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The Egoist by George Meredith

Part 11 out of 12

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her famous birthday verses to him, to flatter the poetess. His best
efforts were foiled by the lady's indisposition for me."

"Behold," said Dr. Middleton, as Willoughby, electrified by the mention
of the verses, took a sharp stride or two, "you have in him an advocate
who will not be rebuffed by one refusal, and I can affirm that he is
tenacious, pertinacious as are few. Justly so. Not to believe in a
lady's No is the approved method of carrying that fortress built to
yield. Although unquestionably to have a young man pleading in our
interests with a lady, counts its objections. Yet Willoughby being
notoriously engaged, may be held to enjoy the privileges of his

"As an engaged man, sir, he was on a level with his elders in pleading
on my behalf with Miss Dale," said Vernon. Willoughby strode and
muttered. Providence had grown mythical in his thoughts, if not
malicious: and it is the peril of this worship that the object will
wear such an alternative aspect when it appears no longer subservient.

"Are we coming, sir?" he said, and was unheeded. The Rev. Doctor would
not be defrauded of rolling his billow.

"As an honourable gentleman faithful to his own engagement and desirous
of establishing his relatives, he deserves, in my judgement, the lady's
esteem as well as your cordial thanks; nor should a temporary failure
dishearten either of you, notwithstanding the precipitate retreat of
the lady from Patterne, and her seclusion in her sanctum on the
occasion of your recent visit."

"Supposing he had succeeded," said Vernon, driving Willoughby to
frenzy, "should I have been bound to marry?" Matter for cogitation was
offered to Dr. Middleton.

"The proposal was without your sanction?"


"You admire the lady?"


"You do not incline to the state?"

"An inch of an angle would exaggerate my inclination."

"How long are we to stand and hear this insufferable nonsense you
talk?" cried Willoughby.

"But if Mr. Whitford was not consulted . . ." Dr. Middleton said, and
was overborne by Willoughby's hurried, "Oblige me, sir.--Oblige me, my
good fellow!" He swept his arm to Vernon, and gestured a conducting
hand to Clara.

"Here is Mrs. Mountstuart!" she exclaimed.

Willoughby stared. Was it an irruption of a friend or a foe? He
doubted, and stood petrified between the double question. Clara had
seen Mrs. Mountstuart and Colonel De Craye separating: and now the
great lady sailed along the sward like a royal barge in festival trim.

She looked friendly, but friendly to everybody, which was always a
frost on Willoughby, and terribly friendly to Clara.

Coming up to her she whispered: "News, indeed! Wonderful! I could not
credit his hint of it yesterday. Are you satisfied?"

"Pray, Mrs. Mountstuart, take an opportunity to speak to papa," Clara
whispered in return.

Mrs. Mountstuart bowed to Dr. Middleton, nodded to Vernon, and swam
upon Willoughby, with, "Is it? But is it? Am I really to believe? You
have? My dear Sir Willoughby? Really?" The confounded gentleman heaved
on a bare plank of wreck in mid sea.

He could oppose only a paralyzed smile to the assault.

His intuitive discretion taught him to fall back a step while she said,
"So!" the plummet word of our mysterious deep fathoms; and he fell back
further saying, "Madam?" in a tone advising her to speak low.

She recovered her volubility, followed his partial retreat, and dropped
her voice,--

"Impossible to have imagined it as an actual fact! You were always full
of surprises, but this! this! Nothing manlier, nothing more gentlemanly
has ever been done: nothing: nothing that so completely changes an
untenable situation into a comfortable and proper footing for
everybody. It is what I like: it is what I love:--sound sense! Men are
so selfish: one cannot persuade them to be reasonable in such
positions. But you, Sir Willoughby, have shown wisdom and sentiment:
the rarest of all combinations in men."

"Where have you? . . ." Willoughby contrived to say.

"Heard? The hedges, the housetops, everywhere. All the neighbourhood
will have it before nightfall. Lady Busshe and Lady Culmer will soon be
rushing here, and declaring they never expected anything else, I do not
doubt. I am not so pretentious. I beg your excuse for that 'twice' of
mine yesterday. Even if it hurt my vanity, I should be happy to confess
my error: I was utterly out. But then I did not reckon on a fatal
attachment, I thought men were incapable of it. I thought we women were
the only poor creatures persecuted by a fatality. It is a fatality! You
tried hard to escape, indeed you did. And she will do honour to your
final surrender, my dear friend. She is gentle, and very clever, very:
she is devoted to you: she will entertain excellently. I see her like a
flower in sunshine. She will expand to a perfect hostess. Patterne will
shine under her reign; you have my warrant for that. And so will you.
Yes, you flourish best when adored. It must be adoration. You have been
under a cloud of late. Years ago I said it was a match, when no one
supposed you could stoop. Lady Busshe would have it was a screen, and
she was deemed high wisdom. The world will be with you. All the women
will be: excepting, of course, Lady Busshe, whose pride is in prophecy;
and she will soon be too glad to swell the host. There, my friend, your
sincerest and oldest admirer congratulates you. I could not contain
myself; I was compelled to pour forth. And now I must go and be talked
to by Dr. Middleton. How does he take it? They leave?"

"He is perfectly well," said Willoughby, aloud, quite distraught.

She acknowledged his just correction of her for running on to an
extreme in low-toned converse, though they stood sufficiently isolated
from the others. These had by this time been joined by Colonel De
Craye, and were all chatting in a group--of himself, Willoughby
horribly suspected.

Clara was gone from him! Gone! but he remembered his oath and vowed it
again: not to Horace de Craye! She was gone, lost, sunk into the world
of waters of rival men, and he determined that his whole force should
be used to keep her from that man, the false friend who had supplanted
him in her shallow heart, and might, if he succeeded, boast of having
done it by simply appearing on the scene.

Willoughby intercepted Mrs. Mountstuart as she was passing over to Dr
Middleton. "My dear lady! spare me a minute."

De Craye sauntered up, with a face of the friendliest humour:

"Never was man like you, Willoughby, for shaking new patterns in a

"Have you turned punster, Horace?" Willoughby replied, smarting to find
yet another in the demon secret, and he draw Dr. Middleton two or three
steps aside, and hurriedly begged him to abstain from prosecuting the
subject with Clara.

"We must try to make her happy as we best can, sir. She may have her
reasons--a young lady's reasons!" He laughed, and left the Rev. Doctor
considering within himself under the arch of his lofty frown of

De Craye smiled slyly and winningly as he shadowed a deep droop on the
bend of his head before Clara, signifying his absolute devotion to her
service, and this present good fruit for witness of his merits.

She smiled sweetly though vaguely. There was no concealment of their

"The battle is over," Vernon said quietly, when Willoughby had walked
some paces beside Mrs. Mountstuart, adding: "You may expect to see Mr.
Dale here. He knows."

Vernon and Clara exchanged one look, hard on his part, in contrast with
her softness, and he proceeded to the house. De Craye waited for a word
or a promising look. He was patient, being self-assured, and passed on.

Clara linked her arm with her father's once more, and said, on a sudden
brightness: "Sirius, papa!" He repeated it in the profoundest manner:
"Sirius! And is there," he asked, "a feminine scintilla of sense in

"It is the name of the star I was thinking of, dear papa."

"It was the star observed by King Agamemnon before the sacrifice in
Aulis. You were thinking of that? But, my love, my Iphigenia, you have
not a father who will insist on sacrificing you."

"Did I hear him tell you to humour me, papa?"

Dr Middleton humphed.

"Verily the dog-star rages in many heads," he responded.



Clara looked up at the flying clouds. She travelled with them now, and
tasted freedom, but she prudently forbore to vex her father; she held
herself in reserve.

They were summoned by the midday bell.

Few were speakers at the meal, few were eaters. Clara was impelled to
join it by her desire to study Mrs. Mountstuart's face. Willoughby was
obliged to preside. It was a meal of an assembly of mutes and plates,
that struck the ear like the well-known sound of a collection of
offerings in church after an impressive exhortation from the pulpit. A
sally of Colonel De Craye's met the reception given to a charity-boy's
muffled burst of animal spirits in the silence of the sacred edifice.
Willoughby tried politics with Dr. Middleton, whose regular appetite
preserved him from uncongenial speculations when the hour for appeasing
it had come; and he alone did honour to the dishes, replying to his

"Times are bad, you say, and we have a Ministry doing with us what they
will. Well, sir, and that being so, and opposition a manner of kicking
them into greater stability, it is the time for wise men to retire
within themselves, with the steady determination of the seed in the
earth to grow. Repose upon nature, sleep in firm faith, and abide the
seasons. That is my counsel to the weaker party."

The counsel was excellent, but it killed the topic.

Dr. Middleton's appetite was watched for the signal to rise and breathe
freely; and such is the grace accorded to a good man of an untroubled
conscience engaged in doing his duty to himself, that he perceived
nothing of the general restlessness; he went through the dishes calmly,
and as calmly he quoted Milton to the ladies Eleanor and Isabel, when
the company sprung up all at once upon his closing his repast. Vernon
was taken away from him by Willoughby. Mrs Mountstuart beckoned
covertly to Clara. Willoughby should have had something to say to him,
Dr. Middleton thought: the position was not clear. But the situation
was not disagreeable; and he was in no serious hurry, though he wished
to be enlightened.

"This," Dr. Middleton said to the spinster aunts, as he accompanied
them to the drawing-room, "shall be no lost day for me if I may devote
the remainder of it to you."

"The thunder, we fear, is not remote," murmured one.

"We fear it is imminent," sighed the other.

They took to chanting in alternation.

"--We are accustomed to peruse our Willoughby, and we know him by a

"--From his infancy to his glorious youth and his established manhood."

"--He was ever the soul of chivalry."

"--Duty: duty first. The happiness of his family. The well-being of his

"--If proud of his name it was not an overweening pride; it was founded
in the conscious possession of exalted qualities. He could be humble
when occasion called for it."

Dr Middleton bowed to the litany, feeling that occasion called for
humbleness from him.

"Let us hope . . . !" he said, with unassumed penitence on behalf of
his inscrutable daughter.

The ladies resumed:--

"--Vernon Whitford, not of his blood, is his brother!"

"--A thousand instances! Laetitia Dale remembers them better than we."

"--That any blow should strike him!"

"--That another should be in store for him!"

"--It seems impossible he can be quite misunderstood!"

"Let us hope . . . !" said Dr. Middleton.

"--One would not deem it too much for the dispenser of goodness to
expect to be a little looked up to!"

"--When he was a child he one day mounted a chair, and there he stood
in danger, would not let us touch him because he was taller than we,
and we were to gaze. Do you remember him, Eleanor? 'I am the sun of the
house!' It was inimitable!"

"--Your feelings; he would have your feelings! He was fourteen when his
cousin Grace Whitford married, and we lost him. They had been the
greatest friends; and it was long before he appeared among us. He has
never cared to see her since."

"--But he has befriended her husband. Never has he failed in
generosity. His only fault is--"

"--His sensitiveness. And that is--"

"--His secret. And that--"

"--You are not to discover! It is the same with him in manhood. No one
will accuse Willoughby Patterne of a deficiency of manlinesss: but what
is it?--he suffers, as none suffer, if he is not loved. He himself is
inalterably constant in affection."

"--What it is no one can say. We have lived with him all his life, and
we know him ready to make any sacrifice; only, he does demand the whole
heart in return. And if he doubts, he looks as we have seen him

"--Shattered: as we have never seen him look before."

"We will hope," said Dr. Middleton, this time hastily. He tingled to
say, "what it was": he had it in him to solve perplexity in their
inquiry. He did say, adopting familiar speech to suit the theme, "You
know, ladies, we English come of a rough stock. A dose of rough dealing
in our youth does us no harm, braces us. Otherwise we are likely to
feel chilly: we grow too fine where tenuity of stature is necessarily
buffetted by gales, namely, in our self-esteem. We are barbarians, on a
forcing soil of wealth, in a conservatory of comfortable security; but
still barbarians. So, you see, we shine at our best when we are
plucked out of that, to where hard blows are given, in a state of war.
In a state of war we are at home, our men are high-minded fellows,
Scipios and good legionaries. In the state of peace we do not live in
peace: our native roughness breaks out in unexpected places, under
extraordinary aspects--tyrannies, extravagances, domestic exactions:
and if we have not had sharp early training . . . within and without
. . . the old-fashioned island-instrument to drill into us the
civilization of our masters, the ancients, we show it by running here
and there to some excess. Ahem. Yet," added the Rev. Doctor,
abandoning his effort to deliver a weighty truth obscurely for the
comprehension of dainty spinster ladies, the superabundance of whom in
England was in his opinion largely the cause of our decay as a people,
"Yet I have not observed this ultra-sensitiveness in Willoughby. He has
borne to hear more than I, certainly no example of the frailty, could
have endured."

"He concealed it," said the ladies. "It is intense."

"Then is it a disease?"

"It bears no explanation; it is mystic."

"It is a cultus, then, a form of self-worship."

"Self!" they ejaculated. "But is not Self indifferent to others? Is it
Self that craves for sympathy, love, and devotion?"

"He is an admirable host, ladies."

"He is admirable in all respects."

"Admirable must he be who can impress discerning women, his life-long
housemates, so favourably. He is, I repeat, a perfect host."

"He will be a perfect husband."

"In all probability."

"It is a certainty. Let him be loved and obeyed, he will be guided.
That is the secret for her whom he so fatally loves. That, if we had
dared, we would have hinted to her. She will rule him through her love
of him, and through him all about her. And it will not be a rule he
submits to, but a love he accepts. If she could see it!"

"If she were a metaphysician!" sighed Dr. Middleton.

"--But a sensitiveness so keen as his might--"

"--Fretted by an unsympathizing mate--"

"--In the end become, for the best of us is mortal--"


"--He would feel perhaps as much--"

"--Or more!--"

"--He would still be tender--"

"--But he might grow outwardly hard!"

Both ladies looked up at Dr. Middleton, as they revealed the dreadful

"It is the story told of corns!" he said, sad as they.

The three stood drooping: the ladies with an attempt to digest his
remark; the Rev. Doctor in dejection lest his gallantry should no
longer continue to wrestle with his good sense.

He was rescued.

The door opened and a footman announced:--

"Mr. Dale."

Miss Eleanor and Miss Isabel made a sign to one another of raising
their hands.

They advanced to him, and welcomed him.

"Pray be seated, Mr. Dale. You have not brought us bad news of our

"So rare is the pleasure of welcoming you here, Mr. Dale, that we are
in some alarm, when, as we trust, it should be matter for unmixed

"Has Doctor Corney been doing wonders?"

"I am indebted to him for the drive to your house, ladies," said Mr.
Dale, a spare, close-buttoned gentleman, with an Indian complexion
deadened in the sick-chamber. "It is unusual for me to stir from my

"The Rev. Dr. Middleton."

Mr. Dale bowed. He seemed surprised.

"You live in a splendid air, sir," observed the Rev. Doctor.

"I can profit little by it, sir," replied Mr. Dale. He asked the
ladies: "Will Sir Willoughby be disengaged?"

They consulted. "He is with Vernon. We will send to him."

The bell was rung.

"I have had the gratification of making the acquaintance of your
daughter, Mr. Dale, a most estimable lady," said Dr. Middleton.

Mr. Dale bowed. "She is honoured by your praises, sir. To the best of
my belief--I speak as a father--she merits them. Hitherto I have had no

"Of Laetitia?" exclaimed the ladies; and spoke of her as gentleness and
goodness incarnate.

"Hitherto I have devoutly thought so," said Mr. Dale.

"Surely she is the very sweetest nurse, the most devoted of daughters."

"As far as concerns her duty to her father, I can say she is that,

"In all her relations, Mr. Dale!"

"It is my prayer," he said.

The footman appeared. He announced that Sir Willoughby was in the
laboratory with Mr. Whitford, and the door locked.

"Domestic business," the ladies remarked. "You know Willoughby's
diligent attention to affairs, Mr. Dale."

"He is well?" Mr. Dale inquired.

"In excellent health."

"Body and mind?"

"But, dear Mr. Dale, he is never ill."

"Ah! for one to hear that who is never well! And Mr. Whitford is quite

"Sound? The question alarms me for myself," said Dr. Middleton. "Sound
as our Constitution, the Credit of the country, the reputation of our
Prince of poets. I pray you to have no fears for him."

Mr. Dale gave the mild little sniff of a man thrown deeper into

He said: "Mr. Whitford works his head; he is a hard student; he may not
be always, if I may so put it, at home on worldly affairs."

"Dismiss that defamatory legend of the student, Mr. Dale; and take my
word for it, that he who persistently works his head has the strongest
for all affairs."

"Ah! Your daughter, sir, is here?"

"My daughter is here, sir, and will be most happy to present her
respects to the father of her friend, Miss Dale."

"They are friends?"

"Very cordial friends."

Mr. Dale administered another feebly pacifying sniff to himself.

"Laetitia!" he sighed, in apostrophe, and swept his forehead with a
hand seen to shake.

The ladies asked him anxiously whether he felt the heat of the room;
and one offered him a smelling-bottle.

He thanked them. "I can hold out until Sir Willoughby comes."

"We fear to disturb him when his door is locked, Mr. Dale; but, if you
wish it, we will venture on a message. You have really no bad news of
our Laetitia? She left us hurriedly this morning, without any
leave-taking, except a word to one of the maids, that your condition
required her immediate presence."

"My condition! And now her door is locked to me! We have spoken through
the door, and that is all. I stand sick and stupefied between two
locked doors, neither of which will open, it appears, to give me the
enlightenment I need more than medicine."

"Dear me!" cried Dr. Middleton, "I am struck by your description of
your position, Mr. Dale. It would aptly apply to our humanity of the
present generation; and were these the days when I sermonized, I could
propose that it should afford me an illustration for the pulpit. For my
part, when doors are closed I try not their locks; and I attribute my
perfect equanimity, health even, to an uninquiring acceptation of the
fact that they are closed to me. I read my page by the light I have. On
the contrary, the world of this day, if I may presume to quote you for
my purpose, is heard knocking at those two locked doors of the secret
of things on each side of us, and is beheld standing sick and stupefied
because it has got no response to its knocking. Why, sir, let the world
compare the diverse fortunes of the beggar and the postman: knock to
give, and it is opened unto you: knock to crave, and it continues shut.
I say, carry a letter to your locked door, and you shall have a good
reception: but there is none that is handed out. For which reason
. . ."

Mr. Dale swept a perspiring forehead, and extended his hand in
supplication. "I am an invalid, Dr. Middleton," he said. "I am unable
to cope with analogies. I have but strength for the slow digestion of

"For facts, we are bradypeptics to a man, sir. We know not yet if
nature be a fact or an effort to master one. The world has not yet
assimilated the first fact it stepped on. We are still in the endeavour
to make good blood of the fact of our being." Pressing his hands at his
temples, Mr. Dale moaned: "My head twirls; I did unwisely to come out.
I came on an impulse; I trust, honourable. I am unfit--I cannot follow
you, Dr. Middleton. Pardon me."

"Nay, sir, let me say, from my experience of my countrymen, that if you
do not follow me and can abstain from abusing me in consequence, you
are magnanimous," the Rev. Doctor replied, hardly consenting to let go
the man he had found to indemnify him for his gallant service of
acquiescing as a mute to the ladies, though he knew his breathing
robustfulness to be as an East wind to weak nerves, and himself an
engine of punishment when he had been torn for a day from his books.

Miss Eleanor said: "The enlightenment you need, Mr. Dale? Can we
enlighten you?"

"I think not," he answered, faintly. "I think I will wait for Sir
Willoughby . . . or Mr. Whitford. If I can keep my strength. Or could I
exchange--I fear to break down--two words with the young lady who is,
was . . ."

"Miss Middleton, my daughter, sir? She shall be at your disposition; I
will bring her to you." Dr. Middleton stopped at the window. "She, it
is true, may better know the mind of Miss Dale than I. But I flatter
myself I know the gentleman better. I think, Mr. Dale, addressing you
as the lady's father, you will find me a persuasive, I could be an
impassioned, advocate in his interests."

Mr. Dale was confounded; the weakly sapling caught in a gust falls back
as he did.

"Advocate?" he said. He had little breath.

"His impassioned advocate, I repeat; for I have the highest opinion of
him. You see, sir, I am acquainted with the circumstances. I believe,"
Dr. Middleton half turned to the ladies, "we must, until your potent
inducements, Mr. Dale, have been joined to my instances, and we
overcome what feminine scruples there may be, treat the circumstances
as not generally public. Our Strephon may be chargeable with shyness.
But if for the present it is incumbent on us, in proper consideration
for the parties, not to be nominally precise, it is hardly requisite in
this household that we should be. He is now for protesting indifference
to the state. I fancy we understand that phase of amatory frigidity.
Frankly, Mr. Dale, I was once in my life myself refused by a lady, and
I was not indignant, merely indifferent to the marriage-tie."

"My daughter has refused him, sir?"

"Temporarily it would appear that she has declined the proposal."

"He was at liberty? . . . he could honourably? . . ."

"His best friend and nearest relative is your guarantee."

"I know it; I hear so; I am informed of that: I have heard of the
proposal, and that he could honourably make it. Still, I am helpless, I
cannot move, until I am assured that my daughter's reasons are such as
a father need not underline."

"Does the lady, perchance, equivocate?"

"I have not seen her this morning; I rise late. I hear an astounding
account of the cause for her departure from Patterne, and I find her
door locked to me--no answer."

"It is that she had no reasons to give, and she feared the demand for

"Ladies!" dolorously exclaimed Mr. Dale.

"We guess the secret, we guess it!" they exclaimed in reply; and they
looked smilingly, as Dr. Middleton looked.

"She had no reasons to give?" Mr. Dale spelled these words to his
understanding. "Then, sir, she knew you not adverse?"

"Undoubtedly, by my high esteem for the gentleman, she must have known
me not adverse. But she would not consider me a principal. She could
hardly have conceived me an obstacle. I am simply the gentleman's
friend. A zealous friend, let me add."

Mr. Dale put out an imploring hand; it was too much for him.

"Pardon me; I have a poor head. And your daughter the same, sir?"

"We will not measure it too closely, but I may say, my daughter the
same, sir. And likewise--may I not add--these ladies."

Mr. Dale made sign that he was overfilled. "Where am I! And Laetitia
refused him?"

"Temporarily, let us assume. Will it not partly depend on you, Mr.

"But what strange things have been happening during my daughter's
absence from the cottage!" cried Mr. Dale, betraying an elixir in his
veins. "I feel that I could laugh if I did not dread to be thought
insane. She refused his hand, and he was at liberty to offer it? My
girl! We are all on our heads. The fairy-tales were right and the
lesson-books were wrong. But it is really, it is really very
demoralizing. An invalid--and I am one, and no momentary exhilaration
will be taken for the contrary--clings to the idea of stability, order.
The slightest disturbance of the wonted course of things unsettles him.
Why, for years I have been prophesying it! and for years I have had
everything against me, and now when it is confirmed, I am wondering
that I must not call myself a fool!"

"And for years, dear Mr. Dale, this union, in spite of counter-currents
and human arrangements, has been our Willoughby's constant
preoccupation," said Miss Eleanor.

"His most cherished aim," said Miss Isabel.

"The name was not spoken by me," said Dr. Middleton.

"But it is out, and perhaps better out, if we would avoid the chance of
mystifications. I do not suppose we are seriously committing a breach
of confidence, though he might have wished to mention it to you first
himself. I have it from Willoughby that last night he appealed to your
daughter, Mr. Dale--not for the first time, if I apprehend him
correctly; and unsuccessfully. He despairs. I do not: supposing, that
is, your assistance vouchsafed to us. And I do not despair, because the
gentleman is a gentleman of worth, of acknowledged worth. You know him
well enough to grant me that. I will bring you my daughter to help me
in sounding his praises."

Dr Middleton stepped through the window to the lawn on an elastic foot,
beaming with the happiness he felt charged to confer on his friend Mr.

"Ladies! it passes all wonders," Mr. Dale gasped.

"Willoughby's generosity does pass all wonders," they said in chorus.

The door opened; Lady Busshe and Lady Culmer were announced.



Lady Busshe and Lady Culmer entered spying to right and left. At the
sight of Mr. Dale in the room Lady Busshe murmured to her friend:

Lady Culmer murmured: "Corney is quite reliable."

"The man is his own best tonic."

"He is invaluable for the country."

Miss Eleanor and Miss Isabel greeted them.

The amiability of the Patterne ladies combined with their total eclipse
behind their illustrious nephew invited enterprising women of the world
to take liberties, and they were not backward.

Lady Busshe said: "Well? the news! we have the outlines. Don't be
astonished: we know the points: we have heard the gun. I could have
told you as much yesterday. I saw it. And I guessed it the day before.
Oh, I do believe in fatalities now. Lady Culmer and I agree to take
that view: it is the simplest. Well, and are you satisfied, my dears?"

The ladies grimaced interrogatively: "With what?"

"With it? with all! with her! with him!"

"Our Willoughby?"

"Can it be possible that they require a dose of Corney?" Lady Busshe
remarked to Lady Culmer.

"They play discretion to perfection," said Lady Culmer. "But, my dears,
we are in the secret."

"How did she behave?" whispered Lady Busshe. "No high flights and
flutters, I do hope. She was well-connected, they say; though I don't
comprehend what they mean by a line of scholars--one thinks of a row of
pinafores: and she was pretty."

"That is well enough at the start. It never will stand against brains.
He had the two in the house to contrast them, and . . . the result! A
young woman with brains--in a house--beats all your beauties. Lady
Culmer and I have determined on that view. He thought her a delightful
partner for a dance, and found her rather tiresome at the end of the
gallopade. I saw it yesterday, clear as daylight. She did not
understand him, and he did understand her. That will be our report."

"She is young: she will learn," said the ladies uneasily, but in total
ignorance of her meaning.

"And you are charitable, and always were. I remember you had a good
word for that girl Durham."

Lady Busshe crossed the room to Mr. Dale, who was turning over leaves
of a grand book of the heraldic devices of our great Families.

"Study it," she said, "study it, my dear Mr. Dale; you are in it, by
right of possessing a clever and accomplished daughter. At page 300
you will find the Patterne crest. And mark me, she will drag you into
the peerage before she has done--relatively, you know. Sir Willoughby
and wife will not be contented to sit down and manage the estates. Has
not Laetitia immense ambition? And very creditable, I say."

Mr. Dale tried to protest something. He shut the book, examining the
binding, flapped the cover with a finger, hoped her ladyship was in
good health, alluded to his own and the strangeness of the bird out of
the cage.

"You will probably take up your residence here, in a larger and
handsomer cage. Mr. Dale."

He shook his head. "Do I apprehend . . ." he said.

"I know," said she.

"Dear me, can it be?"

Mr. Dale gazed upward, with the feelings of one awakened late to see a
world alive in broad daylight.

Lady Busshe dropped her voice. She took the liberty permitted to her
with an inferior in station, while treating him to a tone of
familiarity in acknowledgment of his expected rise; which is high
breeding, or the exact measurement of social dues.

"Laetitia will be happy, you may be sure. I love to see a long and
faithful attachment rewarded--love it! Her tale is the triumph of
patience. Far above Grizzel! No woman will be ashamed of pointing to
Lady Patterne. You are uncertain? You are in doubt? Let me hear--as low
as you like. But there is no doubt of the new shifting of the
scene?--no doubt of the proposal? Dear Mr. Dale! a very little louder.
You are here because--? of course you wish to see Sir Willoughby. She?
I did not catch you quite. She? . . . it seems, you say . . . ?"

Lady Culmer said to the Patterne ladies:--

"You must have had a distressing time. These affairs always mount up to
a climax, unless people are very well bred. We saw it coming.
Naturally we did not expect such a transformation of brides: who could?
If I had laid myself down on my back to think, I should have had it. I
am unerring when I set to speculating on my back. One is cooler: ideas
come; they have not to be forced. That is why I am brighter on a dull
winter afternoon, on the sofa, beside my tea-service, than at any other
season. However, your trouble is over. When did the Middletons leave?"

"The Middletons leave?" said the ladies.

"Dr. Middleton and his daughter."

"They have not left us."

"The Middletons are here?"

"They are here, yes. Why should they have left Patterne?"


"Yes. They are likely to stay some days longer."


"There is no ground for any report to the contrary, Lady Culmer."

"No ground!"

Lady Culmer called out to Lady Busshe.

A cry came back from that startled dame.

"She has refused him!"


"She has."

"She?--Sir Willoughby?"

"Refused!--declines the honour."

"Oh, never! No, that carries the incredible beyond romance. But is he
perfectly at . . ."

"Quite, it seems. And she was asked in due form and refused."

"No, and no again!"

"My dear, I have it from Mr. Dale."

"Mr. Dale, what can be the signification of her conduct?"

"Indeed, Lady Culmer," said Mr. Dale, not unpleasantly agitated by the
interest he excited, in spite of his astonishment at a public
discussion of the matter in this house, "I am in the dark. Her father
should know, but I do not. Her door is locked to me; I have not seen
her. I am absolutely in the dark. I am a recluse. I have forgotten the
ways of the world. I should have supposed her father would first have
been addressed."

"Tut-tut. Modern gentlemen are not so formal; they are creatures of
impulse and take a pride in it. He spoke. We settle that. But where did
you get this tale of a refusal?"

"I have it from Dr. Middleton."

"From Dr. Middleton?" shouted Lady Busshe.

"The Middletons are here," said Lady Culmer.

"What whirl are we in?" Lady Busshe got up, ran two or three steps and
seated herself in another chair. "Oh! do let us proceed upon system. If
not we shall presently be rageing; we shall be dangerous. The
Middletons are here, and Dr. Middleton himself communicates to Mr. Dale
that Laetitia Dale has refused the hand of Sir Willoughby, who is
ostensibly engaged to his own daughter! And pray, Mr. Dale, how did
Dr. Middleton speak of it? Compose yourself; there is no violent hurry,
though our sympathy with you and our interest in all the parties does
perhaps agitate us a little. Quite at your leisure--speak!"

"Madam . . . Lady Busshe." Mr. Dale gulped a ball in his throat. "I see
no reason why I should not speak. I do not see how I can have been
deluded. The Miss Patternes heard him. Dr. Middleton began upon it, not
I. I was unaware, when I came, that it was a refusal. I had been
informed that there was a proposal. My authority for the tale was
positive. The object of my visit was to assure myself of the integrity
of my daughter's conduct. She had always the highest sense of honour.
But passion is known to mislead, and there was this most strange
report. I feared that our humblest apologies were due to Dr. Middleton
and his daughter. I know the charm Laetitia can exercise. Madam, in the
plainest language, without a possibility of my misapprehending him, Dr.
Middleton spoke of himself as the advocate of the suitor for my
daughter's hand. I have a poor head. I supposed at once an amicable
rupture between Sir Willoughby and Miss Middleton, or that the version
which had reached me of their engagement was not strictly accurate. My
head is weak. Dr. Middleton's language is trying to a head like mine;
but I can speak positively on the essential points: he spoke of himself
as ready to be the impassioned advocate of the suitor for my daughter's
hand. Those were his words. I understood him to entreat me to intercede
with her. Nay, the name was mentioned. There was no concealment. I am
certain there could not be a misapprehension. And my feelings were
touched by his anxiety for Sir Willoughby's happiness. I attributed it
to a sentiment upon which I need not dwell. Impassioned advocate, he

"We are in a perfect maelstrom!" cried Lady Busshe, turning to

"It is a complete hurricane!" cried Lady Culmer.

A light broke over the faces of the Patterne ladies. They exchanged it
with one another.

They had been so shocked as to be almost offended by Lady Busshe, but
their natural gentleness and habitual submission rendered them unequal
to the task of checking her.

"Is it not," said Miss Eleanor, "a misunderstanding that a change of
names will rectify?"

"This is by no means the first occasion," said Miss Isabel, "that
Willoughby has pleaded for his cousin Vernon."

"We deplore extremely the painful error into which Mr. Dale has

"It springs, we now perceive, from an entire misapprehension of Dr.

"Vernon was in his mind. It was clear to us."

"Impossible that it could have been Willoughby!"

"You see the impossibility, the error!"

"And the Middletons here!" said Lady Busshe. "Oh! if we leave
unilluminated we shall be the laughing-stock of the county. Mr. Dale,
please, wake up. Do you see? You may have been mistaken."

"Lady Busshe," he woke up; "I may have mistaken Dr. Middleton; he has a
language that I can compare only to a review-day of the field forces.
But I have the story on authority that I cannot question: it is
confirmed by my daughter's unexampled behaviour. And if I live through
this day I shall look about me as a ghost to-morrow."

"Dear Mr. Dale!" said the Patterne ladies, compassionately. Lady Busshe
murmured to them: "You know the two did not agree; they did not get on:
I saw it; I predicted it."

"She will understand him in time," said they.

"Never. And my belief is, they have parted by consent, and Letty Dale
wins the day at last. Yes, now I do believe it."

The ladies maintained a decided negative, but they knew too much not to
feel perplexed, and they betrayed it, though they said: "Dear Lady
Busshe! is it credible, in decency?"

"Dear Mrs. Mountstuart!" Lady Busshe invoked her great rival appearing
among them: "You come most opportunely; we are in a state of
inextricable confusion: we are bordering on frenzy. You, and none but
you, can help us. You know, you always know; we hang on you. Is there
any truth in it? a particle?"

Mrs. Mountstuart seated herself regally "Ah, Mr. Dale!" she said,
inclining to him. "Yes, dear Lady Busshe, there is a particle."

"Now, do not roast us. You can; you have the art. I have the whole
story. That is, I have a part. I mean, I have the outlines, I cannot be
deceived, but you can fill them in, I know you can. I saw it yesterday.
Now, tell us, tell us. It must be quite true or utterly false. Which is

"Be precise."

"His fatality! you called her. Yes, I was sceptical. But here we have
it all come round again, and if the tale is true, I shall own you
infallible. Has he?--and she?"


"And the Middletons here? They have not gone; they keep the field. And
more astounding, she refuses him. And to add to it, Dr. Middleton
intercedes with Mr. Dale for Sir Willoughby."

"Dr. Middleton intercedes!" This was rather astonishing to Mrs.

"For Vernon," Miss Eleanor emphasized.

"For Vernon Whitford, his cousin." said Miss Isabel, still more

"Who," said Mrs. Mountstuart, with a sovereign lift and turn of her
head, "speaks of a refusal?"

"I have it from Mr. Dale," said Lady Busshe.

"I had it, I thought, distinctly from Dr. Middleton," said Mr. Dale.

"That Willoughby proposed to Laetitia for his cousin Vernon, Doctor
Middleton meant," said Miss Eleanor.

Her sister followed: "Hence this really ridiculous misconception!
--sad, indeed," she added, for balm to Mr. Dale.

"Willoughby was Vernon's proxy. His cousin, if not his first, is ever
the second thought with him."

"But can we continue . . . ?"

"Such a discussion!"

Mrs. Mountstuart gave them a judicial hearing. They were regarded in
the county as the most indulgent of nonentities, and she as little as
Lady Busshe was restrained from the burning topic in their presence.
She pronounced:

"Each party is right, and each is wrong."

A dry: "I shall shriek!" came from Lady Busshe.

"Cruel!" groaned Lady Culmer.

"Mixed, you are all wrong. Disentangled, you are each of you right. Sir
Willoughby does think of his cousin Vernon; he is anxious to establish
him; he is the author of a proposal to that effect."

"We know it!" the Patterne ladies exclaimed. "And Laetitia rejected
poor Vernon once more!"

"Who spoke of Miss Dale's rejection of Mr. Whitford?"

"Is he not rejected?" Lady Culmer inquired.

"It is in debate, and at this moment being decided."

"Oh! do he seated, Mr. Dale," Lady Busshe implored him, rising to
thrust him back to his chair if necessary. "Any dislocation, and we are
thrown out again! We must hold together if this riddle is ever to be
read. Then, dear Mrs. Mountstuart, we are to say that there is-no truth
in the other story?"

"You are to say nothing of the sort, dear Lady Busshe."

"Be merciful! And what of the fatality?"

"As positive as the Pole to the needle."

"She has not refused him?"

"Ask your own sagacity."



"And all the world's ahead of me! Now, Mrs. Mountstuart, you are
oracle. Riddles, if you like, only speak. If we can't have corn, why,
give us husks."

"Is any one of us able to anticipate events, Lady Busshe?"

"Yes, I believe that you are. I bow to you. I do sincerely. So it's
another person for Mr. Whitford? You nod. And it is our Laetitia for
Sir Willoughby? You smile. You would not deceive me? A very little,
and I run about crazed and howl at your doors. And Dr. Middleton is
made to play blind man in the midst? And the other person is--now I see
day! An amicable rupture, and a smooth new arrangement. She has money;
she was never the match for our hero; never; I saw it yesterday, and
before, often; and so he hands her over--tuthe-rum-tum-tum,
tuthe-rum-tum-tum," Lady Busshe struck a quick march on her knee. "Now
isn't that clever guessing? The shadow of a clue for me. And because I
know human nature. One peep, and I see the combination in a minute. So
he keeps the money in the family, becomes a benefactor to his cousin by
getting rid of the girl, and succumbs to his fatality. Rather a pity he
let it ebb and flow so long. Time counts the tides, you know. But it
improves the story. I defy any other county in the kingdom to produce
one fresh and living to equal it. Let me tell you I suspected Mr.
Whitford, and I hinted it yesterday."

"Did you indeed!" said Mrs. Mountstuart, humouring her excessive

"I really did. There is that dear good man on his feet again. And looks
agitated again."

Mr. Dale had been compelled both by the lady's voice and his interest
in the subject to listen. He had listened more than enough; he was
exceedingly nervous. He held on by his chair, afraid to quit his
moorings, and "Manners!" he said to himself unconsciously aloud, as he
cogitated on the libertine way with which these chartered great ladies
of the district discussed his daughter. He was heard and unnoticed. The
supposition, if any, would have been that he was admonishing himself.
At this juncture Sir Willoughby entered the drawing-room by the garden
window, and simultaneously Dr. Middleton by the door.



History, we may fear, will never know the qualities of leadership
inherent in Sir Willoughby Patterne to fit him for the post of
Commander of an army, seeing that he avoided the fatigues of the
service and preferred the honours bestowed in his country upon the
quiet administrators of their own estates: but his possession of
particular gifts, which are military, and especially of the proleptic
mind, which is the stamp and sign-warrant of the heaven-sent General,
was displayed on every urgent occasion when, in the midst of
difficulties likely to have extinguished one less alert than he to the
threatening aspect of disaster, he had to manoeuvre himself.

He had received no intimation of Mr. Dale's presence in his house, nor
of the arrival of the dreaded women Lady Busshe and Lady Culmer: his
locked door was too great a terror to his domestics. Having finished
with Vernon, after a tedious endeavour to bring the fellow to a sense
of the policy of the step urged on him, he walked out on the lawn with
the desire to behold the opening of an interview not promising to lead
to much, and possibly to profit by its failure. Clara had been
prepared, according to his directions, by Mrs. Mountstuart Jenkinson,
as Vernon had been prepared by him. His wishes, candidly and kindly
expressed both to Vernon and Mrs Mountstuart, were, that since the girl
appeared disinclined to make him a happy man, she would make one of his
cousin. Intimating to Mrs. Mountstuart that he would be happier
without her, he alluded to the benefit of the girl's money to poor old
Vernon, the general escape from a scandal if old Vernon could manage to
catch her as she dropped, the harmonious arrangement it would be for
all parties. And only on the condition of her taking Vernon would he
consent to give her up. This he said imperatively, adding that such was
the meaning of the news she had received relating to Laetitia Dale.
From what quarter had she received it? he asked. She shuffled in her
reply, made a gesture to signify that it was in the air, universal, and
fell upon the proposed arrangement. He would listen to none of Mrs.
Mountstuart's woman-of-the-world instances of the folly of pressing it
upon a girl who had shown herself a girl of spirit. She foretold the
failure. He would not be advised; he said: "It is my scheme"; and
perhaps the look of mad benevolence about it induced the lady to try
whether there was a chance that it would hit the madness in our nature,
and somehow succeed or lead to a pacification. Sir Willoughby
condescended to arrange things thus for Clara's good; he would then
proceed to realize his own. Such was the face he put upon it. We can
wear what appearance we please before the world until we are found out,
nor is the world's praise knocking upon hollowness always hollow music;
but Mrs Mountstuart's laudation of his kindness and simplicity
disturbed him; for though he had recovered from his rebuff enough to
imagine that Laetitia could not refuse him under reiterated pressure,
he had let it be supposed that she was a submissive handmaiden
throbbing for her elevation; and Mrs Mountstuart's belief in it
afflicted his recent bitter experience; his footing was not perfectly
secure. Besides, assuming it to be so, he considered the sort of prize
he had won; and a spasm of downright hatred of a world for which we
make mighty sacrifices to be repaid in a worn, thin, comparatively
valueless coin, troubled his counting of his gains. Laetitia, it was
true, had not passed through other hands in coming to him, as Vernon
would know it to be Clara's case: time only had worn her: but the
comfort of the reflection was annoyed by the physical contrast of the
two. Hence an unusual melancholy in his tone that Mrs. Mountstuart
thought touching. It had the scenic effect on her which greatly
contributes to delude the wits. She talked of him to Clara as being a
man who had revealed an unsuspected depth.

Vernon took the communication curiously. He seemed readier to be in
love with his benevolent relative than with the lady. He was confused,
undisguisedly moved, said the plan was impossible, out of the question,
but thanked Willoughby for the best of intentions, thanked him warmly.
After saying that the plan was impossible, the comical fellow allowed
himself to be pushed forth on the lawn to see how Miss Middleton might
have come out of her interview with Mrs. Mountstuart. Willoughby
observed Mrs. Mountstuart meet him, usher him to the place she had
quitted among the shrubs, and return to the open turf-spaces. He sprang
to her.

"She will listen." Mrs. Mountstuart said: "She likes him, respects him,
thinks he is a very sincere friend, clever, a scholar, and a good
mountaineer; and thinks you mean very kindly. So much I have impressed
on her, but I have not done much for Mr. Whitford."

"She consents to listen," said Willoughby, snatching at that as the
death-blow to his friend Horace.

"She consents to listen, because you have arranged it so that if she
declined she would be rather a savage."

"You think it will have no result?"

"None at all."

"Her listening will do."

"And you must be satisfied with it."

"We shall see."

"'Anything for peace', she says: and I don't say that a gentleman with
a tongue would not have a chance. She wishes to please you."

"Old Vernon has no tongue for women, poor fellow! You will have us be
spider or fly, and if a man can't spin a web all he can hope is not to
be caught in one. She knows his history, too, and that won't be in his
favour. How did she look when you left them?"

"Not so bright: like a bit of china that wants dusting. She looked a
trifle gauche, it struck me; more like a country girl with the hoyden
taming in her than the well-bred creature she is. I did not suspect her
to have feeling. You must remember, Sir Willoughby, that she has obeyed
your wishes, done her utmost: I do think we may say she has made some
amends; and if she is to blame she repents, and you will not insist too

"I do insist," said he.

"Beneficent, but a tyrant!"

"Well, well." He did not dislike the character.

They perceived Dr. Middleton wandering over the lawn, and Willoughby
went to him to put him on the wrong track: Mrs. Mountstuart swept into
the drawing-room. Willoughby quitted the Rev. Doctor, and hung about
the bower where he supposed his pair of dupes had by this time ceased
to stutter mutually:--or what if they had found the word of harmony? He
could bear that, just bear it. He rounded the shrubs, and, behold, both
had vanished. The trellis decorated emptiness. His idea was, that they
had soon discovered their inability to be turtles: and desiring not to
lose a moment while Clara was fretted by the scene, he rushed to the
drawing-room with the hope of lighting on her there, getting her to
himself, and finally, urgently, passionately offering her the sole
alternative of what she had immediately rejected. Why had he not used
passion before, instead of limping crippled between temper and policy?
He was capable of it: as soon as imagination in him conceived his
personal feelings unwounded and unimperiled, the might of it inspired
him with heroical confidence, and Clara grateful, Clara softly moved,
led him to think of Clara melted. Thus anticipating her he burst into
the room.

One step there warned him that he was in the jaws of the world. We have
the phrase, that a man is himself under certain trying circumstances.
There is no need to say it of Sir Willoughby: he was thrice himself
when danger menaced, himself inspired him. He could read at a single
glance the Polyphemus eye in the general head of a company. Lady
Busshe, Lady Culmer, Mrs. Mountstuart, Mr. Dale, had a similarity in
the variety of their expressions that made up one giant eye for him
perfectly, if awfully, legible. He discerned the fact that his demon
secret was abroad, universal. He ascribed it to fate. He was in the
jaws of the world, on the world's teeth. This time he thought Laetitia
must have betrayed him, and bowing to Lady Busshe and Lady Culmer,
gallantly pressing their fingers and responding to their becks and
archnesses, he ruminated on his defences before he should accost her
father. He did not want to be alone with the man, and he considered how
his presence might be made useful.

"I am glad to see you, Mr. Dale. Pray, be seated. Is it nature
asserting her strength? or the efficacy of medicine? I fancy it can't
be both. You have brought us back your daughter?"

Mr. Dale sank into a chair, unable to resist the hand forcing him.

"No, Sir Willoughby, no. I have not; I have not seen her since she came
home this morning from Patterne."

"Indeed? She is unwell?"

"I cannot say. She secludes herself."

"Has locked herself in," said Lady Busshe.

Willoughby threw her a smile. It made them intimate.

This was an advantage against the world, but an exposure of himself to
the abominable woman.

Dr. Middleton came up to Mr. Dale to apologize for not presenting his
daughter Clara, whom he could find neither in nor out of the house.

"We have in Mr. Dale, as I suspected," he said to Willoughby, "a stout

"If I may beg two minutes with you, Sir Willoughby," said Mr. Dale.

"Your visits are too rare for me to allow of your numbering the
minutes," Willoughby replied. "We cannot let Mr. Dale escape us now
that we have him, I think, Dr. Middleton."

"Not without ransom," said the Rev. Doctor.

Mr. Dale shook his head. "My strength, Sir Willoughby, will not sustain
me long."

"You are at home, Mr. Dale."

"Not far from home, in truth, but too far for an invalid beginning to
grow sensible of weakness."

"You will regard Patterne as your home, Mr. Dale," Willoughby repeated
for the world to hear.

"Unconditionally?" Dr. Middleton inquired, with a humourous air of

Willoughby gave him a look that was coldly courteous, and then he
looked at Lady Busshe. She nodded imperceptibly. Her eyebrows rose, and
Willoughby returned a similar nod.

Translated, the signs ran thus:

"--Pestered by the Rev. gentleman:--I see you are. Is the story I have
heard correct?--Possibly it may err in a few details."

This was fettering himself in loose manacles.

But Lady Busshe would not be satisfied with the compliment of the
intimate looks and nods. She thought she might still be behind Mrs.
Mountstuart; and she was a bold woman, and anxious about him,
half-crazed by the riddle of the pot she was boiling in, and having
very few minutes to spare. Not extremely reticent by nature, privileged
by station, and made intimate with him by his covert looks, she stood
up to him. "One word to an old friend. Which is the father of the
fortunate creature? I don't know how to behave to them." No time was
afforded him to be disgusted with her vulgarity and audacity.

He replied, feeling her rivet his gyves: "The house will be empty

"I see. A decent withdrawal, and very well cloaked. We had a tale here
of her running off to decline the honour, afraid, or on her dignity or

How was it that the woman was ready to accept the altered posture of
affairs in his house--if she had received a hint of them? He forgot
that he had prepared her in self-defence.

"From whom did you have that?" he asked.

"Her father. And the lady aunts declare it was the cousin she refused!"
Willoughby's brain turned over. He righted it for action, and crossed
the room to the ladies Eleanor and Isabel. His ears tingled. He and his
whole story discussed in public! Himself unroofed! And the marvel that
he of all men should be in such a tangle, naked and blown on, condemned
to use his cunningest arts to unwind and cover himself, struck him as
though the lord of his kind were running the gauntlet of a legion of
imps. He felt their lashes.

The ladies were talking to Mrs. Mountstuart and Lady Culmer of Vernon
and the suitableness of Laetitia to a scholar. He made sign to them,
and both rose.

"It is the hour for your drive. To the cottage! Mr. Dale is in. She
must come. Her sick father! No delay, going or returning. Bring her
here at once."

"Poor man!" they sighed; and "Willoughby," said one, and the other
said: "There is a strange misconception you will do well to correct."

They were about to murmur what it was. He swept his hand round, and
excusing themselves to their guests, obediently they retired.

Lady Busshe at his entreaty remained, and took a seat beside Lady
Culmer and Mrs. Mountstuart.

She said to the latter: "You have tried scholars. What do you think?"

"Excellent, but hard to mix," was the reply.

"I never make experiments," said Lady Culmer.

"Some one must!" Mrs. Mountstuart groaned over her dull dinner-party.

Lady Busshe consoled her. "At any rate, the loss of a scholar is no
loss to the county."

"They are well enough in towns," Lady Culmer said.

"And then I am sure you must have them by themselves."

"We have nothing to regret."

"My opinion."

The voice of Dr. Middleton in colloquy with Mr. Dale swelled on a
melodious thunder: "For whom else should I plead as the passionate
advocate I proclaimed myself to you, sir? There is but one man known to
me who would move me to back him upon such an adventure. Willoughby,
join me. I am informing Mr. Dale . . ."

Willoughby stretched his hands out to Mr. Dale to support him on his
legs, though he had shown no sign of a wish to rise.

"You are feeling unwell, Mr. Dale."

"Do I look very ill, Sir Willoughby?"

"It will pass. Laetitia will be with us in twenty minutes." Mr. Dale
struck his hands in a clasp. He looked alarmingly ill, and
satisfactorily revealed to his host how he could be made to look so.

"I was informing Mr. Dale that the petitioner enjoys our concurrent
good wishes: and mine in no degree less than yours, Willoughby,"
observed Dr. Middleton, whose billows grew the bigger for a check. He
supposed himself speaking confidentially. "Ladies have the trick, they
have, I may say, the natural disposition for playing enigma now and
again. Pressure is often a sovereign specific. Let it be tried upon her
all round from every radiating line of the circle. You she refuses.
Then I venture to propose myself to appeal to her. My daughter has
assuredly an esteem for the applicant that will animate a woman's
tongue in such a case. The ladies of the house will not be backward.
Lastly, if necessary, we trust the lady's father to add his instances.
My prescription is, to fatigue her negatives; and where no rooted
objection exists, I maintain it to be the unfailing receipt for the
conduct of the siege. No woman can say No forever. The defence has not
such resources against even a single assailant, and we shall have
solved the problem of continuous motion before she will have learned to
deny in perpetuity. That I stand on."

Willoughby glanced at Mrs. Mountstuart.

"What is that?" she said. "Treason to our sex, Dr. Middleton?"

"I think I heard that no woman can say No forever!" remarked Lady

"To a loyal gentleman, ma'am: assuming the field of the recurring
request to be not unholy ground; consecrated to affirmatives rather."

Dr Middleton was attacked by three angry bees. They made him say yes
and no alternately so many times that he had to admit in men a shiftier
yieldingness than women were charged with.

Willoughby gesticulated as mute chorus on the side of the ladies; and a
little show of party spirit like that, coming upon their excitement
under the topic, inclined them to him genially. He drew Mr. Dale away
while the conflict subsided in sharp snaps of rifles and an interval
rejoinder of a cannon. Mr. Dale had shown by signs that he was growing
fretfully restive under his burden of doubt.

"Sir Willoughby, I have a question. I beg you to lead me where I may
ask it. I know my head is weak."

"Mr. Dale, it is answered when I say that my house is your home, and
that Laetitia will soon be with us."

"Then this report is true?"

"I know nothing of reports. You are answered."

"Can my daughter be accused of any shadow of falseness, dishonourable

"As little as I."

Mr. Dale scanned his face. He saw no shadow.

"For I should go to my grave bankrupt if that could be said of her; and
I have never yet felt poor, though you know the extent of a pensioner's
income. Then this tale of a refusal . . . ?"

"Is nonsense."

"She has accepted?"

"There are situations, Mr. Dale, too delicate to be clothed in positive

"Ah, Sir Willoughby, but it becomes a father to see that his daughter
is not forced into delicate situations. I hope all is well. I am
confused. It may be my head. She puzzles me. You are not . . . Can I
ask it here? You are quite . . . ? Will you moderate my anxiety? My
infirmities must excuse me."

Sir Willoughby conveyed by a shake of the head and a pressure of Mr.
Dale's hand, that he was not, and that he was quite.

"Dr Middleton?" said Mr. Dale.

"He leaves us to-morrow."

"Really!" The invalid wore a look as if wine had been poured into him.
He routed his host's calculations by calling to the Rev. Doctor. "We
are to lose you, sir?"

Willoughby attempted an interposition, but Dr. Middleton crashed
through it like the lordly organ swallowing a flute.

"Not before I score my victory, Mr. Dale, and establish my friend upon
his rightful throne."

"You do not leave to-morrow, sir?"

"Have you heard, sir, that I leave to-morrow?"

Mr. Dale turned to Sir Willoughby.

The latter said: "Clara named to-day. To-morrow I thought preferable."

"Ah!" Dr. Middleton towered on the swelling exclamation, but with no
dark light. He radiated splendidly. "Yes, then, to-morrow. That is, if
we subdue the lady."

He advanced to Willoughby, seized his hand, squeezed it, thanked him,
praised him. He spoke under his breath, for a wonder; but: "We are in
your debt lastingly, my friend", was heard, and he was impressive, he
seemed subdued, and saying aloud: "Though I should wish to aid in the
reduction of that fortress", he let it be seen that his mind was rid of
a load.

Dr. Middleton partly stupefied Willoughby by his way of taking it, but
his conduct was too serviceable to allow of speculation on his
readiness to break the match. It was the turning-point of the

Lady Busshe made a stir.

"I cannot keep my horses waiting any longer," she said, and beckoned.
Sir Willoughby was beside her immediately.

"You are admirable! perfect! Don't ask me to hold my tongue. I retract,
I recant. It is a fatality. I have resolved upon that view. You could
stand the shot of beauty, not of brains. That is our report. There! And
it's delicious to feel that the county wins you. No tea. I cannot
possibly wait. And, oh! here she is. I must have a look at her. My dear
Laetitia Dale!"

Willoughby hurried to Mr. Dale.

"You are not to be excited, sir: compose yourself. You will recover and
be strong to-morrow: you are at home; you are in your own house; you
are in Laetitia's drawing-room. All will be clear to-morrow. Till
to-morrow we talk riddles by consent. Sit, I beg. You stay with us."

He met Laetitia and rescued her from Lady Busshe, murmuring, with the
air of a lover who says, "my love! my sweet!" that she had done rightly
to come and come at once. Her father had been thrown into the proper
condition of clammy nervousness to create the impression. Laetitia's
anxiety sat prettily on her long eyelashes as she bent over him in his

Hereupon Dr. Corney appeared; and his name had a bracing effect on Mr.
Dale. "Corney has come to drive me to the cottage," he said. "I am
ashamed of this public exhibition of myself, my dear. Let us go. My
head is a poor one."

Dr. Corney had been intercepted. He broke from Sir Willoughby with a
dozen little nods of accurate understanding of him, even to beyond the
mark of the communications. He touched his patient's pulse lightly,
briefly sighed with professional composure, and pronounced: "Rest. Must
not be moved. No, no, nothing serious," he quieted Laetitia's fears,
"but rest, rest. A change of residence for a night will tone him. I
will bring him a draught in the course of the evening. Yes, yes, I'll
fetch everything wanted from the cottage for you and for him. Repose
on Corney's forethought."

"You are sure, Dr. Corney?" said Laetitia, frightened on her father's
account and on her own.

"Which aspect will be the best for Mr. Dale's bedroom?" the hospitable
ladies Eleanor and Isabel inquired.

"Southeast, decidedly: let him have the morning sun: a warm air, a
vigorous air, and a bright air, and the patient wakes and sings in his

Still doubtful whether she was in a trap, Laetitia whispered to her
father of the privacy and comforts of his home. He replied to her that
he thought he would rather be in his own home.

Dr Corney positively pronounced No to it.

Laetitia breathed again of home, but with the sigh of one overborne.

The ladies Eleanor and Isabel took the word from Willoughby, and said:
"But you are at home, my dear. This is your home. Your father will be
at least as well attended here as at the cottage."

She raised her eyelids on them mournfully, and by chance diverted her
look to Dr. Middleton, quite by chance.

It spoke eloquently to the assembly of all that Willoughby desired to
be imagined.

"But there is Crossjay," she cried. "My cousin has gone, and the boy is
left alone. I cannot have him left alone. If we, if, Dr. Corney, you
are sure it is unsafe for papa to be moved to-day, Crossjay must . . .
he cannot be left."

"Bring him with you, Corney," said Sir Willoughby; and the little
doctor heartily promised that he would, in the event of his finding
Crossjay at the cottage, which he thought a distant probability.

"He gave me his word he would not go out till my return," said

"And if Crossjay gave you his word," the accents of a new voice
vibrated close by, "be certain that he will not come back with Dr.
Corney unless he has authority in your handwriting."

Clara Middleton stepped gently to Laetitia, and with a manner that was
an embrace, as much as kissed her for what she was doing on behalf of
Crossjay. She put her lips in a pouting form to simulate saying: "Press

"He is to come," said Laetitia.

"Then write him his permit."

There was a chatter about Crossjay and the sentinel true to his post
that he could be, during which Laetitia distressfully scribbled a line
for Dr. Corney to deliver to him. Clara stood near. She had rebuked
herself for want of reserve in the presence of Lady Busshe and Lady
Culmer, and she was guilty of a slightly excessive containment when she
next addressed Laetitia. It was, like Laetitia's look at Dr. Middleton,
opportune: enough to make a man who watched as Willoughby did a
fatalist for life: the shadow of a difference in her bearing toward
Laetitia sufficed to impute acting either to her present coolness or
her previous warmth. Better still, when Dr. Middleton said: "So we
leave to-morrow, my dear, and I hope you have written to the
Darletons," Clara flushed and beamed, and repressed her animation on a
sudden, with one grave look, that might be thought regretful, to where
Willoughby stood.

Chance works for us when we are good captains.

Willoughby's pride was high, though he knew himself to be keeping it up
like a fearfully dexterous juggler, and for an empty reward: but he
was in the toils of the world.

"Have you written? The post-bag leaves in half an hour," he addressed

"We are expected, but I will write," she replied: and her not having
yet written counted in his favour.

She went to write the letter. Dr. Corney had departed on his mission to
fetch Crossjay and medicine. Lady Busshe was impatient to be gone.
"Corney," she said to Lady Culmer, "is a deadly gossip."

"Inveterate," was the answer.

"My poor horses!"

"Not the young pair of bays?"

"Luckily they are, my dear. And don't let me hear of dining to-night!"

Sir Willoughby was leading out Mr. Dale to a quiet room, contiguous to
the invalid gentleman's bedchamber. He resigned him to Laetitia in the
hall, that he might have the pleasure of conducting the ladies to their

"As little agitation as possible. Corney will soon be back," he said,
bitterly admiring the graceful subservience of Laetitia's figure to her
father's weight on her arm.

He had won a desperate battle, but what had he won?

What had the world given him in return for his efforts to gain it?
Just a shirt, it might be said: simple scanty clothing, no warmth.
Lady Busshe was unbearable; she gabbled; she was ill-bred, permitted
herself to speak of Dr. Middleton as ineligible, no loss to the county.
And Mrs. Mountstuart was hardly much above her, with her inevitable
stroke of caricature:--"You see Doctor Middleton's pulpit scampering
after him with legs!" Perhaps the Rev. Doctor did punish the world for
his having forsaken his pulpit, and might be conceived as haunted by it
at his heels, but Willoughby was in the mood to abhor comic images; he
hated the perpetrators of them and the grinners. Contempt of this
laughing empty world, for which he had performed a monstrous
immolation, led him to associate Dr. Middleton in his mind, and Clara
too, with the desireable things he had sacrificed--a shape of youth and
health; a sparkling companion; a face of innumerable charms; and his
own veracity; his inner sense of his dignity; and his temper, and the
limpid frankness of his air of scorn, that was to him a visage of
candid happiness in the dim retrospect. Haply also he had sacrificed
more: he looked scientifically into the future: he might have
sacrificed a nameless more. And for what? he asked again. For the
favourable looks and tongues of these women whose looks and tongues he

"Dr Middleton says he is indebted to me: I am deeply in his debt," he

"It is we who are in your debt for a lovely romance, my dear Sir
Willoughby," said Lady Busshe, incapable of taking a correction, so
thoroughly had he imbued her with his fiction, or with the belief that
she had a good story to circulate. Away she drove, rattling her tongue
to Lady Culmer.

"A hat and horn, and she would be in the old figure of a post-boy on a
hue-and-cry sheet," said Mrs. Mountstuart.

Willoughby thanked the great lady for her services, and she
complimented the polished gentleman on his noble self-possession. But
she complained at the same time of being defrauded of her "charmer"
Colonel De Craye, since luncheon. An absence of warmth in her
compliment caused Willoughby to shrink and think the wretched shirt he
had got from the world no covering after all: a breath flapped it.

"He comes to me to-morrow, I believe," she said, reflecting on her
superior knowledge of facts in comparison with Lady Busshe, who would
presently be hearing of something novel, and exclaiming: "So, that is
why you patronized the colonel!" And it was nothing of the sort, for
Mrs. Mountstuart could honestly say she was not the woman to make a
business of her pleasure.

"Horace is an enviable fellow," said Willoughby, wise in The Book,
which bids us ever, for an assuagement to fancy our friend's condition
worse than our own, and recommends the deglutition of irony as the most
balsamic for wounds in the whole moral pharmacopoeia.

"I don't know," she replied, with a marked accent of deliberation.

"The colonel is to have you to himself to-morrow!"

"I can't be sure of what I shall have in the colonel!"

"Your perpetual sparkler?"

Mrs. Mountstuart set her head in motion. She left the matter silent.

"I'll come for him in the morning," she said, and her carriage whirled
her off. Either she had guessed it, or Clara had confided to her the
treacherous passion of Horace De Craye.

However, the world was shut away from Patterne for the night.



Willoughby shut himself up in his laboratory to brood awhile after the
conflict. Sounding through himself, as it was habitual with him to do,
for the plan most agreeable to his taste, he came on a strange
discovery among the lower circles of that microcosm. He was no longer
guided in his choice by liking and appetite: he had to put it on the
edge of a sharp discrimination, and try it by his acutest judgement
before it was acceptable to his heart: and knowing well the direction
of his desire, he was nevertheless unable to run two strides on a wish.
He had learned to read the world: his partial capacity for reading
persons had fled. The mysteries of his own bosom were bare to him; but
he could comprehend them only in their immediate relation to the world
outside. This hateful world had caught him and transformed him to a
machine. The discovery he made was, that in the gratification of the
egoistic instinct we may so beset ourselves as to deal a slaughtering
wound upon Self to whatsoever quarter we turn.

Surely there is nothing stranger in mortal experience. The man was
confounded. At the game of Chess it is the dishonour of our adversary
when we are stale-mated: but in life, combatting the world, such a
winning of the game questions our sentiments.

Willoughby's interpretation of his discovery was directed by pity: he
had no other strong emotion left in him. He pitied himself, and he
reached the conclusion that he suffered because he was active; he could
not be quiescent. Had it not been for his devotion to his house and
name, never would he have stood twice the victim of womankind. Had he
been selfish, he would have been the happiest of men! He said it aloud.
He schemed benevolently for his unborn young, and for the persons about
him: hence he was in a position forbidding a step under pain of injury
to his feelings. He was generous: otherwise would he not in scorn of
soul, at the outset, straight off have pitched Clara Middleton to the
wanton winds? He was faithful in his affection: Laetitia Dale was
beneath his roof to prove it. Both these women were examples of his
power of forgiveness, and now a tender word to Clara might fasten shame
on him--such was her gratitude! And if he did not marry Laetitia,
laughter would be devilish all around him--such was the world's!
Probably Vernon would not long be thankful for the chance which varied
the monotony of his days. What of Horace? Willoughby stripped to enter
the ring with Horace: he cast away disguise. That man had been the
first to divide him in the all but equal slices of his egoistic from
his amatory self: murder of his individuality was the crime of Horace
De Craye. And further, suspicion fixed on Horace (he knew not how,
except that The Book bids us be suspicious of those we hate) as the man
who had betrayed his recent dealings with Laetitia.

Willoughby walked the thoroughfares of the house to meet Clara and make
certain of her either for himself, or, if it must be, for Vernon,
before he took another step with Laetitia Dale. Clara could reunite
him, turn him once more into a whole and an animated man; and she might
be willing. Her willingness to listen to Vernon promised it. "A
gentleman with a tongue would have a chance", Mrs. Mountstuart had
said. How much greater the chance of a lover! For he had not yet
supplicated her: he had shown pride and temper. He could woo, he was a
torrential wooer. And it would be glorious to swing round on Lady
Busshe and the world, with Clara nestling under an arm, and protest
astonishment at the erroneous and utterly unfounded anticipations of
any other development. And it would righteously punish Laetitia.

Clara came downstairs, bearing her letter to Miss Darleton.

"Must it be posted?" Willoughby said, meeting her in the hall.

"They expect us any day, but it will be more comfortable for papa," was
her answer. She looked kindly in her new shyness.

She did not seem to think he had treated her contemptuously in flinging
her to his cousin, which was odd.

"You have seen Vernon?"

"It was your wish."

"You had a talk?"

"We conversed."

"A long one?"

"We walked some distance."

"Clara, I tried to make the best arrangement I could."

"Your intention was generous."

"He took no advantage of it?"

"It could not be treated seriously."

"It was meant seriously."

"There I see the generosity."

Willoughby thought this encomium, and her consent to speak on the
subject, and her scarcely embarrassed air and richness of tone in
speaking, very strange: and strange was her taking him quite in
earnest. Apparently she had no feminine sensation of the unwontedness
and the absurdity of the matter!

"But, Clara, am I to understand that he did not speak out?"

"We are excellent friends."

"To miss it, though his chance were the smallest!"

"You forget that it may not wear that appearance to him."

"He spoke not one word of himself?"


"Ah! the poor old fellow was taught to see it was hopeless--chilled.
May I plead? Will you step into the laboratory for a minute? We are two
sensible persons . . ."

"Pardon me, I must go to papa."

"Vernon's personal history, perhaps . . ."

"I think it honourable to him."


"By comparison."

"Comparison with what?"

"With others."

He drew up to relieve himself of a critical and condemnatory expiration
of a certain length. This young lady knew too much. But how physically
exquisite she was!

"Could you, Clara, could you promise me--I hold to it. I must have it,
I know his shy tricks--promise me to give him ultimately another
chance? Is the idea repulsive to you?"

"It is one not to be thought of."

"It is not repulsive?"

"Nothing could be repulsive in Mr. Whitford."

"I have no wish to annoy you, Clara."

"I feel bound to listen to you, Willoughby. Whatever I can do to please
you, I will. It is my life-long duty."

"Could you, Clara, could you conceive it, could you simply conceive
it--give him your hand?"

"As a friend. Oh, yes."

"In marriage."

She paused. She, so penetrative of him when he opposed her, was
hoodwinked when he softened her feelings: for the heart, though the
clearest, is not the most constant instructor of the head; the heart,
unlike the often obtuser head, works for itself and not for the

"You are so kind . . . I would do much . . ." she said.

"Would you accept him--marry him? He is poor."

"I am not ambitious of wealth."

"Would you marry him?"

"Marriage is not in my thoughts."

"But could you marry him?"

Willoughby expected no. In his expectation of it he hung inflated.

She said these words: "I could engage to marry no one else." His
amazement breathed without a syllable.

He flapped his arms, resembling for the moment those birds of enormous
body which attempt a rise upon their wings and achieve a hop.

"Would you engage it?" he said, content to see himself stepped on as an
insect if he could but feel the agony of his false friend Horace--their
common pretensions to win her were now of that comparative size.

"Oh! there can be no necessity. And an oath--no!" said Clara, inwardly
shivering at a recollection.

"But you could?"

"My wish is to please you."

"You could?"

"I said so."

It has been known to the patriotic mountaineer of a hoary pile of
winters, with little life remaining in him, but that little on fire for
his country, that by the brink of the precipice he has flung himself on
a young and lusty invader, dedicating himself exultingly to death if
only he may score a point for his country by extinguishing in his
country's enemy the stronger man. So likewise did Willoughby, in the
blow that deprived him of hope, exult in the toppling over of Horace De
Craye. They perished together, but which one sublimely relished the
headlong descent? And Vernon taken by Clara would be Vernon simply
tolerated. And Clara taken by Vernon would be Clara previously touched,
smirched. Altogether he could enjoy his fall.

It was at least upon a comfortable bed, where his pride would be
dressed daily and would never be disagreeably treated.

He was henceforth Laetitia's own. The bell telling of Dr. Corney's
return was a welcome sound to Willoughby, and he said good-humouredly:
"Wait, Clara, you will see your hero Crossjay."

Crossjay and Dr. Corney tumbled into the hall. Willoughby caught
Crossjay under the arms to give him a lift in the old fashion pleasing
to Clara to see. The boy was heavy as lead.

"I had work to hook him and worse to net him," said Dr. Corney. "I had
to make him believe he was to nurse every soul in the house, you among
them, Miss Middleton."

Willoughby pulled the boy aside.

Crossjay came back to Clara heavier in looks than his limbs had been.
She dropped her letter in the hall-box, and took his hand to have a
private hug of him. When they were alone, she said: "Crossjay, my
dear, my dear! you look unhappy."

"Yes, and who wouldn't be, and you're not to marry Sir Willoughby!" his
voice threatened a cry. "I know you're not, for Dr. Corney says you are
going to leave."

"Did you so very much wish it, Crossjay?"

"I should have seen a lot of you, and I sha'n't see you at all, and I'm
sure if I'd known I wouldn't have--And he has been and tipped me this."

Crossjay opened his fist in which lay three gold pieces.

"That was very kind of him," said Clara.

"Yes, but how can I keep it?"

"By handing it to Mr. Whitford to keep for you."

"Yes, but, Miss Middleton, oughtn't I to tell him? I mean Sir


"Why, that I"--Crossjay got close to her--"why, that I, that I--you
know what you used to say. I wouldn't tell a lie, but oughtn't I,
without his asking . . . and this money! I don't mind being turned out

"Consult Mr. Whitford," said Clara.

"I know what you think, though."

"Perhaps you had better not say anything at present, dear boy."

"But what am I to do with this money?"

Crossjay held the gold pieces out as things that had not yet mingled
with his ideas of possession.

"I listened, and I told of him," he said. "I couldn't help listening,
but I went and told; and I don't like being here, and his money, and he
not knowing what I did. Haven't you heard? I'm certain I know what you
think, and so do I, and I must take my luck. I'm always in mischief,
getting into a mess or getting out of it. I don't mind, I really don't,
Miss Middleton, I can sleep in a tree quite comfortably. If you're not
going to be here, I'd just as soon be anywhere. I must try to earn my
living some day. And why not a cabin-boy? Sir Cloudesley Shovel was no
better. And I don't mind his being wrecked at last, if you're drowned
an admiral. So I shall go and ask him to take his money back, and if he
asks me I shall tell him, and there. You know what it is: I guessed
that from what Dr. Corney said. I'm sure I know you're thinking what's
manly. Fancy me keeping his money, and you not marrying him! I wouldn't
mind driving a plough. I shouldn't make a bad gamekeeper. Of course I
love boats best, but you can't have everything."

"Speak to Mr. Whitford first," said Clara, too proud of the boy for
growing as she had trained him, to advise a course of conduct opposed
to his notions of manliness, though now that her battle was over she
would gladly have acquiesced in little casuistic compromises for the
sake of the general peace.

Some time later Vernon and Dr. Corney were arguing upon the question.
Corney was dead against the sentimental view of the morality of the
case propounded by Vernon as coming from Miss Middleton and partly
shared by him. "If it's on the boy's mind," Vernon said, "I can't
prohibit his going to Willoughby and making a clean breast of it,
especially as it involves me, and sooner or later I should have to tell
him myself."

Dr. Corney said no at all points. "Now hear me," he said, finally.
"This is between ourselves, and no breach of confidence, which I'd not
be guilty of for forty friends, though I'd give my hand from the
wrist-joint for one--my left, that's to say. Sir Willoughby puts me one
or two searching interrogations on a point of interest to him, his

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