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- Wives and Daughters - 70/139 -


discrimination would have interested you in them as extraordinary people,' said Osborne, with a little air of conscious gallantry.

'Isn't that a compliment?' said Cynthia, after a pause of mock meditation. 'If any one pays me a compliment, please let it be short and clear. I'm very stupid at finding out hidden meanings.'

'Then such speeches as "you are very pretty," or "you have charming manners," are what you prefer. Now, I pique myself on wrapping up my sugar-plums delicately.'

'Then would you please to write them down, and at my leisure I'll parse them.'

'No! It would be too much trouble. I'll meet you half way, and study clearness next time.'

'What are you two talking about?' said Molly, resting on her light spade.

'It's only a discussion on the best way of administering compliments,' said Cynthia, taking up her flower-basket again, but not going out of the reach of the conversation.

'I don't like them at all in any way,' said Molly. 'But, perhaps, it's rather sour grapes with me,' she added.

'Nonsense!' said Osborne. 'Shall I tell you what I heard of you at the ball?'

'Or shall I provoke Mr. Preston,' said Cynthia, 'to begin upon you? It is like turning a tap, such a stream of pretty speeches flow out at the moment.' Her lip curled with scorn.

'For you, perhaps,' said Molly; 'but not for me.'

'For any woman. It is his notion of making himself agreeable. If you dare me, Molly, I will try the experiment, and you'll see with what success.'

'No, don't, pray!' said Molly, in a hurry. 'I do so dislike him!'

'Why?' said Osborne, roused to a little curiosity by her vehemence.

'Oh! I don't know. He never seems to know what one is feeling.'

'He wouldn't care if he did know,' said Cynthia. 'And he might know he is not wanted,'

'If he chooses to stay, he cares little whether he is wanted or not.'

'Come, this is very interesting,' said Osborne. 'It is like the strophe and anti-strophe in a Greek chorus. Pray, go on.'

'Don't you know him?' asked Molly.

'Yes, by sight, and I think we were once introduced. But, you know, we are much farther from Ashcombe, at Hamley, than you are here, at Hollingford.'

'Oh! but he is coming to take Mr. Sheepshanks' place, and then he will live here altogether,' said Molly.

'Molly! who told you that?' said Cynthia, in quite a different tone of voice to that in which she had been speaking hitherto.

'Papa, didn't you hear him? Oh, no! it was before you were down this morning. Papa met Mr. Sheepshanks yesterday, and he told him it was all settled: you know we heard a rumour about it in the spring!'

Cynthia was very silent after this. Presently, she said that she had gathered all the flowers she wanted, and that the heat was so great she would go indoors. And then Osborne went away. But Molly had set herself a task to dig up such roots as had already flowered, and to put down some bedding-out plants in their stead. Tired and heated as she was she finished it, and then went upstairs to rest, and change her dress. According to her wont, she sought for Cynthia; there was no reply to her soft knock at the bedroom-door opposite to her own, and, thinking that Cynthia might have fallen asleep, and be lying uncovered in the draught of the open window, she went in softly. Cynthia was lying upon the bed as if she had thrown herself down on it without caring for the ease or comfort of her position. She was very still; and Molly took a shawl, and was going to place it over her, when she opened her eyes, and spoke,--

'Is that you, dear? Don't go. I like to know that you are there.'

She shut her eyes again, and remained quite quiet for a few minutes longer. Then she started up into a sitting posture, pushed her hair away from her forehead and burning eyes, and gazed intently at Molly.

'Do you know what I've been thinking, dear?' said she. 'I think I've been long enough here, and that I had better go out as a governess.'

'Cynthia, what do you mean?' asked Molly, aghast. 'You've been asleep-- you've been dreaming. You're overtired,' continued she, sitting down on the bed, and taking Cynthia's passive hand, and stroking it softly--a mode of caressing that had come down to her from her mother--whether as an hereditary instinct, or as a lingering remembrance of the tender ways of the dead woman, Mr Gibson often wondered within himself when he observed it.

'Oh, how good you are, Molly. I wonder, if I had been brought up like you, if I should have been as good. But I've been tossed about so.'

'Then, don't go and be tossed about any more,' said Molly, softly.

'Oh, dear! I had better go. But, you see, no one ever loved me like you, and, I think, your father--doesn't he, Molly? And it's hard to be driven out.'

'Cynthia, I am sure you're not well, or else you're not half awake.' Cynthia sate with her arms encircling her knees, and looking at vacancy.

'Well!' said she, at last, heaving a great sigh; but, then, smiling as she caught Molly's anxious face, 'I suppose there's no escaping one's doom; and anywhere else I should be much more forlorn and unprotected.'

'What do you mean by your doom?'

'Ah, that's telling, little one,' said Cynthia, who seemed now to have recovered her usual manner. 'I don't mean to have one, though. I think that, though I am an arrant coward at heart, I can show fight.'

'With whom?' asked Molly, really anxious to probe the mystery--if, indeed, there was one--to the bottom, in the hope of some remedy being found for the distress Cynthia was in when first Molly had entered,

Again Cynthia was lost in thought; then, catching the echo of Molly's last words in her mind, she said,--

'"With whom?"--oh! show fight with whom--with my doom, to be sure. Am not I a grand young lady to have a doom? Why, Molly, child, how pale and grave you look!' said she, kissing her all of a sudden. 'You ought not to care so much for me; I'm not good enough for you to worry yourself about me. I've given myself up a long time ago as a heartless baggage!'

'Nonsense! I wish you wouldn't talk so, Cynthia!'

'And I wish you wouldn't always take me "at the foot of the letter," as an English girl at school used to translate it. Oh, how hot it is! Is it never going to get cool again? My child! what dirty hands you've got, and face too; and I've been kissing you--I daresay I'm dirty with it, too. Now, isn't that like one of mamma's speeches? But, for all that, you look more like a delving Adam than a spinning Eve.'

This had the effect that Cynthia intended; the daintily clean Molly became conscious of her soiled condition, which she had forgotten while she had been attending to Cynthia, and she hastily withdrew to her own room. When she had gone, Cynthia noiselessly locked the door; and, taking her purse out of her desk, she began to count over her money. She counted it once--she counted it twice, as if desirous of finding out some mistake which should prove it to be more than it was; but the end of it all was a sigh.

'What a fool!--what a fool I was!' she said, at length. 'But even if I don't go out as a governess, I shall make it up in time.'

Some weeks after the time he had anticipated when he had spoken of his departure to the Gibsons, Roger returned back to the Hall. One morning when he called, Osborne told them that his brother had been at home for two or three days.

'And why has he not come here, then?' said Mrs. Gibson. 'It is not kind of him not to come and see us as soon as he can. Tell him I say so-- pray do.'

Osborne had gained one or two ideas as to her treatment of Roger the last time he had called. Roger had not complained of it, or even mentioned it, till that very morning; when Osborne was on the point of starting, and had urged Roger to accompany him, the latter had told him something of what Mrs. Gibson had said. He spoke rather as if he was more amused than annoyed; but Osborne could read that he was chagrined at those restrictions placed upon calls which were the greatest pleasure of his life. Neither of them let out the suspicion which had entered both their minds--the well-grounded suspicion arising from the fact that Osborne's visits, be they paid early or late, had never yet been met with a repulse.

Osborne now reproached himself with having done Mrs. Gibson injustice. She was evidently a weak, but probably a disinterested, woman; and it was only a little bit of ill-temper on her part which had caused her to speak to Roger as she had done.

'I daresay it was rather impertinent of me to call at such an untimely hour,' said Roger.

'Not at all; I call at all hours, and nothing is ever said about it. It was just because she was put out that morning. I'll answer for it she's sorry now, and I'm sure you may go there at any time you like in the future.'

Still, Roger did not choose to go again for two or three weeks, and the consequence was that the next time he called the ladies were out. Once again he had the same ill-luck, and then he received a little pretty three-cornered note from Mrs. Gibson:--

MY DEAR SIR,--How is it that you are become so formal all on a sudden,


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