’Not at all bad, and I’ll trouble you not to use such a word as that about Molly Gibson, as I’ve known all her life. It’s odd, if you will. I was odd myself as a girl; I never could abide a plate of gathered gooseberries, but I must needs go and skulk behind a bush and gather ’em for myself. It’s some folk’s taste, though it mayn’t be Miss Browning’s, who’d have all the courting done under the nose of the family. All as ever I said was that I was surprised at it in Molly Gibson; and that I’d ha’ thought it was liker that pretty minx of a Cynthia as they call her; indeed at one time I was ready to swear as it was her Mr. Preston was after. And now, ladies, I’ll wish you a very good night. I cannot abide waste; and I’ll venture for it Sally’s letting the candle in the lantern run all to grease, instead of putting it out, as I’ve told her to do, if ever she’s got to wait for me.’
So with formal dipping curtseys the ladies separated, but not without thanking Mrs. Dawes for the pleasant evening they had had; a piece of old-fashioned courtesy always gone through in those days.
SCANDAL AND ITS VICTIMS
When Mr. Gibson returned to Hollingford, he found an accumulation of business waiting for him, and he was much inclined to complain of the consequences of the two days’ comparative holiday, which had resulted in over-work for the week to come. He had hardly time to speak to his family, he had so immediately to rush off to pressing cases of illness. But Molly managed to arrest him in the hall, standing there with his great coat held out ready for him to put on, but whispering as she did so,—
’Papa! Mr. Osborne Hamley was here to see you yesterday. He looks very ill, and he’s evidently frightened about himself.’
Mr. Gibson faced about, and looked at her for a moment; but all he said was,—
’I’ll go and see him; don’t tell your mother where I’m gone: you’ve not mentioned this to her, I hope?’
‘No,’ said Molly, for she had only told Mrs. Gibson of Osborne’s call, not of the occasion for it.
’Don’t say anything about it: there’s no need. Now I think of it, I can’t possibly go to-day,—but I will go.’
Something in her father’s manner disheartened Molly, who had persuaded herself that Osborne’s evident illness was partly ‘nervous,’ by which she meant imaginary. She had dwelt upon his looks of enjoyment at Miss Phoebe’s perplexity, and thought that no one really believing himself to be in danger could have given the merry glances which he had done; but after seeing the seriousness of her father’s face, she recurred to the shock she had experienced on first seeing Osborne’s changed appearance. All this time Mrs. Gibson was busy reading a letter from Cynthia which Mr. Gibson had brought from London; for every opportunity of private conveyance was seized upon when postage was so high;