THE STORM BURSTS.
Too Long; Didn't ReadThe 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) arms'-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 of perfect innocence; but the inquiries (although she read their motive, and knew that they arose from no especial suspicion of her conduct, but only that Mrs. Gibson might be able to say that she looked well after her stepdaughter) chafed her inexpressibly. Very often she did not go out at all, sooner than have to give a plan of her intended proceedings, when perhaps she had no plan at all,—only thought of wandering out at her own sweet will, and of taking pleasure in the bright solemn fading of the year. It was a very heavy time for Molly,—zest and life had fled, and left so many of the old delights mere shells of seeming. She thought it was that her youth had fled; at nineteen! Cynthia was no longer the same, somehow: and perhaps Cynthia's change would injure her in the distant Roger's opinion. Her stepmother seemed almost kind in comparison with Cynthia's withdrawal of her heart; Mrs. Gibson worried her, to be sure, with all these forms of watching over her; but in all her other ways, she, at any rate, was the same. Yet Cynthia herself seemed anxious and care-worn, though she would not speak of her anxieties to Molly. And then the poor girl in her goodness would blame herself for feeling Cynthia's change of manner; for as Molly said to herself, "If it is hard work for me to help always fretting after Roger, and wondering where he is, and how he is, what must it be for her?"
One day Mr. Gibson came in, bright and swift.
"Molly," said he, "where's Cynthia?"
"Gone out to do some errands—"
"Well, it's a pity—but never mind. Put on your bonnet and cloak as fast as you can. I've had to borrow old Simpson's dog-cart,—there would have been room both for you and Cynthia; but as it is, you must walk back alone. I'll drive you as far on the Barford Road as I can, and then you must jump down. I can't take you on to Broadhurst's, I may be kept there for hours."
Mrs. Gibson was out of the room; out of the house it might be, for all Molly cared, now she had her father's leave and command. Her bonnet and cloak were on in two minutes, and she was sitting by her father's side, the back seat shut up, and the light weight going swiftly and merrily bumping over the stone-paved lanes.
"Oh, this is charming!" said Molly, after a toss-up on her seat from a tremendous bump.
"For youth, but not for crabbed age," said Mr. Gibson. "My bones are getting rheumatic, and would rather go smoothly over macadamized streets."
"That's treason to this lovely view and this fine pure air, papa. Only I don't believe you."
"Thank you. As you are so complimentary, I think I shall put you down at the foot of this hill; we've passed the second mile-stone from Hollingford."
"Oh, let me just go up to the top! I know we can see the blue range of the Malverns from it, and Dorrimer Hall among the woods; the horse will want a minute's rest, and then I will get down without a word."
So she went up to the top of the hill; and there they sate still a minute or two, enjoying the view, without much speaking. The woods were golden; the old house of purple-red brick, with its twisted chimneys, rose up from among them facing on to green lawns, and a placid lake; beyond again were the Malvern Hills.
"Now jump down, lassie, and make the best of your way home before it gets dark. You'll find the cut over Croston Heath shorter than the road we've come by."