But the first day on which Mr. Gibson paid his visit to Lady Cumnor, he began to think it possible that Mrs. Kirkpatrick was his ‘hare.’ He rode away with slack rein, thinking over what he knew of her, more than about the prescriptions he should write, or the way he was going. He remembered her as a very pretty Miss Clare: the governess who had the scarlet fever; that was in his wife’s days, a long time ago; he could hardly understand Mrs. Kirkpatrick’s youthfulness of appearance when he thought how long. Then he heard of her marriage to a curate; and the next day (or so it seemed, he could not recollect the exact duration of the interval), of his death. He knew, in some way, that ever since she had been living as a governess in different families; but that she had always been a great favourite with the family at the Towers, for whom, quite independent of their rank, he had a true respect. A year or two ago he had heard that she had taken the good-will of a school at Ashcombe; a small town close to another property of Lord Cumnor’s, in the same county. Ashcombe was a larger estate than that near Hollingford, but the old Manor-house there was not nearly so good a residence as the Towers; so it was given up to Mr. Preston, the land-agent, for the Ashcombe property, just as Mr. Sheepshanks was for that at Hollingford. There were a few rooms at the Manor-house reserved for the occasional visits of the family, otherwise Mr Preston, a handsome young bachelor, had it all to himself. Mr. Gibson knew that Mrs. Kirkpatrick had one child, a daughter, who must be much about the same age as Molly. Of course she had very little, if any, property. But he himself had lived carefully, and had a few thousands well invested; besides which, his professional income was good, and increasing rather than diminishing every year. By the time he had arrived at this point in his consideration of the case, he was at the house of the next patient on his round, and he put away all thought of matrimony and Mrs. Kirkpatrick for the time. Once again, in the course of the day, he remembered with a certain pleasure that Molly had told him some little details connected with her unlucky detention at the Towers five or six years ago, which had made him feel at the time as if Mrs. Kirkpatrick had behaved very kindly to his little girl. So there the matter rested for the present, as far as he was concerned.
Lady Cumnor was out of health; but not so ill as she had been fancying herself during all those days when the people about her dared not send for the doctor. It was a great relief to her to have Mr. Gibson to decide for her what she was to do; what to eat, drink, avoid. Such decisions ab extra, are sometimes a wonderful relief to those whose habit it has been to decide, not only for themselves, but for every one else; and occasionally the relaxation of the strain which a character for infallible wisdom brings with it, does much to restore health. Mrs. Kirkpatrick thought in her secret soul that she had never found it so easy to get on with Lady Cumnor; and Bradley and she had never done singing the praises of Mr. Gibson, ’who always managed my lady so beautifully.’