‘No. He confided that to me a few days ago. Ugh! Some men ought to be killed.’

‘What happened then?’

‘He posed as the horror of horrors—a misunderstood man. Heaven knows the femme incomprise is sad enough and bad enough—but the other thing!’

‘And so fat too! I should have laughed in his face. Men seldom confide in me. How is it they come to you?’

‘For the sake of impressing me with their careers in the past. Protect me from men with confidences!’

‘And yet you encourage them?’

‘What can I do? They talk, I listen, and they vow that I am sympathetic. I know I always profess astonishment even when the plot is—of the most old possible.’

‘Yes. Men are so unblushingly explicit if they are once allowed to talk, whereas women’s confidences are full of reservations and fibs, except—’

‘When they go mad and babble of the Unutter-abilities after a week’s acquaintance. Really, if you come to consider, we know a great deal more of men than of our own sex.’

‘And the extraordinary thing is that men will never believe it. They say we are trying to hide something.’

‘They are generally doing that on their own account. Alas! These chocolates pall upon me, and I haven’t eaten more than a dozen. I think I shall go to sleep.’

‘Then you’ll get fat, dear. If you took more exercise and a more intelligent interest in your neighbours you would—’

‘Be as much loved as Mrs. Hauksbee. You’re a darling in many ways, and I like you—you are not a woman’s woman—but why do you trouble yourself about mere human beings?’

‘Because in the absence of angels, who I am sure would be horribly dull, men and women are the most fascinating things in the whole wide world, lazy one. I am interested in The Dowd— I am interested in The Dancing Master—I am interested in the Hawley Boy—and I am interested in you.’

‘Why couple me with the Hawley Boy? He is your property.’

‘Yes, and in his own guileless speech, I’m making a good thing out of him. When he is slightly more reformed, and has passed his Higher Standard, or whatever the authorities think fit to exact from him, I shall select a pretty little girl, the Holt girl, I think, and’—here she waved her hands airily—‘‘‘whom Mrs. Hauksbee hath joined together let no man put asunder.” That’s all.’

‘And when you have yoked May Holt with the most notorious detrimental in Simla, and earned the undying hatred of Mamma Holt, what will you do with me, Dispenser of the Destinies of the Universe?’

Mrs. Hauksbee dropped into a low chair in front of the fire, and, chin in hand, gazed long and steadfastly at Mrs. Mallowe.

‘I do not know,’ she said, shaking her head, ‘what I shall do with you, dear. It’s obviously impossible to marry you to some one else—your husband would object and the experiment might not be successful after all. I think I shall begin by preventing you from—what is it?—‘‘sleeping on ale-house benches and snoring in the sun.”’

  By PanEris using Melati.

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