into the perpetual small gaieties which abounded in her uncle’s house in London, even at this dead season of the year. Mrs. Gibson came upon Mr. Henderson’s name once, and then went on with a running “um-um-um” to herself, which sounded very mysterious, but which might as well have been omitted, as all that Cynthia really said about him was, “Mr. Henderson’s mother has advised my aunt to consult a certain Dr. Donaldson, who is said to be very clever in such cases as Helen’s; but my uncle is not sufficiently sure of the professional etiquette, &c.” Then there came a very affectionate, carefully worded message to Molly—implying a good deal more than was said of loving gratitude for the trouble she had taken on Cynthia’s behalf. And that was all; and Molly went away a little depressed; she knew not why.

The operation on Lady Cumnor had been successfully performed, and in a few days they hoped to bring her down to the Towers to recruit her strength in the fresh country air. The case was one which interested Mr. Gibson extremely, and in which his opinion had been proved to be right, in opposition to that of one or two great names in London. The consequence was that he was frequently consulted and referred to during the progress of her recovery; and, as he had much to do in the immediate circle of his Hollingford practice, as well as to write thoughtful letters to his medical brethren in London, he found it difficult to spare the three or four hours necessary to go over to Hamley to see Osborne. He wrote to him, however, begging him to reply immediately and detail his symptoms; and from the answer he received he did not imagine that the case was immediately pressing. Osborne, too, deprecated his coming over to Hamley for the express purpose of seeing him. So the visit was deferred to that “more convenient season” which is so often too late.

All these days the buzzing gossip about Molly’s meetings with Mr. Preston, her clandestine correspondence, the secret interviews in lonely places, had been gathering strength, and assuming the positive form of scandal. The simple, innocent girl, who walked through the quiet streets without a thought of being the object of mysterious implications, became for a time the unconscious black sheep of the town. Servants heard part of what was said in their mistresses’ drawing-rooms, and exaggerated the sayings amongst themselves with the coarse strengthening of expression common with uneducated people. Mr. Preston himself became aware that her name was being coupled with his, though hardly of the extent to which the love of excitement and gossip had carried people’s speeches; he chuckled over the mistake, but took no pains to correct it. “It serves her right,” said he to himself, “for meddling with other folk’s business,” and he felt himself avenged for the discomfiture which her menace of appealing to Lady Harriet had caused him, and the mortification he had experienced in learning from her plain-speaking lips, how he had been talked over by Cynthia and herself, with personal dislike on the one side, and evident contempt on the other. Besides, if any denial of Mr. Preston’s stirred up an examination as to the real truth, more might come out of his baffled endeavours to compel Cynthia to keep to her engagement to him than he cared to have known. He was angry with himself for still loving Cynthia; loving her in his own fashion, be it understood. He told himself that many a woman of more position and wealth would be glad enough to have him; some of them pretty women too. And he asked himself why he was such a confounded fool to go on hankering after a penniless girl, who was as fickle as the wind? The answer was silly enough, logically; but forcible in fact. Cynthia was Cynthia, and not Venus herself could have been her substitute. In this one thing Mr. Preston was more really true than many a worthy man, who, seeking to be married, turns with careless facility from the unattainable to the attainable, and keeps his feelings and fancy tolerably loose, till he finds a woman who consents to be his wife. But no one would ever be to Mr. Preston what Cynthia had been, and was; and yet he could have stabbed her in certain of his moods. So Molly, who had come between him and the object of his desire, was not likely to find favour in his sight, or to obtain friendly action from him.

There came a time—not very distant from the evening at Mrs. Dawes’—when Molly felt that people looked askance at her. Mrs. Goodenough openly pulled her grand-daughter away, when the young girl stopped to speak to Molly in the street, and an engagement which the two had made for a long walk together was cut very short by a very trumpery excuse. Mrs. Goodenough explained her conduct in the following manner to some of her friends:—

  By PanEris using Melati.

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