Mr. Kirkpatrick, Q.C.

Cynthia was always the same with Molly: kind, sweet-tempered, ready to help, professing a great deal of love for her, and probably feeling as much as she did for any one in the world. But Molly had reached to this superficial depth of affection and intimacy in the first few weeks of Cynthia’s residence in her father’s house; and, if she had been of a nature prone to analyse the character of one whom she loved dearly, she might have perceived that, with all Cynthia’s apparent frankness, there were certain limits beyond which her confidence did not go; where her reserve began, and her real self was shrouded in mystery. For instance, her relations with Mr. Preston were often very puzzling to Molly. She was sure that there had been a much greater intimacy between them formerly at Ashcombe, and that the remembrance of this was often very galling and irritating to Cynthia, who was evidently desirous of forgetting it as he was anxious to make her remember it. But why this intimacy had ceased, why Cynthia disliked him so extremely now, and many other unexplained circumstances connected with these two facts, were Cynthia’s secrets; and she effectually baffled all Molly’s innocent attempts, during the first glow of her friendship for Cynthia, to learn the girlish antecedents of her companion’s life. Every now and then Molly came to a dead wall, beyond which she could not pass—at least with the delicate instruments which were all she chose to use. Perhaps Cynthia might have told all there was to tell to a more forcible curiosity, which knew how to improve every slip of the tongue and every fit of temper to its own gratification. But Molly’s was the interest of affection, not the coarser desire of knowing everything for a little excitement; and, as soon as she saw that Cynthia did not wish to tell her anything about that period of her life, Molly left off referring to it. But, if Cynthia had preserved a sweet tranquillity of manner and an unvarying kindness for Molly during the winter in question, at present she was the only person to whom the beauty’s ways were unchanged. Mr. Gibson’s influence had been good for her as long as she saw that he liked her; she had tried to keep as high a place in his good opinion as she could, and had curbed many a little sarcasm against her mother, and many a twisting of the absolute truth, when he was by. Now there was a constant uneasiness about her, which made her more cowardly than before; and even her partisan, Molly, could not help being aware of the distinct equivocations she occasionally used when anything in Mr. Gibson’s words or behaviour pressed her too hard. Her repartees to her mother were less frequent than they had been, but there was often the unusual phenomenon of pettishness in her behaviour to her. These changes in humour and disposition, here described all at once, were in themselves a series of delicate alterations of relative conduct spread over many months—many winter months of long evenings and bad weather, which bring out discords of character, as a dash of cold water brings out the fading colours of an old fresco.

During much of this time Mr. Preston had been at Ashcombe; for Lord Cumnor had not been able to find an agent whom he liked, to replace Mr. Preston; and, while the inferior situation remained vacant, Mr. Preston had undertaken to do the duties of both. Mrs. Goodenough had had a serious illness; and the little society at Hollingford did not care to meet, while one of their habitual set was scarcely out of danger. So there had been very little visiting; and though Miss Browning said that the absence of the temptations of society was very agreeable to cultivated minds, after the dissipations of the previous autumn, when there were parties every week to welcome Mr. Preston, yet Miss Phœbe let out in confidence that she and her sister had fallen into the habit of going to bed at nine o’clock, for they found cribbage night after night, from five o’clock till ten, rather too much of a good thing. To tell the truth, that winter, if peaceful, was monotonous in Hollingford; and the whole circle of gentility there was delighted to be stirred up in March by the intelligence that Mr. Kirkpatrick, the newly-made Q.C., was coming on a visit for a couple of days to his sister-in-law, Mrs. Gibson. Mrs. Goodenough’s room was the very centre of gossip; gossip had been her daily bread through her life, gossip was meat and wine to her now.

“Dear-ah-me!” said the old lady, rousing herself so as to sit upright in her easy-chair, and propping herself with her hands on the arms; “who would ha’ thought she’d such grand relations! Why, Mr. Ashton told me once that a Queen’s counsel was as like to be a judge as a kitten is like to be a cat. And to think of her being as good as sister to a judge! I saw one oncst; and I know I thought as I shouldn’t wish for a better winter-cloak than his old robes would make me, if I could only find out where I could get ’em second-hand. And I know she’d her silk gowns turned and dyed and cleaned, and, for aught I know, turned again, while she lived at Ashcombe. Keeping a school, too, and so near akin to this Queen’s

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