During all the months that had elapsed since Mrs. Hamley’s death, Molly had wondered many a time about the secret she had so unwittingly become possessed of that last day in the Hall library. It seemed so utterly strange and unheard-of a thing to her inexperienced mind, that a man should be married, and yet not live with his wife—that a son should have entered into the holy state of matrimony without his father’s knowledge, and without being recognised as the husband of some one known or unknown by all those with whom he came in daily contact, that she felt occasionally as if that little ten minutes of revelation must have been a vision in a dream. Roger had only slightly referred to it once, and Osborne had kept entire silence on the subject ever since. Not even a look betrayed any allusion to it; it even seemed to have passed out of his thoughts. There had been the great, sad event of his mother’s death to fill their minds on the next occasion of his meeting Molly; and since then long pauses of intercourse had taken place; so that she sometimes felt as if both the brothers must have forgotten how she had come to know their important secret. She even found herself often entirely forgetting it; but perhaps the consciousness of it was present to her unawares, and enabled her to comprehend the real nature of Osborne’s feelings towards Cynthia. At any rate, she never for a moment had supposed that his gentle kind manner towards Cynthia was anything but the courtesy of a friend. Strange to say, in these latter days Molly had looked upon Osborne’s relation to herself as pretty much the same as that in which at one time she had regarded Roger’s; and she thought of the former as of some one as nearly a brother both to Cynthia and herself as any young man could well be whom they had not known in childhood, and who was in nowise related to them. She thought that he was very much improved in manner, and probably in character, by his mother’s death. He was no longer sarcastic, or fastidious, or vain, or self- confident. She did not know how often all these styles of talk or of behaviour are put on to conceal shyness or consciousness, and to veil the real self from strangers.

Osborne’s conversation and ways might very possibly have been just the same as before, had he been thrown amongst new people; but Molly only saw him in their own circle, in which he was on terms of decided intimacy. Still, there was no doubt that he was really improved, though perhaps not to the extent for which Molly gave him credit; and this exaggeration on her part arose very naturally from the fact, that he, perceiving Roger’s warm admiration for Cynthia, withdrew a little out of his brother’s way, and used to go and talk to Molly, in order not to intrude himself between Roger and Cynthia. Of the two, perhaps, Osborne preferred Molly; to her he needed not to talk, if the mood was not on him—they were on those happy terms where silence is permissible, and where efforts to act against the prevailing mood of the mind are not required. Sometimes, indeed, when Osborne was in the humour to be critical and fastidious as of yore, he used to vex Roger by insisting upon it that Molly was prettier than Cynthia.

“You mark my words, Roger! Five years hence, the beautiful Cynthia’s red and white will have become just a little coarse, and her figure will have thickened, while Molly’s will only have developed into more perfect grace. I don’t believe the girl has done growing yet; I’m sure she’s taller than when I first saw her last summer.”

“Miss Kirkpatrick’s eyes must always be perfection. I cannot fancy any could come up to them: soft, grave, appealing, tender; and such a heavenly colour—I often try to find something in nature to compare them to; they are not like violets—that blue in the eyes is too like physical weakness of sight; they are not like the sky—that colour has something of cruelty in it.”

“Come, don’t go on trying to match her eyes as if you were a draper, and they a bit of ribbon; say at once ‘her eyes are load-stars,’ and have done with it! I set up Molly’s grey eyes and curling black lashes, long odds above the other young woman’s; but, of course, it’s all a matter of taste.”

And now both Osborne and Roger had left the neighbourhood. In spite of all that Mrs. Gibson had said about Roger’s visits being ill-timed and intrusive, she began to feel as if they had been a very pleasant variety, now that they had ceased altogether. He brought in a whiff of a new atmosphere from that of Hollingford. He and his brother had been always ready to do numberless little things which only a man can do for a woman; small services which Mr. Gibson was always too busy to render. For the good doctor’s business grew upon him. He thought that this increase was owing to his greater skill and experience,

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