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friends who dine in the best society, and I'll be bound they never heard of the Straits of Panama.'
Mrs. P. The society in which I was accustomed to mix, Miss Everard, would have excluded a person who was so grossly ignorant.'
Miss T. 'The possession of scientific truth, in addition to conferring social advantages, adds so much to our happiness.'
Miss E. This also I am inclined to dispute. Do you really feel happier, Mrs. Poulter, because you can tell us what continents are divided by the Straits of Panama?'
Mrs. M. 'I'll lay a wager Miss Toller knows as much as we do, but the things she knows aren't the things we know.'
Mr. G. 'We are digressing, I am afraid. I suggest we should have a ballot. I will write "Yes" on five little pieces of paper, and "No" on five, and after distribution we will fold them up, and each of us shall drop one in the vase on the mantelshelf.'
This was done, and there were three for the invitation and two against it.
Mrs. Poulter and Mr. Goacher were left alone after the table was cleared.
'Permit me to say, dear madam, that I entirely agreed with you.'
'You must have voted with Mrs. Mudge.'
'I did, but not from any sympathy with her views. I strive to keep the peace. In establishment like this concord is
Mr. Goacher, when he dropped his paper in the vase, had not forgotten that Mrs. Mudge had offered to provide the wine for the dinner. If she had been defeated the offer might have been withdrawn.
'I have fancied before now that I have seen in you a decided preference for Mrs. Mudge.'
This was true. He had 'tried it on with her,' to use her own words, but she was impregnable. 'It was no good with me,' she said to Miss Everard; 'I saw what he was after.'
'My dear Mrs. Poulter, your supposition is preposterous-forgive me—you do not suppose that I am unable to recognise superiority in birth, in manners, and in intellect. It was better, on this particular occasion, to conciliate Mrs. Mudge. She is not worthy of serious opposition. Miss Toller will not sit near you.'
Mrs. Poulter was pacified.
'I am glad to hear this explanation. I had hoped that one might be forthcoming.'
'I am truly thankful I am worthy of hope, truly thankful.'
Mrs. Poulter dropped Palmer's Ecclesiastical History, which she had begun to read every Sunday afternoon for three months. Mr. Goacher picked it up, and was about to take Mrs. Poulter's hand, but Miss Taggart entered and the conversation closed just when it was becoming interesting.
In a day or two Mrs. Poulter informed Miss Toller that the ladies and Mr. Goacher had been pleased to express a wish that she should dine with them on Christmas Day. She consented with becoming humility, as even Mrs. Poulter confessed, but with many secret misgivings. She desired to strengthen herself with her lodgers on whom her living depended, but Helen was more than a servant. She was her friend, and she could not bear the thought of leaving her in the kitchen. Helen, too, was passionate and jealous. Miss Toller therefore ventured to ask Mrs. Poulter whether, as it was Christmas, Helen also might be invited. Mrs. Poulter signified to Miss Toller her extreme surprise at the sugges
'The line, Miss Toller, must be drawn somewhere. Helen will have the gratuity usual at this season-she is a well-regulated person and will see the impropriety of intrusion into a sphere for which she is unfit.'
Miss Toller withdrew. She dared not venture to explain or apologise to Helen, although delay would make matters worse. She went into North Street and spent ten shillings which she could ill afford in buying a locket for her.
Christmas Eve was black and bitter. After the lodgers had gone to bed, Miss Toller and Helen sat by the kitchen fire.
'Oh, Miss, I wish we were at Barton Sluice.'
'What makes you wish it, now?'
'I hate this place and everybody in it, excepting you. I suppose it's Christmas makes me think of the old farm.'
'I remember you said once that you thought you would like a town.'
'Ah, I said so then. I should love to see them meadows again. The snow when it melts there doesn't go to dirty, filthy slush as it does in Brighton. But it's the people here I can't bear. I could fly at that Poulter
and that Goacher at times, no matter if I was had up for it.'
'You forget what a hard life you had with Mrs. Wootton at the Hatch.'
'No, I don't forget. She had a rough tongue, but she was one of our set. She got as good as she gave. She spoke her mind, and I spoke mine, and there was an end to it. But this lot-they are so stuck-up and stuck-round. I never saw such folk in our parts-they make me feel as if I were the dirt under their feet.'
'Never mind them. I have more to put up with than you have. You know all; you may be sure, if I could help it, I shouldn't be here.'
'I do know all. I shouldn't grieve if that stepmother of yours drank herself to death. O Lord, when I see what you have to go through I am ashamed of myself. But you were made one way and I another. You dear, patient creature!'
'It's half-past eleven. It is time to go to bed.'
They went to their cold lean-to garrets under the slates.
Miss Toller lay awake for hours. This, then, was Christmas Eve, one more Christmas Eve. She recollected another Christmas