“Oh, yes! You know I don’t mean that it will be a comfort to leave you; that will be anything but a comfort. But, after all, a country town is a country town, and London is London. You need not smile at my truisms; I’ve always had a sympathy with M. de la Palisse—

‘M. de la Palisse est mort
     En perdant sa vie;
Un quart d’heure avant sa mort
     Il était en vie’ ”—

sang she, in so gay a manner that she puzzled Molly, as she often did, by her change of mood from the gloomy decision with which she had refused to accept the invitation only half-an-hour ago. She suddenly took Molly round the waist, and began waltzing about the room with her, to the imminent danger of the various little tables, loaded with “objets d’art” (as Mrs. Gibson delighted to call them) with which the drawing-room was crowded. She avoided them, however, with her usual skill; but they both stood still at last, surprised at Mrs. Gibson’s surprise, as she stood at the door, looking at the whirl going on before her.

“Upon my word, I only hope you are not going crazy, both of you! What’s all this about, pray?”

“Only because I’m so glad I’m going to London, mamma,” said Cynthia demurely.

“I’m not sure if it’s quite the thing for an engaged young lady to be so much beside herself at the prospect of gaiety. In my time, our great pleasure in our lovers’ absence was in thinking about them.”

“I should have thought that would have given you pain, because you would have had to remember that they were away, which ought to have made you unhappy. Now, to tell you the truth, just at the moment I had forgotten all about Roger. I hope it wasn’t very wrong. Osborne looks as if he did all my share as well as his own of the fretting after Roger. How ill he looked yesterday!”

“Yes,” said Molly; “I didn’t know if any one besides me had noticed it. I was quite shocked.”

“Ah,” said Mrs. Gibson, “I’m afraid that young man won’t live long—very much afraid,” and she shook her head ominously.

“Oh, what will happen if he dies?” exclaimed Molly, suddenly sitting down, and thinking of that strange, mysterious wife who never made her appearance, whose very existence was never spoken about—and Roger away too!

“Well, it would be very sad, of course, and we should all feel it very much, I’ve no doubt; for I’ve always been very fond of Osborne; in fact, before Roger became, as it were my own flesh and blood, I liked Osborne better; but we must not forget the living, dear Molly,” (for Molly’s eyes were filling with tears at the dismal thoughts presented to her). “Our dear good Roger would, I am sure, do all in his power to fill Osborne’s place in any way; and his marriage need not be so long delayed.”

“Don’t speak of that in the same breath as Osborne’s life, mamma,” said Cynthia hastily.

“Why, my dear, it is a very natural thought. For poor Roger’s sake, you know, one wishes it not to be so very, very long an engagement; and I was only answering Molly’s question, after all. One can’t help following out one’s thoughts. People must die, you know—young, as well as old.”

“If I ever suspected Roger of following out his thoughts in a similar way,” said Cynthia, “I’d never speak to him again.”

“As if he would!” said Molly, warm in her turn. “You know he never would; and you shouldn’t suppose it of him, Cynthia—no, not even for a moment!”

“I can’t see the great harm of it all, for my part,” said Mrs. Gibson plaintively. “A young man strikes us all as looking very ill—and I’m sure I’m sorry for it; but illness very often leads to death. Surely you agree with me there, and what’s the harm of saying so? Then Molly asks what will happen, if he dies; and I try to answer her question. I don’t like talking or thinking of death any more than any one else; but I should

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