‘I don’t know,’ said Molly, startled at being thus appealed to.
’Well! it was some time before King Alfred, because he was the King of all England, you know; but, as I was saying, here am I, of as good and as old a descent as any man in England, and I doubt if a stranger to look at me, would take me for a gentleman, with my red face, great hands and feet, and thick figure, fourteen stone, and never less than twelve even when I was a young man;’ and there’s Osborne, who takes after his mother, who could not tell her great-grandfather from Adam, bless her; and Osborne has a girl’s delicate face, and a slight make, and hands and feet as small as a lady’s. He takes after madam’s side, who, as I said, can’t tell who was their grandfather. Now, Roger is like me, a Hamley of Hamley, and no one who sees him in the street will ever think that red-brown, big-boned, clumsy chap is of gentle blood. Yet all those Cumnor people, you make such ado of in Hollingford, are mere muck of yesterday. I was talking to madam the other day about Osborne’s marrying a daughter of Lord Hollingford’s—that’s to say, if he had a daughter—he’s only got boys, as it happens; but I’m not sure if I should consent to it. I really am not sure; for you see Osborne will have had a first-rate education, and his family dates from the Heptarchy, while I should be glad to know where the Cumnor folk were in the time of Queen Anne?’ He walked on, pondering the question of whether he could have given his consent to this impossible marriage; and after some time, and when Molly had quite forgotten the subject to which he alluded, he broke out with—’No! I am sure I should have looked higher. So, perhaps, it’s as well my Lord Hollingford has only boys.’
After a while, he thanked Molly for her companionship, with old-fashioned courtesy; and told her that he thought, by this time, madam would be up and dressed, and glad to have her young visitor with her. He pointed out the deep purple house, with its stone facings, as it was seen at some distance between the trees, and watched her protectingly on her way along the field-paths.
‘That’s a nice girl of Gibson’s,’ quoth he to himself. ’But what a tight hold the wench got of the notion of his marrying again! One had need be on one’s guard as to what one says before her. To think of her never having thought of the chance of a step-mother. To be sure, a step-mother to a girl is a different thing to a second wife to a man!’
FORESHADOWS OF LOVE PERILS
If Squire Hamley had been unable to tell Molly who had ever been thought of as her father’s second wife, fate was all this time preparing an answer of a pretty positive kind to her wondering curiosity. But fate is a cunning hussy, and builds up her plans as imperceptibly as a bird builds her nest; and with much the same kind of unconsidered trifles.’ The first ‘trifle’ of an event was the