Molly went upstairs to get ready to accompany Miss Phœbe; and, on opening one of her drawers, she saw Cynthia’s envelope, containing the money she owed to Mr. Preston, carefully sealed-up like a letter. This was what Molly had so unwillingly promised to deliver—the last final stroke to the affair. Molly took it up, hating it. For a time she had forgotten it; and now it was here, facing her, and she must try and get rid of it. She put it into her pocket for the chances of the walk and the day, and fortune for once seemed to befriend her; for, on their entering Grinstead’s shop, in which two or three people were now, as always, congregated, making play of examining the books, or business of writing down the titles of new works in the order-book, there was Mr. Preston. He bowed as they came in. He could not help that; but, at the sight of Molly, he looked as ill-tempered and out of humour as a man well could do. She was connected in his mind with defeat and mortification; and, besides, the sight of her called up what he desired now, above all things, to forget; namely the deep conviction, received through Molly’s simple earnestness, of Cynthia’s dislike to him. If Miss Phœbe had seen the scowl upon his handsome face, she might have undeceived her sister in her suppositions about him and Molly. But Miss Phœbe, who did not consider it quite maidenly to go and stand close to Mr. Preston, and survey the shelves of books in such close proximity to a gentleman, found herself an errand at the other end of the shop, and occupied herself in buying writing-paper. Molly fingered her valuable letter, as it lay in her pocket; did she dare to cross over to Mr. Preston, and give it to him, or not? While she was still undecided, shrinking always just at the moment when she thought she had got her courage up for action, Miss Phœbe, having finished her purchase, turned round, and after looking a little pathetically at Mr. Preston’s back, said to Molly in a whisper—“I think we’ll go to Johnson’s now, and come back for the books in a little while.” So across the street to Johnson’s they went; but, no sooner had they entered the draper’s shop, than Molly’s conscience smote her for her cowardice, and loss of a good opportunity. “I’ll be back directly,” said she, as soon as Miss Phœbe was engaged with her purchases; and Molly ran across to Grinstead’s, without looking either to the right or the left; she had been watching the door, and she knew that no Mr. Preston had issued forth. She ran in; he was at the counter now, talking to Grinstead himself; Molly put the letter into his hand, to his surprise, and almost against his will, and turned round to go back to Miss Phœbe. At the door of the shop stood Mrs. Goodenough, arrested in the act of entering, staring, with her round eyes, made still rounder and more owl-like by spectacles, to see Molly Gibson giving Mr. Preston a letter, which he, conscious of being watched, and favouring underhand practices habitually, put quickly into his pocket, unopened. Perhaps, if he had had time for reflection, he would not have scrupled to put Molly to open shame, by rejecting what she so eagerly forced upon him.

There was another long evening to be got through with Mrs. Gibson; but on this occasion there was the pleasant occupation of dinner, which took up at least an hour; for it was one of Mrs. Gibson’s fancies—one which Molly chafed against—to have every ceremonial gone through in the same stately manner for two as for twenty. So, although Molly knew full well, and her stepmother knew full well, and Maria knew full well, that neither Mrs. Gibson nor Molly touched dessert, it was set on the table with as much form as if Cynthia had been at home, who delighted in almonds and raisins, or Mr. Gibson had been there, who never could resist dates, though he always protested against “persons in their station of life having a formal dessert set out before them every day.”

And Mrs. Gibson herself apologised, as it were, to Molly to-day, in the same words she had often used to Mr. Gibson—“It’s no extravagance, for we need not eat it—I never do. But it looks well, and makes Maria understand what is required in the daily life of every family of position.”

All through the evening, Molly’s thoughts wandered far and wide, though she managed to keep up a show of attention to what Mrs. Gibson was saying. She was thinking of Osborne, and his abrupt, half- finished confidence, and his ill-looks; she was wondering when Roger would come home, and longing for his return, as much (she said to herself) for Osborne’s sake as for her own. And then she checked herself. What had she to do with Roger? Why should she long for his return? It was Cynthia who was doing this; only, somehow, he was such a true friend to Molly, that she could not help thinking of him as a staff and a stay in the troublous times which appeared to lie not far ahead—this evening. Then Mr. Preston and her little adventure with him came uppermost. How angry he looked! How could Cynthia have liked him even enough to get into this abominable scrape, which was, however, all over now! And

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