fit of sobbing. Molly was too young to have any complication of motives which would prevent her going at-once to try and give what comfort she could. In an instant, she was kneeling at Mrs. Hamley’s feet, holding the poor lady’s hands, kissing them, murmuring soft words; which, all unmeaning as they were of aught but sympathy with the untold grief, did Mrs. Hamley good. She checked herself, smiling sadly at Molly through the midst of her thick-coming sobs.

“It’s only Osborne,” said she, at last. “Roger has been telling us about him.”

“What about him?” asked Molly eagerly.

“I knew on Monday; we had a letter—he said he had not done so well as we had hoped—as he had hoped himself, poor fellow! He said he had just passed, but was only low down among the junior optimes, and not where he had expected, and had led us to expect. But the Squire has never been at college, and does not understand college terms, and he has been asking Roger all about it; and Roger has been telling him, and it has made him so angry. But the Squire hates college slang—he has never been there, you know; and he thought poor Osborne was taking it too lightly; and he has been asking Roger about it, and Roger”——

There was a fresh fit of the sobbing crying. Molly burst out—“I don’t think Mr. Roger should have told; he had no need to begin so soon about his brother’s failure. Why, he hasn’t been in the house an hour!”

“Hush, hush, love!” said Mrs. Hamley. “Roger is so good. You don’t understand. The Squire would begin and ask questions before Roger had tasted food—as soon as ever we had got into the dining- room. And all he said—to me, at any rate—was that Osborne was nervous, and that, if he could only have gone in for the Chancellor’s medals, he would have carried all before him. But Roger said that, after failing like this, he is not very likely to get a fellowship, which the Squire had placed his hopes on. Osborne himself seemed so sure of it, that the Squire can’t understand it, and is seriously angry, and growing more so the more he talks about it. He has kept it in two or three days, and that never suits him. He is always better when he is angry about a thing at once, and doesn’t let it smoulder in his mind. Poor, poor Osborne! I did wish he had been coming straight home, instead of going to these friends of his; I thought I could have comforted him. But now I’m glad, for it will be better to let his father’s anger cool first.”

So, talking out what was in her heart, Mrs. Hamley became more composed; and at length she dismissed Molly to dress for dinner, with a kiss, saying—

“You’re a real ‘blessing to mothers,’ child! You give one such pleasant sympathy, both in one’s gladness and in one’s sorrow; in one’s pride (for I was so proud last week, so confident), and in one’s disappointment. And now your being a fourth at dinner will keep us off that sore subject; there are times when a stranger in the household is a wonderful help.”

Molly thought over all that she had heard, as she was dressing and putting on the terrible, over-smart plaid gown in honour of the new arrival. Her unconscious fealty to Osborne was not in the least shaken by his having come to grief at Cambridge. Only she was indignant—with or without reason—against Roger, who seemed to have brought the reality of bad news as an offering of first-fruits on his return home.

She went down into the drawing-room with anything but a welcome to him in her heart. He was standing by his mother; the Squire had not yet made his appearance. Molly thought that the two were hand in hand when she first opened the door, but she could not be quite sure. Mrs. Hamley came a little forwards to meet her, and introduced her in so fondly intimate a way to her son, that Molly, innocent and simple, knowing nothing but Hollingford manners, which were anything but formal, half put out her hand to shake hands with one of whom she had heard so much—the son of such kind friends. She could only hope he had not seen the movement, for he made no attempt to respond to it; only bowed.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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