An Innocent Culprit

With his head bent down—as if he were facing some keen blowing wind—and yet there was not a breath of air stirring—Mr. Gibson went swiftly to his own home. He rang at the door-bell; an unusual proceeding on his part. Maria opened the door. “Go and tell Miss Molly she’s wanted in the dining-room. Don’t say who it is that wants her.” There was something in Mr. Gibson’s manner that made Maria obey him to the letter, in spite of Molly’s surprised question—

“Wants me? Who is it, Maria?”

Mr. Gibson went into the dining-room, and shut the door, for an instant’s solitude. He went up to the chimney-piece, took hold of it, and laid his head on his hands, and tried to still the beating of his heart.

The door opened. He knew that Molly stood there, before he heard her tone of astonishment.


“Hush!” said he, turning round sharply. “Shut the door. Come here.”

She came to him wondering what was amiss. Her thoughts went to the Hamleys immediately. “Is it Osborne?” she asked, breathless. If Mr. Gibson had not been too much agitated to judge calmly, he might have deduced comfort from these three words.

But, instead of allowing himself to seek for comfort from collateral evidence, he said—“Molly, what is this I hear? That you have been keeping up a clandestine intercourse with Mr. Preston—meeting him in out- of-the-way places; exchanging letters with him in a stealthy way?”

Though he had professed to disbelieve all this, and did disbelieve it at the bottom of his soul, his voice was hard and stern, his face was white and grim, and his eyes fixed Molly’s with the terrible keenness of their search. Molly trembled all over, but she did not attempt to evade his penetration. If she was silent for a moment, it was because she was rapidly reviewing her relation with regard to Cynthia in the matter. It was but a moment’s pause of silence, but it seemed long minutes to one who was craving for a burst of indignant denial. He had taken hold of her two arms just above her wrists, as she had advanced towards him; he was unconscious of this action; but, as his impatience for her words grew upon him, he grasped her more and more tightly in his vice-like hands, till she made a little involuntary sound of pain. And then he let go; and she looked at her soft bruised flesh, with tears gathering fast to her eyes, to think that he, her father, should have hurt her so. At the instant, it appeared to her stranger that he should inflict bodily pain upon his child, than that he should have heard the truth—even in an exaggerated form. With a childish gesture, she held out her arm to him; but, if she expected pity, she received none.

“Pooh!” said he, as he just glanced at the mark, “that is nothing—nothing. Answer my question. Have you—have you met that man in private?”

“Yes, papa, I have; but I don’t think it was wrong.”

He sate down now. “Wrong!” he echoed bitterly. “Not wrong? Well! I must bear it somehow. Your mother is dead. That’s one comfort. It is true, then, is it? Why, I didn’t believe it—not I! I laughed in my sleeve at their credulity; and I was the dupe all the time!”

“Papa, I cannot tell you all. It is not my secret, or you should know it directly. Indeed, you will be sorry some time—I have never deceived you yet, have I?” trying to take one of his hands; but he kept them tightly in his pockets, his eyes fixed on the pattern of the carpet before him. “Papa!” said she, pleading again, “have I ever deceived you?”

“How can I tell? I hear of this from the town’s talk. I don’t know what next may come out!”

“The town’s talk!” said Molly in dismay. “What business is it of theirs?”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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