“If you think I’m only pretending to care for the child, Georgie, you’re very much mistaken!”
“I don’t think so. You needn’t put words into my mouth, or thoughts into my head. All the same, Cynthia,—cut it short!”
And with that she released the door and departed, leaving an anxious and meditative Cynthia behind her.
A little later, Buntingford’s voice was heard below. Cynthia, descending, found him with Arthur in his arms. The day had been hot and rainy—an oppressive scirocco day—and the boy was languid and out of sorts. The nurse advised his being carried up early to bed, and Buntingford had arrived just in time.
When he came downstairs again, he found Cynthia in a garden hat, and they strolled out to look at the water-garden which was the common hobby of both the sisters. There, sitting among the rushes by the side of the little dammed-up stream, he produced a letter from Mrs. Friend, with the latest news of his ward.
“Evidently we shan’t get Helena back just yet. I shall run up next week to see her, I think, Cynthia, if you will let me. I really will take Arthur to Beechmark this week. Mrs. Mawson has arranged everything. His rooms are all ready for him. Will you come and look at them to-morrow?”
Cynthia did not reply at once, and he watched her a little anxiously. He was well aware what giving up the boy would mean to her. Her devotion had been amazing. But the wrench must come some time.
“Yes, of course—you must take him,” said Cynthia, at last. “If only—I hadn’t come to love him so!”
She didn’t cry. She was perfectly self-possessed. But there was something in her pensive, sorrowful look that affected Philip more than any vehement emotion could have done. The thought of all her devotion—their long friendship—her womanly ways—came upon him overwhelmingly.
But another thought checked it—Helena!—and his promise to her dead mother. If he now made Cynthia the mistress of Beechmark, Helena would never return to it. For they were incompatible. He saw it plainly. And to Helena he was bound; while she needed the shelter of his roof.
So that the words that were actually on Philip’s lips remained unspoken. They walked back rather silently to the cottage.
At supper Cynthia told her sister that the boy, with Zelie and his teacher, would soon trouble her no more. Georgina expressed an ungracious satisfaction, adding abruptly—“You’ll be able to see him there, Cynthy, just as well as here.”
Cynthia made no reply.