Every one makes it their business to cast dirt on a girls name, who has disregarded the commonest rules of modesty and propriety.
Papa, you are very hard. Modesty disregarded! I will tell you exactly what I have done. I met Mr. Preston oncethat evening when you put me down to walk over Croston Heathand there was another person with him. I met him a second timeand that time by appointmentnobody but our two selvesin the Towers Park. That is all, papa. You must trust me. I cannot explain more. You must trust me indeed.
He could not help relenting at her words; there was such truth in the tone in which they were spoken. But he neither spoke nor stirred for a minute or two. Then he raised his eyes to hers, for the first time since she had acknowledged the external truth of what he charged her with. Her face was very white, but it bore the impress of the final sincerity of death, when the true expression prevails without the poor disguises of time.
The letters? he saidbut almost as if he were ashamed to question that countenance any further.
I gave him one letterof which I did not write a wordwhich, in fact, I believe to have been merely an envelope, without any writing whatever inside. The giving that letterthe two interviews I have namedmake all the private intercourse I have had with Mr. Preston. Oh! papa, what have they been saying that has grievedshocked you so much?
Never mind. As the world goes, what you say you have done, Molly, is ground enough. You must tell me all. I must be sure to refute these rumours point by point.
How are they to be refuted, when you say that the truth which I have acknowledged is ground enough for what people are saying?
You say you were not acting for yourself, but for another. If you tell me who the other wasif you tell me everything out fully, I will do my utmost to screen herfor of course I guess it was Cynthiawhile I am exonerating you.
No, papa! said Molly, after some little consideration; I have told you all I can tell; all that concerns myself; and I have promised not to say one word more.
Then your character will be impugned. It must be, unless the fullest explanation of these secret meetings is given. Ive a great mind to force the whole truth out of Preston himself.
Papa! once again I beg you to trust me. If you ask Mr. Preston, you will be very likely to hear the whole truth; but that is just what I have been trying so hard to conceal, for it will only make several people very unhappy, if it is known, and the whole affair is over and done with now.
Not your share in it. Miss Browning sent for me this evening, to tell me how people were talking about you. She implied that it was a complete loss of your good name. You dont know, Molly, how slight a thing may blacken a girls reputation for life. Id hard work to stand all she said, even though I didnt believe a word of it at the time. And now youve told me that much of it is true.
But I think you are a brave man, papa. And you believe me, dont you? We shall outlive these rumours, never fear.
You dont know the power of ill-natured tongues, child, said he.
Oh, now youve called me child again, I dont care for anything. Dear, dear papa, Im sure it is best and wisest to take no notice of these speeches. After all, they may not mean them ill-naturedly. I am sure Miss Browning would not. By-and-by theyll quite forget how much they made out of so littleand even if they dont, you would not have me break my solemn word, would you?
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