“But is not my husband saying in effect,” asked Mrs. Lammle, therefore, with an innocent air, of Mr. and Mrs. Boffin, “that he becomes unmindful of his own temporary misfortunes in his admiration of another whom he is burning to serve? And is not that making an admission that his nature is a generous one? I am wretched in argument, but surely this is so, dear Mr. and Mrs. Boffin?”

Still, neither Mr. nor Mrs. Boffin said a word. He sat with his eyes on his plate, eating his muffins and ham, and she sat shyly looking at the teapot. Mrs. Lammle’s innocent appeal was merely thrown into the air, to mingle with the steam of the urn. Glancing towards Mr. and Mrs. Boffin, she very slightly raised her eyebrows, as though inquiring of her husband: “Do I notice anything wrong here?”

Mr. Lammle, who had found his chest effective on a variety of occasions, manœuvred his capacious shirt front into the largest demonstration possible, and then smiling retorted on his wife, thus:

“Sophronia, darling, Mr. and Mrs. Boffin will remind you of the old adage, that self-praise is no recommendation.”

“Self-praise, Alfred? Do you mean because we are one and the same?”

“No, my dear child. I mean that you cannot fail to remember, if you reflect for a single moment, that what you are pleased to compliment me upon feeling in the case of Mr. Boffin, you have yourself confided to me as your own feeling in the case of Mrs. Boffin.”

(“I shall be beaten by this Lawyer,” Mrs. Lammle gaily whispered to Mrs. Boffin. “I am afraid I must admit it, if he presses me, for it’s damagingly true.”)

Several white dints began to come and go about Mr. Lammle’s nose, as he observed that Mrs. Boffin merely looked up from the teapot for a moment with an embarrassed smile, which was no smile, and then looked down again.

“Do you admit the charge, Sophronia?” inquired Alfred, in a rallying tone.

“Really, I think,” said Mrs. Lammle, still gaily, “I must throw myself on the protection of the Court. Am I bound to answer that question my Lord?” To Mr. Boffin.

“You needn’t, if you don’t like, ma’am,” was his answer. “It’s not of the least consequence.”

Both husband and wife glanced at him, very doubtfully. His manner was grave, but not coarse, and derived some dignity from a certain repressed dislike of the tone of the conversation.

Again Mrs. Lammle raised her eyebrows for instruction from her husband. He replied in a slight nod, “Try ’em again.”

“To protect myself against the suspicion of covert self-laudation, my dear Mrs. Boffin,” said the airy Mrs. Lammle therefore, “I must tell you how it was.”

“No. Pray don’t,” Mr. Boffin interposed.

Mrs. Lammle turned to him laughingly. “The Court objects?”

“Ma’am,” said Mr. Boffin, “the Court (if I am the Court) does object. The Court objects for two reasons. First, because the Court don’t think it fair. Secondly, because the dear old lady, Mrs. Court (if I am Mr.) gets distressed by it.”

A very remarkable wavering between two bearings — between her propitiatory bearing there, and her defiant bearing at Mr. Twemlow’s — was observable on the part of Mrs. Lammle as she said: “What does the Court not consider fair?”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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