Gibson, 'I'm afraid that young man won't live long— very much afraid,' and she shook her head ominously.
'Oh, what will happen if he dies!' exclaimed Molly, suddenly sitting down, and thinking of that strange, mysterious wife who never made her appearance, whose very existence was never spoken about—and Roger away too!
'Well, it would be very sad, of course, and we should all feel it very much, I've no doubt; for I've always been very fond of Osborne; in fact, before Roger became, as it were, my own flesh and blood, I liked Osborne better: but we must not forget the living, dear Molly' (for Molly's eyes were filling with tears at the dismal thoughts presented to her). 'Our dear good Roger would, I am sure, do all in his power to fill Osborne's place in every way; and his marriage need not be so long delayed.'
'Don't speak of that in the same breath as Osborne's life, mamma,' said Cynthia, hastily.
'Why, my dear, it is a very natural thought. For poor Roger's sake, you know, one wishes it not to be so very very long an engagement; and I was only answering Molly's question, after all. One can't help following out one's thoughts. People must die, you know—young, as well as old.'
'If I ever suspected Roger of following out his thoughts in a similar way,' said Cynthia, 'I'd never speak to him again.'
'As if he would!' said Molly, warm in her turn. 'You know he never would; and you should not suppose it of him, Cynthia—no, not even for a moment!'
'I can't see the great harm of it all, for my part,' said Mrs Gibson, plaintively. 'A young man strikes us all as looking very ill—and I'm sure I'm sorry for it; but illness very often leads to death. Surely you agree with me there, and what's the harm of saying so? Then Molly asks what will happen if he dies; and I try to answer her question. I don't like talking or thinking of death any more than any one else; but I should think myself wanting in strength of mind if I could not look forward to the consequences of death. I really think we're commanded to do so, somewhere in the Bible or the Prayer-book.'
'Do you look forward to the consequences of my death, mamma?' asked Cynthia.
'You really are the most unfeeling girl I ever met with,' said Mrs Gibson, really hurt. 'I wish I could give you a little of my own sensitiveness, for I have too much for my happiness. Don't let us speak of Osborne's looks again; ten to one it was only some temporary over- fatigue, or some anxiety about Roger, or perhaps a little fit of indigestion. I was very foolish to attribute it to anything more serious, and dear papa might be displeased if he knew I had done so. Medical men don't like other people to be making conjectures about health; they consider it as trenching on their own particular province, and very proper I'm sure. Now let us consider about your dress, Cynthia; I could not understand how you had spent your money, and made so little show with it.'
'Mamma, it may sound very cross, but I must tell Molly and you, and everybody, once for all, that as I don't want and did not ask for more than my allowance, I'm not going to answer any questions about what I do with it.' She did not say this with any want of respect; but she said it with quiet determination, which subdued her mother for the time, though often afterwards when Mrs. Gibson and Molly were alone, the former would start the wonder as to what Cynthia could possibly have done with her money, and hunt each poor conjecture through woods and valleys of doubt, till she was wearied out;' and the exciting sport was given up for the day. At present, however, she confined herself to the practical matter in hand; and the genius for millinery and dress, inherent in both mother and daughter, soon settled a great many knotty points of contrivance and taste, and then they all three set to work to 'gar auld claes look amaist as weel's the new.'
Cynthia's relations with the squire had been very stationary ever since the visit she had paid to the Hall the previous autumn. He had received them all at that time with hospitable politeness, and he had also been more charmed with Cynthia than he liked to acknowledge to himself when he thought the visit all over afterwards.
'She's a pretty lass sure enough,' thought he, 'and has pretty ways about her too, and likes to learn from older people, which is a good sign; but somehow I don't like madam her mother, but still she is her mother, and the girl is her daughter; yet she spoke to her once or twice as I should not ha' liked our little Fanny to have spoken, if it had pleased God for her to ha' lived. No, it's not the right way, and it may be a bit old-fashioned, but I like the right way. And then again she took possession o' me as I may say, and little Molly had to run after us in the garden walks that are too narrow for three, just like a little four-legged doggie; and the other was so full of listening to me, she never turned round for to speak a word to Molly. I don't mean to say they're not fond of each other, and that's in Roger's sweetheart's favour, and it's very ungrateful in me to go and find fault with a lass who was so civil to me, and had such a pretty way with her of hanging on every word that fell from my lips. Well! a deal may come and go in two years! and the lad says nothing to me about it. I'll be as deep as him, and take no more notice of the affair till he comes home and tells me himself.'
So although the squire was always delighted to receive the little notes which Cynthia sent to him every time she heard from Roger, and although this attention on her part was melting the heart he tried to harden, he controlled himself into writing her the briefest acknowledgements. His words were strong in meaning, but formal in expression; she herself did not think much about them, being satisfied to do the kind actions that called them forth. But her mother criticized them and pondered them. She thought she had hit on the truth when she had decided in her own mind that it was a very old-fashioned style, and that he and his house and his furniture all wanted some of the brightening up and polishing which they were sure to receive, when—she never quite liked to finish the sentence definitely, although she kept repeating to herself that 'there was no harm in it.'
To return to the squire. Occupied as he now was, he recovered his former health, and something of his former cheerfulness. If Osborne had met him half-way, it is probable that the old bond between father and son might have been renewed; but Osborne either was really an invalid, or had sunk into invalid habits, and made no effort to rally. If his father urged him to go out—nay, once or twice he gulped down his pride, and asked Osborne to accompany him—Osborne would go to the window and find out some flaw or speck in the wind or weather, and make that an excuse for stopping in the house over his books. He would saunter out on the sunny side of the house in a manner that the squire considered as both indolent and unmanly. Yet if there was a prospect of his leaving home, which he did pretty often about this time, he was seized with a hectic energy: the clouds in the sky, the easterly wind, the dampness of the air, were nothing to him then; and as the squire did not know the real secret cause of this anxiety to be gone, he took it into his head that it arose from Osborne's dislike to Hamley and to the monotony of his father's society.
'It was a mistake,' thought the squire. 'I see it now. I was never great at making friends myself. I always thought those Oxford and Cambridge men turned up their noses at me for a country booby, and I'd get the start and have none o' them. But when the boys went to Rugby and Cambridge, I should ha' let them have had their own friends about 'em, even though they might ha' looked down on me; it was the worst they could ha' done to me, and now what few friends I had have fallen off from me, by death or somehow, and it is but dreary work for a young man, I grant it. But he might try not to show it so plain to me as he does. I'm getting case-hardened, but it does cut me to the quick sometimes—it does. And he so fond of his dad as he was once! If I can but get the land drained I'll make him an allowance, and let him go to London, or where he likes. Maybe he'll do better this time, or maybe he'll go to the dogs altogether; but perhaps it will make him think a bit kindly of the old father at home—I should like him to do that, I should!'
It is possible that Osborne might have been induced to tell his father of his marriage during their long tete-a-tete intercourse, if the squire, in an unlucky moment, had not given him his confidence about Roger's engagement with Cynthia. It was on one wet Sunday afternoon, when the father and son were sitting together in the large empty drawing-room. Osborne had not been to church in the morning; the squire had, and he was now trying hard to read one of Blair's sermons. They had dined early; they always did on Sundays; and either that, or the sermon, or the hopeless wetness of the day, made the afternoon seem interminably long to the squire. He had certain unwritten rules for the regulation of his conduct on Sundays. Cold meat, sermon-reading, no smoking till after evening prayers, as little thought as possible as to the state of the land and the condition of the crops, and as much respectable sitting-indoors in his best clothes as was consistent with going to church twice a day, and saying the responses louder than the clerk. To-day it had rained so unceasingly that he had remitted the afternoon church; but oh, even with the luxury of a nap, how long it seemed before he saw the Hall servants trudging homewards, along the field-path, a covey of umbrellas! He had been standing at the window for the last half-hour, his hands in his pockets, and his mouth often contracting itself into the traditional sin of a whistle, but as often checked into sudden gravity—ending, nine times out of ten, in a yawn. He looked askance at Osborne, who was sitting near the fire absorbed in a book. The poor squire was something like the little boy in the child's story, who asks all sorts of birds and beasts to come and play with him; and, in every case, receives the sober answer, that they are too busy to have leisure for trivial amusements. The father wanted the son to put down his book, and talk to him: it was so wet, so dull, and a little conversation would so wile away the time! But Osborne, with his back to the window where his father was standing, saw nothing of all this, and went on reading. He had assented to his father's remark that it was a very wet afternoon, but had not carried on the subject into all the varieties of truisms of which it was susceptible. Something more rousing must be started, and this the squire felt. The recollection of the affair between Roger and Cynthia came into his head, and, without giving it a moment's consideration, he began,—
'Osborne! Do you know anything about this—this attachment of Roger's?'
Quite successful. Osborne laid down his book in a moment, and turned round to his father.
'Roger! an attachment! No! I never heard of it—I can hardly believe it—that is to say, I suppose it is to—-'
And then he stopped; for he thought he had no right to betray his own conjecture that the object was Cynthia Kirkpatrick.
'Yes. He is though. Can you guess who to? Nobody that I particularly like—not a connection to my mind—yet she's a very pretty girl; and I suppose I was to blame in the first instance.'
'It's no use beating about the bush. I've gone so far, I may as well tell you all. It's Miss Kirkpatrick, Gibson's stepdaughter. But it's not an engagement, mind you—'
'I'm very glad—I hope she likes Roger back again—'
'Like—it's only too good a connection for her not to like it: if Roger is of the same mind when he comes home, I'll be bound she'll be only too happy!'
'I wonder Roger never told me,' said Osborne, a little hurt, now he began to consider himself.
'He never told me either,' said the squire. 'It was Gibson, who came here, and made a clean breast of it like a man of honour. I'd been saying to him, I could not have either of you two lads taking up with his lasses. I'll own it was you I was afraid of—it's bad enough with Roger, and maybe will come to nothing after all; but if it had been you, I'd ha' broken with Gibson and every mother's son of 'em, sooner than have let it go on; and so I told Gibson.'
'I beg your pardon for interrupting you, but, once for all, I claim the right of choosing my wife for myself, subject to no man's interference,' said Osborne, hotly.
'Then you'll keep your wife with no man's interference, that's all; for ne'er a penny will you get from me, my lad, unless you marry to please me a little, as well as yourself a great deal. That's all I ask of you. I'm not particular as to beauty, or as to cleverness, and piano- playing, and that sort of thing; if Roger marries this girl, we shall have enough of that in the family. I should not much mind her being a bit older than you, but she must be well-born, and the more money she brings the better for the old place.'
'I say again, father, I choose my wife for myself, and I don't admit any man's right of dictation.'
'Well, well!' said the squire, getting a little angry in his turn. 'If I'm not to be father in this matter, thou shan't be son. Go against me in what I've set my heart on, and you'll find there's the devil to pay, that's all. But don't let us get angry, it's Sunday afternoon for one thing, and it's a sin; and besides that, I've not finished my story.'
For Osborne had taken up his book again, and under pretence of reading, was fuming to himself, He hardly put it away even at his father's request.
'As I was saying, Gibson said, when first we spoke about it, that there was nothing on foot between any of you four, and that if there was, he would let me know; so by-and-by he comes and tells me of this.'
'Of what—I don't understand how far it has gone?'
There was a tone in Osborne's voice the squire did not quite like; and he began answering rather angrily.
'Of this to be sure—of what I'm telling you—of Roger going and making love to this girl, that day he left, after he had gone away from here, and was waiting for the "Umpire" in Hollingford. One would think you quite stupid at times, Osborne.'
'I can only say that these details are quite new to me; you never mentioned them before, I assure you.'
'Well; never mind whether I did or not. I'm sure I said Roger was attached to Miss Kirkpatrick, and be hanged to her; and you might have understood all the rest, as a matter of course.'
'Possibly,' said Osborne, politely. 'May I ask if Miss Kirkpatrick, who appeared to me to be a very nice girl, responds to Roger's affection?'
'Fast enough, I'll be bound,' said the squire, sulkily. 'A Hamley of Hamley is not to be had every day. Now, I'll tell you what, Osborne, you're the only marriageable one left in the market, and I want to hoist the old family up again. Don't go against me in this; it really will break my heart if you do.'
'Father, don't talk so,' said Osborne. 'I will do anything I can to oblige you, except—'
'Except the only thing I've set my heart on your doing.'
'Well, well, let it alone for the present. There's no question of my marrying just at this moment. I'm out of health, and I'm not up to going into society, and meeting young ladies and all that sort of thing, even if I had an opening into fitting society.'
'You should have an opening fast enough. There'll be more money coming in, in a year or two, please God. And as for your health, why, what's to make you well, if you cower over the fire all day, and shudder away from a good honest tankard as if it were poison?'
'So it is to me,' said Osborne, languidly, playing with his book as if he wanted to end the conversation and take it up again. The squire saw the movements, and understood them.
'Well,' said he, 'I'll go and have a talk with Will about poor old Black Bess. It's Sunday work enough, asking after a dumb animal's aches and pains.'
But after his father had left the room Osborne did not take up his book again. He laid it down on the table by him, leant back in his chair, and covered his eyes with his hand. He was in a state of health which made him despondent about many things, though, least of all, about what was most in danger. The long concealment of his marriage from his father made the disclosure of it far far more difficult than it would have been at first. Unsupported by Roger, how could he explain it all to one so passionate as the squire? how tell of the temptation, the stolen marriage, the consequent happiness, and alas! the consequent suffering?—for Osborne had suffered, and did suffer, greatly in the untoward circumstances in which he had placed himself. He saw no way out of it all, excepting by the one strong stroke of which he felt himself incapable. So with a heavy heart he addressed himself to his book again. Everything seemed to come in his way, and he was not strong enough in character to overcome obstacles. The only overt step he took in consequence of what he had heard from his father, was to ride over to Hollingford the first fine day after he had received the news, and go to see Cynthia and the Gibsons. He had not been there for a long time; bad weather and languor combined had prevented him. He found them full of preparations and discussions about Cynthia's visit to London; and she herself not at all in the sentimental mood proper to respond to his delicate intimations of how glad he was in his brother's joy. Indeed, it was so long after the time, that Cynthia scarcely perceived that to him the intelligence was recent, and that the first bloom of his emotions had not yet passed away. With her head a little on one side, she was contemplating the effect of a knot of ribbons, when he began, in a low whisper, and leaning forward towards her as he spoke,— 'Cynthia—I may call you Cynthia now, mayn't I?—I am so glad of this news; I've only just heard of it, but I'm so glad!'
'What news do you mean?' She had her suspicions; but she was annoyed to think that from one person her secret was passing to another, and another, till, in fact, it was becoming no secret at all. Still, Cynthia could always conceal her annoyance when she chose. 'Why are you to begin calling me Cynthia now?' she went on, smiling. 'The terrible word has slipped out from between your lips before, do you know?'
This light way of taking his tender congratulations did not quite please Osborne, who was in a sentimental mood, and for a minute or so he remained silent. Then, having finished making her bow of ribbon, she turned to him, and continued, in a quick low voice, anxious to take advantage of a tete-a-tete between her mother and Molly,—
'I think I can guess why you made me that pretty little speech just now. But do you know you ought not to have been told? And, moreover, things are not quite arrived at the solemnity of—of—well—an engagement. He would not have it so. Now, I shan't say any more; and you must not. Pray remember you ought not to have known; it is my own secret, and I particularly wished it not to be spoken about; and I don't like it's being so talked about. Oh, the leaking of water through one small hole!'
And then she plunged into the tete-a-tete of the other two, making the conversation general. Osborne was rather discomfited at the non- success of his congratulations; he had pictured to himself the unbosoming of a love-sick girl, full of rapture, and glad of a sympathizing confidant. He little knew Cynthia's nature. The more she suspected that she was called upon for a display of emotion, the less would she show; and her emotions were generally under the control of her will. He had made an effort to come and see her; and now he leant back in his chair, weary and a little dispirited.
'You poor dear young man,' said Mrs. Gibson, coming up to him with her soft, soothing manner; 'how tired you look! Do take some of that eau- de-Cologne and bathe your forehead. This spring weather overcomes me too. Primavera I think the Italians call it. But it is very trying for delicate constitutions, as much from its associations as from its variableness of temperature. It makes me sigh perpetually; but then I am so sensitive. Dear Lady Cumnor always used to say I was like a thermometer. You've heard how ill she has been?'
'No,' said Osborne, not very much caring either.
'Oh, yes, she is better now; but the anxiety about her has tried me so: detained here by what are, of course, my duties, but far away from all intelligence, and not knowing what the next post might bring.'
'Where was she then?' asked Osborne, becoming a little more sympathetic.
'At Spa. Such a distance off! Three days' post! Can't you conceive the trial? Living with her as I did for years; bound up in the family as I was.'
'But Lady Harriet said, in her last letter, that they hoped that she would be stronger than she had been for years,' said Molly, innocently.
'Yes—Lady Harriet—of course—every one who knows Lady Harriet knows that she is of too sanguine a temperament for her statements to be perfectly relied on. Altogether—strangers are often deluded by Lady Harriet—she has an off—hand manner which takes them in; but she does not mean half she says.'
'We will hope she does in this instance,' said Cynthia, shortly. 'They are in London now, and Lady Cumnor has not suffered from the journey.'
'They say so,' said Mrs. Gibson, shaking her head, and laying an emphasis on the word 'say.' 'I am perhaps over-anxious, but I wish—I wish I could see and judge for myself. It would be the only way of calming my anxiety. I almost think I shall go up with you, Cynthia, for a day or two, just to see her with my own eyes. I don't quite like your travelling alone either. We will think about it, and you shall write to Mr. Kirkpatrick, and propose it, if we determine upon it. You can tell him of my anxiety; and it will be only sharing your bed for a couple of nights.'