“Of course,” said Mrs. Gibson, a little testily. “Only I had expected sympathy from you at such an interesting moment.”

But Molly did not hear these last words. She had escaped upstairs, and shut the door. Instinctively she had carried her leaf-full of blackberries—what would blackberries be to Cynthia now? She felt as if she could not understand it all; but as for that matter, what could she understand? Nothing. For a few minutes, her brain seemed in too great a whirl to comprehend anything but that she was being carried on in earth’s diurnal course, with rocks, and stones, and trees, with as little volition on her part as if she were dead. Then the room grew stifling, and instinctively she went to the open casement window, and leant out, gasping for breath. Gradually, the consciousness of the soft peaceful landscape stole into her mind, and stilled the buzzing confusion. There, bathed in the almost level rays of the autumn sunlight, lay the landscape she had known and loved from childhood; as quiet, as full of low, humming life as it had been at this hour for many generations. The autumn flowers blazed out in the garden below; the lazy cows were in the meadow adjoining, chewing their cud in the green aftermath; the evening fires had just been made up in the cottages beyond, in preparation for the husband’s home-coming, and were sending up soft curls of blue smoke into the still air; the children, let loose from school, were shouting merrily in the distance, and she—— Just then she heard nearer sounds; an opened door, steps on the lower flight of stairs. He could not have gone without even seeing her. He never, never would have done so cruel a thing—never would have forgotten poor little Molly, however happy he might be! No! there were steps and voices, and the drawing-room door was opened and shut once more. She laid down her head on her arms that rested upon the window-sill, and cried—she had been so distrustful as to have let the idea enter her mind that he could go without wishing her good-bye—her, whom his mother had so loved, and called by the name of his little dead sister. And, as she thought of the tender love Mrs. Hamley had borne her, she cried the more, for the vanishing of such love for her off the face of the earth. Suddenly, the drawing-room door opened, and some one was heard coming upstairs; it was Cynthia’s step. Molly hastily wiped her eyes, and stood up and tried to look unconcerned; it was all she had time to do, before Cynthia, after a little pause at the closed door, had knocked and, on an answer being given, had said, without opening the door—“Molly! Mr. Roger Hamley is here, and wants to wish you good-bye before he goes.” Then she went downstairs again, as if anxious, just at that moment, to avoid even so short a tête-à-tête with Molly. With a gulp and a fit of resolution, as when a child makes up its mind to swallow a nauseous dose of medicine, Molly went instantly down to the drawing-room.

Roger was talking earnestly to Mrs. Gibson in the bow of the window when Molly entered; Cynthia was standing near, listening, but taking no part in the conversation. Her eyes were downcast, and she did not look up as Molly drew shyly near.

Roger was saying—“I could never forgive myself, if I had accepted a pledge from her. She shall be free till my return; but the hope, the words, her sweet goodness, have made me happy beyond description. Oh, Molly!” suddenly becoming aware of her presence, and turning to her, and taking her hand in both of his—“I think you have long guessed my secret, have you not? I once thought of speaking to you before I left, and confiding it all to you. But the temptation has been too great—I have told Cynthia how fondly I love her, as far as words can tell; and she says”——then he looked at Cynthia with passionate delight, and seemed to forget in that gaze that he had left his sentence to Molly half-finished.

Cynthia did not seem inclined to repeat her saying, whatever it was, but her mother spoke for her.

“My dear, sweet girl values your love as it ought to be valued, I am sure. And I believe,” looking at Cynthia and Roger with intelligent archness, “I could tell tales as to the cause of her indisposition in the spring.”

“Mother,” said Cynthia suddenly, “you know it was no such thing. Pray don’t invent stories about me! I have engaged myself to Mr. Roger Hamley, and that is enough.”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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