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A Comedy in Narrative
by GEORGE MEREDITH
A CHAPTER OF WHICH THE LAST PAGE ONLY IS OF ANY IMPORTANCE
Comedy is a game played to throw reflections upon social life, and it
deals with human nature in the drawing-room of civilized men and women,
where we have no dust of the struggling outer world, no mire, no
violent crashes, to make the correctness of the representation
convincing. Credulity is not wooed through the impressionable senses;
nor have we recourse to the small circular glow of the watchmaker's eye
to raise in bright relief minutest grains of evidence for the routing
of incredulity. The Comic Spirit conceives a definite situation for a
number of characters, and rejects all accessories in the exclusive
pursuit of them and their speech. For being a spirit, he hunts the
spirit in men; vision and ardour constitute his merit; he has not a
thought of persuading you to believe in him. Follow and you will see.
But there is a question of the value of a run at his heels.
Now the world is possessed of a certain big book, the biggest book on
earth; that might indeed be called the Book of Earth; whose title is
the Book of Egoism, and it is a book full of the world's wisdom. So
full of it, and of such dimensions is this book, in which the
generations have written ever since they took to writing, that to be
profitable to us the Book needs a powerful compression.
Who, says the notable humourist, in allusion to this Book, who can
studiously travel through sheets of leaves now capable of a stretch
from the Lizard to the last few poor pulmonary snips and shreds of
leagues dancing on their toes for cold, explorers tell us, and catching
breath by good luck, like dogs at bones about a table, on the edge of
the Pole? Inordinate unvaried length, sheer longinquity, staggers the
heart, ages the very heart of us at a view. And how if we manage
finally to print one of our pages on the crow-scalp of that solitary
majestic outsider? We may get him into the Book; yet the knowledge we
want will not be more present with us than it was when the chapters
hung their end over the cliff you ken of at Dover, where sits our great
lord and master contemplating the seas without upon the reflex of that
In other words, as I venture to translate him (humourists are
difficult: it is a piece of their humour to puzzle our wits), the
inward mirror, the embracing and condensing spirit, is required to give
us those interminable milepost piles of matter (extending well-nigh to
the very Pole) in essence, in chosen samples, digestibly. I conceive
him to indicate that the realistic method of a conscientious
transcription of all the visible, and a repetition of all the audible,
is mainly accountable for our present branfulness, and that
prolongation of the vasty and the noisy, out of which, as from an
undrained fen, steams the malady of sameness, our modern malady. We
have the malady, whatever may be the cure or the cause. We drove in a
body to Science the other day for an antidote; which was as if tired
pedestrians should mount the engine-box of headlong trains; and Science
introduced us to our o'er-hoary ancestry--them in the Oriental posture;
whereupon we set up a primaeval chattering to rival the Amazon forest
nigh nightfall, cured, we fancied. And before daybreak our disease was
hanging on to us again, with the extension of a tail. We had it fore
and aft. We were the same, and animals into the bargain. That is all we
got from Science.
Art is the specific. We have little to learn of apes, and they may be
left. The chief consideration for us is, what particular practice of
Art in letters is the best for the perusal of the Book of our common
wisdom; so that with clearer minds and livelier manners we may escape,
as it were, into daylight and song from a land of fog-horns. Shall we
read it by the watchmaker's eye in luminous rings eruptive of the
infinitesimal, or pointed with examples and types under the broad
Alpine survey of the spirit born of our united social intelligence,
which is the Comic Spirit? Wise men say the latter. They tell us that
there is a constant tendency in the Book to accumulate excess of
substance, and such repleteness, obscuring the glass it holds to
mankind, renders us inexact in the recognition of our individual
countenances: a perilous thing for civilization. And these wise men are
strong in their opinion that we should encourage the Comic Spirit, who
is after all our own offspring, to relieve the Book. Comedy, they say,
is the true diversion, as it is likewise the key of the great Book, the
music of the Book. They tell us how it condenses whole sections of the
book in a sentence, volumes in a character; so that a fair pan of a
book outstripping thousands of leagues when unrolled may be compassed
in one comic sitting.
For verily, say they, we must read what we can of it, at least the page
before us, if we would be men. One, with an index on the Book, cries
out, in a style pardonable to his fervency: The remedy of your
frightful affliction is here, through the stillatory of Comedy, and not
in Science, nor yet in Speed, whose name is but another for voracity.
Why, to be alive, to be quick in the soul, there should be diversity in
the companion throbs of your pulses. Interrogate them. They lump along
like the old loblegs of Dobbin the horse; or do their business like
cudgels of carpet-thwackers expelling dust or the cottage-clock
pendulum teaching the infant hour over midnight simple arithmetic. This
too in spite of Bacchus. And let them gallop; let them gallop with the
God bestriding them; gallop to Hymen, gallop to Hades, they strike the
same note. Monstrous monotonousness has enfolded us as with the arms of
Amphitrite! We hear a shout of war for a diversion.--Comedy he
pronounces to be our means of reading swiftly and comprehensively. She
it is who proposes the correcting of pretentiousness, of inflation, of
dulness, and of the vestiges of rawness and grossness to be found among
us. She is the ultimate civilizer, the polisher, a sweet cook. If, he
says, she watches over sentimentalism with a birch-rod, she is not
opposed to romance. You may love, and warmly love, so long as you are
honest. Do not offend reason. A lover pretending too much by one
foot's length of pretence, will have that foot caught in her trap. In
Comedy is the singular scene of charity issuing of disdain under the
stroke of honourable laughter: an Ariel released by Prospero's wand
from the fetters of the damned witch Sycorax. And this laughter of
reason refreshed is floriferous, like the magical great gale of the
shifty Spring deciding for Summer. You hear it giving the delicate
spirit his liberty. Listen, for comparison, to an unleavened society: a
low as of the udderful cow past milking hour! O for a titled
ecclesiastic to curse to excommunication that unholy thing!--So far an
enthusiast perhaps; but he should have a hearing.
Concerning pathos, no ship can now set sail without pathos; and we are
not totally deficient of pathos; which is, I do not accurately know
what, if not the ballast, reducible to moisture by patent process, on
board our modern vessel; for it can hardly be the cargo, and the
general water supply has other uses; and ships well charged with it
seem to sail the stiffest:--there is a touch of pathos. The Egoist
surely inspires pity. He who would desire to clothe himself at
everybody's expense, and is of that desire condemned to strip himself
stark naked, he, if pathos ever had a form, might be taken for the
actual person. Only he is not allowed to rush at you, roll you over and
squeeze your body for the briny drops. There is the innovation.
You may as well know him out of hand, as a gentleman of our time and
country, of wealth and station; a not flexile figure, do what we may
with him; the humour of whom scarcely dimples the surface and is
distinguishable but by very penetrative, very wicked imps, whose fits
of roaring below at some generally imperceptible stroke of his quality,
have first made the mild literary angels aware of something comic in
him, when they were one and all about to describe the gentleman on the
heading of the records baldly (where brevity is most complimentary) as
a gentleman of family and property, an idol of a decorous island that
admires the concrete. Imps have their freakish wickedness in them to
kindle detective vision: malignly do they love to uncover
ridiculousness in imposing figures. Wherever they catch sight of Egoism
they pitch their camps, they circle and squat, and forthwith they trim
their lanterns, confident of the ludicrous to come. So confident that
their grip of an English gentleman, in whom they have spied their game,
never relaxes until he begins insensibly to frolic and antic, unknown
to himself, and comes out in the native steam which is their scent of
the chase. Instantly off they scour, Egoist and imps. They will, it is
known of them, dog a great House for centuries, and be at the birth of
all the new heirs in succession, diligently taking confirmatory notes,
to join hands and chime their chorus in one of their merry rings round
the tottering pillar of the House, when his turn arrives; as if they
had (possibly they had) smelt of old date a doomed colossus of Egoism
in that unborn, unconceived inheritor of the stuff of the family. They
dare not be chuckling while Egoism is valiant, while sober, while
socially valuable, nationally serviceable. They wait.
Aforetime a grand old Egoism built the House. It would appear that ever
finer essences of it are demanded to sustain the structure; but
especially would it appear that a reversion to the gross original,
beneath a mask and in a vein of fineness, is an earthquake at the
foundations of the House. Better that it should not have consented to
motion, and have held stubbornly to all ancestral ways, than have bred
that anachronic spectre. The sight, however, is one to make our
squatting imps in circle grow restless on their haunches, as they bend
eyes instantly, ears at full cock, for the commencement of the comic
drama of the suicide. If this line of verse be not yet in our
Through very love of self himself he slew,
let it be admitted for his epitaph.
A MINOR INCIDENT SHOWING AN HEREDITARY APTITUDE IN THE USE OF THE KNIFE
There was an ominously anxious watch of eyes visible and invisible over
the infancy of Willoughby, fifth in descent from Simon Patterne, of
Patterne Hall, premier of this family, a lawyer, a man of solid
acquirements and stout ambition, who well understood the
foundation-work of a House, and was endowed with the power of saying No
to those first agents of destruction, besieging relatives. He said it
with the resonant emphasis of death to younger sons. For if the oak is
to become a stately tree, we must provide against the crowding of
timber. Also the tree beset with parasites prospers not. A great House
in its beginning lives, we may truly say, by the knife. Soil is easily
got, and so are bricks, and a wife, and children come of wishing for
them, but the vigorous use of the knife is a natural gift and points to
growth. Pauper Patternes were numerous when the fifth head of the race
was the hope of his county. A Patterne was in the Marines.
The country and the chief of this family were simultaneously informed
of the existence of one Lieutenant Crossjay Patterne, of the corps of
the famous hard fighters, through an act of heroism of the unpretending
cool sort which kindles British blood, on the part of the modest young
officer, in the storming of some eastern riverain stronghold, somewhere
about the coast of China. The officer's youth was assumed on the
strength of his rank, perhaps likewise from the tale of his modesty:
"he had only done his duty". Our Willoughby was then at College,
emulous of the generous enthusiasm of his years, and strangely
impressed by the report, and the printing of his name in the
newspapers. He thought over it for several months, when, coming to his
title and heritage, he sent Lieutenant Crossjay Patterne a cheque for a
sum of money amounting to the gallant fellow's pay per annum, at the
same time showing his acquaintance with the first, or chemical,
principles of generosity, in the remark to friends at home, that "blood
is thicker than water". The man is a Marine, but he is a Patterne. How
any Patterne should have drifted into the Marines, is of the order of
questions which are senselessly asked of the great dispensary. In the
complimentary letter accompanying his cheque, the lieutenant was
invited to present himself at the ancestral Hall, when convenient to
him, and he was assured that he had given his relative and friend a
taste for a soldier's life. Young Sir Willoughby was fond of talking of
his "military namesake and distant cousin, young Patterne--the Marine".
It was funny; and not less laughable was the description of his
namesake's deed of valour: with the rescued British sailor inebriate,
and the hauling off to captivity of the three braves of the black
dragon on a yellow ground, and the tying of them together back to back
by their pigtails, and driving of them into our lines upon a newly
devised dying-top style of march that inclined to the oblique, like the
astonished six eyes of the celestial prisoners, for straight they could
not go. The humour of gentlemen at home is always highly excited by
such cool feats. We are a small island, but you see what we do. The
ladies at the Hall, Sir Willoughby's mother, and his aunts Eleanor and
Isabel, were more affected than he by the circumstance of their having
a Patterne in the Marines. But how then! We English have ducal blood
in business: we have, genealogists tell us, royal blood in common
trades. For all our pride we are a queer people; and you may be
ordering butcher's meat of a Tudor, sitting on the cane-bottom chairs
of a Plantagenet. By and by you may . . . but cherish your reverence.
Young Willoughby made a kind of shock-head or football hero of his
gallant distant cousin, and wondered occasionally that the fellow had
been content to dispatch a letter of effusive thanks without availing
himself of the invitation to partake of the hospitalities of Patterne.
He was one afternoon parading between showers on the stately garden
terrace of the Hall, in company with his affianced, the beautiful and
dashing Constantia Durham, followed by knots of ladies and gentlemen
vowed to fresh air before dinner, while it was to be had. Chancing with
his usual happy fortune (we call these things dealt to us out of the
great hidden dispensary, chance) to glance up the avenue of limes, as
he was in the act of turning on his heel at the end of the terrace, and
it should be added, discoursing with passion's privilege of the passion
of love to Miss Durham, Sir Willoughby, who was anything but obtuse,
experienced a presentiment upon espying a thick-set stumpy man crossing
the gravel space from the avenue to the front steps of the Hall,
decidedly not bearing the stamp of the gentleman "on his hat, his coat,
his feet, or anything that was his," Willoughby subsequently observed
to the ladies of his family in the Scriptural style of gentlemen who do
bear the stamp. His brief sketch of the creature was repulsive. The
visitor carried a bag, and his coat-collar was up, his hat was
melancholy; he had the appearance of a bankrupt tradesman absconding;
no gloves, no umbrella.
As to the incident we have to note, it was very slight. The card of
Lieutenant Patterne was handed to Sir Willoughby, who laid it on the
salver, saying to the footman, "Not at home."
He had been disappointed in the age, grossly deceived in the appearance
of the man claiming to be his relative in this unseasonable fashion;
and his acute instinct advised him swiftly of the absurdity of
introducing to his friends a heavy unpresentable senior as the
celebrated gallant Lieutenant of Marines, and the same as a member of
his family! He had talked of the man too much, too enthusiastically, to
be able to do so. A young subaltern, even if passably vulgar in figure,
can be shuffled through by the aid of the heroical story humourously
exaggerated in apology for his aspect. Nothing can be done with a
mature and stumpy Marine of that rank. Considerateness dismisses him on
the spot, without parley. It was performed by a gentleman supremely
advanced at a very early age in the art of cutting.
Young Sir Willoughby spoke a word of the rejected visitor to Miss
Durham, in response to her startled look: "I shall drop him a cheque,"
he said, for she seemed personally wounded, and had a face of crimson.
The young lady did not reply.
Dating from the humble departure of Lieutenant Crossjay Patterne up the
limes-avenue under a gathering rain-cloud, the ring of imps in
attendance on Sir Willoughby maintained their station with strict
observation of his movements at all hours; and were comparisons in
quest, the sympathetic eagerness of the eyes of caged monkeys for the
hand about to feed them, would supply one. They perceived in him a
fresh development and very subtle manifestation of the very old thing
from which he had sprung.
THE YOUNG SIR WILLOUGHBY
These little scoundrel imps, who have attained to some respectability
as the dogs and pets of the Comic Spirit, had been curiously attentive
three years earlier, long before the public announcement of his
engagement to the beautiful Miss Durham, on the day of Sir Willoughby's
majority, when Mrs. Mountstuart Jenkinson said her word of him. Mrs.
Mountstuart was a lady certain to say the remembered, if not the right,
thing. Again and again was it confirmed on days of high celebration,
days of birth or bridal, how sure she was to hit the mark that rang the
bell; and away her word went over the county: and had she been an
uncharitable woman she could have ruled the county with an iron rod of
caricature, so sharp was her touch. A grain of malice would have sent
county faces and characters awry into the currency. She was wealthy and
kindly, and resembled our mother Nature in her reasonable antipathies
to one or two things which none can defend, and her decided preference
of persons that shone in the sun. Her word sprang out of her. She
looked at you, and forth it came: and it stuck to you, as nothing
laboured or literary could have adhered. Her saying of Laetitia Dale:
"Here she comes with a romantic tale on her eyelashes," was a portrait
of Laetitia. And that of Vernon Whitford: "He is a Phoebus Apollo
turned fasting friar," painted the sunken brilliancy of the lean
long-walker and scholar at a stroke.
Of the young Sir Willoughby, her word was brief; and there was the
merit of it on a day when he was hearing from sunrise to the setting of
the moon salutes in his honour, songs of praise and Ciceronian eulogy.
Rich, handsome, courteous, generous, lord of the Hall, the feast and
the dance, he excited his guests of both sexes to a holiday of
flattery. And, says Mrs. Mountstuart, while grand phrases were mouthing
round about him, "You see he has a leg."
That you saw, of course. But after she had spoken you saw much more.
Mrs. Mountstuart said it just as others utter empty nothings, with
never a hint of a stress. Her word was taken up, and very soon, from
the extreme end of the long drawing-room, the circulation of something
of Mrs. Mountstuart's was distinctly perceptible. Lady Patterne sent a
little Hebe down, skirting the dancers, for an accurate report of it;
and even the inappreciative lips of a very young lady transmitting the
word could not damp the impression of its weighty truthfulness. It was
perfect! Adulation of the young Sir Willoughby's beauty and wit, and
aristocratic bearing and mien, and of his moral virtues, was common;
welcome if you like, as a form of homage; but common, almost vulgar,
beside Mrs. Mountstuart's quiet little touch of nature. In seeming to
say infinitely less than others, as Miss Isabel Patterne pointed out to
Lady Busshe, Mrs. Mountstuart comprised all that the others had said,
by showing the needlessness of allusions to the saliently evident. She
was the aristocrat reproving the provincial. "He is everything you have
had the goodness to remark, ladies and dear sirs, he talks charmingly,
dances divinely, rides with the air of a commander-in-chief, has the
most natural grand pose possible without ceasing for a moment to be the
young English gentleman he is. Alcibiades, fresh from a Louis IV
perruquier, could not surpass him: whatever you please; I could outdo
you in sublime comparisons, were I minded to pelt him. Have you noticed
that he has a leg?"
So might it be amplified. A simple-seeming word of this import is the
triumph of the spiritual, and where it passes for coin of value, the
society has reached a high refinement: Arcadian by the aesthetic route.
Observation of Willoughby was not, as Miss Eleanor Patterne pointed out
to Lady Culmer, drawn down to the leg, but directed to estimate him
from the leg upward. That, however, is prosaic. Dwell a short space on
Mrs. Mountstuart's word; and whither, into what fair region, and with
how decorously voluptuous a sensation, do not we fly, who have, through
mournful veneration of the Martyr Charles, a coy attachment to the
Court of his Merrie Son, where the leg was ribanded with love-knots and
reigned. Oh! it was a naughty Court. Yet have we dreamed of it as the
period when an English cavalier was grace incarnate; far from the boor
now hustling us in another sphere; beautifully mannered, every gesture
dulcet. And if the ladies were . . . we will hope they have been
traduced. But if they were, if they were too tender, ah! gentlemen
were gentlemen then--worth perishing for! There is this dream in the
English country; and it must be an aspiration after some form of
melodious gentlemanliness which is imagined to have inhabited the
island at one time; as among our poets the dream of the period of a
circle of chivalry here is encouraged for the pleasure of the
Mrs. Mountstuart touched a thrilling chord. "In spite of men's hateful
modern costume, you see he has a leg."
That is, the leg of the born cavalier is before you: and obscure it as
you will, dress degenerately, there it is for ladies who have eyes. You
see it: or, you see he has it. Miss Isabel and Miss Eleanor disputed
the incidence of the emphasis, but surely, though a slight difference
of meaning may be heard, either will do: many, with a good show of
reason, throw the accent upon leg. And the ladies knew for a fact that
Willoughby's leg was exquisite; he had a cavalier court-suit in his
wardrobe. Mrs. Mountstuart signified that the leg was to be seen
because it was a burning leg. There it is, and it will shine through!
He has the leg of Rochester, Buckingham, Dorset, Suckling; the leg that
smiles, that winks, is obsequious to you, yet perforce of beauty
self-satisfied; that twinkles to a tender midway between imperiousness
and seductiveness, audacity and discretion; between "You shall worship
me", and "I am devoted to you;" is your lord, your slave, alternately
and in one. It is a leg of ebb and flow and high-tide ripples. Such a
leg, when it has done with pretending to retire, will walk straight
into the hearts of women. Nothing so fatal to them.
Self-satisfied it must be. Humbleness does not win multitudes or the
sex. It must be vain to have a sheen. Captivating melodies (to prove to
you the unavoidableness of self-satisfaction when you know that you
have hit perfection), listen to them closely, have an inner pipe of
that conceit almost ludicrous when you detect the chirp.
And you need not be reminded that he has the leg without the
naughtiness. You see eminent in him what we would fain have brought
about in a nation that has lost its leg in gaining a possibly cleaner
morality. And that is often contested; but there is no doubt of the
loss of the leg.
Well, footmen and courtiers and Scottish Highlanders, and the corps de
ballet, draymen too, have legs, and staring legs, shapely enough. But
what are they? not the modulated instrument we mean--simply legs for
leg-work, dumb as the brutes. Our cavalier's is the poetic leg, a
portent, a valiance. He has it as Cicero had a tongue. It is a lute to
scatter songs to his mistress; a rapier, is she obdurate. In sooth a
leg with brains in it, soul.
And its shadows are an ambush, its lights a surprise. It blushes, it
pales, can whisper, exclaim. It is a peep, a part revelation, just
sufferable, of the Olympian god--Jove playing carpet-knight.
For the young Sir Willoughby's family and his thoughtful admirers, it
is not too much to say that Mrs. Mountstuart's little word fetched an
epoch of our history to colour the evening of his arrival at man's
estate. He was all that Merrie Charles's court should have been,
subtracting not a sparkle from what it was. Under this light he
danced, and you may consider the effect of it on his company.
He had received the domestic education of a prince. Little princes
abound in a land of heaped riches. Where they have not to yield
military service to an Imperial master, they are necessarily here and
there dainty during youth, sometimes unmanageable, and as they are
bound in no personal duty to the State, each is for himself, with full
present, and what is more, luxurious, prospective leisure for the
practice of that allegiance. They are sometimes enervated by it: that
must be in continental countries. Happily our climate and our brave
blood precipitate the greater number upon the hunting-field, to do the
public service of heading the chase of the fox, with benefit to their
constitutions. Hence a manly as well as useful race of little princes,
and Willoughby was as manly as any. He cultivated himself, he would not
be outdone in popular accomplishments. Had the standard of the public
taste been set in philosophy, and the national enthusiasm centred in
philosophers, he would at least have worked at books. He did work at
science, and had a laboratory. His admirable passion to excel, however,
was chiefly directed in his youth upon sport; and so great was the
passion in him, that it was commonly the presence of rivals which led
him to the declaration of love.
He knew himself, nevertheless, to be the most constant of men in his
attachment to the sex. He had never discouraged Laetitia Dale's
devotion to him, and even when he followed in the sweeping tide of the
beautiful Constantia Durham (whom Mrs. Mountstuart called "The Racing
Cutter"), he thought of Laetitia, and looked at her. She was a shy
Willoughby's comportment while the showers of adulation drenched him
might be likened to the composure of Indian Gods undergoing worship,
but unlike them he reposed upon no seat of amplitude to preserve him
from a betrayal of intoxication; he had to continue tripping, dancing,
exactly balancing himself, head to right, head to left, addressing his
idolaters in phrases of perfect choiceness. This is only to say that it
is easier to be a wooden idol than one in the flesh; yet Willoughby was
equal to his task. The little prince's education teaches him that he
is other than you, and by virtue of the instruction he receives, and
also something, we know not what, within, he is enabled to maintain his
posture where you would be tottering.
Urchins upon whose curly pates grave seniors lay their hands with
conventional encomium and speculation, look older than they are
immediately, and Willoughby looked older than his years, not for want
of freshness, but because he felt that he had to stand eminently and
Hearing of Mrs. Mountstuart's word on him, he smiled and said, "It is
at her service."
The speech was communicated to her, and she proposed to attach a
dedicatory strip of silk. And then they came together, and there was
wit and repartee suitable to the electrical atmosphere of the
dancing-room, on the march to a magical hall of supper. Willoughby
conducted Mrs. Mountstuart to the supper-table.
"Were I," said she, "twenty years younger, I think I would marry you,
to cure my infatuation."
"Then let me tell you in advance, madam," said he, "that I will do
everything to obtain a new lease of it, except divorce you."
They were infinitely wittier, but so much was heard and may be
"It makes the business of choosing a wife for him superhumanly
difficult!" Mrs. Mountstuart observed, after listening to the praises
she had set going again when the ladies were weeded of us, in Lady
Patterne's Indian room, and could converse unhampered upon their own
"Willoughby will choose a wife for himself," said his mother.
The great question for the county was debated in many households,
daughter-thronged and daughterless, long subsequent to the memorable
day of Willoughby's coming of age. Lady Busshe was for Constantia
Durham. She laughed at Mrs Mountstuart Jenkinson's notion of Laetitia
Dale. She was a little older than Mrs. Mountstuart, and had known
Willoughby's father, whose marriage into the wealthiest branch of the
Whitford family had been strictly sagacious. "Patternes marry money;
they are not romantic people," she said. Miss Durham had money, and she
had health and beauty: three mighty qualifications for a Patterne
bride. Her father, Sir John Durham, was a large landowner in the
western division of the county; a pompous gentleman, the picture of a
father-in-law for Willoughby. The father of Miss Dale was a battered
army surgeon from India, tenant of one of Sir Willoughby's cottages
bordering Patterne Park. His girl was portionless and a poetess. Her
writing of the song in celebration of the young baronet's birthday was
thought a clever venture, bold as only your timid creatures can be
bold. She let the cat out of her bag of verse before the multitude; she
almost proposed to her hero in her rhymes. She was pretty; her
eyelashes were long and dark, her eyes dark-blue, and her soul was
ready to shoot like a rocket out of them at a look from Willoughby. And
he looked, he certainly looked, though he did not dance with her once
that night, and danced repeatedly with Miss Durham. He gave Laetitia to
Vernon Whitford for the final dance of the night, and he may have
looked at her so much in pity of an elegant girl allied to such a
partner. The "Phoebus Apollo turned fasting friar" had entirely
forgotten his musical gifts in motion. He crossed himself and crossed
his bewildered lady, and crossed everybody in the figure, extorting
shouts of cordial laughter from his cousin Willoughby. Be it said that
the hour was four in the morning, when dancers must laugh at somebody,
if only to refresh their feet, and the wit of the hour administers to
the wildest laughter. Vernon was likened to Theseus in the maze,
entirely dependent upon his Ariadne; to a fly released from a jam-pot;
to a "salvage", or green, man caught in a web of nymphs and made to go
the paces. Willoughby was inexhaustible in the happy similes he poured
out to Miss Durham across the lines of Sir Roger de Coverley, and they
were not forgotten, they procured him a reputation as a convivial
sparkler. Rumour went the round that he intended to give Laetitia to
Vernon for good, when he could decide to take Miss Durham to himself;
his generosity was famous; but that decision, though the rope was in
the form of a knot, seemed reluctant for the conclusive close haul; it
preferred the state of slackness; and if he courted Laetitia on behalf
of his cousin, his cousinly love must have been greater than his
passion, one had to suppose. He was generous enough for it, or for
marrying the portionless girl himself.
There was a story of a brilliant young widow of our aristocracy who had
very nearly snared him. Why should he object to marry into our
aristocracy? Mrs. Mountstuart asked him, and he replied that the girls
of that class have no money, and he doubted the quality of their blood.
He had his eyes awake. His duty to his House was a foremost thought
with him, and for such a reason he may have been more anxious to give
the slim and not robust Laetitia to Vernon than accede to his personal
inclination. The mention of the widow singularly offended him,
notwithstanding the high rank of the lady named. "A widow?" he said.
"I!" He spoke to a widow; an oldish one truly; but his wrath at the
suggestion of his union with a widow led him to be for the moment
oblivious of the minor shades of good taste. He desired Mrs.
Mountstuart to contradict the story in positive terms. He repeated his
desire; he was urgent to have it contradicted, and said again, "A
widow!" straightening his whole figure to the erectness of the letter
I. She was a widow unmarried a second time, and it has been known of
the stedfast women who retain the name of their first husband, or do
not hamper his title with a little new squire at their skirts, that
they can partially approve the objections indicated by Sir Willoughby.
They are thinking of themselves when they do so, and they will rarely
say, "I might have married;" rarely within them will they avow that,
with their permission, it might have been. They can catch an idea of a
gentleman's view of the widow's cap. But a niceness that could feel
sharply wounded by the simple rumour of his alliance with the young
relict of an earl was mystifying. Sir Willoughby unbent. His military
letter I took a careless glance at itself lounging idly and proudly at
ease in the glass of his mind, decked with a wanton wreath, as he
dropped a hint, generously vague, just to show the origin of the
rumour, and the excellent basis it had for not being credited. He was
chidden. Mrs. Mountstuart read him a lecture. She was however able to
contradict the tale of the young countess. "There is no fear of his
marrying her, my dears."
Meanwhile there was a fear that he would lose his chance of marrying
the beautiful Miss Durham.
The dilemmas of little princes are often grave. They should be dwelt on
now and then for an example to poor struggling commoners, of the slings
and arrows assailing fortune's most favoured men, that we may preach
contentment to the wretch who cannot muster wherewithal to marry a
wife, or has done it and trots the streets, pack-laden, to maintain the
dame and troops of children painfully reared to fill subordinate
stations. According to our reading, a moral is always welcome in a
moral country, and especially so when silly envy is to be chastised by
it, the restless craving for change rebuked. Young Sir Willoughby,
then, stood in this dilemma:--a lady was at either hand of him; the
only two that had ever, apart from metropolitan conquests, not to be
recited, touched his emotions. Susceptible to beauty, he had never seen
so beautiful a girl as Constantia Durham. Equally susceptible to
admiration of himself, he considered Laetitia Dale a paragon of
cleverness. He stood between the queenly rose and the modest violet.
One he bowed to; the other bowed to him. He could not have both; it is
the law governing princes and pedestrians alike. But which could he
forfeit? His growing acquaintance with the world taught him to put an
increasing price on the sentiments of Miss Dale. Still Constantia's
beauty was of a kind to send away beholders aching. She had the glory
of the racing cutter full sail on a whining breeze; and she did not
court to win him, she flew. In his more reflective hour the
attractiveness of that lady which held the mirror to his features was
paramount. But he had passionate snatches when the magnetism of the
flyer drew him in her wake. Further to add to the complexity, he loved
his liberty; he was princelier free; he had more subjects, more slaves;
he ruled arrogantly in the world of women; he was more himself. His
metropolitan experiences did not answer to his liking the particular
question, Do we bind the woman down to us idolatrously by making a wife
In the midst of his deliberations, a report of the hot pursuit of Miss
Durham, casually mentioned to him by Lady Busshe, drew an immediate
proposal from Sir Willoughby. She accepted him, and they were engaged.
She had been nibbled at, all but eaten up, while he hung dubitative;
and though that was the cause of his winning her, it offended his
niceness. She had not come to him out of cloistral purity, out of
perfect radiancy. Spiritually, likewise, was he a little prince, a
despotic prince. He wished for her to have come to him out of an
egg-shell, somewhat more astonished at things than a chicken, but as
completely enclosed before he tapped the shell, and seeing him with her
sex's eyes first of all men. She talked frankly of her cousins and
friends, young males. She could have replied to his bitter wish: "Had
you asked me on the night of your twenty-first birthday, Willoughby!"
Since then she had been in the dust of the world, and he conceived his
peculiar antipathy, destined to be so fatal to him, from the earlier
hours of his engagement. He was quaintly incapable of a jealousy of
individuals. A young Captain Oxford had been foremost in the swarm
pursuing Constantia. Willoughby thought as little of Captain Oxford as
he did of Vernon Whitford. His enemy was the world, the mass, which
confounds us in a lump, which has breathed on her whom we have
selected, whom we cannot, can never, rub quite clear of her contact
with the abominated crowd. The pleasure of the world is to bowl down
our soldierly letter I; to encroach on our identity, soil our niceness.
To begin to think is the beginning of disgust of the world.
As soon the engagement was published all the county said that there had
not been a chance for Laetitia, and Mrs. Mountstuart Jenkinson humbly
remarked, in an attitude of penitence, "I'm not a witch." Lady Busshe
could claim to be one; she had foretold the event. Laetitia was of the
same opinion as the county. She had looked up, but not hopefully. She
had only looked up to the brightest, and, as he was the highest, how
could she have hoped? She was the solitary companion of a sick father,
whose inveterate prognostic of her, that she would live to rule at
Patterne Hall, tortured the poor girl in proportion as he seemed to
derive comfort from it. The noise of the engagement merely silenced
him; recluse invalids cling obstinately to their ideas. He had observed
Sir Willoughby in the society of his daughter, when the young baronet
revived to a sprightly boyishness immediately. Indeed, as big boy and
little girl, they had played together of old. Willoughby had been a
handsome, fair boy. The portrait of him at the Hall, in a hat, leaning
on his pony, with crossed legs, and long flaxen curls over his
shoulders, was the image of her soul's most present angel; and, as a
man, he had--she did not suppose intentionally--subjected her nature to
bow to him; so submissive was she, that it was fuller happiness for her
to think him right in all his actions than to imagine the circumstances
different. This may appear to resemble the ecstasy of the devotee of
Juggernaut, It is a form of the passion inspired by little princes, and
we need not marvel that a conservative sex should assist to keep them
in their lofty places. What were there otherwise to look up to? We
should have no dazzling beacon-lights if they were levelled and treated
as clod earth; and it is worth while for here and there a woman to be
burned, so long as women's general adoration of an ideal young man
shall be preserved. Purity is our demand of them. They may justly cry
for attraction. They cannot have it brighter than in the universal
bearing of the eyes of their sisters upon a little prince, one who has
the ostensible virtues in his pay, and can practise them without
injuring himself to make himself unsightly. Let the races of men be
by-and-by astonished at their Gods, if they please. Meantime they had
better continue to worship.
Laetitia did continue. She saw Miss Durham at Patterne on several
occasions. She admired the pair. She had a wish to witness the bridal
ceremony. She was looking forward to the day with that mixture of
eagerness and withholding which we have as we draw nigh the
disenchanting termination of an enchanting romance, when Sir Willoughby
met her on a Sunday morning, as she crossed his park solitarily to
church. They were within ten days of the appointed ceremony. He should
have been away at Miss Durham's end of the county. He had, Laetitia
knew, ridden over to her the day before; but there he was; and very
unwontedly, quite surprisingly, he presented his arm to conduct
Laetitia to the church-door, and talked and laughed in a way that
reminded her of a hunting gentleman she had seen once rising to his
feet, staggering from an ugly fall across hedge and fence into one of
the lanes of her short winter walks. "All's well, all sound, never
better, only a scratch!" the gentleman had said, as he reeled and
pressed a bleeding head. Sir Willoughby chattered of his felicity in
meeting her. "I am really wonderfully lucky," he said, and he said that
and other things over and over, incessantly talking, and telling an
anecdote of county occurrences, and laughing at it with a mouth that
would not widen. He went on talking in the church porch, and murmuring
softly some steps up the aisle, passing the pews of Mrs. Mountstuart
Jenkinson and Lady Busshe. Of course he was entertaining, but what a
strangeness it was to Laetitia! His face would have been half under an
antique bonnet. It came very close to hers, and the scrutiny he bent on
her was most solicitous.
After the service, he avoided the great ladies by sauntering up to
within a yard or two of where she sat; he craved her hand on his arm to
lead her forth by the park entrance to the church, all the while
bending to her, discoursing rapidly, appearing radiantly interested in
her quiet replies, with fits of intentness that stared itself out into
dim abstraction. She hazarded the briefest replies for fear of not
having understood him.
One question she asked: "Miss Durham is well, I trust?"
And he answered "Durham?" and said, "There is no Miss Durham to my
The impression he left with her was, that he might yesterday during his
ride have had an accident and fallen on his head.
She would have asked that, if she had not known him for so thorough an
Englishman, in his dislike to have it thought that accidents could hurt
even when they happened to him.
He called the next day to claim her for a walk. He assured her she had
promised it, and he appealed to her father, who could not testify to a
promise he had not heard, but begged her to leave him to have her walk.
So once more she was in the park with Sir Willoughby, listening to his
raptures over old days. A word of assent from her sufficed him. "I am
now myself," was one of the remarks he repeated this day. She dilated
on the beauty of the park and the Hall to gratify him.
He did not speak of Miss Durham, and Laetitia became afraid to mention
At their parting, Willoughby promised Laetitia that he would call on
the morrow. He did not come; and she could well excuse him, after her
hearing of the tale.
It was a lamentable tale. He had ridden to Sir John Durham's mansion, a
distance of thirty miles, to hear, on his arrival, that Constantia had
quitted her father's house two days previously on a visit to an aunt in
London, and had just sent word that she was the wife of Captain Oxford,
hussar, and messmate of one of her brothers. A letter from the bride
awaited Willoughby at the Hall. He had ridden back at night, not
caring how he used his horse in order to get swiftly home, so forgetful
of himself was he under the terrible blow. That was the night of
Saturday. On the day following, being Sunday, he met Laetitia in his
park, led her to church, led her out of it, and the day after that,
previous to his disappearance for some weeks, was walking with her in
full view of the carriages along the road.
He had, indeed, you see, been very fortunately, if not considerately,
liberated by Miss Durham. He, as a man of honour, could not have taken
the initiative, but the frenzy of a jealous girl might urge her to such
a course; and how little he suffered from it had been shown to the
world. Miss Durham, the story went, was his mother's choice for him
against his heart's inclinations; which had finally subdued Lady
Patterne. Consequently, there was no longer an obstacle between Sir
Willoughby and Miss Dale. It was a pleasant and romantic story, and it
put most people in good humour with the county's favourite, as his
choice of a portionless girl of no position would not have done without
the shock of astonishment at the conduct of Miss Durham, and the desire
to feel that so prevailing a gentleman was not in any degree pitiable.
Constantia was called "that mad thing". Laetitia broke forth in novel
and abundant merits; and one of the chief points of requisition in
relation to Patterne--a Lady Willoughby who would entertain well and
animate the deadness of the Hall, became a certainty when her
gentleness and liveliness and exceeding cleverness were considered. She
was often a visitor at the Hall by Lady Patterne's express invitation,
and sometimes on these occasions Willoughby was there too,
superintending the filling up of his laboratory, though he was not at
home to the county; it was not expected that he should be yet. He had
taken heartily to the pursuit of science, and spoke of little else.
Science, he said, was in our days the sole object worth a devoted
pursuit. But the sweeping remark could hardly apply to Laetitia, of
whom he was the courteous, quiet wooer you behold when a man has broken
loose from an unhappy tangle to return to the lady of his first and
Some months of homely courtship ensued, and then, the decent interval
prescribed by the situation having elapsed, Sir Willoughby Patterne
left his native land on a tour of the globe.
That was another surprise to the county.
Let us not inquire into the feelings of patiently starving women; they
must obtain some sustenance of their own, since, as you perceive, they
live; evidently they are not in need of a great amount of nourishment;
and we may set them down for creatures with a rush-light of animal fire
to warm them. They cannot have much vitality who are so little
exclamatory. A corresponding sentiment of patient compassion, akin to
scorn, is provoked by persons having the opportunity for pathos, and
declining to use it. The public bosom was open to Laetitia for several
weeks, and had she run to it to bewail herself she would have been
cherished in thankfulness for a country drama. There would have been a
party against her, cold people, critical of her pretensions to rise
from an unrecognized sphere to be mistress of Patterne Hall, but there
would also have been a party against Sir Willoughby, composed of the
two or three revolutionists, tired of the yoke, which are to be found
in England when there is a stir; a larger number of born sympathetics,
ever ready to yield the tear for the tear; and here and there a
Samaritan soul prompt to succour poor humanity in distress. The
opportunity passed undramatized. Laetitia presented herself at church
with a face mildly devout, according to her custom, and she accepted
invitations to the Hall, she assisted at the reading of Willoughby's
letters to his family, and fed on dry husks of him wherein her name was
not mentioned; never one note of the summoning call for pathos did this
young lady blow.
So, very soon the public bosom closed. She had, under the fresh
interpretation of affairs, too small a spirit to be Lady Willoughby of
Patterne; she could not have entertained becomingly; he must have seen
that the girl was not the match for him in station, and off he went to
conquer the remainder of a troublesome first attachment, no longer
extremely disturbing, to judge from the tenour of his letters; really
incomparable letters! Lady Busshe and Mrs. Mountstuart Jenkinson
enjoyed a perusal of them. Sir Willoughby appeared as a splendid young
representative island lord in these letters to his family, despatched
from the principal cities of the United States of America. He would
give them a sketch of "our democratic cousins", he said. Such cousins!
They might all have been in the Marines. He carried his English
standard over that continent, and by simply jotting down facts, he left
an idea of the results of the measurement to his family and friends at
home. He was an adept in the irony of incongruously grouping. The
nature of the Equality under the stars and stripes was presented in
this manner. Equality! Reflections came occasionally: "These cousins of
ours are highly amusing. I am among the descendants of the Roundheads.
Now and then an allusion to old domestic differences, in perfect good
temper. We go on in our way; they theirs, in the apparent belief that
Republicanism operates remarkable changes in human nature. Vernon tries
hard to think it does. The upper ten of our cousins are the Infernal of
Paris. The rest of them is Radical England, as far as I am acquainted
with that section of my country."--Where we compared, they were absurd;
where we contrasted, they were monstrous. The contrast of Vernon's
letters with Willoughby's was just as extreme. You could hardly have
taken them for relatives travelling together, or Vernon Whitford for a
born and bred Englishman. The same scenes furnished by these two pens
might have been sketched in different hemispheres. Vernon had no irony.
He had nothing of Willoughby's epistolary creative power, which,
causing his family and friends to exclaim: "How like him that is!"
conjured them across the broad Atlantic to behold and clap hands at his
They saw him distinctly, as with the naked eye; a word, a turn of the
pen, or a word unsaid, offered the picture of him in America, Japan,
China, Australia, nay, the continent of Europe, holding an English
review of his Maker's grotesques. Vernon seemed a sheepish fellow,
without stature abroad, glad of a compliment, grateful for a dinner,
endeavouring sadly to digest all he saw and heard. But one was a
Patterne; the other a Whitford. One had genius; the other pottered
after him with the title of student. One was the English gentleman
wherever he went; the other was a new kind of thing, nondescript,
produced in England of late, and not likely to come to much good
himself, or do much good to the country.
Vernon's dancing in America was capitally described by Willoughby.
"Adieu to our cousins!" the latter wrote on his voyage to Japan. "I
may possibly have had some vogue in their ball-rooms, and in showing
them an English seat on horseback: I must resign myself if I have not
been popular among them. I could not sing their national song--if a
congery of states be a nation--and I must confess I listened with
frigid politeness to their singing of it. A great people, no doubt.
Adieu to them. I have had to tear old Vernon away. He had serious
thoughts of settling, means to correspond with some of them." On the
whole, forgetting two or more "traits of insolence" on the part of his
hosts, which he cited, Willoughby escaped pretty comfortably. The
President had been, consciously or not, uncivil, but one knew his
origin! Upon these interjections, placable flicks of the lionly tail
addressed to Britannia the Ruler, who expected him in some mildish way
to lash terga cauda in retiring, Sir Willoughby Patterne passed from a
land of alien manners; and ever after he spoke of America respectfully
and pensively, with a tail tucked in, as it were. His travels were
profitable to himself. The fact is, that there are cousins who come to
greatness and must be pacified, or they will prove annoying. Heaven
forefend a collision between cousins!
Willoughby returned to his England after an absence of three years. On
a fair April morning, the last of the month, he drove along his park
palings, and, by the luck of things, Laetitia was the first of his
friends whom he met. She was crossing from field to field with a band
of school-children, gathering wild flowers for the morrow May-day. He
sprang to the ground and seized her hand. "Laetitia Dale!" he said. He
panted. "Your name is sweet English music! And you are well?" The
anxious question permitted him to read deeply in her eyes. He found the
man he sought there, squeezed him passionately, and let her go, saying:
"I could not have prayed for a lovelier home-scene to welcome me than
you and these children flower-gathering. I don't believe in chance. It
was decreed that we should meet. Do not you think so?"
Laetitia breathed faintly of her gladness.
He begged her to distribute a gold coin among the little ones; asked
for the names of some of them, and repeated: "Mary, Susan,
Charlotte--only the Christian names, pray! Well, my dears, you will
bring your garlands to the Hall to-morrow morning; and mind, early! no
slugabeds tomorrow; I suppose I am browned, Laetitia?" He smiled in
apology for the foreign sun, and murmured with rapture: "The green of
this English country is unsurpassed. It is wonderful. Leave England
and be baked, if you would appreciate it. You can't, unless you taste
exile as I have done--for how many years? How many?"
"Three," said Laetitia.
"Thirty!" said he. "It seems to me that length. At least, I am
immensely older. But looking at you, I could think it less than three.
You have not changed. You are absolutely unchanged. I am bound to hope
so. I shall see you soon. I have much to talk of, much to tell you. I
shall hasten to call on your father. I have specially to speak with
him. I--what happiness this is, Laetitia! But I must not forget I have
a mother. Adieu; for some hours--not for many!"
He pressed her hand again. He was gone.
She dismissed the children to their homes. Plucking primroses was hard
labour now--a dusty business. She could have wished that her planet had
not descended to earth, his presence agitated her so; but his
enthusiastic patriotism was like a shower that, in the Spring season of
the year, sweeps against the hard-binding East and melts the air and
brings out new colours, makes life flow; and her thoughts recurred in
wonderment to the behaviour of Constantia Durham. That was Laetitia's
manner of taking up her weakness once more. She could almost have
reviled the woman who had given this beneficent magician, this pathetic
exile, of the aristocratic sunburned visage and deeply scrutinizing
eyes, cause for grief. How deeply his eyes could read! The starveling
of patience awoke to the idea of a feast. The sense of hunger came with
it, and hope came, and patience fled. She would have rejected hope to
keep patience nigh her; but surely it can not always be Winter! said
her reasoning blood, and we must excuse her as best we can if she was
assured, by her restored warmth that Willoughby came in the order of
the revolving seasons, marking a long Winter past. He had specially to
speak with her father, he had said. What could that mean? What,
but--She dared not phrase it or view it.
At their next meeting she was "Miss Dale".
A week later he was closeted with her father.
Mr. Dale, in the evening of that pregnant day, eulogized Sir Willoughby
as a landlord. A new lease of the cottage was to be granted him on the
old terms, he said. Except that Sir Willoughby had congratulated him in
the possession of an excellent daughter, their interview was one of
landlord and tenant, it appeared; and Laetitia said, "So we shall not
have to leave the cottage?" in a tone of satisfaction, while she
quietly gave a wrench to the neck of the young hope in her breast. At
night her diary received the line: "This day I was a fool. To-morrow?"
To-morrow and many days afterwards there were dashes instead of words.
Patience travelled back to her sullenly. As we must have some kind of
food, and she had nothing else, she took to that and found it dryer
than of yore. It is a composing but a lean dietary. The dead are
patient, and we get a certain likeness to them in feeding on it
unintermittingly overlong. Her hollowed cheeks with the fallen leaf in
them pleaded against herself to justify her idol for not looking down
on one like her. She saw him when he was at the Hall. He did not
notice any change. He was exceedingly gentle and courteous. More than
once she discovered his eyes dwelling on her, and then he looked
hurriedly at his mother, and Laetitia had to shut her mind from
thinking, lest thinking should be a sin and hope a guilty spectre. But
had his mother objected to her? She could not avoid asking herself. His
tour of the globe had been undertaken at his mother's desire; she was
an ambitious lady, in failing health; and she wished to have him living
with her at Patterne, yet seemed to agree that he did wisely to reside
One day Sir Willoughby, in the quiet manner which was his humour,
informed her that he had become a country gentleman; he had abandoned
London, he loathed it as the burial-place of the individual man. He
intended to sit down on his estates and have his cousin Vernon Whitford
to assist him in managing them, he said; and very amusing was his
description of his cousin's shifts to live by literature, and add
enough to a beggarly income to get his usual two months of the year in
the Alps. Previous to his great tour, Willoughby had spoken of Vernon's
judgement with derision; nor was it entirely unknown that Vernon had
offended his family pride by some extravagant act. But after their
return he acknowledged Vernon's talents, and seemed unable to do
The new arrangement gave Laetitia a companion for her walks.
Pedestrianism was a sour business to Willoughby, whose exclamation of
the word indicated a willingness for any amount of exercise on
horseback; but she had no horse, and so, while he hunted, Laetitia and
Vernon walked, and the neighbourhood speculated on the circumstances,
until the ladies Eleanor and Isabel Patterne engaged her more
frequently for carriage exercise, and Sir Willoughby was observed
riding beside them.
A real and sunny pleasure befell Laetitia in the establishment of young
Crossjay Patterne under her roof; the son of the lieutenant, now
captain, of Marines; a boy of twelve with the sprights of twelve boys
in him, for whose board and lodgement Vernon provided by arrangement
with her father. Vernon was one of your men that have no occupation for
their money, no bills to pay for repair of their property, and are
insane to spend. He had heard of Captain Patterne's large family, and
proposed to have his eldest boy at the Hall, to teach him; but
Willoughby declined to house the son of such a father, predicting that
the boy's hair would be red, his skin eruptive, and his practices
detestable. So Vernon, having obtained Mr. Dale's consent to
accommodate this youth, stalked off to Devonport, and brought back a
rosy-cheeked, round-bodied rogue of a boy, who fell upon meats and
puddings, and defeated them, with a captivating simplicity in his
confession that he had never had enough to eat in his life. He had gone
through a training for a plentiful table. At first, after a number of
helps, young Crossjay would sit and sigh heavily, in contemplation of
the unfinished dish. Subsequently, he told his host and hostess that he
had two sisters above his own age, and three brothers and two sisters
younger than he: "All hungry!" said die boy.
His pathos was most comical. It was a good month before he could see
pudding taken away from table without a sigh of regret that he could
not finish it as deputy for the Devonport household. The pranks of the
little fellow, and his revel in a country life, and muddy wildness in
it, amused Laetitia from morning to night. She, when she had caught
him, taught him in the morning; Vernon, favoured by the chase, in the
afternoon. Young Crossjay would have enlivened any household. He was
not only indolent, he was opposed to the acquisition of knowledge
through the medium of books, and would say: "But I don't want to!" in a
tone to make a logician thoughtful. Nature was very strong in him. He
had, on each return of the hour for instruction, to be plucked out of
the earth, rank of the soil, like a root, for the exercise of his big
round headpiece on those tyrannous puzzles. But the habits of birds,
and the place for their eggs, and the management of rabbits, and the
tickling of fish, and poaching joys with combative boys of the
district, and how to wheedle a cook for a luncheon for a whole day in
the rain, he soon knew of his great nature. His passion for our naval
service was a means of screwing his attention to lessons after he had
begun to understand that the desert had to be traversed to attain
midshipman's rank. He boasted ardently of his fighting father, and,
chancing to be near the Hall as he was talking to Vernon and Laetitia
of his father, he propounded a question close to his heart, and he put
it in these words, following: "My father's the one to lead an army!"
when he paused. "I say, Mr. Whitford, Sir Willoughby's kind to me, and
gives me crown-pieces, why wouldn't he see my father, and my father
came here ten miles in the rain to see him, and had to walk ten miles
back, and sleep at an inn?"
The only answer to be given was, that Sir Willoughby could not have
been at home. "Oh! my father saw him, and Sir Willoughby said he was
not at home," the boy replied, producing an odd ring in the ear by his
repetition of "not at home" in the same voice as the apology, plainly
innocent of malice. Vernon told Laetitia, however, that the boy never
asked an explanation of Sir Willoughby.
Unlike the horse of the adage, it was easier to compel young Crossjay
to drink of the waters of instruction than to get him to the brink. His
heart was not so antagonistic as his nature, and by degrees, owing to a
proper mixture of discipline and cajolery, he imbibed. He was whistling
at the cook's windows after a day of wicked truancy, on an April night,
and reported adventures over the supper supplied to him. Laetitia
entered the kitchen with a reproving forefinger. He jumped to kiss her,
and went on chattering of a place fifteen miles distant, where he had
seen Sir Willoughby riding with a young lady. The impossibility that
the boy should have got so far on foot made Laetitia doubtful of his
veracity, until she heard that a gentleman had taken him up on the road
in a gig, and had driven him to a farm to show him strings of birds'
eggs and stuffed birds of every English kind, kingfishers, yaffles,
black woodpeckers, goat-sucker owls, more mouth than head, with dusty,
dark-spotted wings, like moths; all very circumstantial. Still, in
spite of his tea at the farm, and ride back by rail at the gentleman's
expense, the tale seemed fictitious to Laetitia until Crossjay related
how that he had stood to salute on the road to the railway, and taken
off his cap to Sir Willoughby, and Sir Willoughby had passed him, not
noticing him, though the young lady did, and looked back and nodded.
The hue of truth was in that picture.
Strange eclipse, when the hue of truth comes shadowing over our bright
ideal planet. It will not seem the planet's fault, but truth's. Reality
is the offender; delusion our treasure that we are robbed of. Then
begins with us the term of wilful delusion, and its necessary
accompaniment of the disgust of reality; exhausting the heart much more
than patient endurance of starvation.
Hints were dropping about the neighbourhood; the hedgeways twittered,
the tree-tops cawed. Mrs. Mountstuart Jenkinson was loud on the
subject: "Patterne is to have a mistress at last, you say? But there
never was a doubt of his marrying--he must marry; and, so long as he
does not marry a foreign woman, we have no cause to complain. He met
her at Cherriton. Both were struck at the same moment. Her father is, I
hear, some sort of learned man; money; no land. No house either, I
believe. People who spend half their time on the Continent. They are
now for a year at Upton Park. The very girl to settle down and
entertain when she does think of settling. Eighteen, perfect manners;
you need not ask if a beauty. Sir Willoughby will have his dues. We
must teach her to make amends to him--but don't listen to Lady Busshe!
He was too young at twenty-three or twenty-four. No young man is ever
jilted; he is allowed to escape. A young man married is a fire-eater
bound over to keep the peace; if he keeps it he worries it. At
thirty-one or thirty-two he is ripe for his command, because he knows
how to bend. And Sir Willoughby is a splendid creature, only wanting a
wife to complete him. For a man like that to go on running about would
never do. Soberly--no! It would soon be getting ridiculous. He has been
no worse than other men, probably better--infinitely more excusable;
but now we have him, and it was time we should. I shall see her and
study her, sharply, you may be sure; though I fancy I can rely on his
In confirmation of the swelling buzz, the Rev. Dr. Middleton and his
daughter paid a flying visit to the Hall, where they were seen only by
the members of the Patterne family. Young Crossjay had a short
conversation with Miss Middleton, and ran to the cottage full of
her--she loved the navy and had a merry face. She had a smile of very
pleasant humour according to Vernon. The young lady was outlined to
Laetitia as tall, elegant, lively; and painted as carrying youth like a
flag. With her smile of "very pleasant humour", she could not but be
Vernon spoke more of her father, a scholar of high repute; happily, a
scholar of an independent fortune. His maturer recollection of Miss
Middleton grew poetic, or he described her in an image to suit a poetic
end: "She gives you an idea of the Mountain Echo. Doctor Middleton has
one of the grandest heads in England."
"What is her Christian name?" said Laetitia.
He thought her Christian name was Clara.
Laetitia went to bed and walked through the day conceiving the Mountain
Echo the swift, wild spirit, Clara by name, sent fleeting on a far half
circle by the voice it is roused to subserve; sweeter than beautiful,
high above drawing-room beauties as the colours of the sky; and if, at
the same time, elegant and of loveable smiling, could a man resist her?
To inspire the title of Mountain Echo in any mind, a young lady must be
singularly spiritualized. Her father doated on her, Vernon said. Who
would not? It seemed an additional cruelty that the grace of a poetical
attractiveness should be round her, for this was robbing Laetitia of
some of her own little fortune, mystical though that might be. But a
man like Sir Willoughby had claims on poetry, possessing as he did
every manly grace; and to think that Miss Middleton had won him by
virtue of something native to her likewise, though mystically, touched
Laetitia with a faint sense of relationship to the chosen girl. "What
is in me, he sees on her." It decked her pride to think so, as a wreath
on the gravestone. She encouraged her imagination to brood over Clara,
and invested her designedly with romantic charms, in spite of pain; the
ascetic zealot hugs his share of Heaven--most bitter, most blessed--in
his hair-shirt and scourge, and Laetitia's happiness was to glorify
Clara. Through that chosen rival, through her comprehension of the
spirit of Sir Willoughby's choice of one such as Clara, she was linked
to him yet.
Her mood of ecstatic fidelity was a dangerous exaltation; one that in a
desert will distort the brain, and in the world where the idol dwells
will put him, should he come nigh, to its own furnace-test, and get a
clear brain out of a burnt heart. She was frequently at the Hall,
helping to nurse Lady Patterne. Sir Willoughby had hitherto treated her
as a dear insignificant friend, to whom it was unnecessary that he
should mention the object of his rides to Upton Park.
He had, however, in the contemplation of what he was gaining, fallen
into anxiety about what he might be losing. She belonged to his
brilliant youth; her devotion was the bride of his youth; he was a man
who lived backward almost as intensely as in the present; and,
notwithstanding Laetitia's praiseworthy zeal in attending on his
mother, he suspected some unfaithfulness: hardly without cause: she had
not looked paler of late; her eyes had not reproached him; the secret
of the old days between them had been as little concealed as it was
exposed. She might have buried it, after the way of woman, whose bosoms
can be tombs, if we and the world allow them to be; absolutely
sepulchres, where you lie dead, ghastly. Even if not dead and horrible
to think of, you may be lying cold, somewhere in a corner. Even if
embalmed, you may not be much visited. And how is the world to know you
are embalmed? You are no better than a rotting wretch to the world
that does not have peeps of you in the woman's breast, and see lights
burning and an occasional exhibition of the services of worship. There
are women--tell us not of her of Ephesus!--that have embalmed you, and
have quitted the world to keep the tapers alight, and a stranger comes,
and they, who have your image before them, will suddenly blow out the
vestal flames and treat you as dust to fatten the garden of their
bosoms for a fresh flower of love. Sir Willoughby knew it; he had
experience of it in the form of the stranger; and he knew the
stranger's feelings toward his predecessor and the lady.
He waylaid Laetitia, to talk of himself and his plans: the project of a
run to Italy. Enviable? Yes, but in England you live the higher moral
life. Italy boasts of sensual beauty; the spiritual is yours. "I know
Italy well; I have often wished to act as a cicerone to you there. As
it is, I suppose I shall be with those who know the land as well as I
do, and will not be particularly enthusiastic:--if you are what you
were?" He was guilty of this perplexing twist from one person to
another in a sentence more than once. While he talked exclusively of
himself it seemed to her a condescension. In time he talked principally
of her, beginning with her admirable care of his mother; and he wished
to introduce "a Miss Middleton" to her; he wanted her opinion of Miss
Middleton; he relied on her intuition of character, had never known it
"If I supposed it could err, Miss Dale, I should not be so certain of
myself. I am bound up in my good opinion of you, you see; and you must
continue the same, or where shall I be?" Thus he was led to dwell upon
friendship, and the charm of the friendship of men and women,
"Platonism", as it was called. "I have laughed at it in the world, but
not in the depth of my heart. The world's platonic attachments are
laughable enough. You have taught me that the ideal of friendship is
possible--when we find two who are capable of a disinterested esteem.
The rest of life is duty; duty to parents, duty to country. But
friendship is the holiday of those who can be friends. Wives are
plentiful, friends are rare. I know how rare!"
Laetitia swallowed her thoughts as they sprang up. Why was he torturing
her?--to give himself a holiday? She could bear to lose him--she was
used to it--and bear his indifference, but not that he should disfigure
himself; it made her poor. It was as if he required an oath of her when
he said: "Italy! But I shall never see a day in Italy to compare with
the day of my return to England, or know a pleasure so exquisite as
your welcome of me. Will you be true to that? May I look forward to
just another such meeting?"
He pressed her for an answer. She gave the best she could. He was
dissatisfied, and to her hearing it was hardly in the tone of manliness
that he entreated her to reassure him; he womanized his language. She
had to say: "I am afraid I can not undertake to make it an appointment,
Sir Willoughby," before he recovered his alertness, which he did, for
he was anything but obtuse, with the reply, "You would keep it if you
promised, and freeze at your post. So, as accidents happen, we must
leave it to fate. The will's the thing. You know my detestation of
changes. At least I have you for my tenant, and wherever I am, I see
your light at the end of my park."
"Neither my father nor I would willingly quit Ivy Cottage," said
"So far, then," he murmured. "You will give me a long notice, and it
must be with my consent if you think of quitting?"
"I could almost engage to do that," she said.
"You love the place?"
"Yes; I am the most contented of cottagers."
"I believe, Miss Dale, it would be well for my happiness were I a
"That is the dream of the palace. But to be one, and not to wish to be
other, is quiet sleep in comparison."
"You paint a cottage in colours that tempt one to run from big houses
"You would run back to them faster, Sir Willoughby."
"You may know me," said he, bowing and passing on contentedly. He
stopped. "But I am not ambitious."
"Perhaps you are too proud for ambition, Sir Willoughby."
"You hit me to the life!"
He passed on regretfully. Clara Middleton did not study and know him
like Laetitia Dale.
Laetitia was left to think it pleased him to play at cat and mouse.
She had not "hit him to the life", or she would have marvelled in
acknowledging how sincere he was.
At her next sitting by the bedside of Lady Patterne she received a
certain measure of insight that might have helped her to fathom him, if
only she could have kept her feelings down.
The old lady was affectionately confidential in talking of her one
subject, her son. "And here is another dashing girl, my dear; she has
money and health and beauty; and so has he; and it appears a fortunate
union; I hope and pray it may be; but we begin to read the world when
our eyes grow dim, because we read the plain lines, and I ask myself
whether money and health and beauty on both sides have not been the
mutual attraction. We tried it before; and that girl Durham was honest,
whatever we may call her. I should have desired an appreciative
thoughtful partner for him, a woman of mind, with another sort of
wealth and beauty. She was honest, she ran away in time; there was a
worse thing possible than that. And now we have the same chapter, and
the same kind of person, who may not be quite as honest; and I shall
not see the end of it. Promise me you will always be good to him; be
my son's friend; his Egeria, he names you. Be what you were to him when
that girl broke his heart, and no one, not even his mother, was allowed
to see that he suffered anything. Comfort him in his sensitiveness.
Willoughby has the most entire faith in you. Were that destroyed--I
shudder! You are, he says, and he has often said, his image of the
Laetitia's hearing took in no more. She repeated to herself for days:
"His image of the constant woman!" Now, when he was a second time
forsaking her, his praise of her constancy wore the painful
ludicrousness of the look of a whimper on the face.
The great meeting of Sir Willoughby Patterne and Miss Middleton had
taken place at Cherriton Grange, the seat of a county grandee, where
this young lady of eighteen was first seen rising above the horizon.
She had money and health and beauty, the triune of perfect starriness,
which makes all men astronomers. He looked on her, expecting her to
look at him. But as soon as he looked he found that he must be in
motion to win a look in return. He was one of a pack; many were ahead
of him, the whole of them were eager. He had to debate within himself
how best to communicate to her that he was Willoughby Patterne, before
her gloves were too much soiled to flatter his niceness, for here and
there, all around, she was yielding her hand to partners--obscurant
males whose touch leaves a stain. Far too generally gracious was Her
Starriness to please him. The effect of it, nevertheless, was to hurry
him with all his might into the heat of the chase, while yet he knew no
more of her than that he was competing for a prize, and Willoughby
Patterne was only one of dozens to the young lady.
A deeper student of Science than his rivals, he appreciated Nature's
compliment in the fair ones choice of you. We now scientifically know
that in this department of the universal struggle, success is awarded
to the bettermost. You spread a handsomer tail than your fellows, you
dress a finer top-knot, you pipe a newer note, have a longer stride;
she reviews you in competition, and selects you. The superlative is
magnetic to her. She may be looking elsewhere, and you will see--the
superlative will simply have to beckon, away she glides. She cannot
help herself; it is her nature, and her nature is the guarantee for the
noblest races of men to come of her. In complimenting you, she is a
promise of superior offspring. Science thus--or it is better to say--an
acquaintance with science facilitates the cultivation of aristocracy.
Consequently a successful pursuit and a wresting of her from a body of
competitors, tells you that you are the best man. What is more, it
tells the world so.
Willoughby aired his amiable superlatives in the eye of Miss Middleton;
he had a leg. He was the heir of successful competitors. He had a
style, a tone, an artist tailor, an authority of manner; he had in the
hopeful ardour of the chase among a multitude a freshness that gave him
advantage; and together with his undeviating energy when there was a
prize to be won and possessed, these were scarce resistible. He spared
no pains, for he was adust and athirst for the winning-post. He courted
her father, aware that men likewise, and parents pre-eminently, have
their preference for the larger offer, the deeper pocket, the broader
lands, the respectfuller consideration. Men, after their fashion, as
well as women, distinguish the bettermost, and aid him to succeed, as
Dr. Middleton certainly did in the crisis of the memorable question
proposed to his daughter within a month of Willoughby's reception at
Upton Park. The young lady was astonished at his whirlwind wooing of
her, and bent to it like a sapling. She begged for time; Willoughby
could barely wait. She unhesitatingly owned that she liked no one
better, and he consented. A calm examination of his position told him
that it was unfair so long as he stood engaged, and she did not. She
pleaded a desire to see a little of the world before she plighted
herself. She alarmed him; he assumed the amazing god of love under the
subtlest guise of the divinity. Willingly would he obey her behests,
resignedly languish, were it not for his mother's desire to see the
future lady of Patterne established there before she died. Love shone
cunningly through the mask of filial duty, but the plea of urgency was
reasonable. Dr. Middleton thought it reasonable, supposing his daughter
to have an inclination. She had no disinclination, though she had a
maidenly desire to see a little of the world--grace for one year, she
said. Willoughby reduced the year to six months, and granted that term,
for which, in gratitude, she submitted to stand engaged; and that was
no light whispering of a word. She was implored to enter the state of
captivity by the pronunciation of vows--a private but a binding
ceremonial. She had health and beauty, and money to gild these gifts;
not that he stipulated for money with his bride, but it adds a lustre
to dazzle the world; and, moreover, the pack of rival pursuers hung
close behind, yelping and raising their dolorous throats to the moon.
Captive she must be.
He made her engagement no light whispering matter. It was a solemn
plighting of a troth. Why not? Having said, I am yours, she could say,
I am wholly yours, I am yours forever, I swear it, I will never swerve
from it, I am your wife in heart, yours utterly; our engagement is
written above. To this she considerately appended, "as far as I am
concerned"; a piece of somewhat chilling generosity, and he forced her
to pass him through love's catechism in turn, and came out with fervent
answers that bound him to her too indissolubly to let her doubt of her
being loved. And I am loved! she exclaimed to her heart's echoes, in
simple faith and wonderment. Hardly had she begun to think of love ere
the apparition arose in her path. She had not thought of love with any
warmth, and here it was. She had only dreamed of love as one of the
distant blessings of the mighty world, lying somewhere in the world's
forests, across wild seas, veiled, encompassed with beautiful perils, a
throbbing secrecy, but too remote to quicken her bosom's throbs. Her
chief idea of it was, the enrichment of the world by love.
Thus did Miss Middleton acquiesce in the principle of selection.
And then did the best man of a host blow his triumphant horn, and
He looked the fittest; he justified the dictum of Science. The survival
of the Patternes was assured. "I would," he said to his admirer, Mrs.
Mountstuart Jenkinson, "have bargained for health above everything, but
she has everything besides--lineage, beauty, breeding: is what they
call an heiress, and is the most accomplished of her sex." With a
delicate art he conveyed to the lady's understanding that Miss
Middleton had been snatched from a crowd, without a breath of the crowd
having offended his niceness. He did it through sarcasm at your modern
young women, who run about the world nibbling and nibbled at, until
they know one sex as well as the other, and are not a whit less
cognizant of the market than men; pure, possibly; it is not so easy to
say innocent; decidedly not our feminine ideal. Miss Middleton was
different: she was the true ideal, fresh-gathered morning fruit in a
basket, warranted by her bloom.
Women do not defend their younger sisters for doing what they perhaps
have done--lifting a veil to be seen, and peeping at a world where
innocence is as poor a guarantee as a babe's caul against shipwreck.
Women of the world never think of attacking the sensual stipulation for
perfect bloom, silver purity, which is redolent of the Oriental origin
of the love-passion of their lords. Mrs. Mountstuart congratulated Sir
Willoughby on the prize he had won in the fair western-eastern.
"Let me see her," she said; and Miss Middleton was introduced and
She had the mouth that smiles in repose. The lips met full on the
centre of the bow and thinned along to a lifting dimple; the eyelids
also lifted slightly at the outer corners, and seemed, like the lip
into the limpid cheek, quickening up the temples, as with a run of
light, or the ascension indicated off a shoot of colour. Her features
were playfellows of one another, none of them pretending to rigid
correctness, nor the nose to the ordinary dignity of governess among
merry girls, despite which the nose was of a fair design, not acutely
interrogative or inviting to gambols. Aspens imaged in water, waiting
for the breeze, would offer a susceptible lover some suggestion of her
face: a pure, smooth-white face, tenderly flushed in the cheeks, where
the gentle dints, were faintly intermelting even during quietness. Her
eyes were brown, set well between mild lids, often shadowed, not
unwakeful. Her hair of lighter brown, swelling above her temples on the
sweep to the knot, imposed the triangle of the fabulous wild woodland
visage from brow to mouth and chin, evidently in agreement with her
taste; and the triangle suited her; but her face was not significant of
a tameless wildness or of weakness; her equable shut mouth threw its
long curve to guard the small round chin from that effect; her eyes
wavered only in humour, they were steady when thoughtfulness was
awakened; and at such seasons the build of her winter-beechwood hair
lost the touch of nymphlike and whimsical, and strangely, by mere
outline, added to her appearance of studious concentration. Observe the
hawk on stretched wings over the prey he spies, for an idea of this
change in the look of a young lady whom Vernon Whitford could liken to
the Mountain Echo, and Mrs. Mountstuart Jenkinson pronounced to be "a
dainty rogue in porcelain".
Vernon's fancy of her must have sprung from her prompt and most musical
responsiveness. He preferred the society of her learned father to that
of a girl under twenty engaged to his cousin, but the charm of her
ready tongue and her voice was to his intelligent understanding wit,
natural wit, crystal wit, as opposed to the paste-sparkle of the wit of
the town. In his encomiums he did not quote Miss Middleton's wit;
nevertheless, he ventured to speak of it to Mrs. Mountstuart, causing
that lady to say: "Ah, well, I have not noticed the wit. You may have
the art of drawing it out."
No one had noticed the wit. The corrupted hearing of people required a
collision of sounds, Vernon supposed. For his part, to prove their
excellence, he recollected a great many of Miss Middleton's remarks;
they came flying to him; and so long as he forbore to speak them aloud,
they had a curious wealth of meaning. It could not be all her manner,
however much his own manner might spoil them. It might be, to a certain
degree, her quickness at catching the hue and shade of evanescent
conversation. Possibly by remembering the whole of a conversation
wherein she had her place, the wit was to be tested; only how could any
one retain the heavy portion? As there was no use in being
argumentative on a subject affording him personally, and apparently
solitarily, refreshment and enjoyment, Vernon resolved to keep it to
himself. The eulogies of her beauty, a possession in which he did not
consider her so very conspicuous, irritated him in consequence. To
flatter Sir Willoughby, it was the fashion to exalt her as one of the
types of beauty; the one providentially selected to set off his
masculine type. She was compared to those delicate flowers, the ladies
of the Court of China, on rice-paper. A little French dressing would
make her at home on the sward by the fountain among the lutes and
whispers of the bewitching silken shepherdesses who live though they
never were. Lady Busshe was reminded of the favourite lineaments of the
women of Leonardo, the angels of Luini. Lady Culmer had seen crayon
sketches of demoiselles of the French aristocracy resembling her. Some
one mentioned an antique statue of a figure breathing into a flute: and
the mouth at the flutestop might have a distant semblance of the bend
of her mouth, but this comparison was repelled as grotesque.
For once Mrs. Mountstuart Jenkinson was unsuccessful.
Her "dainty rogue in porcelain" displeased Sir Willoughby. "Why rogue?"
he said. The lady's fame for hitting the mark fretted him, and the
grace of his bride's fine bearing stood to support him in his
objection. Clara was young, healthy, handsome; she was therefore fitted
to be his wife, the mother of his children, his companion picture.
Certainly they looked well side by side. In walking with her, in
drooping to her, the whole man was made conscious of the female image
of himself by her exquisite unlikeness. She completed him, added the
softer lines wanting to his portrait before the world. He had wooed her
rageingly; he courted her becomingly; with the manly self-possession
enlivened by watchful tact which is pleasing to girls. He never seemed
to undervalue himself in valuing her: a secret priceless in the
courtship of young women that have heads; the lover doubles their sense
of personal worth through not forfeiting his own. Those were proud and
happy days when he rode Black Norman over to Upton Park, and his lady
looked forth for him and knew him coming by the faster beating of her
Her mind, too, was receptive. She took impressions of his
characteristics, and supplied him a feast. She remembered his chance
phrases; noted his ways, his peculiarities, as no one of her sex had
done. He thanked his cousin Vernon for saying she had wit. She had it,
and of so high a flavour that the more he thought of the epigram
launched at her the more he grew displeased. With the wit to understand
him, and the heart to worship, she had a dignity rarely seen in young
"Why rogue?" he insisted with Mrs. Mountstuart.
"I said--in porcelain," she replied.
"Rogue perplexes me."
"Porcelain explains it."
"She has the keenest sense of honour."
"I am sure she is a paragon of rectitude."
"She has a beautiful bearing."
"The carriage of a young princess!"
"I find her perfect."
"And still she may be a dainty rogue in porcelain."
"Are you judging by the mind or the person, ma'am?"
"And which is which?"
"There's no distinction."
"Rogue and mistress of Patterne do not go together."
"Why not? She will be a novelty to our neighbourhood and an animation
of the Hall."
"To be frank, rogue does not rightly match with me."
"Take her for a supplement."
"You like her?"
"In love with her! I can imagine life-long amusement in her company.
Attend to my advice: prize the porcelain and play with the rogue."
Sir Willoughby nodded, unilluminated. There was nothing of rogue in
himself, so there could be nothing of it in his bride. Elfishness,
tricksiness, freakishness, were antipathetic to his nature; and he
argued that it was impossible he should have chosen for his complement
a person deserving the title. It would not have been sanctioned by his
guardian genius. His closer acquaintance with Miss Middleton squared
with his first impressions; you know that this is convincing; the
common jury justifies the presentation of the case to them by the grand
jury; and his original conclusion that she was essentially feminine, in
other words, a parasite and a chalice, Clara's conduct confirmed from
day to day. He began to instruct her in the knowledge of himself
without reserve, and she, as she grew less timid with him, became more
"I judge by character," he said to Mrs. Mountstuart.
"If you have caught the character of a girl," said she.
"I think I am not far off it."
"So it was thought by the man who dived for the moon in a well."
"How women despise their sex!"
"Not a bit. She has no character yet. You are forming it, and pray be
advised and be merry; the solid is your safest guide; physiognomy and
manners will give you more of a girl's character than all the divings
you can do. She is a charming young woman, only she is one of that
"Of what sort?" Sir Willoughby asked, impatiently.
"Rogues in porcelain."
"I am persuaded I shall never comprehend it."
"I cannot help you one bit further."
"The word rogue!"
"It was dainty rogue."
"Brittle, would you say?"
"I am quite unable to say."
"An innocent naughtiness?"
"Prettily moulded in a delicate substance."
"You are thinking of some piece of Dresden you suppose her to
"I dare say."
"You would not have her natural?"
"I am heartily satisfied with her from head to foot, my dear Mrs.
"Nothing could be better. And sometimes she will lead, and generally
you will lead, and everything will go well, my dear Sir Willoughby."
Like all rapid phrasers, Mrs. Mountstuart detested the analysis of her
sentence. It had an outline in vagueness, and was flung out to be
apprehended, not dissected. Her directions for the reading of Miss
Middleton's character were the same that she practised in reading Sir
Willoughby's, whose physiognomy and manners bespoke him what she
presumed him to be, a splendidly proud gentleman, with good reason.
Mrs. Mountstuart's advice was wiser than her procedure, for she stopped
short where he declined to begin. He dived below the surface without
studying that index-page. He had won Miss Middleton's hand; he believed
he had captured her heart; but he was not so certain of his possession
of her soul, and he went after it. Our enamoured gentleman had
therefore no tally of Nature's writing above to set beside his
discoveries in the deeps. Now it is a dangerous accompaniment of this
habit of driving, that where we do not light on the discoveries we
anticipate, we fall to work sowing and planting; which becomes a
disturbance of the gentle bosom. Miss Middleton's features were legible
as to the mainspring of her character. He could have seen that she had
a spirit with a natural love of liberty, and required the next thing to
liberty, spaciousness, if she was to own allegiance. Those features,
unhappily, instead of serving for an introduction to the within, were
treated as the mirror of himself. They were indeed of an amiable
sweetness to tempt an accepted lover to angle for the first person in
the second. But he had made the discovery that their minds differed on
one or two points, and a difference of view in his bride was obnoxious
to his repose. He struck at it recurringly to show her error under
various aspects. He desired to shape her character to the feminine of
his own, and betrayed the surprise of a slight disappointment at her
advocacy of her ideas. She said immediately: "It is not too late,
Willoughby," and wounded him, for he wanted her simply to be material
in his hands for him to mould her; he had no other thought. He lectured
her on the theme of the infinity of love. How was it not too late? They
were plighted; they were one eternally; they could not be parted. She
listened gravely, conceiving the infinity as a narrow dwelling where a
voice droned and ceased not. However, she listened. She became an
The world was the principal topic of dissension between these lovers.
His opinion of the world affected her like a creature threatened with a
deprivation of air. He explained to his darling that lovers of
necessity do loathe the world. They live in the world, they accept its
benefits, and assist it as well as they can. In their hearts they must
despise it, shut it out, that their love for one another may pour in a
clear channel, and with all the force they have. They cannot enjoy the
sense of security for their love unless they fence away the world. It
is, you will allow, gross; it is a beast. Formally we thank it for the
good we get of it; only we two have an inner temple where the worship
we conduct is actually, if you would but see it, an excommunication of
the world. We abhor that beast to adore that divinity. This gives us
our oneness, our isolation, our happiness. This is to love with the
soul. Do you see, darling?
She shook her head; she could not see it. She would admit none of the
notorious errors, of the world; its backbiting, selfishness,
coarseness, intrusiveness, infectiousness. She was young. She might,
Willoughby thought, have let herself be led; she was not docile. She
must be up in arms as a champion of the world; and one saw she was
hugging her dream of a romantic world, nothing else. She spoilt the
secret bower-song he delighted to tell over to her. And how, Powers of
Love! is love-making to be pursued if we may not kick the world out of
our bower and wash our hands of it? Love that does not spurn the world
when lovers curtain themselves is a love--is it not so?--that seems to
the unwhipped, scoffing world to go slinking into basiation's
obscurity, instead of on a glorious march behind the screen. Our hero
had a strong sentiment as to the policy of scorning the world for the
sake of defending his personal pride and (to his honour, be it said)
his lady's delicacy.
The act of seeming put them both above the world, said retro Sathanas!
So much, as a piece of tactics: he was highly civilized: in the second
instance, he knew it to be the world which must furnish the dry sticks
for the bonfire of a woman's worship. He knew, too, that he was
prescribing poetry to his betrothed, practicable poetry. She had a
liking for poetry, and sometimes quoted the stuff in defiance of his
pursed mouth and pained murmur: "I am no poet;" but his poetry of the
enclosed and fortified bower, without nonsensical rhymes to catch the
ears of women, appeared incomprehensible to her, if not adverse. She
would not burn the world for him; she would not, though a purer poetry
is little imaginable, reduce herself to ashes, or incense, or essence,
in honour of him, and so, by love's transmutation, literally be the man
she was to marry. She preferred to be herself, with the egoism of
women. She said it: she said: "I must be myself to be of any value to
you, Willoughby." He was indefatigable in his lectures on the
aesthetics of love. Frequently, for an indemnification to her (he had
no desire that she should be a loser by ceasing to admire the world),
he dwelt on his own youthful ideas; and his original fancies about the
world were presented to her as a substitute for the theme.
Miss Middleton bore it well, for she was sure that he meant well.
Bearing so well what was distasteful to her, she became less well able
to bear what she had merely noted in observation before; his view of
scholarship; his manner toward Mr. Vernon Whitford, of whom her father
spoke warmly; the rumour concerning his treatment of a Miss Dale. And
the country tale of Constantia Durham sang itself to her in a new key.
He had no contempt for the world's praises. Mr. Whitford wrote the
letters to the county paper which gained him applause at various great
houses, and he accepted it, and betrayed a tingling fright lest he
should be the victim of a sneer of the world he contemned. Recollecting
his remarks, her mind was afflicted by the "something illogical" in him
that we readily discover when our natures are no longer running free,
and then at once we yearn for a disputation. She resolved that she
would one day, one distant day, provoke it--upon what? The special
point eluded her. The world is too huge a client, and too pervious, too
spotty, for a girl to defend against a man. That "something illogical"
had stirred her feelings more than her intellect to revolt. She could
not constitute herself the advocate of Mr. Whitford. Still she marked
the disputation for an event to come.
Meditating on it, she fell to picturing Sir Willoughby's face at the
first accents of his bride's decided disagreement with him. The
picture once conjured up would not be laid. He was handsome; so
correctly handsome, that a slight unfriendly touch precipitated him
into caricature. His habitual air of happy pride, of indignant
contentment rather, could easily be overdone. Surprise, when he threw
emphasis on it, stretched him with the tall eyebrows of a
mask--limitless under the spell of caricature; and in time, whenever
she was not pleased by her thoughts, she had that, and not his
likeness, for the vision of him. And it was unjust, contrary to her
deeper feelings; she rebuked herself, and as much as her naughty spirit
permitted, she tried to look on him as the world did; an effort
inducing reflections upon the blessings of ignorance. She seemed to
herself beset by a circle of imps, hardly responsible for her thoughts.
He outshone Mr. Whitford in his behaviour to young Crossjay. She had
seen him with the boy, and he was amused, indulgent, almost frolicsome,
in contradistinction to Mr. Whitford's tutorly sharpness. He had the
English father's tone of a liberal allowance for boys' tastes and
pranks, and he ministered to the partiality of the genus for
pocket-money. He did not play the schoolmaster, like bookworms who get
poor little lads in their grasp.
Mr. Whitford avoided her very much. He came to Upton Park on a visit to
her father, and she was not particularly sorry that she saw him only at
table. He treated her by fits to a level scrutiny of deep-set eyes
unpleasantly penetrating. She had liked his eyes. They became
unbearable; they dwelt in the memory as if they had left a
phosphorescent line. She had been taken by playmate boys in her infancy
to peep into hedge-leaves, where the mother-bird brooded on the nest;
and the eyes of the bird in that marvellous dark thickset home, had
sent her away with worlds of fancy. Mr. Whitford's gaze revived her
susceptibility, but not the old happy wondering. She was glad of his
absence, after a certain hour that she passed with Willoughby, a
wretched hour to remember. Mr. Whitford had left, and Willoughby came,
bringing bad news of his mother's health. Lady Patterne was fast
failing. Her son spoke of the loss she would be to him; he spoke of the
dreadfulness of death. He alluded to his own death to come carelessly,
with a philosophical air.
"All of us must go! our time is short."
"Very," she assented.
It sounded like want of feeling.
"If you lose me, Clara!"
"But you are strong, Willoughby."
"I may be cut off to-morrow."
"Do not talk in such a manner."
"It is as well that it should be faced."
"I cannot see what purpose it serves."
"Should you lose me, my love!"
"Oh, the bitter pang of leaving you!"
"Dear Willoughby, you are distressed; your mother may recover; let us
hope she will; I will help to nurse her; I have offered, you know; I am
ready, most anxious. I believe I am a good nurse."
"It is this belief--that one does not die with death!"
"That is our comfort."
"When we love?"
"Does it not promise that we meet again?"
"To walk the world and see you perhaps--with another!"
"See me?--Where? Here?"
"Wedded . . . to another. You! my bride; whom I call mine; and you are!
You would be still--in that horror! But all things are possible; women
are women; they swim in infidelity, from wave to wave! I know them."
"Willoughby, do not torment yourself and me, I beg you."
He meditated profoundly, and asked her: "Could you be such a saint
"I think I am a more than usually childish girl."
"Not to forget me?"
"Still to be mine?"
"I am yours."
"To plight yourself?"
"It is done."
"Be mine beyond death?"
"Married is married, I think."
"Clara! to dedicate your life to our love! Never one touch; not one
whisper! not a thought, not a dream! Could you--it agonizes me to
imagine . . . be inviolate? mine above?--mine before all men, though I
am gone:--true to my dust? Tell me. Give me that assurance. True to my
name!--Oh, I hear them. 'His relict!' Buzzings about Lady Patterne.
'The widow.' If you knew their talk of widows! Shut your ears, my
angel! But if she holds them off and keeps her path, they are forced to
respect her. The dead husband is not the dishonoured wretch they
fancied him, because he was out of their way. He lives in the heart of
his wife. Clara! my Clara! as I live in yours, whether here or away;
whether you are a wife or widow, there is no distinction for love--I am
your husband--say it--eternally. I must have peace; I cannot endure the
pain. Depressed, yes; I have cause to be. But it has haunted me ever
since we joined hands. To have you--to lose you!"
"Is it not possible that I may be the first to die?" said Miss
"And lose you, with the thought that you, lovely as you are, and the
dogs of the world barking round you, might . . . Is it any wonder that
I have my feeling for the world? This hand!--the thought is horrible.
You would be surrounded; men are brutes; the scent of unfaithfulness
excites them, overjoys them. And I helpless! The thought is maddening.
I see a ring of monkeys grinning. There is your beauty, and man's
delight in desecrating. You would be worried night and day to quit my
name, to . . . I feel the blow now. You would have no rest for them,
nothing to cling to without your oath."
"An oath!" said Miss Middleton.
"It is no delusion, my love, when I tell you that with this thought
upon me I see a ring of monkey faces grinning at me; they haunt me. But
you do swear it! Once, and I will never trouble you on the subject
again. My weakness! if you like. You will learn that it is love, a
man's love, stronger than death."
"An oath?" she said, and moved her lips to recall what she might have
said and forgotten. "To what? what oath?"
"That you will be true to me dead as well as living! Whisper it."
"Willoughby, I shall be true to my vows at the altar."
"To me! me!"
"It will be to you."
"To my soul. No heaven can be for me--I see none, only torture, unless
I have your word, Clara. I trust it. I will trust it implicitly. My
confidence in you is absolute."
"Then you need not be troubled."
"It is for you, my love; that you may be armed and strong when I am not
by to protect you."
"Our views of the world are opposed, Willoughby."
"Consent; gratify me; swear it. Say: 'Beyond death.' Whisper it. I ask
for nothing more. Women think the husband's grave breaks the bond, cuts
the tie, sets them loose. They wed the flesh--pah! What I call on you
for is nobility; the transcendent nobility of faithfulness beyond
death. 'His widow!' let them say; a saint in widowhood."
"My vows at the altar must suffice."
"You will not? Clara!"
"I am plighted to you."
"Not a word?--a simple promise? But you love me?"
"I have given you the best proof of it that I can."
"Consider how utterly I place confidence in you."
"I hope it is well placed."
"I could kneel to you, to worship you, if you would, Clara!"
"Kneel to Heaven, not to me, Willoughby. I am--I wish I were able to
tell what I am. I may be inconstant; I do not know myself. Think;
question yourself whether I am really the person you should marry. Your
wife should have great qualities of mind and soul. I will consent to
hear that I do not possess them, and abide by the verdict."
"You do; you do possess them!" Willoughby cried. "When you know better
what the world is, you will understand my anxiety. Alive, I am strong
to shield you from it; dead, helpless--that is all. You would be clad
in mail, steel-proof, inviolable, if you would . . . But try to enter
into my mind; think with me, feel with me. When you have once
comprehended the intensity of the love of a man like me, you will not
require asking. It is the difference of the elect and the vulgar; of
the ideal of love from the coupling of the herds. We will let it drop.
At least, I have your hand. As long as I live I have your hand. Ought I
not to be satisfied? I am; only I see further than most men, and feel
more deeply. And now I must ride to my mother's bedside. She dies Lady
Patterne! It might have been that she . . . But she is a woman of
women! With a father-in-law! Just heaven! Could I have stood by her
then with the same feelings of reverence? A very little, my love, and
everything gained for us by civilization crumbles; we fall back to the
first mortar-bowl we were bruised and stirred in. My thoughts, when I
take my stand to watch by her, come to this conclusion, that,
especially in women, distinction is the thing to be aimed at. Otherwise
we are a weltering human mass. Women must teach us to venerate them, or
we may as well be bleating and barking and bellowing. So, now enough.
You have but to think a little. I must be off. It may have happened
during my absence. I will write. I shall hear from you? Come and see me
mount Black Norman. My respects to your father. I have no time to pay
them in person. One!"
He took the one--love's mystical number--from which commonly spring
multitudes; but, on the present occasion, it was a single one, and
cold. She watched him riding away on his gallant horse, as handsome a
cavalier as the world could show, and the contrast of his recent
language and his fine figure was a riddle that froze her blood. Speech
so foreign to her ears, unnatural in tone, unmanlike even for a lover
(who is allowed a softer dialect), set her vainly sounding for the
source and drift of it. She was glad of not having to encounter eyes
like Mr. Vernon Whitford's.
On behalf of Sir Willoughby, it is to be said that his mother, without
infringing on the degree of respect for his decisions and sentiments
exacted by him, had talked to him of Miss Middleton, suggesting a
volatility of temperament in the young lady that struck him as
consentaneous with Mrs Mountstuart's "rogue in porcelain", and
alarmed him as the independent observations of two world-wise women.
Nor was it incumbent upon him personally to credit the volatility in
order, as far as he could, to effect the soul-insurance of his bride,
that he might hold the security of the policy. The desire for it was in
him; his mother had merely tolled a warning bell that he had put in
motion before. Clara was not a Constantia. But she was a woman, and he
had been deceived by women, as a man fostering his high ideal of them
will surely be. The strain he adopted was quite natural to his passion
and his theme. The language of the primitive sentiments of men is of
the same expression at all times, minus the primitive colours when a
modern gentleman addresses his lady.
Lady Patterne died in the winter season of the new year. In April Dr
Middleton had to quit Upton Park, and he had not found a place of
residence, nor did he quite know what to do with himself in the
prospect of his daughter's marriage and desertion of him. Sir
Willoughby proposed to find him a house within a circuit of the
neighbourhood of Patterne. Moreover, he invited the Rev. Doctor and his
daughter to come to Patterne from Upton for a month, and make
acquaintance with his aunts, the ladies Eleanor and Isabel Patterne, so
that it might not be so strange to Clara to have them as her housemates
after her marriage. Dr. Middleton omitted to consult his daughter
before accepting the invitation, and it appeared, when he did speak to
her, that it should have been done. But she said, mildly, "Very well,
Sir Willoughby had to visit the metropolis and an estate in another
county, whence he wrote to his betrothed daily. He returned to Patterne
in time to arrange for the welcome of his guests; too late, however, to