Molly hastily finished her meal, and went upstairs again.

“I feel so lonely, darling, in this strange house; do come and be with me, and help me to unpack. I think your dear papa might have put off his visit to Mr. Craven Smith for just this one evening.”

“Mr. Craven Smith couldn’t put off his dying,” said Molly bluntly.

“You droll girl!” said Mrs. Gibson, with a faint laugh. “But, if this Mr. Smith is dying, as you say, what’s the use of your father’s going off to him in such a hurry? Does he expect any legacy, or anything of that kind?”

Molly bit her lips, to prevent herself from saying something disagreeable. She only answered—

“I don’t quite know that he is dying. The man said so; and papa can sometimes do something to make the last struggle easier. At any rate, it’s always a comfort to the family to have him.”

“What dreary knowledge of death you have learned, for a girl of your age! Really, if I had heard all these details of your father’s profession, I doubt if I could have brought myself to have him!”

“He doesn’t make the illness or the death; he does his best against them. I call it a very fine thing to think of what he does or tries to do. And you will think so, too, when you see how he is watched for, and how people welcome him!”

“Well, don’t let us talk any more of such gloomy things, to-night! I think I shall go to bed at once, I am so tired, if you will only sit by me till I get sleepy, darling. If you will talk to me, the sound of your voice will soon send me off.”

Molly got a book, and read her stepmother to sleep, preferring that to the harder task of keeping up a continual murmur of speech.

Then she stole down and went into the dining-room, where the fire was gone out; purposely neglected by the servants, to mark their displeasure at their new mistress’s having had her tea in her own room. Molly managed to light it, however, before her father came home, and collected and rearranged some comfortable food for him. Then she knelt down again on the hearthrug, gazing into the fire in a dreamy reverie, which had enough of sadness about it to cause the tear to drop unnoticed from her eyes. But she jumped up, and shook herself into brightness, at the sound of her father’s step.

“How is Mr. Craven Smith?” she asked.

“Dead. He just recognised me. He was one of my first patients on my coming to Hollingford.”

Mr. Gibson sate down in the arm-chair made ready for him, and warmed his hands at the fire, seeming neither to need food nor talk, as he went over a train of recollections. Then he roused himself from his sadness, and, looking round the room, he said briskly enough—

“And where’s the new mamma?”

“She was tired, and went to bed early. Oh, papa! must I call her ‘mamma’?”

“I should like it,” replied he, with a slight contraction of the brows.

Molly was silent. She put a cup of tea near him; he stirred it, and sipped it, and then he recurred to the subject.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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