Molly’s tears were brimming over at these words; she could have kissed Cynthia for her warm partisanship, but, afraid of betraying emotion, and ‘making a scene,’ as Mrs. Gibson called any signs of warm feeling, she laid down her book hastily, and ran upstairs to her room, and locked the door in order to breathe freely. There were traces of tears upon her face when she returned into the drawing-room half-an-hour afterwards, walking straight and demurely up to her former place, where Cynthia still sate and gazed idly out of the window, pouting and displeased; Mrs. Gibson, meanwhile, counting her stitches aloud with great distinctness and vigour.
During all the months that had elapsed since Mrs. Hamley’s death, Molly had wondered many a time about the secret she had so unwittingly become possessed of that last day in the Hall library. It seemed so utterly strange and unheard-of a thing to her inexperienced mind, that a man should be married, and yet not live with his wife—that a son should have entered into the holy state of matrimony without his father’s knowledge, and without being recognized as the husband of some one known or unknown by all those with whom he came in daily contact, that she felt occasionally as if that little ten minutes of revelation must have been a vision in a dream. Both Roger and Osborne had kept the most entire silence on the subject ever since. Not even a look, or a pause, betrayed any allusion to it; it even seemed to have passed out of their thoughts. There had been the great sad event of their mother’s death to fill their minds on the next occasion of their meeting Molly; and since then long pauses of intercourse had taken place; so that she sometimes felt as if each of the brothers must have forgotten how she had come to know their important secret. She often found herself entirely forgetting it, but perhaps the consciousness of it was present to her unawares, and enabled her to comprehend the real nature of Osborne’s feelings towards Cynthia. At any rate she never for a moment had supposed that his gentle kind manner towards Cynthia was anything but the courtesy of a friend; strange to say, in these latter days Molly had looked upon Osborne’s relation to herself as pretty much the same as that in which at one time she had considered Roger’s; and she thought of the former as of some one as nearly a brother both to Cynthia and herself, as any young man could well be, whom they had not known in childhood, and who was in nowise related to them. She thought that he was very much improved in manner, and probably in character, by his mother’s death. He was no longer sarcastic, or fastidious, or vain, or self-confident. She did not know how often all these styles of talk or of behaviour were put on to conceal shyness or consciousness, and to veil the real self from strangers.