MOLLY GIBSON’S CHILDHOOD
Sixteen years before this time, all Hollingford had been disturbed to its foundations by the intelligence that Mr. Hall, the skilful doctor, who had attended them all their days, was going to take a partner. It was no use reasoning to them on the subject; so Mr Browning the vicar, Mr. Sheepshanks (Lord Cumnor’s agent), and Mr Hall himself, the masculine reasoners of the little society, left off the attempt, feeling that the Che sara sara would prove more silencing to the murmurs than many arguments. Mr. Hall had told his faithful patients that, even with the strongest spectacles, his sight was not to be depended upon; and they might have found out for themselves that his hearing was very defective, although, on this point, he obstinately adhered to his own opinion, and was frequently heard to regret the carelessness of people’s communication nowadays, ’like writing on blotting-paper, all the words running into each other,’ he would say. And more than once Mr. Hall had had attacks of a suspicious nature,— ‘rheumatism’ he used to call them; but he prescribed for himself as if they had been gout,—which had prevented his immediate attention to imperative summonses. But, blind and deaf, and rheumatic as he might be, he was still Mr. Hall, the doctor who could heal all their ailments—unless they died meanwhile—and he had no right to speak of growing old, and taking a partner.
He went very steadily to work all the same; advertising in medical journals, reading testimonials, sifting character and qualifications; and just when the elderly maiden ladies of Hollingford thought that they had convinced their contemporary that he was as young as ever, he startled them by bringing his new partner, Mr. Gibson, to call upon them, and began ‘slyly,’ as these ladies said, to introduce him into practice. And ‘who was this Mr Gibson?’ they asked, and echo might answer the question, if she liked, for no one else did. No one ever in all his life knew anything more of his antecedents than the Hollingford people might have found out the first day they saw him: that he was tall, grave, rather handsome than otherwise; thin enough to be called ‘a very genteel figure,’ in those days, before muscular Christianity had come into vogue; speaking with a slight Scotch accent; and, as one good lady observed, ‘so very trite in his conversation,’ by which she meant sarcastic. As to his birth, parentage, and education,—the favourite conjecture of Hollingford society was, that he was the illegitimate son of a Scotch duke, by a Frenchwoman; and the grounds for this conjecture were these:—He spoke with a Scotch accent; therefore, he must be Scotch. He had a very genteel appearance, an elegant figure, and was apt—so his ill-wishers said—to give himself airs. Therefore, his father must have been some person of quality; and, that granted,