‘I don’t know that it was Mr. Preston she was thinking about,’ said Molly. ’It was only a guess. When you were both in London she spoke about him,—I thought she had heard something about you and him, Cynthia.’ Unseen by her mother Cynthia looked up at Molly, her eyes full of prohibition, her cheeks full of angry colour. Molly stopped short suddenly. After that look she was surprised at the quietness with which Cynthia said, almost immediately,—
’Well, after all it is only your fancy that she was alluding to Mr Preston, so perhaps we had better not say any more about him; and as for her advice to mamma to look after you better, Miss Molly, I’ll stand bail for your good behaviour; for both mamma and I know you’re the last person to do any foolish things in that way. And now don’t let us talk any more about it. I was coming to tell you that Hannah Brand’s little boy has been badly burnt, and his sister is downstairs asking for old linen.’
Mrs. Gibson was always kind to poor people, and she immediately got up and went to her stores to search for the article wanted.
Cynthia turned quietly round to Molly.
’Molly, pray don’t ever allude to anything between me and Mr Preston,— not to mamma, nor to any one. Never do! I’ve a reason for it,—don’t say anything more about it, ever.’
Mrs. Gibson came back at this moment, and Molly had to stop short again on the brink of Cynthia’s confidence; uncertain indeed this time, if she would have been told anything more, and only sure that she had annoyed Cynthia a good deal.
But the time was approaching when she would know all.
THE STORM BURSTS
The autumn drifted away through all its seasons; the golden corn-harvest, the walks through the stubble fields, and rambles into hazel-copses in search of nuts; the stripping of the apple-orchards of their ruddy fruit, amid the joyous cries and shouts of watching children; and the gorgeous tulip-like colouring of the later time had now come on with the shortening days. There was comparative silence in the land, excepting for the distant shots and the whirr of the partridges as they rose up from the field.
Ever since Miss Browning’s unlucky conversation things had been ajar in the Gibsons’ house. Cynthia seemed to keep every one out at (mental) arm’s-length; and particularly avoided any private talks with Molly. Mrs. Gibson, still cherishing a grudge against Miss Browning for her implied accusation of not looking enough after Molly, chose to exercise a most wearying supervision over the poor girl. It was, ’Where have you been, child?’ ‘Who did you see?’ ‘Who was that letter from?’ ’Why were you so long out when you had only to go to so-and-so?’ just as if Molly had really been detected in carrying on some underhand intercourse. She answered every question asked of her with the simple truthfulness