And the tete-a-tete was merged in a trio. Mrs. Hamley lay down; she had not been well all day—she had missed Molly, she said,—and now she wanted to hear of all the adventures that had occurred to the girl at the Towers. Molly sate on a stool close to the head of the sofa, and Roger, though at first he took up a book and tried to read that he might be no restraint, soon found his reading all a pretence: it was so interesting to listen to Molly’s little narrative, and, besides, if he could give her any help in her time of need, was it not his duty to make himself acquainted with all the circumstances of her case?
And so they went on during all the remaining time of Molly’s stay at Hamley. Mrs. Hamley sympathized, and liked to hear details, as the French say, her sympathy was given en detail, the squire’s en gros. He was very sorry for her evident grief, and almost felt guilty, as if he had had a share in bringing it about, by the mention he had made of the possibility of Mr. Gibson’s marrying again, when first Molly had come on her visit to them. He said to his wife more than once,—
’’Pon my word, now, I wish I’d never spoken those unlucky words that first day at dinner. Do you remember how she took them up? It was like a prophecy of what was to come, now, wasn’t it? And she looked pale from that day, and I don’t think she has ever fairly enjoyed her food since. I must take more care what I say for the future. Not but what Gibson is doing the very best thing, both for himself and her, that he can do. I told him so only yesterday. But I’m very sorry for the little girl, though. I wish I’d never spoken about it, that I do! but it was like a prophecy, wasn’t it?’
Roger tried hard to find out a reasonable and right method of comfort, for he, too, in his way, was sorry for the girl, who bravely struggled to be cheerful, in spite of her own private grief, for his mother’s sake. He felt as if high principle and noble precept ought to perform an immediate work. But they do not, for there is always the unknown quantity of individual experience and feeling, which offer a tacit resistance, the amount incalculable by another, to all good counsel and high decree. But the bond between the Mentor and his Telemachus strengthened every day. He endeavoured to lead her out of morbid thought into interest in other than personal things; and, naturally enough, his own objects of interest came readiest to hand. She felt that he did her good, she did not know why or how; but after a talk with him, she always fancied that she had got the clue to goodness and peace, whatever befell.
PREPARING FOR THE WEDDING
Meanwhile the love-affairs between the middle-aged couple were prospering well, after a fashion; after the fashion that they liked best, although it might probably have appeared dull and prosaic to younger people. Lord Cumnor had come down in great glee at the news he had heard from his wife at the Towers. He, too, seemed to think he had taken an active part in bringing about the match by only speaking about it. His first words on the subject to Lady Cumnor were,—