"Mary, would you enter the library to assist me with a conundrum?" asked Mr Cowell.
"It revolts reason that a household of three adults should contain only two teaspoons, but the evidence of my eyes is incontrovertible."
"We are in straightened circumstances, Father."
(Needless to mention, as Mr Cowell's "library" was now one corner of the kitchen, between the stove and a small book-case).
"Indeed, and without servants, I would have expected one of a teaspoon's usual escape routes to be blocked. Oh well, perhaps there are several in Julia's room. From a conundrum to a dilemma: I have agonized over how your future and Julia's may be assured, and I am convinced that a good marriage is the only honourable course. We have invites to a ball at Horsefield tomorrow evening, and although I balk at the impropriety, I fear we must attend."
"But Julia is not yet out!"
"I know it, but if she remains in, she will dine on yesterday's porridge, whereas at Horsefield there are sure to be sandwiches. I know you have nothing to wear, but perhaps a dress of your mother's will do, with new ribbons? I know naught of haberdashery. Can you bear it, my dear?"
"Of course. Julia and I will go gratefully to the ball, and however poorly we dress we will hold up our heads as daughters of a gentleman. You need fear no loss of dignity from us, at least."
On the evening of the ball, the Countess of Shetland charitably offered to accompany them in her carriage. Mary hardly dared look at the young Viscount, tall and with rich red hair; rich everything, indeed. Julia sulked rather than making conversation with the Countess.
After the first programme of dances, it was time for the Gentleman's Expressive Presentation. A bass viol began vigorous exercise, joined by other strings. One by one the single men took the floor, to gyrate and strut.
Mr Cowell was slow and unsure at first, but experience and enthusiasm, perhaps desperation, counted for much. He unbuttoned his waistcoat slowly, whirled his cravat about his head, and threw it into the giggling mass of ladies. Then moving sensuously, bestially thrusting his hips, he promenaded the ballroom.
Beside Mary, the Countess breathed, "oh, my." The old widow had more colour in her cheeks than was customary. Mary herself hardly knew where to look, but it would soon be over.
By the end of the dance, Mr Cowell was red with exertion, or possibly shame, and joined several of the other gentlemen in a small sherry and shared mortification.
The Viscount of Shetland approached Mary, smiling, and offered his card. "Please convey this to your father, Miss Cowell, and beg of him that he will attend my mother for luncheon this Sunday."
"I will, sir, I thank you."
It seemed likely after all, that for the price of a little impropriety, a favourable marriage would soon mean they might never be short of teaspoons again.