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softly passed round by the full fat fingers of
dowagers, and the irrevocable "coupling" of her
name with that of Mr. Romainehad taken place.
Poor foolish, little, innocent, helpless married
woman ! The turbaned vultures were already
fluttering heavily in the air overhead.

Fermor, the " fallen- short man," homme
manqué, was still wrapped in his moodiness as
in a cloak. There was bitterness in everything he
chewed. Presently, a good-natured elderly man,
with grey whiskers and a gold double eye-glass,
with a ribbon and square glasses, came up to him
confidentially one evening, and laying the gold
glasses on Fermor's shirt, said: " My dear fellow,
I know you are a man of sense, and will not take
ill what is said by a man old enough to be your
fatherbuterI want to speakabout"
(cough) " Mrs.—erFermor."

Fermor looked at him sharply, and grew hot.
"What would you say about Mrs. Fermor?"

"Well," said the other, " it is merely as a
friend, you know, and-"

" O, of course," said the other, bitterly; " it is
always friends who bring us good news. Well?"

"You see, the world," said the other, stretching
out his glass in the direction of the world,
but being brought up suddenly by the shortness
of the ribbon, "You see, the world, my dear
fellow, is censorious, and I do think, if you went
a little more out with Mrs. Fermor, especially to
those parties which that half-savage fellow
Romaine frequents-"

This came as news indeed for Fermor. " This,
then, is the game?" he thought. " I am to be
ridiculous through town; the mari complaisant;
the easy-tempered jackass. Let her treat me as
she pleases at home, but I will not be pointed at."

To the next party, Captain Fermor announced
sullenly that he was going. "With all my
heart," said Mrs. Fermor, gaily. " I hope you
will go to others too."

Fermor laughed scornfully. "We shall see."

Lady Laura was still fighting the fashionable
"good fight." She was labouring on with her
old constancy, and seemed to have gained fresh
spirit, though not fresh strength. The face was
growing yet longer; the worn cheeks yet more
worn; but the eye had the old keen wary ken,
and swept the line of men with the nicest
appreciation, like a general's. Yet there were
many things to damp and discourage her.

Though successful with Alicia Mary, whom,
with infinite pains and struggling, she had made
Mrs. Onslow Piper, still that alliance had brought
with it serious charges, and some terrible
expenses. Trousseau and breakfast were the least
of these; but at the last moment young Piper,
with an aggrieved manner, as though he were
making this proposal a test for whether he had
been " taken in" or no, " struck," and bluntly
and suspiciously said it was due to his
self-respect to " get something;" that his friends said
it was "a shame." And though the poor lady-
captain did what she could, the odds were too
great, and she had to wring out of her own
allowance something that would satisfy the
greedy youth. There was the London house
too, and the London carriage, and London riding
horses on job, and the London milliner, Madame
Adelaide : but months ago the job-master had
talked to Lady Laura in her own hall as if she
had been one of his stable-boys ; and Madame
Adelaide, once sweet and full of lively compliments,
was now showing her teeth, and snarling
about "her attorney." Yet she fought on,
laboured on, for there was hope. Blanche,
younger and fresher than Alicia Mary, had somehow
been attracting that young Lord Spendlesham,
just burst from his guardians, and who,
in truth, fancied Blanche. Actually " the thing"
was making progress, and Blanche, wearing
always a look of devout adoration, and following
the noble youth with steady eyes wherever he
moved, conveyed the idea of a hopeless idolatry
not unpleasing. Lady Laura had friendsgood
faithful contemporarieswho gave the boy a
smile of encouragement, and remarked to him the
" fine girl there" who never took her eyes off him.

Young Spendleshamunconsciously selfish
threw out carelessly many whims and wishes,
which were gratified at great cost to the family.
He was passionately fond of dancing, and when
there was a gap in his programme, outside he
would eay to Blanche, " Get Lady Lau to give a
dance. I dote on dancing." And Lady Lau
bowed her head with Spartan courage, and was
abroad for one half the day in a cab, and for the
other half in her room doing common millinery-work
with desperate but skilful fingers, striving
hard to avoid drifting away on the rocks of
Madame Adelaide. Whence she wrung out
money for these works, and how she faced the
rude job-master and the insolent French woman,
and with dignity made them (for the time)
ashamed, and how she screwed a little delay out
of both job-master and milliner, were things to
be admired and compassionated. " If I had only
time to breathe," she thought often, " and a little
space in front clear! But they come on me all
together, and from all sides."

"Ask the Fermors," she said to her daughter.
"I hate having aggrieved relations going about."

And this was the party to which Fermor had
said so sullenly that he would go.


WHILE Miss Manuel was away, the town had
something to talk of. It was soon pretty well
known and pretty well talked about, how " that
sucking young Spendlesham" was about to make
"a greater fool of himself" than ever. His
own contemporaries told him, in their friendly
way, not to be an ass, and seriously wondered
among themselves what he could see in so plain
a virgin, who was almost old enough to be his
mother. But among the long tribe of dowagers
the attempt was most deeply resented. Had
they got her among them in some private place,