“Oh, let me just go up to the top! I know we can see the blue range of the Malverns from it, and Dorrimer Hall among the woods; the horse will want a minute’s rest, and then I will get down without a word.”

She went up to the top of the hill; and there they sate still a minute or two, enjoying the view, without much speaking. The woods were golden; the old house of purplered brick, with its twisted chimneys, rose up from among them facing on to green lawns, and a placid lake; beyond again were the Malvern Hills.

“Now jump down, lassie, and make the best of your way home before it gets dark! You’ll find the cut over Croston Heath shorter than the road we’ve come by.”

To reach Croston Heath, Molly had to go down a narrow lane overshadowed by trees, with picturesque old cottages dotted here and there on the steep sandy banks; and then there came a small wood, and then there was a brook to be crossed on a plank-bridge, and up the steeper fields on the opposite side were cut steps in the turfy path; these ended, she was on Croston Heath, a wide-stretching common skirted by labourers’ dwellings, past which a near road to Hollingford lay.

The loneliest part of the road was the first—the lane, the wood, the little bridge, and the clambering through the upland fields. But Molly cared little for loneliness. She went along the lane under the overarching elm-branches, from which, here and there, a yellow leaf came floating down upon her very dress; past the last cottage where a little child had tumbled down the sloping bank, and was publishing the accident with frightened cries. Molly stooped to pick it up, and, holding it in her arms in a manner which caused intense surprise to take the place of alarm in its little breast, she carried it up the rough flag-steps towards the cottage which she supposed to be its home. The mother came running in from the garden behind the house, still holding the late damsons she had been gathering in her apron; but, on seeing her, the little creature held out its arms to go to her, and she dropped her damsons all about as she took it, and began to soothe it as it cried afresh, interspersing her lulling with thanks to Molly. She called her by her name; and, on Molly asking the woman how she came to know it, she replied that before her marriage she had been a servant of Mrs. Goodenough, and so was “bound to know Dr. Gibson’s daughter by sight.” After the exchange of two or three more words, Molly ran down the lane, and pursued her way, stopping here and there to gather a nosegay of such leaves as struck her for their brilliant colouring. She entered the wood. As she turned a corner in the lonely path, she heard a passionate voice of distress; and in an instant she recognised Cynthia’s tones. She stood still and looked around. There were some thick holly bushes shining out dark-green in the midst of the amber and scarlet foliage. If any one was there, it must be behind these. So Molly left the path, and went straight, plunging through the brown tangled growth of ferns and underwood, and turned the holly-bushes. There stood Mr. Preston and Cynthia; he holding her hands tight, each looking as if just silenced in some vehement talk by the rustle of Molly’s footsteps.

For an instant no one spoke. Then Cynthia said—

“Oh, Molly, Molly, come and judge between us!”

Mr. Preston let go Cynthia’s hands slowly, with a look that was more of a sneer than a smile; and yet he, too, had been strongly agitated, whatever was the subject in dispute. Molly came forward and took Cynthia’s arm, her eyes steadily fixed on Mr. Preston’s face. It was fine to see the fearlessness of her perfect innocence. He could not bear her look, and said to Cynthia—

“The subject of our conversation does not well admit of a third person’s presence. As Miss Gibson seems to wish for your company now, I must beg you to fix some other time and place where we can finish our discussion.”

“I will go, if Cynthia wishes me,” said Molly.

“No, no; stay—I want you to stay—I want you to hear, it all—I wish I had told you sooner.”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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