rather amused at the whole affair, and would have liked to probe Cynthia’s motives a little farther. He did not hear Molly saying in as soft a voice as if she were talking to herself, “I wore mine just as they were sent,” for Mrs. Gibson came in with a total change of subject.

“Speaking of lilies of the valley, is it true that they grow wild in Hurstwood? It is not the season for them to be in flower yet; but, when it is, I think we must take a walk there—with our luncheon in a basket—a little pic-nic, in fact. You’ll join us, won’t you?” turning to Osborne. “I think it’s a charming plan! You could ride to Hollingford and put up your horse here, and we could have a long day in the woods, and all come home to dinner—dinner with a basket of lilies in the middle of the table!”

“I should like it very much,” said Osborne; “but I may not be at home. Roger is more likely to be here, I believe, at that time—a month hence.” He was thinking of the visit to London to sell his poems, and the run down to Winchester which he anticipated afterwards—the end of May had been the period fixed for this pleasure for some time, not merely in his own mind, but in writing to his wife.

“Oh, but you must be with us! We must wait for Mr. Osborne Hamley, must not we, Cynthia?”

“I’m afraid the lilies won’t wait,” replied Cynthia.

“Well, then, we must put it off till dog-rose and honeysuckle time. You will be at home then, won’t you? Or does the London season present too many attractions?”

“I don’t exactly know when dog-roses are in flower!”

“Not know, and you a poet! Don’t you remember the lines—

‘It was the time of roses,
We plucked them as we went’?”

“Yes; but that doesn’t specify the time of year that is the time of roses; and I believe my movements are guided more by the lunar calendar than the floral. You had better take my brother for your companion; he is practical in his love of flowers. I am only theoretical.”

“Does that fine word ‘theoretical’ imply that you are ignorant?” asked Cynthia.

“Of course we shall be happy to see your brother; but why can’t we have you too? I confess to a little timidity in the presence of one so deep and learned as your brother is, from all accounts. Give me a little charming ignorance, if we must call it by that hard word.”

Osborne bowed. It was very pleasant to him to be petted and flattered, even though he knew all the time that it was only flattery. It was an agreeable contrast to the home that was so dismal to him, to come to this house, where the society of two agreeable girls, and the soothing syrup of their mother’s speeches, awaited him whenever he liked to come. To say nothing of the difference that struck upon his senses, poetical though he might esteem himself, of a sitting-room full of flowers, and tokens of women’s presence, where all the chairs were easy, and all the tables well-covered with pretty things, to the great drawing-room at home, where the draperies were threadbare, and the seats uncomfortable, and where no sign of feminine presence ever now lent a grace to the stiff arrangement of the furniture. Then the meals, light and well-cooked, suited his taste and delicate appetite so much better than the rich and heavy viands prepared by the servants at the Hall, Osborne was becoming a little afraid of falling into the habit of paying too frequent visits to the Gibsons’ (and that, not because he feared the consequences of his intercourse with the two young ladies; for he never thought of them excepting as friends;—the fact of his marriage was constantly present to his mind, and Aimée too securely enthroned in his heart, for him to remember that he might be looked upon by others in the light of a possible husband); but the reflection forced itself upon him occasionally, whether he was not trespassing too often on hospitality which he had at present no means of returning?

  By PanEris using Melati.

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