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George Meredith

 

THEEGOIST

A Comedy inNarrative

 

 

PRELUDE

AChapter of which the Last Page only is of any Importance 

Comedy isa game played to throw reflections upon social lifeandit dealswith human nature in the drawing-room of civilized menand womenwhere we have no dust of the struggling outer worldnomirenoviolent crashesto make the correctness of therepresentationconvincing. Credulity is not wooed through theimpressionablesenses; nor have we recourse to the small circularglow ofthe watchmaker's eye to raise in bright relief minutestgrains ofevidence for the routing of incredulity. The ComicSpiritconceives a definite situation for a number of charactersandrejects all accessories in the exclusive pursuit of them andtheirspeech. For being a spirithe hunts the spirit in men;vision andardour constitute his merit; he has not a thought ofpersuadingyou to believe in him. Follow and you will see. Butthere is aquestion of the value of a run at his heels.

Now theworld is possessed of a certain big bookthe biggest bookon earth;that might indeed be called the Book of Earth; whosetitle isthe Book of Egoismand it is a book full of the world'swisdom. Sofull of itand of such dimensions is this bookinwhich thegenerations have written ever since they took towritingthat to be profitable to us the Book needs a powerfulcompression.

Whosaysthe notable humouristin allusion to this Bookwho canstudiouslytravel through sheets of leaves now capable of astretchfrom the Lizard to the last few poor pulmonary snips andshreds ofleagues dancing on their toes for coldexplorers tellusandcatching breath by good lucklike dogs at bones about atableonthe edge of the Pole? Inordinate unvaried lengthsheerlonginquitystaggers the heartages the very heart of us at aview. Andhow if we manage finally to print one of our pages onthecrow-scalp of that solitary majestic outsider? We may get himinto theBook; yet the knowledge we want will not be more presentwith usthan it was when the chapters hung their end over thecliff youken of at Doverwhere sits our great lord and mastercontemplatingthe seas without upon the reflex of that within!

In otherwordsas I venture to translate him (humourists aredifficult:it is a piece of their humour to puzzle our wits)theinwardmirrorthe embracing and condensing spiritis required togive usthose interminable milepost piles of matter (extendingwell-nighto the very Pole) in essencein chosen samplesdigestibly.I conceive him to indicate that the realistic methodof aconscientious transcription of all the visibleand arepetitionof all the audibleis mainly accountable for ourpresentbranfulnessand that prolongation of the vasty and thenoisyoutof whichas from an undrained fensteams the maladyofsamenessour modern malady. We have the maladywhatever maybe thecure or the cause. We drove in a body to Science the otherday for anantidote; which was as if tired pedestrians shouldmount theengine-box of headlong trains; and Science introduced usto ouro'er-hoary ancestry--them in the Oriental posture;whereuponwe set up a primaeval chattering to rival the Amazonforestnigh nightfallcuredwe fancied. And before daybreak ourdiseasewas hanging on to us againwith the extension of a tail.We had itfore and aft. We were the sameand animals into thebargain.That is all we got from Science.

Art is thespecific. We have little to learn of apesand they maybe left.The chief consideration for us iswhat particularpracticeof Art in letters is the best for the perusal of the Bookof ourcommon wisdom; so that with clearer minds and liveliermanners wemay escapeas it wereinto daylight and song from aland offog-horns. Shall we read it by the watchmaker's eye inluminousrings eruptive of the infinitesimalor pointed withexamplesand types under the broad Alpine survey of the spiritborn ofour united social intelligencewhich is the Comic Spirit?Wise mensay the latter. They tell us that there is a constanttendencyin the Book to accumulate excess of substanceand suchrepletenessobscuring the glass it holds to mankindrenders usinexact inthe recognition of our individual countenances: aperilousthing for civilization. And these wise men are strong intheiropinion that we should encourage the Comic Spiritwho isafter allour own offspringto relieve the Book. Comedytheysayisthe true diversionas it is likewise the key of the greatBookthemusic of the Book. They tell us how it condenses wholesectionsof the book in a sentencevolumes in a character; sothat afair pan of a book outstripping thousands of leagues whenunrolledmay he compassed in one comic sitting.

Forverilysay theywe must read what we can of itat least thepagebefore usif we would be men. Onewith an index on theBookcries outin a style pardonable to his fervency: The remedyof yourfrightful affliction is herethrough the stillatory ofComedyand not in Sciencenor yet in Speedwhose name is butanotherfor voracity. Whyto be aliveto be quick in the soulthereshould be diversity in the companion throbs of your pulses.Interrogatethem. They lump along like the old loblegs of Dobbinthe horse;or do their business like cudgels of carpet-thwackersexpellingdust or the cottage-clock pendulum teaching the infanthour overmidnight simple arithmetic. This too in spite ofBacchus.And let them gallop; let them gallop with the Godbestridingthem; gallop to Hymengallop to Hadesthey strike thesame note.Monstrous monotonousness has enfolded us as with thearms ofAmphitrite! We hear a shout of war for a diversion.--Comedy hepronounces to be our means of reading swiftly andcomprehensively.She it is who proposes the correcting ofpretentiousnessof inflationof dulnessand of the vestiges ofrawnessand grossness to be found among us. She is the ultimatecivilizerthe polishera sweet cook. Ifhe saysshe watchesoversentimentalism with a birch-rodshe is not opposed toromance.You may loveand warmly loveso long as you are honest.Do notoffend reason. A lover pretending too much by one foot'slength ofpretencewill have that foot caught in her trap. InComedy isthe singular scene of charity issuing of disdain underthe strokeof honourable laughter: an Ariel released by Prospero'swand fromthe fetters of the damned witch Sycorax. And thislaughterof reason refreshed is floriferouslike the magicalgreat galeof the shifty Spring deciding for Summer. You hear itgiving thedelicate spirit his liberty. Listenfor comparisonto anunleavened society: a low as of the udderful cow pastmilkinghour! O for a titled ecclesiastic to curse toexcommunicationthat unholy thing!--So far an enthusiast perhaps;but heshould have a hearing.

Concerningpathosno ship can now set sail without pathos; and weare nottotally deficient of pathos; which isI do not accuratelyknow whatif not the ballastreducible to moisture by patentprocesson board our modern vessel; for it can hardly be thecargoandthe general water supply has other uses; and ships wellchargedwith it seem to sail the stiffest:--there is a touch ofpathos.The Egoist surely inspires pity. He who would desire toclothehimself at everybody's expenseand is of that desirecondemnedto strip himself stark nakedheif pathos ever had aformmight be taken for the actual person. Only he is not allowedto rush atyouroll you over and squeeze your body for the brinydrops.There is the innovation.

You may aswell know him out of handas a gentleman of our timeandcountryof wealth and station; a not flexile figuredo whatwe maywith him; the humour of whom scarcely dimples the surfaceand isdistinguishable but by very penetrativevery wicked impswhose fitsof roaring below at some generally imperceptible strokeof hisqualityhave first made the mild literary angels aware ofsomethingcomic in himwhen they were one and all about todescribethe gentleman on the heading of the records baldly (wherebrevity ismost complimentary) as a gentleman of family andpropertyan idol of a decorous island that admires the concrete.Imps havetheir freakish wickedness in them to kindle detectivevision:malignly do they love to uncover ridiculousness inimposingfigures. Wherever they catch sight of Egoism they pitchtheircampsthey circle and squatand forthwith they trim theirlanternsconfident of the ludicrous to come. So confident thattheir gripof an English gentlemanin whom they have spied theirgamenever relaxes until he begins insensibly to frolic andanticunknown to himselfand comes out in the native steam whichis theirscent of the chase. Instantly off they scourEgoist andimps. Theywillit is known of themdog a great House forcenturiesand be at the birth of all the new heirs in successiondiligentlytaking confirmatory notesto join hands and chimetheirchorus in one of their merry rings round the totteringpillar ofthe Housewhen his turn arrives; as if they had(possiblythey had) smelt of old date a doomed colossus of Egoismin thatunbornunconceived inheritor of the stuff of the family.They darenot be chuckling while Egoism is valiantwhile soberwhilesocially valuablenationally serviceable. They wait.

Aforetimea grand old Egoism built the House. It would appear thatever fineressences of it are demanded to sustain the structure;butespecially would it appear that a reversion to the grossoriginalbeneath a mask and in a vein of finenessis anearthquakeat the foundations of the House. Better that it shouldnot haveconsented to motionand have held stubbornly to allancestralwaysthan have bred that anachronic spectre. The sighthoweveris one to make our squatting imps in circle grow restlesson theirhaunchesas they bend eyes instantlyears at full cockfor thecommencement of the comic drama of the suicide. If thisline ofverse be not yet in our literature          Through very love of self himself he slew

let it beadmitted for his epitaph.

 

 

CHAPTER I

A MinorIncident Showing an Hereditary Aptitude in the Use of theKnife

 

There wasan ominously anxious watch of eyes visible and invisibleover theinfancy of Willoughbyfifth in descent from SimonPatterneof Patterne Hallpremier of this familya lawyeraman ofsolid acquirements and stout ambitionwho well understoodthefoundation-work of a Houseand was endowed with the power ofsaying Noto those first agents of destructionbesiegingrelatives.He said it with the resonant emphasis of death toyoungersons. For if the oak is to become a stately treewe mustprovideagainst the crowding of timber. Also the tree beset withparasitesprospers not. A great House in its beginning liveswemay trulysayby the knife. Soil is easily gotand so arebricksand a wifeand children come of wishing for thembut thevigoroususe of the knife is a natural gift and points to growth.PauperPatternes were numerous when the fifth head of the race wasthe hopeof his county. A Patterne was in the Marines.

Thecountry and the chief of this family were simultaneouslyinformedof the existence of one Lieutenant Crossjay Patterneofthe corpsof the famous hard fightersthrough an act of heroismof theunpretending cool sort which kindles British bloodon thepart ofthe modest young officerin the storming of some easternriverainstrongholdsomewhere about the coast of China. Theofficer'syouth was assumed on the strength of his rankperhapslikewisefrom the tale of his modesty: "he had only done hisduty".Our Willoughby was then at Collegeemulous of the generousenthusiasmof his yearsand strangely impressed by the reportand theprinting of his name in the newspapers. He thought over itforseveral monthswhencoming to his title and heritagehesentLieutenant Crossjay Patterne a cheque for a sum of moneyamountingto the gallant fellow's pay per annumat the same timeshowinghis acquaintance with the firstor chemicalprinciplesofgenerosityin the remark to friends at homethat "blood isthickerthan water". The man is a Marinebut he is a Patterne.How anyPatterne should have drifted into the Marinesis of theorder ofquestions which are senselessly asked of the greatdispensary.In the complimentary letter accompanying his chequethelieutenant was invited to present himself at the ancestralHallwhenconvenient to himand he was assured that he had givenhisrelative and friend a taste for a soldier's life. Young SirWilloughbywas fond of talking of his "military namesake anddistantcousinyoung Patterne--the Marine". It was funny; andnot lesslaughable was the description of his namesake's deed ofvalour:with the rescued British sailor inebriateand the haulingoff tocaptivity of the three braves of the black dragon on ayellowgroundand the tying of them together back to back bytheirpigtailsand driving of them into our lines upon a newlydeviseddying-top style of march that inclined to the obliquelike theastonished six eyes of the celestial prisonersforstraightthey could not go. The humour of gentlemen at home isalwayshighly excited by such cool feats. We are a small islandbut yousee what we do. The ladies at the HallSir Willoughby'smotherand his aunts Eleanor and Isabelwere more affected thanhe by thecircumstance of their having a Patterne in the Marines.But howthen! We English have ducal blood in business: we havegenealogiststell usroyal blood in common trades. For all ourpride weare a queer people; and you may be ordering butcher'smeat of aTudorsitting on the cane-bottom chairs of aPlantagenet.By and by you may . . . but cherish your reverence.YoungWilloughby made a kind of shock-head or football hero of hisgallantdistant cousinand wondered occasionally that the fellowhad beencontent to dispatch a letter of effusive thanks withoutavailinghimself of the invitation to partake of the hospitalitiesofPatterne.

He was oneafternoon parading between showers on the statelygardenterrace of the Hallin company with his affiancedthebeautifuland dashing Constantia Durhamfollowed by knots ofladies andgentlemen vowed to fresh air before dinnerwhile itwas to behad. Chancing with his usual happy fortune (we callthesethings dealt to us out of the great hidden dispensarychance) toglance up the avenue of limesas he was in the act ofturning onhis heel at the end of the terraceand it should beaddeddiscoursing with passion's privilege of the passion of loveto MissDurhamSir Willoughbywho was anything but obtuseexperienceda presentiment upon espying a thick-set stumpy mancrossingthe gravel space from the avenue to the front steps ofthe Halldecidedly not bearing the stamp of the gentleman "on hishathiscoathis feetor anything that was his" Willoughbysubsequentlyobserved to the ladies of his family in theScripturalstyle of gentlemen who do bear the stamp. His briefsketch ofthe creature was repulsive. The visitor carried a bagand hiscoat-collar was uphis hat was melancholy; he had theappearanceof a bankrupt tradesman absconding; no glovesnoumbrella.

As to theincident we have to noteit was very slight. The cardofLieutenant Patterne was handed to Sir Willoughbywho laid iton thesalversaying to the footman"Not at home."

He hadbeen disappointed in the agegrossly deceived in theappearanceof the man claiming to be his relative in thisunseasonablefashion; and his acute instinct advised him swiftlyof theabsurdity of introducing to his friends a heavyunpresentablesenior as the celebrated gallant Lieutenant ofMarinesand the same as a member of his family! He had talked ofthe mantoo muchtoo enthusiasticallyto be able to do so. Ayoungsubalterneven if passably vulgar in figurecan beshuffledthrough by the aid of the heroical story humourouslyexaggeratedin apology for his aspect. Nothing can be done with amature andstumpy Marine of that rank. Considerateness dismisseshim on thespotwithout parley. It was performed by a gentlemansupremelyadvanced at a very early age in the art of cutting.

Young SirWilloughby spoke a word of the rejected visitor to MissDurhaminresponse to her startled look: "I shall drop him acheque"he saidfor she seemed personally woundedand had aface ofcrimson.

The younglady did not reply.

Datingfrom the humble departure of Lieutenant Crossjay Patterneup thelimes-avenue under a gathering rain-cloudthe ring of impsinattendance on Sir Willoughby maintained their station withstrictobservation of his movements at all hours; and werecomparisonsin questthe sympathetic eagerness of the eyes ofcagedmonkeys for the hand about to feed themwould supply one.Theyperceived in him a fresh development and very subtlemanifestationof the very old thing from which he had sprung.

 

 

CHAPTER II

TheYoung Sir Willoughby

 

Theselittle scoundrel impswho have attained to somerespectabilityas the dogs and pets of the Comic Spirithad beencuriouslyattentive three years earlierlong before the publicannouncementof his engagement to the beautiful Miss Durhamonthe day ofSir Willoughby's majoritywhen Mrs. MountstuartJenkinsonsaid her word of him. Mrs. Mountstuart was a ladycertain tosay the rememberedif not the rightthing. Again andagain wasit confirmed on days of high celebrationdays of birthor bridalhow sure she was to hit the mark that rang the bell;and awayher word went over the county: and had she been anuncharitablewoman she could have ruled the county with an ironrod ofcaricatureso sharp was her touch. A grain of malice wouldhave sentcounty faces and characters awry into the currency. Shewaswealthy and kindlyand resembled our mother Nature in herreasonableantipathies to one or two things which none can defendand herdecided preference of persons that shone in the sun. Herwordsprang out of her. She looked at youand forth it came: andit stuckto youas nothing laboured or literary could haveadhered.Her saying of Laetitia Dale: "Here she comes with aromantictale on her eyelashes" was a portrait of Laetitia. Andthat ofVernon Whitford: "He is a Phoebus Apollo turned fastingfriar"painted the sunken brilliancy of the lean long-walker andscholar ata stroke.

Of theyoung Sir Willoughbyher word was brief; and there was themerit ofit on a day when he was hearing from sunrise to thesetting ofthe moon salutes in his honoursongs of praise andCiceronianeulogy. Richhandsomecourteousgenerouslord ofthe Hallthe feast and the dancehe excited his guests of bothsexes to aholiday of flattery. Andsays Mrs. Mountstuartwhilegrandphrases were mouthing round about him"You see he has aleg."

That yousawof course. But after she had spoken you saw muchmore. Mrs.Mountstuart said it just as others utter emptynothingswith never a hint of a stress. Her word was taken upand verysoonfrom the extreme end of the long drawing-roomthecirculationof something of Mrs. Mountstuart's was distinctlyperceptible.Lady Patterne sent a little Hebe downskirting thedancersfor an accurate report of it; and even the inappreciativelips of avery young lady transmitting the word could not damp theimpressionof its weighty truthfulness. It was perfect! Adulationof theyoung Sir Willoughby's beauty and witand aristocraticbearingand mienand of his moral virtueswas common; welcome ifyou likeas a form of homage; but commonalmost vulgarbesideMrs.Mountstuart's quiet little touch of nature. In seeming to sayinfinitelyless than othersas Miss Isabel Patterne pointed outto LadyBussheMrs. Mountstuart comprised all that the others hadsaidbyshowing the needlessness of allusions to the salientlyevident.She was the aristocrat reproving the provincial. "He iseverythingyou have had the goodness to remarkladies and dearsirshetalks charminglydances divinelyrides with the air ofacommander-in-chiefhas the most natural grand pose possiblewithoutceasing for a moment to be the young English gentleman heis.Alcibiadesfresh from a Louis IV perruquiercould notsurpasshim: whatever you please; I could outdo you in sublimecomparisonswere I minded to pelt him. Have you noticed that hehas aleg?"

So mightit be amplified. A simple-seeming word of this import isthetriumph of the spiritualand where it passes for coin ofvaluethesociety has reached a high refinement: Arcadian by theaestheticroute. Observation of Willoughby was notas MissEleanorPatterne pointed out to Lady Culmerdrawn down to thelegbutdirected to estimate him from the leg upward. Thathoweveris prosaic. Dwell a short space on Mrs. Mountstuart'sword; andwhitherinto what fair regionand with how decorouslyvoluptuousa sensationdo not we flywho havethrough mournfulvenerationof the Martyr Charlesa coy attachment to the Court ofhis MerrieSonwhere the leg was ribanded with love-knots andreigned.Oh! it was a naughty Court. Yet have we dreamed of it asthe periodwhen an English cavalier was grace incarnate; far fromthe boornow hustling us in another sphere; beautifully manneredeverygesture dulcet. And if the ladies were ... we will hope theyhave beentraduced. But if they wereif they were too tenderah!gentlemenwere gentlemen then--worth perishing for! There is thisdream inthe English country; and it must be an aspiration aftersome formof melodious gentlemanliness which is imagined to haveinhabitedthe island at one time; as among our poets the dream ofthe periodof a circle of chivalry here is encouraged for thepleasureof the imagination.

Mrs.Mountstuart touched a thrilling chord. "In spite of men'shatefulmodern costumeyou see he has a leg."

That isthe leg of the born cavalier is before you: and obscureit as youwilldress degeneratelythere it is for ladies whohave eyes.You see it: oryou see he has it. Miss Isabel and MissEleanordisputed the incidence of the emphasisbut surelythougha slightdifference of meaning may be heardeither will do: manywith agood show of reasonthrow the accent upon leg. And theladiesknew for a fact that Willoughby's leg was exquisite; he hada cavaliercourt-suit in his wardrobe. Mrs. Mountstuart signifiedthat theleg was to be seen because it was a burning leg. There itisand itwill shine through! He has the leg of RochesterBuckinghamDorsetSuckling; the leg that smilesthat winksisobsequiousto youyet perforce of beauty self-satisfied; thattwinklesto a tender midway between imperiousness andseductivenessaudacity and discretion; between "You shall worshipme"and "I am devoted to you;" is your lordyour slavealternatelyand in one. It is a leg of ebb and flow and high-tideripples.Such a legwhen it has done with pretending to retirewill walkstraight into the hearts of women. Nothing so fatal tothem.

Self-satisfiedit must be. Humbleness does not win multitudes orthe sex.It must be vain to have a sheen. Captivating melodies (toprove toyou the unavoidableness of self-satisfaction when youknow thatyou have hit perfection)listen to them closelyhavean innerpipe of that conceit almost ludicrous when you detect thechirp.

And youneed not be reminded that he has the leg withoutthenaughtiness. You see eminent in him what we would fainhavebrought about in a nation that has lost its leg in gaininga possiblycleaner morality. And that is often contested; butthere isno doubt of the loss of the leg.

Wellfootmen and courtiers and Scottish Highlandersand thecorps deballetdraymen toohave legsand staring legsshapelyenough.But what are they? not the modulated instrument we mean--simplylegs for leg-workdumb as the brutes. Our cavalier's isthe poeticlega portenta valiance. He has it as Cicero had atongue. Itis a lute to scatter songs to his mistress; a rapieris sheobdurate. In sooth a leg with brains in itsoul.

And itsshadows are an ambushits lights a surprise. It blushesit palescan whisperexclaim. It is a peepa part revelationjustsufferableof the Olympian god--Jove playing carpet-knight.

For theyoung Sir Willoughby's family and his thoughtful admirersit is nottoo much to say that Mrs. Mountstuart's little wordfetched anepoch of our history to colour the evening of hisarrival atman's estate. He was all that Merrie Charles's courtshouldhave beensubtracting not a sparkle from what it was.Under thislight he dancedand you may consider the effect of iton hiscompany.

He hadreceived the domestic education of a prince. Little princesabound ina land of heaped riches. Where they have not to yieldmilitaryservice to an Imperial masterthey are necessarily hereand theredainty during youthsometimes unmanageableand as theyare boundin no personal duty to the Stateeach is for himselfwith fullpresentand what is moreluxuriousprospectiveleisurefor the practice of that allegiance. They are sometimesenervatedby it: that must be in continental countries. Happilyourclimate and our brave blood precipitate the greater numberupon thehunting-fieldto do the public service of heading thechase ofthe foxwith benefit to their constitutions. Hence amanly aswell as useful race of little princesand Willoughby wasas manlyas any. He cultivated himselfhe would not be outdonein popularaccomplishments. Had the standard of the public tastebeen setin philosophyand the national enthusiasm centred inphilosophershe would at least have worked at books. He did workatscienceand had a laboratory. His admirable passion to excelhoweverwas chiefly directed in his youth upon sport; and sogreat wasthe passion in himthat it was commonly the presence ofrivalswhich led him to the declaration of love.

He knewhimselfneverthelessto be the most constant of men inhisattachment to the sex. He had never discouraged LaetitiaDale'sdevotion to himand even when he followed in the sweepingtide ofthe beautiful Constantia Durham (whom Mrs. Mountstuartcalled"The Racing Cutter")he thought of Laetitiaand looked ather. Shewas a shy violet.

Willoughby'scomportment while the showers of adulation drenchedhim mightbe likened to the composure of Indian Gods undergoingworshipbut unlike them he reposed upon no seat of amplitude topreservehim from a betrayal of intoxication; he had to continuetrippingdancingexactly balancing himselfhead to rightheadto leftaddressing his idolaters in phrases of perfectchoiceness.This is only to say that it is easier to be a woodenidol thanone in the flesh; yet Willoughby was equal to his task.The littleprince's education teaches him that he is other thanyouandby virtue of the instruction he receivesand alsosomethingwe know not whatwithinhe is enabled to maintain hisposturewhere you would be tottering.

Urchinsupon whose curly pates grave seniors lay their hands withconventionalencomium and speculationlook older than they areimmediatelyand Willoughby looked older than his yearsnot forwant offreshnessbut because he felt that he had to standeminentlyand correctly poised.

Hearing ofMrs. Mountstuart's word on himhe smiled and said"Itis at herservice."

The speechwas communicated to herand she proposed to attach adedicatorystrip of silk. And then they came togetherand therewas witand repartee suitable to the electrical atmosphere of thedancing-roomon the march to a magical hall of supper.Willoughbyconducted Mrs. Mountstuart to the supper-table.

"WereI" said she"twenty years youngerI think I would marryyoutocure my infatuation."
"Thenlet me tell you in advancemadam" said he"that I willdoeverythingto obtain a new lease of itexcept divorce you."

They wereinfinitely wittier. but so much was heard and may hereported.

"Itmakes the business of choosing a wife for him superhumanlydifficult!"Mrs. Mountstuart observedafter listening to thepraisesshe had set going again when the ladies were weeded of usin LadyPatterne's Indian roomand could converse unhampered upontheir ownethereal themes.

"Willoughbywill choose a wife for himself" said his mother.

 

 

CHAPTERIII

ConstantiaDurham 

The greatquestion for the county was debated in many householdsdaughter-throngedand daughterlesslong subsequent to thememorableday of Willoughby's coming of age. Lady Busshe was forConstantiaDurham. She laughed at Mrs Mountstuart Jenkinson'snotion ofLaetitia Dale. She was a little older than Mrs.Mountstuartand had known Willoughby's fatherwhose marriageinto thewealthiest branch of the Whitford family had beenstrictlysagacious. "Patternes marry money; they are not romanticpeople"she said. Miss Durham had moneyand she had health andbeauty:three mighty qualifications for a Patterne bride. HerfatherSir John Durhamwas a large landowner in the westerndivisionof the county; a pompous gentlemanthe picture of afather-in-lawfor Willoughby. The father of Miss Dale was abatteredarmy surgeon from Indiatenant of one of SirWilloughby'scottages bordering Patterne Park. His girl wasportionlessand a poetess. Her writing of the song in celebrationof theyoung baronet's birthday was thought a clever ventureboldas onlyyour timid creatures can be bold. She let the cat outof her bagof verse before the multitude; she almost proposed toher heroin her rhymes. She was pretty; her eyelashes were longand darkher eyes dark-blueand her soul was ready to shoot likea rocketout of them at a look from Willoughby. And he lookedhecertainlylookedthough he did not dance with her once thatnightanddanced repeatedly with Miss Durham. He gave Laetitiato VernonWhitford for the final dance of the nightand he mayhavelooked at her so much in pity of an elegant girl allied tosuch apartner. The "Phoebus Apollo turned fasting friar" hadentirelyforgotten his musical gifts in motion. He crossed himselfandcrossed his bewildered ladyand crossed everybody in thefigureextorting shouts of cordial laughter from his cousinWilloughby.Be it said that the hour was four in the morningwhendancersmust laugh at somebodyif only to refresh their feetandthe wit ofthe hour administers to the wildest laughter. Vernonwaslikened to Theseus in the mazeentirely dependent upon hisAriadne;to a fly released from a jam-pot; to a "salvage"orgreenmancaught in a web of nymphs and made to go the paces.Willoughbywas inexhaustible in the happy similes he poured out toMissDurham across the lines of Sir Roger de Coverleyand theywere notforgottenthey procured him a reputation as a convivialsparkler.Rumour went the round that he intended to give Laetitiato Vernonfor goodwhen he could decide to take Miss Durham tohimself;his generosity was famous; but that decisionthough therope wasin the form of a knotseemed reluctant for theconclusiveclose haul; it preferred the state of slackness; and ifhe courtedLaetitia on behalf of his cousinhis cousinly lovemust havebeen greater than his passionone had to suppose. Hewasgenerous enough for itor for marrying the portionless girlhimself.

There wasa story of a brilliant young widow of our aristocracywho hadvery nearly snared him. Why should he object to marry intoouraristocracy? Mrs. Mountstuart asked himand he replied thatthe girlsof that class have no moneyand he doubted the qualityof theirblood. He had his eyes awake. His duty to his House wasa foremostthought with himand for such a reason he may havebeen moreanxious to give the slim and not robust Laetitia toVernonthan accede to his personal inclination. The mention of thewidowsingularly offended himnotwithstanding the high rank ofthe ladynamed. "A widow?" he said. "I!" He spoke to awidow; anoldish onetruly; but his wrath at the suggestion of his unionwith awidow led him to be for the moment oblivious of the minorshades ofgood taste. He desired Mrs. Mountstuart to contradictthe storyin positive terms. He repeated his desire; he was urgentto have itcontradictedand said again"A widow!" straighteninghis wholefigure to the erectness of the letter I. She was a widowunmarrieda second timeand it has been known of the stedfastwomen whoretain the name of their first husbandor do not hamperhis titlewith a little new squire at their skirtsthat they canpartiallyapprove the objections indicated by Sir Willoughby. Theyarethinking of themselves when they do soand they will rarelysay"Imight have married;" rarely within them will they avowthatwiththeir permissionit might have been. They can catch anidea of agentleman's view of the widow's cap. But a niceness thatcould feelsharply wounded by the simple rumour of his alliancewith theyoung relict of an earl was mystifying. Sir Willoughbyunbent.His military letter I took a careless glance at itselfloungingidly and proudly at ease in the glass of his minddeckedwith awanton wreathas he dropped a hintgenerously vaguejustto showthe origin of the rumourand the excellent basis it hadfor notbeing credited. He was chidden. Mrs. Mountstuart read hima lecture.She was however able to contradict the tale of theyoungcountess. "There is no fear of his marrying hermy dears."

Meanwhilethere was a fear that he would lose his chance ofmarryingthe beautiful Miss Durham.

Thedilemmas of little princes are often grave. They should bedwelt onnow and then for an example to poor struggling commonersof theslings and arrows assailing fortune's most favoured menthat wemay preach contentment to the wretch who cannot musterwherewithalto marry a wifeor has done it and trots the streetspack-ladento maintain the dame and troops of children painfullyreared tofill subordinate stations. According to our readingamoral isalways welcome in a moral countryand especially so whensilly envyis to be chastised by itthe restless craving forchangerebuked. Young Sir Willoughbythenstood in this dilemma:--a ladywas at either hand of him; the only two that had everapart frommetropolitan conquestsnot to be recitedtouched hisemotions.Susceptible to beautyhe had never seen so beautiful agirl asConstantia Durham. Equally susceptible to admiration ofhimselfhe considered Laetitia Dale a paragon of cleverness. Hestoodbetween the queenly rose and the modest violet. One hebowed to;the other bowed to him. He could not have both; it isthe lawgoverning princes and pedestrians alike. But which couldheforfeit? His growing acquaintance with the world taught him toput anincreasing price on the sentimcnts of Miss Dale. StillConstantia'sbeauty was of a kind to send away beholders aching.She hadthe glory of the racing cutter full sail on a whiningbreeze;and she did not court to win himshe flew. In his morereflectivehour the attractiveness of that lady which held themirror tohis features was paramount. But he had passionatesnatcheswhen the magnetism of the flyer drew him in her wake.Further toadd to the complexityhe loved his liberty; he wasprincelierfree; he had more subjectsmore slaves; he ruledarrogantlyin the world of women; he was more himself. Hismetropolitanexperiences did not answer to his liking theparticularquestionDo we bind the woman down to us idolatrouslyby makinga wife of her?

In themidst of his deliberationsa report of the hot pursuit ofMissDurhamcasually mentioned to him by Lady Busshedrew animmediateproposal from Sir Willoughby. She accepted himand theywereengaged. She had been nibbled atall but eaten upwhile hehungdubitative; and though that was the cause of his winning heritoffended his niceness. She had not come to him out of cloistralpurityout of perfect radiancy. Spirituallylikewisewas he alittleprincea despotic prince. He wished for her to have cometo him outof an egg-shellsomewhat more astonished at thingsthan achickenbut as completely enclosed before he tapped theshellandseeing him with her sex's eyes first of all men. Shetalkedfrankly of her cousins and friendsyoung males. She couldhavereplied to his bitter wish: "Had you asked me on the night ofyourtwenty-first birthdayWilloughby!" Since then she had beenin thedust of the worldand he conceived his peculiar antipathydestinedto be so fatal to himfrom the earlier hours of hisengagement.He was quaintly incapable of a jealousy ofindividuals.A young Captain Oxford had been foremost in the swarmpursuingConstantia. Willoughby thought as little of CaptainOxford ashe did of Vernon Whitford. His enemy was the worldthemasswhich confounds us in a lumpwhich has breathed on herwhom wehave selectedwhom we cannotcan neverrub quite clearof hercontact with the abominated crowd. The pleasure of theworld isto bowl down our soldierly letter I; to encroach on ouridentitysoil our niceness. To begin to think is the beginning ofdisgust ofthe world.

As soonthe engagement was published all the county said thatthere hadnot been a chance for Laetitiaand Mrs. MountstuartJenkinsonhumbly remarkedin an attitude of penitence"I'm not awitch."Lady Busshe could claim to be one; she had foretold theevent.Laetitia was of the same opinion as the county. She hadlooked upbut not hopefully. She had only looked up to thebrightestandas he was the highesthow could she have hoped?She wasthe solitary companion of a sick fatherwhose inveterateprognosticof herthat she would live to rule at Patterne Halltorturedthe poor girl in proportion as he seemed to derivecomfortfrom it. The noise of the engagement merely silenced him;recluseinvalids cling obstinately to their ideas. He had observedSirWilloughby in the society of his daughterwhen the youngbaronetrevived to a sprightly boyishness immediately. Indeedasbig boyand little girlthey had played together of old.Willoughbyhad been a handsomefair boy. The portrait of him atthe Hallin a hatleaning on his ponywith crossed legsandlongflaxen curls over his shoulderswas the image of her soul'smostpresent angel; andas a manhe had--she did not supposeintentionally--subjectedher nature to bow to him; so submissivewas shethat it was fuller happiness for her to think him rightin all hisactions than to imagine the circumstances different.This mayappear to resemble the ecstasy of the devoteeofJuggernautIt is a form of the passion inspired by littleprincesand we need not marvel that a conservative sex shouldassist tokeep them in their lofty places. What were thereotherwiseto look up to? We should have no dazzling beacon-lightsif theywere levelled and treated as clod earth; and it is worthwhile forhere and there a woman to be burnedso long as women'sgeneraladoration of an ideal young man shall be preserved.Purity isour demand of them. They may justly cry for attraction.Theycannot have it brighter than in the universal bearing of theeyes oftheir sisters upon a little princeone who has theostensiblevirtues in his payand can practise them withoutinjuringhimself to make himself unsightly. Let the races of menbeby-and-by astonished at their Godsif they please. Meantimethey hadbetter continue to worship.

Laetitiadid continue. She saw Miss Durham at Patterne on severaloccasions.She admired the pair. She had a wish to witness thebridalceremony. She was looking forward to the day with thatmixture ofeagerness and withholding which we have as we draw nighthedisenchanting termination of an enchanting romancewhen SirWilloughbymet her on a Sunday morningas she crossed his parksolitarilyto church. They were within ten days of the appointedceremony.He should have been away at Miss Durham's end of thecounty. HehadLaetitia knewridden over to her the day before;but therehe was; and very unwontedlyquite surprisinglyhepresentedhis arm to conduct Laetitia to the church-doorandtalked andlaughed in a way that reminded her of a huntinggentlemanshe had seen once rising to his feetstaggering from anugly fallacross hedge and fence into one of the lanes of hershortwinter walks. "All's wellall soundnever betteronly ascratch!"the gentleman had saidas he reeled and pressed ableedinghead. Sir Willoughby chattered of his felicity in meetingher. "Iam really wonderfully lucky" he saidand he said thatand otherthings over and overincessantly talkingand tellingananecdote of county occurrencesand laughing at it with a mouththat wouldnot widen. He went on talking in the church porchandmurmuringsoftly some steps up the aislepassing the pews of Mrs.MountstuartJenkinson and Lady Busshe. Of course he wasentertainingbut what a strangeness it was to Laetitia! His facewould havebeen half under an antique bonnet. It came very closeto hersand the scrutiny he bent on her was most solicitous.

After theservicehe avoided the great ladies by sauntering up towithin ayard or two of where she sat; he craved her hand on hisarm tolead her forth by the park entrance to the churchall thewhilebending to herdiscoursing rapidlyappearing radiantlyinterestedin her quiet replieswith fits of intentness thatstareditself out into dim abstraction. She hazarded the briefestrepliesfor fear of not having understood him.

Onequestion she asked: "Miss Durham is wellI trust?"

And heanswered "Durham?" and said"There is no Miss Durhamto myknowledge."

Theimpression he left with her wasthat he might yesterdayduring hisride have had an accident and fallen on his head.

She wouldhave asked thatif she had not known him for sothoroughan Englishmanin his dislike to have it thought thataccidentscould hurt even when they happened to him.

He calledthe next day to claim her for a walk. He assured her shehadpromised itand he appealed to her fatherwho could nottestify toa promise he had not heardbut begged her to leave himto haveher walk. So once more she was in the park with SirWilloughbylistening to his raptures over old days. A word ofassentfrom her sufficed him. "I am now myself" was one of theremarks herepeated this day. She dilated on the beauty of thepark andthe Hall to gratify him.

He did notspeak of Miss Durhamand Laetitia became afraid tomentionher name.

At theirpartingWilloughby promised Laetitia that he would callon themorrow. He did not come; and she could well excuse himafter herhearing of the tale.

It was alamentable tale. He had ridden to Sir John Durham'smansionadistance of thirty milesto hearon his arrivalthatConstantiahad quitted her father's house two days previously on avisit toan aunt in Londonand had just sent word that she wasthe wifeof Captain Oxfordhussarand messmate of one of herbrothers.A letter from the bride awaited Willoughby at the Hall.He hadridden back at nightnot caring how he used his horse inorder toget swiftly homeso forgetful of himself was he undertheterrible blow. That was the night of Saturday. On the dayfollowingbeing Sundayhe met Laetitia in his parkled her tochurchled her out of itand the day after thatprevious to hisdisappearancefor some weekswas walking with her in full view ofthecarriages along the road.

He hadindeedyou seebeen very fortunatelyif notconsideratelyliberated by Miss Durham. Heas a man of honourcould nothave taken the initiativebut the frenzy of a jealousgirl mighturge her to such a course; and how little he sufferedfrom ithad been shown to the world. Miss Durhamthe story wentwas hismother's choice for him against his heart's inclinations;which hadfinally subdued Lady Patterne. Consequentlythere wasno longeran obstacle between Sir Willoughby and Miss Dale. It wasa pleasantand romantic storyand it put most people in goodhumourwith the county's favouriteas his choice of a portionlessgirl of noposition would not have done without the shock ofastonishmentat the conduct of Miss Durhamand the desire to feelthat soprevailing a gentleman was not in any degree pitiable.Constantiawas called "that mad thing". Laetitia broke forth innovel andabundant merits; and one of the chief points ofrequisitionin relation to Patterne--a Lady Willoughby who wouldentertainwell and animate the deadness of the Hallbecame acertaintywhen her gentleness and liveliness and exceedingclevernesswere considered. She was often a visitor at the Hall byLadyPatterne's express invitationand sometimes on theseoccasionsWilloughby was there toosuperintending the filling upof hislaboratorythough he was not at home to the county; it wasnotexpected that he should be yet. He had taken heartily to thepursuit ofscienceand spoke of little else. Sciencehe saidwas in ourdays the sole object worth a devoted pursuit. But thesweepingremark could hardly apply to Laetitiaof whom he was thecourteousquiet wooer you behold when a man has broken loose froman unhappytangle to return to the lady of his first and strongestaffections.

Somemonths of homely courtship ensuedand thenthe decentintervalprescribed by the situation having elapsedSirWilloughbyPatterne left his native land on a tour of the globe.

 

 

CHAPTER IV LaetitiaDale

 

That wasanother surprise to the county.

Let us notinquire into the feelings of patiently starving women;they mustobtain some sustenance of their ownsinceas youperceivethey live; evidently they are not in need of a greatamount ofnourishment; and we may set them down for creatures witharush-light of animal fire to warm them. They cannot have muchvitalitywho are so little exclamatory. A corresponding sentimentof patientcompassionakin to scornis provoked by personshaving theopportunity for pathosand declining to use it. Thepublicbosom was open to Laetitia for several weeksand had sherun to itto bewail herself she would have been cherished inthankfulnessfor a country drama. There would have been a partyagainsthercold peoplecritical of her pretensions to rise fromanunrecognized sphere to be mistress of Patterne Hallbut therewould alsohave been a party against Sir Willoughbycomposed ofthe two orthree revolutioniststired of the yokewhich are tobe foundin England when there is a stir; a larger number of bornsympatheticsever ready to yield the tear for the tear; and hereand therea Samaritan soul prompt to succour poor humanity indistress.The opportunity passed undramatized. Laetitia presentedherself atchurch with a face mildly devoutaccording to hercustomand she accepted invitations to the Hallshe assisted atthereading of Willoughby's letters to his familyand fed on dryhusks ofhim wherein her name was not mentioned; never one note ofthesummoning call for pathos did this young lady blow.

Soverysoon the public bosom closed. She hadunder the freshinterpretationof affairstoo small a spirit to be LadyWilloughbyof Patterne; she could not have entertained becomingly;he musthave seen that the girl was not the match for him instationand off he went to conquer the remainder of a troublesomefirstattachmentno longer extremely disturbingto judge fromthe tenourof his letters; really incomparable letters! LadyBusshe andMrs. Mountstuart Jenkinson enjoyed a perusal of them.SirWilloughby appeared as a splendid young representative islandlord inthese letters to his familydespatched from the principalcities ofthe United States of America. He would give them asketch of"our democratic cousins"he said. Such cousins! Theymight allhave been in the Marines. He carried his Englishstandardover that continentand by simply jotting down factsheleft anidea of the results of the measurement to his family andfriends athome. He was an adept in the irony of incongruouslygrouping.The nature of the Equality under the stars and stripeswaspresented in this manner. Equality! Reflections cameoccasionally:"These cousins of ours are highly amusing. I amamong thedescendants of the Roundheads. Now and then an allusionto olddomestic differencesin perfect good temper. We go on inour way;they theirsin the apparent belief that Republicanismoperatesremarkable changes in human nature. Vernon tries hard tothink itdoes. The upper ten of our cousins are the Infernal ofParis. Therest of them is Radical Englandas far as I amacquaintedwith that section of my country."--Where we comparedthey wereabsurd; where we contrastedthey were monstrous. Thecontrastof Vernon's letters with Willoughby's was just as extreme.You couldhardly have taken them for relatives travellingtogetheror Vernon Whitford for a born and bred Englishman. Thesamescenes furnished by these two pens might have been sketchedindifferent hemispheres. Vernon had no irony. He had nothing ofWilloughby'sepistolary creative powerwhichcausing his familyandfriends to exclaim: "How like him that is!" conjured themacross thebroad Atlantic to behold and clap hands at hislordliness.

They sawhim distinctlyas with the naked eye; a worda turn ofthe penor a word unsaidoffered the picture of him in AmericaJapanChinaAustralianaythe continent of Europeholding anEnglishreview of his Maker's grotesques. Vernon seemed asheepishfellowwithout stature abroadglad of a complimentgratefulfor a dinnerendeavouring sadly to digest all he saw andheard. Butone was a Patterne; the other a Whitford. One hadgenius;the other pottered after him with the title of student.One wasthe English gentleman wherever he went; the other was anew kindof thingnondescriptproduced in England of lateandnot likelyto come to much good himselfor do much good to thecountry.

Vernon'sdancing in America was capitally described by Willoughby."Adieuto our cousins!" the latter wrote on his voyage to Japan."Imay possibly have had some vogue in their ball-roomsand inshowingthem an English seat on horseback: I must resign myself ifI have notbeen popular among them. I could not sing theirnationalsong--if a congery of states be a nation--and I mustconfess Ilistened with frigid politeness to their singing of it.A greatpeopleno doubt. Adieu to them. I have had to tear oldVernonaway. He had serious thoughts of settlingmeans tocorrespondwith some of them." On the wholeforgetting two ormore"traits of insolence" on the part of his hostswhich hecitedWilloughby escaped pretty comfortably. The President hadbeenconsciously or notuncivilbut one knew his origin! Upontheseinterjectionsplacable flicks of the lionly tail addressedtoBritannia the Rulerwho expected him in some mildish way tolash tergacauda in retiringSir Willoughby Patterne passed froma land ofalien manners; and ever after he spoke of Americarespectfullyand pensivelywith a tail tucked inas it were. Histravelswere profitable to himself. The fact isthat there arecousinswho come to greatness and must be pacifiedor they willproveannoying. Heaven forefend a collision between cousins!

Willoughbyreturned to his England after an absence of threeyears. Ona fair April morningthe last of the monthhe drovealong hispark palingsandby the luck of thingsLaetitia wasthe firstof his friends whom he met. She was crossing from fieldto fieldwith a band of school-childrengathering wild flowersfor themorrow May-day. He sprang to the ground and seized herhand."Laetitia Dale!" he said. He panted. "Your name issweetEnglishmusic! And you are well?" The anxious question permittedhim toread deeply in her eyes. He found the man he sought theresqueezedhim passionatelyand let her gosaying: "I could nothaveprayed for a lovelier home-scene to welcome me than you andthesechildren flower-gathering. I don't believe in chance. It wasdecreedthat we should meet. Do not you think so?"

Laetitiabreathed faintly of her gladness.

He beggedher to distribute a gold coin among the little ones;asked forthe names of some of themand repeated: "MarySusanCharlotte--onlythe Christian namespray! Wellmy dearsyouwill bringyour garlands to the Hall to-morrow morning; and mindearly! noslugabeds tomorrow; I suppose I am brownedLaetitia?" Hesmiled inapology for the foreign sunand murmured with rapture:"Thegreen of this English country is unsurpassed. It is wonderful.LeaveEngland and be bakedif you would appreciate it. You can'tunless youtaste exile as I have done--for how many years? Howmany?"

"Three"said Laetitia.

"Thirty!"said he. "It seems to me that length. At leastI amimmenselyolder. But looking at youI could think it less thanthree. Youhave not changed. You are absolutely unchanged. I ambound tohope so. I shall see you soon. I have much to talk ofmuch totell you. I shall hasten to call on your father. I havespeciallyto speak with him. I--what happiness this isLaetitia!But I mustnot forget I have a mother. Adieu; for some hours--notfor many!"

He pressedher hand again. He was gone.

Shedismissed the children to their homes. Plucking primroses washardlabour now--a dusty business. She could have wished that herplanet hadnot descended to earthhis presence agitated her so;but hisenthusiastic patriotism was like a shower thatin theSpringseason of the yearsweeps against the hard-binding Eastand meltsthe air and brings out new coloursmakes life flow; andherthoughts recurred in wonderment to the behaviour of ConstantiaDurham.That was Laetitia's manner of taking up her weakness oncemore. Shecould almost have reviled the woman who had given thisbeneficentmagicianthis pathetic exileof the aristocraticsunburnedvisage and deeply scrutinizing eyescause for grief.How deeplyhis eyes could read! The starveling of patience awoketo theidea of a feast. The sense of hunger came with itand hopecameandpatience fled. She would have rejected hope to keeppatiencenigh her; but surely it can not always be Winter! saidherreasoning bloodand we must excuse her as best we can if shewasassuredby her restored warmth that Willoughby came in theorder ofthe revolving seasonsmarking a long Winter past. He hadspeciallyto speak with her fatherhe had said. What could thatmean?Whatbut--She dared not phrase it or view it.

At theirnext meeting she was "Miss Dale".

A weeklater he was closeted with her father.

Mr. Dalein the evening of that pregnant dayeulogized SirWilloughbyas a landlord. A new lease of the cottage was to begrantedhim on the old termshe said. Except that Sir Willoughbyhadcongratulated him in the possession of an excellent daughtertheirinterview was one of landlord and tenantit appeared; andLaetitiasaid"So we shall not have to leave the cottage?" in atone ofsatisfactionwhile she quietly gave a wrench to the neckof theyoung hope in her breast. At night her diary received theline:"This day I was a fool. To-morrow?"

To-morrowand many days afterwards there were dashes instead ofwords.

Patiencetravelled back to her sullenly. As we must have some kindof foodand she had nothing elseshe took to that and found itdryer thanof yore. It is a composing but a lean dietary. The deadarepatientand we get a certain likeness to them in feeding onitunintermittingly overlong. Her hollowed cheeks with the fallenleaf inthem pleaded against herself to justify her idol for notlookingdown on one like her. She saw him when he was at the Hall.He did notnotice any change. He was exceedingly gentle andcourteous.More than once she discovered his eyes dwelling on herand thenhe looked hurriedly at his motherand Laetitia had toshut hermind from thinkinglest thinking should be a sin andhope aguilty spectre. But had his mother objected to her? Shecould notavoid asking herself. His tour of the globe had beenundertakenat his mother's desire; she was an ambitious ladyinfailinghealth; and she wished to have him living with her atPatterneyet seemed to agree that he did wisely to reside inLondon.

One daySir Willoughbyin the quiet manner which washishumourinformed her that he had become a countrygentleman;he had abandoned Londonhe loathed it as theburial-placeof the individual man. He intended to sit down onhisestates and have his cousin Vernon Whitford to assist himinmanaging themhe said; and very amusing was his descriptionof hiscousin's shifts to live by literatureand add enoughto abeggarly income to get his usual two months of the yearin theAlps. Previous to his great tourWilloughby had spokenofVernon's judgement with derision; nor was it entirely unknownthatVernon had offended his family pride by someextravagantact. But after their return he acknowledgedVernon'stalentsand seemed unable to do without him.

The newarrangement gave Laetitia a companion for her walks.Pedestrianismwas a sour business to Willoughbywhose exclamationof theword indicated a willingness for any amount of exercise onhorseback;but she had no horseand sowhile he huntedLaetitiaand Vernonwalkedand the neighbourhood speculated on thecircumstancesuntil the ladies Eleanor and Isabel Patterneengagedher more frequently for carriage exerciseand SirWilloughbywas observed riding beside them.

A real andsunny pleasure befell Laetitia in the establishment ofyoungCrossjay Patterne under her roof; the son of thelieutenantnow captainof Marines; a boy of twelve with thesprightsof twelve boys in himfor whose board and lodgementVernonprovided by arrangement with her father. Vernon was one ofyour menthat have no occupation for their moneyno bills to payfor repairof their propertyand are insane to spend. He hadheard ofCaptain Patterne's large familyand proposed to have hiseldest boyat the Hallto teach him; but Willoughby declined tohouse theson of such a fatherpredicting that the boy's hairwould beredhis skin eruptiveand his practices detestable. SoVernonhaving obtained Mr. Dale's consent to accommodate thisyouthstalked off to Devonportand brought back a rosy-cheekedround-bodiedrogue of a boywho fell upon meats and puddingsanddefeatedthemwith a captivating simplicity in his confessionthat hehad never had enough to eat in his life. He had gonethrough atraining for a plentiful table. At firstafter a numberof helpsyoung Crossjay would sit and sigh heavilyincontemplationof the unfinished dish. Subsequentlyhe told hishost andhostess that he had two sisters above his own ageandthreebrothers and two sisters younger than he: "All hungry!"saiddie boy.

His pathoswas most comical. It was a good month before he couldseepudding taken away from table without a sigh of regret that hecould notfinish it as deputy for the Devonport household. Thepranks ofthe little fellowand his revel in a country lifeandmuddywildness in itamused Laetitia from morning to night. She.when shehad caught himtaught him in the morning; Vernonfavouredby the chasein the afternoon. Young Crossjay would haveenlivenedany household. He was not only indolenthe was opposedto theacquisition of knowledge through the medium of booksandwould say:"But I don't want to!" in a tone to make a logicianthoughtful.Nature was very strong in him. He hadon each returnof thehour for instructionto be plucked out of the earthrankof thesoillike a rootfor the exercise of his big roundheadpieceon those tyrannous puzzles. But the habits of birdsandthe placefor their eggsand the management of rabbitsand theticklingof fishand poaching joys with combative boys of thedistrictand how to wheedle a cook for a luncheon for a whole dayin therainhe soon knew of his great nature. His passion for ournavalservice was a means of screwing his attention to lessonsafter hehad begun to understand that the desert had to betraversedto attain midshipman's rank. He boasted ardently of hisfightingfatherandchancing to be near the Hall as he wastalking toVernon and Laetitia of his fatherhe propounded aquestionclose to his heartand he put it in these wordsfollowing:"My father's the one to lead an army!" when he paused."IsayMr. WhitfordSir Willoughby's kind to meand gives mecrown-pieceswhy wouldn't he see my fatherand my father camehere tenmiles in the rain to see himand had to walk ten milesbackandsleep at an inn?"

The onlyanswer to be given wasthat Sir Willoughby could nothave beenat home. "Oh! my father saw himand Sir Willoughby saidhe was notat home" the boy repliedproducing an odd ring in theear by hisrepetition of "not at home" in the same voice as theapologyplainly innocent of malice. Vernon told Laetitiahoweverthat the boy never asked an explanation of SirWilloughby.

Unlike thehorse of the adage. it was easier to compel youngCrossjayto drink of the waters of instruction than to get him tothe brink.His heart was not so antagonistic as his natureand bydegreesowing to a proper mixture of discipline and cajoleryheimbibed.He was whistling at the cook's windows after a day ofwickedtruancyon an April nightand reported adventures overthe suppersupplied to him. Laetitia entered the kitchen with areprovingforefinger. He jumped to kiss herand went onchatteringof a place fifteen miles distantwhere he had seen SirWilloughbyriding with a young lady. The impossibility that theboy shouldhave got so far on foot made Laetitia doubtful of hisveracityuntil she heard that a gentleman had taken him up on theroad in agigand had driven him to a farm to show him strings ofbirds"eggs and stuffed birds of every English kindkingfishersyafflesblack woodpeckersgoat-sucker owlsmore mouth than headwithdustydark-spotted wingslike moths; all verycircumstantial.Stillin spite of his tea at the farmand rideback byrail at the gentleman's expensethe tale seemedfictitiousto Laetitia until Crossjay related how that he hadstood tosalute on the road to the railwayand taken off his capto SirWilloughbyand Sir Willoughby had passed himnot noticinghimthough the young lady didand looked back and nodded. Thehue oftruth was in that picture.

Strangeeclipsewhen the hue of truth comes shadowing over ourbrightideal planet. It will not seem the planet's faultbuttruth's.Reality is the offender; delusion our treasure that weare robbedof. Then begins with us the term of wilful delusionanditsnecessary accompaniment of the disgust of reality; exhaustingthe heartmuch more than patient endurance of starvation.

Hints weredropping about the neighbourhood; the hedgewaystwitteredthe tree-tops cawed. Mrs. Mountstuart Jenkinson wasloud onthe subject: "Patterne is to have a mistress at lastyousay? Butthere never was a doubt of his marrying--he must marry;andsolong as he does not marry a foreign womanwe have nocause tocomplain. He met her at Cherriton. Both were struck atthe samemoment. Her father isI hearsome sort of learned man;money; noland. No house eitherI believe. People who spend halftheir timeon the Continent. They are now for a year at UptonPark. Thevery girl to settle down and entertain when she doesthink ofsettling. Eighteenperfect manners; you need not ask ifa beauty.Sir Willoughby will have his dues. We must teach her tomakeamends to him--but don't listen to Lady Busshe! He was tooyoung attwenty-three or twenty-four. No young man is ever jilted;he isallowed to escape. A young man married is a fire-eater boundover tokeep the peace; if he keeps it he worries it. Atthirty-oneor thirty-two he is ripe for his commandbecause heknows howto bend. And Sir Willoughby is a splendid creatureonlywanting awife to complete him. For a man like that to go onrunningabout would never do. Soberly--no! It would soon begettingridiculous. He has been no worse than other menprobablybetter--infinitelymore excusable; but now we have himand itwas timewe should. I shall see her and study hersharplyyoumay besure; though I fancy I can rely on his judgement."

Inconfirmation of the swelling buzzthe Rev. Dr. Middleton andhisdaughter paid a flying visit to the Hallwhere they were seenonly bythe members of the Patterne family. Young Crossjay had ashortconversation with Miss Middletonand ran to the cottagefull ofher--she loved the navy and had a merry face. She had asmile ofvery pleasant humour according to Vernon. The young ladywasoutlined to Laetitia as tallelegantlively; and painted ascarryingyouth like a flag. With her smile of "very pleasanthumour"she could not but be winning.

Vernonspoke more of her fathera scholar of high repute;happilyascholar of an independent fortune. His maturerrecollectionof Miss Middleton grew poeticor he described her inan imageto suit a poetic end: "She gives you an idea of theMountainEcho. Doctor Middleton has one of the grandest heads inEngland."

"Whatis her Christian name?" said Laetitia.

He thoughther Christian name was Clara.

Laetitiawent to bed and walked through the day conceiving theMountainEcho the swiftwild spiritClara by namesent fleetingon a farhalf circle by the voice it is roused to subserve;sweeterthan beautifulhigh above drawing-room beauties as thecolours ofthe sky; and ifat the same timeelegant and ofloveablesmilingcould a man resist her? To inspire the title ofMountainEcho in any minda young lady must be singularlyspiritualized.Her father doated on herVernon said. Who wouldnot? Itseemed an additional cruelty that the grace of a poeticalattractivenessshould be round herfor this was robbing Laetitiaof some ofher own little fortunemystical though that might be.But a manlike Sir Willoughby had claims on poetrypossessing ashe didevery manly grace; and to think that Miss Middleton had wonhim byvirtue of something native to her likewisethoughmysticallytouched Laetitia with a faint sense of relationship tothe chosengirl. "What is in mehe sees on her." It decked herpride tothink soas a wreath on the gravestone. She encouragedherimagination to brood over Claraand invested her designedlywithromantic charmsin spite of pain; the ascetic zealot hugshis shareof Heaven--most bittermost blessed--in hishair-shirtand scourgeand Laetitia's happiness was to glorifyClara.Through that chosen rivalthrough her comprehension ofthe spiritof Sir Willoughby's choice of one such as Clarashewas linkedto him yet.

Her moodof ecstatic fidelity was a dangerous exaltation; one thatin adesert will distort the brainand in the world where theidoldwells will put himshould he come nighto its ownfurnace-testand get a clear brain out of a burnt heart. She wasfrequentlyat the Hallhelping to nurse Lady Patterne. SirWilloughbyhad hitherto treated her as a dear insignificantfriendtowhom it was unnecessary that he should mention theobject ofhis rides to Upton Park.

He hadhoweverin the contemplation of what he was gainingfalleninto anxiety about what he might be losing. She belongedto hisbrilliant youth; her devotion was the bride of his youth;he was aman who lived backward almost as intensely as in thepresent;andnotwithstanding Laetitia's praiseworthy zeal inattendingon his motherhe suspected some unfaithfulness: hardlywithoutcause: she had not looked paler of late; her eyes had notreproachedhim; the secret of the old days between them had beenas littleconcealed as it was exposed. She might have buried itafter theway of womanwhose bosoms can be tombsif we and theworldallow them to be; absolutely sepulchreswhere you lie deadghastly.Even if not dead and horrible to think ofyou may belyingcoldsomewhere in a corner. Even if embalmedyou may notbe muchvisited. And how is the world to know you are embalmed?You are nobetter than a rotting wretch to the world that does nothave peepsof you in the woman's breastand see lights burningand anoccasional exhibition of the services of worship. There arewomen--tellus not of her of Ephesus!--that have embalmed youand havequitted the world to keep the tapers alightand astrangercomesand theywho have your image before themwillsuddenlyblow out the vestal flames and treat you as dust tofatten thegarden of their bosoms for a fresh flower of love. SirWilloughbyknew it; he had experience of it in the form of thestranger;and he knew the stranger's feelings toward hispredecessorand the lady.

He waylaidLaetitiato talk of himself and his plans: the projectof a runto Italy. Enviable? Yesbut in England you live thehighermoral life. Italy boasts of sensual beauty; the spiritualis yours."I know Italy well; I have often wished to act as aciceroneto you there. As it isI suppose I shall be with thosewho knowthe land as well as I doand will not be particularlyenthusiastic:--ifyou are what you were?" He was guilty of thisperplexingtwist from one person to another in a sentence morethan once.While he talked exclusively of himself it seemed to heracondescension. In time he talked principally of herbeginningwith heradmirable care of his mother; and he wished to introduce"aMiss Middleton" to her; he wanted her opinion of MissMiddleton;he relied on her intuition of characterhad neverknown iterr.

"If Isupposed it could errMiss DaleI should not be so certainof myself.I am bound up in my good opinion of youyou see; andyou mustcontinue the sameor where shall I be?" Thus he was ledto dwellupon friendshipand the charm of the friendship of menand women"Platonism"as it was called. "I have laughed at itinthe worldbut not in the depth of my heart. The world's platonicattachmentsare laughable enough. You have taught me that theideal offriendship is possible--when we find two who are capableof adisinterested esteem. The rest of life is duty; duty toparentsduty to country. But friendship is the holiday of thosewho can befriends. Wives are plentifulfriends are rare. I knowhow rare!"

Laetitiaswallowed her thoughts as they sprang up. Why was hetorturingher?--to give himself a holiday? She could bear to losehim--shewas used to it--and bear his indifferencebut not thathe shoulddisfigure himself; it made her poor. It was as if herequiredan oath of her when he said: "Italy! But I shall neversee a dayin Italy to compare with the day of my return toEnglandor know a pleasure so exquisite as your welcome of me.Will yoube true to that? May I look forward to just another suchmeeting?"

He pressedher for an answer. She gave the best she could. He wasdissatisfiedand to her hearing it was hardly in the tone ofmanlinessthat he entreated her to reassure him; he womanized hislanguage.She had to say: "I am afraid I can not undertake to makeit anappointmentSir Willoughby" before he recovered hisalertnesswhich he didfor he was anything but obtusewith thereply"You would keep it if you promisedand freeze at your post.Soasaccidents happenwe must leave it to fate. The will's thething. Youknow my detestation of changes. At least I have you formy tenantand wherever I amI see your light at the end of mypark."

"Neithermy father nor I would willingly quit Ivy Cottage" saidLaetitia.

"Sofarthen" he murmured. "You will give me a long noticeandit must bewith my consent if you think of quitting?"

"Icould almost engage to do that" she said.

"Youlove the place?"

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

"IbelieveMiss Daleit would be well for my happiness were I acottager."

"Thatis the dream of the palace. But to be oneand not to wishto beotheris quiet sleep in comparison."

"Youpaint a cottage in colours that tempt one to run from bighouses andhouseholds."

"Youwould run back to them fasterSir Willoughby."

"Youmay know me" said hebowing and passing on contentedly.Hestopped. "But I am not ambitious."

"Perhapsyou are too proud for ambitionSir Willoughby."

"Youhit me to the life!"

He passedon regretfully. Clara Middleton did not study and knowhim likeLaetitia Dale.

Laetitiawas left to think it pleased him to play at cat and mouse.She hadnot "hit him to the life"or she would have marvelled inacknowledginghow sincere he was.

At hernext sitting by the bedside of Lady Patterne she received acertainmeasure of insight that might have helped her to fathomhimifonly she could have kept her feelings down.

The oldlady was affectionately confidential in talking of her onesubjecther son. "And here is another dashing girlmy dear; shehas moneyand health and beauty; and so has he; and it appears afortunateunion; I hope and pray it may be; but we begin to readthe worldwhen our eyes grow dimbecause we read the plain linesand I askmyself whether money and health and beauty on both sideshave notbeen the mutual attraction. We tried it before; and thatgirlDurham was honestwhatever we may call her. I should havedesired anappreciative thoughtful partner for hima woman ofmindwithanother sort of wealth and beauty. She was honestsheran awayin time; there was a worse thing possible than that. Andnow wehave the same chapterand the same kind of personwho maynot bequite as honest; and I shall not see the end of it.Promise meyou will always be good to him; be my son's friend; hisEgeriahenames you. Be what you were to him when that girl brokehis heartand no onenot even his motherwas allowed to seethat hesuffered anything. Comfort him in his sensitiveness.Willoughbyhas the most entire faith in you. Were that destroyed--I shudder!You arehe saysand he has often saidhis image oftheconstant woman.

Laetitia'shearing took in no more. She repeated to herself fordays: "Hisimage of the constant woman!" Nowwhen he was a secondtimeforsaking herhis praise of her constancy wore the painfulludicrousnessof the look of a whimper on the face.

 

 

CHAPTER V

ClaraMiddleton 

The greatmeeting of Sir Willoughby Patterne and Miss Middletonhad takenplace at Cherriton Grangethe seat of a county grandeewhere thisyoung lady of eighteen was first seen rising above thehorizon.She had money and health and beautythe triune ofperfectstarrinesswhich makes all men astronomers. He looked onherexpecting her to look at him. But as soon as he looked hefound thathe must be in motion to win a look in return. He wasone of apack; many were ahead of himthe whole of them wereeager. Hehad to debate within himself how best to communicate toher thathe was Willoughby Patternebefore her gloves were toomuchsoiled to flatter his nicenessfor here and thereallaroundshe was yielding her hand to partners--obscurant maleswhosetouch leaves a stain. Far too generally gracious was HerStarrinessto please him. The effect of itneverthelesswas tohurry himwith all his might into the heat of the chasewhile yethe knew nomore of her than that he was competing for a prizeandWilloughbyPatterne was only one of dozens to the young lady.

A deeperstudent of Science than his rivalshe appreciatedNature'scompliment in the fair ones choice of you. We nowscientificallyknow that in this department of the universalstrugglesuccess is awarded to the bettermost. You spread ahandsomertail than your fellowsyou dress a finer top-knotyoupipe anewer notehave a longer stride; she reviews you incompetitionand selects you. The superlative is magnetic to her.She may belooking elsewhereand you will see--the superlativewillsimply have to beckonaway she glides. She cannot helpherself;it is her natureand her nature is the guarantee for thenoblestraces of men to come of her. In complimenting youshe isa promiseof superior offspring. Science thus--or it is better tosay--anacquaintance with science facilitates the cultivation ofaristocracy.Consequently a successful pursuit and a wresting ofher from abody of competitorstells you that you are the bestman. Whatis moreit tells the world so.

Willoughbyaired his amiable superlatives in the eye of MissMiddleton;he had a leg. He was the heir of successfulcompetitors.He had a stylea tonean artist tailoranauthorityof manner; he had in the hopeful ardour of the chaseamong amultitude a freshness that gave him advantage; andtogetherwith his undeviating energy when there was a prize to bewon andpossessedthese were scarce resistible. He spared nopainsforhe was adust and athirst for the winning-post. Hecourtedher fatheraware that men likewiseand parentspre-eminentlyhave their preference for the larger offerthedeeperpocketthe broader landsthe respectfuller consideration.Menaftertheir fashionas well as womendistinguish thebettermostand aid him to succeedas Dr. Middleton certainly didin thecrisis of the memorable question proposed to his daughterwithin amonth of Willoughby's reception at Upton Park. The younglady wasastonished at his whirlwind wooing of herand bent to itlike asapling. She begged for time; Willoughby could barely wait.Sheunhesitatingly owned that she liked no one betterand heconsented.A calm examination of his position told him that it wasunfair solong as he stood engagedand she did not. She pleaded adesire tosee a little of the world before she plighted herself.Shealarmed him; he assumed the amazing god of love under thesubtlestguise of the divinity. Willingly would he obey herbehestsresignedly languishwere it not for his mother's desireto see thefuture lady of Patterne established there before shedied. Loveshone cunningly through the mask of filial dutybutthe pleaof urgency was reasonable. Dr. Middleton thought itreasonablesupposing his daughter to have an inclination. She hadnodisinclinationthough she had a maidenly desire to see alittle ofthe world--grace for one yearshe said. Willoughbyreducedthe year to six monthsand granted that termfor whichingratitudeshe submitted to stand engaged; and that was nolightwhispering of a word. She was implored to enter the state ofcaptivityby the pronunciation of vows--a private but a bindingceremonial.She had health and beautyand money to gild thesegifts; notthat he stipulated for money with his bridebut itadds alustre to dazzle the world; andmoreoverthe pack ofrivalpursuers hung close behindyelping and raising theirdolorousthroats to the moon. Captive she must be.

He madeher engagement no light whispering matter. It was a solemnplightingof a troth. Why not? Having saidI am yoursshe couldsayI amwholly yoursI am yours foreverI swear itI willneverswerve from itI am your wife in heartyours utterly; ourengagementis written above. To this she considerately appended"asfar as I am concerned"; a piece of somewhat chillinggenerosityand he forced her to pass him through love's catechismin turnand came out with fervent answers that bound him to hertooindissolubly to let her doubt of her being loved. And I amloved! sheexclaimed to her heart's echoesin simple faith andwonderment.Hardly had she begun to think of love ere theapparitionarose in her path. She had not thought of love with anywarmthand here it was. She had only dreamed of love as one ofthedistant blessings of the mighty worldlying somewhere in theworld'sforestsacross wild seasveiledencompassed withbeautifulperilsa throbbing secrecybut too remote to quickenherbosom's throbs. Her chief idea of it wasthe enrichment ofthe worldby love.

Thus didMiss Middleton acquiesce in the principle of selection.

And thendid the best man of a host blow his triumphant hornandloudly.

He lookedthe fittest; he justified the dictum of Science. Thesurvivalof the Patternes was assured. "I would" he said to hisadmirerMrs. Mountstuart Jenkinson"have bargained for healthaboveeverythingbut she has everything besides--lineagebeautybreeding: is what they call an heiressand is the mostaccomplishedof her sex." With a delicate art he conveyed to thelady'sunderstanding that Miss Middleton had been snatched from acrowdwithout a breath of the crowd having offended his niceness.He did itthrough sarcasm at your modern young womenwho run aboutthe worldnibbling and nibbled atuntil they know one sex as wellas theotherand are not a whit less cognizant of the market thanmen; purepossibly; it is not so easy to say innocent; decidedlynot ourfeminine ideal. Miss Middleton was different: she was thetrueidealfresh-gathered morning fruit in a basketwarranted byher bloom.

Women donot defend their younger sisters for doing what theyperhapshave done--lifting a veil to be seenand peeping at aworldwhere innocence is as poor a guarantee as a babe's caulagainstshipwreck. Women of the world never think of attacking thesensualstipulation for perfect bloomsilver puritywhich isredolentof the Oriental origin of the love-passion of theirlords.Mrs. Mountstuart congratulated Sir Willoughby on theprize hehad won in the fair western-eastern.

 

"Letme see her" she said; and Miss Middleton was introducedandcritically observed.

She hadthe mouth that smiles in repose. The lips met full on thecentre ofthe bow and thinned along to a lifting dimple; theeyelidsalso lifted slightly at the outer cornersand seemedlike thelip into the limpid cheekquickening up the templesaswith a runof lightor the ascension indicated off a shoot ofcolour.Her features were playfellows of one anothernone of thempretendingto rigid correctnessnor the nose to the ordinarydignity ofgoverness among merry girlsdespite which the nose wasof a fairdesignnot acutely interrogative or inviting togambols.Aspens imaged in waterwaiting for the breezewouldoffer asusceptible lover some suggestion of her face: a puresmooth-whitefacetenderly flushed in the cheekswhere thegentledintswere faintly intermelting even during quietness. Hereyes werebrownset well between mild lidsoften shadowednotunwakeful.Her hair of lighter brownswelling above her templeson thesweep to the knotimposed the triangle of the fabulouswildwoodland visage from brow to mouth and chinevidently inagreementwith her taste; and the triangle suited her; but herface wasnot significant of a tameless wildness or of weakness;herequable shut mouth threw its long curve to guard the smallround chinfrom that effect; her eyes wavered only in humourtheyweresteady when thoughtfulness was awakened; and at such seasonsthe buildof her winter-beechwood hair lost the touch of nymphlikeandwhimsicaland strangelyby mere outlineadded to herappearanceof studious concentration. Observe the hawk onstretchedwings over the prey he spiesfor an idea of this changein thelook of a young lady whom Vernon Whitford could liken totheMountain Echoand Mrs. Mountstuart Jenkinson pronounced to be"adainty rogue in porcelain".

Vernon'sfancy of her must have sprung from her prompt and mostmusicalresponsiveness. He preferred the society of her learnedfather tothat of a girl under twenty engaged to his cousinbutthe charmof her ready tongue and her voice was to his intelligentunderstandingwitnatural witcrystal witas opposed to thepaste-sparkleof the wit of the town. In his encomiums he did notquote MissMiddleton's wit; neverthelesshe ventured to speak ofit to Mrs.Mountstuartcausing that lady to say: "AhwellIhave notnoticed the wit. You may have the art of drawing it out."

No one hadnoticed the wit. The corrupted hearing of peoplerequired acollision of soundsVernon supposed. For his parttoprovetheir excellencehe recollected a great many of MissMiddleton'sremarks; they came flying to him; and so long as heforbore tospeak them aloudthey had a curious wealth of meaning.It couldnot be all her mannerhowever much his own manner mightspoilthem. It might beto a certain degreeher quickness atcatchingthe hue and shade of evanescent conversation. Possibly byrememberingthe whole of a conversation wherein she had her placethe witwas to be tested; only how could any one retain the heavyportion?As there was no use in being argumentative on a subjectaffordinghim personallyand apparently solitarilyrefreshmentandenjoymentVernon resolved to keep it to himself. The eulogiesof herbeautya possession in which he did not consider her soveryconspicuousirritated him in consequence. To flatter SirWilloughbyit was the fashion to exalt her as one of the types ofbeauty;the one providentially selected to set off his masculinetype. Shewas compared to those delicate flowersthe ladies ofthe Courtof Chinaon rice-paper. A little French dressing wouldmake herat home on the sward by the fountain among the lutes andwhispersof the bewitching silken shepherdesses who live thoughthey neverwere. Lady Busshe was reminded of the favouritelineamentsof the women of Leonardothe angels of Luini. LadyCulmer hadseen crayon sketches of demoiselles of the Frencharistocracyresembling her. Some one mentioned an antique statueof afigure breathing into a flute: and the mouth at the flutestopmight havea distant semblance of the bend of her mouthbut thiscomparisonwas repelled as grotesque.

For onceMrs. Mountstuart Jenkinson was unsuccessful.

Her"dainty rogue in porcelain" displeased Sir Willoughby. "Whyrogue?"he said. The lady's fame for hitting the mark fretted himand thegrace of his bride's fine bearing stood to support him inhisobjection. Clara was younghealthyhandsome; she wasthereforefitted to be his wifethe mother of his childrenhiscompanionpicture. Certainly they looked well side by side. Inwalkingwith herin drooping to herthe whole man was madeconsciousof the female image of himself by her exquisiteunlikeness.She completed himadded the softer lines wanting tohisportrait before the world. He had wooed her rageingly; hecourtedher becomingly; with the manly self-possession enlivenedbywatchful tact which is pleasing to girls. He never seemed toundervaluehimself in valuing her: a secret priceless in thecourtshipof young women that have heads; the lover doubles theirsense ofpersonal worth through not forfeiting his own. Those wereproud andhappy days when he rode Black Norman over to Upton Parkand hislady looked forth for him and knew him coming by thefasterbeating of her heart.

Her mindtoowas receptive. She took impressions of hischaracteristicsand supplied him a feast. She remembered hischancephrases; noted his wayshis peculiaritiesas no one ofher sexhad done. He thanked his cousin Vernon for saying she hadwit. Shehad itand of so high a flavour that the more he thoughtof theepigram launched at her the more he grew displeased. Withthe wit tounderstand himand the heart to worshipshe had adignityrarely seen in young ladies.

"Whyrogue?" he insisted with Mrs. Mountstuart.

"Isaid--in porcelain" she replied.

"Rogueperplexes me."

"Porcelainexplains it."

"Shehas the keenest sense of honour."

"I amsure she is a paragon of rectitude."

"Shehas a beautiful bearing."

"Thecarriage of a young princess!"

"Ifind her perfect."

"Andstill she may be a dainty rogue in porcelain."

"Areyou judging by the mind or the personma'am?"

"Both."

"Andwhich is which?"

"There'sno distinction."

"Rogueand mistress of Patterne do not go together."

"Whynot? She will be a novelty to our neighbourhood and ananimationof the Hall."

"Tobe frankrogue does not rightly match with me."

"Takeher for a supplement."

"Youlike her?"

"Inlove with her! I can imagine life-long amusement in hercompany.Attend to my advice: prize the porcelain and play withtherogue."

SirWilloughby noddedunilluminated. There was nothing of rogueinhimselfso there could be nothing of it in his bride.Elfishnesstricksinessfreakishnesswere antipathetic to hisnature;and he argued that it was impossible he should have chosenfor hiscomplement a person deserving the title. It would not havebeensanctioned by his guardian genius. His closer acquaintancewith MissMiddleton squared with his first impressions; you knowthat thisis convincing; the common jury justifies thepresentationof the case to them by the grand jury; and hisoriginalconclusion that she was essentially femininein otherwordsaparasite and a chaliceClara's conduct confirmed fromday today. He began to instruct her in the knowledge of himselfwithoutreserveand sheas she grew less timid with himbecamemorereflective.

"Ijudge by character" he said to Mrs. Mountstuart.

"Ifyou have caught the character of a girl" said she.

"Ithink I am not far off it."

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

"Howwomen despise their sex!"

"Nota bit. She has no character yet. You are forming itand praybe advisedand be merry; the solid is your safest guide;physiognomyand manners will give you more of a girl's characterthan allthe divings you can do. She is a charming young womanonly sheis one of that sort."

"Ofwhat sort?" Sir Willoughby askedimpatiently.

"Roguesin porcelain."

"I ampersuaded I shall never comprehend it."

"Icannot help you one bit further."

"Theword rogue!"

"Itwas dainty rogue."

"Brittlewould you say?"

"I amquite unable to say.?

"Aninnocent naughtiness?"

"Prettilymoulded in a delicate substance."

"Youare thinking of some piece of Dresden you suppose her toresemble."

"Idare say."

"Artificial?"

"Youwould not have her natural?"

"I amheartily satisfied with her from head to footmy dearMrs.Mountstuart."

"Nothingcould be better. And sometimes she will leadandgenerallyyou will leadand everything will go wellmy dearSirWilloughby."

Like allrapid phrasersMrs. Mountstuart detested the analysis ofhersentence. It had an outline in vaguenessand was flung out tobeapprehendednot dissected. Her directions for the reading ofMissMiddleton's character were the same that she practised inreadingSir Willoughby'swhose physiognomy and manners bespokehim whatshe presumed him to bea splendidly proud gentlemanwith goodreason.

Mrs.Mountstuart's advice was wiser than her procedurefor shestoppedshort where he declined to begin. He dived below thesurfacewithout studying that index-page. He had won MissMiddleton'shand; he believed he had captured her heart; but hewas not socertain of his possession of her souland he wentafter it.Our enamoured gentleman had therefore no tally ofNature'swriting above to set beside his discoveries in the deeps.Now it isa dangerous accompaniment of this habit of drivingthatwhere wedo not light on the discoveries we anticipatewe fall toworksowing and planting; which becomes a disturbance of thegentlebosom. Miss Middleton's features were legible as to themainspringof her character. He could have seen that she had aspiritwith a natural love of libertyand required the next thingtolibertyspaciousnessif she was to own allegiance. Thosefeaturesunhappilyinstead of serving for an introduction to thewithinwere treated as the mirror of himself. They were indeed ofan amiablesweetness to tempt an accepted lover to angle for thefirstperson in the second. But he had made the discovery thattheirminds differed on one or two pointsand a difference ofview inhis bride was obnoxious to his repose. He struck at itrecurringlyto show her error under various aspects. He desired toshape hercharacter to the feminine of his ownand betrayed thesurpriseof a slight disappointment at her advocacy of her ideas.She saidimmediately: "It is not too lateWilloughby" andwoundedhimfor he wanted her simply to be material in his handsfor him tomould her; he had no other thought. He lectured her onthe themeof the infinity of love. How was it not too late? Theywereplighted; they were one eternally; they could not be parted.Shelistened gravelyconceiving the infinity as a narrow dwellingwhere avoice droned and ceased not. Howevershe listened. Shebecame anattentive listener.

 

 

CHAPTER VI

HisCourtship 

The worldwas the principal topic of dissension between theselovers.His opinion of the world affected her like a creaturethreatenedwith a deprivation of air. He explained to his darlingthatlovers of necessity do loathe the world. They live in theworldthey accept its benefitsand assist it as well as theycan. Intheir hearts they must despise itshut it outthat theirlove forone another may pour in a clear channeland with all theforce theyhave. They cannot enjoy the sense of security for theirloveunless they fence away the world. It isyou will allowgross; itis a beast. Formally we thank it for the good we get ofit; onlywe two have an inner temple where the worship we conductisactuallyif you would but see itan excommunication of theworld. Weabhor that beast to adore that divinity. This gives usouronenessour isolationour happiness. This is to love withthe soul.Do you seedarling?

She shookher head; she could not see it. She would admit none ofthenotorious errorsof the world; its backbitingselfishnesscoarsenessintrusivenessinfectiousness. She was young. ShemightWilloughby thoughthave let herself be led; she was notdocile.She must be up in arms as a champion of the world; and onesaw shewas hugging her dream of a romantic worldnothing else.She spoiltthe secret bower-song he delighted to tell over to her.And howPowers of Love! is love-making to be pursued if we maynot kickthe world out of our bower and wash our hands of it? Lovethat doesnot spurn the world when lovers curtain themselves is alove--isit not so?--that seems to the unwhippedscoffing worldto goslinking into basiation's obscurityinstead of on agloriousmarch behind the screen. Our hero had a strong sentimentas to thepolicy of scorning the world for the sake of defendinghispersonal pride and (to his honourbe it said) his lady'sdelicacy.

The act ofseeming put them both above the worldsaid retroSathanas!So muchas a piece of tactics: he was highly civilized:in thesecond instancehe knew it to be the world which mustfurnishthe dry sticks for the bonfire of a woman's worship. Heknewtoothat he was prescribing poetry to his betrothedpracticablepoetry. She had a liking for poetryand sometimesquoted thestuff in defiance of his pursed mouth and painedmurmur: "Iam no poet;" but his poetry of the enclosed andfortifiedbowerwithout nonsensical rhymes to catch the ears ofwomenappeared incomprehensible to herif not adverse. She wouldnot burnthe world for him; she would notthough a purer poetryis littleimaginablereduce herself to ashesor incenseoressencein honour of himand soby love's transmutationliterallybe the man she was to marry. She preferred to beherselfwith the egoism of women. She said it: she said: I mustbe myselfto be of any value to youWilloughby." He wasindefatigablein his lectures on the aesthetics of love.Frequentlyfor an indemnification to her (he had no desire thatshe shouldbe a loser by ceasing to admire the world)he dwelt onhis ownyouthful ideas; and his original fancies about the worldwerepresented to her as a substitute for the theme.

MissMiddleton bore it wellfor she was sure that he meant well.Bearing sowell what was distasteful to hershe became less wellable tobear what she had merely noted in observation before; hisview ofscholarship; his manner toward Mr. Vernon Whitfordof whomher fatherspoke warmly; the rumour concerning his treatment of aMiss Dale.And the country tale of Constantia Durham sang itselfto her ina new key. He had no contempt for the world's praises.Mr.Whitford wrote the letters to the county paper which gained himapplauseat various great housesand he accepted itand betrayeda tinglingfright lest he should be the victim of a sneer of theworld hecontemned. Recollecting his remarksher mind wasafflictedby the "something illogical" in him that we readilydiscoverwhen our natures are no longer running freeand then atonce weyearn for a disputation. She resolved that she would onedayonedistant dayprovoke it--upon what? The special pointeludedher. The world is too huge a clientand too pervioustoospottyfor a girl to defend against a man. That "somethingillogical"had stirred her feelings more than her intellect torevolt.She could not constitute herself the advocate of Mr.Whitford.Still she marked the disputation for an event to come.

Meditatingon itshe fell to picturing Sir Willoughby's face atthe firstaccents of his bride's decided disagreement with him.Thepicture once conjured up would not be laid. He was handsome;socorrectly handsomethat a slight unfriendly touch precipitatedhim intocaricature. His habitual air of happy prideof indignantcontentmentrathercould easily be overdone. Surprisewhen hethrewemphasis on itstretched him with the tall eyebrows of amask--limitlessunder the spell of caricature; and in timewhenevershe was not pleased by her thoughtsshe had thatandnot hislikenessfor the vision of him. And it was unjustcontraryto her deeper feelings; she rebuked herselfand as muchas hernaughty spirit permittedshe tried to look on him as theworld did;an effort inducing reflections upon the blessings ofignorance.She seemed to herself beset by a circle of impshardlyresponsiblefor her thoughts.

Heoutshone Mr. Whitford in his behaviour to young Crossjay. Shehad seenhim with the boyand he was amusedindulgentalmostfrolicsomein contradistinction to Mr. Whitford's tutorlysharpness.He had the English father's tone of a liberal allowancefor boys"tastes and pranksand he ministered to the partialityof thegenus for pocket-money. He did not play the schoolmasterlikebookworms who get poor little lads in their grasp.

Mr.Whitford avoided her very much. He came to Upton Park on avisit toher fatherand she was not particularly sorry that shesaw himonly at table. He treated her by fits to a level scrutinyofdeep-set eyes unpleasantly penetrating. She had liked his eyes.Theybecame unbearable; they dwelt in the memory as if they hadleft aphosphorescent line. She had been taken by playmate boys inherinfancy to peep into hedge-leaveswhere the mother-birdbrooded onthe nest; and the eyes of the bird in that marvellousdarkthickset homehad sent her away with worlds of fancy. Mr.Whitford'sgaze revived her susceptibilitybut not the old happywondering.She was glad of his absenceafter a certain hour thatshe passedwith Willoughbya wretched hour to remember. Mr.Whitfordhad leftand Willoughby camebringing bad news of hismother'shealth. Lady Patterne was fast failing. Her son spoke ofthe lossshe would be to him; he spoke of the dreadfulness ofdeath. Healluded to his own death to come carelesslywith aphilosophicalair.

"Allof us must go! our time is short."

"Very"she assented.

It soundedlike want of feeling.

"Ifyou lose meClara!"

"Butyou are strongWilloughby."

"Imay be cut off to-morrow."

"Donot talk in such a manner."

"Itis as well that it should be faced."

"Icannot see what purpose it serves."

"Shouldyou lose memy love!"

"Willoughby!"

"Ohthe bitter pang of leaving you!"

"DearWilloughbyyou are distressed; your mother may recover; letus hopeshe will; I will help to nurse her; I have offeredyouknow; I amreadymost anxious. I believe I am a good nurse."

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

"Thatis our comfort."

"Whenwe love?"

"Doesit not promise that we meet again?"

"Towalk the world and see you perhaps--with another!"

"Seeme?--Where? Here?"

"Wedded... to another. You! my bride; whom I call mine; and youare! Youwould be still--in that horror! But all things arepossible;women are women; they swim in infidelityfrom wave towave! Iknow them."

"Willoughbydo not torment yourself and meI beg you."

Hemeditated profoundlyand asked her: "Could you be such a saintamongwomen?"

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

"Notto forget me?"

"Oh!no."

"Stillto be mine?"

"I amyours."

"Toplight yourself?"

"Itis done."

"Bemine beyond death?"

"Marriedis marriedI think."

"Clara!to dedicate your life to our love! Never one touch; notonewhisper! not a thoughtnot a dream! Could you--it agonizesme toimagine ... be inviolate? mine above?--mine before all menthough Iam gone:--true to my dust? Tell me. Give me thatassurance.True to my name!--OhI hear them. 'His relict!'Buzzingsabout Lady Patterne. 'The widow.' If you knew their talkof widows!Shut your earsmy angel! But if she holds them offand keepsher paththey are forced to respect her. The deadhusband isnot the dishonoured wretch they fancied himbecause hewas out oftheir way. He lives in the heart of his wife. Clara! myClara! asI live in yourswhether here or away; whether you are awife orwidowthere is no distinction for love--I am yourhusband--sayit--eternally. I must have peace; I cannot endurethe pain.Depressedyes; I have cause to be. But it has hauntedme eversince we joined hands. To have you--to lose you!"

"Isit not possible that I may be the first to die?" said MissMiddleton.

"Andlose youwith the thought that youlovely as you areandthe dogsof the world barking round youmight ... Is it anywonderthat I have my feeling for the world? This hand!--thethought ishorrible. You would be surrounded; men are brutes; thescent ofunfaithfulness excites themoverjoys them. And Ihelpless!The thought is maddening. I see a ring of monkeysgrinning.There is your beautyand man's delight in desecrating.You wouldbe worried night and day to quit my nameto. . . I feelthe blownow. You would have no rest for themnothing to cling towithoutyour oath."

"Anoath!" said Miss Middleton.

"Itis no delusionmy lovewhen I tell you that with thisthoughtupon me I see a ring of monkey faces grinning at me; theyhaunt me.But you do swear it! Onceand I will never trouble youon thesubject again. My weakness! if you like. You will learnthat it islovea man's lovestronger than death."

"Anoath?" she saidand moved her lips to recall what shemight havesaid and forgotten. "To what? what oath?"

"Thatyou will be true to me dead as well as living! Whisperit."

"WilloughbyI shall be true to my vows at the altar."

"Tome! me!"

"Itwill be to you."

"Tomy soul. No heaven can be for me--I see noneonly tortureunless Ihave your wordClara. I trust it. I will trust itimplicitly.My confidence in you is absolute."

"Thenyou need not be troubled."

"Itis for youmy love; that you may be armed and strongwhen I amnot by to protect you."

"Ourviews of the world are opposedWilloughby."

"Consent;gratify me; swear it. Say: 'Beyond death.' Whisper it. Iask fornothing more. Women think the husband's grave breaks thebondcutsthe tiesets them loose. They wed the flesh--pah!What Icall on you for is nobility; the transcendent nobility offaithfulnessbeyond death. 'His widow!' let them say; a saint inwidowhood."

"Myvows at the altar must suffice."

"Youwill not? Clara!"

"I amplighted to you."

"Nota word?--a simple promise? But you love me?"

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

"Considerhow utterly I place confidence in you."

"Ihope it is well placed."

"Icould kneel to youto worship youif you wouldClara!"

"Kneelto Heavennot to meWilloughby. I am--I wish I were ableto tellwhat I am. I may be inconstant; I do not know myself.Think;question yourself whether I am really the person you shouldmarry.Your wife should have great qualities of mind and soul. Iwillconsent to hear that I do not possess themand abide bytheverdict."

"Youdo; you do possess them!" Willoughby cried. "When you knowbetterwhat the world isyou will understand my anxiety. AliveIam strongto shield you from it; deadhelpless--that is all. Youwould beclad in mailsteel-proofinviolableif you would ...But try toenter into my mind; think with mefeel with me. Whenyou haveonce comprehended the intensity of the love of a man likemeyouwill not require asking. It is the difference of the electand thevulgar; of the ideal of love from the coupling of theherds. Wewill let it drop. At leastI have your hand. As long asI live Ihave your hand. Ought I not to be satisfied? I am; only Iseefurther than most menand feel more deeply. And now I mustride to mymother's bedside. She dies Lady Patterne! It might havebeen thatshe . . . But she is a woman of women! With afather-in-law!Just heaven! Could I have stood by her then withthe samefeelings of reverence? A very littlemy loveandeverythinggained for us by civilization crumbles; we fall back tothe firstmortar-bowl we were bruised and stirred in. My thoughtswhen Itake my stand to watch by hercome to this conclusionthatespecially in womendistinction is the thing to be aimedat.Otherwise we are a weltering human mass. Women must teach ustovenerate themor we may as well be bleating and barking andbellowing.Sonow enough. You have but to think a little. I mustbe off. Itmay have happened during my absence. I will write. Ishall hearfrom you? Come and see me mount Black Norman. Myrespectsto your father. I have no time to pay them in person.One!"

He tookthe one--love's mystical number--from which commonlyspringmultitudes; buton the present occasionit was a singleoneandcold. She watched him riding away on his gallant horseashandsome a cavalier as the world could showand the contrastof hisrecent language and his fine figure was a riddle that frozeher blood.Speech so foreign to her earsunnatural in toneunmanlikeeven for a lover (who is allowed a softer dialect)sether vainlysounding for the source and drift of it. She was gladof nothaving to encounter eyes like Mr. Vernon Whitford's.

On behalfof Sir Willoughbyit is to be said that his motherwithoutinfringing on the degree of respect for his decisions andsentimentsexacted by himhad talked to him of Miss Middletonsuggestinga volatility of temperament in the young lady thatstruck himas consentaneous with Mrs Mountstuart's "rogue inporcelain"and alarmed him as the independent observations of twoworld-wisewomen. Nor was it incumbent upon him personally tocredit thevolatility in orderas far as he couldto effect thesoul-insuranceof his bridethat he might hold the security ofthepolicy. The desire for it was in him; his mother had merelytolled awarning bell that he had put in motion before. Clara wasnot aConstantia. But she was a womanand he had been deceivedby womenas a man fostering his high ideal of them will surelybe. Thestrain he adopted was quite natural to his passion and histheme. Thelanguage of the primitive sentiments of men is of thesameexpression at all timesminus the primitive colours when amoderngentleman addresses his lady.

LadyPatterne died in the winter season of the new year. In AprilDrMiddleton had to quit Upton Parkand he had not found a placeofresidencenor did he quite know what to do with himself in theprospectof his daughter's marriage and desertion of him. SirWilloughbyproposed to find him a house within a circuit of theneighbourhoodof Patterne. Moreoverhe invited the Rev. Doctorand hisdaughter to come to Patterne from Upton for a monthandmakeacquaintance with his auntsthe ladies Eleanor and IsabelPatterneso that it might not be so strange to Clara to have themas herhousemates after her marriage. Dr. Middleton omitted toconsulthis daughter before accepting the invitationand itappearedwhen he did speak to herthat it should have been done.But shesaidmildly"Very wellpapa."

SirWilloughby had to visit the metropolis and an estate inanothercountywhence he wrote to his betrothed daily. Hereturnedto Patterne in time to arrange for the welcome of hisguests;too latehoweverto ride over to them; andmeanwhileduring hisabsenceMiss Middleton had bethought herself that sheought tohave given her last days of freedom to her friends. Afterthe weeksto be passed at Patternevery few weeks were left toherandshe had a wish to run to Switzerland or Tyrol and see theAlps; aquaint ideaher father thought. She repeated itseriouslyand Dr. Middleton perceived a feminine shuttle ofindecisionat work in her headfrightful to himconsidering thattheysignified hesitation between the excellent library andcapitalwine-cellar of Patterne Halltogether with the society ofthatpromising young scholarMr. Vernon Whitfordon the onesideanda career of hotels--equivalent to being rammed intomonsterartillery with a crowd every nightand shot off on aday'sjourney through space every morning--on the other.

"Youwill have your travelling and your Alps after the ceremony"he said.

"Ithink I would rather stay at home" said she.

DrMiddleton rejoined: "I would."

"ButI am not married yet papa."

"Asgoodmy dear."

"Alittle change of sceneI thought ..."

"Wehave accepted Willoughby's invitation. And he helpsme to ahouse near you."

"Youwish to be near mepapa?"

"Proximate--ata remove: communicable."

"Whyshould we separate?"

"Forthe reasonmy dearthat you exchange a father for ahusband."

"If Ido not want to exchange?"

"Topurchaseyou must paymy child. Husbands are notgiven fornothing."

"No.But I should have youpapa!"

"Should?"

"Theyhave not yet parted usdear papa."

"Whatdoes that mean?" he askedfussily. He was in a gentle stewalreadyapprehensive of a disturbance of the serenity precious toscholarsby postponements of the ceremony and a prolongation of afather'sworries.

"Ohthe common meaningpapa" she saidseeing how it was withhim.

"Ah!"said henodding and blinking gradually back to a state ofcomposureglad to be appeased on any terms; for mutability is butanothername for the sexand it is the enemy of the scholar.

Shesuggested that two weeks of Patterne would offer plenty oftime toinspect the empty houses of the districtand should besufficientconsidering the claims of friendsand the necessityof goingthe round of London shops.

"Twoor three weeks" he agreedhurriedlyby way of compromisewith thatfearful prospect.

 

 

CHAPTERVII

TheBetrothed

 

During thedrive from Upton to PatterneMiss Middleton hopedshepartlybelievedthat there was to be a change in Sir Willoughby'smanner ofcourtship. He had been so different a wooer. Sherememberedwith some half-conscious desperation of fervour whatshe hadthought of him at his first approachesand in acceptinghim. Hadshe seen him with the eyes of the worldthinking theywere herown? That look of histhe look of "indignantcontentment"had then been a most noble conquering looksplendidas ageneral's plume at the gallop. It could not have altered. Wasit thather eyes had altered?

The spiritof those days rose up within her to reproachher andwhisper oftheir renewal: she remembered her rosy dreams and theimage shehad of himher throbbing pride in himher chokingrichnessof happiness: and also her vain attempting to be veryhumbleusually ending in a carolquaint to think ofnot withoutcharmbutquaintpuzzling.

Now menwhose incomes have been restricted to the extentthat theymust live on their capitalsoon grow relieved of theforethoughtfulanguish wasting them by the hilarious comfortsof the lapupon which they have sunk backinsomuchthat theyare apt to solace themselves for their intolerableanticipationsof famine in the household by giving loose toone fit ormore of reckless lavishness. Lovers in like mannerlive ontheir capital from failure of income: theytoofor thesake ofstifling apprehension and piping to the present hourare lavishof their stockso as rapidly to attenuate it: they havetheir fitsof intoxication in view of coming famine: they forcememoryinto playlove retrospectivelyenter the old house ofthe pastand ravage the larderand would gladlyeven resolutelycontinuein illusion if it were possible for the broadesthoney-storeof reminiscences to hold out for a length of timeagainst amortal appetite: which in good sooth stands on thealternativeof a consumption of the hive or of the creature itis fornourishing. Here do lovers show that they are perishable.More thanthe poor clay world they need fresh suppliesrightwholesome juices; as it werelife in the burst of the budfruits yeton the treerather than potted provender. The latterisexcellent for by-and-bywhen there will be a vast dealmore torememberand appetite shall have but one toothremaining.Should their minds perchance have been saturatedby theirfirst impressions and have retained themloving bytheaccountable light of reasonthey may have fair harvestsas in theearly time; but that case is rare. In other wordsloveis anaffair of twoand is only for two that can be as quickasconstant in intercommunication as are sun and earththroughthe cloudor face to face. They take their breath of life fromoneanother in signs of affectionproofs of faithfulnessincentivesto admiration. Thus it is with men and women inlove'sgood season. But a solitary soul dragging a log mustmake thelog a God to rejoice in the burden. That is not love.

Clara wasthe least fitted of all women to drag a log. Few girlswould beso rapid in exhausting capital. She was feminine indeedbut shewanted comradeshipa living and frank exchange of thebest inbothwith the deeper feelings untroubled. To be fixed atthe mouthof a mineand to have to descend it dailyand not todiscovergreat opulence below; on the contraryto be chilled insubterraneansunlessnesswithout any substantial quality that shecouldgrasponly the mystery of the inefficient tallow-light inthosecaverns of the complacent-talking man: this appeared to hertooextreme a probation for two or three weeks. How of a lifetimeof it!

She wascompelled by her nature to hopeexpect and believe thatSirWilloughby would again be the man she had known when sheacceptedhim. Very singularlyto show her simple spirit at thetimeshewas unaware of any physical coldness to him; she knew ofnothingbut her mind at workobjecting to this and thatdesiringchanges.She did not dream of being on the giddy ridge of thepassive ornegative sentiment of lovewhere one step to the wrongsideprecipitates us into the state of repulsion.

Her eyeswere lively at their meeting--so were his. She liked tosee him onthe stepswith young Crossjay under his arm. SirWilloughbytold her in his pleasantest humour of the boy's havinggot intothe laboratory that morning to escape his task-masterand blownout the windows. She administered a chiding to thedelinquentin the same spiritwhile Sir Willoughby led her on hisarm acrossthe thresholdwhispering: "Soon for good!" In replyto thewhispershe begged for more of the story of youngCrossjay."Come into the laboratory: said hea little lesslaughinglythan softly; and Clara begged her father to come andsee youngCrossjay's latest pranks. Sir Willoughby whispered toher of thelength of their separationand his joy to welcome herto thehouse where she would reign as mistress very won. Henumberedthe weeks. He whispered: "Come." In the hurry of themoment shedid not examine a lightning terror that shot throughher. Itpassedand was no more than the shadow which bends thesummergrassesleaving a ruffle of her ideasin wonder of herhavingfeared herself for something. Her father was with them.She andWilloughby were not yet alone.

YoungCrossjay had not accomplished so fine a piece of destructionas SirWilloughby's humour proclaimed of him. He had connected abatterywith a train of gunpowdershattering a window-frame andunsettlingsome bricks. Dr. Middleton asked if the youth wasexcludedfrom the libraryand rejoiced to hear that it was asealeddoor to him. Thither they went. Vernon Whitford was awayon one ofhis long walks.

"Therepapayou see he is not so very faithful to you" saidClara.

DrMiddleton stood frowning over MS notes on the tableinVernon'shandwriting. He flung up the hair from his forehead anddroppedinto a seat to inspect them closely. He was nowimmoveable.Clara was obliged to leave him there. She was led tothink thatWilloughby had drawn them to the library with thedesign tobe rid of her protectorand she began to fear him. Sheproposedto pay her respects to the ladies Eleanor and Isabel.They werenot seenand a footman reported in the drawing-roomthat theywere out driving. She grasped young Crossjay's hand. SirWilloughbydispatched him to Mrs. Montaguethe housekeeperfor atea ofcakes and jam.

"Off!"he saidand the boy had to run.

Clara sawherself without a shield.

"Andthe garden!" she cried. "I love the garden; I must go andseewhatflowers are up with you. In spring I care most for wildflowersand if you will show me daffodils and crocuses andanemones .. ."

"Mydearest Clara! my bride!" said he.

"Becausethey are vulgar flowers?" she asked himartlesslyto accountfor his detaining her.

Why wouldhe not wait to deserve her!--nonot deserve--toreconcileher with her real position; not reconcilebut to repairthe imageof him in her mindbefore he claimed his apparentright!

He did notwait. He pressed her to his bosom.

"Youare minemy Clara--utterly mine; every thoughteveryfeeling.We are one: the world may do its worst. I have beenlongingfor youlooking forward. You save me from a thousandvexations.One is perpetually crossed. That is all outside us. Wetwo! Withyou I am secure! Soon! I could not tell you whether theworld'salive or dead. My dearest!"

She cameout of it with the sensations of the frightened childthat hashad its dip in sea-watersharpened to think that afterall it wasnot so severe a trial. Such was her idea; and she saidto herselfimmediately: What am I that I should complain? Twominutesearlier she would not have thought it; but humiliatedpridefalls lower than humbleness.

She didnot blame him; she fell in her own esteem; less becauseshe wasthe betrothed Clara Middletonwhich was now palpable as ashot inthe breast of a birdthan that she was a captured womanof whom itis absolutely expected that she must submitand whenshe wouldrather be gazing at flowers. Clara had shame of hersex. Theycannot take a step without becoming bondwomen: into whata slavery!For herselfher trial was overshe thought. As forherselfshe merely complained of a prematureness and cruditybestunanalyzed. In truthshe could hardly be said to complain.She didbut criticize him and wonder that a man was unable toperceiveor was not arrested by perceivingunwillingnessdiscordancedull compliance; the bondwoman's due instead of thebride'sconsent. Ohsharp distinctionas between two spheres!

She metedhim justice; she admitted that he had spoken in alover-liketone. Had it not been for the iteration of "the world"she wouldnot have objected critically to his wordsthough theywere wordsof downright appropriation. He had the right to usethemsince she was to be married to him. But if he had onlywaitedbefore playing the privileged lover!

SirWilloughby was enraptured with her. Even so purely coldlystatue-likeDian-likewould he have prescribed his bride'sreceptionof his caress. The suffusion of crimson coming over hersubsequentlyshowing her divinely feminine in reflectivebashfulnessagreed with his highest definitions of femalecharacter.

"Letme conduct you to the gardenmy love" he said.

Shereplied: "I think I would rather go to my room."

"Iwill send you a wild-flower posy."

"Flowersno; I do not like them to be gathered."

"Iwill wait for you on the lawn."

"Myhead is rather heavy."

His deepconcern and tenderness brought him close.

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

"Headacheit is not" she added.

But shehad to pay the fee for inviting a solicitous acceptedgentleman'sproximity.

This timeshe blamed herself and himand the world he abusedanddestinyinto the bargain. And she cared less about the probation;but shecraved for liberty. With a frigidity that astonished hershemarvelled at the act of kissingand at the obligation itforcedupon an inanimate person to be an accomplice. Why was shenot free?By what strange right was it that she was treated as apossession?

"Iwill try to walk off the heaviness" she said.

"Myown girl must not fatigue herself."

"Ohno; I shall not."

"Sitwith me. Your Willoughby is your devoted attendant."

"Ihave a desire for the air."

"Thenwe will walk out."

She washorrified to think how far she had drawn away from himand nowplaced her hand on his arm to appease her self-accusationsandpropitiate duty. He spoke as she had wishedhis manner waswhat shehad wished; she was his bridealmost his wife; herconductwas a kind of madness; she could not understand it.

Good senseand duty counselled her to control her waywardspirit.

He fondledher handand to that she grew accustomed; her hand wasat adistance. And what is a hand? Leaving it where it wasshetreated itas a link between herself and dutiful goodness. Twomonthshence she was a bondwoman for life! She regretted that shehad notgone to her room to strengthen herself with a review ofhersituationand meet him thoroughly resigned to her fate. Shefanciedshe would have come down to him amicably. It was hispresentrespectfulness and easy conversation that tricked herburningnerves with the fancy. Five weeks of perfect liberty inthemountainsshe thoughtwould have prepared her for the daysof bells.All that she required was a separation offering newsceneswhere she might reflect undisturbedfeel clear again.

He led herabout the flower-beds; too much as if he were giving aconvalescentan airing. She chafed at itand pricked herself withremorse.In contrition she expatiated on the beauty of the garden.

"Allis yoursmy Clara."

Anoppressive load it seemed to her! She passively yielded to theman in hisform of attentive courtier; his mansionestateandwealthoverwhelmed her. They suggested the price to be paid. Yetsherecollected that on her last departure through the park shehad beenproud of the rolling green and spreading trees. Poison ofsome sortmust be operating in her. She had not come to himto-daywith this feeling of sullen antagonism; she had caught ithere.

"Youhave been wellmy Clara?"

"Quite."

"Nota hint of illness?"

"None."

"Mybride must have her health if all the doctors in thekingdomdie for it! My darling!"

"Andtell me: the dogs?"

"Dogsand horses are in very good condition."

"I amglad. Do you knowI love those ancient French chateaux andfarms inonewhere salon windows look on poultry-yard andstalls. Ilike that homeliness with beasts and peasants."

He bowedindulgently.

"I amafraid we can't do it for you in Englandmy Clara."

"No."

"AndI like the farm" said he. "But I think our drawing-roomshave abetter atmosphere off the garden. As to our peasantrywecannotIapprehendmodify our class demarcations without risk ofdisintegratingthe social structure."

"Perhaps.I proposed nothing."

"MyloveI would entreat you to propose if I were convincedthat Icould obey."

"Youare very good."

"Ifind my merit nowhere but in your satisfaction."

Althoughshe was not thirsting for dulcet sayingsthe peacefulnessof otherthan invitations to the exposition of his mysteries andof theirisolation in onenessinspired her with such calm thatshe beatabout in her brainas if it were in the brainfor thespecificinjury he had committed. Sweeping from sensation tosensationthe youngwhom sensations impel and distractcanrarelydate their disturbance from a particular one; unless it besome greatvillain injury that has been done; and Clara had notfelt anindividual shame in his caress; the shame of her sex wasbut apassing protestthat left no stamp. So she conceived shehad beenbehaving cruellyand said"Willoughby"; because she wasaware ofthe omission of his name in her previous remarks.

His wholeattention was given to her.

She had toinvent the sequel. "I was going to beg youWilloughbydo notseek to spoil me. You compliment me. Compliments are notsuited tome. You think too highly of me. It is nearly as bad asto beslighted. I am . . . I am a . . ." But she could not followhisexample; even as far as she had goneher prim little sketchofherselfset beside her realuglyearnest feelingsrang of amincingsimplicityand was a step in falseness. How could shedisplaywhat she was?

"Do Inot know you?" he said.

Themelodious bass notesexpressive of conviction on that pointsignifiedas well as the words that no answer was the rightanswer.She could not dissent without turning his music todiscordhis complacency to amazement. She held her tongueknowingthat he did not know herand speculating on thedivisionmade bare by their degrees of the knowledgea deepcleft.

He alludedto friends in her neighbourhood and his own.Thebridesmaids were mentioned.

"MissDaleyou will hear from my aunt Eleanordeclineson theplea ofindifferent health. She is rather a morbid personwithall herreally estimable qualities. It will do no harm to havenone butyoung ladies of your own age; a bouquet of young buds:though oneblowing flower among them ... Howevershe has decided.Myprincipal annoyance has been Vernon's refusal to act as my bestman."

"Mr.Whitford refuses?"

"Hehalf refuses. I do not take no from him. His pretextis adislike to the ceremony."

"Ishare it with him."

"Isympathize with you. If we might say the words and pass fromsight!There is a way of cutting off the world: I have it at timescompletely:I lose it againas if it were a cabalistic phrase onehad toutter. But with you! You give it me for good. It will hefor evereternallymy Clara. Nothing can harmnothing touch us;we are oneanother's. Let the world fight it out; we have nothingto do withit."

"IfMr. Whitford should persist in refusing?"

"Soentirely onethat there never can be question of externalinfluences.I amwe will sayriding home from the hunt: I seeyouawaiting me: I read your heart as though you were beside me.And I knowthat I am coming to the one who reads mine! You havemeyouhave me like an open bookyouand only you!"

"I amto be always at home?" Clara saidunheededandrelievedby his not hearing.
"Haveyou realized it?--that we are invulnerable! The worldcannothurt us: it cannot touch us. Felicity is oursand we areimperviousin the enjoyment of it. Something divine! surelysomethingdivine on earth? Clara!--being to one another thatbetweenwhich the world can never interpose! What I do is right:what youdo is right. Perfect to one another! Each new day we riseto studyand delight in new secrets. Away with the crowd! We havenot evento say it; we are in an atmosphere where the world cannotbreathe."

"Ohthe world!" Clara partly carolled on a sigh that sunkdeep.

Hearinghim talk as one exulting on the mountain-topwhen sheknew himto be in the abysswas very strangeprovocative ofscorn.

"Myletters?" he saidincitingly.

"Iread them."

"Circumstanceshave imposed a long courtship on usmy Clara; andIperhapslamenting the laws of decorum--I have done so!--stillfelt thebenefit of the gradual initiation. It is not good forwomen tobe surprised by a sudden revelation of man's character.We alsohave things to learn--there is matter for learningeverywhere.Some day you will tell me the difference of what youthink ofme nowfrom what you thought when we first . . . ?"

An impulseof double-minded acquiescence caused Clara tostammer ason a sob.

"I--Idaresay I shall."

She added"If it is necessary."

Then shecried out: "Why do you attack the world? Youalwaysmake me pity it."

He smiledat her youthfulness. "I have passed through thatstage. Itleads to my sentiment. Pity itby all means."

"No"said she"but pity itside with itnot consider it sobad. Theworld has faults; glaciers have crevicesmountains havechasms;but is not the effect of the whole sublime? Not to admirethemountain and the glacier because they can be cruelseems tome ... Andthe world is beautiful."

"Theworld of natureyes. The world of men?"

"Yes."

"MyloveI suspect you to be thinking of the world of ballrooms.

"I amthinking of the world that contains real and greatgenerositytrue heroism. We see it round us."

"Weread of it. The world of the romance writer!"

"No:the living world. I am sure it is our duty to love it. I amsure weweaken ourselves if we do not. If I did notI should belooking onmisthearing a perpetual boom instead of music. Irememberhearing Mr. Whitford say that cynicism is intellectualdandyismwithout the coxcomb's feathers; and it seems to me thatcynics areonly happy in making the world as barren to others asthey havemade it for themselves."

"OldVernon!" ejaculated Sir Willoughbywith a countenanceratheruneasyas if it had been flicked with a glove. "Hestringshis phrases by the dozen."

"Papacontradicts thatand says he is very clever and verysimple."

"Asto cynicsmy dear Claraohcertainlycertainly: you areright.They are laughablecontemptible. But understand me. Imeanwecannot feelor if we feel we cannot so intensely feelouronenessexcept by dividing ourselves from the world."

"Isit an art?"

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

"No:they will be eating themselves up."

"Thepurer the beautythe more it will be out of the world."

"Butnot opposed."

"Putit in this way" Willoughby condescended. "Has experiencethe sameopinion of the world as ignorance?"

"Itshould have more charity."

"Doesvirtue feel at home in the world?"

"Whereit should be an exampleto my idea."

"Isthe world agreeable to holiness?"

"Thenare you in favour of monasteries?"

He poureda little runlet of half laughter over her headof thesoundassumed by genial compassion.

It isirritating to hear that when we imagine we have spoken tothe point.

"Nowin my lettersClara . . ."

"Ihave no memoryWilloughby!"

"Youwillhoweverhave observed that I am not completelymyself inmy letters . . ."

"Inyour letters to men you may be."

The remarkthrew a pause across his thoughts. He was of asensitivenessterribly tender. A single stroke on it reverberatedswellinglywithin the manand mostand infuriately searchingatthe spotswhere he had been woundedespecially where he fearedthe worldmight have guessed the wound. Did she imply that he hadno handfor love-letters? Was it her meaning that women would nothave muchtaste for his epistolary correspondence? She had spokenin thepluralwith an accent on "men". Had she heard ofConstantia?Had she formed her own judgement about the creature?Thesupernatural sensitiveness of Sir Willoughby shrieked a pealofaffirmatives. He had often meditated on the moral obligation ofhisunfolding to Clara the whole truth of his conduct toConstantia;for whomas for other suicidesthere were excuses.He atleast was bound to supply them. She had behaved badly; buthad he notgiven her some cause? If somanliness was bound toconfessit.

SupposingClara heard the world's version first! Men whose prideis theirbackbone suffer convulsions where other men are barelyaware of ashockand Sir Willoughby was taken with galvanicjumpingsof the spirit within himat the idea of the worldwhisperingto Clara that he had been jilted.

"Myletters to menyou saymy love?"

"Yourletters of business."

"Completelymyself in my letters of business?" He stared indeed.

Sherelaxed the tension of his figure by remarking: "You are ableto expressyourself to men as your meaning dictates. In writingto ... tous it isI supposemore difficult."

"Truemy love. I will not exactly say difficult. I canacknowledgeno difficulty. LanguageI should sayis not fittedto expressemotion. Passion rejects it."

"Fordumb-show and pantomime?"

"No;but the writing of it coldly."

"Ahcoldly!"

"Myletters disappoint you?"

"Ihave not implied that they do."

"Myfeelingsdearestare too strong for transcription. I feelpen inhandlike the mythological Titan at war with Jovestrongenough tohurl mountainsand finding nothing but pebbles. Thesimile isa good one. You must not judge of me by my letters."

"I donot; I like them" said Clara.

Sheblushedeyed him hurriedlyand seeing him complacentresumed"I prefer the pebble to the mountain; but if you readpoetry youwould not think human speech incapable of. . ."

"MyloveI detest artifice. Poetry is a profession."

"Ourpoets would prove to you . . ."

"As Ihave often observedClaraI am no poet."

"Ihave not accused youWilloughby:

"Nopoetand with no wish to be a poet. Were I onemy life wouldsupplymaterialI can assure youmy love. My conscience is notentirelyat rest. Perhaps the heaviest matter troubling it is thatin which Iwas least wilfully guilty. You have heard of a MissDurham?"

"Ihave heard--yes--of her."

"Shemay be happy. I trust she is. If she is notI cannot escapesomeblame. An instance of the difference between myself and theworldnow. The world charges it upon her. I have interceded toexonerateher."

"Thatwas generousWilloughby."

"Stay.I fear I was the primary offender. But IClaraIundera sense ofhonouracting under a sense of honourwould havecarried myengagement through."

"Whathad you done?"

"Thestory is longdating from an early dayin the 'downyantiquityof my youth'as Vernon says."

"Mr.Whitford says that?"

"Oneof old Vernon's odd sayings. It's a story of an earlyfascination."

"Papatells me Mr. Whitford speaks at times with wisehumour."

"Familyconsiderations--the lady's health among other things; herpositionin the calculations of relatives--intervened. Stillthere wasthe fascination. I have to own it. Grounds for femininejealousy."

"Isit at an end?"

"Now?with you? my darling Clara! indeed at an endor could Ihaveopened my inmost heart to you! Could I have spoken of myselfsounreservedly that in part you know me as I know myself! Ohbutwould ithave been possible to enclose you with myself in thatintimateunion? so secretunassailable!"

"Youdid not speak to her as you speak to me?"

"Inno degree."

"Whatcould have! . . ." Clara checked the murmured exclamation.

SirWilloughby's expoundings on his latest of texts would havepouredforthhad not a footman stepped across the lawn to informhim thathis builder was in the laboratory and requestedpermissionto consult with him.

Clara'splea of a horror of the talk of bricks and joists excusedher fromaccompanying him. He had hardly been satisfied by hermannerheknew not why. He left herconvinced that he must doand saymore to reach down to her female intelligence.

She sawyoung Crossjayspringing with pots of jam in himjoinhis patronat a boundand taking a lift of armsfly aloftclappingheels. Her reflections were confused. Sir Willoughby wasadmirablewith the lad. "Is he two men?" she thought; and thethoughtensued"Am I unjust?" She headed a run with youngCrossjayto divert her mind.

 

 

CHAPTERVIII

A Runwith the Truant; a Walk with the Master

 

The sightof Miss Middleton running inflamed young Crossjay withthepassion of the game of hare and hounds. He shouted aview-hallooand flung up his legs. She was fleet; she ran asthough ahundred little feet were bearing her onward smooth aswater overthe lawn and the sweeps of grass of the parksoswifilydid the hidden pair multiply one another to speed her. Sosweet wasshe in her flowing pacethat the boyas became hisagetranslated admiration into a dogged frenzy of pursuitandcontinuedpounding alongwhen far outstrippeddetermined to runher downor die. Suddenly her flight wound to an end in a dozentwitteringstepsand she sank. Young Crossjay attained herwith justbreath enough to say: "You are a runner!"

"Iforgot you had been having your teamy poor boy" said she.

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

"Dearmeno; not more than a bird. You might as well try to catcha bird."

YoungCrossjay gave a knowing nod. "Wait till I get my secondwind."

"Nowyou must confess that girls run faster than boys."

"Theymay at the start."

"Theydo everything better."

"They'reflash-in-the-pans."

"Theylearn their lessons."

"Youcan't make soldiers or sailors of themthough."

"Andthat is untrue. Have you never read of Mary Ambree? andMistressHannah Snell of Pondicherry? And there was the bride ofthecelebrated William Taylor. And what do you say to Joan ofArc? Whatdo you say to Boadicea? I suppose you have never heardof theAmazons."

"Theyweren't English."

"Thenit is your own countrywomen you decrysir!"

YoungCrossjay betrayed anxiety about his false positionandbegged forthe stories of Mary Ambree and the others who wereEnglish.

"Seeyou will not read for yourselfyou hide and play truantwith Mr.Whitfordand the consequence is you are ignorant of yourcountry'shistory."

MissMiddleton rebuked himenjoying his wriggle between aperceptionof her fun and an acknowledgment of his peccancy. Shecommandedhim to tell her which was the glorious Valentine's dayof ournaval annals; the name of the hero of the dayand the nameof hisship. To these questions his answers were as ready as theguns ofthe good ship Captainfor the Spanish four-decker.

"Andthat you owe to Mr. Whitford" said Miss Middleton.

"Hebought me the books" young Crossjay growledand plucked atgrassblades and bit thernforeseeing dimly but certainly theterminationof all this.

MissMiddleton lay back on the grass and said: "Are you going tobe fond ofmeCrossjay?"

The boysat blinking. His desire was to prove to her that lie wasimmoderatelyfond of her already; and he might have flown at herneck hadshe been sitting upbut her recumbency and eyelids halfclosedexcited wonder in him and awe. His young heart beat fast.

"Becausemy dear boy" she saidleaning on her elbow"you are avery niceboybut an ungrateful boyand there is no tellingwhetheryou will not punish any one who cares for you. Come alongwith me;pluck me some of these cowslipsand the speedwells nearthem; Ithink we both love wild-flowers." She rose and took hisarm. "Youshall row me on the lake while I talk to you seriously."

It wasshehoweverwho took the sculls at the boat-houseforshe hadbeen a playfellow with boysand knew that one of themengaged ina manly exercise is not likely to listen to a woman.

"NowCrossjay" she said. Dense gloom overcame him like a cowl.She bentacross her hands to laugh. "As if I were going to lectureyouyousilly boy!" He began to brighten dubiously. "I used to beas fond ofbirdsnesting as you are. I like brave boysand I likeyou forwanting to enter the Royal Navy. Onlyhow can you if youdo notlearn? You must get the captains to pass youyou know.Somebodyspoils you: Miss Dale or Mr. Whitford."

"Dothey?" sung out young Crossjay.

"SirWilloughby does?"

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

"I amsure he is very kind to you. I dare say you think Mr.Whitfordrather severe. You should remember he has to teach youso thatyou may pass for the navy. You must not dislike himbecause hemakes you work. Supposing you had blown yourself upto-day!You would have thought it better to have been working withMr.Whitford."

"SirWilloughby sayswhen he's marriedyou won't let me hide."

"Ah!It is wrong to pet a big boy like you. Does not he what youcall tipyouCrossjay?"

"Generallyhalf-crown pieces. I've had a crown-piece. I've hadsovereigns."

"Andfor that you do as he bids you? And he indulges you becauseyou ...Wellbut though Mr. Whitford does not give you moneyhegives youhis timehe tries to get you into the navy."

"Hepays for me."

"Whatdo you say?"

"Mykeep. Andas for liking himif he were at the bottom of thewaterhereI'd go down after him. I mean to learn. We're both ofus here atsix o'clock in the morningwhen it's lightand have aswim. Hetaught me. OnlyI never cared for schoolbooks."

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

"Myfather told me he didand I must obey him. He heard my fatherwas poorwith a family. He went down to see my father. My fathercame hereonceand Sir Willoughby wouldn't see him. I know Mr.Whitforddoes. And Miss Dale told me he did. My mother says shethinks hedoes it to make up to us for my father's long walk inthe rainand the cold he caught coming here to Patterne."

"Soyou see you should not vex himCrossjay. He is a good friendto yourfather and to you. You ought to love him."

"Ilike himand I like his face."

"Whyhis face?"

"It'snot like those faces! Miss Dale and I talk about him. Shethinksthat Sir Willoughby is the best-looking man ever born."

"Wereyou not speaking of Mr. Whitford?"

"Yes;old Vernon. That's what Sir Willoughby calls him" youngCrossjayexcused himself to her look of surprise. "Do you knowwhat hemakes me think of?--his eyesI mean. He makes me thinkofRobinson Crusoe's old goat in the cavern. I like him becausehe'salways the sameand you're not positive about some people.MissMiddletonif you look on at cricketin comes a safe man forten runs.He may get moreand he never gets less; and you shouldhear theold farmers talk of him in the booth. That's just myfeeling."

MissMiddleton understood that some illustration from thecricketing-fieldwas intended to throw light on the boy's feelingfor Mr.Whitford. Young Crossjay was evidently warming to speakfrom hisheart. But the sun was lowshe had to dress for thedinner-tableand she landed him with regretas at a holidayover.Before they partedhe offered to swim across the lake inhisclothesor dive to the bed for anything she pleased to throwdeclaringsolemnly that it should not he lost.

She walkedback at a slow paceand sung to herself above herdarker-flowingthoughtslike the reed-warbler on the branchbeside thenight-stream; a simple song of a lighthearted soundindependentof the shifting black and grey of the floodunderneath.

A step wasat her heels.

"Isee you have been petting my scapegrace."

"Mr.Whitford! Yes; not pettingI hope. I tried to give him alecture.He's a dear ladbutI fancytrying."

She was infine sunset colourunable to arrest the mounting tide.She hadbeen rowingshe said; andas he directed his eyesaccordingto his wontpenetratinglyshe defended herself byfixing hermind on Robinson Crusoe's old goat in the recess of thecavern.

"Imust have him away from here very soon" said Vernon. "Herehe's quitespoiled. Speak of him to Willoughby. I can't guess athis ideasof the boy's futurebut the chance of passing for thenavy won'tbear trifling withand if ever there was a lad madefor thenavyit's Crossjay."

Theincident of the explosion in the laboratory was new to Vernon.

"AndWilloughby laughed?" he said. "There are sea-port crammerswho stuffyoung fellows for examinationand we shall have to packoff theboy at once to the best one of the lot we can find. Iwouldrather have had him under me up to the last three monthsand havemade sure of some roots to what is knocked into his head.But he'sruined here. And I am going. So I shall not trouble himfor manyweeks longer. Dr. Middleton is well?"

"Myfather is wellyes. He pounced like a falcon on your notes inthelibrary."

Vernoncame out with a chuckle.

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

"Papawill not spare youto judge from his look."

"Iknow the look."

"Haveyou walked far to-day?"

"Nineand a half hours. My Flibbertigibbet 8 is too much for me attimesandI had to walk off my temper."

She casther eyes on himthinking of the pleasure of dealing witha temperhonestly coltishand manfully open to a specific.

"Allthose hours were required?"

"Notquite so long."

"Youare training for your Alpine tour."

"It'sdoubtful whether I shall get to the Alps this year. I leavethe Halland shall probably be in London with a pen to sell."

"Willoughbyknows that you leave him?"

"Asmuch as Mont Blanc knows that he is going to be climbed by apartybelow. He sees a speck or two in the valley."

"Hehas not spoken of it."

"Hewould attribute it to changes . . ."

Vernon didnot conclude the sentence.

She becamebreathlesswithout emotionbut checked by the barrierconfrontingan impulse to askwhat changes? She stooped to plucka cowslip.

"Isaw daffodils lower down the park" she said. "One or two;they'renearly over."

"Weare well off for wild flowers here" he answered.

"Donot leave himMr. Whitford."

"Hewill not want me."

"Youare devoted to him."

"Ican't pretend that."

"Thenit is the changes you imagine you foresee ... If any occurwhy shouldthey drive you away?"

"WellI'm two and thirtyand have never been in the fray: akind ofnondescripthalf scholarand by nature half billman orbowman ormusketeer; if I'm worth anythingLondon's the field forme. Butthat's what I have to try."

"Papawill not like your serving with your pen in London: he willsay youare worth too much for that."

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

"Theyare wastedhe says."

"Error!If they have their private ambitionthey may suppose theyarewasted. But the value to the world of a private ambitionI donotclearly understand."

"Youhave not an evil opinion of the world?" said Miss Middletonsick atheart as she spokewith the sensation of having invitedherself totake a drop of poison.

Hereplied: "One might as well have an evil opinion of a river:here it'smuddythere it's clear; one day troubledanother atrest. Wehave to treat it with common sense."

"Loveit?"

"Inthe sense of serving it."

"Notthink it beautiful?"

"Partof it ispart of it the reverse."

"Papawould quote the 'mulier formosa'".

"Exceptthat 'fish' is too good for the black extremity. 'Woman'isexcellent for the upper."

"Howdo you say that?--not cynicallyI believe. Your viewcommendsitself to my reason."

She wasgrateful to him for not stating it in ideal contrast withSirWilloughby's view. If he hadso intensely did her youthfulblooddesire to be enamoured of the worldthat she felt he wouldhavelifted her off her feet. For a moment a gulf beneath had beenthreatening.When she said"Love it?" a little enthusiasm wouldhavewafted her into space fierily as wine; but the sober"In thesense ofserving it"entered her brainand was matter forreflectionupon it and him.

She couldthink of him in pleasant libertyuncorrected by herwoman'sinstinct of peril. He had neither arts nor graces; nothingof hiscousin's easy social front-face. She had once witnessed themilitaryprecision of his dancingand had to learn to like himbefore sheceased to pray that she might never be the victim of itas hispartner. He walked heroicallyhis pedestrian vigour beingfamousbut that means one who walks away from the sexnotexcellingin the recreations where men and women join hands. Hewas notmuch of a horseman either. Sir Willoughby enjoyed seeinghim onhorseback. And he could scarcely be said to shine in adrawingroomunless when seated beside a person ready for realtalk. Evenmore than his meritshis demerits pointed him out asa man tobe a friend to a young woman who wanted one. His way oflifepictured to her troubled spirit an enviable smoothness; andhis havingachieved that smooth way she considered a sign ofstrength;and she wished to lean in idea upon some friendlystrength.His reputation for indifference to the frivolous charmsof girlsclothed him with a noble coldnessand gave him thedistinctionof a far-seen solitary iceberg in Southern waters. Thepopularnotion of hereditary titled aristocracy resembles hersentimentfor a man that would not flatter and could not beflatteredby her sex: he appeared superior almost to awfulness.She wasyoungbut she had received much flattery in her earsandby it shehad been snared; and hedisdaining to practise thefowler'sarts or to cast a thought on small fowlsappeared to herto have apride founded on natural loftiness.

They hadnot spoken for awhilewhen Vernon said abruptly"Theboy'sfuture rather depends on youMiss Middleton. I mean toleave assoon as possibleand I do not like his being herewithoutmethough you will look after himI have no doubt. Butyou maynot at first see where the spoiling hurts him. He shouldbe packedoff at once to the crammerbefore you are LadyPatterne.Use your influence. Willoughby will support the lad atyourrequest. The cost cannot be great. There are strong groundsagainst myhaving him in Londoneven if I could manage it. May Icount onyou?"

"Iwill mention it: I will do my best" said Miss Middletonstrangelydejected.

They werenow on the lawnwhere Sir Willoughby was walking withthe ladiesEleanor and Isabelhis maiden aunts.

"Youseem to have coursed the hare and captured the hart." he saidto hisbride.

"Startedthe truant and run down the paedagogue" said Vernon.

"Ayyou won't listen to me about the management of that boy" SirWilloughbyretorted.

The ladiesembraced Miss Middleton. One offered up an ejaculationin eulogyof her looksthe other of her healthfulness: then bothremarkedthat with indulgence young Crossjay could be induced todoanything. Clara wondered whether inclination or Sir Willoughbyhaddisciplined their individuality out of them and made them hisshadowshis echoes. She gazed from them to himand feared him.But as yetshe had not experienced the power in him which couldthreatenand wrestle to subject the members of his household tothe stateof satellites. Though she had in fact been giving battleto it forseveral monthsshe had held her own too well toperceivedefinitely the character of the spirit opposing her.

She saidto the ladies"Ahno! Mr. Whitford has chosen the onlymethod forteaching a boy like Crossjay."

"Ipropose to make a man of him" said Sir Willoughby.

"Whatis to become of him if he learns nothing?"

"Ifhe pleases mehe will be provided for. I have never abandonedadependent."

Clara lether eyes rest on his andwithout turning or droppingshut them.

The effectwas discomforting to him. He was very sensitive to theintentionsof eyes and tones; which was one secret of his rigidgrasp ofthe dwellers in his household. They were taught that theyhad torender agreement under sharp scrutiny. Studious eyesdevoid ofwarmthdevoid of the shyness of sexthat suddenlyclosed ontheir looksignified a want of comprehension of somekinditmight be hostility of understanding. Was it possible hedid notpossess her utterly? He frowned up.

Clara sawthe lift of his browsand thought"My mind is my ownmarried ornot."

It was thepoint in dispute.

 

 

CHAPTER IX

Claraand Laetitia Meet: They Are Compared

 

An hourbefore the time for lessons next morning young Crossjaywas on thelawn with a big bunch of wild flowers. He left them atthe halldoor for Miss Middletonand vanished into bushes.

Thesevulgar weeds were about to be dismissed to the dustheap bythe greatofficials of the household; but as it happened that MissMiddletonhad seen them from the window in Crossjay's handsthediscoverywas made that they were indeed his presentation-bouquetand afootman received orders to place them before her. She wasverypleased. The arrangement of the flowers bore witness tofairerfingers than the boy's own in the disposition of the ringsof colourred campion and anemonecowslip and speedwellprimrosesand wood-hyacinths; and rising out of the blue was abranchbearing thick white blossomso thickand of so pure awhitenessthat Miss Middletonwhile praising Crossjay forsolicitingthe aid of Miss Dalewas at a loss to name the tree.

"Itis a gardener's improvement on the Vestal of the forestthewildcherry" said Dr. Middleton"and in this case we may admitthegardener's claim to be validthough I believe thatwith hisgift ofdouble blossomhe has improved away the fruit. Call thisthe Vestalof civilizationthen; he has at least done somethingtovindicate the beauty of the office as well as the justness ofthetitle."

"Itis Vernon's Holy Tree the young rascal has been despoiling"said SirWilloughby merrily.

MissMiddleton was informed that this double-blossom wildcherry-treewas worshipped by Mr. Whitford.

SirWilloughby promised he would conduct her to it.

"You"he said to her"can bear the trial; few complexions can;it is tomost ladies a crueller test than snow. Miss Daleforexamplebecomes old lace within a dozen yards of it. I shouldlike toplace her under the tree beside you."

"Dearmethough; but that is investing the hamadryad with novelandterrible functions" exclaimed Dr. Middleton.

Clarasaid: "Miss Dale could drag me into a superior Court to showme fadingbeside her in gifts more valuable than a complexion."

"Shehas a fine ability" said Vernon.

All theworld knewso Clara knew of Miss Dales romantic admirationof SirWilloughby; she was curious to see Miss Dale and study thenature ofa devotion that might bewithin reasonimitable--fora man whocould speak with such steely coldness of the poor ladyhe hadfascinated? Wellperhaps it was good for the hearts ofwomen tobe beneath a frost; to be schooledrestrainedturnedinward ontheir dreams. Yesthenhis coldness was desireable; itencouragedan ideal of him. It suggested and seemed to propose toClara'smind the divineness of separation instead of the deadlyaccuracyof an intimate perusal. She tried to look on him as MissDale mightlookand while partly despising her for the dupery sheenviedand more than criticizing him for the inhuman numbness ofsentimentwhich offered up his worshipper to point a complimentarycomparisonshe was able to imagine a distance whence it would bepossibleto observe him uncriticallykindlyadmiringly; as themoon ahandsome mortalfor example.

In themidst of her thoughtsshe surprised herself by saying: "Icertainlywas difficult to instruct. I might see things clearer ifI had afine ability. I never remember to have been perfectlypleasedwith my immediate lesson . . ."

Shestoppedwondering whither her tongue was leading her; thenaddedtosave herself"And that may be why I feel for poorCrossjay."

Mr.Whitford apparently did not think it remarkable that sheshouldhave been set off gabbling of "a fine ability"though theeulogisticphrase had been pronounced by him with animpressivenessto make his ear aware of an echo.

SirWilloughby dispersed her vapourish confusion. "Exactly" hesaid. "Ihave insisted with VernonI don't know how oftenthatyou musthave the lad by his affections. He won't bear driving. Ithad noeffect on me. Boys of spirit kick at it. I think I knowboysClara."

He foundhimself addressing eyes that regarded him as though hewere asmall specka pin's headin the circle of their remotecontemplation.They were wide; they closed.

She openedthem to gaze elsewhere.

He wasvery sensitive.

Even thenwhen knowingly wounding himor because of itshe wastrying toclimb back to that altitude of the thin division ofneutralgroundfrom which we see a lover's faults and are abovethempuresurveyors. She climbed unsuccessfullyit is true; soondespairingand using the effort as a pretext to fall back lower.

Dr.Middleton withdrew Sir Willoughby's attention from theimperceptibleannoyance. "Nosirno: the birch! the birch! Boysof spiritcommonly turn into solid menand the solider the menthe moresurely do they vote for Busby. For meI pray he may beimmortalin Great Britain. Sea-air nor mountain-air is half sobracing. Iventure to say that the power to take a licking isbetterworth having than the power to administer one. Horse himand birchhim if Crossjay runs from his books."

"Itis your opinionsir?" his host bowed to him affablyshockedon behalfof the ladies.

"Sopositively sosirthat I will undertakewithout knowledgeof theirantecedentsto lay my finger on the men in public lifewho havenot had early Busby. They are ill-balanced men. Their seatof reasonis not a concrete. They won't take rough and smooth asthey come.They make bad bloodcan't forgivesniff right andleft forapprobationand are excited to anger if an East winddoes notflatter them. Whysirwhen they have grown to beseniorsyou find these men mixed up with the nonsense of theiryouth; yousee they are unthrashed. We English beat the worldbecause wetake a licking well. I hold it for a surety of a propersweetnessof blood."

The smileof Sir Willoughby waxed ever softer as the shakes of hisheadincreased in contradictoriness. "And yet" said hewiththeair ofconceding a little after having answered the Rev. Doctorandconvicted him of error"Jack requires it to keep him inorder. Onboard ship your argument may apply. NotI suspectamonggentlemen. No."

"Good-nightto yougentlemen!" said Dr. Middleton.

Claraheard Miss Eleanor and Miss Isabel interchange remarks:

"Willoughbywould not have suffered it!"

"Itwould entirely have altered him!"

She sighedand put a tooth on her under-lip. The gift of humourousfancy isin women fenced round with forbidding placards; they haveto chokeit; if they perceive a piece of humourfor instancetheyoungWilloughby grasped by his master--and his horrifiedrelativesrigid at the sight of preparations for the seed ofsacrilegethey have to blindfold the mind's eye. They aresociety'shard-drilled soldiery. Prussians that must both marchand thinkin step. It is for the advantage of the civilized worldif youlikesince men have decreed itor matrons have so readthedecree; but here and there a younger womanhaply anuncorrectedinsurgent of the sex matured here and therefeelsthat herlot was cast with her head in a narrower pit than herlimbs.

Claraspeculated as to whether Miss Dale might be perchance aperson ofa certain liberty of mind. She asked for some littleonly somelittlefree play of mind in a house that seemed towearasit werea cap of iron. Sir Willoughby not merely ruledhethronedhe inspired: and how? She had noticed an irasciblesensitivenessin him alert against a shadow of disagreement; andas he waskind when perfectly appeasedthe sop was offered by himforsubmission. She noticed that even Mr. Whitford forbore toalarm thesentiment of authority in his cousin. If he did notbreatheSir Willoughbylike the ladies Eleanor and Isabelhewouldeither acquiesce in a syllable or he silent. He neverstronglydissented. The habit of the housewith its iron capwason himasit was on the servants. and would beohshudders oftheshipwrecked that see their end in drowning! on the wife.

"Whendo I meet Miss Dale?" she inquired.

"Thisvery eveningat dinner" replied Sir Willoughby.

Thenthought shethere is that to look forward to.

Sheindulged her morbid fitand shut up her senses that shemight livein the anticipation of meeting Miss Dale; andlongbefore theapproach of the hourher hope of encountering anyother thananother dull adherent of Sir Willoughby had fled. Soshe waslanguid for two of the three minutes when she sat alonewithLaetitia in the drawing-room before the rest had assembled.

"Itis Miss Middleton?" Laetitia saidadvancing to her. "Myjealousytells me; for you have won my boy Crossjay's heartanddone moreto bring him to obedience in a few minutes than we havebeen ableto do in months."

"Hiswild flowers were so welcome to me" said Clara.

"Hewas very modest over them. And I mention it because boys ofhis ageusually thrust their gifts in our faces fresh as theypluckthemand you were to be treated quite differently."

"Wesaw his good fairy's hand."

"Sheresigns her office; but I pray you not to love him too well inreturn;for he ought to be away reading with one of those men whoget boysthrough their examinations. He iswe all thinka bornsailorand his place is in the navy."

"ButMiss DaleI love him so well that I shall consult hisinterestsand not my own selfishness. Andif I have influencehewill notbe a week with you longer. It should have been spoke ofto-day; Imust have been in some dream; I thought of itI know. Iwill notforget to do what may be in my power."

Clara'sheart sank at the renewed engagement and plighting ofherselfinvolved in her asking a favoururging any sort ofpetition.The cause was good. Besidesshe was plighted already.

"SirWilloughby is really fond of the boy" she said.

"Heis fond of exciting fondness in the boy" said Miss Dale. "Hehas notdealt much with children. I am sure he likes Crossjay; hecould nototherwise be so forbearing; it is wonderful what heenduresand laughs at."

SirWilloughby entered. The presence of Miss Dale illuminated himas theburning taper lights up consecrated plate. Deeplyrespectingher for her constancyesteeming her for a model oftastehewas never in her society without that happyconsciousnessof shining which calls forth the treasures of theman; andthese it is no exaggeration to term unboundedwhen allthat comesfrom him is taken for gold.

The effectof the evening on Clara was to render her distrustfulof herlater antagonism. She had unknowingly passed into thespirit ofMiss DaleSir Willoughby aiding; for she couldsympathizewith the view of his constant admirer on seeing him socordiallyand smoothly gay; as one may saydomestically wittythe mostagreeable form of wit. Mrs Mountstuart Jenkinson discernedthat hehad a leg of physical perfection; Miss Dale distinguishedit in himin the vital essence; and before either of these ladieshe was notsimply a radianthe was a productive creatureso trueit is thatpraise is our fructifying sun. He had even a touch oftheromantic air which Clara remembered as her first impression ofthefavourite of the county; and strange she found it to observethisresuscitated idea confronting her experience. What if she hadbeencaptiousinconsiderate? Ohblissful revival of the sense ofpeace! Thehappiness of pain departing was all that she lookedforandher conception of liberty was to learn to love herchainsprovided that he would spare her the caress. In this moodshesternly condemned Constantia. "We must try to do good; we mustnot bethinking of ourselves; we must make the best of our path inlife."She revolved these infantile precepts with humbleearnestness;and not to be tardy in her striving to do goodwitha remotebut pleasurable glimpse of Mr. Whitford hearing of itshe tookthe opportunity to speak to Sir Willoughby on the subjectof youngCrossjayat a moment whenalighting from horsebackhehad shownhimself to advantage among a gallant cantering company.He showedto great advantage on horseback among menbeinginvariablythe best mountedand he had a cavalierly stylepossiblycultivatedbut effective. On foot his raised head andhalf-droppedeyelids too palpably assumed superiority."WilloughbyI want to speak" she saidand shrank as she spokelest heshould immediately grant everything in the mood ofcourtshipand invade her respite; "I want to speak of that dearboyCrossjay. You are fond of him. He is rather an idle boy hereandwasting time . . ."

"Nowyou are hereand when you are here for goodmy love forgood . .." he fluttered away in loverlinessforgetful ofCrossjaywhom he presently took up. "The boy recognizes his mostsovereignladyand will do your biddingthough you should orderhim tolearn his lessons! Who would not obey? Your beauty alonecommands.But what is there beyond?--a gracea hue divinethatsets younot so much above as apartsevered from the world."

Claraproduced an active smile in dutyand pursued: "If Crossjaywere sentat once to some house where men prepare boys to pass forthe navyhe would have his chanceand the navy is distinctly hisprofession.His father is a brave manand he inherits braveryand he hasa passion for a sailor's life; only he must be able topass hisexaminationand he has not much time."

SirWilloughby gave a slight laugh in sad amusement.

"Mydear Clarayou adore the world; and I suppose you have tolearn thatthere is not a question in this wrangling world aboutwhich wehave not disputes and contests ad nauseam. I have mynotionsconcerning CrossjayVernon has his. I should wish tomake agentleman of him. Vernon marks him for a sailor. But Vernonis thelad's protectorI am not. Vernon took him from his fathertoinstruct himand he has a right to say what shall be done withhim. I donot interfere. Only I can't prevent the lad from likingme. OldVernon seems to feel it. I assure you I hold entirelyaloof. IfI am askedin spite of my disapproval of Vernon's plansfor theboyto subscribe to his departureI can but shrugbecauseas you seeI have never opposed. Old Vernon pays forhimhe isthe masterhe decidesand if Crossjay is blown fromthemasthead in a galethe blame does not fall on me. Thesemydeararematters of reason."

"Iwould not venture to intrude on them" said Clara"if Ihadnotsuspected that money ...

"Yes"cried Willoughby; "and it is a part. And let old Vernonsurrenderthe boy to meI will immediately relieve him of theburden onhis purse. Can I do thatmy dearfor the furtheranceof ascheme I condemn? The point is thus: latterly I have invitedCaptainPatterne to visit me: just previous to his departure fortheAfrican Coastwhere Government despatches Marines when thereis noother way of killing themI sent him a special invitation.He thankedme and curtly declined. The manI may almost sayismypensioner. Wellhe calls himself a Patternehe isundoubtedlya man of couragehe has elements of our bloodandthe name.I think I am to be approved for desiring to make abettergentleman of the son than I behold in the father: andseeingthat life from an early age on board ship has anything butmade agentleman of the fatherI hold that I am right in shapinganothercourse for the son."

"Navalofficers . . ." Clara suggested.

"Some"said Willoughby. "But they must be men of birthcomingout ofhomes of good breeding. Strip them of the halo of the titleof navalofficersand I fear you would not often say gentlemenwhen theystep into a drawing-room. I went so far as to fancy Ihad someclaim to make young Crossjay something different. It canbe done:the Patterne comes out in his behaviour to youmy love;it can bedone. But if I take himI claim undisputed sway overhim. Icannot make a gentleman of the fellow if I am to competewith thisperson and that. In finehe must look up to mehe musthave onemodel."

"Wouldyouthenprovide for him subsequently?"

"Accordingto his behaviour."

"Wouldnot that be precarious for him?"

"Moreso than the profession you appear inclined to choose forhim?"

"Butthere he would be under clear regulations."

"Withme he would have to respond to affection."

"Wouldyou secure to him a settled income? For an idle gentlemanis badenough; a penniless gentleman . . ."

"Hehas only to please memy dearand he will be launched andprotected."

"Butif he does not succeed in pleasing you?"

"Isit so difficult?"

"Oh!"Clara fretted.

"Youseemy loveI answer you" said Sir Willoughby.

Heresumed: "But let old Vernon have his trial with the lad. Hehas hisown ideas. Let him carry them out. I shall watch theexperiment."

Clara wasfor abandoning her task in sheer faintness.

"Isnot the question one of money?" she saidshylyknowing Mr.Whitfordto be poor.

"OldVernon chooses to spend his money that way." replied SirWilloughby."If it saves him from breaking his shins and riskinghis neckon his Alpswe may consider it well employed."

"Yes"Clara's voice occupied a pause.

She seizedher languor as it were a curling snake and cast it off."ButI understand that Mr. Whitford wants your assistance. Is henot--notrich? When he leaves the Hall to try his fortune inliteraturein Londonhe may not be so well able to supportCrossjayand obtain the instruction necessary for the boy: and itwould begenerous to help him."

"Leavesthe Hall!" exclaimed Willoughby. "I have not heard a wordof it. Hemade a bad start at the beginningand I should havethoughtthat would have tamed him: had to throw over hisFellowship;ahem. Then he received a small legacy some time backand wantedto be off to push his luck in Literature: rankgamblingas I told him. Londonizing can do him no good. I thoughtthatnonsense of his was over years ago. What is it he has fromme?--abouta hundred and fifty a year: and it might be doubledfor theasking: and all the books he requires: and these writersandscholars no sooner think of a book than they must have it. Anddo notsuppose me to complain. I am a man who will not have asingleshilling expended by those who serve immediately about myperson. Iconfess to exacting that kind of dependency. Feudalismis not anobjectionable thing if you can be sure of the lord. YouknowClaraand you should know me in my weakness tooI do notclaimservitudeI stipulate for affection. I claim to besurroundedby persons loving me. And with one? ... dearest! Sothat wetwo can shut out the world; we live what is the dream ofothers.Nothing imaginable can be sweeter. It is a veritableheaven onearth. To be the possessor of the whole of you! Yourthoughtshopesall."

SirWilloughby intensified his imagination to conceive more: hecould notor could not express itand pursued: "But what isthis talkof Vernon's leaving me? He cannot leave. He has barely ahundred ayear of his own. You seeI consider him. I do not speakof theingratitude of the wish to leave. You knowmy dearI havea deadlyabhorrence of partings and such like. As far as I canIsurroundmyself with healthy people specially to guard myself fromhaving myfeelings wrung; and excepting Miss Dalewhom you like--mydarling does like her?"--the answer satisfied him; "withthat oneexceptionI am not aware of a case that threatens totormentme. And here is a manunder no compulsiontalking ofleavingthe Hall! In the name of goodnesswhy? But why? Am I toimaginethat the sight of perfect felicity distresses him? We aretold thatthe world is 'desperately wicked'. I do not like tothink itof my friends; yet otherwise their conduct is often hardto accountfor."

"Ifit were trueyou would not punish Crossjay?" Clara feeblyinterposed.

"Ishould certainly take Crossjay and make a man of him after myown modelmy dear. But who spoke to you of this?"

"Mr.Whitford himself. And let me give you my opinionWilloughbythat hewill take Crossjay with him rather than leave himifthere is afear of the boy's missing his chance of the navy."

"Marinesappear to be in the ascendant" said Sir Willoughbyastonishedat the locution and pleading in the interests of a sonof one."Then Crossjay he must take. I cannot accept half the boy.I am"he laughed"the legitimate claimant in the application forjudgementbefore the wise king. Besidesthe boy has a dose of myblood inhim; he has none of Vernon'snot one drop."

"Ah!"

"Youseemy love?"

"OhI do see; yes."

"Iput forth no pretensions to perfection" Sir Willoughbycontinued."I can bear a considerable amount of provocation; stillI can beoffendedand I am unforgiving when I have beenoffended.Speak to Vernonif a natural occasion should springup. Ishallof coursehave to speak to him. You mayClarahaveobserved aman who passed me on the road as we were canteringhomewithout a hint of a touch to his hat. That man is a tenant ofminefarming six hundred acresHoppner by name: a man bound torememberthat I haveindependently of my positionobliged himfrequently.His lease of my ground has five years to run. I mustsay Idetest the churlishness of our country populationand whereit comesacross me I chastise it. Vernon is a different matter: hewill onlyrequire to be spoken to. One would fancy the old fellowlabourednow and then under a magnetic attraction to beggary. Mylove"he bent to her and checked their pacing up and down"youaretired?"

"I amvery tired to-day" said Clara.
His armwas offered. She laid two fingers on itand they droppedwhen heattempted to press them to his rib.

He did notinsist. To walk beside her was to share in thestatelinessof her walking.

He placedhimself at a corner of the door-way for her to pass himinto thehouseand doated on her cheekher earand the softlydusky napeof her neckwhere this way and that the littlelighter-colouredirreclaimable curls running truant from the comb andtheknot--curlshalf-curlsroot-curlsvine-ringletswedding-ringsfledgling featherstufts of downblown wisps--wavedor fellwaved over or up or involutedlyor strayedloose anddownwardin the form of small silken pawshardly any of them muchthickerthan a crayon shadingcunninger than long round locks ofgold totrick the heart.

Laetitiahad nothing to show resembling such beauty.

 

 

CHAPTER X

InWhich Sir Willoughby Chances to Supply the Title for Himself

 

Now Vernonwas useful to his cousin; he was the accomplished secretaryof a manwho governed his estate shrewdly and diligentlybut hadbeen onceor twice unlucky in his judgements pronounced from themagisterialbench as a justice of the Peaceon which occasions ahalfcolumn of trenchant English supported by an apposite classicalquotationimpressed Sir Willoughby with the value of such a secretaryin acontroversy. He had no fear of that fiery dragon of scorchingbreath--thenewspaper press--while Vernon was his right hand man;and as heintended to enter Parliamenthe foresaw the greater needof him.Furthermorehe liked his cousin to date his owncontroversialwritingson classical subjectsfrom Patterne Hall. Itcaused hishouse to shine in a foreign field; proved the service ofscholarshipby giving it a flavour of a bookish aristocracy thatthough notso well worth havingand indeed in itself contemptibleis abovethe material and titular; one cannot quite say how. Therehoweveris the flavour. Dainty sauces are the lifethe nobilityoffamousdishes; taken alonethe former would be nauseatingthelatterplebeian. It is thusor somewhat sowhen you have a poetstillbetter a scholarattached to your household. Sir Willoughbydeservedto have himfor he was above his county friends in hisapprehensionof the flavour bestowed by the man; and having himhehad madethem conscious of their deficiency. His cookM. Dehorspupil ofthe great Godefroywas not the only French cook in thecounty;but his cousin and secretarythe rising scholartheelegantessayistwas an unparalleled decoration; of his kindofcourse.Personally. we laugh at him; you had better notunless youare fainto show that the higher world of polite literature isunknown toyou. Sir Willoughby could create an abject silence at acountydinner-table by an allusion to Vernon "at work at home upon hisEtruscansor his Dorians"; and he paused a moment to let the allusionsinklaughed audibly to himself over his eccentric cousinand lethim rest.

InadditionSir Willoughby abhorred the loss of a familiar facein hisdomestic circle. He thought ill of servants who couldaccepttheir dismissal without petitioning to stay with him. Aservantthat gave warning partook of a certain fiendishness.Vernon'sproject of leaving the Hall offended and alarmed thesensitivegentleman. "I shall have to hand Letty Dale to him atlast!"he thoughtyielding in bitter generosity to the conditionsimposed onhim by the ungenerousness of another. Forsince hisengagementto Miss Middletonhis electrically forethoughtful mindhad seenin Miss Daleif she stayed in the neighbourhoodandremainedunmarriedthe governess of his infant childrenoftenconsultingwith him. But here was a prospect dashed out. The twothenmaymarryand live in a cottage on the borders of his park;and Vernoncan retain his postand Laetitia her devotion. Therisk ofher casting it of had to be faced. Marriage has been knownto havesuch an effect on the most faithful of women that agreatpassion fades to naught in their volatile bosoms when theyhave takena husband. We see in women especially the triumph.ofthe animalover the spiritual. Neverthelessrisks must be runfor apurpose in view.

Having notaste for a discussion with Vernonwhom it was hishabit toconfound by breaking away from him abruptly when he haddeliveredhis opinionhe left it to both the persons interestingthemselvesin young Crossjay to imagine that he was meditating onthequestion of the ladand to imagine that it would be wise toleave himto meditate; for he could be preternaturally acute inreadingany of his fellow-creatures if they crossed the current ofhisfeelings. Andmeanwhilehe instructed the ladies Eleanor andIsabel tobring Laetitia Dale on a visit to the Hallwheredinner-partieswere soon to be given and a pleasing talker wouldbe wantedwhere also a woman of intellectsteeped in a splendidsentimenthitherto a miracle of female constancymight stir ayoungerwoman to some emulation. Definitely to resolve to bestowLaetitiaupon Vernon was more than he could do; enough that heheld thecard.

RegardingClarahis genius for perusing the heart which was notin perfectharmony with him through the series of responsivemovementsto his owninformed him of a something in her characterthat mighthave suggested to Mrs Mountstuart Jenkinson herindefensibleabsurd "rogue in porcelain". Idea there was none inthatphrase; yetif you looked on Clara as a delicatelyinimitableporcelain beautythe suspicion of a delicatelyinimitableripple over her features touched a thought of innocentroguerywildwood roguery; the likeness to the costly and lovelysubstanceappeared to admit a fitness in the dubious epithet. Hedetestedbut was haunted by the phrase.

Shecertainly had at times the look of the nymph that has gazedtoo longon the faunand has unwittingly copied his lurking lipand longsliding eye. Her play with young Crossjay resembled areturn ofthe lady to the cat; she flung herself into it as if herrealvitality had been in suspense till she saw the boy. SirWilloughbyby no means disapproved of a physical liveliness thatpromisedhim health in his mate; but he began to feel in theirconversationsthat she did not sufficiently think of makingherself anest for him. Steely points were opposed to him when hefigurativelybared his bosom to be taken to the softest andfairest.She reasoned: in other wordsarmed her ignorance. Shereasonedagainst him publiclyand lured Vernon to support her.Influenceis to be counted for powerand her influence overVernon wasdisplayed in her persuading him to dance one evening atLadyCulmer'safter his melancholy exhibitions of himself in theart; andnot only did she persuade him to stand up fronting hershemanoeuvred him through the dance like a clever boy cajoling atop tocome to him without reelingboth to Vernon's contentmentand to SirWilloughby's; for he was the last man to object to amanifestationof power in his bride. Considering her influencewithVernonhe renewed the discourse upon young Crossjay; andashe wasaddicted to systemhe took her into his confidencethatshe mightbe taught to look to him and act for him.

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

"YesMr. Whitford has asked me."

"Hedoes not ask memy dear!"

"Hemay fancy me of greater aid than I am."

"Youseemy loveif he puts Crossjay on mehe will be off. Hehas thiscraze for 'enlisting' his pen in Londonas he calls it;and I amaccustomed to him; I don't like to think of him as ahackscribewriting nonsense from dictation to earn a pitifulsubsistence;I want him here; andsupposing he goeshe offendsme; heloses a friend; and it will not he the first time that afriend hastried me too far; but if he offends mehe is extinct."

"Iswhat?" cried Clarawith a look of fright.

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

"Inspite of your affection?"

"Onaccount of itI might say. Our nature is mysteriousand mineas much soas any. Whatever my regretshe goes out. This is not alanguage Italk to the world. I do the man no harm; I am not to benamedunchristian. But ... !"

SirWilloughby mildly shruggedand indicated a spreading out ofthe arms.

"Butdodo talk to me as you talk to the worldWilloughby; giveme somerelief!"

"Myown Clarawe are one. You should know me at my worstwe willsayifyou likeas well as at my best."

"ShouldI speak too?"

"Whatcould you have to confess?"

She hungsilent; the wave of an insane resolution swelled in herbosom andsubsided before she said"Cowardiceincapacity tospeak."

"Women!"said he.

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

Heresumedand by his tone she understood that she was now in theinnertemple of him: "I tell you these things; I quite acknowledgethey donot elevate me. They help to constitute my character. Itell youmost humbly that I have in me much--too much of thefallenarchangel's pride."

Clarabowed her head over a sustained in-drawn breath.

"Itmust be pride" he saidin a reverie superinduced by herthoughtfulnessover the revelationand glorying in the blackflamesdemoniacal wherewith he crowned himself.

"Canyou not correct it?" said she.

Herepliedprofoundly vexed by disappointment: "I am what I am.It mightbe demonstrated to you mathematically that it iscorrectedby equivalents or substitutions in my character. If itbe afailing--assuming that."

"Itseems one to me: so cruelly to punish Mr. Whitford for seekingto improvehis fortunes."

"Hereflects on my share in his fortunes. He has had but to applyto me forhis honorarium to be doubled."

"Hewishes for independence."

"Independenceof me!"

"Liberty!"

"Atmy expense!"

"OhWilloughby!"

"Aybut this is the worldand I know itmy love; and beautifulas yourincredulity may beyou will find it more comforting toconfide inmy knowledge of the selfishness of the world. Mysweetestyou will?--you do! For a breath of difference betweenus isintolerable. Do you not feel how it breaks our magic ring?One smallfissureand we have the world with its muddy deluge!--But mysubject was old Vernon. YesI pay for Crossjayif Vernonconsentsto stay. I waive my own scheme for the ladthough Ithink itthe better one. Nowthento induce Vernon to stay. Hehas hisideas about staying under a mistress of the household; andthereforenot to contest it--he is a man of no argument; a sortof lunaticdetermination takes the place of it with old Vernon!--let himsettle close by mein one of my cottages; very welland tosettle him we must marry him."

"Whois there?" said Clarabeating for the lady in her mind.

"Women"said Willoughby"are born match-makersand the mostpersuasiveis a young bride. With a man--and a man like old Vernon!--she isirresistible. It is my wishand that arms you. It is yourwishthatsubjugates him. If he goeshe goes for good. If hestaysheis my friend. I deal simply with himas with every one.It is thesecret of authority. Now Miss Dale will soon lose herfather. Heexists on a pension; she has the prospect of having toleave theneighbourhood of the Hallunless she is establishednear us.Her whole heart is in this region; it is the poor soul'spassion.Count on her agreeing. But she will require a littlewooing:and old Vernon wooing! Picture the scene to yourselfmylove. Hisnotion of wooing. I suspectwill be to treat the ladylike alexiconand turn over the leaves for the wordand flythroughthe leaves for another wordand so get a sentence. Don'tfrown atthe poor old fellowmy Clara; some have the language ontheirtonguesand some have not. Some are very dry sticks; manlymenhonest fellowsbut so cut awayso polished away from thesexthatthey are in absolute want of outsiders to supply thesilkenfilaments to attach them. Actually!" Sir Willoughby laughedin Clara'sface to relax the dreamy stoniness of her look. "But Ican assureyoumy dearestI have seen it. Vernon does not knowhow tospeak--as we speak. He hasor he hadwhat is called asneakingaffection for Miss Dale. It was the most amusing thingpossible;his courtship!--the air of a dog with an uneasyconsciencetrying to reconcile himself with his master! We wereall infits of laughter. Of course it came to nothing."

"WillMr. Whitford" said Clara"offend you to extinction if hedeclines?"

Willoughbybreathed an affectionate "Tush!" to her silliness.

"Webring them togetheras we best can. You seeClaraI desireand I willmake some sacrifices to detain him."

"Butwhat do you sacrifice?--a cottage?" said Claracombative atallpoints.

"Anidealperhaps. I lay no stress on sacrifice. I stronglyobject toseparations. And thereforeyou will sayI prepare theground forunions? Put your influence to good servicemy love. Ibelieveyou could persuade him to give us the Highland fling onthedrawing-room table."

"Thereis nothing to say to him of Crossjay?"

"Wehold Crossjay in reserve."

"Itis urgent."

"Trustme. I have my ideas. I am not idle. That boy bids fair fora capitalhorseman. Eventualities might . . ." Sir Willoughbymurmuredto himselfand addressing his bride"The cavalry? If weput himinto the cavalrywe might make a gentleman of him--notbe ashamedof him. Orunder certain eventualitiesthe Guards.Think itovermy love. De Crayewho willI supposeact bestman formesupposing old Vernon to pull at the collaris aLieutenant-Colonelin the Guardsa thorough gentleman--of thebrainlessclassif you likebut an elegant fellow; an Irishman;you willsee himand I should like to set a naval lieutenantbeside himin a drawingroomfor you to compare them and considerthe modelyou would choose for a boy you are interested in. Horaceis graceand gallantry incarnate; fatuousprobably: I have alwaysbeen toofriendly with him to examine closely. He made himselfone of mydogsthough my elderand seemed to like to be at myheels. Oneof the few men's faces I can call admirably handsome;--withnothing behind itperhaps. As Vernon says'a nothingpicked bythe vultures and bleached by the desert'. Not a badtalkerifyou are satisfied with keeping up the ball. He willamuse you.Old Horace does not know how amusing he is!"

"DidMr. Whitford say that of Colonel De Craye?"

"Iforget the person of whom he said it. So you have noticed oldVernon'sfoible? Quote him one of his epigramsand he is inmotionhead and heels! It is an infallible receipt for tuning him.If I wantto have him in good temperI have only to remark'asyou said'.I straighten his back instantly."

"I"said Clara"have noticed chiefly his anxiety concerning theboy; forwhich I admire him."

"Creditableif not particularly far-sighted and sagacious. wellthenmydearattack him at once; lead him to the subject of ourfairneighbour. She is to be our guest for a week or soand thewholeaffair might be concluded far enough to fix him before sheleaves.She is at present awaiting the arrival of a cousin toattend onher father. A little gentle pushing will precipitate oldVernon onhis knees as far as he ever can unbend them; but when alady ismade ready to expect a declarationyou knowwhyshedoesnot--does she?--demand the entire formula?--though somebeautifulfortresses . . ."

Heenfolded her. Clara was growing hardened to it. To this she wasfated; andnot seeing any way to escapeshe invoked a friendlyfrost tostrike her bloodand passed through the minuteunfeelingly.Having passed itshe reproached herself for makingso much ofitthinking it a lesser endurance than to listen tohim. Whatcould she do?--she was caged; by her word of honourasshe at onetime thought; by her cowardiceat another; and dimlysensiblethat the latter was a stronger lock than the formershemused onthe abstract question whether a woman's cowardice can besoabsolute as to cast her into the jaws of her aversion. Is it tobeconceived? Is there not a moment when it stands at bay? Buthaggard-visagedHonour then starts up claiming to be dealt with inturn; forhaving courage restored to hershe must have thecourage tobreak with honourshe must dare to be faithlessandnot merelysayI will be bravebut be brave enough to bedishonourable.The cage of a plighted woman hungering for herdisengagementhas two keepersa noble and a vile; where on earthiscreature so dreadfully enclosed? It lies with her to overcomewhatdegrades herthat she may win to liberty by overcoming whatexalts.

Contemplatingher situationthis idea (or vapour of youth takingthegod-like semblance of an idea) sprangborn of her presentsicknessin Clara's mind; that it must be an ill-constructedtumblingworld where the hour of ignorance is made the creator ofourdestiny by being forced to the decisive elections upon whichlife'smain issues hang. Her teacher had brought her tocontemplatehis view of the world.

Shethought likewise: how must a man despise womenwho can exposehimself ashe does to me!

MissMiddleton owed it to Sir Willoughby Patterne that she ceasedto thinklike a girl. When had the great change begun? Glancingbackshecould imagine that it was near the period we call inlove thefirst--almost from the first. And she was led to imagineit throughhaving become barred from imagining her own emotions ofthatseason. They were so dead as not to arise even under the formof shadowsin fancy. Without imputing blame to himfor she wasreasonableso farshe deemed herself a person entrapped. In adreamsomehow she had committed herself to a life-longimprisonment;andoh terror! not in a quiet dungeon; the barrenwallsclosed round hertalkedcalled for ardourexpectedadmiration.

She wasunable to say why she could not give it; why she retreatedmore andmore inwardly; why she invoked the frost to kill hertenderestfeelings. She was in revoltuntil a whisper of the dayof bellsreduced her to blank submission; out of which a breath ofpeace drewher to revolt again in gradual rapid stagesand oncemore theaspect of that singular day of merry blackness felled herto earth.It was aliveit advancedit had a mouthit had asong. Shereceived letters of bridesmaids writing of itand feltthem aswaves that hurl a log of wreck to shore. Following whichafflictingsense of antagonism to the whole circle sweeping onwith hershe considered the possibility of her being in acommencementof madness. Otherwise might she not be accused of acapriciousnessquite as deplorable to consider? She had written tocertain ofthese young ladies not very long since of thisgentleman--how?--inwhat tone? And was it her madness then?--herrecovery now? It seemed to her that to have written of himenthusiasticallyresembled madness more than to shudder away fromthe union;but standing aloneopposing all she has consented toset inmotionis too strange to a girl for perfect justificationto befound in reason when she seeks it.

SirWilloughby was destined himself to supply her with that key ofspecialinsight which revealed and stamped him in a title tofortifyher spirit of revoltconsecrate it almost.

Thepopular physician of the county and famous anecdotal witDr.Corneyhad been a guest at dinner overnightand the next daythere wastalk of himand of the resources of his art displayedby ArmandDehors on his hearing that he was to minister to thetastes ofa gathering of hommes d'esprit. Sir Willoughby glanced atDehorswith his customary benevolent irony in speaking of thepersonsgreat in their waywho served him. "Why he cannot giveus dailyso good a dinnerone mustI supposego to Frenchnature tolearn. The French are in the habit of making up for alltheirdeficiencies with enthusiasm. They have no reverence; if Ihad saidto him'I want something particularly excellentDehors'Ishould have had a commonplace dinner. But they haveenthusiasmon draughtand that is what we must pull at. Know oneFrenchmanand you know France. I have had Dehors under my eye twoyearsandI can mount his enthusiasm at a word. He took hommesd'espritto denote men of letters. Frenchmen have destroyed theirnobilitysofor the sake of excitementthey put up the literaryman--notto worship him; that they can't do; it's to putthemselvesin a state of effervescence. They will not have realgreatnessabove themso they have sham. That they may justly callitequalityperhaps! Ayfor all your shake of the headmy goodVernon!You seehuman nature comes round againtry as we may toupset itand the French only differ from us in wading throughblood todiscover that they are at their old trick once more; "Iam yourequalsiryour born equal. Oh! you are a man of letters?Allow meto be in a bubble about you!" YesVernonand I believethe fellowlooks up to you as the head of the establishment. I amnotjealous. Provided he attends to his functions! There's aFrenchphilosopher who's for naming the days of the year afterthebirthdays of French men of letters. Voltaire-dayRousseau-dayRacine-dayso on. Perhaps Vernon will inform us who takes April1st."

"Afew trifling errors are of no consequence when you are in thevein ofsatire" said Vernon. "Be satisfied with knowing a nationin theperson of a cook."

"Theymay be reading us English off in a jockey!" said Dr.Middleton."I believe that jockeys are the exchange we make forcooks; andour neighbours do not get the best of the bargain."

"No;butmy dear good Vernonit's nonsensical" said SirWilloughby;"why be bawling every day the name of men ofletters?"

"Philosophers."

"Wellphilosophers."

"Ofall countries and times. And they are the benefactors ofhumanity."

"Bene--!"Sir Willoughby's derisive laugh broke the word."There'sa pretension in all thatirreconcilable with Englishsoundsense. Surely you see it?"

"Wemight" said Vernon"if you likegive alternative titlestothe daysor have alternating daysdevoted to our great familiesthatperformed meritorious deeds upon such a day."

The rebelClaradelighting in his banterwas heard: "Can wefurnishsufficient?"

"Apoet or two could help us."

"Perhapsa statesman" she suggested.

"Apugilistif wanted."

"Forblowy days" observed Dr. Middletonand hastily in penitencepicked upthe conversation he had unintentionally prostratedwitha generalremark on new-fangled notionsand a word aside toVernon;which created the blissful suspicion in Clara that herfather wasindisposed to second Sir Willoughby's opinions evenwhensharing them.

SirWilloughby had led the conversation. Displeased that the leadshould bewithdrawn from himhe turned to Clara and related oneof theafter-dinner anecdotes of Dr. Corney; and anotherwith avast dealof human nature in itconcerning a valetudinariangentlemanwhose wife chanced to be desperately illand he wentto thephysicians assembled in consultation outside the sick-roomimploringthem by all he valuedand in tearsto save the poorpatientfor himsaying: "She is everything to meeverything; andif shedies I am compelled to run the risks of marrying again; Imust marryagain; for she has accustomed me so to the littleattentionsof a wifethat in truth I can't. I can't lose her! Shemust besaved!" And the loving husband of any devoted wife wrunghis hands.

"NowthereClarathere you have the Egoist" added SirWilloughby."That is the perfect Egoist. You see what he comes to--and hiswife! The man was utterly unconscious of giving vent tothegrossest selfishness."

"AnEgoist!" said Clara.

"Bewareof marrying an Egoistmy dear!" He bowed gallantly; andso blindlyfatuous did he appear to herthat she could hardlybelievehim guilty of uttering the words she had heard from himand kepther eyes on him vacantly till she came to a sudden fullstop inthe thoughts directing her gaze. She looked at Vernonshe lookedat her fatherand at the ladies Eleanor and Isabel.None ofthem saw the man in the wordnone noticed the word; yetthis wordwas her medical herbher illuminating lampthe key ofhim (andalasbut she thought it by feeling her need of one)theadvocate pleading in apology for her. Egoist! She beheld him--unfortunateselfdesignated man that he was!--in his goodqualitiesas well as bad under the implacable lampand his goodweredrenched in his first person singular. His generosity roaredof Ilouder than the rest. Conceive him at the age of Dr. Corney'shero:"Praysave my wife for me. I shall positively have to getanother ifI lose herand one who may not love me half so wellorunderstand the peculiarities of my character and appreciate myattitudes."He was in his thirty-second yeartherefore a youngmanstrong and healthyyet his garrulous return to his principalthemehisemphasis on I and melent him the seeming of an oldmanspotted with decaying youth.

"Bewareof marrying an Egoist."

Would hehelp her to escape? The idea of the scene ensuing uponherpetition for releaseand the being dragged round the walls ofhisegoismand having her head knocked against the cornersalarmedher with sensations of sickness.

There wasthe example of Constantia. But that desperate young ladyhad beenassisted by a gallantloving gentleman; she had met aCaptainOxford.

Clarabrooded on those two until they seemed heroic. Shequestionedherself. Could she . . .? were one to come? She shuther eyesin languorleaning the wrong way of her wishesyetunable tosay No.

SirWilloughby had positively said beware! Marrying him would be adeedcommitted in spite of his express warning. She went so faras toconceive him subsequently saying: "I warned you." Sheconceivedthe state of marriage with him as that of a woman tiednot to aman of heartbut to an obelisk lettered all over withhieroglyphicsand everlastingly hearing him expound themrelishingrenewing his lectures on them.

Fullsurely this immovable stone-man would not release her. Thispetrifactionof egoism would from amazedly to austerely refuse thepetition.His pride would debar him from understanding her desireto bereleased. And if she resolved on itwithout doing itstraightwayin Constantia's mannerthe miserable bewilderment ofherfatherfor whom such a complication would be a tragicdilemmahad to be thought of. Her fatherwith all his tendernessfor hischildwould make a stand on the point of honour; thoughcertain toyield to herhe would be distressed in a tempest ofworry; andDr. Middleton thus afflicted threw up his armsheshunnedbooksshunned speechand resembled a castaway on theoceanwith nothing between himself and his calamity. As for theworlditwould be barking at her heels. She might call the manshewrenched her hand fromEgoist; jiltthe world would callher. Shedwelt bitterly on her agreement with Sir Willoughbyregardingthe worldlaying it to his charge that her garden hadbecome aplace of nettlesher horizon an unlighted fourth side ofa square.

Clarapassed from person to person visiting the Hall. There wasuniversaland as she was compelled to seehonest admiration ofthe host.Not a soul had a suspicion of his cloaked nature. Heragony ofhypocrisy in accepting their compliments as the bride ofSirWilloughby Patterne was poorly moderated by contempt of themfor theirinfatuation. She tried to cheat herself with the thoughtthat theywere right and that she was the foolish and wickedinconstant.In her anxiety to strangle the rebelliousness whichhad beencommunicated from her mind to her bloodand was presentwith herwhether her mind was in action or notshe encouraged theladiesEleanor and Isabel to magnify the fictitious man of theiridolatryhoping that she might enter into them imaginativelythat shemight to some degree subdue herself to the necessity ofherposition. If she partly succeeded in stupefying herantagonismfive minutes of him undid the work.

Herequested her to wear the Patterne pearls for a dinner-party ofgrandladiestelling her that he would commission Miss Isabel totake themto her. Clara begged leave to decline themon the pleaof havingno right to wear them. He laughed at her modish modesty."Butreally it might almost be classed with affectation" said he."Igive you the right. Virtually you are my wife."

"No."

"Beforeheaven?"

"No.We are not married."

"Asmy betrothedwill you wear themto please me?"

"Iwould rather not. I cannot wear borrowed jewels. These I cannotwear.Forgive meI cannot. AndWilloughby" she saidscorningherselffor want of fortitude in not keeping to the simply bluntprovocativerefusal"does one not look like a victim decked forthesacrifice?--the garlanded heifer you see on Greek vasesinthat arrayof jewellery?"

"Mydear Clara!" exclaimed the astonished lover"how can youtermthemborrowedwhen they are the Patterne jewelsour familyheirloompearlsunmatchedI venture to affirmdecidedly in mycounty andmany othersand passing to the use of the mistress ofthe housein the natural course of things?"

"Theyare yoursthey are not mine."

"Prospectivelythey are yours."

"Itwould be to anticipate the fact to wear them."

"Withmy consentmy approval? at my request?"

"I amnot yet . . . I never may be . . ."

"Mywife?" He laughed triumphantlyand silenced her by manlysmothering.

Herscruple was perhaps an honourable onehe said. Perhaps thejewelswere safer in their iron box. He had merely intended asurpriseand gratification to her.

Couragewas coming to enable her to speak more plainlywhen hisdiscontinuingto insist on her wearing the jewelsunder anappearanceof deference of her wishesdisarmed her by touchinghersympathies.

She saidhowever"I fear we do not often agreeWilloughby."

"Whenyou are a little older!" was the irritating answer.

"Itwould then be too late to make the discovery."

"ThediscoveryI apprehendis not imperativemy love."

"Itseems to me that our minds are opposed."

"Ishould" said he"have been awake to it at a singleindicationbe sure."

"ButI know" she pursued"I have learned that the ideal ofconductfor women is to subject their minds to the part of anaccompaniment."

"Forwomenmy love? my wife will be in natural harmony with me."

"Ah!"She compressed her lips. The yawn would come. "I am sleepierhere thananywhere."

"Oursmy Clarais the finest air of the kingdom. It has theeffect ofsea-air."

"Butif I am always asleep here?"

"Weshall have to make a public exhibition of the Beauty."

This dashof his liveliness defeated her.

She lefthimfeeling the contempt of the brain feverishlyquickenedand fine-pointedfor the brain chewing the cud in thehappypastures of unawakedness. So violent was the feverso keenherintrospectionthat she spared fewand Vernon was not amongthem.Young Crossjaywhom she considered the least able of all toact as anallywas the only one she courted with a real desire topleasehimhe was the one she affectionately envied; he was theyoungestthe freesthe had the world before himand he did notknow howhorrible the world wasor could be made to look. Sheloved theboy from expecting nothing of him. OthersVernonWhitfordfor instancecould helpand moved no hand. He read hercase. Ascrutiny so penetrating under its air of abstractthoughtfulnessthough his eyes did but rest on her a second ortwosignified that he read her line by lineand to the end--exceptingwhat she thought of him for probing her with that sharpsteel ofinsight without a purpose.

She knewher mind's injustice. It was her caseher lamentablecase--theimpatient panic-stricken nerves of a captured wildcreaturewhich cried for help. She exaggerated her sufferings togetstrength to throw them offand lost it in the recognitionthat theywere exaggerated: and out of the conflict issuedrecklessnesswith a cry as wild as any coming of madness; for shedid notblush in saying to herself. "If some one loved me!" Beforehearing ofConstantiashe had mused upon liberty as a virginGoddess--menwere out of her thoughts; even the figure of arescuerif one dawned in her mindwas more angel than hero. Thatfairchildish maidenliness had ceased. With her body straining inherdragon's graspwith the savour of loathingunable tocontendunable to speak aloudshe began to speak to herselfandall thehealth of her nature made her outcry womanly: "If I wereloved!"--notfor the sake of lovebut for free breathing; andherutterance of it was to insure life and enduringness to thewishasthe yearning of a mother on a drowning ship is to get herinfant toshore. "If some noble gentleman could see me as I am andnotdisdain to aid me! Oh! to be caught up out of this prison ofthorns andbrambles. I cannot tear my own way out. I am a coward.My cry forhelp confesses that. A beckoning of a finger wouldchange meI believe. I could fly bleeding and through hootings toa comrade.Oh! a comrade! I do not want a lover. I should findanotherEgoistnot so badbut enough to make me take a breathlikedeath. I could follow a soldierlike poor Sally or Molly. Hestakes hislife for his countryand a woman may be proud of theworst ofmen who do that. Constantia met a soldier. Perhaps sheprayed andher prayer was answered. She did ill. Butohhow Ilove herfor it! His name was Harry Oxford. Papa would call himherPerseus. She must have felt that there was no explaining whatshesuffered. She had only to actto plunge. First she fixed hermind onHarry Oxford. To be able to speak his name and see himawaitinghermust have been reliefa reprieve. She did notwavershecut the linksshe signed herself over. Ohbrave girl!what doyou think of me? But I have no Harry WhitfordI am alone.Letanything be said against women; we must be very bad to havesuch badthings written of us: onlysay thisthat to ask them tosignthemselves over by oath and ceremonybecause of an ignorantpromiseto the man they have been mistaken inis . . . it is--"the suddenconsciousness that she had put another name for Oxfordstruck hera buffetdrowning her in crimson.

 

 

CHAPTER XI

TheDouble-Blossom Wild Cherry-Tree

 

SirWilloughby chose a moment when Clara was with him and he had agoodretreat through folding-windows to the lawnin case ofcogency onthe enemy's partto attack his cousin regarding thepreposterousplot to upset the family by a scamper to London: "Bythe wayVernonwhat is this you've been mumbling to everybodysave meabout leaving us to pitch yourself into the stew-pot andbe madebroth of? London is no betterand you are fit forconsiderablybetter. Don'tI beg youcontinue to annoy me. Takea runabroadif you are restless. Take two or three monthsandjoin us aswe are travelling home; and then think of settlingpray.Follow my exampleif you like. You can have one of mycottagesor a place built for you. Anything to keep a man fromdestroyingthe sense of stability about one. In Londonmy dearoldfellowyou lose your identity. What are you there? I ask youwhat? Onehas the feeling of the house crumbling when a man isperpetuallyfor shifting and cannot fix himself. Here you areknownyoucan study at your ease; up in London you are nobody; Itell youhonestlyI feel it myself.a week of London literallydrives mehome to discover the individual where I left him. Beadvised.You don't mean to go."

"Ihave the intention" said Vernon.

"Why?"

"I'vementioned it to you."

"Tomy face?"

"Overyour shoulder is generally the only chance you give me."

"Youhave not mentioned it to meto my knowledge. As to thereasonImight hear a dozen of your reasonsand I should notunderstandone. It's against your interests and against my wishes.ComefriendI am not the only one you distress. WhyVernonyouyourselfhave said that the English would be very perfect Jews ifthey couldmanage to live on the patriarchal system. You said ityesyousaid it!--but I recollect it clearly. Ohas for yourdouble-meaningsyou said the thingand you jeered at theincapacityof English families to live togetheron account of badtemper;and now you are the first to break up our union! Idecidedlydo not profess to be a perfect Jewbut I do . . ."

SirWilloughby caught signs of a probably smiling commerce betweenhis brideand his cousin. He raised his faceappeared to beconsultinghis eyelidsand resolved to laugh: "WellI own it. Ido likethe idea of living patriarchally." He turned to Clara."TheRev. Doctor one of us!"

"Myfather?" she said.

"Whynot?"

"Papa'shabits are those of a scholar."

"Thatyou might not be separated from himmy dear!"

Clarathanked Sir Willoughby for the kindness of thinking of herfathermentally analysing the kindnessin which at least shefound nounkindnessscarcely egoismthough she knew it to bethere.

"Wemight propose it" said he..

"As acompliment?"

"Ifhe would condescend to accept it as a compliment. These greatscholars!... And if Vernon goesour inducement for Dr. Middletonto stay... But it is too absurd for discussion.. OhVernonaboutMaster Crossjay; I will see to it."

He wasabout to give Vernon his shoulder and step into thegardenwhen Clara said"You will have Crossjay trained for thenavyWilloughby? There is not a day to lose."

"Yesyes; I will see to it. Depend on me for holding the youngrascal inview."

Hepresented his hand to her to lead her over the step to thegravelsurprised to behold how flushed she was.

Sheresponded to the invitation by putting her hand forth from abentelbowwith hesitating fingers. "It should not be postponedWilloughby."

Herattitude suggested a stipulation before she touched him.

"It'san affair of moneyas you knowWilloughby" said Vernon."IfI'm in LondonI can't well provide for the boy for some timeto comeor it's not certain that I can."

"Whyon earth should you go?"

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

"Inwhich case the circumstances are changed. I am responsible forhimand Ihave a right to bring him up according to my ownprescription."

"Weare likely to have one idle lout the more."

"Iguarantee to make a gentleman of him."

"Wehave too many of your gentlemen already."

"Youcan't have enoughmy good Vernon."

"They'rethe national apology for indolence. Training a pennilessboy to beone of them is nearly as bad as an education in athieves"den; he will be just as much at war with societyif notgame forthe police."

"Vernonhave you seen Crossjay's fatherthe now Captain ofMarines? Ithink you have."

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

"Andin spite of his qualities he's a cuband an old cub. He is acaptainnowbut he takes that rank very lateyou will own. Thereyou havewhat you call a good manundoubtedly a gallant officerneutralizedby the fact that he is not a gentleman. Holdingintercoursewith him is out of the question. No wonder Governmentdeclinesto advance him rapidly. Young Crossjay does not bear yourname. Hebears mineand on that point alone I should have a voicein thesettlement of his career. And I say emphatically that adrawing-roomapproval of a young man is the best certificate forhisgeneral chances in life. I know of a City of London merchantof somesortand I know a firm of lawyerswho will have none butUniversitymen at their office; at leastthey have thepreference."

"Crossjayhas a bullet headfit neither for the University northedrawing-room" said Vernon; "equal to fighting and dyingforyouandthat's all."

SirWilloughby contented himself with replying"The lad is afavouriteof mine."

Hisanxiety to escape a rejoinder caused him to step into thegardenleaving Clara behind him. "My love!" said hein apologyas heturned to her. She could not look sternbut she had a lookwithout adimple to soften itand her eyes shone. For she hadwagered inher heart that the dialogue she provoked upon Crossjaywouldexpose the Egoist. And there were other motiveswrapped upandintertwistedunrecognizablesufficient to strike her withworse thanthe flush of her self-knowledge of wickedness when shedetainedhim to speak of Crossjay before Vernon.

At last ithad been seen that she was conscious of suffering inherassociation with this Egoist! Vernon stood for the world takeninto herconfidence. The worldthenwould not think so ill ofhershethought hopefullyat the same time that she thought mostevilly ofherself. But self-accusations were for the day ofreckoning;she would and must have the world with heror thebeliefthat it was coming to herin the terrible struggle sheforesawwithin her horizon of selfnow her utter boundary. Sheneeded itfor the inevitable conflict. Little sacrifices of herhonestymight be made. Considering how weak she washow solitaryhowdismally entangleddaily disgraced beyond the power of anyveiling toconceal from her fiery sensationsa little hypocrisywas a poorgirl's natural weapon. She crushed her conscientiousmind withthe assurance that it was magnifying trifles: notentirelyunaware that she was thereby preparing it for aconvenientblindness in the presence of dread alternatives; butthe prideof laying such stress on small sins gave her purity ablush ofpleasure and overcame the inner warning. In truth shedared notthink evilly of herself for longsailing into battle asshe was.Nuns and anchorites may; they have leisure. She regrettedtheforfeits she had to pay for self-assistanceandif it mightbe wonthe world's; regrettedfelt the peril of the lossandtook themup and flung them.

"Youseeold Vernon has no argument" Willoughby said to her.

He drewher hand more securely on his arm to make her sensible thatshe leanedon a pillar of strength.

"Wheneverthe little brain is in doubtperplexedundecided whichcourse toadoptshe will come to mewill she not? I shall alwayslisten"he resumedsoothingly. "My own! and I to you when theworldvexes me. So we round our completeness. You will know me;you willknow me in good time. I am not a mystery to those to whomI unfoldmyself. I do not pretend to mystery: yetI will confessyourhome--your heart's--Willoughby is not exactly identical withtheWilloughby before the world. One must be armed against thatroughbeast."

Certain isthe vengeance of the young upon monotony; nothing morecertain.They do not scheme itbut sameness is a poison to theirsystems;and vengeance is their heartier breathingtheir stretchof thelimbsrun in the fields; nature avenges them.

"Whendoes Colonel De Craye arrive?" said Clara.

"Horace?In two or three days. You wish him to be on the spot tolearn hispartmy love?"

She hadnot flown forward to the thought of Colonel De Craye'sarrival;she knew not why she had mentioned him; but now she flewbackshockedfirst into shadowy subterfugeand then into thecriminal'sdock.

"I donot wish him to be here. I do not know that he has a part tolearn. Ihave no wish. Willoughbydid you not say I should cometo you andyou would listen?--will you listen? I am socommonplacethat I shall not be understood by you unless you takemy wordsfor the very meaning of the words. I am unworthy. I amvolatile.I love my liberty. I want to be free . . ."

"Flitch!"he called.

It soundednecromantic.

"Pardonmemy love" he said. "The man you see yonder violates myexpressinjunction that he is not to come on my groundsand hereI find himon the borders of my garden!"

SirWilloughby waved his hand to the abject figure of a manstandingto intercept him.

"Volatileunworthyliberty--my dearest!" he bent to her whenthe manhad appeased him by departing"you are at liberty withinthe lawlike all good women; I shall control and direct yourvolatility;and your sense of worthiness must be re-establishedwhen weare more intimate; it is timidity. The sense ofunworthinessis a guarantee of worthiness ensuing. I believe I amin thevein of a sermon! Whose the fault? The sight of that manwasannoying. Flitch was a stable-boygroomand coachmanlikehis fatherbefore himat the Hall thirty years; his father diedin ourservice. Mr. Flitch had not a single grievance here; onlyone daythe demon seizes him with the notion of bettering himselfhe wantshis independenceand he presents himself to me with astory of ashop in our county town.--Flitch! rememberif you goyou go forgood.--Ohhe quite comprehended.--Very well;good-byeFlitch;--the man was respectful: he looked the fool hewas verysoon to turn out to be. Since thenwithin a period ofseveralyearsI have had himagainst my express injunctionstentimes onmy grounds. It's curious to calculate. Of course the shopfailedand Flitch's independence consists in walking about withhis handsin his empty pocketsand looking at the Hall from someelevationnear."

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

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

"Youcould not give him employment?"

"Afterhis having dismissed himself?"

"Itmight be overlooked."

"Herehe was happy. He decided to go elsewhereto be free--ofcourseofmy yoke. He quitted my service against my warning.Flitchwewill sayemigrated with his wife and childrenand theshipfoundered. He returnsbut his place is filled; he is a ghosthereandI object to ghosts."

"Somework might be found for him."

"Itwill be the same with old Vernonmy dear. If he goeshe goesfor good.It is the vital principle of my authority to insist onthat. Adead leaf might as reasonably demand to return to thetree. Onceoffoff for all eternity! I am sorry. but such wasyourdecisionmy friend. I haveyou seeClaraelements inme--"

"Dreadful!"

"Exertyour persuasive powers with Vernon. You can do well-nighwhat youwill with the old fellow. We have Miss Dale this eveningfor a weekor two. Lead him to some ideas of her.--Elements inmeI wasremarkingwhich will no more bear to be handledcarelesslythan gunpowder. At the same timethere is no reasonwhy theyshould not be respectedmanaged with some degree ofregard forme and attention to consequences. Those who have notdone sohave repented."

"Youdo not speak to others of the elements in you" said Clara.

"Icertainly do not: I have but one bride" was his handsomereply.

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

"Allmyselfmy own?"

Hisingratiating droop and familiar smile rendered "All myself"soaffectionatelymeaningful in its happy reliance upon her excess oflovethatat last she understood she was expected to worship himand upholdhim for whatsoever he might bewithout any estimationofqualities: as indeed love doesor young love does: as sheperhapsdid oncebefore he chilled her senses. That was beforeher"little brain" had become active and had turned her sensestorevolt.

It was onthe full river of love that Sir Willoughby supposed thewholefloating bulk of his personality to be securely sustained;andtherefore it was thatbelieving himself swimming at his easehediscoursed of himself.

She wentstraight away from that idea with her mental exclamation:"Whydoes he not paint himself in brighter colours to me!" and thequestion:"Has he no ideal of generosity and chivalry?"

But theunfortunate gentleman imagined himself to be lovedonLove'svery bosom. He fancied that everything relating to himselfexcitedmaidenly curiositywomanly reverenceardours to knowmore ofhimwhich he was ever willing to satisfy by repeating thesamethings. His notion of women was the primitive black andwhite:there are good womenbad women; and he possessed a goodone. Hishigh opinion of himself fortified the belief thatProvidenceas a matter of justice and fitnessmust necessarilyselect agood one for him--or what are we to think of Providence?And thisfemaleshaped by that informing handwould naturally bein harmonywith himfrom the centre of his profound identity tothe rayingcircle of his variations. Know the centreyou know thecircleand you discover that the variations are simplycharacteristicsbut you must travel on the rays from the circleto get tothe centre. Consequently Sir Willoughby put MissMiddletonon one or other of these converging lines from time totime. Ustoohe drags into the deepsbut when we have harpooneda whaleand are attached to the ropedown we must go; the miracleis to seeus rise again.

Women ofmixed essences shading off the divine to the considerablylower wereoutside his vision of woman. His mind could as littleadmit anangel in pottery as a rogue in porcelain. For him theywere whatthey were when fashioned at the beginning; many crackedmanystainedhere and there a perfect specimen designed for theelect ofmen. At a whisper of the world he shut the prude's dooron themwith a slam; himself would have branded them with theletters inthe hue of fire. Privately he did so; and he wasconstitutedby his extreme sensitiveness and taste forultra-femininerefinement to be a severe critic of them during thecarnivalof egoismthe love-season. Constantia ... can it hetold? She had beenbe it saida fair and frank young merchantwith himin that season; she was of a nature to be a mother ofheroes;she met the salutealmost half-wayingenuously unlikethe comingmothers of the regiments of marionetteswho retire invapoursdowncastas by convention; ladies most flattering to theegoisticalgentlemanfor they proclaim him the "first".Constantia'soffence had been no greaterbut it was not thatdramaticperformance of purity which he desired of an affiancedladyandso the offence was great.

Thelove-season is the carnival of egoismand it brings thetouchstoneto our natures. I speak of lovenot the maskand notof theflutings upon the theme of lovebut of the passion; aflamehavinglike our mortalitydeath in it as well as lifethat mayor may not be lasting. Applied to Sir Willoughbyas tothousandsof civilized malesthe touchstone found him requiringto bedealt with by his betrothed as an original savage. She wasrequiredto play incessantly on the first reclaiming chord whichled ourancestral satyr to the measures of the dancethethreadingof the mazeand the setting conformably to his partnerbefore itwas accorded to him to spin her with both hands and achirrup ofhis frisky heels. To keep him in awe and hold himenchainedthere are things she must never dodare never saymust notthink. She must be cloistral. Nowstrange and awfulthough itbe to hearwomen perceive this requirement of them inthe spiritof the man; they perceivetooand it may begratefullythat they address their performances less to thetaming ofthe green and prankish monsieur of the forest than to thepacificationof a voracious aesthetic gluttonycraving theminsatiablythrough all the tenseswith shrieks of the lamentableletter "I"for their purity. Whether they see that it has itsfoundationin the sensualand distinguish the ultra-refined butlineallygreat-grandson of the Hoof in this vast and daintyexactingappetite is uncertain. They probably do not; the more thedamage;for in the appeasement of the glutton they have topractisemuch simulation; they are in their way losers like theirancientmothers. It is the palpable and material of them stillwhich theyare tempted to flourishwherewith to invite and allaypursuit: acondition under which the spiritualwherein their hopelieslanguishes. The capaciously strong in soul among women willultimatelydetect an infinite grossness in the demand for purityinfinitespotless bloom. Earlier or later they see they have beenvictims ofthe singular Egoisthave worn a mask of ignorance to benamedinnocenthave turned themselves into market produce forhisdelightand have really abandoned the commodity inministeringto the lust for itsuffered themselves to be draggedages backin playing upon the fleshly innocence of happy accidentto gratifyhis jealous greed of possessionwhen it should havebeen theirtask to set the soul above the fairest fortune and thegift ofstrength in women beyond ornamental whiteness. Are theynot ofnature warriorslike men?--men's mates to bear themheroesinstead of puppets? But the devouring male Egoist prefersthem asinanimate overwrought polished pure metal preciousvesselsfresh from the hands of the artificerfor him to walkaway withhuggingcall all his owndrink ofand fill and drinkofandforget that he stole them.

Thisrunning off on a by-road is no deviation from Sir WilloughbyPatterneand Miss Clara Middleton. Hea fairly intelligent manand verysensitivewas blinded to what was going on within hervisiblyenoughby her production of the article he demanded ofher sex.He had to leave the fair young lady to ride to hiscounty-townand his design was to conduct her through the covertof a groupof laurelsthere to revel in her soft confusion. Sheresisted;nayresolutely returned to the lawn-sward. Hecontrastedher with Constantia in the amorous timeand rejoicedin hisdisappointment. He saw the goddess Modesty guarding Purity;and onewould be bold to say that he did not hear the PreceptsPurity'saged grannams maternal and paternalcawing approval ofher overtheir munching gums. And if you ask whether a mansensitiveand a lovercan be so blindedyou are condemned tore-perusethe foregoing paragraph.

MissMiddleton was not sufficiently instructed in the position ofher sex toknow that she had plunged herself in the thick of thestrife ofone of their great battles. Her personal positionhoweverwas instilling knowledge rapidlyas a disease in theframeteaches us what we are and have to contend with. Could shemarry thisman? He was evidently manageable. Could she condescendto the useof arts in managing him to obtain a placable life?--ahorror ofswampy flatness! So vividly did the sight of that deadheavenover an unvarying level earth swim on her fancythat sheshut hereyes in angry exclusion of it as if it were outsideassailingher; and she nearly stumbled upon young Crossjay.

"Ohhave I hurt you?" he cried.

"No"said she"it was my fault. Lead me somewhere away fromeverybody."

The boytook her handand she resumed her thoughts; andpressinghisfingers and feeling warm to him both for his presence andsilenceso does the blood in youth lead the mindeven cool andinnocentbloodeven with a touchthat she said to herself"Andif Imarryand then ... Where will honour be then? I marry him tobe true tomy word of honourand if then ... !" An intolerablelanguorcaused her to sigh profoundly. It is written as shethoughtit; she thought in blanksas girls doand some women. Ashadow ofthe male Egoist is in the chamber of their brainsoverawingthem.

"WereI to marryand to run!" There is the thought; she isoffered upto your mercy. We are dealing with a girl feelingherselfdesperately situatedand not a fool.

"I'msure you're dead tiredthough" said Crossjay.

"NoI am not; what makes you think so?" said Clara.

"I dothink so."

"Butwhy do you think so?"

"You'reso hot."

"Whatmakes you think that?"

"You'reso red."

"Soare youCrossjay."

"I'monly red in the middle of the cheeksexcept when I've beenrunning.And then you talk to yourselfjust as boys do when theyareblown."

"Dothey?"

"Theysay: 'I know I could have kept up longer'or'my bucklebroke'all to themselveswhen they break down running."

"Andyou have noticed that?"

"AndMiss MiddletonI don't wish you were a boybut I shouldlike tolive near you all my life and be a gentleman. I'm comingwith MissDale this evening to stay at the Hall and be lookedafterinstead of stopping with her cousin who takes care of herfather.Perhaps you and I'll play chess at night."

"Atnight you will go to bedCrossjay."

"Notif I have Sir Willoughby to catch hold of. He says I'm anauthorityon birds" eggs. I can manage rabbits and poultry. Isn'ta farmer ahappy man? But he doesn't marry ladies. A cavalryofficerhas the best chance."

"Butyou are going to be a naval officer."

"Idon't know. It's not positive. I shall bring my two dormiceandmake themperform gymnastics on the dinnertable. They're such dearlittlethings. Naval officers are not like Sir Willoughby."

"Nothey are not" said Clara"they give their lives to theircountry.

"Andthen they're dead" said Crossjay.

Clarawished Sir Willoughby were confronting her: she could havespoken.

She askedthe boy where Mr. Whitford was. Crossjay pointed verysecretlyin the direction of the double-blossom wild-cherry.Comingwithin gaze of the stemshe beheld Vernon stretched atlengthreadingshe supposed; asleepshe discovered: his fingerin theleaves of a book; and what book? She had a curiosity toknow thetitle of the book he would read beneath these boughsandgraspingCrossjay's hand fast she craned her neckas one timorousof a fallin peeping over chasmsfor a glimpse of the page; butimmediatelyand still with a bent headshe turned her face towhere theload of virginal blossomwhiter than summer-cloud onthe skyshowered and drooped and clustered so thick as to claimcolour andseemlike higher Alpine snows in noon-sunlightaflush ofwhite. From deep to deeper heavens of whiteher eyesperchedand soared. Wonder lived in her. Happiness in the beautyof thetree pressed to supplant itand was more mortal andnarrower.Reflection camecontracting her vision and weighing herto earth.Her reflection was: "He must be good who loves to be andsleepbeneath the branches of this tree!" She would rather haveclung toher first impression: wonder so divineso unboundedwaslikesoaring into homes of angel-crowded spacesweeping throughfolded andon to folded white fountain-bow of wingsininnumerablecolumns; but the thought of it was no recovery of it;she mightas well have striven to be a child. The sensation ofhappinesspromised to be less short-lived in memoryand wouldhave beenhad not her present disease of the longing for happinessravagedevery corner of it for the secret of its existence. Thereflectiontook root. "He must be good ... !" That reflectionvowed toendure. Poor by comparison with what it displaceditpresenteditself to her as conferring something on himand shewould nothave had it absent though it robbed her.

She lookeddown. Vernon was dreamily looking up.

Sheplucked Crossjay hurriedly awaywhispering that he had betternot wakeMr. Whitfordand then she proposed to reverse theirpreviouschaseand she be the hound and he the hare. Crossjayfetched amagnificent start. On his glancing behind he saw MissMiddletonwalking listlesslywith a hand at her side.

"There'sa regular girl!" said he in some disgust; for his theorywasthatgirls always have something the matter with them tospoil agame.

 

 

CHAPTERXII

MissMiddleton and Mr. Vernon Whitford

 

Lookingupwardnot quite awakened out of a transient dozeat a fairhead circled in dazzling blossomone may temporizeawhilewith common senseand take it for a vision after theeyes haveregained direction of the mind. Vernon did so untiltheplastic vision interwound with reality alarmingly. This istheembrace of a Melusine who will soon have the brain if sheisencouraged. Slight dalliance with her makes the very diminutiveseem asbig as life. He jumped to his feetrattled histhroatplanted firmness on his brows and mouthand attackedthedream-giving earth with tremendous long stridesthat hisbloodmight be lively at the throne of understanding. MissMiddletonand young Crossjay were within hail: it was her face hehad seenand still the idea of a visionchased from hisreasonablewitsknocked hard and again for readmission.There waslittle for a man of humble mind toward the sex tothink ofin the fact of a young lady's bending rather low topeep athim asleepexcept that the poise of her slender figurebetween anair of spying and of listeningvividly recalled hislikeningof her to the Mountain Echo. Man or maid sleeping in theopen airprovokes your tiptoe curiosity. Menit isknownhave in that state cruelly been kissed; and no rights arebestowedon themthey are teased by a vapourish rapture; what hashappenedto them the poor fellows barely divine:they havea crazy step from that day. But a vision is not sodistracting;it is our ownwe can put it aside and return to itplay atrich and poor with itand are not to be summoned before yourlaws andrules for secreting it in our treasury. Besidesitis thegolden key of all the possible; new worlds expand beneaththe dawnit brings us. Just outside realityit illuminesenrichesand softens real things;--and to desire it inpreferenceto the simple fact is a damning proof of enervation.

Such wasVernon's winding up of his brief drama of fantasy. He wasaware ofthe fantastical element in him and soon had it under.Which ofus who is of any worth is without it? He had not muchvanity totrouble himand passion was quietso his task was notgigantic.Especially be it remarkedthat he was a man of quickpacethesovereign remedy for the dispersing of the mentalfen-mist.He had tried it and knew that nonsense is to be walkedoff

Near theend of the park young Crossjay overtook himand afteracting thepumped one a trifle more than needfulcried: "I sayMr.Whitfordthere's Miss Middleton with her handkerchief out."

"Whatformy lad?" said Vernon.

"I'msure I don't know. All of a sudden she bumped down. Andlook whatfellows girls are!--here she comes as if nothing hadhappenedand I saw her feel at her side."

Clara wasshaking her head to express a denial. "I am not at allunwell"she said. when she came near. "I guessed Crossjay'sbusinessin running up to you; he's a good-for-nothingofficiousboy. I wastiredand rested for a moment."

Crossjaypeered at her eyelids. Vernon looked away and said: "Areyou tootired for a stroll?"

"Notnow."

"Shallit be brisk?"

"Youhave the lead."

He led ata swing of the legs that accelerated young Crossjay's tothedoublebut she with her shortswiftequal steps glidedalongeasily on a fine by his shoulderand he groaned to thinkthat ofall the girls of earth this one should have beenchosen forthe position of fine lady.

"Youwon't tire me" said shein answer to his look.

"Youremind me of the little Piedmontese Bersaglieri on themarch."

"Ihave seen them trotting into Como from Milan."

"Theycover a quantity of ground in a dayif the ground's flat.You wantanother sort of step for the mountains."

"Ishould not attempt to dance up."

"Theysoon tame romantic notions of them."

"Themountains tame luxurious dreamsyou mean. I see how they areconquered.I can plod. Anything to be high up!"

"Wellthere you have the secret of good work: to plod on andstill keepthe passion fresh."

"Yeswhen we have an aim in view."

"Wealways have one."

"Captiveshave?"

"Morethan the rest of us."

Ignorantman! What of wives miserably wedded? What aim in viewhave thesemost woeful captives? Horror shrouds itand shamereddensthrough the folds to tell of innermost horror.

"Takeme back to the mountainsif you pleaseMr. Whitford" MissMiddletonsaidfallen out of sympathy with him. "Captives havedeath inviewbut that is not an aim."

"Whymay not captives expect a release?"

"Hardlyfrom a tyrant."

"Ifyou are thinking of tyrantsit may be so. Say the tyrantdies?"

"Theprison-gates are unlocked and out comes a skeleton. But whywill youtalk of skeletons! The very name of mountain seems lifeincomparison with any other subject."

"Iassure you" said Vernonwith the fervour of a man lighting onan actualtruth in his conversation with a young lady"it's notthe firsttime I have thought you would be at home in the Alps.You wouldwalk and climb as well as you dance."

She likedto hear Clara Middleton talked ofand of her havingbeenthought ofand giving him friendly eyesbarely noticingthat hewas in a glow. she said: "If you speak so encouragingly Ishallfancy we are near an ascent."

"Iwish we were" said he.

"Wecan realize it by dwelling on itdon't you think?"

"Wecan begin climbing."

"Oh!"she squeezed herself shadowily.

"Whichmountain shall it be?" said Vernonin the right realearnesttone.

MissMiddleton suggested a lady's mountain firstfor a trial."Andthenif you think well enough of me--if I have not stumbledmore thantwiceor asked more than ten times how far it is fromthe topIshould like to be promoted to scale a giant."

They wentup to some of the lesser heights of Switzerland andStyriaand settled in South Tyrolthe young lady preferring thisdistrictfor the strenuous exercise of her climbing powers becauseshe lovedItalian colour; and it seemed an exceedingly good reasonto thegenial imagination she had awakened in Mr. Whitford."Though"said heabruptly"you are not so much Italian asFrench."

She hopedshe was Englishshe remarked.

"Ofcourse you are English; . . . yes." He moderated his ascentwith thehalting affirmative.

Sheinquired wonderingly why he spoke in apparent hesitation.

"Wellyou have French feetfor example: French witsFrenchimpatience"he lowered his voice"and charm"

"Andlove of compliments."

"Possibly.I was not conscious of paying them"

"Anda disposition to rebel?"

"Tochallenge authorityat least."

"Thatis a dreadful character."

"Atall eventsit is a character."

"Fitfor an Alpine comrade?"

"Forthe best of comrades anywhere."

"Itis not a piece of drawing-room sculpture: that is the most onecan sayfor it!" she dropped a dramatic sigh.

Had hebeen willing she would have continued the themefor thepleasure apoor creature long gnawing her sensations finds inseeingherself from the outside. It fell away. After a silenceshe couldnot renew it; and he was evidently indifferenthavingto his ownsatisfaction dissected and stamped her a foreigner.With itpassed her holiday. She had forgotten Sir Willoughby: sherememberedhim and said. "You knew Miss DurhamMr. Whitford?"

Heanswered briefly"I did."

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

"Veryhandsome" said Vernon.
"English?"

"Yes;the dashing style of English."

"Verycourageous."

"Idare say she had a kind of courage."

"Shedid very wrong."

"Iwon't say no. She discovered a man more of a match withherself;luckily not too late. We're at the mercy . .

"Wasshe not unpardonable?"

"Ishould be sorry to think that of any one."

"Butyou agree that she did wrong."

"Isuppose I do. She made a mistake and she corrected it. if shehad notshe would have made a greater mistake."

"Themanner. . ."

"Thatwas bad--as far as we know. The world has not much right tojudge. Afalse start must now and then be made. It's better not totakenotice of itI think."

"Whatis it we are at the mercy of?"

"Currentsof feelingour natures. I am the last man to preach onthesubject: young ladies are enigmas to me; I fancy they musthave anatural perception of the husband suitable to themand thereverse;and if they have a certain degree of courageit followsthat theyplease themselves."

"Theyare not to reflect on the harm they do?" said MissMiddleton.

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

"Buta breach of faith!"

"Ifthe faith can be kept through lifeall's well."

"Andthen there is the crueltythe injury!"

"Ireally think that if a young lady came to me to inform me shemust breakour engagement--I have never been put to the proofbut tosuppose it:--I should not think her cruel."

"Thenshe would not be much of a loss."

"AndI should not think so for this reasonthat it is impossiblefor a girlto come to such a resolution without previously showingsigns ofit to her. . . the man she is engaged to. I think itunfair toengage a girl for longer than a week or twojust timeenough forher preparations and publications."

"Ifhe is always intent on himselfsigns are likely to be unheededby him"said Miss Middleton.

He did notanswerand she saidquickly:

"Itmust always be a cruelty. The world will think so. It is anact ofinconstancy."

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

"Areyou not singularly tolerant?" said she.

To whichVernon replied with airy cordiality:--

"Insome cases it is right to judge by results; we'll leaveseverityto the historianwho is bound to be a professionalmoralistand put pleas of human nature out of the scales. The ladyinquestion may have been to blamebut no hearts were brokenandhere wehave four happy instead of two miserable."

Hispersecuting geniality of countenance appealed to her toconfirmthis judgement by resultsand she nodded and said:"Four"as the awe-stricken speak.

From thatmoment until young Crossjay fell into the green-ruttedlane froma treeand was got on his legs half stunnedwith ahanginglip and a face like the inside of a flayed eel-skinshemight havebeen walking in the desertand alonefor the pleasureshe had insociety.

They ledthe fated lad home between themsingularly drawntogetherby their joint ministrations to himin which herdelicacyhad to stand fireand sweet good-nature made naught ofany trial.They were hand in hand with the little fellow asphysicianand professional nurse.

 

 

CHAPTERXIII

TheFirst Effort after Freedom

 

Crossjay'saccident was only another proofas Vernon toldMiss Dalethat the boy was but half monkey.

"Somethingfresh?" she exclaimed on seeing him brought into theHallwhere she had just arrived.

"Simplya continuation" said Vernon. "He is not so prehensile ashe shouldbe. He probably in extremity relies on the tail that hasbeendocked. Are you a manCrossjay?"

"Ishould think I was!" Crossjay repliedwith an old man's voiceand aghastly twitch for a smile overwhelmed the compassionateladies.

Miss Daletook possession of him. "You err in the otherdirection"she remarked to Vernon.

"Buta little bracing roughness is better than spoiling him." saidMissMiddleton.

She didnot receive an answerand she thought: "WhateverWilloughbydoes is rightto this lady!"

Clara'simpression was renewed when Sir Willoughby sat beside MissDale inthe evening; and certainly she had never seen him shine sopicturesquelyas in his bearing with Miss Dale. The sprightlysallies ofthe twotheir rallyingstheir laughterand her fineeyesandhis handsome gestureswon attention like a fencingmatch of acouple keen with the foils to display the mutual skill.And it washis design that she should admire the display; he wasanythingbut obtuse; enjoying the match as he did and necessarilydid to actso excellent a part in ithe meant the observer to seethe man hewas with a lady not of raw understanding. So it went onfrom dayto day for three days.

Shefancied once that she detected the agreeable stirring of thebrood ofjealousyand found it neither in her heart nor in hermindbutin the book of wisheswell known to the young wherethey writematter which may sometimes be independent of both thosevolcanicalbums. Jealousy would have been a relief to hera deardevil'said. She studied the complexion of jealousy to deludeherselfwith the sense of the spirit being in herand all thewhile shelaughedas at a vile theatre whereof the imperfectionof thestage machinery rather than the performance is the wretchedsource ofamusement.

Vernon haddeeply depressed her. She was hunted by the figure 4.Four happyinstead of two miserable. He had said itinvolving heramong thefour; and so it must beshe considered. and she mustbe ashappy as she could; for not only was he incapable ofperceivingher statehe was unable to imagine other circumstancestosurround her. Howto be just to himwere they imaginable byhim or anyone?

Herhorrible isolation of secrecy in a world amiable inunsuspectingnessfrightened her. To fling away her secrettoconformto be unrebelliousuncriticalsubmissivebecame animpatientdesire; and the task did not appear so difficult sinceMissDale's arrival. Endearments had been raremore formal;livingbodily untroubled and unashamedandas she phrased ithaving noone to care for hershe turned insensibly in thedirectionwhere she was due; she slightly imitated Miss Dale'scolloquialresponsiveness. To tell truthshe felt vivacious in amoderateway with Willoughby after seeing him with Miss Dale.Libertywore the aspect of a towering prison-wall; the desperateundertakingof climbing one side and dropping to the other wasmore thansheunaidedcould resolve on; consequentlyas no onecared forhera worthless creature might as well cease dreamingandstipulating for the fulfilment of her dreams; she might aswell yieldto her fate; naymake the best of it.

SirWilloughby was flattered and satisfied. Clara's adoptedvivacityproved his thorough knowledge of feminine nature; nor didherfeebleness in sustaining it displease him. A steady look ofhers hadof late perplexed the manand he was comforted bysigns ofher inefficiency where he excelled. The effort and thefailurewere both of good omen.

But shecould not continue the effort. He had overweighted her toomuch forthe mimicry of a sentiment to harden and have anapparentlynatural place among her impulses; and now an idea cameto herthat he mightit might be hopedpossibly see in MissDalebypresent contrastthe mate he sought; by contrast with anunansweringcreature like herselfhe might perhaps realize inMissDale's greater accomplishments and her devotion to him themerit ofsuitability; he might be induced to do her justice. Dim astheloop-hole wasClara fixed her mind on it till it gatheredlight. Andas a prelude to actionshe plunged herself into astate ofsuch profound humilitythat to accuse it of beingsimulatedwould he venturesomethough it was not positive. Thetempers ofthe young are liquid fires in isles of quicksand; thepreciousmetals not yet cooled in a solid earth. Her compassionforLaetitia was less forcedbut really she was almost as earnestin herself-abasementfor she had not latterly been brilliantnotevenadequate to the ordinary requirements of conversation. Shehad nocourageno witno diligencenothing that she coulddistinguishsave discontentment like a corroding acidand she wentso far insincerity as with a curious shift of feeling to pity themanplighted to her. If it suited her purpose to pity SirWilloughbyshe was not moved by policybe assured; her needswere hernatureher moods her mind; she had the capacity to makeanythingserve her by passing into it with the glance whichdiscernedits usefulness; and this is how it is that the youngwhen theyare in troublewithout approaching the elevation ofscientifichypocritescan teach that able class lessons inhypocrisy.

"Whyshould not Willoughby be happy?" she said; and theexclamationwas pushed forth by the second thought: "Then I shallbe free!"Still that thought came second.

The desirefor the happiness of Willoughby was fervent on hisbehalf andwafted her far from friends and letters to a narrowTyroleanvalleywhere a shallow river ranwith the indentationsof aremotely seen army of winding ranks in columntopaz over thepebbles tohollows of ravishing emerald. There sat Libertyafterherfearful leap over the prison-wallat peace to watch the waterand thefalls of sunshine on the mountain abovebetweendescendingpine-stem shadows. Clara's wish for his happinessassoon asshe had housed herself in the imagination of her freedomwas of apurity that made it seem exceedingly easy for her tospeak tohim.

Theopportunity was offered by Sir Willoughby. Every morning afterbreakfastMiss Dale walked across the park to see her fatherandon thisoccasion Sir Willoughby and Miss Middleton went with heras far asthe lakeall three discoursing of the beauty of varioustreesbirchesaspenspoplarsbeechesthen in their new green.Miss Daleloved the aspenMiss Middleton the beechSirWilloughbythe birchand pretty things were said by each inpraise ofthe favoured objectparticularly by Miss Dale. So muchso thatwhen she had gone on he recalled one of her remarksandsaid: "Ibelieveif the whole place were swept away to-morrowLaetitiaDale could reconstruct it and put those aspens on thenorth ofthe lake in number and situation correctly where you havethem now.I would guarantee her description of it in absencecorrect."

"Whyshould she be absent?" said Clarapalpitating.

"Wellwhy!" returned Sir Willoughby. "As you saythere is noreasonwhy. The art of lifeand mine will be principally acountrylife--town is not lifebut a tornado whirling atoms--the artis to associate a group of sympathetic friends in ourneighbourhood;and it is a fact worth noting that if ever I feeltired ofthe placea short talk with Laetitia Dale refreshes itmore thana month or two on the Continent. She has the well ofenthusiasm.And there is a great advantage in having a cultivatedperson atcommandwith whom one can chat of any topic under thesun. Irepeatyou have no need of town if you have friends likeLaetitiaDale within call. My mother esteemed her highly."

"Willoughbyshe is not obliged to go."

"Ihope not. Andmy loveI rejoice that you have taken to her.Herfather's health is poor. She would be a young spinster to livealone in acountry cottage."

"Whatof your scheme?"

"OldVernon is a very foolish fellow."

"Hehas declined?"

"Nota word on the subject! I have only to propose it to besnubbedIknow."

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

"Nothingseems to teach him the art of dialogue with ladies."

"Arenot gentlemen shy when they see themselves outshone?"

"Hehasn't itmy love: Vernon is deficient in the lady's tongue."

"Irespect him for that."

"Outshone.you say? I do not know of any shining--save to onewholights mepath and person!"

Theidentity of the one was conveyed to her in a bow and a softpressure.

"Notonly has he not the lady's tonguewhich I hold to be a man'sproperaccomplishment" continued Sir Willoughby"he cannot turnhisadvantages to account. Here has Miss Dale been with him nowfour daysin the house. They are exactly on the same footing aswhen sheentered it. You ask? I will tell you. It is this: it iswant ofwarmth. Old Vernon is a scholar--and a fish. Wellperhaps hehas cause to be shy of matrimony; but he is a fish."

"Youare reconciled to his leaving you?"

"Falsealarm! The resolution to do anything unaccustomed is quitebeyond oldVernon."

"Butif Mr. Oxford--Whitford ... your swans coming sailing up thelakehowbeautiful they look when they are indignant! I was goingto askyousurely men witnessing a marked admiration for some oneelse willnaturally be discouraged?"

SirWilloughby stiffened with sudden enlightenment.

Though theword jealousy had not been spokenthe drift of herobservationswas clear. Smiling inwardlyhe saidand thesentenceswere not enigmas to her: "Surelytooyoung ladies ...alittle?--Too far? But an old friendship! About the same as thefitting ofan old glove to a hand. Hand and glove have only tomeet.Where there is natural harmony you would not have discord.Aybutyou have it if you check the harmony. My dear girl! Youchild!"

He hadactuallyin this parabolicand commendableobscurenessfor whichshe thanked him in her soulstruck the very point shehad notnamed and did not wish to hear namedbut wished him tostrike; hewas anything but obtuse. His exultationof thecompressedsortwas extremeon hearing her cry out:

"Youngladies may be. Oh! not Inot I. I can convince you. Notthat.Believe meWilloughby. I do not know what it is to feelthatoranything like it. I cannot conceive a claim on any one'slife--as aclaim: or the continuation of an engagement notfounded onperfectperfect sympathy. How should I feel itthen?It isasyou say of Mr. Ox--Whitfordbeyond me."

SirWilloughby caught up the Ox--Whitford.

Burstingwith laughter in his joyful pridehe called it aportraitof old Vernon in society. For she thought a trifle toohighly ofVernonas here and there a raw young lady does think ofthefriends of her plighted man. which is waste of substanceproperlybelonging to himas it werein the loftier senseanexpenditurein genuflexions to wayside idols of the reverenceshe shouldbring intact to the temple. Derision instructs her.

Of theother subject--her jealousy--he had no desire to hearmore. Shehad winced: the woman had been touched to smarting inthe girl:enough. She attempted the subject oncebut faintlyandhiscareless parrying threw her out. Clara could have bitten hertongue forthat reiterated stupid slip on the name of Whitford;andbecause she was innocent at heart she persisted in askingherselfhow she could be guilty of it.

"Youboth know the botanic titles of these wild flowers" shesaid.

"Who?"he inquired.

"Youand Miss Dale."

SirWilloughby shrugged. He was amused.

"Nowoman on earth will grace a barouche so exquisitely as myClara."

"Where?"said she.

"Duringour annual two months in London. I drive a barouche thereandventure to prophesy that my equipage will create the greatestexcitementof any in London. I see old Horace De Craye gazing!"

Shesighed. She could not drag him to the wordor a hint of itnecessaryto her subject.

But thereit was; she saw it. She had nearly let it goandblushed atbeing obliged to name it.

"Jealousydo you mean. Willoughby? the people in London would bejealous?--ColonelDe Craye? How strange! That is a sentiment Icannotunderstand."

SirWilloughby gesticulated the "Of course not" of anestablishedassuranceto the contrary.

"IndeedWilloughbyI do not."

"Certainlynot."

He was nowin her trap. And he was imagining himself to heanatomizingher feminine nature.

"CanI give you a proofWilloughby? I am so utterly incapable ofitthat--listen to me--were you to come to me to tell meas youmighthowmuch better suited to you Miss Dale has appeared than Iam--and Ifear I am not; it should be spoken plainly; unsuitedaltogetherperhaps--I wouldI beseech you to believe--you mustbelieveme--give you ... give you your freedom instantly; mosttruly; andengage to speak of you as I should think of you.Willoughbyyou would have no one to praise you in public and inprivate asI shouldfor you would be to me the most honesttruthfulchivalrous gentleman alive. And in that case I wouldundertaketo declare that she would not admire you more than I;Miss Dalewould not; she would not admire you more than I; noteven MissDale."

Thisherfirst direct leap for libertyset Clara pantingand somuch hadshe to say that the nervous and the intellectual halvesof herdashed like cymbalsdazing and stunning her with theappositenessof things to be saidand dividing her in indecisionas to thecunningest to move him of the many pressing.

Thecondition of feminine jealousy stood revealed.

He haddriven her farther than he intended.

"Comelet me allay these . . ." he soothed her with hand andvoicewhile seeking for his phrase; "these magnified pinpoints.NowmyClara! on my honour! and when I put it forward inattestationmy honour has the most serious meaning speech canhave;ordinarily my word has to suffice for bondspromisesorasseverations;on my honour! not merely is theremy poor child!no groundof suspicionI assure youI declare to youthe factof thecase is the very reverse. Nowmark me; of her sentiments Icannotpretend to speak; I did notto my knowledgeoriginateIam notresponsible for themand I ambefore the lawas we willsayignorant of them; that isI have never heard a declarationof themand Iamthereforeunder pain of the stigma ofexcessivefatuitybound to be non-cognizant. But as to myself Ican speakfor myself andon my honour! Clara--to be as direct aspossible. even to baldnessand you know I loathe it--I couldnotIrepeatI could not marry Laetitia Dale! Let me impress iton you. No flatteries--we are all susceptible more or less--noconceivablecondition could bring it about; no amount ofadmiration.She and I are excellent friends; we cannot be more.When yousee us togetherthe natural concord of our minds is ofcoursemisleading. She is a woman of genius. I do not concealIprofess myadmiration of her. There are times whenI confessIrequire aLaetitia Dale to bring me outgive and take. I amindebtedto her for the enjoyment of the duet few knowfew canaccordwithfewer still are allowed the privilege of playing witha humanbeing. I am indebtedI own. and I feel deep gratitude; Iown to alively friendship for Miss Dalebut if she isdispleasingin the sight of my bride by ... by the breadth of aneyelashthen . . ."

SirWilloughby's arm waved Miss Dale off away into outer darknessin thewilderness.

Clara shuther eyes and rolled her eyeballs in a frenzy ofunutteredrevolt from the Egoist.

But shewas not engaged in the colloquy to be an advocate of MissDale or ofcommon humanity.

"Ah!"she saidsimply determining that the subject should notdrop.

"Andah!" he mocked her tenderly. "Truethough! And who knowsbetterthan my Clara that I require youthhealthbeautyand theotherundefinable attributes fitting with mine and beseeming thestation ofthe lady called to preside over my household andrepresentme? What says my other self? my fairer? But you are! myloveyouare! Understand my nature rightlyand you . . "

"Ido! I do!" interposed Clara; "if I did not by this time Ishould beidiotic. Let me assure youI understand it. Oh! listento me: onemoment. Miss Dale regards me as the happiest woman onearth.Willoughbyif I possessed her good qualitiesher heartand mindno doubt I should be. It is my wish--you must hear mehear meout--my wishmy earnest wishmy burning prayermy wishto makeway for her. She appreciates you: I do not--to my shameI do not.She worships you: I do notI cannot. You are the risingsun toher. It has been so for years. No one can account for love;I daresaynot for the impossibility of loving ... loving where weshould;all love bewilders me. I was not created to understand it.But sheloves youshe has pined. I believe it has destroyed thehealth youdemand as one item in your list. But youWilloughbycanrestore that. Travellingand ... and your societythepleasureof your society would certainly restore it. You look sohandsometogether! She has unbounded devotion! as for meI cannotidolize. Isee faults: I see them daily. They astonish and woundme. Yourpride would not bear to hear them spoken ofleast of allby yourwife. You warned me to beware--that isyou saidyousaidsomething."

Her busybrain missed the subterfuge to cover her slip of thetongue.

SirWilloughby struck in: "And when I say that the entireconcatenationis based on an erroneous observation of factsandanerroneous deduction from that erroneous observation!--? Nono. Haveconfidence in me. I propose it to you in this instancepurely tosave you from deception. You are coldmy love? youshivered."

"I amnot cold" said Clara. "Some oneI supposewas walkingover mygrave."

The gulfof a caress hove in view like an enormous billowhollowingunder the curled ridge.

Shestooped to a buttercup; the monster swept by.

"Yourgrave!" he exclaimed over her head; "my own girl!"

"Isnot the orchid naturally a stranger in ground so far away fromthe chalkWilloughby?"

"I amincompetent to pronounce an opinion on such importantmatters.My mother had a passion for every description of flower.I fancy Ihave some recollection of her scattering the flower youmentionover the park."

"Ifshe were living now!"

"Weshould be happy in the blessing of the most estimable ofwomenmyClara."

"Shewould have listened to me. She would have realized what Imean."

"IndeedClara--poor soul!" he murmured to himselfaloud;"indeedyou are absolutely in error. If I have seemed--but Irepeatyou are deceived. The idea of 'fitness' is a totalhallucination.Supposing you--I do it even in play painfully--entirelyout of the wayunthought of. . ."

"Extinct"Clara said low.

"Non-existentfor me" he selected a preferable term. "Suppose it;I shouldstillin spite of an admiration I have never thought itincumbenton me to concealstill be--I speak emphatically--utterlyincapable of the offer of my hand to Miss Dale. It may bethat sheis embedded in my mind as a friendand nothing but afriend. Ireceived the stamp in early youth. People have noticedit--we doit seemsbring one another outreflectingcounter-reflecting."

Sheglanced up at him with a shrewd satisfaction to see that herwickedshaft had stuck.

"Youdo; it is a common remark" she said. "The instantaneousdifferencewhen she comes nearany one might notice."

"Mylove" he opened the iron gate into the garden"youencouragethenaughty little suspicion."

"Butit is a beautiful sightWilloughby. I like to see youtogether.I like it as I like to see colours match."

"Verywell. There is no harm then. We shall often be together. Ilike myfair friend. But the instant!--you have only to express asentimentof disapprobation."

"Andyou dismiss her."

"Idismiss her. That isas to the wordI constitute myself yourechotoclear any vestige of suspicion. She goes."

"Thatis a case of a person doomed to extinction withoutoffending."

"Notwithout: for whoever offends my bridemy wifemy sovereignladyoffends me: very deeply offends me."

"Thenthe caprices of your wife . . ." Clara stamped her footimperceptiblyon the lawn-swardwhich was irresponsively soft toherfretfulness. She broke from the inconsequent meaningless mildtone ofironyand said: "Willoughbywomen have their honour toswear byequally with men:--girls have: they have to swear anoath atthe altar; may I to you now? Take it for uttered when Itell youthat nothing would make me happier than your union withMiss Dale.I have spoken as much as I can. Tell me you releaseme."

With thewell-known screw-smile of duty upholding weariness worntoinanitionhe rejoined: "Allow me once more to reiteratethatit isrepulsiveinconceivablethat I should everunder anymortalconditionsbring myself to the point of taking Miss Dalefor mywife. You reduce me to this perfectly childish protestation--pitiablychildish! Butmy lovehave I to remind you that youand I areplightedand that I am an honourable man?"

"Iknow itI feel it--release me!" cried Clara.

SirWilloughby severely reprehended his short-sightedness forseeing butthe one proximate object in the particular attention hehadbestowed on Miss Dale. He could not disavow that they had beenmarkedand with an objectand he was distressed by the unwontedwant ofwisdom through which he had been drawn to overshoot hisobject.His design to excite a touch of the insane emotion inClara'sbosom was too successfuland"I was not thinking ofher"he said to himself in his candourcontrite.

She criedagain: "Will you notWilloughby--release me?"

He beggedher to take his arm.

To consentto touch him while petitioning for a detachmentappeareddiscordant to Clarabutif she expected him to accedeit wasright that she should do as much as she couldand shesurrenderedher hand at arm's lengthdisdaining the imprisonedfingers.He pressed them and said: "Dr Middleton is in thelibrary. Isee Vernon is at work with Crossjay in the West-room--the boyhas had sufficient for the day. Nowis it not like oldVernon todrive his books at a cracked head before it's halfmended?"

Hesignalled to young Crossjaywho was up and out through thefoldingwindows in a twinkling.

"Andyou will go inand talk to Vernon of the lady in question"SirWilloughby whispered to Clara. "Use your best persuasions inour jointnames. You have my warrant for saying that money is noconsideration;house and income are assured. You can hardly havetaken meseriously when I requested you to undertake Vernonbefore. Iwas quite in earnest then as now. I prepare Miss Dale. Iwill nothave a wedding on our wedding-day; but either before orafter itI gladly speed their alliance. I think now I give youthe bestproof possibleand though I know that with women adelusionmay be seen to be groundless and still be cherishedIrely onyour good sense."

Vernon wasat the window and stood aside for her to enter. SirWilloughbyused a gentle insistence with her. She bent her head asif shewere stepping into a cave. So frigid was shethat aridiculousdread of calling Mr. Whitford Mr. Oxford was her onlypresentanxiety when Sir Willoughby had closed the window on them.

 

 

CHAPTERXIV

SirWilloughby and Laetitia

 

"Iprepare Miss Dale."

SirWilloughby thought of his promise to Clara. He trifled awhilewith youngCrossjayand then sent the boy flyingand wrappedhimself inmeditation. So shall you see standing many a statue ofstatesmenwho have died in harness for their country.

In thehundred and fourth chapter of the thirteenth volume of theBook ofEgoism it is written: Possession without obligation to theobjectpossessed approaches felicity.

It is therarest condition of ownership. For example: thepossessionof land is not without obligation both to the soil andthetax-collector; the possession of fine clothing is oppressed byobligation;goldjewelryworks of artenviable householdfurnitureare positive fetters; the possession of a wife we findsurchargedwith obligation. In all these cases possession is agentleterm for enslavementbestowing the sort of felicityattainedto by the helot drunk. You can have the joythe pridetheintoxication of possession; you can have no free soul.

But thereis one instance of possessionand that the most perfectwhichleaves us freeunder not a shadow of obligationreceivingevernever giving. or if givinggiving only of our waste; as itwere (saufvotre respect)by form of perspirationradiationifyou like;unconscious poral bountifulness; and it is a beneficentprocessfor the system. Our possession of an adoring female'sworship isthis instance.

The softcherishable Parsee is hardly at any season other thanprostrate.She craves nothing save that you continue in being--her sun:which is your firm constitutional endeavour: and thusyou have amost exact alliance; she supplying spirit to yourmatterwhile at the same time presenting matter to yourspiritverily a comfortable apposition. The Gods do bless it.

That theydo so indeed is evident in the men they select for suchafelicitous crown and aureole. Weak men would be rendered nervousby theflattery of a woman's worship; or they would be forreturningitat least partiallyas though it could be bandied toand frowithout emulgence of the poetry; or they would bepitifuland quite spoil the thing. Some would be fortransformingthe beautiful solitary vestal flame by the firsteffort ofthe multiplication-table into your hearth-fire ofslipperedaffection. So these men are not they whom the Gods haveeverselectedbut rather men of a pattern with themselvesveryhigh andvery solid menwho maintain the crown by holdingdivinelyindependent of the great emotion they have sown.

Even forthem a pass of danger is aheadas we shall see in oursample ofone among the highest of them.

A clearapproach to felicity had long been the portion of SirWilloughbyPatterne in his relations with Laetitia Dale. Shebelongedto him; he was quite unshackled by her. She waseverythingthat is good in a parasitenothing that is bad. Hisdedicatedcritic she wasreviewing him with a favour equal toperfectefficiency in her office; and whatever the world might sayof himtoher the happy gentleman could constantly turn for hisrefreshingbalsamic bath. She flew to the soul in himpleasinglyarousingsensations of that inhabitant; and he allowed her theright toflyin the manner of kingsas we have heardconsentingto theprivileges acted on by cats. These may not address theirMajestiesbut they may stare; nor will it be contested that theattentivecircular eyes of the humble domestic creatures are anembellishmentto Royal pomp and grandeursuch truly as should oneday gainfor them an inweaving and figurement--in the place ofbeesermine tuftsand their various present decorations--uponthe augustgreat robes back-flowing and foaming over the gaspypage-boys.

Further toquote from the same volume of The Book: There is painin thesurrendering of that we are fain to relinquish.

The ideais too exquisitely attenuateas are those of the wholebody-guardof the heart of Egoismand will slip through youunless youshall have made a study of the gross of volumes of thefirst andsecond sections of The Bookand that will take you uptosenility; or you must make a personal entry into the pagesperchance;or an escape out of them. There was once a venerablegentlemanfor whom a white hair grew on the cop of his noselaughingat removals. He resigned himself to it in the endandlastinglycontemplated the apparition. It does not concern us whateffect wasproduced on his countenance and his mind; enough thathe saw afine thingbut not so fine as the idea cited above;which hasbeen between the two eyes of humanity ever since womenweresought in marriage. With yonder old gentleman it may havebeen aghostly hair or a disease of the optic nerves; but for usit is areal growthand humanity might profitably imitate him inhispatient speculation upon it.

SirWilloughby Patternethough ready in the pursuit of duty andpolicy (anoft-united couple) to cast Miss Dale awayhad toconsiderthat he was not simplyso to speakcasting her over ahedgehewas casting her for a man to catch her; and this was amuchgreater trial than it had been on the previous occasionwhenshe wentover bump to the ground. In the arms of a husbandtherewas noknowing how soon she might forget her soul's fidelity. Ithad nothurt him to sketch the project of the conjunction;benevolenceassisted him; but he winced and smarted on seeing ittakeshape. It sullied his idea of Laetitia.

Stillifin spite of so great a change in her fortuneherspiritcould be guaranteed changelesshefor the sake ofpacifyinghis brideand to keep two serviceable persons near him.atcommandmight resolve to join them. The vision of hisresolutionbrought with it a certain pallid contempt of thephysicallyfaithless woman; no wonder he betook himself to TheBookandopened it on the scorching chapters treating of the sexand theexecrable wiles of that foremost creature of the chasewho runsfor life. She is not spared in the Biggest of Books. Butclose it.

Thewriting in it having been done chiefly by menmen naturallyreceivetheir fortification from its wisdomand half a dozen ofthepopular sentences for the confusion of women (cut in brassworn to apolish like sombre gold)refreshed Sir Willoughby forhisundertaking.

Anexamination of Laetitia's faded complexion braced him verycordially.

His Clarajealous of this poor leaf!

He couldhave desired the transfusion of a quality or two fromLaetitiato his bride; but you cannotas in cookeryobtain amixture ofthe essences of these creatures; and ifas it ispossibleto doand as he had been doing recently with the pair ofthem atthe Hallyou stew them in one potyou are far likeliertointensify their little birthmarks of individuality. Had theya tendencyto excellence it might be otherwise; they might thenmake theexchanges we wish for; or scientifically concocted in aharem fora sufficient length of time by a sultan anything butobtusethey might. It ishoweverfruitless to dwell on what wasonly aglimpse of a wild regretlike the crossing of two expresstrainsalong the rails in Sir Willoughby's head.

The ladiesEleanor and Isabel were sitting with Miss Daleallthree atwork on embroideries. He had merely to look at MissEleanor.She rose. She looked at Miss Isabeland rattled herchatelaineto account for her departure. After a decent intervalMissIsabel glided out. Such was the perfect discipline of thehousehold.

SirWilloughby played an air on the knee of his crossed leg.

Laetitiagrew conscious of a meaning in the silence. She said"Youhave not been vexed by affairs to-day?"

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

"Ifancy I was alluding to the country."

"Itrust I am as good a patriot as any man living" said he; "butI am usedto the follies of my countrymenand we are on board astoutship. At the worst it's no worse than a rise in rates andtaxes;soup at the Hall gatesperhaps; license to fell timber inone of theouter copsesor some dozen loads of coal. You hit myfeudalism."

"Theknight in armour has gone" said Laetitia"and the castlewith thedraw-bridge. Immunity for our island has gone too sincewe took tocommerce."

"Webartered independence for commerce. You hit our oldcontroversy.Aybut we do not want this overgrown population!Howeverwe will put politics and sociology and the pack of theirmodernbarbarous words aside. You read me intuitively. I havebeenIwill not say annoyedbut ruffled. I have much to doandgoing intoParliament would make me almost helpless if I loseVernon.You know of some absurd notion he has?--literary fameandbachelor's chambersand a chop-houseand the rest of it."

She knewand thinking differently in the matter of literary famesheflushedandashamed of the flushfrowned.

He bentover to her with the perusing earnestness of a gentlemanabout totrifle.

"Youcannot intend that frown?"

"DidI frown?"

"Youdo."

"Now?"

"Fiercely."

"Oh!"

"Willyou smile to reassure me?"

"Willinglyas well as I can."

A gloomovercame him. With no woman on earth did he shine so as torecall tohimself seigneur and dame of the old French Court as hedid withLaetitia Dale. He did not wish the period revivedbutreservedit as a garden to stray into when he was in the mood fordisplayingelegance and brightness in the society of a lady; andin speechLaetitia helped him to the nice delusion. She was notdevoid ofgrace of bearing either.

Would shepreserve her beautiful responsiveness to his ascendency?Hithertoshe hadand for yearsand quite fresh. But how of heras amarried woman? Our souls are hideously subject to theconditionsof our animal nature! A wifepossibly motherit waswithinsober calculation that there would be great changes in her.And thehint of any change appeared a total change to one of theloftyorder whowhen they are called on to relinquish possessioninstead ofaspiring to itsayAll or nothing!

Wellbutif there was danger of the marriage-tie effecting theslightestalteration of her character or habit of mindwhereforepress itupon a tolerably hardened spinster!

Besidesthough he did once put her hand in Vernon's for thedanceheremembered acutely that the injury then done by hisgenerosityto his tender sensitiveness had sickened and tarnishedtheeffulgence of two or three successive anniversaries of hiscoming ofage. Nor had he altogether yet got over the passion ofgreed forthe whole group of the well-favoured of the fair sexwhich inhis early youth had made it bitter for him to submit totheficklenessnot to say the modest ficklenessof any handsomeone ofthem in yielding her hand to a man and suffering herselfto be ledaway. Ladies whom he had only heard of as ladies of somebeautyincurred his wrath for having lovers or taking husbands. Hewas of avast embrace; and do not exclaimin covetousness;--forwell heknew that even under Moslem law he could not have them all--but asthe enamoured custodian of the sex's puritythat blushesat suchbig spots as lovers and husbands; and it was unbearable tosee itsacrificed for others. Without their purity what are they!--what arefruiterer's plums?--unsaleable. O for the bloom onthem!

"As IsaidI lose my right hand in Vernon" he resumed"and Iamitseemsinevitably to lose himunless we contrive to fastenhim downhere. I thinkmy dear Miss Daleyou have my character.At leastI should recommend my future biographer to you--with acautionof course. You would have to write selfishness with adash underit. I cannot endure to lose a member of my household--not underany circumstances; and a change of feeling toward me onthe partof any of my friends because of marriageI think hard. Iwould askyouhow can it be for Vernon's good to quit an easypleasanthome for the wretched profession of Literature?--wretchedlypayingI mean" he bowed to the authoress. "Let himleave thehouseif he imagines he will not harmonize with itsyoungmistress. He is queerthough a good fellow. But he oughtin thateventto have an establishment. And my scheme for Vernon--menMiss Daledo not change to their old friends when theymarry--myschemewhich would cause the alteration in his systemof life tobe barely perceptibleis to build him a poeticallittlecottagelarge enough for a coupleon the borders of mypark. Ihave the spot in my eye. The point iscan he live alonethere?MenI saydo not change. How is it that we cannot say thesame ofwomen?"

Laetitiaremarked: "The generic woman appears to have anextraordinaryfaculty for swallowing the individual."

"Asto the individualas to a particular personI may be wrong.Preciselybecause it is her case I think ofmy strong friendshipinspiresthe fear: unworthy of bothno doubtbut trace it to thesource.Even pure friendshipsuch is the taint in usknows akind ofjealousy; though I would gladly see her establishedandnear mehappy and contributing to my happiness with herincomparablesocial charm. Her I do not estimate genericallybesure."

If you dome the honour to allude to meSir Willoughby" saidLaetitia"I am my father's housemate."

"Whatwooer would take that for a refusal? He would beg to be athird inthe house and sharer of your affectionate burden.Honestlywhy not? And I may be arguing against my own happiness;it may bethe end of me!"

"Theend?"

"Oldfriends are captiousexacting. Nonot the end. Yet if myfriend isnot the same to meit is the end to that form offriendship:not to the degree possibly. But when one is used tothe form!And do youin its application to friendshipscorn theword'use'? We are creatures of custom. I amI confessapoltroonin my affections; I dread changes. The shadow of thetenth ofan inch in the customary elevation of an eyelid!--togive youan idea of my susceptibility. Andmy dear Miss DaleIthrowmyself on your charitywith all my weakness barelet meaddas Icould do to none but you. Considerthenif I lose you!The fearis due to my pusillanimity entirely. High-souled womenmay bewivesmothersand still reserve that home for theirfriend.They can and will conquer the viler conditions of humanlife. OurstatesI have always contendedour various phases haveto bepassed throughand there is no disgrace in it so long asthey donot levy toll on the quintessentialthe spiritualelement.You understand me? I am no adept in these abstractelucidations."

"Youexplain yourself clearly" said Laetitia.

"Ihave never pretended that psychology was my forte" said hefeelingovershadowed by her cold commendation: he was not lessacutelysensitive to the fractional divisions of tones than ofeyelidsbeingas it werea melody with which everything wasout oftune that did not modestly or mutely accord; and to bearabout amelody in your person is incomparably more searching thanthe bestof touchstones and talismans ever invented. "Yourfather'shealth has improved latterly?"

"Hedid not complain of his health when I saw him this morning. MycousinAmelia is with himand she is an excellent nurse.

"Hehas a liking for Vernon."

"Hehas a great respect for Mr. Whitford."

"Youhave?"

"Ohyes; I have it equally."

"Fora foundationthat is the surest. I would have the friendsdearest tome begin on that. The headlong match is--how can wedescribeit? By its finale I am afraid. Vernon's abilities arereally tobe respected. His shyness is his malady. I suppose hereflectedthat he was not a capitalist. He mightone would thinkhaveaddressed himself to me; my purse is not locked."

"NoSir Willoughby!" Laetitia saidwarmlyfor his donations incharitywere famous.

Her eyesgave him the food he enjoyedand basking in themhecontinued:

"Vernon'sincome would at once have been regulated commensuratelywith a newposition requiring an increase. This moneymoneymoney! Butthe world will have it so. Happily I have inheritedhabits ofbusiness and personal economy. Vernon is a man whowould dofifty times more with a companion appreciating hisabilitiesand making light of his little deficiencies. They arepalpablesmall enough. He has always been aware of my wishes:--whenperhaps the fulfilment might have sent me off on another tourof theworldhomebird though I am. When was it that ourfriendshipcommenced? In my boyhoodI know. Very many yearsback."

"I amin my thirtieth year" said Laetitia.

Surprisedand pained by a baldness resembling the deeds of ladies(they havebeen knowneither through absence of mindor maniatodisplace a wig) in the deadly intimacy which slaughters poeticadmirationSir Willoughby punished her by deliberately reckoningthat shedid not look less.

"Genius"he observed"is unacquainted with wrinkles"; hardly oneof hisprettiest speeches; but he had been woundedand he nevercouldrecover immediately. Coming on him in a mood of sentimentthe woundwas sharp. He could very well have calculated the lady'sage. Itwas the jarring clash of her brazen declaration of it uponhis lowrich flute-notes that shocked him.

He glancedat the gold cathedral-clock on the mantel-pieceandproposed astroll on the lawn before dinner. Laetitia gathered upherembroidery work.

"As arule" he said"authoresses are not needle-women."

"Ishall resign the needle or the pen if it stamps me anexception"she replied.

Heattempted a compliment on her truly exceptional character. Aswhen theplayer's finger rests in distraction on the organit waswithoutmeasure and disgusted his own hearing. Neverthelessshehad beenso good as to diminish his apprehension that the marriageof a ladyin her thirtieth year with his cousin Vernon would be somuch of aloss to him; hencewhile parading the lawnnow andthencasting an eye at the window of the room where his Clara andVernonwere in councilthe schemes he indulged for his prospectivecomfortand his feelings of the moment were in such strivingharmony asthat to which we hear orchestral musicians bringingtheirinstruments under the process called tuning. It is notperfectbut it promises to be so soon. We are not angelswhichhave theirdulcimers ever on the choral pitch. We are mortalsattainingthe celestial accord with effortthrough a stage ofpain. Somedegree of pain was necessary to Sir Willoughbyotherwisehe would not have seen his generosity confronting him.He grewthereforetenderly inclined to Laetitia once moresofar as tosay within himself. "For conversation she would be avaluablewife". And this valuable wife he was presenting to hiscousin.

Apparentlyconsidering the duration of the conference of hisClara andVernonhis cousin required strong persuasion to acceptthepresent.

 

 

CHAPTER XV

ThePetition for a Release

 

NeitherClara nor Vernon appeared at the mid-day table. Dr.Middletontalked with Miss Dale on classical matterslike agood-naturedgiant giving a child the jump from stone to stoneacross abrawling mountain fordso that an unedified audiencemightreally supposeupon seeing her over the difficultyshe haddonesomething for herself. Sir Willoughby was proud of herandthereforeanxious to settle her business while he was in thehumour tolose her. He hoped to finish it by shooting a word ortwo atVernon before dinner. Clara's petition to be set freereleasedfrom himhad vaguely frightened even more than itoffendedhis pride.

MissIsabel quitted the room.

She camebacksaying: "They decline to lunch."

"Thenwe may rise" remarked Sir Willoughby.

"Shewas weeping" Miss Isabel murmured to him.

"Girlishenough" he said.

The twoelderly ladies went away together. Miss Dalepursuing hertheme withthe Rev. Doctorwas invited by him to a course in thelibrary.Sir Willoughby walked up and down the lawntaking aglance atthe West-room as he swung round on the turn of his leg.Growingimpatienthe looked in at the window and found the roomvacant.

Nothingwas to be seen of Clara and Vernon during the afternoon.Near thedinner-hour the ladies were informed by Miss Middleton'smaid thather mistress was lying down on her bedtoo unwell withheadacheto be present. Young Crossjay brought a message fromVernon(delayed by birds" eggs in the delivery)to say that hewas offover the hillsand thought of dining with Dr. Corney.

SirWilloughby despatched condolences to his bride. He was notwell ableto employ his mind on its customary topicbeinglikethe domeof a bella man of so pervading a ring within himselfconcerninghimselfthat the recollection of a doubtful speech orunpleasantcircumstance touching him closely deranged his inwardpeace; andas dubious and unpleasant things will often occurbehad greatneed of a worshipperand was often compelled to appealto her forsigns of antidotal idolatry. In this instancewhenthe needof a worshipper was sharply felthe obtained no signs atall. TheRev. Doctor had fascinated Miss Dale; so thatbothwithin andwithoutSir Willoughby was uncomforted. His themes inpublicwere those of an English gentleman; horsesdogsgamesportintriguescandalpoliticswinesthe manly themes; withacondescension to ladies" tattleand approbation of a racyanecdote.What interest could he possibly take in the AthenianTheatreand the girl whose flute-playing behind the scenesimitatingthe nightingaleenraptured a Greek audience! He wouldhavesuspected a motive in Miss Dale's eager attentivenessif themotivecould have been conceived. Besidesthe ancients were notdecorous;they did notas we make our moderns dowrite forladies. Heventured at the dinner-table to interrupt Dr. Middletononce:--

"MissDale will do wiselyI thinksirby confining herself toyourpresent edition of the classics."

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

"TheTheatre is a matter of climatesir. You will grant me that."

"Ifquick wits come of climateit is as you saysir."

"Withus it seems a matter of painful fosteringor the need ofit"said Miss Dalewith a question to Dr. MiddletonexcludingSirWilloughbyas though he had been a temporary disturbance ofthe flowof their dialogue.

The ladiesEleanor and Isabelpreviously excellent listeners tothelearned talksaw the necessity of coming to his rescue; butyou cannotconverse with your auntsinmates of your houseongeneralsubjects at table; the attempt increased his discomposure;heconsidered that he had ill-chosen his father-in-law; thatscholarsare an impolite race; that young or youngish women aredevoteesof power in any formand will be absorbed by a scholarfor avariation of a man; concluding that he must have a round ofdinner-partiesto friendsespecially ladiesappreciating himduring theDoctor's visit. Clara's headache aboveand Dr.Middleton'sunmannerliness belowaffected his instincts in a wayto makehim apprehend that a stroke of misfortune was impending;thunderwas in the air. Still he learned somethingby which hewas toprofit subsequently. The topic of wine withdrew the doctorfrom hisclassics; it was magical on him. A strong fraternity oftaste wasdiscovered in the sentiments of host and guest uponparticularwines and vintages; they kindled one another by naminggreatyears of the grapeand if Sir Willoughby had to sacrificethe ladiesto the topiche much regretted a condition of thingsthatcompelled him to sin against his habitfor the sake of beingin theconversation and probing an elderly gentleman's foible.

Late atnight he heard the house-belland meeting Vernon in thehallinvited him to enter the laboratory and tell him Dr. Corney'slast.Vernon was briefCorney had not let fly a single anecdotehe saidand lighted his candle.

"Bythe wayVernonyou had a talk with Miss Middleton?"

"Shewill speak to you to-morrow at twelve."

"To-morrowat twelve?"

"Itgives her four-and-twenty hours."

SirWilloughby determined that his perplexity should be seen; butVernonsaid good-night to himand was shooting up the stairsbefore thedramatic exhibition of surprise had yielded to speech.

Thunderwas in the air and a blow coming. Sir Willoughby'sinstinctswere awake to the many signsnorthough silencedweretheyhushed by his harping on the frantic excesses to which womenare drivenby the passion of jealousy. He believed inClara'sjealousy because he really had intended to rouse it; underthe formof emulationfeebly. He could not suppose she had spokenof it toVernon. And as for the seriousness of her desire to bereleasedfrom her engagementthat was little credible. Still thefixing ofan hour for her to speak to him after an interval offour-and-twentyhoursleft an opening for the incredible to addits weightto the suspicious mass; and who would have fanciedClaraMiddleton so wild a victim of the intemperate passion! Hemutteredto himself several assuaging observations to excuse ayoung ladyhalf dementedand rejected them in a lump for theirnonsensicalinapplicability to Clara. In order to obtain somesleepheconsented to blame himself slightlyin the style of theenamouredhistorian of erring beauties alluding to theirpeccadilloes.He had done it to edify her. Sleephoweverfailedhim. Thatan inordinate jealousy argued an overpowering lovesolved hisproblem until he tried to fit the proposition toClara'scharacter. He had discerned nothing southern in her.Latterlywith the blushing Day in prospectshe had contractedandfrozen. There was no reading either of her or of the mystery.

In themorningat the breakfast-tablea confession ofsleeplessnesswas general. Excepting Miss Dale and Dr. Middletonnone hadslept a wink. "Isir" the Doctor replied to SirWilloughby"slept like a lexicon in your library when Mr.Whitfordand I are out of it."

Vernonincidentally mentioned that he had been writing through thenight.

"Youfellows kill yourselves" Sir Willoughby reproved him. "Formy partImake it a principle to get through my work withoutself-slaughter."

Clarawatched her father for a symptom of ridicule. He gazedmildly onthe systematic worker. She was unable to guess whethershe wouldhave in him an ally or a judge. The lattershe feared.Now thatshe had embraced the strifeshe saw the division of theline whereshe stood from that one where the world places girlswho areaffianced wives; her father could hardly be with her; ithad gonetoo far. He loved herbut he would certainly take her tobe movedby a maddish whim; he would not try to understand hercase. Thescholar's detestation of a disarrangement of humanaffairsthat had been by miracle contrived to run smoothlywouldof itselfrank him against her; and with the world to back hisview ofherhe might behave like a despotic father. How could shedefendherself before him? At one thought of Sir Willoughbyhertonguemade readyand feminine craft was alert to prompt it; butto herfather she could imagine herself opposing only dumbness andobstinacy.

"Itis not exactly the same kind of work" she said.

DrMiddleton rewarded her with a bushy eyebrow's beam of hisrevoltinghumour at the baronet's notion of work.

So littlewas needed to quicken her that she sunned herself in thebeamcoaxing her father's eyes to stay with hers as long as shecouldandbeginning to hope he might be won to her sideif sheconfessedshe had been more in the wrong than she felt; owned tohimthatisher error in not earlier disturbing his peace.

"I donot say it is the same" observed Sir Willoughbybowing totheiralliance of opinion. "My poor work is for the dayandVernon'sno doubtfor the day to come. I contendneverthelessfor thepreservation of health as the chief implement of work."

"Ofcontinued work; there I agree with you" said Dr. Middletoncordially.

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

Accuse herof an overweening antagonism to her betrothed; yetrememberthat though the words had not been uttered to give hergoodreason for itnature reads nature; captives may be stript ofeverythingsave that power to read their tyrant; remember alsothat shewas notas she well knewblameless; her rage at him waspartlyagainst herself

The risingfrom table left her to Sir Willoughby. She swam awayafter MissDaleexclaiming: "The laboratory! Will you have mefor acompanion on your walk to see your father? One breathesearth andheaven to-day out of doors. Isn't it Summer with aSpringBreeze? I will wander about your garden and not hurry yourvisitIpromise."

"Ishall be very happy indeed. But I am going immediately" saidLaetitiaseeing Sir Willoughby hovering to snap up his bride.

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

"Iwill wait for you on the terrace."

"Youwill not have to wait."

"Fiveminutes at the most" Sir Willoughby said to Laetitiaandshe passedoutleaving them alone together.

"Welland my love!" he addressed his bride almost huggingly; "andwhat isthe story? and how did you succeed with old Vernonyesterday?He will and he won't? He's a very woman in theseaffairs. Ican't forgive him for giving you a headache. You werefoundweeping."

"YesI cried" said Clara.

"Andnow tell me about it. You knowmy dear girlwhether he doesordoesn'tour keeping him somewhere in the neighbourhood--perhapsnot in the house--that is the material point. It canhardly benecessary in these days to urge marriages on. I'm surethecountry is over ... Most marriages ought to be celebrated withthefuneral knell!"

"Ithink so" said Clara.

"Itwill come to thisthat marriages of consequenceand none butthosewill be hailed with joyful peals."

"Donot say such things in publicWilloughby."

"Onlyto youto you! Don't think me likely to expose myself tothe world.Welland I sounded Miss Daleand there will be noviolentobstacle. And now about Vernon?"

"Iwill speak to youWilloughbywhen I return from my walk withMiss Dalesoon after twelve."

"Twelve!"said he

"Iname an hour. It seems childish. I can explain it. But it isnamedIcannot denybecause I am a rather childish personperhapsand have it prescribed to me to delay my speaking for acertainlength of time. I may tell you at once that Mr. Whitfordis not tobe persuaded by meand the breaking of our engagementwould notinduce him to remain."

"Vernonused those words?"

"Itwas I."

"'Thebreaking of our engagement!' Come into the laboratorymylove."

"Ishall not have time."

"Timeshall stop rather than interfere with our conversation! 'Thebreaking...'! But it's a sort of sacrilege to speak of it."

"ThatI feel; yet it has to be spoken of"

"Sometimes?Why? I can't conceive the occasion. You knowto meClaraplighted faiththe affiancing of two loversis a piece ofreligion.I rank it as holy as marriage; nayto me it is holier;I reallycannot tell you how; I can only appeal to you in yourbosom tounderstand me. We read of divorces with comparativeindifference.They occur between couples who have rubbed off allromance."

She couldhave asked him in her fit of ironic icinesson hearinghim thusblindly challenge her to speak outwhether the romancemight behis piece of religion.

Hepropitiated the more unwarlike sentiments in her byejaculating"Poor souls! let them go their several ways. Marriedpeople nolonger lovers are in the category of the unnameable. Butthe hintof the breaking of an engagement--our engagement!--betweenus? Oh!"

"Oh!"Clara came out with a swan's note swelling over mechanicalimitationof him to dolorousness illimitable. "Oh!" she breathedshort"let it be now. Do not speak till you have heard me. Myhead maynot be clear by-and-by. And two scenes--twice will bebeyond myendurance. I am penitent for the wrong I have done you.I grievefor you. All the blame is mine. Willoughbyyou mustreleaseme. Do not let me hear a word of that word; jealousy isunknown tome ... Happy if I could call you friend and see youwith aworthier than Iwho might by-and-by call me friend! Youhave myplighted troth ... given in ignorance of my feelings.Reprobatea weak and foolish girl's ignorance. I have thought ofitand Icannot see wickednessthough the blame is greatshameful.You have none. You are without any blame. You will notsuffer asI do. You will be generous to me? I have no respectfor myselfwhen I beg you to be generous and release me."

"Butwas this the . . ." Willoughby preserved his calmness"thisthenthe subject of your interview with Vernon?"

"Ihave spoken to him. I did my commissionand I spoke to him."

"Ofme?"

"Ofmyself. I see how I hurt you; I could not avoid it. Yesofyouasfar as we are related. I said I believed you would releaseme. I said I could he true to my plighted wordbut that youwould notinsist. Could a gentleman insist? But not a step beyond;not love;I have none. AndWilloughbytreat me as one perfectlyworthless;I am. I should have known it a year back. I wasdeceivedin myself. There should be love."

"Shouldbe!" Willoughby's tone was a pungent comment on her.

"LovethenI find I have not. I think I am antagonistic to it.Whatpeople say of it I have not experienced. I find I wasmistaken.It is lightly saidbut very painful. You understand methat myprayer is for libertythat I may not be tied. If you canreleaseand pardon meor promise ultimately to pardon meor saysome kindwordI shall know it is because I am beneath youutterlythat I have been unable to give you the love you shouldhave witha wife. Only say to mego! It is you who break thematchdiscovering my want of a heart. What people think of mematterslittle. My anxiety will be to save you annoyance."

She waitedfor him; he seemed on the verge of speaking.

Heperceived her expectation; he had nothing but clownish tumultwithinand his dignity counselled him to disappoint her.

Swayinghis headlike the oriental palm whose shade is a blessingto theperfervid wanderer belowsmiling gravelyhe wasindirectlyasking his dignity what he could say to maintain it anddeal thismad young woman a bitterly compassionate rebuke. What tothinkhung remoter. The thing to do struck him first.

Hesqueezed both her handsthrew the door wide openand saidwithcountless blinkings: "In the laboratory we are uninterrupted.I was at aloss to guess where that most unpleasant effect on thesensescame from. They are always 'guessing' through the nose. Imeantheremainder of breakfast here. Perhaps I satirized themtoosmartly--if you know the letters. When they are not'calculating'.More offensive than debris of a midnight banquet!AnAmerican tour is instructivethough not so romantic. Not soromanticas ItalyI mean. Let us escape."

She heldback from his arm. She had scattered his brains; it waspitiable:but she was in the torrent and could not suffer a pauseor achange of place.

"Itmust be here; one minute more--I cannot go elsewhere to beginagain.Speak to me here; answer my request. Once; one word. If youforgivemeit will be superhuman. Butrelease me."

"Seriously"he rejoined"tea-cups and coffee-cupsbreadcrumbs.egg-shellscaviarebutterbeefbacon! Can we? The room reeks."

"ThenI will go for my walk with Miss Dale. And you will speak tome when Ireturn?"

"Atall seasons. You shall go with Miss Dale. Butmy dear! mylove!Seriouslywhere are we? One hears of lover's quarrels. NowI neverquarrel. It is a characteristic of mine.  And you speak ofme to mycousin Vernon! Seriouslyplighted faith signifiesplightedfaithas much as an iron-cable is iron to hold by. Somelittletwist of the mind? To Vernonof all men! Tush!  she hasbeendreaming of a hero of perfectionand the comparison isunfavourableto her Willoughby. Butmy Clarawhen I say to youthat brideis brideand you are minemine!"

"Willoughbyyou mentioned them--those separations of twomarried.You saidif they do not love . . . Oh! sayis it notbetter--insteadof later?"

He tookadvantage of her modesty in speaking to exclaim. "Whereare wenow? Bride is brideand wife is wifeand affianced isinhonourwedded. You cannot be released. We are united. Recognizeit;united. There is no possibility of releasing a wife!"

"Notif she ran ... ?"

This wastoo direct to be histrionically misunderstood. He haddriven herto the extremity of more distinctly imagining thecircumstanceshe had citedand with that cleared view thedesperatecreature gloried in launching such a bolt at the man'sreal orassumed insensibility as mustby shivering itwaken him.

But in amoment she stood in burning rosewith dimmed eyesight.She sawhis horrorandseeingshared it; shared just then onlyby seeingit; which led her to rejoice with the deepest of sighsthat someshame was left in her.

"Ran?ran? ran?" he said as rapidly as he blinked. "How? where?what idea... ?"

Close washe upon an explosion that would have sullied hisconceptionof the purity of the younger members of the sexhauntingly.

That shea young ladymaidenof strictest educationshouldandwithout his teachingknow that wives ran!--know that byrunningthey compelled their husbands to abandon pursuitsurrenderpossession!--andthat she should suggest it of herself as a wife!--that sheshould speak of running!

His idealthe common male Egoist ideal of a waxwork sexwouldhave beenshocked to fragments had she spoken further to fill intheoutlines of these awful interjections.

She wastempted: for during the last few minutes the fire of hersituationhad enlightened her understanding upon a subject farfrom heras the ice-fields of the North a short while before; andtheprospect offered to her courage if she would only outstareshame andseem at home in the doings of wickednesswas hisloathingand dreading so vile a young woman. She restrainedherself;chieflyafter the first bridling of maidenly timiditybecauseshe could not bear to lower the idea of her sex even inhisesteem.

The doorwas open. She had thoughts of flying out to breathe in anintervalof truce.

Shereflected on her situation hurriedly askance:

"Ifone must go through thisto be disentangled from anengagementwhat must it be to poor women seeking to be free of amarriage?"

Had shespoken itSir Willoughby might have learned that she wasnot soiniquitously wise of the things of this world as her meresex'sinstinctroused to the intemperateness of a creaturestrugglingwith fettershad made her appear in her dash to seizea weaponindicated moreover by him.

Clara tookup the old broken vow of women to vow it afresh: "Neverto any manwill I give my hand."

Shereplied to Sir Willoughby"I have said all. I cannot explainwhat Ihave said."

She hadheard a step in the passage. Vernon entered.

Perceivingthemhe stated his mission in apology: "DoctorMiddletonleft a book in this room. I see it; it's a Heinsius."

"Ha!by the waya book; books would not be left here if theywere notbrought herewith my compliments to Doctor Middletonwho may doas he pleasesthoughseriouslyorder is order" saidSirWilloughby. "Come away to the laboratoryClara. It's acomment onhuman beings that wherever they have been there's amessandyou admirers of them" he divided a sickly nod betweenVernon andthe stale breakfast-table"must make what you can ofit. ComeClara."

Claraprotested that she was engaged to walk with Miss Dale.

"MissDale is waiting in the hall" said Vernon.

"MissDale is waiting?" said Clara.

"Walkwith Miss Dale; walk with Miss Dale" Sir Willoughbyremarkedpressingly. "I will beg her to wait another two minutes.You shallfind her in the hall when you come down."

He rangthe bell and went out.

"TakeMiss Dale into your confidence; she is quite trustworthy"Vernonsaid to Clara.

"Ihave not advanced one step" she replied.

"Recollectthat you are in a position of your own choosing; andifafterthinking over ityou mean to escapeyou must make upyour mindto pitched battlesand not be dejected if you arebeaten inall of them; there is your only chance."

"Notmy choosing; do not say choosingMr. Whitford. I did notchoose. Iwas incapable of really choosing. I consented."

"It'sthe same in fact. But be sure of what you wish."

"Yes"she assentedtaking it for her just punishment that sheshould besupposed not quite to know her wishes. "Your advice hashelped meto-day."

"DidI advise?"

"Doyou regret advising?"

"Ishould certainly regret a word that intruded between you andhim."

"Butyou will not leave the Hall yet? You will not leave mewithout afriend? If papa and I were to leave to-morrowI foreseeendlesscorrespondence. I have to stay at least some daysandwearthrough itand thenif I have to speak to my poor fatheryou canimagine the effect on him."

SirWilloughby came striding into correct the error of his goingout.

"MissDale awaits youmy dear. You have bonnethat?--No? Haveyouforgotten your appointment to walk with her?"

"I amready" said Claradeparting.

The twogentlemen behind her separated in the passage. They hadnotspoken.

She hadread of the reproach upon womenthat they divide thefriendshipsof men. She reproached herself but she was in actiondriven bynecessitybetween sea and rock. Dreadful to think of!she wasone of the creatures who are written about.

 

 

CHAPTERXVI

Claraand Laetitia

 

In spiteof his honourable cautionVernon had said things torenderMiss Middleton more angrily determined than she had been inthe scenewith Sir Willoughby. His counting on pitched battles anda defeatfor her in all of themmade her previous feelingsappearslack in comparison with the energy of combat now animatingher. Andshe could vehemently declare that she had not chosen; shewas tooyoungtoo ignorant to choose. He had wrongly used thatword; itsounded malicious; and to call consenting the same infact aschoosing was wilfully unjust. Mr. Whitford meant well; hewasconscientiousvery conscientious. But he was not the herodescendingfrom heaven bright-sworded to smite a woman's fettersof herlimbs and deliver her from the yawning mouth-abyss.

Hislogical coolness of expostulation with her when she cast asidethe sillymission entrusted to her by Sir Willoughby and wept forherselfwas unheroic in proportion to its praiseworthiness. Hehad leftit to her to do everything she wished donestipulatingsimplythat there should be a pause of four-and-twenty hours forher toconsider of it before she proceeded in the attempt toextricateherself. Of consolation there had not been a word. Saidhe"Iam the last man to give advice in such a case". Yet she hadby nomeans astonished him when her confession came out. It cameoutsheknew not how. It was led up to by his declining the ideaofmarriageand her congratulating him on his exemption from theprospectof the yokebut memory was too dull to revive the one ortwo fieryminutes of broken language when she had been guilty ofher diremisconduct.

Thisgentleman was no flattererscarcely a friend. He could lookon hergrief without soothing her. Supposing he had soothed herwarmly?All her sentiments collected in her bosom to dash inreprobationof him at the thought. She nevertheless condemned himfor hisexcessive coolness; his transparent anxiety not to becompromisedby a syllable; his air of saying"I guessed as muchbut whyplead your case to me?" And his recommendation to her tobe quitesure she did know what she meantwas a little insulting.Sheexonerated him from the intention; he treated her as a girl.By what hesaid of Miss Dalehe proposed that lady for imitation.

"Imust be myself or I shall be playing hypocrite to dig my ownpitfall"she said to herselfwhile taking counsel with Laetitiaas to theroute for their walkand admiring a becoming curve inhercompanion's hat.

SirWilloughbywith many protestations of regret that letters ofbusinessdebarred him from the pleasure of accompanying themremarkedupon the path proposed by Miss Dale"In that case youmust havea footman."

"Thenwe adopt the other" said Claraand they set forth.

"SirWilloughby" Miss Dale said to her"is always in alarmaboutourunprotectedness."

Claraglanced up at the clouds and closed her parasol. Shereplied"It inspires timidity."

There wasthat in the accent and character of the answer whichwarnedLaetitia to expect the reverse of a quiet chatter with MissMiddleton.

"Youare fond of walking?" She chose a peaceful topic.

"Walkingor riding; yesof walking" said Clara. "The difficultyis to findcompanions."

"Weshall lose Mr. Whitford next week."

"Hegoes?"

"Hewill be a great loss to mefor I do not ride" Laetitiareplied tothe off-hand inquiry.

"Ah!"

MissMiddleton did not fan conversation when she simply breathedher voice.

Laetitiatried another neutral theme.

"Theweather to-day suits our country" she said.

"Englandor Patterne Park? I am so devoted to mountains that Ihave noenthusiasm for flat land."

"Doyou call our country flatMiss Middleton? We haveundulationshillsand we have sufficient diversitymeadowsriverscopsesbrooksand good roadsand pretty by-paths."

"Theprettiness is overwhelming. It is very pretty to see; but tolive withI think I prefer ugliness. I can imagine learning toloveugliness. It's honest. However young you areyou cannot hedeceivedby it. These parks of rich people are a part of theprettiness.I would rather have fieldscommons."

"Theparks give us delightful green walkspaths throughbeautifulwoods."

"Ifthere is a right-of-way for the public."

"Thereshould be" said Miss Dalewondering; and Clara cried: "Ichafe atrestraint: hedges and palings everywhere! I should haveto travelten years to sit down contented among thesefortifications.Of course I can read of this rich kind of Englishcountrywith pleasure in poetry. But it seems to me to requirepoetry.What would you say of human beings requiring it?"

"Thatthey are not so companionable but that the haze of distanceimprovesthe view."

"Thenyou do know that you are the wisest?"

Laetitiaraised her dark eyelashes; she sought to understand. Shecould onlyfancy she did; and if she didit meant that MissMiddletonthought her wise in remaining single.

Clara wasfull of a sombre preconception that her "jealousy" hadbeenhinted to Miss Dale.

"Youknew Miss Durham?" she said.

"Notintimately."

"Aswell as you know me?"

"Notso well."

"Butyou saw more of her?"

"Shewas more reserved with me."

"Oh!Miss DaleI would not be reserved with you."

The thrillof the voice caused Laetitia to steal a look. Clara'seyes werebrightand she had the readiness to run to volubilityof thefever-stricken; otherwise she did not betray excitement.

"Youwill never allow any of these noble trees to be felledMissMiddleton?"

"Theaxe is better than decaydo you not think?"

"Ithink your influence will be great and always used to goodpurpose.

"MyinfluenceMiss Dale? I have begged a favour this morning andcan notobtain the grant."

It waslightly saidbut Clara's face was more significantand"What?"leaped from Laetitia's lips.

Before shecould excuse herselfClara had answered: "My liberty."

In anotherand higher tone Laetitia said"What?" and she lookedround onher companion; she looked in the doubt that is open toconvictionby a narrow apertureand slowly and painfully yieldsaccess.Clara saw the vacancy of her expression gradually fillingwithwoefulness.

"Ihave begged him to release me from my engagementMiss Dale."

"SirWilloughby?"

"Itis incredible to you. He refuses. You see I have noinfluence."

"MissMiddletonit is terrible!"

"Tobe dragged to the marriage service against one's will? Yes."

"Oh!Miss Middleton!"

"Doyou not think so?"

"Thatcannot be your meaning."

"Youdo not suspect me of trifling? You know I would not. I am asmuch inearnest as a mouse in a trap."

"Noyou will not misunderstand me! Miss Middletonsuch a blow toSirWilloughby would be shockingmost cruel! He is devoted toyou."

"Hewas devoted to Miss Durham."

"Notso deeply: differently."

"Washe not very much courted at that time? He is now; not somuch: heis not so young. But my reason for speaking of MissDurham wasto exclaim at the strangeness of a girl winning herfreedom toplunge into wedlock. Is it comprehensible to you? Sheflies fromone dungeon into another. These are the acts whichastonishmen at our conductand cause them to ridicule andIdare saydespise us."

"ButMiss Middletonfor Sir Willoughby to grant such a requestif it wasmade . . ."

"Itwas madeand by meand will be made again. I throw it all onmyunworthinessMiss Dale. So the county will think of meandquitejustly. I would rather defend him than myself. He requires adifferentwife from anything I can be. That is my discovery;unhappilya late one. The blame is all mine. The world cannot betoo hardon me. But I must be free if I am to be kind inmyjudgements even of the gentleman I have injured."

"Sonoble a gentleman!" Laetitia sighed.

"Iwill subscribe to any eulogy of him" said Clarawith apenetratingthought as to the possibility of a lady experienced inhim likeLaetitia taking him for noble. "He has a noble air. Isay itsincerelythat your appreciation of him proves hisnobility."Her feeling of opposition to Sir Willoughby pushed herto thisextravagancegravely perplexing Laetitia. "And it is"addedClaraas if to support what she had said"a witheringrebuke tome; I know him lessat least have not had so long anexperienceof him."

Laetitiapondered on an obscurity in these words which would haveaccusedher thick intelligence but for a glimmer it threw onanothermost obscure communication. She feared it might bestrangethough it seemedjealousya shade of jealousy affectingMissMiddletonas had been vaguely intimated by Sir Willoughbywhen theywere waiting in the hall. "A little feminine ailmenta want ofcomprehension of a perfect friendship;" those were hiswords toher: and he suggested vaguely that care must be taken inthe eulogyof her friend.

Sheresolved to be explicit.

"Ihave not said that I think him beyond criticismMissMiddleton."

"Noble?"

"Hehas faults. When we have known a person for years the faultscome outbut custom makes light of them; and I suppose we feelflatteredby seeing what it would be difficult to be blind to!A verylittle flatters us! Nowdo you not admire that view? It ismyfavourite."

Claragazed over rolling richness of foliagewood and waterandachurch-spirea town and horizon hills. There sung a sky-lark.

"Noteven the bird that does not fly away!" she said; meaningshehad noheart for the bird satisfied to rise and descend in thisplace.

Laetitiatravelled to some notiondim and immenseof MissMiddleton'sfever of distaste. She shrunk from it in a kind ofdread lestit might be contagious and rob her of her one ever-freshpossessionof the homely picturesque; but Clara melted her bysaying"For your sake I could love it ... in time; or some dearoldEnglish scene. Since ... since this ... this change in meIfind Icannot separate landscape from associations. Now I learnhow youthgoes. I have grown years older in a week.--Miss Daleif he wereto give me my freedom? if he were to cast me off? if hestoodalone?"

"Ishould pity him."

"Him--notme! Oh! right! I hoped you would; I knew you would."

Laetitia'sattempt to shift with Miss Middleton's shiftiness wasvain; fornow she seemed really listening to the languageofJealousy:--jealous of the ancient Letty Dale--and immediatelybefore thetone was quite void of it.

"Yes"she said"but you make me feel myself in the darkandwhen I doI have the habit of throwing myself for guidance uponsuch lightas I have within. You shall know meif you willaswell as Iknow myself. And do not think me far from the point whenI say Ihave a feeble health. I am what the doctors call anaemic;a ratherbloodless creature. The blood is lifeso I have not muchlife. Tenyears back--elevenif I must be preciseI thought ofconqueringthe world with a pen! The result is that I am glad of afiresideand not sure of always having one: and that is myachievement.My days are monotonousbut if I have a dreadit isthat therewill be an alteration in them. My father has verylittlemoney. We subsist on what private income he hasand hispension:he was an army doctor. I may by-and-by have to live ina town forpupils. I could be grateful to any one who would saveme fromthat. I should be astonished at his choosing to have meburden hishousehold as well.--Have I now explained the nature ofmy pity?It would be the pity of common sympathypure lymph ofpityasnearly disembodied as can be. Last year's sheddings fromthe treedo not form an attractive garland. Their merit isthatthey havenot the ambition. I am like them. NowMiss MiddletonIcannotmake myself more bare to you. I hope you see my sincerity."

"I dosee it" Clara said.

With thesecond heaving of her heartshe cried: "See itand envyyou thathumility! proud if I could ape it! Ohhow proud if Icouldspeak so truthfully true!--You would not have spoken so tome withoutsome good feeling out of which friends are made. That Iam sureof. To be very truthful to a personone must have aliking. SoI judge by myself. Do I presume too much?"

Kindnesswas on Laetitia's face.

"Butnow" said Claraswimming on the wave in her bosom"I taxyou withthe silliest suspicion ever entertained by one of yourrank.Ladyyou have deemed me capable of the meanest of ourvices!--Holdthis handLaetitia; my friendwill you? Somethingis goingon in me."

Laetitiatook her handand saw and felt that something was goingon.

Clarasaid"You are a woman."

It was hereffort to account for the something.

She swamfor a brilliant instant on tearsand yielded to theoverflow.

When theyhad fallenshe remarked upon her first long breathquitecoolly: "An encouraging picture of a rebelis it not?"

Hercompanion murmured to soothe her.

"It'slittleit's nothing" said Clarapained to keep her lipsin line.

Theywalked forwardholding handsdeep-hearted to one another.

"Ilike this country better now" the shaken girl resumed. "Icould liedown in it and ask only for sleep. I should like tothink ofyou here. How nobly self-respecting you must beto speakas youdid! Our dreams of heroes and heroines are cold glitterbeside thereality. I have been lately thinking of myself as anoutcast ofmy sexand to have a good woman liking me a little ...loving?OhLaetitiamy friendI should have kissed youand notmade thisexhibition of myself--and if you call it hystericswoeto you!for I bit my tongue to keep it off when I had hardlystrengthto bring my teeth together--if that idea of jealousy hadnot beenin your head. You had it from him."

"Ihave not alluded to it in any word that I can recollect."

"Hecan imagine no other cause for my wish to be released. I havenoticedit is his instinct to reckon on women as constant bytheirnature. They are the needlesand he the magnet. Jealousyof youMiss Dale! Laetitiamay I speak?"

"Sayeverything you please."

"Icould wish:--Do you know my baptismal name?"

"Clara."

"Atlast! I could wish ... that isif it were your wish. YesIcould wishthat. Next to independencemy wish would be that. Iriskoffending you. Do not let your delicacy take arms againstme. I wishhim happy in the only way that he can be made happy.There ismy jealousy."

"Wasit what you were going to say just now?"

"No."

"Ithought not."

"Iwas going to say--and I believe the rack would not make metruthfullike youLaetitia--wellhas it ever struck you:rememberI do see his merits; I speak to his faithfullest friendand Iacknowledge he is attractivehe has manly tastes andhabits;but has it never struck you ... I have no right to ask; Iknow thatmen must have faultsI do not expect them to be saints;I am notone; I wish I were."

"Hasit never struck me ... ?" Laetitia prompted her.

"Thatvery few women are able to be straightforwardly sincere intheirspeechhowever much they may desire to be?"

"Theyare differently educated. Great misfortune brings it tothem."

"I amsure your answer is correct. Have you ever known a woman whowasentirely an Egoist?"

"Personallyknown one? We are not better than men."

"I donot pretend that we are. I have latterly become an Egoistthinkingof no one but myselfscheming to make use of every soulI meet.But thenwomen are in the position of inferiors. They arehardly outof the nursery when a lasso is round their necks; andif theyhave beautyno wonder they turn it to a weapon and makeas manycaptives as they can. I do not wonder! My sense of shameat mynatural weakness and the arrogance of men would urge me tomakehundreds captiveif that is being a coquette. I should nothavecompassion for those lofty birdsthe hawks. To see them withtheirwings clipped would amuse me. Is there any other way ofpunishingthem?"

"Considerwhat you lose in punishing them."

"Iconsider what they gain if we do not."

Laetitiasupposed she was listening to discursive observationsupon theinequality in the relations of the sexes. A suspicion ofa drift toa closer meaning had been lulledand the colourfloodedher swiftly when Clara said: "Here is the difference Isee; I seeit; I am certain of it: women who are called coquettesmake theirconquests not of the best of men; but men who areEgoistshave good women for their victims; women on whose devotedconstancythey feed; they drink it like blood. I am sure I am nottaking themerely feminine view. They punish themselves too bypassingover the one suitable to themwho could really give themwhat theycrave to haveand they go where they . . ." Clarastopped."I have not your power to express ideas" she said.

"MissMiddletonyou have a dreadful power" said Laetitia.

Clarasmiled affectionately. "I am not aware of any. Whose cottageis this?"

"Myfather's. Will you not come in? into the garden?"

Clara tooknote of ivied windows and roses in the porch. ShethankedLaetitia and said: "I will call for you in an hour."

"Areyou walking on the road alone?" said Laetitiaincredulouslywith aneye to Sir Willoughby's dismay.

"Iput my trust in the high-road" Clara repliedand turnedawaybutturned back to Laetitia and offered her face to bekissed.

The"dreadful power" of this young lady had fervently impressedLaetitiaand in kissing her she marvelled at her gentleness andgirlishness.

Clarawalked onunconscious of her possession of power of anykind.

 

 

CHAPTERXVII

ThePorcelain Vase

 

During theterm of Clara's walk with LaetitiaSir Willoughby'sshrunkenself-esteemlike a garment hung to the fire afterexposureto tempestuous weatherrecovered some of the sleeknessof itsvelvet pile in the society of Mrs. Mountstuart Jenkinsonwhorepresented to him the world he feared and tried to keep sunnyforhimself by all the arts he could exercise. She expected himto be thegay Sir Willoughbyand her look being as good as anincantationsummonshe produced the accustomed spritegiving hersally forsally. Queens govern the polite. Popularity with menserviceableas it is for winning favouritism with womenis ofpoor valueto a sensitive gentlemananxious even to prognosticapprehensionon behalf of his pridehis comfort and hisprevalence.And men are grossly purchasable; good wines have themgoodcigarsa goodfellow air: they are never quite worth theirsalt eventhen; you can make head against their ill looks. But thelooks ofwomen will at one blow work on you the downrightdifferencewhich is between the cock of lordly plume and themoulting.Happily they may be gained: a clever tongue will gainthemaleg. They are with you to a certainty if Nature is withyou; ifyou are elegant and discreet: if the sun is on youandthey seeyou shining in it; or if they have seen you well-stationedandhandsome in the sun. And once gained they are your mirrorsfor lifeand far more constant than the glass. That tale oftheircaprice is absurd. Hit their imaginations oncethey areyourslavesonly demanding common courtier service of you. Theywill denythat you are ageingthey will cover you from scandalthey willrefuse to see you ridiculous. Sir Willoughby'sinstinctor skinor outfloating feelerstold him of thesemysteriesof the influence of the sex; he had as little need tostudy themas a lady breathed on.

He hadsome need to know them in fact; and with him the need of aprotectionfor himself called it forth; he was intuitively aconjurerin self-defencelong-sightedwanting no directions tothe herbhe was to suck at when fighting a serpent. His dulness ofvisioninto the heart of his enemy was compensated by the agilesensitivenessobscuring but rendering him miraculously activeandwithout supposing his need immediatehe deemed it politic tofascinateMrs. Mountstuart and anticipate ghastly possibilities inthe futureby dropping a hint; not of Clara's ficklenessyou mayhe sure;of his ownrather; ormore justlyof an altered view ofClara'scharacter. He touched on the rogue in porcelain.

Set gentlylaughing by his relishing humour. "I get nearer to it"he said.

"RememberI'm in love with her" said Mrs. Mountstuart.

"Thatis our penalty."

"Apleasant one for you."

Heassented. "Is the 'rogue' to be eliminated?"

"Askwhen she's a mothermy dear Sir Willoughby."

"Thisis how I read you:--"

"Ishall accept any interpretation that is complimentary."

"Notone will satisfy me of being sufficiently so. and so I leaveit to thecharacter to fill out the epigram."

"Do.what hurry is there? And don't be misled by your objection torogue;which would be reasonable if you had not secured her."

The doorof a hollow chamber of horrible reverberation was openedwithin himby this remark.

He triedto say in jestthat it was not always a passionateadmirationthat held the rogue fast; but he muddled it in thethick ofhis conscious thunderand Mrs. Mountstuart smiled to seehim shotfrom the smooth-flowing dialogue into the cataracts byone simplereminder to the lover of his luck. Necessarilyaftera fallthe pitch of their conversation relaxed.

"MissDale is looking well" he said.

"Fairly:she ought to marry" said Mrs. Mountstuart.

He shookhis head. "Persuade her."

Shenodded. "Example may have some effect."

He lookedextremely abstracted. "Yesit is time. Where is the manyou couldrecommend for her complement? She has now what wasmissingbeforea ripe intelligence in addition to her happydisposition--romanticyou would say. I can't think women theworse forthat."

"Adash of it."

"Shecalls it 'leafage'."

"Verypretty. And have you relented about your horse Achmet?"

"Idon't sell him under four hundred."

"PoorJohnny Busshe! You forget that his wife doles him out hismoney.You're a hard bargainerSir Willoughby."

"Imean the price to be prohibitive."

"Verywell; and 'leafage' is good for hide-and-seek; especiallywhen thereis no rogue in ambush. And that's the worst I can say ofLaetitiaDale. An exaggerated devotion is the scandal of our sex.They sayyou're the hardest man of business in the county tooand I canbelieve it; for at home and abroad your aim is to getthe bestof everybody. You see I've no leafageI am perfectlymatter-of-factbald."

"Neverthelessmy dear Mrs. MountstuartI can assure youthatconversing with you has much the same exhilarating effect onme asconversing with Miss Dale."

"Butleafage! leafage! You hard bargainers have no compassion fordevotedspinsters."

"Itell you my sentiments absolutely."

"Andyou have mine moderately expressed."

Sherecollected the purpose of her morning's visitwhich was toengage Dr.Middleton to dine with herand Sir Willoughby conductedher to thelibrary-door. "Insist" he said.

Awaitingher reappearancethe refreshment of the talk he hadsustainednot without pointassisted him to distinguish in itscompleteabhorrent orb the offence committed against him by hisbride. Andthis he did through projecting it more and more awayfrom himso that in the outer distance it involved his personalemotionslesswhile observation was enabled to compass itsvastnessandas it wereperceive the whole spherical mass ofthewretched girl's guilt impudently turning on its axis.

Thus todetach an injury done to usand plant it in spaceformathematicalmeasurement of its weight and bulkis an art; it mayalso be aninstinct of self-preservation; otherwiseas whenmountainscrumble adjacent villages are crushedmen of feelingmay at anymoment be killed outright by the iniquitous and thecallous. Butas an artit should be known to those who are forpractisingan art so beneficentthat circumstances must lendtheir aid.Sir Willoughby's instinct even had sat dull and crushedbefore hisconversation with Mrs. Mountstuart. She lifted him toone of hisideals of himself. Among gentlemen he was the Englishgentleman;with ladies his aim was the Gallican courtier of anyperiodfrom Louis Treize to Louis Quinze. He could doat on thosewho ledhim to talk in that character--backed by Englishsolidityyou understand. Roast beef stood eminent behind thesouffleand champagne. An English squire excelling his fellows athazardousleaps in publiche was additionally a polishedwhisperera lively dialoguerone for witty boutswith somethinginhim--capacity for a drive and dig or two--beyond mere witasthey soonlearned who called up his reservesand had a bosom forpinking.So much for his ideal of himself. NowClara not onlyneverevokednever responded to itshe repelled it; there was noflourishingof it near her. He considerately overlooked thesefacts inhis ordinary calculations; he was a man of honour and shewas a girlof beauty; but the accidental blooming of his idealwith Mrs.Mountstuarton the very heels of Clara's offencerestoredhim to full command of his art of detachmentand hethrust heroutquite apart from himselfto contemplate herdisgracefulrevolutions.

Deeplyread in the Book of Egoism that he washe knew the wisdomof thesentence: An injured pride that strikes not out will strikehome. Whatwas he to strike with? Ten years youngerLaetitiamight havebeen the instrument. To think of her now waspreposterous.Beside Clara she had the hue of Winter under thespringingbough. He tossed her awayvexed to the very soul by anostentatiousdecay that shrank from comparison with the bloomingcreaturehe had to scourge in self-defenceby some agency orother.

Mrs.Mountstuart was on the step of her carriage when the silkenparasolsof the young ladies were descried on a slope of the parkwhere theyellow green of May-clothed beeches flowed over thebrownground of last year's leaves.

"Who'sthe cavalier?" she inquired.

Agentleman escorted them.

"Vernon?No! he's pegging at Crossjay" quoth Willoughby.

Vernon andCrossjay came out for the boy's half-hour's run beforehisdinner. Crossjay spied Miss Middleton and was off to meet herat abound. Vernon followed him leisurely.

"Therogue has no cousinhas she?" said Mrs. Mountstuart.

"It'sa family of one son or one daughter for generations"repliedWilloughby.

"AndLetty Dale?"

"Cousin!"he exclaimedas if wealth had been imputed to MissDale;adding: "No male cousin."

A railwaystation fly drove out of the avenue on the circle to thehall-entrance.Flitch was driver. He had no right to be therehewas doingwrongbut he was doing it under cover of an officetosupporthis wife and young onesand his deprecating touches ofthe hatspoke of these apologies to his former master withdog-likepathos.

SirWilloughby beckoned to him to approach.

"Soyou are here" he said. "You have luggage."

Flitchjumped from the box and read one of the labels aloud:"Lieutenant-ColonelH. De Craye."

"Andthe colonel met the ladies? Overtook them?"

Hereseemed to come dismal matter for Flitch to relate.

He beganupon the abstract origin of it: he had lost his place inSirWilloughby's establishmentand was obliged to look about forwork whereit was to be gotand though he knew he had no right tobe wherehe washe hoped to be forgiven because of the mouths hehad tofeed as a flyman attached to the railway stationwherethisgentlemanthe colonelhired himand he believed SirWilloughbywould excuse him for driving a friendwhich thecolonelwashe recollected welland the colonel recollected himand hesaidnot noticing how he was rigged: "What! Flitch! backin yourold place? Am I expected?" and he told the colonel hisunfortunatesituation. "Not backcolonel; no such luck for me"andColonel De Craye was a very kind-hearted gentlemanas healways hadbeenand asked kindly after his family. And it mightbe thatsuch poor work as he was doing now he might be deprivedofsuchis misfortune when it once harpoons a man; you may diveand youmay flybut it sticks in youonce do a foolish thing."MayI humbly beg of youif you'll be so goodSir Willoughby"saidFlitchpassing to evidence of the sad mishap. He opened thedoor ofthe flydisplaying fragments of broken porcelain.

"Butwhatwhat! what's the story of this?" cried Sir Willoughby.

"Whatis it?" said Mrs. Mountstuartpricking up her ears.

"Itwas a vaws" Flitch replied in elegy.

"Aporcelain vase!" interpreted Sir Willoughby.

"China!"Mrs. Mountstuart faintly shrieked.

One of thepieces was handed to her inspection.

She heldit closeshe held it distant. She sighed horribly.

"Theman had better have hanged himself" said she.

Flitchbestirred his misfortune-sodden features and members for acontinuationof the doleful narrative.

"Howdid this occur?" Sir Willoughby peremptorily asked him.
Flitchappealed to his former master for testimony that he was agood and acareful driver.

SirWilloughby thundered: "I tell you to tell me how thisoccurred."

"Nota dropmy lady! not since my supper last nightif there'sany truthin me!" Flitch implored succour of Mrs Mountstuart.

"Drivestraight" she saidand braced him.

Hisnarrative was then direct.

NearPiper's millwhere the Wicker brook crossed the Rebdonroadoneof Hoppner's wagonsoverloaded as usualwas forcingthe horsesuphillwhen Flitch drove down at an easy paceand sawhimselfbetween Hoppner's cart come to a stand and a young ladyadvancing:and just then the carter smacks his whipthe horsespull halfmad. The young lady starts behind the cartand up jumpsthecolonelandto save the young ladyFlitch dashed ahead anddid saveherhe thanked Heaven for itand more when he came tosee whothe young lady was.

"Shewas alone?" said Sir Willoughby in tragic amazementstaringat Flitch.

"Verywellyou saved herand you upset the fly" Mountstuartjogged himon.

"Bardettour old head-keeperwas a witnessmy ladyhad todrive halfup the bankand it's true--over the fly did go; andthe vawsit shoots out against the twelfth mile-stonejust asthoughthere was the chance for it! for nobody else was injuredandknocked against anything elseit never would have flown allto piecesso that it took Bardett and me ten minutes to collectevery onedown to the smallest piece there was; and he saidandI can'thelp thinking myselfthere was a Providence in itfor weall cometogether so as you might say we was made to do as wedid."

"Sothen Horace adopted the prudent course of walking on with theladiesinstead of trusting his limbs again to this capsizing fly"SirWilloughby said to Mrs. Mountstuart; and she rejoined: "Luckythat noone was hurt."

Both ofthem eyed the nose of poor Flitchand simultaneously theydelivereda verdict in "Humph!"

Mrs.Mountstuart handed the wretch a half-crown from her purse.SirWilloughby directed the footman in attendance to unload thefly andgather up the fragments of porcelain carefullybiddingFlitch bequick in his departing.

"Thecolonel's wedding-present! I shall call to-morrow." Mrs.Mountstuartwaved her adieu.

"Comeevery day!--YesI suppose we may guess the destination ofthe vase."He bowed her offand she cried:

"Wellnowthe gift can he sharedif you're either of you for adivision."In the crash of the carriage-wheels he heard"At anyrate therewas a rogue in that porcelain."

These arethe slaps we get from a heedless world.

As for thevaseit was Horace De Craye's loss. Wedding-present hewould haveto produceand decidedly not in chips. It had the lookof acostly vasebut that was no question for the moment:--Whatwas meantby Clara being seen walking on the high-road alone?--Whatsnaretraceable ad inferashad ever induced WilloughbyPatterneto make her the repository and fortress of his honour!

 

 

CHAPTERXVIII

ColonelDe Craye

 

Clara camealong chatting and laughing with Colonel De CrayeyoungCrossjay's hand under one of her armsand her parasolflashing;a dazzling offender; as if she wished to compel thespectatorto recognize the dainty rogue in porcelain; reallyinsufferablyfair: perfect in height and grace of movement;exquisitelytressed; red-lippedthe colour striking out to adistancefrom her ivory skin; a sight to set the woodland dancingand turnthe heads of the town; though beautifula jury of artcriticsmight pronounce her not to be. Irregular features arecondemnedin beauty. Beautiful figurethey could say. Adescriptionof her figure and her walking would have won her anypraises:and she wore a dress cunning to embrace the shape andflutterloose about itin the spirit of a Summer's day.Calypso-cladDr. Middleton would have called her. See the silverbirch in abreeze: here it swellsthere it scattersand it ispuffed toa round and it streams like a pennonand now gives theglimpseand shine of the white stem's line withinnow hurriesover itdenying that it was visiblewith a chatter along thesweepingfoldswhile still the white peeps through. She had thewonderfulart of dressing to suit the season and the sky. To-daythe artwas ravishingly companionable with her sweet-lighted face:too sweettoo vividly meaningful for prettyif not of the strictseverityfor beautiful. Millinery would tell us that she wore afichu ofthin white muslin crossed in front on a dress of the samelightstufftrimmed with deep rose. She carried a grey-silkparasoltraced at the borders with green creepersand across thearmdevoted to Crossjay a length of trailing ivyand in that handa bunch ofthe first long grasses. These hues of red rose and palegreenruffled and pouted in the billowy white of the dressballooningand valleying softlylike a yacht before the sailbends low;but she walked not like one blown against; resemblingrather theday of the South-west driving the cloudsgallantlyfirm incommotion; interfusing colour and varying in her featuresfrom laughto smile and look of settled pleasurelike the heavensabove thebreeze.

SirWilloughbyas he frequently had occasion to protest to Clarawas nopoet: he was a more than commonly candid English gentlemanin hisavowed dislike of the poet's nonsenseverbiageverse; notone ofthose latterly terrorized by the noise made about thefellowinto silent contempt; a sentiment that may sleepand hasnot to bedefended. He loathed the fellowfought the fellow. Buthe was onewith the poet upon that prevailing theme of versethecharms ofwomen. He wasto his ill-luckintensely susceptibleand wherehe led men after him to admirehis admiration became afury. Hecould see at a glance that Horace De Craye admired MissMiddleton.Horace was a man of tastecould hardlycould notdo otherthan admire; but how curious that in the setting forth ofClara andMiss Daleto his own contemplation and comparison ofthemSirWilloughby had given but a nodding approbation of hisbride'sappearance! He had not attached weight to it recently.

Herconductand foremostif not chieflyher having beendiscoveredpositively met by his friend Horacewalking on thehigh-roadwithout companion or attendantincreased a sense ofpain sovery unusual with him that he had cause to be indignant.Coming onthis conditionhis admiration of the girl who woundedhim was asbitter a thing as a man could feel. Resentmentfedfrom themain springs of his natureturned it to wormwoodandnot a whitthe less was it admiration when he resolved to chastiseher with aformal indication of his disdain. Her present gaietysounded tohim like laughter heard in the shadow of the pulpit.

"Youhave escaped!" he said to herwhile shaking the hand of hisfriendHorace and cordially welcoming him. "My dear fellow! andby thewayyou had a squeak for itI hear from Flitch."

"IWilloughby? not a bit" said the colonel; "we get into aflyto getout of it; and Flitch helped me out as well as ingoodfellow;just dusting my coat as he did it. The only bit of badmanagementwas that Miss Middleton had to step aside a triflehurriedly."

"Youknew Miss Middleton at once?"

"Flitchdid me the favour to introduce me. He first precipitatedme at MissMiddleton's feetand then he introduced mein oldorientalfashionto my sovereign."

SirWilloughby's countenance was enough for his friend Horace.Quarter-wheelingto Clarahe said: " 'Tis the place I'm to occupyfor lifeMiss Middletonthough one is not always fortunate tohave abright excuse for taking it at the commencement."

Clarasaid: "Happily you were not hurtColonel De Craye."

"Iwas in the hands of the Loves. Not the GracesI'm afraid; I'vean imageof myself. Dearno! My dear Willoughbyyou never madesuch aheadlong declaration as that. It would have looked like amagnificentimpulseif the posture had only been choicer. AndMissMiddleton didn't laugh. At least I saw nothing but pity."

"Youdid not write" said Willoughby.

"Becauseit was a toss-up of a run to Ireland or hereand I camehere notto go there; andby the wayfetched a jug with me tooffer upto the gods of ill-luck; and they accepted thepropitiation."

"Wasn'tit packed in a box?"

"Noit was wrapped in paperto show its elegant form. I caughtsight ofit in the shop yesterday and carried it off this morningandpresented it to Miss Middleton at noonwithout any form atall."

Willoughbyknew his friend Horace's mood when the Irish tongue inhimthreatened to wag.

"Yousee what may happen" he said to Clara.

"Asfar as I am in fault I regret it" she answered.

"Flitchsays the accident occurred through his driving up the bankto saveyou from the wheels."

"Flitchmay go and whisper that down the neck of his emptywhisky-flask"said Horace De Craye. "And then let him cork it."

"Theconsequence is that we have a porcelain vase broken. Youshould notwalk on the road aloneClara. You ought to have acompanionalways. It is the rule here."

"Ihad left Miss Dale at the cottage."

"Youought to have had the dogs."

"Wouldthey have been any protection to the vase?"

Horace DeCraye crowed cordially.

"I'mafraid notMiss Middleton. One must go to the witches forprotectionto vases; and they're all in the air nowhaving theirown waywith us. which accounts for the confusion in politics andsocietyand the rise in the price of broomsticksto prove ittrueasthey tell usthat every nook and corner wants a mightysweeping.Miss Dale looks beaming" said De Crayewishing todivertWilloughby from his anger with sense as well as nonsense.

"Youhave not been visiting Ireland recently?" said SirWilloughby.

"Nonor making acquaintance with an actor in an Irish part in adrama castin the Green Island. "'Tis Flitchmy dear Willoughbyhas beenand stirred the native in meand we'll present him toyou forthe like good office when we hear after a number of yearsthatyou've not wrinkled your forehead once at your liege lady.Take thepoor old dog back homewill you? He's crazed to be atthe Hall.I sayWilloughbyit would be a good bit of work totake himback. Think of it; you'll do the popular thingI'm sure.I've asuperstition that Flitch ought to drive you from thechurch-door.If I were in luckI'd have him drive me."

"Theman's a drunkardHorace."

"Hefuddles his poor nose. "'Tis merely unction to the exile.Soberstruggles below. He drinks to rock his heartbecause he hasone. Nowlet me intercede for poor Flitch."

"Nota word of him. He threw up his place."

"Totry his fortune in the worldas the best of us dothoughliveryruns after us to tell us there's no being an independentgentlemanand comes a cold day we haul on the metal-button coatagainwith a good ha! of satisfaction. You'll do the popularthing.Miss Middleton joins in the pleading."

"Nopleading!"

"WhenI've vowed upon my eloquenceWilloughbyI'd bring you topardon thepoor dog?"

"Nota word of him!"

"Justone!"

SirWilloughby battled with himself to repress a state of temperthat puthim to marked disadvantage beside his friend Horace inhighspirits. Ordinarily he enjoyed these fits of Irish of himwhich wereHorace's fun and playat times involuntaryand thentheyindicated a recklessness that might embrace mischief. DeCrayeasWilloughby had often reminded himwas properly Norman.The bloodof two or three Irish mothers in his linehoweverwasenough todance himand if his fine profile spoke of the stifferracehiseyes and the quick run of the lip in the cheekand anumber ofhis qualitieswere evidence of the maternal legacy.

"Myword has been said about the man" Willoughby replied.

"ButI've wagered on your heart against your wordandcantafford to lose; and there's a double reason for revokingfor you!"

"Idon't see either of them. Here are the ladies."

"You'llthink of the poor beastWilloughby."

"Ihope for better occupation."

"Ifhe drives a wheelbarrow at the Hall he'll be happier than onboard achariot at large. He's broken-hearted."

"He'stoo much in the way of breakagesmy dear Horace."

"Ohthe vase! the bit of porcelain!" sung De Craye. "Wellwe'lltalk himover by and by."

"Ifit pleases you; but my rules are never amended."

"Inalterableare they?--like those of an ancient peoplewhomight aswell have worn a jacket of lead for the comfort they hadof theirboast. The beauty of laws for human creatures is theiradaptabilityto new stitchings."

Colonel DeCraye walked at the heels of his leader to make his bowto theladies Eleanor and Isabel.

SirWilloughby had guessed the person who inspired his friendHorace toplead so pertinaciously and inopportunely for the manFlitch:and it had not improved his temper or the pose of hisrejoinders;he had winced under the contrast of his friendHorace'seasylaughingsparklingmusical air and manner withhis ownstiffness; and he had seen Clara's facetooscanning thecontrast--hewas fatally driven to exaggerate his discontentmentwhich didnot restore him to serenity. He would have learned morefrom whathis abrupt swing round of the shoulder precluded hisbeholding.There was an interchange between Colonel De Craye andMissMiddleton; spontaneous on both sides. His was a look thatsaid: "Youwere right"; hers: "I knew it". Her look was calmerand afterthe first instant clouded as by wearifulness ofsameness;his was brilliantastonishedspeculativeandadmiringpitiful: a look that poised over a revelationcalledup thehosts of wonder to question strange fact.

It hadpassed unseen by Sir Willoughby. The observer was the onewho couldalso supply the key of the secret. Miss Dale had foundColonel DeCraye in company with Miss Middleton at her gateway.They werelaughing and talking together like friends of oldstandingDe Craye as Irish as he could be: and the Irish tongueandgentlemanly manner are an irresistible challenge to theopeningsteps of familiarity when accident has broken the ice.Flitch wastheir theme; and: "Ohbut if we go tip to Willoughbyhand inhand; and bob a courtesy to "m and beg his pardon forMisterFlitchwon't he melt to such a pair of suppliants? ofcourse hewill!" Miss Middleton said he would not. Colonel DeCrayewagered he would; he knew Willoughby best.  Miss Middletonlookedsimply grave; a way of asserting the contrary opinion thattells ofrueful experience. "We'll see" said the colonel. Theychattedlike a couple unexpectedly discovering in one another acommondialect among strangers. Can there be an end to it whenthose twomeet? They prattlethey fill the minutesas thoughthey wereviolently to be torn asunder at a coming signalandmust haveit out while they can; it is a meeting of mountainbrooks;not a colloquybut a chasingimpossible to say whichflieswhich followsor what the topicso interlinguistic arethey andrapidly counterchanging. After their conversation of anhourbeforeLaetitia watched Miss Middleton in surprise at herlightnessof mind. Clara bathed in mirth. A boy in a summer streamshows notheartier refreshment of his whole being. Laetitia couldnowunderstand Vernon's idea of her wit. And it seemed that shealso hadIrish blood. Speaking of IrelandMiss Middleton said shehadcousins thereher only relatives.

"Thelaugh told me that" said Colonel De Craye.

Laetitiaand Vernon paced up and down the lawn. Colonel De Crayewastalking with English sedateness to the ladies Eleanor andIsabel.Clara and young Crossjay strayed.

"If Imight adviseI would saydo not leave the Hallimmediatelynot yet" Laetitia said to Vernon.

"Youknowthen?"

"Icannot understand why it was that I was taken into herconfidence."

"Icounselled it."
"Butit was done without an object that I can see."

"Thespeaking did her good."

"Buthow capricious! how changeful!"

"Betternow than later."

"Surelyshe has only to ask to be released?--to ask earnestly:if it isher wish."

"Youare mistaken."

"Whydoes she not make a confidant of her father?"

"Thatshe will have to do. She wished to spare him."

"Hecannot be spared if she is to break the engagement."

Shethought of sparing him the annoyance. "Now there's to be atusslehemust share in it."

"Orshe thought he might not side with her?"

"Shehas not a single instinct of cunning. You judge herharshly."

"Shemoved me on the walk out. Coming home I felt differently."

Vernonglanced at Colonel De Craye.

"Shewants good guidance" continued Laetitia.

"Shehas not an idea of treachery."

"Youthink so? It may be true. But she seems one born devoid ofpatienceeasily made reckless. There is a wildness ... I judgeby her wayof speaking; that at least appeared sincere. She doesnotpractise concealment. He will naturally find it almostincredible.The change in herso suddenso waywardisunintelligibleto me. To me it is the conduct of a creatureuntamed.He may hold her to her word and be justified."
"Lethim look out if he does!"

Is notthat harsher than anything I have said of her?"

"I'mnot appointed to praise her. I fancy I read the case; and it'sa case ofopposition of temperaments. We never can tell the personquitesuited to us; it strikes us in a flash."

"Thatthey are not suited to us? Ohno; that comes by degrees."

"Yesbut the accumulation of evidenceor sentienceif you likeiscombustible; we don't command the spark; it may be late infalling.And you argue in her favour. Consider her as a generousandimpulsive girloutwearied at last."

"Bywhat?"

Byanything; by his loftinessif you like. He flies too high forherwewill say."

"SirWilloughby an eagle?"

"Shemay be tired of his eyrie."

The soundof the word in Vernon's mouth smote on a consciousnessshe had ofhis full grasp of Sir Willoughby and her own timidknowledgethough he was not a man who played on words.

If he hadeased his heart in stressing the first syllableit wasonlytemporary relief. He was heavy-browed enough.

"ButI cannot conceive what she expects me to do by confiding hersense ofher position to me" said Laetitia.

"Wenone of us know what will be done. We hang on Willoughbywhohangs onwhatever it is that supports him: and there we are in aswarm."

"Yousee the wisdom of stayingMr. Whitford."

"Itmust be over in a day or two. YesI stay."

"Sheinclines to obey you."

"Ishould be sorry to stake my authority on her obedience. Wemustdecide something about Crossjayand get the money for hiscrammerif it is to be got. If notI may get a man to trust me.I mean todrag the boy away. Willoughby has been at him with thetune ofgentlemanand has laid hold of him by one ear. When I say'herobedience' she is not in a situationnor in a condition tobe ledblindly by anybody. She must rely on herselfdo everythingherself.It's a knot that won't bear touching by any hand savehers."

"Ifear . . ." said Laetitia.

"Haveno such fear."

"Ifit should come to his positively refusing."

"Hefaces the consequences."

"Youdo not think of her."

Vernonlooked at his companion.

 

 

CHAPTERXIX ColonelDe Craye and Clara Middleton

 

MISSMIDDLETON finished her stroll with Crossjay by winding hertrailer ofivy in a wreath round his hat and sticking her bunch ofgrasses inthe wreath. She then commanded him to sit on the groundbeside abig rhododendronthere to await her return. Crossjay hadinformedher of a design he entertained to be off with a horde ofboysnesting in high treesand marking spots where wasps andhornetswere to be attacked in Autumn: she thought it a dangerousbusinessand as the boy's dinner-bell had very little restraintover himwhen he was in the flush of a scheme of this descriptionshe wishedto make tolerably sure of him through the charm she notunreadilybelieved she could fling on lads of his age. "Promise meyou willnot move from here until I come backand when I come Iwill giveyou a kiss." Crossjay promised. She left him and forgothim.

Seeing byher watch fifteen minutes to the ringing of the bellasuddenresolve that she would speak to her father without anotherminute'sdelay had prompted her like a superstitious impulse toabandonher aimless course and be direct. She knew what was goodfor her;she knew it now more clearly than in the morning. To betaken awayinstantly! was her cry. There could be no furtherdoubt. Hadthere been any before? But she would not in the morninghavesuspected herself of a capacity for eviland of a pressingneed to besaved from herself. She was not pure of nature: it maybe that webreed saintly souls which are: she was pure of will:firerather than ice. And in beginning to see the elements shewas madeof she did not shuffle them to a heap with her sweetlooks tofront her. She put to her account some strengthmuchweakness;she almost dared to gaze unblinking at a perilous eviltendency.The glimpse of it drove her to her father.

"Hemust take me away at once; to-morrow!"

She wishedto spare her father. So unsparing of herself was shethatinher hesitation to speak to him of her change of feelingfor SirWilloughbyshe would not suffer it to be attributed inher ownmind to a daughter's anxious consideration about herfather'sloneliness; an idea she had indulged formerly.Acknowledgingthat it was imperative she should speaksheunderstoodthat she had refrainedeven to the inflicting uponherself ofsuch humiliation as to run dilating on her woes toothers.because of the silliest of human desires to preserve herreputationfor consistency. She had heard women abused forshallownessand flightiness: she had heard her father denouncethem asveering weather-vanesand his oft-repeated quid feminapossit:for her sex's sakeand also to appear an exception toher sexthis reasoning creature desired to be thought consistent.

Just onthe instant of her addressing himsaying: "Father" a noteofseriousness in his ear. it struck her that the occasion forsaying allhad not yet arrivedand she quickly interposed:"Papa";and helped him to look lighter. The petition to be takenaway wasuttered.

"ToLondon?" said Dr. Middleton. "I don't know who'll take usin."

"ToFrancepapa?"

"Thatmeans hotel-life."

"Onlyfor two or three weeks."

"Weeks!I am under an engagement to dine with MrsMountstuartJenkinson five days hence: that ison Thursday."

"Couldwe not find an excuse?"

"Breakan engagement? Nomy dearnot even to escape drinking awidow'swine."

"Doesa word bind us?"

"Whywhat else should?"

"Ithink I am not very well."

"We'llcall in that man we met at dinner here: Corney: a capitaldoctor; anold-fashioned anecdotal doctor. How is it you are notwellmylove? You look well. I cannot conceive your not beingwell."

"Itis only that I want change of airpapa."

"Therewe are--a change! semper eadem! Women will be wanting achange ofair in Paradise; a change of angels tooI might surmise.A changefrom quarters like these to a French hotel would be adescent!--'thisthe seatthis mournful gloom for that celestiallight.?' Iam perfectly at home in the library here. Thatexcellentfellow Whitford and I have real days: and I like him forshowingfight to his elder and better."

"Heis going to leave."

"Iknow nothing of itand I shall append no credit to the taleuntil I doknow. He is headstrongbut he answers to a rap."

Clara'sbosom heaved. The speechless insurrection threatened hereyes.

ASouth-west shower lashed the window-panes and suggested to Dr.Middletonshuddering visions of the Channel passage on board asteamer.

"Corneyshall see you: he is a sparkling draught in person;probablyilliterateif I may judge from one interruption of mydiscoursewhen he sat opposite mebut lettered enough to respectLearningand write out his prescription: I do not ask more of menor ofphysicians." Dr. Middleton said this risingglancing at theclock andat the back of his hands. "'Quod autem secundum litterasdifficillimumesse artificium?' But what after letters is the moredifficultpractice? 'Ego puto medicum.' The medicus next to thescholar:though I have not to my recollection required him nextmenorever expected child of mine to be crying for that milk.Daughtershe is--of the unexplained sex: we will send a messengerforCorney. Changemy dearyou will speedily haveto satisfythe mostcraving of womenif Willoughbyas I supposeis in theneotericfashion of spending a honeymoon on a railway: apt imageexpositionand perpetuation of the state of mania conducting totheinstitution! In my time we lay by to brood on happiness; wehad nothought of chasing it over a continentmistakinghurly-burlyclothed in dust for the divinity we sought. A smallergenerationsacrifices to excitement. Dust and hurly-burly mustperforcebe the issue. And that is your modern world. Nowmydearletus go and wash our hands. Midday-bells expect immediateattention.They know of no anteroom of assembly."

Clarastood gathered updespairing at opportunity lost. He hadnoticedher contracted shape and her eyesand had talkedmagisteriallyto smother and overbear the something disagreeableprefiguredin her appearance.

"Youdo not despise your girlfather?"

I do not;I could not; I love her; I love my girl. But you neednot singto me like a gnat to propound that questionmy dear."

"Thenfathertell Willoughby to-day we have to leave tomorrow.You shallreturn in time for Mrs. Mountstuart's dinner. Friendswill takeus inthe Darletonsthe Erpinghams. We can go toOxfordwhere you are sure of welcome. A little will recover me.Do notmention doctors. But you see I am nervous. I am quiteashamed ofit; I am well enough to laugh at itonly I cannotovercomeit; and I feel that a day or two will restore me. Say youwill. Sayit in First-Lesson-Book language; anything above aprimersplits my foolish head to-day."

DrMiddleton shruggedspreading out his arms.

"Theoffice of ambassador from you to WilloughbyClara? Youdecree meto the part of ball between two bats. The Play beingassuredthe prologue is a bladder of wind. I seem to beinstructedin one of the mysteries of erotic esoteryyet on myword I amno wiser. If Willoughby is to hear anything from youhewill hearit from your lips."

"Yesfatheryes. We have differences. I am not fit for contestsatpresent; my head is giddy. I wish to avoid an illness. He andI ... Iaccuse myself."

"Thereis the bell!" ejaculated Dr. Middleton. "I'll debate on itwithWilloughby."

"Thisafternoon?"

"Somewhenbefore the dinner-bell. I cannot tie myself to theminute-handof the clockmy dear child. And let me direct youfor thenext occasion when you shall bring the vowels I and Ainverballydetached lettersinto collisionthat you do not fillthe hiatuswith so pronounced a Y. It is the vulgarization of ourtongue ofwhich I accuse you. I do not like my girl to be guiltyof it."

He smiledto moderate the severity of the correctionand kissedherforehead.

Shedeclared her inability to sit and eat; she went to her roomafterbegging him very earnestly to send her the assurance that hehadspoken. She had not shed a tearand she rejoiced in herself-control;it whispered to her of true courage when she hadgivenherself such evidence of the reverse.

Shower andsunshine alternated through the half-hours of theafternoonlike a procession of dark and fair holding hands andpassing.The shadow cameand she was chill; the light yellow inmoistureand she buried her face not to be caught up bycheerfulness.Believing that her head achedshe afflicted herselfwith allthe heavy symptomsand oppressed her mind so thoroughlythat itsoccupation was to speculate on Laetitia Dale's modestenthusiasmfor rural pleasuresfor this place especiallywithits richfoliage and peeps of scenic peace. The prospect of anescapefrom it inspired thoughts of a loveable round of life wherethe sunwas not a naked ball of firebut a friend clothed inwoodland;where park and meadow swept to well-known features Eastand West;and distantly circling hillsand the hearts of poorcottagerstoo--sympathy with whom assured her of goodness--werefamiliarhomely to the dweller in the placemorning and night.And shehad the love of wild flowersthe watchful happiness intheseasons; poets thrilled herbooks absorbed. She dweltstronglyon that sincerity of feeling; it gave her root in ourearth; sheneeded it as she pressed a hand on her eyeballsconsciousof acting the invalidthough the reasons she had forlanguishingunder headache were so convincing that her brainrefused todisbelieve in it and went some way to produce positivethrobs.Otherwise she had no excuse for shutting herself in herroom.Vernon Whitford would be sceptical. Headache or noneColonel DeCraye must be thinking strangely of her; she had notshown himany sign of illness. His laughter and his talk sungabout herand dispersed the fiction; he was the very sea-wind forbracingunstrung nerves. Her ideas reverted to Sir Willoughbyandat oncethey had no more cohesion than the foam on atorrent-water.

But soonshe was undergoing a variation of sentiment.Her maidBarclay brought her this pencilled line from her father:

"Factumest; laetus est; amantium iraeetc."

That itwas donethat Willoughby had put on an air of gladacquiescenceand that her father assumed the existence of alovers"quarrelwas wonderful to her at first sightsimple thesucceedingminute. Willoughby indeed must be tired of herglad ofher going.He would know that it was not to return. She wasgratefulto him for perhaps hinting at the amantium iraethoughsherejected the folly of the verse. And she gazed over dearhomelycountry through her windows now. Happy the lady of theplaceifhappy she can be in her choice! Clara Middleton enviedher thedouble-blossom wild cherry-treenothing else. One sprigof itifit had not faded and gone to dust-colour like crustyAlpinesnow in the lower hollowsand then she could departbearingaway a memory of the best here! Her fiction of theheadachepained her no longer. She changed her muslin dress forsilk; shewas contented with the first bonnet Barclay presented.Amicabletoward every one in the houseWilloughby includedshethrew upher windowbreathed. blessed mankind; and she thought:"IfWilloughby would open his heart to naturehe would berelievedof his wretched opinion of the world." Nature was thensparklingrefreshed in the last drops of a sweeping rain-curtainfavourablydisposed for a background to her joyful optimism. Alittlenibble of hunger withinreal hungerunknown to her oflateadded to this healthy viewwithout precipitating her toappeaseit; she was more inclined to foster itfor the sake ofthe sinewyactivity of mind and limb it gave her; and in the styleof youngladies very light of heartshe went downstairs like acascadeand like the meteor observed in its vanishing trace shealightedclose to Colonel De Craye and entered one of the roomsoff thehall.

He cockedan eye at the half-shut door.

Now youhave only to be reminded that it is the habit of thesportivegentleman of easy lifebewildered as he would otherwisebe by thetrickstwistsand windings of the hunted sextoparcel outfair women into classes; and some are flyers and somearerunners; these birds are wild on the wingthose exposed theirbosoms tothe shot. For him there is no individual woman. Hegrants hera characteristic only to enroll her in a class. He isourimmortal dunce at learning to distinguish her as a personalvarietyof a separate growth.

Colonel DeCraye's cock of the eye at the door said that he hadseen arageing coquette go behind it. He had his excuse forformingthe judgement. She had spoken strangely of the fall of hiswedding-presentstrangely of Willoughby; or there was a sound ofstrangenessin an allusion to her appointed husband: and she hadtreatedWilloughby strangely when they met. Above allher wordaboutFlitch was curious. And then that look of hers! Andsubsequentlyshe transferred her polite attentions to Willoughby'sfriend.After a charming colloquythe sweetest give and takerattle hehad ever enjoyed with a girlshe developed headache toavoid him;and next she developed blindnessfor the same purpose.

He wasfeeling hurtbut considered it preferable to feelchallenged.

MissMiddleton came out of another door. She had seen him whenshe hadpassed him and when it was too late to convey herrecognition;and now she addressed him with an air of having bowedas shewent by.

"Noone?" she said. "Am I alone in the house?"

"Thereis a figure naught" said he"but it's as good asannihilatedand no figure at allif you put yourself on thewrong sideof itand wish to be alone in the house."

"Whereis Willoughby?"

"Awayon business."

"Riding?"

"Achmetis the horseand pray don't let him be soldMissMiddleton.I am deputed to attend on you."

"Ishould like a stroll."

"Areyou perfectly restored?"

"Perfectly."

"Strong?"

"Iwas never better."

"Itwas the answer of the ghost of the wicked old man's wife whenshe cameto persuade him he had one chance remaining. ThensaysheI'llbelieve in heaven if ye'll stop that bottleand hurlsit; andthe bottle broke and he committed suicidenot withoutsuspicionof her laying a trap for him. These showers curling awayandleaving sweet scents are divineMiss Middleton. I have theprivilegeof the Christian name on the nuptial-day. This park ofWilloughby'sis one of the best things in England. There's aglimpseover the lake that smokes of a corner of Killarney; temptsthe eye todreamI mean." De Craye wound his finger spirallyupwardlike a smoke-wreath. "Are you for Irish scenery?"
"IrishEnglishScottish."

"All'sone so long as it's beautiful: yesyou speak for me.Cosmopolitanismof races is a different affair. I beg leave todoubt thetrue union of some; Irish and Saxonfor exampleletCupid bemaster of the ceremonies and the dwelling-place of thehappycouple at the mouth of a Cornucopia. Yet I have seen aflower ofErin worn by a Saxon gentleman proudly; and the Hiberniancourting aRowena! So we'll undo what I saidand consider itcancelled."

"Areyou of the rebel partyColonel De Craye?"

"I amProtestant and ConservativeMiss Middleton."

"Ihave not a head for politics."

"Thepolitical heads I have seen would tempt me to that opinion."

"DidWilloughby say when he would be back?"

"Henamed no particular time. Doctor Middleton and Mr. Whitfordare in thelibrary upon a battle of the books."

"Happybattle!"

"Youare accustomed to scholars. They are rather intolerant of uspoorfellows."

"Ofignorance perhaps; not of persons."

"Yourfather educated you himselfI presume?"

"Hegave me as much Latin as I could take. The fault is mine thatit islittle."

"Greek?"

"Alittle Greek."

"Ah!And you carry it like a feather."

"Becauseit is so light."

"MissMiddletonI could sit down to be instructedold as I am.When womenbeat usI verily believe we are the most beaten dogsinexistence. You like the theatre?"

"Ours?"

"Actingthen."

"Goodactingof course."

"MayI venture to say you would act admirably?"

"Theventure is boldfor I have never tried."

"Letme see; there is Miss Dale and Mr. Whitford; you and I;sufficientfor a two-act piece. THE IRISHMAN IN SPAIN would do."He bent totouch the grass as she stepped on it. "The lawn iswet."

Shesignified that she had no dread of wetand said: "Englishwomenafraid of the weather might as well be shut up."

De Crayeproceeded: "Patrick O'Neill passes over from Hibernia toIberiaadisinherited son of a father in the claws of thelawyerswith a letter of introduction to Don Beltran d'ArragonaGrandee ofthe First Classwho has a daughter Dona Seraphina(MissMiddleton)the proudest beauty of her dayin the custodyof aduenna (Miss Dale)and plighted to Don Fernanof the Guzmanfamily(Mr. Whitford). There you have our dramatis personae."

"Youare Patrick?"

"Patrickhimself. And I lose my letterand I stand on the Prado ofMadridwith the last portrait of Britannia in the palm of my handand cryingin the purest brogue of my native land: 'It's allthroughdropping a letter I'm here in Iberia instead of Hiberniaworse luckto the spelling!'"

"ButPatrick will be sure to aspirate the initial letter ofHibernia."

"Thatis clever criticismupon my wordMiss Middleton! So hewould. Andthere we have two letters dropped. But he'd do it in agroansothat it wouldn't count for more than a ghost of one; andeverythinggoes on the stagesince it's only the laugh we want onthe brinkof the action. Besides you are to suppose theperformancebefore a London audiencewho have a native oppositeto theaspirate and wouldn't bear to hear him spoil a jokeas ifhe were alord or a constable. It's an instinct of the Englishdemocracy.So with my bit of coin turning over and over in anundecidedwaywhether it shall commit suicide to supply me asupperIbehold a pair of Spanish eyes like violet lightning inthe blackheavens of that favoured clime. Won't you have violet?"

"Violetforbids my impersonation."

"Butthe lustre on black is dark violet blue."

"Youremind me that I have no pretension to black."

Colonel DeCraye permitted himself to take a flitting gaze at MissMiddleton'seyes. "Chestnut" he said. "Welland Spain is theland ofchestnuts."

"Thenit follows that I am a daughter of Spain."

"Clearly."

"Logically?"

"Bypositive deduction."

"Anddo I behold Patrick?"

"Asone looks upon a beast of burden."

"Oh!"

MissMiddleton's exclamation was louder than the matter of thedialogueseemed to require. She caught her hands up.

In theline of the outer extremity of the rhododendronscreenedfrom thehouse windowsyoung Crossjay lay at his lengthwith hisheadresting on a doubled armand his ivy-wreathed hat on hischeekjust where she had left himcommanding him to stay.Half-waytoward him up the lawnshe saw the poor boyand thespur ofthat pitiful sight set her gliding swiftly. Colonel DeCrayefollowedpulling an end of his moustache.

Crossjayjumped to his feet.

"Mydeardear Crossjay!" she addressed him and reproached him."Andhow hungry you must be! And you must be drenched! This isreally toohad."

"Youtold me to wait here" said Crossjayin shy self-defence.

"Ididand you should not have done itfoolish boy! I told himto waitfor me here before luncheonColonel De Crayeand thefoolishfoolish boy!--he has had nothing to eatand he musthave beenwet through two or three times:--because I did not cometo him!"

"Quiteright. And the lava might overflow him and take the mouldof him.like the sentinel at Pompeiiif he's of the true stuff."

"Hemay have caught coldhe may have a fever."

"Hewas under your orders to stay."

"Iknow. and I cannot forgive myself. Run inCrossjayand changeyourclothes. Ohrunrun to Mrs. Montagueand get her to giveyou a warmbathand tell her from me to prepare some dinner foryou. Andchange every garment you have. This is unpardonable ofme. Isaid--'not for politics!'--I begin to think I have not ahead foranything. But could it be imagined that Crossjay wouldnot movefor the dinner-bell! through all that rain! I forgotyouCrossjay. I am so sorry; so sorry! You shall make me pay anyforfeityou like. RememberI am deepdeep in your debt. And nowlet me seeyou run fast. You shall come in to dessert thisevening."

Crossjaydid not run. He touched her hand.

"Yousaid something?"

"Whatdid I sayCrossjay?"

"Youpromised."

"Whatdid I promise?"

"Something."

"Nameitmy dear boy."

Hemumbled". . . kiss me."

Claraplumped down on himenveloped him and kissed him.

Theaffectionately remorseful impulse was too quick for aconventionalnote of admonition to arrest her from paying thatportion ofher debt. When she had sped him off to Mrs Montagueshe was ina blush.

"Deardear Crossjay!" she saidsighing.

"Yeshe's a good lad" remarked the colonel. "The fellow maywellbe afaithful soldier and stick to his postif he receivespromise ofsuch a solde. He is a great favourite with you."

"Heis. You will do him a service by persuading Willoughby to sendhim to oneof those men who get boys through their navalexamination.AndColonel De Crayewill you be kind enough to askat thedinner-table that Crossjay may come in to dessert?"

"Certainly"said hewondering.

"Andwill you look after him while you are here? See that no onespoilshim. If you could get him away before you leaveit wouldhe much tohis advantage. He is born for the navy and should bepreparingto enter it now."

"Certainlycertainly" said De Crayewondering more.

"Ithank you in advance."

"ShallI not be usurping ...

"Nowe leave to-morrow."

"Fora day?"

"Forlonger."

"Two?"

"Itwill be longer."

"Aweek? I shall not see you again?"

"Ifear not."

Colonel DeCraye controlled his astonishment; he smothered asensationof veritable painand amiably said: "I feel a blowbutI am sureyou would not willingly strike. We are all involved intheregrets."

MissMiddleton spoke of having to see Mrs. Montaguethehousekeeperwith reference to the bath for Crossjayand steppedoff thegrass. He bowedwatched her a momentand for parallelreasonsrunning close enough to hit one markhe commiserated hisfriendWilloughby. The winning or the losing of that young ladystruck himas equally lamentable for Willoughby.

 

 

CHAPTER XX

An Agedand a Great Wine

 

THEleisurely promenade up and down the lawn with ladies anddeferentialgentlemenin anticipation of the dinner-bellwas Dr.Middleton'sevening pleasure. He walked as one who had formerlydanced (inApollo's time and the young god Cupid's)elastic onthemuscles of the calf and footbearing his broad iron-grey headin grandelevation. The hard labour of the day approved thecoolingexercise and the crowning refreshments of French cookeryand winesof known vintages. He was happy at that hour indispensingwisdom or nugae to his hearerslike the Western sunwhosehabit it iswhen he is fairly treatedto break out inquietsplendourswhich by no means exhaust his treasury. Blessedindeedabove his fellowsby the height of the bow-winged bird ina fairweather sunset sky above the pecking sparrowis he thatever inthe recurrent evening of his day sees the best of it aheadand soonto come. He has the rich reward of a youth and manhood ofvirtuousliving. Dr. Middleton misdoubted the future as well as thepast ofthe man who did notin becoming gravityexult to dine.That manhe deemed unfit for this world and the next.

An exampleof the good fruit of temperancehe had a comfortablepride inhis digestionand his political sentiments were attunedby hisveneration of the Powers rewarding virtue. We must have astableworld where this is to be done.

The Rev.Doctor was a fine old picture; a specimen of artpeculiarlyEnglish; combining in himself piety and epicurismlearningand gentlemanlinesswith good room for each and a seat atoneanother's table: for the resta strong manan athlete in hisyouthakeen reader of facts and no reader of personsgenialagiant at ataska steady worker besidesbut easily discomposed.He lovedhis daughter and he feared her. However much he likedhercharacterthe dread of her sex and age was constantly presentto warnhim that he was not tied to perfect sanity while thedamselClara remained unmarried. Her mother had been an amiablewomanofthe poetical temperament neverthelesstoo enthusiasticimaginativeimpulsivefor the repose of a sober scholar; anadmirablewomanstillas you seea womana fire-work. The girlresembledher. Why should she wish to run away from Patterne Hallfor asingle hour? Simply because she was of the sex born mutableandexplosive. A husband was her proper custodianjustlyrelievinga father. With demagogues abroad and daughters at homephilosophyis needed for us to keep erect. Let the girl beCicero'sTullia: wellshe dies! The choicest of them will furnishusexamples of a strange perversity.

Miss Dalewas beside Dr. Middleton. Clara came to them and took theotherside.

"Iwas telling Miss Dale that the signal for your subjection is myenfranchisement"he said to hersighing and smiling. "We knowthe date.The date of an event to come certifies to it as a factto becounted on."

"Areyou anxious to lose me?" Clara faltered.

"Mydearyou have planted me on a field where I am to expect thetrumpetand when it blows I shall be quit of my nervesno more."

Clarafound nothing to seize on for a reply in these words. Shethoughtupon the silence of Laetitia.

SirWilloughby advancedappearing in a cordial mood.

"Ineed not ask you whether you are better" he said to Clarasparkledto Laetitiaand raised a key to the level of Dr.Middleton'sbreastremarking"I am going down to my innercellar."

"Aninner cellar!" exclaimed the doctor.

"Sacredfrom the butler. It is interdicted to Stoneman. Shall Ioffermyself as guide to you? My cellars are worth a visit."

"Cellarsare not catacombs. They areif rightly constructedrightlyconsideredcloisterswhere the bottle meditates on joysto bestownot on dust misused! Have you anything great?"

"Awine aged ninety."

"Isit associated with your pedigree that you pronounce the agewith suchassurance?"

"Mygrandfather inherited it."

"YourgrandfatherSir Willoughbyhad meritorious offspringnotto speakof generous progenitors. What would have happened had itfalleninto the female line! I shall be glad to accompany you.Port?Hermitage?"

"Port."

"Ah!We are in England!"

"Therewill just be time" said Sir Willoughbyinducing Dr.Middletonto step out.

A chirrupwas in the reverend doctor's tone: "Hockstoohavecompassedage. I have tasted senior Hocks. Their flavours are as abrook ofmany voices; they have depth also. Senatorial Port! wesay. Wecannot say that of any other wine. Port is deep-sea deep.It is inits flavour deep; mark the difference. It is like aclassictragedyorganic in conception. An ancient Hermitage hasthe lightof the antique; the merit that it can grow to an extremeold age; amerit. Neither of Hermitage nor of Hock can you saythat it isthe blood of those long yearsretaining the strengthof youthwith the wisdom of age. To Port for that! Port is ournoblestlegacy! ObserveI do not compare the wines; I distinguishthequalities. Let them live together for our enrichment; they arenot rivalslike the Idaean Three. Were they rivalsa fourthwouldchallenge them. Burgundy has great genius. It does wonderswithin itsperiod; it does all except to keep up in the race; itisshort-lived. An aged Burgundy runs with a beardless Port. Icherishthe fancy that Port speaks the sentences of wisdomBurgundysings the inspired Ode. Or put itthat Port is theHomerichexameterBurgundy the pindaric dithyramb. What do yousay?"

"Thecomparison is excellentsir."

"Thedistinctionyou would remark. Pindar astounds. But his elderbrings usthe more sustaining cup. One is a fountain of prodigiousascent.One is the unsounded purple sea of marching billows."

"Avery fine distinction."

"Iconceive you to be now commending the similes. They pertain tothe timeof the first critics of those poets. Touch the Greeksand youcan nothing new; all has been said: 'Graiis ... praeterlaudemnullius avaris.' Genius dedicated to Fame is immortal. Wesirdedicate genius to the cloacaline floods. We do not addresstheunforgetting godsbut the popular stomach."

SirWilloughby was patient. He was about as accordantly coupledwith Dr.Middleton in discourse as a drum duetting with abass-viol;and when he struck in he received correction from thepaedagogue-instrument.If he thumped affirmative or negativehewas wrong.Howeverhe knew scholars to be an unmannered species;and thedoctor's learnedness would be a subject to dilate on.

In thecellarit was the turn for the drum. Dr. Middleton wastongue-tiedthere. Sir Willoughby gave the history of his wine inheads ofchapters; whence it came to the family originallyandhow it hadcome down to him in the quantity to be seen."Curiouslymy grandfatherwho inherited itwas a water-drinker.My fatherdied early."

"Indeed!Dear me!" the doctor ejaculated in astonishment andcondolence.The former glanced at the contrariety of manthelatterembraced his melancholy destiny.

He wasimpressed with respect for the family. This cool vaultedcellarand the central square blockor enceintewhere the thickdarknesswas not penetrated by the intruding lampbut rather tookit as aneyebore witness to forethoughtful practical solidity inthe manwho had built the house on such foundations. A househaving agreat wine stored below lives in our imaginations as ajoyfulhousefast and splendidly rooted in the soil. Andimaginationhas a place for the heir of the house. His grandfatherawater-drinkerhis father dying earlypresent circumstances tous arguingpredestination to an illustrious heirship and career.DrMiddleton's musings were coloured by the friendly vision ofglasses ofthe great wine; his mind was festive; it pleased himand hechose to indulge in his whimsicalrobustiousgrandiose-airystyle of thinking: from which the festive mind willsometimestake a certain print that we cannot obliterateimmediately.Expectation is gratefulyou know; in the mood ofgratitudewe are waxen. And he was a self-humouring gentleman.

He likedSir Willoughby's tone in ordering the servant at hisheels totake up "those two bottles": it prescribedwithoutoverdoingita proper amount of cautionand it named anagreeablenumber.

Watchingthe man's hand keenlyhe said:

"Buthere is the misfortune of a thing super-excellent:--not morethan onein twenty will do it justice."

SirWilloughby replied: "Very truesir; and I think we may passover thenineteen."

"Womenfor example; and most men."

"Thiswine would be a scaled book to them."

"Ibelieve it would. It would be a grievous waste."

"Vernonis a claret man; and so is Horace De Craye. They are bothbelow themark of this wine. They will join the ladies. Perhapsyou and Isirmight remain together."

"Withthe utmost good-will on my part."

"I amanxious for your verdictsir."

"Youshall have itsirand not out of harmony with the chorusprecedingmeI can predict. Coolnot frigid." Dr. Middletonsummed theattributes of the cellar on quitting it. "North sideand South.No musty damp. A pure air. Everything requisite. Onemight liedown one's self and keep sweet here."

Of all ourvenerable British of the two Isles professing asucklingattachment to an ancient port-winelawyerdoctorsquirerosy admiralcity merchantthe classic scholar is hewhoseblood is most nuptial to the webbed bottle. The reason mustbethathe is full of the old poets. He has their spirit to singwithandthe best that Time has done on earth to feed it. He mayalsoperceive a resemblance in the wine to the studious mindwhich isthe obverse of our mortalityand throws off acids andcrustyparticles in the piling of the yearsuntil it is fulgentbyclarity. Port hymns to his conservatism. It is magical: at onesip he isoff swimming in the purple flood of the ever-youthfulantique.

Bycomparisonthenthe enjoyment of others is brutish; they havenot thesoul for it; but he is worthy of the wineas are poetsof Beauty.In truththese should be severally apportioned tothemscholar and poetas his own good thing. Let it be so.

MeanwhileDr. Middleton sipped.

After thedeparture of the ladiesSir Willoughby had practised astudiedcurtness upon Vernon and Horace.

"Youdrink claret" he remarked to thempassing it round. "PortI thinkDoctor Middleton? The wine before you may serve for apreface.We shall have your wine in five minutes."

The claretjug emptySir Willoughby offered to send for more. DeCraye waslanguid over the question. Vernon rose from the table.

"Wehave a bottle of Doctor Middleton's port coming in"Willoughbysaid to him.

"Mineyou call it?" cried the doctor.

"It'sa royal winethat won't suffer sharing" said Vernon.

"We'llbe with youif you go into the billiard-roomVernon."

"Ishall hurry my drinking of good wine for no man" said the Rev.Doctor.

"Horace?"

"I'mbeneath itephemeralWilloughby. I am going to theladies."

Vernon andDe Craye retired upon the arrival of the wine; and Dr.Middletonsipped. He sipped and looked at the owner of it.

"Somethirty dozen?" he said.

"Fifty."

The doctornodded humbly.

"Ishall remembersir" his host addressed him. "whenever Ihavethe honourof entertaining youI am cellarer of that wine."

The Rev.Doctor set down his glass. "You havesirin some sense.anenviable post. It is a responsible oneif that be a blessing.On you itdevolves to retard the day of the last dozen."

"Youropinion of the wine is favourablesir?"

"Iwill say this:--shallow souls run to rhapsody:--I will saythat I amconsoled for not having lived ninety years backor atany periodbut the presentby this one glass of your ancestralwine."

"I amcareful of it" Sir Willoughby saidmodestly; "still itsnaturaldestination is to those who can appreciate it. You dosir."

"Stillmy good friendstill! It is a charge; it is a possessionbut partin trusteeship. Though we cannot declare it an entailedestateour consciences are in some sort pledged that it shall beasuccession not too considerably diminished."

"Youwill not object to drink itsirto the health of yourgrandchildren.And may you live to toast them in it on theirmarriage-day!"

"Youcolour the idea of a prolonged existence in seductive hues.Ha! It isa wine for Tithonus. This wine would speed him to therosyMorning--aha!"

"Iwill undertake to sit you through it up to morning" said SirWilloughbyinnocent of the Bacchic nuptiality of the allusion.

DrMiddleton eyed the decanter. There is a grief in gladnessforapremonition of our mortal state. The amount of wine in thedecanterdid not promise to sustain the starry roof of night andgreet thedawn. "Old winemy frienddenies us the full bottle!"

"Anotherbottle is to follow."

"No!"

"Itis ordered."

"Iprotest."

"Itis uncorked."

"Ientreat."

"Itis decanted."

"Isubmit. Butmarkit must be honest partnership. You are myworthyhostsiron that stipulation. Note the superiority ofwine overVenus!--I may saythe magnanimity of wine; ourjealousyturns on him that will not share! But the corksWilloughby.The corks excite my amazement."

"Thecorking is examined at regular intervals. I remember theoccurrencein my father's time. I have seen to it once."

"Itmust be perilous as an operation for tracheotomy; which Ishouldassume it to resemble in surgical skill and firmness ofhandnotto mention the imminent gasp of the patient."

A freshdecanter was placed before the doctor.

He said:"I have but a girl to give!" He was melted.

SirWilloughby replied: "I take her for the highest prize thisworldaffords."

"Ihave beaten some small stock of Latin into her headand a noteof Greek.She contains a savour of the classics. I hoped once ...But she isa girl. The nymph of the woods is in her. Still shewill bringyou her flower-cup of Hippocrene. She has thataristocracy--thenoblest. She is fair; a Beautysome have saidwho judgenot by lines. Fair to meWilloughby! She is my sky.There wereapplicants. In Italy she was besought of me. She has nohistory.You are the first heading of the chapter. With you shewill haveher one taleas it should be. 'Mulier tum bene olet'you know.Most fragrant she that smells of naught. She goes to youfrom mefrom me alonefrom her father to her husband. 'Ut flosin septissecretus nascitur hortis.'" He murmured on the lines to"'Sicvirgodum . . .'  I shall feel the parting. She goes to onewho willhave my pride in herand more. I will addwho will beenvied.Mr. Whitford must write you a Carmen Nuptiale."

The heartof the unfortunate gentleman listening to Dr. Middletonset in forirregular leaps. His offended temper broke away fromthe imageof Clararevealing her as he had seen her in themorningbeside Horace De Crayedistressingly sweet; sweet withthe breezyradiance of an English soft-breathing day; sweet withsharpnessof young sap. Her eyesher lipsher fluttering dressthatplayed happy mother across her bosomgiving peeps of theveiledtwins; and her laughterher slim figurepeerlesscarriageall her terrible sweetness touched his wound to thesmartingquick.

Her wishto be free of him was his anguish. In his pain he thoughtsincerely.When the pain was easier he muffled himself in the ideaof herjealousy of Laetitia Daleand deemed the wish a fiction.But shehad expressed it. That was the wound he sought to comfort;for thedouble reasonthat he could love her better afterpunishingherand that to meditate on doing so masked the fear oflosingher--the dread abyss she had succeeded in forcing hisnature toshudder at as a giddy edge possibly nearin spite ofhis artsof self-defence.

"WhatI shall do to-morrow evening!" he exclaimed. "I do not careto fling abottle to Colonel De Craye and Vernon. I cannot openone formyself. To sit with the ladies will be sitting in the coldfor me.When do you bring me back my bridesir?"

"Mydear Willoughby!" The Rev. Doctor puffedcomposed himselfandsipped. "The expedition is an absurdity. I am unable to seethe aim ofit. She had a headachevapours. They are overandshe willshow a return of good sense. I have ever maintained thatnonsenseis not to be encouraged in girls. I can put my foot onit. Myarrangements are for staying here a further ten daysinthe termsof your hospitable invitation. And I stay."

"Iapplaud your resolutionsir. Will you prove firm?"

"I amnever false to my engagementWilloughby."

"Notunder pressure?"

"Underno pressure."

"PersuasionI should have said."

"Certainlynot. The weakness is in the yieldingeither topersuasionor to pressure. The latter brings weight to bear on us;the formerblows at our want of it."

"Yougratify meDoctor Middletonand relieve me."

"Icordially dislike a breach in good habitsWilloughby. But Idoremember--was I wrong?--informing Clara that you appearedlight-heartedin regard to a departureor gap in a visitthatwas notImust confessto my liking."

"Simplymy dear doctoryour pleasure was my pleasure; but makemypleasure yoursand you remain to crack many a bottle with yourson-in-law."

"Excellentlysaid. You have a courtly speechWilloughby. I canimagineyou to conduct a lovers" quarrel with a politeness to reada lessonto well-bred damsels. Aha?"

"Spareme the futility of the quarrel."

"All'swell?"

"Clarareplied Sir Willoughbyin dramatic epigram"isperfection."

"Irejoice" the Rev. Doctor responded; taught thus to understandthat thelovers" quarrel between his daughter and his host was atan end.

He leftthe table a little after eleven o'clock. A short dialogueensuedupon the subject of the ladies. They must have gone to bed?Whyyes;of course they must. It is good that they should go tobed earlyto preserve their complexions for us. Ladies arecreation'sglorybut they are anti-climaxfollowing a wine of acenturyold. They are anti-climaxrecoilcross-current; morallythey arerepentancepenance; imageriallythe frozen North on theyoungbrown buds bursting to green. What know they of a critic inthepalateand a frame all revelry! And mark yourevelry insobrietycontainment in exultation; classic revelry. Can theydearthough they be to uslight up candelabras in the braintoilluminateall history and solve the secret of the destiny of man?Theycannot; they cannot sympathize with them that can. Sothereforethis division is between us; yet are we not turbanedOrientalsnor are they inmates of the harem. We are not Moslem.Be assuredof it in the contemplation of the table's decanter.

DrMiddleton said: "Then I go straight to bed."

"Iwill conduct you to your doorsir" said his host.

The pianowas heard. Dr. Middleton laid his hand on the banistersandremarked: "The ladies must have gone to bed?"

Vernoncame out of the library and was hailed"Fellow-student!"

He waved agood-night to the Doctorand said to Willoughby: "Theladies arein the drawing-room."

"I amon my way upstairs" was the reply.

"Solitudeand sleepafter such a wine as that; and forefend ushumansociety!" the Doctor shouted. "ButWilloughby!"

"Sir."

"Oneto-morrow."

"Youdispose of the cellarsir."

"I amfitter to drive the horses of the sun. I would rigidlycounseloneand no more. We have made a breach in the fiftiethdozen.Daily one will preserve us from having to name the fortiethquite sounseasonably. The couple of bottles per diemprognosticatesdisintegrationwith its accompanying recklessness.Constitutionallylet me addI bear three. I speak forposterity."

During Dr.Middleton's allocution the ladies issued from thedrawing-roomClara foremostfor she had heard her father'svoiceanddesired to ask him this in reference to theirdeparture:"Papawill you tell me the hour to-morrow?"

She ran upthe stairs to kiss himsaying again: "When will you bereadyto-morrow morning?"

DrMiddleton announced a stoutly deliberative mind in thebugle-notesof a repeated ahem. He bethought him of replying inhisdoctorial tongue. Clara's eager face admonished him tobrevity:it began to look starved. Intruding on his vision of thehouriscouched in the inner cellar to be the reward of valiantmenitannoyed him. His brows joined. He said: "I shall not bereadyto-morrow morning."

"Inthe afternoon?"

"Norin the afternoon."

"When?"

"MydearI am ready for bed at this momentand know of no otherreadiness.Ladies" he bowed to the group in the hall below him"mayfair dreams pay court to you this night!"

SirWilloughby had hastily descended and shaken the hands of theladiesdirected Horace De Craye to the laboratory for asmoking-roomand returned to Dr. Middleton. Vexed by the sceneuncertainof his temper if he stayed with Clarafor whom he hadarrangedthat her disappointment should take place on the morrowin hisabsencehe said: "Good-nightgood-night" to herwithduefervourbending over her flaccid finger-tips; then offeredhis arm tothe Rev. Doctor.

"Ayson Willoughbyin friendlinessif you willthough I am aman tobear my load" the father of the stupefied girl addressedhim."CandlesI believeare on the first landing. Good-nightmy love.Clara!"

"Papa!"

"Good-night."

"Oh!"she lifted her breast with the interjectionstanding inshame ofthe curtained conspiracy and herself"good night".

Her fatherwound up the stairs. She stepped down.

"Therewas an understanding that papa and I should go to Londonto-morrowearly" she saidunconcernedlyto the ladiesand hervoice wasclearbut her face too legible. De Craye was heartilyunhappy atthe sight.

 

 

CHAPTERXXI

Clara'sMeditations

 

Two weresleepless that night: Miss Middleton and Colonel DeCraye.

She was ina feverlying like stonewith her brain burning.Quicknatures run out to calamity in any little shadow of it flungbefore.Terrors of apprehension drive them. They stop not short oftheuttermost when they are on the wings of dread. A frown meanstempestawind wreck; to see fire is to be seized by it. When itis theapproach of their loathing that they fearthey are in thetragedy ofthe embrace at a breath; and then is the wrestlebetweenthemselves and horrorbetween themselves and evilwhichpromisesaid; themselves and weaknesswhich calls on evil;themselvesand the better part of themwhich whispers nobeguilement.

The falsecourse she had taken through sophistical cowardiceappalledthe girl; she was lost. The advantage taken of it byWilloughbyput on the form of strengthand made her feel abjectreptilious;she was lostcarried away on the flood of thecataract.He had won her father for an ally. Strangelyshe knewnot howhe had succeeded in swaying her fatherwho hadpreviouslynot more than tolerated him. "Son Willoughby" on herfather'slips meant something that scenes and scenes would have tostrugglewithto the out-wearying of her father and herself. Sherevolvedthe "Son Willoughby" through moods of stupefactioncontemptrevoltsubjection. It meant that she was vanquished.It meantthat her father's esteem for her was forfeited. She sawhim agigantic image of discomposure.

Herrecognition of her cowardly feebleness brought the brood offatalism.What was the right of so miserable a creature as she toexcitedisturbancelet her fortunes be good or ill? It would bequieter tofloatkinder to everybody. Thank heaven for thechances ofa short life! Once in a netdesperation is graceless.We may bebrutes in our earthly destinies: in our endurance ofthem weneed not be brutish.

She wasnow in the luxury of passivitywhen we throw our burdenon thePowers aboveand do not love them. The need to love themdrew herout of itthat she might strive with the unbearableandby sheerstrivingeven though she were gracelesscome to lovethemhumbly. It is here that the seed of good teaching supports asoulforthe condition might be mappedand where kismet whispersus to shuteyesand instruction bids us look upis at awell-markedcross-road of the contest.

Quick ofsensationbut not courageously resolvedshe perceivedhowblunderingly she had acted. For a punishmentit seemed to herthat shewho had not known her mind must learn to conquer hernatureand submit. She had accepted Willoughby; therefore sheacceptedhim. The fact became a matter of the pastpast debating.

In theabstract this contemplation of circumstances went well. Aplain dutylay in her way. And then a disembodied thought flewround hercomparing her with Vernon to her discredit. He had foryearsborne much that was distasteful to himfor the purpose ofstudyingand with his poor income helping the poorer thanhimself.She dwelt on him in pity and envy; he had lived in thisplaceandso must she; and he had not been dishonoured by hismodesty:he had not failed of self-controlbecause he had a lifewithin.She was almost imagining she might imitate him when theclash of asharp physical thought"The difference! thedifference!"told her she was woman and never could submit. Can awoman havean inner life apart from him she is yoked to? She triedto nestledeep away in herself: in some corner where the abstractview hadcomforted herto flee from thinking as her feminineblooddirected. It was a vain effort. The differencethe cruelfatethedefencelessness of womenpursued herstrung her towildhorses" backstossed her on savage wastes. In her case dutywas shame:henceit could not be broadly duty. That intolerabledifferenceproscribed the word.

But thefire of a brain burning high and kindling everythinglighted upherself against herself.--Was one so volatile as she apersonwith a will?--Were they not a multitude of flitting wishesthat shetook for a will? Was shefeather-headed that she wasaperson tomake a stand on physical pride?--If she could yield herhandwithout reflection (as she conceived she had donefromincapacityto conceive herself doing it reflectively) was she muchbetterthan purchaseable stuff that has nothing to say to thebargain?

Furthermoresaid her incandescent reasonshe had not suspectedsuch artof cunning in Willoughby. Then might she not be deceivedaltogether--mightshe not have misread him? Stronger than shehadfanciedmight he not be likewise more estimable? The worldwasfavourable to him; he was prized by his friends.

Shereviewed him. It was all in one flash. It was not much lessintentionallyfavourable than the world's review and that of hisfriendsbutbeginning with the idea of themshe recollected--heardWilloughby's voice pronouncing his opinion of his friendsand theworld; of Vernon Whitford and Colonel De Craye forexampleand of men and women. An undefined agreement to have thesameregard for him as his friends and the world hadprovidedthat hekept at the same distance from herwas the termination ofthisphaseoccupying about a minute in timeand reached througha seriesof intensely vivid pictures:--his faceat her petitionto bereleasedlowering behind them for a background and acomment.

"Icannot! I cannot!" she criedaloud; and it struck her that herrepulsionwas a holy warning. Better be graceless than a loathingwife:better appear inconsistent. Why should she not appear suchas shewas?

Why? Weanswer that question usually in angry reliance on certainsuperbqualitiesinjured fine qualities of ours undiscovered bythe worldnot much more than suspected by ourselveswhich arestill ourfortresswhere pride sits at homesolitary andimperviousas an octogenarian conservative. But it is not possibleto answerit so when the brain is rageing like a pine-torch andthedevouring illumination leaves not a spot of our nature covert.The aspectof her weakness was unrelievedand frightened her backto herloathing. From her loathingas soon as her sensations hadquickenedto realize itshe was hurled on her weakness. She wasgracelessshe was inconsistentshe was volatileshe wasunprincipledshe was worse than a prey to wickedness--capableof it; shewas only waiting to be misled. Naythe idea of beingmisledsuffused her with languor; for then the battle would beover andshe a happy weed of the sea no longer suffering thosetugs atthe rootsbut leaving it to the sea to heave and contend.She wouldhe like Constantia then: like her in her fortunes: neverso braveshe feared.

Perhapsvery like Constantia in her fortunes!

Poortroubled bodies waking up in the night to behold visually thespectrecast forth from the perplexed machinery inside themstareat it fora spacetill touching consciousness they dive downunder thesheets with fish-like alacrity. Clara looked at herthoughtand suddenly headed downward in a crimson gulf.

She musthave obtained absolutionor else it was oblivionbelow.Soon afterthe plunge her first object of meditation was ColonelDe Craye.She thought of him calmly: he seemed a refuge. He wasvery nicehe was a holiday character. His lithe figureneat firmfooting ofthe stagswift intelligent expressionand his readyfrolicsomenesspleasant humourcordial temperand his Irishrywhereon hewas at liberty to playas on the emblem harp of theIsleweresoothing to think of. The suspicion that she trickedherselfwith this calm observation of him was dismissed. Issuingout oftortureher young nature eluded the irradiating brain insearch ofrefreshmentand she luxuriated at a feast inconsideringhim--shower on a parched land that he was! He spreadnew airabroad. She had no reason to suppose he was not a goodman: shecould securely think of him. Besides he was bound by hisprospectiveoffice in support of his friend Willoughby to be quiteharmless.And besides (you are not to expect logical sequences)theshowery refreshment in thinking of him lay in the sort ofassuranceit conveyedthat the more she thoughtthe less wouldhe belikely to figure as an obnoxious official--that isas theman to doby Willoughby at the altar what her father wouldunderthesuppositionbe doing by her. Her mind reposed on Colonel DeCraye.

His namewas Horace. Her father had worked with her at Horace. Sheknew mostof the Odes and some of the Satires and Epistles of thepoet. Theyreflected benevolent beams on the gentleman of thepoet'sname. He too was vivacioushad funcommon senseelegance;loved rusticityhe saidsighed for a country lifefanciedretiring to Canada to cultivate his own domain; "modusagri nonita magnus:" a delight. And hetoowhen in thecountrysighed for town. There were strong features ofresemblance.He had hinted in fun at not being rich. "Quae virtuset quantasit vivere parvo." But that quotation applied to andbelongedto Vernon Whitford. Even so little disarranged hermeditations.

She wouldhave thought of Vernonas her instinct of safetypromptedhad not his exactions been excessive. He proposed tohelp herwith advice only. She was to do everything for herselfdo anddare everythingdecide upon everything. He told her flatlythat sowould she learn to know her own mind; and flatlythat itwas herpenance. She had gained nothing by breaking down andpouringherself out to him. He would have her bring Willoughby andher fatherface to faceand be witness of their interview--herselfthe theme. What alternative was there?--obedience to theword shehad pledged. He talked of patienceof self-examinationandpatience. But all of her--she was all marked urgent. Thishouse wasa cageand the world--her brain was a cageuntil shecouldobtain her prospect of freedom.

As for thehouseshe might leave it; yonder was the dawn.

She wentto her window to gaze at the first colour along the grey.Smallsatisfaction came of gazing at that or at herself. Sheshunnedglass and sky. One and the other stamped her as a slave ina frame.It seemed to her she had been so long in this place thatshe wasfixed here: it was her worldand to imagine an Alp waslikeseeking to get back to childhood. Unless a miracle intervenedhere shewould have to pass her days. Men are so little chivalrousnow thatno miracle ever intervenes. Consequently she was doomed.

She took apen and began a letter to a dear friendLucy Darletona promisedbridesmaidbidding her countermand orders for herbridaldressand purposing a tour in Switzerland. She wrote ofthemountain country with real abandonment to imagination. Itbecame avisioned loophole of escape. She rose and clasped ashawl overher night-dress to ward off chillnessand sitting tothe tableagaincould not produce a word. The lines she hadwrittenwere condemned: they were ludicrously inefficient. Theletter wastorn to pieces. She stood very clearly doomed.

After afall of tearsupon looking at the scrapsshe dressedherselfand sat by the window and watched the blackbird on thelawn as hehopped from shafts of dewy sunlight to thelong-stretcheddewy tree-shadowsconsidering in her mind thatdark dewsare more meaningful than brightthe beauty of the dewsof woodsmore sweet than meadow-dews. It signified only that shewasquieter. She had gone through her crisis in the anticipationof it.That is how quick natures will often be cold and hardornot muchmovedwhen the positive crisis arrivesand why it isthat theyare prepared for astonishing leaps over the gradationswhichshould render their conduct comprehensible to usif notexcuseable.She watched the blackbird throw up his head stifflyand peckto right and leftdangling the worm on each side hisorangebeak. Specklebreasted thrushes were at work. and a wagtailthat ranas with Clara's own rapid little steps. Thrush andblackbirdflew to the nest. They had wings. The lovely morningbreathedof sweet earth into her open windowand made it painfulin thedense twitterchirpcheepand song of the airto resisttheinnocent intoxication. O to love! was not said by herbut ifshe hadsungas her nature promptedit would have been. Her warwithWilloughby sprang of a desire to love repelled by distaste.Her cryfor freedom was a cry to be free to love: she discoveredithalfshuddering: to loveoh! no--no shape of mannorimpalpablenature either: but to love unselfishnessandhelpfulnessand planted strength in something. Thenloving andbeingloved a littlewhat strength would be hers! She could utterall thewords needed to Willoughby and to her fatherlocked inher love:walking in this worldliving in that.

Previouslyshe had crieddespairing: If I were loved! Jealousy ofConstantia'shappinessenvy of her escaperuled her then: andsheremembered the crythough not perfectly her plain-speaking toherself:she chose to think she had meant: If Willoughby werecapable oftruly loving! For now the fire of her brain had sunkandrefuges and subterfuges were round about it. The thought ofpersonallove was encouragedshe chose to thinkfor the sake ofthestrength it lent her to carve her way to freedom. She had justbeforefelt rather the reversebut she could not exist with thatfeeling;and it was true that freedom was not so indistinct in herfancy asthe idea of love.

Were menwhen they were knownlike him she knew too well?

Thearch-tempter's question to her was there.

She put itaway. Wherever she turned it stood observing her. Sheknew somuch of one mannothing of the rest: naturally she wascurious.Vernon might be sworn to be unlike. But he wasexceptional.What of the other in the house?

Maidensare commonly reduced to read the masters of theirdestiniesby their instincts; and when these have been edged byover-activitythey must hoodwink their maidenliness to sufferthemselvesto read; and then they must dupe their mindselse menwould soonsee they were gifted to discern. Total ignorance beingtheirpledge of purity to menthey have to expunge the writing oftheirperceptives on the tablets of the brain: they have to knownot whenthey do know. The instinct of seeking to knowcrossed bythe taskof blotting knowledge outcreates that conflict of thenaturalwith the artificial creature to which their ultimatelyrevealeddouble-facecomplained of by ever-dissatisfied menisowing.Wonder in no degree that they indulge a craving to befoolsorthat many of them act the character. Jeer at them aslittle fornot showing growth. You have reared them to this pitchand atthis pitch they have partly civilized you. Supposing you towant itdone whollyyou must yield just as many points in yourrequisitionsas are needed to let the wits of young women reaptheir dueharvest and be of good use to their souls. You will thenhave afair battlea braverwith better results.

Clara'sinner eye traversed Colonel De Craye at a shot.

She hadimmediately to blot out the vision of Captain Oxford inhimtherevelation of his laughing contempt for Willoughbytheview ofmercurial principlesthe scribbled histories of lightlove-passages.

Sheblotted it outkept it from her mind: so she knew himknewhim to bea sweeter and a variable Willoughbya generous kind ofWilloughbya Willoughby-butterflywithout having the free mindtosummarize him and picture him for a warning. Scattered featuresof himsuch as the instincts call upwere not sufficientlyimpressive.Besidesthe clouded mind was opposed to her receivingimpressions.

YoungCrossjay's voice in the still morning air came to her cars.The dearguileless chatter of the boy's voice. Whyassuredly itwas youngCrossjay who was the man she loved. And he loved her.And he wasgoing to be an unselfishsustainingtruestrong manthe manshe longed forfor anchorage. Ohthe dear voice!woodpeckerand thrush in one. He never ceased to chatter to VernonWhitfordwalking beside him with a swinging stride off to the lakefor theirmorning swim. Happy couple! The morning gave them both afreshnessand innocence above human. They seemed to Clara made ofmorningair and clear lake water. Crossjay's voice ran up and downa diatonicscale with here and there a query in semitone and alaugh on aringing note. She wondered what he could have to talkof soincessantlyand imagined all the dialogue. He prattledof hisyesterdayto-dayand to-morrowwhich did not imply pastandfuturebut his vivid present. She felt like one vainly tryingto fly inhearing him; she felt old. The consolation she arrivedat was tofeel maternal. She wished to hug the boy.

Trot andstrideCrossjay and Vernon entered the parkcarelessabout wetgrassnot once looking at the house. Crossjay rangedahead andpicked flowersbounding back to show them. Clara'sheart beatat a fancy that her name was mentioned. If thoseflowerswere for her she would prize them.

The twobathers dipped over an undulation.

Her lossof them rattled her chains.

Deeplydwelling on their troubles has the effect upon the young ofhelping toforgetfulness; for they cannot think without imaginingtheirimaginations are saturated with their Pleasuresand thecollisionthough they are unable to exchange sad for sweetdistillsan opiate.

"Am Isolemnly engaged?" she asked herself. She seemed to beawakening.

Sheglanced at her bedwhere she had passed the night ofineffectualmoaningand out on the high wave of grasswhereCrossjayand his good friend had vanished.

Was thestruggle all to be gone over again?

Little bylittle her intelligence of her actual position crept uptosubmerge her heart.

"I amin his house!" she said. It resembled a discoverysostrangelyhad her opiate and power of dreaming wrought through hertortures.She said it gasping. She was in his househis guesthisbetrothedsworn to him. The fact stood out cut in steel onthepitiless daylight.

Thatconsideration drove her to be an early wanderer in the wakeofCrossjay.

Herstation was among the beeches on the flank of the boy'sreturn;and while waiting there the novelty of her waiting towaylayanyone--she who had played the contrary part!--told hermore thanit pleased her to think. Yet she could admit that shedid desireto speak with Vernonas with a counsellorharsh andcurtbutwholesome.

Thebathers reappeared on the grass-ridgeracing and flapping wettowels.

Some onehailed them. A sound of the galloping hoof drew herattentionto the avenue. She saw Willoughby dash across the parklevelanddropping a word to Vernonride away. Then she allowedherself tobe seen.

Crossjayshouted. Willoughby turned his headbut not his horse'shead. Theboy sprang up to Clara. He had swum across the lake andback; hehad raced Mr. Whitford--and beaten him! How he wishedMissMiddleton had been able to be one of them!

Claralistened to him enviously. Her thought was: We women arenailed toour sex!

She said:"And you have just been talking to Sir Willoughby."

Crossjaydrew himself up to give an imitation of the baronet'shand-movingin adieu.

He wouldnot have done that had he not smelled sympathy with theperformance.

Shedeclined to smile. Crossjay repeated itand laughed. He madea broaderexhibition of it to Vernon approaching: "I say. Mr.Whitfordwho's this?"

Vernondoubled to catch him. Crossjay fled and resumed hismagnificentair in the distance.

"Good-morningMiss Middleton; you are out early" said Vernonratherpale and stringy from his cold swimand rather hard-eyedwith thesharp exercise following it.
She hadexpected some of the kindness she wanted to rejectfor hecouldspeak very kindlyand she regarded him as her doctor ofmedicinewho would at least present the futile drug.

"Goodmorning" she replied.

"Willoughbywill not be home till the evening."

"Youcould not have had a finer morning for your bath."

"No."

"Iwill walk as fast as you like."

"I'mperfectly warm."

"Butyou prefer fast walking."

"Out."

"Ah!yesthat I understand. The walk back! Why is Willoughby awayto-day?"

"Hehas business."

Afterseveral steps she said: "He makes very sure of papa."

"Notwithout reasonyou will find" said Vernon.

"Canit be? I am bewildered. I had papa's promise."

"Toleave the Hall for a day or two."

"Itwould have been. . ."

"Possibly.But other heads are at work as well as yours. If youhad beenin earnest about it you would have taken your father intoyourconfidence at once. That was the course I ventured toproposeon the supposition."

"Inearnest! I cannot imagine that you doubt it. I wished to sparehim."

"Thisis a case in which he can't be spared."

"If Ihad been bound to any other! I did not know then who held meaprisoner. I thought I had only to speak to him sincerely."

"Notmany men would give up their prize for a wordWilloughby thelast ofany."

"Prize"rang through her thrillingly from Vernon's mouthandsoothedher degradation.

She wouldhave liked to protest that she was very little of aprize; apoor prize; not one at all in general estimation; onlyone to aman reckoning his property; no prize in the true sense.

Theimportunity of pain saved her.

"Doeshe think I can change again? Am I treated as something wonin alottery? To stay here is indeed more than I can bear. And ifhe iscalculating--Mr. Whitfordif he calculates on anotherchangehis plotting to keep me here is inconsideratenot verywise.Changes may occur in absence."

"Wiseor nothe has the right to scheme his best to keep you."

She lookedon Vernon with a shade of wondering reproach.

"Why?What right?"

"Theright you admit when you ask him to release you. He has theright tothink you deluded; and to think you may come to a bettermood ifyou remain--a mood more agreeable to himI mean. He hasthat rightabsolutely. You are bound to remember also that youstand inthe wrong. You confess it when you appeal to hisgenerosity.And every man has the right to retain a treasure inhis handif he can. Look straight at these facts."

"Youexpect me to be all reason!"

"Tryto be. It's the way to learn whether you are really inearnest."

"Iwill try. It will drive me to worse!"

"Tryhonestly. What is wisest now isin my opinionfor you toresolve tostay. I speak in the character of the person yousketchedfor yourself as requiring. Wellthena friend repeatsthe sameadvice. You might have gone with your father: now youwill onlydisturb him and annoy him. The chances are he willrefuse togo."

"Arewomen ever so changeable as menthen? Papa consented; heagreed; hehad some of my feeling; I saw it. That was yesterday.And atnight! He spoke to each of us at night in a different tonefromusual. With me he was hardly affectionate. But when youadvise meto stayMr. Whitfordyou do not perhaps reflect thatit wouldbe at the sacrifice of all candour."

"Regardit as a probational term."

"Ithas gone too far with me."

"Takethe matter into the head: try the case there."

"Areyou not counselling me as if I were a woman of intellect?"

Thecrystal ring in her voice told him that tears were near toflowing.

Heshuddered slightly. "You have intellect" he saidnodded.andcrossedthe lawnleaving her. He had to dress.

She wasnot permitted to feel lonelyfor she was immediatelyjoined byColonel De Craye.

 

 

CHAPTERXXII TheRide

 

Crossjaydarted up to her a nose ahead of the colonel.

"IsayMiss Middletonwe're to have the whole day to ourselvesaftermorning lessons. Will you come and fish with me and see mebird's-nest?"

"Notfor the satisfaction of beholding another cracked crownmyson"the colonel interposed: and bowing to Clara: "MissMiddletonis handed over to my exclusive charge for the daywithherconsent?"

"Iscarcely know" said sheconsulting a sensation of languorthatseemed to contain some reminiscence. "If I am here. Myfather'splans are uncertain. I will speak to him. If I am hereperhapsCrossjay would like a ride in the afternoon."

"Ohyes" cried the boy; "out over Bourndenthrough Mewsey uptoClosharnBeaconand down on Aspenwellwhere there's a common forracing.And ford the stream!"

"Aninducement for you" De Craye said to her.

She smiledand squeezed the boy's hand.

"Wewon't go without youCrossjay."

"Youdon't carry a combmy manwhen you bathe?"

At thisremark of the colonel's young Crossjay conceived theappearanceof his matted locks in the eyes of his adorable lady.He gaveher one dear look through his rednessand fled.

"Ilike that boy" said De Craye.

"Ilove him" said Clara.

Crossjay'stroubled eyelids in his honest young face became apicturefor her.

"AfterallMiss MiddletonWilloughby's notions about him arenot sobadif we consider that you will be in the place of amother tohim."

"Ithink them bad."

"Youare disinclined to calculate the good fortune of the boy inhavingmore of you on land than he would have in crown and anchorbuttons!"

"Youhave talked of him with Willoughby"

"Wehad a talk last night."

Of howmuch? thought she.

"Willoughbyreturns?" she said.

"Hedines hereI know; for he holds the key of the inner cellarand DoctorMiddleton does him the honour to applaud his wine.Willoughbywas good enough to tell me that he thought I mightcontributeto amuse you."

She wasbrooding in stupefaction on her father and the wine as sherequestedColonel De Craye to persuade Willoughby to take thegeneralview of Crossjay's future and act on it.

"Heseems fond of the boytoo" said De Crayemusingly.

"Youspeak in doubt?"

"Notat all. But is he not--men are queer fish!--make allowancefor us--atrifle tyrannicalpleasantlywith those he is fondof?"

"Ifthey look right and left?"

It wasmeant for an interrogation; it was not with the sound ofone thatthe words dropped. "My dear Crossjay!" she sighed. "Iwouldwillingly pay for him out of my own purseand I will do soratherthan have him miss his chance. I have not musteredresolutionto propose it."

"Imay be mistakenMiss Middleton. He talked of the boy'sfondnessof him."

"Hewould."

"Isuppose he is hardly peculiar in liking to play Pole-star."

"Hemay not be."

"Forthe restyour influence should be all-powerful."

"itis not."

De Crayelooked with a wandering eye at the heavens.

"Weare having a spell of weather perfectly superb. And the oddthing isthat whenever we have splendid weather at home we're allforrushing abroad. I'm booked for a Mediterranean cruise--postponedto give place to your ceremony."

"That?"she could not control her accent.

"Whatworthier?"

She wasguilty of a pause.

De Crayesaved it from an awkward length. "I have written half anessay onHoneymoonsMiss Middleton."

"Isthat the same as a half-written essayColonel De Craye?"

"Justthe samewith the difference that it's a whole essay writtenall on oneside."

"Onwhich side?"

"Thebachelor's."

"Whydoes he trouble himself with such topics?"

"Towarm himself for being left out in the cold."

"Doeshe feel envy?"

"Hehas to confess it."

"Hehas liberty."

"Acommodity he can't tell the value of if there's no one to buy."

"Whyshould he wish to sell?"

"He'sbent on completing his essay."

"Tomake the reading dull."

"Therewe touch the key of the subject. For what is to rescue thepair froma monotony multiplied by two? And so a bachelor'srecommendationwhen each has discovered the right sort of personto be dullwithpushes them from the churchdoor on a round ofadventurescontaining a spice of perilif 'tis to be had. Letthem be indanger of their lives the first or second day. Abachelor'sloneliness is a private affair of his own; he hasn't tolook intoa face to be ashamed of feeling it and inflicting it atthe sametime; 'tis his pillow; he can punch it an he pleasesandturn itover t'other sideif he's for a mighty variation; there'sa dream init. But our poor couple are staring wide awake. Alltheirdreaming's done. They've emptied their bottle of elixirorbroken it;and she has a thirst for the use of the tongueand heto yawnwith a crony; and they may conversethey're not aware ofitmorethan the desert that has drunk a shower. So as soon aspossibleshe's away to the ladiesand he puts on his Club. That'swhat yourbachelor sees and would like to spare them; and if hedidn't seesomething of the sort he'd be off with a noose roundhis neckon his knees in the dew to the morning milkmaid."

"Thebachelor is happily warned and on his guard" said Claradivertedas he wished her to be. "Sketch me a few of theadventuresyou propose."

"Ihave a friend who rowed his bride from the Houses of Parliamentup theThames to the Severn on into North Wales. They shot someprettyweirs and rapids."

"Thatwas nice."

"Theyhad an infinity of adventuresand the best proof of thebenefitthey derived isthat they forgot everything about themexceptthat the adventures occurred."

"Thosetwo must have returned bright enough to please you.

"Theyreturnedand shone like a wrecker's beacon to the mariner.You seeMiss Middletonthere was the landscapeand theexerciseand the occasional bit of danger. I think it's to berecommended.The scene is always changingand not too fast; and'tis nottoo sublimelike big mountainsto tire them of theireverlastingbig Ohs. There's the difference between going into ahowlingwind and launching among zephyrs. They have fresh air andmovementand not in a railway carriage; they can take in whatthey lookon. And she has the steering ropesand that's a wisecommencement.And my lord is all day making an exhibition of hismanlystrengthbowing before her some sixty to the minute; andshetohelp himjust inclines when she's in the mood. Andthey'reface to face in the nature of thingsand are not undertheobligation of looking the unutterablebecauseyou seethere'sbusiness in hand; and the boat's just the right sort ofthirdpartywho never interferesbut must be attended to. Andthey feelthey re labouring together to get alongall in theproperproportion; and whether he has to labour in life or notheproves hisability. What do you think of itMiss Middleton?"

"Ithink you have only to propose itColonel De Craye."

"Andif they capsizewhy'tis a natural ducking!"

"Youforgot the lady's dressing-bag."

"Thestain on the metal for a constant reminder of his prowess insaving it!Welland there's an alternative to that schemeand afiner:--Thisthen: they read dramatic pieces during courtshipto stopthe saying of things over again till the drum of the carbecomesnothing but a drum to the poor headand a little beforethey affixtheir signatures to the fatal Registry-book of thevestrythey enter into an engagement with a body of provincialactors tojoin the troop on the day of their nuptialsand awaythey go intheir coach and fourand she is Lady Kitty Caper for amonthandhe Sir Harry Highflyer. See the honeymoon spinning!The marvelto me is that none of the young couples do it. Theycouldenjoy the worldsee lifeamuse the companyand come backfresh totheir own charactersinstead of giving themselves a doseof Africawithout a savage to diversify it: an impression theynever getoverI'm told. Many a character of the happiestauspiceshas irreparable mischief done it by the ordinaryhoneymoon.For my partI rather lean to the second plan ofcampaign."

Clara wasexpected to replyand she said: "Probably because youare fondof acting. It would require capacity on both sides."

"MissMiddletonI would undertake to breathe the enthusiasm forthe stageand the adventure."

"Youare recommending it generally."

"Letmy gentleman only have a fund of enthusiasm. The lady willkindle.She always does at a spark."

"Ifhe has not any?"

"ThenI'm afraid they must be mortally dull."

Sheallowed her silence to speak; she knew that it did so tooeloquentlyand could not control the personal adumbration shegave tothe one point of light revealed in"if he has not any".Her figureseemed immediately to wear a cap and cloak of dulness.

She wasfull of revolt and angershe was burning with hersituation;if sensible of shame now at anything that she diditturned towrath and threw the burden on the author of herdesperatedistress. The hour for blaming herself had gone bytobe renewedultimately perhaps in a season of freedom. She wasbereft ofher insight within at presentso blind to herself thatwhileconscious of an accurate reading of Willoughby's friendshethankedhim in her heart for seeking simply to amuse her andslightlysucceeding. The afternoon's ride with him and Crossjaywas anagreeable beguilement to her in prospect.

Laetitiacame to divide her from Colonel De Craye. Dr. Middletonwas notseen before his appearance at the breakfast-tablewhere acertainair of anxiety in his daughter's presence produced thesemblanceof a raised map at intervals on his forehead. Few sightson earthare more deserving of our sympathy than a good man whohas atroubled conscience thrust on him.

The Rev.Doctor's perturbation was observed. The ladies EleanorandIsabelseeing his daughter to be the cause of itblamed herand wouldhave assisted him to escapebut Miss Dalewhom hecourtedwith that objectwas of the opposite faction. She madeway forClara to lead her father out. He called to Vernonwhomerelynodded while leaving the room by the window with Crossjay.

Half aneye on Dr. Middleton's pathetic exit in captivity sufficedto tellColonel De Craye that parties divided the house. At firsthe thoughthow deplorable it would be to lose Miss Middleton fortwo daysor three: and it struck him that Vernon Whitford andLaetitiaDale were acting oddly in seconding hertheir aim notbeingdiscernible. For he was of the order of gentlemen of theobscurely-clearin mind who have a predetermined acuteness intheirwatch upon the human playand mark men and women as piecesof a badgame of chesseach pursuing an interested course. Hisexperienceof a section of the world had educated him--as gallantfrankandmanly a comrade as one could wish for--up to thispoint. Buthe soon abandoned speculationswhich may be comparedto ashaking anemometer that will not let the troubled indicatortakestation. Reposing on his perceptions and his instinctshefixed hisattention on the chief personsonly glancing at theothers toestablish a postulatethat where there are parties in ahouse themost bewitching person present is the origin of them. Itis everHelen's achievement. Miss Middleton appeared to himbewitchingbeyond mortal; sunny in her laughtershadowy in hersmiling; ayoung lady shaped for perfect music with a lover.

She wasthatand no lessto every man's eye on earth. Highbreedingdid not freeze her lovely girlishness.--But Willoughbydid. Thisreflection intervened to blot luxurious picturings ofherandmade itself acceptable by leading him back to severalinstancesof an evident want of harmony of the pair.

And now(for purely undirected impulse all within us is notthough wemay be eye-bandaged agents under direction) it becamenecessaryfor an honourable gentleman to cast vehement rebukes atthe fellowwho did not comprehend the jewel he had won. How couldWilloughbybehave like so complete a donkey! De Craye knew him tobe in hisinterior stiffstrangeexacting: women had talked ofhim; hehad been too much for one woman--the dashing Constantia:he hadworn one womansacrificing far more for him thanConstantiato death. Stillwith such a prize as ClaraMiddletonWilloughby's behaviour was past calculating in itscontemptibleabsurdity. And during courtship! And courtship ofthat girl!It was the way of a man ten years after marriage.

The ideadrew him to picture her doatingly in her young matronlybloom tenyears after marriage: without a touch of agematronlywisewomanly sweet: perhaps with a couple of little ones to loveneverhaving known the love of a man.

To thinkof a girl like Clara Middleton never having atnine-and-twentyand with two fair children! known the love of aman or theloving of a manpossiblybecame torture to theColonel.

For apacification he had to reconsider that she was as yet onlynineteenand unmarried.

But shewas engagedand she was unloved. One might swear to itthat shewas unloved. And she was not a girl to be satisfied witha bighouse and a high-nosed husband.

There wasa rapid alteration of the sad history of Clara theunlovedmatron solaced by two little ones. A childless Claratragicallyloving and beloved flashed across the dark glass of thefuture.

Either wayher fate was cruel.

Someastonishment moved De Craye in the contemplation of thedistancehe had stepped in this morass of fancy. He distinguishedthe choiceopen to him of forward or backand he selectedforward.But fancy was dead: the poetry hovering about her grewinvisibleto him: he stood in the morass; that was all he knew;andmomently he plunged deeper; and he was aware of an intensedesire tosee her facethat he might study her features again: heunderstoodno more.

It was theclouding of the brain by the man's heartwhich hadcome tothe knowledge that it was caught.

A certainmeasure of astonishment moved him still. It had hithertobeen hisportion to do mischief to women and avoid the vengeanceof thesex. What was there in Miss Middleton's face and air toensnare aveteran handsome man of society numbering six-and-thirtyyearsnearly as many conquests? "Each bullet has got itscommission."He was hit at last. That accident effected by Mr.Flitch hadfired the shot. Clean through the heart. does not tellus of ourmisfortunetill the heart is asked to renew its naturalbeating.It fell into the condition of the porcelain vase over athought ofMiss Middleton standing above his prostrate form on theroadandwalking beside him to the Hall. Her words? What havethey been?She had not uttered wordsshe had shed meanings. Hedid notfor an instant conceive that he had charmed her: the charmshe hadcast on him was too thrilling for coxcombry to lift ahead;still she had enjoyed his prattle. In return for her touchupon theIrish fountain in himhe had manifestly given her reliefAnd couldnot one see that so sprightly a girl would soon bedeadenedby a man like Willoughby? Deadened she was: she had notrespondedto a compliment on her approaching marriage. An allusionto itkilled her smiling. The case of Mr. Flitchwith the halfwagerabout his reinstation in the service of the Hallwasconclusiveevidence of her opinion of Willoughby.

It becameagain necessary that he should abuse Willoughby for hisfolly. Whywas the man worrying her? In some way he was worryingher.

What ifWilloughby as well as Miss Middleton wished to be quit oftheengagement? ...

For just asecondthe handsomewoman-flattered officer provedhis man'sheart more whole than he supposed it. That great organinstead ofleaping at the thoughtsuffered a check.

Bear inmind that his heart was not merely man'sit was aconqueror's.He was of the race of amorous heroes who glory inpursuingovertakingsubduing: wresting the prize from a rivalhaving herripe from exquisitely feminine inward conflictspluckingher out of resistance in good old primitive fashion. Youwin thecreature in her delicious flutterings. He liked her thusin coolerbloodbecause of society's admiration of the capturerandsomewhat because of the strifewhich always enhances thevalue of aprizeand refreshes our vanity in recollection.

Moreoverhe had been matched against Willoughby: the circumstancehadoccurred two or three times. He could name a lady he had wona lady hehad lost. Willoughby's large fortune and grandeur ofstyle hadgiven him advantages at the start. But the start oftenmeans therace--with womenand a bit of luck.

The gentlecheck upon the galloping heart of Colonel De Crayeendured nolonger than a second--a simple side-glance in aheadlongpace. Clara's enchantingness for a temperament like hiswhich isto sayfor him speciallyin part through the testimonyherconquest of himself presented as to her power of sway over theuniversalheart known as man'sassured him she was worth winningeven froma hand that dropped her.

He had nowa double reason for exclaiming at the folly ofWilloughby.Willoughby's treatment of her showed either temper orweariness.Vanity and judgement led De Craye to guess the former.Regardingher sentiments for Willoughbyhe had come to his ownconclusion.The certainty of it caused him to assume that hepossessedan absolute knowledge of her character: she was anangelborn supple; she was a heavenly soulwith half a dozen ofthe tricksof earth. Skittish filly was among his phrases; but shehad abearing and a gaze that forbade the dip in the common gutterforwherewithal to paint the creature she was.

Nowthento see whether he was wrong for the first time in hislife! Ifnot wronghe had a chance.

Therecould be nothing dishonourable in rescuing a girl from anengagementshe detested. An attempt to think it a service toWilloughbyfaded midway. De Craye dismissed that chicanery. Itwould be aservice to Willoughby in the endwithout question.There wasthat to soothe his manly honour. Meanwhile he had toface thethought of Willoughby as an antagonistand the worldlookingheavy on his honour as a friend.

Suchconsiderations drew him tenderly close to Miss Middleton. Itmusthoweverbe confessed that the mental ardour of Colonel DeCraye hadbeen a little sobered by his glance at the possibilityof both ofthe couple being of one mind on the subject of theirbetrothal.Desirable as it was that they should be united indisagreeingit reduced the romance to platitudeand the thirdperson inthe drama to the appearance of a stick. No man likes toplay thatpart. Memoirs of the favourites of Goddessesif we hadthemwould confirm it of men's tastes in this respectthough thedivinestbe the prize. We behold what part they played.

De Crayechanced to be crossing the hall from the laboratory tothestables when Clara shut the library-door behind her. He saidsomethingwhimsicaland did not stopnor did he look twice atthe facehe had been longing for.

What hehad seen made him fear there would be no ride out with herthat day.Their next meeting reassured him; she was dressed in herriding-habitand wore a countenance resolutely cheerful. Hegavehimself the word of command to take his tone from her.

He was ofa nature as quick as Clara's. Experience pushed himfartherthan she could go in fancy; but experience laid a soberingfinger onhis practical stepsand bade them hang upon herinitiative.She talked little. Young Crossjay cantering ahead washerfavourite subject. She was very much changed since the earlymorning:his livelinessessayed by him at a hazardwasunsuccessful;grave English pleased her best. The descent fromthat wasnaturally to melancholy. She mentioned a regret she hadthat theVeil was interdicted to women in Protestant countries. DeCraye wasfortunately silent; he could think of no other veil thantheMoslemand when her meaning struck his witless headheadmittedto himself that devout attendance on a young lady's mindstupefiesman's intelligence. Half an hour laterhe was asfoolish insupposing it a confidence. He was again saved bysilence.

InAspenwell village she drew a letter from her bosom and calledtoCrossjay to post it. The boy sang out"Miss Lucy Darleton!What anice name!"

Clara didnot show that the name betrayed anything.

She saidto De Craye. "It proves he should not be here thinking ofnicenames. "

Hercompanion replied"You may be right." He addedto avoidfeelingtoo subservient: "Boys will."

"Notif they have stern masters to teach them their daily lessonsand someof the lessons of existence."

"VernonWhitford is not stern enough?"

"Mr.Whitford has to contend with other influences here."

"WithWilloughby?"

"Notwith Willoughby."

Heunderstood her. She touched the delicate indication firmly.The man'sheart respected her for it; not many girls could be sothoughtfulor dare to be so direct; he saw that she had becomedeeplyseriousand he felt her love of the boy to be maternalpastmaiden sentiment.

By thislight of her seriousnessthe posting of her letter in adistantvillagenot entrusting it to the Hall post-boxmighthaveimport; not that she would apprehend the violation of herprivatecorrespondencebut we like to see our letter of weightymeaningpass into the mouth of the public box.

Consequentlythis letter was important. It was to suppose asequencyin the conduct of a variable damsel. Coupled with herremarkabout the Veiland with other thingsnot wordsbreathingfrom her(which were the breath of her condition)it was notunreasonablyto be supposed. She might even be a very consistentperson. Ifone only had the key of her!

She spokeonce of an immediate visit to Londonsupposing that shecouldinduce her father to go. De Craye remembered the occurrencein theHall at nightand her aspect of distress.

They racedalong Aspenwell Common to the ford; shallowto thechagrin ofyoung Crossjaybetween whom and themselves they left afittingspace for his rapture in leading his pony to splash up anddownlordof the stream.

Swiftnessof motion so strikes the blood on the brain that ourthoughtsare lightningsthe heart is master of them.

De Crayewas heated by his gallop to venture on the anglingquestion:"Am I to hear the names of the bridesmaids?"

The pacehad nerved Clara to speak to it sharply: "There is noneed."

"HaveI no claim?"

She wasmute.

"MissLucy Darletonfor instance; whose name I am almost as muchin lovewith as Crossjay."

"Shewill not be bridesmaid to me."

"Shedeclines? Add my petitionI beg."

"Toall? or to her?"

"Doall the bridesmaids decline?"

"Thescene is too ghastly."

"Amarriage?"

"Girlshave grown sick of it."

"Ofweddings? We'll overcome the sickness."

"Withsome."

"Notwith Miss Darleton? You tempt my eloquence.

"Youwish it?"

"Towin her consent? Certainly."

"Thescene?"

"Do Iwish that?"

"Marriage!"exclaimed Clara. dashing into the fordfearful of herungovernablewildness and of what it might have kindled.--Youfather!you have driven me to unmaidenliness!--She forgotWilloughbyin her fatherwho would not quit a comfortable housefor herall but prostrate beseeching; would not bend his mind toherexplanationsanswered her with the horrid iteration of suchdeafmisunderstanding as may be associated with a tolling bell.

Dc Crayeallowed her to catch Crossjay by herself Theyentered anarrow lanemysterious with possible birds" eggs in theMay-greenhedges. As there was not room for three abreastthecolonelmade up the rear-guardand was consoled by having MissMiddleton'sfigure to contemplate; but the readiness of herjoining inCrossjay's pastime of the nest-hunt was not so pleasingto a manthat she had wound to a pitch of excitement. Her scornfulaccent on"Marriage" rang through him. Apparently she wasbeginningto do with him just as she likedherself entirelyunconcerned.

She keptCrossjay beside her till she dismountedand the colonelwas leftto the procession of elephantine ideas in his headwhoseponderousnesshe took for natural weight. We do not with impunityabandonthe initiative. Men who have yielded it are like cavalryput on thedefensive; a very small force with an ictus willscatterthem.

Anxiety torecover lost ground reduced the dimensions of his ideasto apractical standard.

Two ideaswere opposed like duellists bent on the slaughter of oneanother.Either she amazed him by confirming the suspicions he hadgatheredof her sentiments for Willoughby in the moments of hisintroductionto her; or she amazed him as a model for coquettes--themarried and the widow might apply to her for lessons.

Thesecombatants exchanged shotsbut remained standing; theencounterwas undecided. Whatever the resultno person soseductiveas Clara Middleton had he ever met. Her cry of loathing"Marriage!"coming from a girlrang faintly clear of an ancientvirginalaspiration of the sex to escape from their coilandbespoke apurecoldsavage pride that transplanted his thirstfor her tohigher fields.

 

 

CHAPTERXXIII

Treatsof the Union of Temper and Policy

 

SirWilloughby meanwhile was on a line of conduct suiting hisappreciationof his duty to himself. He had deluded himself withthe simplenotion that good fruit would come of the union oftemper andpolicy.

Nodelusion is oldernone apparently so promisingboth partiesbeingeager for the alliance. Yetthe theorist upon human naturewill saythey are obviously of adverse disposition. And this istrueinasmuch as neither of them win submit to the yoke of anestablishedunion; as soon as they have done their mischieftheyset towork tugging for a divorce. But they have attractionstheone forthe otherwhich precipitate them to embrace whenever theymeet in abreast; each is earnest with the owner of it to get himtoofficiate forthwith as wedding-priest. And here is the reason:tempertowarrant its appearancedesires to be thought asdeliberativeas policyand policythe sooner to prove itsshrewdnessis impatient for the quick blood of temper.

It will bewell for men to resolve at the first approaches of theamorousbut fickle pair upon interdicting even an accidentaltemporaryjunction: for the astonishing sweetness of the couplewhen nomore than the ghosts of them have come together in aprojectingmind is an intoxication beyond fermented grapejuice ora witch'sbrewage; and under the guise of active wits they willlead us tothe parental meditation of antics compared with whicha PaganSaturnalia were less impious in the sight of sanity. Thisisfull-mouthed language; but on our studious way through anyhumancareer we are subject to fits of moral elevation; the themeinspiresitand the sage residing in every civilized bosomapprovesit.

Decide atthe outsetthat temper is fatal to policy: hold themwith bothhands in division. One might addbe doubtful of yourpolicy andrepress your temper: it would be to suppose you wise.You canhoweverby incorporating two or three captains of thegreat armyof truisms bequeathed to us by ancient wisdomfix inyourservice those veteran old standfasts to check you. They willnot beserviceless in their admonitions to your understandingandthey willso contrive to reconcile with it the natural caperingsof thewayward young sprig Conductthat the latterwho commonlylearns towalk upright and straight from nothing softer than rapsof abludgeon on his crownshall foot soberlyappearing at leastwary ofdangerous corners.

NowWilloughby had not to be taught that temper is fatal topolicy; hewas beginning to see in addition that the temper heencouragedwas particularly obnoxious to the policy he adopted;andalthough his purpose in mounting horse after yesterdayfrowningon his bride was definiteand might be deemed sagacioushebemoaned already the fatality pushing him ever farther from herin chaseof a satisfaction impossible to grasp.

But thebare fact that her behaviour demanded a line of policycrossedthe grain of his temper: it was very offensive.

Consideringthat she wounded him severelyher reversal of theirproperpartsby taking the part belonging to himand requiringhiswatchfulnessand the careful dealings he was accustomed toexpectfrom othersand had a right to exact of herwasinjuriouslyunjust. The feelings of a man hereditarily sensitivetoproperty accused her of a trespassing imprudenceand knowinghimselfby testimony of his householdhis tenantsand theneighbourhoodand the world as wellamiable when he receivedhis dueshe contemplated her with an air of stiff-backedill-treatmentnot devoid of a certain sanctification ofmartyrdom.

Hisbitterest enemy would hardly declare that it was he who was inthe wrong.

Claraherself had never been audacious enough to say that.Distasteof his person was inconceivable to the favourite ofsociety.The capricious creature probably wanted a whipping tobring herto the understanding of the principle called masterywhich isin man.

But was headministering it? If he retained a hold on herhecouldundoubtedly apply the scourge at leisure; any kind ofscourge;he could shun herlook on her frigidlyunbend to her tofind awarmer place for sarcasmpityingly smileridiculepaycourtelsewhere. He could do these things if he retained a hold onher; andhe could do them well because of the faith he had in hisrenownedamiability; for in doing themhe could feel that he wasother thanhe seemedand his own cordial nature was there tocomforthim while he bestowed punishment. Cordial indeedthechills heendured were flung from the world. His heart was in thatfiction:half the hearts now beating have a mild form of it tokeep themmerry: and the chastisement he desired to inflict wasreally nomore than righteous vengeance for an offended goodnessof heart.Clara figurativelyabsolutely perhapson her kneeshewouldraise her and forgive her. He yearned for the situation. Tolet herunderstand how little she had known him! It would be worththe painshe had dealtto pour forth the stream of re-establishedconfidencesto paint himself to her as he was; as he was in thespiritnot as he was to the world: though the world had reason todo himhonour.

Firsthowevershe would have to be humbled.

Somethingwhispered that his hold on her was lost.

In such acaseevery blow he struck would set her flying farthertill thebreach between them would be past bridging.

Determinationnot to let her go was the best finish to thisperpetuallyrevolving round which went like the same oldwheel-planksof a water mill in his head at a review of the injuryhesustained. He had come to it before. and he came to it again.There washis vengeance. It melted himshe was so sweet! Sheshone forhim like the sunny breeze on water. Thinking of hercaused acatch of his breath.

Thedreadful young woman had a keener edge for the senses of menthansovereign beauty.

It wouldbe madness to let her go.

Sheaffected him like an outlook on the great Patterne estateafter anabsencewhen his welcoming flag wept for pride abovePatterneHall!

It wouldbe treason to let her go.

It wouldbe cruelty to her.

He wasbound to reflect that she was of tender ageand thefoolishnessof the wretch was excusable to extreme youth.

We tossaway a flower that we are tired of smelling and do notwish tocarry. But the rose--young woman--is not cast off withimpunity.A fiend in shape of man is always behind us toappropriateher. He that touches that rejected thing is larcenous.Willoughbyhad been sensible of it in the person of Laetitia: andby all themore that Clara's charms exceeded the faded creature'she felt itnow. Ten thousand Furies thickened about him at athought ofher lying by the road-side without his having crushedall bloomand odour out of her which might tempt even thecuriosityof the fiendman.

On theother handsupposing her to be there untoucheduniversallydeclined by the snifflingsagacious dog-fiendamiserablespinster for yearshe could conceive notions of hisremorse. Asoft remorse may be adopted as an agreeable sensationwithinview of the wasted penitent whom we have struck a trifletoo hard.Seeing her penitenthe certainly would be willing tosurroundher with little offices of compromising kindness. Itwoulddepend on her age. Supposing her still youngishthere mightbecaptivating passages between themas thusin a style notunfamiliar:

"Andwas it my faultmy poor girl? Am I to blamethat you havepassed alonelyunloved youth?"

"NoWilloughby! The irreparable error was minethe blame isminemineonly. I live to repent it. I do not seekfor I havenotdeservedyour pardon. Had I itI should need my ownself-esteemto presume to clasp it to a bosom ever unworthy ofyou."

"Imay have been impatientClara: we are human!"

"Neverbe it mine to accuse one on whom I laid so heavy a weightofforbearance!"

"Stillmy old love!--for I am merely quoting history in namingyou so--Icannot have been perfectly blameless."

"Tome you wereand are."

"Clara!"

"Willoughby!"

"MustI recognize the bitter truth that we twoonce nearly one!so nearlyone! are eternally separated?"

"Ihave envisaged it. My friend--I may call you friend; you haveever beenmy friendmy best friend! ohthat eyes had been mineto knowthe friend I had!--Willoughbyin the darkness of nightand duringdays that were as night to my soulI have seen theinexorablefinger pointing my solitary way through the wildernessfrom aParadise forfeited by my most wilfulmy wantonsin. Wehave met.It is more than I have merited. We part. In mercy let itbe forever. Ohterrible word! Coined by the passions of ouryouthitcomes to us for our sole riches when we are bankrupt ofearthlytreasuresand is the passport given by Abnegation untoWoe thatprays to quit this probationary sphere. Willoughbywepart. Itis better so."

"Clara!one--one only--one last--one holy kiss!"

"Ifthese poor lipsthat once were sweet to you ...

The kissto continue the language of the imaginative compositionof histimefavourite readings in which had inspired SirWilloughbywith a colloquy so patheticwas imprinted.

Ayshehad the kissand no mean one. It was intended to swalloweveryvestige of dwindling attractiveness out of herand therewas a bitof scandal springing of it in the background thatsatisfactorilysettled her businessand left her 'enshrined inmemoryadivine recollection to him' as his popular romanceswould sayand have said for years.

Unhappilythe fancied salute of her lips encircled him with thebreathingClara. She rushed up from vacancy like a wind summonedto wreck astately vessel.

Hisreverie had thrown him into severe commotion. The slave of apassionthinks in a ringas hares run: he will cease where hebegan. Hersweetness had set him offand he whirled back to hersweetness:and that being incalculable and he insatiableyou havethepicture of his torments when you consider that her behaviourmade heras a cloud to him

Ridingslackhorse and manin the likeness of those two ajoghomewardfrom the miry huntthe horse pricked his carsandWilloughbylooked down from his road along the bills on the raceheaded byyoung Crossjay with a short start over Aspenwell Commonto theford. There was no mistaking who they werethough theywerewell-nigh a mile distant below. He noticed that they did notovertakethe boy. They drew rein at the fordtalking not simplyface tofacebut face in face. Willoughby's novel feeling of heknew notwhat drew them up to himenabling him to fancy thembathing inone another's eyes. Then she sprang through the fordDe Crayefollowingbut not close after--and why not close? Shehadflicked him with one of her peremptorily saucy speeches whenshe wasbold with the gallop. They were not unknown to Willoughby.Theysignified intimacy.

Last nighthe had proposed to De Craye to take Miss Middleton fora ride thenext afternoon. It never came to his mind then that heand hisfriend had formerly been rivals. He wished Clara to beamused.Policy dictated that every thread should be used to attachher to herresidence at the Hall until he could command his temperto talk toher calmly and overwhelm heras any man in earnestwithcommand of temper and a point of vantagemay be sure towhelm ayoung woman. Policyadulterated by temperyet policy itwas thathad sent him on his errand in the early morning to beatabout fora house and garden suitable to Dr. Middleton within acircuit offivesixor seven miles of Patterne Hall. If the Rev.Doctorliked the house and took it (and Willoughby had seen theplace tosuit him)the neighbourhood would be a chain upon Clara:and if thehouse did not please a gentleman rather hard to please(except ina venerable wine)an excuse would have been startedfor hisvisiting other housesand he had that response to hisimportunatedaughterthat he believed an excellent house was onview. Dr.Middleton had been prepared by numerous hints to meetClara'sblack misreading of a lovers" quarrelso that everythinglookedfull of promise as far as Willoughby's exercise of policywent.

But thestrange pang traversing him now convicted him of a largeadulterationof profitless temper with it. The loyalty of De Crayeto afriendwhere a woman walked in the dramawas notorious. Itwas thereand a most flexible thing it was: and it soonresembledreason manipulated by the sophists. Not to havereckonedon his peculiar loyalty was proof of the blindness caston us bytemper.

And DeCraye had an Irish tongue; and he had it under controlsothat hecould talk good sense and airy nonsense at discretion. Thestrongestoverboiling of English Puritan contempt of a gabblerwould notstop women from liking it. Evidently Clara did like itandWilloughby thundered on her sex. Unto such brainless things asthese doweunder the irony of circumstancesconfide our honour!

For he wasno gabbler. He remembered having rattled in earlierdays; hehad rattled with an object to gaindesiring to be takenfor aneasycarelessvivaciouscharming fellowas any younggentlemanmay be who gaily wears the golden dish of Fifty thousandpounds perannumnailed to the back of his very saintly youngpate. Thegrowth of the critical spirit in himhoweverhadinformedhim that slang had been a principal component of hisrattling;and as he justly supposed it a betraying art for hisrace andfor himhe passed through the prim and the yawningphases ofaffected indifferenceto the pine Puritanism of aleadencontempt of gabblers.

They snarewomenyou see--girls! How despicable the host ofgirls!--atleastthat girl below there!

Marriedwomen understood him: widows did. He placed an exceedinglyhandsomeand flattering young widow of his acquaintanceLady MaryLewisonbeside Clara for a comparisoninvoluntarily; and atoncein aflashin despite of him (he would rather it had beenotherwise)and in despite of Lady Mary's high birth andconnectionsas wellthe silver lustre of the maid sicklied thepoorwidow.

The effectof the luckless comparison was to produce an image ofsurpassingnessin the features of Clara that gave him the finalormace-blow. Jealousy invaded him.

He hadhitherto been free of itregarding jealousy as a foreigndeviltheaccursed familiar of the vulgar. Luckless fellows mightbe victimsof the disease; he was not; and neither Captain OxfordnorVernonnor De Crayenor any of his compeershad given himone shrewdpinch: the woman hadnot the man; and she in quite adifferentfashion from his present wallowing anguish: she hadneverpulled him to earth's levelwhere jealousy gnaws thegrasses.He had boasted himself above the humiliating visitation.

If thathad been the casewe should not have needed to troubleourselvesmuch about him. A run or two with the pack of imps wouldhavesatisfied us. But he desired Clara Middleton manfully enoughat anintimation of rivalry to be jealous; in a minute the foreigndevil hadhimhe was flame: flaming verdigrisone might almostdare tosayfor an exact illustration; such was actually thecolour;but accept it as unsaid.

Rememberthe poets upon jealousy. It is to be haunted in the heavenof two bya Third; preceded or succeededtherefore surroundedembracedbugged by this infernal Third: it is Love's bed ofburningmarl; to see and taste the withering Third in the bosom ofsweetness;to be dragged through the past and find the fair Edenof itsulphurous; to be dragged to the gates of the future andglory tobehold them blood: to adore the bitter creature treblyand withtreble power to clutch her by the windpipe: it is to becheatedderidedshamedand abject and supplicatingandconsciouslydemoniacal in treacherousnessand victoriouslyself-justifiedin revenge.

And stillthere is no change in what men feelthough in what theydo themodern may be judicious.

You knowthe many paintings of man transformed to rageing beast bythe curse:and thisthe fieriest trial of our egoismworked inthe Egoistto produce division of himself from himselfaconcentrationof his thoughts upon another objectstill himselfbut inanother breastwhich had to be looked at and into for thediscoveryof him. By the gaping jaw-chasm of his greed we maygathercomprehension of his insatiate force of jealousy. Let hergo? Notthough he were to become a mark of public scorn instranglingher with the yoke! His concentration was marvellous.Unused tothe exercise of imaginative powershe neverthelessconjuredher before him visually till his eyeballs ached. He sawnone butClarahated noneloved nonesave the intolerablewoman.What logic was in him deduced her to be individual and mostdistinctivefrom the circumstance that only she had ever wroughtthesepangs. She had made him ready for themas we know. An ideaof DeCraye being no stranger to her when he arrived at the Halldashed himat De Craye for a second: it might be or might not bethat theyhad a secret;--Clara was the spell. So prodigiously didhe loveand hatethat he had no permanent sense except for her.The soulof him writhed under her eyes at one momentand the nextit closedon her without mercy. She was his possession escaping;his owngliding away to the Third.

Therewould be pangs for him toothat Third! Standing at thealtar tosee her fast-boundsoul and bodyto anotherwould begoodroasting fire.

It wouldbe good roasting fire for her tooshould she be averse.Toconceive her aversion was to burn her and devour her. She wouldthen behis!--what say you? Burned and devoured! Rivals wouldvanishthen. Her reluctance to espouse the man she was plighted towouldcease to be utteredcease to be felt.

At last hebelieved in her reluctance. All that had been wanted tobring himto the belief was the scene on the common; such a meresparkoran imagined spark! But the presence of the Third wasnecessary;otherwise he would have had to suppose himselfpersonallydistasteful.

Women haveus back to the conditions of primitive manor theyshoot ushigher than the topmost star. But it is as we please. Letthem tellus what we are to them: for usthey are our back andfront oflife: the poet's Lesbiathe poet's Beatrice; ours is thechoice.And were it proved that some of the bright things are inthe pay ofDarknesswith the stamp of his coin on their palmsand thatsome are the very angels we hear sung ofnot the lessmight wesay that they find us out; they have us by our leanings.They areto us what we hold of best or worst within. By theirstate isour civilization judged: and if it is hugely animalstillthat is because primitive men abound and will have theirpasture.Since the lead is oursthe leaders must bow their headsto thesentence. Jealousy of a woman is the primitive egoismseeking torefine in a blood gone to savagery under apprehension ofaninvasion of rights; it is in action the tiger threatened by arifle whenhis paw is rigid on quick flesh; he tears the flesh forrage atthe intruder. The Egoistwho is our original male ingiantformhad no bleeding victim beneath his pawbut there wasthe sex tomangle. Much as he prefers the well-behaved amongwomenwhocan worship and fawnand in whom terror can beinspiredin his wrath he would make of Beatrice a LesbiaQuadrantaria.

Let womentell us of their side of the battle. We are not so muchthe testof the Egoist in them as they to us. Movements ofsimilarityshown in crowned and undiademed ladies of intrepidindependencesuggest their occasional capacity to be like menwhen it isgiven to them to hunt. At present they flyand thereis thedifference. Our manner of the chase informs them of thecreaturewe are.

Dimly asyoung women are informedthey have a youthful ardour ofdetestationthat renders them less tolerant of the Egoist thantheirperceptive elder sisters. What they do perceivehoweverthey havea redoubtable grasp ofand Clara's behaviour would beindefensibleif her detective feminine vision might not sanctionher actingon its direction. Seeing him as she didshe turnedfrom himand shunned his house as the antre of an ogre. She hadposted herletter to Lucy Darleton. Otherwise. if it had been opento her todismiss Colonel De Crayeshe mightwith a warm kiss toVernon'spupilhave seriously thought of the next shrillsteam-whistleacross yonder hills for a travelling companion onthe way toher friend Lucy; so abhorrent was to her the putting ofherhorse's head toward the Hall. Ohthe breaking of bread there!It had tobe gone through for another day and more; that is tosayfortyhoursit might be six-and-forty hours; and no prospectof sleepto speed any of them on wings!

Such wereClara's inward interjections while poor Willoughby burnedhimselfout with verdigris flame having the savour of bad metaltill thehollow of his breast was not unlike to a corroded oldcuirassfoundwe will assumeby criminal lantern-beams in adiggingbeside green-mantled pools of the sullen soillumped witha strangeadhesive concrete. How else picture the sad man?--thecavityfelt empty to himand heavy; sick of an ancient and mortalcombatand burning; deeply dinted too:

   With the starry hole   Whence fled the soul:

very sore;important for aught save sluggish agony; a specimen andthe issueof strife.

Measurelesslyto loathe was not sufficient to save him from pain:he triedit: nor to despise; he went to a depth there also. Thefact thatshe was a healthy young woman returned to the surfaceof histhoughts like the murdered body pitched into the riverwhich willnot drownand calls upon the elements of dissolutionto floatit. His grand hereditary desire to transmit his estateswealth andname to a solid posteritywhile it prompted him in hisloathingand contempt of a nature mean and ephemeral compared withhisattached him desperately to her splendid healthiness. Thecouncil ofelderswhose descendant he waspointed to this youngwoman forhis mate. He had wooed her with the idea that theyconsented.O she was healthy! And he likewise: butas if it hadbeen aduel between two clearly designated by quality of blood tobid aHouse endureshe was the first who taught him what it wasto havesensations of his mortality.

He couldnot forgive her. It seemed to him consequently politic tocontinuefrigid and let her have a further taste of his shadowwhen itwas his burning wish to strain her in his arms to aflatnessprovoking his compassion.

"Youhave had your ride?" he addressed her politely in the generalassemblyon the lawn.

"Ihave had my rideyes" Clara replied.

"AgreeableI trust?"

"Veryagreeable."

So itappeared. Ohblushless!

The nextinstant he was in conversation with Laetitiaquestioningher upon adejected droop of her eyelashes.

"IamI think" said she"constitutionally melancholy."

Hemurmured to her: "I believe in the existence of specificsandnot far toseekfor all our ailments except those we bear at thehands ofothers."

She didnot dissent.

De Crayewhose humour for being convinced that Willoughby caredabout aslittle for Miss Middleton as she for him was nourished byhisimmediate observation of themdilated on the beauty of theride andhis fair companion's equestrian skill.

"Youshould start a travelling circus" Willoughby rejoined."Butthe idea's a worthy one!--There's another alternative to theexpeditionI proposedMiss Middleton" said De Craye. "And I beclown? Ihaven't a scruple of objection. I must read up booksof jokes."

"Don't"said Willoughby.

"I'dspoil my part! But a natural clown won't keep up anartificialperformance for an entire monthyou see; which is thelength oftime we propose. He'll exhaust his nature in a day andbe bowledover by the dullest regular donkey-engine with paint onhis cheeksand a nodding topknot."

"Whatis this expedition 'we' propose?"

De Crayewas advised in his heart to spare Miss Middleton anyallusionto honeymoons.

"Merelya game to cure dulness."
"Ah!"Willoughby acquiesced. "A monthyou said?"

"One'dlike it to last for years."

"Ah!You are driving one of Mr. Merriman's witticisms at meHorace; Iam dense."

Willoughbybowed to Dr. Middletonand drew him from Vernonfiliallytaking his turn to talk with him closely.

De Crayesaw Clara's look as her father and Willoughby went asidethuslinked.

It liftedhim over anxieties and casuistries concerning loyalty.Powder wasin the look to make a warhorse breathe high and shiverfor thesignal.

 

 

CHAPTERXXIV

Containsan Instance of the Generosity of Willoughby

 

Observersof a gathering complication and a character in actioncommonlyresemble gleaners who are intent only on picking up thecars ofgrain and huddling their store. Disinterestedly orinterestedlythey wax over-eager for the little triflesand maketoo muchof them. Observers should begin upon the preceptthat notall we seeis worth hoardingand that the things we see are to beweighed inthe scale with what we know of the situationbefore wecommitourselves to a measurement. And they may be accurateobserverswithout being good judges. They do not think soandtheir bentis to glean hurriedly and form conclusions as hastywhen theirbusiness should be sift at each stepand question.

Miss Daleseconded Vernon Whitford in the occupation of countinglooks andtonesand noting scraps of dialogue. She was quitedisinterested;he quite believed that he was; to this degree theywerecompetent for their post; and neither of them imagined theycould bepersonally involved in the dubious result of the scenestheywitnessed. They were but anxious observersdiligentlycollecting.She fancied Clara susceptible to his advice: he hadfancieditand was considering it one of his vanities. Eachmentallycompared Clara's abruptness in taking them into herconfidencewith her abstention from any secret word since thearrival ofColonel De Craye. Sir Willoughby requested Laetitia togive MissMiddleton as much of her company as she could; showingthat hewas on the alert. Another Constantia Durham seemed beatingher wingsfor flight. The suddenness of the evident intimacybetweenClara and Colonel De Craye shocked Laetitia; theiracquaintancecould be computed by hours. Yet at their firstinterviewshe had suspected the possibility of worse than she nowsupposedto be; and she had begged Vernon not immediately to quitthe Hallin consequence of that faint suspicion. She had been ledto it bymeeting Clara and De Craye at her cottage-gateandfindingthem as fluent and laughter-breathing in conversation asfriends.Unable to realize the rapid advance to a familiaritymoreostensible than actualof two lively naturesafter such anintroductionas they had undergone: and one of the two pining in adrought ofliveliness: Laetitia listened to their wager of nothingat all--ano against a yes--in the case of poor Flitch; andClara's"Willoughby will not forgive"; and De Craye's "Ohhe'shuman":and the silence of Clara and De Craye's hearty cry"Flitchshall be a genteman's coachman in his old seat or Ihaven't atongue!" to which there was a negative of Clara's head:and itthen struck Laetitia that this young betrothed ladywhosealienatedheart acknowledged no lord an hour earlierhad met hermatchandas the observer would have saidher destiny.  Shejudged ofthe alarming possibility by the recent revelation toherself ofMiss Middleton's characterand by Clara's havingspoken toa man as well (to Vernon)and previously. That a youngladyshould speak on the subject of the inner holies to a manthough hewere Vernon Whitfordwas incredible to Laetitia; but ithad to beaccepted as one of the dread facts of our inexplicablelifewhich drag our bodies at their wheels and leave our mindsexclaiming.Thenif Clara could speak to Vernonwhich Laetitiawould nothave done for a mighty bribeshe could speak to DeCrayeLaetitia thought deductively: this being the logic ofuntrainedheads opposed to the proceeding whereby theircondemnatorydeduction hangs.--Clara must have spoken to De Craye!

Laetitiaremembered how winning and prevailing Miss Middletoncould bein her confidences. A gentleman hearing her might forgethis dutyto his friendshe thoughtfor she had been strangelyswayed byClara: ideas of Sir Willoughby that she had never beforeimaginedherself to entertain had been sown in hershe thought;not askingherself whether the searchingness of the young lady hadstruckthem and bidden them rise from where they lay imbedded.Verygentle women take in that manner impressions of personsespeciallyof the worshipped personwounding them; like the newfortificationswith embankments of soft earthwhere explosivemissilesbury themselves harmlessly until they are plucked out;and it maybe a reason why those injured ladies outlive a ClaraMiddletonsimilarly battered.

Vernonless than Laetitia took into account that Clara was in astate offeverscarcely reasonable. Her confidences to him he hadexcusedas a piece of conductin sympathy with her position. Hehad notbeen greatly astonished by the circumstances confided;andonthe wholeas she was excited and unhappyhe excused herthoroughly;he could have extolled her: it was natural that sheshouldcome to himbrave in her to speak so franklya complimentthat sheshould condescend to treat him as a friend. Her positionexcusedher widely. But she was not excused for making aconfidentialfriend of De Craye. There was a difference.

Wellthedifference wasthat De Craye had not the smarting senseof honourwith women which our meditator had: an impartialjudiciaryit will be seen: and he discriminated between himselfand theother justly: but sensation surging to his brain at thesameinstanthe reproached Miss Middleton for not perceiving thatdifferenceas clearlybefore she betrayed her position to DeCrayewhich Vernon assumed that she had done. Of course he did.She hadbeen guilty of it once: whythenin the mind of anoffendedfriendshe would be guilty of it twice. There wasevidence.Ladiesfatally predestined to appeal to that from whichthey haveto be guardedmust expect severity when they run offtheirrailed highroad: justice is out of the question: man'sbrainsmighthis blood cannot administer it to them. By chillinghim to thebone they may get what they cry for. But that is amethoddeadening to their point of appeal.

I theeveningMiss Middleton and the colonel sang a duet. Shehad oflate declined to sing. Her voice was noticeably firm. SirWilloughbysaid to her"You have recovered your richness of toneClara."She smiled and appeared happy in pleasing him. He named aFrenchballad. She went to the music-rack and gave the songunasked.He should have been satisfiedfor she said to him at thefinish"Is that as you like it?" He broke from a murmur to MissDale"Admirable." Some one mentioned a Tuscan popular canzone.She waitedfor Willoughby's approvaland took his nod for amandate.

Traitress!he could have bellowed.

He hadread of this characteristic of caressing obedience of thewomenabout to deceive. He had in his time profited by it.

"Isit intuitively or by their experience that our neighboursacrossChannel surpass us in the knowledge of your sex?" he saidto MissDaleand talked through Clara's apostrophe to the'SantissiniaVirgine Maria' still treating temper as a partof policywithout any effect on Clara; and that was matter forsicklygreen reflections. The lover who cannot wound has indeedlostanchorage; he is woefully adrift: he stabs airwhich is tostabhimself. Her complacent proof-armour bids him know himselfsupplanted.

During theshort conversational period before the ladies retiredfor thenightMiss Eleanor alluded to the wedding by chance.MissIsabel replied to herand addressed an interrogation toClara. DeCraye foiled it adroitly. Clara did not utter asyllable.Her bosom lifted to a wavering height and sank.Subsequentlyshe looked at De Craye vacantlylike a personawakenedbut she looked. She was astonished by his readinessandthankfulfor the succour. Her look was coldwideunfixedwithnothing ofgratitude or of personal in it. The lookhoweverstood toolong for Willoughby's endurance.

Ejaculating"Porcelain!" he uncrossed his legs; a signal for theladiesEleanor and Isabel to retire. Vernon bowed to Clara as shewasrising. He had not been once in her eyesand he expected apartialrecognition at the good-night. She said itturning herhead toMiss Isabelwho was condoling once more with Colonel DeCraye overthe ruins of his wedding-presentthe porcelain vasewhich shesupposed to have been in Willoughby's mind when hedisplayedthe signal. Vernon walked off to his roomdark as onesmittenblind: bile tumet jecur: her stroke of neglect hit himtherewhere a blow sends thick obscuration upon eyeballs and brainalike.

Clara sawthat she was paining him and regretted it when they wereseparated.That was her real friend! But he prescribed too hard atask.Besidesshe had done everything he demanded of herexcepttheconsenting to stay where she was and wear out Willoughbywhosedexterity wearied her small stock of patience. She hadvainlytried remonstrance and supplication with her fatherhoodwinkedby his hostshe refused to consider how; through wine?--thethought was repulsive.

Neverthelessshe was drawn to the edge of it by the contemplationof herscheme of release. If Lucy Darleton was at home; if Lucyinvitedher to come: if she flew to Lucy: oh! then her fatherwould havecause for anger. He would not remember that but forhatefulwine! ...

What wasthere in this wine of great age which expelledreasonablenessfatherliness? He was her dear father: she was hisbelovedchild: yet something divided them; something closed herfather'sears to her: and could it be that incomprehensibleseductionof the wine? Her dutifulness cried violently no. Shebowedstupefiedto his arguments for remaining awhileand roseclear-headedand rebellious with the reminiscence of the manystrongreasons she had urged against them.

Thestrangeness of menyoung and oldthe little things (sheregarded agrand wine as a little thing) twisting and changingthemamazed her. And these are they by whom women are abused forvariability!Only the most imperious reasonsnever mean triflesmovewomenthought she. Would women do an injury to one theyloved foroceans of that--ahpah!

And womenmust respect men. They necessarily respect a father. "Mydeardearfather!" Clara said in the solitude of her chambermusing onall his goodnessand she endeavoured to reconcile thedesperatesentiments of the position he forced her to sustainwith thoseof a venerating daughter. The blow which was to fall onhim beaton her heavily in advance. "I have not one excuse!" shesaidglancing at numbers and a mighty one. But the idea of herfathersuffering at her hands cast her down lower thanself-justification.She sought to imagine herself sparing him. Itwas toofictitious.

Thesanctuary of her chamberthe pure white room so homely to hermaidenlyfeelingswhispered peaceonly to follow the whisperwithanother that went through her swelling to a roarand leavingher as asuing of music unkindly smitten. If she stayed in thishouse herchamber would no longer be a sanctuary. Dolorousbondage!Insolent death is not worse. Death's worm we cannot keepawaybutwhen he has us we are numb to dishonourhappilysenseless.

Youthweighed her eyelids to sleepthough she was quiveringandquiveringshe awoke to the sound of her name beneath her window."Ican love stillfor I love him" she saidas she luxuriated inyoungCrossjay's boy's voiceagain envying him his bath in thelakewaterswhich seemed to her to have the power to wash awaygrief andchains. Then it was that she resolved to let Crossjaysee thelast of her in this place. He should be made gleeful bydoing hera piece of service; he should escort her on her walk totherailway station next morningthence be sent flying for a longday'struancywith a little note of apology on his behalf thatshe wouldwrite for him to deliver to Vernon at night.

Crossjaycame running to her after his breakfast with MrsMontaguethe housekeeperto tell her he had called her up.

"Youwon't to-morrow: I shall be up far ahead of you" said she;and musingon her fatherwhile Crossjay vowed to be up the firstshethought it her duty to plunge into another expostulation.

Willoughbyhad need of Vernon on private affairs. Dr. Middletonbetookhimself as usual to the libraryafter answering "I willruin youyet" to Willoughby's liberal offer to despatch an orderto Londonfor any books he might want.

His fineunruffled airas of a mountain in still morning beamsmade Claranot indisposed to a preliminary scene with Willoughbythat mightsave her from distressing himbut she could not stopWilloughby;as little could she look an invitation. He stood inthe Hallholding Vernon by the arm. She passed him; he did notspeakandshe entered the library.

"Whatnowmy dear? what is it?" said Dr. Middletonseeing thatthe doorwas shut on them.

"Nothingpapa" she repliedcalmly.

"You'venot locked the doormy child? You turned something there:try thehandle."

"Iassure youpapathe door is not locked."

"Mr.Whitford will be here instantly. We are engaged on toughmatter.Women have notand opinion is universal that they neverwill havea conception of the value of time."

"Weare vain and shallowmy dear papa."

"Nononot youClara. But I suspect you to require to learn byhavingwork in progress how important is ... is a quietcommencementof the day's task. There is not a scholar who willnot tellyou so. We must have a retreat. These invasions!--So youintend tohave another ride to-day? They do you good. To-morrow wedine withMrs. Mountstuart Jenkinsonan estimable person indeedthough Ido not perfectly understand our accepting.--You have notto accuseme of sitting over wine last nightmy Clara! I never doitunlessI am appealed to for my judgement upon a wine."

"Ihave come to entreat you to take me awaypapa."

In themidst of the storm aroused by this renewal of perplexityDrMiddleton replaced a book his elbow had knocked over in hishaste todash the hair off his foreheadcrying: "Whither? To whatspot? Thatreading of guide-booksand idle people's notes ofTraveland picturesque correspondence in the newspapersunsettlesman and maid. My objection to the living in hotels isknown. Ido not hesitate to say that I do cordially abhor it. Ihave hadpenitentially to submit to it in your dear mother's time[Greek]up to the full ten thousand times. But will you notcomprehendthat to the older man his miseries are multiplied byhis years?But is it utterly useless to solicit your sympathy withan oldmanClara?"

"GeneralDarleton will take us inpapa."

"Histable is detestable. I say nothing of that; but his wine ispoison.Let that pass--I should rather saylet it not pass!--but ourpolitical views are not in accord. Truewe are not undertheobligation to propound them in presencebut we are destituteof anopinion in common. We have no discourse. Military men haveproducedor diverged innoteworthy epicures; they are oftendevout;they have blossomed in lettered men: they are gentlemen;thecountry rightly holds them in honour; butin fineI rejecttheproposal to go to General Darleton.--Tears?"

"Nopapa."

"I dohope not. Here we have everything man can desire; withoutcontestan excellent host. You have your transitory tea-cuptempestswhich you magnify to hurricanesin the approvedhistoricmanner of the book of Cupid. And all the better; Irepeatitis the better that you should have them over in theinfancy ofthe alliance. Come in!" Dr. Middleton shouted cheerilyinresponse to a knock at the door.

He fearedthe door was locked: he had a fear that his daughterintendedto keep it locked.

"Clara!"he cried.

Shereluctantly turned the handleand the ladies Eleanor andIsabelcame inapologizing with as much coherence as Dr.Middletonever expected from their sex. They wished to speak toClarabutthey declined to take her away. In vain the Rev.Doctorassured them she was at their service; they protested thatthey hadvery few words to sayand would not intrude one momentfurtherthan to speak them.

Like a shydeputation of young scholars before the masterthesevery wordsto come were preceded by none at all; a dismal andtryingcause; refreshing however to Dr. Middletonwho joyfullyanticipatedthat the ladies could be induced to take away Clarawhen theyhad finished.

"Wemay appear to you a little formal" Miss Isabel beganandturned toher sister.

"Wehave no intention to lay undue weight on our missionifmission itcan be called" said Miss Eleanor.

"Isit entrusted to you by Willoughby?" said Clara.

"Dearchildthat you may know it all the more earnest with usand ourpersonal desire to contribute to your happiness:thereforedoes Willoughby entrust the speaking of it to us."

Hereuponthe sisters alternated in addressing Claraand she gazedfrom oneto the otherpiecing fragments of empty significationto get thefull meaning when she might.

"--Andin saying your happinessdear Clarawe have ourWilloughby'sin viewwhich is dependent on yours."

"--Andwe never could sanction that our own inclinations shouldstand inthe way."

"--No.We love the old place; and if it were only our punishmentfor lovingit too idolatrouslywe should deem it ground enoughfor ourdeparture."

"--Withoutreallyan idea of unkindness; nonenot any."

"--Youngwives naturally prefer to be undisputed queens of theirownestablishment."

"--Youthand age!"

"ButI" said Clara"have never mentionednever had athought. .."

"--Youhavedear childa lover who in his solicitude for yourhappinessboth sees what you desire and what is due to you."

"--Andfor usClarato recognize what is due to you is to act onit."

"--Besidesdeara sea-side cottage has always been one of ourdreams."

"--Wehave not to learn that we are a couple of old maidsincongruousassociates for a young wife in the government of agreathouse."

"--Withour antiquated notionsquestions of domestic managementmightariseand with the best will in the world to beharmonious!"

"--Sodear Claraconsider it settled."

"--Fromtime to time gladly shall we be your guests."

"--Yourguestsdearnot censorious critics."

"Andyou think me such an Egoist!--dear ladies! The suggestionof socruel a piece of selfishness wounds me. I would not have hadyou leavethe Hall. I like your society; I respect you. Mycomplaintif I had onewould bethat you do not sufficientlyassertyourselves. I could have wished you to be here for anexample tome. I would not have allowed you to go. What can hethink ofme! Did Willoughby speak of it this morning?"

It washard to distinguish which was the completer dupe of thesetwo echoesof one another in worship of a family idol.

"Willoughby"Miss Eleanor presented herself to be stamped withthe titlehanging ready for the first that should open her lips"ourWilloughby is observant--he is ever generous--and he is notlessforethoughtful. His arrangement is for our good on allsides."

"Anindex is enough" said Miss Isabelappearing in her turn themonsterdupe.

"Youwill not have to leavedear ladies. Were I mistress here Ishouldoppose it."

"Willoughbyblames himself for not reassuring you before."

"Indeedwe blame ourselves for not undertaking to go."

"Didhe speak of it first this morning?" said Clara; but she coulddraw noreply to that from them. They resumed the duetand sheresignedherself to have her cars boxed with nonsense.

"Soit is understood?" said Miss Eleanor.

"Isee your kindnessladies."

"AndI am to be Aunt Eleanor again?"

"AndI Aunt Isabel?"

Claracould have wrung her hands at the impediment whichprohibitedher delicacy from telling them why she could not namethem so asshe had done in the earlier days of Willoughby'scourtship.She kissed them warmlyashamed of kissingthough thewarmth wasreal.

Theyretired with a flow of excuses to Dr. Middleton fordisturbinghim. He stood at the door to bow them outand holdingthe doorfor Clarato wind up the processiondiscovered her at afar cornerof the room.

He wasdebating upon the advisability of leaving her therewhenVernonWhitford crossed the hall from the laboratory dooramirror ofhimself in his companion air of discomposure.

That wasnot importantso long as Vernon was a check on Clara;but themoment Clarathus baffledmoved to quit the libraryDr.Middletonfelt the horror of having an uncomfortable faceopposite.

"NobotherationI hope? It's the worst thing possible to work on.Where haveyou been? I suspect your weak point is not to armyourselfin triple brass against bother and worryand no goodwork canyou do unless you do. You have come out of thatlaboratory."

"Ihavesir.--Can I get you any book?" Vernon said to Clara.

Shethanked himpromising to depart immediately.

"Nowyou are at the section of Italian literaturemy love" saidDrMiddleton. "WellMr. Whitfordthe laboratory--ah!--wherethe amountof labour done within the space of a year would notstretch anelectric current between this Hall and the railwaystation:sayfour mileswhich I presume the distance to be.Wellsirand a dilettantism costly in time and machinery is asornamentalas foxes' tails and deers' horns to an independentgentlemanwhose fellows are contented with the latter decorationsfor theircivic wreath. Willoughbylet me remarkhas recentlyshownhimself most considerate for my girl. As far as I couldgather--Ihave been listening to a dialogue of ladies--he is asgenerousas he is discreet. There are certain combats in which tobe the oneto succumb is to claim the honours;--and that is whatwomen willnot learn. I doubt their seeing the glory of it."

"Ihave heard of it; I have been with Willoughby" Vernon saidhastilyto shield Clara from her father's allusive attacks. Hewished toconvey to her that his interview with Willoughby had notbeenprofitable in her interestsand that she had better at oncehaving himpresent to support herpour out her whole heart to herfather.But how was it to be conveyed? She would not meet hiseyesandhe was too poor an intriguer to be ready on the instantto dealout the verbal obscurities which are transparencies toone.

"Ishall regret itif Willoughby has annoyed youfor he standshigh in myfavour" said Dr. Middleton.

Claradropped a book. Her father started higher than the nervousimpulsewarranted in his chair. Vernon tried to win a glanceandshe wasconscious of his effortbut her angry and guiltyfeelingsprompting her resolution to follow her own counselkepthereyelids on the defensive.

"Idon't say he annoys mesir. I am here to give him my adviceand if hedoes not accept it I have no right to be annoyed.Willoughbyseems annoyed that Colonel De Craye should talk ofgoingto-morrow or next day."

"Helikes his friends about him. Upon my worda man of a moregenialheart you might march a day without finding. But you haveit on theforeheadMr. Whitford."

"Oh!nosir."

"There"Dr. Middleton drew his finger along his brows.

Vernonfelt along his ownand coined an excuse for theirblackness;not aware that the direction of his mind toward Clarapushed himto a kind of clumsy double meaningwhile he satisfiedan inwardand craving wrathas he said: "By the wayI have beenracking myhead; I must apply to yousir. I have a lineand I amuncertainof the run of the line. Will this passdo you think?

    'In Asination's tongue he asinates';

signifyingthat he excels any man of us at donkey-dialect."

After adecent interval for the genius of criticism to seem tohave beensitting under his frownDr. Middleton rejoined withsoberjocularity: "Nosirit will not pass; and your uncertaintyin regardto the run of the line would only be extended were thelinecentipedal. Our recommendation isthat you erase it beforethearrival of the ferule. This might do:

    'In Assignation's name he assignats';

signifyingthat he pre-eminently flourishes hypothetical promisesto pay byappointment. That might pass. But you will forbear tocite mefor your authority."

"Theline would be acceptable if I could get it to apply" saidVernon.

"Orthis . . ." Dr. Middleton was offering a second suggestionbutClarafledastonished at men as she never yet had been. Whyin aburningworld they would be exercising their minds in absurdities!And thosetwo were scholarslearned men! And both knew they werein thepresence of a soul in a tragic fever!

A minuteafter she had closed the door they were deep in theirwork. Dr.Middleton forgot his alternative line.

"Nothingserious?" he said in reproof of the want of honourableclearnesson Vernon's brows.

"Itrust notsir; it's a case for common sense."

"Andyou call that not serious?"

"Itake Hermann's praise of the versus dochmiachus to be not onlyseriousbut unexaggerated" said Vernon.

Dr.Middleton assented and entered on the voiceful ground of Greekmetresshoving your dry dusty world from his elbow.

 

 

CHAPTERXXV

TheFlight in Wild Weather

 

Themorning of Lucy Darleton's letter of reply to her friend Clarawas fairbefore sunrisewith luminous colours that are an omen tothehusbandman. Clara had no weather-eye for the rich Easterncrimsonnor a quiet space within her for the beauty. She lookedon it asher gate of promiseand it set her throbbing with arevivedbelief in radiant things which she had once dreamed of tosurroundher lifebut her accelerated pulses narrowed herthoughtsupon the machinery of her project. She herself was metalpointingall to her one aim when in motion. Nothing came amiss toiteverything was fuel; fibsevasionsthe serene battalions ofwhite liesparallel on the march with dainty rogue falsehoods. Shehaddelivered herself of many yesterday in her engagements forto-day.Pressure was put on her to engage herselfand she did soliberallythrowing the burden of deceitfulness on the extraordinarypressure."I want the early part of the morning; the rest of theday Ishall be at liberty." She said it to WilloughbyMiss DaleColonel DeCrayeand only the third time was she aware of thedeliciousdouble meaning. Hence she associated it with thecolonel.

Yourloudest outcry against the wretch who breaks your rules is inasking howa tolerably conscientious person could have done thisand theother besides the main offencewhich you vow you couldoverlookbut for the minor objections pertaining to consciencetheincomprehensible and abominable liesfor exampleor thebrazencoolness of the lying. Yet you know that we live in anundisciplinedworldwhere in our seasons of activity we areservantsof our designand that this comes of our passionsandthose ofour position. Our design shapes us for the work in handthepassions man the shipthe position is their apology: and nowshouldconscience be a passenger on boarda merely seemingswiftnessof our vessel will keep him dumb as the unwilling guestof apirate captain scudding from the cruiser half in cloven brinethroughrocks and shoals to save his black flag. Beware the falseposition.

That iseasy to say: sometimes the tangle descends on us like anet ofblight on a rose-bush. There is then an instant choice forus betweencourage to cut looseand desperation if we do not. Butnot manymen are trained to courage; young women are trained tocowardice.For them to front an evil with plain speech is to beguilty ofeffrontery and forfeit the waxen polish of purityandtherewiththeir commanding place in the market. They are trainedto pleaseman's tastefor which purpose they soon learn to liveout ofthemselvesand look on themselves as he looksalmost aslittledisturbed as he by the undiscovered. Without courageconscienceis a sorry guest; and if all goes well with the piratecaptainconscience will be made to walk the plank for being of noservice toeither party.

Clara'sfibs and evasions disturbed her not in the least thatmorning.She had chosen desperationand she thought herself verybravebecause she was just brave enough to fly from herabhorrence.She was light-heartedormore trulydrunken-hearted. Her quick nature realized the out of prison asvividlyand suddenly as it had sunk suddenly and leadenly underthe senseof imprisonment. Vernon crossed her mind: that was afriend!Yesand there was a guide; but he would disapproveandeven hethwarting her way to sacred libertymust be thrustaside.

What wouldhe think? They might never meetfor her to know. Orone day inthe Alps they might meeta middleaged couplehefamousshe regretful only to have fallen below his loftystandard."ForMr. Whitford" says shevery earnestly"I didwish atthat timebelieve me or notto merit your approbation."The browsof the phantom Vernon whom she conjured up were sternas she hadseen them yesterday in the library.

She gaveherself a chiding for thinking of him when her mindshould beintent on that which he was opposed to.

It was alivelier relaxation to think of young Crossjay'sshame-facedconfession presentlythat he had been a laggard inbed whileshe swept the dews. She laughed at himand immediatelyCrossjaypopped out on her from behind a treecausing her to claphand toheart and stand fast. A conspirator is not of the stuff tobearsurprises. He feared he had hurt herand was manly in hisefforts tosoothe: he had been up "hours"he saidand had watchedher comingalong the avenueand did not mean to startle her: itwas thekind of fun he played with fellowsand if he had hurthershemight do anything to him she likedand she would see ifhe couldnot stand to be punished. He was urgent with her toinflictcorporal punishment on him.

"Ishall leave it to the boatswain to do that when you're in thenavy"said Clara.

"Theboatswain daren't strike an officer! so now you see what youknow ofthe navy" said Crossjay.

"Butyou could not have been out before meyou naughty boyfor Ifound allthe locks and bolts when I went to the door."

"Butyou didn't go to the back doorand Sir Willoughby's privatedoor: youcame out by the hall door; and I know what you wantMissMiddletonyou want not to pay what you've lost."

"Whathave I lostCrossjay?"

"Yourwager."

"Whatwas that?"

"Youknow."

"Speak."

"Akiss."

"Nothingof the sort. Butdear boyI don't love you less for notkissingyou. All that is nonsense: you have to think only oflearningand to be truthful. Never tell a story: suffer anythingratherthan be dishonest." She was particularly impressive uponthesilliness and wickedness of falsehoodand added: "Do youhear?"

"Yes:but you kissed me when I had been out in the rain that day."

"BecauseI promised."

"AndMiss Middletonyou betted a kiss yesterday."

"I amsureCrossjay--noI will not say I am sure: but can yousay youare sure you were out first this morning? Wellwill yousay youare sure that when you left the house you did not see mein theavenue? You can't: ah!"

"MissMiddletonI do really believe I was dressed first."

"Alwaysbe truthfulmy dear boyand then you may feel that ClaraMiddletonwill always love you."

"ButMiss Middletonwhen you're married you won't be ClaraMiddleton."

"Icertainly shallCrossjay."

"Noyou won'tbecause I'm so fond of your name!"

Sheconsideredand said: "You have warned meCrossjayand Ishall notmarry. I shall wait" she was going to say"for you"but turnedthe hesitation to a period. "Is the village where Iposted myletter the day before yesterday too far for you?"

Crossjayhowled in contempt. "Next to Claramy favourite's Lucy"he said.

"Ithought Clara came next to Nelson" said she; "and a longwayoff tooif you're not going to be a landlubber."

"I'mnot going to be a landlubber. Miss Middletonyou may beabsolutelypositive on your solemn word."

"You'regetting to talk like one a little now and thenCrossjay."

"ThenI won't talk at all."

He stuckto his resolution for one whole minute.

Clarahoped that on this morning of a doubtful though imperativeventureshe had done some good.

Theywalked fast to cover the distance to the village post-officeand backbefore the breakfast hour: and they had plenty of timearrivingtoo early for the opening of the doorso that Crossjaybegan todance with an appetiteand was despatched to besiege abakery.Clara felt lonely without him: apprehensively timid intheshutteredunmoving village street. She was glad of hisreturn.When at last her letter was handed to heron thetestimonyof the postman that she was the lawful applicantCrossjayand she put out on a sharp trot to be back at the Hall ingood time.She took a swallowing glance of the first page ofLucy'swriting:

"Telegraphand I will meet you. I will supply you with everythingyou canwant for the two nightsif you cannot stop longer."

That wasthe gist of the letter. A second. less voraciousglanceat italong the road brought sweetness:--Lucy wrote:

"Do Ilove you as I did? my best friendyou must fall intounhappinessto have the answer to that."

Clarabroke a silence.

"Yesdear Crossjayand if you like you shall have another walkwith meafter breakfast. Butrememberyou must not say where youhave gonewith me. I shall give you twenty shillings to go and buythosebird's eggs and the butterflies you want for yourcollection;and mindpromise meto-day is your last day oftruancy.Tell Mr. Whitford how ungrateful you know you have beenthat hemay have some hope of you. You know the way across thefields tothe railway station?"

"Yousave a mile; you drop on the road by Combline's millandthenthere's another five-minutes" cutand the rest's road."

"ThenCrossjayimmediately after breakfast run round behind thepheasantryand there I'll find you. And if any one comes to youbefore Icomesay you are admiring the plumage of the Himalaya--thebeautiful Indian bird; and if we're found togetherwe run araceandof course you can catch mebut you mustn't until we'reout ofsight. Tell Mr. Vernon at night--tell Mr. Whitford atnight youhad the money from me as part of my allowance to you forpocket-money.I used to like to have pocket-moneyCrossjay. Andyou maytell him I gave you the holidayand I may write to himfor hisexcuseif he is not too harsh to grant it. He can beveryharsh."

"Youlook right into his eyes next timeMiss Middleton. I usedto thinkhim awful till he made me look at him. He says men oughtto lookstraight at one anotherjust as we do when he gives me myboxing-lessonand then we won't have quarrelling half so much. Ican'trecollect everything he says."

"Youare not bound toCrossjay."

"Nobut you like to hear."

"Reallydear boy. I can't accuse myself of having told you that."

"NobutMiss Middletonyou do. And he's fond of your singingandplaying on the pianoand watches you."

"Weshall be late if we don't mind" said Clarastarting to apace closeon a run.

"Theywere in time for a circuit in the park to the wild doublecherry-blossomno longer all white. Clara gazed up from under itwhere shehad imagined a fairer visible heavenliness than any othersight ofearth had ever given her. That was when Vernon laybeneath.But she had certainly looked abovenot at him. The treeseemedsorrowful in its withering flowers of the colour of troddensnow.

Crossjayresumed the conversation.

"Hesays ladies don't like him much."

"Whosays that?"

"Mr.Whitford."

"Werethose his words?"

"Iforget the words: but he said they wouldn't be taught by himlike meever since you came; and since you came I've liked himten timesmore."

"Themore you like him the more I shall like youCrossjay."

The boyraised a shout and scampered away to Sir Willoughbyattheappearance of whom Clara felt herself nipped and curlinginward.Crossjay ran up to him with every sign of pleasure. Yet hehad notmentioned him during the walk; and Clara took it for asign thatthe boy understood the entire satisfaction Willoughbyhad inmere shows of affectionand acted up to it. Hardly blamingCrossjayshe was a critic of the scenefor the reason thatyouthfulcreatures who have ceased to love a personhunger forevidenceagainst him to confirm their hard animuswhich will seemto themsometimeswhen he is not immediately irritating thembrutishbecause they can not analyze it and reduce it to themultitudeof just antagonisms whereof it came. It has passed bylargeaccumulation into a sombre and speechless load upon thesensesand fresh evidencethe smallest itemis a champion tospeak forit. Being about to do wrongshe grasped at thiseagerlyand brooded on the little of vital and truthful thatthere wasin the man and how he corrupted the boy. Neverthelesssheinstinctively imitated Crossjay in an almost sparkling saluteto him.

"Good-morningWilloughby; it was not a morning to lose: have youbeen outlong?"

Heretained her hand. "My dear Clara! and youhave you notoverfatiguedyourself? Where have you been?"

"Round--everywhere!And I am certainly not tired."

"Onlyyou and Crossjay? You should have loosened the dogs."

"Theirbarking would have annoyed the house."

"Lessthan I am annoyed to think of you without protection."

He kissedher fingers: it was a loving speech.

"Thehousehold . . ." said Clarabut would not insist to convicthim ofwhat he could not have perceived.

"Ifyou outstrip me another morningClarapromise me to take thedogs; willyou?"

"Yes."

"To-dayI am altogether yours."

"Areyou?"

"Fromthe first to the last hour of it!--So you fall in withHorace'shumour pleasantly?"

"Heis very amusing."

"Asgood as though one had hired him."

"Herecomes Colonel De Craye."

"Hemust think we have hired him!"

Shenoticed the bitterness of Willoughby's tone. He sang out agood-morningto De Crayeand remarked that he must go to thestables.

"Darleton?DarletonMiss Middleton?" said the colonelrisingfrom hisbow to her: "a daughter of General Darleton? If soIhave hadthe honour to dance with her. And have not you?--practisedwith herI mean; or gone off in a triumph to dance itout asyoung ladies do? So you know what a delightful partner sheis."

"Sheis!" cried Claraenthusiastic for her succouring friendwhoseletter was the treasure in her bosom.

"Oddlythe name did not strike me yesterdayMiss Middleton. Inthe middleof the night it rang a little silver bell in my earand Iremembered the lady I was half in love withif only for herdancing.She is darkof your heightas light on her feet; asister inanother colour. Now that I know her to be your friend... !"

"Whyyou may meet herColonel De Craye."

"It'llbe to offer her a castaway. And one only meets a charminggirl tohear that she's engaged! "'Tis not a line of a balladMissMiddletonbut out of the heart."

"LucyDarleton . . . You were leading me to talk seriously to youColonel DeCraye."

"Willyou one day?--and not think me a perpetual tumbler! Youhave heardof melancholy clowns. You will find the face not solaughablebehind my paint. When I was thirteen years younger I waslovedandmy dearest sank to the grave. Since then I have notbeen quiteat home in life; probably because of finding no one socharitableas she. "'Tis easy to win smiles and handsbut not soeasy towin a woman whose faith you would trust as your own heartbefore theenemy. I was poor then. She said. 'The day after mytwenty-firstbirthday'; and that day I went for herand I wonderedthey didnot refuse me at the door. I was shown upstairsand Isaw herand saw death. She wished to marry meto leave me herfortune!"

"Thennever marry" said Clarain an underbreath.

Sheglanced behind.

SirWilloughby was closewalking on turf.

"Imust be cunning to escape him after breakfast" she thought.

He haddiscarded his foolishness of the previous daysand thethought inhim could have replied: "I am a dolt if I let you outof mysight."

Vernonappearedformal as usual of late. Clara begged his excuseforwithdrawing Crossjay from his morning swim. He nodded.

De Crayecalled to Willoughby for a book of the trains.

"There'sa card in the smoking-room; elevenoneand four are thehoursifyou must go" said Willoughby.

"Youleave the HallColonel De Craye?"

"Intwo or three daysMiss Middleton."

She didnot request him to stay: his announcement produced noeffect onher. Consequentlythought he--wellwhat? nothing:wellthenthat she might not be minded to stay herself.Otherwiseshe would have regretted the loss of an amusingcompanion:that is the modest way of putting it. There is a modestand a vainfor the same sentiment; and both may be simultaneouslyin thesame breast; and each one as honest as the other; so shy isman'svanity in the presence of here and there a lady. She likedhim: shedid not care a pin for him--how could she? yet she likedhim: Otobe able to do her some kindling bit of service! Thesewere hisconsecutive fanciesresolving naturally to theexclamationand built on the conviction that she did not loveWilloughbyand waited for a spirited lift from circumstances. Hiscall for abook of the trains had been a sheer piece of impromptuin themind as well as on the mouth. It sprangunknown to himofconjectureshe had indulged yesterday and the day before. Thismorningshe would have an answer to her letter to her friendMissLucyDarletonthe pretty dark girlwhom De Craye was astonishednot tohave noticed more when he danced with her. Shepretty asshe washad come to his recollection through the name and rank ofherfathera famous general of cavalryand tactician in thatarm. Thecolonel despised himself for not having been devoted toClaraMiddleton's friend.

Themorning's letters were on the bronze plate in the hall.Clarapassed on her way to her room without inspecting them. DeCrayeopened an envelope and went upstairs to scribble a line. SirWilloughbyobserved their absence at the solemn reading to thedomesticservants in advance of breakfast. Three chairs wereunoccupied.Vernon had his own notions of a mechanical service--and aprecious profit he derived from them! but the other twoseatsreturned the stare Willoughby cast at their backs with animpudencethat reminded him of his friend Horace's calling fora book ofthe trainswhen a minute afterward he admitted he wasgoing tostay at the Hall another two daysor three. The manpossessedby jealousy is never in need of matter for it: hemagnifies;grass is junglehillocks are mountains. Willoughby'slegscrossing and uncrossing audiblyand his tight-folded armsandclearing of the throatwere faint indications of his condition.

"Areyou in fair health this morningWilloughby?" Dr. Middletonsaid tohim after he had closed his volumes.

"Thething is not much questioned by those who know meintimately"he replied.

"Willoughbyunwell!" and"He is health incarnate!" exclaimed theladiesEleanor and Isabel.

Laetitiagrieved for him. Sun-rays on a pest-stricken cityshethoughtwere like the smile of his face. She believed that hedeeplyloved Claraand had learned more of her alienation.

He wentinto the ball to look into the well for the pair ofmalefactors;on fire with what he could not reveal to a soul.

De Crayewas in the housekeeper's roomtalking to young Crossjayand Mrs.Montague just come up to breakfast. He had heard the boychatteringand as the door was ajar he peeped inand was invitedto enter.Mrs. Montague was very fond of hearing him talk: he paidher thefamiliar respect which a lady of fallen fortunesat acertainperiod after the fallenjoys as a befittingly sadsouvenirand the respectfulness of the lord of the house was morechilling.

Shebewailed the boy's trying his constitution with long walksbefore hehad anything in him to walk on.

"Andwhere did you go this morningmy lad?" said De Craye.

"Ahyou know the groundcolonel" said Crossjay. "I am hungry!Ishall eatthree eggs and some baconand buttered cakesand jamthen beginagainon my second cup of coffee."

"It'snot braggadocio" remarked Mrs. Montague. "He waits emptyfrom fivein the morning till nineand then he comes famished tomy tableand cats too much."

"Oh!Mrs. Montaguethat is what the country people callroemancing.ForColonel De CrayeI had a bun at seven o'clock.MissMiddleton forced me to go and buy it"

"Astale bunmy boy?"

"Yesterday's:there wasn't much of a stopper to you in itlike anew bun."

"Andwhere did you leave Miss Middleton when you went to buy thebun? Youshould never leave a lady; and the street of a countrytown islonely at that early hour. Crossjayyou surprise me."

"Sheforced me to gocolonel. Indeed she did. What do I care fora bun! Andshe was quite safe. We could hear the people stirring inthepost-officeand I met our postman going for his letter-bag. Ididn'twant to go: bother the bun!--but you can't disobey MissMiddleton.I never want toand wouldn't."

"Therewe're of the same mind" said the coloneland Crossjayshoutedfor the lady whom they exalted was at the door.

"Youwill be too tired for a ride this morning" De Craye said toherdescending the stairs.

She swunga bonnet by the ribands. "I don't think of ridingto-day."

"Whydid you not depute your mission to me?"

"Ilike to bear my own burdensas far as I can."

"MissDarleton is well?"

"Ipresume so."

"Willyou try her recollection for me?"

"Itwill probably be quite as lively as yours was."

"Shallyou see her soon?"

"Ihope so."

SirWilloughby met her at the foot of the stairsbut refrainedfromgiving her a hand that shook.

"Weshall have the day together" he said.

Clarabowed.

At thebreakfast-table she faced a clock.

De Crayetook out his watch. "You are five and a half minutes tooslow bythat clockWilloughby."

"Theman omitted to come from Rendon to set it last weekHorace.He willfind the hour too late here for him when he does come."

One of theladies compared the time of her watch with De Craye'sand Claralooked at hers and gratefully noted that she was fourminutes inarrear.

She leftthe breakfast-room at a quarter to tenafter kissing herfather.Willoughby was behind her. He had been soothed by thinkingof hispersonal advantages over De Crayeand he felt assured thatif hecould be solitary with his eccentric bride and fold her inhimselfhe wouldcutting temper adriftbe the man he had beento her notso many days back. Considering how few days backhistemper wasrousedbut he controlled it.

They wereslightly dissenting as De Craye stepped into the hall.

"Apresent worth examining" Willoughby said to her: "and I donotdwell onthe costliness. Come presentlythen. I am at yourdisposalall day. I will drive you in the afternoon to call onLadyBusshe to offer your thanks: but you must see it first. It islaid outin the laboratory."

"Thereis time before the afternoon" said Clara.

"Weddingpresents?" interposed De Craye.

"Aporcelain service from Lady BussheHorace."

"Notin fragments? Let me have a look at it. I'm haunted by anidea thatporcelain always goes to pieces. I'll have a look andtake ahint. We're in the laboratoryMiss Middleton."

He put hisarm under Willoughby's. The resistance to him wasmomentary:Willoughby had the satisfaction of the thought that DeCrayebeing with him was not with Clara; and seeing her givingorders toher maid Barclayhe deferred his claim on her companyfor someshort period.

De Crayedetained him in the laboratoryfirst over the China cupsandsaucersand then with the latest of London--tales ofyoungestCupid upon subterranean adventureshaving high titles tolight him.Willoughby liked the tale thus illuminatedfor withoutthe titlethere was no special savour in such affairsand itpulleddown his betters in rank. He was of a morality to reprobatethe erringdame while he enjoyed the incidents. He could not helpinterruptingDe Craye to point at Vernon through the windowstridingthis way and thatevidently on the hunt for youngCrossjay."No one here knows how to manage the boy except myselfBut go onHorace" he saidchecking his contemptuous laugh; andVernon didlook ridiculousout there half-drenched already in awhiterainagain shuffled off by the little rascal. It seemedthat hewas determined to have his runaway: he struck up theavenue atfull pedestrian racing pace.

"Aman looks a fool cutting after a cricket-ball; butputting onsteam in astorm of rain to catch a young villain out of sightbeatsanything I've witnessed" Willoughby resumedin hisamusement.

"Aiha!"said De Crayewaving a hand to accompany the melodiousaccent"there are things to beat that for fun."

He hadsmoked in the laboratoryso Willoughby directed a servanttotransfer the porcelain service to one of the sitting-rooms forClara'sinspection of it.

"You'rea bold man" De Craye remarked. "The luck may be with youthough. Iwouldn't handle the fragile treasure for a trifle."

"Ibelieve in my luck" said Willoughby.

Clara wasnow sought for. The lord of the house desired herpresenceimpatientlyand had to wait. She was in none of thelowerrooms. Barclayher maidupon interrogationdeclared shewas innone of the upper. Willoughby turned sharp on De Craye: hewas there.

The ladiesEleanor and Isabel and Miss Dale were consulted. Theyhadnothing to say about Clara's movementsmore than that theycould notunderstand her exceeding restlessness. The idea of herbeing outof doors grew serious; heaven was blackhard thunderrolledand lightning flushed the battering rain. Men bearingumbrellasshawlsand cloaks were dispatched on a circuit of thepark. DeCraye said: "I'll be one."

"No"cried Willoughbystarting to interrupt him"I can't allowit."

"I'vethe scent of a houndWilloughby; I'll soon be on thetrack."

"Mydear HoraceI won't let you go."

"Adieudear boy! and if the lady's discoverableI'm the one tofind her."

He steppedto the umbrella-stand. There was then a generalquestionwhether Clara had taken her umbrella. Barclay said shehad. Thefact indicated a wider stroll than round inside the park:Crossjaywas likewise absent. De Craye nodded to himself.

Willoughbystruck a rattling blow on the barometer.

"Where'sPollington?" he calledand sent word for his manPollingtonto bring big fishing-boots and waterproof wrappers.

An urgentdebate within him was in progress.

Should hego forth alone on his chance of discovering Clara andforgivingher under his umbrella and cloak? or should he preventDe Crayefrom going forth alone on the chance he vaunted soimpudently?

"Youwill offend meHoraceif you insist" he said.

"Regardme as an instrument of destinyWilloughby" replied DeCraye.

"Thenwe go in company."

"Butthat's an addition of one that cancels the other byconjunctionand's worse than simple division: for I can't trustmy witsunless I rely on them aloneyou see."

"Uponmy wordyou talk at times most unintelligible stuffto befrank withyouHorace. Give it in English."

"'Tisnot suitedperhapsto the genius of the languagefor Ithought Italked English."

"Ohthere's English gibberish as well as Irishwe know!"

"Anda deal foolisher when they do go at it; for it won't bearsqueezingwe thinklike Irish."

"Where!"exclaimed the ladies"where can she be! The storm isterrible."

Laetitiasuggested the boathouse.

"ForCrossjay hadn't a swim this morning!" said De Craye.

No onereflected on the absurdity that Clara should think oftakingCrossjay for a swim in the lakeand immediately after hisbreakfast:it was accepted as a suggestion at least that she andCrossjayhad gone to the lake for a row.

In thehopefulness of the ideaWilloughby suffered De Craye to goon hischance unaccompanied. He was near chuckling. He projected aplan fordismissing Crossjay and remaining in the boathouse withClaraluxuriating in the prestige which would attach to him forseekingand finding her. Deadly sentiments intervened. Still hemightexpect to be alone with her where she could not slip fromhim.

Thethrowing open of the hall-doors for the gentlemen presented aframedpicture of a deluge. All the young-leaved trees were steelyblackwithout a gradation of greendrooping and pouringand thesong ofrain had become an inveterate hiss.

The ladiesbeholding it exclaimed against Claraevenapostrophizedherso dark are trivial errors when circumstancesfrown. Shemust be mad to tempt such weather: she was very giddy;she wasnever at rest. Clara! Clara! how could you be so wild!Ought wenot to tell Dr. Middleton?

Laetitiainduced them to spare him.

"Whichway do you take?" said Willoughbyrather fearful that hiscompanionwas not to be got rid of now.

"Anyway" said De Craye. "I chuck up my head like a halfpennyand go bythe toss."

Thisenraging nonsense drove off Willoughby. De Craye saw himcast afurtive eye at his heels to make sure he was not followedandthought"Jove! he may be fond of her. But he's not on thetrack.She's a determined girlif I'm correct. She's a girl of ahundredthousand. Girls like that make the right sort of wives forthe rightmen. They're the girls to make men think of marrying.To-morrow!only give me a chance. They stick to you fast when theydo stick."

Then athought of her flower-like drapery and face caused himferventlyto hope she had escaped the storm.

Calling atthe West park-lodge he heard that Miss Middleton hadbeen seenpassing through the gate with Master Crossjay; but shehad notbeen seen coming back. Mr. Vernon Whitford had passedthroughhalf an hour later.

"Afterhis young man!" said the colonel.

Thelodge-keeper's wife and daughter knew of Master Crossjay'spranks;Mr. Whitfordthey saidhad made inquiries about him andmust havecaught him and sent him home to change his drippingthings;for Master Crossjay had come backand had declinedshelter inthe lodge; he seemed to be crying; he went away soakingover thewet grasshanging his head. The opinion at the lodge wasthatMaster Crossjay was unhappy.

"Hevery properly received a wigging from Mr. WhitfordI have nodoubt"said Colonel Do Craye.

Mother anddaughter supposed it to be the caseand consideredCrossjayvery wilful for not going straight home to the Hall tochange hiswet clothes; he was drenched.

Do Crayedrew out his watch. The time was ten minutes past eleven.If thesurmise he had distantly spied was correctMiss Middletonwould havebeen caught in the storm midway to her destination. Byhis guessat her character (knowledge of ithe would have said)he judgedthat no storm would daunt her on a predeterminedexpedition.He deduced in consequence that she was at the presentmomentflying to her friendthe charming brunette Lucy Darleton.

Stillasthere was a possibility of the rain having been too muchfor herand as he had no other speculation concerning the routeshe hadtakenhe decided upon keeping along the road to Rendonwith akeen eye at cottage and farmhouse windows.

 

 

CHAPTERXXVI

Vernonin Pursuit 

Thelodge-keeper had a sonwho was a chum of Master Crossjay'sanderrant-fellow with him upon many adventures; for this boy'spassionwas to become a gamekeeperand accompanied by one of thehead-gamekeeper'syoungstershe and Crossjay were in the habit ofrangeingover the countrypreparing for a profession delightfulto thetastes of all three. Crossjay's prospective connection withthemysterious ocean bestowed the title of captain on him bycommonconsent; he led themand when missing for lessons he wasgenerallyin the society of Jacob Croom or Jonathan Fernaway.Vernonmade sure of Crossjay when he perceived Jacob Croom sittingon a stoolin the little lodge-parlour. Jacob's appearance of adiligentperusal of a book he had presented to the ladhe tookfor adecent piece of trickery. It was with amazement that heheard fromthe mother and daughteras well as Jacobof MissMiddleton'sgoing through the gate before ten o'clock withCrossjaybeside herthe latter too hurried to spare a nod toJacob.That sheof all on earthshould be encouraging Crossjayto truancywas incredible. Vernon had to fall back upon Greek andLatinaphoristic shots at the sex to believe it.

Rain wasuniversal; a thick robe of it swept from hill to hill;thunderrumbled remoteand between the ruffled roars the downpourpressed onthe land with a great noise of eager gobblingmuchlike thatof the swine's trough fresh filledas though a vastassemblyof the hungered had seated themselves clamorously andfallen toon meats and drinks in a silencesave of the chaps. Arapidwalker poetically and humourously minded gathers multitudesof imageson his way. And rainthe heaviest you can meetis alivelycompanion when the resolute pacer scorns discomfort of wetclothesand squealing boots. South-western rain-cloudstooarenever longsullen: they enfold and will have the earth in a goodstrongglut of the kissing overflow; thenas a hawk with featherson hisbeak of the bird in his claw lifts headthey rise and takeveiledfeature in long climbing watery lines: at any moment theymay breakthe veil and show soft upper cloudshow sun on itshowskygreennear the verge they spring fromof the green of grassin earlydew; oralong a travelling sweep that rolls asunderoverheadheaven's laughter of purest blue among titanic whiteshoulders:it may mean fair smiling for awhileor be the lightestinterlude;but the watery linesand the driftingthe chasingtheupsoaringall in a shadowy fingering of formand theanimationof the leaves of the trees pointing them onthe bendingof thetree-topsthe snapping of branchesand the hurrahings ofthestubborn hedge at wrestle with the flawsyielding but a leafat mostand that on a flingmake a glory of contest and wildnesswithoutaid of colour to inflame the man who is at home in them fromoldassociation on roadheathand mountain. Let him be drenchedhis heartwill sing. And thoutrim cockneythat jeerestconsiderthyselfto whom it may occur to be out in such a sceneand withwhat steps of a nervous dancing-master it would be thineto playthe hunted rat of the elementsfor the preservation ofthe oneimagined dryspot about theesomewhere on thy lucklessperson!The taking of rain and sun alike befits men of ourclimateand he who would have the secret of a strengtheningintoxicationmust court the clouds of the South-west with alover'sblood.

Vernon'shappy recklessness was dashed by fears for MissMiddleton.Apart from those fearshe had the pleasure of a gullwheelingamong foam-streaks of the wave. He supposed the Swiss andTyrol Alpsto have hidden their heads from him for many a day tocomeandthe springing and chiming South-west was the next bestthing. Amilder rain descended; the country expanded darklydefinedunderneath the moving curtain; the clouds were as he likedto seethemscaling; but their skirts dragged. Torrents were instoreforthey coursed streamingly still and had not the higherliftoreagle ascentwhich he knew for one of the signs offairnessnor had the hills any belt of mist-like vapour.

On a stepof the stile leading to the short-cut to Rendon youngCrossjaywas espied. A man-tramp sat on the top-bar.

"Thereyou are; what are you doing there? Where's Miss Middleton?"saidVernon. "Nowtake care before you open your mouth."

Crossjayshut the mouth he had opened.

"Thelady has gone away over to a stationsir" said the tramp.

"Youfool!" roared Crossjayready to fly at him.

"Butain't it nowyoung gentleman? Can you say it ain't?"

"Igave you a shillingyou ass!"

"Yougive me that sumyoung gentlemanto stop here and take careof youand here I stopped."

"Mr.Whitford!" Crossjay appealed to his masterand broke of indisgust."Take care of me! As if anybody who knows me would thinkI wantedtaking care of! Whywhat a beast you must be. youfellow!"

"Justas you likeyoung gentleman. I chaunted you all I knowtokeep upyour downcast spirits. You did want comforting. You wantedit rarely.You cried like an infant."

"Ilet you 'chaunt'as you call itto keep you from swearing."

"Andwhy did I swear. young gentleman? because I've got an itchycoat inthe wetand no shirt for a lining. And no breakfast togive me astomach for this kind of weather. That's what I've cometo in thisworld! I'm a walking moral. No wonder I swearswhen Idon'tstrike up a chaunt."

"Butwhy are you sitting here wet throughCrossjay! Be off home atonceandchangeand get ready for me."

"Mr.WhitfordI promisedand I tossed this fellow a shillingnot to gobothering Miss Middleton."

"Thelady wouldn't have none o" the young gentlemansirand Ioffered togo pioneer for her to the stationbehind herat arespectfuldistance."

"Asif!--you treacherous cur!" Crossjay ground his teeth at thebetrayer."WellMr. Whitfordand I didn't trust himand I stuckto himorhe'd have been after her whining about his coat andstomachand talking of his being a moral. He repeats that toeverybody."

"Shehas gone to the station?" said Vernon.

Not a wordon that subject was to be won from Crossjay.

"Howlong since?" Vernon partly addressed Mr. Tramp.

The latterbecame seized with shivers as he supplied theinformationthat it might be a quarter of an hour or twentyminutes."But what's time to mesir? If I had reglar mealsIshouldcarry a clock in my inside. I got the rheumatics instead."

"Waythere!" Vernon criedand took the stile at a vault.

"That'swhat gentlemen can dowho sleeps in their beds warm"moaned thetramp. "They've no joints."

Vernonhanded him a half-crown piecefor he had been of use foronce.

"Mr.Whitfordlet me come. If you tell me to come I may. Do letme come"Crossjay begged with great entreaty. "I sha'n't see herfor . . ."

"Beoffquick!" Vernon cut him short and pushed on.

The trampand Crossjay were audible to him; Crossjay spurning theconsolationsof the professional sad man.

Vernonspun across the fieldstiming himself by his watch toreachRendon station ten minutes before eleventhough withoutclearlyquestioning the nature of the resolution whichprecipitatedhim. Dropping to the roadhe had better footholdthan onthe slippery field-pathand he ran. His principal hopewas thatClara would have missed her way. Another pelting of rainagitatedhim on her behalf. Might she not as well be suffered togo?--andsit three hours and more in a railway-carriage with wetfeet!

He claspedthe visionary little feet to warm them on his breast.--ButWilloughby's obstinate fatuity deserved the blow!--Butneithershe nor her father deserved the scandal. But she wasdesperate.Could reasoning touch her? if notwhat would? He knewofnothing. Yesterday he had spoken strongly to Willoughbytoplead withhim to favour her departure and give her leisure tosound hermindand he had left his cousinconvinced that Clara'sbestmeasure was flight: a man so cunning in a pretendedobtusenessbacked by senseless prideand in petty tricks thatsprang ofa grovelling tyrannycould only be taught by facts.

Her recenttreatment of himhoweverwas very strange; so strangethat hemight have known himself better if he had reflected on thebound withwhich it shot him to a hard suspicion. De Craye hadpreparedthe world to hear that he was leaving the Hall. Were theyinconcert? The idea struck at his heart colder than if her damplittlefeet had been there.

Vernon'sfull exoneration of her for making a confidant ofhimselfdid not extend its leniency to the young lady's characterwhen therewas question of her doing the same with a secondgentleman.He could suspect much: he could even expect to find DeCraye atthe station.

That ideadrew him up in his runto meditate on the part heshouldplay; and by drove little Dr. Corney on the way to Rendonand hailedhimand gave his cheerless figure the nearest approachto anIrish bug in the form of a dry seat under an umbrella andwater-proofcovering.

"Thoughit is the worst I can do for youif you decline tosupplementit with a dose of hot brandy and water at the Dolphin"said he:"and I'll see you take itif you please. I'm bound toease aRendon patient out of the world. Medicine's one of theirsuperstitionswhich they cling to the harder the more useless itgets. Pilland priest launch him happy between them.--'And what'son yourconsciencePat?--It's whether your blessingyourRiverencewould disagree with another drop. Then put the horsebefore thecartmy sonand you shall have the two in harmonyand Godspeed ye!'--Rendon stationdid you sayVernon? Youshall havemy prescription at the Railway Armsif you're hurried.You havethe look. What is it? Can I help?"

"No.And don't ask."

"You'relike the Irish Grenadier who had a bullet in a humiliatingsituation.Here's Rendonand through it we go with a spankingclatter.Here's Doctor Corney's dog-cart post-haste again. Forthere's nodying without him nowand Repentance is on thedeath-bedfor not calling him in before. Half a charge of humbughurts noson of a gunfriend Vernonif he'd have his firing takeeffect. Betender to't in man or womanparticularly woman. Sobygoes themeteoric doctorand I'll bring noses to window-panesyou'llseewhich reminds me of the sweetest young lady I ever sawand theluckiest man. When is she off for her bridal trousseau?And whenare they spliced? I'll not call her perfectionforthat's apostafraid to move. But she's a dancing sprig of thetree nextit. Poetry's wanted to speak of her. I'm Irish andinflammableI supposebut I never looked on a girl to make a mancomprehendthe entire holy meaning of the word rapturouslikethat one.And away she goes! We'll not say another word. Butyou're aGrecianfriend Vernon. Nowcouldn't you think her justa whiff ofan idea of a daughter of a peccadillo-Goddess?"

"Deucetake youCorneydrop me here; I shall be late for thetrain"said Vernonlaying hand on the doctor's arm to check himon the wayto the station in view.

Dr Corneyhad a Celtic intelligence for a meaning behind anillogicaltongue. He drew upobserving. "Two minutes run won'thurt you."

Heslightly fancied he might have given offencethough he waswellacquainted with Vernon and had a cordial grasp at theparting.

The truthmust be told that Vernon could not at the moment bearany moretalk from an Irishman. Dr. Corney had succeeded inpersuadinghim not to wonder at Clara Middleton's liking forColonel deCraye.

 

 

CHAPTERXXVII

At theRailway Station

 

Clarastood in the waiting-room contemplating the white rails oftherain-swept line. Her lips parted at the sight of Vernon.

"Youhave your ticket?" said he.

Shenoddedand breathed more freely; the matter-of-fact questionwasreassuring.

"Youare wet" he resumed; and it could not be denied.

"Alittle. I do not feel it."

"Imust beg you to come to the inn hard by--half a dozen steps.We shallsee your train signalled. Come."

Shethought him startlingly authoritativebut he had good senseto backhim; and depressed as she was by the dampnessshe wasdisposedto yield to reason if he continued to respect herindependence.So she submitted outwardlyresisted inwardlyonthe watchto stop him from taking any decisive lead.

"Shallwe be sure to see the signalMr. Whitford?"

"I'llprovide for that."

He spoketo the station-clerkand conducted her across the road.

"Youare quite aloneMiss Middleton?"

"Iam: I have not brought my maid."

"Youmust take off boots and stockings at onceand have themdried.I'll put you in the hands of the landlady."

"Butmy train!"

"Youhave full fifteen minutesbesides fair chances of delay. "

He seemedreasonablethe reverse of hostilein spite of hiscommandingairand that was not unpleasant in one friendly to heradventure.She controlled her alert distrustfulnessand passedfrom himto the landladyfor her feet were wet and coldtheskirts ofher dress were soiled; generally inspecting herselfshewas anobject to be shuddered atand she was grateful to Vernonfor hisinattention to her appearance.

Vernonordered Dr. Corney's doseand was ushered upstairs to aroom ofportraitswhere the publican's ancestors and family satagainstthe wallsflat on their canvas as weeds of the botanist'sportfolioalthough corpulency was pretty generally insisted onand therewere formidable battalions of bust among the females.All ofthem had the aspect of the national energy which hasvanquishedobstacles to subside on its ideal. They all gazedstraightat the guest. "Drinkand come to this!" they might havebeenlabelled to say to him. He was in the private Walhalla of alargeclass of his countrymen. The existing host had takenforethoughtto be of the party in his primeand in the centralplacelooking fresh-fattened there and sanguine from theperformance.By and by a son would shove him aside; meanwhile heshelvedhis parentaccording to the manners of energy.

One shouldnot be a critic of our works of Art in uncomfortablegarments.Vernon turned from the portraits to a stuffed pike in aglasscaseand plunged into sympathy with the fish for a refuge.

Clara soonrejoined himsaying: "But youyou must be very wet.You werewithout an umbrella. You must be wet throughMr.Whitford."

"We'reall wet throughto-day" said Vernon. "Crossjay's wetthroughand a tramp he met."

"Thehorrid man! But Crossjay should have turned back when I toldhim.Cannot the landlord assist you? You are not tied to time. IbeggedCrossjay to turn back when it began to rain: when it becameheavy Icompelled him. So you met my poor Crossjay?"

"Youhave not to blame him for betraying you. The tramp did that.I wasthrown on your track quite by accident. Now pardon me forusingauthorityand don't be alarmedMiss Middleton; you areperfectlyfree for me; but you must not run a risk to your health.I metDoctor Corney coming alongand he prescribed hot brandy andwater fora wet skinespecially for sitting in it. There's thestuff onthe table; I see you have been aware of a singular odour;you mustconsent to sip someas medicine; merely to give youwarmth."

"ImpossibleMr. Whitford: I could not taste it. But prayobey Dr.Corneyifhe ordered it for you."

"Ican't. unless you do."

"Iwillthen: I will try."

She heldthe glassattemptedand was baffled by the reek ofit.

"Try:you can do anything" said Vernon.

"Nowthat you find me hereMr. Whitford! Anything for myself itwouldseemand nothing to save a friend. But I will really try."

"Itmust be a good mouthful."

"Iwill try. And you will finish the glass?"

"Withyour permissionif you do not leave too much."

They wereto drink out of the same glass; and she was to drinksome ofthis infamous mixture: and she was in a kind of hotelalone withhim: and he was drenched in running after her:--allthis cameof breaking loose for an hour!

"Oh!what a misfortune that it should be such a dayMr.Whitford!"

"Didyou not choose the day?"

"Notthe weather."

"Andthe worst of it isthat Willoughby will come upon Crossjaywet to theboneand pump him and get nothing but shufflingsblankliesand then find him out and chase him from the house."

Claradrank immediatelyand more than she intended. She held theglass asan enemy to be delivered fromgaspinguncertain of herbreath.

"Neverlet me be asked to endure such a thing again!"

"Youare unlikely to be running away from father and friendsagain."

She pantedstill with the fiery liquid she had gulped: and shewonderedthat it should belie its reputation in not fortifyingherbutrendering her painfully susceptible to his remarks.

"Mr.WhitfordI need not seek to know what you think of me."

"WhatI think? I don't think at all; I wish to serve you if Ican."

"Am Iright in supposing you a little afraid of me? You should notbe. I havedeceived no one. I have opened my heart to youand amnotashamed of having done so."

"Itis an excellent habitthey say."

"Itis not a habit with me."

He wastouchedand for that reasonin his dissatisfaction withhimselfnot unwilling to hurt. "We take our turnMiss Middleton.I'm noheroand a bad conspiratorso I am not of much avail."

"Youhave been reserved--but I am goingand I leave my characterbehind.You condemned me to the poison-bowl; you have not touchedityourself"

"Invino veritas: if I do I shall be speaking my mind."

"Thendofor the sake of mind and body."

"Itwon't be complimentary."

"Youcan be harsh. Only say everything."

"Havewe time?"

Theylooked at their watches.

"Sixminutes" Clara said.

Vernon'shad stoppedpenetrated by his total drenching.

Shereproached herself. He laughed to quiet her. "My dies solemnesare sureto give me duckings; I'm used to them. As for the watchit willremind me that it stopped when you went."

She raisedthe glass to him. She was happier and hoped for somelittleharshness and kindness mixed that she might carry away totravelwith and think over.

He turnedthe glass as she had given itturned it round inputting itto his lips: a scarce perceptible manoeuvrebut thatshe hadgiven it expressly on one side.

It may behoped that it was not done by design. Done evenaccidentallywithout a taint of contrivanceit was an afflictionto seeand coiled through hercausing her to shrink and redden.

Fugitivesare subject to strange incidents; they are not vesselslying safein harbour. She shut her lips tightas if they hadstung. Therealizing sensitiveness of her quick nature accusedthem of aloss of bloom. And the man who made her smart like thiswas formalas a railway official on a platform.

"Nowwe are both pledged in the poison-bowl" said he. "And ithas thetaste of rank poisonI confess. But the doctor prescribeditand atsea we must be sailors. NowMiss Middletontimepresses:will you return with me?"

"No!no!"

"Wheredo you propose to go?"

"ToLondon; to a friend--Miss Darleton."

"Whatmessage is there for your father?"

"SayI have left a letter for him in a letter to be delivered toyou.

"Tome! And what message for Willoughby?"

"Mymaid Barclay will hand him a letter at noon."

"Youhave sealed Crossjay's fate."

"How?"

"Heis probably at this instant undergoing an interrogation. Youmay guessat his replies. The letter will expose himandWilloughbydoes not pardon."

"Iregret it. I cannot avoid it. Poor boy! My dear Crossjay! Idid notthink of how Willoughby might punish him. I was verythoughtless.Mr. Whitfordmy pin-money shall go for hiseducation.Laterwhen I am a little olderI shall be able tosupporthim."

"That'san encumbrance; you should not tie yourself to drag itabout. Youare unalterableof coursebut circumstances are notand as ithappenswomen are more subject to them than we are."

"ButI will not be!"

"Yourcommand of them is shown at the present moment."

"BecauseI determine to be free?"

"No:because you do the contrary; you don't determine: you runaway fromthe difficultyand leave it to your father and friendsto bear.As for Crossjayyou see you destroy one of his chances.I shouldhave carried him off before thisif I had not thought itprudent tokeep him on terms with Willoughby. We'll let Crossjaystandaside. He'll behave like a man of honourimitating otherswho havehad to do the same for ladies."

"Havespoken falsely to shelter cowardsyou meanMr. Whitford.OhIknow.--I have but two minutes. The die is cast. I cannot goback. Imust get ready. Will you see me to the station? I wouldrather youshould hurry home."

"Iwill see the last of you. I will wait for you here. An expressruns aheadof your trainand I have arranged with the clerk for asignal; Ihave an eye on the window."

"Youare still my best friendMr. Whitford."

"Though?"

"Wellthough you do not perfectly understand what torments havedriven meto this."

"Carriedon tides and blown by winds?"

"Ah!you do not understand."

"Mysteries?"

"Sufferingsare not mysteriesthey are very simple facts."

"WellthenI don't understand. But decide at once. I wish you tohave yourfree will."

She leftthe room.

Drystockings and boots are better for travelling in than wetonesbutin spite of her direct resolveshe felt when drawingthem onlike one that has been tripped. The goal was desirablethe ardourwas damped. Vernon's wish that she should have her freewillcompelled her to sound it: and it was of course to goto beliberatedto cast off incubus and hurt her father? injureCrossjay?distress her friends? Noand ten times no!

Shereturned to Vernon in hasteto shun the reflex of her mind.

He waslooking at a closed carriage drawn up at the station door.

"Shallwe run over nowMr. Whitford?"

"There'sno signal. Here it's not so chilly."

I venturedto enclose my letter to papa in yourstrusting youwouldattend to my request to you to break the news to him gentlyand pleadfor me."

"Wewill all do the utmost we can."

"I amdoomed to vex those who care for me. I tried to follow yourcounsel."

"Firstyou spoke to meand then you spoke to Miss Dale; and atleast youhave a clear conscience."

"No."

"Whatburdens it?"

"Ihave done nothing to burden it."

"Thenit's a clear conscience."

"No."

Vernon'sshoulders jerked. Our patience with an innocent duplicityin womenis measured by the place it assigns to us and another. Ifhe hadliked he could have thought: "You have not done butmeditatedsomething to trouble conscience." That was evidentandherspeaking of it was proof too of the willingness to be dear. Hewould nothelp her. Man's bloodwhich is the link with women andresponsiveto them on the instant for or againstobscured him. Heshruggedanew when she said: "My character would have beendegradedutterly by my staying there. Could you advise it?"

"Certainlynot the degradation of your character" he saidblackon thesubject of De Crayeand not lightened by feelings whichmade himsharply sensible of the beggarly dependant that he wasor pooradventuring scribbler that he was to become.

"Whydid you pursue me and wish to stop meMr. Whitford?" saidClaraonthe spur of a wound from his tone.

Hereplied: "I suppose I'm a busybody; I was never aware of ittill now."

"Youare my friend. Only you speak in irony so much.  That wasironyabout my clear conscience. I spoke to you and to Miss Dale:and then Irested and drifted. Can you not feel for methat tomention itis like a scorching furnace? Willoughby has entangledpapa. Heschemes incessantly to keep me entangled. I fly from hiscunning asmuch as from anything. I dread it. I have told youthat I ammore to blame than hebut I must accuse him.  Andwedding-presents!and congratulations! And to be his guest!"

"Allthat makes up a plea in mitigation" said Vernon.

"Isit not sufficient for you?" she asked him timidly.

"Youhave a masculine good sense that tells you you won't berespectedif you run. Three more days there might cover a retreatwith yourfather."

"Hewill not listen to me. He confuses me; Willoughby hasbewitchedhim."

"Commissionme: I will see that he listens."

"Andgo back? Ohno! To London! Besidesthere is the dining withMrs.Mountstuart this evening; and I like her very wellbut Imust avoidher. She has a kind of idolatry ... And what answerscan Igive? I supplicate her with looks. She observes themmyefforts todivert them from being painful produce a comicexpressionto herand I am a charming 'rogue'and I amentertainedon the topic she assumes to be principally interestingme. I mustavoid her. The thought of her leaves me no choice. Sheis clever.She could tattoo me with epigrams."

"Stay..there you can hold your own."

"Shehas told me you give me credit for a spice of wit. I have notdiscoveredmy possession. We have spoken of it; we call it yourdelusion.She grants me some beauty; that must be hers."

"There'sno delusion in one case or the otherMiss Middleton. Youhavebeauty and wit; public opinion will saywildness:indifferenceto your reputation will be charged on youand yourfriendswill have to admit it. But you will be out of thisdifficulty."

"Ah--toweave a second?"

"Impossibleto judge until we see how you escape the first. And Ihave nomore to say. I love your father. His humour ofsententiousnessand doctorial stilts is a mask he delights inbutyou oughtto know him and not be frightened by it. If you sat withhim anhour at a Latin taskand if you took his hand and toldhim youcould not leave himand no tears!--he would answer youat once.It would involve a day or two further; disagreeable toyounodoubt: preferable to the present mode of escapeas Ithink. ButI have no power whatever to persuade. I have not the'lady'stongue'. My appeal is always to reason."

"Itis a compliment. I loathe the 'lady's tongue'."

"It'sa distinctly good giftand I wish I had it. I might havesucceededinstead of failingand appearing to pay a compliment."

"Surelythe express train is very lateMr. Whitford?"

"Theexpress has gone by."

"Thenwe will cross over."

"Youwould rather not be seen by Mrs. Mountstuart. That is hercarriagedrawn up at the stationand she is in it."

Claralookedand with the sinking of her heart said: "I mustbraveher!"

"Inthat case I will take my leave of you hereMiss Middleton."

She gavehim her hand. "Why is Mrs. Mountstuart at the stationto-day?"

"Isuppose she has driven to meet one of the guests for herdinner-party.Professor Crooklyn was promised to your fatherandhe may becoming by the down-train."

"Goback to the Hall!" exclaimed Clara. "How can I? I have nomoreenduranceleft in me. If I had some support!--if it were thesense ofsecretly doing wrongit might help me through. I am in aweb. Icannot do rightwhatever I do. There is only the thoughtof savingCrossjay. Yesand sparing papa.--Good-byeMr.Whitford.I shall remember your kindness gratefully. I cannot goback."

"Youwill not?" said hetempting her to hesitate.

"No."

"Butif you are seen by Mrs. Mountstuartyou must go back. I'lldo my bestto take her away. Should she see youyou must patch upa storyand apply to her for a lift. ThatI thinkisimperative."

"Notto my mind" said Clara.

He bowedhurriedlyand withdrew. After her confessionpeculiarto herofpossibly finding sustainment in secretly doing wrongher flyingor remaining seemed to him a choice of evils: andwhilst shestood in bewildered speculation on his reason forpursuingher--which was not evident--he remembered the specialfearinciting himand so far did her justice as to have athimself onthat subject. He had done something perhaps to save herfrom acold: such was his only consolatory thought. He had alsobehavedlike a man of honourtaking no personal advantage of hersituation;but to reflect on it recalled his astonishing dryness.The strictman of honour plays a part that he should not reflecton tillabout the fall of the curtainotherwise he will be likelysometimesto feel the shiver of foolishness at his good conduct.

 

 

CHAPTERXXVIII

TheReturn

 

Posted inobservation at a corner of the window Clara saw Vernoncross theroad to Mrs. Mountstuart Jenkinson's carriagetransformedto the leanest pattern of himself by narrowedshouldersand raised coat-collar. He had such an air of saying"Tom'sa-cold"that her skin crept in sympathy.

Presentlyhe left the carriage and went into the station: a bellhad rung.Was it her train? He approved her goingfor he wasemployedin assisting her to go: a proceeding at variance withmanythings he had saidbut he was as full of contradictionto-day aswomen are accused of being. The train came up. Shetrembled:no signal had appearedand Vernon must have deceivedher.

Hereturned; he entered the carriageand the wheels were soon inmotion.Immediately thereuponFlitch's fly drove pastcontainingColonel DeCraye.

Vernoncould not but have perceived him!

But whatwas it that had brought the colonel to this place? Thepressureof Vernon's mind was on her and foiled her efforts toassert herperfect innocencethough she knew she had done nothingto allurethe colonel hither. Excepting WilloughbyColonel DeCraye wasthe last person she would have wished to encounter.

She hadnow a dread of hearing the bell which would tell her thatVernon hadnot deceived herand that she was out of his handsinthe handsof some one else.

She bit ather glove; she glanced at the concentrated eyes of thepublican'sfamily portraitsall looking as one; she noticed theemptytumblerand went round to it and touched itand the sillyspoon init.

A littleyielding to desperation shoots us to strange distances!

Vernon hadasked her whether she was alone. Connecting thatinquirysingular in itselfand singular in his manner of puttingitwiththe glass of burning liquidshe repeated: "He musthave seenColonel De Craye!" and she stared at the empty glassasatsomething that witnessed to something: for Vernon was not yoursupplecavalier assiduously on the smirk to pin a gallantry tocommonplaces.But all the doors are not open in a young lady'sconsciousnessquick of nature though she may be: some are lockedandkeylesssome will not open to the keysome are defended byghostsinside. She could not have said what the somethingwitnessedto. If we by chance know morewe have still no rightto make itmore prominent than it was with her. And the smell ofthe glasswas odious; it disgraced her. She had an impulse topocket thespoon for a mementoto show it to grandchildren for awarning.Even the prelude to the morality to be uttered on theoccasionsprang to her lips: "Heremy dearsis a spoon you wouldhe ashamedto use in your teacupsyet it was of more value to meat oneperiod of my life than silver and gold in pointing outetc.":the conclusion was hazylike the conception; she had heridea.

And inthis mood she ran down-stairs and met Colonel De Craye onthestation steps.

The brightillumination of his face was that of the confident manconfirmedin a risky guess in the crisis of doubt and dispute.

"MissMiddleton!" his joyful surprise predominated; the pride ofanaccurate forecastadding: "I am not too late to be ofservice?"

Shethanked him for the offer.

"Haveyou dismissed the flyColonel De Craye?"

"Ihave just been getting change to pay Mr. Flitch. He passed meon theroad. He is interwound with our fates to a certainty. I hadonly tojump in; I knew itand rolled along like a magiciancommandinga genie."

"HaveI been . . ."

"Notseriouslynobody doubts you being under shelter. You willallow meto protect you? My time is yours."

"Iwas thinking of a running visit to my friend Miss Darleton."

"MayI venture? I had the fancy that you wished to see MissDarletonto-day. You cannot make the journey unescorted."

"Pleaseretain the fly. Where is Willoughby?"

"Heis in jack-boots. But may I notMiss Middleton?I shallnever be forgiven if you refuse me."

"Therehas been searching for me?"

"Somehallooing. But why am I rejected? BesidesI don't requirethe fly; Ishall walk if I am banished. Flitch is a wonderfulconjurerbut the virtue is out of him for the nextfour-and-twentyhours. And it will be an opportunity to me to makemy bow toMiss Darleton!"

"Sheis rigorous on the conventionalitiesColonel De Craye."

"I'llappear before her as an ignoramus or a rebelwhichever shelikes bestto take in leading-strings. I remember her. I wasgreatlystruck by her."

"Uponrecollection!"

"Memorydidn't happen to be handy at the first mention of thelady'sname. As the general said of his ammunition and transportthere'sthe army!--but it was leagues in the rear. Like thefootmanwho went to sleep after smelling fire in the houseI wasthinkingof 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 thatexactly: a wish to see the impression I made on yourfriend.--Noneat all? But any pebble casts a ripple."

"Thatis hardly an impression" said Clarapacifying herirresolutenesswith this light talk.

"Theutmost to be hoped for by men like me! I have yourpermission?--oneminute--I will get my ticket."

"Donot" said Clara.

"Yourman-servant entreats you!"

Shesignified a decided negative with the headbut her eyes weredreamy.She breathed deep: this thing done would cut the cord. Hersensationof languor swept over her.

De Crayetook a stride. He was accosted by one of therailway-porters.Flitch's fly was in request for a gentleman. Aportly oldgentleman bothered about luggage appeared on thelanding.

"Thegentleman can have it" said De Crayehanding Flitch hismoney.

"Openthe door." Clara said to Flitch.

He tuggedat the handle with enthusiasm. The door was open: shesteppedin.

"Thenmount the box and I'll jump up beside you" De Craye calledoutafterthe passion of regretful astonishment had melted fromhisfeatures.

Claradirected him to the seat fronting her; he protestedindifferenceto the wet; she kept the door unshut. His temperwould havepreferred to buffet the angry weather. The invitationwas toosweet.

She heardnow the bell of her own train. Driving beside therailwayembankment she met the train: it was eighteen minuteslatebyher watch. And whywhen it flung up its whale-spouts ofsteamshewas not journeying in itshe could not tell. She hadacted ofher free will: that she could say. Vernon had not inducedher toremain; assuredly her present companion had not; and herwholeheart was for flight: yet she was driving back to the Hallnot devoidof calmness. She speculated on the circumstance enoughto thinkherself incomprehensibleand there left itintent onthe sceneto come with Willoughby.

"Imust choose a better day for London" she remarked.

De Crayebowedbut did not remove his eyes from her.

"MissMiddletonyou do not trust me."

Sheanswered: "Say in what way. It seems to me that I do."

"Imay speak?"

"Ifit depends on my authority."

"Fully?"

"Whateveryou have to say. Let me stipulatebe not very grave. Iwantcheering in wet weather."

"MissMiddletonFlitch is charioteer once more. Think of it.There's atide that carries him perpetually to the place where hewas castforthand a thread that ties us to him in continuity. Ihave notthe honour to be a friend of long standing: one ventureson one'sdevotion: it dates from the first moment of my seeingyou.Flitch is to blameif any one. Perhaps the spell would bebrokenwere he reinstated in his ancient office."

"Perhapsit would" said Claranot with her best of smiles.Willoughby'spride of relentlessness appeared to her to bereceivinga blow by reboundand that seemed high justice.

"I amafraid you were right; the poor fellow has no chance" DeCrayepursued. He pausedas for decorum in the presence ofmisfortuneand laughed sparklingly: "Unless I engage himorpretendto! I verily believe that Flitch's melancholy person onthe skirtsof the Hall completes the picture of the Eden within.--Why willyou not put some trust in meMiss Middleton?"

"Butwhy should you not pretend to engage him thenColonel DeCraye?"

"We'llplot itif you like. Can you trust me for that?"

"Forany act of disinterested kindnessI am sure."

"Youmean it?"

"Withoutreserve. You could talk publicly of taking him toLondon."

"MissMiddletonjust now you were going. My arrival changed yourmind. Youdistrust me: and ought I to wonder? The wonder would beall theother way. You have not had the sort of report of me whichwouldpersuade you to confideeven in a case of extremity. Iguessedyou were going. Do you ask me how? I cannot say. Throughwhat theycall sympathyand that's inexplicable. There's naturalsympathynatural antipathy. People have to live together todiscoverhow deep it is!"

Clarabreathed her dumb admission of his truth.

The flyjolted and threatened to lurch.

"Flitchmy dear man!" the colonel gave a murmuring remonstrance;"for"said he to Clarawhom his apostrophe to Flitch had setsmiling"we're not safe with himhowever we make believeandhe'll bejerking the heart out of me before he has done.--But iftwo of ushave not the misfortune to be united when they come tothediscoverythere's hope. That isif one has courage and theother haswisdom. Otherwise they may go to the yoke in spite ofthemselves.The great enemy is Pridewho has them both in a coachand drivesthem to the fatal doorand the only thing to do is toknock himoff his box while there's a minute to spare. And asthere's nopride like the pride of possessionthe deadliest woundto him isto make that doubtful. Pride won't be taught wisdom inany otherfashion. But one must have the courage to do it!"

De Crayetrifled with the window-sashto give his words time tosink insolution.

Who butWilloughby stood for Pride? And whoswayed by languorhaddreamed of a method that would be surest and swiftest to teachhim thewisdom of surrendering her?

"YouknowMiss MiddletonI study character" said the colonel.

"Isee that you do" she answered.

"Youintend to return?"

"Ohdecidedly."

"Theday is unfavourable for travellingI must say."

"Itis."

"Youmay count on my discretion in the fullest degree. I throwmyself onyour generosity when I assure you that it was not mydesign tosurprise a secret. I guessed the stationand wenttheretoput myself at your disposal."

"Didyou" said Clarareddening slightly"chance to see Mrs.MountstuartJenkinson's carriage pass you when you drove up to thestation?"

De Crayehad passed a carriage. "I did not see the lady. She wasin it?"

"Yes.And therefore it is better to put discretion on one side:we may becertain she saw you."

"Butnot youMiss Middleton."

"Iprefer to think that I am seen. I have a description ofcourageColonel De Crayewhen it is forced on me."

"Ihave not suspected the reverse. Courage wants trainingas wellas otherfine capacities. Mine is often rusty and rheumatic."

"Icannot hear of concealment or plotting."

"Exceptprayto advance the cause of poor Flitch!"

"Heshall be excepted."

Thecolonel screwed his head round for a glance at his coachman'sback.

"Perfectlyguaranteed to-day!" he said of Flitch's look ofsolidity."The convulsion of the elements appears to sober ourfriend; heis only dangerous in calms. Five minutes will bring usto thepark-gates."

Claraleaned forward to gaze at the hedgeways in the neighbourhoodof theHall strangely renewing their familiarity with her. Both inthoughtand sensation she was like a flower beaten to earthandshethanked her feminine mask for not showing how nerveless andlanguidshe was. She could have accused Vernon of a treacherouscunningfor imposing it on her free will to decide her fate.

Involuntarilyshe sighed.

"Thereis a train at three" said De Crayewith splendidpromptitude.

"Yesand one at five. We dine with Mrs. Mountstuart tonight. AndI have apassion for solitude! I think I was never intended forobligations.The moment I am bound I begin to brood on freedom."

"Ladieswho say thatMiss Middleton!..."

"Whatof them?"

"They'refeeling too much alone."

She couldnot combat the remark: by her self-assurance that shehad theprinciple of faithfulnessshe acknowledged to herself thetruth ofit:--there is no freedom for the weak. Vernon had saidthat once.She tried to resist the weight of itand her sheerinabilityprecipitated her into a sense of pitiful dependence.

Half anhour earlier it would have been a perilous condition to betraversingin the society of a closely scanning reader of fairfaces.Circumstances had changed. They were at the gates of thepark.

"ShallI leave you?" said De Craye.

"Whyshould you?" she replied.

He bent toher gracefully.

The mildsubservience flattered Clara's languor. He had notcompelledher to be watchful on her guardand she was unawarethat hepassed it when she acquiesced to his observation"Ananticipatorystory is a trap to the teller."

"Itis" she said. She had been thinking as much.

He threwup his head to consult the brain comically with a dozenlittleblinks.

"Noyou are rightMiss Middletoninventing beforehand neverprospers;"t is a way to trip our own cleverness. Truth andmother-witare the best counsellors: and as you are the formerI'll tryto act up to the character you assign me."

Sometanglemore prospective than presentseemed to be about heras shereflected. But her intention being to speak to Willoughbywithoutsubterfugeshe was grateful to her companion for nottemptingher to swerve. No one could doubt his talent for elegantfibbingand she was in the humour both to admire and adopt theartsoshe was glad to be rescued from herself. How mother-witwas tosecond truth she did not inquireand as she did not happento bethinking of Crossjayshe was not troubled by having toconsiderhow truth and his tale of the morning would be likely toharmonize.

Drivingdown the parkshe had full occupation in questioningwhetherher return would be pleasing to Vernonwho was thevirtualcause of itthough he had done so little to promote it:so littlethat she really doubted his pleasure in seeing herreturn.

 

 

CHAPTERXXIX

InWhich the Sensitiveness of Sir Willoughby IsExplained:and He Receives Much Instruction

 

THEHall-dock over the stables was then striking twelve. It wasthe hourfor her flight to be made knownand Clara sat in aturmoil ofdim apprehension that prepared her nervous frame for apainfulblush on her being asked by Colonel De Craye whether shehad sether watch correctly. He mustshe understoodhave seenthroughher at the breakfast table: and was she not cruellyindebtedto him for her evasion of Willoughby? Such perspicacityof visiondistressed and frightened her; at the same time she wasobliged toacknowledge that he had not presumed on it. Her dignitywas in noway the worse for him. But it had been at a man's mercyand therewas the affliction.

She jumpedfrom the fly as if she were leaving danger behind. Shecould atthe moment have greeted Willoughby with a conventionallyfriendlysmile. The doors were thrown open and young Crossjay flewout toher. He hung and danced on her handpressed the hand tohis mouthhardly believing that he saw and touched herand in alingo ofdashes and asterisks related how Sir Willoughby had foundhim underthe boathouse eaves and pumped himand had been sentoff toHoppner's farmwhere there was a sick childand onalong theroad to a labourer's cottage: "For I said you're so kindto poorpeopleMiss Middleton; that's truenow that is true.And I saidyou wouldn't have me with you for fear of contagion!"This waswhat she had feared.

"Everycrack and bang in a boys vocabulary" remarked the colonellisteningto him after he had paid Flitch.

The lattertouched his hat till he had drawn attention to himselfwhen heexclaimedwith rosy melancholy: "Ah! my ladyah!colonelif ever I lives to drink some of the old port wine in theold Hallat Christmastide!" Their healths would on that occasionbe drunkit was implied. He threw up his eyes at the windowshumped hisbody and drove away.

"ThenMr. Whitford has not come back?" said Clara to Crossjay.

"NoMiss Middleton. Sir Willoughby hasand he's upstairs inhis roomdressing."

"Haveyou seen Barclay?"

"Shehas just gone into the laboratory. I told her Sir Willoughbywasn'tthere."

"TellmeCrossjayhad she a letter?"

"Shehad something."

"Run:say I am here; I want the letterit is mine."

Crossjaysprang away and plunged into the arms of Sir Willoughby.

"Onehas to catch the fellow like a football" exclaimed theinjuredgentlemandoubled across the boy and holding him fastthat hemight have an object to trifle withto give himselfcountenance:he needed it. "Clarayou have not been exposed totheweather?"

"Hardlyat all."

"Irejoice. You found shelter?"

"Yes."

"Inone of the cottages?"

"Notin a cottage; but I was perfectly sheltered. Colonel De Crayepassed afly before he met me . .

"Flitchagain!" ejaculated the colonel.

"Yesyou have luckyou have luck" Willoughby addressed himstillclutching Crossjay and treating his tugs to get loose as aninvitationto caresses. But the foil barely concealed his lividperturbation.

"Stayby mesir" he said at last sharply to Crossjayand Claratouchedthe boy's shoulder in admonishment of him.

She turnedto the colonel as they stepped into the hall: "I havenotthanked youColonel De Craye." She dropped her voice to itslowest: "Aletter in my handwriting in the laboratory."

Crossjaycried aloud with pain.

"Ihave you!" Willoughby rallied him with a laugh not unlike thesqueak ofhis victim.

"Yousqueeze awfully hardsir."

"Whyyou milksop!"

"AmI! But I want to get a book."

"Whereis the book?"

"Inthe laboratory."

Colonel DeCrayesauntering by the laboratory doorsung out:"I'llfetch you your book. What is it? EARLY NAVIGATORS? INFANTHYMNS? Ithink my cigar-case is in here."

"Barclayspeaks of a letter for me" Willoughby said to Clara"markedto be delivered to me at noon!"

"Incase of my not being back earlier; it was written to avertanxiety"she replied.

"Youare very good."

"Ohgood! Call me anything but good. Here are the ladies. Dearladies!"Clara swam to meet them as they issued from amorning-roominto the halland interjections reigned for a coupleofminutes.

Willoughbyrelinquished his grasp of Crossjaywho dartedinstantaneouslyat an angle to the laboratorywhither he followedand heencountered De Craye coming outbut passed him in silence.

Crossjaywas rangeing and peering all over the room.  Willoughbywent tohis desk and the battery-table and the mantelpiece. Hefound noletter. Barclay had undoubtedly informed him that she hadleft aletter for him in the laboratoryby order of her mistressafterbreakfast.

He hurriedout and ran upstairs in time to see De Craye andBarclaybreaking a conference.

Hebeckoned to her. The maid lengthened her upper lip and beat herdress downsmooth: signs of the apprehension of a crisis and ofthegetting ready for action.

"Mymistress's bell has just rungSir Willoughby."

"Youhad a letter for me."

"Isaid . . ."

"Yousaid when I met you at the foot of the stairs that you hadleft aletter for me in the laboratory."

"Itis lying on my mistress's toilet-table."

"Getit."

Barclayswept round with another of her demure grimaces. It wasapparentlynecessary with her that she should talk to herself inthispublic manner.

Willoughbywaited for her; but there was no reappearance of themaid.

Struck bythe ridicule of his posture of expectationand of hiswholebehaviourhe went to his bedroom suiteshut himself inand pacedthe chambersamazed at the creature he had become.Agitatedlike the commonest of wretchesdestitute ofself-controlnot able to preserve a decent maskbeaccustomedto inflictthese emotions and tremours upon otherswas at oncethe puppetand dupe of an intriguing girl. His very stature seemedlessened.The glass did not say sobut the shrunken heart withinhim didand wailfully too. Her compunction--'Call me anythingbutgood'--coming after her return to the Hall beside De Crayeand afterthe visible passage of a secret between them in hispresencewas a confession: it blew at him with the fury of afurnace-blastin his face. Egoist agony wrung the outcry from himthatdupery is a more blessed condition. He desired to bedeceived.

He coulddesire such a thing only in a temporary transport; forabove allhe desired that no one should know of his beingdeceived;and were he a dupe the deceiver would know itand heraccomplicewould know itand the world would soon know of it:that worldagainst whose tongue he stood defenceless. Within theshadow ofhis presence he compressed opinionas a strong frostbinds thesprings of earthbut beyond it his shiveringsensitivenessran about in dread of a stripping in a wintryatmosphere.This was the ground of his hatred of the world: it wasanappalling fear on behalf of his naked eidolonthe tenderinfantSelf swaddled in his name before the worldfor which hefelt asthe most highly civilized of men alone can feeland whichit wasimpossible for him to stretch out hands to protect. Therethe poorlittle loveable creature ran for any mouth to blow on;andfrostnipped and bruisedit cried to himand he was of noavail!Must we not detest a world that so treats us? We loathe itthe moreby the measure of our contempt for themwhen we havemade thepeople within the shadow-circle of our person slavish.

And he hadbeen once a young prince in popularity: the world hadbeen hispossession. Clara's treatment of him was a robbery ofland andsubjects. His grander dream had been a marriage with alady of soglowing a fame for beauty and attachment to her lordthat theworld perforce must take her for witness to merits whichwouldsilence detraction and almostnot quite (it wasundesireable)extinguish envy. But for the nature of women hisdreamwould have been realized. He could not bring himself todenounceFortune. It had cost him a grievous pang to tell HoraceDe Crayehe was lucky; he had been educated in the belief thatFortunespecially prized and cherished little Willoughby: hence ofnecessityhis maledictions fell upon womenor he would haveforfeitedthe last blanket of a dream warm as poets revel in.

But ifClara deceived himhe inspired her with timidity. Therewas matterin that to make him wish to be deceived. She had notlooked himmuch in the face: she had not crossed his eyes: she hadlookeddeliberately downwardkeeping her head upto preserve anexteriorpride. The attitude had its bewitchingness: the girl'sphysicalpride of stature scorning to bend under a load ofconsciousguilthad a certain black-angel beauty for which hefelt ahugging hatred: and according to his policy when these fitsof amorousmeditation seized himhe burst from the present onein themood of his more favourable conception of Claraand soughther out.

Thequality of the mood of hugging hatred isthat if you aredisallowedthe hugyou do not hate the fiercer.

Contrariwisethe prescription of a decorous distance of two feettenincheswhich is by measurement the delimitation exacted of arightlyrespectful deportmenthas this miraculous effect on thegreatcreature manor often it has: that his peculiar hatredreturns tothe reluctant admiration begetting itand his passionfor thehug falls prostrate as one of the Faithful before theshrine; heis reduced to worship by fasting.

(For thesemysteriesconsult the sublime chapter in the GREATBOOKtileSeventy-first on LOVEwherein nothing is writtenbutthe Readerreceives a Lanthorna Powder-cask and a Pick-axeandtherewithpursues his yellow-dusking path across the rubble ofprecedingexcavators in the solitary quarry: a yet moreinstructivepassage than the overscrawled Seventiethor FrenchSectionwhence the chapter opensand where hitherto the politeworld hashalted.)

The hurryof the hero is on uswe have no time to spare forminingworks: he hurried to catch her aloneto wreak his tortureson her ina bitter semblance of bodily worshipand satiatedthencomfortablyto spurn. He found her protected by Barclay on thestairs.

"Thatletter for me?" he said.

"Ithink I told youWilloughbythere was a letter I left withBarclay toreassure you in case of my not returning early" saidClara. "Itwas unnecessary for her to deliver it."

"Indeed?But any letterany writing of yoursand from you to me!You haveit still?"

NoI havedestroyed it."

"Thatwas wrong."

"Itcould not have given you pleasure."

"Mydear Claraone line from you!"

"Therewere but three."

Barclaystood sucking her lips. A maid in the secrets of hermistressis a purchaseable maidfor if she will take a bribe withher righthand she will with her left; all that has to becalculatedis the nature and amount of the bribe: such was thespeculationindulged by Sir Willoughbyand he shrank from thethoughtand declined to know more than that he was on a volcanichillsidewhere a thin crust quaked over lava. This was a newconditionwith himrepresenting Clara's gain in their combat.Clara didnot fear his questioning so much as he feared hercandour.

Mutuallytimidthey were of course formally politeand no plainspeakingcould have told one another more distinctly that each wasdefensive.Clara stood pledged to the fib; packedscaled andposted;and he had only to ask to have itsupposing that he askedwith avoice not exactly peremptory.

She saidin her heart"It is your fault: you are relentless andyou wouldruin Crossjay to punish him for devoting himself to melike thepoor thoughtless boy he is! and so I am bound in honourto do myutmost for him."

Thereciprocal devotednessmoreoverserved two purposes: itpreservedher from brooding on the humiliation of her lame flightandflutter backand it quieted her mind in regard to theprecipitateintimacy of her relations with Colonel De Craye.Willoughby'sboast of his implacable character was to blame. Shewas at warwith himand she was compelled to put the case in thatlight.Crossjay must be shielded from one who could not spare anoffenderso Colonel De Craye quite naturally was called on forhis helpand the colonel's dexterous aid appeared to her moreadmirablethan alarming.

Neverthelessshe would not have answered a direct questionfalsely.She was for the fibbut not the lie; at a word she couldbedisdainful of subterfuges. Her look said that. Willoughbyperceivedit. She had written him a letter of three lines: "Therewere butthree": and she had destroyed the letter. Somethingperchancewas repented by her? Then she had done him an injury!Betweenhis wrath at the suspicion of an injuryand the prudenceenjoinedby his abject coveting of herhe consented to be fooledfor thesake of vengeanceand something besides.

"Well!here you aresafe; I have you!" said hewith courtlyexultation:"and that is better than your handwriting. I have beenall overthe country after you."

"Whydid you? We are not in a barbarous land" said Clara.

"Crossjaytalks of your visiting a sick childmy love:--you havechangedyour dress?"

"Yousee."

"Theboy declared you were going to that farm of Hoppner'sandsomecottage. I met at my gates a tramping vagabond who swore toseeing youand the boy in a totally contrary direction."

"Didyou give him money?"

"Ifancy so."

"Thenhe was paid for having seen me."

Willoughbytossed his head: it might be as she suggested; beggarsare liars.

"Butwho sheltered youmy dear Clara? You had not been heard ofatHoppner's."

"Thepeople have been indemnified for their pains. To pay themmore wouldbe to spoil them. You disperse money too liberally.There wasno fever in the place. Who could have anticipated such adownpour!I want to consult Miss Dale on the important theme of adress Ithink of wearing at Mrs Mountstuart's to-night."

"Do.She is unerring."

"Shehas excellent taste."

"Shedresses very simply herself."

"Butit becomes her. She is one of the few women whom I feel Icould notimprove with a touch."

"Shehas judgement."

Hereflected and repeated his encomium.

The shadowof a dimple in Clara's cheek awakened him to the ideathat shehad struck him somewhere: and certainly he would neveragain beable to put up the fiction of her jealousy of Laetitia.Whatthencould be this girl's motive for praying to bereleased?The interrogation humbled him: he fled from the answer.

Willoughbywent in search of De Craye. That sprightly intriguerhad nointention to let himself be caught solus. He wasundiscoverableuntil the assembly soundedwhen Clara dropped apublicword or twoand he spoke in perfect harmony with her.Afterthathe gave his company to Willoughby for an hour atbilliardsand was well beaten.

Theannouncement of a visit of Mrs. Mountstuart Jenkinson took thegentlemento the drawing-roomrather suspecting that somethingstood inthe way of her dinner-party. As it happenedshe waslamentingonly the loss of one of the jewels of the party: to witthe greatProfessor Crooklyninvited to meet Dr. Middleton at hertable; andshe related how she had driven to the station byappointmentthe professor being notoriously a bother-headedtraveller:as was shown by the fact that he had missed his trainin townfor he had not arrived; nothing had been seen of him. ShecitedVernon Whitford for her authority that the train had beeninspectedand the platform scoured to find the professor.

"Andso" said she"I drove home your Green Man to dry him; hewas wetthrough and chattering; the man was exactly like askeletonwrapped in a spongeand if he escapes a cold he must beasinvulnerable as he boasts himself. These athletes are terribleboasters."

"Theyclimb their Alps to crow" said Claraexcited by herapprehensionthat Mrs. Mountstuart would speak of having seen thecolonelnear the station.

There wasa laughand Colonel De Craye laughed loudly as itflashedthrough him that a quick-witted impressionable girl likeMissMiddleton mustbefore his arrival at the Hallhavespeculatedon such obdurate clay as Vernon Whitford waswithhumourousdespair at his uselessness to her. Glancing roundhesaw Vernonstanding fixed in a stare at the young lady.

"Youheard thatWhitford?" he saidand Clara's face betokeninganextremer contrition than he thought was demandedthe colonelralliedthe Alpine climber for striving to be the tallest of them--SignorExcelsior!--and described these conquerors of mountainspancakedon the rocks in desperate embracesbleached hereburnedtherebarked all overall to be able to say they had been up "sohigh"--hadconquered another mountain! He was extravagantly funnyandself-satisfied: a conqueror of the sex having such differentrewards ofenterprise.

Vernonrecovered in time to accept the absurdities heaped on him.

"Climbingpeaks won't compare with hunting a wriggler" said he.

Hisallusion to the incessant pursuit of young Crossjay to pin himto lessonswas appreciated.

Clara feltthe thread of the look he cast from herself to ColonelDe Craye.She was helplessif he chose to misjudge her. ColonelDe Crayedid not!

Crossjayhad the misfortune to enter the drawing-room while Mrs.Mountstuartwas compassionating Vernon for his ducking in pursuitof thewriggler; which De Craye likened to "going through theriverafter his eel:" and immediately there was across-questioningof the boy between De Craye and Willoughby onthesubject of his latest truancyeach gentleman trying to runhim downin a palpable fib. They were succeeding brilliantly whenVernon puta stop to it by marching him off to hard labour. Mrs.Mountstuartwas led away to inspect the beautiful porcelainservicethe present of Lady Busshe. "Porcelain again!" she saidtoWilloughbyand would have signalled to the "dainty rogue"tocome withthemhad not Clara been leaning over to Laetitiatalking toher in an attitude too graceful to be disturbed. Shecalled hisattention to itslightly wondering at his impatience.Shedeparted to meet an afternoon train on the chance that itwould landthe professor. "But tell Dr. Middleton" said she"Ifear Ishall have no one worthy of him! And" she added toWilloughbyas she walked out to her carriage"I shall expect youto do thegreat-gunnery talk at table."

"MissDale keeps it up with him best" said Willoughby.
"Shedoes everything best! But my dinner-table is involvedand Icannotcount on a young woman to talk across it. I would hire alion of amenagerieif one were handyrather than have a famousscholar atmy tableunsupported by another famous scholar. DoctorMiddletonwould ride down a duke when the wine is in him. He willterrify mypoor flock. The truth iswe can't leaven him: Iforeseeundigested lumps of conversationunless you devoteyourself."

"Iwill devote myself" said Willoughby.

"Ican calculate on Colonel De Craye and our porcelain beauty foranyquantity of sparklesif you promise that. They play welltogether.You are not to be one of the gods to-nightbut a kindofJupiter's cup-bearer;--Juno'sif you like; and Lady Bussheand LadyCulmerand all your admirers shall know subsequentlywhat youhave done. You see my alarm. I certainly did not rankProfessorCrooklyn among the possibly faithlessor I never wouldhaveventured on Doctor Middleton at my table. My dinner-partieshavehitherto been all successes. Naturally I feel the greateranxietyabout this one. For a single failure is all the moreconspicuous.The exception is everlastingly cited! It is not somuch whatpeople saybut my own sentiments. I hate to fail.Howeverif you are truewe may do."

"Wheneverthe great gun goes off I will fall on my facemadam!"

"Somethingof that sort" said the damesmilingand leaving himto reflecton the egoism of women. For the sake of herdinner-partyhe was to be a cipher in attendance on Dr. Middletonand Claraand De Craye were to be encouraged in sparklingtogether!And it happened that he particularly wished to shine.Theadmiration of his county made him believe he had a flavour ingeneralsociety that was not yet distinguished by his brideandhe was torelinquish his opportunity in order to please Mrs.Mountstuart!Had she been in the pay of his rivalshe could nothavestipulated for more.

Heremembered young Crossjay's instant quietudeafter strugglingin hisgraspwhen Clara laid her hand on the boy: and from thatinfinitesimalcircumstance he deduced the boy's perception of adifferingbetween himself and his brideand a transfer ofCrossjay'sallegiance from him to her. She shone; she had thegift offemale beauty; the boy was attracted to it. That boy mustbe made tofeel his treason. But the point of the cogitation wasthatsimilarly were Clara to see her affianced shiningas shinehe couldwhen lighted up by admirersthere was the probabilitythat thesensation of her littleness would animate her to take aimat himonce more. And then was the time for her chastisement.

A visit toDr. Middleton in the library satisfied him that she hadnot beenrenewing her entreaties to leave Patterne. Nothemiserablecoquette had now her pastimeand was content to stay.Deceit wasin the air: he heard the sound of the shuttle of deceitwithoutseeing it; buton the wholemindful of what he haddreadedduring the hours of her absencehe was rather flatteredwitheringlyflattered. What was it that he had dreaded? Nothingless thannews of her running away. Indeed a silly fancyalover'sfancy! yet it had led him so far as to suspectafterpartingwith De Craye in the rainthat his friend and his bridewere incollusionand that he should not see them again. He hadactuallyshouted on the rainy road the theatric call "Fooled!" oneof thestage-cries which are cries of nature! particularly the cryof naturewith men who have driven other men to the cry.

ConstantiaDurham had taught him to believe women capable ofexplosionsof treason at half a minute's notice. And strangelyto provethat women are all of a packshe had worn exactly thesameplacidity of countenance just before she fledas Clarayesterdayand to-day; no nervousnessno flushesno twitches ofthe browsbut smoothnessease of manner--an elegantsisterlinessone might almost say: as if the creature had found amidway andborderline to walk on between cruelty and kindnessandbetweenrepulsion and attraction; so that up to the verge of herbreath shedid forcefully attractrepelling at one foot's lengthwith herarmour of chill serenity. Not with any disdainwith nopassion:such a line as she herself pursued she indicated to himon aneighbouring parallel. The passion in her was like a place ofwavesevaporated to a crust of salt. Clara's resemblance toConstantiain this instance was ominous. For him whose tragicprivilegeit had been to fold each of them in his armsand weighon theireyelidsand see the dissolving mist-deeps in their eyesit washorrible. Once more the comparison overcame him. Constantiahe couldcondemn for revealing too much to his manly sight: shehad methim almost half-way: wellthat was complimentary andsanguine:but her frankness was a baldness often rendering itdoubtfulwhich of the twolady or gentlemanwas the object ofthechase--an extreme perplexity to his manly soul. Now Clara'sinnerspirit was shyershy as a doe down those rose-tingedabysses;she allured both the lover and the hunter; forests ofheavenlinesswere in her flitting eyes. Here the difference ofthese fairwomen made his present fate an intolerable anguish. ForifConstantia was like certain of the ladies whom he had renderedunhappytriumphed overas it is queerly calledClara was not.Herindividuality as a woman was a thing he had to bow to. It wasimpossibleto roll her up in the sex and bestow a kick on thetravellingbundle. Hence he loved herthough she hurt him. Hencehiswretchednessand but for the hearty sincerity of his faith inthe Selfhe loved likewise and morehe would have been hangdogabject.

As for DeCrayeWilloughby recollected his own exploits tooproudly toput his trust in a man. That fatal conjunction oftemper andpolicy had utterly thrown him off his guardor hewould nothave trusted the fellow even in the first hour of hisacquaintancewith Clara. But he had wished her to be amused whilehe wovehis plans to retain her at the Hall:--partly imaginingthat shewould weary of his neglect: vile delusion! In truth heshouldhave given festivitieshe should have been the sun of acircleand have revealed himself to her in his more dazzlingform. Hewent near to calling himself foolish after the tremendousreverberationof "Fooled!" had ceased to shake him.

Howbehave? It slapped the poor gentleman's pride in the face toask. Aprivate talk with her would rouse her to renew hersupplications.He saw them flickering behind the girl'stransparentcalmness. That calmness really drew its dead ivory huefrom thesuppression of them: something as much he guessed; and hewas notsure either of his temper or his policy if he should hearher repeather profane request.

An impulseto address himself to Vernon and discourse with himjocularlyon the childish whim of a young ladymoved perhaps bysome whiffof jealousyto shun the yokewas checked. He hadalwaystaken so superior a pose with Vernon that he could notabandon itfor a moment: on such a subject too! BesidesVernonwas one ofyour men who entertain the ideas about women of fellowsthat havenever conquered one: or only onewe will say in hiscaseknowing his secret history; and that one no flag to boastof.Densely ignorant of the sexhis nincompoopish idealizationsat othertimes preposterouswould now be annoying. He wouldprobablypresume on Clara's inconceivable lapse of dignity to readhis mastera lecture: he was quite equal to a philippic uponwoman'srights. This man had not been afraid to say that he talkedcommonsense to women. He was an example of the consequence!

Anotherresult was that Vernon did not talk sense to men.Willoughby'swrath at Clara's exposure of him to his cousindismissedthe proposal of a colloquy so likely to sting histemperand so certain to diminish his loftiness. Unwilling tospeak toanybodyhe was isolatedyet consciously begirt by themysteriousaction going on all over the house. from Clara and DeCraye toLaetitia and young Crossjaydown to Barclay the maid.His blindsensitiveness felt as we may suppose a spider to feelwhenplucked from his own web and set in the centre of another's.Laetitialooked her share in the mystery. A burden was on hereyelashes.How she could have come to any suspicion of thecircumstanceshe was unable to imagine. Her intense personalsympathyit might be; he thought so with some gentle pity for her--of thepaternal pat-back order of pity. She adored himbydecree ofVenus; and the Goddess had not decreed that he shouldfindconsolation in adoring her. Nor could the temptings ofprudentcounsel in his head induce him to run the risk of such atotalturnover as the incurring of Laetitia's pity of himself byconfidingin her. He checked that impulse alsoand moresovereignly.For him to be pitied by Laetitia seemed an upsettingof thescheme of Providence. Providenceotherwise thediscriminatingdispensation of the good things of lifehad madehim thebeaconher the bird: she was really the last person towhom hecould unbosom. The idea of his being in a position thatsuggestedhis doing sothrilled him with fits of rage; and itappalledhim. There appeared to be another Power. The same whichhadhumiliated him once was menacing him anew. For it could not beProvidencewhose favourite he had ever been. We must have acouple ofPowers to account for discomfort when Egoism is thekernel ofour religion. Benevolence had singled him for uncommonbenefits:malignancy was at work to rob him of them. And you thinkwell ofthe worlddo you!

Ofnecessity he associated Clara with the darker Power pointingthe knifeat the quick of his pride. Stillhe would have raisedherweeping: he would have stanched her wounds bleeding: he had aninfinitethirst for her miserythat he might ease his heart ofitscharitable love. Or let her commit herselfand be cast offOnly shemust commit herself glaringlyand be cast off by theworld aswell. Contemplating her in the form of a discarded weed.he had acatch of the breath: she was fair. He implored his PowerthatHorace De Craye might not be the man! Why any man? Anillnessfeverfirerunaway horsespersonal disfigurementalamingwere sufficient. And then a formal and noble offer on hispart tokeep to the engagement with the unhappy wreck: yesand tolead thelimping thing to the altarif she insisted. Hisimaginationconceived itand the world's applause besides.

Nauseatogether with a sense of duty to his lineextinguishedthatloathsome prospect of a matethough without obscuring hischivalrousdevotion to his gentleman's word of honourwhichremainedin his mind to compliment him permanently.

On thewholehe could reasonably hope to subdue her toadmiration.He drank a glass of champagne at his dressing; anunaccustomedactbutas he remarked casually to his manPollingtonfor whom the rest of the bottle was lefthe had takennohorse-exercise that day.

Having tospeak to Vernon on businesshe went to the schoolroomwhere hediscovered Clarabeautiful in full evening attirewithher arm onyoung Crossjay's shoulderand heard that the hardtask-masterhad abjured Mrs. Mountstuart's partyand had alreadyexcusedhimselfintending to keep Crossjay to the grindstone.Willoughbywas for the boyas usualand more sparklingly thanusual.Clara looked at him in some surprise. He rallied Vernonwith greatzestquite silencing him when he said: "I bear witnessthat thefellow was here at his regular hour for lessonsand wereyou?"He laid his hand on Crossjaytouching Clara's.

"Youwill remember what I told youCrossjay" said sherisingfrom theseat gracefully to escape the touch. "It is my command."

Crossjayfrowned and puffed.

"Butonly if I'm questioned" he said.

"Certainly"she replied.

"ThenI question the rascal" said Willoughbycausing a start."Whatsiris your opinion of Miss Middleton in her robe of statethisevening?"

"Nowthe truthCrossjay!" Clara held up a finger; and the boycould seeshe was playing at archnessbut for Willoughby it wasearnest."The truth is not likely to offend you or me either" hemurmuredto her.

"Iwish him neverneveron any excuseto speak anything else."

"Ialways did think her a Beauty" Crossjay growled. He hated thehaving tosay it.

"There!"exclaimed Sir Willoughbyand bentextending an arm toher. "Youhave not suffered from the truthmy Clara!"

Her answerwas: "I was thinking how he might suffer if he weretaught totell the reverse."

"Oh!for a fair lady!"

"Thatis the worst of teachingWilloughby."

"We'llleave it to the fellow's instinct; he has our blood in him.I couldconvince youthoughif I might cite circumstances. Yes!But yes!And yes again! The entire truth cannot invariably betold. Iventure to say it should not."

"Youwould pardon it for the 'fair lady'?"

"Applaudmy love."

Hesqueezed the hand within his armcontemplating her.

She wasarrayed in a voluminous robe of pale blue silk vapourouswithtrimmings of light gauze of the same huegaze de Chamberymatchingher fair hair and dear skin for the complete overthrow oflessinflammable men than Willoughby.

"Clara!"sighed be.

"Ifsoit would really be generous" she said"though theteaching hbad."

"Ifancy I can be generous."

"Dowe ever know?"

He turnedhis head to Vernonissuing brief succinct instructionsforletters to be writtenand drew her into the hallsaying:"Know?There are people who do not know themselves and as they arethemajority they manufacture the axioms. And it is assumed thatwe have toswallow them. I may observe that I think I know. Idecline tobe engulphed in those majorities. 'Among thembut notof them.'I know thisthat my aim in life is to be generous."

"Isit not an impulse or disposition rather than an aim?"

"Somuch I know" pursued Willoughbyrefusing to be tripped. Butshe rangdiscordantly in his ear. His "fancy that he could begenerous"and his "aim at being generous" had met with noresponse."I have given proofs" he saidbrieflyto drop asubjectupon which he was not permitted to dilate; and hemurmured"People acquainted with me ... !" She was asked if sheexpectedhim to boast of generous deeds. "From childhood!" sheheard himmutter; and she said to herself"Release meand youshall beeverything!"

Theunhappy gentleman ached as he talked: for with men and withhosts ofwomen to whom he was indifferentnever did he conversein thisshamblingthird-ratesheepish mannerdevoid of allhighnessof tone and the proper precision of an authority. He wasunable tofathom the cause of itbut Clara imposed it on himandonly inanger could he throw it off. The temptation to an outburstthat wouldflatter him with the sound of his authoritative voicehad to beresisted on a night when he must be composed if heintendedto shineso he merely mentioned Lady Busshe's presentto gratifyspleen by preparing the ground for dissensionandprudentlyacquiesced in her anticipated slipperiness. She wouldrather notlook at it nowshe said.

"Notnow; very well" said he.

Hisimmediate deference made her regretful. "There is hardlytimeWilloughby."

"Mydearwe shall have to express our thanks to her."

"Icannot."

His armcontracted sharply. He was obliged to be silent.

DrMiddletonLaetitiaand the ladies Eleanor and Isabel joiningthem inthe hallfound two figures linked together in a shadowyindicationof halves that have fallen apart and hang on the lastthread ofjunction. Willoughby retained her hand on his arm; heheld to itas the symbol of their allianceand oppressed thegirl'snerves by contactwith a frame labouring for breath. DeCrayelooked on them from overhead. The carriages were at thedoorandWilloughby said"Where's Horace? I suppose he's takinga finalshot at his Book of Anecdotes and neat collection ofIrishisms."

"No"replied the coloneldescending. "That's a spring works ofitself andhas discovered the secret of continuous motionmore'sthepity!--unless you'll be pleased to make it of use toScience."

He gave alaugh of good-humour.

"YourlaughterHoraceis a capital comment on your wit."

Willoughbysaid it with the air of one who has flicked a whip.

"'Tisa genial advertisement of a vacancy" said De Craye.

Precisely:three parts auctioneer to one for the property."

"Ohif you have a musical quackscore it a point in his favourWilloughbythough you don't swallow his drug."

"Ifhe means to be musicallet him keep time."

"Am Ilate?" said De Craye to the ladiesproving himself an adeptin the artof being gracefully vanquishedand so winning tenderhearts.

Willoughbyhad refreshed himself. At the back of his mind there wasasuspicion that his adversary would not have yielded so flatlywithout anassurance of practically triumphingsecretly gettingthe betterof him; and it filled him with venom for a further boutat thenext opportunity: but as he had been sarcastic and mordanthe hadshown Clara what he could do in a way of speaking differentfrom thelamentable cooing stuffgasps and feeble protestationsto whichhe knew not howshe reduced him. Sharing the opinion ofhis racethat blunt personalitiesor the pugilistic formadministereddirectly on the salient featuresare exhibitions ofmastery insuch encountershe felt strong and solideager forthesuccesses of the evening. De Craye was in the first carriageas escortto the ladies Eleanor and Isabel. WilloughbywithClaraLaetitiaand Dr. Middletonfollowedall silentfor theRev.Doctor was ostensibly pondering; and Willoughby was damped alittlewhen he unlocked his mouth to say:

"Andyet I have not observed that Colonel de Craye is anything ofaCeltiberian Egnatius meriting fustigation for an untimelydisplay ofwell-whitened teethsir: 'quicquid estubicunque estquodcunqueagitrenidet:':--ha? a morbus neither charming norurbane tothe general eyehowever consolatory to the actor. Butthisgentleman does not offend soor I am so strangelyprepossessedin his favour as to be an incompetent witness."

DrMiddleton's persistent ha? eh? upon an honest frown of inquiryplucked ananswer out of Willoughby that was meant to behumourouslyscornfuland soon became apologetic under the Doctor'sinterrogativelygrasping gaze.

"TheseIrishmen" Willoughby said"will play the professionaljester asif it were an office they were born to. We must playcritic nowand thenotherwise we should have them deluging uswith theirJoe Millerisms."

"Withtheir O'Millerisms you would sayperhaps?"

Willoughbydid his duty to the jokebut the Rev. Doctorthoughhe worethe paternal smile of a man that has begotten hilaritywas notperfectly propitiatedand pursued: "Nor to myapprehensionis 'the man's laugh the comment on his wit'unchallengeablynew: instances of cousinship germane to the phrasewill recurto you. But it has to be noted that it was a phrase ofassault;it was ostentatiously battery; and I would venture toremindyoufriendthat among the electconsidering that it isas fatallyfacile to spring the laugh upon a man as to deprive himof hislifeconsidering that we have only to condescend to theweaponand that the more popular necessarily the more murderousthatweapon is--among the electto which it is your distinctionto aspireto belongthe rule holds to abstain from any employmentof theobviousthe percoctand likewisefor your own sakefromtheepitonicthe overstrained; for if the formerby readilyassimilatingwith the understandings of your audienceareempoweredto commit assassination on your victimthe latter comeunder thecharge of unseemlinessinasmuch as they are adescriptionof public suicide. Assumingthenmanslaughter to beyourpastimeand hari-kari not to be your bentthe phrasetoescapecriminalitymust rise in you as you would have it fall onhimeximproviso. Am I right?"

"I amin the habit of thinking it impossiblesirthat you can bein error"said Willoughby.

DrMiddleton left it the more emphatic by saying nothing further.

Both hisdaughter and Miss Dalewho had disapproved the waspishsnap atColonel De Crayewere in wonderment of the art of speechwhichcould so soothingly inform a gentleman that his behaviourhad notbeen gentlemanly.

Willoughbywas damped by what he comprehended of it for a fewminutes.In proportion as he realized an evening with his ancientadmirershe was restoredand he began to marvel greatly at hisfolly innot giving banquets and Ballsinstead of making asolitudeabout himself and his bride. For solitudethought heisgood forthe manthe man being a creature consumed by passion;woman'sloveon the contrarywill only be nourished by thereflexlight she catches of you in the eyes of othersshe havingno passionof her ownbut simply an instinct driving her toattachherself to whatsoever is most largely admiredmostshining.So thinkinghe determined to change his course ofconductand he was happier. In the first gush of our wisdom drawndirectlyfrom experience there is a mental intoxication thatcancelsthe old world and establishes a new onenot allowing usto askwhether it is too late.

 

 

CHAPTERXXX

Treatingof the Dinner-Party at Mrs. Mountstuart Jenkinson's

 

Vernon andyoung Crossjay had tolerably steady work together for acouple ofhoursvaried by the arrival of a plate of meat on atray forthe masterand some interrogations put to him from timeto time bythe boy in reference to Miss Middleton. Crossjay madethediscovery that if he abstained from alluding to MissMiddleton'sbeauty he might water his dusty path with her namenearly asmuch as he liked. Mention of her beauty incurred areprimand.On the first occasion his master was wistful. "Isn'tsheglorious!" Crossjay fancied he had started a sovereign receiptforblessed deviations. He tried it againbut paedagogue-thunderbroke overhis head.

"Yesonly I can't understand what she meansMr. Whitford" heexcusedhimself "First I was not to tell; I know I wasn'tbecauseshe saidso; she quite as good as said so. Her last words were:'MindCrossjayyou know nothing about me'when I stuck to thatbeast of atrampwho's a 'walking moral' and gets money out ofpeople bysnuffling it."

"Attendto your lessonor you'll be one" said Vernon.

"YesbutMr. Whitfordnow I am to tell. I'm to answer straightout toevery question."

"MissMiddleton is anxious that you should be truthful."

"Yes;but in the morning she told me not to tell."

"Shewas in a hurry. She has it on her conscience that you mayhavemisunderstood herand she wishes you never to be guilty ofanuntruthleast of all on her account."

Crossjaycommitted an unspoken resolution to the air in a violentsigh:"Ah!" and said: "If I were sure!"

"Doas she bids youmy boy."

"ButI don't know what it is she wants."

"Holdto her last words to you."

"So Ido. If she told me to run till I droppedon I'd go."

"Shetold you to study your lessons; do that."

Crossjaybuckled to his bookinvigorated by an imagination of hisliege ladyon the page.

After astudious intervaluntil the impression of his lady hadsubsided.he resumed: "She's so funny. She's just like a girlandthen she'sa ladytoo. She's my idea of a princess. And ColonelDe Craye!Wasn't he taught dancing! When he says something funnyhe ducksand seems to be setting to his partner. I should like tobe asclever as her father. That is a clever man. I dare sayColonel DeCraye will dance with her tonight. I wish I was there."

"It'sa dinner-partynot a dance" Vernon forced himself to sayto dispelthat ugly vision.

"Isn'titsir? I thought they danced after dinner-partiesMr.Whitfordhave you ever seen her run?"

Vernonpointed him to his task.

They weresilent for a lengthened period.

"Butdoes Miss Middleton mean me to speak out if Sir Willoughbyasks me?"said Crossjay.

"Certainly.You needn't make much of it. All's plain and simple."

"ButI'm positiveMr. Whitfordhe wasn't to hear of her going tothepost-office with me before breakfast. And how did Colonel DeCraye findher and bring her backwith that old Flitch? He's aman andcan go where he pleasesand I'd have found hertoo. giveme thechance. You know. I'm fond of Miss Dalebut she--I'm veryfond ofher--but you can't think she's a girl as well. And aboutMiss Dalewhen she says a thingthere it isclear. But MissMiddletonhas a lot of meanings. Never mind; I go by what'sinsideand I'm pretty sure to please her."

"Takeyour chin off your hand and your elbow off the bookand fixyourself"said Vernonwrestling with the seduction of Crossjay'sidolatryfor Miss Middleton's appearance had been preternaturallysweet onher departureand the next pleasure to seeing her washearing ofher from the lips of this passionate young poet.

"Rememberthat you please her by speaking truth" Vernon addedand laidhimself open to questions upon the truthby which helearntwith a perplexed sense of envy and sympathythat theboy's ideaof truth strongly approximated to his conception ofwhatshould be agreeable to Miss Middleton.

He waslonelybereft of the bardwhen he had tucked Crossjay upin his bedand left him. Books he could not read; thoughts weredisturbing.A seat in the library and a stupid stare helped topass thehoursand but for the spot of sadness moving meditationin spiteof his effort to stun himselfhe would have borne ahappyresemblance to an idiot in the sun. He had verily nocommand ofhis reason. She was too beautiful! Whatever she did wasbest. Thatwas the refrain of the fountain-song in him; the burdenbeing herwhimsvariationsinconsistencieswiles; hertremblingsbetween good and naughtythat might be stamped tonoble orto terrible; her sincerenessher duplicityher couragecowardicepossibilities for heroism and for treachery. By dint ofdwellingon the themehe magnified the young lady toextraordinarystature. And he had sense enough to own that hercharacterwas yet liquid in the mouldand that she was a creatureof onlynaturally youthful wildness provoked to freakishness bythe ordealof a situation shrewd as any that can happen to her sexincivilized life. But he was compelled to think of herextravagantlyand he leaned a little to the discrediting of herbecauseher actual image ummanned him and was unbearable; and tosay at theend of it: "She is too beautiful! whatever she does isbest"smoothed away the wrong he did her. Had it been in hispower hewould have thought of her in the abstract--the stagecontiguousto that which he adopted: but the attempt was luckless;theStagyrite would have faded in it. What philosopher couldhave setdown that face of sun and breeze and nymph in shadow as apoint in aproblem?

Thelibrary door was opened at midnight by Miss Dale. She dosed itquietly."You are not workingMr. Whitford? I fancied you wouldwish tohear of the evening. Professor Crooklyn arrived after all!Mrs.Mountstuart is bewildered: she says she expected youandthat youdid not excuse yourself to herand she cannotcomprehendet caetera. That is to sayshe chooses bewildermentto indulgein the exclamatory. She must be very much annoyed. Theprofessordid come by the train she drove to meet!"

"Ithought it probable" said Vernon.

"Hehad to remain a couple of hours at the Railway Inn; noconveyancewas to be found for him. He thinks he has caught acoldandcannot stifle his fretfulness about it. He may be aslearned asDoctor Middleton; he has not the same happyconstitution.Nothing more unfortunate could have occurred; hespoilt theparty. Mrs. Mountstuart tried petting himwhich drewattentionto himand put us all in his key for several awkwardminutesmore than once. She lost her head; she was unlikeherself Imay be presumptuous in criticizing herbut should notthepresident of a dinner-table treat it like a battlefieldandlet theguest that sinks descendand not allow the voice of adiscordanthowever illustriousto rule it? Of courseit is whenI seefailures that I fancy I could manage so well: comparison isprudentlyreserved in the other cases. I am a daring criticnodoubtbecause I know I shall never be tried by experiment. I havenoambition to be tried."

She didnot notice a smile of Vernon'sand continued: "MrsMountstuartgave him the lead upon any subject he chose. I thoughttheprofessor never would have ceased talking of a young lady whohad beenat the inn before him drinking hot brandy and water withagentleman!"

"Howdid he hear of that?" cried Vernonroused by the malignityof theFates.

"Fromthe landladytrying to comfort him. And a story of herlendingshoes and stockings while those of the young lady weredrying. Hehas the dreadful snappish humourous way of recountingwhichimpresses it; the table took up the subject of thisremarkableyoung ladyand whether she was a lady of theneighbourhoodand who she could be that went abroad on foot inheavyrain. It was painful to me; I knew enough to be sure of whoshe was."

"Didshe betray it?"

"No."

"DidWilloughby look at her?"

"Withoutsuspicion then."

"Then?"

"ColonelDe Craye was diverting usand he was very amusing.Mrs.Mountstuart told him afterward that he ought to be paidsalvagefor saving the wreck of her party. Sir Willoughby was alittle toocynical; he talked well; what he said was goodbut itwas notgood-humoured; he has not the reckless indifference ofColonel DeCraye to uttering nonsense that amusement may come ofit. And inthe drawing-room he lost such gaiety as he had. I wasclose toMrs. Mountstuart when Professor Crooklyn approached herand spokein my hearing of that gentleman and that young lady.They wereyou could see by his nodsColonel De Craye and MissMiddleton."

"Andshe at once mentioned it to Willoughby?"

"ColonelDe Craye gave her no chanceif she sought it. He courtedherprofusely. Behind his rattle he must have brains. It ran inalldirections to entertain her and her circle."

"Willoughbyknows nothing?"

"Icannot judge. He stood with Mrs. Mountstuart a minute as weweretaking leave. She looked strange. I heard her say: 'Therogue!' Helaughed. She lifted her shoulders. He scarcely openedhis mouthon the way home."

"Thething must run its course" Vernon saidwith thephilosophicalair which is desperation rendered decorous."Willoughbydeserves it. A man of full growth ought to know thatnothing onearth tempts Providence so much as the binding of ayoungwoman against her will. Those two are mutually attracted:they'reboth ... They meetand the mischief's done: both arebright. Hecan persuade with a word. Another might discourse likean angeland it would be useless. I said everything I could thinkofto nopurpose. And so it is: there are those attractions!-just aswith herWilloughby is the reversehe repels. I'm inabout thesame predicament--or should be if she were plighted tome. Thatisfor the length of five minutes; about the space oftime Ishould require for the formality of handing her back herfreedom.How a sane man can imagine a girl like that ... ! But ifshe haschangedshe has changed! You can't conciliate a witheredaffection.This detaining herand trickingand not listeningonlyincreases her aversion; she learns the art in turn. Here sheisdetained by fresh plots to keep Dr. Middleton at the Hall.That'strueis it not?" He saw that it was. "Noshe's not toblame! Shehas told him her mind; he won't listen. The questionthen iswhether she keeps to her wordor breaks it. It's adisputebetween a conventional idea of obligation and an injury tohernature.  Which is the more dishonourable thing to do? Whyyouand I seein a moment that her feelings guide her best. It's oneof the fewcases in which nature may be consulted like an oracle."

"Isshe so sure of her nature?" said Miss Dale.

"Youmay doubt it; I do not. I am surprised at her coming back. DeCraye is aman of the worldand advised itI suppose. He--wellI neverhad the persuasive tongueand my failing doesn't countfor much."

"Butthe suddenness of the intimacy!"

"Thedisaster is rather famous 'at first sight'. He came in afortunatehour... for him. A pigmy's a giant if he can manage toarrive inseason. Did you not notice that there was dangerattheirsecond or third glance? You counselled me to hang on herewhere theamount of good I do in proportion to what I have toendure ismicroscopic."

"Itwas against your wishesI know" said Laetitiaand when thewords wereout she feared that they were tentative. Her delicacyshrankfrom even seeming to sound him in relation to a situationsodelicate as Miss Middleton's.

The samesentiment guarded him from betraying himselfand hesaid:"Partly against. We both foresaw the possible--becauselike mostprophetswe knew a little more of circumstancesenablingus to see the fatal. A pigmy would have servedbut DeCraye is ahandsomeintelligentpleasant fellow."

"SirWilloughby's friend!"

"Wellin these affairs! A great deal must be charged on thegoddess."

"Thatis really Pagan fatalism!"

"Ourmodern word for it is Nature. Science condescends to speak ofnaturalselection. Look at these! They are both graceful andwinningand wittybright to mind and eyemade for one anotheras countrypeople say. I can't blame him. Besideswe don't knowthat he'sguilty. We're quite in the darkexcept that we'recertainhow it must end. If the chance should occur to you ofgivingWilloughby a word of counsel--it may--you mightwithoutirritatinghim as my knowledge of his plight doeshint at youreyes beingopen. His insane dread of a detective world makes himartificiallyblind. As soon as he fancies himself seenhe sets toworkspinning a weband he discerns nothing else. It's generallya cleverkind of web; but if it's a tangle to others it's the sameto himand a veil as well. He is preparing the catastropheheforces theissue. Tell him of her extreme desire to depart. Treather asmadto soothe him. Otherwise one morning he will wake asecondtime ... ! It is perfectly certain. And the second time itwill beentirely his own fault. Inspire him with some philosophy."

"Ihave none."

"I ifI thought soI would say you have better. There are twokinds ofphilosophymine and yours. Mine comes of coldnessyoursofdevotion."

"Heis unlikely to choose me for his confidante."

Vernonmeditated. "One can never quite guess what he will dofromneverknowing the heat of the centre in him which precipitates hisactions:he has a great art of concealment. As to meas youperceivemy views are too philosophical to let me be of use toany ofthem. I blame only the one who holds to the bond. Thesooner Iam gone!--in factI cannot stay on. So Dr. Middleton andtheProfessor did not strike fire together?"

"DoctorMiddleton was readyand pursued himbut ProfessorCrooklyninsisted on shivering. His line of blank verse'ARailwayplatform and a Railway inn!' became pathetic inrepetition.He must have suffered."

"Somebodyhas to!"

"Whythe innocent?"

"Hearrives a propos. But remember that Fridolin sometimescontrivesto escape and have the guilty scorched. The Professorwould nothave suffered if he had missed his trainas he appearsto be inthe habit of doing. Thus his unaccustomed good-fortunewas thecause of his bad."

"Yousaw him on the platform?"

"I amunacquainted with the professor. I had to get MrsMountstuartout of the way."

"Shesays she described him to you. 'Complexion of a sweetbreadconsistencyof a quenellegreyand like a Saint without hisdishbehind the head.'"

"Herdescriptions are strikingly accuratebut she forgot tosketch hisbackand all that I saw was a narrow sloping back anda broadhat resting the brim on it. My report to her spoke of anoldgentleman of dark complexionas the only traveller on theplatform.She has faith in the efficiency of her descriptivepowersand so she was willing to drive off immediately. Theintentionwas a start to London. Colonel De Craye came up andeffectedin five minutes what I could not compass in thirty."

"Butyou saw Colonel De Craye pass you?"

"Mywork was done; I should have been an intruder. Besides I wasacting wetjacket with Mrs. Mountstuart to get her to drive offfastorshe might have jumped out in search of her Professorherself."

"Shesays you were lean as a forkwith the wind whistling throughtheprongs."

"Yousee how easy it is to deceive one who is an artist inphrases.Avoid themMiss Dale; they dazzle the penetration of thecomposer.That is why people of ability like Mrs Mountstuart seeso little;they are so bent on describing brilliantly. Howevershe iskind and charitable at heart. I have been consideringto-nightthatto cut this knot as it is nowMiss Middletonmight doworse than speak straight out to Mrs. Mountstuart. No oneelse wouldhave such influence with Willoughby. The simple fact ofMrs.Mountstuart's knowing of it would be almost enough. Butcouragewould he required for that. Good-nightMiss Dale."

"Good-nightMr. Whitford. You pardon me for disturbing you?"

Vernonpressed her hand reassuringly. He had but to look at herand reviewher history to think his cousin Willoughby punished byjustretribution. Indeedfor any maltreatment of the dear boyLove byman or by womancoming under your cognizanceyouif yoube ofcommon soundnessshall behold the retributive blow struckin yourtime.

Miss Daleretired thinking how like she and Vernon were to oneanother inthe toneless condition they had achieved throughsorrow. Hesucceeded in masking himself from herowing to her aweof thecircumstances. She reproached herself for not having thesamedevotion to the cold idea of duty as he had; and though itprovokedinquiryshe would not stop to ask why he had left MissMiddletona prey to the sparkling colonel. It seemed a proof ofthephilosophy he preached.

As she waspassing by young Crossjay's bedroom door a faceappeared.Sir Willoughby slowly emerged and presented himself inhis fulllengthbeseeching her to banish alarm.

He said itin a hushed voicewith a face qualified to createsentiment.

"Areyou tired? sleepy?" said he.

Sheprotested that she was not: she intended to read for an hour.

He beggedto have the hour dedicated to him. "I shall be relievedbyconversing with a friend."

Nosubterfuge crossed her mind; she thought his midnight visit tothe boy'sbedside a pretty feature in him; she was full of pitytoo; sheyielded to the strange requestfeeling that it did notbecome "anold woman" to attach importance even to the publicdiscoveryof midnight interviews involving herself as oneandfeelingalso that she was being treated as an old friend in theform of avery old woman. Her mind was bent on arresting anyrecurrenceto the project she had so frequently outlined in thetongue ofinnuendoof whichbecause of her repeated tremblingsunder itshe thought him a master.

Heconducted her along the corridor to the private sitting-room ofthe ladiesEleanor and Isabel.

"Deceit!"he saidwhile lighting the candles on the mantelpiece.

She wasearnestly compassionateand a word that could not relateto herpersonal destinies refreshed her by displacing herapprehensiveantagonism and giving pity free play.

 

 

CHAPTERXXXI

SirWilloughby Attempts and Achieves Pathos

 

Both wereseated. Apparently he would have preferred to watch herdarkdowncast eyelashes in silence under sanction of his air ofabstractmeditation and the melancholy superinducing it.Blood-colourwas in her cheeks; the party had inspirited herfeatures.Might it be that lively companyan absence of economicalsolicitudesand a flourishing home were all she required to makeher bloomagain? The supposition was not hazardous in presence ofherheightened complexion.

She raisedher eyes. He could not meet her look without speaking.

"Canyou forgive deceit?"

"Itwould be to boast of more charity than I know myself topossesswere I to say that I canSir Willoughby. I hope I amable toforgive. I cannot tell. I should like to say yes."

"Couldyou live with the deceiver?"

"No."

"No.I could have given that answer for you. No semblance of unionshould bemaintained between the deceiver and ourselves.Laetitia!"

"SirWilloughby?"

"HaveI no right to your name?"

"Ifit pleases you to . . ."

"Ispeak as my thoughts runand they did not know a Miss Dale sowell as adear Laetitia: my truest friend! You have talked withClaraMiddleton?"

"Wehad a conversation."

Herbrevity affrighted him. He flew off in a cloud.

"Revertingto that question of deceivers: is it not your opinionthat topardonto condoneis to corrupt society by passing offas purewhat is false? Do we not" he wore the smile of haggardplayfulnessof a convalescent child the first day back to itstoys"Laetitiado we not impose a counterfeit on the currency?"

"Supposingit to be really deception."

"Apartfrom my loathing of deceptionof falseness in any shapeupon anygroundsI hold it an imperious duty to exposepunishoff withit. I take it to be one of the forms of noxiousness whicha goodcitizen is bound to extirpate. I am not myself good citizenenoughIconfessfor much more than passive abhorrence. I do notforgive: Iam at heart serious and I cannot forgive:--there is nopossiblereconciliationthere can be only an ostensible trucebetweenthe two hostile powers dividing this world."

Sheglanced at him quickly.

"Goodand evil!" he said.

Her faceexpressed a surprise relapsing on the heart.

He speltthe puckers of her forehead to mean that she feared hemight bespeaking unchristianly.
"Youwill find it so in all religionsmy dear Laetitia: theHindoothe Persianours. It is universal; an experience of ourhumanity.Deceit and sincerity cannot live together. Truth mustkill thelieor the lie will kill truth. I do not forgive. All Isay to theperson isgo!"

"Butthat is right! that is generous!" exclaimed Laetitiaglad toapprovehim for the sake of escaping her critical soulandrelievedby the idea of Clara's difficulty solved.

"Capableof generosityperhaps" he musedaloud.

Shewounded him by not supplying the expected enthusiasticasseverationof her belief in his general tendency to magnanimity.

He saidafter a pause: "But the world is not likely to beimpressedby anything not immediately gratifying it. PeoplechangeIfind: as we increase in years we cease to be the heroeswe were. Imyself am insensible to change: I do not admit thecharge.Except in this we will say: personal ambition. I have itno more.And what is it when we have it? Decidedly a confession ofinferiority!That isthe desire to be distinguished is anacknowledgementof insufficiency. But I have still the craving formy dearestfriends to think well of me. A weakness? Call it so.Not adishonourable weakness!"

Laetitiaracked her brain for the connection of his present speechwith thepreceding dialogue. She was baffledfrom not knowing"theheat of the centre in him"as Vernon opaquely phrased it incharity tothe object of her worship.

"Well"said heunappeased"and besides the passion to excelIhavechanged somewhat in the heartiness of my thirst for theamusementsincident to my station. I do not care to keep a stud--I was oncetempted: nor hounds. And I can remember the day when Ideterminedto have the best kennels and the best breed of horsesin thekingdom. Puerile! What is distinction of that sortor ofanyacquisition and accomplishment? We ask! one's self is not thegreater.To seek itowns to our smallnessin real fact; and whenit isattainedwhat then? My horses are goodthey are admiredIchallengethe county to surpass them: well? These are but myhorses;the praise is of the animalsnot of me. I decline toshare init. Yet I know men content to swallow the praise of theirbeasts andbe semi-equine. The littleness of one's fellows in themob oflife is a very strange experience! One may regret to havelost thesimplicity of one's forefatherswhich could accept thoseand otherdistinctions with a cordial pleasurenot to say pride.AsforinstanceI amas it is calleda dead shot. 'Give youracclamationsgentlemento my ancestorsfrom whom I inherited asteadyhand and quick sight.' They do not touch me. Where I donot findmyself--that I am essentially I--no applause can moveme. Tospeak to you as I would speak to noneadmiration--youknow thatin my early youth I swam in flattery--I had to swim toavoiddrowning!--admiration of my personal gifts has growntasteless.Changedthereforeinasmuch as there has been a growthofspirituality. We are all in submission to mortal lawsand sofar I haveindeed changed. I may add that it is unusual forcountrygentlemen to apply themselves to scientific researches.These arehoweverin the spirit of the time. I apprehended thatinstinctivelywhen at College. I forsook the classics for science.Andthereby escaped the vice of domineering self-sufficiencypeculiarto classical menof which you had an amusing example inthecarriageon the way to Mrs. Mountstuart's this evening.Science ismodest; slowif you like; it deals with factsandhavingmastered themit masters men; of necessitynot with astupidloud-mouthed arrogance: words big and oddly garbed as thePope'sbody-guard. Of courseone bows to the Infallible; we mustwhen hisgiant-mercenaries level bayonets."

SirWilloughby offered Miss Dale half a minute that she might ingentlefeminine fashion acquiesce in the implied reproof of Dr.Middleton'sbehaviour to him during the drive to Mrs.Mountstuart's.She did not.

Her heartwas accusing Clara of having done it a wrong and a hurt.For whilehe talked he seemed to her to justify Clara's feelingsand herconduct: and her own reawakened sensations of injury cameto thesurface a moment to look at himaffirming that theypardonedhimand pitiedbut hardly wondered.

The heatof the centre in him had administered the comfort hewantedthough the conclusive accordant notes he loved on woman'slipsthatsubservient harmony of another instrument desired ofmusicianswhen they have done their solo-playingcame not to windup theperformance: not a single bar. She did not speak. ProbablyhisLaetitia was overcomeas he had long known her to be whentheyconversed; nerve-subduedunable to deploy her mentalresourcesor her musical. Yet ordinarily she had command of thelatter.--Wasshe too condoling? Did a reason exist for it? Hadtheimpulsive and desperate girl spoken out to Laetitia to thefullest?--shamelessdaughter of a domineering sire that she was!Ghastlierinquiry (it struck the centre of him with a soundingring)wasLaetitia pitying him overmuch for worse than the painof alittle difference between lovers--for treason on the part ofhis bride?Did she know of a rival? know more than he?

When thecentre of him was violently struck he was a genius inpenetration.He guessed that she did know: and by this was hepresentlyhelped to achieve pathos.

"Somy election was for Science" he continued; "and if itmakesmeas Ifeara rara avis among country gentlemenit unites meputs me inthe mainI may sayin the only current of progress--a wordsufficiently despicable in their political jargon.--Youenjoyedyour evening at Mrs. Mountstuart's?"

"Verygreatly."

"Shebrings her Professor to dine here the day after tomorrow.Does itastonish you? You started."

"Idid not hear the invitation."

"Itwas arranged at the table: you and I were separated--cruellyI toldher: she declared that we see enough of one anotherandthat itwas good for me that we should be separated; neither ofwhich istrue. I may not have known what is the best for me: I doknow whatis good. If in my younger days I egregiously erredthattaken of itself aloneisassuming me to have sense andfeelingthe surer proof of present wisdom. I can testify inpersonthat wisdom is pain. If pain is to add to wisdomlet mesuffer! Doyou approve of thatLaetitia?"

"Itis well said."

"Itis felt. Those who themselves have suffered should know thebenefit ofthe resolution."

"Onemay have suffered so much as to wish only for peace."

"True:but you! have you?"

"Itwould be for peaceif I prayed for any earthly gift."

SirWilloughby dropped a smile on her. "I mentioned the Pope'sparti-colouredbody-guard just now. In my youth their singularattireimpressed me. People tell me they have been re-uniformed: Iam sorry.They remain one of my liveliest recollections of theEternalCity. They affected my sense of humouralways alert inmeas youare aware. We English have humour. It is the firstthingstruck in us when we land on the Continent: our risiblefacultiesare generally active all through the tour. Humourorthe clashof sense with novel examples of the absurdis ourcharacteristic.I do not condescend to boisterous displays of it.I observeand note the people's comicalities for mycorrespondence.But you have read my letters--most of themifnot all?"

"Manyof them."
I was withyou then!--I was about to say--that Swiss-guardremindedme--you have not been in Italy. I have constantlyregrettedit. You are the very womanyou have the soul for Italy.I know noother of whom I could say itwith whom I should notfeel thatshe was out of placediscordant with me. Italy andLaetitia!often have I joined you together. We shall see. I beginto havehopes. Here you have literally stagnated. Whyadinner-partyrefreshes you! What would not travel doand thatheavenlyclimate! You are a reader of history and poetry. Wellpoetry! Inever yet saw the poetry that expressed the tenth partof what Ifeel in the presence of beauty and magnificenceandwhen Ireally meditate--profoundly. Call me a positive mind. Ifeel: onlyI feel too intensely for poetry. By the nature of itpoetrycannot be sincere. I will have sincerity. Whatever touchesouremotions should be spontaneousnot a craft. I know you are infavour ofpoetry. You would win meif any one could. But history!there I amwith you. Walking over ruins: at night: the arches ofthe solemnblack amphitheatre pouring moonlight on us--themoonlightof Italy!"

"Youwould not laugh thereSir Willoughby?" said Laetitiarousingherself from a stupor of apprehensive amazementto uttersomethingand realize actual circumstances.

"BesidesyouI thinkor I am mistaken in you"--he deviatedfrom hisprojected speech--"you are not a victim of the sense ofassociationand the ludicrous."

"Ican understand the influence of it: I have at least a conceptionof thehumourousbut ridicule would not strike me in the Coliseumof Rome. Icould not bear itnoSir Willoughby!"

Sheappeared to be taking him in very strong earnestby thuspetitioninghim not to laugh in the Coliseumand now he said:"Besidesyou are one who could accommodate yourself to thesociety ofthe ladiesmy aunts. Good womenLaetitia! I cannotimaginethem de trop in Italyor in a household. I have of coursereason tobe partial in my judgement."

"Theyare excellent and most amiable ladies; I love them" saidLaetitiafervently; the more strongly excited to fervour by herenlightenmentas to his drift.

She readit that he designed to take her to Italy with the ladies:--aftergiving Miss Middleton her liberty; that was necessarilyimplied.And that was truly generous. In his boyhood he hadbeenfamous for his bountifulness in scattering silver and gold.Might henot have caused himself to be misperused in later life?

Clara hadspoken to her of the visit and mission of the ladies tothelibrary: and Laetitia daringly conceived herself to be on thecertaintrack of his meaningshe being able to enjoy theirsociety asshe supposed him to consider that Miss Middleton didnotandwould not either abroad or at home.

SirWilloughby asked her: "You could travel with them?"

"IndeedI could!"

"Honestly?"

"Asaffirmatively as one may protest. Delightedly."

"Agreed.It is an undertaking." He put his hand out.

"WhetherI be of the party or not! To ItalyLaetitia! It wouldgive mepleasure to be with youand it willif I must beexcludedto think of you in Italy."

His handwas out. She had to feign inattention or yield her own.She hadnot the effrontery to pretend not to seeand she yieldedit. Hepressed itand whenever it shrunk a quarter inch towithdrawhe shook it up and downas an instrument that had beenlent himfor due emphasis to his remarks. And very emphatic anamorousorator can make it upon a captive lady.

"I amunable to speak decisively on that or any subject. I amIthink youonce quoted'tossed like a weed on the ocean.' Ofmyself Ican speak: I cannot speak for a second person. I aminfinitelyharassed. If I could cry'To Italy tomorrow!' Ah! ...Do not setme down for complaining. I know the lot of man. ButLaetitiadeceit! deceit! It is a bad taste in the mouth. Itsickens usof humanity. I compare it to an earthquake: we lose allourreliance on the solidity of the world. It is a betrayal notsimply ofthe person; it is a betrayal of humankind. My friend!Constantfriend! NoI will not despair. YesI have faults; Iwillremember them. Onlyforgiveness is another question. Yesthe injuryI can forgive; the falseness never. In the interests ofhumanityno. So youngand such deceit!"

Laetitia'sbosom rose: her hand was detained: a lady who hasyielded itcannot wrestle to have it back; those outworks whichprotecther treacherously shelter the enemy aiming at the citadelwhen hehas taken them. In return for the silken armour bestowedon her byour civilizationit is exacted that she be soft andcivil nighup to perishing-point. She breathed tremulously highsaying onher top-breath: "If it--it may not be so; it canscarcely.. ." A deep sigh intervened. It saddened her that sheknew somuch.

"Forwhen I love I love" said Sir Willoughby; "my friends andmyservantsknow that. There can be no medium: not with me. I giveallIclaim all. As I am absorbedso must I absorb. We bothcancel andcreatewe extinguish and we illumine one another. Theerror maybe in the choice of an object: it is not in the passion.Perfectconfidenceperfect abandonment. I repeatI claim itbecause Igive it. The selfishness of love may be denounced: it isa part ofus. My answer would beit is an element only of thenoblest ofus! LoveLaetitia! I speak of love. But one who breaksfaith todrag us through the mirewho betraysbetrays and handsus over tothe worldwhose prey we become identically because ofvirtues wewere educated to think it a blessing to possess: tellme thename for that!--Againit has ever been a principle withme torespect the sex. But if we see women falsetreacherous ...Whyindulge in these abstract viewsyou would ask! The worldpressesthem on usfull as it is of the vilest specimens. Theyseek topluck up every rooted principle: they sneer at ourworship:they rob us of our religion. This bitter experience ofthe worlddrives us back to the antidote of what we knew before weplungedinto it: of one ... of something we esteemed and stillesteem. Isthat antidote strong enough to expel the poison? I hopeso! Ibelieve so! To lose faith in womankind is terrible."

He studiedher. She looked distressed: she was not moved.

She wasthinking thatwith the exception of a strain ofhaughtinesshe talked excellently to menat least in the tone ofthe thingshe meant to say; but that his manner of talking towomen wentto an excess in the artificial tongue--the tutoredtongue ofsentimental deference of the towering male: he flutedexceedingly;and she wondered whether it was this which hadwreckedhim with Miss Middleton.

Hisintuitive sagacity counselled him to strive for pathos tomove her.It was a task; for while he perceived her to be notignorantof his plighthe doubted her knowing the extent of itand as hisdesire was merely to move her without an exposure ofhimselfhe had to compass being pathetic as it were under theimpedimentsof a mailed and gauntletted knightwho cannot easilyheave thebosomor show it heaving.

Moreoverpathos is a tide: often it carries the awakener of itoff hisfeetand whirls him over and over armour and all inignominiousattitudes of helpless prostrationwhereof he may wellbe ashamedin the retrospect. We cannot quite preserve our dignitywhen westoop to the work of calling forth tears. Moses hadprobablyto take a nimble jump away from the rock after thatvenerableLaw-giver had knocked the water out of it.

Howeverit was imperative in his mind that he should be sure hehad thepower to move her.

He began;clumsily at firstas yonder gauntletted knight attemptingthe brinyhandkerchief.

"Whatare we! We last but a very short time. Why not live togratifyour appetites? I might really ask myself why. All themeans ofsatiating them are at my disposal. But no: I must aim atthehighest:--at that which in my blindness I took for thehighest.You know the sportsman's instinctLaetitia; he is nottempted bythe stationary object. Such are we in youthtoyingwithhappinessleaving itto aim at the dazzling andattractive."

"Wegain knowledge" said Laetitia.

"Atwhat a cost!"

Theexclamation summoned self-pity to his aidand pathos washandy.

"Bypaying half our lives for it and all our hopes! Yeswe gainknowledgewe are the wiser; very probably my value surpasses nowwhat itwas when I was happier. But the loss! That youthful bloomof thesoul is like health to the body; once goneit leavescripplesbehind. Naymy friend and precious friendthese fourfingers Imust retain. They seem to me the residue of a wreck: youshall bereleased shortly: absolutelyLaetitiaI have nothingelseremaining--We have spoken of deception; what of beingundeceived?--whenone whom we adored is laid bareand thewretchedconsolation of a worthy object is denied to us. Nomisfortunecan be like that. Were it deathwe could worshipstill.Death would be preferable. But may you be spared to know asituationin which the comparison with your inferior is forced onyou toyour disadvantage and your loss because of your generouslygiving upyour whole heart to the custody of some shallowlight-mindedself--! ... We will not deal in epithets. If I wereto find asmany bad names for the serpent as there are spots onhis bodyit would be serpent stillneither better nor worse. Theloneliness!And the darkness! Our luminary is extinguished.Self-respectrefuses to continue worshippingbut the affectionwill notbe turned aside. We are literally in the dustwe grovelwe wouldfling away self-respect if we could; we would adopt for amodel thecreature preferred to us; we would humiliatedegradeourselves;we cry for justice as if it were for pardon . . ."

"Forpardon! when we are straining to grant it!" Laetitiamurmuredand it was as much as she could do. She remembered howin her oldmisery her efforts after charity had twisted her roundto feelherself the sinnerand beg forgiveness in prayer: a noblesentimentthat filled her with pity of the bosom in which it hadsprung.There was no similarity between his idea and hersbut heridea hadcertainly been roused by his word "pardon"and he hadthebenefit of it in the moisture of her eyes. Her lips trembledtearsfell.

He hadheard something; he had not caught the wordsbut they weremanifestlyfavourable; her sign of emotion assured him of it andof thesuccess he had sought. There was one woman who bowed to himto alleternity! He had inspired one woman with the mysteriousman-desiredpassion of self-abandonmentself-immolation! Theevidencewas before him. At any instant he couldif he pleasedfly to herand command her enthusiasm.

He hadinfactperhaps by sympathetic actionsucceeded instrikingthe same springs of pathos in her which animated hislivelyendeavour to produce it in himself

He kissedher hand; then released itquitting his chair to bendabove hersoothingly.

"Donot weepLaetitiayou see that I do not; I can smile. Helpme to bearit; you must not unman me."

She triedto stop her cryingbut self-pity threatened to rain allher longyears of grief on her headand she said: "I must go ...I am unfit... good-nightSir Willoughby."

Fearingseriously that he had sunk his pride too low in herconsiderationand had been carried farther than he intended onthe tideof pathoshe remarked: "We will speak about Crossjayto-morrow.His deceitfulness has been gross. As I saidI amgrievouslyoffended by deception. But you are tired. Good-nightmy dearfriend."

"Good-nightSir Willoughby."

She wasallowed to go forth.

Colonel DeCraye coming up from the smoking-roommet her andnoticedthe state of her eyelidsas he wished her goodnight. HesawWilloughby in the room she had quittedbut consideratelypassedwithout speakingand without reflecting why he wasconsiderate.

Our hero'sreview of the scene made himon the wholesatisfiedwith hispart in it. Of his power upon one woman he was nowperfectlysure:--Clara had agonized him with a doubt of hispersonalmastery of any. One was a poor feastbut the pangs ofhis fleshduring the last few days and the latest hours caused himto snatchat ithungrily if contemptuously. A poor feastshe wasyet afortressa point of succourboth shield and lance; a coverand animpetus. He could now encounter Clara boldly. Should sheresist anddefy himhe would not be naked and alone; he foresawthat hemight win honour in the world's eye from his position--amatter tobe thought of only in most urgent need. The effect onhim of hisrecent exercise in pathos was to compose him toslumber.He was for the period well satisfied.

Hisattendant imps were well satisfied likewiseand danced aroundabout hisbed after the vigilant gentleman had ceased to debate onthequestion of his unveiling of himself past forgiveness of hertoLaetitiaand had surrendered to sleep the present direction ofhisaffairs.

 

 

CHAPTERXXXII

LaetitiaDale Discovers a Spiritual Change and Dr Middleton aPhysical

 

Claratripped over the lawn in the early morning to Laetitia togreet her.She broke away from a colloquy with Colonel De Crayeunder SirWilloughby's windows. The colonel had been one of thebathersand he stood like a circus-driver flicking a wet towel atCrossjaycapering.

"MydearI am very unhappy!" said Clara.

"MydearI bring you news" Laetitia replied.

"Tellme. But the poor boy is to be expelled! He burst intoCrossjay'sbedroom last night and dragged the sleeping boy out ofbed toquestion himand he had the truth. That is one comfort:onlyCrossjay is to be driven from the Hallbecause he wasuntruthfulpreviously--for me; to serve me; reallyI feel it wasat mycommand. Crossjay will be out of the way to-dayand haspromisedto come back at night to try to be forgiven. You musthelp meLaetitia."

"Youare freeClara! If you desire ityou have but to ask foryourfreedom."

"Youmean . . ."

"Hewill release you."

"Youare sure?"

"Wehad a long conversation last night."

"Iowe it to you?"

"Nothingis owing to me. He volunteered it."

Clara madeas if to lift her eyes in apostrophe. "ProfessorCrooklyn!Professor Crooklyn! I see. I did not guess that."

"Givecredit for some generosityClara; you are unjust!

"Byand by: I will be more than just by and by. I will practise onthetrumpet: I will lecture on the greatness of the souls of menwhen weknow them thoroughly. At present we do but half know themand we areunjust. You are not deceivedLaetitia? There is to benospeaking to papa? no delusions? You have agitated me. I feelmyself avery small person indeed. I feel I can understand thosewho admirehim. He gives me back my word simply? clearly? without--Ohthatlong wrangle in scenes and letters? And it will bearrangedfor papa and me to go not later than to-morrow? Nevershall I beable to explain to any one how I fell into this! I amfrightenedat myself when I think of it. I take the whole blame: Ihave beenscandalous. Anddear Laetitia! you came out so early inorder totell me?"

"Iwished you to hear it."

"Takemy heart."

"Presentme with a part--but for good."

"Fie!But you have a right to say it."

"Imean no unkindness; but is not the heart you allude to analarminglysearching one?"

"Selfishit isfor I have been forgetting Crossjay. If we aregoing tobe generousis not Crossjay to be forgiven? If it wereonly thatthe boy's father is away fighting for his countryendangeringhis life day by dayand for a stipend not enough tosupporthis familywe are bound to think of the boy! Poor dearsilly lad!with his 'I sayMiss Middletonwhy wouldn't (someone) seemy father when he came here to call on himand had towalk backten miles in the rain?'--I could almost fancy that didmemischief... But we have a splendid morning after yesterday'srain. Andwe will be generous. OwnLaetitiathat it is possibleto gildthe most glorious day of creation."

"Doubtlessthe spirit may do it and make its hues permanent" saidLaetitia.

"Youto meI to youhe to us. Wellthenif he doesit shallbe one ofmy heavenly days. Which is for the probation ofexperience.We are not yet at sunset."

"Haveyou seen Mr. Whitford this morning?"

"Hepassed me."

"Donot imagine him ever ill-tempered."

"Ihad a governessa learned ladywho taught me in person thepicturesquenessof grumpiness. Her temper was ever perfectbecauseshe was never in the wrongbut I being soshe wasgrumpy.She carried my iniquity under her browsand looked out onme throughit. I was a trying child."

Laetitiasaidlaughing: "I can believe it!"

"YetI liked her and she liked me: we were a kind of foregroundandbackground: she threw me into relief and I was an apology forherexistence."
"Youpicture her to me."

"Shesays of me now that I am the only creature she has loved. Whoknows thatI may not come to say the same of her?"

"Youwould plague her and puzzle her still."

"HaveI plagued and puzzled Mr. Whitford?"

"Hereminds you of her?"

"Yousaid you had her picture."

"Ah!do not laugh at him. He is a true friend."

"Theman who can be a friend is the man who will presume to be acensor."

"Amild one."

"Asto the sentence he pronouncesI am unable to speakbut hisforeheadis Rhadamanthine condemnation."

"DrMiddleton!"

Claralooked round. "Who? I? Did you hear an echo of papa? Hewouldnever have put Rhadamanthus over European soulsbecause itappearsthat Rhadamanthus judged only the Asiatic; so you arewrongMiss Dale. My father is infatuated with Mr. Whitford. Whatcan it be?We women cannot sound the depths of scholarsprobablybecausetheir pearls have no value in our market; except when theydeign tochasten an impertinent; and Mr. Whitford stands alooffrom anynotice of small fry. He is deepstudiousexcellent; anddoes itnot strike you that if he descended among us he would belike aTriton ashore?"

Laetitia'shabit of wholly subservient sweetnesswhich was herideal ofthe femininenot yet conciliated with her acutercharacterowing to the absence of full pleasure from her life--theunhealed wound she had sustained and the cramp of a bondage ofsuch olddate as to seem iron--induced her to sayas ifconsenting:"You think he is not quite at home in society?" Butshe wishedto defend him strenuouslyand as a consequence she hadto quitthe self-imposed ideal of her daily actingwhereby--thecase beingunwontedvery novel to her--the lady's intelligencebecameconfused through the process that quickened it; sosovereigna method of hoodwinking our bright selves is the actingof a parthowever naturally it may come to us! and to this willeachhonest autobiographical member of the animated world bearwitness.

She added:"You have not found him sympathetic? He is. You fancyhimbroodinggloomy? He is the reversehe is cheerfulhe isindifferentto personal misfortune. Dr. Corney says there is nolaugh likeVernon Whitford'sand no humour like his. Latterly hecertainly... But it has not been your cruel word grumpiness. Thetruth ishe is anxious about Crossjay: and about other things;and hewants to leave. He is at a disadvantage beside very livelyandcareless gentlemen at presentbut your 'Triton ashore' isunfairitis ugly. He isI can saythe truest man I know."

"Idid not question his goodnessLaetitia."

"Youthrew an accent on it."

"DidI? I must be like Crossjaywho declares he likes fun best."

"Crossjayought to know himif anybody should. Mr. Whitford hasdefendedyou against meClaraeven since I took to calling youClara.Perhaps when you supposed him so like your ancientgovernesshe was meditating how he could aid you. Last night hegave mereasons for thinking you would do wisely to confide inMrs. Mountstuart. It is no longer necessary. I merely mention it.He is adevoted friend."

"Heis an untiring pedestrian."

"Oh!"

Colonel DeCrayeafter hovering near the ladies in the hope ofseeingthem dividenow adopted the system of making three thattwo maycome of it.

As hejoined them with his glittering chatterLaetitia looked atClara toconsult herand saw the face rosy as a bride's.

Thesuspicion she had nursed sprung out of her arms a muscularfact onthe spot.

"Whereis my dear boy?" Clara said.

"Outfor a holiday" the colonel answered in her tone.

"AdviseMr. Whitford not to waste his time in searching forCrossjayLaetitia. Crossjay is better out of the way to-day. AtleastIthought so just now. Has he pocket-moneyColonel DeCraye?"

"Mylord can command his inn."

"Howthoughtful you are!"

Laetitia'sbosom swelled upon a mute exclamationequivalent to:"Woman!woman! snared ever by the sparkling and frivolous!undiscerningof the faithfulthe modest and beneficent!"

In thesecret musings of moralists this dramatic rhetoricsurvives.

Thecomparison was all of her own makingand she was indignant atthecontrastthough to what end she was indignant she could nothave saidfor she had no idea of Vernon as a rival of De Craye inthe favourof a plighted lady. But she was jealous on behalf ofher sex:her sex's reputation seemed at stakeand the purity ofit wasmenaced by Clara's idle preference of the shallower man.When theyoung lady spoke so carelessly of being like Crossjayshe didnot perhaps know that a likenessbased on a similarity oftheirenthusiasmslovesand appetiteshad been establishedbetweenwomen and boys. Laetitia had formerly chafed at itrejectingit utterlysave when now and then in a season ofbitternessshe handed here and there a volatile young lady (nonebut theyoung) to be stamped with the degrading brand. Vernonmight beas philosophical as he pleased. To her the gaiety ofthese twoColonel De Craye and Clara Middletonwas distressinglymusical:they harmonized painfully. The representative of her sexwas hurtby it.

She had tostay beside them: Clara held her arm. The colonel'svoicedropped at times to something very like a whisper. He wasansweredaudibly and smoothly. The quickwitted gentleman acceptedthecorrection: but in immediately paying assiduous attentions toMiss Dalein the approved intriguer's fashionhe showed himselfin need ofanother amounting to a reproof. Clara said: "We havebeenconsultingLaetitiawhat is to be done to cure ProfessorCrooklynof his cold." De Craye perceived that he had taken awrongstepand he was mightily surprised that a lesson inintrigueshould be read to him of all men. Miss Middleton'saudacitywas not so astonishing: he recognized grand capabilitiesin theyoung lady. Fearing lest she should proceed further and cutaway fromhim his vantage-ground of secrecy with herhe turnedthesubject and was adroitly submissive.

Clara'smanner of meeting Sir Willoughby expressed a timiddispositionto friendliness upon a veiled inquiryunderstood bynone saveLaetitiawhose brain was racked to convey assurances toherself ofher not having misinterpreted him. Could there be anydoubt? Sheresolved that there could not be; and it was upon thisbasis ofreason that she fancied she had led him to it. Legitimateor notthe fancy sprang from a solid foundation. Yesterdaymorningshe could not have conceived it. Now she was endowed tofeel thatshe had power to influence himbecause nowsince themidnightshe felt some emancipation from the spell of his physicalmastery.He did not appear to her as a different manbut she hadgrownsensible of being a stronger woman. He was no more the cloudover hernor the magnet; the cloud once heaven-suffusedthemagnetfatally compelling her to sway round to him. She admiredhim still:his handsome airhis fine proportionsthe courtesyof hisbending to Clara and touching of her handexcused afanaticalexcess of admiration on the part of a woman in heryouthwhois never the anatomist of the hero's lordly graces. Butnow sheadmired him piecemeal. When it came to the putting of himtogethershe did it coldly. To compassionate him was her utmostwarmth.Without conceiving in him anything of the strange oldmonster ofearth which had struck the awakened girl's mind of MissMiddletonLaetitia classed him with other men; he was "one ofthem".And she did not bring her disenchantment as a chargeagainsthim. She accused herselfacknowledged the secret of thechange tobeand her youthfulness was dead:--otherwise could shehave givenhim compassionand not herself have been carried onthe floodof it? The compassion was ferventand pure too. Shesupposedhe would supplicate; she saw that Clara Middleton waspleasantwith him only for what she expected of his generosity.Shegrieved. Sir Willoughby was fortified by her sorrowful gaze ashe andClara passed out together to the laboratory arm in arm.

Laetitiahad to tell Vernon of the uselessness of his beating thehouse andgrounds for Crossjay. Dr. Middleton held him fast indiscussionupon an overnight's classical wrangle with ProfessorCrooklynwhich was to be renewed that day. The Professor hadappointedto call expressly to renew it. "A fine scholar" saidthe Rev.Doctor"but crotchetylike all men who cannot standtheirPort."

"Ihear that he had a cold" Vernon remarked. "I hope the winewasgoodsir."

As whenthe foreman of a sentimental jury is commissioned toinform anawful Bench exact in perspicuous Englishof averdictthat must of necessity be pronounced in favour of thehanging ofthe culprityet would fain attenuate the crime of apalpablevillain by a recommendation to mercysuch foremanstandingin the attentive eye of a master of grammaticalconstructionand feeling the weight of at least three sentenceson hisbraintogether with a prospect of Judicial interrogationfor thediscovery of his precise meaningis oppressedhimself isput ontrialin turnand he hesitateshe recapitulatesthefear ofinvolution leads him to be involved; as far as a man sopostedmayhe on his own behalf appeals for mercy; entreats thathisindistinct statement of preposterous reasons may be taken forunderstoodand would gladlywere permission to do it crediblethrow inan imploring word that he may sink back among the crowdwithoutfor the one imperishable moment publicly swinging in hislordship'sestimation:--much somoved by chivalry toward a ladycourtesyto the recollection of a hostessand particularly by theknowledgethat his hearer would expect with a certain frigidrigourcharity of himDr. Middleton pausedspoke and paused: hestammered.Ladieshe saidwere famous poisoners in the MiddleAges. Hisopinion wasthat we had a class of manufacturing winemerchantson the watch for widows in this country. But he wasbound tostate the fact of his waking at his usual hour to theminuteunassailed by headache. On the other handthis was aconditionof blessedness unanticipated when he went to bed. Mr.Whitfordhoweverwas not to think that he entertained rancourtoward thewine. It was no doubt dispensed with the honourableintentionof cheering. In point of flavour execrablejudging byresults itwas innocuous.

 

"Thetest of it shall be the effect of it upon Professor Crooklynand hisappearance in the forenoon according to promise" Dr.Middletoncame to an end with his perturbed balancings. "If Ihear moreof the eight or twelve winds discharged at once upon arailwayplatformand the young lady who dries herself of adrenchingby drinking brandy and water with a gentleman at arailwayinnI shall solicit your sanction to my condemnation ofthe wineas anti-Bacchic and a counterfeit presentment. Do notmisjudgeme. Our hostess is not responsible. But widows shouldmarry."

"Youmust contrive to stop the Professorsirif he should attackhishostess in that manner" said Vernon.

"Widowsshould marry!" Dr. Middleton repeated.

Hemurmured of objecting to be at the discretion of a butler;unlesshewas careful to addthe aforesaid functionary couldboast ofan University education; and even thensaid heitrequires aline of ancestry to train a man's taste.

The Rev.Doctor smothered a yawn. The repression of it caused asecondonea real monsterto comebig as our old friend of theseaadvancing on the chained-up Beauty.

Disconcertedby this damning evidence of indigestionhiscountenanceshowed that he considered himself to have been toolenient tothe wine of an unhusbanded hostess. He frownedterribly.
In theinterval Laetitia told Vernon of Crossjay's flight for thedayhastily bidding the master to excuse him: she had no time tohint thegrounds of excuse. Vernon mentally made a guess.

DrMiddleton took his arm and discharged a volley at thecrotchettyscholarship of Professor Crooklynwhom to confute bybookhedirected his march to the library. Having persuadedhimselfthat he was dyspeptiche had grown irascible. Hedenouncedall dining outeulogized Patterne Hall as if it werehis homeand remembered he had dreamed in the night--a mosthumiliatingsign of physical disturbance. "But let me find a houseinproximity to Patterneas I am induced to suppose I shall" hesaid"andhere only am I to be met when I stir abroad."

Laetitiawent to her room. She was complacently anxious enough toprefersolitude and be willing to read. She was more seriouslyanxiousabout Crossjay than about any of the others. For Clarawould becertain to speak very definitelyand how then could agentlemanoppose her? He would supplicateand could she bebrought toyield? It was not to be expected of a young lady whohad turnedfrom Sir Willoughby. His inferiors would have had abetterchance. Whatever his faultshe had that element ofgreatnesswhich excludes the intercession of pity. Supplicationwould bewith him a form of condescension. It would be seen to besuch. Hiswas a monumental pride that could not stoop. She hadpreservedthis image of the gentleman for a relic in the shipwreckof heridolatry. So she mused between the lines of her bookandfinishingher reading and marking the pageshe glanced down onthe lawn.Dr. Middleton was thereand alone; his hands behind hisbackhishead bent. His meditative pace and unwonted perusal ofthe turfproclaimed that a non-sentimental jury within haddeliveredan unmitigated verdict upon the widow's wine.

Laetitiahurried to find Vernon.

He was inthe hall. As she drew near himthe laboratory dooropened andshut.

"Itis being decided" said Laetitia.

Vernon waspaler than the hue of perfect calmness.

"Iwant to know whether I ought to take to my heels like Crossjayand shunthe Professor" he said.

They spokein under-tonesfurtively watching the door.

"Iwish what she wishesI am sure; but it will go badly with theboy"said Laetitia.

"Ohwellthen I'll take him" said Vernon"I would rather. Ithink Ican manage it."

Again thelaboratory door opened. This time it shut behind MissMiddleton.She was highly flushed. Seeing themshe shook thestorm fromher browswith a dead smile; the best piece ofserenityshe could put on for public wear.

She took abreath before she moved.

Vernonstrode out of the house.

Claraswept up to Laetitia.

"Youwere deceived!"

The hardsob of anger barred her voice.

Laetitiabegged her to come to her room with her.

"Iwant air: I must be by myself" said Claracatching at hergarden-hat.

She walkedswiftly to the portico steps and turned to the rightto avoidthe laboratory windows.

 

 

CHAPTERXXXIII

InWhich the Comic Muse Has an Eye on Two Good Souls

 

Clara metVernon on the bowling-green among the laurels. Sheasked himwhere her father was.

"Don'tspeak to him now" said Vernon.

"Mr.Whitfordwill you?"

"Itis not advisable just now. Wait."

"Wait?Why not now?"

"Heis not in the right humour."

Shechoked. There are times when there is no medicine for us insageswewant slaves; we scorn to temporizewe must overbear. Onshe spedas if she had made the mistake of exchanging words witha post.

The scenebetween herself and Willoughby was a thick mist in herheadexcept the burden and result of itthat he held to herfastwould neither assist her to depart nor disengage her.

Ohmen!men! They astounded the girl; she could not define themto herunderstanding. Their motivestheir tastestheir vanitytheirtyrannyand the domino on their vanitythe baldness oftheirtyrannyclinched her in feminine antagonism to brute power.She wasnot the less disposed to rebellion by a very present senseof thejustice of what could be said to reprove her. She had butoneanswer: "Anything but marry him!" It threw her on hernatureour lastand headlong advocatewho is quick as the flood to hurryus fromthe heights to our leveland lowerif there beaccidentalgaps in the channel. For say we have been guiltyofmisconduct: can we redeem it by violating that which we are andlive by?The question sinks us back to the luxuriousness of asunnyrelinquishment of effort in the direction against tide. Ournaturebecomes ingenious in devicespenetrative of the enemyconfidentlyciting its cause for being frankly elvish or worse.Clara sawa particular way of forcing herself to be surrendered.She shuther eyes from it: the sight carried her too violently toherescape; but her heart caught it up and huzzaed. To press thepoints ofher fingers at her bosomlooking up to the sky as shedidandcry: "I am not my own; I am his!" was instigationsufficientto make her heart leap up with all her body's blush tourge it torecklessness. A despairing creature then may say shehasaddressed the heavens and has had no answer to restrain her.
Happilyfor Miss Middletonshe had walked some minutes in herchafingfit before the falcon eye of Colonel De Craye spied heraway onone of the beech-knots.

Vernonstood irresolute. It was decidedly not a moment fordisturbingDr. Middleton's composure. He meditated upon aconversationas friendly as possiblewith Willoughby. Round onthefront-lawnhe beheld Willoughby and Dr. Middleton togetherthe latterhaving halted to lend attentive ear to his excellenthost.Unnoticed by them or disregardedVernon turned back toLaetitiaand saunteredtalking with her of things current for aslong as hecould endure to listen to praise of his pureself-abnegation;proof of how well he had disguised himselfbutit smackedunpleasantly to him. His humourous intimacy with men'smindslikened the source of this distaste to the gallantall-or-nothingof the gamblerwho hates the little when he cannothave themuchand would rather stalk from the tables clean-pickedthansuffer ruin to be tickled by driblets of the glorious fortunehe hasplayed for and lost. If we are not to be belovedspare usthe smallcoin of compliments on character; especially when theycomplimentonly our acting. It is partly endurable to win eulogyfor ourstately fortitude in losingbut Laetitia was unaware thathe flungaway a stake; so she could not praise him for his merits.

"Willoughbymakes the pardoning of Crossjay conditional" he said"andthe person pleading for him has to grant the terms. How couldyouimagine Willoughby would give her up! How could he! Who!... Heshouldis easily said. I was no witness of the scenebetweenthem just nowbut I could have foretold the end of it; Icouldalmost recount the passages. The consequence isthateverythingdepends upon the amount of courage she possesses. Dr.Middletonwon't leave Patterne yet. And it is of no use to speakto himto-day. And she is by nature impatientand is rendereddesperate."

"Whyis it of no use to speak to Dr. Middleton today?" criedLaetitia.

"Hedrank wine yesterday that did not agree with him; he can'twork.To-day he is looking forward to Patterne Port. He is notlikely tolisten to any proposals to leave to-day."

"Goodness!"

"Iknow the depth of that cry!"

"Youare excludedMr. Whitford."

"Nota bit of it; I am in with the rest. Say that men are to beexclaimedat. Men have a right to expect you to know your ownminds whenyou close on a bargain. You don't know the world oryourselvesvery wellit's true; still the original error is onyour sideand upon that you should fix your attention. Shebroughther father hereand no sooner was he very comfortablyestablishedthan she wished to dislocate him."

"Icannot explain it; I cannot comprehend it" said Laetitia.

"Youare Constancy."

"No."She coloured. "I am 'in with rest'. I do not say I shouldhave donethe same. But I have the knowledge that I must not sitinjudgement on her. I can waver."

Shecoloured again. She was anxious that he should know her to benot thatstupid statue of Constancy in a corner doating on theanticDeception. Reminiscences of the interview overnight made itoppressiveto her to hear herself praised for always pointing liketheneedle. Her newly enfranchised individuality pressed to assertitsexistence. Vernonhowevernot seeing this noveltycontinuedto her excessive discomfortto baste her old abandonedimage withhis praises. They checked hers; andmoreoverhe hadsuddenlyconceived an envy of her life-longuncomplainingalmostunaspiringconstancy of sentiment. If you know lovers when theyhave notreason to be blissfulyou will remember that in thismood ofadmiring envy they are given to fits of uncontrollablemaundering.Praise of constancymoreoversmote shadowily acertaininconstantenough to seem to ruffle her smoothness and dono hurt.He found his consolation in itand poor Laetitia writhed.Withoutdesigning to retortshe instinctively grasped at a weaponof defencein further exalting his devotedness; which reduced himto casthis head to the heavens and implore them to partiallyenlightenher. Neverthelessmaunder he must; and he recurred toit in away so utterly unlike himself that Laetitia stared in hisface. Shewondered whether there could be anything secreted behindthiseverlasting theme of constancy. He took her awakened gaze fora summonsto asseverations of sincerityand out they came. Shewould havefled from himbut to think of flying was to think howlittle itwas that urged her to flyand yet the thought ofremainingand listening to praises undeserved and no longerflatteringwas a torture.

"Mr.WhitfordI bear no comparison with you."

"I doand must set you for my exampleMiss Dale."

"Indeedyou do wrongly; you do not know me."

"Icould say that. For years ...

"PrayMr. Whitford!"

"WellI have admired it. You show us how self can be smothered."

"Anecho would be a retort on you!"

"Onme? I am never thinking of anything else."

"Icould say that."

"Youare necessarily conscious of not swerving."

"ButI do; I waver dreadfully; I am not the same two daysrunning."

"Youare the samewith 'ravishing divisions' upon the same.

"Andyou without the 'divisions.' I draw such support as I havefrom you."

"Fromsome simulacrum of methen. And that will show you howlittle yourequire support."

"I donot speak my own opinion only."

"Whose?"

"I amnot alone."

"Againlet me sayI wish I were like you!"

"Thenlet me addI would willingly make the exchange!"

"Youwould be amazed at your bargain."

"Otherswould be!"

"Yourexchange would give me the qualities I'm in want ofMissDale."

"Negativepassiveat the bestMr. Whitford. But I should have .. ."

"Oh!--pardonme. But you inflict the sensations of a boywith adose ofhonesty in himcalled up to receive a prize he has won bythedexterous use of a crib."

"Andhow do you suppose she feels who has a crown of Queen o" theMay forcedon her head when she is verging on November?"

Herejected her analogyand she his. They could neither of thembring tolight the circumstances which made one another'sadmirationso unbearable. The more he exalted her for constancythe moredid her mind become bent upon critically examining theobject ofthat imagined virtue; and the more she praised him forpossessingthe spirit of perfect friendlinessthe fiercer grewthepassion in him which disdained the imputationhissing like aheatediron-bar that flings the waterdrops to steam. He would noneof it;would rather have stood exposed in his profoundfoolishness.

Amiablethough they wereand mutually affectionatethey came toa stop intheir walklonging to separateand not seeing how itwas to bedonethey had so knit themselves together with thepelting oftheir interlaudation.

"Ithink it is time for me to run home to my father for an hour"saidLaetitia.

"Iought to be working" said Vernon.

Goodprogress was made to the disgarlanding of themselves thusfar; yetan acutely civilized pairthe abruptness of thetransitionfrom floweriness to commonplace affected them bothLaetitiachieflyas she had broken the pauseand she remarked:--"I amreally Constancy in my opinions."

"Anothertitle is customary where stiff opinions are concerned.Perhaps byand by you will learn your mistakeand then you willacknowledgethe name for it."

"How?"said she. "What shall I learn?"

"Ifyou learn that I am a grisly Egoist?"

"You?And it would not be egoism" added Laetitiarevealing tohim at thesame instant as to herself that she swung suspended ona scarcecredible guess.

"--Willnothing pierce your earsMr. Whitford?"

He heardthe intruding voicebut he was bent on rubbing out thecloudyletters Laetitia had begun to spelland he stammeredin a toneof matter-of-fact: "Just that and no better"; thenturned toMrs. Mountstuart Jenkinson.

"--Orare you resolved you will never see Professor Crooklyn whenyou lookon him?" said the great lady.

Vernonbowed to the Professor and apologized to him shufflinglyandrapidlyincoherentlyand with a red face; which induced Mrs.Mountstuartto scan Laetitia's.

Afterlecturing Vernon for his abandonment of her yesterdayeveningand flouting his protestationsshe returned to thebusinessof the day. "We walked from the lodge-gates to see thepark andprepare ourselves for Dr. Middleton. We parted last nightin themiddle of a controversy and are rageing to resume it. Whereis ourredoubtable antagonist?"

Mrs.Mountstuart wheeled Professor Crooklyn round to accompanyVernon.

"We"she said"are for modern English scholarshipopposed tothechampion of German."

"Thecontrary" observed Professor Crooklyn.

"Oh!We" she corrected the error serenely"are for Germanscholarshipopposed to English."

"Certaineditions."

"Wedefend certain editions."

"Defendis a term of imperfect application to my positionma'am."

"Mydear Professoryou have in Dr. Middleton a match for you inconscientiouspugnacityand you will not waste it upon me. Therethere theyare; there he is. Mr. Whitford will conduct you. Istand awayfrom the first shock."

Mrs.Mountstuart fell back to Laetitiasaying: "He pores over alittleinexactitude in phrasesand pecks at it like a domesticfowl."

ProfessorCrooklyn's attitude and air were so well described thatLaetitiacould have laughed.

"Thesemighty scholars have their flavour" the great ladyhastenedto addlest her younger companion should be misled tosupposethat they were not valuable to a governing hostess: "theirshadow-fightsare ridiculousbut they have their flavour at atable.Last nightno: I discard all mention of last night. Wefailed: asnone else in this neighbourhood could failbut wefailed. Ifwe have among us a cormorant devouring young lady whodrinks upall the--ha!--brandy and water--of our inns andoccupiesall our flyswhyour condition is abnormaland we mustexpect tofail: we are deprived of accommodation for accidentalcircumstances.How Mr. Whitford could have missed seeingProfessorCrooklyn! And what was he doing at the stationMissDale?"

"Yourportrait of Professor Crooklyn was too strikingMrsMountstuartand deceived him by its excellence. He appears tohave seenonly the blank side of the slate."

"Ah!He is a faithful friend of his cousindo you not think?"

"Heis the truest of friends."

"Asfor Dr. Middleton" Mrs. Mountstuart diverged from herinquiry"he will swell the letters of my vocabulary to giganticproportionsif I see much of him: he is contagious."

"Ibelieve it is a form of his humour."

"Icaught it of him yesterday at my dinner-table in my distressand mustpass it off as a form of minewhile it lasts. I talkedDr.Middleton half the dreary night through to my pillow. Yourcandidopinionmy dearcome! As for meI don't hesitate. Weseemed tohave sat down to a solitary performance on thebass-viol.We were positively an assembly of insects duringthunder.My very soul thanked Colonel De Craye for his diversionsbut Iheard nothing but Dr. Middleton. It struck me that my tablewaspetrifiedand every one sat listening to bowls playedoverhead."

"Iwas amused."

"Really?You delight me. Who knows but that my guests were sincerein theircongratulations on a thoroughly successful evening? Ihavefallen to thisyou see! And I knowwretched people! that asoften asnot it is their way of condoling with one. I do itmyself:but only where there have been amiable efforts. Butimagine mybeing congratulated for that!--Good-morningSirWilloughby.--Theworst offender! and I am in no pleasant moodwith him"Mrs. Mountstuart said aside to Laetitiawho drew backretiring.

SirWilloughby came on a step or two. He stopped to watchLaetitia'sfigure swimming to the house.

Soasfor instancebeside a streamwhen a flower on thesurfaceextends its petals drowning to subside in the clear stillwaterweexercise our privilege to be absent in the charmedcontemplationof a beautiful natural incident.

A smile ofpleased abstraction melted on his features.

 

 

CHAPTERXXXIV

Mrs.Mountstuart and Sir Willoughby 

"Goodmorningmy dear Mrs. Mountstuart" Sir Willoughby wakenedhimself toaddress the great lady. "Why has she fled?"

"Hasany one fled?"

"LaetitiaDale."

"LettyDale? Ohif you call that flying. Possibly to renew acloseconversation with Vernon Whitfordthat I cut short. Youfrightenedme with your 'Shepherds-tell-me' air and tone. Lead meto one ofyour garden-seats: out of hearing to Dr. MiddletonIbeg. Hemesmerizes mehe makes me talk Latin. I was curiouslysusceptiblelast night. I know I shall everlastingly associate himwith anabortive entertainment and solos on big instruments. Wewereflat."

"Horacewas in good vein."

"Youwere not."

"AndLaetitia--Miss Dale talked wellI thought."

"Shetalked with youand no doubt she talked well. We did notmix. Theyeast was bad. You shot darts at Colonel De Craye: youtried tosting. You brought Dr. Middleton down on you. Dear methat manis a reverberation in my head. Where is your lady andlove?"

"Who?"

"Am Ito name her?"

"Clara?I have not seen her for the last hour. WanderingIsuppose.

"Avery pretty summer bower" said Mrs. Mountstuartseatingherself"Wellmy dear Sir Willoughbypreferencespreferencesare not tobe accounted forand one never knows whether to pityorcongratulatewhatever may occur. I want to see MissMiddleton."

"Your'dainty rogue in porcelain' will be at your beck--you lunchwithus?--before you leave."

"Sonow you have taken to quoting mehave you?"

"But'a romantic tale on her eyelashes' is hardly descriptive anylonger."

"Descriptiveof whom? Now you are upon Laetitia Dale!"

"Iquote you generally. She has now a graver look."

"Andwell may have!"

"Notthat the romance has entirely disappeared."

"No;it looks as if it were in print."

"Youhave hit it perfectlyas usualma'am."

SirWilloughby mused.

Like oneresuming his instrument to take up the melody in aconcertedpiecehe said: "I thought Laetitia Dale had asingularlyanimated air last night."

"Why!--"Mrs. Mountstuart mildly gaped.

"Iwant a new description of her. You knowI collect your mottoesandsentences."

"Itseems to me she is coming three parts out of her shellandwearing itas a hood for convenience."

"Readyto issue forth at an invitation? Admirable! exact!"

"Aymy good Sir Willoughbybut are we so very admirable andexact? Arewe never to know our own minds?"

Heproduced a polysyllabic sighlike those many-jointed compoundsof poetsin happy languageswhich are copious in a singleexpression:"Mine is known to me. It always has been. Clevernessin womenis not uncommon. Intellect is the pearl. A woman ofintellectis as good as a Greek statue; she is divinely wroughtand she isdivinely rare."

"Proceed"said the ladyconfiding a cough to the air.

"Therarity of it: and it is not mere intellectit is asympatheticintellect; or else it is an intellect in perfectaccordwith an intensely sympathetic disposition;--the rarity ofit makesit too precious to be parted with when once we have metit. Iprize it the more the older I grow."

"Arewe on the feminine or the neuter?"

"Ibeg pardon?"

"Theuniversal or the individual?"

Heshrugged. "For the restpsychological affinities may existcoincidentwith and entirely independent of material or moralprepossessionsrelationsengagementsties."

"Wellthat is not the raving of passioncertainly" said MrsMountstuart"and it sounds as if it were a comfortable doctrinefor men.On that pleayou might all of you be having Aspasia anda wife. Wesaw your fair Middleton and Colonel de Craye at adistanceas we entered the park. Professor Crooklyn is under somehallucination."

"Whatmore likely?"

Thereadiness and the double-bearing of the reply struck hercomicsense with awe.

"TheProfessor must hear that. He insists on the flyand the innand thewet bootsand the warming mixtureand the testimony ofthelandlady and the railway porter."

"Isaywhat more likely?"

"Thanthat he should insist?"

"Ifhe is under the hallucination!"

"Hemay convince others."

"Ihave only to repeat. . ."

"'Whatmore likely?' It's extremely philosophical. Coincidentwith apursuit of the psychological affinities."

"ProfessorCrooklyn will hardly descendI supposefrom hisclassicalaltitudes to lay his hallucinations before Dr.Middleton?"

"SirWilloughbyyou are the pink of chivalry!"

By harpingon Laetitiahe had emboldened Mrs. Mountstuart to liftthecurtain upon Clara. It was offensive to himbut the injurydone tohis pride had to be endured for the sake of his generalplan ofself-protection.

"Simplydesirous to save my guests from annoyance of any kind"hesaid. "DrMiddleton can look 'Olympus and thunder'as Vernoncalls it."

"Don't.I see him. That look! It is Dictionary-bitten! AngryhomedDictionary!--an apparition of Dictionary in the night--toa dunce!"

"Onewould undergo a good deal to avoid the sight."

"Whatthe man must be in a storm! Speak as you please of yourself:you are atrue and chivalrous knight to dread it for her. But nowcandidlyhow is it you cannot condescend to a little management?Listen toan old friend. You are too lordly. No lover can affordto beincomprehensible for half an hour. Stoop a little.Sermonizingsare not to be thought of. You can govern unseen. Youare toknow that I am one who disbelieves in philosophy in love. Iadmire thelook of itI give no credit to the assumption. Iratherlike lovers to be out at times: it makes them picturesqueand itenlivens their monotony. I perceived she had a spot ofwildness.It's proper that she should wear it off beforemarriage."

"Clara?The wildness of an infant!" said Willoughbypaternallymusingover an inward shiver. "You saw her at a distance just nowor youmight have heard her laughing. Horace diverts herexcessively."

"Iowe him my eternal gratitude for his behaviour last night. Shewas one ofmy bright faces. Her laughter was delicious; rain inthedesert! It will tell you what the load on me waswhen Iassure youthose two were merely a spectacle to me--points Iscored ina lost game. And I know they were witty."

"Theyboth have wit; a kind of wit" Willoughby assented.

"Theystruck together like a pair of cymbals."

"Notthe highest description of instrument. Howeverthey amuseme. I liketo hear them when I am in the vein."

"Thatvein should be more at command with youmy friend. You canbeperfectif you like."

"Underyour tuition."

Willoughbyleaned to herbowing languidly. He was easier in hispain forhaving hoodwinked the lady. She was the outer world tohim; shecould tune the world's voice; prescribe which of the twowas to bepitiedhimself or Clara; and he did not intend it to behimselfif it came to the worst. They were far away from that atpresentand he continued:

"Probablya man's power of putting on a face is not equal to agirl's. Idetest petty dissensions. Probably I show it when all isnot quitesmooth. Little fits of suspicion vex me. It is aweaknessnot to play them offI know. Men have to learn the artswhich cometo women by nature. I don't sympathize with suspicionfromhaving none myself"

Hiseyebrows shot up. That ill-omened man Flitch had sidled roundby thebushes to within a few feet of him. Flitch primarilydefendedhimself against the accusation of drunkennesswhich washurled athim to account for his audacity in trespassing againsttheinterdict; but he admitted that he had taken "something short"for afortification in visiting scenes where he had once beenhappy--atChristmastidewhen all the servantsand the butler atheadgreyold Mr. Chessingtonsat in rowstoasting the youngheir ofthe old Hall in the old port wine! Happy had he been thenbeforeambition for a shopto be his own master and anindependentgentlemanhad led him into his quagmire:--to lookbackenvying a dog on the old estateand sigh for the smell ofPatternestables: sweeter than Arabiahis drooping nose appearedto say.

He held upclose against it something that imposed silence on SirWilloughbyas effectively as a cunning exordium in oratory willenchainmobs to swallow what is not complimenting them; and thishedisplayed secure in its being his licence to drivel hisabominablepathos. Sir Willoughby recognized Clara's purse. Heunderstoodat once how the must have come by it: he was not soquick indevising a means of stopping the tale. Flitch foiled him."Intact"he replied to the question: "What have you there?" Herepeatedthis grand word. And then he turned to Mrs. Mountstuartto speakof Paradise and Adamin whom he saw the prototype ofhimself:also the Hebrew people in the bondage of Egyptdiscoursedof by the clergymennot without a likeness to him.

"Sorrowshave done me one goodto send me attentive to churchmylady"said Flitch"when I might have gone to Londonthecoachman'shomeand been driving some honourable familywith nogreatadvantage to my moralsaccording to what I hear of. And apursefound under the seat of a fly in London would have a poorchance ofreturning intact to the young lady losing it."

"Putit down on that chair; inquiries will be madeand you willsee SirWilloughby" said Mrs. Mountstuart. "Intactno doubt; itis notdisputed."

With onemotion of a finger she set the man rounding.

Flitchhalted; he was very regretful of the termination of hisfeast ofpathosand he wished to relate the finding of the pursebut hecould not encounter Mrs. Mountstuart's look; he slouchedaway invery close resemblance to the ejected Adam of illustratedbooks.
"It'smy belief that naturalness among the common people has diedout of thekingdom" she said.

Willoughbycharitably apologized for him. "He has been fuddlinghimself."

Hervigilant considerateness had dealt the sensitive gentleman ashockplainly telling him she had her ideas of his actualposture.Nor was he unhurt by her superior acuteness and herdisplay ofauthority on his grounds.

He saidboldlyas he weighed the pursehalf tossing it: "It'snot unlikeClara's."

He fearedthat his lips and cheeks were twitchingand as he grewaware of aglassiness of aspect that would reflect any suspicionof akeen-eyed womanhe became bolder still!

"Laetitia'sI know it is not. Hers is an ancient purse."

"Apresent from you!"

"Howdo you hit on thatmy dear lady?"

"Deductively."

"Wellthe purse looks as good as new in qualitylike the owner.

"Thepoor dear has not much occasion for using it."

"Youare mistaken: she uses it daily."

"Ifit were better filledSir Willoughbyyour old scheme mightbearranged. The parties do not appear so unwilling. ProfessorCrooklynand I came on them just now rather by surpriseand Iassure youtheir heads were closefaces meetingeyes musing."

"Impossible."

"Becausewhen they approach the pointyou won't allow it!Selfish!"

"Now"said Willoughbyvery animatedly"question Clara. Nowdomydear Mrs. Mountstuartdo speak to Clara on that head; shewillconvince you I have striven quite recently against myselfifyou like.I have instructed her to aid megiven her the fullestinstructionscarte blanche. She cannot possibly have a doubt. Imay lookto her to remove any you may entertain from your mind onthesubject. I have proposedsecondedand chorussed itand itwill notbe arranged. If you expect me to deplore that factIcan onlyanswer that my actions are under my controlmy feelingsare not. Iwill do everything consistent with the duties of a manof honourperpetually running into fatal errors because he did notproperlyconsult the dictates of those feelings at the rightseason. Ican violate them: but I can no more command them than Ican mydestiny. They were crushed of oldand so let them be now.Sentimentswe won't discuss; though you know that sentiments havea bearingon social life: are factorsas they say in theirlaterjargon. I never speak of mine. To you I could. It is notnecessary.If old Vernoninstead of flattening his chest at adeskhadany manly ambition to take part in public affairsshewould bethe woman for him. I have called her my Egeria. She wouldbe hisCornelia. One could swear of her that she would have nobleoffspring!--Butold Vernon has had his disappointmentand willmoan overit up to the end. And she? So it appears. I have tried;yespersonally: without effect. In other matters I may haveinfluencewith her: not in that one. She declines. She will liveand dieLaetitia Dale. We are alone: I confess to youI love thename. It'san old song in my ears. Do not be too ready with a namefor me.Believe me--I speak from my experience hitherto--thereis afatality in these things. I cannot conceal from my poor girlthat thisfatality exists . . ."

"Whichis the poor girl at present?" said Mrs. Mountstuartcoolin amystification.

"Andthough she will tell you that I have authorized and ClaraMiddleton--doneas much as man can to institute the union yousuggestshe will own that she is conscious of the presence ofthis--fatalityI call it for want of a better title between us.It drivesher in one directionme in another--or wouldif Isubmittedto the pressure. She is not the first who has beenconsciousof it."

"Arewe laying hold of a third poor girl?" said Mrs. Mountstuart."Ah!I remember. And I remember we used to call it playing fastand loosein those daysnot fatality. It is very strange. It maybe thatyou were unblushingly courted in those daysandexcusable;and we all supposed ... but away you went for yourtour."

"Mymother's medical receipt for me. Partially it succeeded. Shewas forgrand marriages: not I. I could makeI could not beasacrifice.And then I went in due time to Dr. Cupid on my ownaccount.She has the kind of attraction. . . But one changes! Onrevienttoujours. First we begin with a liking; then we giveourselvesup to the passion of beauty: then comes the seriousquestionof suitableness of the mate to match us; and perhaps wediscoverthat we were wiser in early youth than somewhat later.Howevershe has beauty. NowMrs Mountstuartyou do admire her.Chase theidea of the 'dainty rogue' out of your view of her: youadmireher: she is captivating; she has a particular charm of herownnayshe has real beauty."
Mrs.Mountstuart fronted him to say: "Upon my wordmy dear SirWilloughbyI think she has it to such a degree that I don't knowthe manwho could hold out against her if she took the field. Sheis one ofthe women who are dead shots with men. Whether it's intheirtongues or their eyesor it's an effusion and an atmosphere--whateverit isit's a spellanother fatality for you!"

"Animal;not spiritual!"

"Ohshe hasn't the head of Letty Dale."

SirWilloughby allowed Mrs. Mountstuart to pause and follow herthoughts.

"Dearme!" she exclaimed. "I noticed a change in Letty Dale lastnight; andto-day. She looked fresher and younger; extremelywell:which is not what I can say for youmy friend. Fatalizingis notgood for the complexion."

"Don'ttake away my healthpray" cried Willoughbywith asnappinglaugh.

"Becareful" said Mrs. Mountstuart. "You have got asentimentaltone. Youtalk of 'feelings crushed of old'. It is to a womannotto a manthat you speakbut that sort of talk is a way of makingthe groundslippery. I listen in vain for a natural tongue; andwhen Idon't hear itI suspect plotting in men. You show yourunder-teethtoo at times when you draw in a breathlike acondemnedhigh-caste Hindoo my husband took me to see in a jail inCalcuttato give me some excitement when I was pining forEngland.The creature did it regularly as he breathed; you did itlastnightand you have been doing it to-dayas if the air cutyou to thequick. You have been spoilt. You have been too muchanointed.What I've just mentioned is a sign with me of a settledsomethingon the brain of a man."

"Thebrain?" said Sir Willoughbyfrowning.

"Yesyou laugh sourlyto look at" said she. "Mountstuart toldme thatthe muscles of the mouth betray men sooner than the eyeswhen theyhave cause to be uneasy in their minds."

"Butma'amI shall not break my word; I shall notnot; IintendIhave resolved to keep it. I do not fatalizelet mycomplexionbe black or white. Despite my resemblance to ahigh-castemalefactor of the Calcutta prison-wards ..."

"Friend!friend! you know how I chatter."

He salutedher finger-ends. "Despite the extraordinary display ofteethyouwill find me go to execution with perfect calmness;with aresignation as good as happiness."

"Likea Jacobite lord under the Georges."

"Youhave told me that you wept to read of one: like himthen. Myprincipleshave not changedif I have. When I was youngerI hadan idea ofa wife who would be with me in my thoughts as well asaims: awoman with a spirit of romanceand a brain of solidsense. Ishall sooner or later dedicate myself to a public life;and shallI supposewant the counsellor or comforter who oughtalways tobe found at home. It may be unfortunate that I have theideal inmy head. But I would never make rigorous demands forspecificqualities. The cruellest thing in the world is to set upa livingmodel before a wifeand compel her to copy it. In anycaseherewe are upon the road: the die is cast. I shall notreprievemyself. I cannot release her. Marriage represents factscourtshipfancies. She will be cured by-and-by of that coveting ofeverythingthat I dofeelthinkdreamimagine . . .ta-ta-ta-taad infinitum. Laetitia was invited here to show hertheexample of a fixed character--solid as any concrete substanceyou wouldchoose to build onand not a whit the less feminine."

"Ta-ta-ta-taad infinitum. You need not tell me you have a designin allthat you doWilloughby Patterne."

"Yousmell the autocrat? Yeshe can mould and govern thecreaturesabout him. His toughest rebel is himself! If you seeClara ...You wish to see herI think you said?"

"Herbehaviour to Lady Busshe last night was queer."

"Ifyou will. She makes a mouth at porcelain. Toujours laporcelaine!For meher pettishness is one of her charmsIconfessit. Ten years youngerI could not have compared them."

"Whom?"

"Laetitiaand Clara."
"SirWilloughbyin any caseto quote youhere we are all uponthe roadand we must act as if events were going to happen; and Imust askher to help me on the subject of my wedding-presentforI don'twant to have her making mouths at minehowever pretty--and shedoes it prettily."

"'Anotherdedicatory offering to the rogue in me!' she says ofporcelain."

"Thenporcelain it shall not be. I mean to consult her; I havecomedetermined upon a chat with her. I think I understand. Butsheproduces false impressions on those who don't know you both.'I shallhave that porcelain back' says Lady Busshe to mewhenwe wereshaking hands last night: 'I think' says she'it shouldhave beenthe Willow Pattern.' And she really said: 'He's in forbeingjilted a second time!'"

SirWilloughby restrained a bound of his body that would have senthim upsome feet into the air. He felt his skull thundered atwithin.

"Ratherthan that it should fan upon her!" ejaculated hecorrectinghis resemblance to the high-caste culprit as soon as itrecurredto him.

"Butyou know Lady Busshe" said Mrs. Mountstuartgenuinelysolicitousto ease the proud man of his pain. She could seethroughhim to the depth of the skinwhich his fencingsensitivenessvainly attempted to cover as it did the heart ofhim. "LadyBusshe is nothing without her flightsfadsandfancies.She has always insisted that you have an unfortunatenose. Iremember her saying on the day of your majorityit wasthe noseof a monarch destined to lose a throne."

"HaveI ever offended Lady Busshe?"

"Shetrumpets you. She carries Lady Culmer with her tooand youmay expecta visit of nods and hints and pots of alabaster. Theyworshipyou: you are the hope of England in their eyesand nowoman isworthy of you: but they are a pair of fatalistsand ifyou beginupon Letty Dale with themyou might as well forbid yourbanns.They will be all over the country exclaiming onpredestinationand marriages made in heaven."

"Claraand her father!" cried Sir Willoughby.

DrMiddleton and his daughter appeared in the circle of shrubs andflowers.

"Bringher to meand save me from the polyglot" said MrsMountstuartin afright at Dr. Middleton's manner of pouring forthinto theears of the downcast girl.

Theleisure he loved that he might debate with his genius upon anynext stepwas denied to Willoughby: he had to place his trust inthe skillwith which he had sown and prepared Mrs Mountstuart'sunderstandingto meet the girl--beautiful abhorred that she was!detesteddarling! thing to squeeze to death and throw to the dustand mournover!

He had torisk it; and at an hour when Lady Busshe's prognosticgrievouslyimpressed his intense apprehensiveness of nature.

As ithappened that Dr. Middleton's notion of a disagreeable dutyincolloquy was to deliver all that he containedand escape thelisteningto a syllable of replyWilloughby withdrew his daughterfrom himopportunely.

"Mrs.Mountstuart wants youClara."

"Ishall be very happy" Clara repliedand put on a new face. Animperceptiblenervous shrinking was met by another force in herbosomthat pushed her to advance without a sign of reluctance.She seemedto glitter.

She washanded to Mrs. Mountstuart.

DrMiddleton laid his hand over Willoughby's shoulderretiring ona bowbefore the great lady of the district. He blew and said: "Anoppositionof female instincts to masculine intellect necessarilycreates acorresponding antagonism of intellect to instinct."

"Heranswersir? Her reasons? Has she named any?"

"Thecat" said Dr. Middletontaking breath for a sentence"thathumps herback in the figure of the letter Hor a Chinese bridgehas giventhe dog her answer and her reasonswe may presume: buthe thatundertakes to translate them into human speech mightlikewiseventure to propose an addition to the alphabet and acontinuationof Homer. The one performance would be not morewonderfulthan the other. DaughtersWilloughbydaughters! Abovemost humanpeccanciesI do abhor a breach of faith. She will notbe guiltyof that. I demand a cheerful fulfilment of a pledge:and I sighto think that I cannot count on it withoutadministeringa lecture."
"Shewill soon be my caresir."

"Sheshall be. Whyshe is as good as married. She is at thealtar. Sheis in her house. She is--whywhere is she not? Shehasentered the sanctuary. She is out of the market. This maenadshriek forfreedom would happily entitle her to the Republican cap--thePhrygian--in a revolutionary Parisian procession. To me ithas nomeaning; and but that I cannot credit child of mine withmaniaIshould be in trepidation of her wits."

SirWilloughby's livelier fears were pacified by the informationthat Clarahad simply emitted a cry. Clara had once or twice givenhim causefor starting and considering whether to think of her sexdifferentlyor condemningly of heryet he could not deem hercapable offully unbosoming herself even to himand underexcitement.His idea of the cowardice of girls combined with hisideal of awaxwork sex to persuade him that though they are often(he hadexperienced it) wantonly desperate in their actstheirtonguesare curbed by rosy prudency. And this was in his favour.For if sheproved speechless and stupid with Mrs. Mountstuartthelady wouldturn her overand beat her flatbeat her angularinfineturnher to any shapedespising herand cordially believehim to bethe model gentleman of Christendom. She would fill intheoutlines he had sketched to her of a picture that he had smallpride inby comparison with his early vision of a fortune-favouredtriumphingsquirewhose career is like the sun'sintelligiblylordly toall comprehensions. Not like your model gentlemanthathas to beexpounded--a thing for abstract esteem!  Howeveritwas thechoice left to him. And an alternative was enfolded inthat. Mrs.Mountstuart's model gentleman could marry either one oftwo womenthrowing the other overboard. He was bound to marry: hewas boundto take to himself one of them: and whichever one heselectedwould cast a lustre on his reputation.  At least shewouldrescue him from the claws of Lady Bussheand her owl'shoot of"Willow Pattern"and her hag's shriek of "twicejilted".Thatflying infant Willoughby--his unprotected little incorporealomnipresentSelf (not thought of so much as passionately felt for)--wouldnot be scoffed at as the luckless with women. A fallindeedfrom his original conception of his name of fame abroad!ButWilloughby had the high consolation of knowing that othershavefallen lower. There is the fate of the devils to comfort usif we aredriven hard. "For one of your pangs another bosom isracked byten"we read in the solacing Book.

With allthese nice calculations at workWilloughby stood abovehimselfcontemplating his active machinerywhich he could partlycriticizebut could not stopin a singular wonderment at the aimsandschemes and tremours of one who was handsomemanlyacceptablein the world's eyes: and had he not loved himself mostheartilyhe would have been divided to the extent of repudiatingthaturgent and excited half of his beingwhose motions appearedas thoseof a body of insects perpetually erecting and repairing astructureof extraordinary pettiness. He loved himself tooseriouslyto dwell on the division for more than a minute or so.But havingseen itand for the first timeas he believedhispassionfor the woman causing it became surcharged withbitternessatrabiliar.

A glancebehind himas he walked away with Dr. MiddletonshowedClaracunning creature that she wasairily executing hermaliciousgraces in the preliminary courtesies with Mrs.Mountstuart.

 

 

CHAPTERXXXV

MissMiddleton and Mrs. Mountstuart

 

"Sitbeside mefair Middleton" said the great lady.

"Gladly"said Clarabowing to her title.

"Iwant to sound youmy dear."

Clarapresented an open countenance with a dim interrogation ontheforehead. "Yes?" she saidsubmissively.

"Youwere one of my bright faces last night. I was in love withyou.Delicate vessels ring sweetly to a finger-nailand if thewit istrueyou answer to it; that I can seeand that is what Ilike. Mostof the people one has at a table are drums. Aruba-dub-dubon them is the only way to get a sound. When they canbepersuaded to do it upon one anotherthey call itconversation."

"ColonelDe Craye was very funny."

"Funnyand witty too."

"Butnever spiteful."

"TheseIrish or half Irishmen are my taste. If they're notpoliticiansmind; I mean Irish gentlemen. I will never haveanotherdinner-party without one. Our men's tempers are uncertain.You can'tget them to forget themselves. And when the wine is inthem thenature comes outand they must be buffettingandup startpoliticsand good-bye to harmony! My husbandI am sorryto saywas one of those who have a long account of ruined dinnersagainstthem. I have seen him and his friends red as the roast andwhite asthe boiled with wrath on a popular topic they had excitedthemselvesoverintrinsically not worth a snap of the fingers. InLondon!"exclaimed Mrs. Mountstuartto aggravate the chargeagainsther lord in the Shades. "But town or countrythe tableshould besacred. I have heard women say it is a plot on the sideof the mento teach us our littleness. I don't believe they have aplot. Itwould be to compliment them on a talent. I believe theyfall uponone another blindlysimply because they are full;which iswe are toldthe preparation for the fighting Englishman.Theycannot eat and keep a truce. Did you notice that dreadful Mr.Capes?"

"Thegentleman who frequently contradicted papa? But Colonel DeCraye wasgood enough to relieve us."

"Howmy dear?"

"Youdid not hear him? He took advantage of an interval when Mr.Capes wasbreathing after a paean to his friendthe Governor--Ithink--ofone of the presidenciesto say to the lady beside him:'He was awonderful administrator and great logician; he marriedanAnglo-Indian widowand soon after published a pamphlet infavour ofSuttee.'"

"Andwhat did the lady say?"

"Shesaid: 'Oh.'"

"Harkat her! And was it heard?"

"Mr.Capes granted the widowbut declared he had never seen thepamphletin favour of Sutteeand disbelieved in it. He insistedthat itwas to be named Sati. He was vehement."

"NowI do remember:--which must have delighted the colonel. AndMr. Capesretired from the front upon a repetition of 'in totointoto'. Asif 'in toto' were the language of a dinner-table! Butwhat willever teach these men? Must we import Frenchmen to givethem anexample in the art of conversationas their grandfathersbroughtover marquises to instruct them in salads? And our youngmen too!Women have to take to the hunting-field to be able totalk withthemand be on a par with their grooms. Nowthere wasWilloughbyPatternea prince among them formerly. Nowdid youobservehim last night? did you notice howinstead of conversinginstead ofassisting me--as he was bound to do doubly owing tothedefection of Vernon Whitford: a thing I don't yet comprehend--there hesat sharpening his lower lip for cutting remarks. And atmy bestman! at Colonel De Craye! If he had attacked Mr. Capeswith hisGovernor of Bombyas the man pronounces itor ColonelWildjohnand his Protestant Church in Dangeror Sir WilsonPettiferharping on his Monarchical Republicor any other! Nohepreferredto be sarcastic upon friend Horaceand he had the worstof it.Sarcasm is so silly! What is the gain if he has been smart?Peopleforget the epigram and remember the other's good temper. Onthatfieldmy dearyou must make up your mind to be beaten by'friendHorace'. I have my prejudices and I have myprepossessionsbut I love good temperand I love witand when Isee a manpossessed of bothI set my cap at himand there's myflatconfessionand highly unfeminine it is."

"Notat all!" cried Clara.

"Weare onethen."

Clara putup a mouth empty of words: she was quite one with her.Mrs.Mountstuart pressed her hand. "When one does get intimatewith adainty rogue!" she said. "You forgive me all thatfor Icould vowthat Willoughby has betrayed me."

Claralooked softkindbrightin turnsand clouded instantlywhen thelady resumed: "A friend of my own sexand youngand acloseneighbouris just what I would have prayed for. And I'llexcuseyoumy dearfor not being so anxious about the friendshipof an oldwoman. But I shall be of use to youyou will find. Inthe firstplaceI never tap for secrets. In the secondI keepthem.ThirdlyI have some power. And fourthevery young marriedwoman hasneed of a friend like me. Yesand Lady Patterne headingall thecounty will be the stronger for my backing. You don't lookso mightywell pleasedmy dear. Speak out."

"DearMrs. Mountstuart!"

"Itell youI am very fond of Willoughbybut I saw the faults ofthe boyand see the man's. He has the pride of a kingand it's apity ifyou offend it. He is prodigal in generositybut he can'tforgive.As to his own errorsyou must be blind to them as aSaint. Thesecret of him isthat he is one of those excessivelycivilizedcreatures who aim at perfection: and I think he ought tobesupported in his conceit of having attained it; for the moremen ofthat classthe greater our influence. He excels in manlysportsbecause he won't be excelled in anythingbut as men don'tcomprehendhis finenesshe comes to us; and his wife must managehim bythat key. You look down at the idea of managing. It has tobe done.One thing you may be assured ofhe will be proud ofyou. Hiswife won't be very much enamoured of herself if she isnot thehappiest woman in the world. You will have the besthorsesthe best dressesthe finest jewels in England; and anincomparablecook. The house will be changed the moment you enterit as LadyPatterne. Andmy dearjust where he iswith all hisgracesdeficient of attractionyours will tell. The sort ofOthello hewould makeor LeontesI don't knowand none of usever needsto know. My impression isthat if even a shadow of asuspicionflitted across himhe is a sort of man to double-dyehimself inguilt by way of vengeance in anticipation of animaginedoffence. Not uncommon with men. I have heard strangestories ofthem: and so will you in your time to comebut notfrom me.No young woman shall ever be the sourer for having beenmy friend.One word of advice now we are on the topic: never playatcounter-strokes with him. He will be certain to out-stroke youand youwill be driven further than you meant to go. They say webeat menat that game; and so we doat the cost of beatingourselves.And if once we are startedit is a race-course endingon aprecipice--over goes the winner. We must be moderatelyslavish tokeep our place; which is given us in appearance; butappearancesmake up a remarkably large part of lifeand far themostcomfortableso long as we are discreet at the right moment.He is aman whose pridewhen hurtwould run his wife toperditionto solace it. If he married a troublesome widowhispamphleton Suttee would be out within the year. Vernon Whitfordwouldreceive instructions about it the first frosty moon. Youlike MissDale?"

"Ithink I like her better than she likes me" said Clara.

"Haveyou never warmed together?"

"Ihave tried it. She is not one bit to blame. I can see how it isthat shemisunderstands me: or justly condemns meperhaps Ishouldsay."

"Thehero of two women must die and be wept over in common beforethey canappreciate one another. You are not cold?"

"No."

"Youshudderedmy dear."

"Didl?"

"I dosometimes. Feet will be walking over ones gravewherever itlies. Besure of this: Willoughby Patterne is a man ofunimpeachablehonour."

"I donot doubt it."

"Hemeans to be devoted to you. He has been accustomed to havewomenhanging around him like votive offerings."

"I...!"

"Youcannot: of course not: any one could see that at a glance.You areall the sweeter to me for not being tame. Marriage curesamultitude of indispositions."

"Oh!Mrs. Mountstuartwill you listen to me?"

"Presently.Don't threaten me with confidences. Eloquence is aterriblething in woman. I suspectmy dearthat we both know asmuch ascould be spoken."

"Youhardly suspect the truthI fear."

"Letme tell you one thing about jealous men--when they are notblackamoorsmarried to disobedient daughters. I speak of our civilcreatureof the drawing-rooms: and loversmindnot husbands: twodistinctspeciesmarried or not:--they're rarely given tojealousyunless they are flighty themselves. The jealousy fixesthem. Theyhave only to imagine that we are for some fun likewiseand theygrow as deferential as my footmanas harmless as thesportsmanwhose gun has burst. Ah! my fair Middletonam Ipretendingto teach you? You have read him his lessonand mytablesuffered for it last nightbut I bear no rancour."

"Youbewilder meMrs. Mountstuart."

"Notif I tell you that you have driven the poor man to trywhether itwould be possible for him to give you up."

"Ihave?"

"Welland you are successful."

"Iam?"

"Jumpmy dear!"

"Hewill?"

"Whenmen love stale instead of freshwithered better thanbloomingexcellence in the abstract rather than the palpable.With theiridle prate of feminine intellectand a grotto nymphand amother of Gracchi! Whyhe must think me dazed withadmirationof him to talk to me! One listensyou know. And he isone of themen who cast a kind of physical spell on you while hehas you bythe earuntil you begin to think of it by talking tosomebodyelse. I suppose there are clever people who do see deepinto thebreast while dialogue is in progress. One reads of them.Nomydearyou have very cleverly managed to show him that itisn't atall possible: he can't. And the real cause for alarminmy humbleopinionis lest your amiable foil should have been atrifleashe would saydeceivedtoo much in earnestled toofar. Onemay reprove him for not being wiserbut men won't learnwithoutgroaning that they are simply weapons taken up to be putdown whendone with. Leave it to me to compose him.--Willoughbycan't giveyou up. I'm certain he has tried; his pride has beenhorridlywounded. You were shrewdand he has had his lesson. Iftheselittle rufflings don't come before marriage they come after;so it'snot time lost; and it's good to be able to look back onthem. Youare very whitemy child."

"CanyouMrs. Mountstuartcan you think I would be soheartlesslytreacherous?"

"Behonestfair Middletonand answer me: Can you say you had nota cornerof an idea of producing an effect on Willoughby?"

Clarachecked the instinct of her tongue to defend her reddeningcheekswith a sense that she was disintegrating and crumblingbut shewanted this lady for a friendand she had to submit totheconditionsand be red and silent.

Mrs.Mountstuart examined her leisurely.

"Thatwill do. Conscience blushes. One knows it by theconflagration.Don't be hard on yourself.. there you are in theotherextreme. That blush of yours would count with me against anyquantityof evidence--all the Crooklyns in the kingdom. You lostyourpurse."

"Idiscovered that it was lost this morning."

"Flitchhas been here with it. Willoughby has it. You will ask himfor it; hewill demand payment: you will be a couple of yards"length orso of cramoisy: and there ends the episodenobodykilledonly a poor man melancholy-woundedand I must offer himmy hand tomend himvowing to prove to him that Suttee wasproperlyabolished. Welland now to business. I said I wanted tosound you.You have been overdone with porcelain. Poor Lady Bussheis indespair at your disappointment. NowI mean mywedding-presentto be to your taste."

"Madam!"

"Whois the madam you are imploring?"

"DearMrs. Mountstuart!"

"Well?"

"Ishall fall in your esteem. Perhaps you will help me. No oneelse can.I am a prisoner: I am compelled to continue thisimposture.OhI shun speaking much: you object to it and Idislikeit: but I must endeavour to explain to you that I amunworthyof the position you think a proud one."

"Tut-tut;we are all unworthycross our armsbow our heads; andaccept thehonours. Are you playing humble handmaid? What an oldorgan-tunethat is! Well? Give me reasons."

"I donot wish to marry."

"He'sthe great match of the county!"

"Icannot marry him."

"Whyyou are at the church door with him! Cannot marry him?"

"Itdoes not bind me."

"Thechurch door is as binding as the altar to an honourable girl.What haveyou been about? Since I am in for confidenceshalf oneswon't do.We must have honourable young women as well as men ofhonour.You can't imagine he is to be thrown over nowat thishour? Whathave you against him? come!"

"Ihave found that I do not . .

"What?"

"Lovehim."

Mrs.Mountstuart grimaced transiently. "That is no answer. Thecause!"she said. "What has he done?

"Nothing."

"Andwhen did you discover this nothing?"

"Bydegrees: unknown to myself; suddenly."

"Suddenlyand by degrees? I suppose it's useless to ask for ahead. But if all this is trueyou ought not to be here."

"Iwish to go; I am unable."

"Haveyou had a scene together?"

"Ihave expressed my wish."

"Inroundabout?--girl's English?"

"Quiteclearly. ohvery clearly."

"Haveyou spoken to your father?"

"Ihave."

"Andwhat does Dr. Middleton say?"

"Itis incredible to him."

"Tome too! I can understand little differenceslittle whimscaprices:we don't settle into harness for a tap on the shoulderas a manbecomes a knight: but to break and bounce away from anunhappygentleman at the church door is either madness or it's oneof thethings without a name. You think you are quite sure ofyourself?"

"I amso sure. that I look back with regret on the time when Iwas not."

"Butyou were in love with him."

"Iwas mistaken."

"Nolove?"

"Ihave none to give.

"Dearme!--Yesyesbut that tone of sorrowful conviction isoften atrickit's not new: and I know that assumption of plainsense topass off a monstrosity." Mrs. Mountstuart struck her lap."Soh!but I've had to rack my brain for it: feminine disgust? Youhave beenhearing imputations of his past life? moral character?No?Circumstances might make him behave unkindlynotunhandsomely:and we have no claim over a man's pastor it's toolate toassert it. What is the case?"

"Weare quite divided."

"Nothingin the way of ... nothing green-eyed?"

"Farfrom that!"

"Thenname it."

"Wedisagree."

"Manya very good agreement is founded on disagreeing. It's to beregrettedthat you are not portionless. If you had beenyou wouldhave madevery little of disagreeing. You are just as much boundin honouras if you had the ring on your finger."

"Inhonour! But I appeal to hisI am no wife for him."

"Butif he insistsyou consent?"

"Iappeal to reason. Is itmadam . . ."

"ButI sayif he insistsyou consent?"

"Hewill insist upon his own misery as well as mine."

Mrs.Mountstuart rocked herself "My poor Sir Willoughby! What afate!--AndI took you for a clever girl!  WhyI have beenadmiringyour management of him! And here am I bound to take alessonfrom Lady Busshe. My dear good Middletondon't let it besaid thatLady Busshe saw deeper than I! I put some little vanityin itIown: I won't conceal it. She declares that when she sentherpresent--I don't believe her--she had a premonition that itwould comeback. Surely you won't justify the extravagances of awomanwithout common reverence:--for anatomize him as we pleasetoourselveshe is a splendid man (and I did it chiefly toencourageand come at you). We don't often behold such alordly-lookingman: so conversable too when he feels at home; apicture ofan English gentleman! The very man we want married forourneighbourhood! A woman who can openly talk of expecting him tobe twicejilted! You shrink. It is repulsive. It would beincomprehensible:exceptof courseto Lady Busshewho rushed toone of herviolent conclusionsand became a prophetess. Conceivea woman'simagining it could happen twice to the same man! I amnot sureshe did not send the identical present that arrived andreturnedonce before: you knowthe Durham engagement.  She toldme lastnight she had it back. I watched her listening verysuspiciouslyto Professor Crooklyn. My dearit is her passion toforetelldisasters--her passion! And when they are confirmedshetriumphsof course. We shall have her domineering over us withsapientnods at every trifle occurring.  The county will beunendurable.Unsay itmy Middleton! And don't answer like anoraclebecause I do all the talking. Pour out to me. You'll sooncome to astop and find the want of reason in the want of words. Iassure youthat's true. Let me have a good gaze at you.  No" saidMrs.Mountstuartafter posturing herself to peruse Clara'sfeatures"brains you have; one can see it by the nose and themouth. Icould vow you are the girl I thought you; you have yourwits ontiptoe. How of the heart?"

"None"Clara sighed.

The sighwas partly voluntarythough unforced; as one may withreadysincerity act a character that is our own only throughsympathy.

Mrs.Mountstuart felt the extra weight in the young lady's fallingbreath.There was no necessity for a deep sigh over an absence ofheart orconfession of it. If Clara did not love the man to whomshe wasbetrothedsighing about it signified what? some pretence;and apretence is the cloak of a secret. Girls do not sigh in thatway withcompassion for the man they have no heart forunless atthe sametime they should be oppressed by the knowledge or dreadof havinga heart for some one else. As a rulethey have nocompassionto bestow on him: you might as reasonably expect asoldier tobewail the enemy he strikes in action: they must beverydisengaged to have it. And supposing a show of the thing tobeexhibitedwhen it has not been worried out of themthere is areserve inthe background: they are pitying themselves under amask ofdecent pity of their wretch.

So ranMrs. Mountstuart's calculationswhich were like hersuspicioncoarse and broadnot absolutely incorrectbut not ofan exactmeasure with the truth. That pin's head of the truth israrely hitby design. The search after it of the professionallypenetrativein the dark of a bosom may bring it forth by the heavyknockingall about the neighbourhood that we call good guessingbut itdoes not come out clean; other matter adheres to it; andbeing moreit is less than truth. The unadulterate is to be hadonly byfaith in it or by waiting for it.

A lover!thought the sagacious dame. There was no lover: somelove therewas: orratherthere was a preparation of thechamberwith no lamp yet lighted.

"Doyou positively tell me you have no heart for the position offirst ladyof the county?" said Mrs. Mountstuart.

Clara'sreply was firm: "None whatever."

"MydearI will believe you on one condition. Look at me. Youhave eyes.If you are for mischiefyou are armed for it. But howmuchbetterwhen you have won a prizeto settle down and wearit! LadyPatterne will have entire occupation for her flights andwhimsiesin leading the county. And the mansurely the man--hebehavedbadly last night: but a beauty like this" she pushed afinger atClara's cheekand doated a half instant"you have theverybeauty to break in an ogre's temper. And the man is asgovernableas he is presentable. You have the beauty the Frenchcall--noit's the beauty of a queen of elves: one sees themlurkingabout youone hereone there. Smile--they dance: bedoleful--theyhang themselves. Nothere's not a trace ofsatanic;at leastnot yet. And comecomemy Middletonthe manis a manto be proud of. You can send him into Parliament to wearoff hishumours. To my thinkinghe has a fine style: conscious? Ineverthought so before last night. I can't guess what has happenedto himrecently. He was once a young Grand Monarque. He was reallya superbyoung English gentleman. Have you been wounding him?"

"Itis my misfortune to be obliged to wound him" said Clara.

"Quiteneedlesslymy childfor marry him you must."

Clara'sbosom rose: her shoulders rose toonarrowingand herhead fellslight back.

Mrs.Mountstuart exclaimed: "But the scandal! You would neverneverthink of following the example of that Durham girl?--whethershe wasprovoked to it by jealousy or not. It seems to have gonesoastonishingly far with you in a very short timethat one isalarmed asto where you will stop. Your look just now wasdownrightrevulsion."

"Ifear it is. It is. I am past my own control. Dear madamyouhave myassurance that I will not behave scandalously ordishonourably.What I would entreat of you is to help me. I knowthis ofmyself.. I am not the best of women. I am impatientwickedly.I should be no good wife. Feelings like mine teach meunhappythings of myself."

"Richhandsomelordlyinfluentialbrilliant healthfineestates"Mrs. Mountstuart enumerated in petulant accents as therestartedacross her mind some of Sir Willoughby's attributes fortheattraction of the soul of woman. "I suppose you wish me totake youin earnest?"

"Iappeal to you for help."

"Whathelp?"

"Persuadehim of the folly of pressing me to keep my word."

"Iwill believe youmy dear Middletonon one condition: yourtalk of noheart is nonsense. A change like thisif one is tobelieve inthe changeoccurs through the heartnot because thereis none.Don't you see that? But if you want me for a friendyoumust notsham stupid. It's bad enough in itself: the imitation'shorrid.You have to be honest with meand answer me right out.You camehere on this visit intending to marry WilloughbyPatterne."

"Yes."

"Andgradually you suddenly discoveredsince you came herethatyou didnot intend itif you could find a means of avoiding it."

"Ohmadamyesit is true."

"Nowcomes the test. Andmy lovely Middletonyour flaming cheekswon'tsuffice for me this time. The old serpent can blush like aninnocentmaid on occasion. You are to speakand you are to tellme in sixwords why that was: and don't waste one on 'madam'or'Oh! Mrs.Mountstuart" Why did you change?"

"Icame--When I came I was in some doubt. Indeed I speak thetruth. Ifound I could not give him the admiration he hasI daresayaright to expect. I turned--it surprised me; it surprisesme now.But so completely! So that to think of marrying him is . .."

"Deferthe simile" Mrs. Mountstuart interposed. "If you hit on acleveroneyou will never get the better of it. Nowby just asmuch asyou have outstripped my limitation of words to youyoushow meyou are dishonest."

"Icould make a vow."

"Youwould forswear yourself."

"Willyou help me?"

"Ifyou are perfectly ingenuousI may try."

"Dearladywhat more can I say?"

"Itmay be difficult. You can reply to a catechism."

"Ishall have your help?"

"Wellyes; though I don't like stipulations between friends.There isno man living to whom you could willingly give your hand?That is myquestion. I cannot possibly take a step unless I know.Replybriefly: there is or there is not." Clara sat back withbatedbreathmentally taking the leap into the abyssrealizingitandthe cold prudence of abstentionand the delirium of theconfession.Was there such a man? It resembled freedom to thinkthere was:to avow it promised freedom.

"OhMrs. Mountstuart!"

"Well?"

"Youwill help me?"

"Uponmy wordI shall begin to doubt your desire for it."

"Willinglygive my handmadam?"

"Forshame! And with wits like yourscan't you perceive wherehesitationin answering such a question lands you?"

"Dearestladywill you give me your hand? may I whisper?"

"Youneed not whisper; I won't look."

Clara'svoice trembled on a tense chord.

"Thereis one ... compared with him I feel my insignificance. If Icould aidhim."

"Whatnecessity have you to tell me more than that there is one?"

"Ahmadamit is different: not as you imagine. You bid me bescrupulouslytruthful: I am: I wish you to know the differentkind offeeling it is from what might be suspected from ... aconfession.To give my handis beyond any thought I have everencouraged.If you had asked me whether there is one whom I admire--yesIdo. I cannot help admiring a beautiful and braveself-denyingnature. It is one whom you must pityand to pitycasts youbeneath him: for you pity him because it is hisnoblenessthat has been the enemy of his fortunes. He lives forothers."

Her voicewas musically thrilling in that low muted tone of theveryheartimpossible to deride or disbelieve.

Mrs.Mountstuart set her head nodding on springs.

"Ishe clever?"

"Very."

"Hetalks well?"

"Yes."

"Handsome?"

"Hemight be thought so."

"Witty?"

"Ithink he is."

"Gaycheerful?"

"Inhis manner."

"Whythe man would be a mountebank if he adopted any other. Andpoor?"

"Heis not wealthy."

Mrs.Mountstuart preserved a lengthened silencebut nippedClara'sfingers once or twice to reassure her without approving."Ofcourse he's poor" she said at last; "directly the reverseofwhat youcould haveit must be. Wellmy fair MiddletonI can'tsay youhave been dishonest. I'll help you as far as I'm able.Howit isquite impossible to tell. We're in the mire. The bestway seemsto me to get this pitiable angel to cut some ridiculouscapers andpresent you another view of him. I don't believe in hisinnocence.He knew you to be a plighted woman."

"Hehas not once by word or sign hinted a disloyalty."

"Thenhow do you know."

"I donot know."

"Heis not the cause of your wish to break your engagement?"

"No."

"Thenyou have succeeded in just telling me nothing.  What is?"

"Ah!madam!"

"Youwould break your engagement purely because the admirablecreatureis in existence?"

Clarashook her head: she could not say she was dizzy. She hadspoken outmore than she had ever spoken to herself. and in doingso she hadcast herself a step beyond the line she dared tocontemplate.

"Iwon't detain you any longer" said Mrs. Mountstuart.  "Themorewe learnthe more we are taught that we are not so wise as wethought wewere. I have to go to school to Lady Busshe! I reallytook youfor a very clever girl. If you change againyou willnotify theimportant circumstance to meI trust."

"Iwill" said Claraand no violent declaration of theimpossibilityof her changeing again would have had such an effecton herhearer.

Mrs.Mountstuart scanned her face for a new reading of it to matchwith herlater impressions.

"I amto do as I please with the knowledge I have gained?"

"I amutterly in your handsmadam."

"Ihave not meant to be unkind."

"Youhave not been unkind; I could embrace you."

"I amrather too shatteredand kissing won't put me together. Ilaughed atLady Busshe! No wonder you went off like a rocket withadisappointing bouquet when I told you you had been successfulwith poorSir Willoughby and he could not give you up. I noticedthat. Awoman like Lady Busshealways prying for the lamentablewould haverequired no further enlightenment. Has he a temper?"

Clara didnot ask her to signalize the person thus abruptlyobtruded.

"Hehas faults" she said.

"There'san end to Sir Willoughbythen! Though I don't say hewill giveyou up even when he hears the worstif he must hear itas for hisown sake he should. And I won't say he ought to giveyou up.He'll be the pitiable angel if he does. For you--but youdon'tdeserve compliments; they would be immoral. You have behavedbadlybadlybadly. I have never had such a right-about-face inmy life.You will deserve the stigma: you will he notorious: youwill becalled Number Two. Think of that! Not even original! Wewill breakthe conferenceor I shall twaddle to extinction. Ithink Iheard the luncheon bell."

"Itrang."

"Youdon't look fit for companybut you had better come.

"Ohyes; every day it's the same."

"Whetheryou're in my hands or I'm in yourswe're a couple ofarch-conspiratorsagainst the peace of the family whose tablewe'resitting atand the more we rattle the viler we arebut wemust do itto ease our minds."

Mrs.Mountstuart spread the skirts of her voluminous dressremarkingfurther: "At a certain age our teachers are youngpeople: welearn by looking backward. It speaks highly for me thatI have notcalled you mad.--Full of faultsgoodish-lookingnota badtalkercheerfulpoorish;--and she prefers that to this!"the greatlady exclaimed in her reverie while emerging from thecircle ofshrubs upon a view of the Hall. Colonel De Crayeadvancedto her; certainly good-lookingcertainly cheerfulby nomeans abad talkernothing of a Croesusand variegated withfaults.

Hislaughing smile attacked the irresolute hostility of her mienconfidentas the sparkle of sunlight in a breeze. The effect of iton herselfangered her on behalf of Sir Willoughby's bride.

"Good-morningMrs. Mountstuart; I believe I am the last to greetyou."

And howlong do you remain hereColonel De Craye?"

"Ikissed earth when I arrivedlike the Norman WilliamandconsequentlyI've an attachment to the soilma'am."

"You'renot going to take possession of itI suppose?"

"Ahandful would satisfy me."

"Youplay the Conqueror pretty muchI have heard. But property isheld moresacred than in the times of the Norman William."

"Andspeaking of propertyMiss Middletonyour purse is found." hesaid.

"Iknow it is" she replied as unaffectedly as Mrs. Mountstuartcould havedesiredthough the ingenuous air of the girl incensedhersomewhat.

Clarapassed on.

"Yourestore purses" observed Mrs. Mountstuart.

Her stresson the word and her look thrilled De Craye; for therehad been along conversation between the young lady and the dame.

"Itwas an article that dropped and was not stolen" said he.

"Barelysweet enough to keepthen!"

"Ithink I could have felt to it like poor Flitchthe flymanwhowas thefinder."

"Ifyou are conscious of these temptations to appropriate what isnot yourownyou should quit the neighbourhood."

"Anddo it elsewhere? But that's not virtuous counsel."

"AndI'm not counselling in the interests of your virtueColonelDe Craye."

"AndI dared for a moment to hope that you werema'am" he saidruefullydrooping.

They wereclose to the dining-room windowand Mrs Mountstuartpreferredthe terminating of a dialogue that did not promise toleave herfeatures the austerely iron cast with which she hadcommencedit. She was under the spell of gratitude for hisbehaviouryesterday evening at her dinner-table; she could not beverysevere.

 

 

CHAPTERXXXVI

AnimatedConversation at a Luncheon-Table 

Vernon wascrossing the hall to the dining-room as Mrs Mountstuartsteppedin. She called to him: "Are the champions reconciled?"

Hereplied: "Hardly thatbut they have consented to meet at analtar tooffer up a victim to the gods in the shape of modernpoeticimitations of the classical."

"Thatseems innocent enough. The Professor has not been anxiousabout hischest?"

"Herecollects his cough now and then."

"Youmust help him to forget it."

"LadyBusshe and Lady Culmer are here" said Vernonnot supposingit to be agrave announcement until the effect of it on Mrs.Mountstuartadmonished him.

Shedropped her voice: "Engage my fair friend for one of yourwalks themoment we rise from table. You may have to rescue her;but do. Imean it."

"She'sa capital walker." Vernon remarked in simpleton style.

"There'sno necessity for any of your pedestrian feats" MrsMountstuartsaidand let him goturning to Colonel De Craye topronouncean encomium on him: "The most open-minded man I know!Warrantedto do perpetual serviceand no mischief. If you were all...instead of catching at every prize you covet! Yesyou wouldhave yourreward for unselfishnessI assure you. Yesand whereyou seekit! That is what none of you men will believe."

"Whenyou behold me in your own livery!" cried the colonel.

"DoI?" said shedallying with a half-formed design to heconfidential."How is it one is always tempted to address you inthelanguage of innuendo? I can't guess."

"Exceptthat as a dog doesn't comprehend good English we naturallytalk badto him."

The greatlady was tickled. Who could help being amused by thisman? Andafter allif her fair Middleton chose to be a fool therecould beno gainsaying hersorry though poor Sir Willoughby'sfriendsmust feel for him.

She triednot to smile.

"Youare too absurd. Or a babyyou might have added."

"Ihadn't the daring."

"I'lltell you whatColonel De CrayeI shall end by falling inlove withyou; and without esteeming youI fear."

"Thesecond follows as surely as the flavour upon a draught ofBacchusif you'll but toss off the glassma'am."

"Wewomensirthink it should be first."

"'Tisto transpose the seasonsand give October the blossom andApril theappleand no sweet one! Esteem's a mellow thing thatcomesafter bloom and firelike an evening at home; because ifit wentbefore it would have no father and couldn't hope forprogeny;for there'd be no nature in the business. So pleasema'amkeep to the original orderand you'll be nature's childand I themost blessed of mankind."

"Reallywere I fifteen years younger. I am not so certain ... Imight tryand make you harmless."

"Drawthe teeth of the lamb so long as you pet him!"

"Ichallenged youcoloneland I won't complain of your pitch.But nowlay your wit down beside your candourand descend to anevery-daylevel with me for a minute."

"Isit innuendo?"

"No;though I daresay it would be easier for you to respond to ifit were."

"I'mthe straightforwardest of men at a word of command."

"Thisis a whisper. Be alertas you were last night. Shuffle thetablewell. A little liveliness will do it. I don't imaginemalicebut there's curiositywhich is often as badand not solightlyfoiled. We have Lady Busshe and Lady Culmer here."

"Tosweep the cobwebs out of the sky!"

"Wellthencan you fence with broomsticks?"

"Ihave had a bout with them in my time."

"Theyare terribly direct."

"They'give point'as Napoleon commanded his cavalry to do."

"Youmust help me to ward it."

"Theywill require variety in the conversation."

"Constant.You are an angel of intelligenceand if I have thejudgeingof youI'm afraid you'll be allowed to passin spite ofthescandal above. Open the door; I don't unbonnet."

De Crayethrew the door open.

LadyBusshe was at that moment saying"And are we indeed to haveyou for aneighbourDr. Middleton?"

The Rev.Doctor's reply was drowned by the new arrivals.

"Ithought you had forsaken us" observed Sir Willoughby to Mrs.Mountstuart.

"Andrun away with Colonel De Craye? I'm too weightymy dearfriend.BesidesI have not looked at the wedding-presents yet."

"Thevery object of our call!" exclaimed Lady Culmer.

"Ihave to confess I am in dire alarm about mine" Lady Busshenoddedacross the table at Clara. "Oh! you may shake your headbut Iwould rather hear a rough truth than the most complimentaryevasion."

"Howwould you define a rough truthDr. Middleton?"said Mrs.Mountstuart.

Like thetrained warrior who is ready at all hours for the trumpetto armsDr. Middleton waked up for judicial allocution in a trice.

"Arough truthmadamI should define to be that description oftruthwhich is not imparted to mankind without a powerfulimpregnationof the roughness of the teller."

"Itis a rough truthma'amthat the world is composed offoolsandthat the exceptions are knaves" Professor Crooklynfurnishedthat example avoided by the Rev. Doctor.

"Notto precipitate myself into the jaws of the foregonedefinitionwhich strikes me as being as happy as Jonah's whalethat couldcarry probably the most learned man of his time insidewithoutthe necessity of digesting him" said De Craye"a roughtruth is arather strong charge of universal nature for the firingoff of amodicum of personal fact."

"Itis a rough truth that Plato is Moses atticizing" said Vernonto Dr.Middletonto keep the diversion alive.

"Andthat Aristotle had the globe under his cranium" rejoined theRev.Doctor.

"Andthat the Moderns live on the Ancients."

"Andthat not one in ten thousand can refer to the particulartreasuryhe filches."

"TheArt of our days is a revel of rough truth" remarkedProfessorCrooklyn.

"Andthe literature has laboriously mastered the adjectivewhereverit may be in relation to the nounDr. Middleton added.

"Orson'sfirst appearance at court was in the figure of a roughtruthcausing the Maids of Honouraccustomed to Tapestry Adamsastonishmentand terror" said De Craye. That he might not be leftout of thesprightly playSir Willoughby levelled a lance at thequintainsmiling on Laetitia: "In finecaricature is roughtruth."

She said"Is one end of itand realistic directness is theother."

He bowed."The palm is yours."

Mrs.Mountstuart admired herself as each one trotted forth in turncharacteristicallywith one exception unaware of the aid whichwas beingrendered to a distressed damsel wretchedly incapable ofdecenthypocrisy. Her intrepid lead had shown her hand to thecoloneland drawn the enemy at a blow.

SirWilloughby's "in fine"howeverdid not please her: stillless didhis lackadaisical Lothario-like bowing and smiling toMiss Dale:and he perceived it and was hurt. For howcarryinghistremendous loadwas he to compete with these unhandicappedmen in thegame of nonsense she had such a fondness for startingat atable? He was further annoyed to hear Miss Eleanor and MissIsabelPatterne agree together that "caricature" was the finalword ofthe definition. Relatives should know better than todeliverthese awards to us in public.

"Well?"quoth Lady Bussheexpressive of stupefaction at thestrangedust she had raised.

"Arethey on viewMiss Middleton?" inquired Lady Culmer.

"There'sa regiment of us on view and ready for inspection."Colonel DeCraye bowed to herbut she would not be foiled.

"MissMiddleton's admirers are always on view." said he.

"Arethey to be seen?" said Lady Busshe.

Clara madeher face a questionwith a laudable smoothness.

"Thewedding-presents" Lady Culmer explained.

"No."

"Otherwisemy dearwe are in danger of duplicating andtriplicatingand quadruplicatingnot at all to the satisfactionof thebride."

"Butthere's a worse danger to encounter in the 'on view'mylady"said De Craye; "and that's the magnetic attraction adisplay ofwedding-presents is sure to have for the ineffableburglarwho must have a nuptial soul in himfor wherever there'sthatcollection on viewhe's never a league off. And 'tis said heknows alady's dressing-case presented to her on the occasionfifteenyears after the event."

"Asmany as fifteen?" said Mrs. Mountstuart.

"Bycomputation of the police. And if the presents are on viewdogs areof no usenor boltsnor bars:--he's worse than Cupid.The onlyprotection to be foundsingular as it may be thoughtisin acouple of bottles of the oldest Jamaica rum in the Britishisles."

"Rum?"cried Lady Busshe.

"Theliquor of the Royal Navymy lady. And with your permissionI'llrelate the tale in proof of it. I had a friend engaged to ayoungladyniece of an old sea-captain of the old schooltheBenbowschoolthe wooden leg and pigtail school; a perfectly saltoldgentleman with a pickled tongueand a dash of brine in everydeed hecommitted. He looked rolled over to you by the last waveon theshoresparkling: he was Neptune's own for humour. And whenhispresent to the bride was openedsure enough there lay acouple ofbottles of the oldest Jamaica rum in the British Islesbornbefore himselfand his father to boot. 'Tis a fabulousspirit Ibeg you to believe inmy ladythe sole merit of thestorybeing its portentous veracity. The bottles were tied to makethemappear twinsas they both had the same claim to seniority.And therewas a label on themtelling their great agetomaintaintheir identity. They were in truth a pair of patriarchalbottlesrivalling many of the biggest houses in the kingdom forantiquity.They would have made the donkey that stood between thetwobundles of hay look at them with obliquity: supposing him tohaveforan animala rum tasteand a turn for hilarity.Wonderfulold bottles! Soon the labeljust over the datewaswrittenlarge: UNCLE BENJAMIN'S WEDDING PRESENT TO HIS NIECEBESSY.Poor Bessy shed tears of disappointment and indignationenough tofloat the old gentleman on his native elementship andall. Shevowed it was done curmudgeonly to vex herbecause herunclehated wedding-presents and had grunted at the exhibition ofcups andsaucersand this and that beautiful serviceandepergnesand inkstandsmirrorsknives and forksdressing-casesand thewhole mighty category. She protestedshe flung herselfaboutshedeclared those two ugly bottles should not join theexhibitionin the dining-roomwhere it was laid out for daysandthe familyate their meals where they couldon the wallslikeflies. Butthere was also Uncle Benjamin's legacy on viewin thedistanceso it was ruled against her that the bottles should havetheirplace. And one fine morning down came the family after afearfulrow of the domestics; shoutingscreamingcries for thepoliceand murder topping all. What did they see? They saw twoprodigiousburglars extended along the flooreach with one of thetwinbottles in his handand a remainder of the horror of themidnighthanging about his person like a blown fogsufficient tofrightenthem whilst they kicked the rascals entirely intoxicated.Never waswilder disorder of wedding-presentsand not one lost!--owingyou'll ownto Uncle Benjy's two bottles of ancient Jamaicarum."

Colonel DeCraye concluded with an asseveration of the truth ofthe story.

"Amost providentfar-sighted old sea-captain!" exclaimed Mrs.Mountstuartlaughing at Lady Busshe and Lady Culmer. Theseladieschimed in with her gingerly.

"Andhave you many more clever storiesColonel De Craye?" saidLadyBusshe.

"Ah!my ladywhen the tree begins to count its gold 'tis nighuponbankruptcy."

"Poetic!"ejaculated Lady Culmerspying at Miss Middleton'srippledcountenanceand noting that she and Sir Willoughby hadnotinterchanged word or look.

"Butthat in the case of your Patterne Port a bottle of it wouldoutvaluethe catalogue of nuptial presentsWilloughbyI wouldrecommendyour stationing some such constabulary to keep watch andward."said Dr. Middletonas he filled his glasstaking Bordeauxin themiddle of the dayunder a consciousness of virtue and itsreward tocome at half-past seven in the evening.

"Therascals would require a dozen of thatsir" said De Craye.

"Thenit is not to be thought of. Indeed one!" Dr. Middletonnegativedthe idea.

"Weare no further advanced than when we began" observed LadyBusshe.

"Ifwe are marked to go by stages" Mrs. Mountstuart assented.

"Whythenwe shall be called old coaches" remarked the colonel.

"You"said Lady Culmer"have the advantage of us in a closeracquaintancewith Miss Middleton. You know her tastesand how farthey havebeen consulted in the little souvenirs already groupedsomewherealthough not yet for inspection. I am at sea.  And hereis LadyBusshe in deadly alarm.  There is plenty of time to effectachange--though we are drawing on rapidly to the fatal dayMissMiddleton.We arewe are very near it. Oh! yes. I am one whothinksthat these little affairs should be spoken of openlywithoutthat ridiculous bourgeois affectationso that we may besure ofgiving satisfaction. It is a transaction like everythingelse inlife. Ifor my partwish to be remembered favourably. Iput it asa test of breeding to speak of these things as plainmatter-of-fact.You marry; I wish you to have something by you toremind youof me. What shall it be?--useful or ornamental. For anordinaryhousehold the choice is not difficult. But where wealthabounds weare in a dilemma."

"Andwith persons of decided tastes" added Lady Busshe.

"I amreally very unhappy" she protested to Clara.

SirWilloughby dropped Laetitia; Clara's look of a sedateresolutionto preserve silence on the topic of the nuptial giftsmade adiversion imperative.

"Yourporcelain was exquisitely chosenand I profess to be aconnoisseur"he said. "I am poor in Old Saxonyas you know; Ican matchthe country in Savresand my inheritance of China willnot easilybe matched in the country."

"Youmay consider your Dragon vases a present from youngCrossjay"said De Craye.

"How?"

"Hasn'the abstained from breaking them? the capital boy!Porcelainand a boy in the house together is a case of prospectivedisasterfully equal to Flitch and a fly."

"Youshould understand that my friend Horace--whose wit is inthisinstance founded on another tale of a boy--brought us amagnificentpiece of porcelaindestroyed by the capsizing of hisconveyancefrom the station" said Sir Willoughby to Lady Busshe.

She andLady Culmer gave out lamentable Ohswhile Miss Eleanorand MissIsabel Patterne sketched the incident. Then the ladyvisitorsfixed their eyes in united sympathy upon Clara:recoveringfrom whichafter a contemplation of marbleLadyBussheemphasized"Noyou do not love porcelainit is evidentMissMiddleton."

"I amglad to be assured of it" said Lady Culmer.

"OhI know that face: I know that look" Lady Busshe affected toremarkrallyingly: "it is not the first time I have seen it."

SirWilloughby smarted to his marrow. "We will rout these fanciesof anoverscrupulous generositymy dear Lady Busshe."

Herunwonted breach of delicacy in speaking publicly of herpresentand the vulgar persistency of her sticking to the themevery muchperplexed him. And if he mistook her notshe had justalluded tothe demoniacal Constantia Durham.

It mightbe that he had mistaken her: he was on guard against histerriblesensitiveness. Nevertheless it was hard to account forthisbehaviour of a lady greatly his friend and admirera lady ofbirth. AndLady Culmer as well!--likewise a lady of birth. Werethey incollusion? had they a suspicion? He turned to Laetitia'sface forthe antidote to his pain.

"Ohbut you are not one yetand I shall require two voices toconvinceme" Lady Busshe rejoinedafter another stare at themarble.

"LadyBussheI beg you not to think me ungrateful" said Clara.

"Fiddle!--gratitude!it is to please your tasteto satisfy you.I care forgratitude as little as for flattery."

"Butgratitude is flattering" said Vernon.

"Nowno metaphysicsMr. Whitford."

"Butdo care a bit for flatterymy lady" said De Craye. "'Tisthe finestof the Arts; we might call it moral sculpture. Adeptsin it cancut their friends to any shape they like by practisingit withthe requisite skill. I myselfpoor hand as I amhavemade a manact Solomon by constantly praising his wisdom. He tookasagacious turn at an early period of the dose. He weighed thesmallestquestion of his daily occasions with a deliberation trulyoriental.Had I pushed ithe'd have hired a baby and a couple ofmothers tosquabble over the undivided morsel."

"Ishall hope for a day in London with you" said Lady Culmer toClara.

"Youdid not forget the Queen of Sheba?" said Mrs. Mountstuart toDe Craye.

"Withher appearancethe game has to be resigned to herentirely"he rejoined.

"Thatis" Lady Culmer continued"if you do not despise an oldwoman foryour comrade on a shopping excursion."

"Despisewhom we fleece!" exclaimed Dr. Middleton. "OhnoLadyCulmerthe sheep is sacred."

"I amnot so sure" said Vernon.

"Inwhat wayand to what extentare you not so sure?" said Dr.Middleton.

"Thenatural tendency is to scorn the fleeced."

"Istand for the contrary. Pityif you like: particularly whentheybleat."

"Thisis to assume that makers of gifts are a fleeced people: Idemur"said Mrs. Mountstuart.

"Madamwe are expected to give; we are incited to give; you havedubbed itthe fashion to give; and the person refusing to giveorincapableof givingmay anticipate that he will be regarded asbenignlyas a sheep of a drooping and flaccid wool by the farmerwho isreminded by the poor beast's appearance of a strange dogthatworried the flock. Even Captain Benjaminas you have seenwas unableto withstand the demand on him. The hymeneal pair arelicensedfreebooters levying blackmail on us; survivors of anuncivilizedperiod. But in taking without mercyI venture totrust thatthe manners of a happier era instruct them not to scornus. I apprehend that Mr. Whitford has a lower order of latrons inhis mind."

"Permitme to saysirthat you have not considered the ignobleaspect ofthe fleeced" said Vernon. "I appeal to the ladies:would theynotif they beheld an ostrich walking down a Queen'sDrawingRoomclean-pluckeddespise him though they were wearinghisplumes?"

"Anextreme suppositionindeed" said Dr. Middletonfrowning overit;"scarcely legitimately to be suggested."

"Ithink it fairsiras an instance."

"Hasthe circumstance occurredI would ask?"

"Inlife? a thousand times."

"Ifear so" said Mrs. Mountstuart.

LadyBusshe showed symptoms of a desire to leave a profitlesstable.

Vernonstarted upglancing at the window.

"Didyou see Crossjay?" he said to Clara.

"No;I mustif he is there" said she.

She madeher way outVernon after her. They both had the excuse.

"Whichway did the poor boy go?" she asked him.

"Ihave not the slightest idea" he replied. "But put on yourbonnetifyou would escape that pair of inquisitors."

"Mr.Whitfordwhat humiliation!"

"Isuspect you do not feel it the mostand the end of it can't beremotesaid he.

Thus ithappened that when Lady Busshe and Lady Culmer quitted thedining-roomMiss Middleton had spirited herself away fromsummoningvoice and messenger.

SirWilloughby apologized for her absence. "If I could be jealousit wouldbe of that boy Crossjay."

"Youare an excellent manand the best of cousins" was LadyBusshe'senigmatical answer.

Theexceedingly lively conversation at his table was lauded byLadyCulmer.

"Though"said she"what it all meantand what was the drift ofitIcouldn't tell to save my life. Is it every day the same withyou here?"

"Verymuch."

"Howyou must enjoy a spell of dulness!"

"Ifyou said simplicity and not talking for effect! I generallycastanchor by Laetitia Dale."

"Ah!"Lady Busshe coughed. "But the fact isMrs. Mountstuart ismade forcleverness!"

"Ithinkmy ladyLaetitia Dale is to the full as clever as anyof thestars Mrs. Mountstuart assemblesor I."

"TalkativeclevernessI mean."

"Inconversation as well. Perhaps you have not yet given her achance."

"Yesyesshe is cleverof coursepoor dear. She is lookingbettertoo."

"HandsomeI thought" said Lady Culmer.

"Shevaries" observed Sir Willoughby.

The ladiestook seat in their carriage and fell at once into aclose-bonnetcolloquy. Not a single allusion had they made to thewedding-presentsafter leaving the luncheon-table. The cause oftheirvisit was obvious.

 

 

CHAPTERXXXVII

ContainsClever Fencing and Intimations of the Need for It

 

ThatwomanLady Busshehad predictedafter the eventConstantiaDurham's defection. She had alsosubsequent toWilloughby'sdeparture on his travelsuttered sceptical thingsconcerninghis rooted attachment to Laetitia Dale. In her bittervulgaritythat beaten rival of Mrs. Mountstuart Jenkinson for theleadershipof the county had taken his nose for a melancholyprognosticof his fortunes; she had recently played on his name:she hadspoken the hideous English of his fate. Little as sheknewshewas alive to the worst interpretation of appearances. Noothereulogy occurred to her now than to call him the best ofcousinsbecause Vernon Whitford was housed and clothed and fed byhim. Shehad nothing else to say for a man she thought luckless!She was awoman barren of witstripped of stylebut she waswealthyand a gossip--a forge of showering sparks--and shecarriedLady Culmer with her. The two had driven from his house tospread themalignant rumour abroad; already they blew the bitingworld onhis raw wound. Neither of them was like Mrs. Mountstuarta wittywomanwho could be hoodwinked; they were dull womenwhosteadilykept on their own scent of the factand the only way toconfoundsuch inveterate forces was to be ahead of themand seizeandtransform the expected factand astonish themwhen they cameup to himwith a totally unanticipated fact.

"Youseeyou were in errorladies."

"Andso we wereSir Willoughbyand we acknowledge it. We nevercould haveguessed that!"

Thus thephantom couple in the future delivered themselvesaswell theymight at the revelation. He could run far ahead.

Aybut tocombat these doltsfacts had to be encountereddeedsdoneingroaning earnest. These representatives of thepig-sconcesof the population judged by circumstances: airy showsand seemshad no effect on them. Dexterity of fence was thrownaway.

A flyingpeep at the remorseless might of dulness in compelling usto aconcrete performance counter to our inclinationsif we woulddeceiveits terrible instinctgave Willoughby for a moment thesurvey ofa sage. His intensity of personal feeling struck sovivid anillumination of mankind at intervals that he would havebeenindividually wisehad he not been moved by the source of hisaccurateperceptions to a personal feeling of opposition to hisownsagacity. He loathed and he despised the visionso his mindhad nobenefit of itthough he himself was whipped along. Hechoserather (and the choice is open to us all) to be flattered bythedistinction it revealed between himself and mankind.

But if hewas not as others werewhy was he discomfitedsolicitousmiserable? To think that it should be soran deadagainsthis conqueror's theories wherein he had been trainedwhichsolong as he gained success awarded success to nativemeritgrandeur to the grand in soulas light kindles light:naturepresents the example. His early traininghis brightbeginningof lifehad taught him to look to earth's principalfruits ashis natural portionand it was owing to a girl that hestood amark for tonguesnakedwincing at the possible malignityof a pairof harridans. Why not whistle the girl away?

Whythenhe would he free to enjoycarelessyounger than hisyouth inthe rebound to happiness!

And thenwould his nostrils begin to lift and sniff at thecreepingup of a thick pestiferous vapour. Then in that volume ofstenchwould he discern the sullen yellow eye of malice. Amalariousearth would hunt him all over it. The breath of theworldtheworld's view of himwas partly his vital breathhisview ofhimself. The ancestry of the tortured man had bequeathedhim thiscondition of high civilization among their otherbequests.Your withered contracted Egoists of the hut and the grotreck notof public opinion; they crave but for liberty and leisureto scratchthemselves and soothe an excessive scratch. Willoughbywasexpansivea blooming oneborn to look down upon a tributaryworldandto exult in being looked to. Do we wonder at hisconsternationin the prospect of that world's blowing foul onhim?Princes have their obligations to teach them they are mortaland thebrilliant heir of a tributary world is equally enchainedby thehomage it brings him;--moreinasmuch as it is immaterialelusivenot gathered by the taxand he cannot capitally punishthetreasonable recusants. Still must he be brilliant; he mustcourt hispeople. He must everboth in his reputation and hispersonaching though he beshow them a face and a leg.

Thewounded gentleman shut himself up in his laboratorywhere hecouldstride to and froand stretch out his arms for physicalreliefsecure from observation of his fantastical shapesunderthe ideathat he was meditating. There was perhaps enough to makehim fancyit in the heavy fire of shots exchanged between hisnerves andthe situation; there were notable flashes. He would notavow thathe was in an agony: it was merely a desire forexercise.

Quintessenceof worldlinessMrs. Mountstuart appeared through hisfarthestwindowswinging her skirts on a turn at the end of thelawnwithHorace De Craye smirking beside her. And the woman'svauntedpenetration was unable to detect the histrionic Irishismof thefellow. Or she liked him for his acting and nonsense; norshe only.The voluble beast was created to snare women. Willoughbybecamesmitten with an adoration of stedfastness in women. Theincarnationof that divine quality crossed his eyes. She was cladin beauty.A horrible nondescript convulsion composed of yawn andgroandrove him to his instrumentsto avert a renewal of theshock; andwhile arranging and fixing them for their unwontedtaskhecompared himself advantageously with men like Vernon andDe Crayeand others of the countyhis fellows in thehunting-fieldand on the Magistrate's benchwho neitherunderstoodnor cared for solid workbeneficial practical workthe workof Science.

He wasobliged to relinquish it: his hand shook.

"Experimentswill not advance much at this rate" he saidcastingthenoxious retardation on his enemies.

It was notto be contested that he must speak with MrsMountstuarthowever he might shrink from the trial of his facialmuscles.Her not coming to him seemed ominous: nor was herbehaviourat the luncheon-table quite obscure. She had evidentlyinstigatedthe gentlemen to cross and counterchatter Lady Bussheand LadyCulmer. For what purpose?

Clara'sfeatures gave the answer.

They wereimplacable. And he could be the same.

In thesolitude of his room he cried right out: "I swear itIwill neveryield her to Horace De Craye! She shall feel some of mytormentsand try to get the better of them by knowing shedeservesthem." He had spoken itand it was an oath upon therecord.

Desire todo her intolerable hurt became an ecstasy in his veinsandproduced another stretching fit that terminated in a violentshake ofthe body and limbs; during which he was a spectacle forMrs.Mountstuart at one of the windows. He laughed as he went tohersaying: "Nono work to-day; it won't be donepositivelyrefuses."

"I amtaking the Professor away" said she; "he is fidgety aboutthe coldhe caught."

SirWilloughby stepped out to her. "I was trying at a bit of workfor anhournot to be idle all day."

"Youwork in that den of yours every clay?

"Neverless than an hourif I can snatch it."

"Itis a wonderful resource!"

The remarkset him throbbing and thinking that a prolongation ofhis crisisexposed him to the approaches of some organic maladypossiblyheart-disease.

"Ahabit" he said. "In there I throw off the world."

"Weshall see some results in due time."

"Ipromise none: I like to be abreast of the real knowledge of mydaythatis all."

"Anda pearl among country gentlemen!"

"Inyour gracious considerationmy dear lady. Generally speakingit wouldbe more advisable to become a chatterer and keep ananecdotalnote-book. I could not do itsimply because I could notlive withmy own emptiness for the sake of making an occasionaldisplay offireworks. I aim at solidity. It is a narrow aimnodoubt; notmuch appreciated."

"LaetitiaDale appreciates it."

A smile ofenforced ruefulnesslike a leaf curling in heatwrinkledhis mouth.

Why didshe not speak of her conversation with Clara?

"Havethey caught Crossjay?" he said.
"Apparentlythey are giving chase to him."

Thelikelihood wasthat Clara had been overcome by timidity.

"Mustyou leave us?"

"Ithink it prudent to take Professor Crooklyn away."

"Hestill . . .?"

"Theextraordinary resemblance!"

"Aword aside to Dr. Middleton will dispel that."

"Youare thoroughly good."

Thishateful encomium of commiseration transfixed him. Then sheknew ofhis calamity!

"Philosophical"he said"would be the proper termI think."

"ColonelDe Crayeby the waypromises me a visit when he leavesyou."

"To-morrow?"

"Theearlier the better. He is too captivating; he is delightful.He won mein five minutes. I don't accuse him. Nature gifted him tocast thespell. We are weak womenSir Willoughby."

She knew!

"Liketo like: the witty to the wittyma'am."

"Youwon't compliment me with a little bit of jealousy?"

"Iforbear from complimenting him."

"Bephilosophicalof courseif you have the philosophy."

"Ipretend to it. Probably I suppose myself to succeed because Ihave nogreat requirement of it; I cannot say. We are riddles toourselves."

Mrs.Mountstuart pricked the turf with the point of her parasol.She lookeddown and she looked up.

"Well?"said he to her eyes.

"Welland where is Laetitia Dale?"

He turnedabout to show his face elsewhere.

When hefronted her againshe looked very fixedlyand set herheadshaking.

"Itwill not domy dear Sir Willoughby!"

"What?"

I nevercould solve enigmas."
"Playingta-ta-ta-ta ad infinitumthen. Things have gone far. Allpartieswould 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 reneweditsbrushing negative.

"Inwhat way can it be hurtful that she should be herema'am?" heventuredto persist.

"Think."

"Sheis proof."

"Twice!"

The wordwas big artillery. He tried the affectation of a staringstupidity.She might have seen his heart thumpand he quittedthe maskfor an agreeable grimace.

"Sheis inaccessible. She is my friend. I guarantee heron myhonour.Have no fear for her. I beg you to have confidence in me.I wouldperish rather. No soul on earth is to be compared withher."

Mrs.Mountstuart repeated "Twice!"

The lowmonosyllablemusically spoken in the same tone of warningof agentle ghostrolled a thunder that maddened himbut hedared nottake it up to fight against it on plain terms.

"Isit for my sake?" he said.

"Itwill not doSir Willoughby."

Shespurred him to a frenzy.

"Mydear Mrs. Mountstuartyou have been listening to tales. I amnot atyrant. I am one of the most easy-going of men. Let uspreservethe forms due to society: I say no more. As for poor oldVernonpeople call me a good sort of cousin; I should like to seehimcomfortably married; decently married this time. I haveproposedto contribute to his establishment. I mention it to showthat thecase has been practically considered. He has had atolerablysouring experience of the state; he might be inclinedifsayyou took him in handfor another venture. It's ademoralizinglottery. HoweverGovernment sanctions it."

"ButSir Willoughbywhat is the use of my taking him in handwhenasyou tell meLaetitia Dale holds back?"

"Shecertainly does."

"Thenwe are talking to no purposeunless you undertake to melther."

Hesuffered a lurking smile to kindle to some strength of meaning.

"Youare not over-considerate in committing me to such an office."

"Youare afraid of the danger?" she all but sneered.

Sharpenedby her tonehe said"I have such a love of stedfastnessofcharacterthat I should be a poor advocate in the endeavour tobreak it.And franklyI know the danger. I saved my honour whenI made theattempt: that is all I can say."

"Uponmy word" Mrs. Mountstuart threw back her head to let hereyesbehold him summarily over their fine aquiline bridge"youhave theart of mystificationmy good friend."

"Abandonthe idea of Laetitia Dale."

"Andmarry your cousin Vernon to whom? Where are we?"

"As Isaidma'amI am an easy-going man. I really have not aspice ofthe tyrant in me. An intemperate creature held by thecollar mayhave that notion of mewhile pulling to be released aspromptlyas it entered the noose. But I do strictly and sternlyobject tothe scandal of violent separationsopen breaches ofsolemnengagementsa public rupture. Put it that I am the causeI will notconsent to a violation of decorum. Is that clear? It isjustpossible for things to be arranged so that all parties may behappy intheir way without much hubbub. Mindit is not I whohavewilled it so. I amand I am forced to bepassive. But Iwill notbe obstructive."

He pausedwaving his hand to signify the vanity of the more thatmight besaid.

Someconception of himdashed by incredulityexcited the lady'sintelligence.

"Well!"she exclaimed"you have planted me in the land ofconjecture.As my husband used to sayI don't see lightbut Ithink Isee the lynx that does. We won't discuss it at present. Icertainlymust be a younger woman than I supposedfor I amlearninghard.--Here comes the Professorbuttoned up to theearsandDr. Middleton flapping in the breeze. There will be acoughanda footnote referring to the young lady at the stationif westand togetherso please order my carriage."

"Youfound Clara complacent? roguish?"

"Iwill call to-morrow. You have simplified my taskSirWilloughbyvery much; that isassuming that I have not entirelymistakenyou. I am so far in the dark that I have to help myselfbyrecollecting how Lady Busshe opposed my view of a certain matterformerly.Scepticism is her forte. It will be the very oddestthing ifafter all ...! NoI shall ownromance has not departed.Are youfond of dupes?"

"Idetest the race."

"Anexcellent answer. I could pardon you for it." She refrainedfromadding"If you are making one of me."

SirWilloughby went to ring for her carriage.

She knew.That was palpable: Clara had betrayed him.

"Theearlier Colonel De Craye leaves Patterne Hall the better:"she hadsaid that: and"all parties would be happier for anexcursion."She knew the position of things and she guessed theremainder.But what she did not knowand could not divinewasthe manwho fenced her. He speculated further on the witty and thedull.These latter are the redoubtable body. They will have factstoconvince them: they hadhe confessed it to himselfprecipitatedhim into the novel sphere of his dark hints to Mrs.Mountstuart;from which the utter darkness might allow him toescapeyet it embraced him singularlyand even pleasantlywiththe senseof a fact established.

Itembraced him even very pleasantly. There was an end to histortures.He sailed on a tranquil seathe husband of a stedfastwoman--norogue. The exceeding beauty of stedfastness in womenclothedLaetitia in graces Clara could not match. A tried stedfastwoman isthe one jewel of the sex. She points to her husband likethesunflower; her love illuminates him; she lives in himforhim; shetestifies to his worth; she drags the world to his feet;she leadsthe chorus of his praises; she justifies him in his ownesteem.Surely there is not on earth such beauty!

If we haveto pass through anguish to discover it and cherish thepeace itgives to clasp itcalling it oursis a full reward.Deep inhis reveriehe said his adieus to Mrs. Mountstuartandstrolledup the avenue behind the carriage-wheelsunwilling tomeetLaetitia till he had exhausted the fresh savour of the cudof fancy.

Supposingit done!--

It wouldbe generous on his part. It would redound to his credit.

His homewould be a fortressimpregnable to tongues. He wouldhavedivine security in his home.

One whoread and knew and worshipped him would be sitting therestar-like:sitting thereawaiting himhis fixed star.

It wouldbe marriage with a mirrorwith an echo; marriage with ashiningmirrora choric echo.

It wouldbe marriage with an intellectwith a fine understanding;to makehis home a fountain of repeatable wit: to make his dearoldPatterne Hall the luminary of the county.

Herevolved it as a chant: with anon and anon involuntarily adiscordantanimadversion on Lady Busshe. Its attendant imps heardthe angryinward cry.

Forthwithhe set about painting Laetitia in delectable humancolourslike a miniature of the past centuryreserving her idealfigure forhis private satisfaction. The world was to bow to hervisiblebeautyand he gave her enamel and glowa taller staturea swimmingaira transcendency that exorcized the image of theold witchwho had driven him to this.

The resultin him wasthat Laetitia became humanly and avowedlybeautiful.Her dark eyelashes on the pallor of her cheeks lenttheir aidto the transformationwhich was a necessity to himsoit wasperformed. He received the waxen impression.

Hisretinue of imps had a revel. We hear wonders of menand wesee alifting up of hands in the world. The wonders would beexplainedand never a hand need to interjectif the mystifyingman werebut accompanied by that monkey-eyed confraternity. Theyspy theheart and its twists.

The heartis the magical gentleman. None of them would followwherethere was no heart. The twists of the heart are the comedy.

"Thesecret of the heart is its pressing love of self "says theBook.

By thatsecret the mystery of the organ is legible: and acomparisonof the heart to the mountain rillet is taken up to showus theunbaffled force of the little channel in seeking to swellitsvolumestrenuouslysinuouslyever in pursuit of self; thebusiest asit is the most single-aiming of forces on our earth.And we aredirected to the sinuosities for posts of observationchieflyinstructive.

Fewmaintain a stand there. People seeand they rush away tointerchangeliftings of hands at the sightinstead of patientlystudyingthe phenomenon of energy.

Consequentlya man in love with one womanand in all but absoluteconsciousnessbehind the thinnest of veilspreparing his mind toloveanotherwill be barely credible. The particular hunger oftheforceful but adaptable heart is the key of him. Behold themountainrilletbecome a brookbecome a torrenthow it inarms ahandsomeboulder: yet if the stone will not go with iton ithurriespursuing self in extensiondown to where perchance a damhas beenraised of a sufficient depth to enfold and keep it frominordinaterestlessness. Laetitia represented this peacefulrestrainingspace in prospect.

But shewas a faded young woman.  He was aware of it; andsystematicallylooking at himself with her upturned orbsheacceptedher benevolently as a God grateful for worshipand usedthedivinity she imparted to paint and renovate her. His heartrequiredher so. The heart works the springs of imagination;imaginationreceived its commission from the heartand was acunningartist.

Cunning tosuch a degree of seductive genius that the masterpieceit offeredto his contemplation enabled him simultareously togaze onClara and think of Laetitia. Clara came through thepark-gateswith Vernona brilliant girl indeedand a shallowone: ahealthy creatureand an animal; attractivebutcapriciousimpatienttreacherousfoul; a woman to drag menthroughthe mud. She approached.

 

 

CHAPTERXXXVIII

InWhich We Take a Step to the Centre of Egoism

 

They met;Vernon soon left them.

"Youhave not seen Crossjay?" Willoughby inquired.

"No"said Clara. "Once more I beg you to pardon him. He spokefalselyowing to his poor boy's idea of chivalry."

"Thechivalry to the sex which commences in lies ends by creatingthewoman's herowhom we see about the world and in certaincourts oflaw."

Hisability to silence her was great: she could not reply tospeechlike that.

"Youhave" said he" made a confidante of Mrs. Mountstuart."

"Yes."

"Thisis your purse."

"Ithank you."

"ProfessorCrooklyn has managed to make your father acquaintedwith yourproject. ThatI supposeis the railway ticket in thefold ofthe purse. He was assured at the station that you hadtaken aticket to Londonand would not want the fly."

"Itis true. I was foolish."

"Youhave had a pleasant walk with Vernon--turning me in andout?"

"Wedid not speak of you. You allude to what he would neverconsentto."

"He'san honest fellowin his old-fashioned way. He's a secretoldfellow. Does he ever talk about his wife to you?"

Claradropped her purseand stooped and picked it up.

"Iknow nothing of Mr. Whitford's affairs" she saidand sheopened thepurse and tore to pieces the railway ticket.

"Thestory's a proof that romantic spirits do not furnish themostromantic history. You have the word 'chivalry' frequently onyour lips.He chivalrously married the daughter of thelodging-housewhere he resided before I took him. We obtainedinformationof the auspicious union in a newspaper report of Mrs.Whitford'sdrunkenness and rioting at a London railway terminus--probablythe one whither your ticket would have taken youyesterdayfor I heard the lady was on her way to us for suppliestheconnubial larder being empty."

"I amsorry; I am ignorant; I have heard nothing; I know nothing"saidClara.

"Youare disgusted. But half the students and authors you hear ofmarry inthat way. And very few have Vernon's luck."

"Shehad good qualities?" asked Clara.

Her underlip hung.

It lookedlike disgust; he begged her not indulge the feeling.

"Literarymenit is notoriouseven with the entry to societyhave notaste in women. The housewife is their object. Ladiesfrightenand wouldno doubtbe an annoyance and hindrance tothem athome."

"Yousaid he was fortunate."

"Youhave a kindness for him."

"Irespect him."

"Heis a friendly old fellow in his awkward fashion; honourableand soforth. But a disreputable alliance of that sort sticks to aman. Theworld will talk. Yeshe was fortunate so far; he fellinto themire and got out of it. Were he to marry again . .

"She..."

"Died.Do not be startled; it was a natural death. She respondedto thesole wishes left to his family. He buried the womanand Ireceivedhim. I took him on my tour. A second marriage might coverthe first:there would be a buzz about the old business: thewoman'srelatives write to him stilltry to bleed himI daresay.Howevernow you understand his gloominess. I don't imaginehe regretshis loss. He probably sentimentalizeslike most menwhen theyare well rid of a burden. You must not think the worseof him."

"I donot" said Clara.

"Idefend him whenever the matter's discussed."

"Ihope you do."

"Withoutapproving his folly. I can't wash him clean."

They wereat the Hall-doors. She waited for any personalcommunicationshe might be pleased to makeand as there was noneshe ranupstairs to her room.

He hadtossed her to Vernon in his mindnot only painlesslybutwith akeen acid of satisfaction. The heart is the wizard.

Next hebent his deliberate steps to Laetitia.

The mindwas guilty of some hesitation; the feet went forward.

She wasworking at an embroidery by an open window.  Colonel DeCrayeleaned outsideand Willoughby pardoned her air of demureamusementon hearing him say: "NoI have had one of thepleasantesthalf-hours of my lifeand would rather idle hereifidle youwill have itthan employ my faculties on horse-back"

"Timeis not lost in conversing with Miss Dale" saidWilloughby.

The lightwas tender to her complexion where she sat in partialshadow.

De Crayeasked whether Crossjay had been caught.

Laetitiamurmured a kind word for the boy. Willoughby examined herembroidery.

The ladiesEleanor and Isabel appeared.

Theyinvited her to take carriage exercise with them.

Laetitiadid not immediately answerand Willoughby remarked:"MissDale has been reproving Horace for idleness and I recommendyou toenlist him to do dutywhile I relieve him here."

The ladieshad but to look at the colonel. He was at theirdisposalif they would have him. He was marched to the carriage.

Laetitiaplied her threads.

"ColonelDe Craye spoke of Crossjay" she said. "May I hope youhaveforgiven the poor boySir Willoughby?"

Hereplied: "Plead for him."

"Iwish I had eloquence."

"Inmy opinion you have it."

"Ifhe offendsit is never from meanness. At schoolamongcomradeshe would shine. He is in too strong a light; hisfeelingsand his moral nature are over-excited."

"Thatwas not the case when he was at home with you.

"I amsevere; I am stern."

"ASpartan mother!"

"Mysystem of managing a boy would be after that model: except inthis: heshould always feet that he could obtain forgiveness."

"Notat the expense of justice?"

"Ah!young creatures are not to be arraigned before the higherCourts. Itseems to me perilous to terrify their imaginations.If we dosoare we not likely to produce the very evil we arecombating?The alternations for the young should be school andhome: andit should be in their hearts to have confidence thatforgivenessalternates with discipline. They are of too tender anage forthe rigours of the world; we are in danger of hardeningthem. Iprove to you that I am not possessed of eloquence. Youencouragedme to speakSir Willoughby."

"Youspeak wiselyLaetitia."

"Ithink it true. Will not you reflect on it? You have only to doso toforgive him. I am growing bold indeedand shall have to begforgivenessfor myself."

"Youstill write? you continue to work with your pen?" saidWilloughby.

"Alittle; a very little."

"I donot like you to squander yourselfwaste yourselfon thepublic.You are too precious to feed the beast. Giving outincessantlymust end by attenuating. Reserve yourself for yourfriends.Why should they be robbed of so much of you? Is it notreasonableto assume that by lying fallow you would be moreenrichedfor domestic life? Candidlyhad I authority I wouldconfiscateyour pen: I would 'away with that bauble'. You will notoften findme quoting Cromwellbut his words apply in thisinstance.I would say ratherthat lancet. Perhaps it is the morecorrectterm. It bleeds youit wastes you. For what? For a breathof fame!"

"Iwrite for money."

"Andthere--I would say of another--you subject yourself to therisk ofmental degradation. Who knows?--moral! Trafficking thebrains formoney must bring them to the level of the purchasers intime. Iconfiscate your penLaetitia."

"Itwill be to confiscate your own giftSir Willoughby."

"Thenthat proves--will you tell me the date?"

"Yousent me a gold pen-holder on my sixteenth birthday."

"Itproves my utter thoughtlessness thenand later. And later!"

He restedan elbow on his kneeand covered his eyesmurmuring inthatprofound hollow which is haunted by the voice of a contritepast: "Andlater!"

The deedcould be done. He had come to the conclusion that itcould bedonethough the effort to harmonize the figure sittingnear himwith the artistic figure of his purest pigmentshadcost himlabour and a blinking of the eyelids. That also could bedone. Herpleasant tonesensible talkand the light favouringhercomplexionhelped him in his effort. She was a sober cup;sober andwholesome. Deliriousness is for adolescence. The men whoseekintoxicating cups are men who invite their fates.

Curiouslyyet as positively as things can be affirmedthehusband ofthis woman would be able to boast of her virtues andtreasuresabroadas he could not--impossible to say why not--boast of abeautiful wife or a blue-stocking wife. One of hermerits asa wife would be this extraordinary neutral merit of acharacterthat demanded colour from the marital handand wouldtake it.

Laetitiahad not to learn that he had much to distress him. Herwonder athis exposure of his grief counteracted a fluttering ofvaguealarm. She was nervous; she sat in expectation of some burstof regretsor of passion.

"Imay hope that you have pardoned Crossjay?" she said.

"Myfriend" said heuncovering his face"I am governed byprinciples.Convince me of an errorI shall not obstinatelypursue apremeditated course. But you know me. Men who have notprinciplesto rule their conduct are--wellthey are unworthy ofa halfhour of companionship with you. I will speak to youto-night.I have letters to dispatch. To-night: at twelve: in theroom wherewe spoke last. Or await me in the drawing-room. I haveto attendto my guests till late."

He bowed;he was in a hurry to go.

The deedcould he done. It must be done; it was his destiny.

 

 

CHAPTERXXXIX

In theHeart of the Egoist 

Butalready he had begun to regard the deed as his executioner. Hedreadedmeeting Clara. The folly of having retained her stoodbeforehim. How now to look on her and keep a sane resolutionunwavering?She tempted to the insane. Had she been awayhe couldhavewalked through the performance composed by the sense of doinga duty tohimself; perhaps faintly hating the poor wretch he madehappy atlastkind to her in a mannerpolite. Clara's presencein thehouse previous to the deedandohheaven! after itthreatenedhis wits. Pride? He had none; he cast it down for herto trampleit; he caught it back ere it was trodden on. Yes; hehad pride:he had it as a dagger in his breast: his pride was hismisery.But he was too proud to submit to misery. "What I do isright."He said the wordsand rectitude smoothed his pathtillthequestion clamoured for answer: Would the world countenance andendorsehis pride in Laetitia? At one timeyes. And now? Clara'sbeautyascendedlaid a beam on him. We are on board the labouringvessel ofhumanity in a stormwhen cries and countercries ringoutdisorderliness mixes the crewand the fury ofself-preservationdivides: this one is for the shipthat one forhis life.Clara was the former to himLaetitia the latter.  Butwhat ifthere might not be greater safety in holding tenaciouslyto Clarathan in casting her off for Laetitia? Noshe had donethings toset his pride throbbing in the quick. She had gonebleedingabout first to onethen to another; she had betrayed himto Vernonand to Mrs. Mountstuart; a look in the eyes of HoraceDe Crayesaidto him as well: to whom not? He might hold to herforvengeance; but that appetite was short-lived in him if itministerednothing to his purposes. "I discard all idea ofvengeance"he saidand thrilled burningly to a smart in hisadmirationof the man who could be so magnanimous under mortalinjury;for the more admirable hethe more pitiable. He drank adrop ortwo of self-pity like a poisonrepelling the assaults ofpublicpity. Clara must be given up. It must be seen by the worldthatashe feltthe thing he did was right. Laocoon of his ownserpentshe struggled to a certain magnificence of attitude inthemuscular net of constrictions he flung around himself. Claramust begiven up. Ohbright Abominable! She must be given up: butnot to onewhose touch of her would be darts in the blood of theyieldersnakes in his bed: she must be given up to anextinguisher;to be the second wife of an old-fashionedsemi-reclusedisgraced in his first. And were it publicly knownthat shehad been cast offand had fallen on old Vernon for arefugeand part in spitepart in shamepart in desperationpart in afit of good sense under the circumstancesespoused himher beautywould not influence the world in its judgement. Theworldwould know what to think. As the instinct ofself-preservationwhispered to Willoughbythe worldwere itrequisitemight be taught to think what it assuredly would notthink ifshe should be seen tripping to the altar with Horace DeCraye.Self-preservationnot vengeancebreathed that whisper. Heglanced ather iniquity for a justification of itwithout anydesire todo her a permanent hurt: he was highly civilized: butwith astrong intention to give her all the benefit of a scandalsupposinga scandalor ordinary tattle.

"Andso he handed her to his cousin and secretaryVernonWhitfordwho opened his mouth and shut his eyes."

You hearthe world? How are we to stop it from chattering? Enoughthat hehad no desire to harm her. Some gentle anticipations ofher beingtarnished were imperative; they came spontaneously tohim;otherwise the radiance of that bright Abominable in losswould havebeen insufferable; he could not have borne it; he couldnever havesurrendered her. Moreovera happy present effect wastheresult. He conjured up the anticipated chatter and shrug ofthe worldso vividly that her beauty grew hectic with the stainbereft ofits formidable magnetism. He could meet her calmly; hehadsteeled himself. Purity in women was his principal stipulation.and awoman puffed atwas not the person to cause him tremours.

Considerhim indulgently: the Egoist is the Son of Himself. He islikewisethe Father. And the son loves the fatherthe father theson; theyreciprocate affection through the closest of ties; andshall theyview behaviour unkindly wounding either of themnotfor eachother's dear sake abhorring the criminal? They would notinjureyoubut they cannot consent to see one another suffer orcrave invain. The two rub together in sympathy besidesrelationshipto an intenser one. Are youwithout much offendingsacrificedby themit is on the altar of their mutual lovetofilialpiety or paternal tenderness: the younger has offered adaintymorsel to the elderor the elder to the younger. Absorbedin theirgreat example of devotion do they not think of you. Theyarebeautiful.

Yet is itmost true that the younger has the passions of youth:whereofwill come division between them; and this is a tragicstate.They are then pathetic. This was the state of SirWilloughbylending ear to his elderuntil he submitted to bite atthe fruitproposed to him--with how wry a mouth the venerableseniorchose not to mark. At leastas we perceivea half of himwas ripeof wisdom in his own interests. The cruder half had butto beobedient to the leadership of sagacity for his interests tobesecuredand a filial disposition assisted him; painfullyindeed;but the same rare quality directed the good gentleman toswallowhis pain. That the son should bewail his fate were adishonourto the sire. He reverencedand submitted. Thusto sayconsiderhim indulgentlyis too much an appeal for charity onbehalf ofone requiring but initial anatomy--a slicing in halves--toexonerateperchance exalt him. The Egoist is ourfountain-headprimeval man: the primitive is born againtheelementalreconstituted. Born againinto new conditionstheprimitivemay be highly polished of menand forfeit nothing savetheroughness of his original nature. He is not only his ownfatherheis ours; and he is also our son. We have produced him.he us.Such were weto such are we returning: not othersingsthe poetthan one who toilfully works his shallop against thetide"sibrachia forte remisit":--let him haply relax thelabour ofhis armshowever high up the streamand back he goes"inpejus"to the early principle of our beingwith seeds andplantsthat are as carelessly weighed in the hand and asindiscriminatelyhusbanded as our humanity.

Poets onthe other side may be cited for an assurance that theprimitiveis not the degenerate: rather is he a sign of theindestructibilityof the raceof the ancient energy in removingobstaclesto individual growth; a sample of what we would behadwe hisconcentrated power. He is the original innocentthe puresimple. Itis we who have fallen; we have melted into Societydilutedour essencedissolved. He stands in the midstmonumentallya land-mark of the tough and honest old Ageswiththesymbolic alphabet of striking arms and running legsour earlylanguagescrawled over his personand the glorious first flintandarrow-head for his crest: at once the spectre of theKitchen-middenand our ripest issue.

ButSociety is about him. The occasional spectacle of theprimitivedangling on a rope has impressed his mind with thestrengthof his natural enemy: from which uncongenial sight he hasturnedshuddering hardly less to behold the blast that is blownupon areputation where one has been disrespectful of the many. Bythesemeansthrough meditation on the contrast of circumstancesin lifeapulse of imagination has begun to stirand he hasenteredthe upper sphere or circle of spiritual Egoism: he hasbecome thecivilized Egoist; primitive stillas sure as man hasteethbutdeveloped in his manner of using them.

Degenerateor not (and there is no just reason to suppose it) SirWilloughbywas a social Egoistfiercely imaginative in whatsoeverconcernedhim. He had discovered a greater realm than that of thesensualappetitesand he rushed across and around it in hisconqueringperiod with an Alexander's pride. On these wind-likejourneyshe had carried Constantiasubsequently Clara; andhowever itmay have been in the case of Miss Durhamin that ofMissMiddleton it is almost certain she caught a glimpse of hisinteriorfrom sheer fatigue in hearing him discourse of it. Whatherevealed was not the cause of her sickness: women can bearrevelations--theyare exciting: but the monotonousness. He slewimagination.There is no direr disaster in love than the death ofimagination.He dragged her through the labyrinths of hispenetraliain his hungry coveting to be loved more and stillmoremorestilluntil imagination gave up the ghostand hetalked toher plain hearing like a monster. It must have beenthat; forthe spell of the primitive upon women is masterful up tothe timeof contact.

"Andso he handed her to his cousin and secretaryVernonWhitfordwho opened his mouth and shut his eyes."

The urgentquestion washow it was to be accomplished.Willoughbyworked at the subject with all his power ofconcentration:a power that had often led him to feel and saythat as abarristera diplomatistor a generalhe would havewon hisgrades: and granting him a personal interest in thebusinesshe might have achieved eminence: he schemed and fencedremarkablywell.

Heprojected a scenefollowing expressions of anxiety on accountof oldVernon and his future settlement: and then Claramaintainingher doggednessto which he was now so accustomed thathe couldnot conceive a change in it--says he: "If you determineonbreaking I give you back your word on one condition." Whereuponshestarts: he insists on her promise: she declines: affairsresumetheir former footing; she frets: she begs for thedisclosure:he flatters her by telling her his desire to keep herin thefamily: she is unilluminatedbut strongly moved bycuriosity:he philosophizes on marriage "What are we? poorcreatures!we must get through life as we candoing as much goodas we canto those we love; and think as you pleaseI love oldVernon. AmI not giving you the greatest possible proof of it?"She willnot see. Then flatly out comes the one condition. Thatand noother. "Take Vernon and I release you." She refuses. Nowensues thedebateall the oratory being with him. "Is it becauseof hisunfortunate first marriage? You assured me you thought noworse ofhim" etc. She declares the proposal revolting. He candistinguishnothing that should offend her in a proposal to makehis cousinhappy if she will not him. Irony and sarcasm relievehisemotionsbut he convinces her he is dealing plainly andintendsgenerosity. She is confused; she speaks in maiden fashion.He touchesagain on Vernon's early escapade. She does not enjoyit. Thescene closes with his bidding her reflect on itandrememberthe one condition of her release. Mrs. MountstuartJenkinsonnow reduced to believe that he burns to be freeis thencalled infor an interview with Clara. His aunts Eleanor andIsabelbesiege her. Laetitia in passionate earnest besieges her.Her fatheris wrought on to besiege her. Finally Vernon isattackedby Willoughby and Mrs. Mountstuart:--and hereWilloughbychose to thinkwas the main difficulty. But the girlhas money;she is agreeable; Vernon likes her; she is fond of his"Alps"they have tastes in commonhe likes her fatherand inthe end hebesieges her. Will she yield? De Craye is absent. Thereis noother way of shunning a marriage she is incomprehensibly butfranticallyaverse to. She is in the toils. Her father will stayatPatterne Hall as long as his host desires it. She hesitatesshe isovercome; in spite of a certain nausea due to Vernon'sprecedingallianceshe yields.

Willoughbyrevolved the entire drama in Clara's presence. Ithelped himto look on her coolly. Conducting her to thedinner-tablehe spoke of Crossjaynot unkindly; and at tableherevolvedthe set of scenes with a heated animation that took firefrom thewine and the face of his friend Horacewhile heencouragedHorace to be flowingly Irish. He nipped the fellowgood-humouredlyonce or twicehaving never felt so friendly tohim sincethe day of his arrival; but the position of critic isinstinctivelytaken by men who do not flow: and Patterne Port keptDrMiddleton in a benevolent reserve when Willoughby decided thatsomethingsaid by De Craye was not newand laughingly accused himof failingto consult his anecdotal notebook for the double-crossto hislast sprightly sally. "Your sallies are excellentHoracebut spareus your Aunt Sallies!" De Craye had no reparteenor didDr.Middleton challenge a pun. We have only to sharpen our witsto tripyour seductive rattler whenever we may choose to thinkproper;and evidentlyif we condescended to itwe could dobetterthan he.  The critic who has hatched a witticism isimpelledto this opinion. Judging by the smiles of the ladiestheythought sotoo.

Shortlybefore eleven o'clock Dr. Middleton made a Spartan standagainstthe offer of another bottle of Port. The regulation coupleof bottleshad been consumed in equal partnershipand the Rev.Doctor andhis host were free to pay a ceremonial visit to thedrawing-roomwhere they were not expected. A piece of work of theelderladiesa silken boudoir sofa-rugwas being examinedwithhighapproval of the two younger. Vernon and Colonel De Craye hadgone outin search of Crossjayone to Mr. Dale's cottagetheother tocall at the head and under-gamekeeper's. They were saidto bestrolling and smokingfor the night was fine. Willoughbyleft theroom and came back with the key of Crossjay's door in hispocket. Heforesaw that the delinquent might be of service tohim.

Laetitiaand Clara sang together. Laetitia was flushedClarapale. Ateleven they saluted the ladies Eleanor and Isabel.Willoughbysaid "Good-night" to each of themcontrasting as hedid so thedowncast look of Laetitia with Clara's frigiddirectness.He divined that they were off to talk over their oneobject ofcommon interestCrossjay. Saluting his auntshe tookup therugto celebrate their diligence and taste; and that hemight makeDr. Middleton impatient for bedhe provoked him toadmire itheld it out and laid it outand caused the courteousoldgentleman some confusion in hitting on fresh terms ofcommendation.

Beforemidnight the room was empty. Ten minutes later Willoughbypaid it avisitand found it untenanted by the person he hadengaged tobe there. Vexed by his disappointmenthe paced up anddownandchanced abstractedly to catch the rug in his hand; forwhatpurposehe might well ask himself; admiration of ladies"workintheir absencewas unlikely to occur to him.Nevertheless.the touch of the warmsoft silk was meltinglyfeminine.A glance at the mantel-piece clock told him Laetitia wastwentyminutes behind the hour. Her remissness might endanger allhis plansalter the whole course of his life. The colours inwhich hepainted her were too lively to last; the madness in hisheadthreatened to subside. Certain it was that he could not beready asecond night for the sacrifice he had been about toperform.

The clockwas at the half hour after twelve. He flung the silkenthing onthe central ottomanextinguished the lampsand walkedout of theroomcharging the absent Laetitia to bear hermisfortunewith a consciousness of deserving it.

 

 

CHAPTER XL

Midnight:Sir Willoughby and Laetitia: with Young Crossjay under aCoverlet

 

YoungCrossjay was a glutton at holidays and never thought of hometill itwas dark. The close of the day saw him several miles awayfrom theHalldubious whether he would not round his numerousadventuresby sleeping at an inn; for he had lots of moneyandthe ideaof jumping up in the morning in a strange place wasthrilling.Besideswhen he was shaken out of sleep by SirWilloughbyhe had been told that he was to goand not to showhis faceat Patterne again. On the other handMiss Middleton hadbidden himcome back. There was little question with him whichperson heshould obey: he followed his heart.

Supper atan innwhere he found a company to listen to hisadventuresdelayed himand a short cutintended to make up foritlosthim his road. He reached the Hall very lateready to bein lovewith the horrible pleasure of a night's rest under thestarsifnecessary. But a candle burned at one of the backwindows.He knockedand a kitchen-maid let him in. She had a bowlof hotsoup prepared for him. Crossjay tried a mouthful to pleaseher. Hishead dropped over it. She roused him to his feetand hepitchedagainst her shoulder. The dry air of the kitchendepartmenthad proved too much for the tired youngster. Marythemaidgothim to step as firmly as he was ableand led him by theback-wayto the hallbidding him creep noiselessly to bed. Heunderstoodhis position in the houseand though he could havegone fastto sleep on the stairshe took a steady aim at his roomand gainedthe door cat-like. The door resisted. He was appalledandunstrung in a minute. The door was locked. Crossjay felt as ifhe were inthe presence of Sir Willoughby. He fled on rickettylegsandhad a fall and bumps down half a dozen stairs. A dooropenedabove. He rushed across the hall to the drawing-roominvitinglyopenand there staggered in darkness to the ottomanand rolledhimself in something sleek and warmsoft as hands ofladiesand redolent of them; so delicious that he hugged thefoldsabout his head and heels. While he was endeavouring to thinkwhere hewashis legs curledhis eyelids shutand he was in thethick ofthe day's adventuresdoing yet more wonderful things.

He heardhis own name: that was quite certain. He knew that heheard itwith his earsas he pursued the fleetest dreams everaccordedto mortal. It did not mix: it was outside himand likethedanger-pole in the icewhich the skater shooting hither andyondercomes on againit recurred; and now it marked a point inhiscareerhow it caused him to relax his pace; he began tocircleand whirled closer round ituntilas at a blowhisheartknockedhe tightened himselfthought of boltingand laydead-stillto throb and hearken.

"Oh!Sir Willoughby" a voice had said.

Theaccents were sharp with alarm.

"Myfriend! my dearest!" was the answer.

"Icame to speak of Crossjay."

"Willyou sit here on the ottoman?"

"NoI cannot wait. I hoped I had heard Crossjay return. I wouldrather notsit down. May I entreat you to pardon him when he comeshome?"

"Youand you onlymay do so. I permit none else. Of Crossjayto-morrow."

"Hemay be lying in the fields. We are anxious."

"Therascal can take pretty good care of himself."

"Crossjayis perpetually meeting accidents."

"Heshall be indemnified if he has had excess of punishment."

"Ithink I will say good-nightSir Willoughby."

"Whenfreely and unreservedly you have given me your hand."

There washesitation.

"Tosay good-night?"

"Iask you for your hand."

"Good-nightSir Willoughby."

"Youdo not give it. You are in doubt? Still? What language must Iuse toconvince you? And yet you know me. Who knows me but you?You havealways known me. You are my home and my temple. Have youforgottenyour verses of the day of my majority?

      'The dawn-star has arisen         In plenitude of light.. .'"

"Donot repeat thempray!" cried Laetitiawith a gasp.

"Ihave repeated them to myself a thousand times: in IndiaAmericaJapan: they were like our English skylarkcarolling tome.       'My heartnow burst thy prison         With proud aerial flight!'"

"OhI beg you will not force me to listen to nonsense that Iwrote whenI was a child. No more of those most foolish lines! Ifyou knewwhat it is to write and despise one's writingyou wouldnotdistress me. And since you will not speak of Crossjayto-nightallow me to retire."

"Youknow meand therefore you know my contempt for versesas aruleLaetitia. But not for yours to me. Why should you call themfoolish?They expressed your feelings--hold them sacred. They aresomethingreligious to menot mere poetry. Perhaps the thirdverse ismy favourite . . ."

"Itwill be more than I can bear!"

"Youwere in earnest when you wrote them?"

"Iwas very youngvery enthusiasticvery silly."

"Youwere and are my image of constancy!"

"Itis an errorSir Willoughby; I am far from being the same."

"Weare all olderI trust wiser. I amI will own; much wiser.Wise atlast! I offer you my hand."

She didnot reply. "I offer you my hand and nameLaetitia."

Noresponse.

"Youthink me bound in honour to another?"

She wasmute.

"I amfree. Thank Heaven! I am free to choose my mate--the woman Ihavealways loved! Freely and unreservedlyas I ask you to giveyour handI offer mine. You are the mistress of Patterne Hall; mywife."

She hadnot a word.

"Mydearest! do you not rightly understand? The hand I am offeringyou isdisengaged. It is offered to the lady I respect above allothers. Ihave made the discovery that I cannot love withoutrespecting;and as I will not marry without lovingit ensues thatI amfree--I am yours. At last?--your lips move: tell me thewords.Have always lovedI said. You carry in your bosom themagnet ofconstancyand Iin spite of apparent deviationsdeclare toyou that I have never ceased to be sensible of theattraction.And now there is not an impediment. We two againstthe world!we are one. Let me confess to an old foible--perfectlyyouthfuland you will ascribe it to youth: once I desired toabsorb. Imistrusted; that was the reason: I perceive it. Youteach methe difference of an alliance with a lady of intellect.The prideI have in youLaetitiadefinitely cures me of thatinsanepassion--call it an insatiable hunger. I recognize it asa folly ofyouth. I haveas it weregone the tourto come hometo you--atlast?--and live our manly life of comparative equals.At lastthen! But remember that in the younger man you would havehad adespot--perhaps a jealous despot. Young menI assure youareorientally inclined in their ideas of love. Love gets a badname fromthem. Wemy Laetitiado not regard love as aselfishness.If it isit is the essence of life. At least it isourselfishness rendered beautiful. I talk to you like a man whohas founda compatriot in a foreign land. It seems to me that Ihave notopened my mouth for an age. I certainly have not unlockedmy heart.Those who sing for joy are not unintelligible to me. IfI had notsomething in me worth saying I think I should sing. Ineverysense you reconcile me to men and the worldLaetitia. Whypress youto speak? I will be the speaker. As surely as you knowmeI knowyou: and ..."

Laetitiaburst forth with: "No!"

"I donot know you?" said hesearchingly mellifluous.

"Hardly."

"Hownot?"

"I amchanged."

"Inwhat way?"

"Deeply."

"Sedater?"

"Materially."

"Colourwill come back: have no fear; I promise it. If you imagineyou wantrenewingI have the specificImy loveI!"

"Forgiveme--will you tell meSir Willoughbywhether you havebrokenwith Miss Middleton?"

"Restsatisfiedmy dear Laetitia. She is as free as I am. I cando no morethan a man of honour should do. She releases me.To-morrowor next day she departs. WeLaetitiayou and Imylovearehome birds. It does not do for the home bird to couplewith themigratory. The little imperceptible change you allude toisnothing. Italy will restore you. I am ready to stake my ownhealth--neveryet shaken by a doctor of medicine:--I saymedicineadvisedlyfor there are doctors of divinity who wouldshakegiants:--that an Italian trip will send you back--that Ishallbring you home from Italy a blooming bride. You shake yourhead--despondently?My loveI guarantee it. Cannot I give youcolour?Behold! Come to the lightlook in the glass."

"Imay redden" said Laetitia. "I suppose that is due to theaction ofthe heart. I am changed. Heartfor any other purposeIhave not.I am like youSir Willoughbyin this: I could notmarrywithout lovingand I do not know what love isexcept thatit is anempty dream."

"Marriagemy dearest..."

"Youare mistaken."

"Iwill cure youmy Laetitia. Look to meI am the tonic. It isnot commonconfidencebut conviction. Imy loveI!"

"Thereis no cure for what I feelSir Willoughby."

"Spareme the formal prefixI beg. You place your hand in minerelying onme. I am pledge for the remainder. We end as we began:my requestis for your hand--your hand in marriage."

"Icannot give it."

"Tobe my wife!"

"Itis an honour; I must decline it."

"Areyou quite wellLaetitia? I propose in the plainest terms Icanemployto make you Lady Patterne--mine."

"I amcompelled to refuse."

"Why?Refuse? Your reason!"

"Thereason has been named."

He took astride to inspirit his wits.

"There'sa madness comes over women at timesI know.  Answer meLaetitia:--byall the evidence a man can haveI could swear it:--butanswer me; you loved me once?"

"Iwas an exceedingly foolishromantic girl."

"Youevade my question: I am serious. Oh!" he walked away from herbooming asound of utter repudiation of her present imbecilityandhurrying to her sidesaid: "But it was manifest to the wholeworld! Itwas a legend. To love like Laetitia Dalewas a currentphrase.You were an examplea light to women: no one was yourmatch fordevotion. You were a precious cameostill gazing! And Iwas theobject. You loved me. You loved meyou belonged to meyou wereminemy possessionmy jewel; I was prouder of yourconstancythan of anything else that I had on earth. It was a partof theorder of the universe to me. A doubt of it would havedisturbedmy creed. Whygood heaven! where are we? Is nothingsolid onearth? You loved me!"

"Iwas childishindeed."

"Youloved me passionately!"

"Doyou insist on shaming me through and throughSir Willoughby?I havebeen exposed enough."

"Youcannot blot out the past: it is writtenit is recorded. Youloved medevotedlysilence is no escape. You loved me."

"Idid."

"Younever loved meyou shallow woman! 'I did!' As if there couldbe acessation of a love! What are we to reckon on as ours? Weprize awoman's love; we guard it jealouslywe trust to itdreamof it;there is our wealth; there is our talisman! And when weopen thecasket it has flown!--barren vacuity!--we are poorerthan dogs.As well think of keeping a costly wine in potter's clayas love inthe heart of a woman! There are women--women! Ohthey areall of a stamp coin! Coin for any hand! It's a fictionanimposture--they cannot love. They are the shadows of men.Comparedwith menthey have as much heart in them as the shadowbeside thebody. Laetitia!"

"SirWilloughby."

"Yourefuse my offer?"

"Imust."

"Yourefuse to take me for your husband?"

"Icannot be your wife."

"Youhave changed? ... you have set your heart? ... you couldmarry? ...there is a man? ... you could marry one! I will havean answerI am sick of evasions. What was in the mind of Heavenwhen womenwere createdwill be the riddle to the end of theworld!Every good man in turn has made the inquiry. I have a rightto knowwho robs me--We may try as we like to solve it.--Satanis paintedlaughing!--I say I have a right to know who robs me.Answerme."

"Ishall not marry."

"Thatis not an answer."

"Ilove no one."

"Youloved me.--You are silent?--but you confessed it. Then youconfess itwas a love that could die! Are you unable to perceivehow thatredounds to my discredit? You loved meyou have ceasedto loveme. In other words you charge me with incapacity tosustain awoman's love. You accuse me of inspiring a miserablepassionthat cannot last a lifetime! You let the world see that Iam a manto be aimed at for a temporary mark! And simply because Ihappen tobe in your neighbourhood at an age when a young woman isimpressionable!You make a public example of me as a for whomwomen mayhave a capricebut that is all; he cannot enchain them;hefascinates passingly; they fall off. Is it justfor me to betaken upand cast down at your will? Reflect on that scandal!Shadows?Whya man's shadow is faithful to him at least. What arewomen?There is not a comparison in nature that does not towerabovethem! not one that does not hoot at them! Ithroughout mylifeguided by absolute deference to their weakness--paying thempolitenesscourtesy--whatever I touch I am happy inexcept whenI touchwomen! How is it? What is the mystery? Some monstrousexplanationmust exist. What can it be? I am favoured by fortunefrom mybirth until I enter into relations with women. But willyou be sogood as to account for it in your defence of them? Oh!were therelations dishonourableit would be quite anothermatter.Then they ... I could recount ... I disdain to chroniclesuchvictories. Quite another matter. But they are fliesand I amsomethingmore stable. They are flies. I look beyond the day; Iowe a dutyto my line. They are flies. I foresee itI shall becrossed inmy fate so long as I fail to shun them--flies! Notmerelyborn for the dayI maintain that they are spirituallyephemeral--Wellmy opinion of your sex is directly traceable toyou. Youmay alter itor fling another of us men out on the worldwith theold bitter experience. Consider thisthat it is on yourhead if myideal of women is wrecked. It rests with you to restoreit. I loveyou. I discover that you are the one woman I havealwaysloved. I come to youI sue youand suddenly--you havechanged!'I have changed: I am not the same.' What can it mean? 'Icannotmarry: I love no one.' And you say you do not know whatloveis--avowing in the same breath that you did love me! Am Ithe emptydream? My handheartfortunenameare yoursat yourfeet; youkick them hence. I am here--you reject me. But whyforwhatmortal reason am I here other than my faith in your love? Youdrew me toyouto repel meand have a wretched revenge."

"Youknow it is not thatSir Willoughby."

"Haveyou any possible suspicion that I am still entanglednotas Iassure you I amperfectly free in fact and in honour?"

"Itis not that."

"Nameit; for you see your power. Would you have me kneel to youmadam?"

"Ohno; it would complete my grief."

"Youfeel grief? Then you believe in my affectionand you hurl itaway. Ihave no doubt that as a poetess you would saylove iseternal.And you have loved me. And you tell me you love me nomore. Youare not very logicalLaetitia Dale."

"Poetessesrarely are: if I am onewhich I little pretend to beforwriting silly verses. I have passed out of that delusionwiththe rest."

"Youshall not wrong those dear old daysLaetitia. I see themnow; whenI rode by your cottage and you were at your windowpenin handyour hair straying over your forehead. Romanticyes;notfoolish. Why were you foolish in thinking of me? Some day Iwillcommission an artist to paint me that portrait of you from mydescription.And I remember when we first whispered ... I rememberyourtrembling. You have forgotten--I remember. I remember ourmeeting inthe park on the path to church. I remember the heavenlymorning ofmy return from my travelsand the same Laetitiameetingmestedfast and unchangeable. Could I ever forget? Thoseareineradicable scenes; pictures of my youthinterwound with me.I may saythat as I recede from themI dwell on them the more.Tell meLaetitiawas there not a certain prophecy of yourfather'sconcerning us two? I fancy I heard of one. There wasone."

"Hewas an invalid. Elderly people nurse illusions."

"Askyourself Laetitiawho is the obstacle to the fulfilment ofhisprediction?--truthif ever a truth was foreseen on earth.You havenot changed so far that you would feel no pleasure ingratifyinghim? I go to him to-morrow morning with the firstlight."

"Youwill compel me to followand undeceive him."

"Dosoand I denounce an unworthy affection you are ashamed toavow."

"Thatwould be idlethough it would be base."

"Proofof lovethen! For no one but you should it be doneandno one butyou dare accuse me of a baseness."

"SirWilloughbyyou will let my father die in peace."

"Heand I together will contrive to persuade you."

"Youtempt me to imagine that you want a wife at any cost."

"YouLaetitiayou."

"I amtired" she said. "It is lateI would rather not hearmore.I am sorryif I have caused you pain. I suppose you to have spokenwithcandour. I defend neither my sex nor myself. I can only say Iam a womanas good as dead: happy to be made happy in my waybutso littlealive that I cannot realize any other way. As for loveI amthankful to have broken a spell. You have a younger woman inyour mind;I am an old one: I have no ambition and no warmth. Myutmostprayer is to float on the stream--a purely physical desireof life: Ihave no strength to swim. Such a woman is not the wifefor youSir Willoughby. Good night."

"Onefinal word. Weigh it. Express no conventional regrets.Resolutelyyou refuse?"

"ResolutelyI do."

"Yourefuse?"

"Yes."

"Ihave sacrificed my pride for nothing! You refuse?"

"Yes."

"Humbledmyself! And this is the answer! You do refuse?"

"Ido."

"GoodnightLaetitia Dale."

He gaveher passage.

"GoodnightSir Willoughby."

"I amin your power" he saidin a voice between supplication andmenacethat laid a claw on herand she turned and replied:

"Youwill not be betrayed."

"Ican trust you ... ?"

"I gohome to-morrow before breakfast."

"Permitme to escort you upstairs."

"Ifyou please: but I see no one here either to-night ortomorrow."

"Itis for the privilege of seeing the last of you."

Theywithdrew.

YoungCrossjay listened to the drumming of his head.  Somewhere inor overthe cavity a drummer rattled tremendously.

SirWilloughby's laboratory door shut with a slam.

Crossjaytumbled himself off the ottoman. He stole up to theuncloseddrawing-room doorand peeped. Never was a boy morethoroughlyawakened. His object was to get out of the house and gothroughthe night avoiding everything humanfor he was big withinformationof a character that he knew to be of the nature ofgunpowderand he feared to explode. He crossed the hall. In thepassage tothe scullery he ran against Colonel De Craye.

"Sothere you are" said the colonel"I've been hunting you."

Crossjayrelated that his bedroom door was locked and the keygoneandSir Willoughby sitting up in the laboratory.

Colonel DeCraye took the boy to his own roomwhere Crossjay layon a sofacomfortably covered over and snug in a swellingpillow;but he was restless; he wanted to speakto bellowtocry; andhe bounced round to his left sideand bounced to hisrightnotknowing what to thinkexcept that there was treason tohis adoredMiss Middleton.

"Whymy ladyou're not half a campaigner" the colonel calledout tohim; attributing his uneasiness to the material discomfortof thesofa: and Crossjay had to swallow the tauntbitter thoughit was. Adim sentiment of impropriety in unburdening hisoverchargedmind on the subject of Miss Middleton to Colonel DeCrayerestrained him from defending himself; and so he heaved andtossedabout till daybreak. At an early hourwhile hishospitablefriendwho looked very handsome in profile half breastand headabove the sheetscontinued to slumberCrossjay was onhis legsand away. "He says I'm not half a campaignerand acouple ofhours of bed are enough for me" the boy thoughtproudlyand snuffed the springing air of the young sun on thefields. Aglance back at Patterne Hall dismayed himfor he knewnot how toactand he was immoderately combustibletoo full ofknowledgefor self-containment; much too zealously excited onbehalf ofhis dear Miss Middleton to keep silent for many hours ofthe day.

 

 

CHAPTERXLI

TheRev. Dr. MiddletonClaraand Sir Willoughby 

WhenMaster Crossjay tumbled down the stairsLaetitia was inClara'sroomspeculating on the various mishaps which might havebefallenthat battered youngster; and Clara listened anxiouslyafterLaetitia had run outuntil she heard Sir Willoughby'svoice;which in some way satisfied her that the boy was not in thehouse.

Shewaitedexpecting Miss Dale to return; then undressedwent tobedtriedto sleep. She was tired of strife. Strange thoughts fora younghead shot through her: asthat it is possible for thesense ofduty to counteract distaste; and that one may live a lifeapart fromone's admirations and dislikes: she owned the singularstrengthof Sir Willoughby in outwearying: she asked herself howmuch shehad gained by struggling:--every effort seemed toexpend herspirit's forceand rendered her less able to get theclearvision of her prospectsas though it had sunk her deeper:thecontrary of her intention to make each further step confirmherliberty. Looking backshe marvelled at the things she haddone.Looking roundhow ineffectual they appeared! She had stillthe greatscene of positive rebellion to go through with herfather.

Theanticipation of that was the cause of her extremediscouragement.He had not spoken to her since he became aware ofherattempted flight: but the scene was coming; and besides thewish notto inflict it on himas well as to escape it herselfthe girl'speculiar unhappiness lay in her knowledge that theywerealienated and stood opposedowing to one among the moreperplexingmasculine weaknesseswhich she could not hint atdaredbarely think ofand would not name in her meditations.Divertingto other subjectsshe allowed herself to exclaim"Winewine!" in renewed wonder of what there could be in wine toentrapvenerable men and obscure their judgements. She was tooyoung toconsider that her being very much in the wrong gave alltheimportance to the cordial glass in a venerable gentleman'sappreciationof his dues. Why should he fly from a priceless wineto gratifythe caprices of a fantastical child guilty of seekingto commita breach of faith? He harped on those words. Her faultwas grave.No doubt the wine coloured it to himas a drop or twowill do inany cup: still her fault was grave.

She wastoo young for such considerations. She was ready toexpatiateon the gravity of her faultso long as the humiliationassistedto her disentanglement: her snared nature in the toilswould notpermit her to reflect on it further. She had neveraccuratelyperceived it: for the reason perhaps that Willoughbyhad notbeen moving in his appeals: butadmitting the charge ofwaywardnessshe had come to terms with conscienceupon theunderstandingthat she was to perceive it and regret it and dopenancefor it by-and-by:--by renouncing marriage altogether? Howlight apenance!

In themorningshe went to Laetitia's roomknockedand had noanswer.

She wasinformed at the breakfast-table of Miss Dale's departure.The ladiesEleanor and Isabel feared it to be a case of urgency atthecottage. No one had seen Vernonand Clara requested ColonelDe Crayeto walk over to the cottage for news of Crossjay. Heacceptedthe commissionsimply to obey and be in her service:assuringherhoweverthat there was no need to be disturbedabout theboy. He would have told her more. had not Dr. Middletonled herout.

SirWilloughby marked a lapse of ten minutes by his watch. Hisexcellentaunts had ventured a comment on his appearance thatfrightenedhim lest he himself should be the person to betray hisastoundingdiscomfiture. He regarded his conduct as an act ofmadnessand Laetitia's as no less that of a madwoman--happilymad! Veryhappily mad indeed! Her rejection of his ridiculouslygenerousproposal seemed to show an intervening hand in hisfavourthat sent her distraught at the right moment. He entirelytrustedher to be discreet; but she was a miserable creaturewhohad lostthe one last chance offered her by Providenceandfurnishedhim with a signal instance of the mediocrity of woman'slove.

Time wasflying. In a little while Mrs. Mountstuart would arrive.He couldnot fence her without a design in his head; he wasdestituteof an armoury if he had no scheme: he racked the brainonly tosucceed in rousing phantasmal vapours. Her infernal"Twice!"would cease now to apply to Laetitia; it would be an echoof LadyBusshe. Naywere all in the secretThrice jilted! mightbecome theuniversal roar. And thishe reflected bitterlyof aman whomnothing but duty to his line had arrested from being themostmischievous of his class with women! Such is our reward foruprightness!

At theexpiration of fifteen minutes by his watchhe struck aknuckle onthe library door. Dr. Middleton held it open to him.

"Youare disengagedsir?"

"Thesermon is upon the paragraph which is toned to awaken theclerk"replied the Rev. Doctor.

Clara wasweeping.

SirWilloughby drew near her solicitously.

DrMiddleton's mane of silvery hair was in a state bearing witnessto thevehemence of the sermonand Willoughby said: "I hopesiryou havenot made too much of a trifle."

"Ibelievesirthat I have produced an effectand that was thepoint incontemplation."

"Clara!my dear Clara!" Willoughby touched her.

"Shesincerely repents her conductI may inform you" said Dr.Middleton.

"Mylove!" Willoughby whispered. "We have had amisunderstanding.I am at aloss to discover where I have been guiltybut I takethe blameall the blame. I implore you not to weep. Do me thefavour tolook at me. I would not have had you subjected to anyinterrogationwhatever."

"Youare not to blame" Clara said on a sob.

"UndoubtedlyWilloughby is not to blame. It was not he who wasbound on arunaway errand in flagrant breach of duty and decorumnor he whoinflicted a catarrh on a brother of my craft andcloth"said her father.

"Theclerksirhas pronounced Amen" observed Willoughby.

"Andno man is happier to hear an ejaculation that he has labouredfor withso much sweat of his brow than the parsonI can assureyou"Dr. Middleton mildly groaned. "I have notions of the troubleofAbraham. A sermon of that description is an immolation of theparenthowever it may go with the child."

Willoughbysoothed his Clara.

"Iwish I had been here to share it. I might have saved you sometears. Imay have been hasty in our little dissensions. I willacknowledgethat I have been. My temper is often irascible."

"Andso is mine!" exclaimed Dr. Middleton. "And yet I am notawarethat Imade the worse husband for it. Nor do I rightly comprehendhow aprobably justly excitable temper can stand for a plea inmitigationof an attempt at an outrageous breach of faith."

"Thesermon is oversir."

"Reverberations!"the Rev. Doctor waved his arm placably."Takeit for thunder heard remote."

"Yourhandmy love" Willoughby murmured.

The handwas not put forth.

Dr.Middleton remarked the fact. He walked to the window. andperceivingthe pair in the same position when he faced abouthedelivereda cough of admonition.

"Itis cruel!" said Clara.

"Thatthe owner of your hand should petition you for it?" inquiredherfather.

She soughtrefuge in a fit of tears.

Willoughbybent above hermute.

"Is ascene that is hardly conceivable as a parent's obligationonce in alustrumto be repeated within the half hour?" shoutedherfather.

She drewup her shoulders and shook; let them fall and dropped herhead.

"Mydearest! your hand!" fluted Willoughby.

The handsurrendered; it was much like the icicle of a suddenthaw.

Willoughbysqueezed it to his ribs.

Dr.Middleton marched up and down the room with his arms lockedbehindhim. The silence between the young people seemed todenouncehis presence.

He saidcordially: "Old Hiems has but to withdraw for buds toburst.'Jam ver egelidos refert tepores." The equinoctial furydeparts. Iwill leave you for a term."

Clara andWilloughby simultaneously raised their faces withopposingexpressions.

"Mygirl!" Her father stood by herlaying gentle hand on her.

"YespapaI will come out to you" she replied to his apologyfor therather heavy weight of his vocabularyand smiled.

"NosirI beg you will remain" said Willoughby.

"Ikeep you frost-bound."

Clara didnot deny it.

Willoughbyemphatically did.

Then whichof them was the more lover-like? Dr. Middleton would forthe momenthave supposed his daughter.

Clarasaid: "Shall you be on the lawnpapa?"

Willoughbyinterposed. "Staysir; give us your blessing."

"Thatyou have." Dr. Middleton hastily motioned the paternalceremonyin outline.

"Afew minutespapa" said Clara.

"Willshe name the day?" came eagerly from Willoughby.

"Icannot!" Clara cried in extremity.

"Theday is important on its arrival" said her father; "but Iapprehendthe decision to be of the chief importance at present.Firstprime your piece of artillerymy friend."

"Thedecision is takensir."

"ThenI will be out of the way of the firing. Hit what day youplease."

Clarachecked herself on an impetuous exclamation. It was donethat herfather might not be detained.

Her astuteself-compression sharpened Willoughby as much as itmortifiedand terrified him. He understood how he would stand inan instantwere Dr. Middleton absent. Her father was the tribunalshedreadedand affairs must be settled and made irrevocablewhile hewas with them. To sting the blood of the girlhe calledher hisdarlingand half enwound hershadowing forth a salute.

She strungher body to submitseeing her father take it as asignal forhis immediate retirement.

Willoughbywas upon him before he reached the door.

"Hearus outsir. Do not go. Stayat my entreaty. I fear we havenot cometo a perfect reconcilement."

"Ifthat is your opinion" said Clara"it is good reason fornotdistressingmy father."

"DrMiddletonI love your daughter. I wooed her and won her; Ihad yourconsent to our unionand I was the happiest of mankind.In somewaysince her coming to my houseI know not how--shewill nottell meor cannot--I offended. One may be innocent andoffend. Ihave never pretended to impeccabilitywhich is anadmissionthat I may very naturally offend. My appeal to her isfor anexplanation or for pardon. I obtain neither. Had ourpositionsbeen reversedohnot for any real offence--not forthe worstthat can be imagined--I think not--I hope not--couldI havebeen tempted to propose the dissolution of our engagement.To love isto lovewith me; an engagement a solemn bond. With allmy errorsI have that merit of utter fidelity--to the worldlaughable!I confess to a multitude of errors; I have that singlemeritandam not the more estimable in your daughter's eyes onaccount ofitI fear. In plain wordsI amI do not doubtoneof thefools among men; of the description of human dog commonlyknown asfaithful--whose destiny is that of a tribe. A man whocries outwhen he is hurt is absurdand I am not asking forsympathy.Call me luckless. But I abhor a breach of faith. Abrokenpledge is hateful to me. I should regard it myself as aform ofsuicide. There are principles which civilized men mustcontendfor. Our social fabric is based on them. As my word standsfor meIhold others to theirs. If that is not donethe world ismore orless a carnival of counterfeits. In this instance--Ah!Claramylove! and you have principles: you have inheritedyouhave beenindoctrinated with them: have Ithenin my ignoranceoffendedpast penitencethat youof all women? ... And withoutbeing ableto name my sin!--Not only for what I lose by itbutin theabstractjudicially--apart from the sentiment of personalinterestgriefpainand the possibility of my having to endurethat whichno temptation would induce me to commit:--judicially;--I fearsirI am a poor forensic orator . . ."

"Thesituationsirdoes not demand a Cicero: proceed" said Dr.Middletonbalked in his approving nods at the right true thingsdelivered.

"JudiciallyI am bold to saythough it may appear a presumptionin onesuffering acutelyI abhor a breach of faith."

Dr.Middleton brought his nod down low upon the phrase he hadanticipated."And I" said he"personallyand presentlyabhor abreach offaith. Judicially? Judicially to examinejudicially tocondemn:but does the judicial mind detest? I thinksirwe arenot on thebench when we say that we abhor: we have unseatedourselves.Yet our abhorrence of bad conduct is very certain. Youwouldsignifyimpersonally: which suffices for this exposition ofyourfeelings."

He peeredat the gentleman under his browsand resumed:

"Shehas had itWilloughby; she has had it in plain Saxon and inuncompromisingOlympian. There isI conceiveno necessity torevert toit."

"Pardonmesirbut I am still unforgiven."

"Youmust babble out the rest between you. I am about as much athome as aturkey with a pair of pigeons."

"Leaveusfather" said Clara.

"Firstjoin our handsand let me give you that titlesir."

"Reachthe good man your handmy girl; forthrightfrom theshoulderlike a brave boxer. Humour a lover. He asks for hisown."

"Itis more than I can dofather."

"Howit is more than you can do? You are engaged to himaplightedwoman."

"I donot wish to marry."

"Theapology is inadequate."

"I amunworthy..."

"Chatter!chatter!"

"Ibeg him to release me."

"Lunacy!"

"Ihave no love to give him."

"Haveyou gone back to your cradleClara Middleton?"

"Ohleave usdear father!"

"MyoffenceClaramy offence! What is it? Will you only nameit?"

"Fatherwill you leave us? We can better speak together . .

"Wehave spokenClarahow often!" Willoughby resumed"withwhat result?--that you loved methat you have ceased tolove me:that your heart was minethat you have withdrawn itplucked itfrom me: that you request me to consent to a sacrificeinvolvingmy reputationmy life. And what have I done? I am thesameunchangeable. I loved and love you: my heart was yoursandisandwill be yours forever. You are my affianced--that ismywife. Whathave I done?"

"Itis indeed useless" Clara sighed.

"Notuselessmy girlthat you should inform this gentlemanyouraffiancedhusbandof the ground of the objection you conceivedagainsthim."

"Icannot say."

"Doyou know?"

"If Icould name itI could hope to overcome it."

Dr.Middleton addressed Sir Willoughby.

"Iverily believe we are directing the girl to dissect a caprice.Suchthings are seen large by these young peoplebut as they haveneitherorgansnor arteriesnor brainsnor membranesdissectionand inspection will he alike profitlessly practised.Yourinquiry is natural for a loverwhose passion to enter intorelationswith the sex is ordinarily in proportion to his ignoranceof thestuff composing them. At a particular age they traffic inwhims:which areI presumethe spiritual of hysterics; and areindubitablypreferableso long as they are not pushed too far.Examplesare not wanting to prove that a flighty initiative on thepart ofthe male is a handsome corrective. In that casewe shouldprobablyhave had the roof off the houseand the girl now at yourfeet. Ha!"

"Despisemefather. I am punished for ever thinking myself thesuperiorof any woman" said Clara.
"Yourhand out to himmy dearsince he is for a formalreconciliation;and I can't wonder."

"Father!I have said I do not ... I have said I cannot ...

"Bythe most merciful! what? what? the name for itwords for it!"

"Donot frown on mefather. I wish him happiness. I cannot marryhim. I donot love him."

"Youwill remember that you informed me aforetime that you didlove him."

"Iwas ignorant ... I did not know myself. I wish him to behappy."

"Youdeny him the happiness you wish him!"

"Itwould not be for his happiness were I to wed him."

"Oh!"burst from Willoughby.

"Youhear him. He rejects your predictionClara Middleton." Shecaught herclasped hands up to her throat. "Wretchedwretchedboth!"

"Andyou have not a word against himmiserable girl."

"Miserable!I am."

"Itis the cry of an animal!"

"Yesfather."

"Youfeel like one? Your behaviour is of that shape. You have nota word?"

"Againstmyselfnot against him."

"AndIwhen you speak so generouslyam to yield you? give youup?"cried Willoughby. "Ah! my lovemy Claraimpose what youwill onme; not that. It is too much for man. It isI swear itbeyond mystrength."

"Pursuecontinue the strain; 'tis in the right key" said Dr.Middletondeparting.

Willoughbywheeled and waylaid him with a bound.

"Pleadfor mesir; you are all-powerful. Let her be minesheshall behappyor I will perish for it. I will call it on myhead.--Impossible!I cannot lose her. Lose youmy love? it wouldbe tostrip myself of every blessing of body and soul. It wouldbe to denymyself possession of gracebeautywitall theincomparablecharms of loveliness of mind and person in womanandplantmyself in a desert. You are my matethe sum of everything Icall mine.ClaraI should be less than man to submit to such aloss.Consent to it? But I love you! I worship you! How can Iconsent tolose you ... ?"

He saw theeyes of the desperately wily young woman slinksideways.Dr. Middleton was pacing at ever shorter lengths closerby thedoor.

"Youhate me?" Willoughby sunk his voice.

"Ifit should turn to hate!" she murmured.

"Hatredof your husband?"

"Icould not promise" she murmuredmore softly in her wiliness.

"Hatred?"he cried aloudand Dr. Middleton stopped in his walk andflung uphis head: "Hatred of your husband? of the man you havevowed tolove and honour? Ohno! Once mineit is not to hefeared. Itrust to my knowledge of your nature; I trust in yourbloodItrust in your education. Had I nothing else to inspireconfidenceI could trust in your eyes. AndClaratake theconfession:I would rather be hated than lose you. For if I loseyouyouare in another worldout of this one holding me in itsdeath-likecold; but if you hate me we are togetherwe are stilltogether.Any allianceanyin preference to separation!"

Claralistened with critical ear. His language and tone were new;andcomprehending that they were in part addressed to her fatherwhosephrase: "A breach of faith": he had so cunningly useddisdain ofthe actor prompted the extreme blunder of her saying--frigidlythough she said it:

"Youhave not talked to me in this way before."

"Finally"remarked her fathersumming up the situation to settleit fromthat little speech"he talks to you in this way now; andyou areunder my injunction to stretch your hand out to him for asymbol ofunionor to state your objection to that course. Hebyyouradmissionis at the terminusand therefailing the whynotmustyou join him."

Her headwhirled. She had been severely flagellated and weakenedpreviousto Willoughby's entrance. Language to express herpeculiarrepulsion eluded her. She formed the wordsand perceivedthat theywould not stand to bear a breath from her father. Sheperceivedtoo that Willoughby was as ready with his agony ofsupplicationas she with hers. If she had tears for a resourcehehadgestures quite as eloquent; and a cry of her loathing of theunionwould fetch a countervailing torrent of the man's love.--What couldshe say? he is an Egoist? The epithet has no meaning insuch ascene. Invent! shrieked the hundred-voiced instinct ofdislikewithin herand alone with her fatheralone withWilloughbyshe could have invented some equivalentto do herheartjustice for the injury it sustained in her being unable toname thetrue and immense objection: but the pair in presenceparalyzedher. She dramatized them each springing forward byturnswith crushing rejoinders. The activity of her mind revelledin givingthem a tonguebut would not do it for herself. Thenensued theinevitable consequence of an incapacity to speak at theheart'surgent dictate: heart and mind became divided. Onethrobbedhotlythe other hung aloofand mentallywhile the sickinarticulateheart kept clamouringshe answered it with all thatsheimagined for those two men to say. And she dropped poison onit tostill its reproaches: bidding herself remember her fatalpostponementsin order to preserve the seeming of consistencybefore herfather; calling it hypocrite; asking herselfwhat wasshe! wholoved her! And thus beating down her heartshe completedthemischief with a piercing view of the foundation of herfather'sadvocacy of Willoughbyand more lamentably asked herselfwhat hervalue wasif she stood bereft of respect for her father.

Reasononthe other handwas animated by her better nature toplead hiscase against her: she clung to her respect for himandfeltherself drowning with it: and she echoed Willoughbyconsciouslydoubling her horror with the consciousnessin cryingout on aworld where the most sacred feelings are subject to suchlapses. Itdoubled her horrorthat she should echo the man: butit provedthat she was no better than be: only some years younger.Thoseyears would soon be outlived: after whichhe and she wouldbe of apattern. She was unloved: she did no harm to any one bykeepingher word to this man; she had pledged itand it would bea breachof faith not to keep it. No one loved her. Behold thequality ofher father's love! To give him happiness was now theprincipalaim for herher own happiness being decently buried;and herehe was happy: why should she be the cause of his goingand losingthe poor pleasure he so much enjoyed?

The ideaof her devotedness flattered her feebleness. She betrayedsigns ofhesitation; and in hesitatingshe looked away from alook atWilloughbythinking (so much against her nature was it toresignherself to him) that it would not have been so difficultwith anill-favoured man. With one horribly uglyit would havebeen ahorrible exultation to cast off her youth and take thefiendishleap.

Unfortunatelyfor Sir Willoughbyhe had his reasons for pressingimpatience;and seeing her deliberateseeing her hasty look athis finefigurehis opinion of himself combined with hisrecollectionof a particular maxim of the Great Book to assure himthat herresistance was over: chiefly owingas he supposedtohisphysical perfections.

Frequentlyindeedin the contest between gentlemen and ladieshave themaxims of the Book stimulated the assailant to victory.They arerosy with blood of victims. To bear them is to hear ahorn thatblows the mort: has blown it a thousand times. It isgood toremember how often they have succeededwhenfor thebenefit ofsome future Lady Vaubanwho may bestir her wits togathermaxims for the inspiriting of the Defencethe circumstanceof afailure has to be recorded.

Willoughbycould not wait for the melting of the snows. He sawfullsurely the dissolving process; and sincerely admiring andcovetingher as he didrashly this ill-fated gentleman attemptedtoprecipitate itand so doing arrested.

Whencemight we draw a note upon yonder maximin words akin tothese:Make certain ere a breath come from thee that thou be not afrost.

"Mine!She is mine!" he cried: "mine once more! mine utterly! mineeternally!"and he followed up his devouring exclamations inperson assheless decidedlyretreated. She retreated as youngladiesshould ever dotwo or three stepsand he would not noticethat shehad become an angry Dianall arrows: her maidenliness insurrenderingpleased him. Grasping one fair handhe just allowedher toedge on the outer circle of his embracecrying: "Not asyllableof what I have gone through! You shall not have toexplainitmy Clara. I will study you more diligentlyto beguided byyoumy darling. If I offend againmy wife will notfind ithard to speak what my bride withheld--I do not ask why:perhapsnot able to weigh the effect of her reticence: not at thattimewhenshe was younger and less experiencedestimating thesacrednessof a plighted engagement. It is pastwe are onemydear sirand father. You may leave us now."

"Iprofoundly rejoice to hear that I may" said Dr. Middleton.Clarawrithed her captured hand.

"Nopapastay. It is an erroran error. You must not leave me.Do notthink me utterlyeternallybelonging to any one but you.No oneshall say I am his but you."

"Areyou quicksandsClara Middletonthat nothing can be built onyou?Whither is a flighty head and a shifty will carrying thegirl?"

"Claraand Isir" said Willoughby.

"Andso you shall" said the Doctorturning about.

"Notyetpapa:" Clara sprang to him.

"Whyyouyouyouit was you who craved to be alone withWilloughby!"her father shouted; "and here we are rounded to ourstarting-pointwith the solitary difference that now you do notwant to bealone with Willoughby. First I am bidden go; next I ampulledback; and judging by collar and coat-tagI suspect you tobe a youngwoman to wear an angel's temper threadbare before youdetermineupon which one of the tides driving him to and fro youintend tolaunch on yourselfWhere is your mind?"

Clarasmoothed her forehead.

"Iwish to please youpapa."

"Irequest you to please the gentleman who is your appointedhusband."

"I amanxious to perform my duty."

"Thatshould be a satisfactory basis for youWilloughby; asgirls go!"

"Letmesirsimply entreat to have her hand in mine before you."

"WhynotClara?"

"Whyan empty ceremonypapa?"

"Theimplication isthat she is prepared for the important onefriendWilloughby."

"Herhandsir; the reassurance of her hand in mine under youreyes:--afterall that I have sufferedI claim itI think Iclaim itreasonablyto restore me to confidence."

"Quitereasonably; which is not to saynecessarily; butI willaddjustifiably; and it may besagaciouslywhen dealing withthevolatile."

"Andhere" said Willoughby"is my hand."

Clararecoiled.

He steppedon. Her father frowned. She lifted both her hands fromtheshrinking elbowsdarted a look of repulsion at her pursuerand ran toher fathercrying: "Call it my mood! I am volatilecapriciousflightyvery foolish. But you see that I attach arealmeaning to itand feel it to be binding: I cannot think itan emptyceremonyif it is before you. Yesonly be a littleconsiderateto your moody girl. She will be in a fitter state in afew hours.Spare me this moment; I must collect myself. I thoughtI wasfree; I thought he would not press me. If I give my handhurriedlynowI shallI knowimmediately repent it. There isthepicture of me! ButpapaI mean to try to be above thatandif I goand walk by myselfI shall grow calm to perceive where myduty lies. . ."

"Inwhich direction shall you walk?" said Willoughby.

"Wisdomis not upon a particular road" said Dr. Middleton.

"Ihave a dreadsirof that one which leads to therailway-station."

"Withsome justice!" Dr. Middleton sighed over his daughter.

Claracoloured to deep crimson: but she was beyond angerand wasrathergratified by an offence coming from Willoughby.

"Iwill promise not to leave his groundspapa."

"Mychildyou have threatened to be a breaker of promises."

"Oh!"she wailed. "But I will make it a vow to you."

"Whynot make it a vow to me this momentfor this gentleman'scontentmentthat he shall be your husband within a given period?"

"Iwill come to you voluntarily. I burn to be alone."

"Ishall lose her" exclaimed Willoughbyin heartfelt earnest.

"Howso?" said Dr. Middleton. "I have hersirif you willfavourme bycontinuing in abeyance.--You will come within an hourvoluntarilyClara; and you will either at once yield your hand tohim or youwill furnish reasonsand they must be good onesforwithholdingit."

"Yespapa."

"Youwill?"

"Iwill."

"MindI say reasons."

"Reasonspapa. If I have none ..."

"Ifyou have none that are to my satisfactionyou implicitly andinstantlyand cordially obey my command."

"Iwill obey."

"Whatmore would you require?" Dr. Middleton bowed to SirWilloughbyin triumph.

"Willshe..."

"Sir!Sir!"

"Sheis your daughtersir. I am satisfied."

"Shehas perchance wrestled with her engagementas theaboriginalsof a land newly discovered by a crew of adventurouscolonistsdo battle with the garments imposed on them by ourconsideratecivilization;--ultimately to rejoice with excessivedignity inthe wearing of a battered cocked-hat and trowsers notextendingto the shanks: but she did not break her engagementsir; andwe will anticipate thatmoderating a young woman'snativewildnessshe mayafter the manner of my comparisontakea similarpride in her fortune in good season."

Willoughbyhad not leisure to sound the depth of Dr. Middleton'scompliment.He had seen Clara gliding out of the room during thedelivery;and his fear returned on him thatnot being wonshewas lost.

"Shehas gone." Her father noticed her absence. "She does notwaste timein her mission to procure that astonishing product of ashallowsoilher reasons; if such be the object of her search.But no: itsignifies that she deems herself to have need ofcomposure--nothingmore. No one likes to be turned about; we liketo turnourselves about; and in the question of an act to becommittedwe stipulate that it shall be our act--girls andothers. After the lapse of an hourit will appear to her as heract. HappilyWilloughbywe do not dine away from Patterneto-night."

"Nosir."

"Itmay be attributable to a sense of deservingbut I could pleadguilty toa weakness for old Port to-day."

"Thereshall be an extra bottlesir."

"Allgoing favourably with youas I have no cause to doubt" saidDrMiddletonwith the motion of wafting his host out of thelibrary.

 

 

CHAPTERXLII

Showsthe Divining Arts of a Perceptive Mind

 

Startingfrom the Hall a few minutes before Dr. Middleton and SirWilloughbyhad entered the drawing-room overnightVernon partedcompanywith Colonel De Craye at the park-gatesand betook himselfto thecottage of the Daleswhere nothing had been heard of hiswanderer;and he received the same disappointing reply from Dr.Corneyout of the bedroom window of the genial physicianwhoseastonishmentat his covering so long a stretch of road at nightfor newsof a boy like Crossjay--gifted with the lives of a cat--becameviolent and rapped Punch-like blows on the window-sill atVernon'srefusal to take shelter and rest. Vernon's excuse wasthat hehad "no one but that fellow to care for"and he strodeoffnaming a farm five miles distant. Dr. Corney howled aninvitationto early breakfast to himin the event of his passingon his waybackand retired to bed to think of him. The result ofa varietyof conjectures caused him to set Vernon down as MissMiddleton'sknightand he felt a strong compassion for his poorfriend."Though" thought he"a hopeless attachment is asprettyanaccompaniment to the tune of life as a gentleman might wish tohaveforit's one of those big doses of discord which make allthe minorones fit in like an agreeable harmonyand so heshufflesalong as pleasantly as the fortune-favouredwhen theycome tocompute!"

SirWilloughby was the fortune-favoured in the little doctor'smind; thathigh-stepping gentleman having wealthand publicconsiderationand the most ravishing young lady in the world fora bride.Stillthough he reckoned all these advantages enjoyed bySirWilloughby at their full valuehe could imagine the ultimatebalance ofgood fortune to be in favour of Vernon. But to do sohe had toreduce the whole calculation to the extreme abstractand feedhis lean friendas it wereon dew and roots; and thehappyeffect for Vernon lay in a distant futureon the borders ofold agewhere he was to be blessed with his lady's regretfulpreferenceand rejoice in the fruits of good constitutionalhabits.The reviewing mind was Irish. Sir Willoughby was acharacterof man profoundly opposed to Dr. Corney's nature; thelatter'sinstincts bristled with antagonism--not to his raceforVernon wasof the same racepartly of the same bloodand Corneyloved him:the type of person was the annoyance. And thecircumstanceof its prevailing successfulness in the country wherehe wasplacedwhile it held him silent as if under a lawheapedstores ofinsurgency in the Celtic bosom. Corney contemplating SirWilloughbyand a trotting kern governed by Strongbowhave apoint oflikeness between them; with the point of differencethatCorney wasenlightened to know of a friend better adapted foreminentstationand especially better adapted to please a lovelylady--couldthese high-bred Englishwomen but be taught toconceiveanother idea of manliness than the formal carved-in-woodidol oftheir national worship!

Dr Corneybreakfasted very earlywithout seeing Vernon. He wasoff to apatient while the first lark of the morning carolledaboveandthe business of the daynot yet fallen upon men in theshape ofcloudwas happily intermixed with nature's hues andpipings.Turning off the high-road tip a green lanean hourlaterhebeheld a youngster prying into a hedge head and armsbythepeculiar strenuous twist of whose hinder partsindicative ofa frameplunged on the pursuit in handhe clearly distinguishedyoungCrossjay. Out came eggs. The doctor pulled up.

"Whatbird?" he bellowed.

"Yellowhammer"Crossjay yelled back.

"Nowsiryou'll drop a couple of those eggs in the nest."

"Don'torder me" Crossjay was retorting. "Ohit's youDoctorCorney.Good morning. I said thatbecause I always do drop acoupleback. I promised Mr. Whitford I wouldand Miss Middletontoo."

"Hadbreakfast?"

"Notyet."

"Nothungry?"

"Ishould be if I thought about it."

"Jumpup."

"Ithink I'd rather notDoctor Corney."

"Andyou'll just do what Doctor Corney tells you; and set yourmind onrashers of curly fat bacon and sweetly smoking coffeetoasthotcakesmarmaladeand damson-jam. Wide go the fellow'snostrilsand there's water at the dimples of his mouth! Upmyman."

Crossjayjumped up beside the doctorwho remarkedas he touchedhis horse:"I don't want a man this morningthough I'll enlistyou in myservice if I do. You're fond of Miss Middleton?"

Instead ofansweringCrossjay heaved the sigh of love that bearsa burden.

"Andso am I" pursued the doctor: "You'll have to put up with arival.It's worse than fond: I'm in love with her. How do you likethat?"

"Idon't mind how many love her" said Crossjay.

"You'reworthy of a gratuitous breakfast in the front parlour ofthe besthotel of the place they call Arcadia. And how about yourbed lastnight?"

"Prettymiddling."

"Hardwas itwhere the bones haven't cushion?"

"Idon't care for bed. A couple of hoursand that's enough forme."

"Butyou're fond of Miss Middleton anyhowand that's a virtue."

To hisgreat surpriseDr. Corney beheld two big round tears forcetheir wayout of this tough youngster's eyesand all the whilethe boy'sface was proud.

Crossjaysaidwhen he could trust himself to disjoin his lips:

"Iwant to see Mr. Whitford."

"Haveyou got news for him?"

"I'vesomething to ask him. It's about what I ought to do."

"Thenmy boyyou have the right name addressed in the wrongdirection:for I found you turning your shoulders on Mr. Whitford.And he hasbeen out of his bed hunting you all the unholy nightyou'vemade it for him. That's melancholy. What do you say toasking myadvice?"

Crossjaysighed. "I can't speak to anybody but Mr. Whitford."

"Andyou're hot to speak to him?"

"Iwant to."

"AndI found you running away from him. You're a curiosityMr.CrossjayPatterne."

"Ah!so'd anybody be who knew as much as I do" said Crossjay.with asober sadness that caused the doctor to treat himseriously.

"Thefact is" he said"Mr. Whitford is beating the country foryou. Mybest plan will be to drive you to the Hall."

"I'drather not go to the Hall" Crossjay spoke resolutely.

"Youwon't see Miss Middleton anywhere but at the Hall."

"Idon't want to see Miss Middletonif I can't be a bit of use toher."

"Nodanger threatening the ladyis there?"

Crossjaytreated the question as if it had not been put.

"Nowtell me" said Dr. Corney"would there be a chance for mesupposingMiss Middleton were disengaged?"

The answerwas easy. "I'm sure she wouldn't."

"Andwhysirare you so cock sure?"

There wasno saying; but the doctor pressed for itand at lastCrossjaygave his opinion that she would take Mr. Whitford.

The doctorasked why; and Crossjay said it was because Mr.Whitfordwas the best man in the world. To whichwith a lusty"Amento that" Dr. Corney remarked: "I should have fanciedColonelDe Crayewould have had the first chance: he's more of a lady'sman."

Crossjaysurprised him again by petulantly saying: "Don't."

The boyadded: "I don't want to talkexcept about birds andthings. What a jolly morning it is! I saw the sun rise. No rainto-day. You're right about hungryDoctor Corney!"

The kindlylittle man swung his whip. Crossjay informed him of hisdisgraceat the Halland of every incident connected with itfrom thetramp to the baronetsave Miss Middleton's adventure andthe nightscene in the drawing-room. A strong smell of somethingleft outstruck Dr. Corneyand he said:  "You'll not let MissMiddletonknow of my affection. After allit's only a little bitof love.Butas Patrick said to Kathleenwhen she owned to sucha littlebit'that's the best bit of all!'  and he was as rightas I amabout hungry."

Crossjayscorned to talk of lovinghe declared. "I never tellMissMiddleton what I feel. Whythere's Miss Dale's cottage!"

"It'snearer to your empty inside than my mansion" said thedoctor"and we'll stop just to inquire whether a bed's to be hadfor youthere to-nightand if notI'll have you with meandbottleyouand exhibit youfor you're a rare specimen.Breakfastyou may count on from Mr. Dale. I spy a gentleman."

"It'sColonel De Craye."

"Comeafter news of you."

"Iwonder!"

"MissMiddleton sends him; of course she does."

Crossjayturned his full face to the doctor. "I haven't seen herfor such along time! But he saw me last nightand he might havetold herthatif she's anxious.--Good-morningcolonel. I've hada goodwalkand a capital driveand I'm as hungry as the boat'screw ofCaptain Bligh."

He jumpeddown.

Thecolonel and the doctor salutedsmiling.

"I'verung the bell" said De Craye.

A maidcame to the gateand upon her steps appeared Miss Dalewho flungherself at Crossjaymingling kisses and reproaches. Shescarcelyraised her face to the colonel more than to reply to hisgreetingand excuse the hungry boy for hurrying indoors tobreakfast.

"I'llwait" said De Craye. He had seen that she was paler thanusual. Sohad Dr. Corney; and the doctor called to her concerningherfather's health. She reported that he had not yet risenandtookCrossjay to herself.

"That'swell" said the doctor"if the invalid sleeps long. Thelady isnot looking so wellthough. But ladies vary; they showthe mindon the countenancefor want of the punching we meet withto concealit; they're like military flags for a funeral or agala; oneday furledand next day streaming. Men are ships"figure-headsabout the same for a storm or a calmand not toohandsomethanks to the ocean. It's an age since we encounteredlastcolonel: on board the Dublin boatI recollectand a nightit was."

"Irecollect that you set me on my legsdoctor."

"Ah!and you'll please to notify that Corney's no quack at seabyfavour ofthe monks of the Chartreusewhose elixir has power tostill thewaves. And we hear that miracles are done with!"

"Rolla physician and a monk togetherdoctor!"

"True:it'll be a miracle if they combine. Though the cure of thesoul isoften the entire and total cure of the body: and it'smaliciouslysaid that the body given over to our treatment is asignal toset the soul flying. By the waycolonelthat boy has atrifle onhis mind."

"Isuppose he has been worrying a farmer or a gamekeeper."

"Tryhim. You'll find him tight. He's got Miss Middleton on thebrain.There's a bit of a secret; and he's not so cheerful aboutit."

"We'llsee" said the colonel.

Dr Corneynodded. "I have to visit my patient here presently. I'mtoo earlyfor him: so I'll make a call or two on the lame birdsthat areup" he remarkedand drove away.

De Crayestrolled through the garden. He was a gentleman of thoseactivelyperceptive wits whichif ever they reflectdo so byhops andjumps: upon some dancing mirror withinwe may fancy. Hepenetrateda plot in a flash; and in a flash he formed one; but inbothcasesit was after long hovering and not over-eagerdeliberationby the patient exercise of his quick perceptives.The factthat Crossjay was considered to have Miss Middleton onthe brainthrew a series of images of everything relating toCrossjayfor the last forty hours into relief before him: and ashe did notin the slightest degree speculate on any one of thembut merelyshifted and surveyed themthe falcon that he was inspirit aswell as in his handsome face leisurely allowed hisinstinctto direct him where to strike. A reflective dispositionhas thisdanger in actionthat it commonly precipitatesconjecturefor the purpose of working upon probabilities with themethodsand in the tracks to which it is accustomed: and toconjecturerashly is to play into the puzzles of the maze. He whocan watchcircling above it awhilequietly viewingandcollectingin his eyegathers matter that makes the secret thingdiscourseto the brain by weight and balance; he will get eitherthe rightclue or none; more frequently none; but he will escapetheentanglement of his own clevernesshe will always be nearerto theenigma than the guesser or the calculatorand he willretain abreadth of vision forfeited by them. He musthowevertohave hischance of successbe acutely besides calmly perceptivea readerof featuresaudacious at the proper moment.

De Crayewished to look at Miss Dale. She had returned home verysuddenlynotas it appearedowing to her father's illness; andheremembered a redness of her eyelids when he passed her on thecorridorone night. She sent Crossjay out to him as soon as theboy waswell filled. He sent Crossjay back with a request. She didnot yieldto it immediately. She stepped to the front doorreluctantlyand seemed disconcerted. De Craye begged for amessage toMiss Middleton. There was none to give. He persisted.But therewas really none at presentshe said.

"Youwon't entrust me with the smallest word?" said heand sethervisibly thinking whether she could dispatch a word. She couldnot; shehad no heart for messages.

"Ishall see her in a day or twoColonel De Craye."

"Shewill miss you severely."

"Weshall soon meet."

"Andpoor Willoughby!"

Laetitiacoloured and stood silent.

Abutterfly of some rarity allured Crossjay.

"Ifear he has been doing mischief" she said. "I cannot gethimto look atme."

"Hisappetite is good?"

"Verygood indeed."

De Crayenodded. A boy with a noble appetite is never a hopelesslock.

Thecolonel and Crossjay lounged over the garden.

"Andnow" said the colonel"we'll see if we can't arrange ameetingbetween you and Miss Middleton. You're a lucky fellowforshe'salways thinking of you."

"Iknow I'm always thinking of her" said Crossjay.

"Ifever you're in a scrapeshe's the person you must go to."

"Yesif I know where she is!"

"Whygenerally she'll be at the Hall."

There wasno reply: Crossjay's dreadful secret jumped to histhroat. Hecertainly was a weaker lock for being full ofbreakfast.

"Iwant to see Mr. Whitford so much" he said.

"Somethingto tell him?"

"Idon't know what to do: I don't understand it!" The secretwriggledto his mouth. He swallowed it down. "YesI want to talkto Mr.Whitford."

"He'sanother of Miss Middleton's friends."

"Iknow he is. He's true steel."

"We'reall her friendsCrossjay. I flatter myself I'm a Toledo whenI'mwanted. How long had you been in the house last night beforeyou raninto me?"

"Idon't knowsir; I fell asleep for some timeand then I woke! .. ."

"Wheredid you find yourself?"

"Iwas in the drawing-room."

"ComeCrossjayyou're not a fellow to be scared by ghosts? Youlooked itwhen you made a dash at my midriff."

"Idon't believe there are such things. Do youcolonel? Youcan't!"

"There'sno saying. We'll hope not; for it wouldn't be fairfighting.A man with a ghost to back him'd beat any ten. Wecouldn'tbox him or play cardsor stand a chance with him as arival inlove. Did younowcatch a sight of a ghost?"

"Theyweren't ghosts!" Crossjay said what he was sure ofand hisvoicepronounced his conviction.

"Idoubt whether Miss Middleton is particularly happy" remarkedthecolonel. "Why? Whyyou upset heryou knownow and then."

The boyswelled. "I'd do ... I'd go ... I wouldn't have herunhappy... It's that! that's it! And I don't know what I ought todo. I wishI could see Mr. Whitford."

"Youget into such headlong scrapesmy lad."

"Iwasn't in any scrape yesterday."

"Soyou made yourself up a comfortable bed in the drawing-room?LuckilySir Willoughby didn't see you."

"Hedidn'tthough!"

"Aclose shavewas it?"

"Iwas under a covering of something silk."

"Hewoke you?"

"Isuppose he did. I heard him."

"Talking?"

"Hewas talking."

"What!talking to himself?"

"No."

The secretthreatened Crossjay to be out or suffocate him. DeCraye gavehim a respite.

"Youlike Sir Willoughbydon't you?"

Crossjayproduced a still-born affirmative.

"He'skind to you" said the colonel; "he'll set you up and lookafter yourinterests."

"YesI like him" said Crossjaywith his customary rapidity intouchingthe subject; "I like him; he's kind and all thatandtips andplays with youand all that; but I never can make outwhy hewouldn't see my father when my father came here to see himten milesand had to walk back ten miles in the rainto go byrail along waydown homeas far as Devonportbecause SirWilloughbywouldn't see himthough he was at homemy father saw.We allthought it so odd: and my father wouldn't let us talk muchabout it.My father's a very brave man."

"CaptainPatterne is as brave a man as ever lived" said De Craye.

"I'mpositive you'd like himcolonel."

"Iknow of his deedsand I admire himand that's a good step toliking."

He warmedthe boy's thoughts of his father.

"Becausewhat they say at home isa little bread and cheeseanda glass ofaleand a restto a poor man--lots of great houseswill giveyou thatand we wouldn't have asked for more than that.My sisterssay they think Sir Willoughby must be selfish. He'sawfullyproud; and perhaps it was because my father wasn't dressedwellenough. But what can we do? We're very poor at homeand lotsof usandall hungry. My father says he isn't paid very well forhisservices to the Government. He's only a marine."

"He'sa hero!" said De Craye.

"Hecame home very tiredwith a coldand had a doctor. But SirWilloughbydid send him moneyand mother wished to send it backand myfather said she was not like a woman--with our big family.He said hethought Sir Willoughby an extraordinary man."

"Notat all; very common; indigenous" said De Craye.  "Theart ofcutting isone of the branches of a polite education in thiscountryand you'll have to learn itif you expect to be lookedon as agentleman and a Patternemy boy. I begin to see how it isMissMiddleton takes to you so. Follow her directions.  But I hopeyou didnot listen to a private conversation. Miss Middleton wouldnotapprove of that."

"ColonelDe Crayehow could I help myself? I heard a lot before Iknew whatit was. There was poetry!"

"StillCrossjayif it was important--was it?"

The boyswelled againand the colonel asked him"Does Miss Daleknow ofyour having played listener?"

"She!"said Crossjay. "OhI couldn't tell her."

Hebreathed thick; then came a threat of tears. "She wouldn't doanythingto hurt Miss Middleton. I'm sure of that. It wasn't herfault.She--There goes Mr. Whitford!" Crossjay bounded away.

Thecolonel had no inclination to wait for his return. He walkedfast upthe roadnot perspicuously conscious that his motive wasto be wellin advance of Vernon Whitford: to whomafter alltheknowledgeimparted by Crossjay would be of small advantage. Thatfellowwould probably trot of to Willoughby to row him for breakinghis wordto Miss Middleton! There are menthought De Crayewhoseenothingfeel nothing.

He crosseda stile into the wood above the lakewhereas he wasin thehumour to think himself signally luckyespying herhetook it asa matter of course that the lady who taught his heartto leapshould be posted by the Fates. And he wondered little ather powerfor rarely had the world seen such union of princessand sylphas in that lady's figure. She stood holding by abeech-branchgazing down on the water.

She hadnot heard him. When she looked she flushed at thespectacleof one of her thousand thoughtsbut she was notstartled;the colour overflowed a grave face.

"And'tis not quite the first time that Willoughby has played thistrick!"De Craye said to herkeenly smiling with a parted mouth.

Claramoved her lips to recall remarks introductory to so abruptandstrange a plunge.

He smiledin that peculiar manner of an illuminated comicperception:for the moment he was all falcon; and he surprisedhimselfmore than Clarawho was not in the mood to takesurprises.It was the sight of her which had animated him tostrike hisgame; he was down on it.

Anotherinstinct at work (they spring up in twenties oftener thanin twoswhen the heart is the hunter) prompted him to directnessandquicknessto carry her on the flood of the discovery.

Sheregained something of her mental self-possession as soon asshe was ona level with a meaning she had not yet inspected; butshe had tosubmit to his leaddistinctly perceiving where itsdriftdivided to the forked currents of what might be in his mindand whatwas in hers.

"MissMiddletonI bear a bit of a likeness to the messenger totheglorious despot--my head is off if I speak not true!EverythingI have is on the die. Did I guess wrong your wish?--Iread it inthe darkby the heart. But here's a certainty:Willoughbysets you free."

"Youhave come from him?" she could imagine nothing elseand shewas unableto preserve a disguise; she trembled.

"FromMiss Dale."

"Ah!"Clara drooped. "She told me that once."

"'Tisthe fact that tells it now."

"Youhave not seen him since you left the house?"

"Darkly:clear enough: not unlike the hand of destiny--through aveil. Heoffered himself to Miss Dale last nightabout between thewitchinghours of twelve and one."

"MissDale . . ."

"Wouldshe other? Could she? The poor lady has languished beyond adecade.She's love in the feminine person."

"Areyou speaking seriouslyColonel De Craye?"

"WouldI dare to trifle with youMiss Middleton?"

"Ihave reason to know it cannot be."

"If Ihave a headit is a fresh and blooming truth. And more--Istake myvanity on it!"

"Letme go to her." She stepped.

"Consider"said he.

"MissDale and I are excellent friends. It would not seemindelicateto her. She has a kind of regard for methroughCrossjay.--Ohcan it be? There must be some delusion. You haveseen--youwish to be of service to me; you may too easily bedeceived.Last night?--he last night ... ? And this morning!"

"'Tisnot the first time our friend has played the trickMissMiddleton."

"Butthis is incrediblethat last night ... and this morninginmyfather's presencehe presses! ... You have seen Miss Dale?Everythingis possible of him: they were togetherI know.Colonel DeCrayeI have not the slightest chance of concealmentwith you.I think I felt that when I first saw you. Will you letme hearwhy you are so certain?"

"MissMiddletonwhen I first had the honour of looking on youitwas in aposture that necessitated my looking upand morally soit hasbeen since. I conceived that Willoughby had won thegreatestprize of earth. And next I was led to the conclusion thathe had wonit to lose it. Whether he much caresis the mystery Ihaven'tleisure to fathom. Himself is the principal considerationwithhimselfand ever was."

"Youdiscovered it!" said Clara.

"Heuncovered it" said De Craye. "The miracle wasthat theworldwouldn'tsee. But the world is a piggy-wiggy world for thewealthyfellow who fills a trough for itand that he has alwaysverysagaciously done. Only women besides myself have detectedhim. Ihave never exposed him; I have been an observer pure andsimple;and because I apprehended another catastrophe--makingsomethinglike the fourthto my knowledgeone being public ..."

"Youknew Miss Durham?"

"AndHarry Oxford too. And they're a pair as happy as blackbirdsin acherry-treein a summer sunrisewith the owner of thegardenasleep. Because of that apprehension of mineI refused theoffice ofbest man till Willoughby had sent me a third letter. Heinsistedon my coming. I camesawand was conquered. I trustwith allmy soul I did not betray myselfI owed that duty to mypositionof concealing it. As for entirely hiding that I had usedmy eyesIcan't say: they must answer for it."

Thecolonel was using his eyes with an increasing suavity thatthreatenedmore than sweetness.

"Ibelieve you have been sincerely kind" said Clara. "We willdescend tothe path round the lake."

She didnot refuse her hand on the descentand he let it escapethe momentthe service was done. As he was performing theadmirablecharacter of the man of honourhe had to attend to theobservanceof details; and sure of her though he was beginning tofeelthere was a touch of the unknown in Clara Middleton whichmade himfear to stamp assurance; despite a barely resistibleimpulsecoming of his emotions and approved by his maxims. Helooked atthe handnow a free lady's hand. Willoughby settledhis chancewas great. Who else was in the way? No one. Hecounselledhimself to wait for her; she might have ideas ofdelicacy.Her face was troubledspeculative; the brows cloudedthe lipscompressed.

"Youhave not heard this from Miss Dale?" she said.

"Lastnight they were together: this morning she fled. I saw herthismorning distressed. She is unwilling to send you a message:she talksvaguely of meeting you some days hence. And it is notthe firsttime he has gone to her for his consolation."

"Thatis not a proposal" Clara reflected. "He is too prudent. Hedid notpropose to her at the time you mention. Have you not beenhastyColonel De Craye?"

Shadowscrossed her forehead. She glanced in the direction of thehouse andstopped her walk.

"LastnightMiss Middletonthere was a listener."

"Who?"

"Crossjaywas under that pretty silk coverlet worked by the MissPatternes.He came home latefound his door lockedand dasheddownstairsinto the drawing-roomwhere he snuggled up and droppedasleep.The two speakers woke him; they frightened the poor dearlad in hislove for youand after they had gonehe wanted to runout of thehouseand I met him just after I had come back from mysearchburstingand took him to my roomand laid him on thesofaandabused him for not lying quiet. He was restless as afish on abank. When I woke in the morning he was off. DoctorCorneycame across him somewhere on the road and drove him to thecottage. Iwas ringing the bell. Corney told me the boy had you onhis brainand was miserableso Crossjay and I had a talk."

"Crossjaydid not repeat to you the conversation he had heard?"saidClara.

"No."

She smiledrejoicinglyproud of the boy. as she walked on.

"Butyou'll pardon meMiss Middleton--and I'm for him as much asyouare--if I was guilty of a little angling."

"Mysympathies are with the fish."

"Thepoor fellow had a secret that hurt him. It rose to thesurfacecrying to be hookedand I spared him twice or thricebecause hehad a sort of holy sentiment I respectedthat none butMr.Whitford ought to be his father confessor."

"Crossjay!"she criedhugging her love of the boy.

"Thesecret was one not to be communicated to Miss Dale of allpeople."

"Hesaid that?"

"Asgood as the very words. She informed metoothat shecouldn'tinduce him to face her straight."

"Ohthat looks like it. And Crossjay was unhappy? Very unhappy?"

"Hewas just where tears are on the brimand would have beenoverifhe were not such a manly youngster."

"Itlooks..." She reverted in thought to Willoughbyand doubtedandblindly stretched hands to her recollection of the strange oldmonstershe had discovered in him. Such a man could do anything.

Thatconclusion fortified her to pursue her walk to the house andgivebattle for freedom. Willoughby appeared to her scarce humanunreadablesave by the key that she could supply. She determinedto putfaith in Colonel De Craye's marvellous divination ofcircumstancesin the dark. Marvels are solid weapons when we areattackedby real prodigies of nature. Her countenance cleared. Sheconversedwith De Craye of the polite and the political worldthrowingoff her personal burden completelyand charming him.

At theedge of the gardenon the bridge that crossed the hahafrom theparkhe had a second impulsealmost a warning withinto seizehis heavenly opportunity to ask for thanks and move hertenderlowered eyelids to hint at his reward. He repressed itdoubtfulof the wisdom.

Somethinglike "heaven forgive me" was in Clara's mindthough shewould havedeclared herself innocent before the scrutator.

 

 

CHAPTERXLIII

InWhich Sir Willoughby Is Led to Think That the Elements HaveConspiredAgainst Him

 

Clara hadnot taken many steps in the garden before she learnedhow greatwas her debt of gratitude to Colonel De Craye.Willoughbyand her father were awaiting her. De Crayewith hisreadycomprehension of circumstancesturned aside unseen amongtheshrubs. She advanced slowly.

"Thevapourswe may trusthave dispersed?" her father hailedher.

"Onewordand these discussions are overwe dislike themequally"said Willoughby.

"Noscenes" Dr. Middleton added. "Speak your decisionmygirlpro formaseeing that he who has the right demands itand prayreleaseme."

Claralooked at Willoughby.

"Ihave decided to go to Miss Dale for her advice."

There wasno appearance in him of a man that has been shot.

"ToMiss Dale?--for advice?"

DrMiddleton invoked the Furies. "What is the signification ofthis newfreak?"

"MissDale must be consultedpapa."

"Consultedwith reference to the disposal of your hand inmarriage?"

"Shemust be."

"MissDaledo you say?"

"IdoPapa."

DrMiddleton regained his natural elevation from the bend of bodyhabitualwith men of an established sanitypaedagogues andotherswho are called on at odd intervals to inspect themagnitudeof the infinitesimally absurd in human nature: smallthat isunder the light of reasonimmense in the realms ofmadness.

Hisdaughter profoundly confused him. He swelled out his chestremarkingto Willoughby: "I do not wonder at your scaredexpressionof countenancemy friend. To discover yourself engagedto a girlmad as Cassandrawithout a boast of the distinction ofher beingsun-struckcan be no specially comfortableenlightenment.I am opposed to delaysand I will not have abreach offaith committed by daughter of mine."

"Donot repeat those words" Clara said to Willoughby. He started.She hadevidently come armed. But howwithin so short a space?What couldhave instructed her? And in his bewilderment he gazedhurriedlyabovegulped airand cried: "Scaredsir? I am notaware thatmy countenance can show a scare. I am not accustomed tosue forlong: I am unable to sustain the part of humblesupplicant.She puts me out of harmony with creation--We areplightedClara. It is pure waste of time to speak of solicitingadvice onthe subject."
"Wouldit be a breach of faith for me to break my engagement?" shesaid.

"Youask?"

"Itis a breach of sanity to propound the interrogation" said herfather.

She lookedat Willoughby. "Now?"

Heshrugged haughtily.

"Sincelast night?" she said.

"Lastnight?"

"Am Inot released?"

"Notby me."

"Byyour act."

"Mydear Clara!"

"Haveyou not virtually disengaged me?"

"Iwho claim you as mine?"

"Canyou?"

"I doand must."

"Afterlast night?"

"Tricks!shufflings! jabber of a barbarian woman upon theevolutionsof a serpent!" exclaimed Dr. Middleton. "You were tocapitulateor to furnish reasons for your refusal. You have none.Give himyour handgirlaccording to the compact. I praised youto him forreturning within the allotted termand now forbear todisgraceyourself and me."

"Ishe perfectly free to offer his? Ask himpapa."

"Performyour duty. Do let us have peace!"

"Perfectlyfree! as on the day when I offered it first."Willoughbyfrankly waved his honourable hand.

His facewas blanched: enemies in the air seemed to have whisperedthings toher: he doubted the fidelity of the Powers above.

"Sincelast night?" said she.

"Oh!if you insistI replysince last night."

"Youknow what I meanSir Willoughby."

"Oh!certainly."

"Youspeak the truth?"

"'SirWilloughby!'" her father ejaculated in wrath. "But will youexplainwhat you meanepitome that you are of all thecontradictionsand mutabilities ascribed to women from thebeginning!'Certainly'he saysand knows no more than I. Shebegs gracefor an hourand returns with a fresh store ofevasionsto insult the man she has injured. It is my humiliationto confessthat our share in this contract is rescued from publicignominyby his generosity. Nor can I congratulate him on hisfortuneshould he condescend to bear with you to the utmost; forinstead ofthe young woman I supposed myself to be bestowing onhimI seea fantastical planguncula enlivened by the wantontempers ofa nursery chit. If one may conceive a meaning in herinmiserable apology for such behavioursome spirit of jealousyinformsthe girl."

"Ican only remark that there is no foundation for it" saidWilloughby."I am willing to satisfy youClara. Name the personwhodiscomposes you. I can scarcely imagine one to exist: but whocan tell?"

She couldname no person. The detestable imputation of jealousywould beconfirmed if she mentioned a name: and indeed Laetitiawas not tobe named.

He pursuedhis advantage: "Jealousy is one of the fits I am astrangerto--I fancysirthat gentlemen have dismissed it. Ispeak formyself.--But I can make allowances. In some casesitisconsidered a compliment; and often a word will soothe it. Thewholeaffair is so senseless! HoweverI will enter thewitness-boxor stand at the prisoner's bar! Anything to quiet adistemperedmind."

"Ofyousir" said Dr. Middleton"might a parent be justlyproud."

"Itis not jealousy; I could not be jealous!" Clara criedstung bythe verypassion; and she ran through her brain for a suggestionto win asign of meltingness if not esteem from her father. Shewas not aniron maidenbut one among the nervous natures whichlivelargely in the momentthough she was then sacrificing it tohernature's deep dislike. "You may be proud of me againpapa."

She couldhardly have uttered anything more impolitic.

"Optume;but deliver yourself ad rem" he rejoinedalarminglypacified."Firmavit fidem. Do you likewiseand double on us nomore likepuss in the field."

"Iwish to see Miss Dale" she said.

Up flewthe Rev. Doctor's arms in wrathful despair resembling animprecation.

"Sheis at the cottage. You could have seen her" said Willoughby.

Evidentlyshe had not.

"Isit untrue that last nightbetween twelve o'clock and oneinthedrawing-roomyou proposed marriage to Miss Dale?" He becameconvincedthat she must have stolen down-stairs during hiscolloquywith Laetitiaand listened at the door.

"Onbehalf of old Vernon?" he saidlightly laughing. "The ideaisnot novelas you know. They are suitedif they could see it.--LaetitiaDale and my cousin Vernon Whitfordsir."

"Fairlyschemedmy friendand I will say for youyou have thepatienceWilloughbyof a husband!"

Willoughbybowed to the encomiumand allowed some fatigue to bevisible.He half yawned: "I claim no happier titlesir" and madelight ofthe weariful discussion.

Clara wasshaken: she feared that Crossjay had heard incorrectlyor thatColonel De Craye had guessed erroneously. It was toolikelythat Willoughby should have proposed Vernon to Laetitia.

There wasnothing to reassure her save the vision of the panicamazementof his face at her persistency in speaking of Miss Dale.She couldhave declared on oath that she was rightwhileadmittingall the suppositions to be against her. And unhappilyall theDelicacies (a doughty battalion for the defence of ladiesuntil theyenter into difficulties and are shorn of them at ablowbareas dairymaids)all the body-guard of a younggentlewomanthe drawing-room sylphideswhich bear her trainwhichwreathe her hairwhich modulate her voice and tone hercomplexionwhich are arrows and shield to awe the creature manforbadeher utterance of what she felton pain of instantfulfilmentof their oft-repeated threat of late to leave her tothe lastremnant of a protecting sprite. She could notas in adearmelodramafrom the aim of a pointed finger denounce himonthetestimony of her instinctsfalse of speechfalse in deed.She couldnot even declare that she doubted his truthfulness. Therefuge ofa sullen fitthe refuge of tearsthe pretext of amoodweredenied her now by the rigour of those laws of decencywhich area garment to ladies of pure breeding.

"Onemore respitepapa" she implored himbitterly conscious ofthe closertangle her petition involvedandif it must bebetrayedof herperceiving in an illumination how the knot mightbecome sowoefully Gordian that haply in a cloud of wild eventstheintervention of a gallant gentleman out of heavenalbeit inthelikeness of one of earthwould have to cut it: her crywithinasshe succumbed to weaknessbeing fervider"Anythingbut marrythis one!" She was faint with strife and dejectedaconditionin the young when their imaginative energies hold reveluncontrolledand are projectively desperate.

"Norespite!" said Willoughbygenially.

"AndI sayno respite!" observed her father. "You have assumedapositionthat has not been granted youClara Middleton."

"Icannot bear to offend youfather."

"Him!Your duty is not to offend him. Address your excuses tohim. Irefuse to be dragged over the same groundto reiterate thesamecommand perpetually."

"Ifauthority is deputed to meI claim you" said Willoughby.

"Youhave not broken faith with me?"

"Assuredlynotor would it be possible for me to press my claim?"

"Andjoin the right hand to the right" said Dr. Middleton; noitwould notbe possible. What insane root she has been nibblingIknow notbut she must consign herself to the guidance of thosewhom thegods have not abandoneduntil her intellect isliberated.She was once ... there: I look not back--if she itwasandno simulacrum of a reasonable daughter. I welcome theappearanceof my friend Mr. Whitford. He is my sea-bath and supperon thebeach of Troyafter the day's battle and dust."

Vernonwalked straight up to them: an act unusual with himfor he wasshy of committing an intrusion.

Claraguessed by thatand more by the dancing frown ofspeculativehumour he turned on Willoughbythat he had comecharged insupport of her. His forehead was curiously livelyasof one whohas got a surprise well underto feed on its amusingcontents.

"Haveyou seen CrossjayMr. Whitford?" she said.

"I'vepounced on Crossjay; his bones are sound."

"Wheredid he sleep?"

"On asofait seems."

Shesmiledwith good hope--Vernon had the story.

Willoughbythought it just to himself that he should defend hismeasure ofseverity.

"Theboy lied; he played a double game."

"Forwhich he should have been reasoned with at the Grecianportico ofa boy" said the Rev. Doctor.

"Mysystem is differentsir. I could not inflict what I wouldnot enduremyself"

"Sois Greek excluded from the later generations; and you leave afieldthemost fertile in the moralities in youthunplowed andunsown.Ah! well. This growing too fine is our way of relapsinguponbarbarism. Beware of over-sensitivenesswhere nature hasplainlyindicated her alternative gateway of knowledge. And nowIpresumeIam at liberty."

"Vernonwill excuse us for a minute or two."

"Ihold by Mr. Whitford now I have him."

"I'lljoin you in the laboratoryVernon" Willoughby noddedbluntly.

"Wewill leave themMr. Whitford. They are at the time-honoureddissensionupon a particular daythatfor the sake of dignityblushes tobe named."

"Whatday?" said Vernonlike a rustic.

"THEdaythese people call it."

Vernonsent one of his vivid eyeshots from one to the other. Hiseyes fixedon Willoughby's with a quivering glowbeyondamazementas if his humour stood at furnace-heatand absorbedall thatcame.

Willoughbymotioned to him to go.

"Haveyou seen Miss DaleMr. Whitford?" said Clara.

Heanswered"No. Something has shocked her."

"Isit her feeling for Crossjay?"

"Ah!"Vernon said to Willoughby"your pocketing of the key ofCrossjay'sbedroom door was a master-stroke!"

Thecelestial irony suffused herand she bathed and swam in iton hearingits dupe reply: "My methods of discipline are short. Iwas notaware that she had been to his door."

"ButI may hope that Miss Dale will see me" said Clara. "We areinsympathy about the boy."

"Mr.Dale might be seen. He seems to be of a divided mind with hisdaughter"Vernon rejoined. "She has locked herself up in herroom."

"Heis not the only father in that unwholesome predicament" saidDrMiddleton.

"Hetalks of coming to youWilloughby."

"Whyto me?" Willoughby chastened his irritation: "He will bewelcomeof course. It would be better that the boy should come."

"Ifthere is a chance of your forgiving him" said Clara. "Letthe Dalesknow I am prepared to listen to the boyVernon. Therecan be nonecessity for Mr. Dale to drag himself here."

"Howare Mr. Dale and his daughter of a divided mindMr.Whitford?"said Clara.

Vernonsimulated an uneasiness. With a vacant gaze that enlargedaroundWilloughby and was more discomforting than intentnesshereplied:"Perhaps she is unwilling to give him her entireconfidenceMiss Middleton."

"Inwhich respectthenour situations present their solitarypoint ofunlikeness in resemblancefor I have it in excess"observedDr. Middleton.

Claradropped her eyelids for the wave to pass over. "It struck methat MissDale was a person of the extremest candour."

"Whyshould we be prying into the domestic affairs of the Dales?"Willoughbyinterjectedand drew out his watchmerely for adiversion;he was on tiptoe to learn whether Vernon was as wellinstructedas Claraand hung to the view that he could not bewhiledrenching in the sensation that he was:--and if sowhatwere thePowers above but a body of conspirators? He paid Laetitiathatcompliment. He could not conceive the human betrayal of thesecret.Clara's discovery of it had set his common sense adrift.

"Thedomestic affairs of the Dales do not concern me" saidVernon.

"Andyetmy friend" Dr. Middleton balanced himselfand with anair ofbenevolent slyness the import of which did not awakenWilloughbyuntil too lateremarked: "They might concern you. Iwill evenaddthat there is a probability of your being not lessthan thefount and origin of this division of father and daughterthoughWilloughby in the drawingroom last night stands accusablytheagent."

"Favourmesirwith an explanation" said Vernonseeking togather itfrom Clara.

DrMiddleton threw the explanation upon Willoughby.

Claracommunicated as much as she was able in one of those looksof stilldepth which sayThink! and without causing a thought tostirtakes us into the pellucid mind.

Vernon wasenlightened before Willoughby had spoken.His mouthshut rigidlyand there was a springing increase of theluminouswavering of his eyes. Some star that Clara had watchedat nightwas like them in the vivid wink and overflow of itslight.Yetas he was perfectly sedatenone could have suspectedhis bloodto be chasing wild with laughterand his frame strungto theutmost to keep it from volleying. So happy was she in hisaspectthat her chief anxiety was to recover the name of the starwhoseshining beckons and speaksand is in the quick ofspirit-fire.It is the sole star which on anight offrost and strong moonlight preserves an indomitablefervency:that she rememberedand the picture of a hoar earth anda leanOrion in flooded heavensand the star beneath Eastward ofhim: butthe name! the name!--She heard Willoughby indistinctly.

"Ohthe old story; another effort; you know my wish; a failureof courseand no thanks on either sideI suppose I must ask yourexcuse.--Theyneither of them see what's good for themsir."

"Manifestlyhowever" said Dr. Middleton"if one may opine fromthedivision we have heard ofthe father is disposed to back yournominee."

"Ican't say; as far as I am concernedI made a mess of it."Vernonwithstood the incitement to acquiescebut he sparkled withhisrecognition of the fact.

"Youmeant wellWilloughby."

"Ihope soVernon."

"Onlyyou have driven her away."

"Wemust resign ourselves."

"Itwon't affect mefor I'm off to-morrow."

"Youseesirthe thanks I get."

"Mr.Whitford" said Dr. Middleton"You have a tower ofstrengthin thelady's father."

"Wouldyou have me bring it to bear upon the ladysir?"

"Whereforenot?"

"Tomake her marriage a matter of obedience to her father?"

"Aymy frienda lusty lover would have her gladly on thosetermswell knowing it to be for the lady's good. What do you sayWilloughby?"

"Sir!Say? What can I say? Miss Dale has not plighted her faith.Had shedone soshe is a lady who would never dishonour it."

"Sheis an ideal of constancywho would keep to it though it hadbeenbroken on the other side" said Vernonand Clara thrilled.

"Itake thatsirto be a statue of constancymodelled uponwhich alady of our flesh may be proclaimed as graduating for theconditionof idiocy" said Dr. Middleton.

"Butfaith is faithsir."

"Butthe broken is the brokensirwhether in porcelain or inhumanengagements; and all that one of the two continuingfaithfulI should rather sayregretfulcan dois to devote theremainderof life to the picking up of the fragments; anoccupationproperly to be pursuedfor the comfort of mankindwithin theenclosure of an appointed asylum."

"Youdestroy the poetry of sentimentDr. Middleton."

"Toinvigorate the poetry of natureMr. Whitford."

"Thenyou maintainsirthat when faith is broken by onetheengagementceasesand the other is absolutely free?"

"Ido; I am the champion of that platitudeand sound that knellto thesentimental world; and since you have chosen to defend itI willappeal to Willoughbyand ask him if he would not side withthe worldof good sense in applauding the nuptials of man or maidmarriedwithin a month of a jilting?" Clara slipped her arm underherfather's.

"Poetrysir" said Willoughby"I never have been hypocriteenough topretend to understand or care for."

Dr.Middleton laughed. Vernon too seemed to admire his cousin for areply thatrung in Clara's ears as the dullest ever spoken. Herarm grewcold on her father's. She began to fear Willoughby again.

Hedepended entirely on his agility to elude the thrusts thatassailedhim. Had he been able to believe in the treachery of thePowersabovehe would at once have seen design in these deadlystrokesfor his feelings had rarely been more acute than at thepresentcrisis; and he would then have led away Clarato wrangleit outwith herrelying on Vernon's friendliness not to betrayhim to herfather: but a wrangle with Clara promised no immediatefruitsnothing agreeable; and the lifelong trust he had reposed inhisprotecting genii obscured his intelligence to evidence hewouldotherwise have accepted on the spoton the faith of hisdelicatesusceptibility to the mildest impressions which woundedhim. Claramight have stooped to listen at the door: she mighthave heardsufficient to create a suspicion. But Vernon was not inthe houselast night; she could not have communicated it to himand he hadnot seen Laetitiawho wasbesides trustworthyanadmirableif a foolish and ill-fated woman.

Preferringto consider Vernon a pragmatical moralist played uponby asententious dronehe thought it politic to detach themandvanquishClara while she was in the beaten moodas she hadappearedbefore Vernon's vexatious arrival.

"I'mafraidmy dear fellowyou are rather too dainty and fussyfor a verysuccessful wooer" he said. "It's beautiful on paperand absurdin life. We have a bit of private business to discuss.We will goinsidesirI think. I will soon release you." Clarapressedher father's arm.

"More?"said he.

"Fiveminutes. There's a slight delusion to clearsir. My dearClarayouwill see with different eyes."

"Papawishes to work with Mr. Whitford."

Her heartsunk to hear her father say: "No'tis a lost morning. Imustconsent to pay tax of it for giving another young woman tothe world.I have a daughter! You willI hopecompensate meMr.Whitfordin the afternoon. Be not downcast. I have observed youmeditativeof late. You will have no clear brain so long as thatstuff ison the mind. I could venture to propose to do somepleadingfor youshould it be needed for the prompter expeditionof theaffair."

Vernonbriefly thanked himand said:

"Willoughbyhas exerted all his eloquenceand you see the result:you havelost Miss Dale and I have not won her. He did everythingthat oneman can do for another in so delicate a case: even to therepeatingof her famous birthday verses to himto flatter thepoetess.His best efforts were foiled by the lady's indispositionfor me."

"Behold"said Dr. Middletonas Willoughbyelectrified by themention ofthe versestook a sharp stride or two"you have inhim anadvocate who will not be rebuffed by one refusaland Ican affirmthat he is tenaciouspertinacious as are few. Justlyso. Not tobelieve in a lady's No is the approved method ofcarryingthat fortress built to yield. Although unquestionably tohave ayoung man pleading in our interests with a ladycounts itsobjections.Yet Willoughby being notoriously engagedmay be heldto enjoythe privileges of his elders."

"Asan engaged mansirhe was on a level with his elders inpleadingon my behalf with Miss Dale" said Vernon. Willoughbystrode andmuttered. Providence had grown mythical in histhoughtsif not malicious: and it is the peril of this worshipthat theobject will wear such an alternative aspect when itappears nolonger subservient.

"Arewe comingsir?" he saidand was unheeded. The Rev. Doctorwould notbe defrauded of rolling his billow.

"Asan honourable gentleman faithful to his own engagement anddesirousof establishing his relativeshe deservesin myjudgementthe lady's esteem as well as your cordial thanks; norshould atemporary failure dishearten either of younotwithstandingthe precipitate retreat of the lady from Patterneand herseclusion in her sanctum on the occasion of your recentvisit."

"Supposinghe had succeeded" said Vernondriving Willoughby tofrenzy"should I have been bound to marry?" Matter for cogitationwasoffered to Dr. Middleton.

"Theproposal was without your sanction?"

"Entirely."

"Youadmire the lady?"

"Respectfully."

"Youdo not incline to the state?"

"Aninch of an angle would exaggerate my inclination."

"Howlong are we to stand and hear this insufferable nonsense youtalk?"cried Willoughby.

"Butif Mr. Whitford was not consulted. . ." Dr. Middleton saidand wasoverborne by Willoughby's hurried"Oblige mesir.--Oblige memy good fellow!" He swept his arm to Vernonandgestured aconducting hand to Clara.

"Hereis Mrs. Mountstuart!" she exclaimed.

Willoughbystared. Was it an irruption of a friend or a foe? Hedoubtedand stood petrified between the double question. Clarahad seenMrs. Mountstuart and Colonel De Craye separating: and nowthe greatlady sailed along the sward like a royal barge infestivaltrim.

She lookedfriendlybut friendly to everybodywhich was always afrost onWilloughbyand terribly friendly to Clara.

Coming upto her she whispered: "Newsindeed! Wonderful! I couldnot credithis hint of it yesterday. Are you satisfied?"

"PrayMrs. Mountstuarttake an opportunity to speak to papa"Clarawhispered in return.

Mrs.Mountstuart bowed to Dr. Middletonnodded to Vernonand swamuponWilloughbywith"Is it? But is it? Am I really to believe?You have?My dear Sir Willoughby? Really? The confoundedgentlemanheaved on a bare plank of wreck in mid sea.

He couldoppose only a paralyzed smile to the assault.

Hisintuitive discretion taught him to fall back a step while shesaid"So!" the plummet word of our mysterious deep fathoms; andhe fellback further saying"Madam?" in a tone advising her tospeak low.

Sherecovered her volubilityfollowed his partial retreatanddroppedher voice--

"Impossibleto have imagined it as an actual fact! You were alwaysfull ofsurprisesbut this! this! Nothing manliernothing moregentlemanlyhas ever been done: nothing: nothing that socompletelychanges an untenable situation into a comfortable andproperfooting for everybody. It is what I like: it is what Ilove:--soundsense! Men are so selfish: one cannot persuade themto bereasonable in such positions. But youSir Willoughbyhaveshownwisdom and sentiment: the rarest of all combinations inmen."

"Wherehave you? . . ." Willoughby contrived to say.

"Heard?The hedgesthe housetopseverywhere. All theneighbourhoodwill have it before nightfall. Lady Busshe and LadyCulmerwill soon be rushing hereand declaring they neverexpectedanything elseI do not doubt. I am not so pretentious. Ibeg yourexcuse for that 'twice' of mine yesterday. Even if ithurt myvanityI should be happy to confess my error: I wasutterlyout. But then I did not reckon on a fatal attachmentIthoughtmen were incapable of it. I thought we women were the onlypoorcreatures persecuted by a fatality. It is a fatality! Youtried hardto escapeindeed you did. And she will do honour toyour finalsurrendermy dear friend. She is gentleand verycleververy: she is devoted to you: she will entertainexcellently.I see her like a flower in sunshine. She will expandto aperfect hostess. Patterne will shine under her reign; youhave mywarrant for that. And so will you. Yesyou flourish bestwhenadored. It must be adoration. You have been under a cloud oflate.Years ago I said it was a matchwhen no one supposed youcouldstoop. Lady Busshe would have it was a screenand she wasdeemedhigh wisdom. The world will be with you. All the womenwill be:exceptingof courseLady Busshewhose pride is inprophecy;and she will soon be too glad to swell the host. Theremy friendyour sincerest and oldest admirer congratulates you. Icould notcontain myself; I was compelled to pour forth. And nowI must goand be talked to by Dr. Middleton. How does he take it?Theyleave?"

"Heis perfectly well" said Willoughbyaloudquite distraught.

Sheacknowledged his just correction of her for running on to anextreme inlow-toned conversethough they stood sufficientlyisolatedfrom the others. These had by this time been joined byColonel DeCrayeand were all chatting in a group--of himselfWilloughbyhorribly suspected.

Clara wasgone from him! Gone! but he remembered his oath andvowed itagain: not to Horace de Craye! She was gonelostsunkinto theworld of waters of rival menand he determined that hiswholeforce should be used to keep her from that manthe falsefriend whohad supplanted him in her shallow heartand mightifhesucceededboast of having done it by simply appearing on thescene.

Willoughbyintercepted Mrs. Mountstuart as she was passing over toDrMiddleton. "My dear lady! spare me a minute."

De Crayesauntered upwith a face of the friendliest humour:

"Neverwas man like youWilloughbyfor shaking new patterns in akaleidoscope."

"Haveyou turned punsterHorace?" Willoughby repliedsmarting tofind yetanother in the demon secretand he draw Dr. Middleton twoor threesteps asideand hurriedly begged him to abstain fromprosecutingthe subject with Clara.

"Wemust try to make her happy as we best cansir. She may haveherreasons--a young lady's reasons!" He laughedand left theRev.Doctor considering within himself under the arch of his loftyfrown ofstupefaction.

De Crayesmiled slyly and winningly as he shadowed a deep droop onthe bendof his head before Clarasignifying his absolutedevotionto her serviceand this present good fruit for witnessof hismerits.

She smiledsweetly though vaguely. There was no concealment oftheirintimacy.

"Thebattle is over" Vernon said quietlywhen Willoughby hadwalkedsome paces beside Mrs. Mountstuartadding: "You may expectto see Mr.Dale here. He knows."

Vernon andClara exchanged one lookhard on his partin contrastwith hersoftnessand he proceeded to the house. De Craye waitedfor a wordor a promising look. He was patientbeingself-assuredand passed on.

Claralinked her arm with her father's once moreand saidon asuddenbrightness: "Siriuspapa!" " He repeated it in theprofoundestmanner: "Sirius! And is there" he asked"a femininescintillaof sense in that?"

"Itis the name of the star I was thinking ofdear papa."

"Itwas the star observed by King Agamemnon before the sacrifice inAulis. You were thinking of that? Butmy lovemy Iphigeniayouhave not afather who will insist on sacrificing you."

"DidI hear him tell you to humour mepapa?"

DrMiddleton humphed.

"Verilythe dog-star rages in many heads" he responded.

 

 

CHAPTERXLIV

DrMiddleton: the Ladies Eleanor and Isabel: and Mr. Dale

 

Claralooked up at the flying clouds. She travelled with them nowand tastedfreedombut she prudently forbore to vex her father;she heldherself in reserve.

They weresummoned by the midday bell.

Few werespeakers at the mealfew were eaters. Clara wasimpelledto join it by her desire to study Mrs. Mountstuart'sface.Willoughby was obliged to preside. It was a meal of anassemblyof mutes and platesthat struck the ear like thewell-knownsound of a collection of offerings in church after animpressiveexhortation from the pulpit. A sally of Colonel DeCraye'smet the reception given to a charity-boy's muffled burstof animalspirits in the silence of the sacred edifice. Willoughbytriedpolitics with Dr. Middletonwhose regular appetite preservedhim fromuncongenial speculations when the hour for appeasing ithad come;and he alone did honour to the dishesreplying to hishost:

"Timesare badyou sayand we have a Ministry doing with us whatthey will.Wellsirand that being soand opposition a mannerof kickingthem into greater stabilityit is the time for wisemen toretire within themselveswith the steady determination ofthe seedin the earth to grow. Repose upon naturesleep in firmfaithandabide the seasons. That is my counsel to the weakerparty."

Thecounsel was excellentbut it killed the topic.

Dr.Middleton's appetite was watched for the signal to rise andbreathefreely; and such is the grace accorded to a good man of anuntroubledconscience engaged in doing his duty to himselfthatheperceived nothing of the general restlessness; he went throughthe dishescalmlyand as calmly he quoted Milton to the ladiesEleanorand Isabelwhen the company sprung up all at once uponhisclosing his repast. Vernon was taken away from him byWilloughby.Mrs Mountstuart beckoned covertly to Clara. Willoughbyshouldhave had something to say to himDr. Middleton thought: thepositionwas not clear. But the situation was not disagreeable;and he wasin no serious hurrythough he wished to beenlightened.

"This"Dr. Middleton said to the spinster auntsas he accompaniedthem tothe drawing-room"shall be no lost day for me if I maydevote theremainder of it to you."

"Thethunderwe fearis not remote" murmured one.

"Wefear it is imminent" sighed the other.

They tookto chanting in alternation.

"--Weare accustomed to peruse our Willoughbyand we know himby ashadow."

"--Fromhis infancy to his glorious youth and his establishedmanhood."

"--Hewas ever the soul of chivalry."

"--Duty:duty first. The happiness of his family. The well-beingof hisdependants."

"--Ifproud of his name it was not an overweening pride; it wasfounded inthe conscious possession of exalted qualities. He couldbe humblewhen occasion called for it."

DrMiddleton bowed to the litanyfeeling that occasion calledforhumbleness from him.

"Letus hope ... !" he saidwith unassumed penitence on behalf ofhisinscrutable daughter.

The ladiesresumed:--

"--VernonWhitfordnot of his bloodis his brother!"

"--Athousand instances! Laetitia Dale remembers them better thanwe."

"--Thatany blow should strike him!"

"--Thatanother should be in store for him!"

"--Itseems impossible he can be quite misunderstood!"

"Letus hope ... !" said Dr. Middleton.

"--Onewould not deem it too much for the dispenser of goodness toexpect tobe a little looked up to!"

"--Whenhe was a child he one day mounted a chairand there hestood indangerwould not let us touch him because he was tallerthan weand we were to gaze. Do you remember himEleanor? 'I amthe sun ofthe house!' It was inimitable!"

"--Yourfeelings; he would have your feelings! He was fourteenwhen hiscousin Grace Whitford marriedand we lost him. They hadbeen thegreatest friends; and it was long before he appearedamong us.He has never cared to see her since."

"--Buthe hasbefriendedher husband. Never has he failed in generosity. Hisonly faultis--"

"--Hissensitiveness. And that is--"

"--Hissecret. And that--"

"--Youare not to discover! It is the same with him inmanhood.No one will accuse Willoughby Patterne of a deficiency ofmanlinesss:but what is it?--he suffersas none sufferif he isnot loved.He himself is inalterably constant in affection."

"--Whatit is no one can say. We have lived with him all his lifeand weknow him ready to make any sacrifice; onlyhe does demandthe wholeheart in return. And if he doubtshe looks as we haveseen himto-day."

"--Shattered:as we have never seen him look before."

"Wewill hope" said Dr. Middletonthis time hastily. He tingledto say"what it was": he had it in him to solve perplexity intheirinquiry. He did sayadopting familiar speech to suit thetheme"You knowladieswe English come of a rough stock. A doseof roughdealing in our youth does us no harmbraces us.Otherwisewe are likely to feel chilly: we grow too fine wheretenuity ofstature is necessarily buffetted by galesnamelyinourself-esteem. We are barbarianson a forcing soil of wealthin aconservatory of comfortable security; but still barbarians.Soyouseewe shine at our best when we are plucked out of thatto wherehard blows are givenin a state of war. In a state ofwar we areat homeour men are high-minded fellowsScipios andgoodlegionaries. In the state of peace we do not live in peace:our nativeroughness breaks out in unexpected placesunderextraordinaryaspects--tyranniesextravagancesdomesticexactions:and if we have not had sharp early training ... withinandwithout ... the old-fashioned island-instrument to drill intous thecivilization of our mastersthe ancientswe show it byrunninghere and there to some excess. Ahem. Yet" added the Rev.Doctorabandoning his effort to deliver a weighty truth obscurelyfor thecomprehension of dainty spinster ladiesthesuperabundanceof whom in England was in his opinion largely thecause ofour decay as a people"Yet I have not observed thisultra-sensitivenessin Willoughby. He has borne to hear more thanIcertainly no example of the frailtycould have endured."

"Heconcealed it" said the ladies. "It is intense."

"Thenis it a disease?"

"Itbears no explanation; it is mystic."

"Itis a cultusthena form of self-worship."

"Self!"they ejaculated. "But is not Self indifferent to others?Is it Selfthat craves for sympathyloveand devotion?"

"Heis an admirable hostladies."

"Heis admirable in all respects."

"Admirablemust he be who can impress discerning womenhislife-long housematesso favourably. He isI repeataperfecthost."

"Hewill be a perfect husband."

"Inall probability."

"Itis a certainty. Let him be loved and obeyedhe will beguided.That is the secret for her whom he so fatally loves.Thatifwe had daredwe would have hinted to her. She will rulehimthrough her love of himand through him all about her. And itwill notbe a rule he submits tobut a love he accepts. If shecould seeit!"

"Ifshe were a metaphysician!" sighed Dr. Middleton.

"--Buta sensitiveness so keen as his might--"

"--Frettedby an unsympathizing mate--"

"--Inthe end becomefor the best of us is mortal--"

"--Callous!"

"--Hewould feel perhaps as much--"

"--Ormore!--"

"--Hewould still be tender--"

"--Buthe might grow outwardly hard!"

Bothladies looked up at Dr. Middletonas they revealed thedreadfulprospect.

"Itis the story told of corns!" he saidsad as they.

The threestood drooping: the ladies with an attempt to digest hisremark;the Rev. Doctor in dejection lest his gallantry should nolongercontinue to wrestle with his good sense.

He wasrescued.

The dooropened and a footman announced:--

"Mr.Dale."

MissEleanor and Miss Isabel made a sign to one another ofraisingtheir hands.

Theyadvanced to himand welcomed him.

"Praybe seatedMr. Dale. You have not brought us bad news of ourLaetitia?"

"Sorare is the pleasure of welcoming you hereMr. Dalethat weare insome alarmwhenas we trustit should be matter forunmixedcongratulation."

"HasDoctor Corney been doing wonders?"

"I amindebted to him for the drive to your houseladies" saidMr. Dalea spareclose-buttoned gentlemanwith an Indiancomplexiondeadened in the sick-chamber. "It is unusual for me tostir frommy precincts."

"TheRev. Dr. Middleton."

Mr. Dalebowed. He seemed surprised.

"Youlive in a splendid airsir" observed the Rev. Doctor.

"Ican profit little by itsir" replied Mr. Dale. He asked theladies:"Will Sir Willoughby be disengaged?"

Theyconsulted. "He is with Vernon. We will send to him."

The bellwas rung.

"Ihave had the gratification of making the acquaintance of yourdaughterMr. Dalea most estimable lady" said Dr. Middleton.

Mr. Dalebowed. "She is honoured by your praisessir. To the bestof mybelief--I speak as a father--she merits them. Hitherto Ihave hadno doubts."

"OfLaetitia?" exclaimed the ladies; and spoke of her asgentlenessand goodness incarnate.

"HithertoI have devoutly thought so" said Mr. Dale.

"Surelyshe is the very sweetest nursethe most devoted ofdaughters."

"Asfar as concerns her duty to her fatherI can say she is thatladies."

"Inall her relationsMr. Dale!"

"Itis my prayer" he said.

Thefootman appeared. He announced that Sir Willoughby was in thelaboratorywith Mr. Whitfordand the door locked.

"Domesticbusiness" the ladies remarked. "You know Willoughby'sdiligentattention to affairsMr. Dale."

"Heis well?" Mr. Dale inquired.

"Inexcellent health."

"Bodyand mind?"

"Butdear Mr. Dalehe is never ill."

"Ah!for one to hear that who is never well! And Mr. Whitford isquitesound?"

"Sound?The question alarms me for myself" said Dr. Middleton."Soundas our Constitutionthe Credit of the countrythereputationof our Prince of poets. I pray you to have no fears forhim."

Mr. Dalegave the mild little sniff of a man thrown deeper intoperplexity.

He said:"Mr. Whitford works his head; he is a hard student; hemay not bealwaysif I may so put itat home on worldlyaffairs."

"Dismissthat defamatory legend of the studentMr. Dale; and takemy wordfor itthat he who persistently works his head has thestrongestfor all affairs."

"Ah!Your daughtersiris here?"

"Mydaughter is heresirand will be most happy to present herrespectsto the father of her friendMiss Dale."

"Theyare friends?"

"Verycordial friends."

Mr. Daleadministered another feebly pacifying sniff to himself.

"Laetitia!"he sighedin apostropheand swept his forehead witha handseen to shake.

The ladiesasked him anxiously whether he felt the heat of theroom; andone offered him a smelling-bottle.

He thankedthem. "I can hold out until Sir Willoughby comes."

"Wefear to disturb him when his door is lockedMr. Dale; butifyou wishitwe will venture on a message. You have really no badnews ofour Laetitia? She left us hurriedly this morningwithoutanyleave-takingexcept a word to one of the maidsthat yourconditionrequired her immediate presence."

"Mycondition! And now her door is locked to me! We have spokenthroughthe doorand that is all. I stand sick and stupefiedbetweentwo locked doorsneither of which will openit appearsto give methe enlightenment I need more than medicine."

"Dearme!" cried Dr. Middleton"I am struck by your descriptionof yourpositionMr. Dale. It would aptly apply to our humanityof thepresent generation; and were these the days when IsermonizedI could propose that it should afford me anillustrationfor the pulpit. For my partwhen doors are closed Itry nottheir locks; and I attribute my perfect equanimityhealtheventoan uninquiring acceptation of the fact that they areclosed tome. I read my page by the light I have. On the contrarythe worldof this dayif I may presume to quote you for mypurposeis heard knocking at those two locked doors of the secretof thingson each side of usand is beheld standing sick andstupefiedbecause it has got no response to its knocking. Whysirletthe world compare the diverse fortunes of the beggar andthepostman: knock to giveand it is opened unto you: knock tocraveandit continues shut. I saycarry a letter to your lockeddoorandyou shall have a good reception: but there is none thatis handedout. For which reason . . ."

Mr. Daleswept a perspiring foreheadand extended his hand insupplication."I am an invalidDr. Middleton" he said. "I amunable tocope with analogies. I have but strength for the slowdigestionof facts."

"Forfactswe are bradypeptics to a mansir. We know not yet ifnature bea fact or an effort to master one. The world has not yetassimilatedthe first fact it stepped on. We are still in theendeavourto make good blood of the fact of our being." Pressinghis handsat his templesMr. Dale moaned: "My head twirls; I didunwiselyto come out. I came on an impulse; I trusthonourable. Iamunfit--I cannot follow youDr. Middleton. Pardon me."

"Naysirlet me sayfrom my experience of my countrymenthatif you donot follow me and can abstain from abusing me inconsequenceyou are magnanimous" the Rev.  Doctor repliedhardlyconsenting to let go the man he had found to indemnify himfor hisgallant service of acquiescing as a mute to the ladiesthough heknew his breathing robustfulness to be as an East windto weaknervesand himself an engine of punishment when he hadbeen tornfor a day from his books.

MissEleanor said: "The enlightenment you needMr. Dale? Can weenlightenyou?"

"Ithink not" he answeredfaintly. "I think I will wait forSirWilloughby... or Mr. Whitford. If I can keep my strength. Orcould Iexchange--I fear to break down--two words with the younglady whoiswas . . . "

"MissMiddletonmy daughtersir? She shall be at yourdisposition;I will bring her to you." Dr. Middleton stopped at thewindow."Sheit is truemay better know the mind of Miss Dalethan I.But I flatter myself I know the gentleman better. IthinkMr.Daleaddressing you as the lady's fatheryou willfind me apersuasiveI could be an impassionedadvocate in hisinterests."

Mr. Dalewas confounded; the weakly sapling caught in a gust fallsback as hedid.

"Advocate?"he said. He had little breath.

"Hisimpassioned advocateI repeat; for I have the highestopinion ofhim. You seesirI am acquainted with thecircumstances.I believe" Dr. Middleton half turned to the ladies"wemustuntil your potent inducementsMr. Dalehave beenjoined tomy instancesand we overcome what feminine scruplesthere maybetreat the circumstances as not generally public. OurStrephonmay be chargeable with shyness. But if for the present itisincumbent on usin proper consideration for the partiesnotto benominally preciseit is hardly requisite in this householdthat weshould be. He is now for protesting indifference to thestate. Ifancy we understand that phase of amatory frigidity.FranklyMr. DaleI was once in my life myself refused by a ladyand I wasnot indignantmerely indifferent to the marriage-tie."

"Mydaughter has refused himsir?"

"Temporarilyit would appear that she has declined the proposal."

"Hewas at liberty? . . . he could honourably?. . ."

"Hisbest friend and nearest relative is your guarantee."

"Iknow it; I hear so; I am informed of that: I have heard of theproposaland that he could honourably make it. StillI amhelplessI cannot moveuntil I am assured that my daughter'sreasonsare such as a father need not underline."

"Doesthe ladyperchanceequivocate?"

"Ihave not seen her this morning; I rise late. I hear anastoundingaccount of the cause for her departure from Patterneand I findher door locked to me--no answer."

"Itis that she had no reasons to giveand she feared the demandfor them."

"Ladies!"dolorously exclaimed Mr. Dale.

"Weguess the secretwe guess it!" they exclaimed in reply; andtheylooked smilingly. as Dr. Middleton looked.

"Shehad no reasons to give?" Mr. Dale spelled these words to hisunderstanding."Thensirshe knew you not adverse?"

"Undoubtedlyby my high esteem for the gentlemanshe must haveknown menot adverse. But she would not consider me a principal.She couldhardly have conceived me an obstacle. I am simply thegentleman'sfriend. A zealous friendlet me add."

Mr. Daleput out an imploring hand; it was too much for him.

"Pardonme; I have a poor head. And your daughter the samesir?"

"Wewill not measure it too closelybut I may saymy daughterthe samesir. And likewise--may I not add--these ladies."

Mr. Dalemade sign that he was overfilled. "Where am I! AndLaetitiarefused him?"

"Temporarilylet us assume. Will it not partly depend on youMr.Dale?"

"Butwhat strange things have been happening during my daughter'sabsencefrom the cottage!" cried Mr. Dalebetraying an elixir inhis veins."I feel that I could laugh if I did not dread to bethoughtinsane. She refused his handand he was at liberty tooffer it?My girl! We are all on our heads. The fairy-tales wereright andthe lesson-books were wrong. But it is reallyit isreallyvery demoralizing. An invalid--and I am oneand nomomentaryexhilaration will be taken for the contrary--clings tothe ideaof stabilityorder. The slightest disturbance of thewontedcourse of things unsettles him. Whyfor years I have beenprophesyingit! and for years I have had everything against meand nowwhen it is confirmedI am wondering that I must not callmyself afool!"

"Andfor yearsdear Mr. Dalethis unionin spite ofcounter-currentsand human arrangementshas been our Willoughby'sconstantpreoccupation" said Miss Eleanor.

"Hismost cherished aim" said Miss Isabel.

"Thename was not spoken by me" said Dr. Middleton.

"Butit is outand perhaps better outif we would avoid thechance ofmystifications. I do not suppose we are seriouslycommittinga breach of confidencethough he might have wished tomention itto you first himself. I have it from Willoughby thatlast nighthe appealed to your daughterMr. Dale--not for thefirsttimeif I apprehend him correctly; and unsuccessfully. Hedespairs.I do not: supposingthat isyour assistance vouchsafedto us. AndI do not despairbecause the gentleman is a gentlemanof worthof acknowledged worth. You know him well enough togrant methat. I will bring you my daughter to help me in soundinghispraises."

DrMiddleton stepped through the window to the lawn on an elasticfootbeaming with the happiness he felt charged to confer on hisfriend Mr.Whitford.

"Ladies!it passes all wonders" Mr. Dale gasped.

"Willoughby'sgenerosity does pass all wonders" they said inchorus.

The dooropened; Lady Busshe and Lady Culmer were announced.

 

 

CHAPTERXLV

ThePatterne Ladies: Mr. Dale: Lady Busshe and Lady Culmer: withMrs.Mountstuart Jenkinson

 

LadyBusshe and Lady Culmer entered spying to right and left. Atthe sightof Mr. Dale in the room Lady Busshe murmured to herfriend:"Confirmation!"

LadyCulmer murmured: "Corney is quite reliable."

"Theman is his own best tonic."

"Heis invaluable for the country."

MissEleanor and Miss Isabel greeted them.

Theamiability of the Patterne ladies combined with their totaleclipsebehind their illustrious nephew invited enterprising womenof theworld to take libertiesand they were not backward.

LadyBusshe said: "Well? the news! we have the outlines. Don't beastonished:we know the points: we have heard the gun. I couldhave toldyou as much yesterday. I saw it. And I guessed it thedaybefore. OhI do believe in fatalities now. Lady Culmer and Iagree totake that view: it is the simplest. Welland are yousatisfiedmy dears?"

The ladiesgrimaced interrogatively: "With what?"

"Withit? with all! with her! with him!"

"OurWilloughby?"

"Canit be possible that they require a dose of Corney?" LadyBussheremarked to Lady Culmer.

"Theyplay discretion to perfection" said Lady Culmer. "Butmydearsweare in the secret."

"Howdid she behave?" whispered Lady Busshe. "No high flightsandfluttersI do hope. She was well-connectedthey say; though Idon'tcomprehend what they mean by a line of scholars--one thinksof a rowof pinafores: and she was pretty.

"Thatis well enough at the start. It never will stand againstbrains. Hehad the two in the house to contrast themand ... theresult! Ayoung woman with brains--in a house--beats all yourbeauties.Lady Culmer and I have determined on that view. Hethoughther a delightful partner for a danceand found her rathertiresomeat the end of the gallopade. I saw it yesterdayclear asdaylight.She did not understand himand he did understand her.That willbe our report."

"Sheis young: she will learn" said the ladies uneasilybut intotalignorance of her meaning.

"Andyou are charitableand always were. I remember you had agood wordfor that girl Durham."

LadyBusshe crossed the room to Mr. Dalewho was turning overleaves ofa grand book of the heraldic devices of our greatFamilies.

"Studyit" she said"study itmy dear Mr. Dale; you are in itby rightof possessing a clever and accomplished daughter.At page300 you will find the Patterne crest. And mark meshewill dragyou into the peerage before she has done--relativelyyou know.Sir Willoughby and wife will not be contented to sitdown andmanage the estates. Has not Laetitia immense ambition?And verycreditableI say."

Mr. Daletried to protest something. He shut the bookexaminingthebindingflapped the cover with a fingerhoped her ladyshipwas ingood healthalluded to his own and the strangeness of thebird outof the cage.

"Youwill probably take up your residence herein a larger andhandsomercage. Mr. Dale."

He shookhis head. "Do I apprehend . . ." he said.

"Iknow" said she.

"Dearmecan it be?"

Mr. Dalegazed upwardwith the feelings of one awakened late tosee aworld alive in broad daylight.

LadyBusshe dropped her voice. She took the liberty permitted toher withan inferior in stationwhile treating him to a tone offamiliarityin acknowledgment of his expected rise; which is highbreedingor the exact measurement of social dues.

"Laetitiawill be happyyou may be sure. I love to see a long andfaithfulattachment rewarded--love it! Her tale is the triumph ofpatience.Far above Grizzel! No woman will be ashamed of pointingto LadyPatterne. You are uncertain? You are in doubt? Let mehear--aslow as you like. But there is no doubt of the newshiftingof the scene?--no doubt of the proposal? Dear Mr. Dale!a verylittle louder. You are here because--? of course you wishto see SirWilloughby. She? I did not catch you quite. She? ... itseemsyousay.. ?

LadyCulmer said to the Patterne ladies:--

"Youmust have had a distressing time. These affairs always mountup to aclimaxunless people are very well bred. We saw it coming.Naturallywe did not expect such a transformation of brides: whocould? IfI had laid myself down on my back to thinkI shouldhave hadit. I am unerring when I set to speculating on my back.One iscooler: ideas come; they have not to be forced. That is whyI ambrighter on a dull winter afternoonon the sofabeside mytea-servicethan at any other season. Howeveryour trouble isover. Whendid the Middletons leave?"

"TheMiddletons leave?" said the ladies.

"Dr.Middleton and his daughter."

"Theyhave not left us."

"TheMiddletons are here?"

"Theyare hereyes. Why should they have left Patterne?"

"Why?"

"Yes.They are likely to stay some days longer."

"Goodness!"

"Thereis no ground for any report to the contraryLady Culmer."

"Noground!"

LadyCulmer called out to Lady Busshe.

A cry cameback from that startled dame.

"Shehas refused him!"

"Who?"

"Shehas."

"She?--SirWilloughby?"

"Refused!--declinesthe honour."

"Ohnever! Nothat carries the incredible beyond romance. But isheperfectly at . . ."

"Quiteit seems. And she was asked in due form and refused."

"Noand no again!"

"MydearI have it from Mr. Dale."

"Mr.Dalewhat can be the signification of her conduct?"

"IndeedLady Culmer" said Mr. Dalenot unpleasantly agitated bytheinterest he excitedin spite of his astonishment at a publicdiscussionof the matter in this house"I am in the dark. Herfathershould knowbut I do not. Her door is locked to me; I havenot seenher. I am absolutely in the dark. I am a recluse. I haveforgottenthe ways of the world. I should have supposed her fatherwouldfirst have been addressed."

"Tut-tut.Modern gentlemen are not so formal; they are creaturesof impulseand take a pride in it. He spoke. We settle that. Butwhere didyou get this tale of a refusal?"

"Ihave it from Dr. Middleton."

"FromDr. Middleton?" shouted Lady Busshe.

"TheMiddletons are here" said Lady Culmer.

"Whatwhirl are we in?" Lady Busshe got upran two or three stepsand seatedherself in another chair. "Oh! do let us proceed uponsystem. Ifnot we shall presently be rageing; we shall bedangerous.The Middletons are hereand Dr. Middleton himselfcommunicatesto Mr. Dale that Laetitia Dale has refused the handof SirWilloughbywho is ostensibly engaged to his own daughter!And prayMr. Dalehow did Dr. Middleton speak of it? Composeyourself;there is no violent hurrythough our sympathy with youand ourinterest in all the parties does perhaps agitate us alittle.Quite at your leisure--speak!"

"Madam... Lady Busshe." Mr. Dale gulped a ball in his throat. "Isee noreason why I should not speak. I do not see how I can havebeendeluded. The Miss Patternes heard him. Dr. Middleton beganupon itnot I. I was unawarewhen I camethat it was a refusal.I had beeninformed that there was a proposal. My authority forthe talewas positive. The object of my visit was to assure myselfof theintegrity of my daughter's conduct. She had always thehighestsense of honour. But passion is known to misleadandthere wasthis most strange report. I feared that our humblestapologieswere due to Dr. Middleton and his daughter. I know thecharmLaetitia can exercise. Madamin the plainest languagewithout apossibility of my misapprehending himDr. Middletonspoke ofhimself as the advocate of the suitor for my daughter'shand. Ihave a poor head. I supposed at once an amicable rupturebetweenSir Willoughby and Miss Middletonor that the versionwhich hadreached me of their engagement was not strictlyaccurate.My head is weak. Dr. Middleton's language is trying to ahead likemine; but I can speak positively on the essentialpoints: hespoke of himself as ready to be the impassionedadvocateof the suitor for my daughter's hand. Those were hiswords. Iunderstood him to entreat me to intercede with her. Naythe namewas mentioned. There was no concealment. I am certaintherecould not be a misapprehension. And my feelings were touchedby hisanxiety for Sir Willoughby's happiness. I attributed it toasentiment upon which I need not dwell. Impassioned advocatehesaid."

"Weare in a perfect maelstrom!" cried Lady Bussheturning toeverybody.

"Itis a complete hurricane!" cried Lady Culmer.

A lightbroke over the faces of the Patterne ladies. They exchangedit withone another.

They hadbeen so shocked as to be almost offended by Lady Busshebut theirnatural gentleness and habitual submission rendered themunequal tothe task of checking her.

"Isit not" said Miss Eleanor"a misunderstanding that achangeof nameswill rectify?"

"Thisis by no means the first occasion" said Miss Isabel"thatWilloughbyhas pleaded for his cousin Vernon."

"Wedeplore extremely the painful error into which Mr. Dale hasfallen."

"Itspringswe now perceivefrom an entire misapprehension of Dr.Middleton."

"Vernonwas in his mind. It was clear to us."

"Impossiblethat it could have been Willoughby!"

"Yousee the impossibilitythe error!"

"Andthe Middletons here!" said Lady Busshe. "Oh! if we leaveunilluminatedwe shall be the laughing-stock of the county. Mr.Dalepleasewake up. Do you see? You may have been mistaken."

"LadyBusshe" he woke up; "I may have mistaken Dr. Middleton; hehas alanguage that I can compare only to a review-day of the fieldforces.But I have the story on authority that I cannot question:it isconfirmed by my daughter's unexampled behaviour. And if Ilivethrough this day I shall look about me as a ghostto-morrow."

"DearMr. Dale!" said the Patterne ladiescompassionately. LadyBusshemurmured to them: "You know the two did not agree; they didnot geton: I saw it; I predicted it."

"Shewill understand him in time" said they.

"Never.And my belief isthey have parted by consentand LettyDale winsthe day at last. Yesnow I do believe it."

The ladiesmaintained a decided negativebut they knew too muchnot tofeel perplexedand they betrayed itthough they said:"DearLady Busshe! is it crediblein decency?"

"DearMrs. Mountstuart!" Lady Busshe invoked her great rivalappearingamong them: "You come most opportunely; we are in astate ofinextricable confusion: we are bordering on frenzy. Youand nonebut youcan help us. You knowyou always know; we hangon you. Isthere any truth in it? a particle?"

Mrs.Mountstuart seated herself regally "AhMr. Dale!" shesaidincliningto him. "Yesdear Lady Busshethere is a particle."

"Nowdo not roast us. You can; you have the art. I have the wholestory.That isI have a part. I meanI have the outlinesIcannot bedeceivedbut you can fill thern inI know you can. Isaw ityesterday. Nowtell ustell us. It must be quite true orutterlyfalse. Which is it?"

"Beprecise."

"Hisfatality! you called her. YesI was sceptical. But here wehave itall come round againand if the tale is trueI shall ownyouinfallible. Has he?--and she?"

"Both."

"Andthe Middletons here? They have not gone; they keep the field.And moreastoundingshe refuses him. And to add to itDr.Middletonintercedes with Mr. Dale for Sir Willoughby."

"Dr.Middleton intercedes!" This was rather astonishing to Mrs.Mountstuart.

"ForVernon" Miss Eleanor emphasized.

"ForVernon Whitfordhis cousin." said Miss Isabelstill moreemphatically.

"Who"said Mrs. Mountstuartwith a sovereign lift and turn ofher head"speaks of a refusal?"

"Ihave it from Mr. Dale" said Lady Busshe.

"Ihad itI thoughtdistinctly from Dr. Middleton" said Mr.Dale.

"ThatWilloughby proposed to Laetitia for his cousin VernonDoctorMiddleton meant" said Miss Eleanor.

Her sisterfollowed: "Hence this really ridiculous misconception!--sadindeed" she addedfor balm to Mr. Dale.

"Willoughbywas Vernon's proxy. His cousinif not his firstisever thesecond thought with him."

"Butcan we continue ... ?

"Sucha discussion!"

Mrs.Mountstuart gave them a judicial hearing. They were regardedin thecounty as the most indulgent of nonentitiesand she aslittle asLady Busshe was restrained from the burning topic intheirpresence. She pronounced:

"Eachparty is rightand each is wrong."

A dry: "Ishall shriek!" came from Lady Busshe.

"Cruel!"groaned Lady Culmer.

"Mixedyou are all wrong. Disentangledyou are each of youright. SirWilloughby does think of his cousin Vernon; he isanxious toestablish him; he is the author of a proposal to thateffect."

"Weknow it!" the Patterne ladies exclaimed. "And Laetitiarejectedpoor Vernon once more!"

"Whospoke of Miss Dale's rejection of Mr. Whitford?"

"Ishe not rejected?" Lady Culmer inquired.

"Itis in debateand at this moment being decided."

"Oh!do he seatedMr. Dale" Lady Busshe implored himrising tothrust himback to his chair if necessary. "Any dislocationandwe arethrown out again! We must hold together if this riddle isever to beread. Thendear Mrs. Mountstuartwe are to say thatthereis-no truth in the other story?"

"Youare to say nothing of the sortdear Lady Busshe."

"Bemerciful! And what of the fatality?"

"Aspositive as the Pole to the needle."

"Shehas not refused him?"

"Askyour own sagacity."

"Accepted?"

"Wait."

"Andall the world's ahead of me! NowMrs. Mountstuartyou areoracle.Riddlesif you likeonly speak. If we can't have cornwhygiveus husks."

"Isany one of us able to anticipate eventsLady Busshe?"

"YesI believe that you are. I bow to you. I do sincerely. Soit'sanother person for Mr. Whitford? You nod. And it is ourLaetitiafor Sir Willoughby? You smile. You would not deceive me?A verylittleand I run about crazed and howl at your doors. AndDr. Middleton is made to play blind man in the midst? And theotherperson is--now I see day! An amicable ruptureand a smoothnewarrangement. She has money; she was never the match for ourhero;never; I saw it yesterdayand beforeoften; and so hehands herover--tuthe-rum-tum-tumtuthe-rum-tum-tum" LadyBusshestruck a quick march on her knee. "Now isn't that cleverguessing?The shadow of a clue for me. And because I know humannature.One peepand I see the combination in a minute. So hekeeps themoney in the familybecomes a benefactor to his cousinby gettingrid of the girland succumbs to his fatality. Rather apity helet it ebb and flow so long. Time counts the tidesyouknow. Butit improves the story. I defy any other county in thekingdom toproduce one fresh and living to equal it. Let me tellyou Isuspected Mr. Whitfordand I hinted it yesterday."

"Didyou indeed!" said Mrs. Mountstuarthumouring her excessiveacuteness.

"Ireally did. There is that dear good man on his feet again. Andlooksagitated again."

Mr. Dalehad been compelled both by the lady's voice and hisinterestin the subject to listen. He had listened more thanenough; hewas exceedingly nervous. He held on by his chairafraid toquit his mooringsand "Manners!" he said to himselfunconsciouslyaloudas he cogitated on the libertine way withwhichthese chartered great ladies of the district discussed hisdaughter.He was heard and unnoticed. The suppositionif anywould havebeen that he was admonishing himself. At this junctureSirWilloughby entered the drawing-room by the garden windowandsimultaneouslyDr. Middleton by the door.

 

 

CHAPTERXLVI

TheScene of Sir Willoughby's Generalship

 

Historywe may fearwill never know the qualities of leadershipinherentin Sir Willoughby Patterne to fit him for the post ofCommanderof an armyseeing that he avoided the fatigues of theserviceand preferred the honours bestowed in his country upon thequietadministrators of their own estates: but his possession ofparticulargiftswhich are militaryand especially of theprolepticmindwhich is the stamp and sign-warrant of theheaven-sentGeneralwas displayed on every urgent occasion whenin themidst of difficulties likely to have extinguished one lessalert thanhe to the threatening aspect of disasterhe had tomanoeuvrehimself.

He hadreceived no intimation of Mr. Dale's presence in his housenor of thearrival of the dreaded women Lady Busshe and LadyCulmer:his locked door was too great a terror to his domestics.Havingfinished with Vernonafter a tedious endeavour to bringthe fellowto a sense of the policy of the step urged on himhewalked outon the lawn with the desire to behold the opening of aninterviewnot promising to lead to muchand possibly to profit byitsfailure. Clara had been preparedaccording to his directionsby Mrs.Mountstuart Jenkinsonas Vernon had been prepared by him.Hiswishescandidly and kindly expressed both to Vernon and MrsMountstuartwerethat since the girl appeared disinclined tomake him ahappy manshe would make one of his cousin.Intimatingto Mrs. Mountstuart that he would be happier withoutherhealluded to the benefit of the girl's money to poor oldVernonthe general escape from a scandal if old Vernon couldmanage tocatch her as she droppedthe harmonious arrangement itwould befor all parties. And only on the condition of her takingVernonwould he consent to give her up. This he said imperativelyaddingthat such was the meaning of the news she had receivedrelatingto Laetitia Dale. From what quarter had she received it?he asked. She shuffled in her replymade a gesture to signifythat itwas in the airuniversaland fell upon the proposedarrangement.He would listen to none of Mrs. Mountstuart'swoman-of-the-worldinstances of the folly of pressing it upon agirl whohad shown herself a girl of spirit. She foretold thefailure.He would not be advised; he said: "It is my scheme"; andperhapsthe look of mad benevolence about it induced the lady totrywhether there was a chance that it would hit the madness inournatureand somehow succeed or lead to a pacification. SirWilloughbycondescended to arrange things thus for Clara's good;he wouldthen proceed to realize his own. Such was the face he putupon it.We can wear what appearance we please before the worlduntil weare found outnor is the world's praise knocking uponhollownessalways hollow music; but Mrs Mountstuart's laudation ofhiskindness and simplicity disturbed him; for though he hadrecoveredfrom his rebuff enough to imagine that Laetitia couldnot refusehim under reiterated pressurehe had let it besupposedthat she was a submissive handmaiden throbbing for herelevation;and Mrs Mountstuart's belief in it afflicted his recentbitterexperience; his footing was not perfectly secure. Besidesassumingit to be sohe considered the sort of prize he had won;and aspasm of downright hatred of a world for which we makemightysacrifices to be repaid in a wornthincomparativelyvaluelesscointroubled his counting of his gains. Laetitiaitwas truehad not passed through other hands in coming to himasVernonwould know it to be Clara's case: time only had worn her:but thecomfort of the reflection was annoyed by the physicalcontrastof the two. Hence an unusual melancholy in his tone thatMrs.Mountstuart thought touching. It had the scenic effect on herwhichgreatly contributes to delude the wits. She talked of him toClara asbeing a man who had revealed an unsuspected depth.

Vernontook the communication curiously. He seemed readier to bein lovewith his benevolent relative than with the lady. He wasconfusedundisguisedly movedsaid the plan was impossibleoutof thequestionbut thanked Willoughby for the best ofintentionsthanked him warmly. After saying that the plan wasimpossiblethe comical fellow allowed himself to be pushed forthon thelawn to see how Miss Middleton might have come out ofherinterview with Mrs. Mountstuart. Willoughby observed Mrs.Mountstuartmeet himusher him to the place she had quitted amongtheshrubsand return to the open turf-spaces. He sprang to her.

"Shewill listen." Mrs. Mountstuart said: "She likes himrespectshimthinks he is a very sincere friendclevera scholarand agoodmountaineer; and thinks you mean very kindly. So much I haveimpressedon herbut I have not done much for Mr. Whitford."

"Sheconsents to listen" said Willoughbysnatching at that as thedeath-blowto his friend Horace.

"Sheconsents to listenbecause you have arranged it so that ifshedeclined she would be rather a savage."

"Youthink it will have no result?"

"Noneat all."

"Herlistening will do."

"Andyou must be satisfied with it."

"Weshall see."

"'Anythingfor peace'she says: and I don't say that a gentlemanwith atongue would not have a chance. She wishes to please you."

"OldVernon has no tongue for womenpoor fellow! You will have usbe spideror flyand if a man can't spin a web all he can hope isnot to becaught in one. She knows his historytooand thatwon't bein his favour. How did she look when you left them?"

"Notso bright: like a bit of china that wants dusting. She lookeda triflegaucheit struck me; more like a country girl with thehoydentaming in her than the well-bred creature she is. I did notsuspecther to have feeling. You must rememberSir Willoughbythat shehas obeyed your wishesdone her utmost: I do think wemay sayshe has made some amends; and if she is to blame sherepentsand you will not insist too far."

"I doinsist" said he.

"Beneficentbut a tyrant!"

"Wellwell." He did not dislike the character.

Theyperceived Dr. Middleton wandering over the lawnandWilloughbywent to him to put him on the wrong track: Mrs.Mountstuartswept into the drawing-room. Willoughby quitted theRev.Doctorand hung about the bower where he supposed his pairof dupeshad by this time ceased to stutter mutually:--or what ifthey hadfound the word of harmony? He could bear thatjust bearit. Herounded the shrubsandbeholdboth had vanished. Thetrellisdecorated emptiness. His idea wasthat they had soondiscoveredtheir inability to be turtles: and desiring not to losea momentwhile Clara was fretted by the scenehe rushed to thedrawing-roomwith the hope of lighting on her theregetting hertohimselfand finallyurgentlypassionately offering her thesolealternative of what she had immediately rejected. Why had henot usedpassion beforeinstead of limping crippled betweentemper andpolicy? He was capable of it: as soon as imagination inhimconceived his personal feelings unwounded and unimperiledthemight ofit inspired him with heroical confidenceand ClaragratefulClara softly movedled him to think of Clara melted.Thusanticipating her he burst into the room.

One stepthere warned him that he was in the jaws of the world. Wehave thephrasethat a man is himself under certain tryingcircumstances.There is no need to say it of Sir Willoughby: hewas thricehimself when danger menacedhimself inspired him. Hecould readat a single glance the Polyphemus eye in the generalhead of acompany. Lady BussheLady CulmerMrs. MountstuartMr.Dalehada similarity in the variety of their expressions thatmade upone giant eye for him perfectlyif awfullylegible. Hediscernedthe fact that his demon secret was abroaduniversal. Heascribedit to fate. He was in the jaws of the worldon theworld'steeth. This time he thought Laetitia must have betrayedhimandbowing to Lady Busshe and Lady Culmergallantly pressingtheirfingers and responding to their becks and archnessesheruminatedon his defences before he should accost her father. Hedid notwant to be alone with the manand he considered how hispresencemight be made useful.

"I amglad to see youMr. Dale. Praybe seated. Is it natureassertingher strength? or the efficacy of medicine? I fancy itcan't beboth. You have brought us back your daughter?"

Mr. Dalesank into a chairunable to resist the hand forcing him.

"NoSir Willoughbyno. I have not; I have not seen her since shecame homethis morning from Patterne."

"Indeed?She is unwell?"

"Icannot say. She secludes herself."

"Haslocked herself in" said Lady Busshe.

Willoughbythrew her a smile. It made them intimate.

This wasan advantage against the worldbut an exposure ofhimself tothe abominable woman.

Dr.Middleton came up to Mr. Dale to apologize for not presentinghisdaughter Clarawhom he could find neither in nor out of thehouse.

"Wehave in Mr. Daleas I suspected" he said to Willoughby"astoutally."

"If Imay beg two minutes with youSir Willoughby" said Mr.Dale.

"Yourvisits are too rare for me to allow of your numbering theminutes"Willoughby replied. "We cannot let Mr. Dale escape usnow thatwe have himI thinkDr. Middleton."

"Notwithout ransom" said the Rev. Doctor.

Mr. Daleshook his head. "My strengthSir Willoughbywill notsustain melong."

"Youare at homeMr. Dale."

"Notfar from homein truthbut too far for an invalid beginningto growsensible of weakness."

"Youwill regard Patterne as your homeMr. Dale" Willoughbyrepeatedfor the world to hear.

"Unconditionally?"Dr. Middleton inquiredwith a humourous air ofdissenting.

Willoughbygave him a look that was coldly courteousand then helooked atLady Busshe. She nodded imperceptibly. Her eyebrowsroseandWilloughby returned a similar nod.

Translatedthe signs ran thus:

"--Pesteredby the Rev. gentleman:--I see you are. Is the story Ihave heardcorrect?--Possibly it may err in a few details."

This wasfettering himself in loose manacles.

But LadyBusshe would not be satisfied with the compliment of theintimatelooks and nods. She thought she might still be behindMrs.Mountstuart; and she was a bold womanand anxious about himhalf-crazedby the riddle of the pot she was boiling inandhavingvery few minutes to spare. Not extremely reticent bynatureprivileged by stationand made intimate with him by hiscovertlooksshe stood up to him. "One word to an old friend.Which isthe father of the fortunate creature? I don't know how tobehave tothem." No time was afforded him to be disgusted with hervulgarityand audacity.

Herepliedfeeling her rivet his gyves: "The house will be emptyto-morrow."

"Isee. A decent withdrawaland very well cloaked. We had a talehere ofher running off to decline the honourafraidor on herdignity orsomething."

How was itthat the woman was ready to accept the altered postureof affairsin his house--if she had received a hint of them? Heforgotthat he had prepared her in self-defence.

"Fromwhom did you have that?" he asked.

"Herfather. And the lady aunts declare it was the cousin sherefused!"Willoughby's brain turned over. He righted it foractionand crossed the room to the ladies Eleanor and Isabel. Hisearstingled. He and his whole story discussed in public! Himselfunroofed!And the marvel that he of all men should be in such atanglenaked and blown oncondemned to use his cunningest artsto unwindand cover himselfstruck him as though the lord of hiskind wererunning the gauntlet of a legion of imps. He felt theirlashes.

The ladieswere talking to Mrs. Mountstuart and Lady Culmer ofVernon andthe suitableness of Laetitia to a scholar. He made signto themand both rose.

"Itis the hour for your drive. To the cottage! Mr. Dale is in.She mustcome. Her sick father! No delaygoing or returning.Bring herhere at once."

"Poorman!" they sighed; and "Willoughby" said oneand theothersaid:"There is a strange misconception you will do well tocorrect."

They wereabout to murmur what it was. He swept his hand roundandexcusing themselves to their guestsobediently they retired.

LadyBusshe at his entreaty remainedand took a seat beside LadyCulmer andMrs. Mountstuart.

She saidto the latter: "You have tried scholars. What do youthink?"

"Excellentbut hard to mix" was the reply.

"Inever make experiments" said Lady Culmer.

"Someone must!" Mrs. Mountstuart groaned over her dull dinner-party.

LadyBusshe consoled her. "At any ratethe loss of a scholar isno loss tothe county."

"Theyare well enough in towns" Lady Culmer said.

"Andthen I am sure you must have them by themselves."

"Wehave nothing to regret."

"Myopinion."

The voiceof Dr. Middleton in colloquy with Mr. Dale swelled on amelodiousthunder: "For whom else should I plead as the passionateadvocate Iproclaimed myself to yousir? There is but one manknown tome who would move me to back him upon such an adventure.Willoughbyjoin me. I am informing Mr. Dale . . ."

Willoughbystretched his hands out to Mr. Dale to support him onhis legsthough he had shown no sign of a wish to rise.

"Youare feeling unwellMr. Dale."

"Do Ilook very illSir Willoughby?"

"Itwill pass. Laetitia will be with us in twenty minutes." Mr.Dalestruck his hands in a clasp. He looked alarmingly illandsatisfactorilyrevealed to his host how he could be made to lookso.

"Iwas informing Mr. Dale that the petitioner enjoys ourconcurrentgood wishes: and mine in no degree less than yoursWilloughby"observed Dr. Middletonwhose billows grew the biggerfor acheck. He supposed himself speaking confidentially. "Ladieshave thetrickthey haveI may saythe natural disposition forplayingenigma now and again. Pressure is often a sovereignspecific.Let it be tried upon her all round from every radiatingline ofthe circle. You she refuses. Then I venture to proposemyself toappeal to her. My daughter has assuredly an esteem fortheapplicant that will animate a woman's tongue in such a case.The ladiesof the house will not be backward. Lastlyifnecessarywe trust the lady's father to add his instances. Myprescriptionisto fatigue her negatives; and where no rootedobjectionexistsI maintain it to be the unfailing receipt fortheconduct of the siege. No woman can say No forever. Thedefencehas not such resources against even a single assailantand weshall have solved the problem of continuous motion beforeshe willhave learned to deny in perpetuity. That I stand on."

Willoughbyglanced at Mrs. Mountstuart.

"Whatis that?" she said. "Treason to our sexDr. Middleton?"

"Ithink I heard that no woman can say No forever!" remarked LadyBusshe.

"To aloyal gentlemanma'am: assuming the field of the recurringrequest tobe not unholy ground; consecrated to affirmativesrather."

DrMiddleton was attacked by three angry bees. They made him sayyes and noalternately so many times that he had to admit in men ashiftieryieldingness than women were charged with.

Willoughbygesticulated as mute chorus on the side of the ladies;and alittle show of party spirit like thatcoming upon theirexcitementunder the topicinclined them to him genially. Hedrew Mr.Dale away while the conflict subsided in sharp snaps ofrifles andan interval rejoinder of a cannon. Mr. Dale had shownby signsthat he was growing fretfully restive under his burdenof doubt.

"SirWilloughbyI have a question. I beg you to lead me where Imay askit. I know my head is weak."

"Mr.Daleit is answered when I say that my house is your homeand thatLaetitia will soon be with us."

"Thenthis report is true?"

"Iknow nothing of reports. You are answered."

"Canmy daughter be accused of any shadow of falsenessdishonourabledealing?"

"Aslittle as I."

Mr. Dalescanned his face. He saw no shadow.

"ForI should go to my grave bankrupt if that could be said ofher; and Ihave never yet felt poorthough you know the extent ofapensioner's income. Then this tale of a refusal ... ?"

"Isnonsense."

"Shehas accepted?"

"Thereare situationsMr. Daletoo delicate to be clothed inpositivedefinitions."

"AhSir Willoughbybut it becomes a father to see that hisdaughteris not forced into delicate situations. I hope all iswell. I amconfused. It may be my head. She puzzles me. You arenot ...Can I ask it here? You are quite ... ? Will you moderatemyanxiety? My infirmities must excuse me."

SirWilloughby conveyed by a shake of the head and a pressure ofMr. Dale'shandthat he was notand that he was quite.

"DrMiddleton?" said Mr. Dale.

"Heleaves us to-morrow."

"Really!"The invalid wore a look as if wine had been poured intohim. Herouted his host's calculations by calling to the Rev.Doctor."We are to lose yousir?"

Willoughbyattempted an interpositionbut Dr. Middleton crashedthrough itlike the lordly organ swallowing a flute.

"Notbefore I score my victoryMr. Daleand establish my friendupon hisrightful throne."

"Youdo not leave to-morrowsir?"

"Haveyou heardsirthat I leave to-morrow?"

Mr. Daleturned to Sir Willoughby.

The lattersaid: "Clara named to-day. To-morrow I thoughtpreferable."

"Ah!"Dr. Middleton towered on the swelling exclamationbut withno darklight. He radiated splendidly. "Yesthento-morrow. Thatisif wesubdue the lady."

Headvanced to Willoughbyseized his handsqueezed itthankedhimpraised him. He spoke under his breathfor a wonder; but:"Weare in your debt lastinglymy friend"was heardand he wasimpressivehe seemed subduedand saying aloud: "Though I shouldwish toaid in the reduction of that fortress"he let it be seenthat hismind was rid of a load.

Dr.Middleton partly stupefied Willoughby by his way of taking itbut hisconduct was too serviceable to allow of speculation on hisreadinessto break the match. It was the turning-point of theengagement.

LadyBusshe made a stir.

"Icannot keep my horses waiting any longer" she saidandbeckoned.Sir Willoughby was beside her immediately.

"Youare admirable! perfect! Don't ask me to hold my tongue. IretractIrecant. It is a fatality. I have resolved upon thatview. Youcould stand the shot of beautynot of brains. That isourreport. There! And it's delicious to feel that the county winsyou. Notea. I cannot possibly wait. Andoh! here she is. I musthave alook at her. My dear Laetitia Dale!"

Willoughbyhurried to Mr. Dale.

"Youare not to be excitedsir: compose yourself. You willrecoverand be strong to-morrow: you are at home; you are in yourown house;you are in Laetitia's drawing-room. All will be clearto-morrow.Till to-morrow we talk riddles by consent. SitI beg.You staywith us."

He metLaetitia and rescued her from Lady Busshemurmuringwiththe air ofa lover who says"my love! my sweet!" that she haddonerightly to come and come at once. Her father had been throwninto theproper condition of clammy nervousness to create theimpression.Laetitia's anxiety sat prettily on her long eyelashesas shebent over him in his chair.

HereuponDr. Corney appeared; and his name had a bracing effect onMr. Dale."Corney has come to drive me to the cottage" he said."I amashamed of this public exhibition of myselfmy dear. Letus go. Myhead is a poor one."

Dr. Corneyhad been intercepted. He broke from Sir Willoughby witha dozenlittle nods of accurate understanding of himeven tobeyond themark of the communications. He touched his patient'spulselightlybriefly sighed with professional composureandpronounced:"Rest. Must not be moved. Nononothing serious" hequietedLaetitia's fears"but restrest. A change of residencefor anight will tone him.  I will bring him a draught in thecourse ofthe evening. YesyesI'll fetch everything wanted fromthecottage for you and for him.  Repose on Corney's forethought."

"Youare sureDr. Corney?" said Laetitiafrightened on herfather'saccount and on her own.

"Whichaspect will be the best for Mr. Dale's bedroom?"thehospitable ladies Eleanor and Isabel inquired.

"Southeastdecidedly: let him have the morning sun: a warm aira vigorousairand a bright airand the patient wakes and singsin hisbed."

Stilldoubtful whether she was in a trapLaetitia whispered toher fatherof the privacy and comforts of his home. He replied toher thathe thought he would rather be in his own home.

Dr Corneypositively pronounced No to it.

Laetitiabreathed again of homebut with the sigh of oneoverborne.

The ladiesEleanor and Isabel took the word from Willoughbyandsaid: "Butyou are at homemy dear. This is your home. Yourfatherwill be at least as well attended here as at the cottage."

She raisedher eyelids on them mournfullyand by chance divertedher lookto Dr. Middletonquite by chance.

It spokeeloquently to the assembly of all that Willoughby desiredto beimagined.

"Butthere is Crossjay" she cried. "My cousin has goneand theboy isleft alone. I cannot have him left alone. If weifDr.Corneyyou are sure it is unsafe for papa to be moved to-dayCrossjaymust ... he cannot be left."

"Bringhim with youCorney" said Sir Willoughby; and the littledoctorheartily promised that he wouldin the event of hisfindingCrossjay at the cottagewhich he thought a distantprobability.

"Hegave me his word he would not go out till my return" saidLaetitia.

"Andif Crossjay gave you his word" the accents of a new voicevibratedclose by"be certain that he will not come back with Dr.Corneyunless he has authority in your handwriting."

ClaraMiddleton stepped gently to Laetitiaand with a mannerthat wasan embraceas much as kissed her for what she was doingon behalfof Crossjay. She put her lips in a pouting form tosimulatesaying: "Press it."

"Heis to come" said Laetitia.
"Thenwrite him his permit."

There wasa chatter about Crossjay and the sentinel true to hispost thathe could beduring which Laetitia distressfullyscribbleda line for Dr. Corney to deliver to him. Clara stoodnear. Shehad rebuked herself for want of reserve in the presenceof LadyBusshe and Lady Culmerand she was guilty of a slightlyexcessivecontainment when she next addressed Laetitia. It waslikeLaetitia's look at Dr. Middletonopportune: enough to make aman whowatched as Willoughby did a fatalist for life: the shadowof adifference in her bearing toward Laetitia sufficed to imputeactingeither to her present coolness or her previous warmth.Betterstillwhen Dr. Middleton said: "So we leave to-morrowmydearandI hope you have written to the Darletons" Clara flushedandbeamedand repressed her animation on a suddenwith onegravelookthat might be thought regretfulto where Willoughbystood.

Chanceworks for us when we are good captains.

Willoughby'spride was highthough he knew himself to be keepingit up likea fearfully dexterous jugglerand for an empty reward:but he wasin the toils of the world.

"Haveyou written? The post-bag leaves in half an hour" headdressedher.

"Weare expectedbut I will write" she replied: and her nothaving yetwritten counted in his favour.

She wentto write the letter. Dr. Corney had departed on hismission tofetch Crossjay and medicine. Lady Busshe was impatientto begone. "Corney" she said to Lady Culmer"is a deadlygossip."

"Inveterate"was the answer.

"Mypoor horses!"

"Notthe young pair of bays?"

"Luckilythey aremy dear. And don't let me hear of diningto-night!"

SirWilloughby was leading out Mr. Dale to a quiet roomcontiguousto the invalid gentleman's bedchamber. He resignedhim toLaetitia in the hallthat he might have the pleasureofconducting the ladies to their carriage.

"Aslittle agitation as possible. Corney will soon be back" hesaidbitterly admiring the graceful subservience of Laetitia'sfigure toher father's weight on her arm.

He had wona desperate battlebut what had he won?

What hadthe world given him in return for his efforts to gain it?Just ashirtit might be said: simple scanty clothingno warmth.LadyBusshe was unbearable; she gabbled; she was ill-bredpermittedherself to speak of Dr. Middleton as ineligibleno lossto thecounty. And Mrs. Mountstuart was hardly much above herwithherinevitable stroke of caricature:--"You see DoctorMiddleton'spulpit scampering after him with legs!" Perhaps theRev.Doctor did punish the world for his having forsaken hispulpitand might be conceived as haunted by it at his heelsbutWilloughbywas in the mood to abhor comic images; he hated theperpetratorsof them and the grinners. Contempt of this laughingemptyworldfor which he had performed a monstrous immolationled him toassociate Dr. Middleton in his mindand Clara toowiththedesireable things he had sacrificed--a shape of youth andhealth; asparkling companion; a face of innumerable charms; andhis ownveracity; his inner sense of his dignity; and his temperand thelimpid frankness of his air of scornthat was to him avisage ofcandid happiness in the dim retrospect. Haply also hehadsacrificed more: he looked scientifically into the future: hemight havesacrificed a nameless more. And for what? he askedagain. Forthe favourable looks and tongues of these women whoselooks andtongues he detested!

"DrMiddleton says he is indebted to me: I am deeply in hisdebt"he remarked.

"Itis we who are in your debt for a lovely romancemy dear SirWilloughby"said Lady Bussheincapable of taking a correctionsothoroughly had he imbued her with his fictionor with thebeliefthat she had a good story to circulate. Away she droverattlingher tongue to Lady Culmer.

"Ahat and hornand she would be in the old figure of a post-boyon ahue-and-cry sheet" said Mrs. Mountstuart.

Willoughbythanked the great lady for her servicesand shecomplimentedthe polished gentleman on his noble self-possession.But shecomplained at the same time of being defrauded of her"charmer"Colonel De Crayesince luncheon. An absence of warmthin hercompliment caused Willoughby to shrink and think thewretchedshirt he had got from the world no covering after all: abreathflapped it.

"Hecomes to me to-morrowI believe" she saidreflecting on hersuperiorknowledge of facts in comparison with Lady Busshewhowouldpresently be hearing of something noveland exclaiming:"Sothat is why you patronized the colonel!" And it was nothingof thesortfor Mrs. Mountstuart could honestly say she was notthe womanto make a business of her pleasure.

"Horaceis an enviable fellow" said Willoughbywise in The Bookwhich bidsus everfor an assuagement to fancy our friend'sconditionworse than our ownand recommends the deglutition ofirony asthe most balsamic for wounds in the whole moralpharmacopoeia.

"Idon't know" she repliedwith a marked accent of deliberation.

"Thecolonel is to have you to himself to-morrow!"

"Ican't be sure of what I shall have in the colonel!"

"Yourperpetual sparkler?"

Mrs.Mountstuart set her head in motion. She left the mattersilent.

"I'llcome for him in the morning" she saidand her carriagewhirledher off. Either she had guessed itor Clara had confidedto her thetreacherous passion of Horace De Craye.

Howeverthe world was shut away from Patterne for the night.

 

 

CHAPTERXLVII SirWilloughby and His Friend Horace De Craye

 

Willoughbyshut himself up in his laboratory to brood awhile aftertheconflict. Sounding through himselfas it was habitual withhim to dofor the plan most agreeable to his tastehe came on astrangediscovery among the lower circles of that microcosm. Hewas nolonger guided in his choice by liking and appetite: he hadto put iton the edge of a sharp discriminationand try it by hisacutestjudgement before it was acceptable to his heart: andknowingwell the direction of his desirehe was neverthelessunable torun two strides on a wish. He had learned to read theworld: hispartial capacity for reading persons had fled. Themysteriesof his own bosom were bare to him; but he couldcomprehendthem only in their immediate relation to the worldoutside.This hateful world had caught him and transformed him toa machine.The discovery he made wasthat in the gratificationof theegoistic instinct we may so beset ourselves as to deal aslaughteringwound upon Self to whatsoever quarter we turn.

Surelythere is nothing stranger in mortal experience. The man wasconfounded.At the game of Chess it is the dishonour of ouradversarywhen we are stale-mated: but in lifecornbatting theworldsuch a winning of the game questions our sentiments.

Willoughby'sinterpretation of his discovery was directed by pity:he had noother strong emotion left in him. He pitied himselfandhe reachedthe conclusion that he suffered because he was active;he couldnot be quiescent. Had it not been for his devotion to hishouse andnamenever would he have stood twice the victim ofwomankind.Had he been selfishhe would have been the happiest ofmen! Hesaid it aloud. He schemed benevolently for his unbornyoungandfor the persons about him: hence he was in a positionforbiddinga step under pain of injury to his feelings. He wasgenerous:otherwise would he not in scorn of soulat the outsetstraightoff have pitched Clara Middleton to the wanton winds? Hewasfaithful in his affection: Laetitia Dale was beneath his roofto proveit. Both these women were examples of his power offorgivenessand now a tender word to Clara might fasten shame onhim--suchwas her gratitude! And if he did not marry Laetitialaughterwould be devilish all around him--such was the world's!ProbablyVernon would not long be thankful for the chance whichvaried themonotony of his days. What of Horace? Willoughbystrippedto enter the ring with Horace: he cast away disguise.That manhad been the first to divide him in the all but equalslices ofhis egoistic from his amatory self: murder of hisindividualitywas the crime of Horace De Craye. And furthersuspicionfixed on Horace (he knew not howexcept that The Bookbids us besuspicious of those we hate) as the man who hadbetrayedhis recent dealings with Laetitia.

Willoughbywalked the thoroughfares of the house to meet Clara andmakecertain of her either for himselforif it must beforVernonbefore he took another step with Laetitia Dale. Claracouldreunite himturn him once more into a whole and an animatedman; andshe might be willing. Her willingness to listen to Vernonpromisedit. "A gentleman with a tongue would have a chance"Mrs.Mountstuarthad said. How much greater the chance of a lover! Forhe had notyet supplicated her: he had shown pride and temper. Hecould woohe was a torrential wooer. And it would be glorious toswinground on Lady Busshe and the worldwith Clara nestlingunder anarmand protest astonishment at the erroneous andutterlyunfounded anticipations of any other development. And itwouldrighteously punish Laetitia.

Clara camedownstairsbearing her letter to Miss Darleton.

"Mustit be posted?" Willoughby saidmeeting her in the hall.

"Theyexpect us any daybut it will be more comfortable forpapa"was her answer. She looked kindly in her new shyness.

She didnot seem to think he had treated her contemptuously inflingingher to his cousinwhich was odd.

"Youhave seen Vernon?"

"Itwas your wish."

"Youhad a talk?"

"Weconversed."

"Along one?"

"Wewalked some distance."

"ClaraI tried to make the best arrangement I could."

"Yourintention was generous."

"Hetook no advantage of it?"

"Itcould not be treated seriously."

"Itwas meant seriously."

"ThereI see the generosity."

Willoughbythought this encomiumand her consent to speak on thesubjectand her scarcely embarrassed air and richness of tone inspeakingvery strange: and strange was her taking him quite inearnest.Apparently she had no feminine sensation of theunwontednessand the absurdity of the matter!

"ButClaraam I to understand that he did not speak out?"

"Weare excellent friends."

"Tomiss itthough his chance were the smallest!"

"Youforget that it may not wear that appearance to him."

"Hespoke 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 aminute? Weare two sensible persons . . ."

"PardonmeI must go to papa."

"Vernon'spersonal historyperhaps ..."

"Ithink it honourable to him."

"Honourable!--'hem!"

"Bycomparison."

"Comparisonwith what?"

"Withothers."

He drew upto relieve himself of a critical and condemnatoryexpirationof a certain length. This young lady knew too much.But howphysically exquisite she was!

"CouldyouClaracould you promise me--I hold to it. I musthave itIknow his shy tricks--promise me to give himultimatelyanother chance? Is the idea repulsive to you?"

"Itis one not to be thought of."

"Itis not repulsive?"

"Nothingcould be repulsive in Mr. Whitford."

"Ihave no wish to annoy youClara."

"Ifeel bound to listen to youWilloughby. Whatever I can do topleaseyouI will. It is my life-long duty."

"CouldyouClaracould you conceive itcould you simplyconceiveit--give him your hand?"

"As afriend. Ohyes."

"Inmarriage."

Shepaused. Sheso penetrative of him when he opposed herwashoodwinkedwhen he softened her feelings: for the heartthoughtheclearestis not the most constant instructor of the head; theheartunlike the often obtuser headworks for itself and not forthecommonwealth.

"Youare so kind ... I would do much . . ." she said.

"Wouldyou accept him--marry him? He is poor."

"I amnot ambitious of wealth."

"Wouldyou marry him?"

"Marriageis not in my thoughts."

"Butcould you marry him?"

Willoughbyexpected no. In his expectation of it he hung inflated.

She saidthese words: "I could engage to marry no one else." Hisamazementbreathed without a syllable.

He flappedhis armsresembling for the moment those birds ofenormousbody which attempt a rise upon their wings and achieve ahop.

"Wouldyou engage it?" he saidcontent to see himself stepped onas aninsect if he could but feel the agony of his false friendHorace--theircommon pretensions to win her were now of thatcomparativesize.

"Oh!there can be no necessity. And an oath--no!" said Clarainwardlyshivering at a recollection.

"Butyou could?"

"Mywish is to please you."

"Youcould?"

"Isaid so."

It hasbeen known to the patriotic mountaineer of a hoary pile ofwinterswith little life remaining in himbut that little onfire forhis countrythat by the brink of the precipice he hasflunghimself on a young and lusty invaderdedicating himselfexultinglyto death if only he may score a point for his countrybyextinguishing in his country's enemy the stronger man. Solikewisedid Willoughbyin the blow that deprived him of hopeexult inthe toppling over of Horace De Craye. They perishedtogetherbut which one sublimely relished the headlong descent?And Vernontaken by Clara would be Vernon simply tolerated. AndClarataken by Vernon would be Clara previously touchedsmirched.Altogetherhe could enjoy his fall.

It was atleast upon a comfortable bedwhere his pride would bedresseddaily and would never be disagreeably treated.

He washenceforth Laetitia's own. The bell telling of Dr. Corney'sreturn wasa welcome sound to Willoughbyand he saidgood-humouredly:"WaitClarayou will see your hero Crossjay."

Crossjayand Dr. Corney tumbled into the hall. Willoughby caughtCrossjayunder the arms to give him a lift in the old fashionpleasingto Clara to see. The boy was heavy as lead.

"Ihad work to hook him and worse to net him" said Dr. Corney. "Ihad tomake him believe he was to nurse every soul in the houseyou amongthemMiss Middleton."

Willoughbypulled the boy aside.

Crossjaycame back to Clara heavier in looks than his limbs hadbeen. Shedropped her letter in the hall-boxand took his hand tohave aprivate hug of him. When they were aloneshe said:"Crossjaymy dearmy dear! you look unhappy."

"Yesand who wouldn't beand you're not to marry SirWilloughby!"his voice threatened a cry. "I know you're notforDr. Corneysays you are going to leave."

"Didyou so very much wish itCrossjay?"

"Ishould have seen a lot of youand I sha'n't see you at alland I'msure if I'd known I wouldn't have--And he has been andtipped methis."

Crossjayopened his fist in which lay three gold pieces.

"Thatwas very kind of him" said Clara.

"Yesbut how can I keep it?"

"Byhanding it to Mr. Whitford to keep for you."

"YesbutMiss Middletonoughtn't I to tell him? I mean SirWilloughby."

"What?"

"Whythat I"--Crossjay got close to her--"whythat Ithat I--you knowwhat you used to say. I wouldn't tell a liebut oughtn'tIwithouthis asking ... and this money! I don't mind beingturned outagain."

"ConsultMr. Whitford" said Clara.

"Iknow what you thinkthough."

"Perhapsyou had better not say anything at presentdear boy."

"Butwhat am I to do with this money?"

Crossjayheld the gold pieces out as things that had not yetmingledwith his ideas of possession.

"Ilistenedand I told of him" he said. "I couldn't helplisteningbut I went and told; and I don't like being hereandhis moneyand he not knowing what I did. Haven't you heard? I'mcertain Iknow what you thinkand so do Iand I must take myluck. I'malways in mischiefgetting into a mess or getting outof it. Idon't mindI really don'tMiss MiddletonI can sleepin a treequite comfortably. If you're not going to be hereI'djust assoon be anywhere. I must try to earn my living some day.And whynot a cabin-boy? Sir Cloudesley Shovel was no better. AndI don'tmind his being wrecked at lastif you're drowned anadmiral.So I shall go and ask him to take his money backand ifhe asks meI shall tell himand there.  You know what it is: Iguessedthat from what Dr. Corney said. I'm sure I know you'rethinkingwhat's manly. Fancy me keeping his moneyand you notmarryinghim! I wouldn't mind driving a plough. I shouldn't make abadgamekeeper. Of course I love boats bestbut you can't haveeverything."

"Speakto Mr. Whitford first" said Claratoo proud of the boyforgrowing as she had trained himto advise a course of conductopposed tohis notions of manlinessthough now that her battlewas overshe would gladly have acquiesced in little casuisticcompromisesfor the sake of the general peace.

Some timelater Vernon and Dr. Corney were arguing upon thequestion.Corney was dead against the sentimental view of themoralityof the case propounded by Vernon as coming from MissMiddletonand partly shared by him. "If it's on the boy's mind"Vernonsaid"I can't prohibit his going to Willoughby and makinga cleanbreast of itespecially as it involves meand sooner orlater Ishould have to tell him myself."

Dr. Corneysaid no at all points. "Now hear me" he saidfinally."Thisis between ourselvesand no breach of confidencewhich I'dnot beguilty of for forty friendsthough I'd give my hand fromthewrist-joint for one--my leftthat's to say. Sir Willoughbyputs meone or two searching interrogations on a point of interestto himhis house and name. Very welland good night to thatandI wishMiss Dale had been ten years youngeror had passed theten withno heartrisings and sinkings wearing to the tissues ofthe frameand the moral fibre to boot. She'll have a fairishhealthwith a little occasional doctoring; taking her rank andwealth inright earnestand shying her pen back to Mother Goose.She'll do.Andby the wayI think it's to the credit of mysagacitythat I fetched Mr. Dale here fully primedand roused theneighbourhoodwhich I didand so fixed our gentlemanneat as aproddedeel on a pair of prongs--namelythe positive fact and thegeneralknowledge of it. Butmark memy friend. We understandoneanother at a nod. This boyyoung Squire Crossjayis a goodstiffhearty kind of a Saxon boyout of whom you may cut asgallant afellow as ever wore epaulettes. I like himyou likehimMissDale and Miss Middleton like him; and Sir WilloughbyPatterneof Patterne Hall and other placeswon't be indisposedto likehim mightily in the event of the sun being seen to shineupon himwith a particular determination to make him appear aprominentobjectbecause a solitaryand a Patterne." Dr. Corneylifted hischest and his finger: "Now mark meand verbum sap:Crossjaymust not offend Sir Willoughby. I say no more. Lookahead.Miracles happenbut it's best to reckon that they won't.Wellnowand Miss Dale. She'll not be cruel."

"Itappears as if she would" said Vernonmeditating on thecloudysketch Dr. Corney had drawn.

"Shecan'tmy friend. Her position's precarious; her father haslittlebesides a pension. And her writing damages her health. Shecan't. Andshe likes the baronet. Ohit's only a little fit ofproudblood. She's the woman for him. She'll manage him--give himan ideahe's got a lot of ideas. It'd kill her father if she wereobstinate.He talked to mewhen I told him of the businessabouthis dreamfulfilledand if the dream turns to vapourhe'll beanotherexample that we hang more upon dreams than realities fornourishmentand medicine too. Last week I couldn't have got himout of hishouse with all my art and science. Ohshe'll come round.Her fatherprophesied thisand I'll prophesy that. She's fond ofhim."

"Shewas."

"Shesees through him?"

"Withoutquite doing justice to him now" said Vernon. "He canbegenerous--in his way."

"How?"Corney inquiredand was informed that he should hear intime tocome.

MeanwhileColonel De Crayeafter hovering over the park and aboutthecottage for the opportunity of pouncing on Miss Middletonalonehadreturned crest-fallen for onceand plumped intoWilloughby'shands.

"Mydear Horace" Willoughby said"I've been looking for youalltheafternoon. The fact is--I fancy you'll think yourself lureddown hereon false pretences: but the truth isI am not so muchto blameas the world will suppose. In point of factto be briefMiss Daleand I ... I never consult other men how they would haveacted. Thefact of the matter isMiss Middleton ... I fancy youhavepartly guessed it."

"Partly"said De Craye.

"Wellshe has a liking that wayand if it should turn out strongenoughit's the best arrangement I can think of" The lively playof thecolonel's features fixed in a blank inquiry.

"Onecan back a good friend for making a good husband" saidWilloughby."I could not break with her in the present stage ofaffairswithout seeing to that. And I can speak of her highlythough sheand I have seen in time that we do not suit oneanother.My wife must have brains."

"Ihave always thought it" said Colonel De Crayeglisteningandlookinghungry as a wolf through his wonderment.

"Therewill not be a word against heryou understand. You know mydislike oftattle and gossip. Howeverlet it fall on me; myshouldersare broad. I have done my utmost to persuade herandthereseems a likelihood of her consenting. She tells me her wishis toplease meand this will please me."

"Certainly.Who's the gentleman?"

"Mybest friendI tell you. I could hardly have proposed another.Allow thisbusiness to go on smoothly just now." There was anuproarwithin the colonel to blind his witsand Willoughby lookedsofriendly that it was possible to suppose the man of projectshadmentioned his best friend to Miss Middleton.

And whowas the best friend?

Not havingaccused himself of treacherythe quick-eyed colonelwas duped.

"Haveyou his name handyWilloughby?"

"Thatwould be unfair to him at presentHorace--ask yourself--and toher. Things are in a ticklish posture at present. Don't behasty."

"Certainly.I don't ask. Initials'll do."

"Youhave a remarkable aptitude for guessingHoraceand thiscaseoffers you no tough problem--if ever you acknowledgedtoughness.I have a regard for her and for him--for both prettyequally;you know I haveand I should be thoroughly thankful tobring thematter about."

"Lordly!"said De Craye.

"Idon't see it. I call it sensible."

"Ohundoubtedly. The styleI mean. Tolerably antique?"

"NovelI should sayand not the worse for that. We want plainpracticaldealings between men and women. Usually we go the wrongway towork. And I loathe sentimental rubbish."

De Crayehummed an air. "But the lady?" said he.

"Itold youthere seems a likelihood of her consenting."

Willoughby'sfish gave a perceptible little leap now that he hadbeentaught to exercise his aptitude for guessing.

"Withoutany of the customary preliminaries on the side of thegentleman?"he said.

"Wemust put him through his pacesfriend Horace. He's anotoriousblunderer with women; hasn't a word for themnevermarked aconquest."

De Crayecrested his plumes under the agreeable banter. Hepresenteda face humourously sceptical.

"Thelady is positively not indisposed to give the poor fellow ahearing?"

"Ihave cause to think she is not" said Willoughbyglad ofacting theindifference to her which could talk of herinclinations.

"Cause?"

"Goodcause."

"Blessus!"

"Asgood as one can have with a woman."

"Ah?"

"Iassure you."

"Ah!Does it seem like herthough?"

"Wellshe wouldn't engage herself to accept him."

"Wellthat seems more like her."

"Butshe said she could engage to marry no one else."

Thecolonel sprang upcrying: "Clara Middleton said it?" Hecurbedhimself "That's a bit of wonderful compliancy."

"Shewishes to please me. We separate on those terms. And I wishherhappiness. I've developed a heart lately and taken to think ofothers."

"Nothingbetter. You appear to make cock sure of the other party--ourfriend?"

"Youknow him too wellHoraceto doubt his readiness."

"DoyouWilloughby?"

"Shehas money and good looks. YesI can say I do."

"Itwouldn't be much of a man who'd want hard pulling to thatlightedaltar!"

"Andif he requires persuasionyou and IHoracemight bring himto hissenses."

"Kicking"t would be!"

"Ilike to see everybody happy about me" said Willoughbynamingthe houras time to dress for dinner.

Thesentiment he had delivered was De Craye's excuse for graspinghis handand complimenting him; but the colonel betrayed himselfby doingit with an extreme fervour almost tremulous.

"Whenshall we hear more?" he said.

"Ohprobably to-morrow" said Willoughby. "Don't he in such ahurry."

"I'man infant asleep!" the colonel replieddeparting.

Heresembled oneto Willoughby's mind: or a traitor drugged.

"Thereis a fellow I thought had some brains!"

Who arenot fools to beset spinning if we choose to whip them withtheirvanity! it is the consolation of the great to watch themspin. Butthe pleasure is loftierand may comfort our unmeritedmisfortunefor a whilein making a false friend drunk.

Willoughbyamong his many preoccupationshad the satisfaction ofseeing theeffect of drunkenness on Horace De Craye when thelatter wasin Clara's presence. He could have laughed. Cut in keenepigramwere the marginal notes added by him to that chapter ofThe Bookwhich treats of friends and a woman; and had he not beenprofoundlypreoccupiedtroubled by recent intelligencecommunicatedby the ladieshis auntshe would have played thetwotogether for the royal amusement afforded him by his friendHorace.

 

 

CHAPTERXLVIII

TheLovers

 

The hourwas close upon eleven at night. Laetitia sat in the roomadjoiningher father's bedchamber. Her elbow was on the tablebeside herchairand two fingers pressed her temples. The statebetweenthinking and feelingwhen both are molten and flow by usis one ofour natures coming after thought has quieted the fierynervesand can do no more. She seemed to be meditating. She wasconsciousonly of a struggle past.

Sheanswered a tap at the doorand raised her eyes on Clara.Clarastepped softly. "Mr. Dale is asleep?"

"Ihope so."

"Ah!dear friend."

Laetitialet her hand be pressed.

"Haveyou had a pleasant evening?"

"Mr.Whitford and papa have gone to the library."

"ColonelDe Craye has been singing?"

"Yes--witha voice! I thought of you upstairsbut could not askhim tosing piano."

"Heis probably exhilarated."

"Onewould suppose it: he sang well."

"Youare not aware of any reason?"

"Itcannot concern me."

Clara wasin rosy colourbut could meet a steady gaze.

"AndCrossjay has gone to bed?"

"Longsince. He was at dessert. He would not touch anything."

"Heis a strange boy."

"Notvery strangeLaetitia."

"Hedid not come to me to wish me good-night."

"Thatis not strange."

"Itis his habit at the cottage and here; and he professes to likeme."

"Ohhe does. I may have wakened his enthusiasmbut you heloves."

"Whydo you say it is not strangeClara?"

"Hefears you a little."

"Andwhy should Crossjay fear me?"

"DearI will tell you. Last night--You will forgive himfor itwas byaccident: his own bed-room door was locked and he ran downto thedrawing-room and curled himself up on the ottomanand fellasleepunder that padded silken coverlet of the ladies--bootsand allIam afraid!"

Laetitiaprofited by this absurd allusionthanking Clara in herheart forthe refuge.

"Heshould have taken off his boots" she said.

"Heslept thereand woke up. Dearhe meant no harm.  Next day herepeatedwhat he had heard. You will blame him. He meant well inhis poorboy's head. And now it is over the county.  Ah! do notfrown."

"Thatexplains Lady Busshe!" exclaimed Laetitia.

"Deardear friend" said Clara. "Why--I presume on yourtendernessfor me; but let me: to-morrow I go--why will yourejectyour happiness? Those kind good ladies are deeply troubled.They sayyour resolution is inflexible; you resist theirentreatiesand your father's. Can it be that you have any doubt ofthestrength of this attachment? I have none. I have never had adoubt thatit was the strongest of his feelings. If before I go Icould seeyou ... both happyI should be relievedI shouldrejoice."

Laetitiasaidquietly: "Do you remember a walk we had one daytogetherto the cottage?"

Clara putup her hands with the motion of intending to stop herears.

"BeforeI go!" said she. "If I might know this was to bewhichalldesirebefore I leaveI should not feel as I do now. I longto see youhappy ... himyeshim too. Is it like asking you topay mydebt? Thenplease! Butno; I am not more than partlyselfish onthis occasion. He has won my gratitude. He can bereallygenerous."

"AnEgoist?"

"Whois?"

"Youhave forgotten our conversation on the day of our walk to thecottage?"

"Helpme to forget it--that dayand those daysand all thosedays! Ishould be glad to think I passed a time beneath the earthand haverisen again. I was the Egoist. I am sureif I had beenburiedIshould not have stood up seeing myself more vilelystainedsoileddisfigured--oh! Help me to forget my conductLaetitia.He and I were unsuited--and I remember I blamed myselfthen. Youand he are not: and now I can perceive the pride thatcan befelt in him. The worst that can be said is that he schemestoo much."

"Isthere any fresh scheme?" said Laetitia.

The rosecame over Clara's face.

"Youhave not heard? It was impossiblebut it was kindlyintended.Judging by my own feeling at this momentI canunderstandhis. We love to see our friends established."

Laetitiabowed. "My curiosity is piquedof course."

"Dearfriendto-morrow we shall be parted. I trust to be thoughtof by youas a little better in grain than I have appearedand myreason fortrusting it is that I know I have been always honest--a boorishyoung woman in my stupid mad impatience: but notinsincere.It is no lofty ambition to desire to be remembered inthatcharacterbut such is your Clarashe discovers. I will tellyou. It ishis wish ... his wish that I should promise to give myhand toMr. Whitford. You see the kindness."

Laetitia'seyes widened and fixed:

"Youthink it kindness?"

"Theintention. He sent Mr. Whitford to meand I was taught toexpecthim."

"Wasthat quite kind to Mr. Whitford?"

"Whatan impression I must have made on you during that walk tothecottageLaetitia! I do not wonder; I was in a fever."

"Youconsented to listen?"

"Ireally did. It astonishes me nowbut I thought I could notrefuse."

"Mypoor friend Vernon Whitford tried a love speech?"

"He?no: Oh! no."

"Youdiscouraged him?"

"I?No."

"GentlyI mean."

"No."

"Surelyyou did not dream of trifling? He has a deep heart."

"Hashe?"

"Youask that: and you know something of him.

"Hedid not expose it to medear; not even the surface of themightydeep."

Laetitiaknitted her brows.

"No"said Clara"not a coquette: she is not a coquetteI assureyou.

With alaughLaetitia replied: "You have still the 'dreadfulpower' youmade me feel that day."

"Iwish I could use it to good purpose!"

"Hedid not speak?"

"OfSwitzerlandTyrolthe IliadAntigone."

"Thatwas all?"

"NoPolitical Economy. Our situationyou will ownwasunexampled:or mine was. Are you interested in me?"

"Ishould be if I knew your sentiments."

"Iwas grateful to Sir Willoughby: grieved for Mr. Whitford."

"Realgrief?"

"Becausethe task unposed on him of showing me politely that hedid notenter into his cousin's ideas was evidently very greatextremelyburdensome."

"Youso quick-eyed in some thingsClara!"

"Hefelt for me. I saw that in his avoidance of... And he wasashe alwaysispleasant. We rambled over the park for I know nothow longthough it did not seem long."

"Nevertouching that subject?"

"Notever neighbouring itdear. A gentleman should esteem the girlhe wouldask ... certain questions. I fancy he has a liking for meas avolatile friend."

"Ifhe had offered himself?"

"Despisingme?"

"Youcan be childishClara. Probably you delight to tease. Hehad histime of itand it is now my turn."

"Buthe must despise me a little."

"Areyou blind?"

"Perhapsdearwe both area little."

The ladieslooked deeper into one another.

"Willyou answer me?" said Laetitia.

"Yourif? If he hadit would have been an act of condescension."

"Youare too slippery."

"Staydear Laetitia. He was considerate in forbearing to painme."

"Thatis an answer. You allowed him to perceive that it would havepainedyou."

"Dearestif I may convey to you what I wasin a simile forcomparison:I think I was like a fisherman's float on the waterperfectlystilland ready to go down at any instantor up. Somuch formy behaviour."

"Simileshave the merit of satisfying the finder of themandcheatingthe hearer" said Laetitia. "You admit that your feelingswould havebeen painful."

"Iwas a fisherman's float: please admire my simile; any way youlikethisway or thator so quiet as to tempt the eyes to go tosleep. Andsuddenly I might have disappeared in the depthsorflown inthe air. But no fish bit."

"Wellthento follow yousupposing the fish or the fishermanfor Idon't know which is which . . . Oh! nono: this is tooseriousfor imagery. I am to understand that you thanked him atleast forhis reserve."

"Yes."

"Withoutthe slightest encouragement to him to break it?"

"Afisherman's floatLaetitia!"

Baffledand sighingLaetitia kept silence for a space. The similechafed herwits with a suspicion of a meaning hidden in it.

"Ifhe had spoken?" she said.

"Heis too truthful a man."

"Andthe railings of men at pussy women who wind about and willnot bebrought to a markbecome intelligible to me."

"ThenLaetitiaif he had spokenifand one could have imaginedhimsincere . . "

"Sotruthful a man?"

"I amlooking at myself If!--whythenI should have burnt todeath withshame. Where have I read?--some story--of aninextinguishablespark. That would have been shot into my heart."

"ShameClara? You are free."

"Asmuch as remains of me."

"Icould imagine a certain shamein such a positionwhere therewas nofeeling but pride."

"Icould not imagine it where there was no feeling but pride."

Laetitiamused. "And you dwell on the kindness of a proposition soextraordinary!"Gaining some lightimpatiently she cried: "Vernonlovesyou."

"Donot say it!"

"Ihave seen it."

"Ihave never had a sign of it."

"Thereis the proof."

"Whenit might have been shown again and again!"

"Thegreater proof!"

"Whydid he not speak when he was privileged?--strangelybutprivileged."

"Hefeared."

"Me?"

"Fearedto wound you--and himself as wellpossibly. Men may bepardonedfor thinking of themselves in these cases."

"Butwhy should he fear?"

"Thatanother was dearer to you?"

"Whatcause had I given ... Ah I see! He could fear that; suspectit! Seehis opinion of me! Can he care for such a girl? AbusemeLaetitia. I should like a good round of abuse. I needpurificationby fire. What have I been in this house? I have asense ofwhirling through it like a madwoman. And to be lovedafter itall!--No! we must be hearing a tale of an antiquaryprizing abattered relic of the battle-field that no one elsewould lookat. To be lovedI seeis to feel our littlenesshollowness--feelshame. We come out in all our spots. Never tohave givenme one signwhen a lover would have been so tempted!Let me beincredulousmy own dear Laetitia. Because he is a manof honouryou would say! But are you unconscious of the tortureyouinflict? For if I am--you say it--loved by this gentlemanwhat anobject it is he loves--that has gone clamouring aboutmoreimmodestly than women will bear to hear ofand she herselfto thinkof! OhI have seen my own heart. It is a frightfulspectre. Ihave seen a weakness in me that would have carried meanywhere.And truly I shall be charitable to women--I have gainedthat. Butloved! by Vernon Whitford! The miserable little me to betaken upand loved after tearing myself to pieces! Have you beensimplyspeculating? You have no positive knowledge of it! Why doyou kissme?"

"Whydo you tremble and blush so?"

Claralooked at her as clearly as she could. She bowed her head."Itmakes my conduct worse!"

Shereceived a tenderer kiss for that. It was her avowaland itwasunderstood: to know that she had loved or had been ready tolove himshadowed her in the retrospect.

"Ah!you read me through and through" said Clarasliding to herfor awhole embrace.

"Thenthere never was cause for him to fear?" Laetitia whispered.

Clara slidher head more out of sight. "Not that my heart ... ButI said Ihave seen it; and it is unworthy of him. And ifas Ithink nowI could have been so rashso weakwickedunpardonable--suchthoughts were in me!--then to hear him speak would makeitnecessary for me to uncover myself and tell him--incredible toyouyes!--that while ... yesLaetitiaall this is true: andthinkingof him as the noblest of menI could have welcomed anyhelp tocut my knot. So there" said Claraissuing from her nestwithwinking eyelids"you see the pain I mentioned."

"Whydid you not explain it to me at once?"

"DearestI wanted a century to pass."

"Andyou feel that it has passed?"

"Yes;in Purgatory--with an angel by me. My report of the placewill befavourable. Good angelI have yet to say something."

"Sayitand expiate."

"Ithink I did fancy once or twicevery dimlyand especiallyto-day ...properly I ought not to have had any idea: but hiscoming tomeand his not doing as another would have doneseemed... Agentleman of real nobleness does not carry the common lightfor us toread him by. I wanted his voice; but silenceI thinkdid tellme more: if a nature like mine could only have had faithwithoutbearing the rattle of a tongue.

A knock atthe door caused the ladies to exchange looks. Laetitiarose asVernon entered.

"I amjust going to my father for a few minutes" she said.

"AndI have just come from yours." Vernon said to Clara. Sheobserved avery threatening expression in him. The spriteofcontrariety mounted to her brain to indemnify her for her recentself-abasement.Seeing the bedroom door shut on Laetitiashesaid: "Andof course papa has gone to bed"; implying"otherwise .. ."

"Yeshe has gone. He wished me well."

"Hisformula of good-night would embrace that wish."

"Andfailingit will