My dear Molly, why didn't you come and dine with us? I said to sister I would come and scold you well. Oh, Mr. Osborne Hamley, is that you?" and a look of mistaken intelligence at the tête-à-tête she had disturbed came so perceptibly over Miss Phœbe's face that Molly caught Osborne's sympathetic eye, and both smiled at the notion. "I'm sure I—well! one must sometimes—I see our dinner would have been—" Then she recovered herself into a connected sentence. "We only just heard of Mrs. Gibson's having a fly from the 'George,' because sister sent our Nancy to pay for a couple of rabbits Tom Ostler had snared, (I hope we shan't be taken up for poachers, Mr. Osborne—snaring doesn't require a licence, I believe?) and she heard he was gone off with the fly to the Towers with your dear mamma; for Coxe who drives the fly in general has sprained his ankle. We had just finished dinner, but when Nancy said Tom Ostler would not be back till night, I said, 'Why, there's that poor dear girl left all alone by herself, and her mother such a friend of ours,'—when she was alive, I mean. But I'm sure I'm glad I'm mistaken." Osborne said,—"I came to speak to Mr. Gibson, not knowing he had gone to London, and Miss Gibson kindly gave me some of her lunch. I must go now." "Oh dear! I am so sorry," fluttered out Miss Phœbe, "I disturbed you; but it was with the best intentions. I always was mal-àpropos from a child." But Osborne was gone before she had finished her apologies. As he left, his eyes met Molly's with a strange look of yearning farewell that struck her at the time, and that she remembered strongly afterwards. "Such a nice suitable thing, and I came in the midst, and spoilt it all. I am sure you're very kind, my dear, considering—" "Considering what, my dear Miss Phœbe? If you are conjecturing a love affair between Mr. Osborne Hamley and me, you never were more mistaken in your life. I think I told you so once before. Please do believe me." "Oh, yes! I remember. And somehow sister got it into her head it was Mr. Preston. I recollect." "One guess is just as wrong as the other," said Molly, smiling, and trying to look perfectly indifferent, but going extremely red at the mention of Mr. Preston's name. It was very difficult for her to keep up any conversation, for her heart was full of Osborne—his changed appearance, his melancholy words of foreboding, and his confidences about his wife—French, Catholic, servant. Molly could not help trying to piece these strange facts together by imaginations of her own, and found it very hard work to attend to kind Miss Phœbe's unceasing patter. She came up to the point, however, when the voice ceased; and could recall, in a mechanical manner, the echo of the last words, which both from Miss Phœbe's look, and the dying accent that lingered in Molly's ear, she perceived to be a question. Miss Phœbe was asking her if she would go out with her. She was going to Grinstead's, the bookseller of Hollingford; who, in addition to his regular business, was the agent for the Hollingford Book Society, received their subscriptions, kept their accounts, ordered their books from London, and, on payment of a small salary, allowed the Society to keep their volumes on shelves in his shop. It was the centre of news, and the club, as it were, of the little town. Everybody who pretended to gentility in the place belonged to it. It was a test of gentility, indeed, rather than of education or a love of literature. No shopkeeper would have thought of offering himself as a member, however great his general intelligence and love of reading; while it boasted on its list of subscribers most of the county families in the neighbourhood, some of whom subscribed to it as a sort of duty belonging to their station, without often using their privilege of reading the books: while there were residents in the little town, such as Mrs. Goodenough, who privately thought reading a great waste of time, that might be much better employed in sewing, and knitting, and pastry-making, but who nevertheless belonged to it as a mark of station, just as these good, motherly women would have thought it a terrible come-down in the world if they had not had a pretty young servant-maid to fetch them home from the tea-parties at night. At any rate, Grinstead's was a very convenient place for a lounge. In that view of the Book Society every one agreed.