“Long ago—four or five years. I was such a child to be left all to myself. It was the holidays, and mamma was away visiting, and the Donaldsons asked me to go with them to the Worcester Festival. You can’t fancy how pleasant it all sounded, especially to me. I had been shut up in that great dreary house at Ashcombe, where mamma had her school; it belonged to Lord Cumnor, and Mr. Preston as his agent had to see it all painted and papered; but, besides that, he was very intimate with us; I believe mamma thought—no, I’m not sure about that, and I have enough blame to lay at her door, to prevent my telling you anything that may be only fancy——”

Then she paused and sate still for a minute or two, recalling the past. Molly was struck by the aged and careworn expression which had taken temporary hold of the brilliant and beautiful face; she could see from that how much Cynthia must have suffered from this hidden trouble of hers.

“Well! at any rate we were intimate with him, and he came a great deal about the house, and knew as much as any one of mamma’s affairs, and all the ins and outs of her life. I’m telling you this, in order that you may understand how natural it was for me to answer his questions, when he came one day and found me, not crying, for you know I’m not much given to that—in spite of to-day’s exposure of myself—but fretting and fuming because, though mamma had written word I might go with the Donaldsons, she had never said how I was to get any money for the journey, much less for anything of dress, and I had outgrown all my last year’s frocks, and, as for gloves and boots—in short, I really had hardly clothes decent enough for church”——

“Why didn’t you write to her and tell her all this?” said Molly, half afraid of appearing to cast blame by her very natural question.

“I wish I had her letter to show you; you must have seen some of mamma’s letters, though; don’t you know how she always seems to leave out just the important point of every fact? In this case she descanted largely on the enjoyment she was having, and the kindness she was receiving, and her wish that I could have been with her, and her gladness that I too was going to have some pleasure; but the only thing that would have been of real use to me she left out, and that was where she was going to next. She mentioned that she was leaving the house she was stopping at the day after she wrote, and that she should be at home by a certain date; but I got the letter on a Saturday, and the festival began the next Tuesday”——

“Poor Cynthia!” said Molly. “Still, if you had written, your letter might have been forwarded. I don’t mean to be hard, only I do so dislike the thought of your ever having made a friend of that man.”

“Ah!” said Cynthia, sighing. “How easy it is to judge rightly, after one sees what evil comes from judging wrongly! I was only a young girl, hardly more than a child, and he was a friend to us then—excepting mamma, the only friend I knew; the Donaldsons were only kind and good-natured acquaintances.”

“I am sorry,” said Molly humbly, “I have been so happy with papa. I hardly can understand how different it must have been with you.”

“Different! I should think so! The worry about money made me sick of my life. We might not say we were poor, it would have injured the school; but I would have stinted and starved if mamma and I had got on as happily together as we might have done—as you and Mr. Gibson do. It was not the poverty; it was that she never seemed to care to have me with her. As soon as the holidays came round, she was off to some great house or another; and I daresay I was at a very awkward age for her to have me lounging about in the drawing-room, when callers came. Girls at the age I was then are so terribly keen at scenting out motives, and putting in their disagreeable questions as to the little twistings and twirlings and vanishings of conversation; they’ve no distinct notion of what are the truths and falsehoods of polite life. At any rate, I was very much in mamma’s way, and I felt it. Mr. Preston seemed to feel it too for me; and I was very grateful to him for kind words and sympathetic looks—crumbs of kindness which would have dropped under your table unnoticed. So this day, when he came to see how the workmen were getting on, he found me in the deserted schoolroom, looking at my faded summerbonnet and some old ribbons I had

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