Wives and Daughters: An Every-Day Story (Chapter 3, page 1 of 6)


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Chapter 3

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 sarĂ  sarĂ _ 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, nothing was
easier than to run this supposition up all the notes of the scale of
the peerage,--baronet, baron, viscount, earl, marquis, duke. Higher
they dared not go, though one old lady, acquainted with English
history, hazarded the remark, that "she believed that one or two
of the Stuarts--hem--had not always been,--ahem--quite correct in
their--conduct; and she fancied such--ahem--things ran in families."
But, in popular opinion, Mr. Gibson's father always remained a duke;
nothing more.

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