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- Wives and Daughters - 100/139 -

eyes from the light. Molly alone could neither read, nor sleep, nor work. She sate in the seat in the bow-window; the blind was not drawn down, for there was no danger of their being overlooked. She gazed into the soft outer darkness, and found herself striving to discern the outlines of objects--the cottage at the end of the garden--the great beech-tree with the seat round it--the wire arches, up which the summer roses had clambered; each came out faint and dim against the dusky velvet of the atmosphere. Presently tea came, and there was the usual nightly bustle. The table was cleared, Mrs. Gibson roused herself, and made the same remark about dear papa that she had done at the same hour for weeks past. Cynthia too did not look different to usual. And yet what a hidden mystery did her calmness hide, thought Molly. At length came bed-time, and the accustomary little speeches. Both Molly and Cynthia went to their own rooms without exchanging a word. When Molly was in hers she had forgotten if she was to go to Cynthia, or Cynthia to come to her. She took off her gown and put on her dressing-gown, and stood and waited, and even sate down for a minute or two; but Cynthia did not come, so Molly went and knocked at the opposite door, which, to her surprise, she found shut. When she entered the room Cynthia sate by her dressing-table, just as she came up from the drawing-room. She had been leaning her head on her arms, and seemed almost to have forgotten the tryst she had made with Molly, for she looked up as if startled, and her face did seem full of worry and distress; in her solitude she made no more exertion, but gave way to thoughts of care.



'You said I might come,' said Molly, 'and that you would tell me all.'

'You know all, I think,' said Cynthia heavily. 'Perhaps you don't know what excuses I have, but at any rate you know what a scrape I am in.'

'I've been thinking a great deal,' said Molly timidly and doubtfully. 'And I can't help fancying if you told papa--'

Before she could go on, Cynthia had stood up.

'No!' said she. 'That I won't. Unless I'm to leave here at once. And you know I have not another place to go to--without warning I mean. I dare say my uncle would take me in, he's a relation, and would be bound to stand by me in whatever disgrace I might be; or perhaps I might get a governess's situation; a pretty governess I should be!'

'Pray, please, Cynthia, don't go off into such wild talking. I don't believe you've done so very wrong. You say you have not, and I believe you. That horrid man has managed to get you involved in some way; but I'm sure papa could set it to rights, if you would only make a friend of him and tell him all--'

'No, Molly,' said Cynthia, 'I can't, and there's an end of it. You may if you like, only let me leave the house first; give me that much time.'

'You know I would never tell anything you wished me not to tell, Cynthia,' said Molly, deeply hurt.

'Would you not, darling?' said Cynthia, taking her hand. 'Will you promise me that? quite a sacred promise?--for it would be such a comfort to me to tell you all, now you know so much.'

'Yes! I'll promise not to tell. You should not have doubted me,' said Molly, still a little sorrowfully.

'Very well. I trust to you. I know I may.'

'But do think of telling papa, and getting him to help you,' persevered Molly.

'Never,' said Cynthia resolutely, but more quietly than before. 'Do you think I forget what he said at the time of that wretched Mr Coxe; how severe he was, and how long I was in disgrace, if indeed I'm out of it now? I am one of those people, as mamma says sometimes--I cannot live with persons who don't think well of me. It may be a weakness, or a sin, I am sure I don't know and I don't care; but I really cannot be happy in the same house with any one who knows my faults, and thinks that they are greater than my merits. Now you know your father would do that. I have often told you that he (and you too, Molly) had a higher standard than I had ever known. Oh, I could not bear it--if he were to know he would be so angry with me--he would never get over it, and I have so liked him! I do so like him.'

'Well, never mind, dear; he shall not know,' said Molly, for Cynthia was again becoming hysterical,--'at least we'll say no more about it now.'

'And you'll never say any more--never--promise me,' said Cynthia, taking her hand eagerly.

'Never till you give me leave. Now do let me see if I cannot help you. Lie down on the bed, and I will sit by you, and let us talk it over.'

But Cypthia sate down again in the chair by the dressing-table.

'When did it all begin?' said Molly, after a long pause of silence.

'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 that 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 did not 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 on 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 dare say I was at a very awkward age to have me lounging about in her drawing-room when callers came. Girls at the age I was then are so terribly keen at scenting out motives, and putting in their awkward 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 summer bonnet and some old ribbons I had been sponging out, and half-worn-out gloves --a sort of rag-fair spread out on the deal table. I was in a regular passion with only looking at that shabbiness. He said he was so glad to hear I was going to this festival with the Donaldsons; old Betty, our servant, had told him the news, I believe. But I was so perplexed about money, and my vanity was so put out about my shabby dress, that I was in a pet, and said I should not go. He sate down on the table, and little by little he made me tell him all my troubles. I do sometimes think he was very nice in those days. Somehow I never felt as if it was wrong or foolish or anything to accept his offer of money at the time. He had twenty pounds in his pocket, he said, and really did not know what to do with it, should not want it for months; I could repay it, or rather mamma could, when it suited her. She must have known I should want money, and most likely thought I should apply to him. Twenty pounds would not be too much, I must take it all, and so on. I knew, at least I thought I knew, that I should never spend twenty pounds; but I thought I could give him back what I did not want, and so--well, that was the beginning! It does not sound so very wrong, does it, Molly?'

'No,' said Molly, hesitatingly. She did not wish to make herself into a hard judge, and yet she did so dislike Mr. Preston. Cynthia went on,--

'Well, what with boots and gloves, and a bonnet and a mantle, and a white muslin gown, which was made for me before I left on the Tuesday, and a silk gown that followed to the Donaldsons', and my journeys, and

Wives and Daughters - 100/139

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