Part 10 out of 12
"Resolutely I do."
"I have sacrificed my pride for nothing! You refuse?"
"Humbled myself! And this is the answer! You do refuse?"
"Good night, Laetitia Dale."
He gave her passage.
"Good night, Sir Willoughby."
"I am in your power," he said, in a voice between supplication and
menace that laid a claw on her, and she turned and replied:
"You will not be betrayed."
"I can trust you . . . ?"
"I go home to-morrow before breakfast."
"Permit me to escort you upstairs."
"If you please: but I see no one here either to-night or tomorrow."
"It is for the privilege of seeing the last of you."
Young Crossjay listened to the drumming of his head. Somewhere in or
over the cavity a drummer rattled tremendously.
Sir Willoughby's laboratory door shut with a slam.
Crossjay tumbled himself off the ottoman. He stole up to the unclosed
drawing-room door, and peeped. Never was a boy more thoroughly
awakened. His object was to get out of the house and go through the
night avoiding everything human, for he was big with information of a
character that he knew to be of the nature of gunpowder, and he feared
to explode. He crossed the hall. In the passage to the scullery he ran
against Colonel De Craye.
"So there you are," said the colonel, "I've been hunting you."
Crossjay related that his bedroom door was locked and the key gone, and
Sir Willoughby sitting up in the laboratory.
Colonel De Craye took the boy to his own room, where Crossjay lay on a
sofa, comfortably covered over and snug in a swelling pillow; but he
was restless; he wanted to speak, to bellow, to cry; and he bounced
round to his left side, and bounced to his right, not knowing what to
think, except that there was treason to his adored Miss Middleton.
"Why, my lad, you're not half a campaigner," the colonel called out to
him; attributing his uneasiness to the material discomfort of the sofa:
and Crossjay had to swallow the taunt, bitter though it was. A dim
sentiment of impropriety in unburdening his overcharged mind on the
subject of Miss Middleton to Colonel De Craye restrained him from
defending himself; and so he heaved and tossed about till daybreak. At
an early hour, while his hospitable friend, who looked very handsome in
profile half breast and head above the sheets, continued to slumber,
Crossjay was on his legs and away. "He says I'm not half a campaigner,
and a couple of hours of bed are enough for me," the boy thought
proudly, and snuffed the springing air of the young sun on the fields.
A glance back at Patterne Hall dismayed him, for he knew not how to
act, and he was immoderately combustible, too full of knowledge for
self-containment; much too zealously excited on behalf of his dear Miss
Middleton to keep silent for many hours of the day.
THE REV. DR. MIDDLETON, CLARA, AND SIR WILLOUGHBY
When Master Crossjay tumbled down the stairs, Laetitia was in Clara's
room, speculating on the various mishaps which might have befallen that
battered youngster; and Clara listened anxiously after Laetitia had run
out, until she heard Sir Willoughby's voice; which in some way
satisfied her that the boy was not in the house.
She waited, expecting Miss Dale to return; then undressed, went to bed,
tried to sleep. She was tired of strife. Strange thoughts for a young
head shot through her: as, that it is possible for the sense of duty to
counteract distaste; and that one may live a life apart from one's
admirations and dislikes: she owned the singular strength of Sir
Willoughby in outwearying: she asked herself how much she had gained by
struggling:--every effort seemed to expend her spirit's force, and
rendered her less able to get the clear vision of her prospects, as
though it had sunk her deeper: the contrary of her intention to make
each further step confirm her liberty. Looking back, she marvelled at
the things she had done. Looking round, how ineffectual they appeared!
She had still the great scene of positive rebellion to go through with
The anticipation of that was the cause of her extreme discouragement.
He had not spoken to her since he became aware of her attempted flight:
but the scene was coming; and besides the wish not to inflict it on
him, as well as to escape it herself, the girl's peculiar unhappiness
lay in her knowledge that they were alienated and stood opposed, owing
to one among the more perplexing masculine weaknesses, which she could
not hint at, dared barely think of, and would not name in her
meditations. Diverting to other subjects, she allowed herself to
exclaim, "Wine, wine!" in renewed wonder of what there could be in wine
to entrap venerable men and obscure their judgements. She was too young
to consider that her being very much in the wrong gave all the
importance to the cordial glass in a venerable gentleman's appreciation
of his dues. Why should he fly from a priceless wine to gratify the
caprices of a fantastical child guilty of seeking to commit a breach of
faith? He harped on those words. Her fault was grave. No doubt the wine
coloured it to him, as a drop or two will do in any cup: still her
fault was grave.
She was too young for such considerations. She was ready to expatiate
on the gravity of her fault, so long as the humiliation assisted to her
disentanglement: her snared nature in the toils would not permit her to
reflect on it further. She had never accurately perceived it: for the
reason perhaps that Willoughby had not been moving in his appeals: but,
admitting the charge of waywardness, she had come to terms with
conscience, upon the understanding that she was to perceive it and
regret it and do penance for it by-and-by:--by renouncing marriage
altogether? How light a penance!
In the morning, she went to Laetitia's room, knocked, and had no
She was informed at the breakfast-table of Miss Dale's departure. The
ladies Eleanor and Isabel feared it to be a case of urgency at the
cottage. No one had seen Vernon, and Clara requested Colonel De Craye
to walk over to the cottage for news of Crossjay. He accepted the
commission, simply to obey and be in her service: assuring her,
however, that there was no need to be disturbed about the boy. He would
have told her more, had not Dr. Middleton led her out.
Sir Willoughby marked a lapse of ten minutes by his watch. His
excellent aunts had ventured a comment on his appearance that
frightened him lest he himself should be the person to betray his
astounding discomfiture. He regarded his conduct as an act of madness,
and Laetitia's as no less that of a madwoman--happily mad! Very happily
mad indeed! Her rejection of his ridiculously generous proposal seemed
to show an intervening hand in his favour, that sent her distraught at
the right moment. He entirely trusted her to be discreet; but she was a
miserable creature, who had lost the one last chance offered her by
Providence, and furnished him with a signal instance of the mediocrity
of woman's love.
Time was flying. In a little while Mrs. Mountstuart would arrive. He
could not fence her without a design in his head; he was destitute of
an armoury if he had no scheme: he racked the brain only to succeed in
rousing phantasmal vapours. Her infernal "Twice!" would cease now to
apply to Laetitia; it would be an echo of Lady Busshe. Nay, were all in
the secret, Thrice jilted! might become the universal roar. And this,
he reflected bitterly, of a man whom nothing but duty to his line had
arrested from being the most mischievous of his class with women! Such
is our reward for uprightness!
At the expiration of fifteen minutes by his watch, he struck a knuckle
on the library door. Dr. Middleton held it open to him.
"You are disengaged, sir?"
"The sermon is upon the paragraph which is toned to awaken the clerk,"
replied the Rev. Doctor.
Clara was weeping.
Sir Willoughby drew near her solicitously.
Dr Middleton's mane of silvery hair was in a state bearing witness to
the vehemence of the sermon, and Willoughby said: "I hope, sir, you
have not made too much of a trifle."
"I believe, sir, that I have produced an effect, and that was the point
"Clara! my dear Clara!" Willoughby touched her.
"She sincerely repents her conduct, I may inform you," said Dr.
"My love!" Willoughby whispered. "We have had a misunderstanding. I am
at a loss to discover where I have been guilty, but I take the blame,
all the blame. I implore you not to weep. Do me the favour to look at
me. I would not have had you subjected to any interrogation whatever."
"You are not to blame," Clara said on a sob.
"Undoubtedly Willoughby is not to blame. It was not he who was bound on
a runaway errand in flagrant breach of duty and decorum, nor he who
inflicted a catarrh on a brother of my craft and cloth," said her
"The clerk, sir, has pronounced Amen," observed Willoughby.
"And no man is happier to hear an ejaculation that he has laboured for
with so much sweat of his brow than the parson, I can assure you," Dr.
Middleton mildly groaned. "I have notions of the trouble of Abraham. A
sermon of that description is an immolation of the parent, however it
may go with the child."
Willoughby soothed his Clara.
"I wish I had been here to share it. I might have saved you some tears.
I may have been hasty in our little dissensions. I will acknowledge
that I have been. My temper is often irascible."
"And so is mine!" exclaimed Dr. Middleton. "And yet I am not aware that
I made the worse husband for it. Nor do I rightly comprehend how a
probably justly excitable temper can stand for a plea in mitigation of
an attempt at an outrageous breach of faith."
"The sermon is over, sir."
"Reverberations!" the Rev. Doctor waved his arm placably. "Take it for
thunder heard remote."
"Your hand, my love," Willoughby murmured.
The hand was not put forth.
Dr. Middleton remarked the fact. He walked to the window, and
perceiving the pair in the same position when he faced about, he
delivered a cough of admonition.
"It is cruel!" said Clara.
"That the owner of your hand should petition you for it?" inquired her
She sought refuge in a fit of tears.
Willoughby bent above her, mute.
"Is a scene that is hardly conceivable as a parent's obligation once in
a lustrum, to be repeated within the half hour?" shouted her father.
She drew up her shoulders and shook; let them fall and dropped her
"My dearest! your hand!" fluted Willoughby.
The hand surrendered; it was much like the icicle of a sudden thaw.
Willoughby squeezed it to his ribs.
Dr. Middleton marched up and down the room with his arms locked behind
him. The silence between the young people seemed to denounce his
He said, cordially: "Old Hiems has but to withdraw for buds to burst.
'Jam ver egelidos refert tepores.' The equinoctial fury departs. I
will leave you for a term."
Clara and Willoughby simultaneously raised their faces with opposing
"My girl!" Her father stood by her, laying gentle hand on her.
"Yes, papa, I will come out to you," she replied to his apology for the
rather heavy weight of his vocabulary, and smiled.
"No, sir, I beg you will remain," said Willoughby.
"I keep you frost-bound."
Clara did not deny it.
Willoughby emphatically did.
Then which of them was the more lover-like? Dr. Middleton would for the
moment have supposed his daughter.
Clara said: "Shall you be on the lawn, papa?"
Willoughby interposed. "Stay, sir; give us your blessing."
"That you have." Dr. Middleton hastily motioned the paternal ceremony
"A few minutes, papa," said Clara.
"Will she name the day?" came eagerly from Willoughby.
"I cannot!" Clara cried in extremity.
"The day is important on its arrival," said her father; "but I
apprehend the decision to be of the chief importance at present. First
prime your piece of artillery, my friend."
"The decision is taken, sir."
"Then I will be out of the way of the firing. Hit what day you please."
Clara checked herself on an impetuous exclamation. It was done that her
father might not be detained.
Her astute self-compression sharpened Willoughby as much as it
mortified and terrified him. He understood how he would stand in an
instant were Dr. Middleton absent. Her father was the tribunal she
dreaded, and affairs must be settled and made irrevocable while he was
with them. To sting the blood of the girl, he called her his darling,
and half enwound her, shadowing forth a salute.
She strung her body to submit, seeing her father take it as a signal
for his immediate retirement.
Willoughby was upon him before he reached the door.
"Hear us out, sir. Do not go. Stay, at my entreaty. I fear we have not
come to a perfect reconcilement."
"If that is your opinion," said Clara, "it is good reason for not
distressing my father."
"Dr Middleton, I love your daughter. I wooed her and won her; I had
your consent to our union, and I was the happiest of mankind. In some
way, since her coming to my house, I know not how--she will not tell
me, or cannot--I offended. One may be innocent and offend. I have never
pretended to impeccability, which is an admission that I may very
naturally offend. My appeal to her is for an explanation or for pardon.
I obtain neither. Had our positions been reversed, oh, not for any real
offence--not for the worst that can be imagined--I think not--I hope
not--could I have been tempted to propose the dissolution of our
engagement. To love is to love, with me; an engagement a solemn bond.
With all my errors I have that merit of utter fidelity--to the world
laughable! I confess to a multitude of errors; I have that single
merit, and am not the more estimable in your daughter's eyes on account
of it, I fear. In plain words, I am, I do not doubt, one of the fools
among men; of the description of human dog commonly known as
faithful--whose destiny is that of a tribe. A man who cries out when he
is hurt is absurd, and I am not asking for sympathy. Call me luckless.
But I abhor a breach of faith. A broken pledge is hateful to me. I
should regard it myself as a form of suicide. There are principles
which civilized men must contend for. Our social fabric is based on
them. As my word stands for me, I hold others to theirs. If that is not
done, the world is more or less a carnival of counterfeits. In this
instance--Ah! Clara, my love! and you have principles: you have
inherited, you have been indoctrinated with them: have I, then, in my
ignorance, offended past penitence, that you, of all women? . . . And
without being able to name my sin!--Not only for what I lose by it, but
in the abstract, judicially--apart from the sentiment of personal
interest, grief, pain, and the possibility of my having to endure that
which no temptation would induce me to commit:--judicially;--I fear,
sir, I am a poor forensic orator . . ."
"The situation, sir, does not demand a Cicero: proceed," said Dr.
Middleton, balked in his approving nods at the right true things
"Judicially, I am bold to say, though it may appear a presumption in
one suffering acutely, I abhor a breach of faith."
Dr. Middleton brought his nod down low upon the phrase he had
anticipated. "And I," said he, "personally, and presently, abhor a
breach of faith. Judicially? Judicially to examine, judicially to
condemn: but does the judicial mind detest? I think, sir, we are not on
the bench when we say that we abhor: we have unseated ourselves. Yet
our abhorrence of bad conduct is very certain. You would signify,
impersonally: which suffices for this exposition of your feelings."
He peered at the gentleman under his brows, and resumed:
"She has had it, Willoughby; she has had it in plain Saxon and in
uncompromising Olympian. There is, I conceive, no necessity to revert
"Pardon me, sir, but I am still unforgiven."
"You must babble out the rest between you. I am about as much at home
as a turkey with a pair of pigeons."
"Leave us, father," said Clara.
"First join our hands, and let me give you that title, sir."
"Reach the good man your hand, my girl; forthright, from the shoulder,
like a brave boxer. Humour a lover. He asks for his own."
"It is more than I can do, father."
"How, it is more than you can do? You are engaged to him, a plighted
"I do not wish to marry."
"The apology is inadequate."
"I am unworthy. . ."
"I beg him to release me."
"I have no love to give him."
"Have you gone back to your cradle, Clara Middleton?"
"Oh, leave us, dear father!"
"My offence, Clara, my offence! What is it? Will you only name it?"
"Father, will you leave us? We can better speak together . . ."
"We have spoken, Clara, how often!" Willoughby resumed, "with what
result?--that you loved me, that you have ceased to love me: that your
heart was mine, that you have withdrawn it, plucked it from me: that
you request me to consent to a sacrifice involving my reputation, my
life. And what have I done? I am the same, unchangeable. I loved and
love you: my heart was yours, and is, and will be yours forever. You
are my affianced--that is, my wife. What have I done?"
"It is indeed useless," Clara sighed.
"Not useless, my girl, that you should inform this gentleman, your
affianced husband, of the ground of the objection you conceived against
"I cannot say."
"Do you know?"
"If I could name it, I could hope to overcome it."
Dr. Middleton addressed Sir Willoughby.
"I verily believe we are directing the girl to dissect a caprice. Such
things are seen large by these young people, but as they have neither
organs, nor arteries, nor brains, nor membranes, dissection and
inspection will be alike profitlessly practised. Your inquiry is
natural for a lover, whose passion to enter into relations with the sex
is ordinarily in proportion to his ignorance of the stuff composing
them. At a particular age they traffic in whims: which are, I presume,
the spiritual of hysterics; and are indubitably preferable, so long as
they are not pushed too far. Examples are not wanting to prove that a
flighty initiative on the part of the male is a handsome corrective. In
that case, we should probably have had the roof off the house, and the
girl now at your feet. Ha!"
"Despise me, father. I am punished for ever thinking myself the
superior of any woman," said Clara.
"Your hand out to him, my dear, since he is for a formal
reconciliation; and I can't wonder."
"Father! I have said I do not . . . I have said I cannot . . ."
"By the most merciful! what? what? the name for it, words for it!"
"Do not frown on me, father. I wish him happiness. I cannot marry him.
I do not love him."
"You will remember that you informed me aforetime that you did love
"I was ignorant . . . I did not know myself. I wish him to be happy."
"You deny him the happiness you wish him!"
"It would not be for his happiness were I to wed him."
"Oh!" burst from Willoughby.
"You hear him. He rejects your prediction, Clara Middleton." She caught
her clasped hands up to her throat. "Wretched, wretched, both!"
"And you have not a word against him, miserable girl."
"Miserable! I am."
"It is the cry of an animal!"
"You feel like one? Your behaviour is of that shape. You have not a
"Against myself, not against him."
"And I, when you speak so generously, am to yield you? give you up?"
cried Willoughby. "Ah! my love, my Clara, impose what you will on me;
not that. It is too much for man. It is, I swear it, beyond my
"Pursue, continue the strain; 'tis in the right key," said Dr.
Willoughby wheeled and waylaid him with a bound.
"Plead for me, sir; you are all-powerful. Let her be mine, she shall be
happy, or I will perish for it. I will call it on my head.--Impossible!
I cannot lose her. Lose you, my love? it would be to strip myself of
every blessing of body and soul. It would be to deny myself possession
of grace, beauty, wit, all the incomparable charms of loveliness of
mind and person in woman, and plant myself in a desert. You are my
mate, the sum of everything I call mine. Clara, I should be less than
man to submit to such a loss. Consent to it? But I love you! I worship
you! How can I consent to lose you . . . ?"
He saw the eyes of the desperately wily young woman slink sideways. Dr.
Middleton was pacing at ever shorter lengths closer by the door.
"You hate me?" Willoughby sunk his voice.
"If it should turn to hate!" she murmured.
"Hatred of your husband?"
"I could not promise," she murmured, more softly in her wiliness.
"Hatred?" he cried aloud, and Dr. Middleton stopped in his walk and
flung up his head: "Hatred of your husband? of the man you have vowed
to love and honour? Oh, no! Once mine, it is not to be feared. I trust
to my knowledge of your nature; I trust in your blood, I trust in your
education. Had I nothing else to inspire confidence, I could trust in
your eyes. And, Clara, take the confession: I would rather be hated
than lose you. For if I lose you, you are in another world, out of this
one holding me in its death-like cold; but if you hate me we are
together, we are still together. Any alliance, any, in preference to
Clara listened with critical ear. His language and tone were new; and
comprehending that they were in part addressed to her father, whose
phrase: "A breach of faith": he had so cunningly used, disdain of the
actor prompted the extreme blunder of her saying--frigidly though she
"You have not talked to me in this way before."
"Finally," remarked her father, summing up the situation to settle it
from that little speech, "he talks to you in this way now; and you are
under my injunction to stretch your hand out to him for a symbol of
union, or to state your objection to that course. He, by your
admission, is at the terminus, and there, failing the why not, must you
Her head whirled. She had been severely flagellated and weakened
previous to Willoughby's entrance. Language to express her peculiar
repulsion eluded her. She formed the words, and perceived that they
would not stand to bear a breath from her father. She perceived too
that Willoughby was as ready with his agony of supplication as she with
hers. If she had tears for a resource, he had gestures quite as
eloquent; and a cry of her loathing of the union would fetch a
countervailing torrent of the man's love.--What could she say? he is
an Egoist? The epithet has no meaning in such a scene. Invent! shrieked
the hundred-voiced instinct of dislike within her, and alone with her
father, alone with Willoughby, she could have invented some equivalent,
to do her heart justice for the injury it sustained in her being unable
to name the true and immense objection: but the pair in presence
paralyzed her. She dramatized them each springing forward by turns,
with crushing rejoinders. The activity of her mind revelled in giving
them a tongue, but would not do it for herself. Then ensued the
inevitable consequence of an incapacity to speak at the heart's urgent
dictate: heart and mind became divided. One throbbed hotly, the other
hung aloof, and mentally, while the sick inarticulate heart kept
clamouring, she answered it with all that she imagined for those two
men to say. And she dropped poison on it to still its reproaches:
bidding herself remember her fatal postponements in order to preserve
the seeming of consistency before her father; calling it hypocrite;
asking herself, what was she! who loved her! And thus beating down her
heart, she completed the mischief with a piercing view of the
foundation of her father's advocacy of Willoughby, and more lamentably
asked herself what her value was, if she stood bereft of respect for
Reason, on the other hand, was animated by her better nature to plead
his case against her: she clung to her respect for him, and felt
herself drowning with it: and she echoed Willoughby consciously,
doubling her horror with the consciousness, in crying out on a world
where the most sacred feelings are subject to such lapses. It doubled
her horror, that she should echo the man: but it proved that she was no
better than be: only some years younger. Those years would soon be
outlived: after which, he and she would be of a pattern. She was
unloved: she did no harm to any one by keeping her word to this man;
she had pledged it, and it would be a breach of faith not to keep it.
No one loved her. Behold the quality of her father's love! To give him
happiness was now the principal aim for her, her own happiness being
decently buried; and here he was happy: why should she be the cause of
his going and losing the poor pleasure he so much enjoyed?
The idea of her devotedness flattered her feebleness. She betrayed
signs of hesitation; and in hesitating, she looked away from a look at
Willoughby, thinking (so much against her nature was it to resign
herself to him) that it would not have been so difficult with an
ill-favoured man. With one horribly ugly, it would have been a horrible
exultation to cast off her youth and take the fiendish leap.
Unfortunately for Sir Willoughby, he had his reasons for pressing
impatience; and seeing her deliberate, seeing her hasty look at his
fine figure, his opinion of himself combined with his recollection of a
particular maxim of the Great Book to assure him that her resistance
was over: chiefly owing, as he supposed, to his physical perfections.
Frequently indeed, in the contest between gentlemen and ladies, have
the maxims of the Book stimulated the assailant to victory. They are
rosy with blood of victims. To bear them is to hear a horn that blows
the mort: has blown it a thousand times. It is good to remember how
often they have succeeded, when, for the benefit of some future Lady
Vauban, who may bestir her wits to gather maxims for the inspiriting of
the Defence, the circumstance of a failure has to be recorded.
Willoughby could not wait for the melting of the snows. He saw full
surely the dissolving process; and sincerely admiring and coveting her
as he did, rashly this ill-fated gentleman attempted to precipitate it,
and so doing arrested.
Whence might we draw a note upon yonder maxim, in words akin to these:
Make certain ere a breath come from thee that thou be not a frost.
"Mine! She is mine!" he cried: "mine once more! mine utterly! mine
eternally!" and he followed up his devouring exclamations in person as
she, less decidedly, retreated. She retreated as young ladies should
ever do, two or three steps, and he would not notice that she had
become an angry Dian, all arrows: her maidenliness in surrendering
pleased him. Grasping one fair hand, he just allowed her to edge on the
outer circle of his embrace, crying: "Not a syllable of what I have
gone through! You shall not have to explain it, my Clara. I will study
you more diligently, to be guided by you, my darling. If I offend
again, my wife will not find it hard to speak what my bride withheld--I
do not ask why: perhaps not able to weigh the effect of her reticence:
not at that time, when she was younger and less experienced, estimating
the sacredness of a plighted engagement. It is past, we are one, my
dear sir and father. You may leave us now."
"I profoundly rejoice to hear that I may," said Dr. Middleton. Clara
writhed her captured hand.
"No, papa, stay. It is an error, an error. You must not leave me. Do
not think me utterly, eternally, belonging to any one but you. No one
shall say I am his but you."
"Are you quicksands, Clara Middleton, that nothing can be built on you?
Whither is a flighty head and a shifty will carrying the girl?"
"Clara and I, sir," said Willoughby.
"And so you shall," said the Doctor, turning about.
"Not yet, papa:" Clara sprang to him.
"Why, you, you, you, it was you who craved to be alone with
Willoughby!" her father shouted; "and here we are rounded to our
starting-point, with the solitary difference that now you do not want
to be alone with Willoughby. First I am bidden go; next I am pulled
back; and judging by collar and coat-tag, I suspect you to be a young
woman to wear an angel's temper threadbare before you determine upon
which one of the tides driving him to and fro you intend to launch on
yourself, Where is your mind?"
Clara smoothed her forehead.
"I wish to please you, papa."
"I request you to please the gentleman who is your appointed husband."
"I am anxious to perform my duty."
"That should be a satisfactory basis for you, Willoughby; as girls go!"
"Let me, sir, simply entreat to have her hand in mine before you."
"Why not, Clara?"
"Why an empty ceremony, papa?"
"The implication is, that she is prepared for the important one, friend
"Her hand, sir; the reassurance of her hand in mine under your
eyes:--after all that I have suffered, I claim it, I think I claim it
reasonably, to restore me to confidence."
"Quite reasonably; which is not to say, necessarily; but, I will add,
justifiably; and it may be, sagaciously, when dealing with the
"And here," said Willoughby, "is my hand."
He stepped on. Her father frowned. She lifted both her hands from the
shrinking elbows, darted a look of repulsion at her pursuer, and ran to
her father, crying: "Call it my mood! I am volatile, capricious,
flighty, very foolish. But you see that I attach a real meaning to it,
and feel it to be binding: I cannot think it an empty ceremony, if it
is before you. Yes, only be a little considerate to your moody girl.
She will be in a fitter state in a few hours. Spare me this moment; I
must collect myself. I thought I was free; I thought he would not press
me. If I give my hand hurriedly now, I shall, I know, immediately
repent it. There is the picture of me! But, papa, I mean to try to be
above that, and if I go and walk by myself, I shall grow calm to
perceive where my duty lies . . ."
"In which direction shall you walk?" said Willoughby.
"Wisdom is not upon a particular road," said Dr. Middleton.
"I have a dread, sir, of that one which leads to the railway-station."
"With some justice!" Dr. Middleton sighed over his daughter.
Clara coloured to deep crimson: but she was beyond anger, and was
rather gratified by an offence coming from Willoughby.
"I will promise not to leave his grounds, papa."
"My child, you have threatened to be a breaker of promises."
"Oh!" she wailed. "But I will make it a vow to you."
"Why not make it a vow to me this moment, for this gentleman's
contentment, that he shall be your husband within a given period?"
"I will come to you voluntarily. I burn to be alone."
"I shall lose her," exclaimed Willoughby, in heartfelt earnest.
"How so?" said Dr. Middleton. "I have her, sir, if you will favour me
by continuing in abeyance.--You will come within an hour voluntarily,
Clara; and you will either at once yield your hand to him or you will
furnish reasons, and they must be good ones, for withholding it."
"Mind, I say reasons."
"Reasons, papa. If I have none . . ."
"If you have none that are to my satisfaction, you implicitly and
instantly, and cordially obey my command."
"I will obey."
"What more would you require?" Dr. Middleton bowed to Sir Willoughby in
"Will she. . ."
"She is your daughter, sir. I am satisfied."
"She has perchance wrestled with her engagement, as the aboriginals of
a land newly discovered by a crew of adventurous colonists do battle
with the garments imposed on them by our considerate civilization;--
ultimately to rejoice with excessive dignity in the wearing of a
battered cocked-hat and trowsers not extending to the shanks: but she
did not break her engagement, sir; and we will anticipate that,
moderating a young woman's native wildness, she may, after the manner
of my comparison, take a similar pride in her fortune in good season."
Willoughby had not leisure to sound the depth of Dr. Middleton's
compliment. He had seen Clara gliding out of the room during the
delivery; and his fear returned on him that, not being won, she was
"She has gone." Her father noticed her absence. "She does not waste
time in her mission to procure that astonishing product of a shallow
soil, her reasons; if such be the object of her search. But no: it
signifies that she deems herself to have need of composure--nothing
more. No one likes to be turned about; we like to turn ourselves about;
and in the question of an act to be committed, we stipulate that it
shall be our act--girls and others. After the lapse of an hour, it
will appear to her as her act. Happily, Willoughby, we do not dine
away from Patterne to-night."
"It may be attributable to a sense of deserving, but I could plead
guilty to a weakness for old Port to-day."
"There shall be an extra bottle, sir."
"All going favourably with you, as I have no cause to doubt," said Dr
Middleton, with the motion of wafting his host out of the library.
SHOWS THE DIVINING ARTS OF A PERCEPTIVE MIND
Starting from the Hall a few minutes before Dr. Middleton and Sir
Willoughby had entered the drawing-room overnight, Vernon parted
company with Colonel De Craye at the park-gates, and betook himself to
the cottage of the Dales, where nothing had been heard of his wanderer;
and he received the same disappointing reply from Dr. Corney, out of
the bedroom window of the genial physician, whose astonishment at his
covering so long a stretch of road at night for news of a boy like
Crossjay--gifted with the lives of a cat--became violent and rapped
Punch-like blows on the window-sill at Vernon's refusal to take shelter
and rest. Vernon's excuse was that he had "no one but that fellow to
care for", and he strode off, naming a farm five miles distant. Dr.
Corney howled an invitation to early breakfast to him, in the event of
his passing on his way back, and retired to bed to think of him. The
result of a variety of conjectures caused him to set Vernon down as
Miss Middleton's knight, and he felt a strong compassion for his poor
friend. "Though," thought he, "a hopeless attachment is as pretty an
accompaniment to the tune of life as a gentleman might wish to have,
for it's one of those big doses of discord which make all the minor
ones fit in like an agreeable harmony, and so he shuffles along as
pleasantly as the fortune-favoured, when they come to compute!"
Sir Willoughby was the fortune-favoured in the little doctor's mind;
that high-stepping gentleman having wealth, and public consideration,
and the most ravishing young lady in the world for a bride. Still,
though he reckoned all these advantages enjoyed by Sir Willoughby at
their full value, he could imagine the ultimate balance of good fortune
to be in favour of Vernon. But to do so, he had to reduce the whole
calculation to the extreme abstract, and feed his lean friend, as it
were, on dew and roots; and the happy effect for Vernon lay in a
distant future, on the borders of old age, where he was to be blessed
with his lady's regretful preference, and rejoice in the fruits of good
constitutional habits. The reviewing mind was Irish. Sir Willoughby was
a character of man profoundly opposed to Dr. Corney's nature; the
latter's instincts bristled with antagonism--not to his race, for
Vernon was of the same race, partly of the same blood, and Corney loved
him: the type of person was the annoyance. And the circumstance of its
prevailing successfulness in the country where he was placed, while it
held him silent as if under a law, heaped stores of insurgency in the
Celtic bosom. Corney contemplating Sir Willoughby, and a trotting kern
governed by Strongbow, have a point of likeness between them; with the
point of difference, that Corney was enlightened to know of a friend
better adapted for eminent station, and especially better adapted to
please a lovely lady--could these high-bred Englishwomen but be taught
to conceive another idea of manliness than the formal carved-in-wood
idol of their national worship!
Dr Corney breakfasted very early, without seeing Vernon. He was off to
a patient while the first lark of the morning carolled above, and the
business of the day, not yet fallen upon men in the shape of cloud, was
happily intermixed with nature's hues and pipings. Turning off the
high-road tip a green lane, an hour later, he beheld a youngster prying
into a hedge head and arms, by the peculiar strenuous twist of whose
hinder parts, indicative of a frame plunged on the pursuit in hand, he
clearly distinguished young Crossjay. Out came eggs. The doctor pulled
"What bird?" he bellowed.
"Yellowhammer," Crossjay yelled back.
"Now, sir, you'll drop a couple of those eggs in the nest."
"Don't order me," Crossjay was retorting. "Oh, it's you, Doctor Corney.
Good morning. I said that, because I always do drop a couple back. I
promised Mr. Whitford I would, and Miss Middleton too."
"I should be if I thought about it."
"I think I'd rather not, Doctor Corney."
"And you'll just do what Doctor Corney tells you; and set your mind on
rashers of curly fat bacon and sweetly smoking coffee, toast, hot
cakes, marmalade, and damson-jam. Wide go the fellow's nostrils, and
there's water at the dimples of his mouth! Up, my man."
Crossjay jumped up beside the doctor, who remarked, as he touched his
horse: "I don't want a man this morning, though I'll enlist you in my
service if I do. You're fond of Miss Middleton?"
Instead of answering, Crossjay heaved the sigh of love that bears a
"And so am I," pursued the doctor: "You'll have to put up with a rival.
It's worse than fond: I'm in love with her. How do you like that?"
"I don't mind how many love her," said Crossjay.
"You're worthy of a gratuitous breakfast in the front parlour of the
best hotel of the place they call Arcadia. And how about your bed last
"Hard, was it, where the bones haven't cushion?"
"I don't care for bed. A couple of hours, and that's enough for me."
"But you're fond of Miss Middleton anyhow, and that's a virtue."
To his great surprise, Dr. Corney beheld two big round tears force
their way out of this tough youngster's eyes, and all the while the
boy's face was proud.
Crossjay said, when he could trust himself to disjoin his lips:
"I want to see Mr. Whitford."
"Have you got news for him?"
"I've something to ask him. It's about what I ought to do."
"Then, my boy, you have the right name addressed in the wrong
direction: for I found you turning your shoulders on Mr. Whitford. And
he has been out of his bed hunting you all the unholy night you've made
it for him. That's melancholy. What do you say to asking my advice?"
Crossjay sighed. "I can't speak to anybody but Mr. Whitford."
"And you're hot to speak to him?"
"I want to."
"And I found you running away from him. You're a curiosity, Mr.
"Ah! so'd anybody be who knew as much as I do," said Crossjay, with a
sober sadness that caused the doctor to treat him seriously.
"The fact is," he said, "Mr. Whitford is beating the country for you.
My best plan will be to drive you to the Hall."
"I'd rather not go to the Hall," Crossjay spoke resolutely.
"You won't see Miss Middleton anywhere but at the Hall."
"I don't want to see Miss Middleton, if I can't be a bit of use to
"No danger threatening the lady, is there?"
Crossjay treated the question as if it had not been put.
"Now, tell me," said Dr. Corney, "would there be a chance for me,
supposing Miss Middleton were disengaged?"
The answer was easy. "I'm sure she wouldn't."
"And why, sir, are you so cock sure?"
There was no saying; but the doctor pressed for it, and at last
Crossjay gave his opinion that she would take Mr. Whitford.
The doctor asked why; and Crossjay said it was because Mr. Whitford
was the best man in the world. To which, with a lusty "Amen to that,"
Dr. Corney remarked: "I should have fancied Colonel De Craye would have
had the first chance: he's more of a lady's man."
Crossjay surprised him again by petulantly saying: "Don't."
The boy added: "I don't want to talk, except about birds and things.
What a jolly morning it is! I saw the sun rise. No rain to-day. You're
right about hungry, Doctor Corney!"
The kindly little man swung his whip. Crossjay informed him of his
disgrace at the Hall, and of every incident connected with it, from the
tramp to the baronet, save Miss Middleton's adventure and the night
scene in the drawing-room. A strong smell of something left out struck
Dr. Corney, and he said: "You'll not let Miss Middleton know of my
affection. After all, it's only a little bit of love. But, as Patrick
said to Kathleen, when she owned to such a little bit, 'that's the best
bit of all!' and he was as right as I am about hungry."
Crossjay scorned to talk of loving, he declared. "I never tell Miss
Middleton what I feel. Why, there's Miss Dale's cottage!"
"It's nearer to your empty inside than my mansion," said the doctor,
"and we'll stop just to inquire whether a bed's to be had for you there
to-night, and if not, I'll have you with me, and bottle you, and
exhibit you, for you're a rare specimen. Breakfast you may count on
from Mr. Dale. I spy a gentleman."
"It's Colonel De Craye."
"Come after news of you."
"Miss Middleton sends him; of course she does."
Crossjay turned his full face to the doctor. "I haven't seen her for
such a long time! But he saw me last night, and he might have told her
that, if she's anxious.--Good-morning, colonel. I've had a good walk,
and a capital drive, and I'm as hungry as the boat's crew of Captain
He jumped down.
The colonel and the doctor saluted, smiling.
"I've rung the bell," said De Craye.
A maid came to the gate, and upon her steps appeared Miss Dale, who
flung herself at Crossjay, mingling kisses and reproaches. She scarcely
raised her face to the colonel more than to reply to his greeting, and
excuse the hungry boy for hurrying indoors to breakfast.
"I'll wait," said De Craye. He had seen that she was paler than usual.
So had Dr. Corney; and the doctor called to her concerning her father's
health. She reported that he had not yet risen, and took Crossjay to
"That's well," said the doctor, "if the invalid sleeps long. The lady
is not looking so well, though. But ladies vary; they show the mind on
the countenance, for want of the punching we meet with to conceal it;
they're like military flags for a funeral or a gala; one day furled,
and next day streaming. Men are ships' figure-heads, about the same for
a storm or a calm, and not too handsome, thanks to the ocean. It's an
age since we encountered last, colonel: on board the Dublin boat, I
recollect, and a night it was."
"I recollect that you set me on my legs, doctor."
"Ah! and you'll please to notify that Corney's no quack at sea, by
favour of the monks of the Chartreuse, whose elixir has power to still
the waves. And we hear that miracles are done with!"
"Roll a physician and a monk together, doctor!"
"True: it'll be a miracle if they combine. Though the cure of the soul
is often the entire and total cure of the body: and it's maliciously
said that the body given over to our treatment is a signal to set the
soul flying. By the way, colonel, that boy has a trifle on his mind."
"I suppose he has been worrying a farmer or a gamekeeper."
"Try him. You'll find him tight. He's got Miss Middleton on the brain.
There's a bit of a secret; and he's not so cheerful about it."
"We'll see," said the colonel.
Dr Corney nodded. "I have to visit my patient here presently. I'm too
early for him: so I'll make a call or two on the lame birds that are
up," he remarked, and drove away.
De Craye strolled through the garden. He was a gentleman of those
actively perceptive wits which, if ever they reflect, do so by hops and
jumps: upon some dancing mirror within, we may fancy. He penetrated a
plot in a flash; and in a flash he formed one; but in both cases, it
was after long hovering and not over-eager deliberation, by the patient
exercise of his quick perceptives. The fact that Crossjay was
considered to have Miss Middleton on the brain, threw a series of
images of everything relating to Crossjay for the last forty hours into
relief before him: and as he did not in the slightest degree speculate
on any one of them, but merely shifted and surveyed them, the falcon
that he was in spirit as well as in his handsome face leisurely allowed
his instinct to direct him where to strike. A reflective disposition
has this danger in action, that it commonly precipitates conjecture for
the purpose of working upon probabilities with the methods and in the
tracks to which it is accustomed: and to conjecture rashly is to play
into the puzzles of the maze. He who can watch circling above it
awhile, quietly viewing, and collecting in his eye, gathers matter that
makes the secret thing discourse to the brain by weight and balance; he
will get either the right clue or none; more frequently none; but he
will escape the entanglement of his own cleverness, he will always be
nearer to the enigma than the guesser or the calculator, and he will
retain a breadth of vision forfeited by them. He must, however, to have
his chance of success, be acutely besides calmly perceptive, a reader
of features, audacious at the proper moment.
De Craye wished to look at Miss Dale. She had returned home very
suddenly, not, as it appeared, owing to her father's illness; and he
remembered a redness of her eyelids when he passed her on the corridor
one night. She sent Crossjay out to him as soon as the boy was well
filled. He sent Crossjay back with a request. She did not yield to it
immediately. She stepped to the front door reluctantly, and seemed
disconcerted. De Craye begged for a message to Miss Middleton. There
was none to give. He persisted. But there was really none at present,
"You won't entrust me with the smallest word?" said he, and set her
visibly thinking whether she could dispatch a word. She could not; she
had no heart for messages.
"I shall see her in a day or two, Colonel De Craye."
"She will miss you severely."
"We shall soon meet."
"And poor Willoughby!"
Laetitia coloured and stood silent.
A butterfly of some rarity allured Crossjay.
"I fear he has been doing mischief," she said. "I cannot get him to
look at me."
"His appetite is good?"
"Very good indeed."
De Craye nodded. A boy with a noble appetite is never a hopeless lock.
The colonel and Crossjay lounged over the garden.
"And now," said the colonel, "we'll see if we can't arrange a meeting
between you and Miss Middleton. You're a lucky fellow, for she's always
thinking of you."
"I know I'm always thinking of her," said Crossjay.
"If ever you're in a scrape, she's the person you must go to."
"Yes, if I know where she is!"
"Why, generally she'll be at the Hall."
There was no reply: Crossjay's dreadful secret jumped to his throat. He
certainly was a weaker lock for being full of breakfast.
"I want to see Mr. Whitford so much," he said.
"Something to tell him?"
"I don't know what to do: I don't understand it!" The secret wriggled
to his mouth. He swallowed it down. "Yes, I want to talk to Mr.
"He's another of Miss Middleton's friends."
"I know he is. He's true steel."
"We're all her friends, Crossjay. I flatter myself I'm a Toledo when
I'm wanted. How long had you been in the house last night before you
ran into me?"
"I don't know, sir; I fell asleep for some time, and then I woke!
. . ."
"Where did you find yourself?"
"I was in the drawing-room."
"Come, Crossjay, you're not a fellow to be scared by ghosts? You looked
it when you made a dash at my midriff."
"I don't believe there are such things. Do you, colonel? You can't!"
"There's no saying. We'll hope not; for it wouldn't be fair fighting. A
man with a ghost to back him'd beat any ten. We couldn't box him or
play cards, or stand a chance with him as a rival in love. Did you,
now, catch a sight of a ghost?"
"They weren't ghosts!" Crossjay said what he was sure of, and his voice
pronounced his conviction.
"I doubt whether Miss Middleton is particularly happy," remarked the
colonel. "Why? Why, you upset her, you know, now and then."
The boy swelled. "I'd do . . . I'd go . . . I wouldn't have her unhappy
. . . It's that! that's it! And I don't know what I ought to do. I wish
I could see Mr. Whitford."
"You get into such headlong scrapes, my lad."
"I wasn't in any scrape yesterday."
"So you made yourself up a comfortable bed in the drawing-room? Luckily
Sir Willoughby didn't see you."
"He didn't, though!"
"A close shave, was it?"
"I was under a covering of something silk."
"He woke you?"
"I suppose he did. I heard him."
"He was talking."
"What! talking to himself?"
The secret threatened Crossjay to be out or suffocate him. De Craye
gave him a respite.
"You like Sir Willoughby, don't you?"
Crossjay produced a still-born affirmative.
"He's kind to you," said the colonel; "he'll set you up and look after
"Yes, I like him," said Crossjay, with his customary rapidity in
touching the subject; "I like him; he's kind and all that, and tips and
plays with you, and all that; but I never can make out why he wouldn't
see my father when my father came here to see him ten miles, and had to
walk back ten miles in the rain, to go by rail a long way, down home,
as far as Devonport, because Sir Willoughby wouldn't see him, though he
was at home, my father saw. We all thought it so odd: and my father
wouldn't let us talk much about it. My father's a very brave man."
"Captain Patterne is as brave a man as ever lived," said De Craye.
"I'm positive you'd like him, colonel."
"I know of his deeds, and I admire him, and that's a good step to
He warmed the boy's thoughts of his father.
"Because, what they say at home is, a little bread and cheese, and a
glass of ale, and a rest, to a poor man--lots of great houses will give
you that, and we wouldn't have asked for more than that. My sisters
say they think Sir Willoughby must be selfish. He's awfully proud; and
perhaps it was because my father wasn't dressed well enough. But what
can we do? We're very poor at home, and lots of us, and all hungry. My
father says he isn't paid very well for his services to the Government.
He's only a marine."
"He's a hero!" said De Craye.
"He came home very tired, with a cold, and had a doctor. But Sir
Willoughby did send him money, and mother wished to send it back, and
my father said she was not like a woman--with our big family. He said
he thought Sir Willoughby an extraordinary man."
"Not at all; very common; indigenous," said De Craye. "The art of
cutting is one of the branches of a polite education in this country,
and you'll have to learn it, if you expect to be looked on as a
gentleman and a Patterne, my boy. I begin to see how it is Miss
Middleton takes to you so. Follow her directions. But I hope you did
not listen to a private conversation. Miss Middleton would not approve
"Colonel De Craye, how could I help myself? I heard a lot before I knew
what it was. There was poetry!"
"Still, Crossjay, if it was important--was it?"
The boy swelled again, and the colonel asked him, "Does Miss Dale know
of your having played listener?"
"She!" said Crossjay. "Oh, I couldn't tell her."
He breathed thick; then came a threat of tears. "She wouldn't do
anything to hurt Miss Middleton. I'm sure of that. It wasn't her fault.
She--There goes Mr. Whitford!" Crossjay bounded away.
The colonel had no inclination to wait for his return. He walked fast
up the road, not perspicuously conscious that his motive was to be well
in advance of Vernon Whitford: to whom, after all, the knowledge
imparted by Crossjay would be of small advantage. That fellow would
probably trot of to Willoughby to row him for breaking his word to Miss
Middleton! There are men, thought De Craye, who see nothing, feel
He crossed a stile into the wood above the lake, where, as he was in
the humour to think himself signally lucky, espying her, he took it as
a matter of course that the lady who taught his heart to leap should be
posted by the Fates. And he wondered little at her power, for rarely
had the world seen such union of princess and sylph as in that lady's
figure. She stood holding by a beech-branch, gazing down on the water.
She had not heard him. When she looked she flushed at the spectacle of
one of her thousand thoughts, but she was not startled; the colour
overflowed a grave face.
"And 'tis not quite the first time that Willoughby has played this
trick!" De Craye said to her, keenly smiling with a parted mouth.
Clara moved her lips to recall remarks introductory to so abrupt and
strange a plunge.
He smiled in that peculiar manner of an illuminated comic perception:
for the moment he was all falcon; and he surprised himself more than
Clara, who was not in the mood to take surprises. It was the sight of
her which had animated him to strike his game; he was down on it.
Another instinct at work (they spring up in twenties oftener than in
twos when the heart is the hunter) prompted him to directness and
quickness, to carry her on the flood of the discovery.
She regained something of her mental self-possession as soon as she was
on a level with a meaning she had not yet inspected; but she had to
submit to his lead, distinctly perceiving where its drift divided to
the forked currents of what might be in his mind and what was in hers.
"Miss Middleton, I bear a bit of a likeness to the messenger to the
glorious despot--my head is off if I speak not true! Everything I have
is on the die. Did I guess wrong your wish?--I read it in the dark, by
the heart. But here's a certainty: Willoughby sets you free."
"You have come from him?" she could imagine nothing else, and she was
unable to preserve a disguise; she trembled.
"From Miss Dale."
"Ah!" Clara drooped. "She told me that once."
"'Tis the fact that tells it now."
"You have not seen him since you left the house?"
"Darkly: clear enough: not unlike the hand of destiny--through a veil.
He offered himself to Miss Dale last night, about between the witching
hours of twelve and one."
"Miss Dale . . ."
"Would she other? Could she? The poor lady has languished beyond a
decade. She's love in the feminine person."
"Are you speaking seriously, Colonel De Craye?"
"Would I dare to trifle with you, Miss Middleton?"
"I have reason to know it cannot be."
"If I have a head, it is a fresh and blooming truth. And more--I stake
my vanity on it!"
"Let me go to her." She stepped.
"Consider," said he.
"Miss Dale and I are excellent friends. It would not seem indelicate to
her. She has a kind of regard for me, through Crossjay.--Oh, can it be?
There must be some delusion. You have seen--you wish to be of service
to me; you may too easily be deceived. Last night?--he last night . . .?
And this morning!"
"'Tis not the first time our friend has played the trick, Miss
"But this is incredible, that last night . . . and this morning, in my
father's presence, he presses! . . . You have seen Miss Dale?
Everything is possible of him: they were together, I know. Colonel De
Craye, I have not the slightest chance of concealment with you. I think
I felt that when I first saw you. Will you let me hear why you are so
"Miss Middleton, when I first had the honour of looking on you, it was
in a posture that necessitated my looking up, and morally so it has
been since. I conceived that Willoughby had won the greatest prize of
earth. And next I was led to the conclusion that he had won it to lose
it. Whether he much cares, is the mystery I haven't leisure to fathom.
Himself is the principal consideration with himself, and ever was."
"You discovered it!" said Clara.
"He uncovered it," said De Craye. "The miracle was, that the world
wouldn't see. But the world is a piggy-wiggy world for the wealthy
fellow who fills a trough for it, and that he has always very
sagaciously done. Only women besides myself have detected him. I have
never exposed him; I have been an observer pure and simple; and because
I apprehended another catastrophe--making something like the fourth, to
my knowledge, one being public . . ."
"You knew Miss Durham?"
"And Harry Oxford too. And they're a pair as happy as blackbirds in a
cherry-tree, in a summer sunrise, with the owner of the garden asleep.
Because of that apprehension of mine, I refused the office of best man
till Willoughby had sent me a third letter. He insisted on my coming. I
came, saw, and was conquered. I trust with all my soul I did not betray
myself, I owed that duty to my position of concealing it. As for
entirely hiding that I had used my eyes, I can't say: they must answer
The colonel was using his eyes with an increasing suavity that
threatened more than sweetness.
"I believe you have been sincerely kind," said Clara. "We will descend
to the path round the lake."
She did not refuse her hand on the descent, and he let it escape the
moment the service was done. As he was performing the admirable
character of the man of honour, he had to attend to the observance of
details; and sure of her though he was beginning to feel, there was a
touch of the unknown in Clara Middleton which made him fear to stamp
assurance; despite a barely resistible impulse, coming of his emotions
and approved by his maxims. He looked at the hand, now a free lady's
hand. Willoughby settled, his chance was great. Who else was in the
way? No one. He counselled himself to wait for her; she might have
ideas of delicacy. Her face was troubled, speculative; the brows
clouded, the lips compressed.
"You have not heard this from Miss Dale?" she said.
"Last night they were together: this morning she fled. I saw her this
morning distressed. She is unwilling to send you a message: she talks
vaguely of meeting you some days hence. And it is not the first time he
has gone to her for his consolation."
"That is not a proposal," Clara reflected. "He is too prudent. He did
not propose to her at the time you mention. Have you not been hasty,
Colonel De Craye?"
Shadows crossed her forehead. She glanced in the direction of the house
and stopped her walk.
"Last night, Miss Middleton, there was a listener."
"Crossjay was under that pretty silk coverlet worked by the Miss
Patternes. He came home late, found his door locked, and dashed
downstairs into the drawing-room, where he snuggled up and dropped
asleep. The two speakers woke him; they frightened the poor dear lad in
his love for you, and after they had gone, he wanted to run out of the
house, and I met him just after I had come back from my search,
bursting, and took him to my room, and laid him on the sofa, and abused
him for not lying quiet. He was restless as a fish on a bank. When I
woke in the morning he was off. Doctor Corney came across him somewhere
on the road and drove him to the cottage. I was ringing the bell.
Corney told me the boy had you on his brain, and was miserable, so
Crossjay and I had a talk."
"Crossjay did not repeat to you the conversation he had heard?" said
She smiled rejoicingly, proud of the boy, as she walked on.
"But you'll pardon me, Miss Middleton--and I'm for him as much as you
are--if I was guilty of a little angling."
"My sympathies are with the fish."
"The poor fellow had a secret that hurt him. It rose to the surface
crying to be hooked, and I spared him twice or thrice, because he had a
sort of holy sentiment I respected, that none but Mr. Whitford ought to
be his father confessor."
"Crossjay!" she cried, hugging her love of the boy.
"The secret was one not to be communicated to Miss Dale of all people."
"He said that?"
"As good as the very words. She informed me, too, that she couldn't
induce him to face her straight."
"Oh, that looks like it. And Crossjay was unhappy? Very unhappy?"
"He was just where tears are on the brim, and would have been over, if
he were not such a manly youngster."
"It looks. . ." She reverted in thought to Willoughby, and doubted, and
blindly stretched hands to her recollection of the strange old monster
she had discovered in him. Such a man could do anything.
That conclusion fortified her to pursue her walk to the house and give
battle for freedom. Willoughby appeared to her scarce human,
unreadable, save by the key that she could supply. She determined to
put faith in Colonel De Craye's marvellous divination of circumstances
in the dark. Marvels are solid weapons when we are attacked by real
prodigies of nature. Her countenance cleared. She conversed with De
Craye of the polite and the political world, throwing off her personal
burden completely, and charming him.
At the edge of the garden, on the bridge that crossed the haha from the
park, he had a second impulse, almost a warning within, to seize his
heavenly opportunity to ask for thanks and move her tender lowered
eyelids to hint at his reward. He repressed it, doubtful of the wisdom.
Something like "heaven forgive me" was in Clara's mind, though she
would have declared herself innocent before the scrutator.
IN WHICH SIR WILLOUGHBY IS LED TO THINK THAT THE ELEMENTS HAVE
CONSPIRED AGAINST HIM
Clara had not taken many steps in the garden before she learned how
great was her debt of gratitude to Colonel De Craye. Willoughby and
her father were awaiting her. De Craye, with his ready comprehension of
circumstances, turned aside unseen among the shrubs. She advanced
"The vapours, we may trust, have dispersed?" her father hailed her.
"One word, and these discussions are over, we dislike them equally,"
"No scenes," Dr. Middleton added. "Speak your decision, my girl, pro
forma, seeing that he who has the right demands it, and pray release
Clara looked at Willoughby.
"I have decided to go to Miss Dale for her advice."
There was no appearance in him of a man that has been shot.
"To Miss Dale?--for advice?"
Dr Middleton invoked the Furies. "What is the signification of this new
"Miss Dale must be consulted, papa."
"Consulted with reference to the disposal of your hand in marriage?"
"She must be."
"Miss Dale, do you say?"
"I do, Papa."
Dr Middleton regained his natural elevation from the bend of body
habitual with men of an established sanity, paedagogues and others, who
are called on at odd intervals to inspect the magnitude of the
infinitesimally absurd in human nature: small, that is, under the light
of reason, immense in the realms of madness.
His daughter profoundly confused him. He swelled out his chest,
remarking to Willoughby: "I do not wonder at your scared expression of
countenance, my friend. To discover yourself engaged to a girl mad as
Cassandra, without a boast of the distinction of her being sun-struck,
can be no specially comfortable enlightenment. I am opposed to delays,
and I will not have a breach of faith committed by daughter of mine."
"Do not repeat those words," Clara said to Willoughby. He started. She
had evidently come armed. But how, within so short a space? What could
have instructed her? And in his bewilderment he gazed hurriedly above,
gulped air, and cried: "Scared, sir? I am not aware that my countenance
can show a scare. I am not accustomed to sue for long: I am unable to
sustain the part of humble supplicant. She puts me out of harmony with
creation--We are plighted, Clara. It is pure waste of time to speak of
soliciting advice on the subject."
"Would it be a breach of faith for me to break my engagement?" she
"It is a breach of sanity to propound the interrogation," said her
She looked at Willoughby. "Now?"
He shrugged haughtily.
"Since last night?" she said.
"Am I not released?"
"Not by me."
"By your act."
"My dear Clara!"
"Have you not virtually disengaged me?"
"I who claim you as mine?"
"I do and must."
"After last night?"
"Tricks! shufflings! jabber of a barbarian woman upon the evolutions of
a serpent!" exclaimed Dr. Middleton. "You were to capitulate, or to
furnish reasons for your refusal. You have none. Give him your hand,
girl, according to the compact. I praised you to him for returning
within the allotted term, and now forbear to disgrace yourself and me."
"Is he perfectly free to offer his? Ask him, papa."
"Perform your duty. Do let us have peace!"
"Perfectly free! as on the day when I offered it first." Willoughby
frankly waved his honourable hand.
His face was blanched: enemies in the air seemed to have whispered
things to her: he doubted the fidelity of the Powers above.
"Since last night?" said she.
"Oh! if you insist, I reply, since last night."
"You know what I mean, Sir Willoughby."
"You speak the truth?"
"'Sir Willoughby!'" her father ejaculated in wrath. "But will you
explain what you mean, epitome that you are of all the contradictions
and mutabilities ascribed to women from the beginning! 'Certainly', he
says, and knows no more than I. She begs grace for an hour, and returns
with a fresh store of evasions, to insult the man she has injured. It
is my humiliation to confess that our share in this contract is rescued
from public ignominy by his generosity. Nor can I congratulate him on
his fortune, should he condescend to bear with you to the utmost; for
instead of the young woman I supposed myself to be bestowing on him, I
see a fantastical planguncula enlivened by the wanton tempers of a
nursery chit. If one may conceive a meaning in her, in miserable
apology for such behaviour, some spirit of jealousy informs the girl."
"I can only remark that there is no foundation for it," said
Willoughby. "I am willing to satisfy you, Clara. Name the person who
discomposes you. I can scarcely imagine one to exist: but who can
She could name no person. The detestable imputation of jealousy would
be confirmed if she mentioned a name: and indeed Laetitia was not to be
He pursued his advantage: "Jealousy is one of the fits I am a stranger
to,--I fancy, sir, that gentlemen have dismissed it. I speak for
myself.--But I can make allowances. In some cases, it is considered a
compliment; and often a word will soothe it. The whole affair is so
senseless! However, I will enter the witness-box, or stand at the
prisoner's bar! Anything to quiet a distempered mind."
"Of you, sir," said Dr. Middleton, "might a parent be justly proud."
"It is not jealousy; I could not be jealous!" Clara cried, stung by the
very passion; and she ran through her brain for a suggestion to win a
sign of meltingness if not esteem from her father. She was not an iron
maiden, but one among the nervous natures which live largely in the
moment, though she was then sacrificing it to her nature's deep
dislike. "You may be proud of me again, papa."
She could hardly have uttered anything more impolitic.
"Optume; but deliver yourself ad rem," he rejoined, alarmingly
pacified. "Firmavit fidem. Do you likewise, and double on us no more
like puss in the field."
"I wish to see Miss Dale," she said.
Up flew the Rev. Doctor's arms in wrathful despair resembling an
"She is at the cottage. You could have seen her," said Willoughby.
Evidently she had not.
"Is it untrue that last night, between twelve o'clock and one, in the
drawing-room, you proposed marriage to Miss Dale?" He became convinced
that she must have stolen down-stairs during his colloquy with
Laetitia, and listened at the door.
"On behalf of old Vernon?" he said, lightly laughing. "The idea is not
novel, as you know. They are suited, if they could see it.--Laetitia
Dale and my cousin Vernon Whitford, sir."
"Fairly schemed, my friend, and I will say for you, you have the
patience, Willoughby, of a husband!"
Willoughby bowed to the encomium, and allowed some fatigue to be
visible. He half yawned: "I claim no happier title, sir," and made
light of the weariful discussion.
Clara was shaken: she feared that Crossjay had heard incorrectly, or
that Colonel De Craye had guessed erroneously. It was too likely that
Willoughby should have proposed Vernon to Laetitia.
There was nothing to reassure her save the vision of the panic
amazement of his face at her persistency in speaking of Miss Dale. She
could have declared on oath that she was right, while admitting all the
suppositions to be against her. And unhappily all the Delicacies (a
doughty battalion for the defence of ladies until they enter into
difficulties and are shorn of them at a blow, bare as dairymaids), all
the body-guard of a young gentlewoman, the drawing-room sylphides,
which bear her train, which wreathe her hair, which modulate her voice
and tone her complexion, which are arrows and shield to awe the
creature man, forbade her utterance of what she felt, on pain of
instant fulfilment of their oft-repeated threat of late to leave her to
the last remnant of a protecting sprite. She could not, as in a dear
melodrama, from the aim of a pointed finger denounce him, on the
testimony of her instincts, false of speech, false in deed. She could
not even declare that she doubted his truthfulness. The refuge of a
sullen fit, the refuge of tears, the pretext of a mood, were denied her
now by the rigour of those laws of decency which are a garment to
ladies of pure breeding.
"One more respite, papa," she implored him, bitterly conscious of the
closer tangle her petition involved, and, if it must be betrayed of
her, perceiving in an illumination how the knot might become so
woefully Gordian that haply in a cloud of wild events the intervention
of a gallant gentleman out of heaven, albeit in the likeness of one of
earth, would have to cut it: her cry within, as she succumbed to
weakness, being fervider, "Anything but marry this one!" She was faint
with strife and dejected, a condition in the young when their
imaginative energies hold revel uncontrolled and are projectively
"No respite!" said Willoughby, genially.
"And I say, no respite!" observed her father. "You have assumed a
position that has not been granted you, Clara Middleton."
"I cannot bear to offend you, father."
"Him! Your duty is not to offend him. Address your excuses to him. I
refuse to be dragged over the same ground, to reiterate the same
"If authority is deputed to me, I claim you," said Willoughby.
"You have not broken faith with me?"
"Assuredly not, or would it be possible for me to press my claim?"
"And join the right hand to the right," said Dr. Middleton; "no, it
would not be possible. What insane root she has been nibbling, I know
not, but she must consign herself to the guidance of those whom the
gods have not abandoned, until her intellect is liberated. She was once
. . . there: I look not back--if she it was, and no simulacrum of a
reasonable daughter. I welcome the appearance of my friend Mr.
Whitford. He is my sea-bath and supper on the beach of Troy, after the
day's battle and dust."
Vernon walked straight up to them: an act unusual with him, for he was
shy of committing an intrusion.
Clara guessed by that, and more by the dancing frown of speculative
humour he turned on Willoughby, that he had come charged in support of
her. His forehead was curiously lively, as of one who has got a
surprise well under, to feed on its amusing contents.
"Have you seen Crossjay, Mr. Whitford?" she said.
"I've pounced on Crossjay; his bones are sound."
"Where did he sleep?"
"On a sofa, it seems."
She smiled, with good hope--Vernon had the story.
Willoughby thought it just to himself that he should defend his measure
"The boy lied; he played a double game."
"For which he should have been reasoned with at the Grecian portico of
a boy," said the Rev. Doctor.
"My system is different, sir. I could not inflict what I would not
"So is Greek excluded from the later generations; and you leave a
field, the most fertile in the moralities in youth, unplowed and
unsown. Ah! well. This growing too fine is our way of relapsing upon
barbarism. Beware of over-sensitiveness, where nature has plainly
indicated her alternative gateway of knowledge. And now, I presume, I
am at liberty."
"Vernon will excuse us for a minute or two."
"I hold by Mr. Whitford now I have him."
"I'll join you in the laboratory, Vernon," Willoughby nodded bluntly.
"We will leave them, Mr. Whitford. They are at the time-honoured
dissension upon a particular day, that, for the sake of dignity,
blushes to be named."
"What day?" said Vernon, like a rustic.
"THE day, these people call it."
Vernon sent one of his vivid eyeshots from one to the other. His eyes
fixed on Willoughby's with a quivering glow, beyond amazement, as if
his humour stood at furnace-heat, and absorbed all that came.
Willoughby motioned to him to go.
"Have you seen Miss Dale, Mr. Whitford?" said Clara.
He answered, "No. Something has shocked her."
"Is it her feeling for Crossjay?"
"Ah!" Vernon said to Willoughby, "your pocketing of the key of
Crossjay's bedroom door was a master-stroke!"
The celestial irony suffused her, and she bathed and swam in it, on
hearing its dupe reply: "My methods of discipline are short. I was not
aware that she had been to his door."
"But I may hope that Miss Dale will see me," said Clara. "We are in
sympathy about the boy."
"Mr. Dale might be seen. He seems to be of a divided mind with his
daughter," Vernon rejoined. "She has locked herself up in her room."
"He is not the only father in that unwholesome predicament," said Dr
"He talks of coming to you, Willoughby."
"Why to me?" Willoughby chastened his irritation: "He will be welcome,
of course. It would be better that the boy should come."
"If there is a chance of your forgiving him," said Clara. "Let the
Dales know I am prepared to listen to the boy, Vernon. There can be no
necessity for Mr. Dale to drag himself here."
"How are Mr. Dale and his daughter of a divided mind, Mr. Whitford?"
Vernon simulated an uneasiness. With a vacant gaze that enlarged around
Willoughby and was more discomforting than intentness, he replied:
"Perhaps she is unwilling to give him her entire confidence, Miss
"In which respect, then, our situations present their solitary point of
unlikeness in resemblance, for I have it in excess," observed Dr.
Clara dropped her eyelids for the wave to pass over. "It struck me that
Miss Dale was a person of the extremest candour."
"Why should we be prying into the domestic affairs of the Dales?"
Willoughby interjected, and drew out his watch, merely for a diversion;
he was on tiptoe to learn whether Vernon was as well instructed as
Clara, and hung to the view that he could not be, while drenching in
the sensation that he was:--and if so, what were the Powers above but a
body of conspirators? He paid Laetitia that compliment. He could not
conceive the human betrayal of the secret. Clara's discovery of it had
set his common sense adrift.
"The domestic affairs of the Dales do not concern me," said Vernon.
"And yet, my friend," Dr. Middleton balanced himself, and with an air
of benevolent slyness the import of which did not awaken Willoughby,
until too late, remarked: "They might concern you. I will even add,
that there is a probability of your being not less than the fount and
origin of this division of father and daughter, though Willoughby in
the drawingroom last night stands accusably the agent."
"Favour me, sir, with an explanation," said Vernon, seeking to gather
it from Clara.
Dr Middleton threw the explanation upon Willoughby.
Clara, communicated as much as she was able in one of those looks of
still depth which say, Think! and without causing a thought to stir,
takes us into the pellucid mind.
Vernon was enlightened before Willoughby had spoken. His mouth shut
rigidly, and there was a springing increase of the luminous wavering of
his eyes. Some star that Clara had watched at night was like them in
the vivid wink and overflow of its light. Yet, as he was perfectly
sedate, none could have suspected his blood to be chasing wild with
laughter, and his frame strung to the utmost to keep it from volleying.
So happy was she in his aspect, that her chief anxiety was to recover
the name of the star whose shining beckons and speaks, and is in the
quick of spirit-fire. It is the sole star which on a night of frost and
strong moonlight preserves an indomitable fervency: that she
remembered, and the picture of a hoar earth and a lean Orion in flooded
heavens, and the star beneath Eastward of him: but the name! the
name!--She heard Willoughby indistinctly.
"Oh, the old story; another effort; you know my wish; a failure, of
course, and no thanks on either side, I suppose I must ask your
excuse.--They neither of them see what's good for them, sir."
"Manifestly, however," said Dr. Middleton, "if one may opine from the
division we have heard of, the father is disposed to back your
"I can't say; as far as I am concerned, I made a mess of it." Vernon
withstood the incitement to acquiesce, but he sparkled with his
recognition of the fact.
"You meant well, Willoughby."
"I hope so, Vernon."
"Only you have driven her away."
"We must resign ourselves."
"It won't affect me, for I'm off to-morrow."
"You see, sir, the thanks I get."
"Mr. Whitford," said Dr. Middleton, "You have a tower of strength in
the lady's father."
"Would you have me bring it to bear upon the lady, sir?"
"To make her marriage a matter of obedience to her father?"
"Ay, my friend, a lusty lover would have her gladly on those terms,
well knowing it to be for the lady's good. What do you say,
"Sir! Say? What can I say? Miss Dale has not plighted her faith. Had
she done so, she is a lady who would never dishonour it."
"She is an ideal of constancy, who would keep to it though it had been
broken on the other side," said Vernon, and Clara thrilled.
"I take that, sir, to be a statue of constancy, modelled upon which a
lady of our flesh may be proclaimed as graduating for the condition of
idiocy," said Dr. Middleton.
"But faith is faith, sir."
"But the broken is the broken, sir, whether in porcelain or in human
engagements; and all that one of the two continuing faithful, I should
rather say, regretful, can do, is to devote the remainder of life to
the picking up of the fragments; an occupation properly to be pursued,
for the comfort of mankind, within the enclosure of an appointed
"You destroy the poetry of sentiment, Dr. Middleton."
"To invigorate the poetry of nature, Mr. Whitford."
"Then you maintain, sir, that when faith is broken by one, the
engagement ceases, and the other is absolutely free?"
"I do; I am the champion of that platitude, and sound that knell to the
sentimental world; and since you have chosen to defend it, I will
appeal to Willoughby, and ask him if he would not side with the world
of good sense in applauding the nuptials of man or maid married within
a month of a jilting?" Clara slipped her arm under her father's.
"Poetry, sir," said Willoughby, "I never have been hypocrite enough to
pretend to understand or care for."
Dr. Middleton laughed. Vernon too seemed to admire his cousin for a
reply that rung in Clara's ears as the dullest ever spoken. Her arm
grew cold on her father's. She began to fear Willoughby again.
He depended entirely on his agility to elude the thrusts that assailed
him. Had he been able to believe in the treachery of the Powers above,
he would at once have seen design in these deadly strokes, for his
feelings had rarely been more acute than at the present crisis; and he
would then have led away Clara, to wrangle it out with her, relying on
Vernon's friendliness not to betray him to her father: but a wrangle
with Clara promised no immediate fruits, nothing agreeable; and the
lifelong trust he had reposed in his protecting genii obscured his
intelligence to evidence he would otherwise have accepted on the spot,
on the faith of his delicate susceptibility to the mildest impressions
which wounded him. Clara might have stooped to listen at the door: she
might have heard sufficient to create a suspicion. But Vernon was not
in the house last night; she could not have communicated it to him, and
he had not seen Laetitia, who was, besides trustworthy, an admirable if
a foolish and ill-fated woman.
Preferring to consider Vernon a pragmatical moralist played upon by a
sententious drone, he thought it politic to detach them, and vanquish
Clara while she was in the beaten mood, as she had appeared before
Vernon's vexatious arrival.
"I'm afraid, my dear fellow, you are rather too dainty and fussy for a
very successful wooer," he said. "It's beautiful on paper, and absurd
in life. We have a bit of private business to discuss. We will go
inside, sir, I think. I will soon release you." Clara pressed her
"More?" said he.
"Five minutes. There's a slight delusion to clear, sir. My dear Clara,
you will see with different eyes."
"Papa wishes to work with Mr. Whitford."
Her heart sunk to hear her father say: "No, 'tis a lost morning. I must
consent to pay tax of it for giving another young woman to the world. I
have a daughter! You will, I hope, compensate me, Mr. Whitford, in the
afternoon. Be not downcast. I have observed you meditative of late. You
will have no clear brain so long as that stuff is on the mind. I could
venture to propose to do some pleading for you, should it be needed for
the prompter expedition of the affair."
Vernon briefly thanked him, and said:
"Willoughby has exerted all his eloquence, and you see the result: you
have lost Miss Dale and I have not won her. He did everything that one
man can do for another in so delicate a case: even to the repeating of