Infomotions, Inc.The Egoist / Meredith, George, 1828-1909



Author: Meredith, George, 1828-1909
Title: The Egoist
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): willoughby; crossjay; laetitia; middleton; clara; craye; vernon; whitford; mountstuart; miss middleton; lady busshe; dale; miss dale; young crossjay; lady culmer; laetitia dale; colonel; vernon whitford
Contributor(s): Newnes, George, 1851-1910 [Editor]
Versions: original; local mirror; HTML (this file); printable
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Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 188,334 words (longer than most) Grade range: 7-10 (grade school) Readability score: 67 (easy)
Identifier: etext1684
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The Egoist

by George Meredith

March, 1999  [Etext #1684]
[Date last updated: November 27, 2004]

Language:  English

Edition:  11



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THE EGOIST

A Comedy in Narrative


by GEORGE MEREDITH




PRELUDE

A CHAPTER OF WHICH THE LAST PAGE ONLY IS OF ANY IMPORTANCE

Comedy is a game played to throw reflections upon social life, and it
deals with human nature in the drawing-room of civilized men and women,
where we have no dust of the struggling outer world, no mire, no
violent crashes, to make the correctness of the representation
convincing. Credulity is not wooed through the impressionable senses;
nor have we recourse to the small circular glow of the watchmaker's eye
to raise in bright relief minutest grains of evidence for the routing
of incredulity. The Comic Spirit conceives a definite situation for a
number of characters, and rejects all accessories in the exclusive
pursuit of them and their speech. For being a spirit, he hunts the
spirit in men; vision and ardour constitute his merit; he has not a
thought of persuading you to believe in him. Follow and you will see.
But there is a question of the value of a run at his heels.

Now the world is possessed of a certain big book, the biggest book on
earth; that might indeed be called the Book of Earth; whose title is
the Book of Egoism, and it is a book full of the world's wisdom. So
full of it, and of such dimensions is this book, in which the
generations have written ever since they took to writing, that to be
profitable to us the Book needs a powerful compression.

Who, says the notable humourist, in allusion to this Book, who can
studiously travel through sheets of leaves now capable of a stretch
from the Lizard to the last few poor pulmonary snips and shreds of
leagues dancing on their toes for cold, explorers tell us, and catching
breath by good luck, like dogs at bones about a table, on the edge of
the Pole? Inordinate unvaried length, sheer longinquity, staggers the
heart, ages the very heart of us at a view. And how if we manage
finally to print one of our pages on the crow-scalp of that solitary
majestic outsider? We may get him into the Book; yet the knowledge we
want will not be more present with us than it was when the chapters
hung their end over the cliff you ken of at Dover, where sits our great
lord and master contemplating the seas without upon the reflex of that
within!

In other words, as I venture to translate him (humourists are
difficult: it is a piece of their humour to puzzle our wits), the
inward mirror, the embracing and condensing spirit, is required to give
us those interminable milepost piles of matter (extending well-nigh to
the very Pole) in essence, in chosen samples, digestibly. I conceive
him to indicate that the realistic method of a conscientious
transcription of all the visible, and a repetition of all the audible,
is mainly accountable for our present branfulness, and that
prolongation of the vasty and the noisy, out of which, as from an
undrained fen, steams the malady of sameness, our modern malady. We
have the malady, whatever may be the cure or the cause. We drove in a
body to Science the other day for an antidote; which was as if tired
pedestrians should mount the engine-box of headlong trains; and Science
introduced us to our o'er-hoary ancestry--them in the Oriental posture;
whereupon we set up a primaeval chattering to rival the Amazon forest
nigh nightfall, cured, we fancied. And before daybreak our disease was
hanging on to us again, with the extension of a tail. We had it fore
and aft. We were the same, and animals into the bargain. That is all we
got from Science.

Art is the specific. We have little to learn of apes, and they may be
left. The chief consideration for us is, what particular practice of
Art in letters is the best for the perusal of the Book of our common
wisdom; so that with clearer minds and livelier manners we may escape,
as it were, into daylight and song from a land of fog-horns. Shall we
read it by the watchmaker's eye in luminous rings eruptive of the
infinitesimal, or pointed with examples and types under the broad
Alpine survey of the spirit born of our united social intelligence,
which is the Comic Spirit? Wise men say the latter. They tell us that
there is a constant tendency in the Book to accumulate excess of
substance, and such repleteness, obscuring the glass it holds to
mankind, renders us inexact in the recognition of our individual
countenances: a perilous thing for civilization. And these wise men are
strong in their opinion that we should encourage the Comic Spirit, who
is after all our own offspring, to relieve the Book. Comedy, they say,
is the true diversion, as it is likewise the key of the great Book, the
music of the Book. They tell us how it condenses whole sections of the
book in a sentence, volumes in a character; so that a fair pan of a
book outstripping thousands of leagues when unrolled may be compassed
in one comic sitting.

For verily, say they, we must read what we can of it, at least the page
before us, if we would be men. One, with an index on the Book, cries
out, in a style pardonable to his fervency: The remedy of your
frightful affliction is here, through the stillatory of Comedy, and not
in Science, nor yet in Speed, whose name is but another for voracity.
Why, to be alive, to be quick in the soul, there should be diversity in
the companion throbs of your pulses. Interrogate them. They lump along
like the old loblegs of Dobbin the horse; or do their business like
cudgels of carpet-thwackers expelling dust or the cottage-clock
pendulum teaching the infant hour over midnight simple arithmetic. This
too in spite of Bacchus. And let them gallop; let them gallop with the
God bestriding them; gallop to Hymen, gallop to Hades, they strike the
same note. Monstrous monotonousness has enfolded us as with the arms of
Amphitrite! We hear a shout of war for a diversion.--Comedy he
pronounces to be our means of reading swiftly and comprehensively. She
it is who proposes the correcting of pretentiousness, of inflation, of
dulness, and of the vestiges of rawness and grossness to be found among
us. She is the ultimate civilizer, the polisher, a sweet cook. If, he
says, she watches over sentimentalism with a birch-rod, she is not
opposed to romance. You may love, and warmly love, so long as you are
honest. Do not offend reason. A lover pretending too much by one
foot's length of pretence, will have that foot caught in her trap. In
Comedy is the singular scene of charity issuing of disdain under the
stroke of honourable laughter: an Ariel released by Prospero's wand
from the fetters of the damned witch Sycorax. And this laughter of
reason refreshed is floriferous, like the magical great gale of the
shifty Spring deciding for Summer. You hear it giving the delicate
spirit his liberty. Listen, for comparison, to an unleavened society: a
low as of the udderful cow past milking hour! O for a titled
ecclesiastic to curse to excommunication that unholy thing!--So far an
enthusiast perhaps; but he should have a hearing.

Concerning pathos, no ship can now set sail without pathos; and we are
not totally deficient of pathos; which is, I do not accurately know
what, if not the ballast, reducible to moisture by patent process, on
board our modern vessel; for it can hardly be the cargo, and the
general water supply has other uses; and ships well charged with it
seem to sail the stiffest:--there is a touch of pathos. The Egoist
surely inspires pity. He who would desire to clothe himself at
everybody's expense, and is of that desire condemned to strip himself
stark naked, he, if pathos ever had a form, might be taken for the
actual person. Only he is not allowed to rush at you, roll you over and
squeeze your body for the briny drops. There is the innovation.

You may as well know him out of hand, as a gentleman of our time and
country, of wealth and station; a not flexile figure, do what we may
with him; the humour of whom scarcely dimples the surface and is
distinguishable but by very penetrative, very wicked imps, whose fits
of roaring below at some generally imperceptible stroke of his quality,
have first made the mild literary angels aware of something comic in
him, when they were one and all about to describe the gentleman on the
heading of the records baldly (where brevity is most complimentary) as
a gentleman of family and property, an idol of a decorous island that
admires the concrete. Imps have their freakish wickedness in them to
kindle detective vision: malignly do they love to uncover
ridiculousness in imposing figures. Wherever they catch sight of Egoism
they pitch their camps, they circle and squat, and forthwith they trim
their lanterns, confident of the ludicrous to come. So confident that
their grip of an English gentleman, in whom they have spied their game,
never relaxes until he begins insensibly to frolic and antic, unknown
to himself, and comes out in the native steam which is their scent of
the chase. Instantly off they scour, Egoist and imps. They will, it is
known of them, dog a great House for centuries, and be at the birth of
all the new heirs in succession, diligently taking confirmatory notes,
to join hands and chime their chorus in one of their merry rings round
the tottering pillar of the House, when his turn arrives; as if they
had (possibly they had) smelt of old date a doomed colossus of Egoism
in that unborn, unconceived inheritor of the stuff of the family. They
dare not be chuckling while Egoism is valiant, while sober, while
socially valuable, nationally serviceable. They wait.

Aforetime a grand old Egoism built the House. It would appear that ever
finer essences of it are demanded to sustain the structure; but
especially would it appear that a reversion to the gross original,
beneath a mask and in a vein of fineness, is an earthquake at the
foundations of the House. Better that it should not have consented to
motion, and have held stubbornly to all ancestral ways, than have bred
that anachronic spectre. The sight, however, is one to make our
squatting imps in circle grow restless on their haunches, as they bend
eyes instantly, ears at full cock, for the commencement of the comic
drama of the suicide. If this line of verse be not yet in our
literature,

          Through very love of self himself he slew,

let it be admitted for his epitaph.



CHAPTER I

A MINOR INCIDENT SHOWING AN HEREDITARY APTITUDE IN THE USE OF THE KNIFE

There was an ominously anxious watch of eyes visible and invisible over
the infancy of Willoughby, fifth in descent from Simon Patterne, of
Patterne Hall, premier of this family, a lawyer, a man of solid
acquirements and stout ambition, who well understood the
foundation-work of a House, and was endowed with the power of saying No
to those first agents of destruction, besieging relatives. He said it
with the resonant emphasis of death to younger sons. For if the oak is
to become a stately tree, we must provide against the crowding of
timber. Also the tree beset with parasites prospers not. A great House
in its beginning lives, we may truly say, by the knife. Soil is easily
got, and so are bricks, and a wife, and children come of wishing for
them, but the vigorous use of the knife is a natural gift and points to
growth. Pauper Patternes were numerous when the fifth head of the race
was the hope of his county. A Patterne was in the Marines.

The country and the chief of this family were simultaneously informed
of the existence of one Lieutenant Crossjay Patterne, of the corps of
the famous hard fighters, through an act of heroism of the unpretending
cool sort which kindles British blood, on the part of the modest young
officer, in the storming of some eastern riverain stronghold, somewhere
about the coast of China. The officer's youth was assumed on the
strength of his rank, perhaps likewise from the tale of his modesty:
"he had only done his duty". Our Willoughby was then at College,
emulous of the generous enthusiasm of his years, and strangely
impressed by the report, and the printing of his name in the
newspapers. He thought over it for several months, when, coming to his
title and heritage, he sent Lieutenant Crossjay Patterne a cheque for a
sum of money amounting to the gallant fellow's pay per annum, at the
same time showing his acquaintance with the first, or chemical,
principles of generosity, in the remark to friends at home, that "blood
is thicker than water". The man is a Marine, but he is a Patterne. How
any Patterne should have drifted into the Marines, is of the order of
questions which are senselessly asked of the great dispensary. In the
complimentary letter accompanying his cheque, the lieutenant was
invited to present himself at the ancestral Hall, when convenient to
him, and he was assured that he had given his relative and friend a
taste for a soldier's life. Young Sir Willoughby was fond of talking of
his "military namesake and distant cousin, young Patterne--the Marine".
It was funny; and not less laughable was the description of his
namesake's deed of valour: with the rescued British sailor inebriate,
and the hauling off to captivity of the three braves of the black
dragon on a yellow ground, and the tying of them together back to back
by their pigtails, and driving of them into our lines upon a newly
devised dying-top style of march that inclined to the oblique, like the
astonished six eyes of the celestial prisoners, for straight they could
not go. The humour of gentlemen at home is always highly excited by
such cool feats. We are a small island, but you see what we do. The
ladies at the Hall, Sir Willoughby's mother, and his aunts Eleanor and
Isabel, were more affected than he by the circumstance of their having
a Patterne in the Marines. But how then! We English have ducal blood
in business: we have, genealogists tell us, royal blood in common
trades. For all our pride we are a queer people; and you may be
ordering butcher's meat of a Tudor, sitting on the cane-bottom chairs
of a Plantagenet. By and by you may . . . but cherish your reverence.
Young Willoughby made a kind of shock-head or football hero of his
gallant distant cousin, and wondered occasionally that the fellow had
been content to dispatch a letter of effusive thanks without availing
himself of the invitation to partake of the hospitalities of Patterne.

He was one afternoon parading between showers on the stately garden
terrace of the Hall, in company with his affianced, the beautiful and
dashing Constantia Durham, followed by knots of ladies and gentlemen
vowed to fresh air before dinner, while it was to be had. Chancing with
his usual happy fortune (we call these things dealt to us out of the
great hidden dispensary, chance) to glance up the avenue of limes, as
he was in the act of turning on his heel at the end of the terrace, and
it should be added, discoursing with passion's privilege of the passion
of love to Miss Durham, Sir Willoughby, who was anything but obtuse,
experienced a presentiment upon espying a thick-set stumpy man crossing
the gravel space from the avenue to the front steps of the Hall,
decidedly not bearing the stamp of the gentleman "on his hat, his coat,
his feet, or anything that was his," Willoughby subsequently observed
to the ladies of his family in the Scriptural style of gentlemen who do
bear the stamp. His brief sketch of the creature was repulsive. The
visitor carried a bag, and his coat-collar was up, his hat was
melancholy; he had the appearance of a bankrupt tradesman absconding;
no gloves, no umbrella.

As to the incident we have to note, it was very slight. The card of
Lieutenant Patterne was handed to Sir Willoughby, who laid it on the
salver, saying to the footman, "Not at home."

He had been disappointed in the age, grossly deceived in the appearance
of the man claiming to be his relative in this unseasonable fashion;
and his acute instinct advised him swiftly of the absurdity of
introducing to his friends a heavy unpresentable senior as the
celebrated gallant Lieutenant of Marines, and the same as a member of
his family! He had talked of the man too much, too enthusiastically, to
be able to do so. A young subaltern, even if passably vulgar in figure,
can be shuffled through by the aid of the heroical story humourously
exaggerated in apology for his aspect. Nothing can be done with a
mature and stumpy Marine of that rank. Considerateness dismisses him on
the spot, without parley. It was performed by a gentleman supremely
advanced at a very early age in the art of cutting.

Young Sir Willoughby spoke a word of the rejected visitor to Miss
Durham, in response to her startled look: "I shall drop him a cheque,"
he said, for she seemed personally wounded, and had a face of crimson.

The young lady did not reply.

Dating from the humble departure of Lieutenant Crossjay Patterne up the
limes-avenue under a gathering rain-cloud, the ring of imps in
attendance on Sir Willoughby maintained their station with strict
observation of his movements at all hours; and were comparisons in
quest, the sympathetic eagerness of the eyes of caged monkeys for the
hand about to feed them, would supply one. They perceived in him a
fresh development and very subtle manifestation of the very old thing
from which he had sprung.



CHAPTER II

THE YOUNG SIR WILLOUGHBY

These little scoundrel imps, who have attained to some respectability
as the dogs and pets of the Comic Spirit, had been curiously attentive
three years earlier, long before the public announcement of his
engagement to the beautiful Miss Durham, on the day of Sir Willoughby's
majority, when Mrs. Mountstuart Jenkinson said her word of him. Mrs.
Mountstuart was a lady certain to say the remembered, if not the right,
thing. Again and again was it confirmed on days of high celebration,
days of birth or bridal, how sure she was to hit the mark that rang the
bell; and away her word went over the county: and had she been an
uncharitable woman she could have ruled the county with an iron rod of
caricature, so sharp was her touch. A grain of malice would have sent
county faces and characters awry into the currency. She was wealthy and
kindly, and resembled our mother Nature in her reasonable antipathies
to one or two things which none can defend, and her decided preference
of persons that shone in the sun. Her word sprang out of her. She
looked at you, and forth it came: and it stuck to you, as nothing
laboured or literary could have adhered. Her saying of Laetitia Dale:
"Here she comes with a romantic tale on her eyelashes," was a portrait
of Laetitia. And that of Vernon Whitford: "He is a Phoebus Apollo
turned fasting friar," painted the sunken brilliancy of the lean
long-walker and scholar at a stroke.

Of the young Sir Willoughby, her word was brief; and there was the
merit of it on a day when he was hearing from sunrise to the setting of
the moon salutes in his honour, songs of praise and Ciceronian eulogy.
Rich, handsome, courteous, generous, lord of the Hall, the feast and
the dance, he excited his guests of both sexes to a holiday of
flattery. And, says Mrs. Mountstuart, while grand phrases were mouthing
round about him, "You see he has a leg."

That you saw, of course. But after she had spoken you saw much more.
Mrs. Mountstuart said it just as others utter empty nothings, with
never a hint of a stress. Her word was taken up, and very soon, from
the extreme end of the long drawing-room, the circulation of something
of Mrs. Mountstuart's was distinctly perceptible. Lady Patterne sent a
little Hebe down, skirting the dancers, for an accurate report of it;
and even the inappreciative lips of a very young lady transmitting the
word could not damp the impression of its weighty truthfulness. It was
perfect! Adulation of the young Sir Willoughby's beauty and wit, and
aristocratic bearing and mien, and of his moral virtues, was common;
welcome if you like, as a form of homage; but common, almost vulgar,
beside Mrs. Mountstuart's quiet little touch of nature. In seeming to
say infinitely less than others, as Miss Isabel Patterne pointed out to
Lady Busshe, Mrs. Mountstuart comprised all that the others had said,
by showing the needlessness of allusions to the saliently evident. She
was the aristocrat reproving the provincial. "He is everything you have
had the goodness to remark, ladies and dear sirs, he talks charmingly,
dances divinely, rides with the air of a commander-in-chief, has the
most natural grand pose possible without ceasing for a moment to be the
young English gentleman he is. Alcibiades, fresh from a Louis IV
perruquier, could not surpass him: whatever you please; I could outdo
you in sublime comparisons, were I minded to pelt him. Have you noticed
that he has a leg?"

So might it be amplified. A simple-seeming word of this import is the
triumph of the spiritual, and where it passes for coin of value, the
society has reached a high refinement: Arcadian by the aesthetic route.
Observation of Willoughby was not, as Miss Eleanor Patterne pointed out
to Lady Culmer, drawn down to the leg, but directed to estimate him
from the leg upward. That, however, is prosaic. Dwell a short space on
Mrs. Mountstuart's word; and whither, into what fair region, and with
how decorously voluptuous a sensation, do not we fly, who have, through
mournful veneration of the Martyr Charles, a coy attachment to the
Court of his Merrie Son, where the leg was ribanded with love-knots and
reigned. Oh! it was a naughty Court. Yet have we dreamed of it as the
period when an English cavalier was grace incarnate; far from the boor
now hustling us in another sphere; beautifully mannered, every gesture
dulcet. And if the ladies were . . . we will hope they have been
traduced. But if they were, if they were too tender, ah! gentlemen
were gentlemen then--worth perishing for! There is this dream in the
English country; and it must be an aspiration after some form of
melodious gentlemanliness which is imagined to have inhabited the
island at one time; as among our poets the dream of the period of a
circle of chivalry here is encouraged for the pleasure of the
imagination.

Mrs. Mountstuart touched a thrilling chord. "In spite of men's hateful
modern costume, you see he has a leg."

That is, the leg of the born cavalier is before you: and obscure it as
you will, dress degenerately, there it is for ladies who have eyes. You
see it: or, you see he has it. Miss Isabel and Miss Eleanor disputed
the incidence of the emphasis, but surely, though a slight difference
of meaning may be heard, either will do: many, with a good show of
reason, throw the accent upon leg. And the ladies knew for a fact that
Willoughby's leg was exquisite; he had a cavalier court-suit in his
wardrobe. Mrs. Mountstuart signified that the leg was to be seen
because it was a burning leg. There it is, and it will shine through!
He has the leg of Rochester, Buckingham, Dorset, Suckling; the leg that
smiles, that winks, is obsequious to you, yet perforce of beauty
self-satisfied; that twinkles to a tender midway between imperiousness
and seductiveness, audacity and discretion; between "You shall worship
me", and "I am devoted to you;" is your lord, your slave, alternately
and in one. It is a leg of ebb and flow and high-tide ripples. Such a
leg, when it has done with pretending to retire, will walk straight
into the hearts of women. Nothing so fatal to them.

Self-satisfied it must be. Humbleness does not win multitudes or the
sex. It must be vain to have a sheen. Captivating melodies (to prove to
you the unavoidableness of self-satisfaction when you know that you
have hit perfection), listen to them closely, have an inner pipe of
that conceit almost ludicrous when you detect the chirp.

And you need not be reminded that he has the leg without the
naughtiness. You see eminent in him what we would fain have brought
about in a nation that has lost its leg in gaining a possibly cleaner
morality. And that is often contested; but there is no doubt of the
loss of the leg.

Well, footmen and courtiers and Scottish Highlanders, and the corps de
ballet, draymen too, have legs, and staring legs, shapely enough. But
what are they? not the modulated instrument we mean--simply legs for
leg-work, dumb as the brutes. Our cavalier's is the poetic leg, a
portent, a valiance. He has it as Cicero had a tongue. It is a lute to
scatter songs to his mistress; a rapier, is she obdurate. In sooth a
leg with brains in it, soul.

And its shadows are an ambush, its lights a surprise. It blushes, it
pales, can whisper, exclaim. It is a peep, a part revelation, just
sufferable, of the Olympian god--Jove playing carpet-knight.

For the young Sir Willoughby's family and his thoughtful admirers, it
is not too much to say that Mrs. Mountstuart's little word fetched an
epoch of our history to colour the evening of his arrival at man's
estate. He was all that Merrie Charles's court should have been,
subtracting not a sparkle from what it was. Under this light he
danced, and you may consider the effect of it on his company.

He had received the domestic education of a prince. Little princes
abound in a land of heaped riches. Where they have not to yield
military service to an Imperial master, they are necessarily here and
there dainty during youth, sometimes unmanageable, and as they are
bound in no personal duty to the State, each is for himself, with full
present, and what is more, luxurious, prospective leisure for the
practice of that allegiance. They are sometimes enervated by it: that
must be in continental countries. Happily our climate and our brave
blood precipitate the greater number upon the hunting-field, to do the
public service of heading the chase of the fox, with benefit to their
constitutions. Hence a manly as well as useful race of little princes,
and Willoughby was as manly as any. He cultivated himself, he would not
be outdone in popular accomplishments. Had the standard of the public
taste been set in philosophy, and the national enthusiasm centred in
philosophers, he would at least have worked at books. He did work at
science, and had a laboratory. His admirable passion to excel, however,
was chiefly directed in his youth upon sport; and so great was the
passion in him, that it was commonly the presence of rivals which led
him to the declaration of love.

He knew himself, nevertheless, to be the most constant of men in his
attachment to the sex. He had never discouraged Laetitia Dale's
devotion to him, and even when he followed in the sweeping tide of the
beautiful Constantia Durham (whom Mrs. Mountstuart called "The Racing
Cutter"), he thought of Laetitia, and looked at her. She was a shy
violet.

Willoughby's comportment while the showers of adulation drenched him
might be likened to the composure of Indian Gods undergoing worship,
but unlike them he reposed upon no seat of amplitude to preserve him
from a betrayal of intoxication; he had to continue tripping, dancing,
exactly balancing himself, head to right, head to left, addressing his
idolaters in phrases of perfect choiceness. This is only to say that it
is easier to be a wooden idol than one in the flesh; yet Willoughby was
equal to his task. The little prince's education teaches him that he
is other than you, and by virtue of the instruction he receives, and
also something, we know not what, within, he is enabled to maintain his
posture where you would be tottering.

Urchins upon whose curly pates grave seniors lay their hands with
conventional encomium and speculation, look older than they are
immediately, and Willoughby looked older than his years, not for want
of freshness, but because he felt that he had to stand eminently and
correctly poised.

Hearing of Mrs. Mountstuart's word on him, he smiled and said, "It is
at her service."

The speech was communicated to her, and she proposed to attach a
dedicatory strip of silk. And then they came together, and there was
wit and repartee suitable to the electrical atmosphere of the
dancing-room, on the march to a magical hall of supper. Willoughby
conducted Mrs. Mountstuart to the supper-table.

"Were I," said she, "twenty years younger, I think I would marry you,
to cure my infatuation."

"Then let me tell you in advance, madam," said he, "that I will do
everything to obtain a new lease of it, except divorce you."

They were infinitely wittier, but so much was heard and may be
reported.

"It makes the business of choosing a wife for him superhumanly
difficult!" Mrs. Mountstuart observed, after listening to the praises
she had set going again when the ladies were weeded of us, in Lady
Patterne's Indian room, and could converse unhampered upon their own
ethereal themes.

"Willoughby will choose a wife for himself," said his mother.



CHAPTER III

CONSTANTIA DURHAM

The great question for the county was debated in many households,
daughter-thronged and daughterless, long subsequent to the memorable
day of Willoughby's coming of age. Lady Busshe was for Constantia
Durham. She laughed at Mrs Mountstuart Jenkinson's notion of Laetitia
Dale. She was a little older than Mrs. Mountstuart, and had known
Willoughby's father, whose marriage into the wealthiest branch of the
Whitford family had been strictly sagacious. "Patternes marry money;
they are not romantic people," she said. Miss Durham had money, and she
had health and beauty: three mighty qualifications for a Patterne
bride. Her father, Sir John Durham, was a large landowner in the
western division of the county; a pompous gentleman, the picture of a
father-in-law for Willoughby. The father of Miss Dale was a battered
army surgeon from India, tenant of one of Sir Willoughby's cottages
bordering Patterne Park. His girl was portionless and a poetess. Her
writing of the song in celebration of the young baronet's birthday was
thought a clever venture, bold as only your timid creatures can be
bold. She let the cat out of her bag of verse before the multitude; she
almost proposed to her hero in her rhymes. She was pretty; her
eyelashes were long and dark, her eyes dark-blue, and her soul was
ready to shoot like a rocket out of them at a look from Willoughby. And
he looked, he certainly looked, though he did not dance with her once
that night, and danced repeatedly with Miss Durham. He gave Laetitia to
Vernon Whitford for the final dance of the night, and he may have
looked at her so much in pity of an elegant girl allied to such a
partner. The "Phoebus Apollo turned fasting friar" had entirely
forgotten his musical gifts in motion. He crossed himself and crossed
his bewildered lady, and crossed everybody in the figure, extorting
shouts of cordial laughter from his cousin Willoughby. Be it said that
the hour was four in the morning, when dancers must laugh at somebody,
if only to refresh their feet, and the wit of the hour administers to
the wildest laughter. Vernon was likened to Theseus in the maze,
entirely dependent upon his Ariadne; to a fly released from a jam-pot;
to a "salvage", or green, man caught in a web of nymphs and made to go
the paces. Willoughby was inexhaustible in the happy similes he poured
out to Miss Durham across the lines of Sir Roger de Coverley, and they
were not forgotten, they procured him a reputation as a convivial
sparkler. Rumour went the round that he intended to give Laetitia to
Vernon for good, when he could decide to take Miss Durham to himself;
his generosity was famous; but that decision, though the rope was in
the form of a knot, seemed reluctant for the conclusive close haul; it
preferred the state of slackness; and if he courted Laetitia on behalf
of his cousin, his cousinly love must have been greater than his
passion, one had to suppose. He was generous enough for it, or for
marrying the portionless girl himself.

There was a story of a brilliant young widow of our aristocracy who had
very nearly snared him. Why should he object to marry into our
aristocracy? Mrs. Mountstuart asked him, and he replied that the girls
of that class have no money, and he doubted the quality of their blood.
He had his eyes awake. His duty to his House was a foremost thought
with him, and for such a reason he may have been more anxious to give
the slim and not robust Laetitia to Vernon than accede to his personal
inclination. The mention of the widow singularly offended him,
notwithstanding the high rank of the lady named. "A widow?" he said.
"I!" He spoke to a widow; an oldish one truly; but his wrath at the
suggestion of his union with a widow led him to be for the moment
oblivious of the minor shades of good taste. He desired Mrs.
Mountstuart to contradict the story in positive terms. He repeated his
desire; he was urgent to have it contradicted, and said again, "A
widow!" straightening his whole figure to the erectness of the letter
I. She was a widow unmarried a second time, and it has been known of
the stedfast women who retain the name of their first husband, or do
not hamper his title with a little new squire at their skirts, that
they can partially approve the objections indicated by Sir Willoughby.
They are thinking of themselves when they do so, and they will rarely
say, "I might have married;" rarely within them will they avow that,
with their permission, it might have been. They can catch an idea of a
gentleman's view of the widow's cap. But a niceness that could feel
sharply wounded by the simple rumour of his alliance with the young
relict of an earl was mystifying. Sir Willoughby unbent. His military
letter I took a careless glance at itself lounging idly and proudly at
ease in the glass of his mind, decked with a wanton wreath, as he
dropped a hint, generously vague, just to show the origin of the
rumour, and the excellent basis it had for not being credited. He was
chidden. Mrs. Mountstuart read him a lecture. She was however able to
contradict the tale of the young countess. "There is no fear of his
marrying her, my dears."

Meanwhile there was a fear that he would lose his chance of marrying
the beautiful Miss Durham.

The dilemmas of little princes are often grave. They should be dwelt on
now and then for an example to poor struggling commoners, of the slings
and arrows assailing fortune's most favoured men, that we may preach
contentment to the wretch who cannot muster wherewithal to marry a
wife, or has done it and trots the streets, pack-laden, to maintain the
dame and troops of children painfully reared to fill subordinate
stations. According to our reading, a moral is always welcome in a
moral country, and especially so when silly envy is to be chastised by
it, the restless craving for change rebuked. Young Sir Willoughby,
then, stood in this dilemma:--a lady was at either hand of him; the
only two that had ever, apart from metropolitan conquests, not to be
recited, touched his emotions. Susceptible to beauty, he had never seen
so beautiful a girl as Constantia Durham. Equally susceptible to
admiration of himself, he considered Laetitia Dale a paragon of
cleverness. He stood between the queenly rose and the modest violet.
One he bowed to; the other bowed to him. He could not have both; it is
the law governing princes and pedestrians alike. But which could he
forfeit? His growing acquaintance with the world taught him to put an
increasing price on the sentiments of Miss Dale. Still Constantia's
beauty was of a kind to send away beholders aching. She had the glory
of the racing cutter full sail on a whining breeze; and she did not
court to win him, she flew. In his more reflective hour the
attractiveness of that lady which held the mirror to his features was
paramount. But he had passionate snatches when the magnetism of the
flyer drew him in her wake. Further to add to the complexity, he loved
his liberty; he was princelier free; he had more subjects, more slaves;
he ruled arrogantly in the world of women; he was more himself. His
metropolitan experiences did not answer to his liking the particular
question, Do we bind the woman down to us idolatrously by making a wife
of her?

In the midst of his deliberations, a report of the hot pursuit of Miss
Durham, casually mentioned to him by Lady Busshe, drew an immediate
proposal from Sir Willoughby. She accepted him, and they were engaged.
She had been nibbled at, all but eaten up, while he hung dubitative;
and though that was the cause of his winning her, it offended his
niceness. She had not come to him out of cloistral purity, out of
perfect radiancy. Spiritually, likewise, was he a little prince, a
despotic prince. He wished for her to have come to him out of an
egg-shell, somewhat more astonished at things than a chicken, but as
completely enclosed before he tapped the shell, and seeing him with her
sex's eyes first of all men. She talked frankly of her cousins and
friends, young males. She could have replied to his bitter wish: "Had
you asked me on the night of your twenty-first birthday, Willoughby!"
Since then she had been in the dust of the world, and he conceived his
peculiar antipathy, destined to be so fatal to him, from the earlier
hours of his engagement. He was quaintly incapable of a jealousy of
individuals. A young Captain Oxford had been foremost in the swarm
pursuing Constantia. Willoughby thought as little of Captain Oxford as
he did of Vernon Whitford. His enemy was the world, the mass, which
confounds us in a lump, which has breathed on her whom we have
selected, whom we cannot, can never, rub quite clear of her contact
with the abominated crowd. The pleasure of the world is to bowl down
our soldierly letter I; to encroach on our identity, soil our niceness.
To begin to think is the beginning of disgust of the world.

As soon the engagement was published all the county said that there had
not been a chance for Laetitia, and Mrs. Mountstuart Jenkinson humbly
remarked, in an attitude of penitence, "I'm not a witch." Lady Busshe
could claim to be one; she had foretold the event. Laetitia was of the
same opinion as the county. She had looked up, but not hopefully. She
had only looked up to the brightest, and, as he was the highest, how
could she have hoped? She was the solitary companion of a sick father,
whose inveterate prognostic of her, that she would live to rule at
Patterne Hall, tortured the poor girl in proportion as he seemed to
derive comfort from it. The noise of the engagement merely silenced
him; recluse invalids cling obstinately to their ideas. He had observed
Sir Willoughby in the society of his daughter, when the young baronet
revived to a sprightly boyishness immediately. Indeed, as big boy and
little girl, they had played together of old. Willoughby had been a
handsome, fair boy. The portrait of him at the Hall, in a hat, leaning
on his pony, with crossed legs, and long flaxen curls over his
shoulders, was the image of her soul's most present angel; and, as a
man, he had--she did not suppose intentionally--subjected her nature to
bow to him; so submissive was she, that it was fuller happiness for her
to think him right in all his actions than to imagine the circumstances
different. This may appear to resemble the ecstasy of the devotee of
Juggernaut, It is a form of the passion inspired by little princes, and
we need not marvel that a conservative sex should assist to keep them
in their lofty places. What were there otherwise to look up to? We
should have no dazzling beacon-lights if they were levelled and treated
as clod earth; and it is worth while for here and there a woman to be
burned, so long as women's general adoration of an ideal young man
shall be preserved. Purity is our demand of them. They may justly cry
for attraction. They cannot have it brighter than in the universal
bearing of the eyes of their sisters upon a little prince, one who has
the ostensible virtues in his pay, and can practise them without
injuring himself to make himself unsightly. Let the races of men be
by-and-by astonished at their Gods, if they please. Meantime they had
better continue to worship.

Laetitia did continue. She saw Miss Durham at Patterne on several
occasions. She admired the pair. She had a wish to witness the bridal
ceremony. She was looking forward to the day with that mixture of
eagerness and withholding which we have as we draw nigh the
disenchanting termination of an enchanting romance, when Sir Willoughby
met her on a Sunday morning, as she crossed his park solitarily to
church. They were within ten days of the appointed ceremony. He should
have been away at Miss Durham's end of the county. He had, Laetitia
knew, ridden over to her the day before; but there he was; and very
unwontedly, quite surprisingly, he presented his arm to conduct
Laetitia to the church-door, and talked and laughed in a way that
reminded her of a hunting gentleman she had seen once rising to his
feet, staggering from an ugly fall across hedge and fence into one of
the lanes of her short winter walks. "All's well, all sound, never
better, only a scratch!" the gentleman had said, as he reeled and
pressed a bleeding head. Sir Willoughby chattered of his felicity in
meeting her. "I am really wonderfully lucky," he said, and he said that
and other things over and over, incessantly talking, and telling an
anecdote of county occurrences, and laughing at it with a mouth that
would not widen. He went on talking in the church porch, and murmuring
softly some steps up the aisle, passing the pews of Mrs. Mountstuart
Jenkinson and Lady Busshe. Of course he was entertaining, but what a
strangeness it was to Laetitia! His face would have been half under an
antique bonnet. It came very close to hers, and the scrutiny he bent on
her was most solicitous.

After the service, he avoided the great ladies by sauntering up to
within a yard or two of where she sat; he craved her hand on his arm to
lead her forth by the park entrance to the church, all the while
bending to her, discoursing rapidly, appearing radiantly interested in
her quiet replies, with fits of intentness that stared itself out into
dim abstraction. She hazarded the briefest replies for fear of not
having understood him.

One question she asked: "Miss Durham is well, I trust?"

And he answered "Durham?" and said, "There is no Miss Durham to my
knowledge."

The impression he left with her was, that he might yesterday during his
ride have had an accident and fallen on his head.

She would have asked that, if she had not known him for so thorough an
Englishman, in his dislike to have it thought that accidents could hurt
even when they happened to him.

He called the next day to claim her for a walk. He assured her she had
promised it, and he appealed to her father, who could not testify to a
promise he had not heard, but begged her to leave him to have her walk.
So once more she was in the park with Sir Willoughby, listening to his
raptures over old days. A word of assent from her sufficed him. "I am
now myself," was one of the remarks he repeated this day. She dilated
on the beauty of the park and the Hall to gratify him.

He did not speak of Miss Durham, and Laetitia became afraid to mention
her name.

At their parting, Willoughby promised Laetitia that he would call on
the morrow. He did not come; and she could well excuse him, after her
hearing of the tale.

It was a lamentable tale. He had ridden to Sir John Durham's mansion, a
distance of thirty miles, to hear, on his arrival, that Constantia had
quitted her father's house two days previously on a visit to an aunt in
London, and had just sent word that she was the wife of Captain Oxford,
hussar, and messmate of one of her brothers. A letter from the bride
awaited Willoughby at the Hall. He had ridden back at night, not
caring how he used his horse in order to get swiftly home, so forgetful
of himself was he under the terrible blow. That was the night of
Saturday. On the day following, being Sunday, he met Laetitia in his
park, led her to church, led her out of it, and the day after that,
previous to his disappearance for some weeks, was walking with her in
full view of the carriages along the road.

He had, indeed, you see, been very fortunately, if not considerately,
liberated by Miss Durham. He, as a man of honour, could not have taken
the initiative, but the frenzy of a jealous girl might urge her to such
a course; and how little he suffered from it had been shown to the
world. Miss Durham, the story went, was his mother's choice for him
against his heart's inclinations; which had finally subdued Lady
Patterne. Consequently, there was no longer an obstacle between Sir
Willoughby and Miss Dale. It was a pleasant and romantic story, and it
put most people in good humour with the county's favourite, as his
choice of a portionless girl of no position would not have done without
the shock of astonishment at the conduct of Miss Durham, and the desire
to feel that so prevailing a gentleman was not in any degree pitiable.
Constantia was called "that mad thing". Laetitia broke forth in novel
and abundant merits; and one of the chief points of requisition in
relation to Patterne--a Lady Willoughby who would entertain well and
animate the deadness of the Hall, became a certainty when her
gentleness and liveliness and exceeding cleverness were considered. She
was often a visitor at the Hall by Lady Patterne's express invitation,
and sometimes on these occasions Willoughby was there too,
superintending the filling up of his laboratory, though he was not at
home to the county; it was not expected that he should be yet. He had
taken heartily to the pursuit of science, and spoke of little else.
Science, he said, was in our days the sole object worth a devoted
pursuit. But the sweeping remark could hardly apply to Laetitia, of
whom he was the courteous, quiet wooer you behold when a man has broken
loose from an unhappy tangle to return to the lady of his first and
strongest affections.

Some months of homely courtship ensued, and then, the decent interval
prescribed by the situation having elapsed, Sir Willoughby Patterne
left his native land on a tour of the globe.



CHAPTER IV

LAETITIA DALE

That was another surprise to the county.

Let us not inquire into the feelings of patiently starving women; they
must obtain some sustenance of their own, since, as you perceive, they
live; evidently they are not in need of a great amount of nourishment;
and we may set them down for creatures with a rush-light of animal fire
to warm them. They cannot have much vitality who are so little
exclamatory. A corresponding sentiment of patient compassion, akin to
scorn, is provoked by persons having the opportunity for pathos, and
declining to use it. The public bosom was open to Laetitia for several
weeks, and had she run to it to bewail herself she would have been
cherished in thankfulness for a country drama. There would have been a
party against her, cold people, critical of her pretensions to rise
from an unrecognized sphere to be mistress of Patterne Hall, but there
would also have been a party against Sir Willoughby, composed of the
two or three revolutionists, tired of the yoke, which are to be found
in England when there is a stir; a larger number of born sympathetics,
ever ready to yield the tear for the tear; and here and there a
Samaritan soul prompt to succour poor humanity in distress. The
opportunity passed undramatized. Laetitia presented herself at church
with a face mildly devout, according to her custom, and she accepted
invitations to the Hall, she assisted at the reading of Willoughby's
letters to his family, and fed on dry husks of him wherein her name was
not mentioned; never one note of the summoning call for pathos did this
young lady blow.

So, very soon the public bosom closed. She had, under the fresh
interpretation of affairs, too small a spirit to be Lady Willoughby of
Patterne; she could not have entertained becomingly; he must have seen
that the girl was not the match for him in station, and off he went to
conquer the remainder of a troublesome first attachment, no longer
extremely disturbing, to judge from the tenour of his letters; really
incomparable letters! Lady Busshe and Mrs. Mountstuart Jenkinson
enjoyed a perusal of them. Sir Willoughby appeared as a splendid young
representative island lord in these letters to his family, despatched
from the principal cities of the United States of America. He would
give them a sketch of "our democratic cousins", he said. Such cousins!
They might all have been in the Marines. He carried his English
standard over that continent, and by simply jotting down facts, he left
an idea of the results of the measurement to his family and friends at
home. He was an adept in the irony of incongruously grouping. The
nature of the Equality under the stars and stripes was presented in
this manner. Equality! Reflections came occasionally: "These cousins of
ours are highly amusing. I am among the descendants of the Roundheads.
Now and then an allusion to old domestic differences, in perfect good
temper. We go on in our way; they theirs, in the apparent belief that
Republicanism operates remarkable changes in human nature. Vernon tries
hard to think it does. The upper ten of our cousins are the Infernal of
Paris. The rest of them is Radical England, as far as I am acquainted
with that section of my country."--Where we compared, they were absurd;
where we contrasted, they were monstrous. The contrast of Vernon's
letters with Willoughby's was just as extreme. You could hardly have
taken them for relatives travelling together, or Vernon Whitford for a
born and bred Englishman. The same scenes furnished by these two pens
might have been sketched in different hemispheres. Vernon had no irony.
He had nothing of Willoughby's epistolary creative power, which,
causing his family and friends to exclaim: "How like him that is!"
conjured them across the broad Atlantic to behold and clap hands at his
lordliness.

They saw him distinctly, as with the naked eye; a word, a turn of the
pen, or a word unsaid, offered the picture of him in America, Japan,
China, Australia, nay, the continent of Europe, holding an English
review of his Maker's grotesques. Vernon seemed a sheepish fellow,
without stature abroad, glad of a compliment, grateful for a dinner,
endeavouring sadly to digest all he saw and heard. But one was a
Patterne; the other a Whitford. One had genius; the other pottered
after him with the title of student. One was the English gentleman
wherever he went; the other was a new kind of thing, nondescript,
produced in England of late, and not likely to come to much good
himself, or do much good to the country.

Vernon's dancing in America was capitally described by Willoughby.
"Adieu to our cousins!" the latter wrote on his voyage to Japan. "I
may possibly have had some vogue in their ball-rooms, and in showing
them an English seat on horseback: I must resign myself if I have not
been popular among them. I could not sing their national song--if a
congery of states be a nation--and I must confess I listened with
frigid politeness to their singing of it. A great people, no doubt.
Adieu to them. I have had to tear old Vernon away. He had serious
thoughts of settling, means to correspond with some of them." On the
whole, forgetting two or more "traits of insolence" on the part of his
hosts, which he cited, Willoughby escaped pretty comfortably. The
President had been, consciously or not, uncivil, but one knew his
origin! Upon these interjections, placable flicks of the lionly tail
addressed to Britannia the Ruler, who expected him in some mildish way
to lash terga cauda in retiring, Sir Willoughby Patterne passed from a
land of alien manners; and ever after he spoke of America respectfully
and pensively, with a tail tucked in, as it were. His travels were
profitable to himself. The fact is, that there are cousins who come to
greatness and must be pacified, or they will prove annoying. Heaven
forefend a collision between cousins!

Willoughby returned to his England after an absence of three years. On
a fair April morning, the last of the month, he drove along his park
palings, and, by the luck of things, Laetitia was the first of his
friends whom he met. She was crossing from field to field with a band
of school-children, gathering wild flowers for the morrow May-day. He
sprang to the ground and seized her hand. "Laetitia Dale!" he said. He
panted. "Your name is sweet English music! And you are well?" The
anxious question permitted him to read deeply in her eyes. He found the
man he sought there, squeezed him passionately, and let her go, saying:
"I could not have prayed for a lovelier home-scene to welcome me than
you and these children flower-gathering. I don't believe in chance. It
was decreed that we should meet. Do not you think so?"

Laetitia breathed faintly of her gladness.

He begged her to distribute a gold coin among the little ones; asked
for the names of some of them, and repeated: "Mary, Susan,
Charlotte--only the Christian names, pray! Well, my dears, you will
bring your garlands to the Hall to-morrow morning; and mind, early! no
slugabeds tomorrow; I suppose I am browned, Laetitia?" He smiled in
apology for the foreign sun, and murmured with rapture: "The green of
this English country is unsurpassed. It is wonderful. Leave England
and be baked, if you would appreciate it. You can't, unless you taste
exile as I have done--for how many years? How many?"

"Three," said Laetitia.

"Thirty!" said he. "It seems to me that length. At least, I am
immensely older. But looking at you, I could think it less than three.
You have not changed. You are absolutely unchanged. I am bound to hope
so. I shall see you soon. I have much to talk of, much to tell you. I
shall hasten to call on your father. I have specially to speak with
him. I--what happiness this is, Laetitia! But I must not forget I have
a mother. Adieu; for some hours--not for many!"

He pressed her hand again. He was gone.

She dismissed the children to their homes. Plucking primroses was hard
labour now--a dusty business. She could have wished that her planet had
not descended to earth, his presence agitated her so; but his
enthusiastic patriotism was like a shower that, in the Spring season of
the year, sweeps against the hard-binding East and melts the air and
brings out new colours, makes life flow; and her thoughts recurred in
wonderment to the behaviour of Constantia Durham. That was Laetitia's
manner of taking up her weakness once more. She could almost have
reviled the woman who had given this beneficent magician, this pathetic
exile, of the aristocratic sunburned visage and deeply scrutinizing
eyes, cause for grief. How deeply his eyes could read! The starveling
of patience awoke to the idea of a feast. The sense of hunger came with
it, and hope came, and patience fled. She would have rejected hope to
keep patience nigh her; but surely it can not always be Winter! said
her reasoning blood, and we must excuse her as best we can if she was
assured, by her restored warmth that Willoughby came in the order of
the revolving seasons, marking a long Winter past. He had specially to
speak with her father, he had said. What could that mean? What,
but--She dared not phrase it or view it.

At their next meeting she was "Miss Dale".

A week later he was closeted with her father.

Mr. Dale, in the evening of that pregnant day, eulogized Sir Willoughby
as a landlord. A new lease of the cottage was to be granted him on the
old terms, he said. Except that Sir Willoughby had congratulated him in
the possession of an excellent daughter, their interview was one of
landlord and tenant, it appeared; and Laetitia said, "So we shall not
have to leave the cottage?" in a tone of satisfaction, while she
quietly gave a wrench to the neck of the young hope in her breast. At
night her diary received the line: "This day I was a fool. To-morrow?"

To-morrow and many days afterwards there were dashes instead of words.

Patience travelled back to her sullenly. As we must have some kind of
food, and she had nothing else, she took to that and found it dryer
than of yore. It is a composing but a lean dietary. The dead are
patient, and we get a certain likeness to them in feeding on it
unintermittingly overlong. Her hollowed cheeks with the fallen leaf in
them pleaded against herself to justify her idol for not looking down
on one like her. She saw him when he was at the Hall. He did not
notice any change. He was exceedingly gentle and courteous. More than
once she discovered his eyes dwelling on her, and then he looked
hurriedly at his mother, and Laetitia had to shut her mind from
thinking, lest thinking should be a sin and hope a guilty spectre. But
had his mother objected to her? She could not avoid asking herself. His
tour of the globe had been undertaken at his mother's desire; she was
an ambitious lady, in failing health; and she wished to have him living
with her at Patterne, yet seemed to agree that he did wisely to reside
in London.

One day Sir Willoughby, in the quiet manner which was his humour,
informed her that he had become a country gentleman; he had abandoned
London, he loathed it as the burial-place of the individual man. He
intended to sit down on his estates and have his cousin Vernon Whitford
to assist him in managing them, he said; and very amusing was his
description of his cousin's shifts to live by literature, and add
enough to a beggarly income to get his usual two months of the year in
the Alps. Previous to his great tour, Willoughby had spoken of Vernon's
judgement with derision; nor was it entirely unknown that Vernon had
offended his family pride by some extravagant act. But after their
return he acknowledged Vernon's talents, and seemed unable to do
without him.

The new arrangement gave Laetitia a companion for her walks.
Pedestrianism was a sour business to Willoughby, whose exclamation of
the word indicated a willingness for any amount of exercise on
horseback; but she had no horse, and so, while he hunted, Laetitia and
Vernon walked, and the neighbourhood speculated on the circumstances,
until the ladies Eleanor and Isabel Patterne engaged her more
frequently for carriage exercise, and Sir Willoughby was observed
riding beside them.

A real and sunny pleasure befell Laetitia in the establishment of young
Crossjay Patterne under her roof; the son of the lieutenant, now
captain, of Marines; a boy of twelve with the sprights of twelve boys
in him, for whose board and lodgement Vernon provided by arrangement
with her father. Vernon was one of your men that have no occupation for
their money, no bills to pay for repair of their property, and are
insane to spend. He had heard of Captain Patterne's large family, and
proposed to have his eldest boy at the Hall, to teach him; but
Willoughby declined to house the son of such a father, predicting that
the boy's hair would be red, his skin eruptive, and his practices
detestable. So Vernon, having obtained Mr. Dale's consent to
accommodate this youth, stalked off to Devonport, and brought back a
rosy-cheeked, round-bodied rogue of a boy, who fell upon meats and
puddings, and defeated them, with a captivating simplicity in his
confession that he had never had enough to eat in his life. He had gone
through a training for a plentiful table. At first, after a number of
helps, young Crossjay would sit and sigh heavily, in contemplation of
the unfinished dish. Subsequently, he told his host and hostess that he
had two sisters above his own age, and three brothers and two sisters
younger than he: "All hungry!" said die boy.

His pathos was most comical. It was a good month before he could see
pudding taken away from table without a sigh of regret that he could
not finish it as deputy for the Devonport household. The pranks of the
little fellow, and his revel in a country life, and muddy wildness in
it, amused Laetitia from morning to night. She, when she had caught
him, taught him in the morning; Vernon, favoured by the chase, in the
afternoon. Young Crossjay would have enlivened any household. He was
not only indolent, he was opposed to the acquisition of knowledge
through the medium of books, and would say: "But I don't want to!" in a
tone to make a logician thoughtful. Nature was very strong in him. He
had, on each return of the hour for instruction, to be plucked out of
the earth, rank of the soil, like a root, for the exercise of his big
round headpiece on those tyrannous puzzles. But the habits of birds,
and the place for their eggs, and the management of rabbits, and the
tickling of fish, and poaching joys with combative boys of the
district, and how to wheedle a cook for a luncheon for a whole day in
the rain, he soon knew of his great nature. His passion for our naval
service was a means of screwing his attention to lessons after he had
begun to understand that the desert had to be traversed to attain
midshipman's rank. He boasted ardently of his fighting father, and,
chancing to be near the Hall as he was talking to Vernon and Laetitia
of his father, he propounded a question close to his heart, and he put
it in these words, following: "My father's the one to lead an army!"
when he paused. "I say, Mr. Whitford, Sir Willoughby's kind to me, and
gives me crown-pieces, why wouldn't he see my father, and my father
came here ten miles in the rain to see him, and had to walk ten miles
back, and sleep at an inn?"

The only answer to be given was, that Sir Willoughby could not have
been at home. "Oh! my father saw him, and Sir Willoughby said he was
not at home," the boy replied, producing an odd ring in the ear by his
repetition of "not at home" in the same voice as the apology, plainly
innocent of malice. Vernon told Laetitia, however, that the boy never
asked an explanation of Sir Willoughby.

Unlike the horse of the adage, it was easier to compel young Crossjay
to drink of the waters of instruction than to get him to the brink. His
heart was not so antagonistic as his nature, and by degrees, owing to a
proper mixture of discipline and cajolery, he imbibed. He was whistling
at the cook's windows after a day of wicked truancy, on an April night,
and reported adventures over the supper supplied to him. Laetitia
entered the kitchen with a reproving forefinger. He jumped to kiss her,
and went on chattering of a place fifteen miles distant, where he had
seen Sir Willoughby riding with a young lady. The impossibility that
the boy should have got so far on foot made Laetitia doubtful of his
veracity, until she heard that a gentleman had taken him up on the road
in a gig, and had driven him to a farm to show him strings of birds'
eggs and stuffed birds of every English kind, kingfishers, yaffles,
black woodpeckers, goat-sucker owls, more mouth than head, with dusty,
dark-spotted wings, like moths; all very circumstantial. Still, in
spite of his tea at the farm, and ride back by rail at the gentleman's
expense, the tale seemed fictitious to Laetitia until Crossjay related
how that he had stood to salute on the road to the railway, and taken
off his cap to Sir Willoughby, and Sir Willoughby had passed him, not
noticing him, though the young lady did, and looked back and nodded.
The hue of truth was in that picture.

Strange eclipse, when the hue of truth comes shadowing over our bright
ideal planet. It will not seem the planet's fault, but truth's. Reality
is the offender; delusion our treasure that we are robbed of. Then
begins with us the term of wilful delusion, and its necessary
accompaniment of the disgust of reality; exhausting the heart much more
than patient endurance of starvation.

Hints were dropping about the neighbourhood; the hedgeways twittered,
the tree-tops cawed. Mrs. Mountstuart Jenkinson was loud on the
subject: "Patterne is to have a mistress at last, you say? But there
never was a doubt of his marrying--he must marry; and, so long as he
does not marry a foreign woman, we have no cause to complain. He met
her at Cherriton. Both were struck at the same moment. Her father is, I
hear, some sort of learned man; money; no land. No house either, I
believe. People who spend half their time on the Continent. They are
now for a year at Upton Park. The very girl to settle down and
entertain when she does think of settling. Eighteen, perfect manners;
you need not ask if a beauty. Sir Willoughby will have his dues. We
must teach her to make amends to him--but don't listen to Lady Busshe!
He was too young at twenty-three or twenty-four. No young man is ever
jilted; he is allowed to escape. A young man married is a fire-eater
bound over to keep the peace; if he keeps it he worries it. At
thirty-one or thirty-two he is ripe for his command, because he knows
how to bend. And Sir Willoughby is a splendid creature, only wanting a
wife to complete him. For a man like that to go on running about would
never do. Soberly--no! It would soon be getting ridiculous. He has been
no worse than other men, probably better--infinitely more excusable;
but now we have him, and it was time we should. I shall see her and
study her, sharply, you may be sure; though I fancy I can rely on his
judgement."

In confirmation of the swelling buzz, the Rev. Dr. Middleton and his
daughter paid a flying visit to the Hall, where they were seen only by
the members of the Patterne family. Young Crossjay had a short
conversation with Miss Middleton, and ran to the cottage full of
her--she loved the navy and had a merry face. She had a smile of very
pleasant humour according to Vernon. The young lady was outlined to
Laetitia as tall, elegant, lively; and painted as carrying youth like a
flag. With her smile of "very pleasant humour", she could not but be
winning.

Vernon spoke more of her father, a scholar of high repute; happily, a
scholar of an independent fortune. His maturer recollection of Miss
Middleton grew poetic, or he described her in an image to suit a poetic
end: "She gives you an idea of the Mountain Echo. Doctor Middleton has
one of the grandest heads in England."

"What is her Christian name?" said Laetitia.

He thought her Christian name was Clara.

Laetitia went to bed and walked through the day conceiving the Mountain
Echo the swift, wild spirit, Clara by name, sent fleeting on a far half
circle by the voice it is roused to subserve; sweeter than beautiful,
high above drawing-room beauties as the colours of the sky; and if, at
the same time, elegant and of loveable smiling, could a man resist her?
To inspire the title of Mountain Echo in any mind, a young lady must be
singularly spiritualized. Her father doated on her, Vernon said. Who
would not? It seemed an additional cruelty that the grace of a poetical
attractiveness should be round her, for this was robbing Laetitia of
some of her own little fortune, mystical though that might be. But a
man like Sir Willoughby had claims on poetry, possessing as he did
every manly grace; and to think that Miss Middleton had won him by
virtue of something native to her likewise, though mystically, touched
Laetitia with a faint sense of relationship to the chosen girl. "What
is in me, he sees on her." It decked her pride to think so, as a wreath
on the gravestone. She encouraged her imagination to brood over Clara,
and invested her designedly with romantic charms, in spite of pain; the
ascetic zealot hugs his share of Heaven--most bitter, most blessed--in
his hair-shirt and scourge, and Laetitia's happiness was to glorify
Clara. Through that chosen rival, through her comprehension of the
spirit of Sir Willoughby's choice of one such as Clara, she was linked
to him yet.

Her mood of ecstatic fidelity was a dangerous exaltation; one that in a
desert will distort the brain, and in the world where the idol dwells
will put him, should he come nigh, to its own furnace-test, and get a
clear brain out of a burnt heart. She was frequently at the Hall,
helping to nurse Lady Patterne. Sir Willoughby had hitherto treated her
as a dear insignificant friend, to whom it was unnecessary that he
should mention the object of his rides to Upton Park.

He had, however, in the contemplation of what he was gaining, fallen
into anxiety about what he might be losing. She belonged to his
brilliant youth; her devotion was the bride of his youth; he was a man
who lived backward almost as intensely as in the present; and,
notwithstanding Laetitia's praiseworthy zeal in attending on his
mother, he suspected some unfaithfulness: hardly without cause: she had
not looked paler of late; her eyes had not reproached him; the secret
of the old days between them had been as little concealed as it was
exposed. She might have buried it, after the way of woman, whose bosoms
can be tombs, if we and the world allow them to be; absolutely
sepulchres, where you lie dead, ghastly. Even if not dead and horrible
to think of, you may be lying cold, somewhere in a corner. Even if
embalmed, you may not be much visited. And how is the world to know you
are embalmed? You are no better than a rotting wretch to the world
that does not have peeps of you in the woman's breast, and see lights
burning and an occasional exhibition of the services of worship. There
are women--tell us not of her of Ephesus!--that have embalmed you, and
have quitted the world to keep the tapers alight, and a stranger comes,
and they, who have your image before them, will suddenly blow out the
vestal flames and treat you as dust to fatten the garden of their
bosoms for a fresh flower of love. Sir Willoughby knew it; he had
experience of it in the form of the stranger; and he knew the
stranger's feelings toward his predecessor and the lady.

He waylaid Laetitia, to talk of himself and his plans: the project of a
run to Italy. Enviable? Yes, but in England you live the higher moral
life. Italy boasts of sensual beauty; the spiritual is yours. "I know
Italy well; I have often wished to act as a cicerone to you there. As
it is, I suppose I shall be with those who know the land as well as I
do, and will not be particularly enthusiastic:--if you are what you
were?" He was guilty of this perplexing twist from one person to
another in a sentence more than once. While he talked exclusively of
himself it seemed to her a condescension. In time he talked principally
of her, beginning with her admirable care of his mother; and he wished
to introduce "a Miss Middleton" to her; he wanted her opinion of Miss
Middleton; he relied on her intuition of character, had never known it
err.

"If I supposed it could err, Miss Dale, I should not be so certain of
myself. I am bound up in my good opinion of you, you see; and you must
continue the same, or where shall I be?" Thus he was led to dwell upon
friendship, and the charm of the friendship of men and women,
"Platonism", as it was called. "I have laughed at it in the world, but
not in the depth of my heart. The world's platonic attachments are
laughable enough. You have taught me that the ideal of friendship is
possible--when we find two who are capable of a disinterested esteem.
The rest of life is duty; duty to parents, duty to country. But
friendship is the holiday of those who can be friends. Wives are
plentiful, friends are rare. I know how rare!"

Laetitia swallowed her thoughts as they sprang up. Why was he torturing
her?--to give himself a holiday? She could bear to lose him--she was
used to it--and bear his indifference, but not that he should disfigure
himself; it made her poor. It was as if he required an oath of her when
he said: "Italy! But I shall never see a day in Italy to compare with
the day of my return to England, or know a pleasure so exquisite as
your welcome of me. Will you be true to that? May I look forward to
just another such meeting?"

He pressed her for an answer. She gave the best she could. He was
dissatisfied, and to her hearing it was hardly in the tone of manliness
that he entreated her to reassure him; he womanized his language. She
had to say: "I am afraid I can not undertake to make it an appointment,
Sir Willoughby," before he recovered his alertness, which he did, for
he was anything but obtuse, with the reply, "You would keep it if you
promised, and freeze at your post. So, as accidents happen, we must
leave it to fate. The will's the thing. You know my detestation of
changes. At least I have you for my tenant, and wherever I am, I see
your light at the end of my park."

"Neither my father nor I would willingly quit Ivy Cottage," said
Laetitia.

"So far, then," he murmured. "You will give me a long notice, and it
must be with my consent if you think of quitting?"

"I could almost engage to do that," she said.

"You love the place?"

"Yes; I am the most contented of cottagers."

"I believe, Miss Dale, it would be well for my happiness were I a
cottager."

"That is the dream of the palace. But to be one, and not to wish to be
other, is quiet sleep in comparison."

"You paint a cottage in colours that tempt one to run from big houses
and households."

"You would run back to them faster, Sir Willoughby."

"You may know me," said he, bowing and passing on contentedly. He
stopped. "But I am not ambitious."

"Perhaps you are too proud for ambition, Sir Willoughby."

"You hit me to the life!"

He passed on regretfully. Clara Middleton did not study and know him
like Laetitia Dale.

Laetitia was left to think it pleased him to play at cat and mouse.
She had not "hit him to the life", or she would have marvelled in
acknowledging how sincere he was.

At her next sitting by the bedside of Lady Patterne she received a
certain measure of insight that might have helped her to fathom him, if
only she could have kept her feelings down.

The old lady was affectionately confidential in talking of her one
subject, her son. "And here is another dashing girl, my dear; she has
money and health and beauty; and so has he; and it appears a fortunate
union; I hope and pray it may be; but we begin to read the world when
our eyes grow dim, because we read the plain lines, and I ask myself
whether money and health and beauty on both sides have not been the
mutual attraction. We tried it before; and that girl Durham was honest,
whatever we may call her. I should have desired an appreciative
thoughtful partner for him, a woman of mind, with another sort of
wealth and beauty. She was honest, she ran away in time; there was a
worse thing possible than that. And now we have the same chapter, and
the same kind of person, who may not be quite as honest; and I shall
not see the end of it. Promise me you will always be good to him; be
my son's friend; his Egeria, he names you. Be what you were to him when
that girl broke his heart, and no one, not even his mother, was allowed
to see that he suffered anything. Comfort him in his sensitiveness.
Willoughby has the most entire faith in you. Were that destroyed--I
shudder! You are, he says, and he has often said, his image of the
constant woman."

Laetitia's hearing took in no more. She repeated to herself for days:
"His image of the constant woman!" Now, when he was a second time
forsaking her, his praise of her constancy wore the painful
ludicrousness of the look of a whimper on the face.



CHAPTER V

CLARA MIDDLETON

The great meeting of Sir Willoughby Patterne and Miss Middleton had
taken place at Cherriton Grange, the seat of a county grandee, where
this young lady of eighteen was first seen rising above the horizon.
She had money and health and beauty, the triune of perfect starriness,
which makes all men astronomers. He looked on her, expecting her to
look at him. But as soon as he looked he found that he must be in
motion to win a look in return. He was one of a pack; many were ahead
of him, the whole of them were eager. He had to debate within himself
how best to communicate to her that he was Willoughby Patterne, before
her gloves were too much soiled to flatter his niceness, for here and
there, all around, she was yielding her hand to partners--obscurant
males whose touch leaves a stain. Far too generally gracious was Her
Starriness to please him. The effect of it, nevertheless, was to hurry
him with all his might into the heat of the chase, while yet he knew no
more of her than that he was competing for a prize, and Willoughby
Patterne was only one of dozens to the young lady.

A deeper student of Science than his rivals, he appreciated Nature's
compliment in the fair ones choice of you. We now scientifically know
that in this department of the universal struggle, success is awarded
to the bettermost. You spread a handsomer tail than your fellows, you
dress a finer top-knot, you pipe a newer note, have a longer stride;
she reviews you in competition, and selects you. The superlative is
magnetic to her. She may be looking elsewhere, and you will see--the
superlative will simply have to beckon, away she glides. She cannot
help herself; it is her nature, and her nature is the guarantee for the
noblest races of men to come of her. In complimenting you, she is a
promise of superior offspring. Science thus--or it is better to say--an
acquaintance with science facilitates the cultivation of aristocracy.
Consequently a successful pursuit and a wresting of her from a body of
competitors, tells you that you are the best man. What is more, it
tells the world so.

Willoughby aired his amiable superlatives in the eye of Miss Middleton;
he had a leg. He was the heir of successful competitors. He had a
style, a tone, an artist tailor, an authority of manner; he had in the
hopeful ardour of the chase among a multitude a freshness that gave him
advantage; and together with his undeviating energy when there was a
prize to be won and possessed, these were scarce resistible. He spared
no pains, for he was adust and athirst for the winning-post. He courted
her father, aware that men likewise, and parents pre-eminently, have
their preference for the larger offer, the deeper pocket, the broader
lands, the respectfuller consideration. Men, after their fashion, as
well as women, distinguish the bettermost, and aid him to succeed, as
Dr. Middleton certainly did in the crisis of the memorable question
proposed to his daughter within a month of Willoughby's reception at
Upton Park. The young lady was astonished at his whirlwind wooing of
her, and bent to it like a sapling. She begged for time; Willoughby
could barely wait. She unhesitatingly owned that she liked no one
better, and he consented. A calm examination of his position told him
that it was unfair so long as he stood engaged, and she did not. She
pleaded a desire to see a little of the world before she plighted
herself. She alarmed him; he assumed the amazing god of love under the
subtlest guise of the divinity. Willingly would he obey her behests,
resignedly languish, were it not for his mother's desire to see the
future lady of Patterne established there before she died. Love shone
cunningly through the mask of filial duty, but the plea of urgency was
reasonable. Dr. Middleton thought it reasonable, supposing his daughter
to have an inclination. She had no disinclination, though she had a
maidenly desire to see a little of the world--grace for one year, she
said. Willoughby reduced the year to six months, and granted that term,
for which, in gratitude, she submitted to stand engaged; and that was
no light whispering of a word. She was implored to enter the state of
captivity by the pronunciation of vows--a private but a binding
ceremonial. She had health and beauty, and money to gild these gifts;
not that he stipulated for money with his bride, but it adds a lustre
to dazzle the world; and, moreover, the pack of rival pursuers hung
close behind, yelping and raising their dolorous throats to the moon.
Captive she must be.

He made her engagement no light whispering matter. It was a solemn
plighting of a troth. Why not? Having said, I am yours, she could say,
I am wholly yours, I am yours forever, I swear it, I will never swerve
from it, I am your wife in heart, yours utterly; our engagement is
written above. To this she considerately appended, "as far as I am
concerned"; a piece of somewhat chilling generosity, and he forced her
to pass him through love's catechism in turn, and came out with fervent
answers that bound him to her too indissolubly to let her doubt of her
being loved. And I am loved! she exclaimed to her heart's echoes, in
simple faith and wonderment. Hardly had she begun to think of love ere
the apparition arose in her path. She had not thought of love with any
warmth, and here it was. She had only dreamed of love as one of the
distant blessings of the mighty world, lying somewhere in the world's
forests, across wild seas, veiled, encompassed with beautiful perils, a
throbbing secrecy, but too remote to quicken her bosom's throbs. Her
chief idea of it was, the enrichment of the world by love.

Thus did Miss Middleton acquiesce in the principle of selection.

And then did the best man of a host blow his triumphant horn, and
loudly.

He looked the fittest; he justified the dictum of Science. The survival
of the Patternes was assured. "I would," he said to his admirer, Mrs.
Mountstuart Jenkinson, "have bargained for health above everything, but
she has everything besides--lineage, beauty, breeding: is what they
call an heiress, and is the most accomplished of her sex." With a
delicate art he conveyed to the lady's understanding that Miss
Middleton had been snatched from a crowd, without a breath of the crowd
having offended his niceness. He did it through sarcasm at your modern
young women, who run about the world nibbling and nibbled at, until
they know one sex as well as the other, and are not a whit less
cognizant of the market than men; pure, possibly; it is not so easy to
say innocent; decidedly not our feminine ideal. Miss Middleton was
different: she was the true ideal, fresh-gathered morning fruit in a
basket, warranted by her bloom.

Women do not defend their younger sisters for doing what they perhaps
have done--lifting a veil to be seen, and peeping at a world where
innocence is as poor a guarantee as a babe's caul against shipwreck.
Women of the world never think of attacking the sensual stipulation for
perfect bloom, silver purity, which is redolent of the Oriental origin
of the love-passion of their lords. Mrs. Mountstuart congratulated Sir
Willoughby on the prize he had won in the fair western-eastern.

"Let me see her," she said; and Miss Middleton was introduced and
critically observed.

She had the mouth that smiles in repose. The lips met full on the
centre of the bow and thinned along to a lifting dimple; the eyelids
also lifted slightly at the outer corners, and seemed, like the lip
into the limpid cheek, quickening up the temples, as with a run of
light, or the ascension indicated off a shoot of colour. Her features
were playfellows of one another, none of them pretending to rigid
correctness, nor the nose to the ordinary dignity of governess among
merry girls, despite which the nose was of a fair design, not acutely
interrogative or inviting to gambols. Aspens imaged in water, waiting
for the breeze, would offer a susceptible lover some suggestion of her
face: a pure, smooth-white face, tenderly flushed in the cheeks, where
the gentle dints, were faintly intermelting even during quietness. Her
eyes were brown, set well between mild lids, often shadowed, not
unwakeful. Her hair of lighter brown, swelling above her temples on the
sweep to the knot, imposed the triangle of the fabulous wild woodland
visage from brow to mouth and chin, evidently in agreement with her
taste; and the triangle suited her; but her face was not significant of
a tameless wildness or of weakness; her equable shut mouth threw its
long curve to guard the small round chin from that effect; her eyes
wavered only in humour, they were steady when thoughtfulness was
awakened; and at such seasons the build of her winter-beechwood hair
lost the touch of nymphlike and whimsical, and strangely, by mere
outline, added to her appearance of studious concentration. Observe the
hawk on stretched wings over the prey he spies, for an idea of this
change in the look of a young lady whom Vernon Whitford could liken to
the Mountain Echo, and Mrs. Mountstuart Jenkinson pronounced to be "a
dainty rogue in porcelain".

Vernon's fancy of her must have sprung from her prompt and most musical
responsiveness. He preferred the society of her learned father to that
of a girl under twenty engaged to his cousin, but the charm of her
ready tongue and her voice was to his intelligent understanding wit,
natural wit, crystal wit, as opposed to the paste-sparkle of the wit of
the town. In his encomiums he did not quote Miss Middleton's wit;
nevertheless, he ventured to speak of it to Mrs. Mountstuart, causing
that lady to say: "Ah, well, I have not noticed the wit. You may have
the art of drawing it out."

No one had noticed the wit. The corrupted hearing of people required a
collision of sounds, Vernon supposed. For his part, to prove their
excellence, he recollected a great many of Miss Middleton's remarks;
they came flying to him; and so long as he forbore to speak them aloud,
they had a curious wealth of meaning. It could not be all her manner,
however much his own manner might spoil them. It might be, to a certain
degree, her quickness at catching the hue and shade of evanescent
conversation. Possibly by remembering the whole of a conversation
wherein she had her place, the wit was to be tested; only how could any
one retain the heavy portion? As there was no use in being
argumentative on a subject affording him personally, and apparently
solitarily, refreshment and enjoyment, Vernon resolved to keep it to
himself. The eulogies of her beauty, a possession in which he did not
consider her so very conspicuous, irritated him in consequence. To
flatter Sir Willoughby, it was the fashion to exalt her as one of the
types of beauty; the one providentially selected to set off his
masculine type. She was compared to those delicate flowers, the ladies
of the Court of China, on rice-paper. A little French dressing would
make her at home on the sward by the fountain among the lutes and
whispers of the bewitching silken shepherdesses who live though they
never were. Lady Busshe was reminded of the favourite lineaments of the
women of Leonardo, the angels of Luini. Lady Culmer had seen crayon
sketches of demoiselles of the French aristocracy resembling her. Some
one mentioned an antique statue of a figure breathing into a flute: and
the mouth at the flutestop might have a distant semblance of the bend
of her mouth, but this comparison was repelled as grotesque.

For once Mrs. Mountstuart Jenkinson was unsuccessful.

Her "dainty rogue in porcelain" displeased Sir Willoughby. "Why rogue?"
he said. The lady's fame for hitting the mark fretted him, and the
grace of his bride's fine bearing stood to support him in his
objection. Clara was young, healthy, handsome; she was therefore fitted
to be his wife, the mother of his children, his companion picture.
Certainly they looked well side by side. In walking with her, in
drooping to her, the whole man was made conscious of the female image
of himself by her exquisite unlikeness. She completed him, added the
softer lines wanting to his portrait before the world. He had wooed her
rageingly; he courted her becomingly; with the manly self-possession
enlivened by watchful tact which is pleasing to girls. He never seemed
to undervalue himself in valuing her: a secret priceless in the
courtship of young women that have heads; the lover doubles their sense
of personal worth through not forfeiting his own. Those were proud and
happy days when he rode Black Norman over to Upton Park, and his lady
looked forth for him and knew him coming by the faster beating of her
heart.

Her mind, too, was receptive. She took impressions of his
characteristics, and supplied him a feast. She remembered his chance
phrases; noted his ways, his peculiarities, as no one of her sex had
done. He thanked his cousin Vernon for saying she had wit. She had it,
and of so high a flavour that the more he thought of the epigram
launched at her the more he grew displeased. With the wit to understand
him, and the heart to worship, she had a dignity rarely seen in young
ladies.

"Why rogue?" he insisted with Mrs. Mountstuart.

"I said--in porcelain," she replied.

"Rogue perplexes me."

"Porcelain explains it."

"She has the keenest sense of honour."

"I am sure she is a paragon of rectitude."

"She has a beautiful bearing."

"The carriage of a young princess!"

"I find her perfect."

"And still she may be a dainty rogue in porcelain."

"Are you judging by the mind or the person, ma'am?"

"Both."

"And which is which?"

"There's no distinction."

"Rogue and mistress of Patterne do not go together."

"Why not? She will be a novelty to our neighbourhood and an animation
of the Hall."

"To be frank, rogue does not rightly match with me."

"Take her for a supplement."

"You like her?"

"In love with her! I can imagine life-long amusement in her company.
Attend to my advice: prize the porcelain and play with the rogue."

Sir Willoughby nodded, unilluminated. There was nothing of rogue in
himself, so there could be nothing of it in his bride. Elfishness,
tricksiness, freakishness, were antipathetic to his nature; and he
argued that it was impossible he should have chosen for his complement
a person deserving the title. It would not have been sanctioned by his
guardian genius. His closer acquaintance with Miss Middleton squared
with his first impressions; you know that this is convincing; the
common jury justifies the presentation of the case to them by the grand
jury; and his original conclusion that she was essentially feminine, in
other words, a parasite and a chalice, Clara's conduct confirmed from
day to day. He began to instruct her in the knowledge of himself
without reserve, and she, as she grew less timid with him, became more
reflective.

"I judge by character," he said to Mrs. Mountstuart.

"If you have caught the character of a girl," said she.

"I think I am not far off it."

"So it was thought by the man who dived for the moon in a well."

"How women despise their sex!"

"Not a bit. She has no character yet. You are forming it, and pray be
advised and be merry; the solid is your safest guide; physiognomy and
manners will give you more of a girl's character than all the divings
you can do. She is a charming young woman, only she is one of that
sort."

"Of what sort?" Sir Willoughby asked, impatiently.

"Rogues in porcelain."

"I am persuaded I shall never comprehend it."

"I cannot help you one bit further."

"The word rogue!"

"It was dainty rogue."

"Brittle, would you say?"

"I am quite unable to say."

"An innocent naughtiness?"

"Prettily moulded in a delicate substance."

"You are thinking of some piece of Dresden you suppose her to
resemble."

"I dare say."

"Artificial?"

"You would not have her natural?"

"I am heartily satisfied with her from head to foot, my dear Mrs.
Mountstuart."

"Nothing could be better. And sometimes she will lead, and generally
you will lead, and everything will go well, my dear Sir Willoughby."

Like all rapid phrasers, Mrs. Mountstuart detested the analysis of her
sentence. It had an outline in vagueness, and was flung out to be
apprehended, not dissected. Her directions for the reading of Miss
Middleton's character were the same that she practised in reading Sir
Willoughby's, whose physiognomy and manners bespoke him what she
presumed him to be, a splendidly proud gentleman, with good reason.

Mrs. Mountstuart's advice was wiser than her procedure, for she stopped
short where he declined to begin. He dived below the surface without
studying that index-page. He had won Miss Middleton's hand; he believed
he had captured her heart; but he was not so certain of his possession
of her soul, and he went after it. Our enamoured gentleman had
therefore no tally of Nature's writing above to set beside his
discoveries in the deeps. Now it is a dangerous accompaniment of this
habit of driving, that where we do not light on the discoveries we
anticipate, we fall to work sowing and planting; which becomes a
disturbance of the gentle bosom. Miss Middleton's features were legible
as to the mainspring of her character. He could have seen that she had
a spirit with a natural love of liberty, and required the next thing to
liberty, spaciousness, if she was to own allegiance. Those features,
unhappily, instead of serving for an introduction to the within, were
treated as the mirror of himself. They were indeed of an amiable
sweetness to tempt an accepted lover to angle for the first person in
the second. But he had made the discovery that their minds differed on
one or two points, and a difference of view in his bride was obnoxious
to his repose. He struck at it recurringly to show her error under
various aspects. He desired to shape her character to the feminine of
his own, and betrayed the surprise of a slight disappointment at her
advocacy of her ideas. She said immediately: "It is not too late,
Willoughby," and wounded him, for he wanted her simply to be material
in his hands for him to mould her; he had no other thought. He lectured
her on the theme of the infinity of love. How was it not too late? They
were plighted; they were one eternally; they could not be parted. She
listened gravely, conceiving the infinity as a narrow dwelling where a
voice droned and ceased not. However, she listened. She became an
attentive listener.



CHAPTER VI

HIS COURTSHIP

The world was the principal topic of dissension between these lovers.
His opinion of the world affected her like a creature threatened with a
deprivation of air. He explained to his darling that lovers of
necessity do loathe the world. They live in the world, they accept its
benefits, and assist it as well as they can. In their hearts they must
despise it, shut it out, that their love for one another may pour in a
clear channel, and with all the force they have. They cannot enjoy the
sense of security for their love unless they fence away the world. It
is, you will allow, gross; it is a beast. Formally we thank it for the
good we get of it; only we two have an inner temple where the worship
we conduct is actually, if you would but see it, an excommunication of
the world. We abhor that beast to adore that divinity. This gives us
our oneness, our isolation, our happiness. This is to love with the
soul. Do you see, darling?

She shook her head; she could not see it. She would admit none of the
notorious errors, of the world; its backbiting, selfishness,
coarseness, intrusiveness, infectiousness. She was young. She might,
Willoughby thought, have let herself be led; she was not docile. She
must be up in arms as a champion of the world; and one saw she was
hugging her dream of a romantic world, nothing else. She spoilt the
secret bower-song he delighted to tell over to her. And how, Powers of
Love! is love-making to be pursued if we may not kick the world out of
our bower and wash our hands of it? Love that does not spurn the world
when lovers curtain themselves is a love--is it not so?--that seems to
the unwhipped, scoffing world to go slinking into basiation's
obscurity, instead of on a glorious march behind the screen. Our hero
had a strong sentiment as to the policy of scorning the world for the
sake of defending his personal pride and (to his honour, be it said)
his lady's delicacy.

The act of seeming put them both above the world, said retro Sathanas!
So much, as a piece of tactics: he was highly civilized: in the second
instance, he knew it to be the world which must furnish the dry sticks
for the bonfire of a woman's worship. He knew, too, that he was
prescribing poetry to his betrothed, practicable poetry. She had a
liking for poetry, and sometimes quoted the stuff in defiance of his
pursed mouth and pained murmur: "I am no poet;" but his poetry of the
enclosed and fortified bower, without nonsensical rhymes to catch the
ears of women, appeared incomprehensible to her, if not adverse. She
would not burn the world for him; she would not, though a purer poetry
is little imaginable, reduce herself to ashes, or incense, or essence,
in honour of him, and so, by love's transmutation, literally be the man
she was to marry. She preferred to be herself, with the egoism of
women. She said it: she said: "I must be myself to be of any value to
you, Willoughby." He was indefatigable in his lectures on the
aesthetics of love. Frequently, for an indemnification to her (he had
no desire that she should be a loser by ceasing to admire the world),
he dwelt on his own youthful ideas; and his original fancies about the
world were presented to her as a substitute for the theme.

Miss Middleton bore it well, for she was sure that he meant well.
Bearing so well what was distasteful to her, she became less well able
to bear what she had merely noted in observation before; his view of
scholarship; his manner toward Mr. Vernon Whitford, of whom her father
spoke warmly; the rumour concerning his treatment of a Miss Dale. And
the country tale of Constantia Durham sang itself to her in a new key.
He had no contempt for the world's praises. Mr. Whitford wrote the
letters to the county paper which gained him applause at various great
houses, and he accepted it, and betrayed a tingling fright lest he
should be the victim of a sneer of the world he contemned. Recollecting
his remarks, her mind was afflicted by the "something illogical" in him
that we readily discover when our natures are no longer running free,
and then at once we yearn for a disputation. She resolved that she
would one day, one distant day, provoke it--upon what? The special
point eluded her. The world is too huge a client, and too pervious, too
spotty, for a girl to defend against a man. That "something illogical"
had stirred her feelings more than her intellect to revolt. She could
not constitute herself the advocate of Mr. Whitford. Still she marked
the disputation for an event to come.

Meditating on it, she fell to picturing Sir Willoughby's face at the
first accents of his bride's decided disagreement with him. The
picture once conjured up would not be laid. He was handsome; so
correctly handsome, that a slight unfriendly touch precipitated him
into caricature. His habitual air of happy pride, of indignant
contentment rather, could easily be overdone. Surprise, when he threw
emphasis on it, stretched him with the tall eyebrows of a
mask--limitless under the spell of caricature; and in time, whenever
she was not pleased by her thoughts, she had that, and not his
likeness, for the vision of him. And it was unjust, contrary to her
deeper feelings; she rebuked herself, and as much as her naughty spirit
permitted, she tried to look on him as the world did; an effort
inducing reflections upon the blessings of ignorance. She seemed to
herself beset by a circle of imps, hardly responsible for her thoughts.

He outshone Mr. Whitford in his behaviour to young Crossjay. She had
seen him with the boy, and he was amused, indulgent, almost frolicsome,
in contradistinction to Mr. Whitford's tutorly sharpness. He had the
English father's tone of a liberal allowance for boys' tastes and
pranks, and he ministered to the partiality of the genus for
pocket-money. He did not play the schoolmaster, like bookworms who get
poor little lads in their grasp.

Mr. Whitford avoided her very much. He came to Upton Park on a visit to
her father, and she was not particularly sorry that she saw him only at
table. He treated her by fits to a level scrutiny of deep-set eyes
unpleasantly penetrating. She had liked his eyes. They became
unbearable; they dwelt in the memory as if they had left a
phosphorescent line. She had been taken by playmate boys in her infancy
to peep into hedge-leaves, where the mother-bird brooded on the nest;
and the eyes of the bird in that marvellous dark thickset home, had
sent her away with worlds of fancy. Mr. Whitford's gaze revived her
susceptibility, but not the old happy wondering. She was glad of his
absence, after a certain hour that she passed with Willoughby, a
wretched hour to remember. Mr. Whitford had left, and Willoughby came,
bringing bad news of his mother's health. Lady Patterne was fast
failing. Her son spoke of the loss she would be to him; he spoke of the
dreadfulness of death. He alluded to his own death to come carelessly,
with a philosophical air.

"All of us must go! our time is short."

"Very," she assented.

It sounded like want of feeling.

"If you lose me, Clara!"

"But you are strong, Willoughby."

"I may be cut off to-morrow."

"Do not talk in such a manner."

"It is as well that it should be faced."

"I cannot see what purpose it serves."

"Should you lose me, my love!"

"Willoughby!"

"Oh, the bitter pang of leaving you!"

"Dear Willoughby, you are distressed; your mother may recover; let us
hope she will; I will help to nurse her; I have offered, you know; I am
ready, most anxious. I believe I am a good nurse."

"It is this belief--that one does not die with death!"

"That is our comfort."

"When we love?"

"Does it not promise that we meet again?"

"To walk the world and see you perhaps--with another!"

"See me?--Where? Here?"

"Wedded . . . to another. You! my bride; whom I call mine; and you are!
You would be still--in that horror! But all things are possible; women
are women; they swim in infidelity, from wave to wave! I know them."

"Willoughby, do not torment yourself and me, I beg you."

He meditated profoundly, and asked her: "Could you be such a saint
among women?"

"I think I am a more than usually childish girl."

"Not to forget me?"

"Oh! no."

"Still to be mine?"

"I am yours."

"To plight yourself?"

"It is done."

"Be mine beyond death?"

"Married is married, I think."

"Clara! to dedicate your life to our love! Never one touch; not one
whisper! not a thought, not a dream! Could you--it agonizes me to
imagine . . . be inviolate? mine above?--mine before all men, though I
am gone:--true to my dust? Tell me. Give me that assurance. True to my
name!--Oh, I hear them. 'His relict!' Buzzings about Lady Patterne.
'The widow.' If you knew their talk of widows! Shut your ears, my
angel! But if she holds them off and keeps her path, they are forced to
respect her. The dead husband is not the dishonoured wretch they
fancied him, because he was out of their way. He lives in the heart of
his wife. Clara! my Clara! as I live in yours, whether here or away;
whether you are a wife or widow, there is no distinction for love--I am
your husband--say it--eternally. I must have peace; I cannot endure the
pain. Depressed, yes; I have cause to be. But it has haunted me ever
since we joined hands. To have you--to lose you!"

"Is it not possible that I may be the first to die?" said Miss
Middleton.

"And lose you, with the thought that you, lovely as you are, and the
dogs of the world barking round you, might . . . Is it any wonder that
I have my feeling for the world? This hand!--the thought is horrible.
You would be surrounded; men are brutes; the scent of unfaithfulness
excites them, overjoys them. And I helpless! The thought is maddening.
I see a ring of monkeys grinning. There is your beauty, and man's
delight in desecrating. You would be worried night and day to quit my
name, to . . . I feel the blow now. You would have no rest for them,
nothing to cling to without your oath."

"An oath!" said Miss Middleton.

"It is no delusion, my love, when I tell you that with this thought
upon me I see a ring of monkey faces grinning at me; they haunt me. But
you do swear it! Once, and I will never trouble you on the subject
again. My weakness! if you like. You will learn that it is love, a
man's love, stronger than death."

"An oath?" she said, and moved her lips to recall what she might have
said and forgotten. "To what? what oath?"

"That you will be true to me dead as well as living! Whisper it."

"Willoughby, I shall be true to my vows at the altar."

"To me! me!"

"It will be to you."

"To my soul. No heaven can be for me--I see none, only torture, unless
I have your word, Clara. I trust it. I will trust it implicitly. My
confidence in you is absolute."

"Then you need not be troubled."

"It is for you, my love; that you may be armed and strong when I am not
by to protect you."

"Our views of the world are opposed, Willoughby."

"Consent; gratify me; swear it. Say: 'Beyond death.' Whisper it. I ask
for nothing more. Women think the husband's grave breaks the bond, cuts
the tie, sets them loose. They wed the flesh--pah! What I call on you
for is nobility; the transcendent nobility of faithfulness beyond
death. 'His widow!' let them say; a saint in widowhood."

"My vows at the altar must suffice."

"You will not? Clara!"

"I am plighted to you."

"Not a word?--a simple promise? But you love me?"

"I have given you the best proof of it that I can."

"Consider how utterly I place confidence in you."

"I hope it is well placed."

"I could kneel to you, to worship you, if you would, Clara!"

"Kneel to Heaven, not to me, Willoughby. I am--I wish I were able to
tell what I am. I may be inconstant; I do not know myself. Think;
question yourself whether I am really the person you should marry. Your
wife should have great qualities of mind and soul. I will consent to
hear that I do not possess them, and abide by the verdict."

"You do; you do possess them!" Willoughby cried. "When you know better
what the world is, you will understand my anxiety. Alive, I am strong
to shield you from it; dead, helpless--that is all. You would be clad
in mail, steel-proof, inviolable, if you would . . . But try to enter
into my mind; think with me, feel with me. When you have once
comprehended the intensity of the love of a man like me, you will not
require asking. It is the difference of the elect and the vulgar; of
the ideal of love from the coupling of the herds. We will let it drop.
At least, I have your hand. As long as I live I have your hand. Ought I
not to be satisfied? I am; only I see further than most men, and feel
more deeply. And now I must ride to my mother's bedside. She dies Lady
Patterne! It might have been that she . . . But she is a woman of
women! With a father-in-law! Just heaven! Could I have stood by her
then with the same feelings of reverence? A very little, my love, and
everything gained for us by civilization crumbles; we fall back to the
first mortar-bowl we were bruised and stirred in. My thoughts, when I
take my stand to watch by her, come to this conclusion, that,
especially in women, distinction is the thing to be aimed at. Otherwise
we are a weltering human mass. Women must teach us to venerate them, or
we may as well be bleating and barking and bellowing. So, now enough.
You have but to think a little. I must be off. It may have happened
during my absence. I will write. I shall hear from you? Come and see me
mount Black Norman. My respects to your father. I have no time to pay
them in person. One!"

He took the one--love's mystical number--from which commonly spring
multitudes; but, on the present occasion, it was a single one, and
cold. She watched him riding away on his gallant horse, as handsome a
cavalier as the world could show, and the contrast of his recent
language and his fine figure was a riddle that froze her blood. Speech
so foreign to her ears, unnatural in tone, unmanlike even for a lover
(who is allowed a softer dialect), set her vainly sounding for the
source and drift of it. She was glad of not having to encounter eyes
like Mr. Vernon Whitford's.

On behalf of Sir Willoughby, it is to be said that his mother, without
infringing on the degree of respect for his decisions and sentiments
exacted by him, had talked to him of Miss Middleton, suggesting a
volatility of temperament in the young lady that struck him as
consentaneous with Mrs Mountstuart's "rogue in porcelain", and
alarmed him as the independent observations of two world-wise women.
Nor was it incumbent upon him personally to credit the volatility in
order, as far as he could, to effect the soul-insurance of his bride,
that he might hold the security of the policy. The desire for it was in
him; his mother had merely tolled a warning bell that he had put in
motion before. Clara was not a Constantia. But she was a woman, and he
had been deceived by women, as a man fostering his high ideal of them
will surely be. The strain he adopted was quite natural to his passion
and his theme. The language of the primitive sentiments of men is of
the same expression at all times, minus the primitive colours when a
modern gentleman addresses his lady.

Lady Patterne died in the winter season of the new year. In April Dr
Middleton had to quit Upton Park, and he had not found a place of
residence, nor did he quite know what to do with himself in the
prospect of his daughter's marriage and desertion of him. Sir
Willoughby proposed to find him a house within a circuit of the
neighbourhood of Patterne. Moreover, he invited the Rev. Doctor and his
daughter to come to Patterne from Upton for a month, and make
acquaintance with his aunts, the ladies Eleanor and Isabel Patterne, so
that it might not be so strange to Clara to have them as her housemates
after her marriage. Dr. Middleton omitted to consult his daughter
before accepting the invitation, and it appeared, when he did speak to
her, that it should have been done. But she said, mildly, "Very well,
papa."

Sir Willoughby had to visit the metropolis and an estate in another
county, whence he wrote to his betrothed daily. He returned to Patterne
in time to arrange for the welcome of his guests; too late, however, to
ride over to them; and, meanwhile, during his absence, Miss Middleton
had bethought herself that she ought to have given her last days of
freedom to her friends. After the weeks to be passed at Patterne, very
few weeks were left to her, and she had a wish to run to Switzerland or
Tyrol and see the Alps; a quaint idea, her father thought. She repeated
it seriously, and Dr. Middleton perceived a feminine shuttle of
indecision at work in her head, frightful to him, considering that they
signified hesitation between the excellent library and capital
wine-cellar of Patterne Hall, together with the society of that
promising young scholar, Mr. Vernon Whitford, on the one side, and a
career of hotels--equivalent to being rammed into monster artillery
with a crowd every night, and shot off on a day's journey through space
every morning--on the other.

"You will have your travelling and your Alps after the ceremony," he
said.

"I think I would rather stay at home," said she.

Dr Middleton rejoined: "I would."

"But I am not married yet papa."

"As good, my dear."

"A little change of scene, I thought . . ."

"We have accepted Willoughby's invitation. And he helps me to a house
near you."

"You wish to be near me, papa?"

"Proximate--at a remove: communicable."

"Why should we separate?"

"For the reason, my dear, that you exchange a father for a husband."

"If I do not want to exchange?"

"To purchase, you must pay, my child. Husbands are not given for
nothing."

"No. But I should have you, papa!"

"Should?"

"They have not yet parted us, dear papa."

"What does that mean?" he asked, fussily. He was in a gentle stew
already, apprehensive of a disturbance of the serenity precious to
scholars by postponements of the ceremony and a prolongation of a
father's worries.

"Oh, the common meaning, papa," she said, seeing how it was with him.

"Ah!" said he, nodding and blinking gradually back to a state of
composure, glad to be appeased on any terms; for mutability is but
another name for the sex, and it is the enemy of the scholar.

She suggested that two weeks of Patterne would offer plenty of time to
inspect the empty houses of the district, and should be sufficient,
considering the claims of friends, and the necessity of going the round
of London shops.

"Two or three weeks," he agreed, hurriedly, by way of compromise with
that fearful prospect.



CHAPTER VII

THE BETROTHED

During the drive from Upton to Patterne, Miss Middleton hoped, she
partly believed, that there was to be a change in Sir Willoughby's
manner of courtship. He had been so different a wooer. She remembered
with some half-conscious desperation of fervour what she had thought of
him at his first approaches, and in accepting him. Had she seen him
with the eyes of the world, thinking they were her own? That look of
his, the look of "indignant contentment", had then been a most noble
conquering look, splendid as a general's plume at the gallop. It could
not have altered. Was it that her eyes had altered?

The spirit of those days rose up within her to reproach, her and
whisper of their renewal: she remembered her rosy dreams and the image
she had of him, her throbbing pride in him, her choking richness of
happiness: and also her vain attempting to be very humble, usually
ending in a carol, quaint to think of, not without charm, but quaint,
puzzling.

Now men whose incomes have been restricted to the extent that they must
live on their capital, soon grow relieved of the forethoughtful anguish
wasting them by the hilarious comforts of the lap upon which they have
sunk back, insomuch that they are apt to solace themselves for their
intolerable anticipations of famine in the household by giving loose to
one fit or more of reckless lavishness. Lovers in like manner live on
their capital from failure of income: they, too, for the sake of
stifling apprehension and piping to the present hour, are lavish of
their stock, so as rapidly to attenuate it: they have their fits of
intoxication in view of coming famine: they force memory into play,
love retrospectively, enter the old house of the past and ravage the
larder, and would gladly, even resolutely, continue in illusion if it
were possible for the broadest honey-store of reminiscences to hold out
for a length of time against a mortal appetite: which in good sooth
stands on the alternative of a consumption of the hive or of the
creature it is for nourishing. Here do lovers show that they are
perishable. More than the poor clay world they need fresh supplies,
right wholesome juices; as it were, life in the burst of the bud,
fruits yet on the tree, rather than potted provender. The latter is
excellent for by-and-by, when there will be a vast deal more to
remember, and appetite shall have but one tooth remaining. Should their
minds perchance have been saturated by their first impressions and have
retained them, loving by the accountable light of reason, they may have
fair harvests, as in the early time; but that case is rare. In other
words, love is an affair of two, and is only for two that can be as
quick, as constant in intercommunication as are sun and earth, through
the cloud or face to face. They take their breath of life from one
another in signs of affection, proofs of faithfulness, incentives to
admiration. Thus it is with men and women in love's good season. But a
solitary soul dragging a log must make the log a God to rejoice in the
burden. That is not love.

Clara was the least fitted of all women to drag a log. Few girls would
be so rapid in exhausting capital. She was feminine indeed, but she
wanted comradeship, a living and frank exchange of the best in both,
with the deeper feelings untroubled. To be fixed at the mouth of a
mine, and to have to descend it daily, and not to discover great
opulence below; on the contrary, to be chilled in subterranean
sunlessness, without any substantial quality that she could grasp, only
the mystery of the inefficient tallow-light in those caverns of the
complacent-talking man: this appeared to her too extreme a probation
for two or three weeks. How of a lifetime of it!

She was compelled by her nature to hope, expect and believe that Sir
Willoughby would again be the man she had known when she accepted him.
Very singularly, to show her simple spirit at the time, she was unaware
of any physical coldness to him; she knew of nothing but her mind at
work, objecting to this and that, desiring changes. She did not dream
of being on the giddy ridge of the passive or negative sentiment of
love, where one step to the wrong side precipitates us into the state
of repulsion.

Her eyes were lively at their meeting--so were his. She liked to see
him on the steps, with young Crossjay under his arm. Sir Willoughby
told her in his pleasantest humour of the boy's having got into the
laboratory that morning to escape his task-master, and blown out the
windows. She administered a chiding to the delinquent in the same
spirit, while Sir Willoughby led her on his arm across the threshold,
whispering: "Soon for good!" In reply to the whisper, she begged for
more of the story of young Crossjay. "Come into the laboratory," said
he, a little less laughingly than softly; and Clara begged her father
to come and see young Crossjay's latest pranks. Sir Willoughby
whispered to her of the length of their separation, and his joy to
welcome her to the house where she would reign as mistress very won. He
numbered the weeks. He whispered: "Come." In the hurry of the moment
she did not examine a lightning terror that shot through her. It
passed, and was no more than the shadow which bends the summer grasses,
leaving a ruffle of her ideas, in wonder of her having feared herself
for something. Her father was with them. She and Willoughby were not
yet alone.

Young Crossjay had not accomplished so fine a piece of destruction as
Sir Willoughby's humour proclaimed of him. He had connected a battery
with a train of gunpowder, shattering a window-frame and unsettling
some bricks. Dr. Middleton asked if the youth was excluded from the
library, and rejoiced to hear that it was a sealed door to him. Thither
they went. Vernon Whitford was away on one of his long walks.

"There, papa, you see he is not so very faithful to you," said Clara.

Dr Middleton stood frowning over MS notes on the table, in Vernon's
handwriting. He flung up the hair from his forehead and dropped into a
seat to inspect them closely. He was now immoveable. Clara was obliged
to leave him there. She was led to think that Willoughby had drawn them
to the library with the design to be rid of her protector, and she
began to fear him. She proposed to pay her respects to the ladies
Eleanor and Isabel. They were not seen, and a footman reported in the
drawing-room that they were out driving. She grasped young Crossjay's
hand. Sir Willoughby dispatched him to Mrs. Montague, the housekeeper,
for a tea of cakes and jam.

"Off!" he said, and the boy had to run.

Clara saw herself without a shield.

"And the garden!" she cried. "I love the garden; I must go and see what
flowers are up with you. In spring I care most for wild flowers, and if
you will show me daffodils and crocuses and anemones . . ."

"My dearest Clara! my bride!" said he.

"Because they are vulgar flowers?" she asked him, artlessly, to account
for his detaining her.

Why would he not wait to deserve her!--no, not deserve--to reconcile
her with her real position; not reconcile, but to repair the image of
him in her mind, before he claimed his apparent right!

He did not wait. He pressed her to his bosom.

"You are mine, my Clara--utterly mine; every thought, every feeling. We
are one: the world may do its worst. I have been longing for you,
looking forward. You save me from a thousand vexations. One is
perpetually crossed. That is all outside us. We two! With you I am
secure! Soon! I could not tell you whether the world's alive or dead.
My dearest!"

She came out of it with the sensations of the frightened child that has
had its dip in sea-water, sharpened to think that after all it was not
so severe a trial. Such was her idea; and she said to herself
immediately: What am I that I should complain? Two minutes earlier she
would not have thought it; but humiliated pride falls lower than
humbleness.

She did not blame him; she fell in her own esteem; less because she was
the betrothed Clara Middleton, which was now palpable as a shot in the
breast of a bird, than that she was a captured woman, of whom it is
absolutely expected that she must submit, and when she would rather be
gazing at flowers. Clara had shame of her sex. They cannot take a step
without becoming bondwomen: into what a slavery! For herself, her trial
was over, she thought. As for herself, she merely complained of a
prematureness and crudity best unanalyzed. In truth, she could hardly
be said to complain. She did but criticize him and wonder that a man
was unable to perceive, or was not arrested by perceiving,
unwillingness, discordance, dull compliance; the bondwoman's due
instead of the bride's consent. Oh, sharp distinction, as between two
spheres!

She meted him justice; she admitted that he had spoken in a lover-like
tone. Had it not been for the iteration of "the world", she would not
have objected critically to his words, though they were words of
downright appropriation. He had the right to use them, since she was to
be married to him. But if he had only waited before playing the
privileged lover!

Sir Willoughby was enraptured with her. Even so purely coldly,
statue-like, Dian-like, would he have prescribed his bride's reception
of his caress. The suffusion of crimson coming over her subsequently,
showing her divinely feminine in reflective bashfulness, agreed with
his highest definitions of female character.

"Let me conduct you to the garden, my love," he said.

She replied: "I think I would rather go to my room."

"I will send you a wild-flower posy."

"Flowers, no; I do not like them to be gathered."

"I will wait for you on the lawn."

"My head is rather heavy."

His deep concern and tenderness brought him close.

She assured him sparklingly that she was well. She was ready to
accompany him to the garden and stroll over the park.

"Headache it is not," she added.

But she had to pay the fee for inviting a solicitous accepted
gentleman's proximity.

This time she blamed herself and him, and the world he abused, and
destiny into the bargain. And she cared less about the probation; but
she craved for liberty. With a frigidity that astonished her, she
marvelled at the act of kissing, and at the obligation it forced upon
an inanimate person to be an accomplice. Why was she not free? By what
strange right was it that she was treated as a possession?

"I will try to walk off the heaviness," she said.

"My own girl must not fatigue herself."

"Oh, no; I shall not."

"Sit with me. Your Willoughby is your devoted attendant."

"I have a desire for the air."

"Then we will walk out."

She was horrified to think how far she had drawn away from him, and now
placed her hand on his arm to appease her self-accusations and
propitiate duty. He spoke as she had wished, his manner was what she
had wished; she was his bride, almost his wife; her conduct was a kind
of madness; she could not understand it.

Good sense and duty counselled her to control her wayward spirit.

He fondled her hand, and to that she grew accustomed; her hand was at a
distance. And what is a hand? Leaving it where it was, she treated it
as a link between herself and dutiful goodness. Two months hence she
was a bondwoman for life! She regretted that she had not gone to her
room to strengthen herself with a review of her situation, and meet him
thoroughly resigned to her fate. She fancied she would have come down
to him amicably. It was his present respectfulness and easy
conversation that tricked her burning nerves with the fancy. Five weeks
of perfect liberty in the mountains, she thought, would have prepared
her for the days of bells. All that she required was a separation
offering new scenes, where she might reflect undisturbed, feel clear
again.

He led her about the flower-beds; too much as if he were giving a
convalescent an airing. She chafed at it, and pricked herself with
remorse. In contrition she expatiated on the beauty of the garden.

"All is yours, my Clara."

An oppressive load it seemed to her! She passively yielded to the man
in his form of attentive courtier; his mansion, estate, and wealth
overwhelmed her. They suggested the price to be paid. Yet she
recollected that on her last departure through the park she had been
proud of the rolling green and spreading trees. Poison of some sort
must be operating in her. She had not come to him to-day with this
feeling of sullen antagonism; she had caught it here.

"You have been well, my Clara?"

"Quite."

"Not a hint of illness?"

"None."

"My bride must have her health if all the doctors in the kingdom die
for it! My darling!"

"And tell me: the dogs?"

"Dogs and horses are in very good condition."

"I am glad. Do you know, I love those ancient French chateaux and farms
in one, where salon windows look on poultry-yard and stalls. I like
that homeliness with beasts and peasants."

He bowed indulgently.

"I am afraid we can't do it for you in England, my Clara."

"No."

"And I like the farm," said he. "But I think our drawing-rooms have a
better atmosphere off the garden. As to our peasantry, we cannot, I
apprehend, modify our class demarcations without risk of disintegrating
the social structure."

"Perhaps. I proposed nothing."

"My love, I would entreat you to propose if I were convinced that I
could obey."

"You are very good."

"I find my merit nowhere but in your satisfaction."

Although she was not thirsting for dulcet sayings, the peacefulness of
other than invitations to the exposition of his mysteries and of their
isolation in oneness, inspired her with such calm that she beat about
in her brain, as if it were in the brain, for the specific injury he
had committed. Sweeping from sensation to sensation, the young, whom
sensations impel and distract, can rarely date their disturbance from a
particular one; unless it be some great villain injury that has been
done; and Clara had not felt an individual shame in his caress; the
shame of her sex was but a passing protest, that left no stamp. So she
conceived she had been behaving cruelly, and said, "Willoughby";
because she was aware of the omission of his name in her previous
remarks.

His whole attention was given to her.

She had to invent the sequel. "I was going to beg you, Willoughby, do
not seek to spoil me. You compliment me. Compliments are not suited to
me. You think too highly of me. It is nearly as bad as to be slighted.
I am . . . I am a . . ." But she could not follow his example; even as
far as she had gone, her prim little sketch of herself, set beside her
real, ugly, earnest feelings, rang of a mincing simplicity, and was a
step in falseness. How could she display what she was?

"Do I not know you?" he said.

The melodious bass notes, expressive of conviction on that point,
signified as well as the words that no answer was the right answer. She
could not dissent without turning his music to discord, his complacency
to amazement. She held her tongue, knowing that he did not know her,
and speculating on the division made bare by their degrees of the
knowledge, a deep cleft.

He alluded to friends in her neighbourhood and his own. The
bridesmaids were mentioned.

"Miss Dale, you will hear from my aunt Eleanor, declines, on the plea
of indifferent health. She is rather a morbid person, with all her
really estimable qualities. It will do no harm to have none but young
ladies of your own age; a bouquet of young buds: though one blowing
flower among them . . . However, she has decided. My principal
annoyance has been Vernon's refusal to act as my best man."

"Mr. Whitford refuses?"

"He half refuses. I do not take no from him. His pretext is a dislike
to the ceremony."

"I share it with him."

"I sympathize with you. If we might say the words and pass from sight!
There is a way of cutting off the world: I have it at times completely:
I lose it again, as if it were a cabalistic phrase one had to utter.
But with you! You give it me for good. It will be for ever, eternally,
my Clara. Nothing can harm, nothing touch us; we are one another's. Let
the world fight it out; we have nothing to do with it."

"If Mr. Whitford should persist in refusing?"

"So entirely one, that there never can be question of external
influences. I am, we will say, riding home from the hunt: I see you
awaiting me: I read your heart as though you were beside me. And I
know that I am coming to the one who reads mine! You have me, you have
me like an open book, you, and only you!"

"I am to be always at home?" Clara said, unheeded, and relieved by his
not hearing.

"Have you realized it?--that we are invulnerable! The world cannot hurt
us: it cannot touch us. Felicity is ours, and we are impervious in the
enjoyment of it. Something divine! surely something divine on earth?
Clara!--being to one another that between which the world can never
interpose! What I do is right: what you do is right. Perfect to one
another! Each new day we rise to study and delight in new secrets. Away
with the crowd! We have not even to say it; we are in an atmosphere
where the world cannot breathe."

"Oh, the world!" Clara partly carolled on a sigh that sunk deep.

Hearing him talk as one exulting on the mountain-top, when she knew him
to be in the abyss, was very strange, provocative of scorn.

"My letters?" he said, incitingly.

"I read them."

"Circumstances have imposed a long courtship on us, my Clara; and I,
perhaps lamenting the laws of decorum--I have done so!--still felt the
benefit of the gradual initiation. It is not good for women to be
surprised by a sudden revelation of man's character. We also have
things to learn--there is matter for learning everywhere. Some day you
will tell me the difference of what you think of me now, from what you
thought when we first . . . ?"

An impulse of double-minded acquiescence caused Clara to stammer as on
a sob.

"I--I daresay I shall."

She added, "If it is necessary."

Then she cried out: "Why do you attack the world? You always make me
pity it."

He smiled at her youthfulness. "I have passed through that stage. It
leads to my sentiment. Pity it, by all means."

"No," said she, "but pity it, side with it, not consider it so bad. The
world has faults; glaciers have crevices, mountains have chasms; but is
not the effect of the whole sublime? Not to admire the mountain and the
glacier because they can be cruel, seems to me . . . And the world is
beautiful."

"The world of nature, yes. The world of men?"

"Yes."

"My love, I suspect you to be thinking of the world of ballrooms."

"I am thinking of the world that contains real and great generosity,
true heroism. We see it round us."

"We read of it. The world of the romance writer!"

"No: the living world. I am sure it is our duty to love it. I am sure
we weaken ourselves if we do not. If I did not, I should be looking on
mist, hearing a perpetual boom instead of music. I remember hearing Mr.
Whitford say that cynicism is intellectual dandyism without the
coxcomb's feathers; and it seems to me that cynics are only happy in
making the world as barren to others as they have made it for
themselves."

"Old Vernon!" ejaculated Sir Willoughby, with a countenance rather
uneasy, as if it had been flicked with a glove. "He strings his phrases
by the dozen."

"Papa contradicts that, and says he is very clever and very simple."

"As to cynics, my dear Clara, oh, certainly, certainly: you are right.
They are laughable, contemptible. But understand me. I mean, we cannot
feel, or if we feel we cannot so intensely feel, our oneness, except by
dividing ourselves from the world."

"Is it an art?"

"If you like. It is our poetry! But does not love shun the world? Two
that love must have their sustenance in isolation."

"No: they will be eating themselves up."

"The purer the beauty, the more it will be out of the world."

"But not opposed."

"Put it in this way," Willoughby condescended. "Has experience the same
opinion of the world as ignorance?"

"It should have more charity."

"Does virtue feel at home in the world?"

"Where it should be an example, to my idea."

"Is the world agreeable to holiness?"

"Then, are you in favour of monasteries?"

He poured a little runlet of half laughter over her head, of the sound
assumed by genial compassion.

It is irritating to hear that when we imagine we have spoken to the
point.

"Now in my letters, Clara . . ."

"I have no memory, Willoughby!"

"You will, however, have observed that I am not completely myself in my
letters . . ."

"In your letters to men you may be."

The remark threw a pause across his thoughts. He was of a sensitiveness
terribly tender. A single stroke on it reverberated swellingly within
the man, and most, and infuriately searching, at the spots where he had
been wounded, especially where he feared the world might have guessed
the wound. Did she imply that he had no hand for love-letters? Was it
her meaning that women would not have much taste for his epistolary
correspondence? She had spoken in the plural, with an accent on "men".
Had she heard of Constantia? Had she formed her own judgement about the
creature? The supernatural sensitiveness of Sir Willoughby shrieked a
peal of affirmatives. He had often meditated on the moral obligation of
his unfolding to Clara the whole truth of his conduct to Constantia;
for whom, as for other suicides, there were excuses. He at least was
bound to supply them. She had behaved badly; but had he not given her
some cause? If so, manliness was bound to confess it.

Supposing Clara heard the world's version first! Men whose pride is
their backbone suffer convulsions where other men are barely aware of a
shock, and Sir Willoughby was taken with galvanic jumpings of the
spirit within him, at the idea of the world whispering to Clara that he
had been jilted.

"My letters to men, you say, my love?"

"Your letters of business."

"Completely myself in my letters of business?" He stared indeed.

She relaxed the tension of his figure by remarking: "You are able to
express yourself to men as your meaning dictates. In writing to . . .
to us it is, I suppose, more difficult."

"True, my love. I will not exactly say difficult. I can acknowledge no
difficulty. Language, I should say, is not fitted to express emotion.
Passion rejects it."

"For dumb-show and pantomime?"

"No; but the writing of it coldly."

"Ah, coldly!"

"My letters disappoint you?"

"I have not implied that they do."

"My feelings, dearest, are too strong for transcription. I feel, pen in
hand, like the mythological Titan at war with Jove, strong enough to
hurl mountains, and finding nothing but pebbles. The simile is a good
one. You must not judge of me by my letters."

"I do not; I like them," said Clara.

She blushed, eyed him hurriedly, and seeing him complacent, resumed, "I
prefer the pebble to the mountain; but if you read poetry you would not
think human speech incapable of. . ."

"My love, I detest artifice. Poetry is a profession."

"Our poets would prove to you . . ."

"As I have often observed, Clara, I am no poet."

"I have not accused you, Willoughby."

"No poet, and with no wish to be a poet. Were I one, my life would
supply material, I can assure you, my love. My conscience is not
entirely at rest. Perhaps the heaviest matter troubling it is that in
which I was least wilfully guilty. You have heard of a Miss Durham?"

"I have heard--yes--of her."

"She may be happy. I trust she is. If she is not, I cannot escape some
blame. An instance of the difference between myself and the world, now.
The world charges it upon her. I have interceded to exonerate her."

"That was generous, Willoughby."

"Stay. I fear I was the primary offender. But I, Clara, I, under a
sense of honour, acting under a sense of honour, would have carried my
engagement through."

"What had you done?"

"The story is long, dating from an early day, in the 'downy antiquity
of my youth', as Vernon says."

"Mr. Whitford says that?"

"One of old Vernon's odd sayings. It's a story of an early
fascination."

"Papa tells me Mr. Whitford speaks at times with wise humour."

"Family considerations--the lady's health among other things; her
position in the calculations of relatives--intervened. Still there was
the fascination. I have to own it. Grounds for feminine jealousy."

"Is it at an end?"

"Now? with you? my darling Clara! indeed at an end, or could I have
opened my inmost heart to you! Could I have spoken of myself so
unreservedly that in part you know me as I know myself! Oh, but would
it have been possible to enclose you with myself in that intimate
union? so secret, unassailable!"

"You did not speak to her as you speak to me?"

"In no degree."

"What could have! . . ." Clara checked the murmured exclamation.

Sir Willoughby's expoundings on his latest of texts would have poured
forth, had not a footman stepped across the lawn to inform him that his
builder was in the laboratory and requested permission to consult with
him.

Clara's plea of a horror of the talk of bricks and joists excused her
from accompanying him. He had hardly been satisfied by her manner, he
knew not why. He left her, convinced that he must do and say more to
reach down to her female intelligence.

She saw young Crossjay, springing with pots of jam in him, join his
patron at a bound, and taking a lift of arms, fly aloft, clapping
heels. Her reflections were confused. Sir Willoughby was admirable with
the lad. "Is he two men?" she thought; and the thought ensued, "Am I
unjust?" She headed a run with young Crossjay to divert her mind.



CHAPTER VIII

A RUN WITH THE TRUANT; A WALK WITH THE MASTER

The sight of Miss Middleton running inflamed young Crossjay with the
passion of the game of hare and hounds. He shouted a view-halloo, and
flung up his legs. She was fleet; she ran as though a hundred little
feet were bearing her onward smooth as water over the lawn and the
sweeps of grass of the park, so swiftly did the hidden pair multiply
one another to speed her. So sweet was she in her flowing pace, that
the boy, as became his age, translated admiration into a dogged frenzy
of pursuit, and continued pounding along, when far outstripped,
determined to run her down or die. Suddenly her flight wound to an end
in a dozen twittering steps, and she sank. Young Crossjay attained her,
with just breath enough to say: "You are a runner!"

"I forgot you had been having your tea, my poor boy," said she.

"And you don't pant a bit!" was his encomium.

"Dear me, no; not more than a bird. You might as well try to catch a
bird."

Young Crossjay gave a knowing nod. "Wait till I get my second wind."

"Now you must confess that girls run faster than boys."

"They may at the start."

"They do everything better."

"They're flash-in-the-pans."

"They learn their lessons."

"You can't make soldiers or sailors of them, though."

"And that is untrue. Have you never read of Mary Ambree? and Mistress
Hannah Snell of Pondicherry? And there was the bride of the celebrated
William Taylor. And what do you say to Joan of Arc? What do you say to
Boadicea? I suppose you have never heard of the Amazons."

"They weren't English."

"Then it is your own countrywomen you decry, sir!"

Young Crossjay betrayed anxiety about his false position, and begged
for the stories of Mary Ambree and the others who were English.

"See, you will not read for yourself, you hide and play truant with Mr.
Whitford, and the consequence is you are ignorant of your country's
history."

Miss Middleton rebuked him, enjoying his wriggle between a perception
of her fun and an acknowledgment of his peccancy. She commanded him to
tell her which was the glorious Valentine's day of our naval annals;
the name of the hero of the day, and the name of his ship. To these
questions his answers were as ready as the guns of the good ship
Captain, for the Spanish four-decker.

"And that you owe to Mr. Whitford," said Miss Middleton.

"He bought me the books," young Crossjay growled, and plucked at grass
blades and bit them, foreseeing dimly but certainly the termination of
all this.

Miss Middleton lay back on the grass and said: "Are you going to be
fond of me, Crossjay?"

The boy sat blinking. His desire was to prove to her that lie was
immoderately fond of her already; and he might have flown at her neck
had she been sitting up, but her recumbency and eyelids half closed
excited wonder in him and awe. His young heart beat fast.

"Because, my dear boy," she said, leaning on her elbow, "you are a very
nice boy, but an ungrateful boy, and there is no telling whether you
will not punish any one who cares for you. Come along with me; pluck me
some of these cowslips, and the speedwells near them; I think we both
love wild-flowers." She rose and took his arm. "You shall row me on the
lake while I talk to you seriously."

It was she, however, who took the sculls at the boat-house, for she had
been a playfellow with boys, and knew that one of them engaged in a
manly exercise is not likely to listen to a woman.

"Now, Crossjay," she said. Dense gloom overcame him like a cowl. She
bent across her hands to laugh. "As if I were going to lecture you, you
silly boy!" He began to brighten dubiously. "I used to be as fond of
birdsnesting as you are. I like brave boys, and I like you for wanting
to enter the Royal Navy. Only, how can you if you do not learn? You
must get the captains to pass you, you know. Somebody spoils you: Miss
Dale or Mr. Whitford."

"Do they?" sung out young Crossjay.

"Sir Willoughby does?"

"I don't know about spoil. I can come round him."

"I am sure he is very kind to you. I dare say you think Mr. Whitford
rather severe. You should remember he has to teach you, so that you may
pass for the navy. You must not dislike him because he makes you work.
Supposing you had blown yourself up to-day! You would have thought it
better to have been working with Mr. Whitford."

"Sir Willoughby says, when he's married, you won't let me hide."

"Ah! It is wrong to pet a big boy like you. Does not he what you call
tip you, Crossjay?"

"Generally half-crown pieces. I've had a crown-piece. I've had
sovereigns."

"And for that you do as he bids you? And he indulges you because you
. . . Well, but though Mr. Whitford does not give you money, he gives you
his time, he tries to get you into the navy."

"He pays for me."

"What do you say?"

"My keep. And, as for liking him, if he were at the bottom of the water
here, I'd go down after him. I mean to learn. We're both of us here at
six o'clock in the morning, when it's light, and have a swim. He taught
me. Only, I never cared for schoolbooks."

"Are you quite certain that Mr. Whitford pays for you."

"My father told me he did, and I must obey him. He heard my father was
poor, with a family. He went down to see my father. My father came here
once, and Sir Willoughby wouldn't see him. I know Mr. Whitford does.
And Miss Dale told me he did. My mother says she thinks he does it to
make up to us for my father's long walk in the rain and the cold he
caught coming here to Patterne."

"So you see you should not vex him, Crossjay. He is a good friend to
your father and to you. You ought to love him."

"I like him, and I like his face."

"Why his face?"

"It's not like those faces! Miss Dale and I talk about him. She thinks
that Sir Willoughby is the best-looking man ever born."

"Were you not speaking of Mr. Whitford?"

"Yes; old Vernon. That's what Sir Willoughby calls him," young Crossjay
excused himself to her look of surprise. "Do you know what he makes me
think of?--his eyes, I mean. He makes me think of Robinson Crusoe's old
goat in the cavern. I like him because he's always the same, and you're
not positive about some people. Miss Middleton, if you look on at
cricket, in comes a safe man for ten runs. He may get more, and he
never gets less; and you should hear the old farmers talk of him in the
booth. That's just my feeling."

Miss Middleton understood that some illustration from the
cricketing-field was intended to throw light on the boy's feeling for
Mr. Whitford. Young Crossjay was evidently warming to speak from his
heart. But the sun was low, she had to dress for the dinner-table, and
she landed him with regret, as at a holiday over. Before they parted,
he offered to swim across the lake in his clothes, or dive to the bed
for anything she pleased to throw, declaring solemnly that it should
not be lost.

She walked back at a slow pace, and sung to herself above her
darker-flowing thoughts, like the reed-warbler on the branch beside the
night-stream; a simple song of a lighthearted sound, independent of the
shifting black and grey of the flood underneath.

A step was at her heels.

"I see you have been petting my scapegrace."

"Mr. Whitford! Yes; not petting, I hope. I tried to give him a lecture.
He's a dear lad, but, I fancy, trying."

She was in fine sunset colour, unable to arrest the mounting tide. She
had been rowing, she said; and, as he directed his eyes, according to
his wont, penetratingly, she defended herself by fixing her mind on
Robinson Crusoe's old goat in the recess of the cavern.

"I must have him away from here very soon," said Vernon. "Here he's
quite spoiled. Speak of him to Willoughby. I can't guess at his ideas
of the boy's future, but the chance of passing for the navy won't bear
trifling with, and if ever there was a lad made for the navy, it's
Crossjay."

The incident of the explosion in the laboratory was new to Vernon.

"And Willoughby laughed?" he said. "There are sea-port crammers who
stuff young fellows for examination, and we shall have to pack off the
boy at once to the best one of the lot we can find. I would rather have
had him under me up to the last three months, and have made sure of
some roots to what is knocked into his head. But he's ruined here. And
I am going. So I shall not trouble him for many weeks longer. Dr.
Middleton is well?"

"My father is well, yes. He pounced like a falcon on your notes in the
library."

Vernon came out with a chuckle.

"They were left to attract him. I am in for a controversy."

"Papa will not spare you, to judge from his look."

"I know the look."

"Have you walked far to-day?"

"Nine and a half hours. My Flibbertigibbet is too much for me at
times, and I had to walk off my temper."

She cast her eyes on him, thinking of the pleasure of dealing with a
temper honestly coltish, and manfully open to a specific.

"All those hours were required?"

"Not quite so long."

"You are training for your Alpine tour."

"It's doubtful whether I shall get to the Alps this year. I leave the
Hall, and shall probably be in London with a pen to sell."

"Willoughby knows that you leave him?"

"As much as Mont Blanc knows that he is going to be climbed by a party
below. He sees a speck or two in the valley."

"He has not spoken of it."

"He would attribute it to changes . . ."

Vernon did not conclude the sentence.

She became breathless, without emotion, but checked by the barrier
confronting an impulse to ask, what changes? She stooped to pluck a
cowslip.

"I saw daffodils lower down the park," she said. "One or two; they're
nearly over."

"We are well off for wild flowers here," he answered.

"Do not leave him, Mr. Whitford."

"He will not want me."

"You are devoted to him."

"I can't pretend that."

"Then it is the changes you imagine you foresee . . . If any occur, why
should they drive you away?"

"Well, I'm two and thirty, and have never been in the fray: a kind of
nondescript, half scholar, and by nature half billman or bowman or
musketeer; if I'm worth anything, London's the field for me. But that's
what I have to try."

"Papa will not like your serving with your pen in London: he will say
you are worth too much for that."

"Good men are at it; I should not care to be ranked above them."

"They are wasted, he says."

"Error! If they have their private ambition, they may suppose they are
wasted. But the value to the world of a private ambition, I do not
clearly understand."

"You have not an evil opinion of the world?" said Miss Middleton, sick
at heart as she spoke, with the sensation of having invited herself to
take a drop of poison.

He replied: "One might as well have an evil opinion of a river: here
it's muddy, there it's clear; one day troubled, another at rest. We
have to treat it with common sense."

"Love it?"

"In the sense of serving it."

"Not think it beautiful?"

"Part of it is, part of it the reverse."

"Papa would quote the 'mulier formosa'".

"Except that 'fish' is too good for the black extremity. 'Woman' is
excellent for the upper."

"How do you say that?--not cynically, I believe. Your view commends
itself to my reason."

She was grateful to him for not stating it in ideal contrast with Sir
Willoughby's view. If he had, so intensely did her youthful blood
desire to be enamoured of the world, that she felt he would have lifted
her off her feet. For a moment a gulf beneath had been threatening.
When she said, "Love it?" a little enthusiasm would have wafted her
into space fierily as wine; but the sober, "In the sense of serving
it", entered her brain, and was matter for reflection upon it and him.

She could think of him in pleasant liberty, uncorrected by her woman's
instinct of peril. He had neither arts nor graces; nothing of his
cousin's easy social front-face. She had once witnessed the military
precision of his dancing, and had to learn to like him before she
ceased to pray that she might never be the victim of it as his partner.
He walked heroically, his pedestrian vigour being famous, but that
means one who walks away from the sex, not excelling in the recreations
where men and women join hands. He was not much of a horseman either.
Sir Willoughby enjoyed seeing him on horseback. And he could scarcely
be said to shine in a drawingroom, unless when seated beside a person
ready for real talk. Even more than his merits, his demerits pointed
him out as a man to be a friend to a young woman who wanted one. His
way of life pictured to her troubled spirit an enviable smoothness; and
his having achieved that smooth way she considered a sign of strength;
and she wished to lean in idea upon some friendly strength. His
reputation for indifference to the frivolous charms of girls clothed
him with a noble coldness, and gave him the distinction of a far-seen
solitary iceberg in Southern waters. The popular notion of hereditary
titled aristocracy resembles her sentiment for a man that would not
flatter and could not be flattered by her sex: he appeared superior
almost to awfulness. She was young, but she had received much flattery
in her ears, and by it she had been snared; and he, disdaining to
practise the fowler's arts or to cast a thought on small fowls,
appeared to her to have a pride founded on natural loftiness.

They had not spoken for awhile, when Vernon said abruptly, "The boy's
future rather depends on you, Miss Middleton. I mean to leave as soon
as possible, and I do not like his being here without me, though you
will look after him, I have no doubt. But you may not at first see
where the spoiling hurts him. He should be packed off at once to the
crammer, before you are Lady Patterne. Use your influence. Willoughby
will support the lad at your request. The cost cannot be great. There
are strong grounds against my having him in London, even if I could
manage it. May I count on you?"

"I will mention it: I will do my best," said Miss Middleton, strangely
dejected.

They were now on the lawn, where Sir Willoughby was walking with the
ladies Eleanor and Isabel, his maiden aunts.

"You seem to have coursed the hare and captured the hart." he said to
his bride.

"Started the truant and run down the paedagogue," said Vernon.

"Ay, you won't listen to me about the management of that boy," Sir
Willoughby retorted.

The ladies embraced Miss Middleton. One offered up an ejaculation in
eulogy of her looks, the other of her healthfulness: then both remarked
that with indulgence young Crossjay could be induced to do anything.
Clara wondered whether inclination or Sir Willoughby had disciplined
their individuality out of them and made them his shadows, his echoes.
She gazed from them to him, and feared him. But as yet she had not
experienced the power in him which could threaten and wrestle to
subject the members of his household to the state of satellites. Though
she had in fact been giving battle to it for several months, she had
held her own too well to perceive definitely the character of the
spirit opposing her.

She said to the ladies, "Ah, no! Mr. Whitford has chosen the only
method for teaching a boy like Crossjay."

"I propose to make a man of him," said Sir Willoughby.

"What is to become of him if he learns nothing?"

"If he pleases me, he will be provided for. I have never abandoned a
dependent."

Clara let her eyes rest on his and, without turning or dropping, shut
them.

The effect was discomforting to him. He was very sensitive to the
intentions of eyes and tones; which was one secret of his rigid grasp
of the dwellers in his household. They were taught that they had to
render agreement under sharp scrutiny. Studious eyes, devoid of warmth,
devoid of the shyness of sex, that suddenly closed on their look,
signified a want of comprehension of some kind, it might be hostility
of understanding. Was it possible he did not possess her utterly? He
frowned up.

Clara saw the lift of his brows, and thought, "My mind is my own,
married or not."

It was the point in dispute.



CHAPTER IX

CLARA AND LAETITIA MEET: THEY ARE COMPARED

An hour before the time for lessons next morning young Crossjay was on
the lawn with a big bunch of wild flowers. He left them at the hall
door for Miss Middleton, and vanished into bushes.

These vulgar weeds were about to be dismissed to the dustheap by the
great officials of the household; but as it happened that Miss
Middleton had seen them from the window in Crossjay's hands, the
discovery was made that they were indeed his presentation-bouquet, and
a footman received orders to place them before her. She was very
pleased. The arrangement of the flowers bore witness to fairer fingers
than the boy's own in the disposition of the rings of colour, red
campion and anemone, cowslip and speedwell, primroses and
wood-hyacinths; and rising out of the blue was a branch bearing thick
white blossom, so thick, and of so pure a whiteness, that Miss
Middleton, while praising Crossjay for soliciting the aid of Miss Dale,
was at a loss to name the tree.

"It is a gardener's improvement on the Vestal of the forest, the wild
cherry," said Dr. Middleton, "and in this case we may admit the
gardener's claim to be valid, though I believe that, with his gift of
double blossom, he has improved away the fruit. Call this the Vestal of
civilization, then; he has at least done something to vindicate the
beauty of the office as well as the justness of the title."

"It is Vernon's Holy Tree the young rascal has been despoiling," said
Sir Willoughby merrily.

Miss Middleton was informed that this double-blossom wild cherry-tree
was worshipped by Mr. Whitford.

Sir Willoughby promised he would conduct her to it.

"You," he said to her, "can bear the trial; few complexions can; it is
to most ladies a crueller test than snow. Miss Dale, for example,
becomes old lace within a dozen yards of it. I should like to place her
under the tree beside you."

"Dear me, though; but that is investing the hamadryad with novel and
terrible functions," exclaimed Dr. Middleton.

Clara said: "Miss Dale could drag me into a superior Court to show me
fading beside her in gifts more valuable than a complexion."

"She has a fine ability," said Vernon.

All the world knew, so Clara knew of Miss Dales romantic admiration of
Sir Willoughby; she was curious to see Miss Dale and study the nature
of a devotion that might be, within reason, imitable--for a man who
could speak with such steely coldness of the poor lady he had
fascinated? Well, perhaps it was good for the hearts of women to be
beneath a frost; to be schooled, restrained, turned inward on their
dreams. Yes, then, his coldness was desireable; it encouraged an ideal
of him. It suggested and seemed to propose to Clara's mind the
divineness of separation instead of the deadly accuracy of an intimate
perusal. She tried to look on him as Miss Dale might look, and while
partly despising her for the dupery she envied, and more than
criticizing him for the inhuman numbness of sentiment which offered up
his worshipper to point a complimentary comparison, she was able to
imagine a distance whence it would be possible to observe him
uncritically, kindly, admiringly; as the moon a handsome mortal, for
example.

In the midst of her thoughts, she surprised herself by saying: "I
certainly was difficult to instruct. I might see things clearer if I
had a fine ability. I never remember to have been perfectly pleased
with my immediate lesson . . ."

She stopped, wondering whither her tongue was leading her; then added,
to save herself, "And that may be why I feel for poor Crossjay."

Mr. Whitford apparently did not think it remarkable that she should
have been set off gabbling of "a fine ability", though the eulogistic
phrase had been pronounced by him with an impressiveness to make his
ear aware of an echo.

Sir Willoughby dispersed her vapourish confusion. "Exactly," he said.
"I have insisted with Vernon, I don't know how often, that you must
have the lad by his affections. He won't bear driving. It had no effect
on me. Boys of spirit kick at it. I think I know boys, Clara."

He found himself addressing eyes that regarded him as though he were a
small speck, a pin's head, in the circle of their remote contemplation.
They were wide; they closed.

She opened them to gaze elsewhere.

He was very sensitive.

Even then, when knowingly wounding him, or because of it, she was
trying to climb back to that altitude of the thin division of neutral
ground, from which we see a lover's faults and are above them, pure
surveyors. She climbed unsuccessfully, it is true; soon despairing and
using the effort as a pretext to fall back lower.

Dr. Middleton withdrew Sir Willoughby's attention from the
imperceptible annoyance. "No, sir, no: the birch! the birch! Boys of
spirit commonly turn into solid men, and the solider the men the more
surely do they vote for Busby. For me, I pray he may be immortal in
Great Britain. Sea-air nor mountain-air is half so bracing. I venture
to say that the power to take a licking is better worth having than the
power to administer one. Horse him and birch him if Crossjay runs from
his books."

"It is your opinion, sir?" his host bowed to him affably, shocked on
behalf of the ladies.

"So positively so, sir, that I will undertake, without knowledge of
their antecedents, to lay my finger on the men in public life who have
not had early Busby. They are ill-balanced men. Their seat of reason is
not a concrete. They won't take rough and smooth as they come. They
make bad blood, can't forgive, sniff right and left for approbation,
and are excited to anger if an East wind does not flatter them. Why,
sir, when they have grown to be seniors, you find these men mixed up
with the nonsense of their youth; you see they are unthrashed. We
English beat the world because we take a licking well. I hold it for a
surety of a proper sweetness of blood."

The smile of Sir Willoughby waxed ever softer as the shakes of his head
increased in contradictoriness. "And yet," said he, with the air of
conceding a little after having answered the Rev. Doctor and convicted
him of error, "Jack requires it to keep him in order. On board ship
your argument may apply. Not, I suspect, among gentlemen. No."

"Good-night to you, gentlemen!" said Dr. Middleton.

Clara heard Miss Eleanor and Miss Isabel interchange remarks:

"Willoughby would not have suffered it!"

"It would entirely have altered him!"

She sighed and put a tooth on her under-lip. The gift of humourous
fancy is in women fenced round with forbidding placards; they have to
choke it; if they perceive a piece of humour, for instance, the young
Willoughby grasped by his master,--and his horrified relatives rigid at
the sight of preparations for the seed of sacrilege, they have to
blindfold the mind's eye. They are society's hard-drilled soldiery.
Prussians that must both march and think in step. It is for the
advantage of the civilized world, if you like, since men have decreed
it, or matrons have so read the decree; but here and there a younger
woman, haply an uncorrected insurgent of the sex matured here and
there, feels that her lot was cast with her head in a narrower pit than
her limbs.

Clara speculated as to whether Miss Dale might be perchance a person of
a certain liberty of mind. She asked for some little, only some little,
free play of mind in a house that seemed to wear, as it were, a cap of
iron. Sir Willoughby not merely ruled, he throned, he inspired: and
how? She had noticed an irascible sensitiveness in him alert against a
shadow of disagreement; and as he was kind when perfectly appeased, the
sop was offered by him for submission. She noticed that even Mr.
Whitford forbore to alarm the sentiment of authority in his cousin. If
he did not breathe Sir Willoughby, like the ladies Eleanor and Isabel,
he would either acquiesce in a syllable or be silent. He never strongly
dissented. The habit of the house, with its iron cap, was on him, as it
was on the servants, and would be, oh, shudders of the shipwrecked that
see their end in drowning! on the wife.

"When do I meet Miss Dale?" she inquired.

"This very evening, at dinner," replied Sir Willoughby.

Then, thought she, there is that to look forward to.

She indulged her morbid fit, and shut up her senses that she might live
in the anticipation of meeting Miss Dale; and, long before the approach
of the hour, her hope of encountering any other than another dull
adherent of Sir Willoughby had fled. So she was languid for two of the
three minutes when she sat alone with Laetitia in the drawing-room
before the rest had assembled.

"It is Miss Middleton?" Laetitia said, advancing to her. "My jealousy
tells me; for you have won my boy Crossjay's heart, and done more to
bring him to obedience in a few minutes than we have been able to do in
months."

"His wild flowers were so welcome to me," said Clara.

"He was very modest over them. And I mention it because boys of his age
usually thrust their gifts in our faces fresh as they pluck them, and
you were to be treated quite differently."

"We saw his good fairy's hand."

"She resigns her office; but I pray you not to love him too well in
return; for he ought to be away reading with one of those men who get
boys through their examinations. He is, we all think, a born sailor,
and his place is in the navy."

"But, Miss Dale, I love him so well that I shall consult his interests
and not my own selfishness. And, if I have influence, he will not be a
week with you longer. It should have been spoke of to-day; I must have
been in some dream; I thought of it, I know. I will not forget to do
what may be in my power."

Clara's heart sank at the renewed engagement and plighting of herself
involved in her asking a favour, urging any sort of petition. The cause
was good. Besides, she was plighted already.

"Sir Willoughby is really fond of the boy," she said.

"He is fond of exciting fondness in the boy," said Miss Dale. "He has
not dealt much with children. I am sure he likes Crossjay; he could not
otherwise be so forbearing; it is wonderful what he endures and laughs
at."

Sir Willoughby entered. The presence of Miss Dale illuminated him as
the burning taper lights up consecrated plate. Deeply respecting her
for her constancy, esteeming her for a model of taste, he was never in
her society without that happy consciousness of shining which calls
forth the treasures of the man; and these it is no exaggeration to term
unbounded, when all that comes from him is taken for gold.

The effect of the evening on Clara was to render her distrustful of her
later antagonism. She had unknowingly passed into the spirit of Miss
Dale, Sir Willoughby aiding; for she could sympathize with the view of
his constant admirer on seeing him so cordially and smoothly gay; as
one may say, domestically witty, the most agreeable form of wit. Mrs
Mountstuart Jenkinson discerned that he had a leg of physical
perfection; Miss Dale distinguished it in him in the vital essence; and
before either of these ladies he was not simply a radiant, he was a
productive creature, so true it is that praise is our fructifying sun.
He had even a touch of the romantic air which Clara remembered as her
first impression of the favourite of the county; and strange she found
it to observe this resuscitated idea confronting her experience. What
if she had been captious, inconsiderate? Oh, blissful revival of the
sense of peace! The happiness of pain departing was all that she looked
for, and her conception of liberty was to learn to love her chains,
provided that he would spare her the caress. In this mood she sternly
condemned Constantia. "We must try to do good; we must not be thinking
of ourselves; we must make the best of our path in life." She revolved
these infantile precepts with humble earnestness; and not to be tardy
in her striving to do good, with a remote but pleasurable glimpse of
Mr. Whitford hearing of it, she took the opportunity to speak to Sir
Willoughby on the subject of young Crossjay, at a moment when,
alighting from horseback, he had shown himself to advantage among a
gallant cantering company. He showed to great advantage on horseback
among men, being invariably the best mounted, and he had a cavalierly
style, possibly cultivated, but effective. On foot his raised head and
half-dropped eyelids too palpably assumed superiority. "Willoughby, I
want to speak," she said, and shrank as she spoke, lest he should
immediately grant everything in the mood of courtship, and invade her
respite; "I want to speak of that dear boy Crossjay. You are fond of
him. He is rather an idle boy here, and wasting time . . ."

"Now you are here, and when you are here for good, my love for good
. . ." he fluttered away in loverliness, forgetful of Crossjay, whom
he presently took up. "The boy recognizes his most sovereign lady, and
will do your bidding, though you should order him to learn his lessons!
Who would not obey? Your beauty alone commands. But what is there
beyond?--a grace, a hue divine, that sets you not so much above as
apart, severed from the world."

Clara produced an active smile in duty, and pursued: "If Crossjay were
sent at once to some house where men prepare boys to pass for the navy,
he would have his chance, and the navy is distinctly his profession.
His father is a brave man, and he inherits bravery, and he has a
passion for a sailor's life; only he must be able to pass his
examination, and he has not much time."

Sir Willoughby gave a slight laugh in sad amusement.

"My dear Clara, you adore the world; and I suppose you have to learn
that there is not a question in this wrangling world about which we
have not disputes and contests ad nauseam. I have my notions concerning
Crossjay, Vernon has his. I should wish to make a gentleman of him.
Vernon marks him for a sailor. But Vernon is the lad's protector, I am
not. Vernon took him from his father to instruct him, and he has a
right to say what shall be done with him. I do not interfere. Only I
can't prevent the lad from liking me. Old Vernon seems to feel it. I
assure you I hold entirely aloof. If I am asked, in spite of my
disapproval of Vernon's plans for the boy, to subscribe to his
departure, I can but shrug, because, as you see, I have never opposed.
Old Vernon pays for him, he is the master, he decides, and if Crossjay
is blown from the masthead in a gale, the blame does not fall on me.
These, my dear, are matters of reason."

"I would not venture to intrude on them," said Clara, "if I had not
suspected that money . . ."

"Yes," cried Willoughby; "and it is a part. And let old Vernon
surrender the boy to me, I will immediately relieve him of the burden
on his purse. Can I do that, my dear, for the furtherance of a scheme I
condemn? The point is thus: latterly I have invited Captain Patterne to
visit me: just previous to his departure for the African Coast, where
Government despatches Marines when there is no other way of killing
them, I sent him a special invitation. He thanked me and curtly
declined. The man, I may almost say, is my pensioner. Well, he calls
himself a Patterne, he is undoubtedly a man of courage, he has elements
of our blood, and the name. I think I am to be approved for desiring to
make a better gentleman of the son than I behold in the father: and
seeing that life from an early age on board ship has anything but made
a gentleman of the father, I hold that I am right in shaping another
course for the son."

"Naval officers . . ." Clara suggested.

"Some," said Willoughby. "But they must be men of birth, coming out of
homes of good breeding. Strip them of the halo of the title of naval
officers, and I fear you would not often say gentlemen when they step
into a drawing-room. I went so far as to fancy I had some claim to make
young Crossjay something different. It can be done: the Patterne comes
out in his behaviour to you, my love; it can be done. But if I take
him, I claim undisputed sway over him. I cannot make a gentleman of the
fellow if I am to compete with this person and that. In fine, he must
look up to me, he must have one model."

"Would you, then, provide for him subsequently?"

"According to his behaviour."

"Would not that be precarious for him?"

"More so than the profession you appear inclined to choose for him?"

"But there he would be under clear regulations."

"With me he would have to respond to affection."

"Would you secure to him a settled income? For an idle gentleman is bad
enough; a penniless gentleman . . ."

"He has only to please me, my dear, and he will be launched and
protected."

"But if he does not succeed in pleasing you?"

"Is it so difficult?"

"Oh!" Clara fretted.

"You see, my love, I answer you," said Sir Willoughby.

He resumed: "But let old Vernon have his trial with the lad. He has his
own ideas. Let him carry them out. I shall watch the experiment."

Clara was for abandoning her task in sheer faintness.

"Is not the question one of money?" she said, shyly, knowing Mr.
Whitford to be poor.

"Old Vernon chooses to spend his money that way." replied Sir
Willoughby. "If it saves him from breaking his shins and risking his
neck on his Alps, we may consider it well employed."

"Yes," Clara's voice occupied a pause.

She seized her languor as it were a curling snake and cast it off.
"But I understand that Mr. Whitford wants your assistance. Is he
not--not rich? When he leaves the Hall to try his fortune in literature
in London, he may not be so well able to support Crossjay and obtain
the instruction necessary for the boy: and it would be generous to help
him."

"Leaves the Hall!" exclaimed Willoughby. "I have not heard a word of
it. He made a bad start at the beginning, and I should have thought
that would have tamed him: had to throw over his Fellowship; ahem. Then
he received a small legacy some time back, and wanted to be off to push
his luck in Literature: rank gambling, as I told him. Londonizing can
do him no good. I thought that nonsense of his was over years ago. What
is it he has from me?--about a hundred and fifty a year: and it might
be doubled for the asking: and all the books he requires: and these
writers and scholars no sooner think of a book than they must have it.
And do not suppose me to complain. I am a man who will not have a
single shilling expended by those who serve immediately about my
person. I confess to exacting that kind of dependency. Feudalism is not
an objectionable thing if you can be sure of the lord. You know, Clara,
and you should know me in my weakness too, I do not claim servitude, I
stipulate for affection. I claim to be surrounded by persons loving me.
And with one? . . . dearest! So that we two can shut out the world; we
live what is the dream of others. Nothing imaginable can be sweeter. It
is a veritable heaven on earth. To be the possessor of the whole of
you! Your thoughts, hopes, all."

Sir Willoughby intensified his imagination to conceive more: he could
not, or could not express it, and pursued: "But what is this talk of
Vernon's leaving me? He cannot leave. He has barely a hundred a year of
his own. You see, I consider him. I do not speak of the ingratitude of
the wish to leave. You know, my dear, I have a deadly abhorrence of
partings and such like. As far as I can, I surround myself with healthy
people specially to guard myself from having my feelings wrung; and
excepting Miss Dale, whom you like--my darling does like her?"--the
answer satisfied him; "with that one exception, I am not aware of a
case that threatens to torment me. And here is a man, under no
compulsion, talking of leaving the Hall! In the name of goodness, why?
But why? Am I to imagine that the sight of perfect felicity distresses
him? We are told that the world is 'desperately wicked'. I do not like
to think it of my friends; yet otherwise their conduct is often hard to
account for."

"If it were true, you would not punish Crossjay?" Clara feebly
interposed.

"I should certainly take Crossjay and make a man of him after my own
model, my dear. But who spoke to you of this?"

"Mr. Whitford himself. And let me give you my opinion, Willoughby, that
he will take Crossjay with him rather than leave him, if there is a
fear of the boy's missing his chance of the navy."

"Marines appear to be in the ascendant," said Sir Willoughby,
astonished at the locution and pleading in the interests of a son of
one. "Then Crossjay he must take. I cannot accept half the boy. I am,"
he laughed, "the legitimate claimant in the application for judgement
before the wise king. Besides, the boy has a dose of my blood in him;
he has none of Vernon's, not one drop."

"Ah!"

"You see, my love?"

"Oh, I do see; yes."

"I put forth no pretensions to perfection," Sir Willoughby continued.
"I can bear a considerable amount of provocation; still I can be
offended, and I am unforgiving when I have been offended. Speak to
Vernon, if a natural occasion should spring up. I shall, of course,
have to speak to him. You may, Clara, have observed a man who passed me
on the road as we were cantering home, without a hint of a touch to his
hat. That man is a tenant of mine, farming six hundred acres, Hoppner
by name: a man bound to remember that I have, independently of my
position, obliged him frequently. His lease of my ground has five years
to run. I must say I detest the churlishness of our country population,
and where it comes across me I chastise it. Vernon is a different
matter: he will only require to be spoken to. One would fancy the old
fellow laboured now and then under a magnetic attraction to beggary. My
love," he bent to her and checked their pacing up and down, "you are
tired?"

"I am very tired to-day," said Clara.

His arm was offered. She laid two fingers on it, and they dropped when
he attempted to press them to his rib.

He did not insist. To walk beside her was to share in the stateliness
of her walking.

He placed himself at a corner of the door-way for her to pass him into
the house, and doated on her cheek, her ear, and the softly dusky nape
of her neck, where this way and that the little lighter-coloured
irreclaimable curls running truant from the comb and the knot--curls,
half-curls, root-curls, vine-ringlets, wedding-rings, fledgling
feathers, tufts of down, blown wisps--waved or fell, waved over or up
or involutedly, or strayed, loose and downward, in the form of small
silken paws, hardly any of them much thicker than a crayon shading,
cunninger than long round locks of gold to trick the heart.

Laetitia had nothing to show resembling such beauty.



CHAPTER X

IN WHICH SIR WILLOUGHBY CHANCES TO SUPPLY THE TITLE FOR HIMSELF

Now Vernon was useful to his cousin; he was the accomplished secretary
of a man who governed his estate shrewdly and diligently, but had been
once or twice unlucky in his judgements pronounced from the magisterial
bench as a justice of the Peace, on which occasions a half column of
trenchant English supported by an apposite classical quotation
impressed Sir Willoughby with the value of such a secretary in a
controversy. He had no fear of that fiery dragon of scorching
breath--the newspaper press--while Vernon was his right hand man; and
as he intended to enter Parliament, he foresaw the greater need of him.
Furthermore, he liked his cousin to date his own controversial
writings, on classical subjects, from Patterne Hall. It caused his
house to shine in a foreign field; proved the service of scholarship by
giving it a flavour of a bookish aristocracy that, though not so well
worth having, and indeed in itself contemptible, is above the material
and titular; one cannot quite say how. There, however, is the flavour.
Dainty sauces are the life, the nobility, of famous dishes; taken
alone, the former would be nauseating, the latter plebeian. It is thus,
or somewhat so, when you have a poet, still better a scholar, attached
to your household. Sir Willoughby deserved to have him, for he was
above his county friends in his apprehension of the flavour bestowed by
the man; and having him, he had made them conscious of their
deficiency. His cook, M. Dehors, pupil of the great Godefroy, was not
the only French cook in the county; but his cousin and secretary, the
rising scholar, the elegant essayist, was an unparalleled decoration;
of his kind, of course. Personally, we laugh at him; you had better
not, unless you are fain to show that the higher world of polite
literature is unknown to you. Sir Willoughby could create an abject
silence at a county dinner-table by an allusion to Vernon "at work at
home upon his Etruscans or his Dorians"; and he paused a moment to let
the allusion sink, laughed audibly to himself over his eccentric
cousin, and let him rest.

In addition, Sir Willoughby abhorred the loss of a familiar face in his
domestic circle. He thought ill of servants who could accept their
dismissal without petitioning to stay with him. A servant that gave
warning partook of a certain fiendishness. Vernon's project of leaving
the Hall offended and alarmed the sensitive gentleman. "I shall have to
hand Letty Dale to him at last!" he thought, yielding in bitter
generosity to the conditions imposed on him by the ungenerousness of
another. For, since his engagement to Miss Middleton, his electrically
forethoughtful mind had seen in Miss Dale, if she stayed in the
neighbourhood, and remained unmarried, the governess of his infant
children, often consulting with him. But here was a prospect dashed
out. The two, then, may marry, and live in a cottage on the borders of
his park; and Vernon can retain his post, and Laetitia her devotion.
The risk of her casting it of had to be faced. Marriage has been known
to have such an effect on the most faithful of women that a great
passion fades to naught in their volatile bosoms when they have taken a
husband. We see in women especially the triumph of the animal over the
spiritual. Nevertheless, risks must be run for a purpose in view.

Having no taste for a discussion with Vernon, whom it was his habit to
confound by breaking away from him abruptly when he had delivered his
opinion, he left it to both the persons interesting themselves in young
Crossjay to imagine that he was meditating on the question of the lad,
and to imagine that it would be wise to leave him to meditate; for he
could be preternaturally acute in reading any of his fellow-creatures
if they crossed the current of his feelings. And, meanwhile, he
instructed the ladies Eleanor and Isabel to bring Laetitia Dale on a
visit to the Hall, where dinner-parties were soon to be given and a
pleasing talker would be wanted, where also a woman of intellect,
steeped in a splendid sentiment, hitherto a miracle of female
constancy, might stir a younger woman to some emulation. Definitely to
resolve to bestow Laetitia upon Vernon was more than he could do;
enough that he held the card.

Regarding Clara, his genius for perusing the heart which was not in
perfect harmony with him through the series of responsive movements to
his own, informed him of a something in her character that might have
suggested to Mrs Mountstuart Jenkinson her indefensible, absurd "rogue
in porcelain". Idea there was none in that phrase; yet, if you looked
on Clara as a delicately inimitable porcelain beauty, the suspicion of
a delicately inimitable ripple over her features touched a thought of
innocent roguery, wildwood roguery; the likeness to the costly and
lovely substance appeared to admit a fitness in the dubious epithet. He
detested but was haunted by the phrase.

She certainly had at times the look of the nymph that has gazed too
long on the faun, and has unwittingly copied his lurking lip and long
sliding eye. Her play with young Crossjay resembled a return of the
lady to the cat; she flung herself into it as if her real vitality had
been in suspense till she saw the boy. Sir Willoughby by no means
disapproved of a physical liveliness that promised him health in his
mate; but he began to feel in their conversations that she did not
sufficiently think of making herself a nest for him. Steely points were
opposed to him when he, figuratively, bared his bosom to be taken to
the softest and fairest. She reasoned: in other words, armed her
ignorance. She reasoned against him publicly, and lured Vernon to
support her. Influence is to be counted for power, and her influence
over Vernon was displayed in her persuading him to dance one evening at
Lady Culmer's, after his melancholy exhibitions of himself in the art;
and not only did she persuade him to stand up fronting her, she
manoeuvred him through the dance like a clever boy cajoling a top to
come to him without reeling, both to Vernon's contentment and to Sir
Willoughby's; for he was the last man to object to a manifestation of
power in his bride. Considering her influence with Vernon, he renewed
the discourse upon young Crossjay; and, as he was addicted to system,
he took her into his confidence, that she might be taught to look to
him and act for him.

"Old Vernon has not spoken to you again of that lad?" he said.

"Yes, Mr. Whitford has asked me."

"He does not ask me, my dear!"

"He may fancy me of greater aid than I am."

"You see, my love, if he puts Crossjay on me, he will be off. He has
this craze for 'enlisting' his pen in London, as he calls it; and I am
accustomed to him; I don't like to think of him as a hack scribe,
writing nonsense from dictation to earn a pitiful subsistence; I want
him here; and, supposing he goes, he offends me; he loses a friend; and
it will not be the first time that a friend has tried me too far; but
if he offends me, he is extinct."

"Is what?" cried Clara, with a look of fright.

"He becomes to me at once as if he had never been. He is extinct."

"In spite of your affection?"

"On account of it, I might say. Our nature is mysterious, and mine as
much so as any. Whatever my regrets, he goes out. This is not a
language I talk to the world. I do the man no harm; I am not to be
named unchristian. But . . . !"

Sir Willoughby mildly shrugged, and indicated a spreading out of the
arms.

"But do, do talk to me as you talk to the world, Willoughby; give me
some relief!"

"My own Clara, we are one. You should know me at my worst, we will say,
if you like, as well as at my best."

"Should I speak too?"

"What could you have to confess?"

She hung silent; the wave of an insane resolution swelled in her bosom
and subsided before she said, "Cowardice, incapacity to speak."

"Women!" said he.

We do not expect so much of women; the heroic virtues as little as the
vices. They have not to unfold the scroll of character.

He resumed, and by his tone she understood that she was now in the
inner temple of him: "I tell you these things; I quite acknowledge they
do not elevate me. They help to constitute my character. I tell you
most humbly that I have in me much--too much of the fallen archangel's
pride."

Clara bowed her head over a sustained in-drawn breath.

"It must be pride," he said, in a reverie superinduced by her
thoughtfulness over the revelation, and glorying in the black flames
demoniacal wherewith he crowned himself.

"Can you not correct it?" said she.

He replied, profoundly vexed by disappointment: "I am what I am. It
might be demonstrated to you mathematically that it is corrected by
equivalents or substitutions in my character. If it be a
failing--assuming that."

"It seems one to me: so cruelly to punish Mr. Whitford for seeking to
improve his fortunes."

"He reflects on my share in his fortunes. He has had but to apply to me
for his honorarium to be doubled."

"He wishes for independence."

"Independence of me!"

"Liberty!"

"At my expense!"

"Oh, Willoughby!"

"Ay, but this is the world, and I know it, my love; and beautiful as
your incredulity may be, you will find it more comforting to confide in
my knowledge of the selfishness of the world. My sweetest, you
will?--you do! For a breath of difference between us is intolerable. Do
you not feel how it breaks our magic ring? One small fissure, and we
have the world with its muddy deluge!--But my subject was old Vernon.
Yes, I pay for Crossjay, if Vernon consents to stay. I waive my own
scheme for the lad, though I think it the better one. Now, then, to
induce Vernon to stay. He has his ideas about staying under a mistress
of the household; and therefore, not to contest it--he is a man of no
argument; a sort of lunatic determination takes the place of it with
old Vernon!--let him settle close by me, in one of my cottages; very
well, and to settle him we must marry him."

"Who is there?" said Clara, beating for the lady in her mind.

"Women," said Willoughby, "are born match-makers, and the most
persuasive is a young bride. With a man--and a man like old Vernon!--
she is irresistible. It is my wish, and that arms you. It is your wish,
that subjugates him. If he goes, he goes for good. If he stays, he is
my friend. I deal simply with him, as with every one. It is the secret
of authority. Now Miss Dale will soon lose her father. He exists on a
pension; she has the prospect of having to leave the neighbourhood of
the Hall, unless she is established near us. Her whole heart is in this
region; it is the poor soul's passion. Count on her agreeing. But she
will require a little wooing: and old Vernon wooing! Picture the scene
to yourself, my love. His notion of wooing. I suspect, will be to treat
the lady like a lexicon, and turn over the leaves for the word, and fly
through the leaves for another word, and so get a sentence. Don't frown
at the poor old fellow, my Clara; some have the language on their
tongues, and some have not. Some are very dry sticks; manly men, honest
fellows, but so cut away, so polished away from the sex, that they are
in absolute want of outsiders to supply the silken filaments to attach
them. Actually!" Sir Willoughby laughed in Clara's face to relax the
dreamy stoniness of her look. "But I can assure you, my dearest, I have
seen it. Vernon does not know how to speak--as we speak. He has, or he
had, what is called a sneaking affection for Miss Dale. It was the most
amusing thing possible; his courtship!--the air of a dog with an uneasy
conscience, trying to reconcile himself with his master! We were all in
fits of laughter. Of course it came to nothing."

"Will Mr. Whitford," said Clara, "offend you to extinction if he
declines?"

Willoughby breathed an affectionate "Tush!" to her silliness.

"We bring them together, as we best can. You see, Clara, I desire, and
I will make some sacrifices to detain him."

"But what do you sacrifice?--a cottage?" said Clara, combative at all
points.

"An ideal, perhaps. I lay no stress on sacrifice. I strongly object to
separations. And therefore, you will say, I prepare the ground for
unions? Put your influence to good service, my love. I believe you
could persuade him to give us the Highland fling on the drawing-room
table."

"There is nothing to say to him of Crossjay?"

"We hold Crossjay in reserve."

"It is urgent."

"Trust me. I have my ideas. I am not idle. That boy bids fair for a
capital horseman. Eventualities might . . ." Sir Willoughby murmured to
himself, and addressing his bride, "The cavalry? If we put him into the
cavalry, we might make a gentleman of him--not be ashamed of him. Or,
under certain eventualities, the Guards. Think it over, my love. De
Craye, who will, I suppose, act best man for me, supposing old Vernon
to pull at the collar, is a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Guards, a
thorough gentleman--of the brainless class, if you like, but an elegant
fellow; an Irishman; you will see him, and I should like to set a naval
lieutenant beside him in a drawingroom, for you to compare them and
consider the model you would choose for a boy you are interested in.
Horace is grace and gallantry incarnate; fatuous, probably: I have
always been too friendly with him to examine closely. He made himself
one of my dogs, though my elder, and seemed to like to be at my heels.
One of the few men's faces I can call admirably handsome;--with
nothing behind it, perhaps. As Vernon says, 'a nothing picked by the
vultures and bleached by the desert'. Not a bad talker, if you are
satisfied with keeping up the ball. He will amuse you. Old Horace does
not know how amusing he is!"

"Did Mr. Whitford say that of Colonel De Craye?"

"I forget the person of whom he said it. So you have noticed old
Vernon's foible? Quote him one of his epigrams, and he is in motion
head and heels! It is an infallible receipt for tuning him. If I want
to have him in good temper, I have only to remark, 'as you said'. I
straighten his back instantly."

"I," said Clara, "have noticed chiefly his anxiety concerning the boy;
for which I admire him."

"Creditable, if not particularly far-sighted and sagacious. Well, then,
my dear, attack him at once; lead him to the subject of our fair
neighbour. She is to be our guest for a week or so, and the whole
affair might be concluded far enough to fix him before she leaves. She
is at present awaiting the arrival of a cousin to attend on her father.
A little gentle pushing will precipitate old Vernon on his knees as far
as he ever can unbend them; but when a lady is made ready to expect a
declaration, you know, why, she does not--does she?--demand the entire
formula?--though some beautiful fortresses . . ."

He enfolded her. Clara was growing hardened to it. To this she was
fated; and not seeing any way to escape, she invoked a friendly frost
to strike her blood, and passed through the minute unfeelingly. Having
passed it, she reproached herself for making so much of it, thinking it
a lesser endurance than to listen to him. What could she do?--she was
caged; by her word of honour, as she at one time thought; by her
cowardice, at another; and dimly sensible that the latter was a
stronger lock than the former, she mused on the abstract question
whether a woman's cowardice can be so absolute as to cast her into the
jaws of her aversion. Is it to be conceived? Is there not a moment when
it stands at bay? But haggard-visaged Honour then starts up claiming to
be dealt with in turn; for having courage restored to her, she must
have the courage to break with honour, she must dare to be faithless,
and not merely say, I will be brave, but be brave enough to be
dishonourable. The cage of a plighted woman hungering for her
disengagement has two keepers, a noble and a vile; where on earth is
creature so dreadfully enclosed? It lies with her to overcome what
degrades her, that she may win to liberty by overcoming what exalts.

Contemplating her situation, this idea (or vapour of youth taking the
god-like semblance of an idea) sprang, born of her present sickness, in
Clara's mind; that it must be an ill-constructed tumbling world where
the hour of ignorance is made the creator of our destiny by being
forced to the decisive elections upon which life's main issues hang.
Her teacher had brought her to contemplate his view of the world.

She thought likewise: how must a man despise women, who can expose
himself as he does to me!

Miss Middleton owed it to Sir Willoughby Patterne that she ceased to
think like a girl. When had the great change begun? Glancing back, she
could imagine that it was near the period we call in love the
first--almost from the first. And she was led to imagine it through
having become barred from imagining her own emotions of that season.
They were so dead as not to arise even under the form of shadows in
fancy. Without imputing blame to him, for she was reasonable so far,
she deemed herself a person entrapped. In a dream somehow she had
committed herself to a life-long imprisonment; and, oh terror! not in a
quiet dungeon; the barren walls closed round her, talked, called for
ardour, expected admiration.

She was unable to say why she could not give it; why she retreated more
and more inwardly; why she invoked the frost to kill her tenderest
feelings. She was in revolt, until a whisper of the day of bells
reduced her to blank submission; out of which a breath of peace drew
her to revolt again in gradual rapid stages, and once more the aspect
of that singular day of merry blackness felled her to earth. It was
alive, it advanced, it had a mouth, it had a song. She received letters
of bridesmaids writing of it, and felt them as waves that hurl a log of
wreck to shore. Following which afflicting sense of antagonism to the
whole circle sweeping on with her, she considered the possibility of
her being in a commencement of madness. Otherwise might she not be
accused of a capriciousness quite as deplorable to consider? She had
written to certain of these young ladies not very long since of this
gentleman--how?--in what tone? And was it her madness then?--her
recovery now? It seemed to her that to have written of him
enthusiastically resembled madness more than to shudder away from the
union; but standing alone, opposing all she has consented to set in
motion, is too strange to a girl for perfect justification to be found
in reason when she seeks it.

Sir Willoughby was destined himself to supply her with that key of
special insight which revealed and stamped him in a title to fortify
her spirit of revolt, consecrate it almost.

The popular physician of the county and famous anecdotal wit, Dr.
Corney, had been a guest at dinner overnight, and the next day there
was talk of him, and of the resources of his art displayed by Armand
Dehors on his hearing that he was to minister to the tastes of a
gathering of hommes d'esprit. Sir Willoughby glanced at Dehors with his
customary benevolent irony in speaking of the persons, great in their
way, who served him. "Why he cannot give us daily so good a dinner, one
must, I suppose, go to French nature to learn. The French are in the
habit of making up for all their deficiencies with enthusiasm. They
have no reverence; if I had said to him, 'I want something particularly
excellent, Dehors', I should have had a commonplace dinner. But they
have enthusiasm on draught, and that is what we must pull at. Know one
Frenchman and you know France. I have had Dehors under my eye two
years, and I can mount his enthusiasm at a word. He took hommes
d'esprit to denote men of letters. Frenchmen have destroyed their
nobility, so, for the sake of excitement, they put up the literary
man--not to worship him; that they can't do; it's to put themselves in
a state of effervescence. They will not have real greatness above them,
so they have sham. That they may justly call it equality, perhaps! Ay,
for all your shake of the head, my good Vernon! You see, human nature
comes round again, try as we may to upset it, and the French only
differ from us in wading through blood to discover that they are at
their old trick once more; 'I am your equal, sir, your born equal. Oh!
you are a man of letters? Allow me to be in a bubble about you!' Yes,
Vernon, and I believe the fellow looks up to you as the head of the
establishment. I am not jealous. Provided he attends to his functions!
There's a French philosopher who's for naming the days of the year
after the birthdays of French men of letters. Voltaire-day,
Rousseau-day, Racine-day, so on. Perhaps Vernon will inform us who
takes April 1st."

"A few trifling errors are of no consequence when you are in the vein
of satire," said Vernon. "Be satisfied with knowing a nation in the
person of a cook."

"They may be reading us English off in a jockey!" said Dr. Middleton.
"I believe that jockeys are the exchange we make for cooks; and our
neighbours do not get the best of the bargain."

"No; but, my dear good Vernon, it's nonsensical," said Sir Willoughby;
"why be bawling every day the name of men of letters?"

"Philosophers."

"Well, philosophers."

"Of all countries and times. And they are the benefactors of humanity."

"Bene--!" Sir Willoughby's derisive laugh broke the word. "There's a
pretension in all that, irreconcilable with English sound sense. Surely
you see it?"

"We might," said Vernon, "if you like, give alternative titles to the
days, or have alternating days, devoted to our great families that
performed meritorious deeds upon such a day."

The rebel Clara, delighting in his banter, was heard: "Can we furnish
sufficient?"

"A poet or two could help us."

"Perhaps a statesman," she suggested.

"A pugilist, if wanted."

"For blowy days," observed Dr. Middleton, and hastily in penitence
picked up the conversation he had unintentionally prostrated, with a
general remark on new-fangled notions, and a word aside to Vernon;
which created the blissful suspicion in Clara that her father was
indisposed to second Sir Willoughby's opinions even when sharing them.

Sir Willoughby had led the conversation. Displeased that the lead
should be withdrawn from him, he turned to Clara and related one of the
after-dinner anecdotes of Dr. Corney; and another, with a vast deal of
human nature in it, concerning a valetudinarian gentleman, whose wife
chanced to be desperately ill, and he went to the physicians assembled
in consultation outside the sick-room, imploring them by all he valued,
and in tears, to save the poor patient for him, saying: "She is
everything to me, everything; and if she dies I am compelled to run the
risks of marrying again; I must marry again; for she has accustomed me
so to the little attentions of a wife, that in truth I can't. I can't
lose her! She must be saved!" And the loving husband of any devoted
wife wrung his hands.

"Now, there, Clara, there you have the Egoist," added Sir Willoughby.
"That is the perfect Egoist. You see what he comes to--and his wife!
The man was utterly unconscious of giving vent to the grossest
selfishness."

"An Egoist!" said Clara.

"Beware of marrying an Egoist, my dear!" He bowed gallantly; and so
blindly fatuous did he appear to her, that she could hardly believe him
guilty of uttering the words she had heard from him, and kept her eyes
on him vacantly till she came to a sudden full stop in the thoughts
directing her gaze. She looked at Vernon, she looked at her father, and
at the ladies Eleanor and Isabel. None of them saw the man in the
word, none noticed the word; yet this word was her medical herb, her
illuminating lamp, the key of him (and, alas, but she thought it by
feeling her need of one), the advocate pleading in apology for her.
Egoist! She beheld him--unfortunate, self-designated man that he
was!--in his good qualities as well as bad under the implacable lamp,
and his good were drenched in his first person singular. His generosity
roared of I louder than the rest. Conceive him at the age of Dr.
Corney's hero: "Pray, save my wife for me. I shall positively have to
get another if I lose her, and one who may not love me half so well, or
understand the peculiarities of my character and appreciate my
attitudes." He was in his thirty-second year, therefore a young man,
strong and healthy, yet his garrulous return to his principal theme,
his emphasis on I and me, lent him the seeming of an old man spotted
with decaying youth.

"Beware of marrying an Egoist."

Would he help her to escape? The idea of the scene ensuing upon her
petition for release, and the being dragged round the walls of his
egoism, and having her head knocked against the corners, alarmed her
with sensations of sickness.

There was the example of Constantia. But that desperate young lady had
been assisted by a gallant, loving gentleman; she had met a Captain
Oxford.

Clara brooded on those two until they seemed heroic. She questioned
herself. Could she . . . ? were one to come? She shut her eyes in
languor, leaning the wrong way of her wishes, yet unable to say No.

Sir Willoughby had positively said beware! Marrying him would be a deed
committed in spite of his express warning. She went so far as to
conceive him subsequently saying: "I warned you." She conceived the
state of marriage with him as that of a woman tied not to a man of
heart, but to an obelisk lettered all over with hieroglyphics, and
everlastingly hearing him expound them, relishing renewing his lectures
on them.

Full surely this immovable stone-man would not release her. This
petrifaction of egoism would from amazedly to austerely refuse the
petition. His pride would debar him from understanding her desire to be
released. And if she resolved on it, without doing it straightway in
Constantia's manner, the miserable bewilderment of her father, for whom
such a complication would be a tragic dilemma, had to be thought of.
Her father, with all his tenderness for his child, would make a stand
on the point of honour; though certain to yield to her, he would be
distressed in a tempest of worry; and Dr. Middleton thus afflicted
threw up his arms, he shunned books, shunned speech, and resembled a
castaway on the ocean, with nothing between himself and his calamity.
As for the world, it would be barking at her heels. She might call the
man she wrenched her hand from, Egoist; jilt, the world would call her.
She dwelt bitterly on her agreement with Sir Willoughby regarding the
world, laying it to his charge that her garden had become a place of
nettles, her horizon an unlighted fourth side of a square.

Clara passed from person to person visiting the Hall. There was
universal, and as she was compelled to see, honest admiration of the
host. Not a soul had a suspicion of his cloaked nature. Her agony of
hypocrisy in accepting their compliments as the bride of Sir Willoughby
Patterne was poorly moderated by contempt of them for their
infatuation. She tried to cheat herself with the thought that they were
right and that she was the foolish and wicked inconstant. In her
anxiety to strangle the rebelliousness which had been communicated from
her mind to her blood, and was present with her whether her mind was in
action or not, she encouraged the ladies Eleanor and Isabel to magnify
the fictitious man of their idolatry, hoping that she might enter into
them imaginatively, that she might to some degree subdue herself to the
necessity of her position. If she partly succeeded in stupefying her
antagonism, five minutes of him undid the work.

He requested her to wear the Patterne pearls for a dinner-party of
grand ladies, telling her that he would commission Miss Isabel to take
them to her. Clara begged leave to decline them, on the plea of having
no right to wear them. He laughed at her modish modesty. "But really
it might almost be classed with affectation," said he. "I give you the
right. Virtually you are my wife."

"No."

"Before heaven?"

"No. We are not married."

"As my betrothed, will you wear them, to please me?"

"I would rather not. I cannot wear borrowed jewels. These I cannot
wear. Forgive me, I cannot. And, Willoughby," she said, scorning
herself for want of fortitude in not keeping to the simply blunt
provocative refusal, "does one not look like a victim decked for the
sacrifice?--the garlanded heifer you see on Greek vases, in that array
of jewellery?"

"My dear Clara!" exclaimed the astonished lover, "how can you term them
borrowed, when they are the Patterne jewels, our family heirloom
pearls, unmatched, I venture to affirm, decidedly in my county and many
others, and passing to the use of the mistress of the house in the
natural course of things?"

"They are yours, they are not mine."

"Prospectively they are yours."

"It would be to anticipate the fact to wear them."

"With my consent, my approval? at my request?"

"I am not yet . . . I never may be . . ."

"My wife?" He laughed triumphantly, and silenced her by manly
smothering.

Her scruple was perhaps an honourable one, he said. Perhaps the jewels
were safer in their iron box. He had merely intended a surprise and
gratification to her.

Courage was coming to enable her to speak more plainly, when his
discontinuing to insist on her wearing the jewels, under an appearance
of deference of her wishes, disarmed her by touching her sympathies.

She said, however, "I fear we do not often agree, Willoughby."

"When you are a little older!" was the irritating answer.

"It would then be too late to make the discovery."

"The discovery, I apprehend, is not imperative, my love."

"It seems to me that our minds are opposed."

"I should," said he, "have been awake to it at a single indication, be
sure."

"But I know," she pursued, "I have learned that the ideal of conduct
for women is to subject their minds to the part of an accompaniment."

"For women, my love? my wife will be in natural harmony with me."

"Ah!" She compressed her lips. The yawn would come. "I am sleepier here
than anywhere."

"Ours, my Clara, is the finest air of the kingdom. It has the effect of
sea-air."

"But if I am always asleep here?"

"We shall have to make a public exhibition of the Beauty."

This dash of his liveliness defeated her.

She left him, feeling the contempt of the brain feverishly quickened
and fine-pointed, for the brain chewing the cud in the happy pastures
of unawakedness. So violent was the fever, so keen her introspection,
that she spared few, and Vernon was not among them. Young Crossjay,
whom she considered the least able of all to act as an ally, was the
only one she courted with a real desire to please him, he was the one
she affectionately envied; he was the youngest, the freest, he had the
world before him, and he did not know how horrible the world was, or
could be made to look. She loved the boy from expecting nothing of him.
Others, Vernon Whitford, for instance, could help, and moved no hand.
He read her case. A scrutiny so penetrating under its air of abstract
thoughtfulness, though his eyes did but rest on her a second or two,
signified that he read her line by line, and to the end--excepting
what she thought of him for probing her with that sharp steel of
insight without a purpose.

She knew her mind's injustice. It was her case, her lamentable
case--the impatient panic-stricken nerves of a captured wild creature
which cried for help. She exaggerated her sufferings to get strength to
throw them off, and lost it in the recognition that they were
exaggerated: and out of the conflict issued recklessness, with a cry as
wild as any coming of madness; for she did not blush in saying to
herself. "If some one loved me!" Before hearing of Constantia, she had
mused upon liberty as a virgin Goddess--men were out of her thoughts;
even the figure of a rescuer, if one dawned in her mind, was more angel
than hero. That fair childish maidenliness had ceased. With her body
straining in her dragon's grasp, with the savour of loathing, unable to
contend, unable to speak aloud, she began to speak to herself, and all
the health of her nature made her outcry womanly: "If I were
loved!"--not for the sake of love, but for free breathing; and her
utterance of it was to insure life and enduringness to the wish, as the
yearning of a mother on a drowning ship is to get her infant to shore.
"If some noble gentleman could see me as I am and not disdain to aid
me! Oh! to be caught up out of this prison of thorns and brambles. I
cannot tear my own way out. I am a coward. My cry for help confesses
that. A beckoning of a finger would change me, I believe. I could fly
bleeding and through hootings to a comrade. Oh! a comrade! I do not
want a lover. I should find another Egoist, not so bad, but enough to
make me take a breath like death. I could follow a soldier, like poor
Sally or Molly. He stakes his life for his country, and a woman may be
proud of the worst of men who do that. Constantia met a soldier.
Perhaps she prayed and her prayer was answered. She did ill. But, oh,
how I love her for it! His name was Harry Oxford. Papa would call him
her Perseus. She must have felt that there was no explaining what she
suffered. She had only to act, to plunge. First she fixed her mind on
Harry Oxford. To be able to speak his name and see him awaiting her,
must have been relief, a reprieve. She did not waver, she cut the
links, she signed herself over. Oh, brave girl! what do you think of
me? But I have no Harry Whitford, I am alone. Let anything be said
against women; we must be very bad to have such bad things written of
us: only, say this, that to ask them to sign themselves over by oath
and ceremony, because of an ignorant promise, to the man they have been
mistaken in, is . . . it is--" the sudden consciousness that she had
put another name for Oxford, struck her a buffet, drowning her in
crimson.



CHAPTER XI

THE DOUBLE-BLOSSOM WILD CHERRY-TREE

Sir Willoughby chose a moment when Clara was with him and he had a good
retreat through folding-windows to the lawn, in case of cogency on the
enemy's part, to attack his cousin regarding the preposterous plot to
upset the family by a scamper to London: "By the way, Vernon, what is
this you've been mumbling to everybody save me, about leaving us to
pitch yourself into the stew-pot and be made broth of? London is no
better, and you are fit for considerably better. Don't, I beg you,
continue to annoy me. Take a run abroad, if you are restless. Take two
or three months, and join us as we are travelling home; and then think
of settling, pray. Follow my example, if you like. You can have one of
my cottages, or a place built for you. Anything to keep a man from
destroying the sense of stability about one. In London, my dear old
fellow, you lose your identity. What are you there? I ask you, what?
One has the feeling of the house crumbling when a man is perpetually
for shifting and cannot fix himself. Here you are known, you can study
at your ease; up in London you are nobody; I tell you honestly, I feel
it myself, a week of London literally drives me home to discover the
individual where I left him. Be advised. You don't mean to go."

"I have the intention," said Vernon.

"Why?"

"I've mentioned it to you."

"To my face?"

"Over your shoulder is generally the only chance you give me."

"You have not mentioned it to me, to my knowledge. As to the reason, I
might hear a dozen of your reasons, and I should not understand one.
It's against your interests and against my wishes. Come, friend, I am
not the only one you distress. Why, Vernon, you yourself have said that
the English would be very perfect Jews if they could manage to live on
the patriarchal system. You said it, yes, you said it!--but I recollect
it clearly. Oh, as for your double-meanings, you said the thing, and
you jeered at the incapacity of English families to live together, on
account of bad temper; and now you are the first to break up our union!
I decidedly do not profess to be a perfect Jew, but I do . . ."

Sir Willoughby caught signs of a probably smiling commerce between his
bride and his cousin. He raised his face, appeared to be consulting his
eyelids, and resolved to laugh: "Well, I own it. I do like the idea of
living patriarchally." He turned to Clara. "The Rev. Doctor one of
us!"

"My father?" she said.

"Why not?"

"Papa's habits are those of a scholar."

"That you might not be separated from him, my dear!"

Clara thanked Sir Willoughby for the kindness of thinking of her
father, mentally analysing the kindness, in which at least she found no
unkindness, scarcely egoism, though she knew it to be there.

"We might propose it," said he.

"As a compliment?"

"If he would condescend to accept it as a compliment. These great
scholars! . . . And if Vernon goes, our inducement for Dr. Middleton to
stay . . . But it is too absurd for discussion . . . Oh, Vernon, about
Master Crossjay; I will see to it."

He was about to give Vernon his shoulder and step into the garden, when
Clara said, "You will have Crossjay trained for the navy, Willoughby?
There is not a day to lose."

"Yes, yes; I will see to it. Depend on me for holding the young rascal
in view."

He presented his hand to her to lead her over the step to the gravel,
surprised to behold how flushed she was.

She responded to the invitation by putting her hand forth from a bent
elbow, with hesitating fingers. "It should not be postponed,
Willoughby."

Her attitude suggested a stipulation before she touched him.

"It's an affair of money, as you know, Willoughby," said Vernon. "If
I'm in London, I can't well provide for the boy for some time to come,
or it's not certain that I can."

"Why on earth should you go?"

"That's another matter. I want you to take my place with him."

"In which case the circumstances are changed. I am responsible for him,
and I have a right to bring him up according to my own prescription."

"We are likely to have one idle lout the more."

"I guarantee to make a gentleman of him."

"We have too many of your gentlemen already."

"You can't have enough, my good Vernon."

"They're the national apology for indolence. Training a penniless boy
to be one of them is nearly as bad as an education in a thieves' den;
he will be just as much at war with society, if not game for the
police."

"Vernon, have you seen Crossjay's father, the now Captain of Marines? I
think you have."

"He's a good man and a very gallant officer."

"And in spite of his qualities he's a cub, and an old cub. He is a
captain now, but he takes that rank very late, you will own. There you
have what you call a good man, undoubtedly a gallant officer,
neutralized by the fact that he is not a gentleman. Holding intercourse
with him is out of the question. No wonder Government declines to
advance him rapidly. Young Crossjay does not bear your name. He bears
mine, and on that point alone I should have a voice in the settlement
of his career. And I say emphatically that a drawing-room approval of a
young man is the best certificate for his general chances in life. I
know of a City of London merchant of some sort, and I know a firm of
lawyers, who will have none but University men at their office; at
least, they have the preference."

"Crossjay has a bullet head, fit neither for the University nor the
drawing-room," said Vernon; "equal to fighting and dying for you, and
that's all."

Sir Willoughby contented himself with replying, "The lad is a favourite
of mine."

His anxiety to escape a rejoinder caused him to step into the garden,
leaving Clara behind him. "My love!" said he, in apology, as he turned
to her. She could not look stern, but she had a look without a dimple
to soften it, and her eyes shone. For she had wagered in her heart that
the dialogue she provoked upon Crossjay would expose the Egoist. And
there were other motives, wrapped up and intertwisted, unrecognizable,
sufficient to strike her with worse than the flush of her
self-knowledge of wickedness when she detained him to speak of Crossjay
before Vernon.

At last it had been seen that she was conscious of suffering in her
association with this Egoist! Vernon stood for the world taken into her
confidence. The world, then, would not think so ill of her, she thought
hopefully, at the same time that she thought most evilly of herself.
But self-accusations were for the day of reckoning; she would and must
have the world with her, or the belief that it was coming to her, in
the terrible struggle she foresaw within her horizon of self, now her
utter boundary. She needed it for the inevitable conflict. Little
sacrifices of her honesty might be made. Considering how weak she was,
how solitary, how dismally entangled, daily disgraced beyond the power
of any veiling to conceal from her fiery sensations, a little hypocrisy
was a poor girl's natural weapon. She crushed her conscientious mind
with the assurance that it was magnifying trifles: not entirely unaware
that she was thereby preparing it for a convenient blindness in the
presence of dread alternatives; but the pride of laying such stress on
small sins gave her purity a blush of pleasure and overcame the inner
warning. In truth she dared not think evilly of herself for long,
sailing into battle as she was. Nuns and anchorites may; they have
leisure. She regretted the forfeits she had to pay for self-assistance,
and, if it might be won, the world's; regretted, felt the peril of the
loss, and took them up and flung them.

"You see, old Vernon has no argument," Willoughby said to her.

He drew her hand more securely on his arm to make her sensible that she
leaned on a pillar of strength.

"Whenever the little brain is in doubt, perplexed, undecided which
course to adopt, she will come to me, will she not? I shall always
listen," he resumed, soothingly. "My own! and I to you when the world
vexes me. So we round our completeness. You will know me; you will know
me in good time. I am not a mystery to those to whom I unfold myself. I
do not pretend to mystery: yet, I will confess, your home--your
heart's--Willoughby is not exactly identical with the Willoughby before
the world. One must be armed against that rough beast."

Certain is the vengeance of the young upon monotony; nothing more
certain. They do not scheme it, but sameness is a poison to their
systems; and vengeance is their heartier breathing, their stretch of
the limbs, run in the fields; nature avenges them.

"When does Colonel De Craye arrive?" said Clara.

"Horace? In two or three days. You wish him to be on the spot to learn
his part, my love?"

She had not flown forward to the thought of Colonel De Craye's arrival;
she knew not why she had mentioned him; but now she flew back, shocked,
first into shadowy subterfuge, and then into the criminal's dock.

"I do not wish him to be here. I do not know that he has a part to
learn. I have no wish. Willoughby, did you not say I should come to you
and you would listen?--will you listen? I am so commonplace that I
shall not be understood by you unless you take my words for the very
meaning of the words. I am unworthy. I am volatile. I love my liberty.
I want to be free . . ."

"Flitch!" he called.

It sounded necromantic.

"Pardon me, my love," he said. "The man you see yonder violates my
express injunction that he is not to come on my grounds, and here I
find him on the borders of my garden!"

Sir Willoughby waved his hand to the abject figure of a man standing to
intercept him.

"Volatile, unworthy, liberty--my dearest!" he bent to her when the man
had appeased him by departing, "you are at liberty within the law, like
all good women; I shall control and direct your volatility; and your
sense of worthiness must be re-established when we are more intimate;
it is timidity. The sense of unworthiness is a guarantee of worthiness
ensuing. I believe I am in the vein of a sermon! Whose the fault? The
sight of that man was annoying. Flitch was a stable-boy, groom, and
coachman, like his father before him, at the Hall thirty years; his
father died in our service. Mr. Flitch had not a single grievance here;
only one day the demon seizes him with the notion of bettering himself
he wants his independence, and he presents himself to me with a story
of a shop in our county town.--Flitch! remember, if you go you go for
good.--Oh, he quite comprehended.--Very well; good-bye, Flitch;--the
man was respectful: he looked the fool he was very soon to turn out to
be. Since then, within a period of several years, I have had him,
against my express injunctions, ten times on my grounds. It's curious
to calculate. Of course the shop failed, and Flitch's independence
consists in walking about with his hands in his empty pockets, and
looking at the Hall from some elevation near."

"Is he married? Has he children?" said Clara.

"Nine; and a wife that cannot cook or sew or wash linen."

"You could not give him employment?"

"After his having dismissed himself?"

"It might be overlooked."

"Here he was happy. He decided to go elsewhere, to be free--of course,
of my yoke. He quitted my service against my warning. Flitch, we will
say, emigrated with his wife and children, and the ship foundered. He
returns, but his place is filled; he is a ghost here, and I object to
ghosts."

"Some work might be found for him."

"It will be the same with old Vernon, my dear. If he goes, he goes for
good. It is the vital principle of my authority to insist on that. A
dead leaf might as reasonably demand to return to the tree. Once off,
off for all eternity! I am sorry, but such was your decision, my
friend. I have, you see, Clara, elements in me--"

"Dreadful!"

"Exert your persuasive powers with Vernon. You can do well-nigh what
you will with the old fellow. We have Miss Dale this evening for a week
or two. Lead him to some ideas of her.--Elements in me, I was
remarking, which will no more bear to be handled carelessly than
gunpowder. At the same time, there is no reason why they should not be
respected, managed with some degree of regard for me and attention to
consequences. Those who have not done so have repented."

"You do not speak to others of the elements in you," said Clara.

"I certainly do not: I have but one bride," was his handsome reply.

"Is it fair to me that you should show me the worst of you?"

"All myself, my own?"

His ingratiating droop and familiar smile rendered "All myself" so
affectionately meaningful in its happy reliance upon her excess of
love, that at last she understood she was expected to worship him and
uphold him for whatsoever he might be, without any estimation of
qualities: as indeed love does, or young love does: as she perhaps did
once, before he chilled her senses. That was before her "little brain"
had become active and had turned her senses to revolt.

It was on the full river of love that Sir Willoughby supposed the whole
floating bulk of his personality to be securely sustained; and
therefore it was that, believing himself swimming at his ease, he
discoursed of himself.

She went straight away from that idea with her mental exclamation:
"Why does he not paint himself in brighter colours to me!" and the
question: "Has he no ideal of generosity and chivalry?"

But the unfortunate gentleman imagined himself to be loved, on Love's
very bosom. He fancied that everything relating to himself excited
maidenly curiosity, womanly reverence, ardours to know more of him,
which he was ever willing to satisfy by repeating the same things. His
notion of women was the primitive black and white: there are good
women, bad women; and he possessed a good one. His high opinion of
himself fortified the belief that Providence, as a matter of justice
and fitness, must necessarily select a good one for him--or what are we
to think of Providence? And this female, shaped by that informing
hand, would naturally be in harmony with him, from the centre of his
profound identity to the raying circle of his variations. Know the
centre, you know the circle, and you discover that the variations are
simply characteristics, but you must travel on the rays from the circle
to get to the centre. Consequently Sir Willoughby put Miss Middleton on
one or other of these converging lines from time to time. Us, too, he
drags into the deeps, but when we have harpooned a whale and are
attached to the rope, down we must go; the miracle is to see us rise
again.

Women of mixed essences shading off the divine to the considerably
lower were outside his vision of woman. His mind could as little admit
an angel in pottery as a rogue in porcelain. For him they were what
they were when fashioned at the beginning; many cracked, many stained,
here and there a perfect specimen designed for the elect of men. At a
whisper of the world he shut the prude's door on them with a slam;
himself would have branded them with the letters in the hue of fire.
Privately he did so; and he was constituted by his extreme
sensitiveness and taste for ultra-feminine refinement to be a severe
critic of them during the carnival of egoism, the love-season.
Constantia . . . can it be told? She had been, be it said, a fair and
frank young merchant with him in that season; she was of a nature to be
a mother of heroes; she met the salute, almost half-way, ingenuously
unlike the coming mothers of the regiments of marionettes, who retire
in vapours, downcast, as by convention; ladies most flattering to the
egoistical gentleman, for they proclaim him the "first". Constantia's
offence had been no greater, but it was not that dramatic performance
of purity which he desired of an affianced lady, and so the offence was
great.

The love-season is the carnival of egoism, and it brings the touchstone
to our natures. I speak of love, not the mask, and not of the flutings
upon the theme of love, but of the passion; a flame having, like our
mortality, death in it as well as life, that may or may not be lasting.
Applied to Sir Willoughby, as to thousands of civilized males, the
touchstone found him requiring to be dealt with by his betrothed as an
original savage. She was required to play incessantly on the first
reclaiming chord which led our ancestral satyr to the measures of the
dance, the threading of the maze, and the setting conformably to his
partner before it was accorded to him to spin her with both hands and a
chirrup of his frisky heels. To keep him in awe and hold him enchained,
there are things she must never do, dare never say, must not think. She
must be cloistral. Now, strange and awful though it be to hear, women
perceive this requirement of them in the spirit of the man; they
perceive, too, and it may be gratefully, that they address their
performances less to the taming of the green and prankish monsieur of
the forest than to the pacification of a voracious aesthetic gluttony,
craving them insatiably, through all the tenses, with shrieks of the
lamentable letter "I" for their purity. Whether they see that it has
its foundation in the sensual, and distinguish the ultra-refined but
lineally great-grandson of the Hoof in this vast and dainty exacting
appetite is uncertain. They probably do not; the more the damage; for
in the appeasement of the glutton they have to practise much
simulation; they are in their way losers like their ancient mothers. It
is the palpable and material of them still which they are tempted to
flourish, wherewith to invite and allay pursuit: a condition under
which the spiritual, wherein their hope lies, languishes. The
capaciously strong in soul among women will ultimately detect an
infinite grossness in the demand for purity infinite, spotless bloom.
Earlier or later they see they have been victims of the singular
Egoist, have worn a mask of ignorance to be named innocent, have turned
themselves into market produce for his delight, and have really
abandoned the commodity in ministering to the lust for it, suffered
themselves to be dragged ages back in playing upon the fleshly
innocence of happy accident to gratify his jealous greed of possession,
when it should have been their task to set the soul above the fairest
fortune and the gift of strength in women beyond ornamental whiteness.
Are they not of nature warriors, like men?--men's mates to bear them
heroes instead of puppets? But the devouring male Egoist prefers them
as inanimate overwrought polished pure metal precious vessels, fresh
from the hands of the artificer, for him to walk away with hugging,
call all his own, drink of, and fill and drink of, and forget that he
stole them.

This running off on a by-road is no deviation from Sir Willoughby
Patterne and Miss Clara Middleton. He, a fairly intelligent man, and
very sensitive, was blinded to what was going on within her visibly
enough, by her production of the article he demanded of her sex. He had
to leave the fair young lady to ride to his county-town, and his design
was to conduct her through the covert of a group of laurels, there to
revel in her soft confusion. She resisted; nay, resolutely returned to
the lawn-sward. He contrasted her with Constantia in the amorous time,
and rejoiced in his disappointment. He saw the goddess Modesty guarding
Purity; and one would be bold to say that he did not hear the Precepts,
Purity's aged grannams maternal and paternal, cawing approval of her
over their munching gums. And if you ask whether a man, sensitive and a
lover, can be so blinded, you are condemned to re-peruse the foregoing
paragraph.

Miss Middleton was not sufficiently instructed in the position of her
sex to know that she had plunged herself in the thick of the strife of
one of their great battles. Her personal position, however, was
instilling knowledge rapidly, as a disease in the frame teaches us what
we are and have to contend with. Could she marry this man? He was
evidently manageable. Could she condescend to the use of arts in
managing him to obtain a placable life?--a horror of swampy flatness!
So vividly did the sight of that dead heaven over an unvarying level
earth swim on her fancy, that she shut her eyes in angry exclusion of
it as if it were outside, assailing her; and she nearly stumbled upon
young Crossjay.

"Oh, have I hurt you?" he cried.

"No," said she, "it was my fault. Lead me somewhere away from
everybody."

The boy took her hand, and she resumed her thoughts; and, pressing his
fingers and feeling warm to him both for his presence and silence, so
does the blood in youth lead the mind, even cool and innocent blood,
even with a touch, that she said to herself, "And if I marry, and then
. . . Where will honour be then? I marry him to be true to my word of
honour, and if then . . . !" An intolerable languor caused her to sigh
profoundly. It is written as she thought it; she thought in blanks, as
girls do, and some women. A shadow of the male Egoist is in the chamber
of their brains overawing them.

"Were I to marry, and to run!" There is the thought; she is offered up
to your mercy. We are dealing with a girl feeling herself desperately
situated, and not a fool.

"I'm sure you're dead tired, though," said Crossjay.

"No, I am not; what makes you think so?" said Clara.

"I do think so."

"But why do you think so?"

"You're so hot."

"What makes you think that?"

"You're so red."

"So are you, Crossjay."

"I'm only red in the middle of the cheeks, except when I've been
running. And then you talk to yourself, just as boys do when they are
blown."

"Do they?"

"They say: 'I know I could have kept up longer', or, 'my buckle broke',
all to themselves, when they break down running."

"And you have noticed that?"

"And, Miss Middleton, I don't wish you were a boy, but I should like to
live near you all my life and be a gentleman. I'm coming with Miss Dale
this evening to stay at the Hall and be looked after, instead of
stopping with her cousin who takes care of her father. Perhaps you and
I'll play chess at night."

"At night you will go to bed, Crossjay."

"Not if I have Sir Willoughby to catch hold of. He says I'm an
authority on birds' eggs. I can manage rabbits and poultry. Isn't a
farmer a happy man? But he doesn't marry ladies. A cavalry officer has
the best chance."

"But you are going to be a naval officer."

"I don't know. It's not positive. I shall bring my two dormice, and
make them perform gymnastics on the dinnertable. They're such dear
little things. Naval officers are not like Sir Willoughby."

"No, they are not," said Clara, "they give their lives to their
country."

"And then they're dead," said Crossjay.

Clara wished Sir Willoughby were confronting her: she could have
spoken.

She asked the boy where Mr. Whitford was. Crossjay pointed very
secretly in the direction of the double-blossom wild-cherry. Coming
within gaze of the stem, she beheld Vernon stretched at length,
reading, she supposed; asleep, she discovered: his finger in the leaves
of a book; and what book? She had a curiosity to know the title of the
book he would read beneath these boughs, and grasping Crossjay's hand
fast she craned her neck, as one timorous of a fall in peeping over
chasms, for a glimpse of the page; but immediately, and still with a
bent head, she turned her face to where the load of virginal blossom,
whiter than summer-cloud on the sky, showered and drooped and clustered
so thick as to claim colour and seem, like higher Alpine snows in
noon-sunlight, a flush of white. From deep to deeper heavens of white,
her eyes perched and soared. Wonder lived in her. Happiness in the
beauty of the tree pressed to supplant it, and was more mortal and
narrower. Reflection came, contracting her vision and weighing her to
earth. Her reflection was: "He must be good who loves to be and sleep
beneath the branches of this tree!" She would rather have clung to her
first impression: wonder so divine, so unbounded, was like soaring into
homes of angel-crowded space, sweeping through folded and on to folded
white fountain-bow of wings, in innumerable columns; but the thought of
it was no recovery of it; she might as well have striven to be a child.
The sensation of happiness promised to be less short-lived in memory,
and would have been had not her present disease of the longing for
happiness ravaged every corner of it for the secret of its existence.
The reflection took root. "He must be good . . . !" That reflection
vowed to endure. Poor by comparison with what it displaced, it
presented itself to her as conferring something on him, and she would
not have had it absent though it robbed her.

She looked down. Vernon was dreamily looking up.

She plucked Crossjay hurriedly away, whispering that he had better not
wake Mr. Whitford, and then she proposed to reverse their previous
chase, and she be the hound and he the hare. Crossjay fetched a
magnificent start. On his glancing behind he saw Miss Middleton walking
listlessly, with a hand at her side.

"There's a regular girl!" said he in some disgust; for his theory was,
that girls always have something the matter with them to spoil a game.



CHAPTER XII

MISS MIDDLETON AND MR. VERNON WHITFORD

Looking upward, not quite awakened out of a transient doze, at a fair
head circled in dazzling blossom, one may temporize awhile with common
sense, and take it for a vision after the eyes have regained direction
of the mind. Vernon did so until the plastic vision interwound with
reality alarmingly. This is the embrace of a Melusine who will soon
have the brain if she is encouraged. Slight dalliance with her makes
the very diminutive seem as big as life. He jumped to his feet, rattled
his throat, planted firmness on his brows and mouth, and attacked the
dream-giving earth with tremendous long strides, that his blood might
be lively at the throne of understanding. Miss Middleton and young
Crossjay were within hail: it was her face he had seen, and still the
idea of a vision, chased from his reasonable wits, knocked hard and
again for readmission. There was little for a man of humble mind
toward the sex to think of in the fact of a young lady's bending rather
low to peep at him asleep, except that the poise of her slender figure,
between an air of spying and of listening, vividly recalled his
likening of her to the Mountain Echo. Man or maid sleeping in the open
air provokes your tiptoe curiosity. Men, it is known, have in that
state cruelly been kissed; and no rights are bestowed on them, they are
teased by a vapourish rapture; what has happened to them the poor
fellows barely divine: they have a crazy step from that day. But a
vision is not so distracting; it is our own, we can put it aside and
return to it, play at rich and poor with it, and are not to be summoned
before your laws and rules for secreting it in our treasury. Besides,
it is the golden key of all the possible; new worlds expand beneath the
dawn it brings us. Just outside reality, it illumines, enriches and
softens real things;--and to desire it in preference to the simple fact
is a damning proof of enervation.

Such was Vernon's winding up of his brief drama of fantasy. He was
aware of the fantastical element in him and soon had it under. Which
of us who is of any worth is without it? He had not much vanity to
trouble him, and passion was quiet, so his task was not gigantic.
Especially be it remarked, that he was a man of quick pace, the
sovereign remedy for the dispersing of the mental fen-mist. He had
tried it and knew that nonsense is to be walked off.

Near the end of the park young Crossjay overtook him, and after acting
the pumped one a trifle more than needful, cried: "I say, Mr. Whitford,
there's Miss Middleton with her handkerchief out."

"What for, my lad?" said Vernon.

"I'm sure I don't know. All of a sudden she bumped down. And, look what
fellows girls are!--here she comes as if nothing had happened, and I
saw her feel at her side."

Clara was shaking her head to express a denial. "I am not at all
unwell," she said, when she came near. "I guessed Crossjay's business
in running up to you; he's a good-for-nothing, officious boy. I was
tired, and rested for a moment."

Crossjay peered at her eyelids. Vernon looked away and said: "Are you
too tired for a stroll?"

"Not now."

"Shall it be brisk?"

"You have the lead."

He led at a swing of the legs that accelerated young Crossjay's to the
double, but she with her short, swift, equal steps glided along easily
on a fine by his shoulder, and he groaned to think that of all the
girls of earth this one should have been chosen for the position of
fine lady.

"You won't tire me," said she, in answer to his look.

"You remind me of the little Piedmontese Bersaglieri on the march."

"I have seen them trotting into Como from Milan."

"They cover a quantity of ground in a day, if the ground's flat. You
want another sort of step for the mountains."

"I should not attempt to dance up."

"They soon tame romantic notions of them."

"The mountains tame luxurious dreams, you mean. I see how they are
conquered. I can plod. Anything to be high up!"

"Well, there you have the secret of good work: to plod on and still
keep the passion fresh."

"Yes, when we have an aim in view."

"We always have one."

"Captives have?"

"More than the rest of us."

Ignorant man! What of wives miserably wedded? What aim in view have
these most woeful captives? Horror shrouds it, and shame reddens
through the folds to tell of innermost horror.

"Take me back to the mountains, if you please, Mr. Whitford," Miss
Middleton said, fallen out of sympathy with him. "Captives have death
in view, but that is not an aim."

"Why may not captives expect a release?"

"Hardly from a tyrant."

"If you are thinking of tyrants, it may be so. Say the tyrant dies?"

"The prison-gates are unlocked and out comes a skeleton. But why will
you talk of skeletons! The very name of mountain seems life in
comparison with any other subject."

"I assure you," said Vernon, with the fervour of a man lighting on an
actual truth in his conversation with a young lady, "it's not the first
time I have thought you would be at home in the Alps. You would walk
and climb as well as you dance."

She liked to hear Clara Middleton talked of, and of her having been
thought of, and giving him friendly eyes, barely noticing that he was
in a glow, she said: "If you speak so encouragingly I shall fancy we
are near an ascent."

"I wish we were," said he.

"We can realize it by dwelling on it, don't you think?"

"We can begin climbing."

"Oh!" she squeezed herself shadowily.

"Which mountain shall it be?" said Vernon, in the right real earnest
tone.

Miss Middleton suggested a lady's mountain first, for a trial. "And
then, if you think well enough of me--if I have not stumbled more than
twice, or asked more than ten times how far it is from the top, I
should like to be promoted to scale a giant."

They went up to some of the lesser heights of Switzerland and Styria,
and settled in South Tyrol, the young lady preferring this district for
the strenuous exercise of her climbing powers because she loved Italian
colour; and it seemed an exceedingly good reason to the genial
imagination she had awakened in Mr. Whitford. "Though," said he,
abruptly, "you are not so much Italian as French."

She hoped she was English, she remarked.

"Of course you are English; . . . yes." He moderated his ascent with
the halting affirmative.

She inquired wonderingly why he spoke in apparent hesitation.

"Well, you have French feet, for example: French wits, French
impatience," he lowered his voice, "and charm"

"And love of compliments."

"Possibly. I was not conscious of paying them"

"And a disposition to rebel?"

"To challenge authority, at least."

"That is a dreadful character."

"At all events, it is a character."

"Fit for an Alpine comrade?"

"For the best of comrades anywhere."

"It is not a piece of drawing-room sculpture: that is the most one can
say for it!" she dropped a dramatic sigh.

Had he been willing she would have continued the theme, for the
pleasure a poor creature long gnawing her sensations finds in seeing
herself from the outside. It fell away. After a silence, she could not
renew it; and he was evidently indifferent, having to his own
satisfaction dissected and stamped her a foreigner. With it passed her
holiday. She had forgotten Sir Willoughby: she remembered him and said.
"You knew Miss Durham, Mr. Whitford?"

He answered briefly, "I did."

"Was she? . . ." some hot-faced inquiry peered forth and withdrew.

"Very handsome," said Vernon.

"English?"

"Yes; the dashing style of English."

"Very courageous."

"I dare say she had a kind of courage."

"She did very wrong."

"I won't say no. She discovered a man more of a match with herself;
luckily not too late. We're at the mercy . . ."

"Was she not unpardonable?"

"I should be sorry to think that of any one."

"But you agree that she did wrong."

"I suppose I do. She made a mistake and she corrected it. If she had
not, she would have made a greater mistake."

"The manner. . ."

"That was bad--as far as we know. The world has not much right to
judge. A false start must now and then be made. It's better not to take
notice of it, I think."

"What is it we are at the mercy of?"

"Currents of feeling, our natures. I am the last man to preach on the
subject: young ladies are enigmas to me; I fancy they must have a
natural perception of the husband suitable to them, and the reverse;
and if they have a certain degree of courage, it follows that they
please themselves."

"They are not to reflect on the harm they do?" said Miss Middleton.

"By all means let them reflect; they hurt nobody by doing that."

"But a breach of faith!"

"If the faith can be kept through life, all's well."

"And then there is the cruelty, the injury!"

"I really think that if a young lady came to me to inform me she must
break our engagement--I have never been put to the proof, but to
suppose it:--I should not think her cruel."

"Then she would not be much of a loss."

"And I should not think so for this reason, that it is impossible for a
girl to come to such a resolution without previously showing signs of
it to her . . . the man she is engaged to. I think it unfair to engage
a girl for longer than a week or two, just time enough for her
preparations and publications."

"If he is always intent on himself, signs are likely to be unheeded by
him," said Miss Middleton.

He did not answer, and she said, quickly:

"It must always be a cruelty. The world will think so. It is an act of
inconstancy."

"If they knew one another well before they were engaged."

"Are you not singularly tolerant?" said she.

To which Vernon replied with airy cordiality:--

"In some cases it is right to judge by results; we'll leave severity to
the historian, who is bound to be a professional moralist and put pleas
of human nature out of the scales. The lady in question may have been
to blame, but no hearts were broken, and here we have four happy
instead of two miserable."

His persecuting geniality of countenance appealed to her to confirm
this judgement by results, and she nodded and said: "Four," as the
awe-stricken speak.

From that moment until young Crossjay fell into the green-rutted lane
from a tree, and was got on his legs half stunned, with a hanging lip
and a face like the inside of a flayed eel-skin, she might have been
walking in the desert, and alone, for the pleasure she had in society.

They led the fated lad home between them, singularly drawn together by
their joint ministrations to him, in which her delicacy had to stand
fire, and sweet good-nature made naught of any trial. They were hand in
hand with the little fellow as physician and professional nurse.



CHAPTER XIII

THE FIRST EFFORT AFTER FREEDOM

Crossjay's accident was only another proof, as Vernon told Miss Dale,
that the boy was but half monkey.

"Something fresh?" she exclaimed on seeing him brought into the Hall,
where she had just arrived.

"Simply a continuation," said Vernon. "He is not so prehensile as he
should be. He probably in extremity relies on the tail that has been
docked. Are you a man, Crossjay?"

"I should think I was!" Crossjay replied, with an old man's voice, and
a ghastly twitch for a smile overwhelmed the compassionate ladies.

Miss Dale took possession of him. "You err in the other direction," she
remarked to Vernon.

"But a little bracing roughness is better than spoiling him." said Miss
Middleton.

She did not receive an answer, and she thought: "Whatever Willoughby
does is right, to this lady!"

Clara's impression was renewed when Sir Willoughby sat beside Miss Dale
in the evening; and certainly she had never seen him shine so
picturesquely as in his bearing with Miss Dale. The sprightly sallies
of the two, their rallyings, their laughter, and her fine eyes, and his
handsome gestures, won attention like a fencing match of a couple keen
with the foils to display the mutual skill. And it was his design that
she should admire the display; he was anything but obtuse; enjoying the
match as he did and necessarily did to act so excellent a part in it,
he meant the observer to see the man he was with a lady not of raw
understanding. So it went on from day to day for three days.

She fancied once that she detected the agreeable stirring of the brood
of jealousy, and found it neither in her heart nor in her mind, but in
the book of wishes, well known to the young where they write matter
which may sometimes be independent of both those volcanic albums.
Jealousy would have been a relief to her, a dear devil's aid. She
studied the complexion of jealousy to delude herself with the sense of
the spirit being in her, and all the while she laughed, as at a vile
theatre whereof the imperfection of the stage machinery rather than the
performance is the wretched source of amusement.

Vernon had deeply depressed her. She was hunted by the figure 4. Four
happy instead of two miserable. He had said it, involving her among the
four; and so it must be, she considered, and she must be as happy as
she could; for not only was he incapable of perceiving her state, he
was unable to imagine other circumstances to surround her. How, to be
just to him, were they imaginable by him or any one?

Her horrible isolation of secrecy in a world amiable in
unsuspectingness frightened her. To fling away her secret, to conform,
to be unrebellious, uncritical, submissive, became an impatient desire;
and the task did not appear so difficult since Miss Dale's arrival.
Endearments had been rare, more formal; living bodily untroubled and
unashamed, and, as she phrased it, having no one to care for her, she
turned insensibly in the direction where she was due; she slightly
imitated Miss Dale's colloquial responsiveness. To tell truth, she felt
vivacious in a moderate way with Willoughby after seeing him with Miss
Dale. Liberty wore the aspect of a towering prison-wall; the desperate
undertaking of climbing one side and dropping to the other was more
than she, unaided, could resolve on; consequently, as no one cared for
her, a worthless creature might as well cease dreaming and stipulating
for the fulfilment of her dreams; she might as well yield to her fate;
nay, make the best of it.

Sir Willoughby was flattered and satisfied. Clara's adopted vivacity
proved his thorough knowledge of feminine nature; nor did her
feebleness in sustaining it displease him. A steady look of hers had of
late perplexed the man, and he was comforted by signs of her
inefficiency where he excelled. The effort and the failure were both of
good omen.

But she could not continue the effort. He had overweighted her too much
for the mimicry of a sentiment to harden and have an apparently natural
place among her impulses; and now an idea came to her that he might, it
might be hoped, possibly see in Miss Dale, by present contrast, the
mate he sought; by contrast with an unanswering creature like herself,
he might perhaps realize in Miss Dale's greater accomplishments and her
devotion to him the merit of suitability; he might be induced to do her
justice. Dim as the loop-hole was, Clara fixed her mind on it till it
gathered light. And as a prelude to action, she plunged herself into a
state of such profound humility, that to accuse it of being simulated
would be venturesome, though it was not positive. The tempers of the
young are liquid fires in isles of quicksand; the precious metals not
yet cooled in a solid earth. Her compassion for Laetitia was less
forced, but really she was almost as earnest in her self-abasement, for
she had not latterly been brilliant, not even adequate to the ordinary
requirements of conversation. She had no courage, no wit, no diligence,
nothing that she could distinguish save discontentment like a corroding
acid, and she went so far in sincerity as with a curious shift of
feeling to pity the man plighted to her. If it suited her purpose to
pity Sir Willoughby, she was not moved by policy, be assured; her needs
were her nature, her moods her mind; she had the capacity to make
anything serve her by passing into it with the glance which discerned
its usefulness; and this is how it is that the young, when they are in
trouble, without approaching the elevation of scientific hypocrites,
can teach that able class lessons in hypocrisy.

"Why should not Willoughby be happy?" she said; and the exclamation was
pushed forth by the second thought: "Then I shall be free!" Still that
thought came second.

The desire for the happiness of Willoughby was fervent on his behalf
and wafted her far from friends and letters to a narrow Tyrolean
valley, where a shallow river ran, with the indentations of a remotely
seen army of winding ranks in column, topaz over the pebbles to hollows
of ravishing emerald. There sat Liberty, after her fearful leap over
the prison-wall, at peace to watch the water and the falls of sunshine
on the mountain above, between descending pine-stem shadows. Clara's
wish for his happiness, as soon as she had housed herself in the
imagination of her freedom, was of a purity that made it seem
exceedingly easy for her to speak to him.

The opportunity was offered by Sir Willoughby. Every morning after
breakfast Miss Dale walked across the park to see her father, and on
this occasion Sir Willoughby and Miss Middleton went with her as far as
the lake, all three discoursing of the beauty of various trees,
birches, aspens, poplars, beeches, then in their new green. Miss Dale
loved the aspen, Miss Middleton the beech, Sir Willoughby the birch,
and pretty things were said by each in praise of the favoured object,
particularly by Miss Dale. So much so that when she had gone on he
recalled one of her remarks, and said: "I believe, if the whole place
were swept away to-morrow, Laetitia Dale could reconstruct it and put
those aspens on the north of the lake in number and situation correctly
where you have them now. I would guarantee her description of it in
absence correct."

"Why should she be absent?" said Clara, palpitating.

"Well, why!" returned Sir Willoughby. "As you say, there is no reason
why. The art of life, and mine will be principally a country life--town
is not life, but a tornado whirling atoms--the art is to associate a
group of sympathetic friends in our neighbourhood; and it is a fact
worth noting that if ever I feel tired of the place, a short talk with
Laetitia Dale refreshes it more than a month or two on the Continent.
She has the well of enthusiasm. And there is a great advantage in
having a cultivated person at command, with whom one can chat of any
topic under the sun. I repeat, you have no need of town if you have
friends like Laetitia Dale within call. My mother esteemed her highly."

"Willoughby, she is not obliged to go."

"I hope not. And, my love, I rejoice that you have taken to her. Her
father's health is poor. She would be a young spinster to live alone in
a country cottage."

"What of your scheme?"

"Old Vernon is a very foolish fellow."

"He has declined?"

"Not a word on the subject! I have only to propose it to be snubbed, I
know."

"You may not be aware how you throw him into the shade with her."

"Nothing seems to teach him the art of dialogue with ladies."

"Are not gentlemen shy when they see themselves outshone?"

"He hasn't it, my love: Vernon is deficient in the lady's tongue."

"I respect him for that."

"Outshone, you say? I do not know of any shining--save to one, who
lights me, path and person!"

The identity of the one was conveyed to her in a bow and a soft
pressure.

"Not only has he not the lady's tongue, which I hold to be a man's
proper accomplishment," continued Sir Willoughby, "he cannot turn his
advantages to account. Here has Miss Dale been with him now four days
in the house. They are exactly on the same footing as when she entered
it. You ask? I will tell you. It is this: it is want of warmth. Old
Vernon is a scholar--and a fish. Well, perhaps he has cause to be shy
of matrimony; but he is a fish."

"You are reconciled to his leaving you?"

"False alarm! The resolution to do anything unaccustomed is quite
beyond old Vernon."

"But if Mr. Oxford--Whitford . . . your swans coming sailing up the
lake, how beautiful they look when they are indignant! I was going to
ask you, surely men witnessing a marked admiration for some one else
will naturally be discouraged?"

Sir Willoughby stiffened with sudden enlightenment.

Though the word jealousy had not been spoken, the drift of her
observations was clear. Smiling inwardly, he said, and the sentences
were not enigmas to her: "Surely, too, young ladies . . . a
little?--Too far? But an old friendship! About the same as the fitting
of an old glove to a hand. Hand and glove have only to meet. Where
there is natural harmony you would not have discord. Ay, but you have
it if you check the harmony. My dear girl! You child!"

He had actually, in this parabolic, and commendable, obscureness, for
which she thanked him in her soul, struck the very point she had not
named and did not wish to hear named, but wished him to strike; he was
anything but obtuse. His exultation, of the compressed sort, was
extreme, on hearing her cry out:

"Young ladies may be. Oh! not I, not I. I can convince you. Not that.
Believe me, Willoughby. I do not know what it is to feel that, or
anything like it. I cannot conceive a claim on any one's life--as a
claim: or the continuation of an engagement not founded on perfect,
perfect sympathy. How should I feel it, then? It is, as you say of Mr.
Ox--Whitford, beyond me."

Sir Willoughby caught up the Ox--Whitford.

Bursting with laughter in his joyful pride, he called it a portrait of
old Vernon in society. For she thought a trifle too highly of Vernon,
as here and there a raw young lady does think of the friends of her
plighted man, which is waste of substance properly belonging to him, as
it were, in the loftier sense, an expenditure in genuflexions to
wayside idols of the reverence she should bring intact to the temple.
Derision instructs her.

Of the other subject--her jealousy--he had no desire to hear more. She
had winced: the woman had been touched to smarting in the girl: enough.
She attempted the subject once, but faintly, and his careless parrying
threw her out. Clara could have bitten her tongue for that reiterated
stupid slip on the name of Whitford; and because she was innocent at
heart she persisted in asking herself how she could be guilty of it.

"You both know the botanic titles of these wild flowers," she said.

"Who?" he inquired.

"You and Miss Dale."

Sir Willoughby shrugged. He was amused.

"No woman on earth will grace a barouche so exquisitely as my Clara."

"Where?" said she.

"During our annual two months in London. I drive a barouche there, and
venture to prophesy that my equipage will create the greatest
excitement of any in London. I see old Horace De Craye gazing!"

She sighed. She could not drag him to the word, or a hint of it
necessary to her subject.

But there it was; she saw it. She had nearly let it go, and blushed at
being obliged to name it.

"Jealousy, do you mean. Willoughby? the people in London would be
jealous?--Colonel De Craye? How strange! That is a sentiment I cannot
understand."

Sir Willoughby gesticulated the "Of course not" of an established
assurance to the contrary.

"Indeed, Willoughby, I do not."

"Certainly not."

He was now in her trap. And he was imagining himself to be anatomizing
her feminine nature.

"Can I give you a proof, Willoughby? I am so utterly incapable of it
that--listen to me--were you to come to me to tell me, as you might,
how much better suited to you Miss Dale has appeared than I am--and I
fear I am not; it should be spoken plainly; unsuited altogether,
perhaps--I would, I beseech you to believe--you must believe me--give
you . . . give you your freedom instantly; most truly; and engage to
speak of you as I should think of you. Willoughby, you would have no
one to praise you in public and in private as I should, for you would
be to me the most honest, truthful, chivalrous gentleman alive. And in
that case I would undertake to declare that she would not admire you
more than I; Miss Dale would not; she would not admire you more than I;
not even Miss Dale."

This, her first direct leap for liberty, set Clara panting, and so much
had she to say that the nervous and the intellectual halves of her
dashed like cymbals, dazing and stunning her with the appositeness of
things to be said, and dividing her in indecision as to the cunningest
to move him of the many pressing.

The condition of feminine jealousy stood revealed.

He had driven her farther than he intended.

"Come, let me allay these . . ." he soothed her with hand and voice,
while seeking for his phrase; "these magnified pinpoints. Now, my
Clara! on my honour! and when I put it forward in attestation, my
honour has the most serious meaning speech can have; ordinarily my word
has to suffice for bonds, promises, or asseverations; on my honour! not
merely is there, my poor child! no ground of suspicion, I assure you,
I declare to you, the fact of the case is the very reverse. Now, mark
me; of her sentiments I cannot pretend to speak; I did not, to my
knowledge, originate, I am not responsible for them, and I am, before
the law, as we will say, ignorant of them; that is, I have never heard
a declaration of them, and I, am, therefore, under pain of the stigma
of excessive fatuity, bound to be non-cognizant. But as to myself I can
speak for myself and, on my honour! Clara--to be as direct as
possible, even to baldness, and you know I loathe it--I could not, I
repeat, I could not marry Laetitia Dale! Let me impress it on you. No
flatteries--we are all susceptible more or less--no conceivable
condition could bring it about; no amount of admiration. She and I are
excellent friends; we cannot be more. When you see us together, the
natural concord of our minds is of course misleading. She is a woman of
genius. I do not conceal, I profess my admiration of her. There are
times when, I confess, I require a Laetitia Dale to bring me out, give
and take. I am indebted to her for the enjoyment of the duet few know,
few can accord with, fewer still are allowed the privilege of playing
with a human being. I am indebted, I own, and I feel deep gratitude; I
own to a lively friendship for Miss Dale, but if she is displeasing in
the sight of my bride by . . . by the breadth of an eyelash, then
. . ."

Sir Willoughby's arm waved Miss Dale off away into outer darkness in
the wilderness.

Clara shut her eyes and rolled her eyeballs in a frenzy of unuttered
revolt from the Egoist.

But she was not engaged in the colloquy to be an advocate of Miss Dale
or of common humanity.

"Ah!" she said, simply determining that the subject should not drop.

"And, ah!" he mocked her tenderly. "True, though! And who knows better
than my Clara that I require youth, health, beauty, and the other
undefinable attributes fitting with mine and beseeming the station of
the lady called to preside over my household and represent me? What
says my other self? my fairer? But you are! my love, you are!
Understand my nature rightly, and you . . . "

"I do! I do!" interposed Clara; "if I did not by this time I should be
idiotic. Let me assure you, I understand it. Oh! listen to me: one
moment. Miss Dale regards me as the happiest woman on earth.
Willoughby, if I possessed her good qualities, her heart and mind, no
doubt I should be. It is my wish--you must hear me, hear me out--my
wish, my earnest wish, my burning prayer, my wish to make way for her.
She appreciates you: I do not--to my shame, I do not. She worships you:
I do not, I cannot. You are the rising sun to her. It has been so for
years. No one can account for love; I daresay not for the impossibility
of loving . . . loving where we should; all love bewilders me. I was
not created to understand it. But she loves you, she has pined. I
believe it has destroyed the health you demand as one item in your
list. But you, Willoughby, can restore that. Travelling, and . . . and
your society, the pleasure of your society would certainly restore it.
You look so handsome together! She has unbounded devotion! as for me, I
cannot idolize. I see faults: I see them daily. They astonish and wound
me. Your pride would not bear to hear them spoken of, least of all by
your wife. You warned me to beware--that is, you said, you said
something."

Her busy brain missed the subterfuge to cover her slip of the tongue.

Sir Willoughby struck in: "And when I say that the entire concatenation
is based on an erroneous observation of facts, and an erroneous
deduction from that erroneous observation!--? No, no. Have confidence
in me. I propose it to you in this instance, purely to save you from
deception. You are cold, my love? you shivered."

"I am not cold," said Clara. "Some one, I suppose, was walking over my
grave."

The gulf of a caress hove in view like an enormous billow hollowing
under the curled ridge.

She stooped to a buttercup; the monster swept by.

"Your grave!" he exclaimed over her head; "my own girl!"

"Is not the orchid naturally a stranger in ground so far away from the
chalk, Willoughby?"

"I am incompetent to pronounce an opinion on such important matters. My
mother had a passion for every description of flower. I fancy I have
some recollection of her scattering the flower you mention over the
park."

"If she were living now!"

"We should be happy in the blessing of the most estimable of women, my
Clara."

"She would have listened to me. She would have realized what I mean."

"Indeed, Clara--poor soul!" he murmured to himself, aloud; "indeed you
are absolutely in error. If I have seemed--but I repeat, you are
deceived. The idea of 'fitness' is a total hallucination. Supposing
you--I do it even in play painfully--entirely out of the way,
unthought of. . ."

"Extinct," Clara said low.

"Non-existent for me," he selected a preferable term. "Suppose it; I
should still, in spite of an admiration I have never thought it
incumbent on me to conceal, still be--I speak emphatically--utterly
incapable of the offer of my hand to Miss Dale. It may be that she is
embedded in my mind as a friend, and nothing but a friend. I received
the stamp in early youth. People have noticed it--we do, it seems,
bring one another out, reflecting, counter-reflecting."

She glanced up at him with a shrewd satisfaction to see that her wicked
shaft had stuck.

"You do; it is a common remark," she said. "The instantaneous
difference when she comes near, any one might notice."

"My love," he opened the iron gate into the garden, "you encourage the
naughty little suspicion."

"But it is a beautiful sight, Willoughby. I like to see you together. I
like it as I like to see colours match."

"Very well. There is no harm then. We shall often be together. I like
my fair friend. But the instant!--you have only to express a sentiment
of disapprobation."

"And you dismiss her."

"I dismiss her. That is, as to the word, I constitute myself your echo,
to clear any vestige of suspicion. She goes."

"That is a case of a person doomed to extinction without offending."

"Not without: for whoever offends my bride, my wife, my sovereign lady,
offends me: very deeply offends me."

"Then the caprices of your wife . . ." Clara stamped her foot
imperceptibly on the lawn-sward, which was irresponsively soft to her
fretfulness. She broke from the inconsequent meaningless mild tone of
irony, and said: "Willoughby, women have their honour to swear by
equally with men:--girls have: they have to swear an oath at the altar;
may I to you now? Take it for uttered when I tell you that nothing
would make me happier than your union with Miss Dale. I have spoken as
much as I can. Tell me you release me."

With the well-known screw-smile of duty upholding weariness worn to
inanition, he rejoined: "Allow me once more to reiterate, that it is
repulsive, inconceivable, that I should ever, under any mortal
conditions, bring myself to the point of taking Miss Dale for my wife.
You reduce me to this perfectly childish protestation--pitiably
childish! But, my love, have I to remind you that you and I are
plighted, and that I am an honourable man?"

"I know it, I feel it--release me!" cried Clara.

Sir Willoughby severely reprehended his short-sightedness for seeing
but the one proximate object in the particular attention he had
bestowed on Miss Dale. He could not disavow that they had been marked,
and with an object, and he was distressed by the unwonted want of
wisdom through which he had been drawn to overshoot his object. His
design to excite a touch of the insane emotion in Clara's bosom was too
successful, and, "I was not thinking of her," he said to himself in his
candour, contrite.

She cried again: "Will you not, Willoughby--release me?"

He begged her to take his arm.

To consent to touch him while petitioning for a detachment, appeared
discordant to Clara, but, if she expected him to accede, it was right
that she should do as much as she could, and she surrendered her hand
at arm's length, disdaining the imprisoned fingers. He pressed them and
said: "Dr Middleton is in the library. I see Vernon is at work with
Crossjay in the West-room--the boy has had sufficient for the day.
Now, is it not like old Vernon to drive his books at a cracked head
before it's half mended?"

He signalled to young Crossjay, who was up and out through the folding
windows in a twinkling.

"And you will go in, and talk to Vernon of the lady in question," Sir
Willoughby whispered to Clara. "Use your best persuasions in our joint
names. You have my warrant for saying that money is no consideration;
house and income are assured. You can hardly have taken me seriously
when I requested you to undertake Vernon before. I was quite in earnest
then as now. I prepare Miss Dale. I will not have a wedding on our
wedding-day; but either before or after it, I gladly speed their
alliance. I think now I give you the best proof possible, and though I
know that with women a delusion may be seen to be groundless and still
be cherished, I rely on your good sense."

Vernon was at the window and stood aside for her to enter. Sir
Willoughby used a gentle insistence with her. She bent her head as if
she were stepping into a cave. So frigid was she, that a ridiculous
dread of calling Mr. Whitford Mr. Oxford was her only present anxiety
when Sir Willoughby had closed the window on them.



CHAPTER XIV

SIR WILLOUGHBY AND LAETITIA

"I prepare Miss Dale."

Sir Willoughby thought of his promise to Clara. He trifled awhile with
young Crossjay, and then sent the boy flying, and wrapped himself in
meditation. So shall you see standing many a statue of statesmen who
have died in harness for their country.

In the hundred and fourth chapter of the thirteenth volume of the Book
of Egoism it is written: Possession without obligation to the object
possessed approaches felicity.

It is the rarest condition of ownership. For example: the possession of
land is not without obligation both to the soil and the tax-collector;
the possession of fine clothing is oppressed by obligation; gold,
jewelry, works of art, enviable household furniture, are positive
fetters; the possession of a wife we find surcharged with obligation.
In all these cases possession is a gentle term for enslavement,
bestowing the sort of felicity attained to by the helot drunk. You can
have the joy, the pride, the intoxication of possession; you can have
no free soul.

But there is one instance of possession, and that the most perfect,
which leaves us free, under not a shadow of obligation, receiving ever,
never giving, or if giving, giving only of our waste; as it were (sauf
votre respect), by form of perspiration, radiation, if you like;
unconscious poral bountifulness; and it is a beneficent process for the
system. Our possession of an adoring female's worship is this instance.

The soft cherishable Parsee is hardly at any season other than
prostrate. She craves nothing save that you continue in being--her
sun: which is your firm constitutional endeavour: and thus you have a
most exact alliance; she supplying spirit to your matter, while at the
same time presenting matter to your spirit, verily a comfortable
apposition. The Gods do bless it.

That they do so indeed is evident in the men they select for such a
felicitous crown and aureole. Weak men would be rendered nervous by the
flattery of a woman's worship; or they would be for returning it, at
least partially, as though it could be bandied to and fro without
emulgence of the poetry; or they would be pitiful, and quite spoil the
thing. Some would be for transforming the beautiful solitary vestal
flame by the first effort of the multiplication-table into your
hearth-fire of slippered affection. So these men are not they whom the
Gods have ever selected, but rather men of a pattern with themselves,
very high and very solid men, who maintain the crown by holding
divinely independent of the great emotion they have sown.

Even for them a pass of danger is ahead, as we shall see in our sample
of one among the highest of them.

A clear approach to felicity had long been the portion of Sir
Willoughby Patterne in his relations with Laetitia Dale. She belonged
to him; he was quite unshackled by her. She was everything that is good
in a parasite, nothing that is bad. His dedicated critic she was,
reviewing him with a favour equal to perfect efficiency in her office;
and whatever the world might say of him, to her the happy gentleman
could constantly turn for his refreshing balsamic bath. She flew to the
soul in him, pleasingly arousing sensations of that inhabitant; and he
allowed her the right to fly, in the manner of kings, as we have heard,
consenting to the privileges acted on by cats. These may not address
their Majesties, but they may stare; nor will it be contested that the
attentive circular eyes of the humble domestic creatures are an
embellishment to Royal pomp and grandeur, such truly as should one day
gain for them an inweaving and figurement--in the place of bees, ermine
tufts, and their various present decorations--upon the august great
robes back-flowing and foaming over the gaspy page-boys.

Further to quote from the same volume of The Book: There is pain in the
surrendering of that we are fain to relinquish.

The idea is too exquisitely attenuate, as are those of the whole
body-guard of the heart of Egoism, and will slip through you unless you
shall have made a study of the gross of volumes of the first and second
sections of The Book, and that will take you up to senility; or you
must make a personal entry into the pages, perchance; or an escape out
of them. There was once a venerable gentleman for whom a white hair
grew on the cop of his nose, laughing at removals. He resigned himself
to it in the end, and lastingly contemplated the apparition. It does
not concern us what effect was produced on his countenance and his
mind; enough that he saw a fine thing, but not so fine as the idea
cited above; which has been between the two eyes of humanity ever since
women were sought in marriage. With yonder old gentleman it may have
been a ghostly hair or a disease of the optic nerves; but for us it is
a real growth, and humanity might profitably imitate him in his patient
speculation upon it.

Sir Willoughby Patterne, though ready in the pursuit of duty and policy
(an oft-united couple) to cast Miss Dale away, had to consider that he
was not simply, so to speak, casting her over a hedge, he was casting
her for a man to catch her; and this was a much greater trial than it
had been on the previous occasion, when she went over bump to the
ground. In the arms of a husband, there was no knowing how soon she
might forget her soul's fidelity. It had not hurt him to sketch the
project of the conjunction; benevolence assisted him; but he winced and
smarted on seeing it take shape. It sullied his idea of Laetitia.

Still, if, in spite of so great a change in her fortune, her spirit
could be guaranteed changeless, he, for the sake of pacifying his
bride, and to keep two serviceable persons near him, at command, might
resolve to join them. The vision of his resolution brought with it a
certain pallid contempt of the physically faithless woman; no wonder he
betook himself to The Book, and opened it on the scorching chapters
treating of the sex, and the execrable wiles of that foremost creature
of the chase, who runs for life. She is not spared in the Biggest of
Books. But close it.

The writing in it having been done chiefly by men, men naturally
receive their fortification from its wisdom, and half a dozen of the
popular sentences for the confusion of women (cut in brass worn to a
polish like sombre gold), refreshed Sir Willoughby for his undertaking.

An examination of Laetitia's faded complexion braced him very
cordially.

His Clara, jealous of this poor leaf!

He could have desired the transfusion of a quality or two from Laetitia
to his bride; but you cannot, as in cookery, obtain a mixture of the
essences of these creatures; and if, as it is possible to do, and as he
had been doing recently with the pair of them at the Hall, you stew
them in one pot, you are far likelier to intensify their little
birthmarks of individuality. Had they a tendency to excellence it might
be otherwise; they might then make the exchanges we wish for; or
scientifically concocted in a harem for a sufficient length of time by
a sultan anything but obtuse, they might. It is, however, fruitless to
dwell on what was only a glimpse of a wild regret, like the crossing of
two express trains along the rails in Sir Willoughby's head.

The ladies Eleanor and Isabel were sitting with Miss Dale, all three at
work on embroideries. He had merely to look at Miss Eleanor. She rose.
She looked at Miss Isabel, and rattled her chatelaine to account for
her departure. After a decent interval Miss Isabel glided out. Such was
the perfect discipline of the household.

Sir Willoughby played an air on the knee of his crossed leg.

Laetitia grew conscious of a meaning in the silence. She said, "You
have not been vexed by affairs to-day?"

"Affairs," he replied, "must be peculiarly vexatious to trouble me.
Concerning the country or my personal affairs?"

"I fancy I was alluding to the country."

"I trust I am as good a patriot as any man living," said he; "but I am
used to the follies of my countrymen, and we are on board a stout ship.
At the worst it's no worse than a rise in rates and taxes; soup at the
Hall gates, perhaps; license to fell timber in one of the outer copses,
or some dozen loads of coal. You hit my feudalism."

"The knight in armour has gone," said Laetitia, "and the castle with
the draw-bridge. Immunity for our island has gone too since we took to
commerce."

"We bartered independence for commerce. You hit our old controversy.
Ay, but we do not want this overgrown population! However, we will put
politics and sociology and the pack of their modern barbarous words
aside. You read me intuitively. I have been, I will not say annoyed,
but ruffled. I have much to do, and going into Parliament would make me
almost helpless if I lose Vernon. You know of some absurd notion he
has?--literary fame, and bachelor's chambers, and a chop-house, and the
rest of it."

She knew, and thinking differently in the matter of literary fame, she
flushed, and, ashamed of the flush, frowned.

He bent over to her with the perusing earnestness of a gentleman about
to trifle.

"You cannot intend that frown?"

"Did I frown?"

"You do."

"Now?"

"Fiercely."

"Oh!"

"Will you smile to reassure me?"

"Willingly, as well as I can."

A gloom overcame him. With no woman on earth did he shine so as to
recall to himself seigneur and dame of the old French Court as he did
with Laetitia Dale. He did not wish the period revived, but reserved it
as a garden to stray into when he was in the mood for displaying
elegance and brightness in the society of a lady; and in speech
Laetitia helped him to the nice delusion. She was not devoid of grace
of bearing either.

Would she preserve her beautiful responsiveness to his ascendency?
Hitherto she had, and for years, and quite fresh. But how of her as a
married woman? Our souls are hideously subject to the conditions of our
animal nature! A wife, possibly mother, it was within sober calculation
that there would be great changes in her. And the hint of any change
appeared a total change to one of the lofty order who, when they are
called on to relinquish possession instead of aspiring to it, say, All
or nothing!

Well, but if there was danger of the marriage-tie effecting the
slightest alteration of her character or habit of mind, wherefore press
it upon a tolerably hardened spinster!

Besides, though he did once put her hand in Vernon's for the dance, he
remembered acutely that the injury then done by his generosity to his
tender sensitiveness had sickened and tarnished the effulgence of two
or three successive anniversaries of his coming of age. Nor had he
altogether yet got over the passion of greed for the whole group of the
well-favoured of the fair sex, which in his early youth had made it
bitter for him to submit to the fickleness, not to say the modest
fickleness, of any handsome one of them in yielding her hand to a man
and suffering herself to be led away. Ladies whom he had only heard of
as ladies of some beauty incurred his wrath for having lovers or taking
husbands. He was of a vast embrace; and do not exclaim, in
covetousness;--for well he knew that even under Moslem law he could not
have them all--but as the enamoured custodian of the sex's purity,
that blushes at such big spots as lovers and husbands; and it was
unbearable to see it sacrificed for others. Without their purity what
are they!--what are fruiterer's plums?--unsaleable. O for the bloom
on them!

"As I said, I lose my right hand in Vernon," he resumed, "and I am, it
seems, inevitably to lose him, unless we contrive to fasten him down
here. I think, my dear Miss Dale, you have my character. At least, I
should recommend my future biographer to you--with a caution, of
course. You would have to write selfishness with a dash under it. I
cannot endure to lose a member of my household--not under any
circumstances; and a change of feeling toward me on the part of any of
my friends because of marriage, I think hard. I would ask you, how can
it be for Vernon's good to quit an easy pleasant home for the wretched
profession of Literature?--wretchedly paying, I mean," he bowed to the
authoress. "Let him leave the house, if he imagines he will not
harmonize with its young mistress. He is queer, though a good fellow.
But he ought, in that event, to have an establishment. And my scheme
for Vernon--men, Miss Dale, do not change to their old friends when
they marry--my scheme, which would cause the alteration in his system
of life to be barely perceptible, is to build him a poetical little
cottage, large enough for a couple, on the borders of my park. I have
the spot in my eye. The point is, can he live alone there? Men, I say,
do not change. How is it that we cannot say the same of women?"

Laetitia remarked: "The generic woman appears to have an extraordinary
faculty for swallowing the individual."

"As to the individual, as to a particular person, I may be wrong.
Precisely because it is her case I think of, my strong friendship
inspires the fear: unworthy of both, no doubt, but trace it to the
source. Even pure friendship, such is the taint in us, knows a kind of
jealousy; though I would gladly see her established, and near me, happy
and contributing to my happiness with her incomparable social charm.
Her I do not estimate generically, be sure."

"If you do me the honour to allude to me, Sir Willoughby," said
Laetitia, "I am my father's housemate."

"What wooer would take that for a refusal? He would beg to be a third
in the house and sharer of your affectionate burden. Honestly, why
not? And I may be arguing against my own happiness; it may be the end
of me!"

"The end?"

"Old friends are captious, exacting. No, not the end. Yet if my friend
is not the same to me, it is the end to that form of friendship: not to
the degree possibly. But when one is used to the form! And do you, in
its application to friendship, scorn the word 'use'? We are creatures
of custom. I am, I confess, a poltroon in my affections; I dread
changes. The shadow of the tenth of an inch in the customary elevation
of an eyelid!--to give you an idea of my susceptibility. And, my dear
Miss Dale, I throw myself on your charity, with all my weakness bare,
let me add, as I could do to none but you. Consider, then, if I lose
you! The fear is due to my pusillanimity entirely. High-souled women
may be wives, mothers, and still reserve that home for their friend.
They can and will conquer the viler conditions of human life. Our
states, I have always contended, our various phases have to be passed
through, and there is no disgrace in it so long as they do not levy
toll on the quintessential, the spiritual element. You understand me? I
am no adept in these abstract elucidations."

"You explain yourself clearly," said Laetitia.

"I have never pretended that psychology was my forte," said he, feeling
overshadowed by her cold commendation: he was not less acutely
sensitive to the fractional divisions of tones than of eyelids, being,
as it were, a melody with which everything was out of tune that did not
modestly or mutely accord; and to bear about a melody in your person is
incomparably more searching than the best of touchstones and talismans
ever invented. "Your father's health has improved latterly?"

"He did not complain of his health when I saw him this morning. My
cousin Amelia is with him, and she is an excellent nurse."

"He has a liking for Vernon."

"He has a great respect for Mr. Whitford."

"You have?"

"Oh, yes; I have it equally."

"For a foundation, that is the surest. I would have the friends dearest
to me begin on that. The headlong match is--how can we describe it? By
its finale I am afraid. Vernon's abilities are really to be respected.
His shyness is his malady. I suppose he reflected that he was not a
capitalist. He might, one would think, have addressed himself to me; my
purse is not locked."

"No, Sir Willoughby!" Laetitia said, warmly, for his donations in
charity were famous.

Her eyes gave him the food he enjoyed, and basking in them, he
continued:

"Vernon's income would at once have been regulated commensurately with
a new position requiring an increase. This money, money, money! But the
world will have it so. Happily I have inherited habits of business and
personal economy. Vernon is a man who would do fifty times more with a
companion appreciating his abilities and making light of his little
deficiencies. They are palpable, small enough. He has always been aware
of my wishes:--when perhaps the fulfilment might have sent me off on
another tour of the world, homebird though I am. When was it that our
friendship commenced? In my boyhood, I know. Very many years back."

"I am in my thirtieth year," said Laetitia.

Surprised and pained by a baldness resembling the deeds of ladies (they
have been known, either through absence of mind, or mania, to displace
a wig) in the deadly intimacy which slaughters poetic admiration, Sir
Willoughby punished her by deliberately reckoning that she did not look
less.

"Genius," he observed, "is unacquainted with wrinkles"; hardly one of
his prettiest speeches; but he had been wounded, and he never could
recover immediately. Coming on him in a mood of sentiment, the wound
was sharp. He could very well have calculated the lady's age. It was
the jarring clash of her brazen declaration of it upon his low rich
flute-notes that shocked him.

He glanced at the gold cathedral-clock on the mantel-piece, and
proposed a stroll on the lawn before dinner. Laetitia gathered up her
embroidery work.

"As a rule," he said, "authoresses are not needle-women."

"I shall resign the needle or the pen if it stamps me an exception,"
she replied.

He attempted a compliment on her truly exceptional character. As when
the player's finger rests in distraction on the organ, it was without
measure and disgusted his own hearing. Nevertheless, she had been so
good as to diminish his apprehension that the marriage of a lady in her
thirtieth year with his cousin Vernon would be so much of a loss to
him; hence, while parading the lawn, now and then casting an eye at the
window of the room where his Clara and Vernon were in council, the
schemes he indulged for his prospective comfort and his feelings of the
moment were in such striving harmony as that to which we hear
orchestral musicians bringing their instruments under the process
called tuning. It is not perfect, but it promises to be so soon. We are
not angels, which have their dulcimers ever on the choral pitch. We are
mortals attaining the celestial accord with effort, through a stage of
pain. Some degree of pain was necessary to Sir Willoughby, otherwise he
would not have seen his generosity confronting him. He grew,
therefore, tenderly inclined to Laetitia once more, so far as to say
within himself. "For conversation she would be a valuable wife". And
this valuable wife he was presenting to his cousin.

Apparently, considering the duration of the conference of his Clara and
Vernon, his cousin required strong persuasion to accept the present.



CHAPTER XV

THE PETITION FOR A RELEASE

Neither Clara nor Vernon appeared at the mid-day table. Dr. Middleton
talked with Miss Dale on classical matters, like a good-natured giant
giving a child the jump from stone to stone across a brawling mountain
ford, so that an unedified audience might really suppose, upon seeing
her over the difficulty, she had done something for herself. Sir
Willoughby was proud of her, and therefore anxious to settle her
business while he was in the humour to lose her. He hoped to finish it
by shooting a word or two at Vernon before dinner. Clara's petition to
be set free, released from him, had vaguely frightened even more than
it offended his pride.

Miss Isabel quitted the room.

She came back, saying: "They decline to lunch."

"Then we may rise," remarked Sir Willoughby.

"She was weeping," Miss Isabel murmured to him.

"Girlish enough," he said.

The two elderly ladies went away together. Miss Dale, pursuing her
theme with the Rev. Doctor, was invited by him to a course in the
library. Sir Willoughby walked up and down the lawn, taking a glance at
the West-room as he swung round on the turn of his leg. Growing
impatient, he looked in at the window and found the room vacant.

Nothing was to be seen of Clara and Vernon during the afternoon. Near
the dinner-hour the ladies were informed by Miss Middleton's maid that
her mistress was lying down on her bed, too unwell with headache to be
present. Young Crossjay brought a message from Vernon (delayed by
birds' eggs in the delivery), to say that he was off over the hills,
and thought of dining with Dr. Corney.

Sir Willoughby despatched condolences to his bride. He was not well
able to employ his mind on its customary topic, being, like the dome of
a bell, a man of so pervading a ring within himself concerning himself,
that the recollection of a doubtful speech or unpleasant circumstance
touching him closely deranged his inward peace; and as dubious and
unpleasant things will often occur, he had great need of a worshipper,
and was often compelled to appeal to her for signs of antidotal
idolatry. In this instance, when the need of a worshipper was sharply
felt, he obtained no signs at all. The Rev. Doctor had fascinated Miss
Dale; so that, both within and without, Sir Willoughby was uncomforted.
His themes in public were those of an English gentleman; horses, dogs,
game, sport, intrigue, scandal, politics, wines, the manly themes; with
a condescension to ladies' tattle, and approbation of a racy anecdote.
What interest could he possibly take in the Athenian Theatre and the
girl whose flute-playing behind the scenes, imitating the nightingale,
enraptured a Greek audience! He would have suspected a motive in Miss
Dale's eager attentiveness, if the motive could have been conceived.
Besides, the ancients were not decorous; they did not, as we make our
moderns do, write for ladies. He ventured at the dinner-table to
interrupt Dr. Middleton once:--

"Miss Dale will do wisely, I think, sir, by confining herself to your
present edition of the classics."

"That," replied Dr. Middleton, "is the observation of a student of the
dictionary of classical mythology in the English tongue."

"The Theatre is a matter of climate, sir. You will grant me that."

"If quick wits come of climate, it is as you say, sir."

"With us it seems a matter of painful fostering, or the need of it,"
said Miss Dale, with a question to Dr. Middleton, excluding Sir
Willoughby, as though he had been a temporary disturbance of the flow
of their dialogue.

The ladies Eleanor and Isabel, previously excellent listeners to the
learned talk, saw the necessity of coming to his rescue; but you cannot
converse with your aunts, inmates of your house, on general subjects at
table; the attempt increased his discomposure; he considered that he
had ill-chosen his father-in-law; that scholars are an impolite race;
that young or youngish women are devotees of power in any form, and
will be absorbed by a scholar for a variation of a man; concluding that
he must have a round of dinner-parties to friends, especially ladies,
appreciating him, during the Doctor's visit. Clara's headache above,
and Dr. Middleton's unmannerliness below, affected his instincts in a
way to make him apprehend that a stroke of misfortune was impending;
thunder was in the air. Still he learned something, by which he was to
profit subsequently. The topic of wine withdrew the doctor from his
classics; it was magical on him. A strong fraternity of taste was
discovered in the sentiments of host and guest upon particular wines
and vintages; they kindled one another by naming great years of the
grape, and if Sir Willoughby had to sacrifice the ladies to the topic,
he much regretted a condition of things that compelled him to sin
against his habit, for the sake of being in the conversation and
probing an elderly gentleman's foible.

Late at night he heard the house-bell, and meeting Vernon in the hall,
invited him to enter the laboratory and tell him Dr. Corney's last.
Vernon was brief, Corney had not let fly a single anecdote, he said,
and lighted his candle.

"By the way, Vernon, you had a talk with Miss Middleton?"

"She will speak to you to-morrow at twelve."

"To-morrow at twelve?"

"It gives her four-and-twenty hours."

Sir Willoughby determined that his perplexity should be seen; but
Vernon said good-night to him, and was shooting up the stairs before
the dramatic exhibition of surprise had yielded to speech.

Thunder was in the air and a blow coming. Sir Willoughby's instincts
were awake to the many signs, nor, though silenced, were they hushed by
his harping on the frantic excesses to which women are driven by the
passion of jealousy. He believed in Clara's jealousy because he really
had intended to rouse it; under the form of emulation, feebly. He could
not suppose she had spoken of it to Vernon. And as for the seriousness
of her desire to be released from her engagement, that was little
credible. Still the fixing of an hour for her to speak to him after an
interval of four-and-twenty hours, left an opening for the incredible
to add its weight to the suspicious mass; and who would have fancied
Clara Middleton so wild a victim of the intemperate passion! He
muttered to himself several assuaging observations to excuse a young
lady half demented, and rejected them in a lump for their nonsensical
inapplicability to Clara. In order to obtain some sleep, he consented
to blame himself slightly, in the style of the enamoured historian of
erring beauties alluding to their peccadilloes. He had done it to edify
her. Sleep, however, failed him. That an inordinate jealousy argued an
overpowering love, solved his problem until he tried to fit the
proposition to Clara's character. He had discerned nothing southern in
her. Latterly, with the blushing Day in prospect, she had contracted
and frozen. There was no reading either of her or of the mystery.

In the morning, at the breakfast-table, a confession of sleeplessness
was general. Excepting Miss Dale and Dr. Middleton, none had slept a
wink. "I, sir," the Doctor replied to Sir Willoughby, "slept like a
lexicon in your library when Mr. Whitford and I are out of it."

Vernon incidentally mentioned that he had been writing through the
night.

"You fellows kill yourselves," Sir Willoughby reproved him. "For my
part, I make it a principle to get through my work without
self-slaughter."

Clara watched her father for a symptom of ridicule. He gazed mildly on
the systematic worker. She was unable to guess whether she would have
in him an ally or a judge. The latter, she feared. Now that she had
embraced the strife, she saw the division of the line where she stood
from that one where the world places girls who are affianced wives; her
father could hardly be with her; it had gone too far. He loved her, but
he would certainly take her to be moved by a maddish whim; he would not
try to understand her case. The scholar's detestation of a
disarrangement of human affairs that had been by miracle contrived to
run smoothly, would of itself rank him against her; and with the world
to back his view of her, he might behave like a despotic father. How
could she defend herself before him? At one thought of Sir Willoughby,
her tongue made ready, and feminine craft was alert to prompt it; but
to her father she could imagine herself opposing only dumbness and
obstinacy.

"It is not exactly the same kind of work," she said.

Dr Middleton rewarded her with a bushy eyebrow's beam of his revolting
humour at the baronet's notion of work.

So little was needed to quicken her that she sunned herself in the
beam, coaxing her father's eyes to stay with hers as long as she could,
and beginning to hope he might be won to her side, if she confessed she
had been more in the wrong than she felt; owned to him, that is, her
error in not earlier disturbing his peace.

"I do not say it is the same," observed Sir Willoughby, bowing to their
alliance of opinion. "My poor work is for the day, and Vernon's, no
doubt, for the day to come. I contend, nevertheless, for the
preservation of health as the chief implement of work."

"Of continued work; there I agree with you," said Dr. Middleton,
cordially.

Clara's heart sunk; so little was needed to deaden her.

Accuse her of an overweening antagonism to her betrothed; yet remember
that though the words had not been uttered to give her good reason for
it, nature reads nature; captives may be stript of everything save that
power to read their tyrant; remember also that she was not, as she well
knew, blameless; her rage at him was partly against herself.

The rising from table left her to Sir Willoughby. She swam away after
Miss Dale, exclaiming: "The laboratory! Will you have me for a
companion on your walk to see your father? One breathes earth and
heaven to-day out of doors. Isn't it Summer with a Spring Breeze? I
will wander about your garden and not hurry your visit, I promise."

"I shall be very happy indeed. But I am going immediately," said
Laetitia, seeing Sir Willoughby hovering to snap up his bride.

"Yes; and a garden-hat and I am on the march."

"I will wait for you on the terrace."

"You will not have to wait."

"Five minutes at the most," Sir Willoughby said to Laetitia, and she
passed out, leaving them alone together.

"Well, and my love!" he addressed his bride almost huggingly; "and what
is the story? and how did you succeed with old Vernon yesterday? He
will and he won't? He's a very woman in these affairs. I can't forgive
him for giving you a headache. You were found weeping."

"Yes, I cried," said Clara.

"And now tell me about it. You know, my dear girl, whether he does or
doesn't, our keeping him somewhere in the neighbourhood--perhaps not
in the house--that is the material point. It can hardly be necessary in
these days to urge marriages on. I'm sure the country is over . . .
Most marriages ought to be celebrated with the funeral knell!"

"I think so," said Clara.

"It will come to this, that marriages of consequence, and none but
those, will be hailed with joyful peals."

"Do not say such things in public, Willoughby."

"Only to you, to you! Don't think me likely to expose myself to the
world. Well, and I sounded Miss Dale, and there will be no violent
obstacle. And now about Vernon?"

"I will speak to you, Willoughby, when I return from my walk with Miss
Dale, soon after twelve."

"Twelve!" said he

"I name an hour. It seems childish. I can explain it. But it is named,
I cannot deny, because I am a rather childish person perhaps, and have
it prescribed to me to delay my speaking for a certain length of time.
I may tell you at once that Mr. Whitford is not to be persuaded by me,
and the breaking of our engagement would not induce him to remain."

"Vernon used those words?"

"It was I."

"'The breaking of our engagement!' Come into the laboratory, my love."

"I shall not have time."

"Time shall stop rather than interfere with our conversation! 'The
breaking . . .'! But it's a sort of sacrilege to speak of it."

"That I feel; yet it has to be spoken of"

"Sometimes? Why? I can't conceive the occasion. You know, to me, Clara,
plighted faith, the affiancing of two lovers, is a piece of religion. I
rank it as holy as marriage; nay, to me it is holier; I really cannot
tell you how; I can only appeal to you in your bosom to understand me.
We read of divorces with comparative indifference. They occur between
couples who have rubbed off all romance."

She could have asked him in her fit of ironic iciness, on hearing him
thus blindly challenge her to speak out, whether the romance might be
his piece of religion.

He propitiated the more unwarlike sentiments in her by ejaculating,
"Poor souls! let them go their several ways. Married people no longer
lovers are in the category of the unnameable. But the hint of the
breaking of an engagement--our engagement!--between us? Oh!"

"Oh!" Clara came out with a swan's note swelling over mechanical
imitation of him to dolorousness illimitable. "Oh!" she breathed short,
"let it be now. Do not speak till you have heard me. My head may not be
clear by-and-by. And two scenes--twice will be beyond my endurance. I
am penitent for the wrong I have done you. I grieve for you. All the
blame is mine. Willoughby, you must release me. Do not let me hear a
word of that word; jealousy is unknown to me . . . Happy if I could
call you friend and see you with a worthier than I, who might by-and-by
call me friend! You have my plighted troth . . . given in ignorance of
my feelings. Reprobate a weak and foolish girl's ignorance. I have
thought of it, and I cannot see wickedness, though the blame is great,
shameful. You have none. You are without any blame. You will not suffer
as I do. You will be generous to me? I have no respect for myself when
I beg you to be generous and release me."

"But was this the . . ." Willoughby preserved his calmness, "this,
then, the subject of your interview with Vernon?"

"I have spoken to him. I did my commission, and I spoke to him."

"Of me?"

"Of myself. I see how I hurt you; I could not avoid it. Yes, of you, as
far as we are related. I said I believed you would release me. I said
I could be true to my plighted word, but that you would not insist.
Could a gentleman insist? But not a step beyond; not love; I have none.
And, Willoughby, treat me as one perfectly worthless; I am. I should
have known it a year back. I was deceived in myself. There should be
love."

"Should be!" Willoughby's tone was a pungent comment on her.

"Love, then, I find I have not. I think I am antagonistic to it. What
people say of it I have not experienced. I find I was mistaken. It is
lightly said, but very painful. You understand me, that my prayer is
for liberty, that I may not be tied. If you can release and pardon me,
or promise ultimately to pardon me, or say some kind word, I shall know
it is because I am beneath you utterly that I have been unable to give
you the love you should have with a wife. Only say to me, go! It is you
who break the match, discovering my want of a heart. What people think
of me matters little. My anxiety will be to save you annoyance."

She waited for him; he seemed on the verge of speaking.

He perceived her expectation; he had nothing but clownish tumult
within, and his dignity counselled him to disappoint her.

Swaying his head, like the oriental palm whose shade is a blessing to
the perfervid wanderer below, smiling gravely, he was indirectly asking
his dignity what he could say to maintain it and deal this mad young
woman a bitterly compassionate rebuke. What to think, hung remoter. The
thing to do struck him first.

He squeezed both her hands, threw the door wide open, and said, with
countless blinkings: "In the laboratory we are uninterrupted. I was at
a loss to guess where that most unpleasant effect on the senses came
from. They are always 'guessing' through the nose. I mean, the
remainder of breakfast here. Perhaps I satirized them too smartly--if
you know the letters. When they are not 'calculating'. More offensive
than debris of a midnight banquet! An American tour is instructive,
though not so romantic. Not so romantic as Italy, I mean. Let us
escape."

She held back from his arm. She had scattered his brains; it was
pitiable: but she was in the torrent and could not suffer a pause or a
change of place.

"It must be here; one minute more--I cannot go elsewhere to begin
again. Speak to me here; answer my request. Once; one word. If you
forgive me, it will be superhuman. But, release me."

"Seriously," he rejoined, "tea-cups and coffee-cups, breadcrumbs.
egg-shells, caviare, butter, beef, bacon! Can we? The room reeks."

"Then I will go for my walk with Miss Dale. And you will speak to me
when I return?"

"At all seasons. You shall go with Miss Dale. But, my dear! my love!
Seriously, where are we? One hears of lover's quarrels. Now I never
quarrel. It is a characteristic of mine. And you speak of me to my
cousin Vernon! Seriously, plighted faith signifies plighted faith, as
much as an iron-cable is iron to hold by. Some little twist of the
mind? To Vernon, of all men! Tush! she has been dreaming of a hero of
perfection, and the comparison is unfavourable to her Willoughby. But,
my Clara, when I say to you, that bride is bride, and you are mine,
mine!"

"Willoughby, you mentioned them,--those separations of two married. You
said, if they do not love . . . Oh! say, is it not better--instead of
later?"

He took advantage of her modesty in speaking to exclaim. "Where are we
now? Bride is bride, and wife is wife, and affianced is, in honour,
wedded. You cannot be released. We are united. Recognize it; united.
There is no possibility of releasing a wife!"

"Not if she ran . . . ?"

This was too direct to be histrionically misunderstood. He had driven
her to the extremity of more distinctly imagining the circumstance she
had cited, and with that cleared view the desperate creature gloried in
launching such a bolt at the man's real or assumed insensibility as
must, by shivering it, waken him.

But in a moment she stood in burning rose, with dimmed eyesight. She
saw his horror, and, seeing, shared it; shared just then only by seeing
it; which led her to rejoice with the deepest of sighs that some shame
was left in her.

"Ran? ran? ran?" he said as rapidly as he blinked. "How? where? what
idea . . . ?"

Close was he upon an explosion that would have sullied his conception
of the purity of the younger members of the sex hauntingly.

That she, a young lady, maiden, of strictest education, should, and
without his teaching, know that wives ran!--know that by running they
compelled their husbands to abandon pursuit, surrender possession!--and
that she should suggest it of herself as a wife!--that she should
speak of running!

His ideal, the common male Egoist ideal of a waxwork sex, would have
been shocked to fragments had she spoken further to fill in the
outlines of these awful interjections.

She was tempted: for during the last few minutes the fire of her
situation had enlightened her understanding upon a subject far from her
as the ice-fields of the North a short while before; and the prospect
offered to her courage if she would only outstare shame and seem at
home in the doings of wickedness, was his loathing and dreading so vile
a young woman. She restrained herself; chiefly, after the first
bridling of maidenly timidity, because she could not bear to lower the
idea of her sex even in his esteem.

The door was open. She had thoughts of flying out to breathe in an
interval of truce.

She reflected on her situation hurriedly askance:

"If one must go through this, to be disentangled from an engagement,
what must it be to poor women seeking to be free of a marriage?"

Had she spoken it, Sir Willoughby might have learned that she was not
so iniquitously wise of the things of this world as her mere sex's
instinct, roused to the intemperateness of a creature struggling with
fetters, had made her appear in her dash to seize a weapon, indicated
moreover by him.

Clara took up the old broken vow of women to vow it afresh: "Never to
any man will I give my hand."

She replied to Sir Willoughby, "I have said all. I cannot explain what
I have said."

She had heard a step in the passage. Vernon entered.

Perceiving them, he stated his mission in apology: "Doctor Middleton
left a book in this room. I see it; it's a Heinsius."

"Ha! by the way, a book; books would not be left here if they were not
brought here, with my compliments to Doctor Middleton, who may do as he
pleases, though, seriously, order is order," said Sir Willoughby. "Come
away to the laboratory, Clara. It's a comment on human beings that
wherever they have been there's a mess, and you admirers of them," he
divided a sickly nod between Vernon and the stale breakfast-table,
"must make what you can of it. Come, Clara."

Clara protested that she was engaged to walk with Miss Dale.

"Miss Dale is waiting in the hall," said Vernon.

"Miss Dale is waiting?" said Clara.

"Walk with Miss Dale; walk with Miss Dale," Sir Willoughby remarked,
pressingly. "I will beg her to wait another two minutes. You shall
find her in the hall when you come down."

He rang the bell and went out.

"Take Miss Dale into your confidence; she is quite trustworthy," Vernon
said to Clara.

"I have not advanced one step," she replied.

"Recollect that you are in a position of your own choosing; and if,
after thinking over it, you mean to escape, you must make up your mind
to pitched battles, and not be dejected if you are beaten in all of
them; there is your only chance."

"Not my choosing; do not say choosing, Mr. Whitford. I did not choose.
I was incapable of really choosing. I consented."

"It's the same in fact. But be sure of what you wish."

"Yes," she assented, taking it for her just punishment that she should
be supposed not quite to know her wishes. "Your advice has helped me
to-day."

"Did I advise?"

"Do you regret advising?"

"I should certainly regret a word that intruded between you and him."

"But you will not leave the Hall yet? You will not leave me without a
friend? If papa and I were to leave to-morrow, I foresee endless
correspondence. I have to stay at least some days, and wear through it,
and then, if I have to speak to my poor father, you can imagine the
effect on him."

Sir Willoughby came striding in, to correct the error of his going out.

"Miss Dale awaits you, my dear. You have bonnet, hat?--No? Have you
forgotten your appointment to walk with her?"

"I am ready," said Clara, departing.

The two gentlemen behind her separated in the passage. They had not
spoken.

She had read of the reproach upon women, that they divide the
friendships of men. She reproached herself but she was in action,
driven by necessity, between sea and rock. Dreadful to think of! she
was one of the creatures who are written about.



CHAPTER XVI

CLARA AND LAETITIA

In spite of his honourable caution, Vernon had said things to render
Miss Middleton more angrily determined than she had been in the scene
with Sir Willoughby. His counting on pitched battles and a defeat for
her in all of them, made her previous feelings appear slack in
comparison with the energy of combat now animating her. And she could
vehemently declare that she had not chosen; she was too young, too
ignorant to choose. He had wrongly used that word; it sounded
malicious; and to call consenting the same in fact as choosing was
wilfully unjust. Mr. Whitford meant well; he was conscientious, very
conscientious. But he was not the hero descending from heaven
bright-sworded to smite a woman's fetters of her limbs and deliver her
from the yawning mouth-abyss.

His logical coolness of expostulation with her when she cast aside the
silly mission entrusted to her by Sir Willoughby and wept for herself,
was unheroic in proportion to its praiseworthiness. He had left it to
her to do everything she wished done, stipulating simply that there
should be a pause of four-and-twenty hours for her to consider of it
before she proceeded in the attempt to extricate herself. Of
consolation there had not been a word. Said he, "I am the last man to
give advice in such a case". Yet she had by no means astonished him
when her confession came out. It came out, she knew not how. It was led
up to by his declining the idea of marriage, and her congratulating him
on his exemption from the prospect of the yoke, but memory was too dull
to revive the one or two fiery minutes of broken language when she had
been guilty of her dire misconduct.

This gentleman was no flatterer, scarcely a friend. He could look on
her grief without soothing her. Supposing he had soothed her warmly?
All her sentiments collected in her bosom to dash in reprobation of him
at the thought. She nevertheless condemned him for his excessive
coolness; his transparent anxiety not to be compromised by a syllable;
his air of saying, "I guessed as much, but why plead your case to me?"
And his recommendation to her to be quite sure she did know what she
meant, was a little insulting. She exonerated him from the intention;
he treated her as a girl. By what he said of Miss Dale, he proposed
that lady for imitation.

"I must be myself or I shall be playing hypocrite to dig my own
pitfall," she said to herself, while taking counsel with Laetitia as to
the route for their walk, and admiring a becoming curve in her
companion's hat.

Sir Willoughby, with many protestations of regret that letters of
business debarred him from the pleasure of accompanying them, remarked
upon the path proposed by Miss Dale, "In that case you must have a
footman."

"Then we adopt the other," said Clara, and they set forth.

"Sir Willoughby," Miss Dale said to her, "is always in alarm about our
unprotectedness."

Clara glanced up at the clouds and closed her parasol. She replied, "It
inspires timidity."

There was that in the accent and character of the answer which warned
Laetitia to expect the reverse of a quiet chatter with Miss Middleton.

"You are fond of walking?" She chose a peaceful topic.

"Walking or riding; yes, of walking," said Clara. "The difficulty is to
find companions."

"We shall lose Mr. Whitford next week."

"He goes?"

"He will be a great loss to me, for I do not ride," Laetitia replied to
the off-hand inquiry.

"Ah!"

Miss Middleton did not fan conversation when she simply breathed her
voice.

Laetitia tried another neutral theme.

"The weather to-day suits our country," she said.

"England, or Patterne Park? I am so devoted to mountains that I have no
enthusiasm for flat land."

"Do you call our country flat, Miss Middleton? We have undulations,
hills, and we have sufficient diversity, meadows, rivers, copses,
brooks, and good roads, and pretty by-paths."

"The prettiness is overwhelming. It is very pretty to see; but to live
with, I think I prefer ugliness. I can imagine learning to love
ugliness. It's honest. However young you are, you cannot be deceived by
it. These parks of rich people are a part of the prettiness. I would
rather have fields, commons."

"The parks give us delightful green walks, paths through beautiful
woods."

"If there is a right-of-way for the public."

"There should be," said Miss Dale, wondering; and Clara cried: "I chafe
at restraint: hedges and palings everywhere! I should have to travel
ten years to sit down contented among these fortifications. Of course I
can read of this rich kind of English country with pleasure in poetry.
But it seems to me to require poetry. What would you say of human
beings requiring it?"

"That they are not so companionable but that the haze of distance
improves the view."

"Then you do know that you are the wisest?"

Laetitia raised her dark eyelashes; she sought to understand. She could
only fancy she did; and if she did, it meant that Miss Middleton
thought her wise in remaining single.

Clara was full of a sombre preconception that her "jealousy" had been
hinted to Miss Dale.

"You knew Miss Durham?" she said.

"Not intimately."

"As well as you know me?"

"Not so well."

"But you saw more of her?"

"She was more reserved with me."

"Oh! Miss Dale, I would not be reserved with you."

The thrill of the voice caused Laetitia to steal a look. Clara's eyes
were bright, and she had the readiness to run to volubility of the
fever-stricken; otherwise she did not betray excitement.

"You will never allow any of these noble trees to be felled, Miss
Middleton?"

"The axe is better than decay, do you not think?"

"I think your influence will be great and always used to good purpose."

"My influence, Miss Dale? I have begged a favour this morning and can
not obtain the grant."

It was lightly said, but Clara's face was more significant, and "What?"
leaped from Laetitia's lips.

Before she could excuse herself, Clara had answered: "My liberty."

In another and higher tone Laetitia said, "What?" and she looked round
on her companion; she looked in the doubt that is open to conviction by
a narrow aperture, and slowly and painfully yields access. Clara saw
the vacancy of her expression gradually filling with woefulness.

"I have begged him to release me from my engagement, Miss Dale."

"Sir Willoughby?"

"It is incredible to you. He refuses. You see I have no influence."

"Miss Middleton, it is terrible!"

"To be dragged to the marriage service against one's will? Yes."

"Oh! Miss Middleton!"

"Do you not think so?"

"That cannot be your meaning."

"You do not suspect me of trifling? You know I would not. I am as much
in earnest as a mouse in a trap."

"No, you will not misunderstand me! Miss Middleton, such a blow to Sir
Willoughby would be shocking, most cruel! He is devoted to you."

"He was devoted to Miss Durham."

"Not so deeply: differently."

"Was he not very much courted at that time? He is now; not so much: he
is not so young. But my reason for speaking of Miss Durham was to
exclaim at the strangeness of a girl winning her freedom to plunge into
wedlock. Is it comprehensible to you? She flies from one dungeon into
another. These are the acts which astonish men at our conduct, and
cause them to ridicule and, I dare say, despise us."

"But, Miss Middleton, for Sir Willoughby to grant such a request, if it
was made . . ."

"It was made, and by me, and will be made again. I throw it all on my
unworthiness, Miss Dale. So the county will think of me, and quite
justly. I would rather defend him than myself. He requires a different
wife from anything I can be. That is my discovery; unhappily a late
one. The blame is all mine. The world cannot be too hard on me. But I
must be free if I am to be kind in my judgements even of the gentleman
I have injured."

"So noble a gentleman!" Laetitia sighed.

"I will subscribe to any eulogy of him," said Clara, with a penetrating
thought as to the possibility of a lady experienced in him like
Laetitia taking him for noble. "He has a noble air. I say it sincerely,
that your appreciation of him proves his nobility." Her feeling of
opposition to Sir Willoughby pushed her to this extravagance, gravely
perplexing Laetitia. "And it is," added Clara, as if to support what
she had said, "a withering rebuke to me; I know him less, at least have
not had so long an experience of him."

Laetitia pondered on an obscurity in these words which would have
accused her thick intelligence but for a glimmer it threw on another
most obscure communication. She feared it might be, strange though it
seemed, jealousy, a shade of jealousy affecting Miss Middleton, as had
been vaguely intimated by Sir Willoughby when they were waiting in the
hall. "A little feminine ailment, a want of comprehension of a perfect
friendship;" those were his words to her: and he suggested vaguely that
care must be taken in the eulogy of her friend.

She resolved to be explicit.

"I have not said that I think him beyond criticism, Miss Middleton."

"Noble?"

"He has faults. When we have known a person for years the faults come
out, but custom makes light of them; and I suppose we feel flattered by
seeing what it would be difficult to be blind to! A very little
flatters us! Now, do you not admire that view? It is my favourite."

Clara gazed over rolling richness of foliage, wood and water, and a
church-spire, a town and horizon hills. There sung a sky-lark.

"Not even the bird that does not fly away!" she said; meaning, she had
no heart for the bird satisfied to rise and descend in this place.

Laetitia travelled to some notion, dim and immense, of Miss Middleton's
fever of distaste. She shrunk from it in a kind of dread lest it might
be contagious and rob her of her one ever-fresh possession of the
homely picturesque; but Clara melted her by saying, "For your sake I
could love it . . . in time; or some dear old English scene. Since
. . . since this . . . this change in me, I find I cannot separate
landscape from associations. Now I learn how youth goes. I have grown
years older in a week.--Miss Dale, if he were to give me my freedom? if
he were to cast me off? if he stood alone?"

"I should pity him."

"Him--not me! Oh! right! I hoped you would; I knew you would."

Laetitia's attempt to shift with Miss Middleton's shiftiness was vain;
for now she seemed really listening to the language of
Jealousy:--jealous of the ancient Letty Dale--and immediately before
the tone was quite void of it.

"Yes," she said, "but you make me feel myself in the dark, and when I
do I have the habit of throwing myself for guidance upon such light as
I have within. You shall know me, if you will, as well as I know
myself. And do not think me far from the point when I say I have a
feeble health. I am what the doctors call anaemic; a rather bloodless
creature. The blood is life, so I have not much life. Ten years
back--eleven, if I must be precise, I thought of conquering the world
with a pen! The result is that I am glad of a fireside, and not sure of
always having one: and that is my achievement. My days are monotonous,
but if I have a dread, it is that there will be an alteration in them.
My father has very little money. We subsist on what private income he
has, and his pension: he was an army doctor. I may by-and-by have to
live in a town for pupils. I could be grateful to any one who would
save me from that. I should be astonished at his choosing to have me
burden his household as well.--Have I now explained the nature of my
pity? It would be the pity of common sympathy, pure lymph of pity, as
nearly disembodied as can be. Last year's sheddings from the tree do
not form an attractive garland. Their merit is, that they have not the
ambition. I am like them. Now, Miss Middleton, I cannot make myself
more bare to you. I hope you see my sincerity."

"I do see it," Clara said.

With the second heaving of her heart, she cried: "See it, and envy you
that humility! proud if I could ape it! Oh, how proud if I could speak
so truthfully true!--You would not have spoken so to me without some
good feeling out of which friends are made. That I am sure of. To be
very truthful to a person, one must have a liking. So I judge by
myself. Do I presume too much?"

Kindness was on Laetitia's face.

"But now," said Clara, swimming on the wave in her bosom, "I tax you
with the silliest suspicion ever entertained by one of your rank. Lady,
you have deemed me capable of the meanest of our vices!--Hold this
hand, Laetitia; my friend, will you? Something is going on in me."

Laetitia took her hand, and saw and felt that something was going on.

Clara said, "You are a woman."

It was her effort to account for the something.

She swam for a brilliant instant on tears, and yielded to the overflow.

When they had fallen, she remarked upon her first long breath quite
coolly: "An encouraging picture of a rebel, is it not?"

Her companion murmured to soothe her.

"It's little, it's nothing," said Clara, pained to keep her lips in
line.

They walked forward, holding hands, deep-hearted to one another.

"I like this country better now," the shaken girl resumed. "I could lie
down in it and ask only for sleep. I should like to think of you here.
How nobly self-respecting you must be, to speak as you did! Our dreams
of heroes and heroines are cold glitter beside the reality. I have been
lately thinking of myself as an outcast of my sex, and to have a good
woman liking me a little . . . loving? Oh, Laetitia, my friend, I
should have kissed you, and not made this exhibition of myself--and if
you call it hysterics, woe to you! for I bit my tongue to keep it off
when I had hardly strength to bring my teeth together--if that idea of
jealousy had not been in your head. You had it from him."

"I have not alluded to it in any word that I can recollect."

"He can imagine no other cause for my wish to be released. I have
noticed, it is his instinct to reckon on women as constant by their
nature. They are the needles, and he the magnet. Jealousy of you, Miss
Dale! Laetitia, may I speak?"

"Say everything you please."

"I could wish:--Do you know my baptismal name?"

"Clara."

"At last! I could wish . . . that is, if it were your wish. Yes, I
could wish that. Next to independence, my wish would be that. I risk
offending you. Do not let your delicacy take arms against me. I wish
him happy in the only way that he can be made happy. There is my
jealousy."

"Was it what you were going to say just now?"

"No."

"I thought not."

"I was going to say--and I believe the rack would not make me truthful
like you, Laetitia--well, has it ever struck you: remember, I do see
his merits; I speak to his faithfullest friend, and I acknowledge he is
attractive, he has manly tastes and habits; but has it never struck you
. . . I have no right to ask; I know that men must have faults, I do
not expect them to be saints; I am not one; I wish I were."

"Has it never struck me . . . ?" Laetitia prompted her.

"That very few women are able to be straightforwardly sincere in their
speech, however much they may desire to be?"

"They are differently educated. Great misfortune brings it to them."

"I am sure your answer is correct. Have you ever known a woman who was
entirely an Egoist?"

"Personally known one? We are not better than men."

"I do not pretend that we are. I have latterly become an Egoist,
thinking of no one but myself, scheming to make use of every soul I
meet. But then, women are in the position of inferiors. They are hardly
out of the nursery when a lasso is round their necks; and if they have
beauty, no wonder they turn it to a weapon and make as many captives as
they can. I do not wonder! My sense of shame at my natural weakness and
the arrogance of men would urge me to make hundreds captive, if that is
being a coquette. I should not have compassion for those lofty birds,
the hawks. To see them with their wings clipped would amuse me. Is
there any other way of punishing them?"

"Consider what you lose in punishing them."

"I consider what they gain if we do not."

Laetitia supposed she was listening to discursive observations upon the
inequality in the relations of the sexes. A suspicion of a drift to a
closer meaning had been lulled, and the colour flooded her swiftly when
Clara said: "Here is the difference I see; I see it; I am certain of
it: women who are called coquettes make their conquests not of the best
of men; but men who are Egoists have good women for their victims;
women on whose devoted constancy they feed; they drink it like blood. I
am sure I am not taking the merely feminine view. They punish
themselves too by passing over the one suitable to them, who could
really give them what they crave to have, and they go where they . . ."
Clara stopped. "I have not your power to express ideas," she said.

"Miss Middleton, you have a dreadful power," said Laetitia.

Clara smiled affectionately. "I am not aware of any. Whose cottage is
this?"

"My father's. Will you not come in? into the garden?"

Clara took note of ivied windows and roses in the porch. She thanked
Laetitia and said: "I will call for you in an hour."

"Are you walking on the road alone?" said Laetitia, incredulously, with
an eye to Sir Willoughby's dismay.

"I put my trust in the high-road," Clara replied, and turned away, but
turned back to Laetitia and offered her face to be kissed.

The "dreadful power" of this young lady had fervently impressed
Laetitia, and in kissing her she marvelled at her gentleness and
girlishness.

Clara walked on, unconscious of her possession of power of any kind.



CHAPTER XVII

THE PORCELAIN VASE

During the term of Clara's walk with Laetitia, Sir Willoughby's
shrunken self-esteem, like a garment hung to the fire after exposure to
tempestuous weather, recovered some of the sleekness of its velvet pile
in the society of Mrs. Mountstuart Jenkinson, who represented to him
the world he feared and tried to keep sunny for himself by all the arts
he could exercise. She expected him to be the gay Sir Willoughby, and
her look being as good as an incantation summons, he produced the
accustomed sprite, giving her sally for sally. Queens govern the
polite. Popularity with men, serviceable as it is for winning
favouritism with women, is of poor value to a sensitive gentleman,
anxious even to prognostic apprehension on behalf of his pride, his
comfort and his prevalence. And men are grossly purchasable; good wines
have them, good cigars, a goodfellow air: they are never quite worth
their salt even then; you can make head against their ill looks. But
the looks of women will at one blow work on you the downright
difference which is between the cock of lordly plume and the moulting.
Happily they may be gained: a clever tongue will gain them, a leg. They
are with you to a certainty if Nature is with you; if you are elegant
and discreet: if the sun is on you, and they see you shining in it; or
if they have seen you well-stationed and handsome in the sun. And once
gained they are your mirrors for life, and far more constant than the
glass. That tale of their caprice is absurd. Hit their imaginations
once, they are your slaves, only demanding common courtier service of
you. They will deny that you are ageing, they will cover you from
scandal, they will refuse to see you ridiculous. Sir Willoughby's
instinct, or skin, or outfloating feelers, told him of these mysteries
of the influence of the sex; he had as little need to study them as a
lady breathed on.

He had some need to know them in fact; and with him the need of a
protection for himself called it forth; he was intuitively a conjurer
in self-defence, long-sighted, wanting no directions to the herb he was
to suck at when fighting a serpent. His dulness of vision into the
heart of his enemy was compensated by the agile sensitiveness obscuring
but rendering him miraculously active, and, without supposing his need
immediate, he deemed it politic to fascinate Mrs. Mountstuart and
anticipate ghastly possibilities in the future by dropping a hint; not
of Clara's fickleness, you may be sure; of his own, rather; or, more
justly, of an altered view of Clara's character. He touched on the
rogue in porcelain.

Set gently laughing by his relishing humour. "I get nearer to it," he
said.

"Remember I'm in love with her," said Mrs. Mountstuart.

"That is our penalty."

"A pleasant one for you."

He assented. "Is the 'rogue' to be eliminated?"

"Ask when she's a mother, my dear Sir Willoughby."

"This is how I read you:--"

"I shall accept any interpretation that is complimentary."

"Not one will satisfy me of being sufficiently so, and so I leave it to
the character to fill out the epigram."

"Do. What hurry is there? And don't be misled by your objection to
rogue; which would be reasonable if you had not secured her."

The door of a hollow chamber of horrible reverberation was opened
within him by this remark.

He tried to say in jest, that it was not always a passionate admiration
that held the rogue fast; but he muddled it in the thick of his
conscious thunder, and Mrs. Mountstuart smiled to see him shot from the
smooth-flowing dialogue into the cataracts by one simple reminder to
the lover of his luck. Necessarily, after a fall, the pitch of their
conversation relaxed.

"Miss Dale is looking well," he said.

"Fairly: she ought to marry," said Mrs. Mountstuart.

He shook his head. "Persuade her."

She nodded. "Example may have some effect."

He looked extremely abstracted. "Yes, it is time. Where is the man you
could recommend for her complement? She has now what was missing
before, a ripe intelligence in addition to her happy
disposition--romantic, you would say. I can't think women the worse for
that."

"A dash of it."

"She calls it 'leafage'."

"Very pretty. And have you relented about your horse Achmet?"

"I don't sell him under four hundred."

"Poor Johnny Busshe! You forget that his wife doles him out his money.
You're a hard bargainer, Sir Willoughby."

"I mean the price to be prohibitive."

"Very well; and 'leafage' is good for hide-and-seek; especially when
there is no rogue in ambush. And that's the worst I can say of Laetitia
Dale. An exaggerated devotion is the scandal of our sex. They say
you're the hardest man of business in the county too, and I can believe
it; for at home and abroad your aim is to get the best of everybody.
You see I've no leafage, I am perfectly matter-of-fact, bald."

"Nevertheless, my dear Mrs. Mountstuart, I can assure you that
conversing with you has much the same exhilarating effect on me as
conversing with Miss Dale."

"But, leafage! leafage! You hard bargainers have no compassion for
devoted spinsters."

"I tell you my sentiments absolutely."

"And you have mine moderately expressed."

She recollected the purpose of her morning's visit, which was to engage
Dr. Middleton to dine with her, and Sir Willoughby conducted her to the
library-door. "Insist," he said.

Awaiting her reappearance, the refreshment of the talk he had
sustained, not without point, assisted him to distinguish in its
complete abhorrent orb the offence committed against him by his bride.
And this he did through projecting it more and more away from him, so
that in the outer distance it involved his personal emotions less,
while observation was enabled to compass its vastness, and, as it were,
perceive the whole spherical mass of the wretched girl's guilt
impudently turning on its axis.

Thus to detach an injury done to us, and plant it in space, for
mathematical measurement of its weight and bulk, is an art; it may also
be an instinct of self-preservation; otherwise, as when mountains
crumble adjacent villages are crushed, men of feeling may at any moment
be killed outright by the iniquitous and the callous. But, as an art,
it should be known to those who are for practising an art so
beneficent, that circumstances must lend their aid. Sir Willoughby's
instinct even had sat dull and crushed before his conversation with
Mrs. Mountstuart. She lifted him to one of his ideals of himself. Among
gentlemen he was the English gentleman; with ladies his aim was the
Gallican courtier of any period from Louis Treize to Louis Quinze. He
could doat on those who led him to talk in that character--backed by
English solidity, you understand. Roast beef stood eminent behind the
souffle and champagne. An English squire excelling his fellows at
hazardous leaps in public, he was additionally a polished whisperer, a
lively dialoguer, one for witty bouts, with something in him--capacity
for a drive and dig or two--beyond mere wit, as they soon learned who
called up his reserves, and had a bosom for pinking. So much for his
ideal of himself. Now, Clara not only never evoked, never responded to
it, she repelled it; there was no flourishing of it near her. He
considerately overlooked these facts in his ordinary calculations; he
was a man of honour and she was a girl of beauty; but the accidental
blooming of his ideal, with Mrs. Mountstuart, on the very heels of
Clara's offence, restored him to full command of his art of detachment,
and he thrust her out, quite apart from himself, to contemplate her
disgraceful revolutions.

Deeply read in the Book of Egoism that he was, he knew the wisdom of
the sentence: An injured pride that strikes not out will strike home.
What was he to strike with? Ten years younger, Laetitia might have been
the instrument. To think of her now was preposterous. Beside Clara she
had the hue of Winter under the springing bough. He tossed her away,
vexed to the very soul by an ostentatious decay that shrank from
comparison with the blooming creature he had to scourge in
self-defence, by some agency or other.

Mrs. Mountstuart was on the step of her carriage when the silken
parasols of the young ladies were descried on a slope of the park,
where the yellow green of May-clothed beeches flowed over the brown
ground of last year's leaves.

"Who's the cavalier?" she inquired.

A gentleman escorted them.

"Vernon? No! he's pegging at Crossjay," quoth Willoughby.

Vernon and Crossjay came out for the boy's half-hour's run before his
dinner. Crossjay spied Miss Middleton and was off to meet her at a
bound. Vernon followed him leisurely.

"The rogue has no cousin, has she?" said Mrs. Mountstuart.

"It's a family of one son or one daughter for generations," replied
Willoughby.

"And Letty Dale?"

"Cousin!" he exclaimed, as if wealth had been imputed to Miss Dale;
adding: "No male cousin."

A railway station fly drove out of the avenue on the circle to the
hall-entrance. Flitch was driver. He had no right to be there, he was
doing wrong, but he was doing it under cover of an office, to support
his wife and young ones, and his deprecating touches of the hat spoke
of these apologies to his former master with dog-like pathos.

Sir Willoughby beckoned to him to approach.

"So you are here," he said. "You have luggage."

Flitch jumped from the box and read one of the labels aloud:
"Lieutenant-Colonel H. De Craye."

"And the colonel met the ladies? Overtook them?"

Here seemed to come dismal matter for Flitch to relate.

He began upon the abstract origin of it: he had lost his place in Sir
Willoughby's establishment, and was obliged to look about for work
where it was to be got, and though he knew he had no right to be where
he was, he hoped to be forgiven because of the mouths he had to feed as
a flyman attached to the railway station, where this gentleman, the
colonel, hired him, and he believed Sir Willoughby would excuse him for
driving a friend, which the colonel was, he recollected well, and the
colonel recollected him, and he said, not noticing how he was rigged:
"What! Flitch! back in your old place? Am I expected?" and he told the
colonel his unfortunate situation. "Not back, colonel; no such luck for
me" and Colonel De Craye was a very kind-hearted gentleman, as he
always had been, and asked kindly after his family. And it might be
that such poor work as he was doing now he might be deprived of, such
is misfortune when it once harpoons a man; you may dive, and you may
fly, but it sticks in you, once do a foolish thing. "May I humbly beg
of you, if you'll be so good, Sir Willoughby," said Flitch, passing to
evidence of the sad mishap. He opened the door of the fly, displaying
fragments of broken porcelain.

"But, what, what! what's the story of this?" cried Sir Willoughby.

"What is it?" said Mrs. Mountstuart, pricking up her ears.

"It was a vaws," Flitch replied in elegy.

"A porcelain vase!" interpreted Sir Willoughby.

"China!" Mrs. Mountstuart faintly shrieked.

One of the pieces was handed to her inspection.

She held it close, she held it distant. She sighed horribly.

"The man had better have hanged himself," said she.

Flitch bestirred his misfortune-sodden features and members for a
continuation of the doleful narrative.

"How did this occur?" Sir Willoughby peremptorily asked him.

Flitch appealed to his former master for testimony that he was a good
and a careful driver.

Sir Willoughby thundered: "I tell you to tell me how this occurred."

"Not a drop, my lady! not since my supper last night, if there's any
truth in me!" Flitch implored succour of Mrs Mountstuart.

"Drive straight," she said, and braced him.

His narrative was then direct.

Near Piper's mill, where the Wicker brook crossed the Rebdon road, one
of Hoppner's wagons, overloaded as usual, was forcing the horses
uphill, when Flitch drove down at an easy pace, and saw himself between
Hoppner's cart come to a stand and a young lady advancing: and just
then the carter smacks his whip, the horses pull half mad. The young
lady starts behind the cart, and up jumps the colonel, and, to save the
young lady, Flitch dashed ahead and did save her, he thanked Heaven for
it, and more when he came to see who the young lady was.

"She was alone?" said Sir Willoughby in tragic amazement, staring at
Flitch.

"Very well, you saved her, and you upset the fly," Mountstuart jogged
him on.

"Bardett, our old head-keeper, was a witness, my lady, had to drive
half up the bank, and it's true--over the fly did go; and the vaws it
shoots out against the twelfth mile-stone, just as though there was the
chance for it! for nobody else was injured, and knocked against
anything else, it never would have flown all to pieces, so that it took
Bardett and me ten minutes to collect every one, down to the smallest
piece there was; and he said, and I can't help thinking myself, there
was a Providence in it, for we all come together so as you might say we
was made to do as we did."

"So then Horace adopted the prudent course of walking on with the
ladies instead of trusting his limbs again to this capsizing fly," Sir
Willoughby said to Mrs. Mountstuart; and she rejoined: "Lucky that no
one was hurt."

Both of them eyed the nose of poor Flitch, and simultaneously they
delivered a verdict in "Humph!"

Mrs. Mountstuart handed the wretch a half-crown from her purse. Sir
Willoughby directed the footman in attendance to unload the fly and
gather up the fragments of porcelain carefully, bidding Flitch be quick
in his departing.

"The colonel's wedding-present! I shall call to-morrow." Mrs.
Mountstuart waved her adieu.

"Come every day!--Yes, I suppose we may guess the destination of the
vase." He bowed her off, and she cried:

"Well, now, the gift can be shared, if you're either of you for a
division." In the crash of the carriage-wheels he heard, "At any rate
there was a rogue in that porcelain."

These are the slaps we get from a heedless world.

As for the vase, it was Horace De Craye's loss. Wedding-present he
would have to produce, and decidedly not in chips. It had the look of a
costly vase, but that was no question for the moment:--What was meant
by Clara being seen walking on the high-road alone?--What snare,
traceable ad inferas, had ever induced Willoughby Patterne to make her
the repository and fortress of his honour!



CHAPTER XVIII

COLONEL DE CRAYE

Clara came along chatting and laughing with Colonel De Craye, young
Crossjay's hand under one of her arms, and her parasol flashing; a
dazzling offender; as if she wished to compel the spectator to
recognize the dainty rogue in porcelain; really insufferably fair:
perfect in height and grace of movement; exquisitely tressed;
red-lipped, the colour striking out to a distance from her ivory skin;
a sight to set the woodland dancing, and turn the heads of the town;
though beautiful, a jury of art critics might pronounce her not to be.
Irregular features are condemned in beauty. Beautiful figure, they
could say. A description of her figure and her walking would have won
her any praises: and she wore a dress cunning to embrace the shape and
flutter loose about it, in the spirit of a Summer's day. Calypso-clad,
Dr. Middleton would have called her. See the silver birch in a breeze:
here it swells, there it scatters, and it is puffed to a round and it
streams like a pennon, and now gives the glimpse and shine of the white
stem's line within, now hurries over it, denying that it was visible,
with a chatter along the sweeping folds, while still the white peeps
through. She had the wonderful art of dressing to suit the season and
the sky. To-day the art was ravishingly companionable with her
sweet-lighted face: too sweet, too vividly meaningful for pretty, if
not of the strict severity for beautiful. Millinery would tell us that
she wore a fichu of thin white muslin crossed in front on a dress of
the same light stuff, trimmed with deep rose. She carried a grey-silk
parasol, traced at the borders with green creepers, and across the arm
devoted to Crossjay a length of trailing ivy, and in that hand a bunch
of the first long grasses. These hues of red rose and pale green
ruffled and pouted in the billowy white of the dress ballooning and
valleying softly, like a yacht before the sail bends low; but she
walked not like one blown against; resembling rather the day of the
South-west driving the clouds, gallantly firm in commotion; interfusing
colour and varying in her features from laugh to smile and look of
settled pleasure, like the heavens above the breeze.

Sir Willoughby, as he frequently had occasion to protest to Clara, was
no poet: he was a more than commonly candid English gentleman in his
avowed dislike of the poet's nonsense, verbiage, verse; not one of
those latterly terrorized by the noise made about the fellow into
silent contempt; a sentiment that may sleep, and has not to be
defended. He loathed the fellow, fought the fellow. But he was one with
the poet upon that prevailing theme of verse, the charms of women. He
was, to his ill-luck, intensely susceptible, and where he led men after
him to admire, his admiration became a fury. He could see at a glance
that Horace De Craye admired Miss Middleton. Horace was a man of taste,
could hardly, could not, do other than admire; but how curious that in
the setting forth of Clara and Miss Dale, to his own contemplation and
comparison of them, Sir Willoughby had given but a nodding approbation
of his bride's appearance! He had not attached weight to it recently.

Her conduct, and foremost, if not chiefly, her having been discovered,
positively met by his friend Horace, walking on the high-road without
companion or attendant, increased a sense of pain so very unusual with
him that he had cause to be indignant. Coming on this condition, his
admiration of the girl who wounded him was as bitter a thing as a man
could feel. Resentment, fed from the main springs of his nature, turned
it to wormwood, and not a whit the less was it admiration when he
resolved to chastise her with a formal indication of his disdain. Her
present gaiety sounded to him like laughter heard in the shadow of the
pulpit.

"You have escaped!" he said to her, while shaking the hand of his
friend Horace and cordially welcoming him. "My dear fellow! and, by the
way, you had a squeak for it, I hear from Flitch."

"I, Willoughby? not a bit," said the colonel; "we get into a fly to
get, out of it; and Flitch helped me out as well as in, good fellow;
just dusting my coat as he did it. The only bit of bad management was
that Miss Middleton had to step aside a trifle hurriedly."

"You knew Miss Middleton at once?"

"Flitch did me the favour to introduce me. He first precipitated me at
Miss Middleton's feet, and then he introduced me, in old oriental
fashion, to my sovereign."

Sir Willoughby's countenance was enough for his friend Horace.
Quarter-wheeling to Clara, he said: "'Tis the place I'm to occupy for
life, Miss Middleton, though one is not always fortunate to have a
bright excuse for taking it at the commencement."

Clara said: "Happily you were not hurt, Colonel De Craye."

"I was in the hands of the Loves. Not the Graces, I'm afraid; I've an
image of myself. Dear, no! My dear Willoughby, you never made such a
headlong declaration as that. It would have looked like a magnificent
impulse, if the posture had only been choicer. And Miss Middleton
didn't laugh. At least I saw nothing but pity."

"You did not write," said Willoughby.

"Because it was a toss-up of a run to Ireland or here, and I came here
not to go there; and, by the way, fetched a jug with me to offer up to
the gods of ill-luck; and they accepted the propitiation."

"Wasn't it packed in a box?"

"No, it was wrapped in paper, to show its elegant form. I caught sight
of it in the shop yesterday and carried it off this morning, and
presented it to Miss Middleton at noon, without any form at all."

Willoughby knew his friend Horace's mood when the Irish tongue in him
threatened to wag.

"You see what may happen," he said to Clara.

"As far as I am in fault I regret it," she answered.

"Flitch says the accident occurred through his driving up the bank to
save you from the wheels."

"Flitch may go and whisper that down the neck of his empty
whisky-flask," said Horace De Craye. "And then let him cork it."

"The consequence is that we have a porcelain vase broken. You should
not walk on the road alone, Clara. You ought to have a companion,
always. It is the rule here."

"I had left Miss Dale at the cottage."

"You ought to have had the dogs."

"Would they have been any protection to the vase?"

Horace De Craye crowed cordially.

"I'm afraid not, Miss Middleton. One must go to the witches for
protection to vases; and they're all in the air now, having their own
way with us, which accounts for the confusion in politics and society,
and the rise in the price of broomsticks, to prove it true, as they
tell us, that every nook and corner wants a mighty sweeping. Miss Dale
looks beaming," said De Craye, wishing to divert Willoughby from his
anger with sense as well as nonsense.

"You have not been visiting Ireland recently?" said Sir Willoughby.

"No, nor making acquaintance with an actor in an Irish part in a drama
cast in the Green Island. 'Tis Flitch, my dear Willoughby, has been
and stirred the native in me, and we'll present him to you for the like
good office when we hear after a number of years that you've not
wrinkled your forehead once at your liege lady. Take the poor old dog
back home, will you? He's crazed to be at the Hall. I say, Willoughby,
it would be a good bit of work to take him back. Think of it; you'll do
the popular thing, I'm sure. I've a superstition that Flitch ought to
drive you from the church-door. If I were in luck, I'd have him drive
me."

"The man's a drunkard, Horace."

"He fuddles his poor nose. 'Tis merely unction to the exile. Sober
struggles below. He drinks to rock his heart, because he has one. Now
let me intercede for poor Flitch."

"Not a word of him. He threw up his place."

"To try his fortune in the world, as the best of us do, though livery
runs after us to tell us there's no being an independent gentleman, and
comes a cold day we haul on the metal-button coat again, with a good
ha! of satisfaction. You'll do the popular thing. Miss Middleton joins
in the pleading."

"No pleading!"

"When I've vowed upon my eloquence, Willoughby, I'd bring you to pardon
the poor dog?"

"Not a word of him!"

"Just one!"

Sir Willoughby battled with himself to repress a state of temper that
put him to marked disadvantage beside his friend Horace in high
spirits. Ordinarily he enjoyed these fits of Irish of him, which were
Horace's fun and play, at times involuntary, and then they indicated a
recklessness that might embrace mischief. De Craye, as Willoughby had
often reminded him, was properly Norman. The blood of two or three
Irish mothers in his line, however, was enough to dance him, and if his
fine profile spoke of the stiffer race, his eyes and the quick run of
the lip in the cheek, and a number of his qualities, were evidence of
the maternal legacy.

"My word has been said about the man," Willoughby replied.

"But I've wagered on your heart against your word, and cant afford to
lose; and there's a double reason for revoking for you!"

"I don't see either of them. Here are the ladies."

"You'll think of the poor beast, Willoughby."

"I hope for better occupation."

"If he drives a wheelbarrow at the Hall he'll be happier than on board
a chariot at large. He's broken-hearted."

"He's too much in the way of breakages, my dear Horace."

"Oh, the vase! the bit of porcelain!" sung De Craye. "Well, we'll talk
him over by and by."

"If it pleases you; but my rules are never amended."

"Inalterable, are they?--like those of an ancient people, who might as
well have worn a jacket of lead for the comfort they had of their
boast. The beauty of laws for human creatures is their adaptability to
new stitchings."

Colonel De Craye walked at the heels of his leader to make his bow to
the ladies Eleanor and Isabel.

Sir Willoughby had guessed the person who inspired his friend Horace to
plead so pertinaciously and inopportunely for the man Flitch: and it
had not improved his temper or the pose of his rejoinders; he had
winced under the contrast of his friend Horace's easy, laughing,
sparkling, musical air and manner with his own stiffness; and he had
seen Clara's face, too, scanning the contrast--he was fatally driven to
exaggerate his discontentment, which did not restore him to serenity.
He would have learned more from what his abrupt swing round of the
shoulder precluded his beholding. There was an interchange between
Colonel De Craye and Miss Middleton; spontaneous on both sides. His was
a look that said: "You were right"; hers: "I knew it". Her look was
calmer, and after the first instant clouded as by wearifulness of
sameness; his was brilliant, astonished, speculative, and admiring,
pitiful: a look that poised over a revelation, called up the hosts of
wonder to question strange fact.

It had passed unseen by Sir Willoughby. The observer was the one who
could also supply the key of the secret. Miss Dale had found Colonel De
Craye in company with Miss Middleton at her gateway. They were
laughing and talking together like friends of old standing, De Craye as
Irish as he could be: and the Irish tongue and gentlemanly manner are
an irresistible challenge to the opening steps of familiarity when
accident has broken the ice. Flitch was their theme; and: "Oh, but if
we go tip to Willoughby hand in hand; and bob a courtesy to 'm and 
beg his pardon for Mister Flitch, won't he melt to such a pair of
suppliants? of course he will!" Miss Middleton said he would not.
Colonel De Craye wagered he would; he knew Willoughby best. Miss
Middleton looked simply grave; a way of asserting the contrary opinion
that tells of rueful experience. "We'll see," said the colonel. They
chatted like a couple unexpectedly discovering in one another a common
dialect among strangers. Can there be an end to it when those two meet?
They prattle, they fill the minutes, as though they were violently to
be torn asunder at a coming signal, and must have it out while they
can; it is a meeting of mountain brooks; not a colloquy, but a chasing,
impossible to say which flies, which follows, or what the topic, so
interlinguistic are they and rapidly counterchanging. After their
conversation of an hour before, Laetitia watched Miss Middleton in
surprise at her lightness of mind. Clara bathed in mirth. A boy in a
summer stream shows not heartier refreshment of his whole being.
Laetitia could now understand Vernon's idea of her wit. And it seemed
that she also had Irish blood. Speaking of Ireland, Miss Middleton said
she had cousins there, her only relatives.

"The laugh told me that," said Colonel De Craye.

Laetitia and Vernon paced up and down the lawn. Colonel De Craye was
talking with English sedateness to the ladies Eleanor and Isabel. Clara
and young Crossjay strayed.

"If I might advise, I would say, do not leave the Hall immediately, not
yet," Laetitia said to Vernon.

"You know, then?"

"I cannot understand why it was that I was taken into her confidence."

"I counselled it."

"But it was done without an object that I can see."

"The speaking did her good."

"But how capricious! how changeful!"

"Better now than later."

"Surely she has only to ask to be released?--to ask earnestly: if it
is her wish."

"You are mistaken."

"Why does she not make a confidant of her father?"

"That she will have to do. She wished to spare him."

"He cannot be spared if she is to break the engagement."

She thought of sparing him the annoyance. "Now there's to be a tussle,
he must share in it."

"Or she thought he might not side with her?"

"She has not a single instinct of cunning. You judge her harshly."

"She moved me on the walk out. Coming home I felt differently."

Vernon glanced at Colonel De Craye.

"She wants good guidance," continued Laetitia.

"She has not an idea of treachery."

"You think so? It may be true. But she seems one born devoid of
patience, easily made reckless. There is a wildness . . . I judge by
her way of speaking; that at least appeared sincere. She does not
practise concealment. He will naturally find it almost incredible. The
change in her, so sudden, so wayward, is unintelligible to me. To me it
is the conduct of a creature untamed. He may hold her to her word and
be justified."

"Let him look out if he does!"

"Is not that harsher than anything I have said of her?"

"I'm not appointed to praise her. I fancy I read the case; and it's a
case of opposition of temperaments. We never can tell the person quite
suited to us; it strikes us in a flash."

"That they are not suited to us? Oh, no; that comes by degrees."

"Yes, but the accumulation of evidence, or sentience, if you like, is
combustible; we don't command the spark; it may be late in falling. And
you argue in her favour. Consider her as a generous and impulsive girl,
outwearied at last."

"By what?"

"By anything; by his loftiness, if you like. He flies too high for her,
we will say."

"Sir Willoughby an eagle?"

"She may be tired of his eyrie."

The sound of the word in Vernon's mouth smote on a consciousness she
had of his full grasp of Sir Willoughby and her own timid knowledge,
though he was not a man who played on words.

If he had eased his heart in stressing the first syllable, it was only
temporary relief. He was heavy-browed enough.

"But I cannot conceive what she expects me to do by confiding her sense
of her position to me," said Laetitia.

"We none of us know what will be done. We hang on Willoughby, who hangs
on whatever it is that supports him: and there we are in a swarm."

"You see the wisdom of staying, Mr. Whitford."

"It must be over in a day or two. Yes, I stay."

"She inclines to obey you."

"I should be sorry to stake my authority on her obedience. We must
decide something about Crossjay, and get the money for his crammer, if
it is to be got. If not, I may get a man to trust me. I mean to drag
the boy away. Willoughby has been at him with the tune of gentleman,
and has laid hold of him by one ear. When I say 'her obedience,' she is
not in a situation, nor in a condition to be led blindly by anybody.
She must rely on herself, do everything herself. It's a knot that won't
bear touching by any hand save hers."

"I fear . . ." said Laetitia.

"Have no such fear."

"If it should come to his positively refusing."

"He faces the consequences."

"You do not think of her."

Vernon looked at his companion.



CHAPTER XIX

COLONEL DE CRAYE AND CLARA MIDDLETON

MISS MIDDLETON finished her stroll with Crossjay by winding her trailer
of ivy in a wreath round his hat and sticking her bunch of grasses in
the wreath. She then commanded him to sit on the ground beside a big
rhododendron, there to await her return. Crossjay had informed her of a
design he entertained to be off with a horde of boys nesting in high
trees, and marking spots where wasps and hornets were to be attacked in
Autumn: she thought it a dangerous business, and as the boy's
dinner-bell had very little restraint over him when he was in the flush
of a scheme of this description, she wished to make tolerably sure of
him through the charm she not unreadily believed she could fling on
lads of his age. "Promise me you will not move from here until I come
back, and when I come I will give you a kiss." Crossjay promised. She
left him and forgot him.

Seeing by her watch fifteen minutes to the ringing of the bell, a
sudden resolve that she would speak to her father without another
minute's delay had prompted her like a superstitious impulse to abandon
her aimless course and be direct. She knew what was good for her; she
knew it now more clearly than in the morning. To be taken away
instantly! was her cry. There could be no further doubt. Had there been
any before? But she would not in the morning have suspected herself of
a capacity for evil, and of a pressing need to be saved from herself.
She was not pure of nature: it may be that we breed saintly souls which
are: she was pure of will: fire rather than ice. And in beginning to
see the elements she was made of she did not shuffle them to a heap
with her sweet looks to front her. She put to her account some
strength, much weakness; she almost dared to gaze unblinking at a
perilous evil tendency. The glimpse of it drove her to her father.

"He must take me away at once; to-morrow!"

She wished to spare her father. So unsparing of herself was she, that,
in her hesitation to speak to him of her change of feeling for Sir
Willoughby, she would not suffer it to be attributed in her own mind to
a daughter's anxious consideration about her father's loneliness; an
idea she had indulged formerly. Acknowledging that it was imperative
she should speak, she understood that she had refrained, even to the
inflicting upon herself of such humiliation as to run dilating on her
woes to others, because of the silliest of human desires to preserve
her reputation for consistency. She had heard women abused for
shallowness and flightiness: she had heard her father denounce them as
veering weather-vanes, and his oft-repeated quid femina possit: for her
sex's sake, and also to appear an exception to her sex, this reasoning
creature desired to be thought consistent.

Just on the instant of her addressing him, saying: "Father," a note of
seriousness in his ear, it struck her that the occasion for saying all
had not yet arrived, and she quickly interposed: "Papa"; and helped
him to look lighter. The petition to be taken away was uttered.

"To London?" said Dr. Middleton. "I don't know who'll take us in."

"To France, papa?"

"That means hotel-life."

"Only for two or three weeks."

"Weeks! I am under an engagement to dine with Mrs Mountstuart Jenkinson
five days hence: that is, on Thursday."

"Could we not find an excuse?"

"Break an engagement? No, my dear, not even to escape drinking a
widow's wine."

"Does a word bind us?"

"Why, what else should?"

"I think I am not very well."

"We'll call in that man we met at dinner here: Corney: a capital
doctor; an old-fashioned anecdotal doctor. How is it you are not well,
my love? You look well. I cannot conceive your not being well."

"It is only that I want change of air, papa."

"There we are--a change! semper eadem! Women will be wanting a change
of air in Paradise; a change of angels too, I might surmise. A change
from quarters like these to a French hotel would be a descent!--'this
the seat, this mournful gloom for that celestial light.' I am
perfectly at home in the library here. That excellent fellow Whitford
and I have real days: and I like him for showing fight to his elder and
better."

"He is going to leave."

"I know nothing of it, and I shall append no credit to the tale until I
do know. He is headstrong, but he answers to a rap."

Clara's bosom heaved. The speechless insurrection threatened her eyes.

A South-west shower lashed the window-panes and suggested to Dr.
Middleton shuddering visions of the Channel passage on board a steamer.

"Corney shall see you: he is a sparkling draught in person; probably
illiterate, if I may judge from one interruption of my discourse when
he sat opposite me, but lettered enough to respect Learning and write
out his prescription: I do not ask more of men or of physicians." Dr.
Middleton said this rising, glancing at the clock and at the back of
his hands. "'Quod autem secundum litteras difficillimum esse
artificium?' But what after letters is the more difficult practice?
'Ego puto medicum.' The medicus next to the scholar: though I have not
to my recollection required him next me, nor ever expected child of
mine to be crying for that milk. Daughter she is--of the unexplained
sex: we will send a messenger for Corney. Change, my dear, you will
speedily have, to satisfy the most craving of women, if Willoughby, as
I suppose, is in the neoteric fashion of spending a honeymoon on a
railway: apt image, exposition and perpetuation of the state of mania
conducting to the institution! In my time we lay by to brood on
happiness; we had no thought of chasing it over a continent, mistaking
hurly-burly clothed in dust for the divinity we sought. A smaller
generation sacrifices to excitement. Dust and hurly-burly must perforce
be the issue. And that is your modern world. Now, my dear, let us go
and wash our hands. Midday-bells expect immediate attention. They know
of no anteroom of assembly."

Clara stood gathered up, despairing at opportunity lost. He had noticed
her contracted shape and her eyes, and had talked magisterially to
smother and overbear the something disagreeable prefigured in her
appearance.

"You do not despise your girl, father?"

"I do not; I could not; I love her; I love my girl. But you need not
sing to me like a gnat to propound that question, my dear."

"Then, father, tell Willoughby to-day we have to leave tomorrow. You
shall return in time for Mrs. Mountstuart's dinner. Friends will take
us in, the Darletons, the Erpinghams. We can go to Oxford, where you
are sure of welcome. A little will recover me. Do not mention doctors.
But you see I am nervous. I am quite ashamed of it; I am well enough to
laugh at it, only I cannot overcome it; and I feel that a day or two
will restore me. Say you will. Say it in First-Lesson-Book language;
anything above a primer splits my foolish head to-day."

Dr Middleton shrugged, spreading out his arms.

"The office of ambassador from you to Willoughby, Clara? You decree me
to the part of ball between two bats. The Play being assured, the
prologue is a bladder of wind. I seem to be instructed in one of the
mysteries of erotic esotery, yet on my word I am no wiser. If
Willoughby is to hear anything from you, he will hear it from your
lips."

"Yes, father, yes. We have differences. I am not fit for contests at
present; my head is giddy. I wish to avoid an illness. He and I . . . I
accuse myself."

"There is the bell!" ejaculated Dr. Middleton. "I'll debate on it with
Willoughby."

"This afternoon?"

"Somewhen, before the dinner-bell. I cannot tie myself to the
minute-hand of the clock, my dear child. And let me direct you, for the
next occasion when you shall bring the vowels I and A, in verbally
detached letters, into collision, that you do not fill the hiatus with
so pronounced a Y. It is the vulgarization of our tongue of which I
accuse you. I do not like my girl to be guilty of it."

He smiled to moderate the severity of the correction, and kissed her
forehead.

She declared her inability to sit and eat; she went to her room, after
begging him very earnestly to send her the assurance that he had
spoken. She had not shed a tear, and she rejoiced in her self-control;
it whispered to her of true courage when she had given herself such
evidence of the reverse.

Shower and sunshine alternated through the half-hours of the afternoon,
like a procession of dark and fair holding hands and passing. The
shadow came, and she was chill; the light yellow in moisture, and she
buried her face not to be caught up by cheerfulness. Believing that her
head ached, she afflicted herself with all the heavy symptoms, and
oppressed her mind so thoroughly that its occupation was to speculate
on Laetitia Dale's modest enthusiasm for rural pleasures, for this
place especially, with its rich foliage and peeps of scenic peace. The
prospect of an escape from it inspired thoughts of a loveable round of
life where the sun was not a naked ball of fire, but a friend clothed
in woodland; where park and meadow swept to well-known features East
and West; and distantly circling hills, and the hearts of poor
cottagers too--sympathy with whom assured her of goodness--were
familiar, homely to the dweller in the place, morning and night. And
she had the love of wild flowers, the watchful happiness in the
seasons; poets thrilled her, books absorbed. She dwelt strongly on that
sincerity of feeling; it gave her root in our earth; she needed it as
she pressed a hand on her eyeballs, conscious of acting the invalid,
though the reasons she had for languishing under headache were so
convincing that her brain refused to disbelieve in it and went some way
to produce positive throbs. Otherwise she had no excuse for shutting
herself in her room. Vernon Whitford would be sceptical. Headache or
none, Colonel De Craye must be thinking strangely of her; she had not
shown him any sign of illness. His laughter and his talk sung about her
and dispersed the fiction; he was the very sea-wind for bracing
unstrung nerves. Her ideas reverted to Sir Willoughby, and at once they
had no more cohesion than the foam on a torrent-water.

But soon she was undergoing a variation of sentiment. Her maid Barclay
brought her this pencilled line from her father:

"Factum est; laetus est; amantium irae, etc."

That it was done, that Willoughby had put on an air of glad
acquiescence, and that her father assumed the existence of a lovers'
quarrel, was wonderful to her at first sight, simple the succeeding
minute. Willoughby indeed must be tired of her, glad of her going. He
would know that it was not to return. She was grateful to him for
perhaps hinting at the amantium irae, though she rejected the folly of
the verse. And she gazed over dear homely country through her windows
now. Happy the lady of the place, if happy she can be in her choice!
Clara Middleton envied her the double-blossom wild cherry-tree, nothing
else. One sprig of it, if it had not faded and gone to dust-colour like
crusty Alpine snow in the lower hollows, and then she could depart,
bearing away a memory of the best here! Her fiction of the headache
pained her no longer. She changed her muslin dress for silk; she was
contented with the first bonnet Barclay presented. Amicable toward
every one in the house, Willoughby included, she threw up her window,
breathed, blessed mankind; and she thought: "If Willoughby would open
his heart to nature, he would be relieved of his wretched opinion of
the world." Nature was then sparkling refreshed in the last drops of a
sweeping rain-curtain, favourably disposed for a background to her
joyful optimism. A little nibble of hunger within, real hunger, unknown
to her of late, added to this healthy view, without precipitating her
to appease it; she was more inclined to foster it, for the sake of the
sinewy activity of mind and limb it gave her; and in the style of young
ladies very light of heart, she went downstairs like a cascade, and
like the meteor observed in its vanishing trace she alighted close to
Colonel De Craye and entered one of the rooms off the hall.

He cocked an eye at the half-shut door.

Now you have only to be reminded that it is the habit of the sportive
gentleman of easy life, bewildered as he would otherwise be by the
tricks, twists, and windings of the hunted sex, to parcel out fair
women into classes; and some are flyers and some are runners; these
birds are wild on the wing, those exposed their bosoms to the shot. For
him there is no individual woman. He grants her a characteristic only
to enroll her in a class. He is our immortal dunce at learning to
distinguish her as a personal variety, of a separate growth.

Colonel De Craye's cock of the eye at the door said that he had seen a
rageing coquette go behind it. He had his excuse for forming the
judgement. She had spoken strangely of the fall of his wedding-present,
strangely of Willoughby; or there was a sound of strangeness in an
allusion to her appointed husband: and she had treated Willoughby
strangely when they met. Above all, her word about Flitch was curious.
And then that look of hers! And subsequently she transferred her polite
attentions to Willoughby's friend. After a charming colloquy, the
sweetest give and take rattle he had ever enjoyed with a girl, she
developed headache to avoid him; and next she developed blindness, for
the same purpose.

He was feeling hurt, but considered it preferable to feel challenged.

Miss Middleton came out of another door. She had seen him when she had
passed him and when it was too late to convey her recognition; and now
she addressed him with an air of having bowed as she went by.

"No one?" she said. "Am I alone in the house?"

"There is a figure naught," said he, "but it's as good as annihilated,
and no figure at all, if you put yourself on the wrong side of it, and
wish to be alone in the house."

"Where is Willoughby?"

"Away on business."

"Riding?"

"Achmet is the horse, and pray don't let him be sold, Miss Middleton. I
am deputed to attend on you."

"I should like a stroll."

"Are you perfectly restored?"

"Perfectly."

"Strong?"

"I was never better."

"It was the answer of the ghost of the wicked old man's wife when she
came to persuade him he had one chance remaining. Then, says he, I'll
believe in heaven if ye'll stop that bottle, and hurls it; and the
bottle broke and he committed suicide, not without suspicion of her
laying a trap for him. These showers curling away and leaving sweet
scents are divine, Miss Middleton. I have the privilege of the
Christian name on the nuptial-day. This park of Willoughby's is one of
the best things in England. There's a glimpse over the lake that smokes
of a corner of Killarney; tempts the eye to dream, I mean." De Craye
wound his finger spirally upward, like a smoke-wreath. "Are you for
Irish scenery?"

"Irish, English, Scottish."

"All's one so long as it's beautiful: yes, you speak for me.
Cosmopolitanism of races is a different affair. I beg leave to doubt
the true union of some; Irish and Saxon, for example, let Cupid be
master of the ceremonies and the dwelling-place of the happy couple at
the mouth of a Cornucopia. Yet I have seen a flower of Erin worn by a
Saxon gentleman proudly; and the Hibernian courting a Rowena! So we'll
undo what I said, and consider it cancelled."

"Are you of the rebel party, Colonel De Craye?"

"I am Protestant and Conservative, Miss Middleton."

"I have not a head for politics."

"The political heads I have seen would tempt me to that opinion."

"Did Willoughby say when he would be back?"

"He named no particular time. Doctor Middleton and Mr. Whitford are in
the library upon a battle of the books."

"Happy battle!"

"You are accustomed to scholars. They are rather intolerant of us poor
fellows."

"Of ignorance perhaps; not of persons."

"Your father educated you himself, I presume?"

"He gave me as much Latin as I could take. The fault is mine that it is
little."

"Greek?"

"A little Greek."

"Ah! And you carry it like a feather."

"Because it is so light."

"Miss Middleton, I could sit down to be instructed, old as I am. When
women beat us, I verily believe we are the most beaten dogs in
existence. You like the theatre?"

"Ours?"

"Acting, then."

"Good acting, of course."

"May I venture to say you would act admirably?"

"The venture is bold, for I have never tried."

"Let me see; there is Miss Dale and Mr. Whitford; you and I; sufficient
for a two-act piece. THE IRISHMAN IN SPAIN would do." He bent to touch
the grass as she stepped on it. "The lawn is wet."

She signified that she had no dread of wet, and said: "English women
afraid of the weather might as well be shut up."

De Craye proceeded: "Patrick O'Neill passes over from Hibernia to
Iberia, a disinherited son of a father in the claws of the lawyers,
with a letter of introduction to Don Beltran d'Arragon, a Grandee of
the First Class, who has a daughter Dona Seraphina (Miss Middleton),
the proudest beauty of her day, in the custody of a duenna (Miss Dale),
and plighted to Don Fernan, of the Guzman family (Mr. Whitford). There
you have our dramatis personae."

"You are Patrick?"

"Patrick himself. And I lose my letter, and I stand on the Prado of
Madrid with the last portrait of Britannia in the palm of my hand, and
crying in the purest brogue of my native land: 'It's all through
dropping a letter I'm here in Iberia instead of Hibernia, worse luck to
the spelling!'"

"But Patrick will be sure to aspirate the initial letter of Hibernia."

"That is clever criticism, upon my word, Miss Middleton! So he would.
And there we have two letters dropped. But he'd do it in a groan, so
that it wouldn't count for more than a ghost of one; and everything
goes on the stage, since it's only the laugh we want on the brink of
the action. Besides you are to suppose the performance before a London
audience, who have a native opposite to the aspirate and wouldn't bear
to hear him spoil a joke, as if he were a lord or a constable. It's an
instinct of the English democracy. So with my bit of coin turning over
and over in an undecided way, whether it shall commit suicide to supply
me a supper, I behold a pair of Spanish eyes like violet lightning in
the black heavens of that favoured clime. Won't you have violet?"

"Violet forbids my impersonation."

"But the lustre on black is dark violet blue."

"You remind me that I have no pretension to black."

Colonel De Craye permitted himself to take a flitting gaze at Miss
Middleton's eyes. "Chestnut," he said. "Well, and Spain is the land of
chestnuts."

"Then it follows that I am a daughter of Spain."

"Clearly."

"Logically?"

"By positive deduction."

"And do I behold Patrick?"

"As one looks upon a beast of burden."

"Oh!"

Miss Middleton's exclamation was louder than the matter of the dialogue
seemed to require. She caught her hands up.

In the line of the outer extremity of the rhododendron, screened from
the house windows, young Crossjay lay at his length, with his head
resting on a doubled arm, and his ivy-wreathed hat on his cheek, just
where she had left him, commanding him to stay. Half-way toward him up
the lawn, she saw the poor boy, and the spur of that pitiful sight set
her gliding swiftly. Colonel De Craye followed, pulling an end of his
moustache.

Crossjay jumped to his feet.

"My dear, dear Crossjay!" she addressed him and reproached him. "And
how hungry you must be! And you must be drenched! This is really too
had."

"You told me to wait here," said Crossjay, in shy self-defence.

"I did, and you should not have done it, foolish boy! I told him to
wait for me here before luncheon, Colonel De Craye, and the foolish,
foolish boy!--he has had nothing to eat, and he must have been wet
through two or three times:--because I did not come to him!"

"Quite right. And the lava might overflow him and take the mould of
him, like the sentinel at Pompeii, if he's of the true stuff."

"He may have caught cold, he may have a fever."

"He was under your orders to stay."

"I know, and I cannot forgive myself. Run in, Crossjay, and change your
clothes. Oh, run, run to Mrs. Montague, and get her to give you a warm
bath, and tell her from me to prepare some dinner for you. And change
every garment you have. This is unpardonable of me. I said--'not for
politics!'--I begin to think I have not a head for anything. But could
it be imagined that Crossjay would not move for the dinner-bell!
through all that rain! I forgot you, Crossjay. I am so sorry; so sorry!
You shall make me pay any forfeit you like. Remember, I am deep, deep
in your debt. And now let me see you run fast. You shall come in to
dessert this evening."

Crossjay did not run. He touched her hand.

"You said something?"

"What did I say, Crossjay?"

"You promised."

"What did I promise?"

"Something."

"Name it, my dear boy."

He mumbled, ". . . kiss me."

Clara plumped down on him, enveloped him and kissed him.

The affectionately remorseful impulse was too quick for a conventional
note of admonition to arrest her from paying that portion of her debt.
When she had sped him off to Mrs Montague, she was in a blush.

"Dear, dear Crossjay!" she said, sighing.

"Yes, he's a good lad," remarked the colonel. "The fellow may well be a
faithful soldier and stick to his post, if he receives promise of such
a solde. He is a great favourite with you."

"He is. You will do him a service by persuading Willoughby to send him
to one of those men who get boys through their naval examination. And,
Colonel De Craye, will you be kind enough to ask at the dinner-table
that Crossjay may come in to dessert?"

"Certainly," said he, wondering.

"And will you look after him while you are here? See that no one spoils
him. If you could get him away before you leave, it would be much to
his advantage. He is born for the navy and should be preparing to enter
it now."

"Certainly, certainly," said De Craye, wondering more.

"I thank you in advance."

"Shall I not be usurping . . ."

"No, we leave to-morrow."

"For a day?"

"For longer."

"Two?"

"It will be longer."

"A week? I shall not see you again?"

"I fear not."

Colonel De Craye controlled his astonishment; he smothered a sensation
of veritable pain, and amiably said: "I feel a blow, but I am sure you
would not willingly strike. We are all involved in the regrets."

Miss Middleton spoke of having to see Mrs. Montague, the housekeeper,
with reference to the bath for Crossjay, and stepped off the grass. He
bowed, watched her a moment, and for parallel reasons, running close
enough to hit one mark, he commiserated his friend Willoughby. The
winning or the losing of that young lady struck him as equally
lamentable for Willoughby.



CHAPTER XX

AN AGED AND A GREAT WINE

THE leisurely promenade up and down the lawn with ladies and
deferential gentlemen, in anticipation of the dinner-bell, was Dr.
Middleton's evening pleasure. He walked as one who had formerly danced
(in Apollo's time and the young god Cupid's), elastic on the muscles of
the calf and foot, bearing his broad iron-grey head in grand elevation.
The hard labour of the day approved the cooling exercise and the
crowning refreshments of French cookery and wines of known vintages. He
was happy at that hour in dispensing wisdom or nugae to his hearers,
like the Western sun whose habit it is, when he is fairly treated, to
break out in quiet splendours, which by no means exhaust his treasury.
Blessed indeed above his fellows, by the height of the bow-winged bird
in a fair weather sunset sky above the pecking sparrow, is he that ever
in the recurrent evening of his day sees the best of it ahead and soon
to come. He has the rich reward of a youth and manhood of virtuous
living. Dr. Middleton misdoubted the future as well as the past of the
man who did not, in becoming gravity, exult to dine. That man he
deemed unfit for this world and the next.

An example of the good fruit of temperance, he had a comfortable pride
in his digestion, and his political sentiments were attuned by his
veneration of the Powers rewarding virtue. We must have a stable world
where this is to be done.

The Rev. Doctor was a fine old picture; a specimen of art peculiarly
English; combining in himself piety and epicurism, learning and
gentlemanliness, with good room for each and a seat at one another's
table: for the rest, a strong man, an athlete in his youth, a keen
reader of facts and no reader of persons, genial, a giant at a task, a
steady worker besides, but easily discomposed. He loved his daughter
and he feared her. However much he liked her character, the dread of
her sex and age was constantly present to warn him that he was not tied
to perfect sanity while the damsel Clara remained unmarried. Her mother
had been an amiable woman, of the poetical temperament nevertheless,
too enthusiastic, imaginative, impulsive, for the repose of a sober
scholar; an admirable woman, still, as you see, a woman, a fire-work.
The girl resembled her. Why should she wish to run away from Patterne
Hall for a single hour? Simply because she was of the sex born mutable
and explosive. A husband was her proper custodian, justly relieving a
father. With demagogues abroad and daughters at home, philosophy is
needed for us to keep erect. Let the girl be Cicero's Tullia: well, she
dies! The choicest of them will furnish us examples of a strange
perversity.

Miss Dale was beside Dr. Middleton. Clara came to them and took the
other side.

"I was telling Miss Dale that the signal for your subjection is my
enfranchisement," he said to her, sighing and smiling. "We know the
date. The date of an event to come certifies to it as a fact to be
counted on."

"Are you anxious to lose me?" Clara faltered.

"My dear, you have planted me on a field where I am to expect the
trumpet, and when it blows I shall be quit of my nerves, no more."

Clara found nothing to seize on for a reply in these words. She thought
upon the silence of Laetitia.

Sir Willoughby advanced, appearing in a cordial mood.

"I need not ask you whether you are better," he said to Clara, sparkled
to Laetitia, and raised a key to the level of Dr. Middleton's breast,
remarking, "I am going down to my inner cellar."

"An inner cellar!" exclaimed the doctor.

"Sacred from the butler. It is interdicted to Stoneman. Shall I offer
myself as guide to you? My cellars are worth a visit."

"Cellars are not catacombs. They are, if rightly constructed, rightly
considered, cloisters, where the bottle meditates on joys to bestow,
not on dust misused! Have you anything great?"

"A wine aged ninety."

"Is it associated with your pedigree that you pronounce the age with
such assurance?"

"My grandfather inherited it."

"Your grandfather, Sir Willoughby, had meritorious offspring, not to
speak of generous progenitors. What would have happened had it fallen
into the female line! I shall be glad to accompany you. Port?
Hermitage?"

"Port."

"Ah! We are in England!"

"There will just be time," said Sir Willoughby, inducing Dr. Middleton
to step out.

A chirrup was in the reverend doctor's tone: "Hocks, too, have
compassed age. I have tasted senior Hocks. Their flavours are as a
brook of many voices; they have depth also. Senatorial Port! we say. We
cannot say that of any other wine. Port is deep-sea deep. It is in its
flavour deep; mark the difference. It is like a classic tragedy,
organic in conception. An ancient Hermitage has the light of the
antique; the merit that it can grow to an extreme old age; a merit.
Neither of Hermitage nor of Hock can you say that it is the blood of
those long years, retaining the strength of youth with the wisdom of
age. To Port for that! Port is our noblest legacy! Observe, I do not
compare the wines; I distinguish the qualities. Let them live together
for our enrichment; they are not rivals like the Idaean Three. Were
they rivals, a fourth would challenge them. Burgundy has great genius.
It does wonders within its period; it does all except to keep up in the
race; it is short-lived. An aged Burgundy runs with a beardless Port. I
cherish the fancy that Port speaks the sentences of wisdom, Burgundy
sings the inspired Ode. Or put it, that Port is the Homeric hexameter,
Burgundy the pindaric dithyramb. What do you say?"

"The comparison is excellent, sir."

"The distinction, you would remark. Pindar astounds. But his elder
brings us the more sustaining cup. One is a fountain of prodigious
ascent. One is the unsounded purple sea of marching billows."

"A very fine distinction."

"I conceive you to be now commending the similes. They pertain to the
time of the first critics of those poets. Touch the Greeks, and you can
nothing new; all has been said: 'Graiis . . . praeter, laudem nullius
avaris.' Genius dedicated to Fame is immortal. We, sir, dedicate genius
to the cloacaline floods. We do not address the unforgetting gods, but
the popular stomach."

Sir Willoughby was patient. He was about as accordantly coupled with
Dr. Middleton in discourse as a drum duetting with a bass-viol; and
when he struck in he received correction from the
paedagogue-instrument. If he thumped affirmative or negative, he was
wrong. However, he knew scholars to be an unmannered species; and the
doctor's learnedness would be a subject to dilate on.

In the cellar, it was the turn for the drum. Dr. Middleton was
tongue-tied there. Sir Willoughby gave the history of his wine in heads
of chapters; whence it came to the family originally, and how it had
come down to him in the quantity to be seen. "Curiously, my
grandfather, who inherited it, was a water-drinker. My father died
early."

"Indeed! Dear me!" the doctor ejaculated in astonishment and
condolence. The former glanced at the contrariety of man, the latter
embraced his melancholy destiny.

He was impressed with respect for the family. This cool vaulted cellar,
and the central square block, or enceinte, where the thick darkness was
not penetrated by the intruding lamp, but rather took it as an eye,
bore witness to forethoughtful practical solidity in the man who had
built the house on such foundations. A house having a great wine stored
below lives in our imaginations as a joyful house, fast and splendidly
rooted in the soil. And imagination has a place for the heir of the
house. His grandfather a water-drinker, his father dying early, present
circumstances to us arguing predestination to an illustrious heirship
and career. Dr Middleton's musings were coloured by the friendly
vision of glasses of the great wine; his mind was festive; it pleased
him, and he chose to indulge in his whimsical, robustious,
grandiose-airy style of thinking: from which the festive mind will
sometimes take a certain print that we cannot obliterate immediately.
Expectation is grateful, you know; in the mood of gratitude we are
waxen. And he was a self-humouring gentleman.

He liked Sir Willoughby's tone in ordering the servant at his heels to
take up "those two bottles": it prescribed, without overdoing it, a
proper amount of caution, and it named an agreeable number.

Watching the man's hand keenly, he said:

"But here is the misfortune of a thing super-excellent:--not more than
one in twenty will do it justice."

Sir Willoughby replied: "Very true, sir; and I think we may pass over
the nineteen."

"Women, for example; and most men."

"This wine would be a scaled book to them."

"I believe it would. It would be a grievous waste."

"Vernon is a claret man; and so is Horace De Craye. They are both below
the mark of this wine. They will join the ladies. Perhaps you and I,
sir, might remain together."

"With the utmost good-will on my part."

"I am anxious for your verdict, sir."

"You shall have it, sir, and not out of harmony with the chorus
preceding me, I can predict. Cool, not frigid." Dr. Middleton summed
the attributes of the cellar on quitting it. "North side and South. No
musty damp. A pure air. Everything requisite. One might lie down one's
self and keep sweet here."

Of all our venerable British of the two Isles professing a suckling
attachment to an ancient port-wine, lawyer, doctor, squire, rosy
admiral, city merchant, the classic scholar is he whose blood is most
nuptial to the webbed bottle. The reason must be, that he is full of
the old poets. He has their spirit to sing with, and the best that Time
has done on earth to feed it. He may also perceive a resemblance in the
wine to the studious mind, which is the obverse of our mortality, and
throws off acids and crusty particles in the piling of the years, until
it is fulgent by clarity. Port hymns to his conservatism. It is
magical: at one sip he is off swimming in the purple flood of the
ever-youthful antique.

By comparison, then, the enjoyment of others is brutish; they have not
the soul for it; but he is worthy of the wine, as are poets of Beauty.
In truth, these should be severally apportioned to them, scholar and
poet, as his own good thing. Let it be so.

Meanwhile Dr. Middleton sipped.

After the departure of the ladies, Sir Willoughby had practised a
studied curtness upon Vernon and Horace.

"You drink claret," he remarked to them, passing it round. "Port, I
think, Doctor Middleton? The wine before you may serve for a preface.
We shall have your wine in five minutes."

The claret jug empty, Sir Willoughby offered to send for more. De Craye
was languid over the question. Vernon rose from the table.

"We have a bottle of Doctor Middleton's port coming in," Willoughby
said to him.

"Mine, you call it?" cried the doctor.

"It's a royal wine, that won't suffer sharing," said Vernon.

"We'll be with you, if you go into the billiard-room, Vernon."

"I shall hurry my drinking of good wine for no man," said the Rev.
Doctor.

"Horace?"

"I'm beneath it, ephemeral, Willoughby. I am going to the ladies."

Vernon and De Craye retired upon the arrival of the wine; and Dr.
Middleton sipped. He sipped and looked at the owner of it.

"Some thirty dozen?" he said.

"Fifty."

The doctor nodded humbly.

"I shall remember, sir," his host addressed him, "whenever I have the
honour of entertaining you, I am cellarer of that wine."

The Rev. Doctor set down his glass. "You have, sir, in some sense, an
enviable post. It is a responsible one, if that be a blessing. On you
it devolves to retard the day of the last dozen."

"Your opinion of the wine is favourable, sir?"

"I will say this:--shallow souls run to rhapsody:--I will say, that I
am consoled for not having lived ninety years back, or at any period
but the present, by this one glass of your ancestral wine."

"I am careful of it," Sir Willoughby said, modestly; "still its natural
destination is to those who can appreciate it. You do, sir."

"Still my good friend, still! It is a charge; it is a possession, but
part in trusteeship. Though we cannot declare it an entailed estate,
our consciences are in some sort pledged that it shall be a succession
not too considerably diminished."

"You will not object to drink it, sir, to the health of your
grandchildren. And may you live to toast them in it on their
marriage-day!"

"You colour the idea of a prolonged existence in seductive hues. Ha!
It is a wine for Tithonus. This wine would speed him to the rosy
Morning--aha!"

"I will undertake to sit you through it up to morning," said Sir
Willoughby, innocent of the Bacchic nuptiality of the allusion.

Dr Middleton eyed the decanter. There is a grief in gladness, for a
premonition of our mortal state. The amount of wine in the decanter did
not promise to sustain the starry roof of night and greet the dawn.
"Old wine, my friend, denies us the full bottle!"

"Another bottle is to follow."

"No!"

"It is ordered."

"I protest."

"It is uncorked."

"I entreat."

"It is decanted."

"I submit. But, mark, it must be honest partnership. You are my worthy
host, sir, on that stipulation. Note the superiority of wine over
Venus!--I may say, the magnanimity of wine; our jealousy turns on him
that will not share! But the corks, Willoughby. The corks excite my
amazement."

"The corking is examined at regular intervals. I remember the
occurrence in my father's time. I have seen to it once."

"It must be perilous as an operation for tracheotomy; which I should
assume it to resemble in surgical skill and firmness of hand, not to
mention the imminent gasp of the patient."

A fresh decanter was placed before the doctor.

He said: "I have but a girl to give!" He was melted.

Sir Willoughby replied: "I take her for the highest prize this world
affords."

"I have beaten some small stock of Latin into her head, and a note of
Greek. She contains a savour of the classics. I hoped once . . . But
she is a girl. The nymph of the woods is in her. Still she will bring
you her flower-cup of Hippocrene. She has that aristocracy--the
noblest. She is fair; a Beauty, some have said, who judge not by lines.
Fair to me, Willoughby! She is my sky. There were applicants. In Italy
she was besought of me. She has no history. You are the first heading
of the chapter. With you she will have her one tale, as it should be.
'Mulier tum bene olet', you know. Most fragrant she that smells of
naught. She goes to you from me, from me alone, from her father to her
husband. 'Ut flos in septis secretus nascitur hortis.'" He murmured on
the lines to, "'Sic virgo, dum . . .' I shall feel the parting. She
goes to one who will have my pride in her, and more. I will add, who
will be envied. Mr. Whitford must write you a Carmen Nuptiale."

The heart of the unfortunate gentleman listening to Dr. Middleton set
in for irregular leaps. His offended temper broke away from the image
of Clara, revealing her as he had seen her in the morning beside Horace
De Craye, distressingly sweet; sweet with the breezy radiance of an
English soft-breathing day; sweet with sharpness of young sap. Her
eyes, her lips, her fluttering dress that played happy mother across
her bosom, giving peeps of the veiled twins; and her laughter, her slim
figure, peerless carriage, all her terrible sweetness touched his wound
to the smarting quick.

Her wish to be free of him was his anguish. In his pain he thought
sincerely. When the pain was easier he muffled himself in the idea of
her jealousy of Laetitia Dale, and deemed the wish a fiction. But she
had expressed it. That was the wound he sought to comfort; for the
double reason, that he could love her better after punishing her, and
that to meditate on doing so masked the fear of losing her--the dread
abyss she had succeeded in forcing his nature to shudder at as a giddy
edge possibly near, in spite of his arts of self-defence.

"What I shall do to-morrow evening!" he exclaimed. "I do not care to
fling a bottle to Colonel De Craye and Vernon. I cannot open one for
myself. To sit with the ladies will be sitting in the cold for me. When
do you bring me back my bride, sir?"

"My dear Willoughby!" The Rev. Doctor puffed, composed himself, and
sipped. "The expedition is an absurdity. I am unable to see the aim of
it. She had a headache, vapours. They are over, and she will show a
return of good sense. I have ever maintained that nonsense is not to be
encouraged in girls. I can put my foot on it. My arrangements are for
staying here a further ten days, in the terms of your hospitable
invitation. And I stay."

"I applaud your resolution, sir. Will you prove firm?"

"I am never false to my engagement, Willoughby."

"Not under pressure?"

"Under no pressure."

"Persuasion, I should have said."

"Certainly not. The weakness is in the yielding, either to persuasion
or to pressure. The latter brings weight to bear on us; the former
blows at our want of it."

"You gratify me, Doctor Middleton, and relieve me."

"I cordially dislike a breach in good habits, Willoughby. But I do
remember--was I wrong?--informing Clara that you appeared light-hearted
in regard to a departure, or gap in a visit, that was not, I must
confess, to my liking."

"Simply, my dear doctor, your pleasure was my pleasure; but make my
pleasure yours, and you remain to crack many a bottle with your
son-in-law."

"Excellently said. You have a courtly speech, Willoughby. I can imagine
you to conduct a lovers' quarrel with a politeness to read a lesson to
well-bred damsels. Aha?"

"Spare me the futility of the quarrel."

"All's well?"

"Clara," replied Sir Willoughby, in dramatic epigram, "is perfection."

"I rejoice," the Rev. Doctor responded; taught thus to understand that
the lovers' quarrel between his daughter and his host was at an end.

He left the table a little after eleven o'clock. A short dialogue
ensued upon the subject of the ladies. They must have gone to bed?
Why, yes; of course they must. It is good that they should go to bed
early to preserve their complexions for us. Ladies are creation's
glory, but they are anti-climax, following a wine of a century old.
They are anti-climax, recoil, cross-current; morally, they are
repentance, penance; imagerially, the frozen North on the young brown
buds bursting to green. What know they of a critic in the palate, and a
frame all revelry! And mark you, revelry in sobriety, containment in
exultation; classic revelry. Can they, dear though they be to us, light
up candelabras in the brain, to illuminate all history and solve the
secret of the destiny of man? They cannot; they cannot sympathize with
them that can. So therefore this division is between us; yet are we not
turbaned Orientals, nor are they inmates of the harem. We are not
Moslem. Be assured of it in the contemplation of the table's decanter.

Dr Middleton said: "Then I go straight to bed."

"I will conduct you to your door, sir," said his host.

The piano was heard. Dr. Middleton laid his hand on the banisters, and
remarked: "The ladies must have gone to bed?"

Vernon came out of the library and was hailed, "Fellow-student!"

He waved a good-night to the Doctor, and said to Willoughby: "The
ladies are in the drawing-room."

"I am on my way upstairs," was the reply.

"Solitude and sleep, after such a wine as that; and forefend us human
society!" the Doctor shouted. "But, Willoughby!"

"Sir."

"One to-morrow."

"You dispose of the cellar, sir."

"I am fitter to drive the horses of the sun. I would rigidly counsel,
one, and no more. We have made a breach in the fiftieth dozen. Daily
one will preserve us from having to name the fortieth quite so
unseasonably. The couple of bottles per diem prognosticates
disintegration, with its accompanying recklessness. Constitutionally,
let me add, I bear three. I speak for posterity."

During Dr. Middleton's allocution the ladies issued from the
drawing-room, Clara foremost, for she had heard her father's voice, and
desired to ask him this in reference to their departure: "Papa, will
you tell me the hour to-morrow?"

She ran up the stairs to kiss him, saying again: "When will you be
ready to-morrow morning?"

Dr Middleton announced a stoutly deliberative mind in the bugle-notes
of a repeated ahem. He bethought him of replying in his doctorial
tongue. Clara's eager face admonished him to brevity: it began to look
starved. Intruding on his vision of the houris couched in the inner
cellar to be the reward of valiant men, it annoyed him. His brows
joined. He said: "I shall not be ready to-morrow morning."

"In the afternoon?"

"Nor in the afternoon."

"When?"

"My dear, I am ready for bed at this moment, and know of no other
readiness. Ladies," he bowed to the group in the hall below him, "may
fair dreams pay court to you this night!"

Sir Willoughby had hastily descended and shaken the hands of the
ladies, directed Horace De Craye to the laboratory for a smoking-room,
and returned to Dr. Middleton. Vexed by the scene, uncertain of his
temper if he stayed with Clara, for whom he had arranged that her
disappointment should take place on the morrow, in his absence, he
said: "Good-night, good-night," to her, with due fervour, bending over
her flaccid finger-tips; then offered his arm to the Rev. Doctor.

"Ay, son Willoughby, in friendliness, if you will, though I am a man to
bear my load," the father of the stupefied girl addressed him.
"Candles, I believe, are on the first landing. Good-night, my love.
Clara!"

"Papa!"

"Good-night."

"Oh!" she lifted her breast with the interjection, standing in shame of
the curtained conspiracy and herself, "good night".

Her father wound up the stairs. She stepped down.

"There was an understanding that papa and I should go to London
to-morrow early," she said, unconcernedly, to the ladies, and her voice
was clear, but her face too legible. De Craye was heartily unhappy at
the sight.



CHAPTER XXI

CLARA'S MEDITATIONS

Two were sleepless that night: Miss Middleton and Colonel De Craye.

She was in a fever, lying like stone, with her brain burning. Quick
natures run out to calamity in any little shadow of it flung before.
Terrors of apprehension drive them. They stop not short of the
uttermost when they are on the wings of dread. A frown means tempest, a
wind wreck; to see fire is to be seized by it. When it is the approach
of their loathing that they fear, they are in the tragedy of the
embrace at a breath; and then is the wrestle between themselves and
horror, between themselves and evil, which promises aid; themselves and
weakness, which calls on evil; themselves and the better part of them,
which whispers no beguilement.

The false course she had taken through sophistical cowardice appalled
the girl; she was lost. The advantage taken of it by Willoughby put on
the form of strength, and made her feel abject, reptilious; she was
lost, carried away on the flood of the cataract. He had won her father
for an ally. Strangely, she knew not how, he had succeeded in swaying
her father, who had previously not more than tolerated him. "Son
Willoughby" on her father's lips meant something that scenes and scenes
would have to struggle with, to the out-wearying of her father and
herself. She revolved the "Son Willoughby" through moods of
stupefaction, contempt, revolt, subjection. It meant that she was
vanquished. It meant that her father's esteem for her was forfeited.
She saw him a gigantic image of discomposure.

Her recognition of her cowardly feebleness brought the brood of
fatalism. What was the right of so miserable a creature as she to
excite disturbance, let her fortunes be good or ill? It would be
quieter to float, kinder to everybody. Thank heaven for the chances of
a short life! Once in a net, desperation is graceless. We may be
brutes in our earthly destinies: in our endurance of them we need not
be brutish.

She was now in the luxury of passivity, when we throw our burden on the
Powers above, and do not love them. The need to love them drew her out
of it, that she might strive with the unbearable, and by sheer
striving, even though she were graceless, come to love them humbly. It
is here that the seed of good teaching supports a soul, for the
condition might be mapped, and where kismet whispers us to shut eyes,
and instruction bids us look up, is at a well-marked cross-road of the
contest.

Quick of sensation, but not courageously resolved, she perceived how
blunderingly she had acted. For a punishment, it seemed to her that she
who had not known her mind must learn to conquer her nature, and
submit. She had accepted Willoughby; therefore she accepted him. The
fact became a matter of the past, past debating.

In the abstract this contemplation of circumstances went well. A plain
duty lay in her way. And then a disembodied thought flew round her,
comparing her with Vernon to her discredit. He had for years borne much
that was distasteful to him, for the purpose of studying, and with his
poor income helping the poorer than himself. She dwelt on him in pity
and envy; he had lived in this place, and so must she; and he had not
been dishonoured by his modesty: he had not failed of self-control,
because he had a life within. She was almost imagining she might
imitate him when the clash of a sharp physical thought, "The
difference! the difference!" told her she was woman and never could
submit. Can a woman have an inner life apart from him she is yoked to?
She tried to nestle deep away in herself: in some corner where the
abstract view had comforted her, to flee from thinking as her feminine
blood directed. It was a vain effort. The difference, the cruel fate,
the defencelessness of women, pursued her, strung her to wild horses'
backs, tossed her on savage wastes. In her case duty was shame: hence,
it could not be broadly duty. That intolerable difference proscribed
the word.

But the fire of a brain burning high and kindling everything lighted up
herself against herself.--Was one so volatile as she a person with a
will?--Were they not a multitude of flitting wishes that she took for a
will? Was she, feather-headed that she was, a person to make a stand on
physical pride?--If she could yield her hand without reflection (as she
conceived she had done, from incapacity to conceive herself doing it
reflectively) was she much better than purchaseable stuff that has
nothing to say to the bargain?

Furthermore, said her incandescent reason, she had not suspected such
art of cunning in Willoughby. Then might she not be deceived
altogether--might she not have misread him? Stronger than she had
fancied, might he not be likewise more estimable? The world was
favourable to him; he was prized by his friends.

She reviewed him. It was all in one flash. It was not much less
intentionally favourable than the world's review and that of his
friends, but, beginning with the idea of them, she recollected--heard
Willoughby's voice pronouncing his opinion of his friends and the
world; of Vernon Whitford and Colonel De Craye for example, and of men
and women. An undefined agreement to have the same regard for him as
his friends and the world had, provided that he kept at the same
distance from her, was the termination of this phase, occupying about a
minute in time, and reached through a series of intensely vivid
pictures:--his face, at her petition to be released, lowering behind
them for a background and a comment.

"I cannot! I cannot!" she cried, aloud; and it struck her that her
repulsion was a holy warning. Better be graceless than a loathing wife:
better appear inconsistent. Why should she not appear such as she was?

Why? We answer that question usually in angry reliance on certain
superb qualities, injured fine qualities of ours undiscovered by the
world, not much more than suspected by ourselves, which are still our
fortress, where pride sits at home, solitary and impervious as an
octogenarian conservative. But it is not possible to answer it so when
the brain is rageing like a pine-torch and the devouring illumination
leaves not a spot of our nature covert. The aspect of her weakness was
unrelieved, and frightened her back to her loathing. From her loathing,
as soon as her sensations had quickened to realize it, she was hurled
on her weakness. She was graceless, she was inconsistent, she was
volatile, she was unprincipled, she was worse than a prey to
wickedness--capable of it; she was only waiting to be misled. Nay, the
idea of being misled suffused her with languor; for then the battle
would be over and she a happy weed of the sea no longer suffering those
tugs at the roots, but leaving it to the sea to heave and contend. She
would be like Constantia then: like her in her fortunes: never so
brave, she feared.

Perhaps very like Constantia in her fortunes!

Poor troubled bodies waking up in the night to behold visually the
spectre cast forth from the perplexed machinery inside them, stare at
it for a space, till touching consciousness they dive down under the
sheets with fish-like alacrity. Clara looked at her thought, and
suddenly headed downward in a crimson gulf.

She must have obtained absolution, or else it was oblivion, below.
Soon after the plunge her first object of meditation was Colonel De
Craye. She thought of him calmly: he seemed a refuge. He was very nice,
he was a holiday character. His lithe figure, neat firm footing of the
stag, swift intelligent expression, and his ready frolicsomeness,
pleasant humour, cordial temper, and his Irishry, whereon he was at
liberty to play, as on the emblem harp of the Isle, were soothing to
think of. The suspicion that she tricked herself with this calm
observation of him was dismissed. Issuing out of torture, her young
nature eluded the irradiating brain in search of refreshment, and she
luxuriated at a feast in considering him--shower on a parched land that
he was! He spread new air abroad. She had no reason to suppose he was
not a good man: she could securely think of him. Besides he was bound
by his prospective office in support of his friend Willoughby to be
quite harmless. And besides (you are not to expect logical sequences)
the showery refreshment in thinking of him lay in the sort of assurance
it conveyed, that the more she thought, the less would he be likely to
figure as an obnoxious official--that is, as the man to do by
Willoughby at the altar what her father would, under the supposition,
be doing by her. Her mind reposed on Colonel De Craye.

His name was Horace. Her father had worked with her at Horace. She knew
most of the Odes and some of the Satires and Epistles of the poet. They
reflected benevolent beams on the gentleman of the poet's name. He too
was vivacious, had fun, common sense, elegance; loved rusticity, he
said, sighed for a country life, fancied retiring to Canada to
cultivate his own domain; "modus agri non ita magnus:" a delight. And
he, too, when in the country, sighed for town. There were strong
features of resemblance. He had hinted in fun at not being rich. "Quae
virtus et quanta sit vivere parvo." But that quotation applied to and
belonged to Vernon Whitford. Even so little disarranged her
meditations.

She would have thought of Vernon, as her instinct of safety prompted,
had not his exactions been excessive. He proposed to help her with
advice only. She was to do everything for herself, do and dare
everything, decide upon everything. He told her flatly that so would
she learn to know her own mind; and flatly, that it was her penance.
She had gained nothing by breaking down and pouring herself out to him.
He would have her bring Willoughby and her father face to face, and be
witness of their interview--herself the theme. What alternative was
there?--obedience to the word she had pledged. He talked of patience,
of self-examination and patience. But all of her--she was all marked
urgent. This house was a cage, and the world--her brain was a cage,
until she could obtain her prospect of freedom.

As for the house, she might leave it; yonder was the dawn.

She went to her window to gaze at the first colour along the grey.
Small satisfaction came of gazing at that or at herself. She shunned
glass and sky. One and the other stamped her as a slave in a frame. It
seemed to her she had been so long in this place that she was fixed
here: it was her world, and to imagine an Alp was like seeking to get
back to childhood. Unless a miracle intervened here she would have to
pass her days. Men are so little chivalrous now that no miracle ever
intervenes. Consequently she was doomed.

She took a pen and began a letter to a dear friend, Lucy Darleton, a
promised bridesmaid, bidding her countermand orders for her bridal
dress, and purposing a tour in Switzerland. She wrote of the mountain
country with real abandonment to imagination. It became a visioned
loophole of escape. She rose and clasped a shawl over her night-dress
to ward off chillness, and sitting to the table again, could not
produce a word. The lines she had written were condemned: they were
ludicrously inefficient. The letter was torn to pieces. She stood very
clearly doomed.

After a fall of tears, upon looking at the scraps, she dressed herself,
and sat by the window and watched the blackbird on the lawn as he
hopped from shafts of dewy sunlight to the long-stretched dewy
tree-shadows, considering in her mind that dark dews are more
meaningful than bright, the beauty of the dews of woods more sweet than
meadow-dews. It signified only that she was quieter. She had gone
through her crisis in the anticipation of it. That is how quick natures
will often be cold and hard, or not much moved, when the positive
crisis arrives, and why it is that they are prepared for astonishing
leaps over the gradations which should render their conduct
comprehensible to us, if not excuseable. She watched the blackbird
throw up his head stiffly, and peck to right and left, dangling the
worm on each side his orange beak. Specklebreasted thrushes were at
work, and a wagtail that ran as with Clara's own rapid little steps.
Thrush and blackbird flew to the nest. They had wings. The lovely
morning breathed of sweet earth into her open window, and made it
painful, in the dense twitter, chirp, cheep, and song of the air, to
resist the innocent intoxication. O to love! was not said by her, but
if she had sung, as her nature prompted, it would have been. Her war
with Willoughby sprang of a desire to love repelled by distaste. Her
cry for freedom was a cry to be free to love: she discovered it, half
shuddering: to love, oh! no--no shape of man, nor impalpable nature
either: but to love unselfishness, and helpfulness, and planted
strength in something. Then, loving and being loved a little, what
strength would be hers! She could utter all the words needed to
Willoughby and to her father, locked in her love: walking in this
world, living in that.

Previously she had cried, despairing: If I were loved! Jealousy of
Constantia's happiness, envy of her escape, ruled her then: and she
remembered the cry, though not perfectly her plain-speaking to herself:
she chose to think she had meant: If Willoughby were capable of truly
loving! For now the fire of her brain had sunk, and refuges and
subterfuges were round about it. The thought of personal love was
encouraged, she chose to think, for the sake of the strength it lent
her to carve her way to freedom. She had just before felt rather the
reverse, but she could not exist with that feeling; and it was true
that freedom was not so indistinct in her fancy as the idea of love.

Were men, when they were known, like him she knew too well?

The arch-tempter's question to her was there.

She put it away. Wherever she turned it stood observing her. She knew
so much of one man, nothing of the rest: naturally she was curious.
Vernon might be sworn to be unlike. But he was exceptional. What of the
other in the house?

Maidens are commonly reduced to read the masters of their destinies by
their instincts; and when these have been edged by over-activity they
must hoodwink their maidenliness to suffer themselves to read; and then
they must dupe their minds, else men would soon see they were gifted to
discern. Total ignorance being their pledge of purity to men, they have
to expunge the writing of their perceptives on the tablets of the
brain: they have to know not when they do know. The instinct of seeking
to know, crossed by the task of blotting knowledge out, creates that
conflict of the natural with the artificial creature to which their
ultimately revealed double-face, complained of by ever-dissatisfied
men, is owing. Wonder in no degree that they indulge a craving to be
fools, or that many of them act the character. Jeer at them as little
for not showing growth. You have reared them to this pitch, and at this
pitch they have partly civilized you. Supposing you to want it done
wholly, you must yield just as many points in your requisitions as are
needed to let the wits of young women reap their due harvest and be of
good use to their souls. You will then have a fair battle, a braver,
with better results.

Clara's inner eye traversed Colonel De Craye at a shot.

She had immediately to blot out the vision of Captain Oxford in him,
the revelation of his laughing contempt for Willoughby, the view of
mercurial principles, the scribbled histories of light love-passages.

She blotted it out, kept it from her mind: so she knew him, knew him to
be a sweeter and a variable Willoughby, a generous kind of Willoughby,
a Willoughby-butterfly, without having the free mind to summarize him
and picture him for a warning. Scattered features of him, such as the
instincts call up, were not sufficiently impressive. Besides, the
clouded mind was opposed to her receiving impressions.

Young Crossjay's voice in the still morning air came to her cars. The
dear guileless chatter of the boy's voice. Why, assuredly it was young
Crossjay who was the man she loved. And he loved her. And he was going
to be an unselfish, sustaining, true, strong man, the man she longed
for, for anchorage. Oh, the dear voice! woodpecker and thrush in one.
He never ceased to chatter to Vernon Whitford walking beside him with a
swinging stride off to the lake for their morning swim. Happy couple!
The morning gave them both a freshness and innocence above human. They
seemed to Clara made of morning air and clear lake water. Crossjay's
voice ran up and down a diatonic scale with here and there a query in
semitone and a laugh on a ringing note. She wondered what he could have
to talk of so incessantly, and imagined all the dialogue. He prattled
of his yesterday, to-day, and to-morrow, which did not imply past and
future, but his vivid present. She felt like one vainly trying to fly
in hearing him; she felt old. The consolation she arrived at was to
feel maternal. She wished to hug the boy.

Trot and stride, Crossjay and Vernon entered the park, careless about
wet grass, not once looking at the house. Crossjay ranged ahead and
picked flowers, bounding back to show them. Clara's heart beat at a
fancy that her name was mentioned. If those flowers were for her she
would prize them.

The two bathers dipped over an undulation.

Her loss of them rattled her chains.

Deeply dwelling on their troubles has the effect upon the young of
helping to forgetfulness; for they cannot think without imagining,
their imaginations are saturated with their Pleasures, and the
collision, though they are unable to exchange sad for sweet, distills
an opiate.

"Am I solemnly engaged?" she asked herself. She seemed to be awakening.

She glanced at her bed, where she had passed the night of ineffectual
moaning, and out on the high wave of grass, where Crossjay and his good
friend had vanished.

Was the struggle all to be gone over again?

Little by little her intelligence of her actual position crept up to
submerge her heart.

"I am in his house!" she said. It resembled a discovery, so strangely
had her opiate and power of dreaming wrought through her tortures. She
said it gasping. She was in his house, his guest, his betrothed, sworn
to him. The fact stood out cut in steel on the pitiless daylight.

That consideration drove her to be an early wanderer in the wake of
Crossjay.

Her station was among the beeches on the flank of the boy's return; and
while waiting there the novelty of her waiting to waylay anyone--she
who had played the contrary part!--told her more than it pleased her to
think. Yet she could admit that she did desire to speak with Vernon, as
with a counsellor, harsh and curt, but wholesome.

The bathers reappeared on the grass-ridge, racing and flapping wet
towels.

Some one hailed them. A sound of the galloping hoof drew her attention
to the avenue. She saw Willoughby dash across the park level, and
dropping a word to Vernon, ride away. Then she allowed herself to be
seen.

Crossjay shouted. Willoughby turned his head, but not his horse's head.
The boy sprang up to Clara. He had swum across the lake and back; he
had raced Mr. Whitford--and beaten him! How he wished Miss Middleton
had been able to be one of them!

Clara listened to him enviously. Her thought was: We women are nailed
to our sex!

She said: "And you have just been talking to Sir Willoughby."

Crossjay drew himself up to give an imitation of the baronet's
hand-moving in adieu.

He would not have done that had he not smelled sympathy with the
performance.

She declined to smile. Crossjay repeated it, and laughed. He made a
broader exhibition of it to Vernon approaching: "I say. Mr. Whitford,
who's this?"

Vernon doubled to catch him. Crossjay fled and resumed his magnificent
air in the distance.

"Good-morning, Miss Middleton; you are out early," said Vernon, rather
pale and stringy from his cold swim, and rather hard-eyed with the
sharp exercise following it.

She had expected some of the kindness she wanted to reject, for he
could speak very kindly, and she regarded him as her doctor of
medicine, who would at least present the futile drug.

"Good morning," she replied.

"Willoughby will not be home till the evening."

"You could not have had a finer morning for your bath."

"No."

"I will walk as fast as you like."

"I'm perfectly warm."

"But you prefer fast walking."

"Out."

"Ah! yes, that I understand. The walk back! Why is Willoughby away
to-day?"

"He has business."

After several steps she said: "He makes very sure of papa."

"Not without reason, you will find," said Vernon.

"Can it be? I am bewildered. I had papa's promise."

"To leave the Hall for a day or two."

"It would have been . . ."

"Possibly. But other heads are at work as well as yours. If you had
been in earnest about it you would have taken your father into your
confidence at once. That was the course I ventured to propose, on the
supposition."

"In earnest! I cannot imagine that you doubt it. I wished to spare
him."

"This is a case in which he can't be spared."

"If I had been bound to any other! I did not know then who held me a
prisoner. I thought I had only to speak to him sincerely."

"Not many men would give up their prize for a word, Willoughby the last
of any."

"Prize" rang through her thrillingly from Vernon's mouth, and soothed
her degradation.

She would have liked to protest that she was very little of a prize; a
poor prize; not one at all in general estimation; only one to a man
reckoning his property; no prize in the true sense.

The importunity of pain saved her.

"Does he think I can change again? Am I treated as something won in a
lottery? To stay here is indeed more than I can bear. And if he is
calculating--Mr. Whitford, if he calculates on another change, his
plotting to keep me here is inconsiderate, not very wise. Changes may
occur in absence."

"Wise or not, he has the right to scheme his best to keep you."

She looked on Vernon with a shade of wondering reproach.

"Why? What right?"

"The right you admit when you ask him to release you. He has the right
to think you deluded; and to think you may come to a better mood if you
remain--a mood more agreeable to him, I mean. He has that right
absolutely. You are bound to remember also that you stand in the wrong.
You confess it when you appeal to his generosity. And every man has the
right to retain a treasure in his hand if he can. Look straight at
these facts."

"You expect me to be all reason!"

"Try to be. It's the way to learn whether you are really in earnest."

"I will try. It will drive me to worse!"

"Try honestly. What is wisest now is, in my opinion, for you to resolve
to stay. I speak in the character of the person you sketched for
yourself as requiring. Well, then, a friend repeats the same advice.
You might have gone with your father: now you will only disturb him and
annoy him. The chances are he will refuse to go."

"Are women ever so changeable as men, then? Papa consented; he agreed;
he had some of my feeling; I saw it. That was yesterday. And at night!
He spoke to each of us at night in a different tone from usual. With me
he was hardly affectionate. But when you advise me to stay, Mr.
Whitford, you do not perhaps reflect that it would be at the sacrifice
of all candour."

"Regard it as a probational term."

"It has gone too far with me."

"Take the matter into the head: try the case there."

"Are you not counselling me as if I were a woman of intellect?"

The crystal ring in her voice told him that tears were near to flowing.

He shuddered slightly. "You have intellect," he said, nodded, and
crossed the lawn, leaving her. He had to dress.

She was not permitted to feel lonely, for she was immediately joined by
Colonel De Craye.



CHAPTER XXII

THE RIDE

Crossjay darted up to her a nose ahead of the colonel.

"I say, Miss Middleton, we're to have the whole day to ourselves, after
morning lessons. Will you come and fish with me and see me
bird's-nest?"

"Not for the satisfaction of beholding another cracked crown, my son,"
the colonel interposed: and bowing to Clara: "Miss Middleton is handed
over to my exclusive charge for the day, with her consent?"

"I scarcely know," said she, consulting a sensation of languor that
seemed to contain some reminiscence. "If I am here. My father's plans
are uncertain. I will speak to him. If I am here, perhaps Crossjay
would like a ride in the afternoon."

"Oh, yes," cried the boy; "out over Bournden, through Mewsey up to
Closharn Beacon, and down on Aspenwell, where there's a common for
racing. And ford the stream!"

"An inducement for you," De Craye said to her.

She smiled and squeezed the boy's hand.

"We won't go without you, Crossjay."

"You don't carry a comb, my man, when you bathe?"

At this remark of the colonel's young Crossjay conceived the appearance
of his matted locks in the eyes of his adorable lady. He gave her one
dear look through his redness, and fled.

"I like that boy," said De Craye.

"I love him," said Clara.

Crossjay's troubled eyelids in his honest young face became a picture
for her.

"After all, Miss Middleton, Willoughby's notions about him are not so
bad, if we consider that you will be in the place of a mother to him."

"I think them bad."

"You are disinclined to calculate the good fortune of the boy in having
more of you on land than he would have in crown and anchor buttons!"

"You have talked of him with Willoughby."

"We had a talk last night."

Of how much? thought she.

"Willoughby returns?" she said.

"He dines here, I know; for he holds the key of the inner cellar, and
Doctor Middleton does him the honour to applaud his wine. Willoughby
was good enough to tell me that he thought I might contribute to amuse
you."

She was brooding in stupefaction on her father and the wine as she
requested Colonel De Craye to persuade Willoughby to take the general
view of Crossjay's future and act on it.

"He seems fond of the boy, too," said De Craye, musingly.

"You speak in doubt?"

"Not at all. But is he not--men are queer fish!--make allowance for
us--a trifle tyrannical, pleasantly, with those he is fond of?"

"If they look right and left?"

It was meant for an interrogation; it was not with the sound of one
that the words dropped. "My dear Crossjay!" she sighed. "I would
willingly pay for him out of my own purse, and I will do so rather than
have him miss his chance. I have not mustered resolution to propose
it."

"I may be mistaken, Miss Middleton. He talked of the boy's fondness of
him."

"He would."

"I suppose he is hardly peculiar in liking to play Pole-star."

"He may not be."

"For the rest, your influence should be all-powerful."

"It is not."

De Craye looked with a wandering eye at the heavens.

"We are having a spell of weather perfectly superb. And the odd thing
is, that whenever we have splendid weather at home we're all for
rushing abroad. I'm booked for a Mediterranean cruise--postponed to
give place to your ceremony."

"That?" she could not control her accent.

"What worthier?"

She was guilty of a pause.

De Craye saved it from an awkward length. "I have written half an essay
on Honeymoons, Miss Middleton."

"Is that the same as a half-written essay, Colonel De Craye?"

"Just the same, with the difference that it's a whole essay written all
on one side."

"On which side?"

"The bachelor's."

"Why does he trouble himself with such topics?"

"To warm himself for being left out in the cold."

"Does he feel envy?"

"He has to confess it."

"He has liberty."

"A commodity he can't tell the value of if there's no one to buy."

"Why should he wish to sell?"

"He's bent on completing his essay."

"To make the reading dull."

"There we touch the key of the subject. For what is to rescue the pair
from a monotony multiplied by two? And so a bachelor's recommendation,
when each has discovered the right sort of person to be dull with,
pushes them from the churchdoor on a round of adventures containing a
spice of peril, if 'tis to be had. Let them be in danger of their lives
the first or second day. A bachelor's loneliness is a private affair of
his own; he hasn't to look into a face to be ashamed of feeling it and
inflicting it at the same time; 'tis his pillow; he can punch it an he
pleases, and turn it over t'other side, if he's for a mighty variation;
there's a dream in it. But our poor couple are staring wide awake. All
their dreaming's done. They've emptied their bottle of elixir, or
broken it; and she has a thirst for the use of the tongue, and he to
yawn with a crony; and they may converse, they're not aware of it, more
than the desert that has drunk a shower. So as soon as possible she's
away to the ladies, and he puts on his Club. That's what your bachelor
sees and would like to spare them; and if he didn't see something of
the sort he'd be off with a noose round his neck, on his knees in the
dew to the morning milkmaid."

"The bachelor is happily warned and on his guard," said Clara,
diverted, as he wished her to be. "Sketch me a few of the adventures
you propose."

"I have a friend who rowed his bride from the Houses of Parliament up
the Thames to the Severn on into North Wales. They shot some pretty
weirs and rapids."

"That was nice."

"They had an infinity of adventures, and the best proof of the benefit
they derived is, that they forgot everything about them except that the
adventures occurred."

"Those two must have returned bright enough to please you."

"They returned, and shone like a wrecker's beacon to the mariner. You
see, Miss Middleton, there was the landscape, and the exercise, and the
occasional bit of danger. I think it's to be recommended. The scene is
always changing, and not too fast; and 'tis not too sublime, like big
mountains, to tire them of their everlasting big Ohs. There's the
difference between going into a howling wind and launching among
zephyrs. They have fresh air and movement, and not in a railway
carriage; they can take in what they look on. And she has the steering
ropes, and that's a wise commencement. And my lord is all day making an
exhibition of his manly strength, bowing before her some sixty to the
minute; and she, to help him, just inclines when she's in the mood. And
they're face to face in the nature of things, and are not under the
obligation of looking the unutterable, because, you see, there's
business in hand; and the boat's just the right sort of third party,
who never interferes, but must be attended to. And they feel they're
labouring together to get along, all in the proper proportion; and
whether he has to labour in life or not, he proves his ability. What do
you think of it, Miss Middleton?"

"I think you have only to propose it, Colonel De Craye."

"And if they capsize, why, 'tis a natural ducking!"

"You forgot the lady's dressing-bag."

"The stain on the metal for a constant reminder of his prowess in
saving it! Well, and there's an alternative to that scheme, and a
finer:--This, then: they read dramatic pieces during courtship, to stop
the saying of things over again till the drum of the car becomes
nothing but a drum to the poor head, and a little before they affix
their signatures to the fatal Registry-book of the vestry, they enter
into an engagement with a body of provincial actors to join the troop
on the day of their nuptials, and away they go in their coach and four,
and she is Lady Kitty Caper for a month, and he Sir Harry Highflyer.
See the honeymoon spinning! The marvel to me is that none of the young
couples do it. They could enjoy the world, see life, amuse the company,
and come back fresh to their own characters, instead of giving
themselves a dose of Africa without a savage to diversify it: an
impression they never get over, I'm told. Many a character of the
happiest auspices has irreparable mischief done it by the ordinary
honeymoon. For my part, I rather lean to the second plan of campaign."

Clara was expected to reply, and she said: "Probably because you are
fond of acting. It would require capacity on both sides."

"Miss Middleton, I would undertake to breathe the enthusiasm for the
stage and the adventure."

"You are recommending it generally."

"Let my gentleman only have a fund of enthusiasm. The lady will kindle.
She always does at a spark."

"If he has not any?"

"Then I'm afraid they must be mortally dull."

She allowed her silence to speak; she knew that it did so too
eloquently, and could not control the personal adumbration she gave to
the one point of light revealed in, "if he has not any". Her figure
seemed immediately to wear a cap and cloak of dulness.

She was full of revolt and anger, she was burning with her situation;
if sensible of shame now at anything that she did, it turned to wrath
and threw the burden on the author of her desperate distress. The hour
for blaming herself had gone by, to be renewed ultimately perhaps in a
season of freedom. She was bereft of her insight within at present, so
blind to herself that, while conscious of an accurate reading of
Willoughby's friend, she thanked him in her heart for seeking simply to
amuse her and slightly succeeding. The afternoon's ride with him and
Crossjay was an agreeable beguilement to her in prospect.

Laetitia came to divide her from Colonel De Craye. Dr. Middleton was
not seen before his appearance at the breakfast-table, where a certain
air of anxiety in his daughter's presence produced the semblance of a
raised map at intervals on his forehead. Few sights on earth are more
deserving of our sympathy than a good man who has a troubled conscience
thrust on him.

The Rev. Doctor's perturbation was observed. The ladies Eleanor and
Isabel, seeing his daughter to be the cause of it, blamed her, and
would have assisted him to escape, but Miss Dale, whom he courted with
that object, was of the opposite faction. She made way for Clara to
lead her father out. He called to Vernon, who merely nodded while
leaving the room by the window with Crossjay.

Half an eye on Dr. Middleton's pathetic exit in captivity sufficed to
tell Colonel De Craye that parties divided the house. At first he
thought how deplorable it would be to lose Miss Middleton for two days
or three: and it struck him that Vernon Whitford and Laetitia Dale were
acting oddly in seconding her, their aim not being discernible. For he
was of the order of gentlemen of the obscurely-clear in mind who have a
predetermined acuteness in their watch upon the human play, and mark
men and women as pieces of a bad game of chess, each pursuing an
interested course. His experience of a section of the world had
educated him--as gallant, frank, and manly a comrade as one could wish
for--up to this point. But he soon abandoned speculations, which may be
compared to a shaking anemometer that will not let the troubled
indicator take station. Reposing on his perceptions and his instincts,
he fixed his attention on the chief persons, only glancing at the
others to establish a postulate, that where there are parties in a
house the most bewitching person present is the origin of them. It is
ever Helen's achievement. Miss Middleton appeared to him bewitching
beyond mortal; sunny in her laughter, shadowy in her smiling; a young
lady shaped for perfect music with a lover.

She was that, and no less, to every man's eye on earth. High breeding
did not freeze her lovely girlishness.--But Willoughby did. This
reflection intervened to blot luxurious picturings of her, and made
itself acceptable by leading him back to several instances of an
evident want of harmony of the pair.

And now (for purely undirected impulse all within us is not, though we
may be eye-bandaged agents under direction) it became necessary for an
honourable gentleman to cast vehement rebukes at the fellow who did not
comprehend the jewel he had won. How could Willoughby behave like so
complete a donkey! De Craye knew him to be in his interior stiff,
strange, exacting: women had talked of him; he had been too much for
one woman--the dashing Constantia: he had worn one woman, sacrificing
far more for him than Constantia, to death. Still, with such a prize as
Clara Middleton, Willoughby's behaviour was past calculating in its
contemptible absurdity. And during courtship! And courtship of that
girl! It was the way of a man ten years after marriage.

The idea drew him to picture her doatingly in her young matronly bloom
ten years after marriage: without a touch of age, matronly wise,
womanly sweet: perhaps with a couple of little ones to love, never
having known the love of a man.

To think of a girl like Clara Middleton never having at
nine-and-twenty, and with two fair children! known the love of a man or
the loving of a man, possibly, became torture to the Colonel.

For a pacification he had to reconsider that she was as yet only
nineteen and unmarried.

But she was engaged, and she was unloved. One might swear to it, that
she was unloved. And she was not a girl to be satisfied with a big
house and a high-nosed husband.

There was a rapid alteration of the sad history of Clara the unloved
matron solaced by two little ones. A childless Clara tragically loving
and beloved flashed across the dark glass of the future.

Either way her fate was cruel.

Some astonishment moved De Craye in the contemplation of the distance
he had stepped in this morass of fancy. He distinguished the choice
open to him of forward or back, and he selected forward. But fancy was
dead: the poetry hovering about her grew invisible to him: he stood in
the morass; that was all he knew; and momently he plunged deeper; and
he was aware of an intense desire to see her face, that he might study
her features again: he understood no more.

It was the clouding of the brain by the man's heart, which had come to
the knowledge that it was caught.

A certain measure of astonishment moved him still. It had hitherto been
his portion to do mischief to women and avoid the vengeance of the sex.
What was there in Miss Middleton's face and air to ensnare a veteran
handsome man of society numbering six-and-thirty years, nearly as many
conquests? "Each bullet has got its commission." He was hit at last.
That accident effected by Mr. Flitch had fired the shot. Clean through
the heart, does not tell us of our misfortune, till the heart is asked
to renew its natural beating. It fell into the condition of the
porcelain vase over a thought of Miss Middleton standing above his
prostrate form on the road, and walking beside him to the Hall. Her
words? What have they been? She had not uttered words, she had shed
meanings. He did not for an instant conceive that he had charmed her:
the charm she had cast on him was too thrilling for coxcombry to lift a
head; still she had enjoyed his prattle. In return for her touch upon
the Irish fountain in him, he had manifestly given her relief And could
not one see that so sprightly a girl would soon be deadened by a man
like Willoughby? Deadened she was: she had not responded to a
compliment on her approaching marriage. An allusion to it killed her
smiling. The case of Mr. Flitch, with the half wager about his
reinstation in the service of the Hall, was conclusive evidence of her
opinion of Willoughby.

It became again necessary that he should abuse Willoughby for his
folly. Why was the man worrying her? In some way he was worrying her.

What if Willoughby as well as Miss Middleton wished to be quit of the
engagement? . . .

For just a second, the handsome, woman-flattered officer proved his
man's heart more whole than he supposed it. That great organ, instead
of leaping at the thought, suffered a check.

Bear in mind that his heart was not merely man's, it was a conqueror's.
He was of the race of amorous heroes who glory in pursuing, overtaking,
subduing: wresting the prize from a rival, having her ripe from
exquisitely feminine inward conflicts, plucking her out of resistance
in good old primitive fashion. You win the creature in her delicious
flutterings. He liked her thus, in cooler blood, because of society's
admiration of the capturer, and somewhat because of the strife, which
always enhances the value of a prize, and refreshes our vanity in
recollection.

Moreover, he had been matched against Willoughby: the circumstance had
occurred two or three times. He could name a lady he had won, a lady he
had lost. Willoughby's large fortune and grandeur of style had given
him advantages at the start. But the start often means the race--with
women, and a bit of luck.

The gentle check upon the galloping heart of Colonel De Craye endured
no longer than a second--a simple side-glance in a headlong pace.
Clara's enchantingness for a temperament like his, which is to say, for
him specially, in part through the testimony her conquest of himself
presented as to her power of sway over the universal heart known as
man's, assured him she was worth winning even from a hand that dropped
her.

He had now a double reason for exclaiming at the folly of Willoughby.
Willoughby's treatment of her showed either temper or weariness. Vanity
and judgement led De Craye to guess the former. Regarding her
sentiments for Willoughby, he had come to his own conclusion. The
certainty of it caused him to assume that he possessed an absolute
knowledge of her character: she was an angel, born supple; she was a
heavenly soul, with half a dozen of the tricks of earth. Skittish filly
was among his phrases; but she had a bearing and a gaze that forbade
the dip in the common gutter for wherewithal to paint the creature she
was.

Now, then, to see whether he was wrong for the first time in his life!
If not wrong, he had a chance.

There could be nothing dishonourable in rescuing a girl from an
engagement she detested. An attempt to think it a service to Willoughby
faded midway. De Craye dismissed that chicanery. It would be a service
to Willoughby in the end, without question. There was that to soothe
his manly honour. Meanwhile he had to face the thought of Willoughby as
an antagonist, and the world looking heavy on his honour as a friend.

Such considerations drew him tenderly close to Miss Middleton. It must,
however, be confessed that the mental ardour of Colonel De Craye had
been a little sobered by his glance at the possibility of both of the
couple being of one mind on the subject of their betrothal. Desirable
as it was that they should be united in disagreeing, it reduced the
romance to platitude, and the third person in the drama to the
appearance of a stick. No man likes to play that part. Memoirs of the
favourites of Goddesses, if we had them, would confirm it of men's
tastes in this respect, though the divinest be the prize. We behold
what part they played.

De Craye chanced to be crossing the hall from the laboratory to the
stables when Clara shut the library-door behind her. He said something
whimsical, and did not stop, nor did he look twice at the face he had
been longing for.

What he had seen made him fear there would be no ride out with her that
day. Their next meeting reassured him; she was dressed in her
riding-habit, and wore a countenance resolutely cheerful. He gave
himself the word of command to take his tone from her.

He was of a nature as quick as Clara's. Experience pushed him farther
than she could go in fancy; but experience laid a sobering finger on
his practical steps, and bade them hang upon her initiative. She talked
little. Young Crossjay cantering ahead was her favourite subject. She
was very much changed since the early morning: his liveliness, essayed
by him at a hazard, was unsuccessful; grave English pleased her best.
The descent from that was naturally to melancholy. She mentioned a
regret she had that the Veil was interdicted to women in Protestant
countries. De Craye was fortunately silent; he could think of no other
veil than the Moslem, and when her meaning struck his witless head, he
admitted to himself that devout attendance on a young lady's mind
stupefies man's intelligence. Half an hour later, he was as foolish in
supposing it a confidence. He was again saved by silence.

In Aspenwell village she drew a letter from her bosom and called to
Crossjay to post it. The boy sang out, "Miss Lucy Darleton! What a
nice name!"

Clara did not show that the name betrayed anything.

She said to De Craye. "It proves he should not be here thinking of nice
names."

Her companion replied, "You may be right." He added, to avoid feeling
too subservient: "Boys will."

"Not if they have stern masters to teach them their daily lessons, and
some of the lessons of existence."

"Vernon Whitford is not stern enough?"

"Mr. Whitford has to contend with other influences here."

"With Willoughby?"

"Not with Willoughby."

He understood her. She touched the delicate indication firmly. The
man's, heart respected her for it; not many girls could be so
thoughtful or dare to be so direct; he saw that she had become deeply
serious, and he felt her love of the boy to be maternal, past maiden
sentiment.

By this light of her seriousness, the posting of her letter in a
distant village, not entrusting it to the Hall post-box, might have
import; not that she would apprehend the violation of her private
correspondence, but we like to see our letter of weighty meaning pass
into the mouth of the public box.

Consequently this letter was important. It was to suppose a sequency in
the conduct of a variable damsel. Coupled with her remark about the
Veil, and with other things, not words, breathing from her (which were
the breath of her condition), it was not unreasonably to be supposed.
She might even be a very consistent person. If one only had the key of
her!

She spoke once of an immediate visit to London, supposing that she
could induce her father to go. De Craye remembered the occurrence in
the Hall at night, and her aspect of distress.

They raced along Aspenwell Common to the ford; shallow, to the chagrin
of young Crossjay, between whom and themselves they left a fitting
space for his rapture in leading his pony to splash up and down, lord
of the stream.

Swiftness of motion so strikes the blood on the brain that our thoughts
are lightnings, the heart is master of them.

De Craye was heated by his gallop to venture on the angling question:
"Am I to hear the names of the bridesmaids?"

The pace had nerved Clara to speak to it sharply: "There is no need."

"Have I no claim?"

She was mute.

"Miss Lucy Darleton, for instance; whose name I am almost as much in
love with as Crossjay."

"She will not be bridesmaid to me."

"She declines? Add my petition, I beg."

"To all? or to her?"

"Do all the bridesmaids decline?"

"The scene is too ghastly."

"A marriage?"

"Girls have grown sick of it."

"Of weddings? We'll overcome the sickness."

"With some."

"Not with Miss Darleton? You tempt my eloquence."

"You wish it?"

"To win her consent? Certainly."

"The scene?"

"Do I wish that?"

"Marriage!" exclaimed Clara, dashing into the ford, fearful of her
ungovernable wildness and of what it might have kindled.--You, father!
you have driven me to unmaidenliness!--She forgot Willoughby, in her
father, who would not quit a comfortable house for her all but
prostrate beseeching; would not bend his mind to her explanations,
answered her with the horrid iteration of such deaf misunderstanding as
may be associated with a tolling bell.

De Craye allowed her to catch Crossjay by herself. They entered a narrow
lane, mysterious with possible birds' eggs in the May-green hedges. As
there was not room for three abreast, the colonel made up the
rear-guard, and was consoled by having Miss Middleton's figure to
contemplate; but the readiness of her joining in Crossjay's pastime of
the nest-hunt was not so pleasing to a man that she had wound to a
pitch of excitement. Her scornful accent on "Marriage" rang through
him. Apparently she was beginning to do with him just as she liked,
herself entirely unconcerned.

She kept Crossjay beside her till she dismounted, and the colonel was
left to the procession of elephantine ideas in his head, whose
ponderousness he took for natural weight. We do not with impunity
abandon the initiative. Men who have yielded it are like cavalry put on
the defensive; a very small force with an ictus will scatter them.

Anxiety to recover lost ground reduced the dimensions of his ideas to a
practical standard.

Two ideas were opposed like duellists bent on the slaughter of one
another. Either she amazed him by confirming the suspicions he had
gathered of her sentiments for Willoughby in the moments of his
introduction to her; or she amazed him as a model for coquettes--the
married and the widow might apply to her for lessons.

These combatants exchanged shots, but remained standing; the encounter
was undecided. Whatever the result, no person so seductive as Clara
Middleton had he ever met. Her cry of loathing, "Marriage!" coming from
a girl, rang faintly clear of an ancient virginal aspiration of the sex
to escape from their coil, and bespoke a pure, cold, savage pride that
transplanted his thirst for her to higher fields.



CHAPTER XXIII

TREATS OF THE UNION OF TEMPER AND POLICY

Sir Willoughby meanwhile was on a line of conduct suiting his
appreciation of his duty to himself. He had deluded himself with the
simple notion that good fruit would come of the union of temper and
policy.

No delusion is older, none apparently so promising, both parties being
eager for the alliance. Yet, the theorist upon human nature will say,
they are obviously of adverse disposition. And this is true, inasmuch
as neither of them win submit to the yoke of an established union; as
soon as they have done their mischief, they set to work tugging for a
divorce. But they have attractions, the one for the other, which
precipitate them to embrace whenever they meet in a breast; each is
earnest with the owner of it to get him to officiate forthwith as
wedding-priest. And here is the reason: temper, to warrant its
appearance, desires to be thought as deliberative as policy, and
policy, the sooner to prove its shrewdness, is impatient for the quick
blood of temper.

It will be well for men to resolve at the first approaches of the
amorous but fickle pair upon interdicting even an accidental temporary
junction: for the astonishing sweetness of the couple when no more than
the ghosts of them have come together in a projecting mind is an
intoxication beyond fermented grapejuice or a witch's brewage; and
under the guise of active wits they will lead us to the parental
meditation of antics compared with which a Pagan Saturnalia were less
impious in the sight of sanity. This is full-mouthed language; but on
our studious way through any human career we are subject to fits of
moral elevation; the theme inspires it, and the sage residing in every
civilized bosom approves it.

Decide at the outset, that temper is fatal to policy: hold them with
both hands in division. One might add, be doubtful of your policy and
repress your temper: it would be to suppose you wise. You can,
however, by incorporating two or three captains of the great army of
truisms bequeathed to us by ancient wisdom, fix in your service those
veteran old standfasts to check you. They will not be serviceless in
their admonitions to your understanding, and they will so contrive to
reconcile with it the natural caperings of the wayward young sprig
Conduct, that the latter, who commonly learns to walk upright and
straight from nothing softer than raps of a bludgeon on his crown,
shall foot soberly, appearing at least wary of dangerous corners.

Now Willoughby had not to be taught that temper is fatal to policy; he
was beginning to see in addition that the temper he encouraged was
particularly obnoxious to the policy he adopted; and although his
purpose in mounting horse after yesterday frowning on his bride was
definite, and might be deemed sagacious, he bemoaned already the
fatality pushing him ever farther from her in chase of a satisfaction
impossible to grasp.

But the bare fact that her behaviour demanded a line of policy crossed
the grain of his temper: it was very offensive.

Considering that she wounded him severely, her reversal of their proper
parts, by taking the part belonging to him, and requiring his
watchfulness, and the careful dealings he was accustomed to expect from
others, and had a right to exact of her, was injuriously unjust. The
feelings of a man hereditarily sensitive to property accused her of a
trespassing imprudence, and knowing himself, by testimony of his
household, his tenants, and the neighbourhood, and the world as well,
amiable when he received his dues, he contemplated her with an air of
stiff-backed ill-treatment, not devoid of a certain sanctification of
martyrdom.

His bitterest enemy would hardly declare that it was he who was in the
wrong.

Clara herself had never been audacious enough to say that. Distaste of
his person was inconceivable to the favourite of society. The
capricious creature probably wanted a whipping to bring her to the
understanding of the principle called mastery, which is in man.

But was he administering it? If he retained a hold on her, he could
undoubtedly apply the scourge at leisure; any kind of scourge; he could
shun her, look on her frigidly, unbend to her to find a warmer place
for sarcasm, pityingly smile, ridicule, pay court elsewhere. He could
do these things if he retained a hold on her; and he could do them well
because of the faith he had in his renowned amiability; for in doing
them, he could feel that he was other than he seemed, and his own
cordial nature was there to comfort him while he bestowed punishment.
Cordial indeed, the chills he endured were flung from the world. His
heart was in that fiction: half the hearts now beating have a mild form
of it to keep them merry: and the chastisement he desired to inflict
was really no more than righteous vengeance for an offended goodness of
heart. Clara figuratively, absolutely perhaps, on her knees, he would
raise her and forgive her. He yearned for the situation. To let her
understand how little she had known him! It would be worth the pain she
had dealt, to pour forth the stream of re-established confidences, to
paint himself to her as he was; as he was in the spirit, not as he was
to the world: though the world had reason to do him honour.

First, however, she would have to be humbled.

Something whispered that his hold on her was lost.

In such a case, every blow he struck would set her flying farther, till
the breach between them would be past bridging.

Determination not to let her go was the best finish to this perpetually
revolving round which went like the same old wheel-planks of a water
mill in his head at a review of the injury he sustained. He had come to
it before, and he came to it again. There was his vengeance. It melted
him, she was so sweet! She shone for him like the sunny breeze on
water. Thinking of her caused a catch of his breath.

The dreadful young woman had a keener edge for the senses of men than
sovereign beauty.

It would be madness to let her go.

She affected him like an outlook on the great Patterne estate after an
absence, when his welcoming flag wept for pride above Patterne Hall!

It would be treason to let her go.

It would be cruelty to her.

He was bound to reflect that she was of tender age, and the foolishness
of the wretch was excusable to extreme youth.

We toss away a flower that we are tired of smelling and do not wish to
carry. But the rose--young woman--is not cast off with impunity. A
fiend in shape of man is always behind us to appropriate her. He that
touches that rejected thing is larcenous. Willoughby had been sensible
of it in the person of Laetitia: and by all the more that Clara's
charms exceeded the faded creature's, he felt it now. Ten thousand
Furies thickened about him at a thought of her lying by the road-side
without his having crushed all bloom and odour out of her which might
tempt even the curiosity of the fiend, man.

On the other hand, supposing her to be there untouched, universally
declined by the sniffling, sagacious dog-fiend, a miserable spinster
for years, he could conceive notions of his remorse. A soft remorse may
be adopted as an agreeable sensation within view of the wasted penitent
whom we have struck a trifle too hard. Seeing her penitent, he
certainly would be willing to surround her with little offices of
compromising kindness. It would depend on her age. Supposing her still
youngish, there might be captivating passages between them, as thus, in
a style not unfamiliar:

"And was it my fault, my poor girl? Am I to blame, that you have passed
a lonely, unloved youth?"

"No, Willoughby! The irreparable error was mine, the blame is mine,
mine only. I live to repent it. I do not seek, for I have not deserved,
your pardon. Had I it, I should need my own self-esteem to presume to
clasp it to a bosom ever unworthy of you."

"I may have been impatient, Clara: we are human!"

"Never be it mine to accuse one on whom I laid so heavy a weight of
forbearance!"

"Still, my old love!--for I am merely quoting history in naming you
so--I cannot have been perfectly blameless."

"To me you were, and are."

"Clara!"

"Willoughby!"

"Must I recognize the bitter truth that we two, once nearly one! so
nearly one! are eternally separated?"

"I have envisaged it. My friend--I may call you friend; you have ever
been my friend, my best friend! oh, that eyes had been mine to know the
friend I had!--Willoughby, in the darkness of night, and during days
that were as night to my soul, I have seen the inexorable finger
pointing my solitary way through the wilderness from a Paradise
forfeited by my most wilful, my wanton, sin. We have met. It is more
than I have merited. We part. In mercy let it be for ever. Oh, terrible
word! Coined by the passions of our youth, it comes to us for our sole
riches when we are bankrupt of earthly treasures, and is the passport
given by Abnegation unto Woe that prays to quit this probationary
sphere. Willoughby, we part. It is better so."

"Clara! one--one only--one last--one holy kiss!"

"If these poor lips, that once were sweet to you . . ."

The kiss, to continue the language of the imaginative composition of
his time, favourite readings in which had inspired Sir Willoughby with
a colloquy so pathetic, was imprinted.

Ay, she had the kiss, and no mean one. It was intended to swallow every
vestige of dwindling attractiveness out of her, and there was a bit of
scandal springing of it in the background that satisfactorily settled
her business, and left her 'enshrined in memory, a divine recollection
to him,' as his popular romances would say, and have said for years.

Unhappily, the fancied salute of her lips encircled him with the
breathing Clara. She rushed up from vacancy like a wind summoned to
wreck a stately vessel.

His reverie had thrown him into severe commotion. The slave of a
passion thinks in a ring, as hares run: he will cease where he began.
Her sweetness had set him off, and he whirled back to her sweetness:
and that being incalculable and he insatiable, you have the picture of
his torments when you consider that her behaviour made her as a cloud
to him.

Riding slack, horse and man, in the likeness of those two ajog homeward
from the miry hunt, the horse pricked his cars, and Willoughby looked
down from his road along the bills on the race headed by young Crossjay
with a short start over Aspenwell Common to the ford. There was no
mistaking who they were, though they were well-nigh a mile distant
below. He noticed that they did not overtake the boy. They drew rein at
the ford, talking not simply face to face, but face in face.
Willoughby's novel feeling of he knew not what drew them up to him,
enabling him to fancy them bathing in one another's eyes. Then she
sprang through the ford, De Craye following, but not close after--and
why not close? She had flicked him with one of her peremptorily saucy
speeches when she was bold with the gallop. They were not unknown to
Willoughby. They signified intimacy.

Last night he had proposed to De Craye to take Miss Middleton for a
ride the next afternoon. It never came to his mind then that he and his
friend had formerly been rivals. He wished Clara to be amused. Policy
dictated that every thread should be used to attach her to her
residence at the Hall until he could command his temper to talk to her
calmly and overwhelm her, as any man in earnest, with command of temper
and a point of vantage, may be sure to whelm a young woman. Policy,
adulterated by temper, yet policy it was that had sent him on his
errand in the early morning to beat about for a house and garden
suitable to Dr. Middleton within a circuit of five, six, or seven miles
of Patterne Hall. If the Rev. Doctor liked the house and took it (and
Willoughby had seen the place to suit him), the neighbourhood would be
a chain upon Clara: and if the house did not please a gentleman rather
hard to please (except in a venerable wine), an excuse would have been
started for his visiting other houses, and he had that response to his
importunate daughter, that he believed an excellent house was on view.
Dr. Middleton had been prepared by numerous hints to meet Clara's black
misreading of a lovers' quarrel, so that everything looked full of
promise as far as Willoughby's exercise of policy went.

But the strange pang traversing him now convicted him of a large
adulteration of profitless temper with it. The loyalty of De Craye to a
friend, where a woman walked in the drama, was notorious. It was there,
and a most flexible thing it was: and it soon resembled reason
manipulated by the sophists. Not to have reckoned on his peculiar
loyalty was proof of the blindness cast on us by temper.

And De Craye had an Irish tongue; and he had it under control, so that
he could talk good sense and airy nonsense at discretion. The strongest
overboiling of English Puritan contempt of a gabbler, would not stop
women from liking it. Evidently Clara did like it, and Willoughby
thundered on her sex. Unto such brainless things as these do we, under
the irony of circumstances, confide our honour!

For he was no gabbler. He remembered having rattled in earlier days; he
had rattled with an object to gain, desiring to be taken for an easy,
careless, vivacious, charming fellow, as any young gentleman may be who
gaily wears the golden dish of Fifty thousand pounds per annum, nailed
to the back of his very saintly young pate. The growth of the critical
spirit in him, however, had informed him that slang had been a
principal component of his rattling; and as he justly supposed it a
betraying art for his race and for him, he passed through the prim and
the yawning phases of affected indifference, to the pine Puritanism of
a leaden contempt of gabblers.

They snare women, you see--girls! How despicable the host of girls!--at
least, that girl below there!

Married women understood him: widows did. He placed an exceedingly
handsome and flattering young widow of his acquaintance, Lady Mary
Lewison, beside Clara for a comparison, involuntarily; and at once, in
a flash, in despite of him (he would rather it had been otherwise), and
in despite of Lady Mary's high birth and connections as well, the
silver lustre of the maid sicklied the poor widow.

The effect of the luckless comparison was to produce an image of
surpassingness in the features of Clara that gave him the final, or
mace-blow. Jealousy invaded him.

He had hitherto been free of it, regarding jealousy as a foreign devil,
the accursed familiar of the vulgar. Luckless fellows might be victims
of the disease; he was not; and neither Captain Oxford, nor Vernon, nor
De Craye, nor any of his compeers, had given him one shrewd pinch: the
woman had, not the man; and she in quite a different fashion from his
present wallowing anguish: she had never pulled him to earth's level,
where jealousy gnaws the grasses. He had boasted himself above the
humiliating visitation.

If that had been the case, we should not have needed to trouble
ourselves much about him. A run or two with the pack of imps would have
satisfied us. But he desired Clara Middleton manfully enough at an
intimation of rivalry to be jealous; in a minute the foreign devil had
him, he was flame: flaming verdigris, one might almost dare to say, for
an exact illustration; such was actually the colour; but accept it as
unsaid.

Remember the poets upon jealousy. It is to be haunted in the heaven of
two by a Third; preceded or succeeded, therefore surrounded, embraced,
bugged by this infernal Third: it is Love's bed of burning marl; to see
and taste the withering Third in the bosom of sweetness; to be dragged
through the past and find the fair Eden of it sulphurous; to be dragged
to the gates of the future and glory to behold them blood: to adore the
bitter creature trebly and with treble power to clutch her by the
windpipe: it is to be cheated, derided, shamed, and abject and
supplicating, and consciously demoniacal in treacherousness, and
victoriously self-justified in revenge.

And still there is no change in what men feel, though in what they do
the modern may be judicious.

You know the many paintings of man transformed to rageing beast by the
curse: and this, the fieriest trial of our egoism, worked in the Egoist
to produce division of himself from himself, a concentration of his
thoughts upon another object, still himself, but in another breast,
which had to be looked at and into for the discovery of him. By the
gaping jaw-chasm of his greed we may gather comprehension of his
insatiate force of jealousy. Let her go? Not though he were to become a
mark of public scorn in strangling her with the yoke! His concentration
was marvellous. Unused to the exercise of imaginative powers, he
nevertheless conjured her before him visually till his eyeballs ached.
He saw none but Clara, hated none, loved none, save the intolerable
woman. What logic was in him deduced her to be individual and most
distinctive from the circumstance that only she had ever wrought these
pangs. She had made him ready for them, as we know. An idea of De Craye
being no stranger to her when he arrived at the Hall, dashed him at De
Craye for a second: it might be or might not be that they had a
secret;--Clara was the spell. So prodigiously did he love and hate,
that he had no permanent sense except for her. The soul of him writhed
under her eyes at one moment, and the next it closed on her without
mercy. She was his possession escaping; his own gliding away to the
Third.

There would be pangs for him too, that Third! Standing at the altar to
see her fast-bound, soul and body, to another, would be good roasting
fire.

It would be good roasting fire for her too, should she be averse. To
conceive her aversion was to burn her and devour her. She would then be
his!--what say you? Burned and devoured! Rivals would vanish then. Her
reluctance to espouse the man she was plighted to would cease to be
uttered, cease to be felt.

At last he believed in her reluctance. All that had been wanted to
bring him to the belief was the scene on the common; such a mere spark,
or an imagined spark! But the presence of the Third was necessary;
otherwise he would have had to suppose himself personally distasteful.

Women have us back to the conditions of primitive man, or they shoot us
higher than the topmost star. But it is as we please. Let them tell us
what we are to them: for us, they are our back and front of life: the
poet's Lesbia, the poet's Beatrice; ours is the choice. And were it
proved that some of the bright things are in the pay of Darkness, with
the stamp of his coin on their palms, and that some are the very angels
we hear sung of, not the less might we say that they find us out; they
have us by our leanings. They are to us what we hold of best or worst
within. By their state is our civilization judged: and if it is hugely
animal still, that is because primitive men abound and will have their
pasture. Since the lead is ours, the leaders must bow their heads to
the sentence. Jealousy of a woman is the primitive egoism seeking to
refine in a blood gone to savagery under apprehension of an invasion of
rights; it is in action the tiger threatened by a rifle when his paw is
rigid on quick flesh; he tears the flesh for rage at the intruder. The
Egoist, who is our original male in giant form, had no bleeding victim
beneath his paw, but there was the sex to mangle. Much as he prefers
the well-behaved among women, who can worship and fawn, and in whom
terror can be inspired, in his wrath he would make of Beatrice a Lesbia
Quadrantaria.

Let women tell us of their side of the battle. We are not so much the
test of the Egoist in them as they to us. Movements of similarity shown
in crowned and undiademed ladies of intrepid independence, suggest
their occasional capacity to be like men when it is given to them to
hunt. At present they fly, and there is the difference. Our manner of
the chase informs them of the creature we are.

Dimly as young women are informed, they have a youthful ardour of
detestation that renders them less tolerant of the Egoist than their
perceptive elder sisters. What they do perceive, however, they have a
redoubtable grasp of, and Clara's behaviour would be indefensible if
her detective feminine vision might not sanction her acting on its
direction. Seeing him as she did, she turned from him and shunned his
house as the antre of an ogre. She had posted her letter to Lucy
Darleton. Otherwise, if it had been open to her to dismiss Colonel De
Craye, she might, with a warm kiss to Vernon's pupil, have seriously
thought of the next shrill steam-whistle across yonder hills for a
travelling companion on the way to her friend Lucy; so abhorrent was to
her the putting of her horse's head toward the Hall. Oh, the breaking
of bread there! It had to be gone through for another day and more;
that is to say, forty hours, it might be six-and-forty hours; and no
prospect of sleep to speed any of them on wings!

Such were Clara's inward interjections while poor Willoughby burned
himself out with verdigris flame having the savour of bad metal, till
the hollow of his breast was not unlike to a corroded old cuirass,
found, we will assume, by criminal lantern-beams in a digging beside
green-mantled pools of the sullen soil, lumped with a strange adhesive
concrete. How else picture the sad man?--the cavity felt empty to him,
and heavy; sick of an ancient and mortal combat, and burning; deeply
dinted too:

    With the starry hole
    Whence fled the soul:

very sore; important for aught save sluggish agony; a specimen and the
issue of strife.

Measurelessly to loathe was not sufficient to save him from pain: he
tried it: nor to despise; he went to a depth there also. The fact that
she was a healthy young woman returned to the surface of his thoughts
like the murdered body pitched into the river, which will not drown,
and calls upon the elements of dissolution to float it. His grand
hereditary desire to transmit his estates, wealth and name to a solid
posterity, while it prompted him in his loathing and contempt of a
nature mean and ephemeral compared with his, attached him desperately
to her splendid healthiness. The council of elders, whose descendant he
was, pointed to this young woman for his mate. He had wooed her with
the idea that they consented. O she was healthy! And he likewise: but,
as if it had been a duel between two clearly designated by quality of
blood to bid a House endure, she was the first who taught him what it
was to have sensations of his mortality.

He could not forgive her. It seemed to him consequently politic to
continue frigid and let her have a further taste of his shadow, when it
was his burning wish to strain her in his arms to a flatness provoking
his compassion.

"You have had your ride?" he addressed her politely in the general
assembly on the lawn.

"I have had my ride, yes," Clara replied.

"Agreeable, I trust?"

"Very agreeable."

So it appeared. Oh, blushless!

The next instant he was in conversation with Laetitia, questioning her
upon a dejected droop of her eyelashes.

"I am, I think," said she, "constitutionally melancholy."

He murmured to her: "I believe in the existence of specifics, and not
far to seek, for all our ailments except those we bear at the hands of
others."

She did not dissent.

De Craye, whose humour for being convinced that Willoughby cared about
as little for Miss Middleton as she for him was nourished by his
immediate observation of them, dilated on the beauty of the ride and
his fair companion's equestrian skill.

"You should start a travelling circus," Willoughby rejoined. "But the
idea's a worthy one!--There's another alternative to the expedition I
proposed, Miss Middleton," said De Craye. "And I be clown? I haven't a
scruple of objection. I must read up books of jokes."

"Don't," said Willoughby.

"I'd spoil my part! But a natural clown won't keep up an artificial
performance for an entire month, you see; which is the length of time
we propose. He'll exhaust his nature in a day and be bowled over by the
dullest regular donkey-engine with paint on his cheeks and a nodding
topknot."

"What is this expedition 'we' propose?"

De Craye was advised in his heart to spare Miss Middleton any allusion
to honeymoons.

"Merely a game to cure dulness."

"Ah!" Willoughby acquiesced. "A month, you said?"

"One'd like it to last for years."

"Ah! You are driving one of Mr. Merriman's witticisms at me, Horace; I
am dense."

Willoughby bowed to Dr. Middleton, and drew him from Vernon, filially
taking his turn to talk with him closely.

De Craye saw Clara's look as her father and Willoughby went aside thus
linked.

It lifted him over anxieties and casuistries concerning loyalty.
Powder was in the look to make a warhorse breathe high and shiver for
the signal.



CHAPTER XXIV

CONTAINS AN INSTANCE OF THE GENEROSITY OF WILLOUGHBY

Observers of a gathering complication and a character in action
commonly resemble gleaners who are intent only on picking up the cars
of grain and huddling their store. Disinterestedly or interestedly they
wax over-eager for the little trifles, and make too much of them.
Observers should begin upon the precept, that not all we see is worth
hoarding, and that the things we see are to be weighed in the scale
with what we know of the situation, before we commit ourselves to a
measurement. And they may be accurate observers without being good
judges. They do not think so, and their bent is to glean hurriedly and
form conclusions as hasty, when their business should be sift at each
step, and question.

Miss Dale seconded Vernon Whitford in the occupation of counting looks
and tones, and noting scraps of dialogue. She was quite disinterested;
he quite believed that he was; to this degree they were competent for
their post; and neither of them imagined they could be personally
involved in the dubious result of the scenes they witnessed. They were
but anxious observers, diligently collecting. She fancied Clara
susceptible to his advice: he had fancied it, and was considering it
one of his vanities. Each mentally compared Clara's abruptness in
taking them into her confidence with her abstention from any secret
word since the arrival of Colonel De Craye. Sir Willoughby requested
Laetitia to give Miss Middleton as much of her company as she could;
showing that he was on the alert. Another Constantia Durham seemed
beating her wings for flight. The suddenness of the evident intimacy
between Clara and Colonel De Craye shocked Laetitia; their acquaintance
could be computed by hours. Yet at their first interview she had
suspected the possibility of worse than she now supposed to be; and she
had begged Vernon not immediately to quit the Hall, in consequence of
that faint suspicion. She had been led to it by meeting Clara and De
Craye at her cottage-gate, and finding them as fluent and
laughter-breathing in conversation as friends. Unable to realize the
rapid advance to a familiarity, more ostensible than actual, of two
lively natures, after such an introduction as they had undergone: and
one of the two pining in a drought of liveliness: Laetitia listened to
their wager of nothing at all--a no against a yes--in the case of poor
Flitch; and Clara's, "Willoughby will not forgive"; and De Craye's "Oh,
he's human": and the silence of Clara and De Craye's hearty cry,
"Flitch shall be a gentleman's coachman in his old seat or I haven't a
tongue!" to which there was a negative of Clara's head: and it then
struck Laetitia that this young betrothed lady, whose alienated heart
acknowledged no lord an hour earlier, had met her match, and, as the
observer would have said, her destiny. She judged of the alarming
possibility by the recent revelation to herself of Miss Middleton's
character, and by Clara's having spoken to a man as well (to Vernon),
and previously. That a young lady should speak on the subject of the
inner holies to a man, though he were Vernon Whitford, was incredible
to Laetitia; but it had to be accepted as one of the dread facts of our
inexplicable life, which drag our bodies at their wheels and leave our
minds exclaiming. Then, if Clara could speak to Vernon, which Laetitia
would not have done for a mighty bribe, she could speak to De Craye,
Laetitia thought deductively: this being the logic of untrained heads
opposed to the proceeding whereby their condemnatory deduction
hangs.--Clara must have spoken to De Craye!

Laetitia remembered how winning and prevailing Miss Middleton could be
in her confidences. A gentleman hearing her might forget his duty to
his friend, she thought, for she had been strangely swayed by Clara:
ideas of Sir Willoughby that she had never before imagined herself to
entertain had been sown in her, she thought; not asking herself whether
the searchingness of the young lady had struck them and bidden them
rise from where they lay imbedded. Very gentle women take in that
manner impressions of persons, especially of the worshipped person,
wounding them; like the new fortifications with embankments of soft
earth, where explosive missiles bury themselves harmlessly until they
are plucked out; and it may be a reason why those injured ladies
outlive a Clara Middleton similarly battered.

Vernon less than Laetitia took into account that Clara was in a state
of fever, scarcely reasonable. Her confidences to him he had excused,
as a piece of conduct, in sympathy with her position. He had not been
greatly astonished by the circumstances confided; and, on the whole, as
she was excited and unhappy, he excused her thoroughly; he could have
extolled her: it was natural that she should come to him, brave in her
to speak so frankly, a compliment that she should condescend to treat
him as a friend. Her position excused her widely. But she was not
excused for making a confidential friend of De Craye. There was a
difference.

Well, the difference was, that De Craye had not the smarting sense of
honour with women which our meditator had: an impartial judiciary, it
will be seen: and he discriminated between himself and the other
justly: but sensation surging to his brain at the same instant, he
reproached Miss Middleton for not perceiving that difference as
clearly, before she betrayed her position to De Craye, which Vernon
assumed that she had done. Of course he did. She had been guilty of it
once: why, then, in the mind of an offended friend, she would be guilty
of it twice. There was evidence. Ladies, fatally predestined to appeal
to that from which they have to be guarded, must expect severity when
they run off their railed highroad: justice is out of the question:
man's brains might, his blood cannot administer it to them. By chilling
him to the bone they may get what they cry for. But that is a method
deadening to their point of appeal.

I the evening, Miss Middleton and the colonel sang a duet. She had of
late declined to sing. Her voice was noticeably firm. Sir Willoughby
said to her, "You have recovered your richness of tone, Clara." She
smiled and appeared happy in pleasing him. He named a French ballad.
She went to the music-rack and gave the song unasked. He should have
been satisfied, for she said to him at the finish, "Is that as you like
it?" He broke from a murmur to Miss Dale, "Admirable." Some one
mentioned a Tuscan popular canzone. She waited for Willoughby's
approval, and took his nod for a mandate.

Traitress! he could have bellowed.

He had read of this characteristic of caressing obedience of the women
about to deceive. He had in his time profited by it.

"Is it intuitively or by their experience that our neighbours across
Channel surpass us in the knowledge of your sex?" he said to Miss Dale,
and talked through Clara's apostrophe to the 'Santissinia Virgine
Maria,' still treating temper as a part of policy, without any effect
on Clara; and that was matter for sickly green reflections. The lover
who cannot wound has indeed lost anchorage; he is woefully adrift: he
stabs air, which is to stab himself. Her complacent proof-armour bids
him know himself supplanted.

During the short conversational period before the ladies retired for
the night, Miss Eleanor alluded to the wedding by chance. Miss Isabel
replied to her, and addressed an interrogation to Clara. De Craye
foiled it adroitly. Clara did not utter a syllable. Her bosom lifted to
a wavering height and sank. Subsequently she looked at De Craye
vacantly, like a person awakened, but she looked. She was astonished by
his readiness, and thankful for the succour. Her look was cold, wide,
unfixed, with nothing of gratitude or of personal in it. The look,
however, stood too long for Willoughby's endurance.

Ejaculating "Porcelain!" he uncrossed his legs; a signal for the ladies
Eleanor and Isabel to retire. Vernon bowed to Clara as she was rising.
He had not been once in her eyes, and he expected a partial recognition
at the good-night. She said it, turning her head to Miss Isabel, who
was condoling once more with Colonel De Craye over the ruins of his
wedding-present, the porcelain vase, which she supposed to have been in
Willoughby's mind when he displayed the signal. Vernon walked off to
his room, dark as one smitten blind: bile tumet jecur: her stroke of
neglect hit him there where a blow sends thick obscuration upon
eyeballs and brain alike.

Clara saw that she was paining him and regretted it when they were
separated. That was her real friend! But he prescribed too hard a task.
Besides, she had done everything he demanded of her, except the
consenting to stay where she was and wear out Willoughby, whose
dexterity wearied her small stock of patience. She had vainly tried
remonstrance and supplication with her father hoodwinked by his host,
she refused to consider how; through wine?--the thought was
repulsive.

Nevertheless, she was drawn to the edge of it by the contemplation of
her scheme of release. If Lucy Darleton was at home; if Lucy invited
her to come: if she flew to Lucy: oh! then her father would have cause
for anger. He would not remember that but for hateful wine! . . .

What was there in this wine of great age which expelled reasonableness,
fatherliness? He was her dear father: she was his beloved child: yet
something divided them; something closed her father's ears to her: and
could it be that incomprehensible seduction of the wine? Her
dutifulness cried violently no. She bowed, stupefied, to his arguments
for remaining awhile, and rose clear-headed and rebellious with the
reminiscence of the many strong reasons she had urged against them.

The strangeness of men, young and old, the little things (she regarded
a grand wine as a little thing) twisting and changing them, amazed her.
And these are they by whom women are abused for variability! Only the
most imperious reasons, never mean trifles, move women, thought she.
Would women do an injury to one they loved for oceans of that--ah, pah!

And women must respect men. They necessarily respect a father. "My
dear, dear father!" Clara said in the solitude of her chamber, musing
on all his goodness, and she endeavoured to reconcile the desperate
sentiments of the position he forced her to sustain, with those of a
venerating daughter. The blow which was to fall on him beat on her
heavily in advance. "I have not one excuse!" she said, glancing at
numbers and a mighty one. But the idea of her father suffering at her
hands cast her down lower than self-justification. She sought to
imagine herself sparing him. It was too fictitious.

The sanctuary of her chamber, the pure white room so homely to her
maidenly feelings, whispered peace, only to follow the whisper with
another that went through her swelling to a roar, and leaving her as a
suing of music unkindly smitten. If she stayed in this house her
chamber would no longer be a sanctuary. Dolorous bondage! Insolent
death is not worse. Death's worm we cannot keep away, but when he has
us we are numb to dishonour, happily senseless.

Youth weighed her eyelids to sleep, though she was quivering, and
quivering she awoke to the sound of her name beneath her window. "I
can love still, for I love him," she said, as she luxuriated in young
Crossjay's boy's voice, again envying him his bath in the lake waters,
which seemed to her to have the power to wash away grief and chains.
Then it was that she resolved to let Crossjay see the last of her in
this place. He should be made gleeful by doing her a piece of service;
he should escort her on her walk to the railway station next morning,
thence be sent flying for a long day's truancy, with a little note of
apology on his behalf that she would write for him to deliver to Vernon
at night.

Crossjay came running to her after his breakfast with Mrs Montague, the
housekeeper, to tell her he had called her up.

"You won't to-morrow: I shall be up far ahead of you," said she; and
musing on her father, while Crossjay vowed to be up the first, she
thought it her duty to plunge into another expostulation.

Willoughby had need of Vernon on private affairs. Dr. Middleton betook
himself as usual to the library, after answering "I will ruin you yet,"
to Willoughby's liberal offer to despatch an order to London for any
books he might want.

His fine unruffled air, as of a mountain in still morning beams, made
Clara not indisposed to a preliminary scene with Willoughby that might
save her from distressing him, but she could not stop Willoughby; as
little could she look an invitation. He stood in the Hall, holding
Vernon by the arm. She passed him; he did not speak, and she entered
the library.

"What now, my dear? what is it?" said Dr. Middleton, seeing that the
door was shut on them.

"Nothing, papa," she replied, calmly.

"You've not locked the door, my child? You turned something there: try
the handle."

"I assure you, papa, the door is not locked."

"Mr. Whitford will be here instantly. We are engaged on tough matter.
Women have not, and opinion is universal that they never will have, a
conception of the value of time."

"We are vain and shallow, my dear papa."

"No, no, not you, Clara. But I suspect you to require to learn by
having work in progress how important is . . . is a quiet commencement
of the day's task. There is not a scholar who will not tell you so. We
must have a retreat. These invasions!--So you intend to have another
ride to-day? They do you good. To-morrow we dine with Mrs. Mountstuart
Jenkinson, an estimable person indeed, though I do not perfectly
understand our accepting.--You have not to accuse me of sitting over
wine last night, my Clara! I never do it, unless I am appealed to for
my judgement upon a wine."

"I have come to entreat you to take me away, papa."

In the midst of the storm aroused by this renewal of perplexity, Dr
Middleton replaced a book his elbow had knocked over in his haste to
dash the hair off his forehead, crying: "Whither? To what spot? That
reading of guide-books, and idle people's notes of Travel, and
picturesque correspondence in the newspapers, unsettles man and maid.
My objection to the living in hotels is known. I do not hesitate to say
that I do cordially abhor it. I have had penitentially to submit to it
in your dear mother's time, [Greek], up to the full ten thousand times.
But will you not comprehend that to the older man his miseries are
multiplied by his years? But is it utterly useless to solicit your
sympathy with an old man, Clara?"

"General Darleton will take us in, papa."

"His table is detestable. I say nothing of that; but his wine is
poison. Let that pass--I should rather say, let it not pass!--but our
political views are not in accord. True, we are not under the
obligation to propound them in presence, but we are destitute of an
opinion in common. We have no discourse. Military men have produced, or
diverged in, noteworthy epicures; they are often devout; they have
blossomed in lettered men: they are gentlemen; the country rightly
holds them in honour; but, in fine, I reject the proposal to go to
General Darleton.--Tears?"

"No, papa."

"I do hope not. Here we have everything man can desire; without
contest, an excellent host. You have your transitory tea-cup tempests,
which you magnify to hurricanes, in the approved historic manner of the
book of Cupid. And all the better; I repeat, it is the better that you
should have them over in the infancy of the alliance. Come in!" Dr.
Middleton shouted cheerily in response to a knock at the door.

He feared the door was locked: he had a fear that his daughter intended
to keep it locked.

"Clara!" he cried.

She reluctantly turned the handle, and the ladies Eleanor and Isabel
came in, apologizing with as much coherence as Dr. Middleton ever
expected from their sex. They wished to speak to Clara, but they
declined to take her away. In vain the Rev. Doctor assured them she
was at their service; they protested that they had very few words to
say, and would not intrude one moment further than to speak them.

Like a shy deputation of young scholars before the master, these very
words to come were preceded by none at all; a dismal and trying cause;
refreshing however to Dr. Middleton, who joyfully anticipated that the
ladies could be induced to take away Clara when they had finished.

"We may appear to you a little formal," Miss Isabel began, and turned
to her sister.

"We have no intention to lay undue weight on our mission, if mission it
can be called," said Miss Eleanor.

"Is it entrusted to you by Willoughby?" said Clara.

"Dear child, that you may know it all the more earnest with us, and our
personal desire to contribute to your happiness: therefore does
Willoughby entrust the speaking of it to us."

Hereupon the sisters alternated in addressing Clara, and she gazed from
one to the other, piecing fragments of empty signification to get the
full meaning when she might.

"--And in saying your happiness, dear Clara, we have our Willoughby's
in view, which is dependent on yours."

"--And we never could sanction that our own inclinations should stand
in the way."

"--No. We love the old place; and if it were only our punishment for
loving it too idolatrously, we should deem it ground enough for our
departure."

"--Without, really, an idea of unkindness; none, not any."

"--Young wives naturally prefer to be undisputed queens of their own
establishment."

"--Youth and age!"

"But I," said Clara, "have never mentioned, never had a thought . . ."

"--You have, dear child, a lover who in his solicitude for your
happiness both sees what you desire and what is due to you."

"--And for us, Clara, to recognize what is due to you is to act on it."

"--Besides, dear, a sea-side cottage has always been one of our
dreams."

"--We have not to learn that we are a couple of old maids, incongruous
associates for a young wife in the government of a great house."

"--With our antiquated notions, questions of domestic management might
arise, and with the best will in the world to be harmonious!"

"--So, dear Clara, consider it settled."

"--From time to time gladly shall we be your guests."

"--Your guests, dear, not censorious critics."

"And you think me such an Egoist!--dear ladies! The suggestion of so
cruel a piece of selfishness wounds me. I would not have had you leave
the Hall. I like your society; I respect you. My complaint, if I had
one, would be, that you do not sufficiently assert yourselves. I could
have wished you to be here for an example to me. I would not have
allowed you to go. What can he think of me! Did Willoughby speak of it
this morning?"

It was hard to distinguish which was the completer dupe of these two
echoes of one another in worship of a family idol.

"Willoughby," Miss Eleanor presented herself to be stamped with the
title hanging ready for the first that should open her lips, "our
Willoughby is observant--he is ever generous--and he is not less
forethoughtful. His arrangement is for our good on all sides."

"An index is enough," said Miss Isabel, appearing in her turn the
monster dupe.

"You will not have to leave, dear ladies. Were I mistress here I should
oppose it."

"Willoughby blames himself for not reassuring you before."

"Indeed we blame ourselves for not undertaking to go."

"Did he speak of it first this morning?" said Clara; but she could draw
no reply to that from them. They resumed the duet, and she resigned
herself to have her cars boxed with nonsense.

"So, it is understood?" said Miss Eleanor.

"I see your kindness, ladies."

"And I am to be Aunt Eleanor again?"

"And I Aunt Isabel?"

Clara could have wrung her hands at the impediment which prohibited her
delicacy from telling them why she could not name them so as she had
done in the earlier days of Willoughby's courtship. She kissed them
warmly, ashamed of kissing, though the warmth was real.

They retired with a flow of excuses to Dr. Middleton for disturbing
him. He stood at the door to bow them out, and holding the door for
Clara, to wind up the procession, discovered her at a far corner of the
room.

He was debating upon the advisability of leaving her there, when Vernon
Whitford crossed the hall from the laboratory door, a mirror of himself
in his companion air of discomposure.

That was not important, so long as Vernon was a check on Clara; but the
moment Clara, thus baffled, moved to quit the library, Dr. Middleton
felt the horror of having an uncomfortable face opposite.

"No botheration, I hope? It's the worst thing possible to work on.
Where have you been? I suspect your weak point is not to arm yourself
in triple brass against bother and worry, and no good work can you do
unless you do. You have come out of that laboratory."

"I have, sir.--Can I get you any book?" Vernon said to Clara.

She thanked him, promising to depart immediately.

"Now you are at the section of Italian literature, my love," said Dr
Middleton. "Well, Mr. Whitford, the laboratory--ah!--where the amount
of labour done within the space of a year would not stretch an electric
current between this Hall and the railway station: say, four miles,
which I presume the distance to be. Well, sir, and a dilettantism
costly in time and machinery is as ornamental as foxes' tails and
deers' horns to an independent gentleman whose fellows are contented
with the latter decorations for their civic wreath. Willoughby, let me
remark, has recently shown himself most considerate for my girl. As far
as I could gather--I have been listening to a dialogue of ladies--he is
as generous as he is discreet. There are certain combats in which to be
the one to succumb is to claim the honours;--and that is what women
will not learn. I doubt their seeing the glory of it."

"I have heard of it; I have been with Willoughby," Vernon said,
hastily, to shield Clara from her father's allusive attacks. He wished
to convey to her that his interview with Willoughby had not been
profitable in her interests, and that she had better at once, having
him present to support her, pour out her whole heart to her father. But
how was it to be conveyed? She would not meet his eyes, and he was too
poor an intriguer to be ready on the instant to deal out the verbal
obscurities which are transparencies to one.

"I shall regret it, if Willoughby has annoyed you, for he stands high
in my favour," said Dr. Middleton.

Clara dropped a book. Her father started higher than the nervous
impulse warranted in his chair. Vernon tried to win a glance, and she
was conscious of his effort, but her angry and guilty feelings,
prompting her resolution to follow her own counsel, kept her eyelids on
the defensive.

"I don't say he annoys me, sir. I am here to give him my advice, and if
he does not accept it I have no right to be annoyed. Willoughby seems
annoyed that Colonel De Craye should talk of going to-morrow or next
day."

"He likes his friends about him. Upon my word, a man of a more genial
heart you might march a day without finding. But you have it on the
forehead, Mr. Whitford."

"Oh! no, sir."

"There," Dr. Middleton drew his finger along his brows.

Vernon felt along his own, and coined an excuse for their blackness;
not aware that the direction of his mind toward Clara pushed him to a
kind of clumsy double meaning, while he satisfied an inward and craving
wrath, as he said: "By the way, I have been racking my head; I must
apply to you, sir. I have a line, and I am uncertain of the run of the
line. Will this pass, do you think?

     'In Asination's tongue he asinates';

signifying that he excels any man of us at donkey-dialect."

After a decent interval for the genius of criticism to seem to have
been sitting under his frown, Dr. Middleton rejoined with sober
jocularity: "No, sir, it will not pass; and your uncertainty in regard
to the run of the line would only be extended were the line centipedal.
Our recommendation is, that you erase it before the arrival of the
ferule. This might do:

     'In Assignation's name he assignats';

signifying that he pre-eminently flourishes hypothetical promises, to
pay by appointment. That might pass. But you will forbear to cite me
for your authority."

"The line would be acceptable if I could get it to apply," said Vernon.

"Or this . . ." Dr. Middleton was offering a second suggestion, but
Clara fled, astonished at men as she never yet had been. Why, in a
burning world they would be exercising their minds in absurdities! And
those two were scholars, learned men! And both knew they were in the
presence of a soul in a tragic fever!

A minute after she had closed the door they were deep in their work.
Dr. Middleton forgot his alternative line.

"Nothing serious?" he said in reproof of the want of honourable
clearness on Vernon's brows.

"I trust not, sir; it's a case for common sense."

"And you call that not serious?"

"I take Hermann's praise of the versus dochmiachus to be not only
serious but unexaggerated," said Vernon.

Dr. Middleton assented and entered on the voiceful ground of Greek
metres, shoving your dry dusty world from his elbow.



CHAPTER XXV

THE FLIGHT IN WILD WEATHER

The morning of Lucy Darleton's letter of reply to her friend Clara was
fair before sunrise, with luminous colours that are an omen to the
husbandman. Clara had no weather-eye for the rich Eastern crimson, nor
a quiet space within her for the beauty. She looked on it as her gate
of promise, and it set her throbbing with a revived belief in radiant
things which she had once dreamed of to surround her life, but her
accelerated pulses narrowed her thoughts upon the machinery of her
project. She herself was metal, pointing all to her one aim when in
motion. Nothing came amiss to it, everything was fuel; fibs, evasions,
the serene battalions of white lies parallel on the march with dainty
rogue falsehoods. She had delivered herself of many yesterday in her
engagements for to-day. Pressure was put on her to engage herself, and
she did so liberally, throwing the burden of deceitfulness on the
extraordinary pressure. "I want the early part of the morning; the rest
of the day I shall be at liberty." She said it to Willoughby, Miss
Dale, Colonel De Craye, and only the third time was she aware of the
delicious double meaning. Hence she associated it with the colonel.

Your loudest outcry against the wretch who breaks your rules is in
asking how a tolerably conscientious person could have done this and
the other besides the main offence, which you vow you could overlook
but for the minor objections pertaining to conscience, the
incomprehensible and abominable lies, for example, or the brazen
coolness of the lying. Yet you know that we live in an undisciplined
world, where in our seasons of activity we are servants of our design,
and that this comes of our passions, and those of our position. Our
design shapes us for the work in hand, the passions man the ship, the
position is their apology: and now should conscience be a passenger on
board, a merely seeming swiftness of our vessel will keep him dumb as
the unwilling guest of a pirate captain scudding from the cruiser half
in cloven brine through rocks and shoals to save his black flag. Beware
the false position.

That is easy to say: sometimes the tangle descends on us like a net of
blight on a rose-bush. There is then an instant choice for us between
courage to cut loose, and desperation if we do not. But not many men
are trained to courage; young women are trained to cowardice. For them
to front an evil with plain speech is to be guilty of effrontery and
forfeit the waxen polish of purity, and therewith their commanding
place in the market. They are trained to please man's taste, for which
purpose they soon learn to live out of themselves, and look on
themselves as he looks, almost as little disturbed as he by the
undiscovered. Without courage, conscience is a sorry guest; and if all
goes well with the pirate captain, conscience will be made to walk the
plank for being of no service to either party.

Clara's fibs and evasions disturbed her not in the least that morning.
She had chosen desperation, and she thought herself very brave because
she was just brave enough to fly from her abhorrence. She was
light-hearted, or, more truly, drunken-hearted. Her quick nature
realized the out of prison as vividly and suddenly as it had sunk
suddenly and leadenly under the sense of imprisonment. Vernon crossed
her mind: that was a friend! Yes, and there was a guide; but he would
disapprove, and even he, thwarting her way to sacred liberty, must be
thrust aside.

What would he think? They might never meet, for her to know. Or one day
in the Alps they might meet, a middle-aged couple, he famous, she
regretful only to have fallen below his lofty standard. "For, Mr.
Whitford," says she, very earnestly, "I did wish at that time, believe
me or not, to merit your approbation." The brows of the phantom Vernon
whom she conjured up were stern, as she had seen them yesterday in the
library.

She gave herself a chiding for thinking of him when her mind should be
intent on that which he was opposed to.

It was a livelier relaxation to think of young Crossjay's shame-faced
confession presently, that he had been a laggard in bed while she swept
the dews. She laughed at him, and immediately Crossjay popped out on
her from behind a tree, causing her to clap hand to heart and stand
fast. A conspirator is not of the stuff to bear surprises. He feared he
had hurt her, and was manly in his efforts to soothe: he had been up
"hours", he said, and had watched her coming along the avenue, and did
not mean to startle her: it was the kind of fun he played with fellows,
and if he had hurt her, she might do anything to him she liked, and she
would see if he could not stand to be punished. He was urgent with her
to inflict corporal punishment on him.

"I shall leave it to the boatswain to do that when you're in the navy,"
said Clara.

"The boatswain daren't strike an officer! so now you see what you know
of the navy," said Crossjay.

"But you could not have been out before me, you naughty boy, for I
found all the locks and bolts when I went to the door."

"But you didn't go to the back door, and Sir Willoughby's private door:
you came out by the hall door; and I know what you want, Miss
Middleton, you want not to pay what you've lost."

"What have I lost, Crossjay?"

"Your wager."

"What was that?"

"You know."

"Speak."

"A kiss."

"Nothing of the sort. But, dear boy, I don't love you less for not
kissing you. All that is nonsense: you have to think only of learning,
and to be truthful. Never tell a story: suffer anything rather than be
dishonest." She was particularly impressive upon the silliness and
wickedness of falsehood, and added: "Do you hear?"

"Yes: but you kissed me when I had been out in the rain that day."

"Because I promised."

"And, Miss Middleton, you betted a kiss yesterday."

"I am sure, Crossjay--no, I will not say I am sure: but can you say you
are sure you were out first this morning? Well, will you say you are
sure that when you left the house you did not see me in the avenue? You
can't: ah!"

"Miss Middleton, I do really believe I was dressed first."

"Always be truthful, my dear boy, and then you may feel that Clara
Middleton will always love you."

"But, Miss Middleton, when you're married you won't be Clara
Middleton."

"I certainly shall, Crossjay."

"No, you won't, because I'm so fond of your name!"

She considered, and said: "You have warned me, Crossjay, and I shall
not marry. I shall wait," she was going to say, "for you," but turned
the hesitation to a period. "Is the village where I posted my letter
the day before yesterday too far for you?"

Crossjay howled in contempt. "Next to Clara, my favourite's Lucy," he
said.

"I thought Clara came next to Nelson," said she; "and a long way off
too, if you're not going to be a landlubber."

"I'm not going to be a landlubber. Miss Middleton, you may be
absolutely positive on your solemn word."

"You're getting to talk like one a little now and then, Crossjay."

"Then I won't talk at all."

He stuck to his resolution for one whole minute.

Clara hoped that on this morning of a doubtful though imperative
venture she had done some good.

They walked fast to cover the distance to the village post-office, and
back before the breakfast hour: and they had plenty of time, arriving
too early for the opening of the door, so that Crossjay began to dance
with an appetite, and was despatched to besiege a bakery. Clara felt
lonely without him: apprehensively timid in the shuttered, unmoving
village street. She was glad of his return. When at last her letter was
handed to her, on the testimony of the postman that she was the lawful
applicant, Crossjay and she put out on a sharp trot to be back at the
Hall in good time. She took a swallowing glance of the first page of
Lucy's writing:

"Telegraph, and I will meet you. I will supply you with everything you
can want for the two nights, if you cannot stop longer."

That was the gist of the letter. A second, less voracious, glance at it
along the road brought sweetness:--Lucy wrote:

"Do I love you as I did? my best friend, you must fall into unhappiness
to have the answer to that."

Clara broke a silence.

"Yes, dear Crossjay, and if you like you shall have another walk with
me after breakfast. But, remember, you must not say where you have gone
with me. I shall give you twenty shillings to go and buy those bird's
eggs and the butterflies you want for your collection; and mind,
promise me, to-day is your last day of truancy. Tell Mr. Whitford how
ungrateful you know you have been, that he may have some hope of you.
You know the way across the fields to the railway station?"

"You save a mile; you drop on the road by Combline's mill, and then
there's another five-minutes' cut, and the rest's road."

"Then, Crossjay, immediately after breakfast run round behind the
pheasantry, and there I'll find you. And if any one comes to you before
I come, say you are admiring the plumage of the Himalaya--the
beautiful Indian bird; and if we're found together, we run a race, and
of course you can catch me, but you mustn't until we're out of sight.
Tell Mr. Vernon at night--tell Mr. Whitford at night you had the money
from me as part of my allowance to you for pocket-money. I used to like
to have pocket-money, Crossjay. And you may tell him I gave you the
holiday, and I may write to him for his excuse, if he is not too harsh
to grant it. He can be very harsh."

"You look right into his eyes next time, Miss Middleton. I used to
think him awful till he made me look at him. He says men ought to look
straight at one another, just as we do when he gives me my
boxing-lesson, and then we won't have quarrelling half so much. I can't
recollect everything he says."

"You are not bound to, Crossjay."

"No, but you like to hear."

"Really, dear boy. I can't accuse myself of having told you that."

"No, but, Miss Middleton, you do. And he's fond of your singing and
playing on the piano, and watches you."

"We shall be late if we don't mind," said Clara, starting to a pace
close on a run.

They were in time for a circuit in the park to the wild double
cherry-blossom, no longer all white. Clara gazed up from under it,
where she had imagined a fairer visible heavenliness than any other
sight of earth had ever given her. That was when Vernon lay beneath.
But she had certainly looked above, not at him. The tree seemed
sorrowful in its withering flowers of the colour of trodden snow.

Crossjay resumed the conversation.

"He says ladies don't like him much."

"Who says that?"

"Mr. Whitford."

"Were those his words?"

"I forget the words: but he said they wouldn't be taught by him, like
me, ever since you came; and since you came I've liked him ten times
more."

"The more you like him the more I shall like you, Crossjay."

The boy raised a shout and scampered away to Sir Willoughby, at the
appearance of whom Clara felt herself nipped and curling inward.
Crossjay ran up to him with every sign of pleasure. Yet he had not
mentioned him during the walk; and Clara took it for a sign that the
boy understood the entire satisfaction Willoughby had in mere shows of
affection, and acted up to it. Hardly blaming Crossjay, she was a
critic of the scene, for the reason that youthful creatures who have
ceased to love a person, hunger for evidence against him to confirm
their hard animus, which will seem to them sometimes, when he is not
immediately irritating them, brutish, because they can not analyze it
and reduce it to the multitude of just antagonisms whereof it came. It
has passed by large accumulation into a sombre and speechless load upon
the senses, and fresh evidence, the smallest item, is a champion to
speak for it. Being about to do wrong, she grasped at this eagerly, and
brooded on the little of vital and truthful that there was in the man
and how he corrupted the boy. Nevertheless, she instinctively imitated
Crossjay in an almost sparkling salute to him.

"Good-morning, Willoughby; it was not a morning to lose: have you been
out long?"

He retained her hand. "My dear Clara! and you, have you not
overfatigued yourself? Where have you been?"

"Round--everywhere! And I am certainly not tired."

"Only you and Crossjay? You should have loosened the dogs."

"Their barking would have annoyed the house."

"Less than I am annoyed to think of you without protection."

He kissed her fingers: it was a loving speech.

"The household . . ." said Clara, but would not insist to convict him
of what he could not have perceived.

"If you outstrip me another morning, Clara, promise me to take the
dogs; will you?"

"Yes."

"To-day I am altogether yours."

"Are you?"

"From the first to the last hour of it!--So you fall in with Horace's
humour pleasantly?"

"He is very amusing."

"As good as though one had hired him."

"Here comes Colonel De Craye."

"He must think we have hired him!"

She noticed the bitterness of Willoughby's tone. He sang out a
good-morning to De Craye, and remarked that he must go to the stables.

"Darleton? Darleton, Miss Middleton?" said the colonel, rising from his
bow to her: "a daughter of General Darleton? If so, I have had the
honour to dance with her. And have not you?--practised with her, I
mean; or gone off in a triumph to dance it out as young ladies do? So
you know what a delightful partner she is."

"She is!" cried Clara, enthusiastic for her succouring friend, whose
letter was the treasure in her bosom.

"Oddly, the name did not strike me yesterday, Miss Middleton. In the
middle of the night it rang a little silver bell in my ear, and I
remembered the lady I was half in love with, if only for her dancing.
She is dark, of your height, as light on her feet; a sister in another
colour. Now that I know her to be your friend . . . !"

"Why, you may meet her, Colonel De Craye."

"It'll be to offer her a castaway. And one only meets a charming girl
to hear that she's engaged! 'Tis not a line of a ballad, Miss
Middleton, but out of the heart."

"Lucy Darleton . . . You were leading me to talk seriously to you,
Colonel De Craye."

"Will you one day?--and not think me a perpetual tumbler! You have
heard of melancholy clowns. You will find the face not so laughable
behind my paint. When I was thirteen years younger I was loved, and my
dearest sank to the grave. Since then I have not been quite at home in
life; probably because of finding no one so charitable as she. 'Tis
easy to win smiles and hands, but not so easy to win a woman whose
faith you would trust as your own heart before the enemy. I was poor
then. She said. 'The day after my twenty-first birthday'; and that day
I went for her, and I wondered they did not refuse me at the door. I
was shown upstairs, and I saw her, and saw death. She wished to marry
me, to leave me her fortune!"

"Then, never marry," said Clara, in an underbreath.

She glanced behind.

Sir Willoughby was close, walking on turf.

"I must be cunning to escape him after breakfast," she thought.

He had discarded his foolishness of the previous days, and the thought
in him could have replied: "I am a dolt if I let you out of my sight."

Vernon appeared, formal as usual of late. Clara begged his excuse for
withdrawing Crossjay from his morning swim. He nodded.

De Craye called to Willoughby for a book of the trains.

"There's a card in the smoking-room; eleven, one, and four are the
hours, if you must go," said Willoughby.

"You leave the Hall, Colonel De Craye?"

"In two or three days, Miss Middleton."

She did not request him to stay: his announcement produced no effect on
her. Consequently, thought he--well, what? nothing: well, then, that
she might not be minded to stay herself. Otherwise she would have
regretted the loss of an amusing companion: that is the modest way of
putting it. There is a modest and a vain for the same sentiment; and
both may be simultaneously in the same breast; and each one as honest
as the other; so shy is man's vanity in the presence of here and there
a lady. She liked him: she did not care a pin for him--how could she?
yet she liked him: O, to be able to do her some kindling bit of
service! These were his consecutive fancies, resolving naturally to the
exclamation, and built on the conviction that she did not love
Willoughby, and waited for a spirited lift from circumstances. His call
for a book of the trains had been a sheer piece of impromptu, in the
mind as well as on the mouth. It sprang, unknown to him, of conjectures
he had indulged yesterday and the day before. This morning she would
have an answer to her letter to her friend, Miss Lucy Darleton, the
pretty dark girl, whom De Craye was astonished not to have noticed more
when he danced with her. She, pretty as she was, had come to his
recollection through the name and rank of her father, a famous general
of cavalry, and tactician in that arm. The colonel despised himself for
not having been devoted to Clara Middleton's friend.

The morning's letters were on the bronze plate in the hall. Clara
passed on her way to her room without inspecting them. De Craye opened
an envelope and went upstairs to scribble a line. Sir Willoughby
observed their absence at the solemn reading to the domestic servants
in advance of breakfast. Three chairs were unoccupied. Vernon had his
own notions of a mechanical service--and a precious profit he derived
from them! but the other two seats returned the stare Willoughby cast
at their backs with an impudence that reminded him of his friend
Horace's calling for a book of the trains, when a minute afterward he
admitted he was going to stay at the Hall another two days, or three.
The man possessed by jealousy is never in need of matter for it: he
magnifies; grass is jungle, hillocks are mountains. Willoughby's legs
crossing and uncrossing audibly, and his tight-folded arms and clearing
of the throat, were faint indications of his condition.

"Are you in fair health this morning, Willoughby?" Dr. Middleton said
to him after he had closed his volumes.

"The thing is not much questioned by those who know me intimately," he
replied.

"Willoughby unwell!" and, "He is health incarnate!" exclaimed the
ladies Eleanor and Isabel.

Laetitia grieved for him. Sun-rays on a pest-stricken city, she
thought, were like the smile of his face. She believed that he deeply
loved Clara, and had learned more of her alienation.

He went into the ball to look into the well for the pair of
malefactors; on fire with what he could not reveal to a soul.

De Craye was in the housekeeper's room, talking to young Crossjay, and
Mrs. Montague just come up to breakfast. He had heard the boy
chattering, and as the door was ajar he peeped in, and was invited to
enter. Mrs. Montague was very fond of hearing him talk: he paid her the
familiar respect which a lady of fallen fortunes, at a certain period
after the fall, enjoys as a befittingly sad souvenir, and the
respectfulness of the lord of the house was more chilling.

She bewailed the boy's trying his constitution with long walks before
he had anything in him to walk on.

"And where did you go this morning, my lad?" said De Craye.

"Ah, you know the ground, colonel," said Crossjay. "I am hungry! I
shall eat three eggs and some bacon, and buttered cakes, and jam, then
begin again, on my second cup of coffee."

"It's not braggadocio," remarked Mrs. Montague. "He waits empty from
five in the morning till nine, and then he comes famished to my table,
and cats too much."

"Oh! Mrs. Montague, that is what the country people call roemancing.
For, Colonel De Craye, I had a bun at seven o'clock. Miss Middleton
forced me to go and buy it"

"A stale bun, my boy?"

"Yesterday's: there wasn't much of a stopper to you in it, like a new
bun."

"And where did you leave Miss Middleton when you went to buy the bun?
You should never leave a lady; and the street of a country town is
lonely at that early hour. Crossjay, you surprise me."

"She forced me to go, colonel. Indeed she did. What do I care for a
bun! And she was quite safe. We could hear the people stirring in the
post-office, and I met our postman going for his letter-bag. I didn't
want to go: bother the bun!--but you can't disobey Miss Middleton. I
never want to, and wouldn't."

"There we're of the same mind," said the colonel, and Crossjay shouted,
for the lady whom they exalted was at the door.

"You will be too tired for a ride this morning," De Craye said to her,
descending the stairs.

She swung a bonnet by the ribands. "I don't think of riding to-day."

"Why did you not depute your mission to me?"

"I like to bear my own burdens, as far as I can."

"Miss Darleton is well?"

"I presume so."

"Will you try her recollection for me?"

"It will probably be quite as lively as yours was."

"Shall you see her soon?"

"I hope so."

Sir Willoughby met her at the foot of the stairs, but refrained from
giving her a hand that shook.

"We shall have the day together," he said.

Clara bowed.

At the breakfast-table she faced a clock.

De Craye took out his watch. "You are five and a half minutes too slow
by that clock, Willoughby."

"The man omitted to come from Rendon to set it last week, Horace. He
will find the hour too late here for him when he does come."

One of the ladies compared the time of her watch with De Craye's, and
Clara looked at hers and gratefully noted that she was four minutes in
arrear.

She left the breakfast-room at a quarter to ten, after kissing her
father. Willoughby was behind her. He had been soothed by thinking of
his personal advantages over De Craye, and he felt assured that if he
could be solitary with his eccentric bride and fold her in himself, he
would, cutting temper adrift, be the man he had been to her not so many
days back. Considering how few days back, his temper was roused, but he
controlled it.

They were slightly dissenting as De Craye stepped into the hall.

"A present worth examining," Willoughby said to her: "and I do not
dwell on the costliness. Come presently, then. I am at your disposal
all day. I will drive you in the afternoon to call on Lady Busshe to
offer your thanks: but you must see it first. It is laid out in the
laboratory."

"There is time before the afternoon," said Clara.

"Wedding presents?" interposed De Craye.

"A porcelain service from Lady Busshe, Horace."

"Not in fragments? Let me have a look at it. I'm haunted by an idea
that porcelain always goes to pieces. I'll have a look and take a hint.
We're in the laboratory, Miss Middleton."

He put his arm under Willoughby's. The resistance to him was momentary:
Willoughby had the satisfaction of the thought that De Craye being with
him was not with Clara; and seeing her giving orders to her maid
Barclay, he deferred his claim on her company for some short period.

De Craye detained him in the laboratory, first over the China cups and
saucers, and then with the latest of London--tales of youngest Cupid
upon subterranean adventures, having high titles to light him.
Willoughby liked the tale thus illuminated, for without the title there
was no special savour in such affairs, and it pulled down his betters
in rank. He was of a morality to reprobate the erring dame while he
enjoyed the incidents. He could not help interrupting De Craye to point
at Vernon through the window, striding this way and that, evidently on
the hunt for young Crossjay. "No one here knows how to manage the boy
except myself But go on, Horace," he said, checking his contemptuous
laugh; and Vernon did look ridiculous, out there half-drenched already
in a white rain, again shuffled off by the little rascal. It seemed
that he was determined to have his runaway: he struck up the avenue at
full pedestrian racing pace.

"A man looks a fool cutting after a cricket-ball; but, putting on steam
in a storm of rain to catch a young villain out of sight, beats
anything I've witnessed," Willoughby resumed, in his amusement.

"Aiha!" said De Craye, waving a hand to accompany the melodious accent,
"there are things to beat that for fun."

He had smoked in the laboratory, so Willoughby directed a servant to
transfer the porcelain service to one of the sitting-rooms for Clara's
inspection of it.

"You're a bold man," De Craye remarked. "The luck may be with you,
though. I wouldn't handle the fragile treasure for a trifle."

"I believe in my luck," said Willoughby.

Clara was now sought for. The lord of the house desired her presence
impatiently, and had to wait. She was in none of the lower rooms.
Barclay, her maid, upon interrogation, declared she was in none of the
upper. Willoughby turned sharp on De Craye: he was there.

The ladies Eleanor and Isabel and Miss Dale were consulted. They had
nothing to say about Clara's movements, more than that they could not
understand her exceeding restlessness. The idea of her being out of
doors grew serious; heaven was black, hard thunder rolled, and
lightning flushed the battering rain. Men bearing umbrellas, shawls,
and cloaks were dispatched on a circuit of the park. De Craye said:
"I'll be one."

"No," cried Willoughby, starting to interrupt him, "I can't allow it."

"I've the scent of a hound, Willoughby; I'll soon be on the track."

"My dear Horace, I won't let you go."

"Adieu, dear boy! and if the lady's discoverable, I'm the one to find
her."

He stepped to the umbrella-stand. There was then a general question
whether Clara had taken her umbrella. Barclay said she had. The fact
indicated a wider stroll than round inside the park: Crossjay was
likewise absent. De Craye nodded to himself.

Willoughby struck a rattling blow on the barometer.

"Where's Pollington?" he called, and sent word for his man Pollington
to bring big fishing-boots and waterproof wrappers.

An urgent debate within him was in progress.

Should he go forth alone on his chance of discovering Clara and
forgiving her under his umbrella and cloak? or should he prevent De
Craye from going forth alone on the chance he vaunted so impudently?

"You will offend me, Horace, if you insist," he said.

"Regard me as an instrument of destiny, Willoughby," replied De Craye.

"Then we go in company."

"But that's an addition of one that cancels the other by conjunction,
and's worse than simple division: for I can't trust my wits unless I
rely on them alone, you see."

"Upon my word, you talk at times most unintelligible stuff, to be frank
with you, Horace. Give it in English."

"'Tis not suited, perhaps, to the genius of the language, for I thought
I talked English."

"Oh, there's English gibberish as well as Irish, we know!"

"And a deal foolisher when they do go at it; for it won't bear
squeezing, we think, like Irish."

"Where!" exclaimed the ladies, "where can she be! The storm is
terrible."

Laetitia suggested the boathouse.

"For Crossjay hadn't a swim this morning!" said De Craye.

No one reflected on the absurdity that Clara should think of taking
Crossjay for a swim in the lake, and immediately after his breakfast:
it was accepted as a suggestion at least that she and Crossjay had gone
to the lake for a row.

In the hopefulness of the idea, Willoughby suffered De Craye to go on
his chance unaccompanied. He was near chuckling. He projected a plan
for dismissing Crossjay and remaining in the boathouse with Clara,
luxuriating in the prestige which would attach to him for seeking and
finding her. Deadly sentiments intervened. Still he might expect to be
alone with her where she could not slip from him.

The throwing open of the hall-doors for the gentlemen presented a
framed picture of a deluge. All the young-leaved trees were steely
black, without a gradation of green, drooping and pouring, and the song
of rain had become an inveterate hiss.

The ladies beholding it exclaimed against Clara, even apostrophized
her, so dark are trivial errors when circumstances frown. She must be
mad to tempt such weather: she was very giddy; she was never at rest.
Clara! Clara! how could you be so wild! Ought we not to tell Dr.
Middleton?

Laetitia induced them to spare him.

"Which way do you take?" said Willoughby, rather fearful that his
companion was not to be got rid of now.

"Any way," said De Craye. "I chuck up my head like a halfpenny, and go
by the toss."

This enraging nonsense drove off Willoughby. De Craye saw him cast a
furtive eye at his heels to make sure he was not followed, and thought,
"Jove! he may be fond of her. But he's not on the track. She's a
determined girl, if I'm correct. She's a girl of a hundred thousand.
Girls like that make the right sort of wives for the right men. They're
the girls to make men think of marrying. To-morrow! only give me a
chance. They stick to you fast when they do stick."

Then a thought of her flower-like drapery and face caused him fervently
to hope she had escaped the storm.

Calling at the West park-lodge he heard that Miss Middleton had been
seen passing through the gate with Master Crossjay; but she had not
been seen coming back. Mr. Vernon Whitford had passed through half an
hour later.

"After his young man!" said the colonel.

The lodge-keeper's wife and daughter knew of Master Crossjay's pranks;
Mr. Whitford, they said, had made inquiries about him and must have
caught him and sent him home to change his dripping things; for Master
Crossjay had come back, and had declined shelter in the lodge; he
seemed to be crying; he went away soaking over the wet grass, hanging
his head. The opinion at the lodge was that Master Crossjay was
unhappy.

"He very properly received a wigging from Mr. Whitford, I have no
doubt," said Colonel Do Craye.

Mother and daughter supposed it to be the case, and considered Crossjay
very wilful for not going straight home to the Hall to change his wet
clothes; he was drenched.

Do Craye drew out his watch. The time was ten minutes past eleven. If
the surmise he had distantly spied was correct, Miss Middleton would
have been caught in the storm midway to her destination. By his guess
at her character (knowledge of it, he would have said), he judged that
no storm would daunt her on a predetermined expedition. He deduced in
consequence that she was at the present moment flying to her friend,
the charming brunette Lucy Darleton.

Still, as there was a possibility of the rain having been too much for
her, and as he had no other speculation concerning the route she had
taken, he decided upon keeping along the road to Rendon, with a keen
eye at cottage and farmhouse windows.



CHAPTER XXVI

VERNON IN PURSUIT

The lodge-keeper had a son, who was a chum of Master Crossjay's, and
errant-fellow with him upon many adventures; for this boy's passion was
to become a gamekeeper, and accompanied by one of the head-gamekeeper's
youngsters, he and Crossjay were in the habit of rangeing over the
country, preparing for a profession delightful to the tastes of all
three. Crossjay's prospective connection with the mysterious ocean
bestowed the title of captain on him by common consent; he led them,
and when missing for lessons he was generally in the society of Jacob
Croom or Jonathan Fernaway. Vernon made sure of Crossjay when he
perceived Jacob Croom sitting on a stool in the little lodge-parlour.
Jacob's appearance of a diligent perusal of a book he had presented to
the lad, he took for a decent piece of trickery. It was with amazement
that he heard from the mother and daughter, as well as Jacob, of Miss
Middleton's going through the gate before ten o'clock with Crossjay
beside her, the latter too hurried to spare a nod to Jacob. That she,
of all on earth, should be encouraging Crossjay to truancy was
incredible. Vernon had to fall back upon Greek and Latin aphoristic
shots at the sex to believe it.

Rain was universal; a thick robe of it swept from hill to hill; thunder
rumbled remote, and between the ruffled roars the downpour pressed on
the land with a great noise of eager gobbling, much like that of the
swine's trough fresh filled, as though a vast assembly of the hungered
had seated themselves clamorously and fallen to on meats and drinks in
a silence, save of the chaps. A rapid walker poetically and humourously
minded gathers multitudes of images on his way. And rain, the heaviest
you can meet, is a lively companion when the resolute pacer scorns
discomfort of wet clothes and squealing boots. South-western
rain-clouds, too, are never long sullen: they enfold and will have the
earth in a good strong glut of the kissing overflow; then, as a hawk
with feathers on his beak of the bird in his claw lifts head, they rise
and take veiled feature in long climbing watery lines: at any moment
they may break the veil and show soft upper cloud, show sun on it, show
sky, green near the verge they spring from, of the green of grass in
early dew; or, along a travelling sweep that rolls asunder overhead,
heaven's laughter of purest blue among titanic white shoulders: it may
mean fair smiling for awhile, or be the lightest interlude; but the
watery lines, and the drifting, the chasing, the upsoaring, all in a
shadowy fingering of form, and the animation of the leaves of the trees
pointing them on, the bending of the tree-tops, the snapping of
branches, and the hurrahings of the stubborn hedge at wrestle with the
flaws, yielding but a leaf at most, and that on a fling, make a glory
of contest and wildness without aid of colour to inflame the man who is
at home in them from old association on road, heath, and mountain. Let
him be drenched, his heart will sing. And thou, trim cockney, that
jeerest, consider thyself, to whom it may occur to be out in such a
scene, and with what steps of a nervous dancing-master it would be
thine to play the hunted rat of the elements, for the preservation of
the one imagined dryspot about thee, somewhere on thy luckless person!
The taking of rain and sun alike befits men of our climate, and he who
would have the secret of a strengthening intoxication must court the
clouds of the South-west with a lover's blood.

Vernon's happy recklessness was dashed by fears for Miss Middleton.
Apart from those fears, he had the pleasure of a gull wheeling among
foam-streaks of the wave. He supposed the Swiss and Tyrol Alps to have
hidden their heads from him for many a day to come, and the springing
and chiming South-west was the next best thing. A milder rain
descended; the country expanded darkly defined underneath the moving
curtain; the clouds were as he liked to see them, scaling; but their
skirts dragged. Torrents were in store, for they coursed streamingly
still and had not the higher lift, or eagle ascent, which he knew for
one of the signs of fairness, nor had the hills any belt of mist-like
vapour.

On a step of the stile leading to the short-cut to Rendon young
Crossjay was espied. A man-tramp sat on the top-bar.

"There you are; what are you doing there? Where's Miss Middleton?" said
Vernon. "Now, take care before you open your mouth."

Crossjay shut the mouth he had opened.

"The lady has gone away over to a station, sir," said the tramp.

"You fool!" roared Crossjay, ready to fly at him.

"But ain't it now, young gentleman? Can you say it ain't?"

"I gave you a shilling, you ass!"

"You give me that sum, young gentleman, to stop here and take care of
you, and here I stopped."

"Mr. Whitford!" Crossjay appealed to his master, and broke of in
disgust. "Take care of me! As if anybody who knows me would think I
wanted taking care of! Why, what a beast you must be, you fellow!"

"Just as you like, young gentleman. I chaunted you all I know, to keep
up your downcast spirits. You did want comforting. You wanted it
rarely. You cried like an infant."

"I let you 'chaunt', as you call it, to keep you from swearing."

"And why did I swear, young gentleman? because I've got an itchy coat
in the wet, and no shirt for a lining. And no breakfast to give me a
stomach for this kind of weather. That's what I've come to in this
world! I'm a walking moral. No wonder I swears, when I don't strike up
a chaunt."

"But why are you sitting here wet through, Crossjay! Be off home at
once, and change, and get ready for me."

"Mr. Whitford, I promised, and I tossed this fellow a shilling not to
go bothering Miss Middleton."

"The lady wouldn't have none o" the young gentleman, sir, and I offered
to go pioneer for her to the station, behind her, at a respectful
distance."

"As if!--you treacherous cur!" Crossjay ground his teeth at the
betrayer. "Well, Mr. Whitford, and I didn't trust him, and I stuck to
him, or he'd have been after her whining about his coat and stomach,
and talking of his being a moral. He repeats that to everybody."

"She has gone to the station?" said Vernon.

Not a word on that subject was to be won from Crossjay.

"How long since?" Vernon partly addressed Mr. Tramp.

The latter became seized with shivers as he supplied the information
that it might be a quarter of an hour or twenty minutes. "But what's
time to me, sir? If I had reglar meals, I should carry a clock in my
inside. I got the rheumatics instead."

"Way there!" Vernon cried, and took the stile at a vault.

"That's what gentlemen can do, who sleeps in their beds warm," moaned
the tramp. "They've no joints."

Vernon handed him a half-crown piece, for he had been of use for once.

"Mr. Whitford, let me come. If you tell me to come I may. Do let me
come," Crossjay begged with great entreaty. "I sha'n't see her for
. . ."

"Be off, quick!" Vernon cut him short and pushed on.

The tramp and Crossjay were audible to him; Crossjay spurning the
consolations of the professional sad man.

Vernon spun across the fields, timing himself by his watch to reach
Rendon station ten minutes before eleven, though without clearly
questioning the nature of the resolution which precipitated him.
Dropping to the road, he had better foothold than on the slippery
field-path, and he ran. His principal hope was that Clara would have
missed her way. Another pelting of rain agitated him on her behalf.
Might she not as well be suffered to go?--and sit three hours and more
in a railway-carriage with wet feet!

He clasped the visionary little feet to warm them on his breast.--But
Willoughby's obstinate fatuity deserved the blow!--But neither she nor
her father deserved the scandal. But she was desperate. Could reasoning
touch her? if not, what would? He knew of nothing. Yesterday he had
spoken strongly to Willoughby, to plead with him to favour her
departure and give her leisure to sound her mind, and he had left his
cousin, convinced that Clara's best measure was flight: a man so
cunning in a pretended obtuseness backed by senseless pride, and in
petty tricks that sprang of a grovelling tyranny, could only be taught
by facts.

Her recent treatment of him, however, was very strange; so strange that
he might have known himself better if he had reflected on the bound
with which it shot him to a hard suspicion. De Craye had prepared the
world to hear that he was leaving the Hall. Were they in concert? The
idea struck at his heart colder than if her damp little feet had been
there.

Vernon's full exoneration of her for making a confidant of himself, did
not extend its leniency to the young lady's character when there was
question of her doing the same with a second gentleman. He could
suspect much: he could even expect to find De Craye at the station.

That idea drew him up in his run, to meditate on the part he should
play; and by drove little Dr. Corney on the way to Rendon and hailed
him, and gave his cheerless figure the nearest approach to an Irish bug
in the form of a dry seat under an umbrella and water-proof covering.

"Though it is the worst I can do for you, if you decline to supplement
it with a dose of hot brandy and water at the Dolphin," said he: "and
I'll see you take it, if you please. I'm bound to ease a Rendon patient
out of the world. Medicine's one of their superstitions, which they
cling to the harder the more useless it gets. Pill and priest launch
him happy between them.--'And what's on your conscience, Pat?--It's
whether your blessing, your Riverence, would disagree with another
drop. Then put the horse before the cart, my son, and you shall have
the two in harmony, and God speed ye!'--Rendon station, did you say,
Vernon? You shall have my prescription at the Railway Arms, if you're
hurried. You have the look. What is it? Can I help?"

"No. And don't ask."

"You're like the Irish Grenadier who had a bullet in a humiliating
situation. Here's Rendon, and through it we go with a spanking clatter.
Here's Doctor Corney's dog-cart post-haste again. For there's no dying
without him now, and Repentance is on the death-bed for not calling him
in before. Half a charge of humbug hurts no son of a gun, friend
Vernon, if he'd have his firing take effect. Be tender to't in man or
woman, particularly woman. So, by goes the meteoric doctor, and I'll
bring noses to window-panes, you'll see, which reminds me of the
sweetest young lady I ever saw, and the luckiest man. When is she off
for her bridal trousseau? And when are they spliced? I'll not call her
perfection, for that's a post, afraid to move. But she's a dancing
sprig of the tree next it. Poetry's wanted to speak of her. I'm Irish
and inflammable, I suppose, but I never looked on a girl to make a man
comprehend the entire holy meaning of the word rapturous, like that
one. And away she goes! We'll not say another word. But you're a
Grecian, friend Vernon. Now, couldn't you think her just a whiff of an
idea of a daughter of a peccadillo-Goddess?"

"Deuce take you, Corney, drop me here; I shall be late for the train,"
said Vernon, laying hand on the doctor's arm to check him on the way to
the station in view.

Dr Corney had a Celtic intelligence for a meaning behind an illogical
tongue. He drew up, observing. "Two minutes run won't hurt you."

He slightly fancied he might have given offence, though he was well
acquainted with Vernon and had a cordial grasp at the parting.

The truth must be told that Vernon could not at the moment bear any
more talk from an Irishman. Dr. Corney had succeeded in persuading him
not to wonder at Clara Middleton's liking for Colonel de Craye.



CHAPTER XXVII

AT THE RAILWAY STATION

Clara stood in the waiting-room contemplating the white rails of the
rain-swept line. Her lips parted at the sight of Vernon.

"You have your ticket?" said he.

She nodded, and breathed more freely; the matter-of-fact question was
reassuring.

"You are wet," he resumed; and it could not be denied.

"A little. I do not feel it."

"I must beg you to come to the inn hard by--half a dozen steps. We
shall see your train signalled. Come."

She thought him startlingly authoritative, but he had good sense to
back him; and depressed as she was by the dampness, she was disposed to
yield to reason if he continued to respect her independence. So she
submitted outwardly, resisted inwardly, on the watch to stop him from
taking any decisive lead.

"Shall we be sure to see the signal, Mr. Whitford?"

"I'll provide for that."

He spoke to the station-clerk, and conducted her across the road.

"You are quite alone, Miss Middleton?"

"I am: I have not brought my maid."

"You must take off boots and stockings at once, and have them dried.
I'll put you in the hands of the landlady."

"But my train!"

"You have full fifteen minutes, besides fair chances of delay."

He seemed reasonable, the reverse of hostile, in spite of his
commanding air, and that was not unpleasant in one friendly to her
adventure. She controlled her alert distrustfulness, and passed from
him to the landlady, for her feet were wet and cold, the skirts of her
dress were soiled; generally inspecting herself, she was an object to
be shuddered at, and she was grateful to Vernon for his inattention to
her appearance.

Vernon ordered Dr. Corney's dose, and was ushered upstairs to a room of
portraits, where the publican's ancestors and family sat against the
walls, flat on their canvas as weeds of the botanist's portfolio,
although corpulency was pretty generally insisted on, and there were
formidable battalions of bust among the females. All of them had the
aspect of the national energy which has vanquished obstacles to subside
on its ideal. They all gazed straight at the guest. "Drink, and come to
this!" they might have been labelled to say to him. He was in the
private Walhalla of a large class of his countrymen. The existing host
had taken forethought to be of the party in his prime, and in the
central place, looking fresh-fattened there and sanguine from the
performance. By and by a son would shove him aside; meanwhile he
shelved his parent, according to the manners of energy.

One should not be a critic of our works of Art in uncomfortable
garments. Vernon turned from the portraits to a stuffed pike in a glass
case, and plunged into sympathy with the fish for a refuge.

Clara soon rejoined him, saying: "But you, you must be very wet. You
were without an umbrella. You must be wet through, Mr. Whitford."

"We're all wet through, to-day," said Vernon. "Crossjay's wet through,
and a tramp he met."

"The horrid man! But Crossjay should have turned back when I told him.
Cannot the landlord assist you? You are not tied to time. I begged
Crossjay to turn back when it began to rain: when it became heavy I
compelled him. So you met my poor Crossjay?"

"You have not to blame him for betraying you. The tramp did that. I
was thrown on your track quite by accident. Now pardon me for using
authority, and don't be alarmed, Miss Middleton; you are perfectly free
for me; but you must not run a risk to your health. I met Doctor
Corney coming along, and he prescribed hot brandy and water for a wet
skin, especially for sitting in it. There's the stuff on the table; I
see you have been aware of a singular odour; you must consent to sip
some, as medicine; merely to give you warmth."

"Impossible, Mr. Whitford: I could not taste it. But pray, obey Dr.
Corney, if he ordered it for you."

"I can't, unless you do."

"I will, then: I will try."

She held the glass, attempted, and was baffled by the reek of it.

"Try: you can do anything," said Vernon.

"Now that you find me here, Mr. Whitford! Anything for myself it would
seem, and nothing to save a friend. But I will really try."

"It must be a good mouthful."

"I will try. And you will finish the glass?"

"With your permission, if you do not leave too much."

They were to drink out of the same glass; and she was to drink some of
this infamous mixture: and she was in a kind of hotel alone with him:
and he was drenched in running after her:--all this came of breaking
loose for an hour!

"Oh! what a misfortune that it should be such a day, Mr. Whitford!"

"Did you not choose the day?"

"Not the weather."

"And the worst of it is, that Willoughby will come upon Crossjay wet to
the bone, and pump him and get nothing but shufflings, blank lies, and
then find him out and chase him from the house."

Clara drank immediately, and more than she intended. She held the glass
as an enemy to be delivered from, gasping, uncertain of her breath.

"Never let me be asked to endure such a thing again!"

"You are unlikely to be running away from father and friends again."

She panted still with the fiery liquid she had gulped: and she wondered
that it should belie its reputation in not fortifying her, but
rendering her painfully susceptible to his remarks.

"Mr. Whitford, I need not seek to know what you think of me."

"What I think? I don't think at all; I wish to serve you if I can."

"Am I right in supposing you a little afraid of me? You should not be.
I have deceived no one. I have opened my heart to you, and am not
ashamed of having done so."

"It is an excellent habit, they say."

"It is not a habit with me."

He was touched, and for that reason, in his dissatisfaction with
himself, not unwilling to hurt. "We take our turn, Miss Middleton. I'm
no hero, and a bad conspirator, so I am not of much avail."

"You have been reserved--but I am going, and I leave my character
behind. You condemned me to the poison-bowl; you have not touched it
yourself"

"In vino veritas: if I do I shall be speaking my mind."

"Then do, for the sake of mind and body."

"It won't be complimentary."

"You can be harsh. Only say everything."

"Have we time?"

They looked at their watches.

"Six minutes," Clara said.

Vernon's had stopped, penetrated by his total drenching.

She reproached herself. He laughed to quiet her. "My dies solemnes are
sure to give me duckings; I'm used to them. As for the watch, it will
remind me that it stopped when you went."

She raised the glass to him. She was happier and hoped for some little
harshness and kindness mixed that she might carry away to travel with
and think over.

He turned the glass as she had given it, turned it round in putting it
to his lips: a scarce perceptible manoeuvre, but that she had given it
expressly on one side.

It may be hoped that it was not done by design. Done even accidentally,
without a taint of contrivance, it was an affliction to see, and coiled
through her, causing her to shrink and redden.

Fugitives are subject to strange incidents; they are not vessels lying
safe in harbour. She shut her lips tight, as if they had stung. The
realizing sensitiveness of her quick nature accused them of a loss of
bloom. And the man who made her smart like this was formal as a railway
official on a platform.

"Now we are both pledged in the poison-bowl," said he. "And it has the
taste of rank poison, I confess. But the doctor prescribed it, and at
sea we must be sailors. Now, Miss Middleton, time presses: will you
return with me?"

"No! no!"

"Where do you propose to go?"

"To London; to a friend--Miss Darleton."

"What message is there for your father?"

"Say I have left a letter for him in a letter to be delivered to you."

"To me! And what message for Willoughby?"

"My maid Barclay will hand him a letter at noon."

"You have sealed Crossjay's fate."

"How?"

"He is probably at this instant undergoing an interrogation. You may
guess at his replies. The letter will expose him, and Willoughby does
not pardon."

"I regret it. I cannot avoid it. Poor boy! My dear Crossjay! I did not
think of how Willoughby might punish him. I was very thoughtless. Mr.
Whitford, my pin-money shall go for his education. Later, when I am a
little older, I shall be able to support him."

"That's an encumbrance; you should not tie yourself to drag it about.
You are unalterable, of course, but circumstances are not, and as it
happens, women are more subject to them than we are."

"But I will not be!"

"Your command of them is shown at the present moment."

"Because I determine to be free?"

"No: because you do the contrary; you don't determine: you run away
from the difficulty, and leave it to your father and friends to bear.
As for Crossjay, you see you destroy one of his chances. I should have
carried him off before this, if I had not thought it prudent to keep
him on terms with Willoughby. We'll let Crossjay stand aside. He'll
behave like a man of honour, imitating others who have had to do the
same for ladies."

"Have spoken falsely to shelter cowards, you mean, Mr. Whitford. Oh, I
know.--I have but two minutes. The die is cast. I cannot go back. I
must get ready. Will you see me to the station? I would rather you
should hurry home."

"I will see the last of you. I will wait for you here. An express runs
ahead of your train, and I have arranged with the clerk for a signal; I
have an eye on the window."

"You are still my best friend, Mr. Whitford."

"Though?"

"Well, though you do not perfectly understand what torments have driven
me to this."

"Carried on tides and blown by winds?"

"Ah! you do not understand."

"Mysteries?"

"Sufferings are not mysteries, they are very simple facts."

"Well, then, I don't understand. But decide at once. I wish you to have
your free will."

She left the room.

Dry stockings and boots are better for travelling in than wet ones, but
in spite of her direct resolve, she felt when drawing them on like one
that has been tripped. The goal was desirable, the ardour was damped.
Vernon's wish that she should have her free will compelled her to sound
it: and it was of course to go, to be liberated, to cast off incubus
and hurt her father? injure Crossjay? distress her friends? No, and ten
times no!

She returned to Vernon in haste, to shun the reflex of her mind.

He was looking at a closed carriage drawn up at the station door.

"Shall we run over now, Mr. Whitford?"

"There's no signal. Here it's not so chilly."

"I ventured to enclose my letter to papa in yours, trusting you would
attend to my request to you to break the news to him gently and plead
for me."

"We will all do the utmost we can."

"I am doomed to vex those who care for me. I tried to follow your
counsel."

"First you spoke to me, and then you spoke to Miss Dale; and at least
you have a clear conscience."

"No."

"What burdens it?"

"I have done nothing to burden it."

"Then it's a clear conscience."

"No."

Vernon's shoulders jerked. Our patience with an innocent duplicity in
women is measured by the place it assigns to us and another. If he had
liked he could have thought: "You have not done but meditated something
to trouble conscience." That was evident, and her speaking of it was
proof too of the willingness to be dear. He would not help her. Man's
blood, which is the link with women and responsive to them on the
instant for or against, obscured him. He shrugged anew when she said:
"My character would have been degraded utterly by my staying there.
Could you advise it?"

"Certainly not the degradation of your character," he said, black on
the subject of De Craye, and not lightened by feelings which made him
sharply sensible of the beggarly dependant that he was, or poor
adventuring scribbler that he was to become.

"Why did you pursue me and wish to stop me, Mr. Whitford?" said Clara,
on the spur of a wound from his tone.

He replied: "I suppose I'm a busybody; I was never aware of it till
now."

"You are my friend. Only you speak in irony so much. That was irony,
about my clear conscience. I spoke to you and to Miss Dale: and then I
rested and drifted. Can you not feel for me, that to mention it is like
a scorching furnace? Willoughby has entangled papa. He schemes
incessantly to keep me entangled. I fly from his cunning as much as
from anything. I dread it. I have told you that I am more to blame than
he, but I must accuse him. And wedding-presents! and congratulations!
And to be his guest!"

"All that makes up a plea in mitigation," said Vernon.

"Is it not sufficient for you?" she asked him timidly.

"You have a masculine good sense that tells you you won't be respected
if you run. Three more days there might cover a retreat with your
father."

"He will not listen to me. He confuses me; Willoughby has bewitched
him."

"Commission me: I will see that he listens."

"And go back? Oh, no! To London! Besides, there is the dining with Mrs.
Mountstuart this evening; and I like her very well, but I must avoid
her. She has a kind of idolatry . . . And what answers can I give? I
supplicate her with looks. She observes them, my efforts to divert them
from being painful produce a comic expression to her, and I am a
charming 'rogue', and I am entertained on the topic she assumes to be
principally interesting me. I must avoid her. The thought of her leaves
me no choice. She is clever. She could tattoo me with epigrams."

"Stay . . . there you can hold your own."

"She has told me you give me credit for a spice of wit. I have not
discovered my possession. We have spoken of it; we call it your
delusion. She grants me some beauty; that must be hers."

"There's no delusion in one case or the other, Miss Middleton. You have
beauty and wit; public opinion will say, wildness: indifference to your
reputation will be charged on you, and your friends will have to admit
it. But you will be out of this difficulty."

"Ah--to weave a second?"

"Impossible to judge until we see how you escape the first. And I have
no more to say. I love your father. His humour of sententiousness and
doctorial stilts is a mask he delights in, but you ought to know him
and not be frightened by it. If you sat with him an hour at a Latin
task, and if you took his hand and told him you could not leave him,
and no tears!--he would answer you at once. It would involve a day or
two further; disagreeable to you, no doubt: preferable to the present
mode of escape, as I think. But I have no power whatever to persuade. I
have not the 'lady's tongue'. My appeal is always to reason."

"It is a compliment. I loathe the 'lady's tongue'."

"It's a distinctly good gift, and I wish I had it. I might have
succeeded instead of failing, and appearing to pay a compliment."

"Surely the express train is very late, Mr. Whitford?"

"The express has gone by."

"Then we will cross over."

"You would rather not be seen by Mrs. Mountstuart. That is her carriage
drawn up at the station, and she is in it."

Clara looked, and with the sinking of her heart said: "I must brave
her!"

"In that case I will take my leave of you here, Miss Middleton."

She gave him her hand. "Why is Mrs. Mountstuart at the station to-day?"

"I suppose she has driven to meet one of the guests for her
dinner-party. Professor Crooklyn was promised to your father, and he
may be coming by the down-train."

"Go back to the Hall!" exclaimed Clara. "How can I? I have no more
endurance left in me. If I had some support!--if it were the sense of
secretly doing wrong, it might help me through. I am in a web. I cannot
do right, whatever I do. There is only the thought of saving Crossjay.
Yes, and sparing papa.--Good-bye, Mr. Whitford. I shall remember your
kindness gratefully. I cannot go back."

"You will not?" said he, tempting her to hesitate.

"No."

"But if you are seen by Mrs. Mountstuart, you must go back. I'll do my
best to take her away. Should she see you, you must patch up a story
and apply to her for a lift. That, I think, is imperative."

"Not to my mind," said Clara.

He bowed hurriedly, and withdrew. After her confession, peculiar to
her, of possibly finding sustainment in secretly doing wrong, her
flying or remaining seemed to him a choice of evils: and whilst she
stood in bewildered speculation on his reason for pursuing her--which
was not evident--he remembered the special fear inciting him, and so
far did her justice as to have at himself on that subject. He had done
something perhaps to save her from a cold: such was his only
consolatory thought. He had also behaved like a man of honour, taking
no personal advantage of her situation; but to reflect on it recalled
his astonishing dryness. The strict man of honour plays a part that he
should not reflect on till about the fall of the curtain, otherwise he
will be likely sometimes to feel the shiver of foolishness at his good
conduct.



CHAPTER XXVIII

THE RETURN

Posted in observation at a corner of the window Clara saw Vernon cross
the road to Mrs. Mountstuart Jenkinson's carriage, transformed to the
leanest pattern of himself by narrowed shoulders and raised
coat-collar. He had such an air of saying, "Tom's a-cold", that her
skin crept in sympathy.

Presently he left the carriage and went into the station: a bell had
rung. Was it her train? He approved her going, for he was employed in
assisting her to go: a proceeding at variance with many things he had
said, but he was as full of contradiction to-day as women are accused
of being. The train came up. She trembled: no signal had appeared, and
Vernon must have deceived her.

He returned; he entered the carriage, and the wheels were soon in
motion. Immediately thereupon, Flitch's fly drove past, containing
Colonel De Craye.

Vernon could not but have perceived him!

But what was it that had brought the colonel to this place? The
pressure of Vernon's mind was on her and foiled her efforts to assert
her perfect innocence, though she knew she had done nothing to allure
the colonel hither. Excepting Willoughby, Colonel De Craye was the last
person she would have wished to encounter.

She had now a dread of hearing the bell which would tell her that
Vernon had not deceived her, and that she was out of his hands, in the
hands of some one else.

She bit at her glove; she glanced at the concentrated eyes of the
publican's family portraits, all looking as one; she noticed the empty
tumbler, and went round to it and touched it, and the silly spoon in
it.

A little yielding to desperation shoots us to strange distances!

Vernon had asked her whether she was alone. Connecting that inquiry,
singular in itself, and singular in his manner of putting it, with the
glass of burning liquid, she repeated: "He must have seen Colonel De
Craye!" and she stared at the empty glass, as at something that
witnessed to something: for Vernon was not your supple cavalier
assiduously on the smirk to pin a gallantry to commonplaces. But all
the doors are not open in a young lady's consciousness, quick of nature
though she may be: some are locked and keyless, some will not open to
the key, some are defended by ghosts inside. She could not have said
what the something witnessed to. If we by chance know more, we have
still no right to make it more prominent than it was with her. And the
smell of the glass was odious; it disgraced her. She had an impulse to
pocket the spoon for a memento, to show it to grandchildren for a
warning. Even the prelude to the morality to be uttered on the occasion
sprang to her lips: "Here, my dears, is a spoon you would be ashamed to
use in your teacups, yet it was of more value to me at one period of my
life than silver and gold in pointing out, etc.": the conclusion was
hazy, like the conception; she had her idea.

And in this mood she ran down-stairs and met Colonel De Craye on the
station steps.

The bright illumination of his face was that of the confident man
confirmed in a risky guess in the crisis of doubt and dispute.

"Miss Middleton!" his joyful surprise predominated; the pride of an
accurate forecast, adding: "I am not too late to be of service?"

She thanked him for the offer.

"Have you dismissed the fly, Colonel De Craye?"

"I have just been getting change to pay Mr. Flitch. He passed me on the
road. He is interwound with our fates to a certainty. I had only to
jump in; I knew it, and rolled along like a magician commanding a
genie."

"Have I been . . ."

"Not seriously, nobody doubts you being under shelter. You will allow
me to protect you? My time is yours."

"I was thinking of a running visit to my friend Miss Darleton."

"May I venture? I had the fancy that you wished to see Miss Darleton
to-day. You cannot make the journey unescorted."

"Please retain the fly. Where is Willoughby?"

"He is in jack-boots. But may I not, Miss Middleton? I shall never be
forgiven if you refuse me."

"There has been searching for me?"

"Some hallooing. But why am I rejected? Besides, I don't require the
fly; I shall walk if I am banished. Flitch is a wonderful conjurer, but
the virtue is out of him for the next four-and-twenty hours. And it
will be an opportunity to me to make my bow to Miss Darleton!"

"She is rigorous on the conventionalities, Colonel De Craye."

"I'll appear before her as an ignoramus or a rebel, whichever she likes
best to take in leading-strings. I remember her. I was greatly struck
by her."

"Upon recollection!"

"Memory didn't happen to be handy at the first mention of the lady's
name. As the general said of his ammunition and transport, there's the
army!--but it was leagues in the rear. Like the footman who went to
sleep after smelling fire in the house, I was thinking of other things.
It will serve me right to be forgotten--if I am. I've a curiosity to
know: a remainder of my coxcombry. Not that exactly: a wish to see the
impression I made on your friend.--None at all? But any pebble casts a
ripple."

"That is hardly an impression," said Clara, pacifying her
irresoluteness with this light talk.

"The utmost to be hoped for by men like me! I have your
permission?--one minute--I will get my ticket."

"Do not," said Clara.

"Your man-servant entreats you!"

She signified a decided negative with the head, but her eyes were
dreamy. She breathed deep: this thing done would cut the cord. Her
sensation of languor swept over her.

De Craye took a stride. He was accosted by one of the railway-porters.
Flitch's fly was in request for a gentleman. A portly old gentleman
bothered about luggage appeared on the landing.

"The gentleman can have it," said De Craye, handing Flitch his money.

"Open the door." Clara said to Flitch.

He tugged at the handle with enthusiasm. The door was open: she stepped
in.

"Then mount the box and I'll jump up beside you," De Craye called out,
after the passion of regretful astonishment had melted from his
features.

Clara directed him to the seat fronting her; he protested indifference
to the wet; she kept the door unshut. His temper would have preferred
to buffet the angry weather. The invitation was too sweet.

She heard now the bell of her own train. Driving beside the railway
embankment she met the train: it was eighteen minutes late, by her
watch. And why, when it flung up its whale-spouts of steam, she was not
journeying in it, she could not tell. She had acted of her free will:
that she could say. Vernon had not induced her to remain; assuredly her
present companion had not; and her whole heart was for flight: yet she
was driving back to the Hall, not devoid of calmness. She speculated on
the circumstance enough to think herself incomprehensible, and there
left it, intent on the scene to come with Willoughby.

"I must choose a better day for London," she remarked.

De Craye bowed, but did not remove his eyes from her.

"Miss Middleton, you do not trust me."

She answered: "Say in what way. It seems to me that I do."

"I may speak?"

"If it depends on my authority."

"Fully?"

"Whatever you have to say. Let me stipulate, be not very grave. I want
cheering in wet weather."

"Miss Middleton, Flitch is charioteer once more. Think of it. There's
a tide that carries him perpetually to the place where he was cast
forth, and a thread that ties us to him in continuity. I have not the
honour to be a friend of long standing: one ventures on one's devotion:
it dates from the first moment of my seeing you. Flitch is to blame, if
any one. Perhaps the spell would be broken, were he reinstated in his
ancient office."

"Perhaps it would," said Clara, not with her best of smiles.
Willoughby's pride of relentlessness appeared to her to be receiving a
blow by rebound, and that seemed high justice.

"I am afraid you were right; the poor fellow has no chance," De Craye
pursued. He paused, as for decorum in the presence of misfortune, and
laughed sparklingly: "Unless I engage him, or pretend to! I verily
believe that Flitch's melancholy person on the skirts of the Hall
completes the picture of the Eden within.--Why will you not put some
trust in me, Miss Middleton?"

"But why should you not pretend to engage him then, Colonel De Craye?"

"We'll plot it, if you like. Can you trust me for that?"

"For any act of disinterested kindness, I am sure."

"You mean it?"

"Without reserve. You could talk publicly of taking him to London."

"Miss Middleton, just now you were going. My arrival changed your mind.
You distrust me: and ought I to wonder? The wonder would be all the
other way. You have not had the sort of report of me which would
persuade you to confide, even in a case of extremity. I guessed you
were going. Do you ask me how? I cannot say. Through what they call
sympathy, and that's inexplicable. There's natural sympathy, natural
antipathy. People have to live together to discover how deep it is!"

Clara breathed her dumb admission of his truth.

The fly jolted and threatened to lurch.

"Flitch, my dear man!" the colonel gave a murmuring remonstrance;
"for," said he to Clara, whom his apostrophe to Flitch had set smiling,
"we're not safe with him, however we make believe, and he'll be jerking
the heart out of me before he has done.--But if two of us have not the
misfortune to be united when they come to the discovery, there's hope.
That is, if one has courage and the other has wisdom. Otherwise they
may go to the yoke in spite of themselves. The great enemy is Pride,
who has them both in a coach and drives them to the fatal door, and the
only thing to do is to knock him off his box while there's a minute to
spare. And as there's no pride like the pride of possession, the
deadliest wound to him is to make that doubtful. Pride won't be taught
wisdom in any other fashion. But one must have the courage to do it!"

De Craye trifled with the window-sash, to give his words time to sink
in solution.

Who but Willoughby stood for Pride? And who, swayed by languor, had
dreamed of a method that would be surest and swiftest to teach him the
wisdom of surrendering her?

"You know, Miss Middleton, I study character," said the colonel.

"I see that you do," she answered.

"You intend to return?"

"Oh, decidedly."

"The day is unfavourable for travelling, I must say."

"It is."

"You may count on my discretion in the fullest degree. I throw myself
on your generosity when I assure you that it was not my design to
surprise a secret. I guessed the station, and went there, to put myself
at your disposal."

"Did you," said Clara, reddening slightly, "chance to see Mrs.
Mountstuart Jenkinson's carriage pass you when you drove up to the
station?"

De Craye had passed a carriage. "I did not see the lady. She was in
it?"

"Yes. And therefore it is better to put discretion on one side: we may
be certain she saw you."

"But not you, Miss Middleton."

"I prefer to think that I am seen. I have a description of courage,
Colonel De Craye, when it is forced on me."

"I have not suspected the reverse. Courage wants training, as well as
other fine capacities. Mine is often rusty and rheumatic."

"I cannot hear of concealment or plotting."

"Except, pray, to advance the cause of poor Flitch!"

"He shall be excepted."

The colonel screwed his head round for a glance at his coachman's back.

"Perfectly guaranteed to-day!" he said of Flitch's look of solidity.
"The convulsion of the elements appears to sober our friend; he is only
dangerous in calms. Five minutes will bring us to the park-gates."

Clara leaned forward to gaze at the hedgeways in the neighbourhood of
the Hall strangely renewing their familiarity with her. Both in thought
and sensation she was like a flower beaten to earth, and she thanked
her feminine mask for not showing how nerveless and languid she was.
She could have accused Vernon of a treacherous cunning for imposing it
on her free will to decide her fate.

Involuntarily she sighed.

"There is a train at three," said De Craye, with splendid promptitude.

"Yes, and one at five. We dine with Mrs. Mountstuart tonight. And I
have a passion for solitude! I think I was never intended for
obligations. The moment I am bound I begin to brood on freedom."

"Ladies who say that, Miss Middleton!. . ."

"What of them?"

"They're feeling too much alone."

She could not combat the remark: by her self-assurance that she had the
principle of faithfulness, she acknowledged to herself the truth of
it:--there is no freedom for the weak. Vernon had said that once. She
tried to resist the weight of it, and her sheer inability precipitated
her into a sense of pitiful dependence.

Half an hour earlier it would have been a perilous condition to be
traversing in the society of a closely scanning reader of fair faces.
Circumstances had changed. They were at the gates of the park.

"Shall I leave you?" said De Craye.

"Why should you?" she replied.

He bent to her gracefully.

The mild subservience flattered Clara's languor. He had not compelled
her to be watchful on her guard, and she was unaware that he passed it
when she acquiesced to his observation, "An anticipatory story is a
trap to the teller."

"It is," she said. She had been thinking as much.

He threw up his head to consult the brain comically with a dozen little
blinks.

"No, you are right, Miss Middleton, inventing beforehand never
prospers; 't is a way to trip our own cleverness. Truth and mother-wit
are the best counsellors: and as you are the former, I'll try to act up
to the character you assign me."

Some tangle, more prospective than present, seemed to be about her as
she reflected. But her intention being to speak to Willoughby without
subterfuge, she was grateful to her companion for not tempting her to
swerve. No one could doubt his talent for elegant fibbing, and she was
in the humour both to admire and adopt the art, so she was glad to be
rescued from herself. How mother-wit was to second truth she did not
inquire, and as she did not happen to be thinking of Crossjay, she was
not troubled by having to consider how truth and his tale of the
morning would be likely to harmonize.

Driving down the park, she had full occupation in questioning whether
her return would be pleasing to Vernon, who was the virtual cause of
it, though he had done so little to promote it: so little that she
really doubted his pleasure in seeing her return.



CHAPTER XXIX

IN WHICH THE SENSITIVENESS OF SIR WILLOUGHBY IS EXPLAINED: AND HE
RECEIVES MUCH INSTRUCTION

THE Hall-dock over the stables was then striking twelve. It was the
hour for her flight to be made known, and Clara sat in a turmoil of dim
apprehension that prepared her nervous frame for a painful blush on her
being asked by Colonel De Craye whether she had set her watch
correctly. He must, she understood, have seen through her at the
breakfast table: and was she not cruelly indebted to him for her
evasion of Willoughby? Such perspicacity of vision distressed and
frightened her; at the same time she was obliged to acknowledge that he
had not presumed on it. Her dignity was in no way the worse for him.
But it had been at a man's mercy, and there was the affliction.

She jumped from the fly as if she were leaving danger behind. She could
at the moment have greeted Willoughby with a conventionally friendly
smile. The doors were thrown open and young Crossjay flew out to her.
He hung and danced on her hand, pressed the hand to his mouth, hardly
believing that he saw and touched her, and in a lingo of dashes and
asterisks related how Sir Willoughby had found him under the boathouse
eaves and pumped him, and had been sent off to Hoppner's farm, where
there was a sick child, and on along the road to a labourer's cottage:
"For I said you're so kind to poor people, Miss Middleton; that's true,
now that is true. And I said you wouldn't have me with you for fear of
contagion!" This was what she had feared.

"Every crack and bang in a boys vocabulary," remarked the colonel,
listening to him after he had paid Flitch.

The latter touched his hat till he had drawn attention to himself, when
he exclaimed, with rosy melancholy: "Ah! my lady, ah! colonel, if ever
I lives to drink some of the old port wine in the old Hall at
Christmastide!" Their healths would on that occasion be drunk, it was
implied. He threw up his eyes at the windows, humped his body and drove
away.

"Then Mr. Whitford has not come back?" said Clara to Crossjay.

"No, Miss Middleton. Sir Willoughby has, and he's upstairs in his room
dressing."

"Have you seen Barclay?"

"She has just gone into the laboratory. I told her Sir Willoughby
wasn't there."

"Tell me, Crossjay, had she a letter?"

"She had something."

"Run: say I am here; I want the letter, it is mine."

Crossjay sprang away and plunged into the arms of Sir Willoughby.

"One has to catch the fellow like a football," exclaimed the injured
gentleman, doubled across the boy and holding him fast, that he might
have an object to trifle with, to give himself countenance: he needed
it. "Clara, you have not been exposed to the weather?"

"Hardly at all."

"I rejoice. You found shelter?"

"Yes."

"In one of the cottages?"

"Not in a cottage; but I was perfectly sheltered. Colonel De Craye
passed a fly before he met me . . ."

"Flitch again!" ejaculated the colonel.

"Yes, you have luck, you have luck," Willoughby addressed him, still
clutching Crossjay and treating his tugs to get loose as an invitation
to caresses. But the foil barely concealed his livid perturbation.

"Stay by me, sir," he said at last sharply to Crossjay, and Clara
touched the boy's shoulder in admonishment of him.

She turned to the colonel as they stepped into the hall: "I have not
thanked you, Colonel De Craye." She dropped her voice to its lowest: "A
letter in my handwriting in the laboratory."

Crossjay cried aloud with pain.

"I have you!" Willoughby rallied him with a laugh not unlike the squeak
of his victim.

"You squeeze awfully hard, sir."

"Why, you milksop!"

"Am I! But I want to get a book."

"Where is the book?"

"In the laboratory."

Colonel De Craye, sauntering by the laboratory door, sung out: "I'll
fetch you your book. What is it? EARLY NAVIGATORS? INFANT HYMNS? I
think my cigar-case is in here."

"Barclay speaks of a letter for me," Willoughby said to Clara, "marked
to be delivered to me at noon!"

"In case of my not being back earlier; it was written to avert
anxiety," she replied.

"You are very good."

"Oh, good! Call me anything but good. Here are the ladies. Dear
ladies!" Clara swam to meet them as they issued from a morning-room
into the hall, and interjections reigned for a couple of minutes.

Willoughby relinquished his grasp of Crossjay, who darted
instantaneously at an angle to the laboratory, whither he followed, and
he encountered De Craye coming out, but passed him in silence.

Crossjay was rangeing and peering all over the room. Willoughby went
to his desk and the battery-table and the mantelpiece. He found no
letter. Barclay had undoubtedly informed him that she had left a letter
for him in the laboratory, by order of her mistress after breakfast.

He hurried out and ran upstairs in time to see De Craye and Barclay
breaking a conference.

He beckoned to her. The maid lengthened her upper lip and beat her
dress down smooth: signs of the apprehension of a crisis and of the
getting ready for action.

"My mistress's bell has just rung, Sir Willoughby."

"You had a letter for me."

"I said . . ."

"You said when I met you at the foot of the stairs that you had left a
letter for me in the laboratory."

"It is lying on my mistress's toilet-table."

"Get it."

Barclay swept round with another of her demure grimaces. It was
apparently necessary with her that she should talk to herself in this
public manner.

Willoughby waited for her; but there was no reappearance of the maid.

Struck by the ridicule of his posture of expectation, and of his whole
behaviour, he went to his bedroom suite, shut himself in, and paced the
chambers, amazed at the creature he had become. Agitated like the
commonest of wretches, destitute of self-control, not able to preserve
a decent mask, be, accustomed to inflict these emotions and tremours
upon others, was at once the puppet and dupe of an intriguing girl. His
very stature seemed lessened. The glass did not say so, but the
shrunken heart within him did, and wailfully too. Her
compunction--'Call me anything but good'--coming after her return to
the Hall beside De Craye, and after the visible passage of a secret
between them in his presence, was a confession: it blew at him with the
fury of a furnace-blast in his face. Egoist agony wrung the outcry from
him that dupery is a more blessed condition. He desired to be deceived.

He could desire such a thing only in a temporary transport; for above
all he desired that no one should know of his being deceived; and were
he a dupe the deceiver would know it, and her accomplice would know it,
and the world would soon know of it: that world against whose tongue
he stood defenceless. Within the shadow of his presence he compressed
opinion, as a strong frost binds the springs of earth, but beyond it
his shivering sensitiveness ran about in dread of a stripping in a
wintry atmosphere. This was the ground of his hatred of the world: it
was an appalling fear on behalf of his naked eidolon, the tender infant
Self swaddled in his name before the world, for which he felt as the
most highly civilized of men alone can feel, and which it was
impossible for him to stretch out hands to protect. There the poor
little loveable creature ran for any mouth to blow on; and frostnipped
and bruised, it cried to him, and he was of no avail! Must we not
detest a world that so treats us? We loathe it the more, by the measure
of our contempt for them, when we have made the people within the
shadow-circle of our person slavish.

And he had been once a young prince in popularity: the world had been
his possession. Clara's treatment of him was a robbery of land and
subjects. His grander dream had been a marriage with a lady of so
glowing a fame for beauty and attachment to her lord that the world
perforce must take her for witness to merits which would silence
detraction and almost, not quite (it was undesireable), extinguish
envy. But for the nature of women his dream would have been realized.
He could not bring himself to denounce Fortune. It had cost him a
grievous pang to tell Horace De Craye he was lucky; he had been
educated in the belief that Fortune specially prized and cherished
little Willoughby: hence of necessity his maledictions fell upon women,
or he would have forfeited the last blanket of a dream warm as poets
revel in.

But if Clara deceived him, he inspired her with timidity. There was
matter in that to make him wish to be deceived. She had not looked him
much in the face: she had not crossed his eyes: she had looked
deliberately downward, keeping her head up, to preserve an exterior
pride. The attitude had its bewitchingness: the girl's physical pride
of stature scorning to bend under a load of conscious guilt, had a
certain black-angel beauty for which he felt a hugging hatred: and
according to his policy when these fits of amorous meditation seized
him, he burst from the present one in the mood of his more favourable
conception of Clara, and sought her out.

The quality of the mood of hugging hatred is, that if you are
disallowed the hug, you do not hate the fiercer.

Contrariwise the prescription of a decorous distance of two feet ten
inches, which is by measurement the delimitation exacted of a rightly
respectful deportment, has this miraculous effect on the great creature
man, or often it has: that his peculiar hatred returns to the reluctant
admiration begetting it, and his passion for the hug falls prostrate as
one of the Faithful before the shrine; he is reduced to worship by
fasting.

(For these mysteries, consult the sublime chapter in the GREAT BOOK,
the Seventy-first on LOVE, wherein nothing is written, but the Reader
receives a Lanthorn, a Powder-cask and a Pick-axe, and therewith
pursues his yellow-dusking path across the rubble of preceding
excavators in the solitary quarry: a yet more instructive passage than
the overscrawled Seventieth, or French Section, whence the chapter
opens, and where hitherto the polite world has halted.)

The hurry of the hero is on us, we have no time to spare for mining
works: he hurried to catch her alone, to wreak his tortures on her in a
bitter semblance of bodily worship, and satiated, then comfortably to
spurn. He found her protected by Barclay on the stairs.

"That letter for me?" he said.

"I think I told you, Willoughby, there was a letter I left with Barclay
to reassure you in case of my not returning early," said Clara. "It was
unnecessary for her to deliver it."

"Indeed? But any letter, any writing of yours, and from you to me! You
have it still?"

"No, I have destroyed it."

"That was wrong."

"It could not have given you pleasure."

"My dear Clara, one line from you!"

"There were but three."

Barclay stood sucking her lips. A maid in the secrets of her mistress
is a purchaseable maid, for if she will take a bribe with her right
hand she will with her left; all that has to be calculated is the
nature and amount of the bribe: such was the speculation indulged by
Sir Willoughby, and he shrank from the thought and declined to know
more than that he was on a volcanic hillside where a thin crust quaked
over lava. This was a new condition with him, representing Clara's gain
in their combat. Clara did not fear his questioning so much as he
feared her candour.

Mutually timid, they were of course formally polite, and no plain
speaking could have told one another more distinctly that each was
defensive. Clara stood pledged to the fib; packed, scaled and posted;
and he had only to ask to have it, supposing that he asked with a voice
not exactly peremptory.

She said in her heart, "It is your fault: you are relentless and you
would ruin Crossjay to punish him for devoting himself to me, like the
poor thoughtless boy he is! and so I am bound in honour to do my utmost
for him."

The reciprocal devotedness, moreover, served two purposes: it preserved
her from brooding on the humiliation of her lame flight, and flutter
back, and it quieted her mind in regard to the precipitate intimacy of
her relations with Colonel De Craye. Willoughby's boast of his
implacable character was to blame. She was at war with him, and she was
compelled to put the case in that light. Crossjay must be shielded from
one who could not spare an offender, so Colonel De Craye quite
naturally was called on for his help, and the colonel's dexterous aid
appeared to her more admirable than alarming.

Nevertheless, she would not have answered a direct question falsely.
She was for the fib, but not the lie; at a word she could be disdainful
of subterfuges. Her look said that. Willoughby perceived it. She had
written him a letter of three lines: "There were but three": and she
had destroyed the letter. Something perchance was repented by her? Then
she had done him an injury! Between his wrath at the suspicion of an
injury, and the prudence enjoined by his abject coveting of her, he
consented to be fooled for the sake of vengeance, and something
besides.

"Well! here you are, safe; I have you!" said he, with courtly
exultation: "and that is better than your handwriting. I have been all
over the country after you."

"Why did you? We are not in a barbarous land," said Clara.

"Crossjay talks of your visiting a sick child, my love:--you have
changed your dress?"

"You see."

"The boy declared you were going to that farm of Hoppner's, and some
cottage. I met at my gates a tramping vagabond who swore to seeing you
and the boy in a totally contrary direction."

"Did you give him money?"

"I fancy so."

"Then he was paid for having seen me."

Willoughby tossed his head: it might be as she suggested; beggars are
liars.

"But who sheltered you, my dear Clara? You had not been heard of at
Hoppner's."

"The people have been indemnified for their pains. To pay them more
would be to spoil them. You disperse money too liberally. There was no
fever in the place. Who could have anticipated such a downpour! I want
to consult Miss Dale on the important theme of a dress I think of
wearing at Mrs Mountstuart's to-night."

"Do. She is unerring."

"She has excellent taste."

"She dresses very simply herself."

"But it becomes her. She is one of the few women whom I feel I could
not improve with a touch."

"She has judgement."

He reflected and repeated his encomium.

The shadow of a dimple in Clara's cheek awakened him to the idea that
she had struck him somewhere: and certainly he would never again be
able to put up the fiction of her jealousy of Laetitia. What, then,
could be this girl's motive for praying to be released? The
interrogation humbled him: he fled from the answer.

Willoughby went in search of De Craye. That sprightly intriguer had no
intention to let himself be caught solus. He was undiscoverable until
the assembly sounded, when Clara dropped a public word or two, and he
spoke in perfect harmony with her. After that, he gave his company to
Willoughby for an hour at billiards, and was well beaten.

The announcement of a visit of Mrs. Mountstuart Jenkinson took the
gentlemen to the drawing-room, rather suspecting that something stood
in the way of her dinner-party. As it happened, she was lamenting only
the loss of one of the jewels of the party: to wit, the great Professor
Crooklyn, invited to meet Dr. Middleton at her table; and she related
how she had driven to the station by appointment, the professor being
notoriously a bother-headed traveller: as was shown by the fact that he
had missed his train in town, for he had not arrived; nothing had been
seen of him. She cited Vernon Whitford for her authority that the train
had been inspected, and the platform scoured to find the professor.

"And so," said she, "I drove home your Green Man to dry him; he was wet
through and chattering; the man was exactly like a skeleton wrapped in
a sponge, and if he escapes a cold he must be as invulnerable as he
boasts himself. These athletes are terrible boasters."

"They climb their Alps to crow," said Clara, excited by her
apprehension that Mrs. Mountstuart would speak of having seen the
colonel near the station.

There was a laugh, and Colonel De Craye laughed loudly as it flashed
through him that a quick-witted impressionable girl like Miss Middleton
must, before his arrival at the Hall, have speculated on such obdurate
clay as Vernon Whitford was, with humourous despair at his uselessness
to her. Glancing round, he saw Vernon standing fixed in a stare at the
young lady.

"You heard that, Whitford?" he said, and Clara's face betokening an
extremer contrition than he thought was demanded, the colonel rallied
the Alpine climber for striving to be the tallest of them--Signor
Excelsior!--and described these conquerors of mountains pancaked on the
rocks in desperate embraces, bleached here, burned there, barked all
over, all to be able to say they had been up "so high"--had conquered
another mountain! He was extravagantly funny and self-satisfied: a
conqueror of the sex having such different rewards of enterprise.

Vernon recovered in time to accept the absurdities heaped on him.

"Climbing peaks won't compare with hunting a wriggler," said he.

His allusion to the incessant pursuit of young Crossjay to pin him to
lessons was appreciated.

Clara felt the thread of the look he cast from herself to Colonel De
Craye. She was helpless, if he chose to misjudge her. Colonel De Craye
did not!

Crossjay had the misfortune to enter the drawing-room while Mrs.
Mountstuart was compassionating Vernon for his ducking in pursuit of
the wriggler; which De Craye likened to "going through the river after
his eel:" and immediately there was a cross-questioning of the boy
between De Craye and Willoughby on the subject of his latest truancy,
each gentleman trying to run him down in a palpable fib. They were
succeeding brilliantly when Vernon put a stop to it by marching him off
to hard labour. Mrs. Mountstuart was led away to inspect the beautiful
porcelain service, the present of Lady Busshe. "Porcelain again!" she
said to Willoughby, and would have signalled to the "dainty rogue" to
come with them, had not Clara been leaning over to Laetitia, talking to
her in an attitude too graceful to be disturbed. She called his
attention to it, slightly wondering at his impatience. She departed to
meet an afternoon train on the chance that it would land the professor.
"But tell Dr. Middleton," said she, "I fear I shall have no one worthy
of him! And," she added to Willoughby, as she walked out to her
carriage, "I shall expect you to do the great-gunnery talk at table."

"Miss Dale keeps it up with him best," said Willoughby.

"She does everything best! But my dinner-table is involved, and I
cannot count on a young woman to talk across it. I would hire a lion of
a menagerie, if one were handy, rather than have a famous scholar at my
table, unsupported by another famous scholar. Doctor Middleton would
ride down a duke when the wine is in him. He will terrify my poor
flock. The truth is, we can't leaven him: I foresee undigested lumps of
conversation, unless you devote yourself."

"I will devote myself," said Willoughby.

"I can calculate on Colonel De Craye and our porcelain beauty for any
quantity of sparkles, if you promise that. They play well together. You
are not to be one of the gods to-night, but a kind of Jupiter's
cup-bearer;--Juno's, if you like; and Lady Busshe and Lady Culmer, and
all your admirers shall know subsequently what you have done. You see
my alarm. I certainly did not rank Professor Crooklyn among the
possibly faithless, or I never would have ventured on Doctor Middleton
at my table. My dinner-parties have hitherto been all successes.
Naturally I feel the greater anxiety about this one. For a single
failure is all the more conspicuous. The exception is everlastingly
cited! It is not so much what people say, but my own sentiments. I hate
to fail. However, if you are true, we may do."

"Whenever the great gun goes off I will fall on my face, madam!"

"Something of that sort," said the dame, smiling, and leaving him to
reflect on the egoism of women. For the sake of her dinner-party he was
to be a cipher in attendance on Dr. Middleton, and Clara and De Craye
were to be encouraged in sparkling together! And it happened that he
particularly wished to shine. The admiration of his county made him
believe he had a flavour in general society that was not yet
distinguished by his bride, and he was to relinquish his opportunity in
order to please Mrs. Mountstuart! Had she been in the pay of his
rival, she could not have stipulated for more.

He remembered young Crossjay's instant quietude, after struggling in
his grasp, when Clara laid her hand on the boy: and from that
infinitesimal circumstance he deduced the boy's perception of a
differing between himself and his bride, and a transfer of Crossjay's
allegiance from him to her. She shone; she had the gift of female
beauty; the boy was attracted to it. That boy must be made to feel his
treason. But the point of the cogitation was, that similarly were Clara
to see her affianced shining, as shine he could when lighted up by
admirers, there was the probability that the sensation of her
littleness would animate her to take aim at him once more. And then was
the time for her chastisement.

A visit to Dr. Middleton in the library satisfied him that she had not
been renewing her entreaties to leave Patterne. No, the miserable
coquette had now her pastime, and was content to stay. Deceit was in
the air: he heard the sound of the shuttle of deceit without seeing it;
but, on the whole, mindful of what he had dreaded during the hours of
her absence, he was rather flattered, witheringly flattered. What was
it that he had dreaded? Nothing less than news of her running away.
Indeed a silly fancy, a lover's fancy! yet it had led him so far as to
suspect, after parting with De Craye in the rain, that his friend and
his bride were in collusion, and that he should not see them again. He
had actually shouted on the rainy road the theatric call "Fooled!" one
of the stage-cries which are cries of nature! particularly the cry of
nature with men who have driven other men to the cry.

Constantia Durham had taught him to believe women capable of explosions
of treason at half a minute's notice. And strangely, to prove that
women are all of a pack, she had worn exactly the same placidity of
countenance just before she fled, as Clara yesterday and to-day; no
nervousness, no flushes, no twitches of the brows, but smoothness, ease
of manner--an elegant sisterliness, one might almost say: as if the
creature had found a midway and borderline to walk on between cruelty
and kindness, and between repulsion and attraction; so that up to the
verge of her breath she did forcefully attract, repelling at one foot's
length with her armour of chill serenity. Not with any disdain, with no
passion: such a line as she herself pursued she indicated to him on a
neighbouring parallel. The passion in her was like a place of waves
evaporated to a crust of salt. Clara's resemblance to Constantia in
this instance was ominous. For him whose tragic privilege it had been
to fold each of them in his arms, and weigh on their eyelids, and see
the dissolving mist-deeps in their eyes, it was horrible. Once more the
comparison overcame him. Constantia he could condemn for revealing too
much to his manly sight: she had met him almost half-way: well, that
was complimentary and sanguine: but her frankness was a baldness often
rendering it doubtful which of the two, lady or gentleman, was the
object of the chase--an extreme perplexity to his manly soul. Now
Clara's inner spirit was shyer, shy as a doe down those rose-tinged
abysses; she allured both the lover and the hunter; forests of
heavenliness were in her flitting eyes. Here the difference of these
fair women made his present fate an intolerable anguish. For if
Constantia was like certain of the ladies whom he had rendered unhappy,
triumphed over, as it is queerly called, Clara was not. Her
individuality as a woman was a thing he had to bow to. It was
impossible to roll her up in the sex and bestow a kick on the
travelling bundle. Hence he loved her, though she hurt him. Hence his
wretchedness, and but for the hearty sincerity of his faith in the Self
he loved likewise and more, he would have been hangdog abject.

As for De Craye, Willoughby recollected his own exploits too proudly to
put his trust in a man. That fatal conjunction of temper and policy had
utterly thrown him off his guard, or he would not have trusted the
fellow even in the first hour of his acquaintance with Clara. But he
had wished her to be amused while he wove his plans to retain her at
the Hall:--partly imagining that she would weary of his neglect: vile
delusion! In truth he should have given festivities, he should have
been the sun of a circle, and have revealed himself to her in his more
dazzling form. He went near to calling himself foolish after the
tremendous reverberation of "Fooled!" had ceased to shake him.

How behave? It slapped the poor gentleman's pride in the face to ask. A
private talk with her would rouse her to renew her supplications. He
saw them flickering behind the girl's transparent calmness. That
calmness really drew its dead ivory hue from the suppression of them:
something as much he guessed; and he was not sure either of his temper
or his policy if he should hear her repeat her profane request.

An impulse to address himself to Vernon and discourse with him
jocularly on the childish whim of a young lady, moved perhaps by some
whiff of jealousy, to shun the yoke, was checked. He had always taken
so superior a pose with Vernon that he could not abandon it for a
moment: on such a subject too! Besides, Vernon was one of your men who
entertain the ideas about women of fellows that have never conquered
one: or only one, we will say in his case, knowing his secret history;
and that one no flag to boast of. Densely ignorant of the sex, his
nincompoopish idealizations, at other times preposterous, would now be
annoying. He would probably presume on Clara's inconceivable lapse of
dignity to read his master a lecture: he was quite equal to a philippic
upon woman's rights. This man had not been afraid to say that he talked
common sense to women. He was an example of the consequence!

Another result was that Vernon did not talk sense to men. Willoughby's
wrath at Clara's exposure of him to his cousin dismissed the proposal
of a colloquy so likely to sting his temper, and so certain to diminish
his loftiness. Unwilling to speak to anybody, he was isolated, yet
consciously begirt by the mysterious action going on all over the
house, from Clara and De Craye to Laetitia and young Crossjay, down to
Barclay the maid. His blind sensitiveness felt as we may suppose a
spider to feel when plucked from his own web and set in the centre of
another's. Laetitia looked her share in the mystery. A burden was on
her eyelashes. How she could have come to any suspicion of the
circumstances, he was unable to imagine. Her intense personal sympathy,
it might be; he thought so with some gentle pity for her--of the
paternal pat-back order of pity. She adored him, by decree of Venus;
and the Goddess had not decreed that he should find consolation in
adoring her. Nor could the temptings of prudent counsel in his head
induce him to run the risk of such a total turnover as the incurring of
Laetitia's pity of himself by confiding in her. He checked that impulse
also, and more sovereignly. For him to be pitied by Laetitia seemed an
upsetting of the scheme of Providence. Providence, otherwise the
discriminating dispensation of the good things of life, had made him
the beacon, her the bird: she was really the last person to whom he
could unbosom. The idea of his being in a position that suggested his
doing so, thrilled him with fits of rage; and it appalled him. There
appeared to be another Power. The same which had humiliated him once
was menacing him anew. For it could not be Providence, whose favourite
he had ever been. We must have a couple of Powers to account for
discomfort when Egoism is the kernel of our religion. Benevolence had
singled him for uncommon benefits: malignancy was at work to rob him of
them. And you think well of the world, do you!

Of necessity he associated Clara with the darker Power pointing the
knife at the quick of his pride. Still, he would have raised her
weeping: he would have stanched her wounds bleeding: he had an infinite
thirst for her misery, that he might ease his heart of its charitable
love. Or let her commit herself, and be cast off. Only she must commit
herself glaringly, and be cast off by the world as well. Contemplating
her in the form of a discarded weed, he had a catch of the breath: she
was fair. He implored his Power that Horace De Craye might not be the
man! Why any man? An illness, fever, fire, runaway horses, personal
disfigurement, a laming, were sufficient. And then a formal and noble
offer on his part to keep to the engagement with the unhappy wreck:
yes, and to lead the limping thing to the altar, if she insisted. His
imagination conceived it, and the world's applause besides.

Nausea, together with a sense of duty to his line, extinguished that
loathsome prospect of a mate, though without obscuring his chivalrous
devotion to his gentleman's word of honour, which remained in his mind
to compliment him permanently.

On the whole, he could reasonably hope to subdue her to admiration. He
drank a glass of champagne at his dressing; an unaccustomed act, but,
as he remarked casually to his man Pollington, for whom the rest of the
bottle was left, he had taken no horse-exercise that day.

Having to speak to Vernon on business, he went to the schoolroom, where
he discovered Clara, beautiful in full evening attire, with her arm on
young Crossjay's shoulder, and heard that the hard task-master had
abjured Mrs. Mountstuart's party, and had already excused himself,
intending to keep Crossjay to the grindstone. Willoughby was for the
boy, as usual, and more sparklingly than usual. Clara looked at him in
some surprise. He rallied Vernon with great zest, quite silencing him
when he said: "I bear witness that the fellow was here at his regular
hour for lessons, and were you?" He laid his hand on Crossjay, touching
Clara's.

"You will remember what I told you, Crossjay," said she, rising from
the seat gracefully to escape the touch. "It is my command."

Crossjay frowned and puffed.

"But only if I'm questioned," he said.

"Certainly," she replied.

"Then I question the rascal," said Willoughby, causing a start. "What,
sir, is your opinion of Miss Middleton in her robe of state this
evening?"

"Now, the truth, Crossjay!" Clara held up a finger; and the boy could
see she was playing at archness, but for Willoughby it was earnest.
"The truth is not likely to offend you or me either," he murmured to
her.

"I wish him never, never, on any excuse, to speak anything else."

"I always did think her a Beauty," Crossjay growled. He hated the
having to say it.

"There!" exclaimed Sir Willoughby, and bent, extending an arm to her.
"You have not suffered from the truth, my Clara!"

Her answer was: "I was thinking how he might suffer if he were taught
to tell the reverse."

"Oh! for a fair lady!"

"That is the worst of teaching, Willoughby."

"We'll leave it to the fellow's instinct; he has our blood in him. I
could convince you, though, if I might cite circumstances. Yes! But
yes! And yes again! The entire truth cannot invariably be told. I
venture to say it should not."

"You would pardon it for the 'fair lady'?"

"Applaud, my love."

He squeezed the hand within his arm, contemplating her.

She was arrayed in a voluminous robe of pale blue silk vapourous with
trimmings of light gauze of the same hue, gaze de Chambery, matching
her fair hair and dear skin for the complete overthrow of less
inflammable men than Willoughby.

"Clara!" sighed be.

"If so, it would really be generous," she said, "though the teaching h
bad."

"I fancy I can be generous."

"Do we ever know?"

He turned his head to Vernon, issuing brief succinct instructions for
letters to be written, and drew her into the hall, saying: "Know?
There are people who do not know themselves and as they are the
majority they manufacture the axioms. And it is assumed that we have to
swallow them. I may observe that I think I know. I decline to be
engulphed in those majorities. 'Among them, but not of them.' I know
this, that my aim in life is to be generous."

"Is it not an impulse or disposition rather than an aim?"

"So much I know," pursued Willoughby, refusing to be tripped. But she
rang discordantly in his ear. His "fancy that he could be generous" and
his "aim at being generous" had met with no response. "I have given
proofs," he said, briefly, to drop a subject upon which he was not
permitted to dilate; and he murmured, "People acquainted with me . . . !" 
She was asked if she expected him to boast of generous deeds. "From
childhood!" she heard him mutter; and she said to herself, "Release me,
and you shall be everything!"

The unhappy gentleman ached as he talked: for with men and with hosts
of women to whom he was indifferent, never did he converse in this
shambling, third-rate, sheepish manner, devoid of all highness of tone
and the proper precision of an authority. He was unable to fathom the
cause of it, but Clara imposed it on him, and only in anger could he
throw it off. The temptation to an outburst that would flatter him with
the sound of his authoritative voice had to be resisted on a night when
he must be composed if he intended to shine, so he merely mentioned
Lady Busshe's present, to gratify spleen by preparing the ground for
dissension, and prudently acquiesced in her anticipated slipperiness.
She would rather not look at it now, she said.

"Not now; very well," said he.

His immediate deference made her regretful. "There is hardly time,
Willoughby."

"My dear, we shall have to express our thanks to her."

"I cannot."

His arm contracted sharply. He was obliged to be silent.

Dr Middleton, Laetitia, and the ladies Eleanor and Isabel joining them
in the hall, found two figures linked together in a shadowy indication
of halves that have fallen apart and hang on the last thread of
junction. Willoughby retained her hand on his arm; he held to it as the
symbol of their alliance, and oppressed the girl's nerves by contact,
with a frame labouring for breath. De Craye looked on them from
overhead. The carriages were at the door, and Willoughby said, "Where's
Horace? I suppose he's taking a final shot at his Book of Anecdotes and
neat collection of Irishisms."

"No," replied the colonel, descending. "That's a spring works of itself
and has discovered the secret of continuous motion, more's the
pity!--unless you'll be pleased to make it of use to Science."

He gave a laugh of good-humour.

"Your laughter, Horace, is a capital comment on your wit."

Willoughby said it with the air of one who has flicked a whip.

"'Tis a genial advertisement of a vacancy," said De Craye.

"Precisely: three parts auctioneer to one for the property."

"Oh, if you have a musical quack, score it a point in his favour,
Willoughby, though you don't swallow his drug."

"If he means to be musical, let him keep time."

"Am I late?" said De Craye to the ladies, proving himself an adept in
the art of being gracefully vanquished, and so winning tender hearts.

Willoughby had refreshed himself. At the back of his mind there was a
suspicion that his adversary would not have yielded so flatly without
an assurance of practically triumphing, secretly getting the better of
him; and it filled him with venom for a further bout at the next
opportunity: but as he had been sarcastic and mordant, he had shown
Clara what he could do in a way of speaking different from the
lamentable cooing stuff, gasps and feeble protestations to which, he
knew not how, she reduced him. Sharing the opinion of his race, that
blunt personalities, or the pugilistic form, administered directly on
the salient features, are exhibitions of mastery in such encounters, he
felt strong and solid, eager for the successes of the evening. De Craye
was in the first carriage as escort to the ladies Eleanor and Isabel.
Willoughby, with Clara, Laetitia, and Dr. Middleton, followed, all
silent, for the Rev. Doctor was ostensibly pondering; and Willoughby
was damped a little when he unlocked his mouth to say:

"And yet I have not observed that Colonel de Craye is anything of a
Celtiberian Egnatius meriting fustigation for an untimely display of
well-whitened teeth, sir: 'quicquid est, ubicunque est, quodcunque
agit, renidet:':--ha? a morbus neither charming nor urbane to the
general eye, however consolatory to the actor. But this gentleman does
not offend so, or I am so strangely prepossessed in his favour as to be
an incompetent witness."

Dr Middleton's persistent ha? eh? upon an honest frown of inquiry
plucked an answer out of Willoughby that was meant to be humourously
scornful, and soon became apologetic under the Doctor's interrogatively
grasping gaze.

"These Irishmen," Willoughby said, "will play the professional jester
as if it were an office they were born to. We must play critic now and
then, otherwise we should have them deluging us with their Joe
Millerisms."

"With their O'Millerisms you would say, perhaps?"

Willoughby did his duty to the joke, but the Rev. Doctor, though he
wore the paternal smile of a man that has begotten hilarity, was not
perfectly propitiated, and pursued: "Nor to my apprehension is 'the
man's laugh the comment on his wit' unchallengeably new: instances of
cousinship germane to the phrase will recur to you. But it has to be
noted that it was a phrase of assault; it was ostentatiously battery;
and I would venture to remind you, friend, that among the elect,
considering that it is as fatally facile to spring the laugh upon a man
as to deprive him of his life, considering that we have only to
condescend to the weapon, and that the more popular necessarily the
more murderous that weapon is,--among the elect, to which it is your
distinction to aspire to belong, the rule holds to abstain from any
employment of the obvious, the percoct, and likewise, for your own
sake, from the epitonic, the overstrained; for if the former, by
readily assimilating with the understandings of your audience, are
empowered to commit assassination on your victim, the latter come under
the charge of unseemliness, inasmuch as they are a description of
public suicide. Assuming, then, manslaughter to be your pastime, and
hari-kari not to be your bent, the phrase, to escape criminality, must
rise in you as you would have it fall on him, ex improviso. Am I
right?"

"I am in the habit of thinking it impossible, sir, that you can be in
error," said Willoughby.

Dr Middleton left it the more emphatic by saying nothing further.

Both his daughter and Miss Dale, who had disapproved the waspish snap
at Colonel De Craye, were in wonderment of the art of speech which
could so soothingly inform a gentleman that his behaviour had not been
gentlemanly.

Willoughby was damped by what he comprehended of it for a few minutes.
In proportion as he realized an evening with his ancient admirers he
was restored, and he began to marvel greatly at his folly in not giving
banquets and Balls, instead of making a solitude about himself and his
bride. For solitude, thought he, is good for the man, the man being a
creature consumed by passion; woman's love, on the contrary, will only
be nourished by the reflex light she catches of you in the eyes of
others, she having no passion of her own, but simply an instinct
driving her to attach herself to whatsoever is most largely admired,
most shining. So thinking, he determined to change his course of
conduct, and he was happier. In the first gush of our wisdom drawn
directly from experience there is a mental intoxication that cancels
the old world and establishes a new one, not allowing us to ask whether
it is too late.



CHAPTER XXX

TREATING OF THE DINNER-PARTY AT MRS. MOUNTSTUART JENKINSON'S

Vernon and young Crossjay had tolerably steady work together for a
couple of hours, varied by the arrival of a plate of meat on a tray for
the master, and some interrogations put to him from time to time by the
boy in reference to Miss Middleton. Crossjay made the discovery that if
he abstained from alluding to Miss Middleton's beauty he might water
his dusty path with her name nearly as much as he liked. Mention of her
beauty incurred a reprimand. On the first occasion his master was
wistful. "Isn't she glorious!" Crossjay fancied he had started a
sovereign receipt for blessed deviations. He tried it again, but
paedagogue-thunder broke over his head.

"Yes, only I can't understand what she means, Mr. Whitford," he excused
himself "First I was not to tell; I know I wasn't, because she said so;
she quite as good as said so. Her last words were: 'Mind, Crossjay,
you know nothing about me', when I stuck to that beast of a tramp,
who's a 'walking moral,' and gets money out of people by snuffling it."

"Attend to your lesson, or you'll be one," said Vernon.

"Yes, but, Mr. Whitford, now I am to tell. I'm to answer straight out
to every question."

"Miss Middleton is anxious that you should be truthful."

"Yes; but in the morning she told me not to tell."

"She was in a hurry. She has it on her conscience that you may have
misunderstood her, and she wishes you never to be guilty of an untruth,
least of all on her account."

Crossjay committed an unspoken resolution to the air in a violent sigh:
"Ah!" and said: "If I were sure!"

"Do as she bids you, my boy."

"But I don't know what it is she wants."

"Hold to her last words to you."

"So I do. If she told me to run till I dropped, on I'd go."

"She told you to study your lessons; do that."

Crossjay buckled to his book, invigorated by an imagination of his
liege lady on the page.

After a studious interval, until the impression of his lady had
subsided, he resumed: "She's so funny. She's just like a girl, and then
she's a lady, too. She's my idea of a princess. And Colonel De Craye!
Wasn't he taught dancing! When he says something funny he ducks and
seems to be setting to his partner. I should like to be as clever as
her father. That is a clever man. I dare say Colonel De Craye will
dance with her tonight. I wish I was there."

"It's a dinner-party, not a dance," Vernon forced himself to say, to
dispel that ugly vision.

"Isn't it, sir? I thought they danced after dinner-parties, Mr.
Whitford, have you ever seen her run?"

Vernon pointed him to his task.

They were silent for a lengthened period.

"But does Miss Middleton mean me to speak out if Sir Willoughby asks
me?" said Crossjay.

"Certainly. You needn't make much of it. All's plain and simple."

"But I'm positive, Mr. Whitford, he wasn't to hear of her going to the
post-office with me before breakfast. And how did Colonel De Craye find
her and bring her back, with that old Flitch? He's a man and can go
where he pleases, and I'd have found her, too, give me the chance. You
know. I'm fond of Miss Dale, but she--I'm very fond of her--but you
can't think she's a girl as well. And about Miss Dale, when she says a
thing, there it is, clear. But Miss Middleton has a lot of meanings.
Never mind; I go by what's inside, and I'm pretty sure to please her."

"Take your chin off your hand and your elbow off the book, and fix
yourself," said Vernon, wrestling with the seduction of Crossjay's
idolatry, for Miss Middleton's appearance had been preternaturally
sweet on her departure, and the next pleasure to seeing her was hearing
of her from the lips of this passionate young poet.

"Remember that you please her by speaking truth," Vernon added, and
laid himself open to questions upon the truth, by which he learnt, with
a perplexed sense of envy and sympathy, that the boy's idea of truth
strongly approximated to his conception of what should be agreeable to
Miss Middleton.

He was lonely, bereft of the bard, when he had tucked Crossjay up in
his bed and left him. Books he could not read; thoughts were
disturbing. A seat in the library and a stupid stare helped to pass the
hours, and but for the spot of sadness moving meditation in spite of
his effort to stun himself, he would have borne a happy resemblance to
an idiot in the sun. He had verily no command of his reason. She was
too beautiful! Whatever she did was best. That was the refrain of the
fountain-song in him; the burden being her whims, variations,
inconsistencies, wiles; her tremblings between good and naughty, that
might be stamped to noble or to terrible; her sincereness, her
duplicity, her courage, cowardice, possibilities for heroism and for
treachery. By dint of dwelling on the theme, he magnified the young
lady to extraordinary stature. And he had sense enough to own that her
character was yet liquid in the mould, and that she was a creature of
only naturally youthful wildness provoked to freakishness by the ordeal
of a situation shrewd as any that can happen to her sex in civilized
life. But he was compelled to think of her extravagantly, and he leaned
a little to the discrediting of her, because her actual image ummanned
him and was unbearable; and to say at the end of it: "She is too
beautiful! whatever she does is best," smoothed away the wrong he did
her. Had it been in his power he would have thought of her in the
abstract--the stage contiguous to that which he adopted: but the
attempt was luckless; the Stagyrite would have faded in it. What
philosopher could have set down that face of sun and breeze and nymph
in shadow as a point in a problem?

The library door was opened at midnight by Miss Dale. She dosed it
quietly. "You are not working, Mr. Whitford? I fancied you would wish
to hear of the evening. Professor Crooklyn arrived after all! Mrs.
Mountstuart is bewildered: she says she expected you, and that you did
not excuse yourself to her, and she cannot comprehend, et caetera. That
is to say, she chooses bewilderment to indulge in the exclamatory. She
must be very much annoyed. The professor did come by the train she
drove to meet!"

"I thought it probable," said Vernon.

"He had to remain a couple of hours at the Railway Inn; no conveyance
was to be found for him. He thinks he has caught a cold, and cannot
stifle his fretfulness about it. He may be as learned as Doctor
Middleton; he has not the same happy constitution. Nothing more
unfortunate could have occurred; he spoilt the party. Mrs. Mountstuart
tried petting him, which drew attention to him, and put us all in his
key for several awkward minutes, more than once. She lost her head; she
was unlike herself I may be presumptuous in criticizing her, but should
not the president of a dinner-table treat it like a battlefield, and
let the guest that sinks descend, and not allow the voice of a
discordant, however illustrious, to rule it? Of course, it is when I
see failures that I fancy I could manage so well: comparison is
prudently reserved in the other cases. I am a daring critic, no doubt,
because I know I shall never be tried by experiment. I have no ambition
to be tried."

She did not notice a smile of Vernon's, and continued: "Mrs Mountstuart
gave him the lead upon any subject he chose. I thought the professor
never would have ceased talking of a young lady who had been at the inn
before him drinking hot brandy and water with a gentleman!"

"How did he hear of that?" cried Vernon, roused by the malignity of the
Fates.

"From the landlady, trying to comfort him. And a story of her lending
shoes and stockings while those of the young lady were drying. He has
the dreadful snappish humourous way of recounting which impresses it;
the table took up the subject of this remarkable young lady, and
whether she was a lady of the neighbourhood, and who she could be that
went abroad on foot in heavy rain. It was painful to me; I knew enough
to be sure of who she was."

"Did she betray it?"

"No."

"Did Willoughby look at her?"

"Without suspicion then."

"Then?"

"Colonel De Craye was diverting us, and he was very amusing. Mrs.
Mountstuart told him afterward that he ought to be paid salvage for
saving the wreck of her party. Sir Willoughby was a little too cynical;
he talked well; what he said was good, but it was not good-humoured; he
has not the reckless indifference of Colonel De Craye to uttering
nonsense that amusement may come of it. And in the drawing-room he lost
such gaiety as he had. I was close to Mrs. Mountstuart when Professor
Crooklyn approached her and spoke in my hearing of that gentleman and
that young lady. They were, you could see by his nods, Colonel De
Craye and Miss Middleton."

"And she at once mentioned it to Willoughby?"

"Colonel De Craye gave her no chance, if she sought it. He courted her
profusely. Behind his rattle he must have brains. It ran in all
directions to entertain her and her circle."

"Willoughby knows nothing?"

"I cannot judge. He stood with Mrs. Mountstuart a minute as we were
taking leave. She looked strange. I heard her say: 'The rogue!' He
laughed. She lifted her shoulders. He scarcely opened his mouth on the
way home."

"The thing must run its course," Vernon said, with the philosophical
air which is desperation rendered decorous. "Willoughby deserves it. A
man of full growth ought to know that nothing on earth tempts
Providence so much as the binding of a young woman against her will.
Those two are mutually attracted: they're both . . . They meet, and
the mischief's done: both are bright. He can persuade with a word.
Another might discourse like an angel and it would be useless. I said
everything I could think of, to no purpose. And so it is: there are
those attractions!--just as, with her, Willoughby is the reverse, he
repels. I'm in about the same predicament--or should be if she were
plighted to me. That is, for the length of five minutes; about the
space of time I should require for the formality of handing her back
her freedom. How a sane man can imagine a girl like that . . . ! But if
she has changed, she has changed! You can't conciliate a withered
affection. This detaining her, and tricking, and not listening, only
increases her aversion; she learns the art in turn. Here she is,
detained by fresh plots to keep Dr. Middleton at the Hall. That's
true, is it not?" He saw that it was. "No, she's not to blame! She has
told him her mind; he won't listen. The question then is, whether she
keeps to her word, or breaks it. It's a dispute between a conventional
idea of obligation and an injury to her nature. Which is the more
dishonourable thing to do? Why, you and I see in a moment that her
feelings guide her best. It's one of the few cases in which nature may
be consulted like an oracle."

"Is she so sure of her nature?" said Miss Dale.

"You may doubt it; I do not. I am surprised at her coming back. De
Craye is a man of the world, and advised it, I suppose. He--well, I
never had the persuasive tongue, and my failing doesn't count for
much."

"But the suddenness of the intimacy!"

"The disaster is rather famous 'at first sight'. He came in a fortunate
hour . . . for him. A pigmy's a giant if he can manage to arrive in
season. Did you not notice that there was danger, at their second or
third glance? You counselled me to hang on here, where the amount of
good I do in proportion to what I have to endure is microscopic."

"It was against your wishes, I know," said Laetitia, and when the words
were out she feared that they were tentative. Her delicacy shrank from
even seeming to sound him in relation to a situation so delicate as
Miss Middleton's.

The same sentiment guarded him from betraying himself, and he said:
"Partly against. We both foresaw the possible--because, like most
prophets, we knew a little more of circumstances enabling us to see the
fatal. A pigmy would have served, but De Craye is a handsome,
intelligent, pleasant fellow."

"Sir Willoughby's friend!"

"Well, in these affairs! A great deal must be charged on the goddess."

"That is really Pagan fatalism!"

"Our modern word for it is Nature. Science condescends to speak of
natural selection. Look at these! They are both graceful and winning
and witty, bright to mind and eye, made for one another, as country
people say. I can't blame him. Besides, we don't know that he's guilty.
We're quite in the dark, except that we're certain how it must end. If
the chance should occur to you of giving Willoughby a word of
counsel--it may--you might, without irritating him as my knowledge of
his plight does, hint at your eyes being open. His insane dread of a
detective world makes him artificially blind. As soon as he fancies
himself seen, he sets to work spinning a web, and he discerns nothing
else. It's generally a clever kind of web; but if it's a tangle to
others it's the same to him, and a veil as well. He is preparing the
catastrophe, he forces the issue. Tell him of her extreme desire to
depart. Treat her as mad, to soothe him. Otherwise one morning he will
wake a second time . . . ! It is perfectly certain. And the second time
it will be entirely his own fault. Inspire him with some philosophy."

"I have none."

"I if I thought so, I would say you have better. There are two kinds of
philosophy, mine and yours. Mine comes of coldness, yours of devotion."

"He is unlikely to choose me for his confidante."

Vernon meditated. "One can never quite guess what he will do, from
never knowing the heat of the centre in him which precipitates his
actions: he has a great art of concealment. As to me, as you perceive,
my views are too philosophical to let me be of use to any of them. I
blame only the one who holds to the bond. The sooner I am gone!--in
fact, I cannot stay on. So Dr. Middleton and the Professor did not
strike fire together?"

"Doctor Middleton was ready, and pursued him, but Professor Crooklyn
insisted on shivering. His line of blank verse, 'A Railway platform and
a Railway inn!' became pathetic in repetition. He must have suffered."

"Somebody has to!"

"Why the innocent?"

"He arrives a propos. But remember that Fridolin sometimes contrives to
escape and have the guilty scorched. The Professor would not have
suffered if he had missed his train, as he appears to be in the habit
of doing. Thus his unaccustomed good-fortune was the cause of his bad."

"You saw him on the platform?"

"I am unacquainted with the professor. I had to get Mrs Mountstuart out
of the way."

"She says she described him to you. 'Complexion of a sweetbread,
consistency of a quenelle, grey, and like a Saint without his dish
behind the head.'"

"Her descriptions are strikingly accurate, but she forgot to sketch his
back, and all that I saw was a narrow sloping back and a broad hat
resting the brim on it. My report to her spoke of an old gentleman of
dark complexion, as the only traveller on the platform. She has faith
in the efficiency of her descriptive powers, and so she was willing to
drive off immediately. The intention was a start to London. Colonel De
Craye came up and effected in five minutes what I could not compass in
thirty."

"But you saw Colonel De Craye pass you?"

"My work was done; I should have been an intruder. Besides I was acting
wet jacket with Mrs. Mountstuart to get her to drive off fast, or she
might have jumped out in search of her Professor herself."

"She says you were lean as a fork, with the wind whistling through the
prongs."

"You see how easy it is to deceive one who is an artist in phrases.
Avoid them, Miss Dale; they dazzle the penetration of the composer.
That is why people of ability like Mrs Mountstuart see so little; they
are so bent on describing brilliantly. However, she is kind and
charitable at heart. I have been considering to-night that, to cut this
knot as it is now, Miss Middleton might do worse than speak straight
out to Mrs. Mountstuart. No one else would have such influence with
Willoughby. The simple fact of Mrs. Mountstuart's knowing of it would
be almost enough. But courage would be required for that. Good-night,
Miss Dale."

"Good-night, Mr. Whitford. You pardon me for disturbing you?"

Vernon pressed her hand reassuringly. He had but to look at her and
review her history to think his cousin Willoughby punished by just
retribution. Indeed, for any maltreatment of the dear boy Love by man
or by woman, coming under your cognizance, you, if you be of common
soundness, shall behold the retributive blow struck in your time.

Miss Dale retired thinking how like she and Vernon were to one another
in the toneless condition they had achieved through sorrow. He
succeeded in masking himself from her, owing to her awe of the
circumstances. She reproached herself for not having the same devotion
to the cold idea of duty as he had; and though it provoked inquiry, she
would not stop to ask why he had left Miss Middleton a prey to the
sparkling colonel. It seemed a proof of the philosophy he preached.

As she was passing by young Crossjay's bedroom door a face appeared.
Sir Willoughby slowly emerged and presented himself in his full length,
beseeching her to banish alarm.

He said it in a hushed voice, with a face qualified to create
sentiment.

"Are you tired? sleepy?" said he.

She protested that she was not: she intended to read for an hour.

He begged to have the hour dedicated to him. "I shall be relieved by
conversing with a friend."

No subterfuge crossed her mind; she thought his midnight visit to the
boy's bedside a pretty feature in him; she was full of pity, too; she
yielded to the strange request, feeling that it did not become "an old
woman" to attach importance even to the public discovery of midnight
interviews involving herself as one, and feeling also that she was
being treated as an old friend in the form of a very old woman. Her
mind was bent on arresting any recurrence to the project she had so
frequently outlined in the tongue of innuendo, of which, because of her
repeated tremblings under it, she thought him a master.

He conducted her along the corridor to the private sitting-room of the
ladies Eleanor and Isabel.

"Deceit!" he said, while lighting the candles on the mantelpiece.

She was earnestly compassionate, and a word that could not relate to
her personal destinies refreshed her by displacing her apprehensive
antagonism and giving pity free play.



CHAPTER XXXI

SIR WILLOUGHBY ATTEMPTS AND ACHIEVES PATHOS

Both were seated. Apparently he would have preferred to watch her dark
downcast eyelashes in silence under sanction of his air of abstract
meditation and the melancholy superinducing it. Blood-colour was in
her cheeks; the party had inspirited her features. Might it be that
lively company, an absence of economical solicitudes, and a flourishing
home were all she required to make her bloom again? The supposition was
not hazardous in presence of her heightened complexion.

She raised her eyes. He could not meet her look without speaking.

"Can you forgive deceit?"

"It would be to boast of more charity than I know myself to possess,
were I to say that I can, Sir Willoughby. I hope I am able to forgive.
I cannot tell. I should like to say yes."

"Could you live with the deceiver?"

"No."

"No. I could have given that answer for you. No semblance of union
should be maintained between the deceiver and ourselves. Laetitia!"

"Sir Willoughby?"

"Have I no right to your name?"

"If it pleases you to . . ."

"I speak as my thoughts run, and they did not know a Miss Dale so well
as a dear Laetitia: my truest friend! You have talked with Clara
Middleton?"

"We had a conversation."

Her brevity affrighted him. He flew off in a cloud.

"Reverting to that question of deceivers: is it not your opinion that
to pardon, to condone, is to corrupt society by passing off as pure
what is false? Do we not," he wore the smile of haggard playfulness of
a convalescent child the first day back to its toys, "Laetitia, do we
not impose a counterfeit on the currency?"

"Supposing it to be really deception."

"Apart from my loathing of deception, of falseness in any shape, upon
any grounds, I hold it an imperious duty to expose, punish, off with
it. I take it to be one of the forms of noxiousness which a good
citizen is bound to extirpate. I am not myself good citizen enough, I
confess, for much more than passive abhorrence. I do not forgive: I am
at heart serious and I cannot forgive:--there is no possible
reconciliation, there can be only an ostensible truce, between the two
hostile powers dividing this world."

She glanced at him quickly.

"Good and evil!" he said.

Her face expressed a surprise relapsing on the heart.

He spelt the puckers of her forehead to mean that she feared he might
be speaking unchristianly.

"You will find it so in all religions, my dear Laetitia: the Hindoo,
the Persian, ours. It is universal; an experience of our humanity.
Deceit and sincerity cannot live together. Truth must kill the lie, or
the lie will kill truth. I do not forgive. All I say to the person is,
go!"

"But that is right! that is generous!" exclaimed Laetitia, glad to
approve him for the sake of escaping her critical soul, and relieved by
the idea of Clara's difficulty solved.

"Capable of generosity, perhaps," he mused, aloud.

She wounded him by not supplying the expected enthusiastic asseveration
of her belief in his general tendency to magnanimity.

He said, after a pause: "But the world is not likely to be impressed by
anything not immediately gratifying it. People change, I find: as we
increase in years we cease to be the heroes we were. I myself am
insensible to change: I do not admit the charge. Except in this we will
say: personal ambition. I have it no more. And what is it when we have
it? Decidedly a confession of inferiority! That is, the desire to be
distinguished is an acknowledgement of insufficiency. But I have still
the craving for my dearest friends to think well of me. A weakness?
Call it so. Not a dishonourable weakness!"

Laetitia racked her brain for the connection of his present speech with
the preceding dialogue. She was baffled, from not knowing "the heat of
the centre in him", as Vernon opaquely phrased it in charity to the
object of her worship.

"Well," said he, unappeased, "and besides the passion to excel, I have
changed somewhat in the heartiness of my thirst for the amusements
incident to my station. I do not care to keep a stud--I was once
tempted: nor hounds. And I can remember the day when I determined to
have the best kennels and the best breed of horses in the kingdom.
Puerile! What is distinction of that sort, or of any acquisition and
accomplishment? We ask! one's self is not the greater. To seek it, owns
to our smallness, in real fact; and when it is attained, what then? My
horses are good, they are admired, I challenge the county to surpass
them: well? These are but my horses; the praise is of the animals, not
of me. I decline to share in it. Yet I know men content to swallow the
praise of their beasts and be semi-equine. The littleness of one's
fellows in the mob of life is a very strange experience! One may regret
to have lost the simplicity of one's forefathers, which could accept
those and other distinctions with a cordial pleasure, not to say pride.
As, for instance, I am, as it is called, a dead shot. 'Give your
acclamations, gentlemen, to my ancestors, from whom I inherited a
steady hand and quick sight.' They do not touch me. Where I do not find
myself--that I am essentially I--no applause can move me. To speak to
you as I would speak to none, admiration--you know that in my early
youth I swam in flattery--I had to swim to avoid drowning!--admiration
of my personal gifts has grown tasteless. Changed, therefore, inasmuch
as there has been a growth of spirituality. We are all in submission to
mortal laws, and so far I have indeed changed. I may add that it is
unusual for country gentlemen to apply themselves to scientific
researches. These are, however, in the spirit of the time. I
apprehended that instinctively when at College. I forsook the classics
for science. And thereby escaped the vice of domineering
self-sufficiency peculiar to classical men, of which you had an amusing
example in the carriage, on the way to Mrs. Mountstuart's this evening.
Science is modest; slow, if you like; it deals with facts, and having
mastered them, it masters men; of necessity, not with a stupid,
loud-mouthed arrogance: words big and oddly garbed as the Pope's
body-guard. Of course, one bows to the Infallible; we must, when his
giant-mercenaries level bayonets."

Sir Willoughby offered Miss Dale half a minute that she might in gentle
feminine fashion acquiesce in the implied reproof of Dr. Middleton's
behaviour to him during the drive to Mrs. Mountstuart's. She did not.

Her heart was accusing Clara of having done it a wrong and a hurt. For
while he talked he seemed to her to justify Clara's feelings and her
conduct: and her own reawakened sensations of injury came to the
surface a moment to look at him, affirming that they pardoned him, and
pitied, but hardly wondered.

The heat of the centre in him had administered the comfort he wanted,
though the conclusive accordant notes he loved on woman's lips, that
subservient harmony of another instrument desired of musicians when
they have done their solo-playing, came not to wind up the performance:
not a single bar. She did not speak. Probably his Laetitia was
overcome, as he had long known her to be when they conversed;
nerve-subdued, unable to deploy her mental resources or her musical.
Yet ordinarily she had command of the latter.--Was she too condoling?
Did a reason exist for it? Had the impulsive and desperate girl spoken
out to Laetitia to the fullest?--shameless daughter of a domineering
sire that she was! Ghastlier inquiry (it struck the centre of him with
a sounding ring), was Laetitia pitying him overmuch for worse than the
pain of a little difference between lovers--for treason on the part of
his bride? Did she know of a rival? know more than he?

When the centre of him was violently struck he was a genius in
penetration. He guessed that she did know: and by this was he presently
helped to achieve pathos.

"So my election was for Science," he continued; "and if it makes me, as
I fear, a rara avis among country gentlemen, it unites me, puts me in
the main, I may say, in the only current of progress--a word
sufficiently despicable in their political jargon.--You enjoyed your
evening at Mrs. Mountstuart's?"

"Very greatly."

"She brings her Professor to dine here the day after tomorrow. Does it
astonish you? You started."

"I did not hear the invitation."

"It was arranged at the table: you and I were separated--cruelly, I
told her: she declared that we see enough of one another, and that it
was good for me that we should be separated; neither of which is true.
I may not have known what is the best for me: I do know what is good.
If in my younger days I egregiously erred, that, taken of itself alone,
is, assuming me to have sense and feeling, the surer proof of present
wisdom. I can testify in person that wisdom is pain. If pain is to add
to wisdom, let me suffer! Do you approve of that, Laetitia?"

"It is well said."

"It is felt. Those who themselves have suffered should know the benefit
of the resolution."

"One may have suffered so much as to wish only for peace."

"True: but you! have you?"

"It would be for peace, if I prayed for any earthly gift."

Sir Willoughby dropped a smile on her. "I mentioned the Pope's
parti-coloured body-guard just now. In my youth their singular attire
impressed me. People tell me they have been re-uniformed: I am sorry.
They remain one of my liveliest recollections of the Eternal City. They
affected my sense of humour, always alert in me, as you are aware. We
English have humour. It is the first thing struck in us when we land on
the Continent: our risible faculties are generally active all through
the tour. Humour, or the clash of sense with novel examples of the
absurd, is our characteristic. I do not condescend to boisterous
displays of it. I observe, and note the people's comicalities for my
correspondence. But you have read my letters--most of them, if not
all?"

"Many of them."

"I was with you then!--I was about to say--that Swiss-guard reminded
me--you have not been in Italy. I have constantly regretted it. You are
the very woman, you have the soul for Italy. I know no other of whom I
could say it, with whom I should not feel that she was out of place,
discordant with me. Italy and Laetitia! often have I joined you
together. We shall see. I begin to have hopes. Here you have literally
stagnated. Why, a dinner-party refreshes you! What would not travel do,
and that heavenly climate! You are a reader of history and poetry.
Well, poetry! I never yet saw the poetry that expressed the tenth part
of what I feel in the presence of beauty and magnificence, and when I
really meditate--profoundly. Call me a positive mind. I feel: only I
feel too intensely for poetry. By the nature of it, poetry cannot be
sincere. I will have sincerity. Whatever touches our emotions should be
spontaneous, not a craft. I know you are in favour of poetry. You would
win me, if any one could. But history! there I am with you. Walking
over ruins: at night: the arches of the solemn black amphitheatre
pouring moonlight on us--the moonlight of Italy!"

"You would not laugh there, Sir Willoughby?" said Laetitia, rousing
herself from a stupor of apprehensive amazement, to utter something and
realize actual circumstances.

"Besides, you, I think, or I am mistaken in you"--he deviated from his
projected speech--"you are not a victim of the sense of association and
the ludicrous."

"I can understand the influence of it: I have at least a conception of
the humourous, but ridicule would not strike me in the Coliseum of
Rome. I could not bear it, no, Sir Willoughby!"

She appeared to be taking him in very strong earnest, by thus
petitioning him not to laugh in the Coliseum, and now he said:
"Besides, you are one who could accommodate yourself to the society of
the ladies, my aunts. Good women, Laetitia! I cannot imagine them de
trop in Italy, or in a household. I have of course reason to be partial
in my judgement."

"They are excellent and most amiable ladies; I love them," said
Laetitia, fervently; the more strongly excited to fervour by her
enlightenment as to his drift.

She read it that he designed to take her to Italy with the ladies:
--after giving Miss Middleton her liberty; that was necessarily
implied. And that was truly generous. In his boyhood he had been famous
for his bountifulness in scattering silver and gold. Might he not have
caused himself to be misperused in later life?

Clara had spoken to her of the visit and mission of the ladies to the
library: and Laetitia daringly conceived herself to be on the certain
track of his meaning, she being able to enjoy their society as she
supposed him to consider that Miss Middleton did not, and would not
either abroad or at home.

Sir Willoughby asked her: "You could travel with them?"

"Indeed I could!"

"Honestly?"

"As affirmatively as one may protest. Delightedly."

"Agreed. It is an undertaking." He put his hand out.

"Whether I be of the party or not! To Italy, Laetitia! It would give me
pleasure to be with you, and it will, if I must be excluded, to think
of you in Italy."

His hand was out. She had to feign inattention or yield her own. She
had not the effrontery to pretend not to see, and she yielded it. He
pressed it, and whenever it shrunk a quarter inch to withdraw, he shook
it up and down, as an instrument that had been lent him for due
emphasis to his remarks. And very emphatic an amorous orator can make
it upon a captive lady.

"I am unable to speak decisively on that or any subject. I am, I think
you once quoted, 'tossed like a weed on the ocean.' Of myself I can
speak: I cannot speak for a second person. I am infinitely harassed. If
I could cry, 'To Italy tomorrow!' Ah! . . . Do not set me down for
complaining. I know the lot of man. But, Laetitia, deceit! deceit! It
is a bad taste in the mouth. It sickens us of humanity. I compare it to
an earthquake: we lose all our reliance on the solidity of the world.
It is a betrayal not simply of the person; it is a betrayal of
humankind. My friend! Constant friend! No, I will not despair. Yes, I
have faults; I will remember them. Only, forgiveness is another
question. Yes, the injury I can forgive; the falseness never. In the
interests of humanity, no. So young, and such deceit!"

Laetitia's bosom rose: her hand was detained: a lady who has yielded it
cannot wrestle to have it back; those outworks which protect her
treacherously shelter the enemy aiming at the citadel when he has taken
them. In return for the silken armour bestowed on her by our
civilization, it is exacted that she be soft and civil nigh up to
perishing-point. She breathed tremulously high, saying on her
top-breath: "If it--it may not be so; it can scarcely. . ." A deep sigh
intervened. It saddened her that she knew so much.

"For when I love I love," said Sir Willoughby; "my friends and my
servants know that. There can be no medium: not with me. I give all, I
claim all. As I am absorbed, so must I absorb. We both cancel and
create, we extinguish and we illumine one another. The error may be in
the choice of an object: it is not in the passion. Perfect confidence,
perfect abandonment. I repeat, I claim it because I give it. The
selfishness of love may be denounced: it is a part of us. My answer
would be, it is an element only of the noblest of us! Love, Laetitia! I
speak of love. But one who breaks faith to drag us through the mire,
who betrays, betrays and hands us over to the world, whose prey we
become identically because of virtues we were educated to think it a
blessing to possess: tell me the name for that!--Again, it has ever
been a principle with me to respect the sex. But if we see women false,
treacherous . . . Why indulge in these abstract views, you would ask!
The world presses them on us, full as it is of the vilest specimens.
They seek to pluck up every rooted principle: they sneer at our
worship: they rob us of our religion. This bitter experience of the
world drives us back to the antidote of what we knew before we plunged
into it: of one . . . of something we esteemed and still esteem. Is
that antidote strong enough to expel the poison? I hope so! I believe
so! To lose faith in womankind is terrible."

He studied her. She looked distressed: she was not moved.

She was thinking that, with the exception of a strain of haughtiness,
he talked excellently to men, at least in the tone of the things he
meant to say; but that his manner of talking to women went to an excess
in the artificial tongue--the tutored tongue of sentimental deference
of the towering male: he fluted exceedingly; and she wondered whether
it was this which had wrecked him with Miss Middleton.

His intuitive sagacity counselled him to strive for pathos to move her.
It was a task; for while he perceived her to be not ignorant of his
plight, he doubted her knowing the extent of it, and as his desire was
merely to move her without an exposure of himself, he had to compass
being pathetic as it were under the impediments of a mailed and
gauntletted knight, who cannot easily heave the bosom, or show it
heaving.

Moreover, pathos is a tide: often it carries the awakener of it off his
feet, and whirls him over and over armour and all in ignominious
attitudes of helpless prostration, whereof he may well be ashamed in
the retrospect. We cannot quite preserve our dignity when we stoop to
the work of calling forth tears. Moses had probably to take a nimble
jump away from the rock after that venerable Law-giver had knocked the
water out of it.

However, it was imperative in his mind that he should be sure he had
the power to move her.

He began; clumsily at first, as yonder gauntletted knight attempting
the briny handkerchief.

"What are we! We last but a very short time. Why not live to gratify
our appetites? I might really ask myself why. All the means of
satiating them are at my disposal. But no: I must aim at the
highest:--at that which in my blindness I took for the highest. You
know the sportsman's instinct, Laetitia; he is not tempted by the
stationary object. Such are we in youth, toying with happiness, leaving
it, to aim at the dazzling and attractive."

"We gain knowledge," said Laetitia.

"At what a cost!"

The exclamation summoned self-pity to his aid, and pathos was handy.

"By paying half our lives for it and all our hopes! Yes, we gain
knowledge, we are the wiser; very probably my value surpasses now what
it was when I was happier. But the loss! That youthful bloom of the
soul is like health to the body; once gone, it leaves cripples behind.
Nay, my friend and precious friend, these four fingers I must retain.
They seem to me the residue of a wreck: you shall be released shortly:
absolutely, Laetitia, I have nothing else remaining--We have spoken of
deception; what of being undeceived?--when one whom we adored is laid
bare, and the wretched consolation of a worthy object is denied to us.
No misfortune can be like that. Were it death, we could worship still.
Death would be preferable. But may you be spared to know a situation in
which the comparison with your inferior is forced on you to your
disadvantage and your loss because of your generously giving up your
whole heart to the custody of some shallow, light-minded, self--! . . .
We will not deal in epithets. If I were to find as many bad names for
the serpent as there are spots on his body, it would be serpent still,
neither better nor worse. The loneliness! And the darkness! Our
luminary is extinguished. Self-respect refuses to continue
worshipping, but the affection will not be turned aside. We are
literally in the dust, we grovel, we would fling away self-respect if
we could; we would adopt for a model the creature preferred to us; we
would humiliate, degrade ourselves; we cry for justice as if it were
for pardon . . ."

"For pardon! when we are straining to grant it!" Laetitia murmured, and
it was as much as she could do. She remembered how in her old misery
her efforts after charity had twisted her round to feel herself the
sinner, and beg forgiveness in prayer: a noble sentiment, that filled
her with pity of the bosom in which it had sprung. There was no
similarity between his idea and hers, but her idea had certainly been
roused by his word "pardon", and he had the benefit of it in the
moisture of her eyes. Her lips trembled, tears fell.

He had heard something; he had not caught the words, but they were
manifestly favourable; her sign of emotion assured him of it and of the
success he had sought. There was one woman who bowed to him to all
eternity! He had inspired one woman with the mysterious, man-desired
passion of self-abandonment, self-immolation! The evidence was before
him. At any instant he could, if he pleased, fly to her and command her
enthusiasm.

He had, in fact, perhaps by sympathetic action, succeeded in striking
the same springs of pathos in her which animated his lively endeavour
to produce it in himself.

He kissed her hand; then released it, quitting his chair to bend above
her soothingly.

"Do not weep, Laetitia, you see that I do not; I can smile. Help me to
bear it; you must not unman me."

She tried to stop her crying, but self-pity threatened to rain all her
long years of grief on her head, and she said: "I must go . . . I am
unfit . . . good-night, Sir Willoughby."

Fearing seriously that he had sunk his pride too low in her
consideration, and had been carried farther than he intended on the
tide of pathos, he remarked: "We will speak about Crossjay to-morrow.
His deceitfulness has been gross. As I said, I am grievously offended
by deception. But you are tired. Good-night, my dear friend."

"Good-night, Sir Willoughby."

She was allowed to go forth.

Colonel De Craye coming up from the smoking-room, met her and noticed
the state of her eyelids, as he wished her goodnight. He saw Willoughby
in the room she had quitted, but considerately passed without speaking,
and without reflecting why he was considerate.

Our hero's review of the scene made him, on the whole, satisfied with
his part in it. Of his power upon one woman he was now perfectly
sure:--Clara had agonized him with a doubt of his personal mastery of
any. One was a poor feast, but the pangs of his flesh during the last
few days and the latest hours caused him to snatch at it, hungrily if
contemptuously. A poor feast, she was yet a fortress, a point of
succour, both shield and lance; a cover and an impetus. He could now
encounter Clara boldly. Should she resist and defy him, he would not be
naked and alone; he foresaw that he might win honour in the world's eye
from his position--a matter to be thought of only in most urgent need.
The effect on him of his recent exercise in pathos was to compose him
to slumber. He was for the period well satisfied.

His attendant imps were well satisfied likewise, and danced around
about his bed after the vigilant gentleman had ceased to debate on the
question of his unveiling of himself past forgiveness of her to
Laetitia, and had surrendered to sleep the present direction of his
affairs.



CHAPTER XXXII

LAETITIA DALE DISCOVERS A SPIRITUAL CHANGE AND DR MIDDLETON A PHYSICAL

Clara tripped over the lawn in the early morning to Laetitia to greet
her. She broke away from a colloquy with Colonel De Craye under Sir
Willoughby's windows. The colonel had been one of the bathers, and he
stood like a circus-driver flicking a wet towel at Crossjay capering.

"My dear, I am very unhappy!" said Clara.

"My dear, I bring you news," Laetitia replied.

"Tell me. But the poor boy is to be expelled! He burst into Crossjay's
bedroom last night and dragged the sleeping boy out of bed to question
him, and he had the truth. That is one comfort: only Crossjay is to be
driven from the Hall, because he was untruthful previously--for me; to
serve me; really, I feel it was at my command. Crossjay will be out of
the way to-day, and has promised to come back at night to try to be
forgiven. You must help me, Laetitia."

"You are free, Clara! If you desire it, you have but to ask for your
freedom."

"You mean . . ."

"He will release you."

"You are sure?"

"We had a long conversation last night."

"I owe it to you?"

"Nothing is owing to me. He volunteered it."

Clara made as if to lift her eyes in apostrophe. "Professor Crooklyn!
Professor Crooklyn! I see. I did not guess that."

"Give credit for some generosity, Clara; you are unjust!"

"By and by: I will be more than just by and by. I will practise on the
trumpet: I will lecture on the greatness of the souls of men when we
know them thoroughly. At present we do but half know them, and we are
unjust. You are not deceived, Laetitia? There is to be no speaking to
papa? no delusions? You have agitated me. I feel myself a very small
person indeed. I feel I can understand those who admire him. He gives
me back my word simply? clearly? without--Oh, that long wrangle in
scenes and letters? And it will be arranged for papa and me to go not
later than to-morrow? Never shall I be able to explain to any one how I
fell into this! I am frightened at myself when I think of it. I take
the whole blame: I have been scandalous. And, dear Laetitia! you came
out so early in order to tell me?"

"I wished you to hear it."

"Take my heart."

"Present me with a part--but for good."

"Fie! But you have a right to say it."

"I mean no unkindness; but is not the heart you allude to an alarmingly
searching one?"

"Selfish it is, for I have been forgetting Crossjay. If we are going to
be generous, is not Crossjay to be forgiven? If it were only that the
boy's father is away fighting for his country, endangering his life day
by day, and for a stipend not enough to support his family, we are
bound to think of the boy! Poor dear silly lad! with his 'I say, Miss
Middleton, why wouldn't (some one) see my father when he came here to
call on him, and had to walk back ten miles in the rain?'--I could
almost fancy that did me mischief. . . But we have a splendid morning
after yesterday's rain. And we will be generous. Own, Laetitia, that it
is possible to gild the most glorious day of creation."

"Doubtless the spirit may do it and make its hues permanent," said
Laetitia.

"You to me, I to you, he to us. Well, then, if he does, it shall be one
of my heavenly days. Which is for the probation of experience. We are
not yet at sunset."

"Have you seen Mr. Whitford this morning?"

"He passed me."

"Do not imagine him ever ill-tempered."

"I had a governess, a learned lady, who taught me in person the
picturesqueness of grumpiness. Her temper was ever perfect, because she
was never in the wrong, but I being so, she was grumpy. She carried my
iniquity under her brows, and looked out on me through it. I was a
trying child."

Laetitia said, laughing: "I can believe it!"

"Yet I liked her and she liked me: we were a kind of foreground and
background: she threw me into relief and I was an apology for her
existence."

"You picture her to me."

"She says of me now that I am the only creature she has loved. Who
knows that I may not come to say the same of her?"

"You would plague her and puzzle her still."

"Have I plagued and puzzled Mr. Whitford?"

"He reminds you of her?"

"You said you had her picture."

"Ah! do not laugh at him. He is a true friend."

"The man who can be a friend is the man who will presume to be a
censor."

"A mild one."

"As to the sentence he pronounces, I am unable to speak, but his
forehead is Rhadamanthine condemnation."

"Dr Middleton!"

Clara looked round. "Who? I? Did you hear an echo of papa? He would
never have put Rhadamanthus over European souls, because it appears
that Rhadamanthus judged only the Asiatic; so you are wrong, Miss Dale.
My father is infatuated with Mr. Whitford. What can it be? We women
cannot sound the depths of scholars, probably because their pearls have
no value in our market; except when they deign to chasten an
impertinent; and Mr. Whitford stands aloof from any notice of small
fry. He is deep, studious, excellent; and does it not strike you that
if he descended among us he would be like a Triton ashore?"

Laetitia's habit of wholly subservient sweetness, which was her ideal
of the feminine, not yet conciliated with her acuter character, owing
to the absence of full pleasure from her life--the unhealed wound she
had sustained and the cramp of a bondage of such old date as to seem
iron--induced her to say, as if consenting: "You think he is not quite
at home in society?" But she wished to defend him strenuously, and as a
consequence she had to quit the self-imposed ideal of her daily acting,
whereby--the case being unwonted, very novel to her--the lady's
intelligence became confused through the process that quickened it; so
sovereign a method of hoodwinking our bright selves is the acting of a
part, however naturally it may come to us! and to this will each honest
autobiographical member of the animated world bear witness.

She added: "You have not found him sympathetic? He is. You fancy him
brooding, gloomy? He is the reverse, he is cheerful, he is indifferent
to personal misfortune. Dr. Corney says there is no laugh like Vernon
Whitford's, and no humour like his. Latterly he certainly . . . But it
has not been your cruel word grumpiness. The truth is, he is anxious
about Crossjay: and about other things; and he wants to leave. He is at
a disadvantage beside very lively and careless gentlemen at present,
but your 'Triton ashore' is unfair, it is ugly. He is, I can say, the
truest man I know."

"I did not question his goodness, Laetitia."

"You threw an accent on it."

"Did I? I must be like Crossjay, who declares he likes fun best."

"Crossjay ought to know him, if anybody should. Mr. Whitford has
defended you against me, Clara, even since I took to calling you Clara.
Perhaps when you supposed him so like your ancient governess, he was
meditating how he could aid you. Last night he gave me reasons for
thinking you would do wisely to confide in Mrs. Mountstuart. It is no
longer necessary. I merely mention it. He is a devoted friend."

"He is an untiring pedestrian."

"Oh!"

Colonel De Craye, after hovering near the ladies in the hope of seeing
them divide, now adopted the system of making three that two may come
of it.

As he joined them with his glittering chatter, Laetitia looked at Clara
to consult her, and saw the face rosy as a bride's.

The suspicion she had nursed sprung out of her arms a muscular fact on
the spot.

"Where is my dear boy?" Clara said.

"Out for a holiday," the colonel answered in her tone.

"Advise Mr. Whitford not to waste his time in searching for Crossjay,
Laetitia. Crossjay is better out of the way to-day. At least, I thought
so just now. Has he pocket-money, Colonel De Craye?"

"My lord can command his inn."

"How thoughtful you are!"

Laetitia's bosom swelled upon a mute exclamation, equivalent to:
"Woman! woman! snared ever by the sparkling and frivolous!
undiscerning of the faithful, the modest and beneficent!"

In the secret musings of moralists this dramatic rhetoric survives.

The comparison was all of her own making, and she was indignant at the
contrast, though to what end she was indignant she could not have said,
for she had no idea of Vernon as a rival of De Craye in the favour of a
plighted lady. But she was jealous on behalf of her sex: her sex's
reputation seemed at stake, and the purity of it was menaced by Clara's
idle preference of the shallower man. When the young lady spoke so
carelessly of being like Crossjay, she did not perhaps know that a
likeness, based on a similarity of their enthusiasms, loves, and
appetites, had been established between women and boys. Laetitia had
formerly chafed at it, rejecting it utterly, save when now and then in
a season of bitterness she handed here and there a volatile young lady
(none but the young) to be stamped with the degrading brand. Vernon
might be as philosophical as he pleased. To her the gaiety of these
two, Colonel De Craye and Clara Middleton, was distressingly musical:
they harmonized painfully. The representative of her sex was hurt by
it.

She had to stay beside them: Clara held her arm. The colonel's voice
dropped at times to something very like a whisper. He was answered
audibly and smoothly. The quickwitted gentleman accepted the
correction: but in immediately paying assiduous attentions to Miss
Dale, in the approved intriguer's fashion, he showed himself in need of
another amounting to a reproof. Clara said: "We have been consulting,
Laetitia, what is to be done to cure Professor Crooklyn of his cold."
De Craye perceived that he had taken a wrong step, and he was mightily
surprised that a lesson in intrigue should be read to him of all men.
Miss Middleton's audacity was not so astonishing: he recognized grand
capabilities in the young lady. Fearing lest she should proceed further
and cut away from him his vantage-ground of secrecy with her, he turned
the subject and was adroitly submissive.

Clara's manner of meeting Sir Willoughby expressed a timid disposition
to friendliness upon a veiled inquiry, understood by none save
Laetitia, whose brain was racked to convey assurances to herself of her
not having misinterpreted him. Could there be any doubt? She resolved
that there could not be; and it was upon this basis of reason that she
fancied she had led him to it. Legitimate or not, the fancy sprang from
a solid foundation. Yesterday morning she could not have conceived it.
Now she was endowed to feel that she had power to influence him,
because now, since the midnight, she felt some emancipation from the
spell of his physical mastery. He did not appear to her as a different
man, but she had grown sensible of being a stronger woman. He was no
more the cloud over her, nor the magnet; the cloud once
heaven-suffused, the magnet fatally compelling her to sway round to
him. She admired him still: his handsome air, his fine proportions, the
courtesy of his bending to Clara and touching of her hand, excused a
fanatical excess of admiration on the part of a woman in her youth, who
is never the anatomist of the hero's lordly graces. But now she admired
him piecemeal. When it came to the putting of him together, she did it
coldly. To compassionate him was her utmost warmth. Without conceiving
in him anything of the strange old monster of earth which had struck
the awakened girl's mind of Miss Middleton, Laetitia classed him with
other men; he was "one of them". And she did not bring her
disenchantment as a charge against him. She accused herself,
acknowledged the secret of the change to be, and her youthfulness was
dead:--otherwise could she have given him compassion, and not herself
have been carried on the flood of it? The compassion was fervent, and
pure too. She supposed he would supplicate; she saw that Clara
Middleton was pleasant with him only for what she expected of his
generosity. She grieved. Sir Willoughby was fortified by her sorrowful
gaze as he and Clara passed out together to the laboratory arm in arm.

Laetitia had to tell Vernon of the uselessness of his beating the house
and grounds for Crossjay. Dr. Middleton held him fast in discussion
upon an overnight's classical wrangle with Professor Crooklyn, which
was to be renewed that day. The Professor had appointed to call
expressly to renew it. "A fine scholar," said the Rev. Doctor, "but
crotchety, like all men who cannot stand their Port."

"I hear that he had a cold," Vernon remarked. "I hope the wine was
good, sir."

As when the foreman of a sentimental jury is commissioned to inform an
awful Bench exact in perspicuous English, of a verdict that must of
necessity be pronounced in favour of the hanging of the culprit, yet
would fain attenuate the crime of a palpable villain by a
recommendation to mercy, such foreman, standing in the attentive eye of
a master of grammatical construction, and feeling the weight of at
least three sentences on his brain, together with a prospect of
Judicial interrogation for the discovery of his precise meaning, is
oppressed, himself is put on trial, in turn, and he hesitates, he
recapitulates, the fear of involution leads him to be involved; as far
as a man so posted may, he on his own behalf appeals for mercy;
entreats that his indistinct statement of preposterous reasons may be
taken for understood, and would gladly, were permission to do it
credible, throw in an imploring word that he may sink back among the
crowd without for the one imperishable moment publicly swinging in his
lordship's estimation:--much so, moved by chivalry toward a lady,
courtesy to the recollection of a hostess, and particularly by the
knowledge that his hearer would expect with a certain frigid rigour
charity of him, Dr. Middleton paused, spoke and paused: he stammered.
Ladies, he said, were famous poisoners in the Middle Ages. His opinion
was, that we had a class of manufacturing wine merchants on the watch
for widows in this country. But he was bound to state the fact of his
waking at his usual hour to the minute unassailed by headache. On the
other hand, this was a condition of blessedness unanticipated when he
went to bed. Mr. Whitford, however, was not to think that he
entertained rancour toward the wine. It was no doubt dispensed with the
honourable intention of cheering. In point of flavour execrable,
judging by results it was innocuous.

"The test of it shall be the effect of it upon Professor Crooklyn, and
his appearance in the forenoon according to promise," Dr. Middleton
came to an end with his perturbed balancings. "If I hear more of the
eight or twelve winds discharged at once upon a railway platform, and
the young lady who dries herself of a drenching by drinking brandy and
water with a gentleman at a railway inn, I shall solicit your sanction
to my condemnation of the wine as anti-Bacchic and a counterfeit
presentment. Do not misjudge me. Our hostess is not responsible. But
widows should marry."

"You must contrive to stop the Professor, sir, if he should attack his
hostess in that manner," said Vernon.

"Widows should marry!" Dr. Middleton repeated.

He murmured of objecting to be at the discretion of a butler; unless,
he was careful to add, the aforesaid functionary could boast of an
University education; and even then, said he, it requires a line of
ancestry to train a man's taste.

The Rev. Doctor smothered a yawn. The repression of it caused a second
one, a real monster, to come, big as our old friend of the sea
advancing on the chained-up Beauty.

Disconcerted by this damning evidence of indigestion, his countenance
showed that he considered himself to have been too lenient to the wine
of an unhusbanded hostess. He frowned terribly.

In the interval Laetitia told Vernon of Crossjay's flight for the day,
hastily bidding the master to excuse him: she had no time to hint the
grounds of excuse. Vernon mentally made a guess.

Dr Middleton took his arm and discharged a volley at the crotchetty
scholarship of Professor Crooklyn, whom to confute by book, he directed
his march to the library. Having persuaded himself that he was
dyspeptic, he had grown irascible. He denounced all dining out,
eulogized Patterne Hall as if it were his home, and remembered he had
dreamed in the night--a most humiliating sign of physical disturbance.
"But let me find a house in proximity to Patterne, as I am induced to
suppose I shall," he said, "and here only am I to be met when I stir
abroad."

Laetitia went to her room. She was complacently anxious enough to
prefer solitude and be willing to read. She was more seriously anxious
about Crossjay than about any of the others. For Clara would be certain
to speak very definitely, and how then could a gentleman oppose her? He
would supplicate, and could she be brought to yield? It was not to be
expected of a young lady who had turned from Sir Willoughby. His
inferiors would have had a better chance. Whatever his faults, he had
that element of greatness which excludes the intercession of pity.
Supplication would be with him a form of condescension. It would be
seen to be such. His was a monumental pride that could not stoop. She
had preserved this image of the gentleman for a relic in the shipwreck
of her idolatry. So she mused between the lines of her book, and
finishing her reading and marking the page, she glanced down on the
lawn. Dr. Middleton was there, and alone; his hands behind his back,
his head bent. His meditative pace and unwonted perusal of the turf
proclaimed that a non-sentimental jury within had delivered an
unmitigated verdict upon the widow's wine.

Laetitia hurried to find Vernon.

He was in the hall. As she drew near him, the laboratory door opened
and shut.

"It is being decided," said Laetitia.

Vernon was paler than the hue of perfect calmness.

"I want to know whether I ought to take to my heels like Crossjay, and
shun the Professor," he said.

They spoke in under-tones, furtively watching the door.

"I wish what she wishes, I am sure; but it will go badly with the boy,"
said Laetitia.

"Oh, well, then I'll take him," said Vernon, "I would rather. I think I
can manage it."

Again the laboratory door opened. This time it shut behind Miss
Middleton. She was highly flushed. Seeing them, she shook the storm
from her brows, with a dead smile; the best piece of serenity she could
put on for public wear.

She took a breath before she moved.

Vernon strode out of the house.

Clara swept up to Laetitia.

"You were deceived!"

The hard sob of anger barred her voice.

Laetitia begged her to come to her room with her.

"I want air: I must be by myself," said Clara, catching at her
garden-hat.

She walked swiftly to the portico steps and turned to the right, to
avoid the laboratory windows.



CHAPTER XXXIII

IN WHICH THE COMIC MUSE HAS AN EYE ON TWO GOOD SOULS

Clara met Vernon on the bowling-green among the laurels. She asked him
where her father was.

"Don't speak to him now," said Vernon.

"Mr. Whitford, will you?"

"It is not advisable just now. Wait."

"Wait? Why not now?"

"He is not in the right humour."

She choked. There are times when there is no medicine for us in sages,
we want slaves; we scorn to temporize, we must overbear. On she sped,
as if she had made the mistake of exchanging words with a post.

The scene between herself and Willoughby was a thick mist in her head,
except the burden and result of it, that he held to her fast, would
neither assist her to depart nor disengage her.

Oh, men! men! They astounded the girl; she could not define them to her
understanding. Their motives, their tastes, their vanity, their
tyranny, and the domino on their vanity, the baldness of their tyranny,
clinched her in feminine antagonism to brute power. She was not the
less disposed to rebellion by a very present sense of the justice of
what could be said to reprove her. She had but one answer: "Anything
but marry him!" It threw her on her nature, our last and headlong
advocate, who is quick as the flood to hurry us from the heights to our
level, and lower, if there be accidental gaps in the channel. For say
we have been guilty of misconduct: can we redeem it by violating that
which we are and live by? The question sinks us back to the
luxuriousness of a sunny relinquishment of effort in the direction
against tide. Our nature becomes ingenious in devices, penetrative of
the enemy, confidently citing its cause for being frankly elvish or
worse. Clara saw a particular way of forcing herself to be
surrendered. She shut her eyes from it: the sight carried her too
violently to her escape; but her heart caught it up and huzzaed. To
press the points of her fingers at her bosom, looking up to the sky as
she did, and cry: "I am not my own; I am his!" was instigation
sufficient to make her heart leap up with all her body's blush to urge
it to recklessness. A despairing creature then may say she has
addressed the heavens and has had no answer to restrain her.

Happily for Miss Middleton, she had walked some minutes in her chafing
fit before the falcon eye of Colonel De Craye spied her away on one of
the beech-knots.

Vernon stood irresolute. It was decidedly not a moment for disturbing
Dr. Middleton's composure. He meditated upon a conversation, as
friendly as possible, with Willoughby. Round on the front-lawn, he
beheld Willoughby and Dr. Middleton together, the latter having halted
to lend attentive ear to his excellent host. Unnoticed by them or
disregarded, Vernon turned back to Laetitia, and sauntered, talking
with her of things current for as long as he could endure to listen to
praise of his pure self-abnegation; proof of how well he had disguised
himself, but it smacked unpleasantly to him. His humourous intimacy
with men's minds likened the source of this distaste to the gallant
all-or-nothing of the gambler, who hates the little when he cannot have
the much, and would rather stalk from the tables clean-picked than
suffer ruin to be tickled by driblets of the glorious fortune he has
played for and lost. If we are not to be beloved, spare us the small
coin of compliments on character; especially when they compliment only
our acting. It is partly endurable to win eulogy for our stately
fortitude in losing, but Laetitia was unaware that he flung away a
stake; so she could not praise him for his merits.

"Willoughby makes the pardoning of Crossjay conditional," he said, "and
the person pleading for him has to grant the terms. How could you
imagine Willoughby would give her up! How could he! Who! . . . He
should, is easily said. I was no witness of the scene between them just
now, but I could have foretold the end of it; I could almost recount
the passages. The consequence is, that everything depends upon the
amount of courage she possesses. Dr. Middleton won't leave Patterne
yet. And it is of no use to speak to him to-day. And she is by nature
impatient, and is rendered desperate."

"Why is it of no use to speak to Dr. Middleton today?" cried Laetitia.

"He drank wine yesterday that did not agree with him; he can't work.
To-day he is looking forward to Patterne Port. He is not likely to
listen to any proposals to leave to-day."

"Goodness!"

"I know the depth of that cry!"

"You are excluded, Mr. Whitford."

"Not a bit of it; I am in with the rest. Say that men are to be
exclaimed at. Men have a right to expect you to know your own minds
when you close on a bargain. You don't know the world or yourselves
very well, it's true; still the original error is on your side, and
upon that you should fix your attention. She brought her father here,
and no sooner was he very comfortably established than she wished to
dislocate him."

"I cannot explain it; I cannot comprehend it," said Laetitia.

"You are Constancy."

"No." She coloured. "I am 'in with rest'. I do not say I should have
done the same. But I have the knowledge that I must not sit in
judgement on her. I can waver."

She coloured again. She was anxious that he should know her to be not
that stupid statue of Constancy in a corner doating on the antic
Deception. Reminiscences of the interview overnight made it oppressive
to her to hear herself praised for always pointing like the needle. Her
newly enfranchised individuality pressed to assert its existence.
Vernon, however, not seeing this novelty, continued, to her excessive
discomfort, to baste her old abandoned image with his praises. They
checked hers; and, moreover, he had suddenly conceived an envy of her
life-long, uncomplaining, almost unaspiring, constancy of sentiment. If
you know lovers when they have not reason to be blissful, you will
remember that in this mood of admiring envy they are given to fits of
uncontrollable maundering. Praise of constancy, moreover, smote
shadowily a certain inconstant, enough to seem to ruffle her smoothness
and do no hurt. He found his consolation in it, and poor Laetitia
writhed. Without designing to retort, she instinctively grasped at a
weapon of defence in further exalting his devotedness; which reduced
him to cast his head to the heavens and implore them to partially
enlighten her. Nevertheless, maunder he must; and he recurred to it in
a way so utterly unlike himself that Laetitia stared in his face. She
wondered whether there could be anything secreted behind this
everlasting theme of constancy. He took her awakened gaze for a summons
to asseverations of sincerity, and out they came. She would have fled
from him, but to think of flying was to think how little it was that
urged her to fly, and yet the thought of remaining and listening to
praises undeserved and no longer flattering, was a torture.

"Mr. Whitford, I bear no comparison with you."

"I do and must set you for my example, Miss Dale."

"Indeed, you do wrongly; you do not know me."

"I could say that. For years . . ."

"Pray, Mr. Whitford!"

"Well, I have admired it. You show us how self can be smothered."

"An echo would be a retort on you!"

"On me? I am never thinking of anything else."

"I could say that."

"You are necessarily conscious of not swerving."

"But I do; I waver dreadfully; I am not the same two days running."

"You are the same, with 'ravishing divisions' upon the same."

"And you without the 'divisions.' I draw such support as I have from
you."

"From some simulacrum of me, then. And that will show you how little
you require support."

"I do not speak my own opinion only."

"Whose?"

"I am not alone."

"Again let me say, I wish I were like you!"

"Then let me add, I would willingly make the exchange!"

"You would be amazed at your bargain."

"Others would be!"

"Your exchange would give me the qualities I'm in want of, Miss Dale."

"Negative, passive, at the best, Mr. Whitford. But I should have . . ."

"Oh!--pardon me. But you inflict the sensations of a boy, with a dose
of honesty in him, called up to receive a prize he has won by the
dexterous use of a crib."

"And how do you suppose she feels who has a crown of Queen o' the May
forced on her head when she is verging on November?"

He rejected her analogy, and she his. They could neither of them bring
to light the circumstances which made one another's admiration so
unbearable. The more he exalted her for constancy, the more did her
mind become bent upon critically examining the object of that imagined
virtue; and the more she praised him for possessing the spirit of
perfect friendliness, the fiercer grew the passion in him which
disdained the imputation, hissing like a heated iron-bar that flings
the waterdrops to steam. He would none of it; would rather have stood
exposed in his profound foolishness.

Amiable though they were, and mutually affectionate, they came to a
stop in their walk, longing to separate, and not seeing how it was to
be done, they had so knit themselves together with the pelting of their
interlaudation.

"I think it is time for me to run home to my father for an hour," said
Laetitia.

"I ought to be working," said Vernon.

Good progress was made to the disgarlanding of themselves thus far;
yet, an acutely civilized pair, the abruptness of the transition from
floweriness to commonplace affected them both, Laetitia chiefly, as she
had broken the pause, and she remarked:--"I am really Constancy in my
opinions."

"Another title is customary where stiff opinions are concerned. Perhaps
by and by you will learn your mistake, and then you will acknowledge
the name for it."

"How?" said she. "What shall I learn?"

"If you learn that I am a grisly Egoist?"

"You? And it would not be egoism," added Laetitia, revealing to him at
the same instant as to herself that she swung suspended on a scarce
credible guess.

"--Will nothing pierce your ears, Mr. Whitford?"

He heard the intruding voice, but he was bent on rubbing out the cloudy
letters Laetitia had begun to spell, and he stammered, in a tone of
matter-of-fact: "Just that and no better"; then turned to Mrs.
Mountstuart Jenkinson.

"--Or are you resolved you will never see Professor Crooklyn when you
look on him?" said the great lady.

Vernon bowed to the Professor and apologized to him shufflingly and
rapidly, incoherently, and with a red face; which induced Mrs.
Mountstuart to scan Laetitia's.

After lecturing Vernon for his abandonment of her yesterday evening,
and flouting his protestations, she returned to the business of the
day. "We walked from the lodge-gates to see the park and prepare
ourselves for Dr. Middleton. We parted last night in the middle of a
controversy and are rageing to resume it. Where is our redoubtable
antagonist?"

Mrs. Mountstuart wheeled Professor Crooklyn round to accompany Vernon.

"We," she said, "are for modern English scholarship, opposed to the
champion of German."

"The contrary," observed Professor Crooklyn.

"Oh! We," she corrected the error serenely, "are for German scholarship
opposed to English."

"Certain editions."

"We defend certain editions."

"Defend is a term of imperfect application to my position, ma'am."

"My dear Professor, you have in Dr. Middleton a match for you in
conscientious pugnacity, and you will not waste it upon me. There,
there they are; there he is. Mr. Whitford will conduct you. I stand
away from the first shock."

Mrs. Mountstuart fell back to Laetitia, saying: "He pores over a little
inexactitude in phrases, and pecks at it like a domestic fowl."

Professor Crooklyn's attitude and air were so well described that
Laetitia could have laughed.

"These mighty scholars have their flavour," the great lady hastened to
add, lest her younger companion should be misled to suppose that they
were not valuable to a governing hostess: "their shadow-fights are
ridiculous, but they have their flavour at a table. Last night, no: I
discard all mention of last night. We failed: as none else in this
neighbourhood could fail, but we failed. If we have among us a
cormorant devouring young lady who drinks up all the--ha!--brandy and
water--of our inns and occupies all our flys, why, our condition is
abnormal, and we must expect to fail: we are deprived of accommodation
for accidental circumstances. How Mr. Whitford could have missed seeing
Professor Crooklyn! And what was he doing at the station, Miss Dale?"

"Your portrait of Professor Crooklyn was too striking, Mrs Mountstuart,
and deceived him by its excellence. He appears to have seen only the
blank side of the slate."

"Ah! He is a faithful friend of his cousin, do you not think?"

"He is the truest of friends."

"As for Dr. Middleton," Mrs. Mountstuart diverged from her inquiry, "he
will swell the letters of my vocabulary to gigantic proportions if I
see much of him: he is contagious."

"I believe it is a form of his humour."

"I caught it of him yesterday at my dinner-table in my distress, and
must pass it off as a form of mine, while it lasts. I talked Dr.
Middleton half the dreary night through to my pillow. Your candid
opinion, my dear, come! As for me, I don't hesitate. We seemed to have
sat down to a solitary performance on the bass-viol. We were positively
an assembly of insects during thunder. My very soul thanked Colonel De
Craye for his diversions, but I heard nothing but Dr. Middleton. It
struck me that my table was petrified, and every one sat listening to
bowls played overhead."

"I was amused."

"Really? You delight me. Who knows but that my guests were sincere in
their congratulations on a thoroughly successful evening? I have fallen
to this, you see! And I know, wretched people! that as often as not it
is their way of condoling with one. I do it myself: but only where
there have been amiable efforts. But imagine my being congratulated for
that!--Good-morning, Sir Willoughby.--The worst offender! and I am in
no pleasant mood with him," Mrs. Mountstuart said aside to Laetitia,
who drew back, retiring.

Sir Willoughby came on a step or two. He stopped to watch Laetitia's
figure swimming to the house.

So, as, for instance, beside a stream, when a flower on the surface
extends its petals drowning to subside in the clear still water, we
exercise our privilege to be absent in the charmed contemplation of a
beautiful natural incident.

A smile of pleased abstraction melted on his features.



CHAPTER XXXIV

MRS. MOUNTSTUART AND SIR WILLOUGHBY

"Good morning, my dear Mrs. Mountstuart," Sir Willoughby wakened
himself to address the great lady. "Why has she fled?"

"Has any one fled?"

"Laetitia Dale."

"Letty Dale? Oh, if you call that flying. Possibly to renew a close
conversation with Vernon Whitford, that I cut short. You frightened me
with your 'Shepherds-tell-me' air and tone. Lead me to one of your
garden-seats: out of hearing to Dr. Middleton, I beg. He mesmerizes me,
he makes me talk Latin. I was curiously susceptible last night. I know
I shall everlastingly associate him with an abortive entertainment and
solos on big instruments. We were flat."

"Horace was in good vein."

"You were not."

"And Laetitia--Miss Dale talked well, I thought."

"She talked with you, and no doubt she talked well. We did not mix. The
yeast was bad. You shot darts at Colonel De Craye: you tried to sting.
You brought Dr. Middleton down on you. Dear me, that man is a
reverberation in my head. Where is your lady and love?"

"Who?"

"Am I to name her?"

"Clara? I have not seen her for the last hour. Wandering, I suppose."

"A very pretty summer bower," said Mrs. Mountstuart, seating herself
"Well, my dear Sir Willoughby, preferences, preferences are not to be
accounted for, and one never knows whether to pity or congratulate,
whatever may occur. I want to see Miss Middleton."

"Your 'dainty rogue in porcelain' will be at your beck--you lunch with
us?--before you leave."

"So now you have taken to quoting me, have you?"

"But 'a romantic tale on her eyelashes' is hardly descriptive any
longer."

"Descriptive of whom? Now you are upon Laetitia Dale!"

"I quote you generally. She has now a graver look."

"And well may have!"

"Not that the romance has entirely disappeared."

"No; it looks as if it were in print."

"You have hit it perfectly, as usual, ma'am."

Sir Willoughby mused.

Like one resuming his instrument to take up the melody in a concerted
piece, he said: "I thought Laetitia Dale had a singularly animated air
last night."

"Why!--" Mrs. Mountstuart mildly gaped.

"I want a new description of her. You know, I collect your mottoes and
sentences."

"It seems to me she is coming three parts out of her shell, and wearing
it as a hood for convenience."

"Ready to issue forth at an invitation? Admirable! exact!"

"Ay, my good Sir Willoughby, but are we so very admirable and exact?
Are we never to know our own minds?"

He produced a polysyllabic sigh, like those many-jointed compounds of
poets in happy languages, which are copious in a single expression:
"Mine is known to me. It always has been. Cleverness in women is not
uncommon. Intellect is the pearl. A woman of intellect is as good as a
Greek statue; she is divinely wrought, and she is divinely rare."

"Proceed," said the lady, confiding a cough to the air.

"The rarity of it: and it is not mere intellect, it is a sympathetic
intellect; or else it is an intellect in perfect accord with an
intensely sympathetic disposition;--the rarity of it makes it too
precious to be parted with when once we have met it. I prize it the
more the older I grow."

"Are we on the feminine or the neuter?"

"I beg pardon?"

"The universal or the individual?"

He shrugged. "For the rest, psychological affinities may exist
coincident with and entirely independent of material or moral
prepossessions, relations, engagements, ties."

"Well, that is not the raving of passion, certainly," said Mrs
Mountstuart, "and it sounds as if it were a comfortable doctrine for
men. On that plea, you might all of you be having Aspasia and a wife.
We saw your fair Middleton and Colonel de Craye at a distance as we
entered the park. Professor Crooklyn is under some hallucination."

"What more likely?"

The readiness and the double-bearing of the reply struck her comic
sense with awe.

"The Professor must hear that. He insists on the fly, and the inn, and
the wet boots, and the warming mixture, and the testimony of the
landlady and the railway porter."

"I say, what more likely?"

"Than that he should insist?"

"If he is under the hallucination!"

"He may convince others."

"I have only to repeat. . ."

"'What more likely?' It's extremely philosophical. Coincident with a
pursuit of the psychological affinities."

"Professor Crooklyn will hardly descend, I suppose, from his classical
altitudes to lay his hallucinations before Dr. Middleton?"

"Sir Willoughby, you are the pink of chivalry!"

By harping on Laetitia, he had emboldened Mrs. Mountstuart to lift the
curtain upon Clara. It was offensive to him, but the injury done to his
pride had to be endured for the sake of his general plan of
self-protection.

"Simply desirous to save my guests from annoyance of any kind", he
said. "Dr Middleton can look 'Olympus and thunder', as Vernon calls
it."

"Don't. I see him. That look! It is Dictionary-bitten! Angry, homed
Dictionary!--an apparition of Dictionary in the night--to a dunce!"

"One would undergo a good deal to avoid the sight."

"What the man must be in a storm! Speak as you please of yourself: you
are a true and chivalrous knight to dread it for her. But now,
candidly, how is it you cannot condescend to a little management?
Listen to an old friend. You are too lordly. No lover can afford to be
incomprehensible for half an hour. Stoop a little. Sermonizings are
not to be thought of. You can govern unseen. You are to know that I am
one who disbelieves in philosophy in love. I admire the look of it, I
give no credit to the assumption. I rather like lovers to be out at
times: it makes them picturesque, and it enlivens their monotony. I
perceived she had a spot of wildness. It's proper that she should wear
it off before marriage."

"Clara? The wildness of an infant!" said Willoughby, paternally, musing
over an inward shiver. "You saw her at a distance just now, or you
might have heard her laughing. Horace diverts her excessively."

"I owe him my eternal gratitude for his behaviour last night. She was
one of my bright faces. Her laughter was delicious; rain in the desert!
It will tell you what the load on me was, when I assure you those two
were merely a spectacle to me--points I scored in a lost game. And I
know they were witty."

"They both have wit; a kind of wit," Willoughby assented.

"They struck together like a pair of cymbals."

"Not the highest description of instrument. However, they amuse me. I
like to hear them when I am in the vein."

"That vein should be more at command with you, my friend. You can be
perfect, if you like."

"Under your tuition."

Willoughby leaned to her, bowing languidly. He was easier in his pain
for having hoodwinked the lady. She was the outer world to him; she
could tune the world's voice; prescribe which of the two was to be
pitied, himself or Clara; and he did not intend it to be himself, if it
came to the worst. They were far away from that at present, and he
continued:

"Probably a man's power of putting on a face is not equal to a girl's.
I detest petty dissensions. Probably I show it when all is not quite
smooth. Little fits of suspicion vex me. It is a weakness, not to play
them off, I know. Men have to learn the arts which come to women by
nature. I don't sympathize with suspicion, from having none myself."

His eyebrows shot up. That ill-omened man Flitch had sidled round by
the bushes to within a few feet of him. Flitch primarily defended
himself against the accusation of drunkenness, which was hurled at him
to account for his audacity in trespassing against the interdict; but
he admitted that he had taken "something short" for a fortification in
visiting scenes where he had once been happy--at Christmastide, when
all the servants, and the butler at head, grey old Mr. Chessington, sat
in rows, toasting the young heir of the old Hall in the old port wine!
Happy had he been then, before ambition for a shop, to be his own
master and an independent gentleman, had led him into his quagmire:--to
look back envying a dog on the old estate, and sigh for the smell of
Patterne stables: sweeter than Arabia, his drooping nose appeared to
say.

He held up close against it something that imposed silence on Sir
Willoughby as effectively as a cunning exordium in oratory will enchain
mobs to swallow what is not complimenting them; and this he displayed
secure in its being his licence to drivel his abominable pathos. Sir
Willoughby recognized Clara's purse. He understood at once how the must
have come by it: he was not so quick in devising a means of stopping
the tale. Flitch foiled him. "Intact," he replied to the question:
"What have you there?" He repeated this grand word. And then he turned
to Mrs. Mountstuart to speak of Paradise and Adam, in whom he saw the
prototype of himself: also the Hebrew people in the bondage of Egypt,
discoursed of by the clergymen, not without a likeness to him.

"Sorrows have done me one good, to send me attentive to church, my
lady," said Flitch, "when I might have gone to London, the coachman's
home, and been driving some honourable family, with no great advantage
to my morals, according to what I hear of. And a purse found under the
seat of a fly in London would have a poor chance of returning intact to
the young lady losing it."

"Put it down on that chair; inquiries will be made, and you will see
Sir Willoughby," said Mrs. Mountstuart. "Intact, no doubt; it is not
disputed."

With one motion of a finger she set the man rounding.

Flitch halted; he was very regretful of the termination of his feast of
pathos, and he wished to relate the finding of the purse, but he could
not encounter Mrs. Mountstuart's look; he slouched away in very close
resemblance to the ejected Adam of illustrated books.

"It's my belief that naturalness among the common people has died out
of the kingdom," she said.

Willoughby charitably apologized for him. "He has been fuddling
himself."

Her vigilant considerateness had dealt the sensitive gentleman a shock,
plainly telling him she had her ideas of his actual posture. Nor was he
unhurt by her superior acuteness and her display of authority on his
grounds.

He said, boldly, as he weighed the purse, half tossing it: "It's not
unlike Clara's."

He feared that his lips and cheeks were twitching, and as he grew aware
of a glassiness of aspect that would reflect any suspicion of a
keen-eyed woman, he became bolder still!

"Laetitia's, I know it is not. Hers is an ancient purse."

"A present from you!"

"How do you hit on that, my dear lady?"

"Deductively."

"Well, the purse looks as good as new in quality, like the owner."

"The poor dear has not much occasion for using it."

"You are mistaken: she uses it daily."

"If it were better filled, Sir Willoughby, your old scheme might be
arranged. The parties do not appear so unwilling. Professor Crooklyn
and I came on them just now rather by surprise, and I assure you their
heads were close, faces meeting, eyes musing."

"Impossible."

"Because when they approach the point, you won't allow it! Selfish!"

"Now," said Willoughby, very animatedly, "question Clara. Now, do, my
dear Mrs. Mountstuart, do speak to Clara on that head; she will
convince you I have striven quite recently against myself, if you like.
I have instructed her to aid me, given her the fullest instructions,
carte blanche. She cannot possibly have a doubt. I may look to her to
remove any you may entertain from your mind on the subject. I have
proposed, seconded, and chorussed it, and it will not be arranged. If
you expect me to deplore that fact, I can only answer that my actions
are under my control, my feelings are not. I will do everything
consistent with the duties of a man of honour perpetually running into
fatal errors because he did not properly consult the dictates of those
feelings at the right season. I can violate them: but I can no more
command them than I can my destiny. They were crushed of old, and so
let them be now. Sentiments we won't discuss; though you know that
sentiments have a bearing on social life: are factors, as they say in
their later jargon. I never speak of mine. To you I could. It is not
necessary. If old Vernon, instead of flattening his chest at a desk,
had any manly ambition to take part in public affairs, she would be the
woman for him. I have called her my Egeria. She would be his Cornelia.
One could swear of her that she would have noble offspring!--But old
Vernon has had his disappointment, and will moan over it up to the end.
And she? So it appears. I have tried; yes, personally: without effect.
In other matters I may have influence with her: not in that one. She
declines. She will live and die Laetitia Dale. We are alone: I confess
to you, I love the name. It's an old song in my ears. Do not be too
ready with a name for me. Believe me--I speak from my experience
hitherto--there is a fatality in these things. I cannot conceal from my
poor girl that this fatality exists . . ."

"Which is the poor girl at present?" said Mrs. Mountstuart, cool in a
mystification.

"And though she will tell you that I have authorized and Clara
Middleton--done as much as man can to institute the union you suggest,
she will own that she is conscious of the presence of this--fatality, I
call it for want of a better title between us. It drives her in one
direction, me in another--or would, if I submitted to the pressure. She
is not the first who has been conscious of it."

"Are we laying hold of a third poor girl?" said Mrs. Mountstuart. "Ah!
I remember. And I remember we used to call it playing fast and loose in
those days, not fatality. It is very strange. It may be that you were
unblushingly courted in those days, and excusable; and we all supposed
. . . but away you went for your tour."

"My mother's medical receipt for me. Partially it succeeded. She was
for grand marriages: not I. I could make, I could not be, a sacrifice.
And then I went in due time to Dr. Cupid on my own account. She has the
kind of attraction. . . But one changes! On revient toujours. First we
begin with a liking; then we give ourselves up to the passion of
beauty: then comes the serious question of suitableness of the mate to
match us; and perhaps we discover that we were wiser in early youth
than somewhat later. However, she has beauty. Now, Mrs Mountstuart,
you do admire her. Chase the idea of the 'dainty rogue' out of your
view of her: you admire her: she is captivating; she has a particular
charm of her own, nay, she has real beauty."

Mrs. Mountstuart fronted him to say: "Upon my word, my dear Sir
Willoughby, I think she has it to such a degree that I don't know the
man who could hold out against her if she took the field. She is one of
the women who are dead shots with men. Whether it's in their tongues or
their eyes, or it's an effusion and an atmosphere--whatever it is,
it's a spell, another fatality for you!"

"Animal; not spiritual!"

"Oh, she hasn't the head of Letty Dale."

Sir Willoughby allowed Mrs. Mountstuart to pause and follow her
thoughts.

"Dear me!" she exclaimed. "I noticed a change in Letty Dale last night;
and to-day. She looked fresher and younger; extremely well: which is
not what I can say for you, my friend. Fatalizing is not good for the
complexion."

"Don't take away my health, pray," cried Willoughby, with a snapping
laugh.

"Be careful," said Mrs. Mountstuart. "You have got a sentimental tone.
You talk of 'feelings crushed of old'. It is to a woman, not to a man
that you speak, but that sort of talk is a way of making the ground
slippery. I listen in vain for a natural tongue; and when I don't hear
it, I suspect plotting in men. You show your under-teeth too at times
when you draw in a breath, like a condemned high-caste Hindoo my
husband took me to see in a jail in Calcutta, to give me some
excitement when I was pining for England. The creature did it regularly
as he breathed; you did it last night, and you have been doing it
to-day, as if the air cut you to the quick. You have been spoilt. You
have been too much anointed. What I've just mentioned is a sign with me
of a settled something on the brain of a man."

"The brain?" said Sir Willoughby, frowning.

"Yes, you laugh sourly, to look at," said she. "Mountstuart told me
that the muscles of the mouth betray men sooner than the eyes, when
they have cause to be uneasy in their minds."

"But, ma'am, I shall not break my word; I shall not, not; I intend, I
have resolved to keep it. I do not fatalize, let my complexion be black
or white. Despite my resemblance to a high-caste malefactor of the
Calcutta prison-wards . . ."

"Friend! friend! you know how I chatter."

He saluted her finger-ends. "Despite the extraordinary display of
teeth, you will find me go to execution with perfect calmness; with a
resignation as good as happiness."

"Like a Jacobite lord under the Georges."

"You have told me that you wept to read of one: like him, then. My
principles have not changed, if I have. When I was younger, I had an
idea of a wife who would be with me in my thoughts as well as aims: a
woman with a spirit of romance, and a brain of solid sense. I shall
sooner or later dedicate myself to a public life; and shall, I suppose,
want the counsellor or comforter who ought always to be found at home.
It may be unfortunate that I have the ideal in my head. But I would
never make rigorous demands for specific qualities. The cruellest thing
in the world is to set up a living model before a wife, and compel her
to copy it. In any case, here we are upon the road: the die is cast. I
shall not reprieve myself. I cannot release her. Marriage represents
facts, courtship fancies. She will be cured by-and-by of that coveting
of everything that I do, feel, think, dream, imagine . . . ta-ta-ta-ta
ad infinitum. Laetitia was invited here to show her the example of a
fixed character--solid as any concrete substance you would choose to
build on, and not a whit the less feminine."

"Ta-ta-ta-ta ad infinitum. You need not tell me you have a design in
all that you do, Willoughby Patterne."

"You smell the autocrat? Yes, he can mould and govern the creatures
about him. His toughest rebel is himself! If you see Clara . . . You
wish to see her, I think you said?"

"Her behaviour to Lady Busshe last night was queer."

"If you will. She makes a mouth at porcelain. Toujours la porcelaine!
For me, her pettishness is one of her charms, I confess it. Ten years
younger, I could not have compared them."

"Whom?"

"Laetitia and Clara."

"Sir Willoughby, in any case, to quote you, here we are all upon the
road, and we must act as if events were going to happen; and I must ask
her to help me on the subject of my wedding-present, for I don't want
to have her making mouths at mine, however pretty--and she does it
prettily."

"'Another dedicatory offering to the rogue in me!' she says of
porcelain."

"Then porcelain it shall not be. I mean to consult her; I have come
determined upon a chat with her. I think I understand. But she produces
false impressions on those who don't know you both. 'I shall have that
porcelain back,' says Lady Busshe to me, when we were shaking hands
last night: 'I think,' says she, 'it should have been the Willow
Pattern.' And she really said: 'He's in for being jilted a second
time!'"

Sir Willoughby restrained a bound of his body that would have sent him
up some feet into the air. He felt his skull thundered at within.

"Rather than that it should fan upon her!" ejaculated he, correcting
his resemblance to the high-caste culprit as soon as it recurred to
him.

"But you know Lady Busshe," said Mrs. Mountstuart, genuinely solicitous
to ease the proud man of his pain. She could see through him to the
depth of the skin, which his fencing sensitiveness vainly attempted to
cover as it did the heart of him. "Lady Busshe is nothing without her
flights, fads, and fancies. She has always insisted that you have an
unfortunate nose. I remember her saying on the day of your majority, it
was the nose of a monarch destined to lose a throne."

"Have I ever offended Lady Busshe?"

"She trumpets you. She carries Lady Culmer with her too, and you may
expect a visit of nods and hints and pots of alabaster. They worship
you: you are the hope of England in their eyes, and no woman is worthy
of you: but they are a pair of fatalists, and if you begin upon Letty
Dale with them, you might as well forbid your banns. They will be all
over the country exclaiming on predestination and marriages made in
heaven."

"Clara and her father!" cried Sir Willoughby.

Dr Middleton and his daughter appeared in the circle of shrubs and
flowers.

"Bring her to me, and save me from the polyglot," said Mrs Mountstuart,
in afright at Dr. Middleton's manner of pouring forth into the ears of
the downcast girl.

The leisure he loved that he might debate with his genius upon any next
step was denied to Willoughby: he had to place his trust in the skill
with which he had sown and prepared Mrs Mountstuart's understanding to
meet the girl--beautiful abhorred that she was! detested darling!
thing to squeeze to death and throw to the dust, and mourn over!

He had to risk it; and at an hour when Lady Busshe's prognostic
grievously impressed his intense apprehensiveness of nature.

As it happened that Dr. Middleton's notion of a disagreeable duty in
colloquy was to deliver all that he contained, and escape the listening
to a syllable of reply, Willoughby withdrew his daughter from him
opportunely.

"Mrs. Mountstuart wants you, Clara."

"I shall be very happy," Clara replied, and put on a new face. An
imperceptible nervous shrinking was met by another force in her bosom,
that pushed her to advance without a sign of reluctance. She seemed to
glitter.

She was handed to Mrs. Mountstuart.

Dr Middleton laid his hand over Willoughby's shoulder, retiring on a
bow before the great lady of the district. He blew and said: "An
opposition of female instincts to masculine intellect necessarily
creates a corresponding antagonism of intellect to instinct."

"Her answer, sir? Her reasons? Has she named any?"

"The cat," said Dr. Middleton, taking breath for a sentence, "that
humps her back in the figure of the letter H, or a Chinese bridge has
given the dog her answer and her reasons, we may presume: but he that
undertakes to translate them into human speech might likewise venture
to propose an addition to the alphabet and a continuation of Homer. The
one performance would be not more wonderful than the other. Daughters,
Willoughby, daughters! Above most human peccancies, I do abhor a breach
of faith. She will not be guilty of that. I demand a cheerful
fulfilment of a pledge: and I sigh to think that I cannot count on it
without administering a lecture."

"She will soon be my care, sir."

"She shall be. Why, she is as good as married. She is at the altar. She
is in her house. She is--why, where is she not? She has entered the
sanctuary. She is out of the market. This maenad shriek for freedom
would happily entitle her to the Republican cap--the Phrygian--in a
revolutionary Parisian procession. To me it has no meaning; and but
that I cannot credit child of mine with mania, I should be in
trepidation of her wits."

Sir Willoughby's livelier fears were pacified by the information that
Clara had simply emitted a cry. Clara had once or twice given him cause
for starting and considering whether to think of her sex differently or
condemningly of her, yet he could not deem her capable of fully
unbosoming herself even to him, and under excitement. His idea of the
cowardice of girls combined with his ideal of a waxwork sex to persuade
him that though they are often (he had experienced it) wantonly
desperate in their acts, their tongues are curbed by rosy prudency. And
this was in his favour. For if she proved speechless and stupid with
Mrs. Mountstuart, the lady would turn her over, and beat her flat, beat
her angular, in fine, turn her to any shape, despising her, and
cordially believe him to be the model gentleman of Christendom. She
would fill in the outlines he had sketched to her of a picture that he
had small pride in by comparison with his early vision of a
fortune-favoured, triumphing squire, whose career is like the sun's,
intelligibly lordly to all comprehensions. Not like your model
gentleman, that has to be expounded--a thing for abstract esteem!
However, it was the choice left to him. And an alternative was enfolded
in that. Mrs. Mountstuart's model gentleman could marry either one of
two women, throwing the other overboard. He was bound to marry: he was
bound to take to himself one of them: and whichever one he selected
would cast a lustre on his reputation. At least she would rescue him
from the claws of Lady Busshe, and her owl's hoot of "Willow Pattern",
and her hag's shriek of "twice jilted". That flying infant
Willoughby--his unprotected little incorporeal omnipresent Self (not
thought of so much as passionately felt for)--would not be scoffed at
as the luckless with women. A fall indeed from his original conception
of his name of fame abroad! But Willoughby had the high consolation of
knowing that others have fallen lower. There is the fate of the devils
to comfort us, if we are driven hard. "For one of your pangs another
bosom is racked by ten", we read in the solacing Book.

With all these nice calculations at work, Willoughby stood above
himself, contemplating his active machinery, which he could partly
criticize but could not stop, in a singular wonderment at the aims and
schemes and tremours of one who was handsome, manly, acceptable in the
world's eyes: and had he not loved himself most heartily he would have
been divided to the extent of repudiating that urgent and excited half
of his being, whose motions appeared as those of a body of insects
perpetually erecting and repairing a structure of extraordinary
pettiness. He loved himself too seriously to dwell on the division for
more than a minute or so. But having seen it, and for the first time,
as he believed, his passion for the woman causing it became surcharged
with bitterness, atrabiliar.

A glance behind him, as he walked away with Dr. Middleton, showed
Clara, cunning creature that she was, airily executing her malicious
graces in the preliminary courtesies with Mrs. Mountstuart.



CHAPTER XXXV

MISS MIDDLETON AND MRS. MOUNTSTUART

"Sit beside me, fair Middleton," said the great lady.

"Gladly," said Clara, bowing to her title.

"I want to sound you, my dear."

Clara presented an open countenance with a dim interrogation on the
forehead. "Yes?" she said, submissively.

"You were one of my bright faces last night. I was in love with you.
Delicate vessels ring sweetly to a finger-nail, and if the wit is true,
you answer to it; that I can see, and that is what I like. Most of the
people one has at a table are drums. A ruba-dub-dub on them is the only
way to get a sound. When they can be persuaded to do it upon one
another, they call it conversation."

"Colonel De Craye was very funny."

"Funny, and witty too."

"But never spiteful."

"These Irish or half Irishmen are my taste. If they're not politicians,
mind; I mean Irish gentlemen. I will never have another dinner-party
without one. Our men's tempers are uncertain. You can't get them to
forget themselves. And when the wine is in them the nature comes out,
and they must be buffetting, and up start politics, and good-bye to
harmony! My husband, I am sorry to say, was one of those who have a
long account of ruined dinners against them. I have seen him and his
friends red as the roast and white as the boiled with wrath on a
popular topic they had excited themselves over, intrinsically not worth
a snap of the fingers. In London!" exclaimed Mrs. Mountstuart, to
aggravate the charge against her lord in the Shades. "But town or
country, the table should be sacred. I have heard women say it is a
plot on the side of the men to teach us our littleness. I don't believe
they have a plot. It would be to compliment them on a talent. I believe
they fall upon one another blindly, simply because they are full; which
is, we are told, the preparation for the fighting Englishman. They
cannot eat and keep a truce. Did you notice that dreadful Mr. Capes?"

"The gentleman who frequently contradicted papa? But Colonel De Craye
was good enough to relieve us."

"How, my dear?"

"You did not hear him? He took advantage of an interval when Mr. Capes
was breathing after a paean to his friend, the Governor--I think--of
one of the presidencies, to say to the lady beside him: 'He was a
wonderful administrator and great logician; he married an Anglo-Indian
widow, and soon after published a pamphlet in favour of Suttee.'"

"And what did the lady say?"

"She said: 'Oh.'"

"Hark at her! And was it heard?"

"Mr. Capes granted the widow, but declared he had never seen the
pamphlet in favour of Suttee, and disbelieved in it. He insisted that
it was to be named Sati. He was vehement."

"Now I do remember:--which must have delighted the colonel. And Mr.
Capes retired from the front upon a repetition of 'in toto, in toto'.
As if 'in toto' were the language of a dinner-table! But what will ever
teach these men? Must we import Frenchmen to give them an example in
the art of conversation, as their grandfathers brought over marquises
to instruct them in salads? And our young men too! Women have to take
to the hunting-field to be able to talk with them, and be on a par with
their grooms. Now, there was Willoughby Patterne, a prince among them
formerly. Now, did you observe him last night? did you notice how,
instead of conversing, instead of assisting me--as he was bound to do
doubly owing to the defection of Vernon Whitford: a thing I don't yet
comprehend--there he sat sharpening his lower lip for cutting remarks.
And at my best man! at Colonel De Craye! If he had attacked Mr. Capes,
with his Governor of Bomby, as the man pronounces it, or Colonel
Wildjohn and his Protestant Church in Danger, or Sir Wilson Pettifer
harping on his Monarchical Republic, or any other! No, he preferred to
be sarcastic upon friend Horace, and he had the worst of it. Sarcasm is
so silly! What is the gain if he has been smart? People forget the
epigram and remember the other's good temper. On that field, my dear,
you must make up your mind to be beaten by 'friend Horace'. I have my
prejudices and I have my prepossessions, but I love good temper, and I
love wit, and when I see a man possessed of both, I set my cap at him,
and there's my flat confession, and highly unfeminine it is."

"Not at all!" cried Clara.

"We are one, then."

Clara put up a mouth empty of words: she was quite one with her. Mrs.
Mountstuart pressed her hand. "When one does get intimate with a dainty
rogue!" she said. "You forgive me all that, for I could vow that
Willoughby has betrayed me."

Clara looked soft, kind, bright, in turns, and clouded instantly when
the lady resumed: "A friend of my own sex, and young, and a close
neighbour, is just what I would have prayed for. And I'll excuse you,
my dear, for not being so anxious about the friendship of an old woman.
But I shall be of use to you, you will find. In the first place, I
never tap for secrets. In the second, I keep them. Thirdly, I have some
power. And fourth, every young married woman has need of a friend like
me. Yes, and Lady Patterne heading all the county will be the stronger
for my backing. You don't look so mighty well pleased, my dear. Speak
out."

"Dear Mrs. Mountstuart!"

"I tell you, I am very fond of Willoughby, but I saw the faults of the
boy and see the man's. He has the pride of a king, and it's a pity if
you offend it. He is prodigal in generosity, but he can't forgive. As
to his own errors, you must be blind to them as a Saint. The secret of
him is, that he is one of those excessively civilized creatures who aim
at perfection: and I think he ought to be supported in his conceit of
having attained it; for the more men of that class, the greater our
influence. He excels in manly sports, because he won't be excelled in
anything, but as men don't comprehend his fineness, he comes to us; and
his wife must manage him by that key. You look down at the idea of
managing. It has to be done. One thing you may be assured of, he will
be proud of you. His wife won't be very much enamoured of herself if
she is not the happiest woman in the world. You will have the best
horses, the best dresses, the finest jewels in England; and an
incomparable cook. The house will be changed the moment you enter it as
Lady Patterne. And, my dear, just where he is, with all his graces,
deficient of attraction, yours will tell. The sort of Othello he would
make, or Leontes, I don't know, and none of us ever needs to know. My
impression is, that if even a shadow of a suspicion flitted across him,
he is a sort of man to double-dye himself in guilt by way of vengeance
in anticipation of an imagined offence. Not uncommon with men. I have
heard strange stories of them: and so will you in your time to come,
but not from me. No young woman shall ever be the sourer for having
been my friend. One word of advice now we are on the topic: never play
at counter-strokes with him. He will be certain to out-stroke you, and
you will be driven further than you meant to go. They say we beat men
at that game; and so we do, at the cost of beating ourselves. And if
once we are started, it is a race-course ending on a precipice--over
goes the winner. We must be moderately slavish to keep our place; which
is given us in appearance; but appearances make up a remarkably large
part of life, and far the most comfortable, so long as we are discreet
at the right moment. He is a man whose pride, when hurt, would run his
wife to perdition to solace it. If he married a troublesome widow, his
pamphlet on Suttee would be out within the year. Vernon Whitford would
receive instructions about it the first frosty moon. You like Miss
Dale?"

"I think I like her better than she likes me," said Clara.

"Have you never warmed together?"

"I have tried it. She is not one bit to blame. I can see how it is that
she misunderstands me: or justly condemns me, perhaps I should say."

"The hero of two women must die and be wept over in common before they
can appreciate one another. You are not cold?"

"No."

"You shuddered, my dear."

"Did I?"

"I do sometimes. Feet will be walking over ones grave, wherever it
lies. Be sure of this: Willoughby Patterne is a man of unimpeachable
honour."

"I do not doubt it."

"He means to be devoted to you. He has been accustomed to have women
hanging around him like votive offerings."

"I . . .!"

"You cannot: of course not: any one could see that at a glance. You
are all the sweeter to me for not being tame. Marriage cures a
multitude of indispositions."

"Oh! Mrs. Mountstuart, will you listen to me?"

"Presently. Don't threaten me with confidences. Eloquence is a terrible
thing in woman. I suspect, my dear, that we both know as much as could
be spoken."

"You hardly suspect the truth, I fear."

"Let me tell you one thing about jealous men--when they are not
blackamoors married to disobedient daughters. I speak of our civil
creature of the drawing-rooms: and lovers, mind, not husbands: two
distinct species, married or not:--they're rarely given to jealousy
unless they are flighty themselves. The jealousy fixes them. They have
only to imagine that we are for some fun likewise and they grow as
deferential as my footman, as harmless as the sportsman whose gun has
burst. Ah! my fair Middleton, am I pretending to teach you? You have
read him his lesson, and my table suffered for it last night, but I
bear no rancour."

"You bewilder me, Mrs. Mountstuart."

"Not if I tell you that you have driven the poor man to try whether it
would be possible for him to give you up."

"I have?"

"Well, and you are successful."

"I am?"

"Jump, my dear!"

"He will?"

"When men love stale instead of fresh, withered better than blooming,
excellence in the abstract rather than the palpable. With their idle
prate of feminine intellect, and a grotto nymph, and a mother of
Gracchi! Why, he must think me dazed with admiration of him to talk to
me! One listens, you know. And he is one of the men who cast a kind of
physical spell on you while he has you by the ear, until you begin to
think of it by talking to somebody else. I suppose there are clever
people who do see deep into the breast while dialogue is in progress.
One reads of them. No, my dear, you have very cleverly managed to show
him that it isn't at all possible: he can't. And the real cause for
alarm, in my humble opinion, is lest your amiable foil should have been
a trifle, as he would say, deceived, too much in earnest, led too far.
One may reprove him for not being wiser, but men won't learn without
groaning that they are simply weapons taken up to be put down when done
with. Leave it to me to compose him.--Willoughby can't give you up. I'm
certain he has tried; his pride has been horridly wounded. You were
shrewd, and he has had his lesson. If these little rufflings don't come
before marriage they come after; so it's not time lost; and it's good
to be able to look back on them. You are very white, my child."

"Can you, Mrs. Mountstuart, can you think I would be so heartlessly
treacherous?"

"Be honest, fair Middleton, and answer me: Can you say you had not a
corner of an idea of producing an effect on Willoughby?"

Clara checked the instinct of her tongue to defend her reddening
cheeks, with a sense that she was disintegrating and crumbling, but she
wanted this lady for a friend, and she had to submit to the conditions,
and be red and silent.

Mrs. Mountstuart examined her leisurely.

"That will do. Conscience blushes. One knows it by the conflagration.
Don't be hard on yourself . . . there you are in the other extreme. 
That blush of yours would count with me against any quantity of
evidence--all the Crooklyns in the kingdom. You lost your purse."

"I discovered that it was lost this morning."

"Flitch has been here with it. Willoughby has it. You will ask him for
it; he will demand payment: you will be a couple of yards' length or so
of cramoisy: and there ends the episode, nobody killed, only a poor man
melancholy-wounded, and I must offer him my hand to mend him, vowing to
prove to him that Suttee was properly abolished. Well, and now to
business. I said I wanted to sound you. You have been overdone with
porcelain. Poor Lady Busshe is in despair at your disappointment. Now,
I mean my wedding-present to be to your taste."

"Madam!"

"Who is the madam you are imploring?"

"Dear Mrs. Mountstuart!"

"Well?"

"I shall fall in your esteem. Perhaps you will help me. No one else
can. I am a prisoner: I am compelled to continue this imposture. Oh, I
shun speaking much: you object to it and I dislike it: but I must
endeavour to explain to you that I am unworthy of the position you
think a proud one."

"Tut-tut; we are all unworthy, cross our arms, bow our heads; and
accept the honours. Are you playing humble handmaid? What an old
organ-tune that is! Well? Give me reasons."

"I do not wish to marry."

"He's the great match of the county!"

"I cannot marry him."

"Why, you are at the church door with him! Cannot marry him?"

"It does not bind me."

"The church door is as binding as the altar to an honourable girl.
What have you been about? Since I am in for confidences, half ones
won't do. We must have honourable young women as well as men of honour.
You can't imagine he is to be thrown over now, at this hour? What have
you against him? come!"

"I have found that I do not . . ."

"What?"

"Love him."

Mrs. Mountstuart grimaced transiently. "That is no answer. The cause!"
she said. "What has he done?"

"Nothing."

"And when did you discover this nothing?"

"By degrees: unknown to myself; suddenly."

"Suddenly and by degrees? I suppose it's useless to ask for a head. But
if all this is true, you ought not to be here."

"I wish to go; I am unable."

"Have you had a scene together?"

"I have expressed my wish."

"In roundabout?--girl's English?"

"Quite clearly; oh, very clearly."

"Have you spoken to your father?"

"I have."

"And what does Dr. Middleton say?"

"It is incredible to him."

"To me too! I can understand little differences, little whims,
caprices: we don't settle into harness for a tap on the shoulder as a
man becomes a knight: but to break and bounce away from an unhappy
gentleman at the church door is either madness or it's one of the
things without a name. You think you are quite sure of yourself?"

"I am so sure, that I look back with regret on the time when I was
not."

"But you were in love with him."

"I was mistaken."

"No love?"

"I have none to give."

"Dear me!--Yes, yes, but that tone of sorrowful conviction is often a
trick, it's not new: and I know that assumption of plain sense to pass
off a monstrosity." Mrs. Mountstuart struck her lap. "Soh! but I've
had to rack my brain for it: feminine disgust? You have been hearing
imputations of his past life? moral character? No? Circumstances might
make him behave unkindly, not unhandsomely: and we have no claim over a
man's past, or it's too late to assert it. What is the case?"

"We are quite divided."

"Nothing in the way of . . . nothing green-eyed?"

"Far from that!"

"Then name it."

"We disagree."

"Many a very good agreement is founded on disagreeing. It's to be
regretted that you are not portionless. If you had been, you would have
made very little of disagreeing. You are just as much bound in honour
as if you had the ring on your finger."

"In honour! But I appeal to his, I am no wife for him."

"But if he insists, you consent?"

"I appeal to reason. Is it, madam . . ."

"But, I say, if he insists, you consent?"

"He will insist upon his own misery as well as mine."

Mrs. Mountstuart rocked herself "My poor Sir Willoughby! What a
fate!--And I took you for a clever girl! Why, I have been admiring
your management of him! And here am I bound to take a lesson from Lady
Busshe. My dear good Middleton, don't let it be said that Lady Busshe
saw deeper than I! I put some little vanity in it, I own: I won't
conceal it. She declares that when she sent her present--I don't
believe her--she had a premonition that it would come back. Surely you
won't justify the extravagances of a woman without common
reverence:--for anatomize him as we please to ourselves, he is a
splendid man (and I did it chiefly to encourage and come at you). We
don't often behold such a lordly-looking man: so conversable too when
he feels at home; a picture of an English gentleman! The very man we
want married for our neighbourhood! A woman who can openly talk of
expecting him to be twice jilted! You shrink. It is repulsive. It would
be incomprehensible: except, of course, to Lady Busshe, who rushed to
one of her violent conclusions, and became a prophetess. Conceive a
woman's imagining it could happen twice to the same man! I am not sure
she did not send the identical present that arrived and returned once
before: you know, the Durham engagement. She told me last night she
had it back. I watched her listening very suspiciously to Professor
Crooklyn. My dear, it is her passion to foretell disasters--her
passion! And when they are confirmed, she triumphs, of course. We shall
have her domineering over us with sapient nods at every trifle
occurring. The county will be unendurable. Unsay it, my Middleton! And
don't answer like an oracle because I do all the talking. Pour out to
me. You'll soon come to a stop and find the want of reason in the want
of words. I assure you that's true. Let me have a good gaze at you.
No," said Mrs. Mountstuart, after posturing herself to peruse Clara's
features, "brains you have; one can see it by the nose and the mouth. I
could vow you are the girl I thought you; you have your wits on tiptoe.
How of the heart?"

"None," Clara sighed.

The sigh was partly voluntary, though unforced; as one may with ready
sincerity act a character that is our own only through sympathy.

Mrs. Mountstuart felt the extra weight in the young lady's falling
breath. There was no necessity for a deep sigh over an absence of heart
or confession of it. If Clara did not love the man to whom she was
betrothed, sighing about it signified what? some pretence; and a
pretence is the cloak of a secret. Girls do not sigh in that way with
compassion for the man they have no heart for, unless at the same time
they should be oppressed by the knowledge or dread of having a heart
for some one else. As a rule, they have no compassion to bestow on him:
you might as reasonably expect a soldier to bewail the enemy he strikes
in action: they must be very disengaged to have it. And supposing a
show of the thing to be exhibited, when it has not been worried out of
them, there is a reserve in the background: they are pitying themselves
under a mask of decent pity of their wretch.

So ran Mrs. Mountstuart's calculations, which were like her suspicion,
coarse and broad, not absolutely incorrect, but not of an exact measure
with the truth. That pin's head of the truth is rarely hit by design.
The search after it of the professionally penetrative in the dark of a
bosom may bring it forth by the heavy knocking all about the
neighbourhood that we call good guessing, but it does not come out
clean; other matter adheres to it; and being more it is less than
truth. The unadulterate is to be had only by faith in it or by waiting
for it.

A lover! thought the sagacious dame. There was no lover: some love
there was: or, rather, there was a preparation of the chamber, with no
lamp yet lighted.

"Do you positively tell me you have no heart for the position of first
lady of the county?" said Mrs. Mountstuart.

Clara's reply was firm: "None whatever."

"My dear, I will believe you on one condition. Look at me. You have
eyes. If you are for mischief, you are armed for it. But how much
better, when you have won a prize, to settle down and wear it! Lady
Patterne will have entire occupation for her flights and whimsies in
leading the county. And the man, surely the man--he behaved badly last
night: but a beauty like this," she pushed a finger at Clara's cheek,
and doated a half instant, "you have the very beauty to break in an
ogre's temper. And the man is as governable as he is presentable. You
have the beauty the French call--no, it's the beauty of a queen of
elves: one sees them lurking about you, one here, one there.
Smile--they dance: be doleful--they hang themselves. No, there's not a
trace of satanic; at least, not yet. And come, come, my Middleton, the
man is a man to be proud of. You can send him into Parliament to wear
off his humours. To my thinking, he has a fine style: conscious? I
never thought so before last night. I can't guess what has happened to
him recently. He was once a young Grand Monarque. He was really a
superb young English gentleman. Have you been wounding him?"

"It is my misfortune to be obliged to wound him," said Clara.

"Quite needlessly, my child, for marry him you must."

Clara's bosom rose: her shoulders rose too, narrowing, and her head
fell slight back.

Mrs. Mountstuart exclaimed: "But the scandal! You would never, never
think of following the example of that Durham girl?--whether she was
provoked to it by jealousy or not. It seems to have gone so
astonishingly far with you in a very short time, that one is alarmed as
to where you will stop. Your look just now was downright revulsion."

"I fear it is. It is. I am past my own control. Dear madam, you have my
assurance that I will not behave scandalously or dishonourably. What I
would entreat of you is to help me. I know this of myself . . . I am not
the best of women. I am impatient, wickedly. I should be no good wife.
Feelings like mine teach me unhappy things of myself."

"Rich, handsome, lordly, influential, brilliant health, fine estates,"
Mrs. Mountstuart enumerated in petulant accents as there started across
her mind some of Sir Willoughby's attributes for the attraction of the
soul of woman. "I suppose you wish me to take you in earnest?"

"I appeal to you for help."

"What help?"

"Persuade him of the folly of pressing me to keep my word."

"I will believe you, my dear Middleton, on one condition: your talk of
no heart is nonsense. A change like this, if one is to believe in the
change, occurs through the heart, not because there is none. Don't you
see that? But if you want me for a friend, you must not sham stupid.
It's bad enough in itself: the imitation's horrid. You have to be
honest with me, and answer me right out. You came here on this visit
intending to marry Willoughby Patterne."

"Yes."

"And gradually you suddenly discovered, since you came here, that you
did not intend it, if you could find a means of avoiding it."

"Oh, madam, yes, it is true."

"Now comes the test. And, my lovely Middleton, your flaming cheeks
won't suffice for me this time. The old serpent can blush like an
innocent maid on occasion. You are to speak, and you are to tell me in
six words why that was: and don't waste one on 'madam', or 'Oh! Mrs.
Mountstuart' Why did you change?"

"I came--When I came I was in some doubt. Indeed I speak the truth. I
found I could not give him the admiration he has, I dare say, a right
to expect. I turned--it surprised me; it surprises me now. But so
completely! So that to think of marrying him is . . ."

"Defer the simile," Mrs. Mountstuart interposed. "If you hit on a
clever one, you will never get the better of it. Now, by just as much
as you have outstripped my limitation of words to you, you show me you
are dishonest."

"I could make a vow."

"You would forswear yourself."

"Will you help me?"

"If you are perfectly ingenuous, I may try."

"Dear lady, what more can I say?"

"It may be difficult. You can reply to a catechism."

"I shall have your help?"

"Well, yes; though I don't like stipulations between friends. There is
no man living to whom you could willingly give your hand? That is my
question. I cannot possibly take a step unless I know. Reply briefly:
there is or there is not." Clara sat back with bated breath, mentally
taking the leap into the abyss, realizing it, and the cold prudence of
abstention, and the delirium of the confession. Was there such a man?
It resembled freedom to think there was: to avow it promised freedom.

"Oh, Mrs. Mountstuart!"

"Well?"

"You will help me?"

"Upon my word, I shall begin to doubt your desire for it."

"Willingly give my hand, madam?"

"For shame! And with wits like yours, can't you perceive where
hesitation in answering such a question lands you?"

"Dearest lady, will you give me your hand? may I whisper?"

"You need not whisper; I won't look."

Clara's voice trembled on a tense chord.

"There is one . . . compared with him I feel my insignificance. If I
could aid him."

"What necessity have you to tell me more than that there is one?"

"Ah, madam, it is different: not as you imagine. You bid me be
scrupulously truthful: I am: I wish you to know the different kind of
feeling it is from what might be suspected from . . . a confession. To
give my hand, is beyond any thought I have ever encouraged. If you had
asked me whether there is one whom I admire--yes, I do. I cannot help
admiring a beautiful and brave self-denying nature. It is one whom you
must pity, and to pity casts you beneath him: for you pity him because
it is his nobleness that has been the enemy of his fortunes. He lives
for others."

Her voice was musically thrilling in that low muted tone of the very
heart, impossible to deride or disbelieve.

Mrs. Mountstuart set her head nodding on springs.

"Is he clever?"

"Very."

"He talks well?"

"Yes."

"Handsome?"

"He might be thought so."

"Witty?"

"I think he is."

"Gay, cheerful?"

"In his manner."

"Why, the man would be a mountebank if he adopted any other. And poor?"

"He is not wealthy."

Mrs. Mountstuart preserved a lengthened silence, but nipped Clara's
fingers once or twice to reassure her without approving. "Of course
he's poor," she said at last; "directly the reverse of what you could
have, it must be. Well, my fair Middleton, I can't say you have been
dishonest. I'll help you as far as I'm able. How, it is quite
impossible to tell. We're in the mire. The best way seems to me to get
this pitiable angel to cut some ridiculous capers and present you
another view of him. I don't believe in his innocence. He knew you to
be a plighted woman."

"He has not once by word or sign hinted a disloyalty."

"Then how do you know."

"I do not know."

"He is not the cause of your wish to break your engagement?"

"No."

"Then you have succeeded in just telling me nothing. What is?"

"Ah! madam!"

"You would break your engagement purely because the admirable creature
is in existence?"

Clara shook her head: she could not say she was dizzy. She had spoken
out more than she had ever spoken to herself, and in doing so she had
cast herself a step beyond the line she dared to contemplate.

"I won't detain you any longer," said Mrs. Mountstuart. "The more we
learn, the more we are taught that we are not so wise as we thought we
were. I have to go to school to Lady Busshe! I really took you for a
very clever girl. If you change again, you will notify the important
circumstance to me, I trust."

"I will," said Clara, and no violent declaration of the impossibility
of her changing again would have had such an effect on her hearer.

Mrs. Mountstuart scanned her face for a new reading of it to match with
her later impressions.

"I am to do as I please with the knowledge I have gained?"

"I am utterly in your hands, madam."

"I have not meant to be unkind."

"You have not been unkind; I could embrace you."

"I am rather too shattered, and kissing won't put me together. I
laughed at Lady Busshe! No wonder you went off like a rocket with a
disappointing bouquet when I told you you had been successful with poor
Sir Willoughby and he could not give you up. I noticed that. A woman
like Lady Busshe, always prying for the lamentable, would have required
no further enlightenment. Has he a temper?"

Clara did not ask her to signalize the person thus abruptly obtruded.

"He has faults," she said.

"There's an end to Sir Willoughby, then! Though I don't say he will
give you up even when he hears the worst, if he must hear it, as for
his own sake he should. And I won't say he ought to give you up. He'll
be the pitiable angel if he does. For you--but you don't deserve
compliments; they would be immoral. You have behaved badly, badly,
badly. I have never had such a right-about-face in my life. You will
deserve the stigma: you will be notorious: you will be called Number
Two. Think of that! Not even original! We will break the conference, or
I shall twaddle to extinction. I think I heard the luncheon bell."

"It rang."

"You don't look fit for company, but you had better come."

"Oh, yes; every day it's the same."

"Whether you're in my hands or I'm in yours, we're a couple of
arch-conspirators against the peace of the family whose table we're
sitting at, and the more we rattle the viler we are, but we must do it
to ease our minds."

Mrs. Mountstuart spread the skirts of her voluminous dress, remarking
further: "At a certain age our teachers are young people: we learn by
looking backward. It speaks highly for me that I have not called you
mad.--Full of faults, goodish-looking, not a bad talker, cheerful,
poorish;--and she prefers that to this!" the great lady exclaimed in
her reverie while emerging from the circle of shrubs upon a view of the
Hall. Colonel De Craye advanced to her; certainly good-looking,
certainly cheerful, by no means a bad talker, nothing of a Croesus, and
variegated with faults.

His laughing smile attacked the irresolute hostility of her mien,
confident as the sparkle of sunlight in a breeze. The effect of it on
herself angered her on behalf of Sir Willoughby's bride.

"Good-morning, Mrs. Mountstuart; I believe I am the last to greet you."

"And how long do you remain here, Colonel De Craye?"

"I kissed earth when I arrived, like the Norman William, and
consequently I've an attachment to the soil, ma'am."

"You're not going to take possession of it, I suppose?"

"A handful would satisfy me."

"You play the Conqueror pretty much, I have heard. But property is held
more sacred than in the times of the Norman William."

"And speaking of property, Miss Middleton, your purse is found." he
said.

"I know it is," she replied as unaffectedly as Mrs. Mountstuart could
have desired, though the ingenuous air of the girl incensed her
somewhat.

Clara passed on.

"You restore purses," observed Mrs. Mountstuart.

Her stress on the word and her look thrilled De Craye; for there had
been a long conversation between the young lady and the dame.

"It was an article that dropped and was not stolen," said he.

"Barely sweet enough to keep, then!"

"I think I could have felt to it like poor Flitch, the flyman, who was
the finder."

"If you are conscious of these temptations to appropriate what is not
your own, you should quit the neighbourhood."

"And do it elsewhere? But that's not virtuous counsel."

"And I'm not counselling in the interests of your virtue, Colonel De
Craye."

"And I dared for a moment to hope that you were, ma'am," he said,
ruefully drooping.

They were close to the dining-room window, and Mrs Mountstuart
preferred the terminating of a dialogue that did not promise to leave
her features the austerely iron cast with which she had commenced it.
She was under the spell of gratitude for his behaviour yesterday
evening at her dinner-table; she could not be very severe.



CHAPTER XXXVI

ANIMATED CONVERSATION AT A LUNCHEON-TABLE

Vernon was crossing the hall to the dining-room as Mrs Mountstuart
stepped in. She called to him: "Are the champions reconciled?"

He replied: "Hardly that, but they have consented to meet at an altar
to offer up a victim to the gods in the shape of modern poetic
imitations of the classical."

"That seems innocent enough. The Professor has not been anxious about
his chest?"

"He recollects his cough now and then."

"You must help him to forget it."

"Lady Busshe and Lady Culmer are here," said Vernon, not supposing it
to be a grave announcement until the effect of it on Mrs. Mountstuart
admonished him.

She dropped her voice: "Engage my fair friend for one of your walks the
moment we rise from table. You may have to rescue her; but do. I mean
it."

"She's a capital walker." Vernon remarked in simpleton style.

"There's no necessity for any of your pedestrian feats," Mrs
Mountstuart said, and let him go, turning to Colonel De Craye to
pronounce an encomium on him: "The most open-minded man I know!
Warranted to do perpetual service, and no mischief. If you were all
. . . instead of catching at every prize you covet! Yes, you would
have your reward for unselfishness, I assure you. Yes, and where you
seek it! That is what none of you men will believe."

"When you behold me in your own livery!" cried the colonel.

"Do I?" said she, dallying with a half-formed design to be
confidential. "How is it one is always tempted to address you in
the language of innuendo? I can't guess."

"Except that as a dog doesn't comprehend good English we naturally talk
bad to him."

The great lady was tickled. Who could help being amused by this man?
And after all, if her fair Middleton chose to be a fool there could be
no gainsaying her, sorry though poor Sir Willoughby's friends must feel
for him.

She tried not to smile.

"You are too absurd. Or a baby, you might have added."

"I hadn't the daring."

"I'll tell you what, Colonel De Craye, I shall end by falling in love
with you; and without esteeming you, I fear."

"The second follows as surely as the flavour upon a draught of Bacchus,
if you'll but toss off the glass, ma'am."

"We women, sir, think it should be first."

"'Tis to transpose the seasons, and give October the blossom and April
the apple, and no sweet one! Esteem's a mellow thing that comes after
bloom and fire, like an evening at home; because if it went before it
would have no father and couldn't hope for progeny; for there'd be no
nature in the business. So please, ma'am, keep to the original order,
and you'll be nature's child, and I the most blessed of mankind."

"Really, were I fifteen years younger. I am not so certain . . . I
might try and make you harmless."

"Draw the teeth of the lamb so long as you pet him!"

"I challenged you, colonel, and I won't complain of your pitch. But
now lay your wit down beside your candour, and descend to an every-day
level with me for a minute."

"Is it innuendo?"

"No; though I daresay it would be easier for you to respond to if it
were."

"I'm the straightforwardest of men at a word of command."

"This is a whisper. Be alert, as you were last night. Shuffle the table
well. A little liveliness will do it. I don't imagine malice, but
there's curiosity, which is often as bad, and not so lightly foiled. We
have Lady Busshe and Lady Culmer here."

"To sweep the cobwebs out of the sky!"

"Well, then, can you fence with broomsticks?"

"I have had a bout with them in my time."

"They are terribly direct."

"They 'give point', as Napoleon commanded his cavalry to do."

"You must help me to ward it."

"They will require variety in the conversation."

"Constant. You are an angel of intelligence, and if I have the judgeing
of you, I'm afraid you'll be allowed to pass, in spite of the scandal
above. Open the door; I don't unbonnet."

De Craye threw the door open.

Lady Busshe was at that moment saying, "And are we indeed to have you
for a neighbour, Dr. Middleton?"

The Rev. Doctor's reply was drowned by the new arrivals.

"I thought you had forsaken us," observed Sir Willoughby to Mrs.
Mountstuart.

"And run away with Colonel De Craye? I'm too weighty, my dear friend.
Besides, I have not looked at the wedding-presents yet."

"The very object of our call!" exclaimed Lady Culmer.

"I have to confess I am in dire alarm about mine," Lady Busshe nodded
across the table at Clara. "Oh! you may shake your head, but I would
rather hear a rough truth than the most complimentary evasion."

"How would you define a rough truth, Dr. Middleton?" said Mrs.
Mountstuart.

Like the trained warrior who is ready at all hours for the trumpet to
arms, Dr. Middleton waked up for judicial allocution in a trice.

"A rough truth, madam, I should define to be that description of truth
which is not imparted to mankind without a powerful impregnation of the
roughness of the teller."

"It is a rough truth, ma'am, that the world is composed of fools, and
that the exceptions are knaves," Professor Crooklyn furnished that
example avoided by the Rev. Doctor.

"Not to precipitate myself into the jaws of the foregone definition,
which strikes me as being as happy as Jonah's whale, that could carry
probably the most learned man of his time inside without the necessity
of digesting him," said De Craye, "a rough truth is a rather strong
charge of universal nature for the firing off of a modicum of personal
fact."

"It is a rough truth that Plato is Moses atticizing," said Vernon to
Dr. Middleton, to keep the diversion alive.

"And that Aristotle had the globe under his cranium," rejoined the Rev.
Doctor.

"And that the Moderns live on the Ancients."

"And that not one in ten thousand can refer to the particular treasury
he filches."

"The Art of our days is a revel of rough truth," remarked Professor
Crooklyn.

"And the literature has laboriously mastered the adjective, wherever it
may be in relation to the noun," Dr. Middleton added.

"Orson's first appearance at court was in the figure of a rough truth,
causing the Maids of Honour, accustomed to Tapestry Adams, astonishment
and terror," said De Craye. That he might not be left out of the
sprightly play, Sir Willoughby levelled a lance at the quintain,
smiling on Laetitia: "In fine, caricature is rough truth."

She said, "Is one end of it, and realistic directness is the other."

He bowed. "The palm is yours."

Mrs. Mountstuart admired herself as each one trotted forth in turn
characteristically, with one exception unaware of the aid which was
being rendered to a distressed damsel wretchedly incapable of decent
hypocrisy. Her intrepid lead had shown her hand to the colonel and
drawn the enemy at a blow.

Sir Willoughby's "in fine", however, did not please her: still less did
his lackadaisical Lothario-like bowing and smiling to Miss Dale: and he
perceived it and was hurt. For how, carrying his tremendous load, was
he to compete with these unhandicapped men in the game of nonsense she
had such a fondness for starting at a table? He was further annoyed to
hear Miss Eleanor and Miss Isabel Patterne agree together that
"caricature" was the final word of the definition. Relatives should
know better than to deliver these awards to us in public.

"Well?" quoth Lady Busshe, expressive of stupefaction at the strange
dust she had raised.

"Are they on view, Miss Middleton?" inquired Lady Culmer.

"There's a regiment of us on view and ready for inspection." Colonel De
Craye bowed to her, but she would not be foiled.

"Miss Middleton's admirers are always on view." said he.

"Are they to be seen?" said Lady Busshe.

Clara made her face a question, with a laudable smoothness.

"The wedding-presents," Lady Culmer explained.

"No."

"Otherwise, my dear, we are in danger of duplicating and triplicating
and quadruplicating, not at all to the satisfaction of the bride."

"But there's a worse danger to encounter in the 'on view', my lady,"
said De Craye; "and that's the magnetic attraction a display of
wedding-presents is sure to have for the ineffable burglar, who must
have a nuptial soul in him, for wherever there's that collection on
view, he's never a league off. And 'tis said he knows a lady's
dressing-case presented to her on the occasion fifteen years after the
event."

"As many as fifteen?" said Mrs. Mountstuart.

"By computation of the police. And if the presents are on view, dogs
are of no use, nor bolts, nor bars:--he's worse than Cupid. The only
protection to be found, singular as it may be thought, is in a couple
of bottles of the oldest Jamaica rum in the British isles."

"Rum?" cried Lady Busshe.

"The liquor of the Royal Navy, my lady. And with your permission, I'll
relate the tale in proof of it. I had a friend engaged to a young lady,
niece of an old sea-captain of the old school, the Benbow school, the
wooden leg and pigtail school; a perfectly salt old gentleman with a
pickled tongue, and a dash of brine in every deed he committed. He
looked rolled over to you by the last wave on the shore, sparkling: he
was Neptune's own for humour. And when his present to the bride was
opened, sure enough there lay a couple of bottles of the oldest Jamaica
rum in the British Isles, born before himself, and his father to boot.
'Tis a fabulous spirit I beg you to believe in, my lady, the sole merit
of the story being its portentous veracity. The bottles were tied to
make them appear twins, as they both had the same claim to seniority.
And there was a label on them, telling their great age, to maintain
their identity. They were in truth a pair of patriarchal bottles
rivalling many of the biggest houses in the kingdom for antiquity. They
would have made the donkey that stood between the two bundles of hay
look at them with obliquity: supposing him to have, for an animal, a
rum taste, and a turn for hilarity. Wonderful old bottles! So, on the
label, just over the date, was written large: UNCLE BENJAMIN'S WEDDING
PRESENT TO HIS NIECE BESSY. Poor Bessy shed tears of disappointment and
indignation enough to float the old gentleman on his native element,
ship and all. She vowed it was done curmudgeonly to vex her, because
her uncle hated wedding-presents and had grunted at the exhibition of
cups and saucers, and this and that beautiful service, and epergnes and
inkstands, mirrors, knives and forks, dressing-cases, and the whole
mighty category. She protested, she flung herself about, she declared
those two ugly bottles should not join the exhibition in the
dining-room, where it was laid out for days, and the family ate their
meals where they could, on the walls, like flies. But there was also
Uncle Benjamin's legacy on view, in the distance, so it was ruled
against her that the bottles should have their place. And one fine
morning down came the family after a fearful row of the domestics;
shouting, screaming, cries for the police, and murder topping all. What
did they see? They saw two prodigious burglars extended along the
floor, each with one of the twin bottles in his hand, and a remainder
of the horror of the midnight hanging about his person like a blown
fog, sufficient to frighten them whilst they kicked the rascals
entirely intoxicated. Never was wilder disorder of wedding-presents,
and not one lost!--owing, you'll own, to Uncle Benjy's two bottles of
ancient Jamaica rum."

Colonel De Craye concluded with an asseveration of the truth of the
story.

"A most provident, far-sighted old sea-captain!" exclaimed Mrs.
Mountstuart, laughing at Lady Busshe and Lady Culmer. These ladies
chimed in with her gingerly.

"And have you many more clever stories, Colonel De Craye?" said Lady
Busshe.

"Ah! my lady, when the tree begins to count its gold 'tis nigh upon
bankruptcy."

"Poetic!" ejaculated Lady Culmer, spying at Miss Middleton's rippled
countenance, and noting that she and Sir Willoughby had not
interchanged word or look.

"But that in the case of your Patterne Port a bottle of it would
outvalue the catalogue of nuptial presents, Willoughby, I would
recommend your stationing some such constabulary to keep watch and
ward." said Dr. Middleton, as he filled his glass, taking Bordeaux in
the middle of the day, under a consciousness of virtue and its reward
to come at half-past seven in the evening.

"The rascals would require a dozen of that, sir," said De Craye.

"Then it is not to be thought of. Indeed one!" Dr. Middleton negatived
the idea.

"We are no further advanced than when we began," observed Lady Busshe.

"If we are marked to go by stages," Mrs. Mountstuart assented.

"Why, then, we shall be called old coaches," remarked the colonel.

"You," said Lady Culmer, "have the advantage of us in a closer
acquaintance with Miss Middleton. You know her tastes, and how far they
have been consulted in the little souvenirs already grouped somewhere,
although not yet for inspection. I am at sea. And here is Lady Busshe
in deadly alarm. There is plenty of time to effect a change--though we
are drawing on rapidly to the fatal day, Miss Middleton. We are, we are
very near it. Oh! yes. I am one who thinks that these little affairs
should be spoken of openly, without that ridiculous bourgeois
affectation, so that we may be sure of giving satisfaction. It is a
transaction like everything else in life. I, for my part, wish to be
remembered favourably. I put it as a test of breeding to speak of these
things as plain matter-of-fact. You marry; I wish you to have something
by you to remind you of me. What shall it be?--useful or ornamental.
For an ordinary household the choice is not difficult. But where wealth
abounds we are in a dilemma."

"And with persons of decided tastes," added Lady Busshe.

"I am really very unhappy," she protested to Clara.

Sir Willoughby dropped Laetitia; Clara's look of a sedate resolution to
preserve silence on the topic of the nuptial gifts made a diversion
imperative.

"Your porcelain was exquisitely chosen, and I profess to be a
connoisseur," he said. "I am poor in Old Saxony, as you know; I can
match the country in Savres, and my inheritance of China will not
easily be matched in the country."

"You may consider your Dragon vases a present from young Crossjay,"
said De Craye.

"How?"

"Hasn't he abstained from breaking them? the capital boy! Porcelain
and a boy in the house together is a case of prospective disaster fully
equal to Flitch and a fly."

"You should understand that my friend Horace--whose wit is in this
instance founded on another tale of a boy--brought us a magnificent
piece of porcelain, destroyed by the capsizing of his conveyance from
the station," said Sir Willoughby to Lady Busshe.

She and Lady Culmer gave out lamentable Ohs, while Miss Eleanor and
Miss Isabel Patterne sketched the incident. Then the lady visitors
fixed their eyes in united sympathy upon Clara: recovering from which,
after a contemplation of marble, Lady Busshe emphasized, "No, you do
not love porcelain, it is evident, Miss Middleton."

"I am glad to be assured of it," said Lady Culmer.

"Oh, I know that face: I know that look," Lady Busshe affected to
remark rallyingly: "it is not the first time I have seen it."

Sir Willoughby smarted to his marrow. "We will rout these fancies of an
overscrupulous generosity, my dear Lady Busshe."

Her unwonted breach of delicacy in speaking publicly of her present,
and the vulgar persistency of her sticking to the theme, very much
perplexed him. And if he mistook her not, she had just alluded to the
demoniacal Constantia Durham.

It might be that he had mistaken her: he was on guard against his
terrible sensitiveness. Nevertheless it was hard to account for this
behaviour of a lady greatly his friend and admirer, a lady of birth.
And Lady Culmer as well!--likewise a lady of birth. Were they in
collusion? had they a suspicion? He turned to Laetitia's face for the
antidote to his pain.

"Oh, but you are not one yet, and I shall require two voices to
convince me," Lady Busshe rejoined, after another stare at the marble.

"Lady Busshe, I beg you not to think me ungrateful," said Clara.

"Fiddle!--gratitude! it is to please your taste, to satisfy you. I
care for gratitude as little as for flattery."

"But gratitude is flattering," said Vernon.

"Now, no metaphysics, Mr. Whitford."

"But do care a bit for flattery, my lady," said De Craye. "'Tis the
finest of the Arts; we might call it moral sculpture. Adepts in it can
cut their friends to any shape they like by practising it with the
requisite skill. I myself, poor hand as I am, have made a man act
Solomon by constantly praising his wisdom. He took a sagacious turn at
an early period of the dose. He weighed the smallest question of his
daily occasions with a deliberation truly oriental. Had I pushed it,
he'd have hired a baby and a couple of mothers to squabble over the
undivided morsel."

"I shall hope for a day in London with you," said Lady Culmer to Clara.

"You did not forget the Queen of Sheba?" said Mrs. Mountstuart to De
Craye.

"With her appearance, the game has to be resigned to her entirely," he
rejoined.

"That is," Lady Culmer continued, "if you do not despise an old woman
for your comrade on a shopping excursion."

"Despise whom we fleece!" exclaimed Dr. Middleton. "Oh, no, Lady
Culmer, the sheep is sacred."

"I am not so sure," said Vernon.

"In what way, and to what extent, are you not so sure?" said Dr.
Middleton.

"The natural tendency is to scorn the fleeced."

"I stand for the contrary. Pity, if you like: particularly when they
bleat."

"This is to assume that makers of gifts are a fleeced people: I demur,"
said Mrs. Mountstuart.

"Madam, we are expected to give; we are incited to give; you have
dubbed it the fashion to give; and the person refusing to give, or
incapable of giving, may anticipate that he will be regarded as
benignly as a sheep of a drooping and flaccid wool by the farmer, who
is reminded by the poor beast's appearance of a strange dog that
worried the flock. Even Captain Benjamin, as you have seen, was unable
to withstand the demand on him. The hymeneal pair are licensed
freebooters levying blackmail on us; survivors of an uncivilized
period. But in taking without mercy, I venture to trust that the
manners of a happier era instruct them not to scorn us. I apprehend
that Mr. Whitford has a lower order of latrons in his mind."

"Permit me to say, sir, that you have not considered the ignoble aspect
of the fleeced," said Vernon. "I appeal to the ladies: would they not,
if they beheld an ostrich walking down a Queen's Drawing Room,
clean-plucked, despise him though they were wearing his plumes?"

"An extreme supposition, indeed," said Dr. Middleton, frowning over it;
"scarcely legitimately to be suggested."

"I think it fair, sir, as an instance."

"Has the circumstance occurred, I would ask?"

"In life? a thousand times."

"I fear so," said Mrs. Mountstuart.

Lady Busshe showed symptoms of a desire to leave a profitless table.

Vernon started up, glancing at the window.

"Did you see Crossjay?" he said to Clara.

"No; I must, if he is there," said she.

She made her way out, Vernon after her. They both had the excuse.

"Which way did the poor boy go?" she asked him.

"I have not the slightest idea," he replied. "But put on your bonnet,
if you would escape that pair of inquisitors."

"Mr. Whitford, what humiliation!"

"I suspect you do not feel it the most, and the end of it can't be
remote," said he.

Thus it happened that when Lady Busshe and Lady Culmer quitted the
dining-room, Miss Middleton had spirited herself away from summoning
voice and messenger.

Sir Willoughby apologized for her absence. "If I could be jealous, it
would be of that boy Crossjay."

"You are an excellent man, and the best of cousins," was Lady Busshe's
enigmatical answer.

The exceedingly lively conversation at his table was lauded by Lady
Culmer.

"Though," said she, "what it all meant, and what was the drift of it, I
couldn't tell to save my life. Is it every day the same with you here?"

"Very much."

"How you must enjoy a spell of dulness!"

"If you said simplicity and not talking for effect! I generally cast
anchor by Laetitia Dale."

"Ah!" Lady Busshe coughed. "But the fact is, Mrs. Mountstuart is made
for cleverness!"

"I think, my lady, Laetitia Dale is to the full as clever as any of the
stars Mrs. Mountstuart assembles, or I."

"Talkative cleverness, I mean."

"In conversation as well. Perhaps you have not yet given her a chance."

"Yes, yes, she is clever, of course, poor dear. She is looking better
too."

"Handsome, I thought," said Lady Culmer.

"She varies," observed Sir Willoughby.

The ladies took seat in their carriage and fell at once into a
close-bonnet colloquy. Not a single allusion had they made to the
wedding-presents after leaving the luncheon-table. The cause of their
visit was obvious.



CHAPTER XXXVII

CONTAINS CLEVER FENCING AND INTIMATIONS OF THE NEED FOR IT

That woman, Lady Busshe, had predicted, after the event, Constantia
Durham's defection. She had also, subsequent to Willoughby's departure
on his travels, uttered sceptical things concerning his rooted
attachment to Laetitia Dale. In her bitter vulgarity, that beaten rival
of Mrs. Mountstuart Jenkinson for the leadership of the county had
taken his nose for a melancholy prognostic of his fortunes; she had
recently played on his name: she had spoken the hideous English of his
fate. Little as she knew, she was alive to the worst interpretation of
appearances. No other eulogy occurred to her now than to call him the
best of cousins, because Vernon Whitford was housed and clothed and fed
by him. She had nothing else to say for a man she thought luckless!
She was a woman barren of wit, stripped of style, but she was wealthy
and a gossip--a forge of showering sparks--and she carried Lady Culmer
with her. The two had driven from his house to spread the malignant
rumour abroad; already they blew the biting world on his raw wound.
Neither of them was like Mrs. Mountstuart, a witty woman, who could be
hoodwinked; they were dull women, who steadily kept on their own scent
of the fact, and the only way to confound such inveterate forces was to
be ahead of them, and seize and transform the expected fact, and
astonish them, when they came up to him, with a totally unanticipated
fact.

"You see, you were in error, ladies."

"And so we were, Sir Willoughby, and we acknowledge it. We never could
have guessed that!"

Thus the phantom couple in the future delivered themselves, as well
they might at the revelation. He could run far ahead.

Ay, but to combat these dolts, facts had to be encountered, deeds done,
in groaning earnest. These representatives of the pig-sconces of the
population judged by circumstances: airy shows and seems had no effect
on them. Dexterity of fence was thrown away.

A flying peep at the remorseless might of dulness in compelling us to a
concrete performance counter to our inclinations, if we would deceive
its terrible instinct, gave Willoughby for a moment the survey of a
sage. His intensity of personal feeling struck so vivid an illumination
of mankind at intervals that he would have been individually wise, had
he not been moved by the source of his accurate perceptions to a
personal feeling of opposition to his own sagacity. He loathed and he
despised the vision, so his mind had no benefit of it, though he
himself was whipped along. He chose rather (and the choice is open to
us all) to be flattered by the distinction it revealed between himself
and mankind.

But if he was not as others were, why was he discomfited, solicitous,
miserable? To think that it should be so, ran dead against his
conqueror's theories wherein he had been trained, which, so long as he
gained success awarded success to native merit, grandeur to the grand
in soul, as light kindles light: nature presents the example. His
early training, his bright beginning of life, had taught him to look to
earth's principal fruits as his natural portion, and it was owing to a
girl that he stood a mark for tongues, naked, wincing at the possible
malignity of a pair of harridans. Why not whistle the girl away?

Why, then he would be free to enjoy, careless, younger than his youth
in the rebound to happiness!

And then would his nostrils begin to lift and sniff at the creeping up
of a thick pestiferous vapour. Then in that volume of stench would he
discern the sullen yellow eye of malice. A malarious earth would hunt
him all over it. The breath of the world, the world's view of him, was
partly his vital breath, his view of himself. The ancestry of the
tortured man had bequeathed him this condition of high civilization
among their other bequests. Your withered contracted Egoists of the hut
and the grot reck not of public opinion; they crave but for liberty and
leisure to scratch themselves and soothe an excessive scratch.
Willoughby was expansive, a blooming one, born to look down upon a
tributary world, and to exult in being looked to. Do we wonder at his
consternation in the prospect of that world's blowing foul on him?
Princes have their obligations to teach them they are mortal, and the
brilliant heir of a tributary world is equally enchained by the homage
it brings him;--more, inasmuch as it is immaterial, elusive, not
gathered by the tax, and he cannot capitally punish the treasonable
recusants. Still must he be brilliant; he must court his people. He
must ever, both in his reputation and his person, aching though he be,
show them a face and a leg.

The wounded gentleman shut himself up in his laboratory, where he could
stride to and fro, and stretch out his arms for physical relief, secure
from observation of his fantastical shapes, under the idea that he was
meditating. There was perhaps enough to make him fancy it in the heavy
fire of shots exchanged between his nerves and the situation; there
were notable flashes. He would not avow that he was in an agony: it was
merely a desire for exercise.

Quintessence of worldliness, Mrs. Mountstuart appeared through his
farthest window, swinging her skirts on a turn at the end of the lawn,
with Horace De Craye smirking beside her. And the woman's vaunted
penetration was unable to detect the histrionic Irishism of the fellow.
Or she liked him for his acting and nonsense; nor she only. The voluble
beast was created to snare women. Willoughby became smitten with an
adoration of stedfastness in women. The incarnation of that divine
quality crossed his eyes. She was clad in beauty. A horrible
nondescript convulsion composed of yawn and groan drove him to his
instruments, to avert a renewal of the shock; and while arranging and
fixing them for their unwonted task, he compared himself advantageously
with men like Vernon and De Craye, and others of the county, his
fellows in the hunting-field and on the Magistrate's bench, who neither
understood nor cared for solid work, beneficial practical work, the
work of Science.

He was obliged to relinquish it: his hand shook.

"Experiments will not advance much at this rate," he said, casting the
noxious retardation on his enemies.

It was not to be contested that he must speak with Mrs Mountstuart,
however he might shrink from the trial of his facial muscles. Her not
coming to him seemed ominous: nor was her behaviour at the
luncheon-table quite obscure. She had evidently instigated the
gentlemen to cross and counterchatter Lady Busshe and Lady Culmer. For
what purpose?

Clara's features gave the answer.

They were implacable. And he could be the same.

In the solitude of his room he cried right out: "I swear it, I will
never yield her to Horace De Craye! She shall feel some of my torments,
and try to get the better of them by knowing she deserves them." He had
spoken it, and it was an oath upon the record.

Desire to do her intolerable hurt became an ecstasy in his veins, and
produced another stretching fit that terminated in a violent shake of
the body and limbs; during which he was a spectacle for Mrs.
Mountstuart at one of the windows. He laughed as he went to her,
saying: "No, no work to-day; it won't be done, positively refuses."

"I am taking the Professor away," said she; "he is fidgety about the
cold he caught."

Sir Willoughby stepped out to her. "I was trying at a bit of work for
an hour, not to be idle all day."

"You work in that den of yours every day?"

"Never less than an hour, if I can snatch it."

"It is a wonderful resource!"

The remark set him throbbing and thinking that a prolongation of his
crisis exposed him to the approaches of some organic malady, possibly
heart-disease.

"A habit," he said. "In there I throw off the world."

"We shall see some results in due time."

"I promise none: I like to be abreast of the real knowledge of my day,
that is all."

"And a pearl among country gentlemen!"

"In your gracious consideration, my dear lady. Generally speaking, it
would be more advisable to become a chatterer and keep an anecdotal
note-book. I could not do it, simply because I could not live with my
own emptiness for the sake of making an occasional display of
fireworks. I aim at solidity. It is a narrow aim, no doubt; not much
appreciated."

"Laetitia Dale appreciates it."

A smile of enforced ruefulness, like a leaf curling in heat, wrinkled
his mouth.

Why did she not speak of her conversation with Clara?

"Have they caught Crossjay?" he said.

"Apparently they are giving chase to him."

The likelihood was, that Clara had been overcome by timidity.

"Must you leave us?"

"I think it prudent to take Professor Crooklyn away."

"He still . . . ?"

"The extraordinary resemblance!"

"A word aside to Dr. Middleton will dispel that."

"You are thoroughly good."

This hateful encomium of commiseration transfixed him. Then she knew of
his calamity!

"Philosophical," he said, "would be the proper term, I think."

"Colonel De Craye, by the way, promises me a visit when he leaves you."

"To-morrow?"

"The earlier the better. He is too captivating; he is delightful. He
won me in five minutes. I don't accuse him. Nature gifted him to cast
the spell. We are weak women, Sir Willoughby."

She knew!

"Like to like: the witty to the witty, ma'am."

"You won't compliment me with a little bit of jealousy?"

"I forbear from complimenting him."

"Be philosophical, of course, if you have the philosophy."

"I pretend to it. Probably I suppose myself to succeed because I have
no great requirement of it; I cannot say. We are riddles to ourselves."

Mrs. Mountstuart pricked the turf with the point of her parasol. She
looked down and she looked up.

"Well?" said he to her eyes.

"Well, and where is Laetitia Dale?"

He turned about to show his face elsewhere.

When he fronted her again, she looked very fixedly, and set her head
shaking.

"It will not do, my dear Sir Willoughby!"

"What?"

"I never could solve enigmas."

"Playing ta-ta-ta-ta ad infinitum, then. Things have gone far. All
parties would be happier for an excursion. Send her home."

"Laetitia? I can't part with her."

Mrs. Mountstuart put a tooth on her under lip as her head renewed its
brushing negative.

"In what way can it be hurtful that she should be here, ma'am?" he
ventured to persist.

"Think."

"She is proof."

"Twice!"

The word was big artillery. He tried the affectation of a staring
stupidity. She might have seen his heart thump, and he quitted the mask
for an agreeable grimace.

"She is inaccessible. She is my friend. I guarantee her, on my honour.
Have no fear for her. I beg you to have confidence in me. I would
perish rather. No soul on earth is to be compared with her."

Mrs. Mountstuart repeated "Twice!"

The low monosyllable, musically spoken in the same tone of warning of a
gentle ghost, rolled a thunder that maddened him, but he dared not take
it up to fight against it on plain terms.

"Is it for my sake?" he said.

"It will not do, Sir Willoughby."

She spurred him to a frenzy.

"My dear Mrs. Mountstuart, you have been listening to tales. I am not a
tyrant. I am one of the most easy-going of men. Let us preserve the
forms due to society: I say no more. As for poor old Vernon, people
call me a good sort of cousin; I should like to see him comfortably
married; decently married this time. I have proposed to contribute to
his establishment. I mention it to show that the case has been
practically considered. He has had a tolerably souring experience of
the state; he might be inclined if, say, you took him in hand, for
another venture. It's a demoralizing lottery. However, Government
sanctions it."

"But, Sir Willoughby, what is the use of my taking him in hand when, as
you tell me, Laetitia Dale holds back?"

"She certainly does."

"Then we are talking to no purpose, unless you undertake to melt her."

He suffered a lurking smile to kindle to some strength of meaning.

"You are not over-considerate in committing me to such an office."

"You are afraid of the danger?" she all but sneered.

Sharpened by her tone, he said, "I have such a love of stedfastness of
character, that I should be a poor advocate in the endeavour to break
it. And frankly, I know the danger. I saved my honour when I made the
attempt: that is all I can say."

"Upon my word," Mrs. Mountstuart threw back her head to let her eyes
behold him summarily over their fine aquiline bridge, "you have the art
of mystification, my good friend."

"Abandon the idea of Laetitia Dale."

"And marry your cousin Vernon to whom? Where are we?"

"As I said, ma'am, I am an easy-going man. I really have not a spice of
the tyrant in me. An intemperate creature held by the collar may have
that notion of me, while pulling to be released as promptly as it
entered the noose. But I do strictly and sternly object to the scandal
of violent separations, open breaches of solemn engagements, a public
rupture. Put it that I am the cause, I will not consent to a violation
of decorum. Is that clear? It is just possible for things to be
arranged so that all parties may be happy in their way without much
hubbub. Mind, it is not I who have willed it so. I am, and I am forced
to be, passive. But I will not be obstructive."

He paused, waving his hand to signify the vanity of the more that might
be said.

Some conception of him, dashed by incredulity, excited the lady's
intelligence.

"Well!" she exclaimed, "you have planted me in the land of conjecture.
As my husband used to say, I don't see light, but I think I see the
lynx that does. We won't discuss it at present. I certainly must be a
younger woman than I supposed, for I am learning hard.--Here comes the
Professor, buttoned up to the ears, and Dr. Middleton flapping in the
breeze. There will be a cough, and a footnote referring to the young
lady at the station, if we stand together, so please order my
carriage."

"You found Clara complacent? roguish?"

"I will call to-morrow. You have simplified my task, Sir Willoughby,
very much; that is, assuming that I have not entirely mistaken you. I
am so far in the dark that I have to help myself by recollecting how
Lady Busshe opposed my view of a certain matter formerly. Scepticism is
her forte. It will be the very oddest thing if after all . . . ! No, I
shall own, romance has not departed. Are you fond of dupes?"

"I detest the race."

"An excellent answer. I could pardon you for it." She refrained from
adding, "If you are making one of me."

Sir Willoughby went to ring for her carriage.

She knew. That was palpable: Clara had betrayed him.

"The earlier Colonel De Craye leaves Patterne Hall the better:" she had
said that: and, "all parties would be happier for an excursion." She
knew the position of things and she guessed the remainder. But what she
did not know, and could not divine, was the man who fenced her. He
speculated further on the witty and the dull. These latter are the
redoubtable body. They will have facts to convince them: they had, he
confessed it to himself, precipitated him into the novel sphere of his
dark hints to Mrs. Mountstuart; from which the utter darkness might
allow him to escape, yet it embraced him singularly, and even
pleasantly, with the sense of a fact established.

It embraced him even very pleasantly. There was an end to his tortures.
He sailed on a tranquil sea, the husband of a stedfast woman--no rogue.
The exceeding beauty of stedfastness in women clothed Laetitia in
graces Clara could not match. A tried stedfast woman is the one jewel
of the sex. She points to her husband like the sunflower; her love
illuminates him; she lives in him, for him; she testifies to his worth;
she drags the world to his feet; she leads the chorus of his praises;
she justifies him in his own esteem. Surely there is not on earth such
beauty!

If we have to pass through anguish to discover it and cherish the peace
it gives to clasp it, calling it ours, is a full reward. Deep in his
reverie, he said his adieus to Mrs. Mountstuart, and strolled up the
avenue behind the carriage-wheels, unwilling to meet Laetitia till he
had exhausted the fresh savour of the cud of fancy.

Supposing it done!--

It would be generous on his part. It would redound to his credit.

His home would be a fortress, impregnable to tongues. He would have
divine security in his home.

One who read and knew and worshipped him would be sitting there
star-like: sitting there, awaiting him, his fixed star.

It would be marriage with a mirror, with an echo; marriage with a
shining mirror, a choric echo.

It would be marriage with an intellect, with a fine understanding; to
make his home a fountain of repeatable wit: to make his dear old
Patterne Hall the luminary of the county.

He revolved it as a chant: with anon and anon involuntarily a
discordant animadversion on Lady Busshe. Its attendant imps heard the
angry inward cry.

Forthwith he set about painting Laetitia in delectable human colours,
like a miniature of the past century, reserving her ideal figure for
his private satisfaction. The world was to bow to her visible beauty,
and he gave her enamel and glow, a taller stature, a swimming air, a
transcendency that exorcized the image of the old witch who had driven
him to this.

The result in him was, that Laetitia became humanly and avowedly
beautiful. Her dark eyelashes on the pallor of her cheeks lent their
aid to the transformation, which was a necessity to him, so it was
performed. He received the waxen impression.

His retinue of imps had a revel. We hear wonders of men, and we see a
lifting up of hands in the world. The wonders would be explained, and
never a hand need to interject, if the mystifying man were but
accompanied by that monkey-eyed confraternity. They spy the heart and
its twists.

The heart is the magical gentleman. None of them would follow where
there was no heart. The twists of the heart are the comedy.

"The secret of the heart is its pressing love of self ", says the Book.

By that secret the mystery of the organ is legible: and a comparison of
the heart to the mountain rillet is taken up to show us the unbaffled
force of the little channel in seeking to swell its volume,
strenuously, sinuously, ever in pursuit of self; the busiest as it is
the most single-aiming of forces on our earth. And we are directed to
the sinuosities for posts of observation chiefly instructive.

Few maintain a stand there. People see, and they rush away to
interchange liftings of hands at the sight, instead of patiently
studying the phenomenon of energy.

Consequently a man in love with one woman, and in all but absolute
consciousness, behind the thinnest of veils, preparing his mind to love
another, will be barely credible. The particular hunger of the forceful
but adaptable heart is the key of him. Behold the mountain rillet,
become a brook, become a torrent, how it inarms a handsome boulder: yet
if the stone will not go with it, on it hurries, pursuing self in
extension, down to where perchance a dam has been raised of a
sufficient depth to enfold and keep it from inordinate restlessness.
Laetitia represented this peaceful restraining space in prospect.

But she was a faded young woman. He was aware of it; and
systematically looking at himself with her upturned orbs, he accepted
her benevolently as a God grateful for worship, and used the divinity
she imparted to paint and renovate her. His heart required her so. The
heart works the springs of imagination; imagination received its
commission from the heart, and was a cunning artist.

Cunning to such a degree of seductive genius that the masterpiece it
offered to his contemplation enabled him simultaneously to gaze on
Clara and think of Laetitia. Clara came through the park-gates with
Vernon, a brilliant girl indeed, and a shallow one: a healthy creature,
and an animal; attractive, but capricious, impatient, treacherous,
foul; a woman to drag men through the mud. She approached.



CHAPTER XXXVIII

IN WHICH WE TAKE A STEP TO THE CENTRE OF EGOISM

They met; Vernon soon left them.

"You have not seen Crossjay?" Willoughby inquired.

"No," said Clara. "Once more I beg you to pardon him. He spoke falsely,
owing to his poor boy's idea of chivalry."

"The chivalry to the sex which commences in lies ends by creating the
woman's hero, whom we see about the world and in certain courts of
law."

His ability to silence her was great: she could not reply to speech
like that.

"You have," said he, "made a confidante of Mrs. Mountstuart."

"Yes."

"This is your purse."

"I thank you."

"Professor Crooklyn has managed to make your father acquainted with
your project. That, I suppose, is the railway ticket in the fold of the
purse. He was assured at the station that you had taken a ticket to
London, and would not want the fly."

"It is true. I was foolish."

"You have had a pleasant walk with Vernon--turning me in and out?"

"We did not speak of you. You allude to what he would never consent
to."

"He's an honest fellow, in his old-fashioned way. He's a secret old
fellow. Does he ever talk about his wife to you?"

Clara dropped her purse, and stooped and picked it up.

"I know nothing of Mr. Whitford's affairs," she said, and she opened
the purse and tore to pieces the railway ticket.

"The story's a proof that romantic spirits do not furnish the most
romantic history. You have the word 'chivalry' frequently on your lips.
He chivalrously married the daughter of the lodging-house where he
resided before I took him. We obtained information of the auspicious
union in a newspaper report of Mrs. Whitford's drunkenness and rioting
at a London railway terminus--probably the one whither your ticket
would have taken you yesterday, for I heard the lady was on her way to
us for supplies, the connubial larder being empty."

"I am sorry; I am ignorant; I have heard nothing; I know nothing," said
Clara.

"You are disgusted. But half the students and authors you hear of marry
in that way. And very few have Vernon's luck."

"She had good qualities?" asked Clara.

Her under lip hung.

It looked like disgust; he begged her not indulge the feeling.

"Literary men, it is notorious, even with the entry to society, have no
taste in women. The housewife is their object. Ladies frighten and
would, no doubt, be an annoyance and hindrance to them at home."

"You said he was fortunate."

"You have a kindness for him."

"I respect him."

"He is a friendly old fellow in his awkward fashion; honourable, and so
forth. But a disreputable alliance of that sort sticks to a man. The
world will talk. Yes, he was fortunate so far; he fell into the mire
and got out of it. Were he to marry again . . ."

"She . . ."

"Died. Do not be startled; it was a natural death. She responded to the
sole wishes left to his family. He buried the woman, and I received
him. I took him on my tour. A second marriage might cover the first:
there would be a buzz about the old business: the woman's relatives
write to him still, try to bleed him, I dare say. However, now you
understand his gloominess. I don't imagine he regrets his loss. He
probably sentimentalizes, like most men when they are well rid of a
burden. You must not think the worse of him."

"I do not," said Clara.

"I defend him whenever the matter's discussed."

"I hope you do."

"Without approving his folly. I can't wash him clean."

They were at the Hall-doors. She waited for any personal communications
he might be pleased to make, and as there was none, she ran upstairs to
her room.

He had tossed her to Vernon in his mind, not only painlessly, but with
a keen acid of satisfaction. The heart is the wizard.

Next he bent his deliberate steps to Laetitia.

The mind was guilty of some hesitation; the feet went forward.

She was working at an embroidery by an open window. Colonel De Craye
leaned outside, and Willoughby pardoned her air of demure amusement, on
hearing him say: "No, I have had one of the pleasantest half-hours of
my life, and would rather idle here, if idle you will have it, than
employ my faculties on horse-back,"

"Time is not lost in conversing with Miss Dale," said Willoughby.

The light was tender to her complexion where she sat in partial shadow.

De Craye asked whether Crossjay had been caught.

Laetitia murmured a kind word for the boy. Willoughby examined her
embroidery.

The ladies Eleanor and Isabel appeared.

They invited her to take carriage exercise with them.

Laetitia did not immediately answer, and Willoughby remarked: "Miss
Dale has been reproving Horace for idleness and I recommend you to
enlist him to do duty, while I relieve him here."

The ladies had but to look at the colonel. He was at their disposal, if
they would have him. He was marched to the carriage.

Laetitia plied her threads.

"Colonel De Craye spoke of Crossjay," she said. "May I hope you have
forgiven the poor boy, Sir Willoughby?"

He replied: "Plead for him."

"I wish I had eloquence."

"In my opinion you have it."

"If he offends, it is never from meanness. At school, among comrades,
he would shine. He is in too strong a light; his feelings and his moral
nature are over-excited."

"That was not the case when he was at home with you."

"I am severe; I am stern."

"A Spartan mother!"

"My system of managing a boy would be after that model: except in this:
he should always feet that he could obtain forgiveness."

"Not at the expense of justice?"

"Ah! young creatures are not to be arraigned before the higher Courts.
It seems to me perilous to terrify their imaginations. If we do so,
are we not likely to produce the very evil we are combating? The
alternations for the young should be school and home: and it should be
in their hearts to have confidence that forgiveness alternates with
discipline. They are of too tender an age for the rigours of the world;
we are in danger of hardening them. I prove to you that I am not
possessed of eloquence. You encouraged me to speak, Sir Willoughby."

"You speak wisely, Laetitia."

"I think it true. Will not you reflect on it? You have only to do so to
forgive him. I am growing bold indeed, and shall have to beg
forgiveness for myself."

"You still write? you continue to work with your pen?" said Willoughby.

"A little; a very little."

"I do not like you to squander yourself, waste yourself, on the public.
You are too precious to feed the beast. Giving out incessantly must end
by attenuating. Reserve yourself for your friends. Why should they be
robbed of so much of you? Is it not reasonable to assume that by lying
fallow you would be more enriched for domestic life? Candidly, had I
authority I would confiscate your pen: I would 'away with that bauble'.
You will not often find me quoting Cromwell, but his words apply in
this instance. I would say rather, that lancet. Perhaps it is the more
correct term. It bleeds you, it wastes you. For what? For a breath of
fame!"

"I write for money."

"And there--I would say of another--you subject yourself to the risk of
mental degradation. Who knows?--moral! Trafficking the brains for money
must bring them to the level of the purchasers in time. I confiscate
your pen, Laetitia."

"It will be to confiscate your own gift, Sir Willoughby."

"Then that proves--will you tell me the date?"

"You sent me a gold pen-holder on my sixteenth birthday."

"It proves my utter thoughtlessness then, and later. And later!"

He rested an elbow on his knee, and covered his eyes, murmuring in that
profound hollow which is haunted by the voice of a contrite past: "And
later!"

The deed could be done. He had come to the conclusion that it could be
done, though the effort to harmonize the figure sitting near him, with
the artistic figure of his purest pigments, had cost him labour and a
blinking of the eyelids. That also could be done. Her pleasant tone,
sensible talk, and the light favouring her complexion, helped him in
his effort. She was a sober cup; sober and wholesome. Deliriousness is
for adolescence. The men who seek intoxicating cups are men who invite
their fates.

Curiously, yet as positively as things can be affirmed, the husband of
this woman would be able to boast of her virtues and treasures abroad,
as he could not--impossible to say why not--boast of a beautiful wife
or a blue-stocking wife. One of her merits as a wife would be this
extraordinary neutral merit of a character that demanded colour from
the marital hand, and would take it.

Laetitia had not to learn that he had much to distress him. Her wonder
at his exposure of his grief counteracted a fluttering of vague alarm.
She was nervous; she sat in expectation of some burst of regrets or of
passion.

"I may hope that you have pardoned Crossjay?" she said.

"My friend," said he, uncovering his face, "I am governed by
principles. Convince me of an error, I shall not obstinately pursue a
premeditated course. But you know me. Men who have not principles to
rule their conduct are--well, they are unworthy of a half hour of
companionship with you. I will speak to you to-night. I have letters to
dispatch. To-night: at twelve: in the room where we spoke last. Or
await me in the drawing-room. I have to attend to my guests till late."

He bowed; he was in a hurry to go.

The deed could be done. It must be done; it was his destiny.



CHAPTER XXXIX

IN THE HEART OF THE EGOIST

But already he had begun to regard the deed as his executioner. He
dreaded meeting Clara. The folly of having retained her stood before
him. How now to look on her and keep a sane resolution unwavering? She
tempted to the insane. Had she been away, he could have walked through
the performance composed by the sense of doing a duty to himself;
perhaps faintly hating the poor wretch he made happy at last, kind to
her in a manner, polite. Clara's presence in the house previous to the
deed, and, oh, heaven! after it, threatened his wits. Pride? He had
none; he cast it down for her to trample it; he caught it back ere it
was trodden on. Yes; he had pride: he had it as a dagger in his breast:
his pride was his misery. But he was too proud to submit to misery.
"What I do is right." He said the words, and rectitude smoothed his
path, till the question clamoured for answer: Would the world
countenance and endorse his pride in Laetitia? At one time, yes. And
now? Clara's beauty ascended, laid a beam on him. We are on board the
labouring vessel of humanity in a storm, when cries and countercries
ring out, disorderliness mixes the crew, and the fury of
self-preservation divides: this one is for the ship, that one for his
life. Clara was the former to him, Laetitia the latter. But what if
there might not be greater safety in holding tenaciously to Clara than
in casting her off for Laetitia? No, she had done things to set his
pride throbbing in the quick. She had gone bleeding about first to one,
then to another; she had betrayed him to Vernon, and to Mrs.
Mountstuart; a look in the eyes of Horace De Craye said, to him as
well: to whom not? He might hold to her for vengeance; but that
appetite was short-lived in him if it ministered nothing to his
purposes. "I discard all idea of vengeance," he said, and thrilled
burningly to a smart in his admiration of the man who could be so
magnanimous under mortal injury; for the more admirable he, the more
pitiable. He drank a drop or two of self-pity like a poison, repelling
the assaults of public pity. Clara must be given up. It must be seen by
the world that, as he felt, the thing he did was right. Laocoon of his
own serpents, he struggled to a certain magnificence of attitude in the
muscular net of constrictions he flung around himself. Clara must be
given up. Oh, bright Abominable! She must be given up: but not to one
whose touch of her would be darts in the blood of the yielder, snakes
in his bed: she must be given up to an extinguisher; to be the second
wife of an old-fashioned semi-recluse, disgraced in his first. And were
it publicly known that she had been cast off, and had fallen on old
Vernon for a refuge, and part in spite, part in shame, part in
desperation, part in a fit of good sense under the circumstances,
espoused him, her beauty would not influence the world in its
judgement. The world would know what to think. As the instinct of
self-preservation whispered to Willoughby, the world, were it
requisite, might be taught to think what it assuredly would not think
if she should be seen tripping to the altar with Horace De Craye.
Self-preservation, not vengeance, breathed that whisper. He glanced at
her iniquity for a justification of it, without any desire to do her a
permanent hurt: he was highly civilized: but with a strong intention to
give her all the benefit of a scandal, supposing a scandal, or ordinary
tattle.

"And so he handed her to his cousin and secretary, Vernon Whitford, who
opened his mouth and shut his eyes."

You hear the world? How are we to stop it from chattering? Enough that
he had no desire to harm her. Some gentle anticipations of her being
tarnished were imperative; they came spontaneously to him; otherwise
the radiance of that bright Abominable in loss would have been
insufferable; he could not have borne it; he could never have
surrendered her. Moreover, a happy present effect was the result. He
conjured up the anticipated chatter and shrug of the world so vividly
that her beauty grew hectic with the stain, bereft of its formidable
magnetism. He could meet her calmly; he had steeled himself. Purity in
women was his principal stipulation, and a woman puffed at, was not
the person to cause him tremours.

Consider him indulgently: the Egoist is the Son of Himself. He is
likewise the Father. And the son loves the father, the father the son;
they reciprocate affection through the closest of ties; and shall they
view behaviour unkindly wounding either of them, not for each other's
dear sake abhorring the criminal? They would not injure you, but they
cannot consent to see one another suffer or crave in vain. The two rub
together in sympathy besides relationship to an intenser one. Are you,
without much offending, sacrificed by them, it is on the altar of their
mutual love, to filial piety or paternal tenderness: the younger has
offered a dainty morsel to the elder, or the elder to the younger.
Absorbed in their great example of devotion do they not think of you.
They are beautiful.

Yet is it most true that the younger has the passions of youth:
whereof will come division between them; and this is a tragic state.
They are then pathetic. This was the state of Sir Willoughby lending
ear to his elder, until he submitted to bite at the fruit proposed to
him--with how wry a mouth the venerable senior chose not to mark. At
least, as we perceive, a half of him was ripe of wisdom in his own
interests. The cruder half had but to be obedient to the leadership of
sagacity for his interests to be secured, and a filial disposition
assisted him; painfully indeed; but the same rare quality directed the
good gentleman to swallow his pain. That the son should bewail his fate
were a dishonour to the sire. He reverenced, and submitted. Thus, to
say, consider him indulgently, is too much an appeal for charity on
behalf of one requiring but initial anatomy--a slicing in halves--to
exonerate, perchance exalt him. The Egoist is our fountain-head,
primeval man: the primitive is born again, the elemental reconstituted.
Born again, into new conditions, the primitive may be highly polished
of men, and forfeit nothing save the roughness of his original nature.
He is not only his own father, he is ours; and he is also our son. We
have produced him, he us. Such were we, to such are we returning: not
other, sings the poet, than one who toilfully works his shallop against
the tide, "si brachia forte remisit":--let him haply relax the labour
of his arms, however high up the stream, and back he goes, "in pejus",
to the early principle of our being, with seeds and plants, that are as
carelessly weighed in the hand and as indiscriminately husbanded as our
humanity.

Poets on the other side may be cited for an assurance that the
primitive is not the degenerate: rather is he a sign of the
indestructibility of the race, of the ancient energy in removing
obstacles to individual growth; a sample of what we would be, had we
his concentrated power. He is the original innocent, the pure simple.
It is we who have fallen; we have melted into Society, diluted our
essence, dissolved. He stands in the midst monumentally, a land-mark of
the tough and honest old Ages, with the symbolic alphabet of striking
arms and running legs, our early language, scrawled over his person,
and the glorious first flint and arrow-head for his crest: at once the
spectre of the Kitchen-midden and our ripest issue.

But Society is about him. The occasional spectacle of the primitive
dangling on a rope has impressed his mind with the strength of his
natural enemy: from which uncongenial sight he has turned shuddering
hardly less to behold the blast that is blown upon a reputation where
one has been disrespectful of the many. By these means, through
meditation on the contrast of circumstances in life, a pulse of
imagination has begun to stir, and he has entered the upper sphere or
circle of spiritual Egoism: he has become the civilized Egoist;
primitive still, as sure as man has teeth, but developed in his manner
of using them.

Degenerate or not (and there is no just reason to suppose it) Sir
Willoughby was a social Egoist, fiercely imaginative in whatsoever
concerned him. He had discovered a greater realm than that of the
sensual appetites, and he rushed across and around it in his conquering
period with an Alexander's pride. On these wind-like journeys he had
carried Constantia, subsequently Clara; and however it may have been in
the case of Miss Durham, in that of Miss Middleton it is almost certain
she caught a glimpse of his interior from sheer fatigue in hearing him
discourse of it. What he revealed was not the cause of her sickness:
women can bear revelations--they are exciting: but the monotonousness.
He slew imagination. There is no direr disaster in love than the death
of imagination. He dragged her through the labyrinths of his
penetralia, in his hungry coveting to be loved more and still more,
more still, until imagination gave up the ghost, and he talked to her
plain hearing like a monster. It must have been that; for the spell of
the primitive upon women is masterful up to the time of contact.

"And so he handed her to his cousin and secretary, Vernon Whitford, who
opened his mouth and shut his eyes."

The urgent question was, how it was to be accomplished. Willoughby
worked at the subject with all his power of concentration: a power that
had often led him to feel and say, that as a barrister, a diplomatist,
or a general, he would have won his grades: and granting him a personal
interest in the business, he might have achieved eminence: he schemed
and fenced remarkably well.

He projected a scene, following expressions of anxiety on account of
old Vernon and his future settlement: and then Clara maintaining her
doggedness, to which he was now so accustomed that he could not
conceive a change in it--says he: "If you determine on breaking I give
you back your word on one condition." Whereupon she starts: he insists
on her promise: she declines: affairs resume their former footing; she
frets: she begs for the disclosure: he flatters her by telling her his
desire to keep her in the family: she is unilluminated, but strongly
moved by curiosity: he philosophizes on marriage "What are we? poor
creatures! we must get through life as we can, doing as much good as we
can to those we love; and think as you please, I love old Vernon. Am I
not giving you the greatest possible proof of it?" She will not see.
Then flatly out comes the one condition. That and no other. "Take
Vernon and I release you." She refuses. Now ensues the debate, all the
oratory being with him. "Is it because of his unfortunate first
marriage? You assured me you thought no worse of him," etc. She
declares the proposal revolting. He can distinguish nothing that should
offend her in a proposal to make his cousin happy if she will not him.
Irony and sarcasm relieve his emotions, but he convinces her he is
dealing plainly and intends generosity. She is confused; she speaks in
maiden fashion. He touches again on Vernon's early escapade. She does
not enjoy it. The scene closes with his bidding her reflect on it, and
remember the one condition of her release. Mrs. Mountstuart Jenkinson,
now reduced to believe that he burns to be free, is then called in for
an interview with Clara. His aunts Eleanor and Isabel besiege her.
Laetitia in passionate earnest besieges her. Her father is wrought on
to besiege her. Finally Vernon is attacked by Willoughby and Mrs.
Mountstuart:--and here, Willoughby chose to think, was the main
difficulty. But the girl has money; she is agreeable; Vernon likes her;
she is fond of his "Alps", they have tastes in common, he likes her
father, and in the end he besieges her. Will she yield? De Craye is
absent. There is no other way of shunning a marriage she is
incomprehensibly but frantically averse to. She is in the toils. Her
father will stay at Patterne Hall as long as his host desires it. She
hesitates, she is overcome; in spite of a certain nausea due to
Vernon's preceding alliance, she yields.

Willoughby revolved the entire drama in Clara's presence. It helped him
to look on her coolly. Conducting her to the dinner-table, he spoke of
Crossjay, not unkindly; and at table, he revolved the set of scenes
with a heated animation that took fire from the wine and the face of
his friend Horace, while he encouraged Horace to be flowingly Irish. He
nipped the fellow good-humouredly once or twice, having never felt so
friendly to him since the day of his arrival; but the position of
critic is instinctively taken by men who do not flow: and Patterne Port
kept Dr Middleton in a benevolent reserve when Willoughby decided that
something said by De Craye was not new, and laughingly accused him of
failing to consult his anecdotal notebook for the double-cross to his
last sprightly sally. "Your sallies are excellent, Horace, but spare us
your Aunt Sallies!" De Craye had no repartee, nor did Dr. Middleton
challenge a pun. We have only to sharpen our wits to trip your
seductive rattler whenever we may choose to think proper; and
evidently, if we condescended to it, we could do better than he. The
critic who has hatched a witticism is impelled to this opinion. Judging
by the smiles of the ladies, they thought so, too.

Shortly before eleven o'clock Dr. Middleton made a Spartan stand
against the offer of another bottle of Port. The regulation couple of
bottles had been consumed in equal partnership, and the Rev. Doctor
and his host were free to pay a ceremonial visit to the drawing-room,
where they were not expected. A piece of work of the elder ladies, a
silken boudoir sofa-rug, was being examined, with high approval of the
two younger. Vernon and Colonel De Craye had gone out in search of
Crossjay, one to Mr. Dale's cottage, the other to call at the head and
under-gamekeeper's. They were said to be strolling and smoking, for the
night was fine. Willoughby left the room and came back with the key of
Crossjay's door in his pocket. He foresaw that the delinquent might be
of service to him.

Laetitia and Clara sang together. Laetitia was flushed, Clara pale. At
eleven they saluted the ladies Eleanor and Isabel. Willoughby said
"Good-night" to each of them, contrasting as he did so the downcast
look of Laetitia with Clara's frigid directness. He divined that they
were off to talk over their one object of common interest, Crossjay.
Saluting his aunts, he took up the rug, to celebrate their diligence
and taste; and that he might make Dr. Middleton impatient for bed, he
provoked him to admire it, held it out and laid it out, and caused the
courteous old gentleman some confusion in hitting on fresh terms of
commendation.

Before midnight the room was empty. Ten minutes later Willoughby paid
it a visit, and found it untenanted by the person he had engaged to be
there. Vexed by his disappointment, he paced up and down, and chanced
abstractedly to catch the rug in his hand; for what purpose, he might
well ask himself; admiration of ladies' work, in their absence, was
unlikely to occur to him. Nevertheless, the touch of the warm, soft
silk was meltingly feminine. A glance at the mantel-piece clock told
him Laetitia was twenty minutes behind the hour. Her remissness might
endanger all his plans, alter the whole course of his life. The colours
in which he painted her were too lively to last; the madness in his
head threatened to subside. Certain it was that he could not be ready a
second night for the sacrifice he had been about to perform.

The clock was at the half hour after twelve. He flung the silken thing
on the central ottoman, extinguished the lamps, and walked out of the
room, charging the absent Laetitia to bear her misfortune with a
consciousness of deserving it.



CHAPTER XL

MIDNIGHT: SIR WILLOUGHBY AND LAETITIA: WITH YOUNG CROSSJAY UNDER A
COVERLET

Young Crossjay was a glutton at holidays and never thought of home till
it was dark. The close of the day saw him several miles away from the
Hall, dubious whether he would not round his numerous adventures by
sleeping at an inn; for he had lots of money, and the idea of jumping
up in the morning in a strange place was thrilling. Besides, when he
was shaken out of sleep by Sir Willoughby, he had been told that he was
to go, and not to show his face at Patterne again. On the other hand,
Miss Middleton had bidden him come back. There was little question with
him which person he should obey: he followed his heart.

Supper at an inn, where he found a company to listen to his adventures,
delayed him, and a short cut, intended to make up for it, lost him his
road. He reached the Hall very late, ready to be in love with the
horrible pleasure of a night's rest under the stars, if necessary. But
a candle burned at one of the back windows. He knocked, and a
kitchen-maid let him in. She had a bowl of hot soup prepared for him.
Crossjay tried a mouthful to please her. His head dropped over it. She
roused him to his feet, and he pitched against her shoulder. The dry
air of the kitchen department had proved too much for the tired
youngster. Mary, the maid, got him to step as firmly as he was able,
and led him by the back-way to the hall, bidding him creep noiselessly
to bed. He understood his position in the house, and though he could
have gone fast to sleep on the stairs, he took a steady aim at his room
and gained the door cat-like. The door resisted. He was appalled and
unstrung in a minute. The door was locked. Crossjay felt as if he were
in the presence of Sir Willoughby. He fled on ricketty legs, and had a
fall and bumps down half a dozen stairs. A door opened above. He rushed
across the hall to the drawing-room, invitingly open, and there
staggered in darkness to the ottoman and rolled himself in something
sleek and warm, soft as hands of ladies, and redolent of them; so
delicious that he hugged the folds about his head and heels. While he
was endeavouring to think where he was, his legs curled, his eyelids
shut, and he was in the thick of the day's adventures, doing yet more
wonderful things.

He heard his own name: that was quite certain. He knew that he heard it
with his ears, as he pursued the fleetest dreams ever accorded to
mortal. It did not mix: it was outside him, and like the danger-pole in
the ice, which the skater shooting hither and yonder comes on again, it
recurred; and now it marked a point in his career, how it caused him to
relax his pace; he began to circle, and whirled closer round it, until,
as at a blow, his heart knocked, he tightened himself, thought of
bolting, and lay dead-still to throb and hearken.

"Oh! Sir Willoughby," a voice had said.

The accents were sharp with alarm.

"My friend! my dearest!" was the answer.

"I came to speak of Crossjay."

"Will you sit here on the ottoman?"

"No, I cannot wait. I hoped I had heard Crossjay return. I would rather
not sit down. May I entreat you to pardon him when he comes home?"

"You, and you only, may do so. I permit none else. Of Crossjay
to-morrow."

"He may be lying in the fields. We are anxious."

"The rascal can take pretty good care of himself."

"Crossjay is perpetually meeting accidents."

"He shall be indemnified if he has had excess of punishment."

"I think I will say good-night, Sir Willoughby."

"When freely and unreservedly you have given me your hand."

There was hesitation.

"To say good-night?"

"I ask you for your hand."

"Good-night, Sir Willoughby."

"You do not give it. You are in doubt? Still? What language must I use
to convince you? And yet you know me. Who knows me but you? You have
always known me. You are my home and my temple. Have you forgotten your
verses of the day of my majority?

       'The dawn-star has arisen
         In plenitude of light . . .'"

"Do not repeat them, pray!" cried Laetitia, with a gasp.

"I have repeated them to myself a thousand times: in India, America,
Japan: they were like our English skylark, carolling to me.

       'My heart, now burst thy prison
         With proud aerial flight!'"

"Oh, I beg you will not force me to listen to nonsense that I wrote
when I was a child. No more of those most foolish lines! If you knew
what it is to write and despise one's writing, you would not distress
me. And since you will not speak of Crossjay to-night, allow me to
retire."

"You know me, and therefore you know my contempt for verses, as a rule,
Laetitia. But not for yours to me. Why should you call them foolish?
They expressed your feelings--hold them sacred. They are something
religious to me, not mere poetry. Perhaps the third verse is my
favourite . . ."

"It will be more than I can bear!"

"You were in earnest when you wrote them?"

"I was very young, very enthusiastic, very silly."

"You were and are my image of constancy!"

"It is an error, Sir Willoughby; I am far from being the same."

"We are all older, I trust wiser. I am, I will own; much wiser. Wise
at last! I offer you my hand."

She did not reply. "I offer you my hand and name, Laetitia."

No response.

"You think me bound in honour to another?"

She was mute.

"I am free. Thank Heaven! I am free to choose my mate--the woman I have
always loved! Freely and unreservedly, as I ask you to give your hand,
I offer mine. You are the mistress of Patterne Hall; my wife."

She had not a word.

"My dearest! do you not rightly understand? The hand I am offering you
is disengaged. It is offered to the lady I respect above all others. I
have made the discovery that I cannot love without respecting; and as I
will not marry without loving, it ensues that I am free--I am yours. At
last?--your lips move: tell me the words. Have always loved, I said.
You carry in your bosom the magnet of constancy, and I, in spite of
apparent deviations, declare to you that I have never ceased to be
sensible of the attraction. And now there is not an impediment. We two
against the world! we are one. Let me confess to an old
foible--perfectly youthful, and you will ascribe it to youth: once I
desired to absorb. I mistrusted; that was the reason: I perceive it.
You teach me the difference of an alliance with a lady of intellect.
The pride I have in you, Laetitia, definitely cures me of that insane
passion--call it an insatiable hunger. I recognize it as a folly of
youth. I have, as it were, gone the tour, to come home to you--at
last?--and live our manly life of comparative equals. At last, then!
But remember that in the younger man you would have had a
despot--perhaps a jealous despot. Young men, I assure you, are
orientally inclined in their ideas of love. Love gets a bad name from
them. We, my Laetitia, do not regard love as a selfishness. If it is,
it is the essence of life. At least it is our selfishness rendered
beautiful. I talk to you like a man who has found a compatriot in a
foreign land. It seems to me that I have not opened my mouth for an
age. I certainly have not unlocked my heart. Those who sing for joy are
not unintelligible to me. If I had not something in me worth saying I
think I should sing. In every sense you reconcile me to men and the
world, Laetitia. Why press you to speak? I will be the speaker. As
surely as you know me, I know you: and . . ."

Laetitia burst forth with: "No!"

"I do not know you?" said he, searchingly mellifluous.

"Hardly."

"How not?"

"I am changed."

"In what way?"

"Deeply."

"Sedater?"

"Materially."

"Colour will come back: have no fear; I promise it. If you imagine you
want renewing, I have the specific, I, my love, I!"

"Forgive me--will you tell me, Sir Willoughby, whether you have broken
with Miss Middleton?"

"Rest satisfied, my dear Laetitia. She is as free as I am. I can do no
more than a man of honour should do. She releases me. To-morrow or
next day she departs. We, Laetitia, you and I, my love, are home birds.
It does not do for the home bird to couple with the migratory. The
little imperceptible change you allude to, is nothing. Italy will
restore you. I am ready to stake my own health--never yet shaken by a
doctor of medicine:--I say medicine advisedly, for there are doctors of
divinity who would shake giants:--that an Italian trip will send you
back--that I shall bring you home from Italy a blooming bride. You
shake your head--despondently? My love, I guarantee it. Cannot I give
you colour? Behold! Come to the light, look in the glass."

"I may redden," said Laetitia. "I suppose that is due to the action of
the heart. I am changed. Heart, for any other purpose, I have not. I am
like you, Sir Willoughby, in this: I could not marry without loving,
and I do not know what love is, except that it is an empty dream."

"Marriage, my dearest. . ."

"You are mistaken."

"I will cure you, my Laetitia. Look to me, I am the tonic. It is not
common confidence, but conviction. I, my love, I!"

"There is no cure for what I feel, Sir Willoughby."

"Spare me the formal prefix, I beg. You place your hand in mine,
relying on me. I am pledge for the remainder. We end as we began: my
request is for your hand--your hand in marriage."

"I cannot give it."

"To be my wife!"

"It is an honour; I must decline it."

"Are you quite well, Laetitia? I propose in the plainest terms I can
employ, to make you Lady Patterne--mine."

"I am compelled to refuse."

"Why? Refuse? Your reason!"

"The reason has been named."

He took a stride to inspirit his wits.

"There's a madness comes over women at times, I know. Answer me,
Laetitia:--by all the evidence a man can have, I could swear it:--but
answer me; you loved me once?"

"I was an exceedingly foolish, romantic girl."

"You evade my question: I am serious. Oh!" he walked away from her
booming a sound of utter repudiation of her present imbecility, and
hurrying to her side, said: "But it was manifest to the whole world! It
was a legend. To love like Laetitia Dale, was a current phrase. You
were an example, a light to women: no one was your match for devotion.
You were a precious cameo, still gazing! And I was the object. You
loved me. You loved me, you belonged to me, you were mine, my
possession, my jewel; I was prouder of your constancy than of anything
else that I had on earth. It was a part of the order of the universe to
me. A doubt of it would have disturbed my creed. Why, good heaven!
where are we? Is nothing solid on earth? You loved me!"

"I was childish, indeed."

"You loved me passionately!"

"Do you insist on shaming me through and through, Sir Willoughby? I
have been exposed enough."

"You cannot blot out the past: it is written, it is recorded. You loved
me devotedly, silence is no escape. You loved me."

"I did."

"You never loved me, you shallow woman! 'I did!' As if there could be a
cessation of a love! What are we to reckon on as ours? We prize a
woman's love; we guard it jealously, we trust to it, dream of it; there
is our wealth; there is our talisman! And when we open the casket it
has flown!--barren vacuity!--we are poorer than dogs. As well think of
keeping a costly wine in potter's clay as love in the heart of a woman!
There are women--women! Oh, they are all of a stamp coin! Coin for any
hand! It's a fiction, an imposture--they cannot love. They are the
shadows of men. Compared with men, they have as much heart in them as
the shadow beside the body. Laetitia!"

"Sir Willoughby."

"You refuse my offer?"

"I must."

"You refuse to take me for your husband?"

"I cannot be your wife."

"You have changed? . . . you have set your heart? . . . you could
marry? . . . there is a man? . . . you could marry one! I will have an
answer, I am sick of evasions. What was in the mind of Heaven when
women were created, will be the riddle to the end of the world! Every
good man in turn has made the inquiry. I have a right to know who robs
me--We may try as we like to solve it.--Satan is painted laughing!--I
say I have a right to know who robs me. Answer me."

"I shall not marry."

"That is not an answer."

"I love no one."

"You loved me.--You are silent?--but you confessed it. Then you confess
it was a love that could die! Are you unable to perceive how that
redounds to my discredit? You loved me, you have ceased to love me. In
other words you charge me with incapacity to sustain a woman's love.
You accuse me of inspiring a miserable passion that cannot last a
lifetime! You let the world see that I am a man to be aimed at for a
temporary mark! And simply because I happen to be in your neighbourhood
at an age when a young woman is impressionable! You make a public
example of me as a for whom women may have a caprice, but that is all;
he cannot enchain them; he fascinates passingly; they fall off. Is it
just, for me to be taken up and cast down at your will? Reflect on that
scandal! Shadows? Why, a man's shadow is faithful to him at least.
What are women? There is not a comparison in nature that does not tower
above them! not one that does not hoot at them! I, throughout my life,
guided by absolute deference to their weakness--paying them politeness,
courtesy--whatever I touch I am happy in, except when I touch women!
How is it? What is the mystery? Some monstrous explanation must exist.
What can it be? I am favoured by fortune from my birth until I enter
into relations with women. But will you be so good as to account for it
in your defence of them? Oh! were the relations dishonourable, it
would be quite another matter. Then they . . . I could recount . . . I
disdain to chronicle such victories. Quite another matter. But they are
flies, and I am something more stable. They are flies. I look beyond
the day; I owe a duty to my line. They are flies. I foresee it, I shall
be crossed in my fate so long as I fail to shun them--flies! Not merely
born for the day, I maintain that they are spiritually ephemeral--Well,
my opinion of your sex is directly traceable to you. You may alter it,
or fling another of us men out on the world with the old bitter
experience. Consider this, that it is on your head if my ideal of women
is wrecked. It rests with you to restore it. I love you. I discover
that you are the one woman I have always loved. I come to you, I sue
you, and suddenly--you have changed! 'I have changed: I am not the
same.' What can it mean? 'I cannot marry: I love no one.' And you say
you do not know what love is--avowing in the same breath that you did
love me! Am I the empty dream? My hand, heart, fortune, name, are
yours, at your feet; you kick them hence. I am here--you reject me. But
why, for what mortal reason am I here other than my faith in your love?
You drew me to you, to repel me, and have a wretched revenge."

"You know it is not that, Sir Willoughby."

"Have you any possible suspicion that I am still entangled, not, as I
assure you I am, perfectly free in fact and in honour?"

"It is not that."

"Name it; for you see your power. Would you have me kneel to you,
madam?"

"Oh, no; it would complete my grief."

"You feel grief? Then you believe in my affection, and you hurl it
away. I have no doubt that as a poetess you would say, love is eternal.
And you have loved me. And you tell me you love me no more. You are not
very logical, Laetitia Dale."

"Poetesses rarely are: if I am one, which I little pretend to be for
writing silly verses. I have passed out of that delusion, with the
rest."

"You shall not wrong those dear old days, Laetitia. I see them now;
when I rode by your cottage and you were at your window, pen in hand,
your hair straying over your forehead. Romantic, yes; not foolish. Why
were you foolish in thinking of me? Some day I will commission an
artist to paint me that portrait of you from my description. And I
remember when we first whispered . . . I remember your trembling. You
have forgotten--I remember. I remember our meeting in the park on the
path to church. I remember the heavenly morning of my return from my
travels, and the same Laetitia meeting me, stedfast and unchangeable.
Could I ever forget? Those are ineradicable scenes; pictures of my
youth, interwound with me. I may say, that as I recede from them, I
dwell on them the more. Tell me, Laetitia, was there not a certain
prophecy of your father's concerning us two? I fancy I heard of one.
There was one."

"He was an invalid. Elderly people nurse illusions."

"Ask yourself Laetitia, who is the obstacle to the fulfilment of his
prediction?--truth, if ever a truth was foreseen on earth. You have
not changed so far that you would feel no pleasure in gratifying him? I
go to him to-morrow morning with the first light."

"You will compel me to follow, and undeceive him."

"Do so, and I denounce an unworthy affection you are ashamed to avow."

"That would be idle, though it would be base."

"Proof of love, then! For no one but you should it be done, and no one
but you dare accuse me of a baseness."

"Sir Willoughby, you will let my father die in peace."

"He and I together will contrive to persuade you."

"You tempt me to imagine that you want a wife at any cost."

"You, Laetitia, you."

"I am tired," she said. "It is late, I would rather not hear more. I
am sorry if I have caused you pain. I suppose you to have spoken with
candour. I defend neither my sex nor myself. I can only say I am a
woman as good as dead: happy to be made happy in my way, but so little
alive that I cannot realize any other way. As for love, I am thankful
to have broken a spell. You have a younger woman in your mind; I am an
old one: I have no ambition and no warmth. My utmost prayer is to float
on the stream--a purely physical desire of life: I have no strength to
swim. Such a woman is not the wife for you, Sir Willoughby. Good night."

"One final word. Weigh it. Express no conventional regrets. Resolutely
you refuse?"

"Resolutely I do."

"You refuse?"

"Yes."

"I have sacrificed my pride for nothing! You refuse?"

"Yes."

"Humbled myself! And this is the answer! You do refuse?"

"I do."

"Good night, Laetitia Dale."

He gave her passage.

"Good night, Sir Willoughby."

"I am in your power," he said, in a voice between supplication and
menace that laid a claw on her, and she turned and replied:

"You will not be betrayed."

"I can trust you . . . ?"

"I go home to-morrow before breakfast."

"Permit me to escort you upstairs."

"If you please: but I see no one here either to-night or tomorrow."

"It is for the privilege of seeing the last of you."

They withdrew.

Young Crossjay listened to the drumming of his head. Somewhere in or
over the cavity a drummer rattled tremendously.

Sir Willoughby's laboratory door shut with a slam.

Crossjay tumbled himself off the ottoman. He stole up to the unclosed
drawing-room door, and peeped. Never was a boy more thoroughly
awakened. His object was to get out of the house and go through the
night avoiding everything human, for he was big with information of a
character that he knew to be of the nature of gunpowder, and he feared
to explode. He crossed the hall. In the passage to the scullery he ran
against Colonel De Craye.

"So there you are," said the colonel, "I've been hunting you."

Crossjay related that his bedroom door was locked and the key gone, and
Sir Willoughby sitting up in the laboratory.

Colonel De Craye took the boy to his own room, where Crossjay lay on a
sofa, comfortably covered over and snug in a swelling pillow; but he
was restless; he wanted to speak, to bellow, to cry; and he bounced
round to his left side, and bounced to his right, not knowing what to
think, except that there was treason to his adored Miss Middleton.

"Why, my lad, you're not half a campaigner," the colonel called out to
him; attributing his uneasiness to the material discomfort of the sofa:
and Crossjay had to swallow the taunt, bitter though it was. A dim
sentiment of impropriety in unburdening his overcharged mind on the
subject of Miss Middleton to Colonel De Craye restrained him from
defending himself; and so he heaved and tossed about till daybreak. At
an early hour, while his hospitable friend, who looked very handsome in
profile half breast and head above the sheets, continued to slumber,
Crossjay was on his legs and away. "He says I'm not half a campaigner,
and a couple of hours of bed are enough for me," the boy thought
proudly, and snuffed the springing air of the young sun on the fields.
A glance back at Patterne Hall dismayed him, for he knew not how to
act, and he was immoderately combustible, too full of knowledge for
self-containment; much too zealously excited on behalf of his dear Miss
Middleton to keep silent for many hours of the day.



CHAPTER XLI

THE REV. DR. MIDDLETON, CLARA, AND SIR WILLOUGHBY

When Master Crossjay tumbled down the stairs, Laetitia was in Clara's
room, speculating on the various mishaps which might have befallen that
battered youngster; and Clara listened anxiously after Laetitia had run
out, until she heard Sir Willoughby's voice; which in some way
satisfied her that the boy was not in the house.

She waited, expecting Miss Dale to return; then undressed, went to bed,
tried to sleep. She was tired of strife. Strange thoughts for a young
head shot through her: as, that it is possible for the sense of duty to
counteract distaste; and that one may live a life apart from one's
admirations and dislikes: she owned the singular strength of Sir
Willoughby in outwearying: she asked herself how much she had gained by
struggling:--every effort seemed to expend her spirit's force, and
rendered her less able to get the clear vision of her prospects, as
though it had sunk her deeper: the contrary of her intention to make
each further step confirm her liberty. Looking back, she marvelled at
the things she had done. Looking round, how ineffectual they appeared!
She had still the great scene of positive rebellion to go through with
her father.

The anticipation of that was the cause of her extreme discouragement.
He had not spoken to her since he became aware of her attempted flight:
but the scene was coming; and besides the wish not to inflict it on
him, as well as to escape it herself, the girl's peculiar unhappiness
lay in her knowledge that they were alienated and stood opposed, owing
to one among the more perplexing masculine weaknesses, which she could
not hint at, dared barely think of, and would not name in her
meditations. Diverting to other subjects, she allowed herself to
exclaim, "Wine, wine!" in renewed wonder of what there could be in wine
to entrap venerable men and obscure their judgements. She was too young
to consider that her being very much in the wrong gave all the
importance to the cordial glass in a venerable gentleman's appreciation
of his dues. Why should he fly from a priceless wine to gratify the
caprices of a fantastical child guilty of seeking to commit a breach of
faith? He harped on those words. Her fault was grave. No doubt the wine
coloured it to him, as a drop or two will do in any cup: still her
fault was grave.

She was too young for such considerations. She was ready to expatiate
on the gravity of her fault, so long as the humiliation assisted to her
disentanglement: her snared nature in the toils would not permit her to
reflect on it further. She had never accurately perceived it: for the
reason perhaps that Willoughby had not been moving in his appeals: but,
admitting the charge of waywardness, she had come to terms with
conscience, upon the understanding that she was to perceive it and
regret it and do penance for it by-and-by:--by renouncing marriage
altogether? How light a penance!

In the morning, she went to Laetitia's room, knocked, and had no
answer.

She was informed at the breakfast-table of Miss Dale's departure. The
ladies Eleanor and Isabel feared it to be a case of urgency at the
cottage. No one had seen Vernon, and Clara requested Colonel De Craye
to walk over to the cottage for news of Crossjay. He accepted the
commission, simply to obey and be in her service: assuring her,
however, that there was no need to be disturbed about the boy. He would
have told her more, had not Dr. Middleton led her out.

Sir Willoughby marked a lapse of ten minutes by his watch. His
excellent aunts had ventured a comment on his appearance that
frightened him lest he himself should be the person to betray his
astounding discomfiture. He regarded his conduct as an act of madness,
and Laetitia's as no less that of a madwoman--happily mad! Very happily
mad indeed! Her rejection of his ridiculously generous proposal seemed
to show an intervening hand in his favour, that sent her distraught at
the right moment. He entirely trusted her to be discreet; but she was a
miserable creature, who had lost the one last chance offered her by
Providence, and furnished him with a signal instance of the mediocrity
of woman's love.

Time was flying. In a little while Mrs. Mountstuart would arrive. He
could not fence her without a design in his head; he was destitute of
an armoury if he had no scheme: he racked the brain only to succeed in
rousing phantasmal vapours. Her infernal "Twice!" would cease now to
apply to Laetitia; it would be an echo of Lady Busshe. Nay, were all in
the secret, Thrice jilted! might become the universal roar. And this,
he reflected bitterly, of a man whom nothing but duty to his line had
arrested from being the most mischievous of his class with women! Such
is our reward for uprightness!

At the expiration of fifteen minutes by his watch, he struck a knuckle
on the library door. Dr. Middleton held it open to him.

"You are disengaged, sir?"

"The sermon is upon the paragraph which is toned to awaken the clerk,"
replied the Rev. Doctor.

Clara was weeping.

Sir Willoughby drew near her solicitously.

Dr Middleton's mane of silvery hair was in a state bearing witness to
the vehemence of the sermon, and Willoughby said: "I hope, sir, you
have not made too much of a trifle."

"I believe, sir, that I have produced an effect, and that was the point
in contemplation."

"Clara! my dear Clara!" Willoughby touched her.

"She sincerely repents her conduct, I may inform you," said Dr.
Middleton.

"My love!" Willoughby whispered. "We have had a misunderstanding. I am
at a loss to discover where I have been guilty, but I take the blame,
all the blame. I implore you not to weep. Do me the favour to look at
me. I would not have had you subjected to any interrogation whatever."

"You are not to blame," Clara said on a sob.

"Undoubtedly Willoughby is not to blame. It was not he who was bound on
a runaway errand in flagrant breach of duty and decorum, nor he who
inflicted a catarrh on a brother of my craft and cloth," said her
father.

"The clerk, sir, has pronounced Amen," observed Willoughby.

"And no man is happier to hear an ejaculation that he has laboured for
with so much sweat of his brow than the parson, I can assure you," Dr.
Middleton mildly groaned. "I have notions of the trouble of Abraham. A
sermon of that description is an immolation of the parent, however it
may go with the child."

Willoughby soothed his Clara.

"I wish I had been here to share it. I might have saved you some tears.
I may have been hasty in our little dissensions. I will acknowledge
that I have been. My temper is often irascible."

"And so is mine!" exclaimed Dr. Middleton. "And yet I am not aware that
I made the worse husband for it. Nor do I rightly comprehend how a
probably justly excitable temper can stand for a plea in mitigation of
an attempt at an outrageous breach of faith."

"The sermon is over, sir."

"Reverberations!" the Rev. Doctor waved his arm placably. "Take it for
thunder heard remote."

"Your hand, my love," Willoughby murmured.

The hand was not put forth.

Dr. Middleton remarked the fact. He walked to the window, and
perceiving the pair in the same position when he faced about, he
delivered a cough of admonition.

"It is cruel!" said Clara.

"That the owner of your hand should petition you for it?" inquired her
father.

She sought refuge in a fit of tears.

Willoughby bent above her, mute.

"Is a scene that is hardly conceivable as a parent's obligation once in
a lustrum, to be repeated within the half hour?" shouted her father.

She drew up her shoulders and shook; let them fall and dropped her
head.

"My dearest! your hand!" fluted Willoughby.

The hand surrendered; it was much like the icicle of a sudden thaw.

Willoughby squeezed it to his ribs.

Dr. Middleton marched up and down the room with his arms locked behind
him. The silence between the young people seemed to denounce his
presence.

He said, cordially: "Old Hiems has but to withdraw for buds to burst.
'Jam ver egelidos refert tepores.' The equinoctial fury departs. I
will leave you for a term."

Clara and Willoughby simultaneously raised their faces with opposing
expressions.

"My girl!" Her father stood by her, laying gentle hand on her.

"Yes, papa, I will come out to you," she replied to his apology for the
rather heavy weight of his vocabulary, and smiled.

"No, sir, I beg you will remain," said Willoughby.

"I keep you frost-bound."

Clara did not deny it.

Willoughby emphatically did.

Then which of them was the more lover-like? Dr. Middleton would for the
moment have supposed his daughter.

Clara said: "Shall you be on the lawn, papa?"

Willoughby interposed. "Stay, sir; give us your blessing."

"That you have." Dr. Middleton hastily motioned the paternal ceremony
in outline.

"A few minutes, papa," said Clara.

"Will she name the day?" came eagerly from Willoughby.

"I cannot!" Clara cried in extremity.

"The day is important on its arrival," said her father; "but I
apprehend the decision to be of the chief importance at present. First
prime your piece of artillery, my friend."

"The decision is taken, sir."

"Then I will be out of the way of the firing. Hit what day you please."

Clara checked herself on an impetuous exclamation. It was done that her
father might not be detained.

Her astute self-compression sharpened Willoughby as much as it
mortified and terrified him. He understood how he would stand in an
instant were Dr. Middleton absent. Her father was the tribunal she
dreaded, and affairs must be settled and made irrevocable while he was
with them. To sting the blood of the girl, he called her his darling,
and half enwound her, shadowing forth a salute.

She strung her body to submit, seeing her father take it as a signal
for his immediate retirement.

Willoughby was upon him before he reached the door.

"Hear us out, sir. Do not go. Stay, at my entreaty. I fear we have not
come to a perfect reconcilement."

"If that is your opinion," said Clara, "it is good reason for not
distressing my father."

"Dr Middleton, I love your daughter. I wooed her and won her; I had
your consent to our union, and I was the happiest of mankind. In some
way, since her coming to my house, I know not how--she will not tell
me, or cannot--I offended. One may be innocent and offend. I have never
pretended to impeccability, which is an admission that I may very
naturally offend. My appeal to her is for an explanation or for pardon.
I obtain neither. Had our positions been reversed, oh, not for any real
offence--not for the worst that can be imagined--I think not--I hope
not--could I have been tempted to propose the dissolution of our
engagement. To love is to love, with me; an engagement a solemn bond.
With all my errors I have that merit of utter fidelity--to the world
laughable! I confess to a multitude of errors; I have that single
merit, and am not the more estimable in your daughter's eyes on account
of it, I fear. In plain words, I am, I do not doubt, one of the fools
among men; of the description of human dog commonly known as
faithful--whose destiny is that of a tribe. A man who cries out when he
is hurt is absurd, and I am not asking for sympathy. Call me luckless.
But I abhor a breach of faith. A broken pledge is hateful to me. I
should regard it myself as a form of suicide. There are principles
which civilized men must contend for. Our social fabric is based on
them. As my word stands for me, I hold others to theirs. If that is not
done, the world is more or less a carnival of counterfeits. In this
instance--Ah! Clara, my love! and you have principles: you have
inherited, you have been indoctrinated with them: have I, then, in my
ignorance, offended past penitence, that you, of all women? . . . And
without being able to name my sin!--Not only for what I lose by it, but
in the abstract, judicially--apart from the sentiment of personal
interest, grief, pain, and the possibility of my having to endure that
which no temptation would induce me to commit:--judicially;--I fear,
sir, I am a poor forensic orator . . ."

"The situation, sir, does not demand a Cicero: proceed," said Dr.
Middleton, balked in his approving nods at the right true things
delivered.

"Judicially, I am bold to say, though it may appear a presumption in
one suffering acutely, I abhor a breach of faith."

Dr. Middleton brought his nod down low upon the phrase he had
anticipated. "And I," said he, "personally, and presently, abhor a
breach of faith. Judicially? Judicially to examine, judicially to
condemn: but does the judicial mind detest? I think, sir, we are not on
the bench when we say that we abhor: we have unseated ourselves. Yet
our abhorrence of bad conduct is very certain. You would signify,
impersonally: which suffices for this exposition of your feelings."

He peered at the gentleman under his brows, and resumed:

"She has had it, Willoughby; she has had it in plain Saxon and in
uncompromising Olympian. There is, I conceive, no necessity to revert
to it."

"Pardon me, sir, but I am still unforgiven."

"You must babble out the rest between you. I am about as much at home
as a turkey with a pair of pigeons."

"Leave us, father," said Clara.

"First join our hands, and let me give you that title, sir."

"Reach the good man your hand, my girl; forthright, from the shoulder,
like a brave boxer. Humour a lover. He asks for his own."

"It is more than I can do, father."

"How, it is more than you can do? You are engaged to him, a plighted
woman."

"I do not wish to marry."

"The apology is inadequate."

"I am unworthy. . ."

"Chatter! chatter!"

"I beg him to release me."

"Lunacy!"

"I have no love to give him."

"Have you gone back to your cradle, Clara Middleton?"

"Oh, leave us, dear father!"

"My offence, Clara, my offence! What is it? Will you only name it?"

"Father, will you leave us? We can better speak together . . ."

"We have spoken, Clara, how often!" Willoughby resumed, "with what
result?--that you loved me, that you have ceased to love me: that your
heart was mine, that you have withdrawn it, plucked it from me: that
you request me to consent to a sacrifice involving my reputation, my
life. And what have I done? I am the same, unchangeable. I loved and
love you: my heart was yours, and is, and will be yours forever. You
are my affianced--that is, my wife. What have I done?"

"It is indeed useless," Clara sighed.

"Not useless, my girl, that you should inform this gentleman, your
affianced husband, of the ground of the objection you conceived against
him."

"I cannot say."

"Do you know?"

"If I could name it, I could hope to overcome it."

Dr. Middleton addressed Sir Willoughby.

"I verily believe we are directing the girl to dissect a caprice. Such
things are seen large by these young people, but as they have neither
organs, nor arteries, nor brains, nor membranes, dissection and
inspection will be alike profitlessly practised. Your inquiry is
natural for a lover, whose passion to enter into relations with the sex
is ordinarily in proportion to his ignorance of the stuff composing
them. At a particular age they traffic in whims: which are, I presume,
the spiritual of hysterics; and are indubitably preferable, so long as
they are not pushed too far. Examples are not wanting to prove that a
flighty initiative on the part of the male is a handsome corrective. In
that case, we should probably have had the roof off the house, and the
girl now at your feet. Ha!"

"Despise me, father. I am punished for ever thinking myself the
superior of any woman," said Clara.

"Your hand out to him, my dear, since he is for a formal
reconciliation; and I can't wonder."

"Father! I have said I do not . . . I have said I cannot . . ."

"By the most merciful! what? what? the name for it, words for it!"

"Do not frown on me, father. I wish him happiness. I cannot marry him.
I do not love him."

"You will remember that you informed me aforetime that you did love
him."

"I was ignorant . . . I did not know myself. I wish him to be happy."

"You deny him the happiness you wish him!"

"It would not be for his happiness were I to wed him."

"Oh!" burst from Willoughby.

"You hear him. He rejects your prediction, Clara Middleton." She caught
her clasped hands up to her throat. "Wretched, wretched, both!"

"And you have not a word against him, miserable girl."

"Miserable! I am."

"It is the cry of an animal!"

"Yes, father."

"You feel like one? Your behaviour is of that shape. You have not a
word?"

"Against myself, not against him."

"And I, when you speak so generously, am to yield you? give you up?"
cried Willoughby. "Ah! my love, my Clara, impose what you will on me;
not that. It is too much for man. It is, I swear it, beyond my
strength."

"Pursue, continue the strain; 'tis in the right key," said Dr.
Middleton, departing.

Willoughby wheeled and waylaid him with a bound.

"Plead for me, sir; you are all-powerful. Let her be mine, she shall be
happy, or I will perish for it. I will call it on my head.--Impossible!
I cannot lose her. Lose you, my love? it would be to strip myself of
every blessing of body and soul. It would be to deny myself possession
of grace, beauty, wit, all the incomparable charms of loveliness of
mind and person in woman, and plant myself in a desert. You are my
mate, the sum of everything I call mine. Clara, I should be less than
man to submit to such a loss. Consent to it? But I love you! I worship
you! How can I consent to lose you . . . ?"

He saw the eyes of the desperately wily young woman slink sideways. Dr.
Middleton was pacing at ever shorter lengths closer by the door.

"You hate me?" Willoughby sunk his voice.

"If it should turn to hate!" she murmured.

"Hatred of your husband?"

"I could not promise," she murmured, more softly in her wiliness.

"Hatred?" he cried aloud, and Dr. Middleton stopped in his walk and
flung up his head: "Hatred of your husband? of the man you have vowed
to love and honour? Oh, no! Once mine, it is not to be feared. I trust
to my knowledge of your nature; I trust in your blood, I trust in your
education. Had I nothing else to inspire confidence, I could trust in
your eyes. And, Clara, take the confession: I would rather be hated
than lose you. For if I lose you, you are in another world, out of this
one holding me in its death-like cold; but if you hate me we are
together, we are still together. Any alliance, any, in preference to
separation!"

Clara listened with critical ear. His language and tone were new; and
comprehending that they were in part addressed to her father, whose
phrase: "A breach of faith": he had so cunningly used, disdain of the
actor prompted the extreme blunder of her saying--frigidly though she
said it:

"You have not talked to me in this way before."

"Finally," remarked her father, summing up the situation to settle it
from that little speech, "he talks to you in this way now; and you are
under my injunction to stretch your hand out to him for a symbol of
union, or to state your objection to that course. He, by your
admission, is at the terminus, and there, failing the why not, must you
join him."

Her head whirled. She had been severely flagellated and weakened
previous to Willoughby's entrance. Language to express her peculiar
repulsion eluded her. She formed the words, and perceived that they
would not stand to bear a breath from her father. She perceived too
that Willoughby was as ready with his agony of supplication as she with
hers. If she had tears for a resource, he had gestures quite as
eloquent; and a cry of her loathing of the union would fetch a
countervailing torrent of the man's love.--What could she say? he is
an Egoist? The epithet has no meaning in such a scene. Invent! shrieked
the hundred-voiced instinct of dislike within her, and alone with her
father, alone with Willoughby, she could have invented some equivalent,
to do her heart justice for the injury it sustained in her being unable
to name the true and immense objection: but the pair in presence
paralyzed her. She dramatized them each springing forward by turns,
with crushing rejoinders. The activity of her mind revelled in giving
them a tongue, but would not do it for herself. Then ensued the
inevitable consequence of an incapacity to speak at the heart's urgent
dictate: heart and mind became divided. One throbbed hotly, the other
hung aloof, and mentally, while the sick inarticulate heart kept
clamouring, she answered it with all that she imagined for those two
men to say. And she dropped poison on it to still its reproaches:
bidding herself remember her fatal postponements in order to preserve
the seeming of consistency before her father; calling it hypocrite;
asking herself, what was she! who loved her! And thus beating down her
heart, she completed the mischief with a piercing view of the
foundation of her father's advocacy of Willoughby, and more lamentably
asked herself what her value was, if she stood bereft of respect for
her father.

Reason, on the other hand, was animated by her better nature to plead
his case against her: she clung to her respect for him, and felt
herself drowning with it: and she echoed Willoughby consciously,
doubling her horror with the consciousness, in crying out on a world
where the most sacred feelings are subject to such lapses. It doubled
her horror, that she should echo the man: but it proved that she was no
better than be: only some years younger. Those years would soon be
outlived: after which, he and she would be of a pattern. She was
unloved: she did no harm to any one by keeping her word to this man;
she had pledged it, and it would be a breach of faith not to keep it.
No one loved her. Behold the quality of her father's love! To give him
happiness was now the principal aim for her, her own happiness being
decently buried; and here he was happy: why should she be the cause of
his going and losing the poor pleasure he so much enjoyed?

The idea of her devotedness flattered her feebleness. She betrayed
signs of hesitation; and in hesitating, she looked away from a look at
Willoughby, thinking (so much against her nature was it to resign
herself to him) that it would not have been so difficult with an
ill-favoured man. With one horribly ugly, it would have been a horrible
exultation to cast off her youth and take the fiendish leap.

Unfortunately for Sir Willoughby, he had his reasons for pressing
impatience; and seeing her deliberate, seeing her hasty look at his
fine figure, his opinion of himself combined with his recollection of a
particular maxim of the Great Book to assure him that her resistance
was over: chiefly owing, as he supposed, to his physical perfections.

Frequently indeed, in the contest between gentlemen and ladies, have
the maxims of the Book stimulated the assailant to victory. They are
rosy with blood of victims. To bear them is to hear a horn that blows
the mort: has blown it a thousand times. It is good to remember how
often they have succeeded, when, for the benefit of some future Lady
Vauban, who may bestir her wits to gather maxims for the inspiriting of
the Defence, the circumstance of a failure has to be recorded.

Willoughby could not wait for the melting of the snows. He saw full
surely the dissolving process; and sincerely admiring and coveting her
as he did, rashly this ill-fated gentleman attempted to precipitate it,
and so doing arrested.

Whence might we draw a note upon yonder maxim, in words akin to these:
Make certain ere a breath come from thee that thou be not a frost.

"Mine! She is mine!" he cried: "mine once more! mine utterly! mine
eternally!" and he followed up his devouring exclamations in person as
she, less decidedly, retreated. She retreated as young ladies should
ever do, two or three steps, and he would not notice that she had
become an angry Dian, all arrows: her maidenliness in surrendering
pleased him. Grasping one fair hand, he just allowed her to edge on the
outer circle of his embrace, crying: "Not a syllable of what I have
gone through! You shall not have to explain it, my Clara. I will study
you more diligently, to be guided by you, my darling. If I offend
again, my wife will not find it hard to speak what my bride withheld--I
do not ask why: perhaps not able to weigh the effect of her reticence:
not at that time, when she was younger and less experienced, estimating
the sacredness of a plighted engagement. It is past, we are one, my
dear sir and father. You may leave us now."

"I profoundly rejoice to hear that I may," said Dr. Middleton. Clara
writhed her captured hand.

"No, papa, stay. It is an error, an error. You must not leave me. Do
not think me utterly, eternally, belonging to any one but you. No one
shall say I am his but you."

"Are you quicksands, Clara Middleton, that nothing can be built on you?
Whither is a flighty head and a shifty will carrying the girl?"

"Clara and I, sir," said Willoughby.

"And so you shall," said the Doctor, turning about.

"Not yet, papa:" Clara sprang to him.

"Why, you, you, you, it was you who craved to be alone with
Willoughby!" her father shouted; "and here we are rounded to our
starting-point, with the solitary difference that now you do not want
to be alone with Willoughby. First I am bidden go; next I am pulled
back; and judging by collar and coat-tag, I suspect you to be a young
woman to wear an angel's temper threadbare before you determine upon
which one of the tides driving him to and fro you intend to launch on
yourself, Where is your mind?"

Clara smoothed her forehead.

"I wish to please you, papa."

"I request you to please the gentleman who is your appointed husband."

"I am anxious to perform my duty."

"That should be a satisfactory basis for you, Willoughby; as girls go!"

"Let me, sir, simply entreat to have her hand in mine before you."

"Why not, Clara?"

"Why an empty ceremony, papa?"

"The implication is, that she is prepared for the important one, friend
Willoughby."

"Her hand, sir; the reassurance of her hand in mine under your
eyes:--after all that I have suffered, I claim it, I think I claim it
reasonably, to restore me to confidence."

"Quite reasonably; which is not to say, necessarily; but, I will add,
justifiably; and it may be, sagaciously, when dealing with the
volatile."

"And here," said Willoughby, "is my hand."

Clara recoiled.

He stepped on. Her father frowned. She lifted both her hands from the
shrinking elbows, darted a look of repulsion at her pursuer, and ran to
her father, crying: "Call it my mood! I am volatile, capricious,
flighty, very foolish. But you see that I attach a real meaning to it,
and feel it to be binding: I cannot think it an empty ceremony, if it
is before you. Yes, only be a little considerate to your moody girl.
She will be in a fitter state in a few hours. Spare me this moment; I
must collect myself. I thought I was free; I thought he would not press
me. If I give my hand hurriedly now, I shall, I know, immediately
repent it. There is the picture of me! But, papa, I mean to try to be
above that, and if I go and walk by myself, I shall grow calm to
perceive where my duty lies . . ."

"In which direction shall you walk?" said Willoughby.

"Wisdom is not upon a particular road," said Dr. Middleton.

"I have a dread, sir, of that one which leads to the railway-station."

"With some justice!" Dr. Middleton sighed over his daughter.

Clara coloured to deep crimson: but she was beyond anger, and was
rather gratified by an offence coming from Willoughby.

"I will promise not to leave his grounds, papa."

"My child, you have threatened to be a breaker of promises."

"Oh!" she wailed. "But I will make it a vow to you."

"Why not make it a vow to me this moment, for this gentleman's
contentment, that he shall be your husband within a given period?"

"I will come to you voluntarily. I burn to be alone."

"I shall lose her," exclaimed Willoughby, in heartfelt earnest.

"How so?" said Dr. Middleton. "I have her, sir, if you will favour me
by continuing in abeyance.--You will come within an hour voluntarily,
Clara; and you will either at once yield your hand to him or you will
furnish reasons, and they must be good ones, for withholding it."

"Yes, papa."

"You will?"

"I will."

"Mind, I say reasons."

"Reasons, papa. If I have none . . ."

"If you have none that are to my satisfaction, you implicitly and
instantly, and cordially obey my command."

"I will obey."

"What more would you require?" Dr. Middleton bowed to Sir Willoughby in
triumph.

"Will she. . ."

"Sir! Sir!"

"She is your daughter, sir. I am satisfied."

"She has perchance wrestled with her engagement, as the aboriginals of
a land newly discovered by a crew of adventurous colonists do battle
with the garments imposed on them by our considerate civilization;--
ultimately to rejoice with excessive dignity in the wearing of a 
battered cocked-hat and trowsers not extending to the shanks: but she 
did not break her engagement, sir; and we will anticipate that, 
moderating a young woman's native wildness, she may, after the manner
of my comparison, take a similar pride in her fortune in good season."

Willoughby had not leisure to sound the depth of Dr. Middleton's
compliment. He had seen Clara gliding out of the room during the
delivery; and his fear returned on him that, not being won, she was
lost.

"She has gone." Her father noticed her absence. "She does not waste
time in her mission to procure that astonishing product of a shallow
soil, her reasons; if such be the object of her search. But no: it
signifies that she deems herself to have need of composure--nothing
more. No one likes to be turned about; we like to turn ourselves about;
and in the question of an act to be committed, we stipulate that it
shall be our act--girls and others. After the lapse of an hour, it
will appear to her as her act. Happily, Willoughby, we do not dine
away from Patterne to-night."

"No, sir."

"It may be attributable to a sense of deserving, but I could plead
guilty to a weakness for old Port to-day."

"There shall be an extra bottle, sir."

"All going favourably with you, as I have no cause to doubt," said Dr
Middleton, with the motion of wafting his host out of the library.



CHAPTER XLII

SHOWS THE DIVINING ARTS OF A PERCEPTIVE MIND

Starting from the Hall a few minutes before Dr. Middleton and Sir
Willoughby had entered the drawing-room overnight, Vernon parted
company with Colonel De Craye at the park-gates, and betook himself to
the cottage of the Dales, where nothing had been heard of his wanderer;
and he received the same disappointing reply from Dr. Corney, out of
the bedroom window of the genial physician, whose astonishment at his
covering so long a stretch of road at night for news of a boy like
Crossjay--gifted with the lives of a cat--became violent and rapped
Punch-like blows on the window-sill at Vernon's refusal to take shelter
and rest. Vernon's excuse was that he had "no one but that fellow to
care for", and he strode off, naming a farm five miles distant. Dr.
Corney howled an invitation to early breakfast to him, in the event of
his passing on his way back, and retired to bed to think of him. The
result of a variety of conjectures caused him to set Vernon down as
Miss Middleton's knight, and he felt a strong compassion for his poor
friend. "Though," thought he, "a hopeless attachment is as pretty an
accompaniment to the tune of life as a gentleman might wish to have,
for it's one of those big doses of discord which make all the minor
ones fit in like an agreeable harmony, and so he shuffles along as
pleasantly as the fortune-favoured, when they come to compute!"

Sir Willoughby was the fortune-favoured in the little doctor's mind;
that high-stepping gentleman having wealth, and public consideration,
and the most ravishing young lady in the world for a bride. Still,
though he reckoned all these advantages enjoyed by Sir Willoughby at
their full value, he could imagine the ultimate balance of good fortune
to be in favour of Vernon. But to do so, he had to reduce the whole
calculation to the extreme abstract, and feed his lean friend, as it
were, on dew and roots; and the happy effect for Vernon lay in a
distant future, on the borders of old age, where he was to be blessed
with his lady's regretful preference, and rejoice in the fruits of good
constitutional habits. The reviewing mind was Irish. Sir Willoughby was
a character of man profoundly opposed to Dr. Corney's nature; the
latter's instincts bristled with antagonism--not to his race, for
Vernon was of the same race, partly of the same blood, and Corney loved
him: the type of person was the annoyance. And the circumstance of its
prevailing successfulness in the country where he was placed, while it
held him silent as if under a law, heaped stores of insurgency in the
Celtic bosom. Corney contemplating Sir Willoughby, and a trotting kern
governed by Strongbow, have a point of likeness between them; with the
point of difference, that Corney was enlightened to know of a friend
better adapted for eminent station, and especially better adapted to
please a lovely lady--could these high-bred Englishwomen but be taught
to conceive another idea of manliness than the formal carved-in-wood
idol of their national worship!

Dr Corney breakfasted very early, without seeing Vernon. He was off to
a patient while the first lark of the morning carolled above, and the
business of the day, not yet fallen upon men in the shape of cloud, was
happily intermixed with nature's hues and pipings. Turning off the
high-road tip a green lane, an hour later, he beheld a youngster prying
into a hedge head and arms, by the peculiar strenuous twist of whose
hinder parts, indicative of a frame plunged on the pursuit in hand, he
clearly distinguished young Crossjay. Out came eggs. The doctor pulled
up.

"What bird?" he bellowed.

"Yellowhammer," Crossjay yelled back.

"Now, sir, you'll drop a couple of those eggs in the nest."

"Don't order me," Crossjay was retorting. "Oh, it's you, Doctor Corney.
Good morning. I said that, because I always do drop a couple back. I
promised Mr. Whitford I would, and Miss Middleton too."

"Had breakfast?"

"Not yet."

"Not hungry?"

"I should be if I thought about it."

"Jump up."

"I think I'd rather not, Doctor Corney."

"And you'll just do what Doctor Corney tells you; and set your mind on
rashers of curly fat bacon and sweetly smoking coffee, toast, hot
cakes, marmalade, and damson-jam. Wide go the fellow's nostrils, and
there's water at the dimples of his mouth! Up, my man."

Crossjay jumped up beside the doctor, who remarked, as he touched his
horse: "I don't want a man this morning, though I'll enlist you in my
service if I do. You're fond of Miss Middleton?"

Instead of answering, Crossjay heaved the sigh of love that bears a
burden.

"And so am I," pursued the doctor: "You'll have to put up with a rival.
It's worse than fond: I'm in love with her. How do you like that?"

"I don't mind how many love her," said Crossjay.

"You're worthy of a gratuitous breakfast in the front parlour of the
best hotel of the place they call Arcadia. And how about your bed last
night?"

"Pretty middling."

"Hard, was it, where the bones haven't cushion?"

"I don't care for bed. A couple of hours, and that's enough for me."

"But you're fond of Miss Middleton anyhow, and that's a virtue."

To his great surprise, Dr. Corney beheld two big round tears force
their way out of this tough youngster's eyes, and all the while the
boy's face was proud.

Crossjay said, when he could trust himself to disjoin his lips:

"I want to see Mr. Whitford."

"Have you got news for him?"

"I've something to ask him. It's about what I ought to do."

"Then, my boy, you have the right name addressed in the wrong
direction: for I found you turning your shoulders on Mr. Whitford. And
he has been out of his bed hunting you all the unholy night you've made
it for him. That's melancholy. What do you say to asking my advice?"

Crossjay sighed. "I can't speak to anybody but Mr. Whitford."

"And you're hot to speak to him?"

"I want to."

"And I found you running away from him. You're a curiosity, Mr.
Crossjay Patterne."

"Ah! so'd anybody be who knew as much as I do," said Crossjay, with a
sober sadness that caused the doctor to treat him seriously.

"The fact is," he said, "Mr. Whitford is beating the country for you.
My best plan will be to drive you to the Hall."

"I'd rather not go to the Hall," Crossjay spoke resolutely.

"You won't see Miss Middleton anywhere but at the Hall."

"I don't want to see Miss Middleton, if I can't be a bit of use to
her."

"No danger threatening the lady, is there?"

Crossjay treated the question as if it had not been put.

"Now, tell me," said Dr. Corney, "would there be a chance for me,
supposing Miss Middleton were disengaged?"

The answer was easy. "I'm sure she wouldn't."

"And why, sir, are you so cock sure?"

There was no saying; but the doctor pressed for it, and at last
Crossjay gave his opinion that she would take Mr. Whitford.

The doctor asked why; and Crossjay said it was because Mr. Whitford
was the best man in the world. To which, with a lusty "Amen to that,"
Dr. Corney remarked: "I should have fancied Colonel De Craye would have
had the first chance: he's more of a lady's man."

Crossjay surprised him again by petulantly saying: "Don't."

The boy added: "I don't want to talk, except about birds and things.
What a jolly morning it is! I saw the sun rise. No rain to-day. You're
right about hungry, Doctor Corney!"

The kindly little man swung his whip. Crossjay informed him of his
disgrace at the Hall, and of every incident connected with it, from the
tramp to the baronet, save Miss Middleton's adventure and the night
scene in the drawing-room. A strong smell of something left out struck
Dr. Corney, and he said: "You'll not let Miss Middleton know of my
affection. After all, it's only a little bit of love. But, as Patrick
said to Kathleen, when she owned to such a little bit, 'that's the best
bit of all!' and he was as right as I am about hungry."

Crossjay scorned to talk of loving, he declared. "I never tell Miss
Middleton what I feel. Why, there's Miss Dale's cottage!"

"It's nearer to your empty inside than my mansion," said the doctor,
"and we'll stop just to inquire whether a bed's to be had for you there
to-night, and if not, I'll have you with me, and bottle you, and
exhibit you, for you're a rare specimen. Breakfast you may count on
from Mr. Dale. I spy a gentleman."

"It's Colonel De Craye."

"Come after news of you."

"I wonder!"

"Miss Middleton sends him; of course she does."

Crossjay turned his full face to the doctor. "I haven't seen her for
such a long time! But he saw me last night, and he might have told her
that, if she's anxious.--Good-morning, colonel. I've had a good walk,
and a capital drive, and I'm as hungry as the boat's crew of Captain
Bligh."

He jumped down.

The colonel and the doctor saluted, smiling.

"I've rung the bell," said De Craye.

A maid came to the gate, and upon her steps appeared Miss Dale, who
flung herself at Crossjay, mingling kisses and reproaches. She scarcely
raised her face to the colonel more than to reply to his greeting, and
excuse the hungry boy for hurrying indoors to breakfast.

"I'll wait," said De Craye. He had seen that she was paler than usual.
So had Dr. Corney; and the doctor called to her concerning her father's
health. She reported that he had not yet risen, and took Crossjay to
herself.

"That's well," said the doctor, "if the invalid sleeps long. The lady
is not looking so well, though. But ladies vary; they show the mind on
the countenance, for want of the punching we meet with to conceal it;
they're like military flags for a funeral or a gala; one day furled,
and next day streaming. Men are ships' figure-heads, about the same for
a storm or a calm, and not too handsome, thanks to the ocean. It's an
age since we encountered last, colonel: on board the Dublin boat, I
recollect, and a night it was."

"I recollect that you set me on my legs, doctor."

"Ah! and you'll please to notify that Corney's no quack at sea, by
favour of the monks of the Chartreuse, whose elixir has power to still
the waves. And we hear that miracles are done with!"

"Roll a physician and a monk together, doctor!"

"True: it'll be a miracle if they combine. Though the cure of the soul
is often the entire and total cure of the body: and it's maliciously
said that the body given over to our treatment is a signal to set the
soul flying. By the way, colonel, that boy has a trifle on his mind."

"I suppose he has been worrying a farmer or a gamekeeper."

"Try him. You'll find him tight. He's got Miss Middleton on the brain.
There's a bit of a secret; and he's not so cheerful about it."

"We'll see," said the colonel.

Dr Corney nodded. "I have to visit my patient here presently. I'm too
early for him: so I'll make a call or two on the lame birds that are
up," he remarked, and drove away.

De Craye strolled through the garden. He was a gentleman of those
actively perceptive wits which, if ever they reflect, do so by hops and
jumps: upon some dancing mirror within, we may fancy. He penetrated a
plot in a flash; and in a flash he formed one; but in both cases, it
was after long hovering and not over-eager deliberation, by the patient
exercise of his quick perceptives. The fact that Crossjay was
considered to have Miss Middleton on the brain, threw a series of
images of everything relating to Crossjay for the last forty hours into
relief before him: and as he did not in the slightest degree speculate
on any one of them, but merely shifted and surveyed them, the falcon
that he was in spirit as well as in his handsome face leisurely allowed
his instinct to direct him where to strike. A reflective disposition
has this danger in action, that it commonly precipitates conjecture for
the purpose of working upon probabilities with the methods and in the
tracks to which it is accustomed: and to conjecture rashly is to play
into the puzzles of the maze. He who can watch circling above it
awhile, quietly viewing, and collecting in his eye, gathers matter that
makes the secret thing discourse to the brain by weight and balance; he
will get either the right clue or none; more frequently none; but he
will escape the entanglement of his own cleverness, he will always be
nearer to the enigma than the guesser or the calculator, and he will
retain a breadth of vision forfeited by them. He must, however, to have
his chance of success, be acutely besides calmly perceptive, a reader
of features, audacious at the proper moment.

De Craye wished to look at Miss Dale. She had returned home very
suddenly, not, as it appeared, owing to her father's illness; and he
remembered a redness of her eyelids when he passed her on the corridor
one night. She sent Crossjay out to him as soon as the boy was well
filled. He sent Crossjay back with a request. She did not yield to it
immediately. She stepped to the front door reluctantly, and seemed
disconcerted. De Craye begged for a message to Miss Middleton. There
was none to give. He persisted. But there was really none at present,
she said.

"You won't entrust me with the smallest word?" said he, and set her
visibly thinking whether she could dispatch a word. She could not; she
had no heart for messages.

"I shall see her in a day or two, Colonel De Craye."

"She will miss you severely."

"We shall soon meet."

"And poor Willoughby!"

Laetitia coloured and stood silent.

A butterfly of some rarity allured Crossjay.

"I fear he has been doing mischief," she said. "I cannot get him to
look at me."

"His appetite is good?"

"Very good indeed."

De Craye nodded. A boy with a noble appetite is never a hopeless lock.

The colonel and Crossjay lounged over the garden.

"And now," said the colonel, "we'll see if we can't arrange a meeting
between you and Miss Middleton. You're a lucky fellow, for she's always
thinking of you."

"I know I'm always thinking of her," said Crossjay.

"If ever you're in a scrape, she's the person you must go to."

"Yes, if I know where she is!"

"Why, generally she'll be at the Hall."

There was no reply: Crossjay's dreadful secret jumped to his throat. He
certainly was a weaker lock for being full of breakfast.

"I want to see Mr. Whitford so much," he said.

"Something to tell him?"

"I don't know what to do: I don't understand it!" The secret wriggled
to his mouth. He swallowed it down. "Yes, I want to talk to Mr.
Whitford."

"He's another of Miss Middleton's friends."

"I know he is. He's true steel."

"We're all her friends, Crossjay. I flatter myself I'm a Toledo when
I'm wanted. How long had you been in the house last night before you
ran into me?"

"I don't know, sir; I fell asleep for some time, and then I woke!
. . ."

"Where did you find yourself?"

"I was in the drawing-room."

"Come, Crossjay, you're not a fellow to be scared by ghosts? You looked
it when you made a dash at my midriff."

"I don't believe there are such things. Do you, colonel? You can't!"

"There's no saying. We'll hope not; for it wouldn't be fair fighting. A
man with a ghost to back him'd beat any ten. We couldn't box him or
play cards, or stand a chance with him as a rival in love. Did you,
now, catch a sight of a ghost?"

"They weren't ghosts!" Crossjay said what he was sure of, and his voice
pronounced his conviction.

"I doubt whether Miss Middleton is particularly happy," remarked the
colonel. "Why? Why, you upset her, you know, now and then."

The boy swelled. "I'd do . . . I'd go . . . I wouldn't have her unhappy
. . . It's that! that's it! And I don't know what I ought to do. I wish
I could see Mr. Whitford."

"You get into such headlong scrapes, my lad."

"I wasn't in any scrape yesterday."

"So you made yourself up a comfortable bed in the drawing-room? Luckily
Sir Willoughby didn't see you."

"He didn't, though!"

"A close shave, was it?"

"I was under a covering of something silk."

"He woke you?"

"I suppose he did. I heard him."

"Talking?"

"He was talking."

"What! talking to himself?"

"No."

The secret threatened Crossjay to be out or suffocate him. De Craye
gave him a respite.

"You like Sir Willoughby, don't you?"

Crossjay produced a still-born affirmative.

"He's kind to you," said the colonel; "he'll set you up and look after
your interests."

"Yes, I like him," said Crossjay, with his customary rapidity in
touching the subject; "I like him; he's kind and all that, and tips and
plays with you, and all that; but I never can make out why he wouldn't
see my father when my father came here to see him ten miles, and had to
walk back ten miles in the rain, to go by rail a long way, down home,
as far as Devonport, because Sir Willoughby wouldn't see him, though he
was at home, my father saw. We all thought it so odd: and my father
wouldn't let us talk much about it. My father's a very brave man."

"Captain Patterne is as brave a man as ever lived," said De Craye.

"I'm positive you'd like him, colonel."

"I know of his deeds, and I admire him, and that's a good step to
liking."

He warmed the boy's thoughts of his father.

"Because, what they say at home is, a little bread and cheese, and a
glass of ale, and a rest, to a poor man--lots of great houses will give
you that, and we wouldn't have asked for more than that. My sisters
say they think Sir Willoughby must be selfish. He's awfully proud; and
perhaps it was because my father wasn't dressed well enough. But what
can we do? We're very poor at home, and lots of us, and all hungry. My
father says he isn't paid very well for his services to the Government.
He's only a marine."

"He's a hero!" said De Craye.

"He came home very tired, with a cold, and had a doctor. But Sir
Willoughby did send him money, and mother wished to send it back, and
my father said she was not like a woman--with our big family. He said
he thought Sir Willoughby an extraordinary man."

"Not at all; very common; indigenous," said De Craye. "The art of
cutting is one of the branches of a polite education in this country,
and you'll have to learn it, if you expect to be looked on as a
gentleman and a Patterne, my boy. I begin to see how it is Miss
Middleton takes to you so. Follow her directions. But I hope you did
not listen to a private conversation. Miss Middleton would not approve
of that."

"Colonel De Craye, how could I help myself? I heard a lot before I knew
what it was. There was poetry!"

"Still, Crossjay, if it was important--was it?"

The boy swelled again, and the colonel asked him, "Does Miss Dale know
of your having played listener?"

"She!" said Crossjay. "Oh, I couldn't tell her."

He breathed thick; then came a threat of tears. "She wouldn't do
anything to hurt Miss Middleton. I'm sure of that. It wasn't her fault.
She--There goes Mr. Whitford!" Crossjay bounded away.

The colonel had no inclination to wait for his return. He walked fast
up the road, not perspicuously conscious that his motive was to be well
in advance of Vernon Whitford: to whom, after all, the knowledge
imparted by Crossjay would be of small advantage. That fellow would
probably trot of to Willoughby to row him for breaking his word to Miss
Middleton! There are men, thought De Craye, who see nothing, feel
nothing.

He crossed a stile into the wood above the lake, where, as he was in
the humour to think himself signally lucky, espying her, he took it as
a matter of course that the lady who taught his heart to leap should be
posted by the Fates. And he wondered little at her power, for rarely
had the world seen such union of princess and sylph as in that lady's
figure. She stood holding by a beech-branch, gazing down on the water.

She had not heard him. When she looked she flushed at the spectacle of
one of her thousand thoughts, but she was not startled; the colour
overflowed a grave face.

"And 'tis not quite the first time that Willoughby has played this
trick!" De Craye said to her, keenly smiling with a parted mouth.

Clara moved her lips to recall remarks introductory to so abrupt and
strange a plunge.

He smiled in that peculiar manner of an illuminated comic perception:
for the moment he was all falcon; and he surprised himself more than
Clara, who was not in the mood to take surprises. It was the sight of
her which had animated him to strike his game; he was down on it.

Another instinct at work (they spring up in twenties oftener than in
twos when the heart is the hunter) prompted him to directness and
quickness, to carry her on the flood of the discovery.

She regained something of her mental self-possession as soon as she was
on a level with a meaning she had not yet inspected; but she had to
submit to his lead, distinctly perceiving where its drift divided to
the forked currents of what might be in his mind and what was in hers.

"Miss Middleton, I bear a bit of a likeness to the messenger to the
glorious despot--my head is off if I speak not true! Everything I have
is on the die. Did I guess wrong your wish?--I read it in the dark, by
the heart. But here's a certainty: Willoughby sets you free."

"You have come from him?" she could imagine nothing else, and she was
unable to preserve a disguise; she trembled.

"From Miss Dale."

"Ah!" Clara drooped. "She told me that once."

"'Tis the fact that tells it now."

"You have not seen him since you left the house?"

"Darkly: clear enough: not unlike the hand of destiny--through a veil.
He offered himself to Miss Dale last night, about between the witching
hours of twelve and one."

"Miss Dale . . ."

"Would she other? Could she? The poor lady has languished beyond a
decade. She's love in the feminine person."

"Are you speaking seriously, Colonel De Craye?"

"Would I dare to trifle with you, Miss Middleton?"

"I have reason to know it cannot be."

"If I have a head, it is a fresh and blooming truth. And more--I stake
my vanity on it!"

"Let me go to her." She stepped.

"Consider," said he.

"Miss Dale and I are excellent friends. It would not seem indelicate to
her. She has a kind of regard for me, through Crossjay.--Oh, can it be?
There must be some delusion. You have seen--you wish to be of service
to me; you may too easily be deceived. Last night?--he last night . . .?
And this morning!"

"'Tis not the first time our friend has played the trick, Miss
Middleton."

"But this is incredible, that last night . . . and this morning, in my
father's presence, he presses! . . . You have seen Miss Dale?
Everything is possible of him: they were together, I know. Colonel De
Craye, I have not the slightest chance of concealment with you. I think
I felt that when I first saw you. Will you let me hear why you are so
certain?"

"Miss Middleton, when I first had the honour of looking on you, it was
in a posture that necessitated my looking up, and morally so it has
been since. I conceived that Willoughby had won the greatest prize of
earth. And next I was led to the conclusion that he had won it to lose
it. Whether he much cares, is the mystery I haven't leisure to fathom.
Himself is the principal consideration with himself, and ever was."

"You discovered it!" said Clara.

"He uncovered it," said De Craye. "The miracle was, that the world
wouldn't see. But the world is a piggy-wiggy world for the wealthy
fellow who fills a trough for it, and that he has always very
sagaciously done. Only women besides myself have detected him. I have
never exposed him; I have been an observer pure and simple; and because
I apprehended another catastrophe--making something like the fourth, to
my knowledge, one being public . . ."

"You knew Miss Durham?"

"And Harry Oxford too. And they're a pair as happy as blackbirds in a
cherry-tree, in a summer sunrise, with the owner of the garden asleep.
Because of that apprehension of mine, I refused the office of best man
till Willoughby had sent me a third letter. He insisted on my coming. I
came, saw, and was conquered. I trust with all my soul I did not betray
myself, I owed that duty to my position of concealing it. As for
entirely hiding that I had used my eyes, I can't say: they must answer
for it."

The colonel was using his eyes with an increasing suavity that
threatened more than sweetness.

"I believe you have been sincerely kind," said Clara. "We will descend
to the path round the lake."

She did not refuse her hand on the descent, and he let it escape the
moment the service was done. As he was performing the admirable
character of the man of honour, he had to attend to the observance of
details; and sure of her though he was beginning to feel, there was a
touch of the unknown in Clara Middleton which made him fear to stamp
assurance; despite a barely resistible impulse, coming of his emotions
and approved by his maxims. He looked at the hand, now a free lady's
hand. Willoughby settled, his chance was great. Who else was in the
way? No one. He counselled himself to wait for her; she might have
ideas of delicacy. Her face was troubled, speculative; the brows
clouded, the lips compressed.

"You have not heard this from Miss Dale?" she said.

"Last night they were together: this morning she fled. I saw her this
morning distressed. She is unwilling to send you a message: she talks
vaguely of meeting you some days hence. And it is not the first time he
has gone to her for his consolation."

"That is not a proposal," Clara reflected. "He is too prudent. He did
not propose to her at the time you mention. Have you not been hasty,
Colonel De Craye?"

Shadows crossed her forehead. She glanced in the direction of the house
and stopped her walk.

"Last night, Miss Middleton, there was a listener."

"Who?"

"Crossjay was under that pretty silk coverlet worked by the Miss
Patternes. He came home late, found his door locked, and dashed
downstairs into the drawing-room, where he snuggled up and dropped
asleep. The two speakers woke him; they frightened the poor dear lad in
his love for you, and after they had gone, he wanted to run out of the
house, and I met him just after I had come back from my search,
bursting, and took him to my room, and laid him on the sofa, and abused
him for not lying quiet. He was restless as a fish on a bank. When I
woke in the morning he was off. Doctor Corney came across him somewhere
on the road and drove him to the cottage. I was ringing the bell.
Corney told me the boy had you on his brain, and was miserable, so
Crossjay and I had a talk."

"Crossjay did not repeat to you the conversation he had heard?" said
Clara.

"No."

She smiled rejoicingly, proud of the boy, as she walked on.

"But you'll pardon me, Miss Middleton--and I'm for him as much as you
are--if I was guilty of a little angling."

"My sympathies are with the fish."

"The poor fellow had a secret that hurt him. It rose to the surface
crying to be hooked, and I spared him twice or thrice, because he had a
sort of holy sentiment I respected, that none but Mr. Whitford ought to
be his father confessor."

"Crossjay!" she cried, hugging her love of the boy.

"The secret was one not to be communicated to Miss Dale of all people."

"He said that?"

"As good as the very words. She informed me, too, that she couldn't
induce him to face her straight."

"Oh, that looks like it. And Crossjay was unhappy? Very unhappy?"

"He was just where tears are on the brim, and would have been over, if
he were not such a manly youngster."

"It looks. . ." She reverted in thought to Willoughby, and doubted, and
blindly stretched hands to her recollection of the strange old monster
she had discovered in him. Such a man could do anything.

That conclusion fortified her to pursue her walk to the house and give
battle for freedom. Willoughby appeared to her scarce human,
unreadable, save by the key that she could supply. She determined to
put faith in Colonel De Craye's marvellous divination of circumstances
in the dark. Marvels are solid weapons when we are attacked by real
prodigies of nature. Her countenance cleared. She conversed with De
Craye of the polite and the political world, throwing off her personal
burden completely, and charming him.

At the edge of the garden, on the bridge that crossed the haha from the
park, he had a second impulse, almost a warning within, to seize his
heavenly opportunity to ask for thanks and move her tender lowered
eyelids to hint at his reward. He repressed it, doubtful of the wisdom.

Something like "heaven forgive me" was in Clara's mind, though she
would have declared herself innocent before the scrutator.



CHAPTER XLIII

IN WHICH SIR WILLOUGHBY IS LED TO THINK THAT THE ELEMENTS HAVE
CONSPIRED AGAINST HIM

Clara had not taken many steps in the garden before she learned how
great was her debt of gratitude to Colonel De Craye. Willoughby and
her father were awaiting her. De Craye, with his ready comprehension of
circumstances, turned aside unseen among the shrubs. She advanced
slowly.

"The vapours, we may trust, have dispersed?" her father hailed her.

"One word, and these discussions are over, we dislike them equally,"
said Willoughby.

"No scenes," Dr. Middleton added. "Speak your decision, my girl, pro
forma, seeing that he who has the right demands it, and pray release
me."

Clara looked at Willoughby.

"I have decided to go to Miss Dale for her advice."

There was no appearance in him of a man that has been shot.

"To Miss Dale?--for advice?"

Dr Middleton invoked the Furies. "What is the signification of this new
freak?"

"Miss Dale must be consulted, papa."

"Consulted with reference to the disposal of your hand in marriage?"

"She must be."

"Miss Dale, do you say?"

"I do, Papa."

Dr Middleton regained his natural elevation from the bend of body
habitual with men of an established sanity, paedagogues and others, who
are called on at odd intervals to inspect the magnitude of the
infinitesimally absurd in human nature: small, that is, under the light
of reason, immense in the realms of madness.

His daughter profoundly confused him. He swelled out his chest,
remarking to Willoughby: "I do not wonder at your scared expression of
countenance, my friend. To discover yourself engaged to a girl mad as
Cassandra, without a boast of the distinction of her being sun-struck,
can be no specially comfortable enlightenment. I am opposed to delays,
and I will not have a breach of faith committed by daughter of mine."

"Do not repeat those words," Clara said to Willoughby. He started. She
had evidently come armed. But how, within so short a space? What could
have instructed her? And in his bewilderment he gazed hurriedly above,
gulped air, and cried: "Scared, sir? I am not aware that my countenance
can show a scare. I am not accustomed to sue for long: I am unable to
sustain the part of humble supplicant. She puts me out of harmony with
creation--We are plighted, Clara. It is pure waste of time to speak of
soliciting advice on the subject."

"Would it be a breach of faith for me to break my engagement?" she
said.

"You ask?"

"It is a breach of sanity to propound the interrogation," said her
father.

She looked at Willoughby. "Now?"

He shrugged haughtily.

"Since last night?" she said.

"Last night?"

"Am I not released?"

"Not by me."

"By your act."

"My dear Clara!"

"Have you not virtually disengaged me?"

"I who claim you as mine?"

"Can you?"

"I do and must."

"After last night?"

"Tricks! shufflings! jabber of a barbarian woman upon the evolutions of
a serpent!" exclaimed Dr. Middleton. "You were to capitulate, or to
furnish reasons for your refusal. You have none. Give him your hand,
girl, according to the compact. I praised you to him for returning
within the allotted term, and now forbear to disgrace yourself and me."

"Is he perfectly free to offer his? Ask him, papa."

"Perform your duty. Do let us have peace!"

"Perfectly free! as on the day when I offered it first." Willoughby
frankly waved his honourable hand.

His face was blanched: enemies in the air seemed to have whispered
things to her: he doubted the fidelity of the Powers above.

"Since last night?" said she.

"Oh! if you insist, I reply, since last night."

"You know what I mean, Sir Willoughby."

"Oh! certainly."

"You speak the truth?"

"'Sir Willoughby!'" her father ejaculated in wrath. "But will you
explain what you mean, epitome that you are of all the contradictions
and mutabilities ascribed to women from the beginning! 'Certainly', he
says, and knows no more than I. She begs grace for an hour, and returns
with a fresh store of evasions, to insult the man she has injured. It
is my humiliation to confess that our share in this contract is rescued
from public ignominy by his generosity. Nor can I congratulate him on
his fortune, should he condescend to bear with you to the utmost; for
instead of the young woman I supposed myself to be bestowing on him, I
see a fantastical planguncula enlivened by the wanton tempers of a
nursery chit. If one may conceive a meaning in her, in miserable
apology for such behaviour, some spirit of jealousy informs the girl."

"I can only remark that there is no foundation for it," said
Willoughby. "I am willing to satisfy you, Clara. Name the person who
discomposes you. I can scarcely imagine one to exist: but who can
tell?"

She could name no person. The detestable imputation of jealousy would
be confirmed if she mentioned a name: and indeed Laetitia was not to be
named.

He pursued his advantage: "Jealousy is one of the fits I am a stranger
to,--I fancy, sir, that gentlemen have dismissed it. I speak for
myself.--But I can make allowances. In some cases, it is considered a
compliment; and often a word will soothe it. The whole affair is so
senseless! However, I will enter the witness-box, or stand at the
prisoner's bar! Anything to quiet a distempered mind."

"Of you, sir," said Dr. Middleton, "might a parent be justly proud."

"It is not jealousy; I could not be jealous!" Clara cried, stung by the
very passion; and she ran through her brain for a suggestion to win a
sign of meltingness if not esteem from her father. She was not an iron
maiden, but one among the nervous natures which live largely in the
moment, though she was then sacrificing it to her nature's deep
dislike. "You may be proud of me again, papa."

She could hardly have uttered anything more impolitic.

"Optume; but deliver yourself ad rem," he rejoined, alarmingly
pacified. "Firmavit fidem. Do you likewise, and double on us no more
like puss in the field."

"I wish to see Miss Dale," she said.

Up flew the Rev. Doctor's arms in wrathful despair resembling an
imprecation.

"She is at the cottage. You could have seen her," said Willoughby.

Evidently she had not.

"Is it untrue that last night, between twelve o'clock and one, in the
drawing-room, you proposed marriage to Miss Dale?" He became convinced
that she must have stolen down-stairs during his colloquy with
Laetitia, and listened at the door.

"On behalf of old Vernon?" he said, lightly laughing. "The idea is not
novel, as you know. They are suited, if they could see it.--Laetitia
Dale and my cousin Vernon Whitford, sir."

"Fairly schemed, my friend, and I will say for you, you have the
patience, Willoughby, of a husband!"

Willoughby bowed to the encomium, and allowed some fatigue to be
visible. He half yawned: "I claim no happier title, sir," and made
light of the weariful discussion.

Clara was shaken: she feared that Crossjay had heard incorrectly, or
that Colonel De Craye had guessed erroneously. It was too likely that
Willoughby should have proposed Vernon to Laetitia.

There was nothing to reassure her save the vision of the panic
amazement of his face at her persistency in speaking of Miss Dale. She
could have declared on oath that she was right, while admitting all the
suppositions to be against her. And unhappily all the Delicacies (a
doughty battalion for the defence of ladies until they enter into
difficulties and are shorn of them at a blow, bare as dairymaids), all
the body-guard of a young gentlewoman, the drawing-room sylphides,
which bear her train, which wreathe her hair, which modulate her voice
and tone her complexion, which are arrows and shield to awe the
creature man, forbade her utterance of what she felt, on pain of
instant fulfilment of their oft-repeated threat of late to leave her to
the last remnant of a protecting sprite. She could not, as in a dear
melodrama, from the aim of a pointed finger denounce him, on the
testimony of her instincts, false of speech, false in deed. She could
not even declare that she doubted his truthfulness. The refuge of a
sullen fit, the refuge of tears, the pretext of a mood, were denied her
now by the rigour of those laws of decency which are a garment to
ladies of pure breeding.

"One more respite, papa," she implored him, bitterly conscious of the
closer tangle her petition involved, and, if it must be betrayed of
her, perceiving in an illumination how the knot might become so
woefully Gordian that haply in a cloud of wild events the intervention
of a gallant gentleman out of heaven, albeit in the likeness of one of
earth, would have to cut it: her cry within, as she succumbed to
weakness, being fervider, "Anything but marry this one!" She was faint
with strife and dejected, a condition in the young when their
imaginative energies hold revel uncontrolled and are projectively
desperate.

"No respite!" said Willoughby, genially.

"And I say, no respite!" observed her father. "You have assumed a
position that has not been granted you, Clara Middleton."

"I cannot bear to offend you, father."

"Him! Your duty is not to offend him. Address your excuses to him. I
refuse to be dragged over the same ground, to reiterate the same
command perpetually."

"If authority is deputed to me, I claim you," said Willoughby.

"You have not broken faith with me?"

"Assuredly not, or would it be possible for me to press my claim?"

"And join the right hand to the right," said Dr. Middleton; "no, it
would not be possible. What insane root she has been nibbling, I know
not, but she must consign herself to the guidance of those whom the
gods have not abandoned, until her intellect is liberated. She was once
. . . there: I look not back--if she it was, and no simulacrum of a
reasonable daughter. I welcome the appearance of my friend Mr.
Whitford. He is my sea-bath and supper on the beach of Troy, after the
day's battle and dust."

Vernon walked straight up to them: an act unusual with him, for he was
shy of committing an intrusion.

Clara guessed by that, and more by the dancing frown of speculative
humour he turned on Willoughby, that he had come charged in support of
her. His forehead was curiously lively, as of one who has got a
surprise well under, to feed on its amusing contents.

"Have you seen Crossjay, Mr. Whitford?" she said.

"I've pounced on Crossjay; his bones are sound."

"Where did he sleep?"

"On a sofa, it seems."

She smiled, with good hope--Vernon had the story.

Willoughby thought it just to himself that he should defend his measure
of severity.

"The boy lied; he played a double game."

"For which he should have been reasoned with at the Grecian portico of
a boy," said the Rev. Doctor.

"My system is different, sir. I could not inflict what I would not
endure myself"

"So is Greek excluded from the later generations; and you leave a
field, the most fertile in the moralities in youth, unplowed and
unsown. Ah! well. This growing too fine is our way of relapsing upon
barbarism. Beware of over-sensitiveness, where nature has plainly
indicated her alternative gateway of knowledge. And now, I presume, I
am at liberty."

"Vernon will excuse us for a minute or two."

"I hold by Mr. Whitford now I have him."

"I'll join you in the laboratory, Vernon," Willoughby nodded bluntly.

"We will leave them, Mr. Whitford. They are at the time-honoured
dissension upon a particular day, that, for the sake of dignity,
blushes to be named."

"What day?" said Vernon, like a rustic.

"THE day, these people call it."

Vernon sent one of his vivid eyeshots from one to the other. His eyes
fixed on Willoughby's with a quivering glow, beyond amazement, as if
his humour stood at furnace-heat, and absorbed all that came.

Willoughby motioned to him to go.

"Have you seen Miss Dale, Mr. Whitford?" said Clara.

He answered, "No. Something has shocked her."

"Is it her feeling for Crossjay?"

"Ah!" Vernon said to Willoughby, "your pocketing of the key of
Crossjay's bedroom door was a master-stroke!"

The celestial irony suffused her, and she bathed and swam in it, on
hearing its dupe reply: "My methods of discipline are short. I was not
aware that she had been to his door."

"But I may hope that Miss Dale will see me," said Clara. "We are in
sympathy about the boy."

"Mr. Dale might be seen. He seems to be of a divided mind with his
daughter," Vernon rejoined. "She has locked herself up in her room."

"He is not the only father in that unwholesome predicament," said Dr
Middleton.

"He talks of coming to you, Willoughby."

"Why to me?" Willoughby chastened his irritation: "He will be welcome,
of course. It would be better that the boy should come."

"If there is a chance of your forgiving him," said Clara. "Let the
Dales know I am prepared to listen to the boy, Vernon. There can be no
necessity for Mr. Dale to drag himself here."

"How are Mr. Dale and his daughter of a divided mind, Mr. Whitford?"
said Clara.

Vernon simulated an uneasiness. With a vacant gaze that enlarged around
Willoughby and was more discomforting than intentness, he replied:
"Perhaps she is unwilling to give him her entire confidence, Miss
Middleton."

"In which respect, then, our situations present their solitary point of
unlikeness in resemblance, for I have it in excess," observed Dr.
Middleton.

Clara dropped her eyelids for the wave to pass over. "It struck me that
Miss Dale was a person of the extremest candour."

"Why should we be prying into the domestic affairs of the Dales?"
Willoughby interjected, and drew out his watch, merely for a diversion;
he was on tiptoe to learn whether Vernon was as well instructed as
Clara, and hung to the view that he could not be, while drenching in
the sensation that he was:--and if so, what were the Powers above but a
body of conspirators? He paid Laetitia that compliment. He could not
conceive the human betrayal of the secret. Clara's discovery of it had
set his common sense adrift.

"The domestic affairs of the Dales do not concern me," said Vernon.

"And yet, my friend," Dr. Middleton balanced himself, and with an air
of benevolent slyness the import of which did not awaken Willoughby,
until too late, remarked: "They might concern you. I will even add,
that there is a probability of your being not less than the fount and
origin of this division of father and daughter, though Willoughby in
the drawingroom last night stands accusably the agent."

"Favour me, sir, with an explanation," said Vernon, seeking to gather
it from Clara.

Dr Middleton threw the explanation upon Willoughby.

Clara, communicated as much as she was able in one of those looks of
still depth which say, Think! and without causing a thought to stir,
takes us into the pellucid mind.

Vernon was enlightened before Willoughby had spoken. His mouth shut
rigidly, and there was a springing increase of the luminous wavering of
his eyes. Some star that Clara had watched at night was like them in
the vivid wink and overflow of its light. Yet, as he was perfectly
sedate, none could have suspected his blood to be chasing wild with
laughter, and his frame strung to the utmost to keep it from volleying.
So happy was she in his aspect, that her chief anxiety was to recover
the name of the star whose shining beckons and speaks, and is in the
quick of spirit-fire. It is the sole star which on a night of frost and
strong moonlight preserves an indomitable fervency: that she
remembered, and the picture of a hoar earth and a lean Orion in flooded
heavens, and the star beneath Eastward of him: but the name! the
name!--She heard Willoughby indistinctly.

"Oh, the old story; another effort; you know my wish; a failure, of
course, and no thanks on either side, I suppose I must ask your
excuse.--They neither of them see what's good for them, sir."

"Manifestly, however," said Dr. Middleton, "if one may opine from the
division we have heard of, the father is disposed to back your
nominee."

"I can't say; as far as I am concerned, I made a mess of it." Vernon
withstood the incitement to acquiesce, but he sparkled with his
recognition of the fact.

"You meant well, Willoughby."

"I hope so, Vernon."

"Only you have driven her away."

"We must resign ourselves."

"It won't affect me, for I'm off to-morrow."

"You see, sir, the thanks I get."

"Mr. Whitford," said Dr. Middleton, "You have a tower of strength in
the lady's father."

"Would you have me bring it to bear upon the lady, sir?"

"Wherefore not?"

"To make her marriage a matter of obedience to her father?"

"Ay, my friend, a lusty lover would have her gladly on those terms,
well knowing it to be for the lady's good. What do you say,
Willoughby?"

"Sir! Say? What can I say? Miss Dale has not plighted her faith. Had
she done so, she is a lady who would never dishonour it."

"She is an ideal of constancy, who would keep to it though it had been
broken on the other side," said Vernon, and Clara thrilled.

"I take that, sir, to be a statue of constancy, modelled upon which a
lady of our flesh may be proclaimed as graduating for the condition of
idiocy," said Dr. Middleton.

"But faith is faith, sir."

"But the broken is the broken, sir, whether in porcelain or in human
engagements; and all that one of the two continuing faithful, I should
rather say, regretful, can do, is to devote the remainder of life to
the picking up of the fragments; an occupation properly to be pursued,
for the comfort of mankind, within the enclosure of an appointed
asylum."

"You destroy the poetry of sentiment, Dr. Middleton."

"To invigorate the poetry of nature, Mr. Whitford."

"Then you maintain, sir, that when faith is broken by one, the
engagement ceases, and the other is absolutely free?"

"I do; I am the champion of that platitude, and sound that knell to the
sentimental world; and since you have chosen to defend it, I will
appeal to Willoughby, and ask him if he would not side with the world
of good sense in applauding the nuptials of man or maid married within
a month of a jilting?" Clara slipped her arm under her father's.

"Poetry, sir," said Willoughby, "I never have been hypocrite enough to
pretend to understand or care for."

Dr. Middleton laughed. Vernon too seemed to admire his cousin for a
reply that rung in Clara's ears as the dullest ever spoken. Her arm
grew cold on her father's. She began to fear Willoughby again.

He depended entirely on his agility to elude the thrusts that assailed
him. Had he been able to believe in the treachery of the Powers above,
he would at once have seen design in these deadly strokes, for his
feelings had rarely been more acute than at the present crisis; and he
would then have led away Clara, to wrangle it out with her, relying on
Vernon's friendliness not to betray him to her father: but a wrangle
with Clara promised no immediate fruits, nothing agreeable; and the
lifelong trust he had reposed in his protecting genii obscured his
intelligence to evidence he would otherwise have accepted on the spot,
on the faith of his delicate susceptibility to the mildest impressions
which wounded him. Clara might have stooped to listen at the door: she
might have heard sufficient to create a suspicion. But Vernon was not
in the house last night; she could not have communicated it to him, and
he had not seen Laetitia, who was, besides trustworthy, an admirable if
a foolish and ill-fated woman.

Preferring to consider Vernon a pragmatical moralist played upon by a
sententious drone, he thought it politic to detach them, and vanquish
Clara while she was in the beaten mood, as she had appeared before
Vernon's vexatious arrival.

"I'm afraid, my dear fellow, you are rather too dainty and fussy for a
very successful wooer," he said. "It's beautiful on paper, and absurd
in life. We have a bit of private business to discuss. We will go
inside, sir, I think. I will soon release you." Clara pressed her
father's arm.

"More?" said he.

"Five minutes. There's a slight delusion to clear, sir. My dear Clara,
you will see with different eyes."

"Papa wishes to work with Mr. Whitford."

Her heart sunk to hear her father say: "No, 'tis a lost morning. I must
consent to pay tax of it for giving another young woman to the world. I
have a daughter! You will, I hope, compensate me, Mr. Whitford, in the
afternoon. Be not downcast. I have observed you meditative of late. You
will have no clear brain so long as that stuff is on the mind. I could
venture to propose to do some pleading for you, should it be needed for
the prompter expedition of the affair."

Vernon briefly thanked him, and said:

"Willoughby has exerted all his eloquence, and you see the result: you
have lost Miss Dale and I have not won her. He did everything that one
man can do for another in so delicate a case: even to the repeating of
her famous birthday verses to him, to flatter the poetess. His best
efforts were foiled by the lady's indisposition for me."

"Behold," said Dr. Middleton, as Willoughby, electrified by the mention
of the verses, took a sharp stride or two, "you have in him an advocate
who will not be rebuffed by one refusal, and I can affirm that he is
tenacious, pertinacious as are few. Justly so. Not to believe in a
lady's No is the approved method of carrying that fortress built to
yield. Although unquestionably to have a young man pleading in our
interests with a lady, counts its objections. Yet Willoughby being
notoriously engaged, may be held to enjoy the privileges of his
elders."

"As an engaged man, sir, he was on a level with his elders in pleading
on my behalf with Miss Dale," said Vernon. Willoughby strode and
muttered. Providence had grown mythical in his thoughts, if not
malicious: and it is the peril of this worship that the object will
wear such an alternative aspect when it appears no longer subservient.

"Are we coming, sir?" he said, and was unheeded. The Rev. Doctor would
not be defrauded of rolling his billow.

"As an honourable gentleman faithful to his own engagement and desirous
of establishing his relatives, he deserves, in my judgement, the lady's
esteem as well as your cordial thanks; nor should a temporary failure
dishearten either of you, notwithstanding the precipitate retreat of
the lady from Patterne, and her seclusion in her sanctum on the
occasion of your recent visit."

"Supposing he had succeeded," said Vernon, driving Willoughby to
frenzy, "should I have been bound to marry?" Matter for cogitation was
offered to Dr. Middleton.

"The proposal was without your sanction?"

"Entirely."

"You admire the lady?"

"Respectfully."

"You do not incline to the state?"

"An inch of an angle would exaggerate my inclination."

"How long are we to stand and hear this insufferable nonsense you
talk?" cried Willoughby.

"But if Mr. Whitford was not consulted . . ." Dr. Middleton said, and
was overborne by Willoughby's hurried, "Oblige me, sir.--Oblige me, my
good fellow!" He swept his arm to Vernon, and gestured a conducting
hand to Clara.

"Here is Mrs. Mountstuart!" she exclaimed.

Willoughby stared. Was it an irruption of a friend or a foe? He
doubted, and stood petrified between the double question. Clara had
seen Mrs. Mountstuart and Colonel De Craye separating: and now the
great lady sailed along the sward like a royal barge in festival trim.

She looked friendly, but friendly to everybody, which was always a
frost on Willoughby, and terribly friendly to Clara.

Coming up to her she whispered: "News, indeed! Wonderful! I could not
credit his hint of it yesterday. Are you satisfied?"

"Pray, Mrs. Mountstuart, take an opportunity to speak to papa," Clara
whispered in return.

Mrs. Mountstuart bowed to Dr. Middleton, nodded to Vernon, and swam
upon Willoughby, with, "Is it? But is it? Am I really to believe? You
have? My dear Sir Willoughby? Really?" The confounded gentleman heaved
on a bare plank of wreck in mid sea.

He could oppose only a paralyzed smile to the assault.

His intuitive discretion taught him to fall back a step while she said,
"So!" the plummet word of our mysterious deep fathoms; and he fell back
further saying, "Madam?" in a tone advising her to speak low.

She recovered her volubility, followed his partial retreat, and dropped
her voice,--

"Impossible to have imagined it as an actual fact! You were always full
of surprises, but this! this! Nothing manlier, nothing more gentlemanly
has ever been done: nothing: nothing that so completely changes an
untenable situation into a comfortable and proper footing for
everybody. It is what I like: it is what I love:--sound sense! Men are
so selfish: one cannot persuade them to be reasonable in such
positions. But you, Sir Willoughby, have shown wisdom and sentiment:
the rarest of all combinations in men."

"Where have you? . . ." Willoughby contrived to say.

"Heard? The hedges, the housetops, everywhere. All the neighbourhood
will have it before nightfall. Lady Busshe and Lady Culmer will soon be
rushing here, and declaring they never expected anything else, I do not
doubt. I am not so pretentious. I beg your excuse for that 'twice' of
mine yesterday. Even if it hurt my vanity, I should be happy to confess
my error: I was utterly out. But then I did not reckon on a fatal
attachment, I thought men were incapable of it. I thought we women were
the only poor creatures persecuted by a fatality. It is a fatality! You
tried hard to escape, indeed you did. And she will do honour to your
final surrender, my dear friend. She is gentle, and very clever, very:
she is devoted to you: she will entertain excellently. I see her like a
flower in sunshine. She will expand to a perfect hostess. Patterne will
shine under her reign; you have my warrant for that. And so will you.
Yes, you flourish best when adored. It must be adoration. You have been
under a cloud of late. Years ago I said it was a match, when no one
supposed you could stoop. Lady Busshe would have it was a screen, and
she was deemed high wisdom. The world will be with you. All the women
will be: excepting, of course, Lady Busshe, whose pride is in prophecy;
and she will soon be too glad to swell the host. There, my friend, your
sincerest and oldest admirer congratulates you. I could not contain
myself; I was compelled to pour forth. And now I must go and be talked
to by Dr. Middleton. How does he take it? They leave?"

"He is perfectly well," said Willoughby, aloud, quite distraught.

She acknowledged his just correction of her for running on to an
extreme in low-toned converse, though they stood sufficiently isolated
from the others. These had by this time been joined by Colonel De
Craye, and were all chatting in a group--of himself, Willoughby
horribly suspected.

Clara was gone from him! Gone! but he remembered his oath and vowed it
again: not to Horace de Craye! She was gone, lost, sunk into the world
of waters of rival men, and he determined that his whole force should
be used to keep her from that man, the false friend who had supplanted
him in her shallow heart, and might, if he succeeded, boast of having
done it by simply appearing on the scene.

Willoughby intercepted Mrs. Mountstuart as she was passing over to Dr
Middleton. "My dear lady! spare me a minute."

De Craye sauntered up, with a face of the friendliest humour:

"Never was man like you, Willoughby, for shaking new patterns in a
kaleidoscope."

"Have you turned punster, Horace?" Willoughby replied, smarting to find
yet another in the demon secret, and he draw Dr. Middleton two or three
steps aside, and hurriedly begged him to abstain from prosecuting the
subject with Clara.

"We must try to make her happy as we best can, sir. She may have her
reasons--a young lady's reasons!" He laughed, and left the Rev. Doctor
considering within himself under the arch of his lofty frown of
stupefaction.

De Craye smiled slyly and winningly as he shadowed a deep droop on the
bend of his head before Clara, signifying his absolute devotion to her
service, and this present good fruit for witness of his merits.

She smiled sweetly though vaguely. There was no concealment of their
intimacy.

"The battle is over," Vernon said quietly, when Willoughby had walked
some paces beside Mrs. Mountstuart, adding: "You may expect to see Mr.
Dale here. He knows."

Vernon and Clara exchanged one look, hard on his part, in contrast with
her softness, and he proceeded to the house. De Craye waited for a word
or a promising look. He was patient, being self-assured, and passed on.

Clara linked her arm with her father's once more, and said, on a sudden
brightness: "Sirius, papa!" He repeated it in the profoundest manner:
"Sirius! And is there," he asked, "a feminine scintilla of sense in
that?"

"It is the name of the star I was thinking of, dear papa."

"It was the star observed by King Agamemnon before the sacrifice in
Aulis. You were thinking of that? But, my love, my Iphigenia, you have
not a father who will insist on sacrificing you."

"Did I hear him tell you to humour me, papa?"

Dr Middleton humphed.

"Verily the dog-star rages in many heads," he responded.



CHAPTER XLIV

DR MIDDLETON: THE LADIES ELEANOR AND ISABEL: AND MR. DALE

Clara looked up at the flying clouds. She travelled with them now, and
tasted freedom, but she prudently forbore to vex her father; she held
herself in reserve.

They were summoned by the midday bell.

Few were speakers at the meal, few were eaters. Clara was impelled to
join it by her desire to study Mrs. Mountstuart's face. Willoughby was
obliged to preside. It was a meal of an assembly of mutes and plates,
that struck the ear like the well-known sound of a collection of
offerings in church after an impressive exhortation from the pulpit. A
sally of Colonel De Craye's met the reception given to a charity-boy's
muffled burst of animal spirits in the silence of the sacred edifice.
Willoughby tried politics with Dr. Middleton, whose regular appetite
preserved him from uncongenial speculations when the hour for appeasing
it had come; and he alone did honour to the dishes, replying to his
host:

"Times are bad, you say, and we have a Ministry doing with us what they
will. Well, sir, and that being so, and opposition a manner of kicking
them into greater stability, it is the time for wise men to retire
within themselves, with the steady determination of the seed in the
earth to grow. Repose upon nature, sleep in firm faith, and abide the
seasons. That is my counsel to the weaker party."

The counsel was excellent, but it killed the topic.

Dr. Middleton's appetite was watched for the signal to rise and breathe
freely; and such is the grace accorded to a good man of an untroubled
conscience engaged in doing his duty to himself, that he perceived
nothing of the general restlessness; he went through the dishes calmly,
and as calmly he quoted Milton to the ladies Eleanor and Isabel, when
the company sprung up all at once upon his closing his repast. Vernon
was taken away from him by Willoughby. Mrs Mountstuart beckoned
covertly to Clara. Willoughby should have had something to say to him,
Dr. Middleton thought: the position was not clear. But the situation
was not disagreeable; and he was in no serious hurry, though he wished
to be enlightened.

"This," Dr. Middleton said to the spinster aunts, as he accompanied
them to the drawing-room, "shall be no lost day for me if I may devote
the remainder of it to you."

"The thunder, we fear, is not remote," murmured one.

"We fear it is imminent," sighed the other.

They took to chanting in alternation.

"--We are accustomed to peruse our Willoughby, and we know him by a
shadow."

"--From his infancy to his glorious youth and his established manhood."

"--He was ever the soul of chivalry."

"--Duty: duty first. The happiness of his family. The well-being of his
dependants."

"--If proud of his name it was not an overweening pride; it was founded
in the conscious possession of exalted qualities. He could be humble
when occasion called for it."

Dr Middleton bowed to the litany, feeling that occasion called for
humbleness from him.

"Let us hope . . . !" he said, with unassumed penitence on behalf of
his inscrutable daughter.

The ladies resumed:--

"--Vernon Whitford, not of his blood, is his brother!"

"--A thousand instances! Laetitia Dale remembers them better than we."

"--That any blow should strike him!"

"--That another should be in store for him!"

"--It seems impossible he can be quite misunderstood!"

"Let us hope . . . !" said Dr. Middleton.

"--One would not deem it too much for the dispenser of goodness to
expect to be a little looked up to!"

"--When he was a child he one day mounted a chair, and there he stood
in danger, would not let us touch him because he was taller than we,
and we were to gaze. Do you remember him, Eleanor? 'I am the sun of the
house!' It was inimitable!"

"--Your feelings; he would have your feelings! He was fourteen when his
cousin Grace Whitford married, and we lost him. They had been the
greatest friends; and it was long before he appeared among us. He has
never cared to see her since."

"--But he has befriended her husband. Never has he failed in
generosity. His only fault is--"

"--His sensitiveness. And that is--"

"--His secret. And that--"

"--You are not to discover! It is the same with him in manhood. No one
will accuse Willoughby Patterne of a deficiency of manlinesss: but what
is it?--he suffers, as none suffer, if he is not loved. He himself is
inalterably constant in affection."

"--What it is no one can say. We have lived with him all his life, and
we know him ready to make any sacrifice; only, he does demand the whole
heart in return. And if he doubts, he looks as we have seen him
to-day."

"--Shattered: as we have never seen him look before."

"We will hope," said Dr. Middleton, this time hastily. He tingled to
say, "what it was": he had it in him to solve perplexity in their
inquiry. He did say, adopting familiar speech to suit the theme, "You
know, ladies, we English come of a rough stock. A dose of rough dealing
in our youth does us no harm, braces us. Otherwise we are likely to
feel chilly: we grow too fine where tenuity of stature is necessarily
buffetted by gales, namely, in our self-esteem. We are barbarians, on a
forcing soil of wealth, in a conservatory of comfortable security; but
still barbarians. So, you see, we shine at our best when we are
plucked out of that, to where hard blows are given, in a state of war.
In a state of war we are at home, our men are high-minded fellows,
Scipios and good legionaries. In the state of peace we do not live in
peace: our native roughness breaks out in unexpected places, under
extraordinary aspects--tyrannies, extravagances, domestic exactions:
and if we have not had sharp early training . . . within and without
. . . the old-fashioned island-instrument to drill into us the
civilization of our masters, the ancients, we show it by running here
and there to some excess. Ahem. Yet," added the Rev. Doctor,
abandoning his effort to deliver a weighty truth obscurely for the
comprehension of dainty spinster ladies, the superabundance of whom in
England was in his opinion largely the cause of our decay as a people,
"Yet I have not observed this ultra-sensitiveness in Willoughby. He has
borne to hear more than I, certainly no example of the frailty, could
have endured."

"He concealed it," said the ladies. "It is intense."

"Then is it a disease?"

"It bears no explanation; it is mystic."

"It is a cultus, then, a form of self-worship."

"Self!" they ejaculated. "But is not Self indifferent to others? Is it
Self that craves for sympathy, love, and devotion?"

"He is an admirable host, ladies."

"He is admirable in all respects."

"Admirable must he be who can impress discerning women, his life-long
housemates, so favourably. He is, I repeat, a perfect host."

"He will be a perfect husband."

"In all probability."

"It is a certainty. Let him be loved and obeyed, he will be guided.
That is the secret for her whom he so fatally loves. That, if we had
dared, we would have hinted to her. She will rule him through her love
of him, and through him all about her. And it will not be a rule he
submits to, but a love he accepts. If she could see it!"

"If she were a metaphysician!" sighed Dr. Middleton.

"--But a sensitiveness so keen as his might--"

"--Fretted by an unsympathizing mate--"

"--In the end become, for the best of us is mortal--"

"--Callous!"

"--He would feel perhaps as much--"

"--Or more!--"

"--He would still be tender--"

"--But he might grow outwardly hard!"

Both ladies looked up at Dr. Middleton, as they revealed the dreadful
prospect.

"It is the story told of corns!" he said, sad as they.

The three stood drooping: the ladies with an attempt to digest his
remark; the Rev. Doctor in dejection lest his gallantry should no
longer continue to wrestle with his good sense.

He was rescued.

The door opened and a footman announced:--

"Mr. Dale."

Miss Eleanor and Miss Isabel made a sign to one another of raising
their hands.

They advanced to him, and welcomed him.

"Pray be seated, Mr. Dale. You have not brought us bad news of our
Laetitia?"

"So rare is the pleasure of welcoming you here, Mr. Dale, that we are
in some alarm, when, as we trust, it should be matter for unmixed
congratulation."

"Has Doctor Corney been doing wonders?"

"I am indebted to him for the drive to your house, ladies," said Mr.
Dale, a spare, close-buttoned gentleman, with an Indian complexion
deadened in the sick-chamber. "It is unusual for me to stir from my
precincts."

"The Rev. Dr. Middleton."

Mr. Dale bowed. He seemed surprised.

"You live in a splendid air, sir," observed the Rev. Doctor.

"I can profit little by it, sir," replied Mr. Dale. He asked the
ladies: "Will Sir Willoughby be disengaged?"

They consulted. "He is with Vernon. We will send to him."

The bell was rung.

"I have had the gratification of making the acquaintance of your
daughter, Mr. Dale, a most estimable lady," said Dr. Middleton.

Mr. Dale bowed. "She is honoured by your praises, sir. To the best of
my belief--I speak as a father--she merits them. Hitherto I have had no
doubts."

"Of Laetitia?" exclaimed the ladies; and spoke of her as gentleness and
goodness incarnate.

"Hitherto I have devoutly thought so," said Mr. Dale.

"Surely she is the very sweetest nurse, the most devoted of daughters."

"As far as concerns her duty to her father, I can say she is that,
ladies."

"In all her relations, Mr. Dale!"

"It is my prayer," he said.

The footman appeared. He announced that Sir Willoughby was in the
laboratory with Mr. Whitford, and the door locked.

"Domestic business," the ladies remarked. "You know Willoughby's
diligent attention to affairs, Mr. Dale."

"He is well?" Mr. Dale inquired.

"In excellent health."

"Body and mind?"

"But, dear Mr. Dale, he is never ill."

"Ah! for one to hear that who is never well! And Mr. Whitford is quite
sound?"

"Sound? The question alarms me for myself," said Dr. Middleton. "Sound
as our Constitution, the Credit of the country, the reputation of our
Prince of poets. I pray you to have no fears for him."

Mr. Dale gave the mild little sniff of a man thrown deeper into
perplexity.

He said: "Mr. Whitford works his head; he is a hard student; he may not
be always, if I may so put it, at home on worldly affairs."

"Dismiss that defamatory legend of the student, Mr. Dale; and take my
word for it, that he who persistently works his head has the strongest
for all affairs."

"Ah! Your daughter, sir, is here?"

"My daughter is here, sir, and will be most happy to present her
respects to the father of her friend, Miss Dale."

"They are friends?"

"Very cordial friends."

Mr. Dale administered another feebly pacifying sniff to himself.

"Laetitia!" he sighed, in apostrophe, and swept his forehead with a
hand seen to shake.

The ladies asked him anxiously whether he felt the heat of the room;
and one offered him a smelling-bottle.

He thanked them. "I can hold out until Sir Willoughby comes."

"We fear to disturb him when his door is locked, Mr. Dale; but, if you
wish it, we will venture on a message. You have really no bad news of
our Laetitia? She left us hurriedly this morning, without any
leave-taking, except a word to one of the maids, that your condition
required her immediate presence."

"My condition! And now her door is locked to me! We have spoken through
the door, and that is all. I stand sick and stupefied between two
locked doors, neither of which will open, it appears, to give me the
enlightenment I need more than medicine."

"Dear me!" cried Dr. Middleton, "I am struck by your description of
your position, Mr. Dale. It would aptly apply to our humanity of the
present generation; and were these the days when I sermonized, I could
propose that it should afford me an illustration for the pulpit. For my
part, when doors are closed I try not their locks; and I attribute my
perfect equanimity, health even, to an uninquiring acceptation of the
fact that they are closed to me. I read my page by the light I have. On
the contrary, the world of this day, if I may presume to quote you for
my purpose, is heard knocking at those two locked doors of the secret
of things on each side of us, and is beheld standing sick and stupefied
because it has got no response to its knocking. Why, sir, let the world
compare the diverse fortunes of the beggar and the postman: knock to
give, and it is opened unto you: knock to crave, and it continues shut.
I say, carry a letter to your locked door, and you shall have a good
reception: but there is none that is handed out. For which reason
. . ."

Mr. Dale swept a perspiring forehead, and extended his hand in
supplication. "I am an invalid, Dr. Middleton," he said. "I am unable
to cope with analogies. I have but strength for the slow digestion of
facts."

"For facts, we are bradypeptics to a man, sir. We know not yet if
nature be a fact or an effort to master one. The world has not yet
assimilated the first fact it stepped on. We are still in the endeavour
to make good blood of the fact of our being." Pressing his hands at his
temples, Mr. Dale moaned: "My head twirls; I did unwisely to come out.
I came on an impulse; I trust, honourable. I am unfit--I cannot follow
you, Dr. Middleton. Pardon me."

"Nay, sir, let me say, from my experience of my countrymen, that if you
do not follow me and can abstain from abusing me in consequence, you
are magnanimous," the Rev. Doctor replied, hardly consenting to let go
the man he had found to indemnify him for his gallant service of
acquiescing as a mute to the ladies, though he knew his breathing
robustfulness to be as an East wind to weak nerves, and himself an
engine of punishment when he had been torn for a day from his books.

Miss Eleanor said: "The enlightenment you need, Mr. Dale? Can we
enlighten you?"

"I think not," he answered, faintly. "I think I will wait for Sir
Willoughby . . . or Mr. Whitford. If I can keep my strength. Or could I
exchange--I fear to break down--two words with the young lady who is,
was . . ."

"Miss Middleton, my daughter, sir? She shall be at your disposition; I
will bring her to you." Dr. Middleton stopped at the window. "She, it
is true, may better know the mind of Miss Dale than I. But I flatter
myself I know the gentleman better. I think, Mr. Dale, addressing you
as the lady's father, you will find me a persuasive, I could be an
impassioned, advocate in his interests."

Mr. Dale was confounded; the weakly sapling caught in a gust falls back
as he did.

"Advocate?" he said. He had little breath.

"His impassioned advocate, I repeat; for I have the highest opinion of
him. You see, sir, I am acquainted with the circumstances. I believe,"
Dr. Middleton half turned to the ladies, "we must, until your potent
inducements, Mr. Dale, have been joined to my instances, and we
overcome what feminine scruples there may be, treat the circumstances
as not generally public. Our Strephon may be chargeable with shyness.
But if for the present it is incumbent on us, in proper consideration
for the parties, not to be nominally precise, it is hardly requisite in
this household that we should be. He is now for protesting indifference
to the state. I fancy we understand that phase of amatory frigidity.
Frankly, Mr. Dale, I was once in my life myself refused by a lady, and
I was not indignant, merely indifferent to the marriage-tie."

"My daughter has refused him, sir?"

"Temporarily it would appear that she has declined the proposal."

"He was at liberty? . . . he could honourably? . . ."

"His best friend and nearest relative is your guarantee."

"I know it; I hear so; I am informed of that: I have heard of the
proposal, and that he could honourably make it. Still, I am helpless, I
cannot move, until I am assured that my daughter's reasons are such as
a father need not underline."

"Does the lady, perchance, equivocate?"

"I have not seen her this morning; I rise late. I hear an astounding
account of the cause for her departure from Patterne, and I find her
door locked to me--no answer."

"It is that she had no reasons to give, and she feared the demand for
them."

"Ladies!" dolorously exclaimed Mr. Dale.

"We guess the secret, we guess it!" they exclaimed in reply; and they
looked smilingly, as Dr. Middleton looked.

"She had no reasons to give?" Mr. Dale spelled these words to his
understanding. "Then, sir, she knew you not adverse?"

"Undoubtedly, by my high esteem for the gentleman, she must have known
me not adverse. But she would not consider me a principal. She could
hardly have conceived me an obstacle. I am simply the gentleman's
friend. A zealous friend, let me add."

Mr. Dale put out an imploring hand; it was too much for him.

"Pardon me; I have a poor head. And your daughter the same, sir?"

"We will not measure it too closely, but I may say, my daughter the
same, sir. And likewise--may I not add--these ladies."

Mr. Dale made sign that he was overfilled. "Where am I! And Laetitia
refused him?"

"Temporarily, let us assume. Will it not partly depend on you, Mr.
Dale?"

"But what strange things have been happening during my daughter's
absence from the cottage!" cried Mr. Dale, betraying an elixir in his
veins. "I feel that I could laugh if I did not dread to be thought
insane. She refused his hand, and he was at liberty to offer it? My
girl! We are all on our heads. The fairy-tales were right and the
lesson-books were wrong. But it is really, it is really very
demoralizing. An invalid--and I am one, and no momentary exhilaration
will be taken for the contrary--clings to the idea of stability, order.
The slightest disturbance of the wonted course of things unsettles him.
Why, for years I have been prophesying it! and for years I have had
everything against me, and now when it is confirmed, I am wondering
that I must not call myself a fool!"

"And for years, dear Mr. Dale, this union, in spite of counter-currents
and human arrangements, has been our Willoughby's constant
preoccupation," said Miss Eleanor.

"His most cherished aim," said Miss Isabel.

"The name was not spoken by me," said Dr. Middleton.

"But it is out, and perhaps better out, if we would avoid the chance of
mystifications. I do not suppose we are seriously committing a breach
of confidence, though he might have wished to mention it to you first
himself. I have it from Willoughby that last night he appealed to your
daughter, Mr. Dale--not for the first time, if I apprehend him
correctly; and unsuccessfully. He despairs. I do not: supposing, that
is, your assistance vouchsafed to us. And I do not despair, because the
gentleman is a gentleman of worth, of acknowledged worth. You know him
well enough to grant me that. I will bring you my daughter to help me
in sounding his praises."

Dr Middleton stepped through the window to the lawn on an elastic foot,
beaming with the happiness he felt charged to confer on his friend Mr.
Whitford.

"Ladies! it passes all wonders," Mr. Dale gasped.

"Willoughby's generosity does pass all wonders," they said in chorus.

The door opened; Lady Busshe and Lady Culmer were announced.



CHAPTER XLV

THE PATTERNE LADIES: MR. DALE: LADY BUSSHE AND LADY CULMER: WITH MRS.
MOUNTSTUART JENKINSON

Lady Busshe and Lady Culmer entered spying to right and left. At the
sight of Mr. Dale in the room Lady Busshe murmured to her friend:
"Confirmation!"

Lady Culmer murmured: "Corney is quite reliable."

"The man is his own best tonic."

"He is invaluable for the country."

Miss Eleanor and Miss Isabel greeted them.

The amiability of the Patterne ladies combined with their total eclipse
behind their illustrious nephew invited enterprising women of the world
to take liberties, and they were not backward.

Lady Busshe said: "Well? the news! we have the outlines. Don't be
astonished: we know the points: we have heard the gun. I could have
told you as much yesterday. I saw it. And I guessed it the day before.
Oh, I do believe in fatalities now. Lady Culmer and I agree to take
that view: it is the simplest. Well, and are you satisfied, my dears?"

The ladies grimaced interrogatively: "With what?"

"With it? with all! with her! with him!"

"Our Willoughby?"

"Can it be possible that they require a dose of Corney?" Lady Busshe
remarked to Lady Culmer.

"They play discretion to perfection," said Lady Culmer. "But, my dears,
we are in the secret."

"How did she behave?" whispered Lady Busshe. "No high flights and
flutters, I do hope. She was well-connected, they say; though I don't
comprehend what they mean by a line of scholars--one thinks of a row of
pinafores: and she was pretty."

"That is well enough at the start. It never will stand against brains.
He had the two in the house to contrast them, and . . . the result! A
young woman with brains--in a house--beats all your beauties. Lady
Culmer and I have determined on that view. He thought her a delightful
partner for a dance, and found her rather tiresome at the end of the
gallopade. I saw it yesterday, clear as daylight. She did not
understand him, and he did understand her. That will be our report."

"She is young: she will learn," said the ladies uneasily, but in total
ignorance of her meaning.

"And you are charitable, and always were. I remember you had a good
word for that girl Durham."

Lady Busshe crossed the room to Mr. Dale, who was turning over leaves
of a grand book of the heraldic devices of our great Families.

"Study it," she said, "study it, my dear Mr. Dale; you are in it, by
right of possessing a clever and accomplished daughter. At page 300
you will find the Patterne crest. And mark me, she will drag you into
the peerage before she has done--relatively, you know. Sir Willoughby
and wife will not be contented to sit down and manage the estates. Has
not Laetitia immense ambition? And very creditable, I say."

Mr. Dale tried to protest something. He shut the book, examining the
binding, flapped the cover with a finger, hoped her ladyship was in
good health, alluded to his own and the strangeness of the bird out of
the cage.

"You will probably take up your residence here, in a larger and
handsomer cage. Mr. Dale."

He shook his head. "Do I apprehend . . ." he said.

"I know," said she.

"Dear me, can it be?"

Mr. Dale gazed upward, with the feelings of one awakened late to see a
world alive in broad daylight.

Lady Busshe dropped her voice. She took the liberty permitted to her
with an inferior in station, while treating him to a tone of
familiarity in acknowledgment of his expected rise; which is high
breeding, or the exact measurement of social dues.

"Laetitia will be happy, you may be sure. I love to see a long and
faithful attachment rewarded--love it! Her tale is the triumph of
patience. Far above Grizzel! No woman will be ashamed of pointing to
Lady Patterne. You are uncertain? You are in doubt? Let me hear--as low
as you like. But there is no doubt of the new shifting of the
scene?--no doubt of the proposal? Dear Mr. Dale! a very little louder.
You are here because--? of course you wish to see Sir Willoughby. She?
I did not catch you quite. She? . . . it seems, you say . . . ?"

Lady Culmer said to the Patterne ladies:--

"You must have had a distressing time. These affairs always mount up to
a climax, unless people are very well bred. We saw it coming.
Naturally we did not expect such a transformation of brides: who could?
If I had laid myself down on my back to think, I should have had it. I
am unerring when I set to speculating on my back. One is cooler: ideas
come; they have not to be forced. That is why I am brighter on a dull
winter afternoon, on the sofa, beside my tea-service, than at any other
season. However, your trouble is over. When did the Middletons leave?"

"The Middletons leave?" said the ladies.

"Dr. Middleton and his daughter."

"They have not left us."

"The Middletons are here?"

"They are here, yes. Why should they have left Patterne?"

"Why?"

"Yes. They are likely to stay some days longer."

"Goodness!"

"There is no ground for any report to the contrary, Lady Culmer."

"No ground!"

Lady Culmer called out to Lady Busshe.

A cry came back from that startled dame.

"She has refused him!"

"Who?"

"She has."

"She?--Sir Willoughby?"

"Refused!--declines the honour."

"Oh, never! No, that carries the incredible beyond romance. But is he
perfectly at . . ."

"Quite, it seems. And she was asked in due form and refused."

"No, and no again!"

"My dear, I have it from Mr. Dale."

"Mr. Dale, what can be the signification of her conduct?"

"Indeed, Lady Culmer," said Mr. Dale, not unpleasantly agitated by the
interest he excited, in spite of his astonishment at a public
discussion of the matter in this house, "I am in the dark. Her father
should know, but I do not. Her door is locked to me; I have not seen
her. I am absolutely in the dark. I am a recluse. I have forgotten the
ways of the world. I should have supposed her father would first have
been addressed."

"Tut-tut. Modern gentlemen are not so formal; they are creatures of
impulse and take a pride in it. He spoke. We settle that. But where did
you get this tale of a refusal?"

"I have it from Dr. Middleton."

"From Dr. Middleton?" shouted Lady Busshe.

"The Middletons are here," said Lady Culmer.

"What whirl are we in?" Lady Busshe got up, ran two or three steps and
seated herself in another chair. "Oh! do let us proceed upon system. If
not we shall presently be rageing; we shall be dangerous. The
Middletons are here, and Dr. Middleton himself communicates to Mr. Dale
that Laetitia Dale has refused the hand of Sir Willoughby, who is
ostensibly engaged to his own daughter! And pray, Mr. Dale, how did
Dr. Middleton speak of it? Compose yourself; there is no violent hurry,
though our sympathy with you and our interest in all the parties does
perhaps agitate us a little. Quite at your leisure--speak!"

"Madam . . . Lady Busshe." Mr. Dale gulped a ball in his throat. "I see
no reason why I should not speak. I do not see how I can have been
deluded. The Miss Patternes heard him. Dr. Middleton began upon it, not
I. I was unaware, when I came, that it was a refusal. I had been
informed that there was a proposal. My authority for the tale was
positive. The object of my visit was to assure myself of the integrity
of my daughter's conduct. She had always the highest sense of honour.
But passion is known to mislead, and there was this most strange
report. I feared that our humblest apologies were due to Dr. Middleton
and his daughter. I know the charm Laetitia can exercise. Madam, in the
plainest language, without a possibility of my misapprehending him, Dr.
Middleton spoke of himself as the advocate of the suitor for my
daughter's hand. I have a poor head. I supposed at once an amicable
rupture between Sir Willoughby and Miss Middleton, or that the version
which had reached me of their engagement was not strictly accurate. My
head is weak. Dr. Middleton's language is trying to a head like mine;
but I can speak positively on the essential points: he spoke of himself
as ready to be the impassioned advocate of the suitor for my daughter's
hand. Those were his words. I understood him to entreat me to intercede
with her. Nay, the name was mentioned. There was no concealment. I am
certain there could not be a misapprehension. And my feelings were
touched by his anxiety for Sir Willoughby's happiness. I attributed it
to a sentiment upon which I need not dwell. Impassioned advocate, he
said."

"We are in a perfect maelstrom!" cried Lady Busshe, turning to
everybody.

"It is a complete hurricane!" cried Lady Culmer.

A light broke over the faces of the Patterne ladies. They exchanged it
with one another.

They had been so shocked as to be almost offended by Lady Busshe, but
their natural gentleness and habitual submission rendered them unequal
to the task of checking her.

"Is it not," said Miss Eleanor, "a misunderstanding that a change of
names will rectify?"

"This is by no means the first occasion," said Miss Isabel, "that
Willoughby has pleaded for his cousin Vernon."

"We deplore extremely the painful error into which Mr. Dale has
fallen."

"It springs, we now perceive, from an entire misapprehension of Dr.
Middleton."

"Vernon was in his mind. It was clear to us."

"Impossible that it could have been Willoughby!"

"You see the impossibility, the error!"

"And the Middletons here!" said Lady Busshe. "Oh! if we leave
unilluminated we shall be the laughing-stock of the county. Mr. Dale,
please, wake up. Do you see? You may have been mistaken."

"Lady Busshe," he woke up; "I may have mistaken Dr. Middleton; he has a
language that I can compare only to a review-day of the field forces.
But I have the story on authority that I cannot question: it is
confirmed by my daughter's unexampled behaviour. And if I live through
this day I shall look about me as a ghost to-morrow."

"Dear Mr. Dale!" said the Patterne ladies, compassionately. Lady Busshe
murmured to them: "You know the two did not agree; they did not get on:
I saw it; I predicted it."

"She will understand him in time," said they.

"Never. And my belief is, they have parted by consent, and Letty Dale
wins the day at last. Yes, now I do believe it."

The ladies maintained a decided negative, but they knew too much not to
feel perplexed, and they betrayed it, though they said: "Dear Lady
Busshe! is it credible, in decency?"

"Dear Mrs. Mountstuart!" Lady Busshe invoked her great rival appearing
among them: "You come most opportunely; we are in a state of
inextricable confusion: we are bordering on frenzy. You, and none but
you, can help us. You know, you always know; we hang on you. Is there
any truth in it? a particle?"

Mrs. Mountstuart seated herself regally "Ah, Mr. Dale!" she said,
inclining to him. "Yes, dear Lady Busshe, there is a particle."

"Now, do not roast us. You can; you have the art. I have the whole
story. That is, I have a part. I mean, I have the outlines, I cannot be
deceived, but you can fill them in, I know you can. I saw it yesterday.
Now, tell us, tell us. It must be quite true or utterly false. Which is
it?"

"Be precise."

"His fatality! you called her. Yes, I was sceptical. But here we have
it all come round again, and if the tale is true, I shall own you
infallible. Has he?--and she?"

"Both."

"And the Middletons here? They have not gone; they keep the field. And
more astounding, she refuses him. And to add to it, Dr. Middleton
intercedes with Mr. Dale for Sir Willoughby."

"Dr. Middleton intercedes!" This was rather astonishing to Mrs.
Mountstuart.

"For Vernon," Miss Eleanor emphasized.

"For Vernon Whitford, his cousin." said Miss Isabel, still more
emphatically.

"Who," said Mrs. Mountstuart, with a sovereign lift and turn of her
head, "speaks of a refusal?"

"I have it from Mr. Dale," said Lady Busshe.

"I had it, I thought, distinctly from Dr. Middleton," said Mr. Dale.

"That Willoughby proposed to Laetitia for his cousin Vernon, Doctor
Middleton meant," said Miss Eleanor.

Her sister followed: "Hence this really ridiculous misconception!
--sad, indeed," she added, for balm to Mr. Dale.

"Willoughby was Vernon's proxy. His cousin, if not his first, is ever
the second thought with him."

"But can we continue . . . ?"

"Such a discussion!"

Mrs. Mountstuart gave them a judicial hearing. They were regarded in
the county as the most indulgent of nonentities, and she as little as
Lady Busshe was restrained from the burning topic in their presence.
She pronounced:

"Each party is right, and each is wrong."

A dry: "I shall shriek!" came from Lady Busshe.

"Cruel!" groaned Lady Culmer.

"Mixed, you are all wrong. Disentangled, you are each of you right. Sir
Willoughby does think of his cousin Vernon; he is anxious to establish
him; he is the author of a proposal to that effect."

"We know it!" the Patterne ladies exclaimed. "And Laetitia rejected
poor Vernon once more!"

"Who spoke of Miss Dale's rejection of Mr. Whitford?"

"Is he not rejected?" Lady Culmer inquired.

"It is in debate, and at this moment being decided."

"Oh! do he seated, Mr. Dale," Lady Busshe implored him, rising to
thrust him back to his chair if necessary. "Any dislocation, and we are
thrown out again! We must hold together if this riddle is ever to be
read. Then, dear Mrs. Mountstuart, we are to say that there is-no truth
in the other story?"

"You are to say nothing of the sort, dear Lady Busshe."

"Be merciful! And what of the fatality?"

"As positive as the Pole to the needle."

"She has not refused him?"

"Ask your own sagacity."

"Accepted?"

"Wait."

"And all the world's ahead of me! Now, Mrs. Mountstuart, you are
oracle. Riddles, if you like, only speak. If we can't have corn, why,
give us husks."

"Is any one of us able to anticipate events, Lady Busshe?"

"Yes, I believe that you are. I bow to you. I do sincerely. So it's
another person for Mr. Whitford? You nod. And it is our Laetitia for
Sir Willoughby? You smile. You would not deceive me? A very little,
and I run about crazed and howl at your doors. And Dr. Middleton is
made to play blind man in the midst? And the other person is--now I see
day! An amicable rupture, and a smooth new arrangement. She has money;
she was never the match for our hero; never; I saw it yesterday, and
before, often; and so he hands her over--tuthe-rum-tum-tum,
tuthe-rum-tum-tum," Lady Busshe struck a quick march on her knee. "Now
isn't that clever guessing? The shadow of a clue for me. And because I
know human nature. One peep, and I see the combination in a minute. So
he keeps the money in the family, becomes a benefactor to his cousin by
getting rid of the girl, and succumbs to his fatality. Rather a pity he
let it ebb and flow so long. Time counts the tides, you know. But it
improves the story. I defy any other county in the kingdom to produce
one fresh and living to equal it. Let me tell you I suspected Mr.
Whitford, and I hinted it yesterday."

"Did you indeed!" said Mrs. Mountstuart, humouring her excessive
acuteness.

"I really did. There is that dear good man on his feet again. And looks
agitated again."

Mr. Dale had been compelled both by the lady's voice and his interest
in the subject to listen. He had listened more than enough; he was
exceedingly nervous. He held on by his chair, afraid to quit his
moorings, and "Manners!" he said to himself unconsciously aloud, as he
cogitated on the libertine way with which these chartered great ladies
of the district discussed his daughter. He was heard and unnoticed. The
supposition, if any, would have been that he was admonishing himself.
At this juncture Sir Willoughby entered the drawing-room by the garden
window, and simultaneously Dr. Middleton by the door.



CHAPTER XLVI

THE SCENE OF SIR WILLOUGHBY'S GENERALSHIP

History, we may fear, will never know the qualities of leadership
inherent in Sir Willoughby Patterne to fit him for the post of
Commander of an army, seeing that he avoided the fatigues of the
service and preferred the honours bestowed in his country upon the
quiet administrators of their own estates: but his possession of
particular gifts, which are military, and especially of the proleptic
mind, which is the stamp and sign-warrant of the heaven-sent General,
was displayed on every urgent occasion when, in the midst of
difficulties likely to have extinguished one less alert than he to the
threatening aspect of disaster, he had to manoeuvre himself.

He had received no intimation of Mr. Dale's presence in his house, nor
of the arrival of the dreaded women Lady Busshe and Lady Culmer: his
locked door was too great a terror to his domestics. Having finished
with Vernon, after a tedious endeavour to bring the fellow to a sense
of the policy of the step urged on him, he walked out on the lawn with
the desire to behold the opening of an interview not promising to lead
to much, and possibly to profit by its failure. Clara had been
prepared, according to his directions, by Mrs. Mountstuart Jenkinson,
as Vernon had been prepared by him. His wishes, candidly and kindly
expressed both to Vernon and Mrs Mountstuart, were, that since the girl
appeared disinclined to make him a happy man, she would make one of his
cousin. Intimating to Mrs. Mountstuart that he would be happier
without her, he alluded to the benefit of the girl's money to poor old
Vernon, the general escape from a scandal if old Vernon could manage to
catch her as she dropped, the harmonious arrangement it would be for
all parties. And only on the condition of her taking Vernon would he
consent to give her up. This he said imperatively, adding that such was
the meaning of the news she had received relating to Laetitia Dale.
From what quarter had she received it? he asked. She shuffled in her
reply, made a gesture to signify that it was in the air, universal, and
fell upon the proposed arrangement. He would listen to none of Mrs.
Mountstuart's woman-of-the-world instances of the folly of pressing it
upon a girl who had shown herself a girl of spirit. She foretold the
failure. He would not be advised; he said: "It is my scheme"; and
perhaps the look of mad benevolence about it induced the lady to try
whether there was a chance that it would hit the madness in our nature,
and somehow succeed or lead to a pacification. Sir Willoughby
condescended to arrange things thus for Clara's good; he would then
proceed to realize his own. Such was the face he put upon it. We can
wear what appearance we please before the world until we are found out,
nor is the world's praise knocking upon hollowness always hollow music;
but Mrs Mountstuart's laudation of his kindness and simplicity
disturbed him; for though he had recovered from his rebuff enough to
imagine that Laetitia could not refuse him under reiterated pressure,
he had let it be supposed that she was a submissive handmaiden
throbbing for her elevation; and Mrs Mountstuart's belief in it
afflicted his recent bitter experience; his footing was not perfectly
secure. Besides, assuming it to be so, he considered the sort of prize
he had won; and a spasm of downright hatred of a world for which we
make mighty sacrifices to be repaid in a worn, thin, comparatively
valueless coin, troubled his counting of his gains. Laetitia, it was
true, had not passed through other hands in coming to him, as Vernon
would know it to be Clara's case: time only had worn her: but the
comfort of the reflection was annoyed by the physical contrast of the
two. Hence an unusual melancholy in his tone that Mrs. Mountstuart
thought touching. It had the scenic effect on her which greatly
contributes to delude the wits. She talked of him to Clara as being a
man who had revealed an unsuspected depth.

Vernon took the communication curiously. He seemed readier to be in
love with his benevolent relative than with the lady. He was confused,
undisguisedly moved, said the plan was impossible, out of the question,
but thanked Willoughby for the best of intentions, thanked him warmly.
After saying that the plan was impossible, the comical fellow allowed
himself to be pushed forth on the lawn to see how Miss Middleton might
have come out of her interview with Mrs. Mountstuart. Willoughby
observed Mrs. Mountstuart meet him, usher him to the place she had
quitted among the shrubs, and return to the open turf-spaces. He sprang
to her.

"She will listen." Mrs. Mountstuart said: "She likes him, respects him,
thinks he is a very sincere friend, clever, a scholar, and a good
mountaineer; and thinks you mean very kindly. So much I have impressed
on her, but I have not done much for Mr. Whitford."

"She consents to listen," said Willoughby, snatching at that as the
death-blow to his friend Horace.

"She consents to listen, because you have arranged it so that if she
declined she would be rather a savage."

"You think it will have no result?"

"None at all."

"Her listening will do."

"And you must be satisfied with it."

"We shall see."

"'Anything for peace', she says: and I don't say that a gentleman with
a tongue would not have a chance. She wishes to please you."

"Old Vernon has no tongue for women, poor fellow! You will have us be
spider or fly, and if a man can't spin a web all he can hope is not to
be caught in one. She knows his history, too, and that won't be in his
favour. How did she look when you left them?"

"Not so bright: like a bit of china that wants dusting. She looked a
trifle gauche, it struck me; more like a country girl with the hoyden
taming in her than the well-bred creature she is. I did not suspect her
to have feeling. You must remember, Sir Willoughby, that she has obeyed
your wishes, done her utmost: I do think we may say she has made some
amends; and if she is to blame she repents, and you will not insist too
far."

"I do insist," said he.

"Beneficent, but a tyrant!"

"Well, well." He did not dislike the character.

They perceived Dr. Middleton wandering over the lawn, and Willoughby
went to him to put him on the wrong track: Mrs. Mountstuart swept into
the drawing-room. Willoughby quitted the Rev. Doctor, and hung about
the bower where he supposed his pair of dupes had by this time ceased
to stutter mutually:--or what if they had found the word of harmony? He
could bear that, just bear it. He rounded the shrubs, and, behold, both
had vanished. The trellis decorated emptiness. His idea was, that they
had soon discovered their inability to be turtles: and desiring not to
lose a moment while Clara was fretted by the scene, he rushed to the
drawing-room with the hope of lighting on her there, getting her to
himself, and finally, urgently, passionately offering her the sole
alternative of what she had immediately rejected. Why had he not used
passion before, instead of limping crippled between temper and policy?
He was capable of it: as soon as imagination in him conceived his
personal feelings unwounded and unimperiled, the might of it inspired
him with heroical confidence, and Clara grateful, Clara softly moved,
led him to think of Clara melted. Thus anticipating her he burst into
the room.

One step there warned him that he was in the jaws of the world. We have
the phrase, that a man is himself under certain trying circumstances.
There is no need to say it of Sir Willoughby: he was thrice himself
when danger menaced, himself inspired him. He could read at a single
glance the Polyphemus eye in the general head of a company. Lady
Busshe, Lady Culmer, Mrs. Mountstuart, Mr. Dale, had a similarity in
the variety of their expressions that made up one giant eye for him
perfectly, if awfully, legible. He discerned the fact that his demon
secret was abroad, universal. He ascribed it to fate. He was in the
jaws of the world, on the world's teeth. This time he thought Laetitia
must have betrayed him, and bowing to Lady Busshe and Lady Culmer,
gallantly pressing their fingers and responding to their becks and
archnesses, he ruminated on his defences before he should accost her
father. He did not want to be alone with the man, and he considered how
his presence might be made useful.

"I am glad to see you, Mr. Dale. Pray, be seated. Is it nature
asserting her strength? or the efficacy of medicine? I fancy it can't
be both. You have brought us back your daughter?"

Mr. Dale sank into a chair, unable to resist the hand forcing him.

"No, Sir Willoughby, no. I have not; I have not seen her since she came
home this morning from Patterne."

"Indeed? She is unwell?"

"I cannot say. She secludes herself."

"Has locked herself in," said Lady Busshe.

Willoughby threw her a smile. It made them intimate.

This was an advantage against the world, but an exposure of himself to
the abominable woman.

Dr. Middleton came up to Mr. Dale to apologize for not presenting his
daughter Clara, whom he could find neither in nor out of the house.

"We have in Mr. Dale, as I suspected," he said to Willoughby, "a stout
ally."

"If I may beg two minutes with you, Sir Willoughby," said Mr. Dale.

"Your visits are too rare for me to allow of your numbering the
minutes," Willoughby replied. "We cannot let Mr. Dale escape us now
that we have him, I think, Dr. Middleton."

"Not without ransom," said the Rev. Doctor.

Mr. Dale shook his head. "My strength, Sir Willoughby, will not sustain
me long."

"You are at home, Mr. Dale."

"Not far from home, in truth, but too far for an invalid beginning to
grow sensible of weakness."

"You will regard Patterne as your home, Mr. Dale," Willoughby repeated
for the world to hear.

"Unconditionally?" Dr. Middleton inquired, with a humourous air of
dissenting.

Willoughby gave him a look that was coldly courteous, and then he
looked at Lady Busshe. She nodded imperceptibly. Her eyebrows rose, and
Willoughby returned a similar nod.

Translated, the signs ran thus:

"--Pestered by the Rev. gentleman:--I see you are. Is the story I have
heard correct?--Possibly it may err in a few details."

This was fettering himself in loose manacles.

But Lady Busshe would not be satisfied with the compliment of the
intimate looks and nods. She thought she might still be behind Mrs.
Mountstuart; and she was a bold woman, and anxious about him,
half-crazed by the riddle of the pot she was boiling in, and having
very few minutes to spare. Not extremely reticent by nature, privileged
by station, and made intimate with him by his covert looks, she stood
up to him. "One word to an old friend. Which is the father of the
fortunate creature? I don't know how to behave to them." No time was
afforded him to be disgusted with her vulgarity and audacity.

He replied, feeling her rivet his gyves: "The house will be empty
to-morrow."

"I see. A decent withdrawal, and very well cloaked. We had a tale here
of her running off to decline the honour, afraid, or on her dignity or
something."

How was it that the woman was ready to accept the altered posture of
affairs in his house--if she had received a hint of them? He forgot
that he had prepared her in self-defence.

"From whom did you have that?" he asked.

"Her father. And the lady aunts declare it was the cousin she refused!"
Willoughby's brain turned over. He righted it for action, and crossed
the room to the ladies Eleanor and Isabel. His ears tingled. He and his
whole story discussed in public! Himself unroofed! And the marvel that
he of all men should be in such a tangle, naked and blown on, condemned
to use his cunningest arts to unwind and cover himself, struck him as
though the lord of his kind were running the gauntlet of a legion of
imps. He felt their lashes.

The ladies were talking to Mrs. Mountstuart and Lady Culmer of Vernon
and the suitableness of Laetitia to a scholar. He made sign to them,
and both rose.

"It is the hour for your drive. To the cottage! Mr. Dale is in. She
must come. Her sick father! No delay, going or returning. Bring her
here at once."

"Poor man!" they sighed; and "Willoughby," said one, and the other
said: "There is a strange misconception you will do well to correct."

They were about to murmur what it was. He swept his hand round, and
excusing themselves to their guests, obediently they retired.

Lady Busshe at his entreaty remained, and took a seat beside Lady
Culmer and Mrs. Mountstuart.

She said to the latter: "You have tried scholars. What do you think?"

"Excellent, but hard to mix," was the reply.

"I never make experiments," said Lady Culmer.

"Some one must!" Mrs. Mountstuart groaned over her dull dinner-party.

Lady Busshe consoled her. "At any rate, the loss of a scholar is no
loss to the county."

"They are well enough in towns," Lady Culmer said.

"And then I am sure you must have them by themselves."

"We have nothing to regret."

"My opinion."

The voice of Dr. Middleton in colloquy with Mr. Dale swelled on a
melodious thunder: "For whom else should I plead as the passionate
advocate I proclaimed myself to you, sir? There is but one man known to
me who would move me to back him upon such an adventure. Willoughby,
join me. I am informing Mr. Dale . . ."

Willoughby stretched his hands out to Mr. Dale to support him on his
legs, though he had shown no sign of a wish to rise.

"You are feeling unwell, Mr. Dale."

"Do I look very ill, Sir Willoughby?"

"It will pass. Laetitia will be with us in twenty minutes." Mr. Dale
struck his hands in a clasp. He looked alarmingly ill, and
satisfactorily revealed to his host how he could be made to look so.

"I was informing Mr. Dale that the petitioner enjoys our concurrent
good wishes: and mine in no degree less than yours, Willoughby,"
observed Dr. Middleton, whose billows grew the bigger for a check. He
supposed himself speaking confidentially. "Ladies have the trick, they
have, I may say, the natural disposition for playing enigma now and
again. Pressure is often a sovereign specific. Let it be tried upon her
all round from every radiating line of the circle. You she refuses.
Then I venture to propose myself to appeal to her. My daughter has
assuredly an esteem for the applicant that will animate a woman's
tongue in such a case. The ladies of the house will not be backward.
Lastly, if necessary, we trust the lady's father to add his instances.
My prescription is, to fatigue her negatives; and where no rooted
objection exists, I maintain it to be the unfailing receipt for the
conduct of the siege. No woman can say No forever. The defence has not
such resources against even a single assailant, and we shall have
solved the problem of continuous motion before she will have learned to
deny in perpetuity. That I stand on."

Willoughby glanced at Mrs. Mountstuart.

"What is that?" she said. "Treason to our sex, Dr. Middleton?"

"I think I heard that no woman can say No forever!" remarked Lady
Busshe.

"To a loyal gentleman, ma'am: assuming the field of the recurring
request to be not unholy ground; consecrated to affirmatives rather."

Dr Middleton was attacked by three angry bees. They made him say yes
and no alternately so many times that he had to admit in men a shiftier
yieldingness than women were charged with.

Willoughby gesticulated as mute chorus on the side of the ladies; and a
little show of party spirit like that, coming upon their excitement
under the topic, inclined them to him genially. He drew Mr. Dale away
while the conflict subsided in sharp snaps of rifles and an interval
rejoinder of a cannon. Mr. Dale had shown by signs that he was growing
fretfully restive under his burden of doubt.

"Sir Willoughby, I have a question. I beg you to lead me where I may
ask it. I know my head is weak."

"Mr. Dale, it is answered when I say that my house is your home, and
that Laetitia will soon be with us."

"Then this report is true?"

"I know nothing of reports. You are answered."

"Can my daughter be accused of any shadow of falseness, dishonourable
dealing?"

"As little as I."

Mr. Dale scanned his face. He saw no shadow.

"For I should go to my grave bankrupt if that could be said of her; and
I have never yet felt poor, though you know the extent of a pensioner's
income. Then this tale of a refusal . . . ?"

"Is nonsense."

"She has accepted?"

"There are situations, Mr. Dale, too delicate to be clothed in positive
definitions."

"Ah, Sir Willoughby, but it becomes a father to see that his daughter
is not forced into delicate situations. I hope all is well. I am
confused. It may be my head. She puzzles me. You are not . . . Can I
ask it here? You are quite . . . ? Will you moderate my anxiety? My
infirmities must excuse me."

Sir Willoughby conveyed by a shake of the head and a pressure of Mr.
Dale's hand, that he was not, and that he was quite.

"Dr Middleton?" said Mr. Dale.

"He leaves us to-morrow."

"Really!" The invalid wore a look as if wine had been poured into him.
He routed his host's calculations by calling to the Rev. Doctor. "We
are to lose you, sir?"

Willoughby attempted an interposition, but Dr. Middleton crashed
through it like the lordly organ swallowing a flute.

"Not before I score my victory, Mr. Dale, and establish my friend upon
his rightful throne."

"You do not leave to-morrow, sir?"

"Have you heard, sir, that I leave to-morrow?"

Mr. Dale turned to Sir Willoughby.

The latter said: "Clara named to-day. To-morrow I thought preferable."

"Ah!" Dr. Middleton towered on the swelling exclamation, but with no
dark light. He radiated splendidly. "Yes, then, to-morrow. That is, if
we subdue the lady."

He advanced to Willoughby, seized his hand, squeezed it, thanked him,
praised him. He spoke under his breath, for a wonder; but: "We are in
your debt lastingly, my friend", was heard, and he was impressive, he
seemed subdued, and saying aloud: "Though I should wish to aid in the
reduction of that fortress", he let it be seen that his mind was rid of
a load.

Dr. Middleton partly stupefied Willoughby by his way of taking it, but
his conduct was too serviceable to allow of speculation on his
readiness to break the match. It was the turning-point of the
engagement.

Lady Busshe made a stir.

"I cannot keep my horses waiting any longer," she said, and beckoned.
Sir Willoughby was beside her immediately.

"You are admirable! perfect! Don't ask me to hold my tongue. I retract,
I recant. It is a fatality. I have resolved upon that view. You could
stand the shot of beauty, not of brains. That is our report. There! And
it's delicious to feel that the county wins you. No tea. I cannot
possibly wait. And, oh! here she is. I must have a look at her. My dear
Laetitia Dale!"

Willoughby hurried to Mr. Dale.

"You are not to be excited, sir: compose yourself. You will recover and
be strong to-morrow: you are at home; you are in your own house; you
are in Laetitia's drawing-room. All will be clear to-morrow. Till
to-morrow we talk riddles by consent. Sit, I beg. You stay with us."

He met Laetitia and rescued her from Lady Busshe, murmuring, with the
air of a lover who says, "my love! my sweet!" that she had done rightly
to come and come at once. Her father had been thrown into the proper
condition of clammy nervousness to create the impression. Laetitia's
anxiety sat prettily on her long eyelashes as she bent over him in his
chair.

Hereupon Dr. Corney appeared; and his name had a bracing effect on Mr.
Dale. "Corney has come to drive me to the cottage," he said. "I am
ashamed of this public exhibition of myself, my dear. Let us go. My
head is a poor one."

Dr. Corney had been intercepted. He broke from Sir Willoughby with a
dozen little nods of accurate understanding of him, even to beyond the
mark of the communications. He touched his patient's pulse lightly,
briefly sighed with professional composure, and pronounced: "Rest. Must
not be moved. No, no, nothing serious," he quieted Laetitia's fears,
"but rest, rest. A change of residence for a night will tone him. I
will bring him a draught in the course of the evening. Yes, yes, I'll
fetch everything wanted from the cottage for you and for him. Repose
on Corney's forethought."

"You are sure, Dr. Corney?" said Laetitia, frightened on her father's
account and on her own.

"Which aspect will be the best for Mr. Dale's bedroom?" the hospitable
ladies Eleanor and Isabel inquired.

"Southeast, decidedly: let him have the morning sun: a warm air, a
vigorous air, and a bright air, and the patient wakes and sings in his
bed."

Still doubtful whether she was in a trap, Laetitia whispered to her
father of the privacy and comforts of his home. He replied to her that
he thought he would rather be in his own home.

Dr Corney positively pronounced No to it.

Laetitia breathed again of home, but with the sigh of one overborne.

The ladies Eleanor and Isabel took the word from Willoughby, and said:
"But you are at home, my dear. This is your home. Your father will be
at least as well attended here as at the cottage."

She raised her eyelids on them mournfully, and by chance diverted her
look to Dr. Middleton, quite by chance.

It spoke eloquently to the assembly of all that Willoughby desired to
be imagined.

"But there is Crossjay," she cried. "My cousin has gone, and the boy is
left alone. I cannot have him left alone. If we, if, Dr. Corney, you
are sure it is unsafe for papa to be moved to-day, Crossjay must . . .
he cannot be left."

"Bring him with you, Corney," said Sir Willoughby; and the little
doctor heartily promised that he would, in the event of his finding
Crossjay at the cottage, which he thought a distant probability.

"He gave me his word he would not go out till my return," said
Laetitia.

"And if Crossjay gave you his word," the accents of a new voice
vibrated close by, "be certain that he will not come back with Dr.
Corney unless he has authority in your handwriting."

Clara Middleton stepped gently to Laetitia, and with a manner that was
an embrace, as much as kissed her for what she was doing on behalf of
Crossjay. She put her lips in a pouting form to simulate saying: "Press
it."

"He is to come," said Laetitia.

"Then write him his permit."

There was a chatter about Crossjay and the sentinel true to his post
that he could be, during which Laetitia distressfully scribbled a line
for Dr. Corney to deliver to him. Clara stood near. She had rebuked
herself for want of reserve in the presence of Lady Busshe and Lady
Culmer, and she was guilty of a slightly excessive containment when she
next addressed Laetitia. It was, like Laetitia's look at Dr. Middleton,
opportune: enough to make a man who watched as Willoughby did a
fatalist for life: the shadow of a difference in her bearing toward
Laetitia sufficed to impute acting either to her present coolness or
her previous warmth. Better still, when Dr. Middleton said: "So we
leave to-morrow, my dear, and I hope you have written to the
Darletons," Clara flushed and beamed, and repressed her animation on a
sudden, with one grave look, that might be thought regretful, to where
Willoughby stood.

Chance works for us when we are good captains.

Willoughby's pride was high, though he knew himself to be keeping it up
like a fearfully dexterous juggler, and for an empty reward: but he
was in the toils of the world.

"Have you written? The post-bag leaves in half an hour," he addressed
her.

"We are expected, but I will write," she replied: and her not having
yet written counted in his favour.

She went to write the letter. Dr. Corney had departed on his mission to
fetch Crossjay and medicine. Lady Busshe was impatient to be gone.
"Corney," she said to Lady Culmer, "is a deadly gossip."

"Inveterate," was the answer.

"My poor horses!"

"Not the young pair of bays?"

"Luckily they are, my dear. And don't let me hear of dining to-night!"

Sir Willoughby was leading out Mr. Dale to a quiet room, contiguous to
the invalid gentleman's bedchamber. He resigned him to Laetitia in the
hall, that he might have the pleasure of conducting the ladies to their
carriage.

"As little agitation as possible. Corney will soon be back," he said,
bitterly admiring the graceful subservience of Laetitia's figure to her
father's weight on her arm.

He had won a desperate battle, but what had he won?

What had the world given him in return for his efforts to gain it?
Just a shirt, it might be said: simple scanty clothing, no warmth.
Lady Busshe was unbearable; she gabbled; she was ill-bred, permitted
herself to speak of Dr. Middleton as ineligible, no loss to the county.
And Mrs. Mountstuart was hardly much above her, with her inevitable
stroke of caricature:--"You see Doctor Middleton's pulpit scampering
after him with legs!" Perhaps the Rev. Doctor did punish the world for
his having forsaken his pulpit, and might be conceived as haunted by it
at his heels, but Willoughby was in the mood to abhor comic images; he
hated the perpetrators of them and the grinners. Contempt of this
laughing empty world, for which he had performed a monstrous
immolation, led him to associate Dr. Middleton in his mind, and Clara
too, with the desireable things he had sacrificed--a shape of youth and
health; a sparkling companion; a face of innumerable charms; and his
own veracity; his inner sense of his dignity; and his temper, and the
limpid frankness of his air of scorn, that was to him a visage of
candid happiness in the dim retrospect. Haply also he had sacrificed
more: he looked scientifically into the future: he might have
sacrificed a nameless more. And for what? he asked again. For the
favourable looks and tongues of these women whose looks and tongues he
detested!

"Dr Middleton says he is indebted to me: I am deeply in his debt," he
remarked.

"It is we who are in your debt for a lovely romance, my dear Sir
Willoughby," said Lady Busshe, incapable of taking a correction, so
thoroughly had he imbued her with his fiction, or with the belief that
she had a good story to circulate. Away she drove, rattling her tongue
to Lady Culmer.

"A hat and horn, and she would be in the old figure of a post-boy on a
hue-and-cry sheet," said Mrs. Mountstuart.

Willoughby thanked the great lady for her services, and she
complimented the polished gentleman on his noble self-possession. But
she complained at the same time of being defrauded of her "charmer"
Colonel De Craye, since luncheon. An absence of warmth in her
compliment caused Willoughby to shrink and think the wretched shirt he
had got from the world no covering after all: a breath flapped it.

"He comes to me to-morrow, I believe," she said, reflecting on her
superior knowledge of facts in comparison with Lady Busshe, who would
presently be hearing of something novel, and exclaiming: "So, that is
why you patronized the colonel!" And it was nothing of the sort, for
Mrs. Mountstuart could honestly say she was not the woman to make a
business of her pleasure.

"Horace is an enviable fellow," said Willoughby, wise in The Book,
which bids us ever, for an assuagement to fancy our friend's condition
worse than our own, and recommends the deglutition of irony as the most
balsamic for wounds in the whole moral pharmacopoeia.

"I don't know," she replied, with a marked accent of deliberation.

"The colonel is to have you to himself to-morrow!"

"I can't be sure of what I shall have in the colonel!"

"Your perpetual sparkler?"

Mrs. Mountstuart set her head in motion. She left the matter silent.

"I'll come for him in the morning," she said, and her carriage whirled
her off. Either she had guessed it, or Clara had confided to her the
treacherous passion of Horace De Craye.

However, the world was shut away from Patterne for the night.



CHAPTER XLVII

SIR WILLOUGHBY AND HIS FRIEND HORACE DE CRAYE

Willoughby shut himself up in his laboratory to brood awhile after the
conflict. Sounding through himself, as it was habitual with him to do,
for the plan most agreeable to his taste, he came on a strange
discovery among the lower circles of that microcosm. He was no longer
guided in his choice by liking and appetite: he had to put it on the
edge of a sharp discrimination, and try it by his acutest judgement
before it was acceptable to his heart: and knowing well the direction
of his desire, he was nevertheless unable to run two strides on a wish.
He had learned to read the world: his partial capacity for reading
persons had fled. The mysteries of his own bosom were bare to him; but
he could comprehend them only in their immediate relation to the world
outside. This hateful world had caught him and transformed him to a
machine. The discovery he made was, that in the gratification of the
egoistic instinct we may so beset ourselves as to deal a slaughtering
wound upon Self to whatsoever quarter we turn.

Surely there is nothing stranger in mortal experience. The man was
confounded. At the game of Chess it is the dishonour of our adversary
when we are stale-mated: but in life, combatting the world, such a
winning of the game questions our sentiments.

Willoughby's interpretation of his discovery was directed by pity: he
had no other strong emotion left in him. He pitied himself, and he
reached the conclusion that he suffered because he was active; he could
not be quiescent. Had it not been for his devotion to his house and
name, never would he have stood twice the victim of womankind. Had he
been selfish, he would have been the happiest of men! He said it aloud.
He schemed benevolently for his unborn young, and for the persons about
him: hence he was in a position forbidding a step under pain of injury
to his feelings. He was generous: otherwise would he not in scorn of
soul, at the outset, straight off have pitched Clara Middleton to the
wanton winds? He was faithful in his affection: Laetitia Dale was
beneath his roof to prove it. Both these women were examples of his
power of forgiveness, and now a tender word to Clara might fasten shame
on him--such was her gratitude! And if he did not marry Laetitia,
laughter would be devilish all around him--such was the world's!
Probably Vernon would not long be thankful for the chance which varied
the monotony of his days. What of Horace? Willoughby stripped to enter
the ring with Horace: he cast away disguise. That man had been the
first to divide him in the all but equal slices of his egoistic from
his amatory self: murder of his individuality was the crime of Horace
De Craye. And further, suspicion fixed on Horace (he knew not how,
except that The Book bids us be suspicious of those we hate) as the man
who had betrayed his recent dealings with Laetitia.

Willoughby walked the thoroughfares of the house to meet Clara and make
certain of her either for himself, or, if it must be, for Vernon,
before he took another step with Laetitia Dale. Clara could reunite
him, turn him once more into a whole and an animated man; and she might
be willing. Her willingness to listen to Vernon promised it. "A
gentleman with a tongue would have a chance", Mrs. Mountstuart had
said. How much greater the chance of a lover! For he had not yet
supplicated her: he had shown pride and temper. He could woo, he was a
torrential wooer. And it would be glorious to swing round on Lady
Busshe and the world, with Clara nestling under an arm, and protest
astonishment at the erroneous and utterly unfounded anticipations of
any other development. And it would righteously punish Laetitia.

Clara came downstairs, bearing her letter to Miss Darleton.

"Must it be posted?" Willoughby said, meeting her in the hall.

"They expect us any day, but it will be more comfortable for papa," was
her answer. She looked kindly in her new shyness.

She did not seem to think he had treated her contemptuously in flinging
her to his cousin, which was odd.

"You have seen Vernon?"

"It was your wish."

"You had a talk?"

"We conversed."

"A long one?"

"We walked some distance."

"Clara, I tried to make the best arrangement I could."

"Your intention was generous."

"He took no advantage of it?"

"It could not be treated seriously."

"It was meant seriously."

"There I see the generosity."

Willoughby thought this encomium, and her consent to speak on the
subject, and her scarcely embarrassed air and richness of tone in
speaking, very strange: and strange was her taking him quite in
earnest. Apparently she had no feminine sensation of the unwontedness
and the absurdity of the matter!

"But, Clara, am I to understand that he did not speak out?"

"We are excellent friends."

"To miss it, though his chance were the smallest!"

"You forget that it may not wear that appearance to him."

"He spoke not one word of himself?"

"No."

"Ah! the poor old fellow was taught to see it was hopeless--chilled.
May I plead? Will you step into the laboratory for a minute? We are two
sensible persons . . ."

"Pardon me, I must go to papa."

"Vernon's personal history, perhaps . . ."

"I think it honourable to him."

"Honourable!--'hem!"

"By comparison."

"Comparison with what?"

"With others."

He drew up to relieve himself of a critical and condemnatory expiration
of a certain length. This young lady knew too much. But how physically
exquisite she was!

"Could you, Clara, could you promise me--I hold to it. I must have it,
I know his shy tricks--promise me to give him ultimately another
chance? Is the idea repulsive to you?"

"It is one not to be thought of."

"It is not repulsive?"

"Nothing could be repulsive in Mr. Whitford."

"I have no wish to annoy you, Clara."

"I feel bound to listen to you, Willoughby. Whatever I can do to please
you, I will. It is my life-long duty."

"Could you, Clara, could you conceive it, could you simply conceive
it--give him your hand?"

"As a friend. Oh, yes."

"In marriage."

She paused. She, so penetrative of him when he opposed her, was
hoodwinked when he softened her feelings: for the heart, though the
clearest, is not the most constant instructor of the head; the heart,
unlike the often obtuser head, works for itself and not for the
commonwealth.

"You are so kind . . . I would do much . . ." she said.

"Would you accept him--marry him? He is poor."

"I am not ambitious of wealth."

"Would you marry him?"

"Marriage is not in my thoughts."

"But could you marry him?"

Willoughby expected no. In his expectation of it he hung inflated.

She said these words: "I could engage to marry no one else." His
amazement breathed without a syllable.

He flapped his arms, resembling for the moment those birds of enormous
body which attempt a rise upon their wings and achieve a hop.

"Would you engage it?" he said, content to see himself stepped on as an
insect if he could but feel the agony of his false friend Horace--their
common pretensions to win her were now of that comparative size.

"Oh! there can be no necessity. And an oath--no!" said Clara, inwardly
shivering at a recollection.

"But you could?"

"My wish is to please you."

"You could?"

"I said so."

It has been known to the patriotic mountaineer of a hoary pile of
winters, with little life remaining in him, but that little on fire for
his country, that by the brink of the precipice he has flung himself on
a young and lusty invader, dedicating himself exultingly to death if
only he may score a point for his country by extinguishing in his
country's enemy the stronger man. So likewise did Willoughby, in the
blow that deprived him of hope, exult in the toppling over of Horace De
Craye. They perished together, but which one sublimely relished the
headlong descent? And Vernon taken by Clara would be Vernon simply
tolerated. And Clara taken by Vernon would be Clara previously touched,
smirched. Altogether he could enjoy his fall.

It was at least upon a comfortable bed, where his pride would be
dressed daily and would never be disagreeably treated.

He was henceforth Laetitia's own. The bell telling of Dr. Corney's
return was a welcome sound to Willoughby, and he said good-humouredly:
"Wait, Clara, you will see your hero Crossjay."

Crossjay and Dr. Corney tumbled into the hall. Willoughby caught
Crossjay under the arms to give him a lift in the old fashion pleasing
to Clara to see. The boy was heavy as lead.

"I had work to hook him and worse to net him," said Dr. Corney. "I had
to make him believe he was to nurse every soul in the house, you among
them, Miss Middleton."

Willoughby pulled the boy aside.

Crossjay came back to Clara heavier in looks than his limbs had been.
She dropped her letter in the hall-box, and took his hand to have a
private hug of him. When they were alone, she said: "Crossjay, my
dear, my dear! you look unhappy."

"Yes, and who wouldn't be, and you're not to marry Sir Willoughby!" his
voice threatened a cry. "I know you're not, for Dr. Corney says you are
going to leave."

"Did you so very much wish it, Crossjay?"

"I should have seen a lot of you, and I sha'n't see you at all, and I'm
sure if I'd known I wouldn't have--And he has been and tipped me this."

Crossjay opened his fist in which lay three gold pieces.

"That was very kind of him," said Clara.

"Yes, but how can I keep it?"

"By handing it to Mr. Whitford to keep for you."

"Yes, but, Miss Middleton, oughtn't I to tell him? I mean Sir
Willoughby."

"What?"

"Why, that I"--Crossjay got close to her--"why, that I, that I--you
know what you used to say. I wouldn't tell a lie, but oughtn't I,
without his asking . . . and this money! I don't mind being turned out
again."

"Consult Mr. Whitford," said Clara.

"I know what you think, though."

"Perhaps you had better not say anything at present, dear boy."

"But what am I to do with this money?"

Crossjay held the gold pieces out as things that had not yet mingled
with his ideas of possession.

"I listened, and I told of him," he said. "I couldn't help listening,
but I went and told; and I don't like being here, and his money, and he
not knowing what I did. Haven't you heard? I'm certain I know what you
think, and so do I, and I must take my luck. I'm always in mischief,
getting into a mess or getting out of it. I don't mind, I really don't,
Miss Middleton, I can sleep in a tree quite comfortably. If you're not
going to be here, I'd just as soon be anywhere. I must try to earn my
living some day. And why not a cabin-boy? Sir Cloudesley Shovel was no
better. And I don't mind his being wrecked at last, if you're drowned
an admiral. So I shall go and ask him to take his money back, and if he
asks me I shall tell him, and there. You know what it is: I guessed
that from what Dr. Corney said. I'm sure I know you're thinking what's
manly. Fancy me keeping his money, and you not marrying him! I wouldn't
mind driving a plough. I shouldn't make a bad gamekeeper. Of course I
love boats best, but you can't have everything."

"Speak to Mr. Whitford first," said Clara, too proud of the boy for
growing as she had trained him, to advise a course of conduct opposed
to his notions of manliness, though now that her battle was over she
would gladly have acquiesced in little casuistic compromises for the
sake of the general peace.

Some time later Vernon and Dr. Corney were arguing upon the question.
Corney was dead against the sentimental view of the morality of the
case propounded by Vernon as coming from Miss Middleton and partly
shared by him. "If it's on the boy's mind," Vernon said, "I can't
prohibit his going to Willoughby and making a clean breast of it,
especially as it involves me, and sooner or later I should have to tell
him myself."

Dr. Corney said no at all points. "Now hear me," he said, finally.
"This is between ourselves, and no breach of confidence, which I'd not
be guilty of for forty friends, though I'd give my hand from the
wrist-joint for one--my left, that's to say. Sir Willoughby puts me one
or two searching interrogations on a point of interest to him, his
house and name. Very well, and good night to that, and I wish Miss Dale
had been ten years younger, or had passed the ten with no heartrisings
and sinkings wearing to the tissues of the frame and the moral fibre to
boot. She'll have a fairish health, with a little occasional doctoring;
taking her rank and wealth in right earnest, and shying her pen back to
Mother Goose. She'll do. And, by the way, I think it's to the credit
of my sagacity that I fetched Mr. Dale here fully primed, and roused
the neighbourhood, which I did, and so fixed our gentleman, neat as a
prodded eel on a pair of prongs--namely, the positive fact and the
general knowledge of it. But, mark me, my friend. We understand one
another at a nod. This boy, young Squire Crossjay, is a good stiff
hearty kind of a Saxon boy, out of whom you may cut as gallant a fellow
as ever wore epaulettes. I like him, you like him, Miss Dale and Miss
Middleton like him; and Sir Willoughby Patterne, of Patterne Hall and
other places, won't be indisposed to like him mightily in the event of
the sun being seen to shine upon him with a particular determination to
make him appear a prominent object, because a solitary, and a
Patterne." Dr. Corney lifted his chest and his finger: "Now mark me,
and verbum sap: Crossjay must not offend Sir Willoughby. I say no
more. Look ahead. Miracles happen, but it's best to reckon that they
won't. Well, now, and Miss Dale. She'll not be cruel."

"It appears as if she would," said Vernon, meditating on the cloudy
sketch Dr. Corney had drawn.

"She can't, my friend. Her position's precarious; her father has little
besides a pension. And her writing damages her health. She can't. And
she likes the baronet. Oh, it's only a little fit of proud blood. She's
the woman for him. She'll manage him--give him an idea he's got a lot
of ideas. It'd kill her father if she were obstinate. He talked to me,
when I told him of the business, about his dream fulfilled, and if the
dream turns to vapour, he'll be another example that we hang more upon
dreams than realities for nourishment, and medicine too. Last week I
couldn't have got him out of his house with all my art and science. Oh,
she'll come round. Her father prophesied this, and I'll prophesy that.
She's fond of him."

"She was."

"She sees through him?"

"Without quite doing justice to him now," said Vernon. "He can be
generous--in his way."

"How?" Corney inquired, and was informed that he should hear in time to
come.

Meanwhile Colonel De Craye, after hovering over the park and about the
cottage for the opportunity of pouncing on Miss Middleton alone, had
returned crest-fallen for once, and plumped into Willoughby's hands.

"My dear Horace," Willoughby said, "I've been looking for you all the
afternoon. The fact is--I fancy you'll think yourself lured down here
on false pretences: but the truth is, I am not so much to blame as the
world will suppose. In point of fact, to be brief, Miss Dale and I
. . . I never consult other men how they would have acted. The fact of
the matter is, Miss Middleton . . . I fancy you have partly guessed it."

"Partly," said De Craye.

"Well, she has a liking that way, and if it should turn out strong
enough, it's the best arrangement I can think of," The lively play of
the colonel's features fixed in a blank inquiry.

"One can back a good friend for making a good husband," said
Willoughby. "I could not break with her in the present stage of affairs
without seeing to that. And I can speak of her highly, though she and I
have seen in time that we do not suit one another. My wife must have
brains."

"I have always thought it," said Colonel De Craye, glistening, and
looking hungry as a wolf through his wonderment.

"There will not be a word against her, you understand. You know my
dislike of tattle and gossip. However, let it fall on me; my shoulders
are broad. I have done my utmost to persuade her, and there seems a
likelihood of her consenting. She tells me her wish is to please me,
and this will please me."

"Certainly. Who's the gentleman?"

"My best friend, I tell you. I could hardly have proposed another.
Allow this business to go on smoothly just now." There was an uproar
within the colonel to blind his wits, and Willoughby looked so friendly
that it was possible to suppose the man of projects had mentioned his
best friend to Miss Middleton.

And who was the best friend?

Not having accused himself of treachery, the quick-eyed colonel was
duped.

"Have you his name handy, Willoughby?"

"That would be unfair to him at present, Horace--ask yourself--and to
her. Things are in a ticklish posture at present. Don't be hasty."

"Certainly. I don't ask. Initials'll do."

"You have a remarkable aptitude for guessing, Horace, and this case
offers you no tough problem--if ever you acknowledged toughness. I have
a regard for her and for him--for both pretty equally; you know I have,
and I should be thoroughly thankful to bring the matter about."

"Lordly!" said De Craye.

"I don't see it. I call it sensible."

"Oh, undoubtedly. The style, I mean. Tolerably antique?"

"Novel, I should say, and not the worse for that. We want plain
practical dealings between men and women. Usually we go the wrong way
to work. And I loathe sentimental rubbish."

De Craye hummed an air. "But the lady?" said he.

"I told you, there seems a likelihood of her consenting."

Willoughby's fish gave a perceptible little leap now that he had been
taught to exercise his aptitude for guessing.

"Without any of the customary preliminaries on the side of the
gentleman?" he said.

"We must put him through his paces, friend Horace. He's a notorious
blunderer with women; hasn't a word for them, never marked a conquest."

De Craye crested his plumes under the agreeable banter. He presented a
face humourously sceptical.

"The lady is positively not indisposed to give the poor fellow a
hearing?"

"I have cause to think she is not," said Willoughby, glad of acting the
indifference to her which could talk of her inclinations.

"Cause?"

"Good cause."

"Bless us!"

"As good as one can have with a woman."

"Ah?"

"I assure you."

"Ah! Does it seem like her, though?"

"Well, she wouldn't engage herself to accept him."

"Well, that seems more like her."

"But she said she could engage to marry no one else."

The colonel sprang up, crying: "Clara Middleton said it?" He curbed
himself "That's a bit of wonderful compliancy."

"She wishes to please me. We separate on those terms. And I wish her
happiness. I've developed a heart lately and taken to think of others."

"Nothing better. You appear to make cock sure of the other party--our
friend?"

"You know him too well, Horace, to doubt his readiness."

"Do you, Willoughby?"

"She has money and good looks. Yes, I can say I do."

"It wouldn't be much of a man who'd want hard pulling to that lighted
altar!"

"And if he requires persuasion, you and I, Horace, might bring him to
his senses."

"Kicking, 't would be!"

"I like to see everybody happy about me," said Willoughby, naming the
hour as time to dress for dinner.

The sentiment he had delivered was De Craye's excuse for grasping his
hand and complimenting him; but the colonel betrayed himself by doing
it with an extreme fervour almost tremulous.

"When shall we hear more?" he said.

"Oh, probably to-morrow," said Willoughby. "Don't be in such a hurry."

"I'm an infant asleep!" the colonel replied, departing.

He resembled one, to Willoughby's mind: or a traitor drugged.

"There is a fellow I thought had some brains!"

Who are not fools to beset spinning if we choose to whip them with
their vanity! it is the consolation of the great to watch them spin.
But the pleasure is loftier, and may comfort our unmerited misfortune
for a while, in making a false friend drunk.

Willoughby, among his many preoccupations, had the satisfaction of
seeing the effect of drunkenness on Horace De Craye when the latter was
in Clara's presence. He could have laughed. Cut in keen epigram were
the marginal notes added by him to that chapter of The Book which
treats of friends and a woman; and had he not been profoundly
preoccupied, troubled by recent intelligence communicated by the
ladies, his aunts, he would have played the two together for the royal
amusement afforded him by his friend Horace.



CHAPTER XLVIII

THE LOVERS

The hour was close upon eleven at night. Laetitia sat in the room
adjoining her father's bedchamber. Her elbow was on the table beside
her chair, and two fingers pressed her temples. The state between
thinking and feeling, when both are molten and flow by us, is one of
our natures coming after thought has quieted the fiery nerves, and can
do no more. She seemed to be meditating. She was conscious only of a
struggle past.

She answered a tap at the door, and raised her eyes on Clara. Clara
stepped softly. "Mr. Dale is asleep?"

"I hope so."

"Ah! dear friend."

Laetitia let her hand be pressed.

"Have you had a pleasant evening?"

"Mr. Whitford and papa have gone to the library."

"Colonel De Craye has been singing?"

"Yes--with a voice! I thought of you upstairs, but could not ask him to
sing piano."

"He is probably exhilarated."

"One would suppose it: he sang well."

"You are not aware of any reason?"

"It cannot concern me."

Clara was in rosy colour, but could meet a steady gaze.

"And Crossjay has gone to bed?"

"Long since. He was at dessert. He would not touch anything."

"He is a strange boy."

"Not very strange, Laetitia."

"He did not come to me to wish me good-night."

"That is not strange."

"It is his habit at the cottage and here; and he professes to like me."

"Oh, he does. I may have wakened his enthusiasm, but you he loves."

"Why do you say it is not strange, Clara?"

"He fears you a little."

"And why should Crossjay fear me?"

"Dear, I will tell you. Last night--You will forgive him, for it was by
accident: his own bed-room door was locked and he ran down to the
drawing-room and curled himself up on the ottoman, and fell asleep,
under that padded silken coverlet of the ladies--boots and all, I am
afraid!"

Laetitia profited by this absurd allusion, thanking Clara in her heart
for the refuge.

"He should have taken off his boots," she said.

"He slept there, and woke up. Dear, he meant no harm. Next day he
repeated what he had heard. You will blame him. He meant well in his
poor boy's head. And now it is over the county. Ah! do not frown."

"That explains Lady Busshe!" exclaimed Laetitia.

"Dear, dear friend," said Clara. "Why--I presume on your tenderness for
me; but let me: to-morrow I go--why will you reject your happiness?
Those kind good ladies are deeply troubled. They say your resolution
is inflexible; you resist their entreaties and your father's. Can it be
that you have any doubt of the strength of this attachment? I have
none. I have never had a doubt that it was the strongest of his
feelings. If before I go I could see you . . . both happy, I should be
relieved, I should rejoice."

Laetitia said, quietly: "Do you remember a walk we had one day together
to the cottage?"

Clara put up her hands with the motion of intending to stop her ears.

"Before I go!" said she. "If I might know this was to be, which all
desire, before I leave, I should not feel as I do now. I long to see
you happy . . . him, yes, him too. Is it like asking you to pay my
debt? Then, please! But, no; I am not more than partly selfish on this
occasion. He has won my gratitude. He can be really generous."

"An Egoist?"

"Who is?"

"You have forgotten our conversation on the day of our walk to the
cottage?"

"Help me to forget it--that day, and those days, and all those days! I
should be glad to think I passed a time beneath the earth, and have
risen again. I was the Egoist. I am sure, if I had been buried, I
should not have stood up seeing myself more vilely stained, soiled,
disfigured--oh! Help me to forget my conduct, Laetitia. He and I were
unsuited--and I remember I blamed myself then. You and he are not: and
now I can perceive the pride that can be felt in him. The worst that
can be said is that he schemes too much."

"Is there any fresh scheme?" said Laetitia.

The rose came over Clara's face.

"You have not heard? It was impossible, but it was kindly intended.
Judging by my own feeling at this moment, I can understand his. We love
to see our friends established."

Laetitia bowed. "My curiosity is piqued, of course."

"Dear friend, to-morrow we shall be parted. I trust to be thought of by
you as a little better in grain than I have appeared, and my reason for
trusting it is that I know I have been always honest--a boorish young
woman in my stupid mad impatience: but not insincere. It is no lofty
ambition to desire to be remembered in that character, but such is your
Clara, she discovers. I will tell you. It is his wish . . . his wish
that I should promise to give my hand to Mr. Whitford. You see the
kindness."

Laetitia's eyes widened and fixed:

"You think it kindness?"

"The intention. He sent Mr. Whitford to me, and I was taught to expect
him."

"Was that quite kind to Mr. Whitford?"

"What an impression I must have made on you during that walk to the
cottage, Laetitia! I do not wonder; I was in a fever."

"You consented to listen?"

"I really did. It astonishes me now, but I thought I could not refuse."

"My poor friend Vernon Whitford tried a love speech?"

"He? no: Oh! no."

"You discouraged him?"

"I? No."

"Gently, I mean."

"No."

"Surely you did not dream of trifling? He has a deep heart."

"Has he?"

"You ask that: and you know something of him."

"He did not expose it to me, dear; not even the surface of the mighty
deep."

Laetitia knitted her brows.

"No," said Clara, "not a coquette: she is not a coquette, I assure
you."

With a laugh, Laetitia replied: "You have still the 'dreadful power'
you made me feel that day."

"I wish I could use it to good purpose!"

"He did not speak?"

"Of Switzerland, Tyrol, the Iliad, Antigone."

"That was all?"

"No, Political Economy. Our situation, you will own, was unexampled: or
mine was. Are you interested in me?"

"I should be if I knew your sentiments."

"I was grateful to Sir Willoughby: grieved for Mr. Whitford."

"Real grief?"

"Because the task unposed on him of showing me politely that he did not
enter into his cousin's ideas was evidently very great, extremely
burdensome."

"You, so quick-eyed in some things, Clara!"

"He felt for me. I saw that in his avoidance of. . . And he was, as he
always is, pleasant. We rambled over the park for I know not how long,
though it did not seem long."

"Never touching that subject?"

"Not ever neighbouring it, dear. A gentleman should esteem the girl he
would ask . . . certain questions. I fancy he has a liking for me as a
volatile friend."

"If he had offered himself?"

"Despising me?"

"You can be childish, Clara. Probably you delight to tease. He had his
time of it, and it is now my turn."

"But he must despise me a little."

"Are you blind?"

"Perhaps, dear, we both are, a little."

The ladies looked deeper into one another.

"Will you answer me?" said Laetitia.

"Your if? If he had, it would have been an act of condescension."

"You are too slippery."

"Stay, dear Laetitia. He was considerate in forbearing to pain me."

"That is an answer. You allowed him to perceive that it would have
pained you."

"Dearest, if I may convey to you what I was, in a simile for
comparison: I think I was like a fisherman's float on the water,
perfectly still, and ready to go down at any instant, or up. So much
for my behaviour."

"Similes have the merit of satisfying the finder of them, and cheating
the hearer," said Laetitia. "You admit that your feelings would have
been painful."

"I was a fisherman's float: please admire my simile; any way you like,
this way or that, or so quiet as to tempt the eyes to go to sleep. And
suddenly I might have disappeared in the depths, or flown in the air.
But no fish bit."

"Well, then, to follow you, supposing the fish or the fisherman, for I
don't know which is which . . . Oh! no, no: this is too serious for
imagery. I am to understand that you thanked him at least for his
reserve."

"Yes."

"Without the slightest encouragement to him to break it?"

"A fisherman's float, Laetitia!"

Baffled and sighing, Laetitia kept silence for a space. The simile
chafed her wits with a suspicion of a meaning hidden in it.

"If he had spoken?" she said.

"He is too truthful a man."

"And the railings of men at pussy women who wind about and will not be
brought to a mark, become intelligible to me."

"Then Laetitia, if he had spoken, if, and one could have imagined him
sincere . . ."

"So truthful a man?"

"I am looking at myself If!--why, then, I should have burnt to death
with shame. Where have I read?--some story--of an inextinguishable
spark. That would have been shot into my heart."

"Shame, Clara? You are free."

"As much as remains of me."

"I could imagine a certain shame, in such a position, where there was
no feeling but pride."

"I could not imagine it where there was no feeling but pride."

Laetitia mused. "And you dwell on the kindness of a proposition so
extraordinary!" Gaining some light, impatiently she cried: "Vernon
loves you."

"Do not say it!"

"I have seen it."

"I have never had a sign of it."

"There is the proof."

"When it might have been shown again and again!"

"The greater proof!"

"Why did he not speak when he was privileged?--strangely, but
privileged."

"He feared."

"Me?"

"Feared to wound you--and himself as well, possibly. Men may be
pardoned for thinking of themselves in these cases."

"But why should he fear?"

"That another was dearer to you?"

"What cause had I given . . . Ah I see! He could fear that; suspect it!
See his opinion of me! Can he care for such a girl? Abuse me, Laetitia.
I should like a good round of abuse. I need purification by fire. What
have I been in this house? I have a sense of whirling through it like a
madwoman. And to be loved, after it all!--No! we must be hearing a tale
of an antiquary prizing a battered relic of the battle-field that no
one else would look at. To be loved, I see, is to feel our littleness,
hollowness--feel shame. We come out in all our spots. Never to have
given me one sign, when a lover would have been so tempted! Let me be
incredulous, my own dear Laetitia. Because he is a man of honour, you
would say! But are you unconscious of the torture you inflict? For if I
am--you say it--loved by this gentleman, what an object it is he
loves--that has gone clamouring about more immodestly than women will
bear to hear of, and she herself to think of! Oh, I have seen my own
heart. It is a frightful spectre. I have seen a weakness in me that
would have carried me anywhere. And truly I shall be charitable to
women--I have gained that. But loved! by Vernon Whitford! The miserable
little me to be taken up and loved after tearing myself to pieces! Have
you been simply speculating? You have no positive knowledge of it! Why
do you kiss me?"

"Why do you tremble and blush so?"

Clara looked at her as clearly as she could. She bowed her head. "It
makes my conduct worse!"

She received a tenderer kiss for that. It was her avowal, and it was
understood: to know that she had loved or had been ready to love him,
shadowed her in the retrospect.

"Ah! you read me through and through," said Clara, sliding to her for a
whole embrace.

"Then there never was cause for him to fear?" Laetitia whispered.

Clara slid her head more out of sight. "Not that my heart . . . But I
said I have seen it; and it is unworthy of him. And if, as I think now,
I could have been so rash, so weak, wicked, unpardonable--such
thoughts were in me!--then to hear him speak would make it necessary
for me to uncover myself and tell him--incredible to you, yes!--that
while . . . yes, Laetitia, all this is true: and thinking of him as the
noblest of men, I could have welcomed any help to cut my knot. So
there," said Clara, issuing from her nest with winking eyelids, "you
see the pain I mentioned."

"Why did you not explain it to me at once?"

"Dearest, I wanted a century to pass."

"And you feel that it has passed?"

"Yes; in Purgatory--with an angel by me. My report of the place will be
favourable. Good angel, I have yet to say something."

"Say it, and expiate."

"I think I did fancy once or twice, very dimly, and especially to-day
. . . properly I ought not to have had any idea: but his coming to me,
and his not doing as another would have done, seemed . . . A gentleman
of real nobleness does not carry the common light for us to read him
by. I wanted his voice; but silence, I think, did tell me more: if a
nature like mine could only have had faith without bearing the rattle
of a tongue."

A knock at the door caused the ladies to exchange looks. Laetitia rose
as Vernon entered.

"I am just going to my father for a few minutes," she said.

"And I have just come from yours." Vernon said to Clara. She observed a
very threatening expression in him. The sprite of contrariety mounted
to her brain to indemnify her for her recent self-abasement. Seeing the
bedroom door shut on Laetitia, she said: "And of course papa has gone
to bed"; implying, "otherwise . . ."

"Yes, he has gone. He wished me well."

"His formula of good-night would embrace that wish."

"And failing, it will be good-night for good to me!"

Clara's breathing gave a little leap. "We leave early tomorrow."

"I know. I have an appointment at Bregenz for June."

"So soon? With papa?"

"And from there we break into Tyrol, and round away to the right,
Southward."

"To the Italian Alps! And was it assumed that I should be of this
expedition?"

"Your father speaks dubiously."

"You have spoken of me, then?"

"I ventured to speak of you. I am not over-bold, as you know."

Her lovely eyes troubled the lids to hide their softness.

"Papa should not think of my presence with him dubiously."

"He leaves it to you to decide."

"Yes, then: many times: all that can be uttered."

"Do you consider what you are saying?"

"Mr. Whitford, I shut my eyes and say Yes."

"Beware. I give you one warning. If you shut your eyes . . ."

"Of course," she flew from him, "big mountains must be satisfied with
my admiration at their feet."

"That will do for a beginning."

"They speak encouragingly."

"One of them." Vernon's breast heaved high.

"To be at your feet makes a mountain of you?" said she.

"With the heart of a mouse if that satisfies me!"

"You tower too high; you are inaccessible."

"I give you a second warning. You may be seized and lifted."

"Some one would stoop, then."

"To plant you like the flag on the conquered peak!"

"You have indeed been talking to papa, Mr. Whitford."

Vernon changed his tone.

"Shall I tell you what he said?"

"I know his language so well."

"He said--"

"But you have acted on it?"

"Only partly. He said--"

"You will teach me nothing."

"He said . . ."

"Vernon, no! oh! not in this house!"

That supplication coupled with his name confessed the end to which her
quick vision perceived she was being led, where she would succumb.

She revived the same shrinking in him from a breath of their great word
yet: not here; somewhere in the shadow of the mountains.

But he was sure of her. And their hands might join. The two hands
thought so, or did not think, behaved like innocents.

The spirit of Dr. Middleton, as Clara felt, had been blown into Vernon,
rewarding him for forthright outspeaking. Over their books, Vernon had
abruptly shut up a volume and related the tale of the house. "Has this
man a spice of religion in him?" the Rev. Doctor asked midway. Vernon
made out a fair general case for his cousin in that respect. "The
complemental dot on his i of a commonly civilized human creature!" said
Dr. Middleton, looking at his watch and finding it too late to leave
the house before morning. The risky communication was to come. Vernon
was proceeding with the narrative of Willoughby's generous plan when
Dr. Middleton electrified him by calling out: "He whom of all men
living I should desire my daughter to espouse!" and Willoughby rose in
the Rev. Doctor's esteem: he praised that sensibly minded gentleman,
who could acquiesce in the turn of mood of a little maid, albeit
Fortune had withheld from him a taste of the switch at school. The
father of the little maid's appreciation of her volatility was
exhibited in his exhortation to Vernon to be off to her at once with
his authority to finish her moods and assure him of peace in the
morning. Vernon hesitated. Dr. Middleton remarked upon being not so
sure that it was not he who had done the mischief. Thereupon Vernon, to
prove his honesty, made his own story bare. "Go to her," said Dr.
Middleton. Vernon proposed a meeting in Switzerland, to which Dr.
Middleton assented, adding: "Go to her": and as he appeared a total
stranger to the decorum of the situation, Vernon put his delicacy
aside, and taking his heart up, obeyed. He too had pondered on Clara's
consent to meet him after she knew of Willoughby's terms, and her grave
sweet manner during the ramble over the park. Her father's breath had
been blown into him; so now, with nothing but the faith lying in
sensation to convince him of his happy fortune (and how unconvincing
that may be until the mind has grasped and stamped it, we experience
even then when we acknowledge that we are most blessed), he held her
hand. And if it was hard for him, for both, but harder for the man, to
restrain their particular word from a flight to heaven when the cage
stood open and nature beckoned, he was practised in self-mastery, and
she loved him the more.

Laetitia was a witness of their union of hands on her coming back to
the room.

They promised to visit her very early in the morning, neither of them
conceiving that they left her to a night of storm and tears.

She sat meditating on Clara's present appreciation of Sir Willoughby's
generosity.



CHAPTER XLIX

LAETITIA AND SIR WILLOUGHBY

We cannot be abettors of the tribes of imps whose revelry is in the
frailties of our poor human constitution. They have their place and
their service, and so long as we continue to be what we are now, they
will hang on to us, restlessly plucking at the garments which cover our
nakedness, nor ever ceasing to twitch them and strain at them until
they have stripped us for one of their horrible Walpurgis nights: when
the laughter heard is of a character to render laughter frightful to
the ears of men throughout the remainder of their days. But if in these
festival hours under the beam of Hecate they are uncontrollable by the
Comic Muse, she will not flatter them with her presence during the
course of their insane and impious hilarities, whereof a description
would out-Brocken Brockens and make Graymalkin and Paddock too
intimately our familiars.

It shall suffice to say that from hour to hour of the midnight to the
grey-eyed morn, assisted at intervals by the ladies Eleanor and Isabel,
and by Mr. Dale awakened and re-awakened--hearing the vehemence of his
petitioning outcry to soften her obduracy--Sir Willoughby pursued
Laetitia with solicitations to espouse him, until the inveteracy of his
wooing wore the aspect of the life-long love he raved of aroused to a
state of mania. He appeared, he departed, he returned; and all the
while his imps were about him and upon him, riding him, prompting,
driving, inspi