“I don’t know what we should any of us have done without you. You’ve been like a daughter to my mother.”

“I do so love her,” said Molly softly.

“Yes; I see. Have you ever noticed that she sometimes calls you ‘Fanny’? It was the name of a little sister of ours who died. I think she often takes you for her. It was partly that, and partly because, at such a time as this, one can’t stand on formalities, that made me call you Molly. I hope you don’t mind it?”

“No; I like it. But will you tell me something more about your brother? She really hungers for news of him.”

“She’d better ask me herself. Yet, no! I am so involved by promises of secrecy, Molly, that I couldn’t satisfy her if she once began to question me. I believe he’s in Belgium, and that he went there about a fortnight ago, partly to avoid his creditors. You know my father has refused to pay his debts?”

“Yes: at least, I knew something like it.”

“I don’t believe my father could raise the money all at once without having recourse to steps which he would exceedingly recoil from. Yet, for the time, it places Osborne in a very awkward position.”

“I think, what vexes your father a good deal is some mystery as to how the money was spent.”

“If my mother ever says anything about that part of the affair,” said Roger hastily, “assure her from me that there’s nothing of vice or wrong-doing about it. I can’t say more: I’m tied. But set her mind at ease on that point!”

“I’m not sure if she remembers all her painful anxiety about this,” said Molly. “She used to speak a great deal to me about him before you came, when your father seemed so angry. And now, whenever she sees me, she wants to talk on the old subject; but she doesn’t remember so clearly. If she were to see him, I don’t believe she would recollect why she was uneasy about him, while he was absent.”

“He must be here soon. I expect him every day,” said Roger uneasily.

“Do you think your father will be very angry with him?” asked Molly, with as much timidity as if the Squire’s displeasure might be directed against her.

“I don’t know,” said Roger. “My mother’s illness may alter him; but he didn’t easily forgive us formerly. I remember once—but that is nothing to the purpose. I can’t help fancying that he has put himself under some strong restraint for my mother’s sake, and that he won’t express much. But it doesn’t follow that he will forget it. My father is a man of few affections, but what he has are very strong; he feels anything that touches him on these points deeply and permanently. That unlucky valuing of the property! It has given my father the idea of post-obits”——

“What are they?” asked Molly.

“Raising money to be paid on my father’s death; which, of course, involves calculations as to the duration of his life.”

“How shocking!” said she.

“I’m as sure as I am of my own life that Osborne never did anything of the kind. But my father expressed his suspicions in language that irritated Osborne; and he doesn’t speak out, and won’t justify himself even as much as he might; and, much as he loves me, I’ve but little influence over him, or else he would tell my father all. Well, we must leave it to time,” he added, sighing. “My mother would have brought us all right, if she’d been what she once was.”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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