Gathering Clouds

Mrs. Gibson came back full of rose-coloured accounts of London. Lady Cumnor had been gracious and affectionate, “so touched by my going up to see her so soon after her return to England”; Lady Harriet charming and devoted to her old governess; Lord Cumnor “just like his dear usual hearty self”; and, as for the Kirkpatricks, no Lord Chancellor’s house was ever grander than theirs, and the silk-gown of the Q.C. had floated over housemaids and footmen. Cynthia, too, was so much admired; and, as for her dress, Mrs. Kirkpatrick had showered down ball-dresses and wreaths, and pretty bonnets and mantles, like a fairy-godmother. Mr. Gibson’s poor present of ten pounds shrank into very small dimensions, compared with all this munificence.

“And they’re so fond of her, I don’t know when we shall have her back!” was Mrs. Gibson’s winding-up sentence. “And now, Molly, what have you and papa been doing? Very gay, you sounded in your letter. I had not time to read it in London; so I put it in my pocket, and read it in the coach coming home. But, my dear child, you do look so old-fashioned with your gown made all tight, and your hair all tumbling about in curls. Curls are quite gone out. We must do your hair differently,” she continued, trying to smooth Molly’s black waves into straightness.

“I sent Cynthia an African letter,” said Molly timidly. “Did you hear anything of what was in it?”

“Oh, yes, poor child! It made her very uneasy, I think; she said she did not feel inclined to go to Mr. Rawson’s ball, which was on that night, and for which Mrs. Kirkpatrick had given her the ball-dress. But there was really nothing for her to fidget herself about. Roger only said he had had another touch of fever, but was better when he wrote. He says every European has to be acclimatised by fever, in that part of Abyssinia where he is.”

“And did she go?” asked Molly.

“Yes, to be sure. It is not an engagement; and, if it were, it is not acknowledged. Fancy her going and saying, ‘A young man that I know has been ill for a few days in Africa, two months ago, therefore I don’t want to go to the ball to-night!’ It would have seemed like affectation of sentiment; and, if there’s one thing I hate, it is that.”

“She would hardly enjoy herself,” said Molly.

“Oh, yes, but she did! Her dress was white gauze, trimmed with lilacs, and she really did look—a mother may be allowed a little natural partiality—most lovely. And she danced every dance, although she was quite a stranger. I am sure she enjoyed herself, from her manner of talking about it the next morning.”

“I wonder if the Squire knows!”

“Knows what? Oh, yes, to be sure—you mean about Roger. I daresay he doesn’t; and there’s no need to tell him, for I’ve no doubt it is all right now.” And she went out of the room, to finish her unpacking.

Molly let her work fall, and sighed. “It will be a year the day after to-morrow, since he came here to propose our going to Hurst Wood, and mamma was so vexed at his calling before lunch. I wonder if Cynthia remembers it as well as I do. And now perhaps——Oh, Roger, Roger! I wish—I pray that you were safe home again! How could we all bear it, if——”

She covered her face with her hands, and tried to stop thinking. Suddenly she got up, as if stung by a venomous fancy.

“I don’t believe she loves him as she ought, or she could not—could not have gone and danced. What shall I do if she does not? What shall I do? I can bear anything but that!”

But she found the long suspense as to his health hard enough to endure. They were not likely to hear from him for a month at least, and before that time had elapsed Cynthia would be at home again. Molly

  By PanEris using Melati.

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