Molly Gibson breathes freely

That was the way in which Mrs. Gibson first broached her intention of accompanying Cynthia up to London for a few days’ visit. She had a trick of producing the first sketch of any new plan before an outsider to the family circle; so that the first emotions of others, if they disapproved of her projects, had to be repressed, until the idea had become familiar to them. To Molly it seemed too charming a proposal ever to come to pass. She had never allowed herself to recognise the restraint she was under in her stepmother’s presence; but all at once she found it out, when her heart danced at the idea of three whole days—for that it would be at the least—of perfect freedom of intercourse with her father; of old times come back again; of meals without perpetual fidgetiness after details of ceremony and correctness of attendance.

“We’ll have bread-and-cheese for dinner, and eat it on our knees; we’ll make up for having had to eat sloppy puddings with a fork instead of a spoon all this time, by putting our knives in our mouths till we cut ourselves. Papa shall pour his tea into his saucer if he’s in a hurry; and, if I’m thirsty, I’ll take the slop-basin. And oh, if I could but get, buy, borrow, or steal any kind of an old horse; my grey skirt isn’t new, but it will do;—that would be too delightful! After all, I think I can be happy again; for months and months it has seemed as if I had got too old ever to feel pleasure, much less happiness again.”

So thought Molly. Yet she blushed, as if with guilt, when Cynthia, reading her thoughts, said to her one day—

“Molly, you’re very glad to get rid of us, are not you?”

“Not of you, Cynthia; at least, I don’t think I am. Only, if you but knew how I love papa, and how I used to see a great deal more of him than I ever do now”——

“Ah! I often think what interlopers we must seem, and are in fact”——

“I don’t feel you as such. You, at any rate, have been a new delight to me—a sister; and I never knew how charming such a relationship could be.”

“But mamma?” said Cynthia, half-suspiciously, half-sorrowfully.

“She is papa’s wife,” said Molly quietly. “I don’t mean to say I’m not often very sorry to feel I’m no longer first with him; but it was”—the violent colour flushed into her face, till even her eyes burnt, and she suddenly found herself on the point of crying; the weeping ash-tree, the misery, the slow dropping comfort, and the comforter came all so vividly before her—“it was Roger!”—she went on looking up at Cynthia, as she overcame her slight hesitation at mentioning his name—“Roger, who told me how I ought to take papa’s marriage, when I was first startled and grieved at the news. Oh, Cynthia, what a great thing it is to be loved by him!”

Cynthia blushed, and looked fluttered and pleased.

“Yes, I suppose it is. At the same time, Molly, I’m afraid he’ll expect me to be always as good as he fancies me now, and I shall have to walk on tiptoe all the rest of my life.”

“But you are good, Cynthia,” put in Molly.

“No, I’m not. You’re just as much mistaken as he is; and some day I shall go down in your opinions with a run, just like the hall-clock the other day, when the spring broke.”

“I think he’ll love you just as much,” said Molly.

“Could you? Would you be my friend, if—if it turned out even that I had done very wrong things? Would you remember, how very difficult it has sometimes been to me to act rightly?” (she took hold of Molly’s hand as she spoke). “We won’t speak of mamma, for your sake as much as mine or hers; but you must see she isn’t one to help a girl with much good advice, or good——Oh, Molly, you don’t know how I

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