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The Egoist by George Meredith

Part 12 out of 12

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house and name. Very well, and good night to that, and I wish Miss Dale
had been ten years younger, or had passed the ten with no heartrisings
and sinkings wearing to the tissues of the frame and the moral fibre to
boot. She'll have a fairish health, with a little occasional doctoring;
taking her rank and wealth in right earnest, and shying her pen back to
Mother Goose. She'll do. And, by the way, I think it's to the credit
of my sagacity that I fetched Mr. Dale here fully primed, and roused
the neighbourhood, which I did, and so fixed our gentleman, neat as a
prodded eel on a pair of prongs--namely, the positive fact and the
general knowledge of it. But, mark me, my friend. We understand one
another at a nod. This boy, young Squire Crossjay, is a good stiff
hearty kind of a Saxon boy, out of whom you may cut as gallant a fellow
as ever wore epaulettes. I like him, you like him, Miss Dale and Miss
Middleton like him; and Sir Willoughby Patterne, of Patterne Hall and
other places, won't be indisposed to like him mightily in the event of
the sun being seen to shine upon him with a particular determination to
make him appear a prominent object, because a solitary, and a
Patterne." Dr. Corney lifted his chest and his finger: "Now mark me,
and verbum sap: Crossjay must not offend Sir Willoughby. I say no
more. Look ahead. Miracles happen, but it's best to reckon that they
won't. Well, now, and Miss Dale. She'll not be cruel."

"It appears as if she would," said Vernon, meditating on the cloudy
sketch Dr. Corney had drawn.

"She can't, my friend. Her position's precarious; her father has little
besides a pension. And her writing damages her health. She can't. And
she likes the baronet. Oh, it's only a little fit of proud blood. She's
the woman for him. She'll manage him--give him an idea he's got a lot
of ideas. It'd kill her father if she were obstinate. He talked to me,
when I told him of the business, about his dream fulfilled, and if the
dream turns to vapour, he'll be another example that we hang more upon
dreams than realities for nourishment, and medicine too. Last week I
couldn't have got him out of his house with all my art and science. Oh,
she'll come round. Her father prophesied this, and I'll prophesy that.
She's fond of him."

"She was."

"She sees through him?"

"Without quite doing justice to him now," said Vernon. "He can be
generous--in his way."

"How?" Corney inquired, and was informed that he should hear in time to

Meanwhile Colonel De Craye, after hovering over the park and about the
cottage for the opportunity of pouncing on Miss Middleton alone, had
returned crest-fallen for once, and plumped into Willoughby's hands.

"My dear Horace," Willoughby said, "I've been looking for you all the
afternoon. The fact is--I fancy you'll think yourself lured down here
on false pretences: but the truth is, I am not so much to blame as the
world will suppose. In point of fact, to be brief, Miss Dale and I
. . . I never consult other men how they would have acted. The fact of
the matter is, Miss Middleton . . . I fancy you have partly guessed it."

"Partly," said De Craye.

"Well, she has a liking that way, and if it should turn out strong
enough, it's the best arrangement I can think of," The lively play of
the colonel's features fixed in a blank inquiry.

"One can back a good friend for making a good husband," said
Willoughby. "I could not break with her in the present stage of affairs
without seeing to that. And I can speak of her highly, though she and I
have seen in time that we do not suit one another. My wife must have

"I have always thought it," said Colonel De Craye, glistening, and
looking hungry as a wolf through his wonderment.

"There will not be a word against her, you understand. You know my
dislike of tattle and gossip. However, let it fall on me; my shoulders
are broad. I have done my utmost to persuade her, and there seems a
likelihood of her consenting. She tells me her wish is to please me,
and this will please me."

"Certainly. Who's the gentleman?"

"My best friend, I tell you. I could hardly have proposed another.
Allow this business to go on smoothly just now." There was an uproar
within the colonel to blind his wits, and Willoughby looked so friendly
that it was possible to suppose the man of projects had mentioned his
best friend to Miss Middleton.

And who was the best friend?

Not having accused himself of treachery, the quick-eyed colonel was

"Have you his name handy, Willoughby?"

"That would be unfair to him at present, Horace--ask yourself--and to
her. Things are in a ticklish posture at present. Don't be hasty."

"Certainly. I don't ask. Initials'll do."

"You have a remarkable aptitude for guessing, Horace, and this case
offers you no tough problem--if ever you acknowledged toughness. I have
a regard for her and for him--for both pretty equally; you know I have,
and I should be thoroughly thankful to bring the matter about."

"Lordly!" said De Craye.

"I don't see it. I call it sensible."

"Oh, undoubtedly. The style, I mean. Tolerably antique?"

"Novel, I should say, and not the worse for that. We want plain
practical dealings between men and women. Usually we go the wrong way
to work. And I loathe sentimental rubbish."

De Craye hummed an air. "But the lady?" said he.

"I told you, there seems a likelihood of her consenting."

Willoughby's fish gave a perceptible little leap now that he had been
taught to exercise his aptitude for guessing.

"Without any of the customary preliminaries on the side of the
gentleman?" he said.

"We must put him through his paces, friend Horace. He's a notorious
blunderer with women; hasn't a word for them, never marked a conquest."

De Craye crested his plumes under the agreeable banter. He presented a
face humourously sceptical.

"The lady is positively not indisposed to give the poor fellow a

"I have cause to think she is not," said Willoughby, glad of acting the
indifference to her which could talk of her inclinations.


"Good cause."

"Bless us!"

"As good as one can have with a woman."


"I assure you."

"Ah! Does it seem like her, though?"

"Well, she wouldn't engage herself to accept him."

"Well, that seems more like her."

"But she said she could engage to marry no one else."

The colonel sprang up, crying: "Clara Middleton said it?" He curbed
himself "That's a bit of wonderful compliancy."

"She wishes to please me. We separate on those terms. And I wish her
happiness. I've developed a heart lately and taken to think of others."

"Nothing better. You appear to make cock sure of the other party--our

"You know him too well, Horace, to doubt his readiness."

"Do you, Willoughby?"

"She has money and good looks. Yes, I can say I do."

"It wouldn't be much of a man who'd want hard pulling to that lighted

"And if he requires persuasion, you and I, Horace, might bring him to
his senses."

"Kicking, 't would be!"

"I like to see everybody happy about me," said Willoughby, naming the
hour as time to dress for dinner.

The sentiment he had delivered was De Craye's excuse for grasping his
hand and complimenting him; but the colonel betrayed himself by doing
it with an extreme fervour almost tremulous.

"When shall we hear more?" he said.

"Oh, probably to-morrow," said Willoughby. "Don't be in such a hurry."

"I'm an infant asleep!" the colonel replied, departing.

He resembled one, to Willoughby's mind: or a traitor drugged.

"There is a fellow I thought had some brains!"

Who are not fools to beset spinning if we choose to whip them with
their vanity! it is the consolation of the great to watch them spin.
But the pleasure is loftier, and may comfort our unmerited misfortune
for a while, in making a false friend drunk.

Willoughby, among his many preoccupations, had the satisfaction of
seeing the effect of drunkenness on Horace De Craye when the latter was
in Clara's presence. He could have laughed. Cut in keen epigram were
the marginal notes added by him to that chapter of The Book which
treats of friends and a woman; and had he not been profoundly
preoccupied, troubled by recent intelligence communicated by the
ladies, his aunts, he would have played the two together for the royal
amusement afforded him by his friend Horace.



The hour was close upon eleven at night. Laetitia sat in the room
adjoining her father's bedchamber. Her elbow was on the table beside
her chair, and two fingers pressed her temples. The state between
thinking and feeling, when both are molten and flow by us, is one of
our natures coming after thought has quieted the fiery nerves, and can
do no more. She seemed to be meditating. She was conscious only of a
struggle past.

She answered a tap at the door, and raised her eyes on Clara. Clara
stepped softly. "Mr. Dale is asleep?"

"I hope so."

"Ah! dear friend."

Laetitia let her hand be pressed.

"Have you had a pleasant evening?"

"Mr. Whitford and papa have gone to the library."

"Colonel De Craye has been singing?"

"Yes--with a voice! I thought of you upstairs, but could not ask him to
sing piano."

"He is probably exhilarated."

"One would suppose it: he sang well."

"You are not aware of any reason?"

"It cannot concern me."

Clara was in rosy colour, but could meet a steady gaze.

"And Crossjay has gone to bed?"

"Long since. He was at dessert. He would not touch anything."

"He is a strange boy."

"Not very strange, Laetitia."

"He did not come to me to wish me good-night."

"That is not strange."

"It is his habit at the cottage and here; and he professes to like me."

"Oh, he does. I may have wakened his enthusiasm, but you he loves."

"Why do you say it is not strange, Clara?"

"He fears you a little."

"And why should Crossjay fear me?"

"Dear, I will tell you. Last night--You will forgive him, for it was by
accident: his own bed-room door was locked and he ran down to the
drawing-room and curled himself up on the ottoman, and fell asleep,
under that padded silken coverlet of the ladies--boots and all, I am

Laetitia profited by this absurd allusion, thanking Clara in her heart
for the refuge.

"He should have taken off his boots," she said.

"He slept there, and woke up. Dear, he meant no harm. Next day he
repeated what he had heard. You will blame him. He meant well in his
poor boy's head. And now it is over the county. Ah! do not frown."

"That explains Lady Busshe!" exclaimed Laetitia.

"Dear, dear friend," said Clara. "Why--I presume on your tenderness for
me; but let me: to-morrow I go--why will you reject your happiness?
Those kind good ladies are deeply troubled. They say your resolution
is inflexible; you resist their entreaties and your father's. Can it be
that you have any doubt of the strength of this attachment? I have
none. I have never had a doubt that it was the strongest of his
feelings. If before I go I could see you . . . both happy, I should be
relieved, I should rejoice."

Laetitia said, quietly: "Do you remember a walk we had one day together
to the cottage?"

Clara put up her hands with the motion of intending to stop her ears.

"Before I go!" said she. "If I might know this was to be, which all
desire, before I leave, I should not feel as I do now. I long to see
you happy . . . him, yes, him too. Is it like asking you to pay my
debt? Then, please! But, no; I am not more than partly selfish on this
occasion. He has won my gratitude. He can be really generous."

"An Egoist?"

"Who is?"

"You have forgotten our conversation on the day of our walk to the

"Help me to forget it--that day, and those days, and all those days! I
should be glad to think I passed a time beneath the earth, and have
risen again. I was the Egoist. I am sure, if I had been buried, I
should not have stood up seeing myself more vilely stained, soiled,
disfigured--oh! Help me to forget my conduct, Laetitia. He and I were
unsuited--and I remember I blamed myself then. You and he are not: and
now I can perceive the pride that can be felt in him. The worst that
can be said is that he schemes too much."

"Is there any fresh scheme?" said Laetitia.

The rose came over Clara's face.

"You have not heard? It was impossible, but it was kindly intended.
Judging by my own feeling at this moment, I can understand his. We love
to see our friends established."

Laetitia bowed. "My curiosity is piqued, of course."

"Dear friend, to-morrow we shall be parted. I trust to be thought of by
you as a little better in grain than I have appeared, and my reason for
trusting it is that I know I have been always honest--a boorish young
woman in my stupid mad impatience: but not insincere. It is no lofty
ambition to desire to be remembered in that character, but such is your
Clara, she discovers. I will tell you. It is his wish . . . his wish
that I should promise to give my hand to Mr. Whitford. You see the

Laetitia's eyes widened and fixed:

"You think it kindness?"

"The intention. He sent Mr. Whitford to me, and I was taught to expect

"Was that quite kind to Mr. Whitford?"

"What an impression I must have made on you during that walk to the
cottage, Laetitia! I do not wonder; I was in a fever."

"You consented to listen?"

"I really did. It astonishes me now, but I thought I could not refuse."

"My poor friend Vernon Whitford tried a love speech?"

"He? no: Oh! no."

"You discouraged him?"

"I? No."

"Gently, I mean."


"Surely you did not dream of trifling? He has a deep heart."

"Has he?"

"You ask that: and you know something of him."

"He did not expose it to me, dear; not even the surface of the mighty

Laetitia knitted her brows.

"No," said Clara, "not a coquette: she is not a coquette, I assure

With a laugh, Laetitia replied: "You have still the 'dreadful power'
you made me feel that day."

"I wish I could use it to good purpose!"

"He did not speak?"

"Of Switzerland, Tyrol, the Iliad, Antigone."

"That was all?"

"No, Political Economy. Our situation, you will own, was unexampled: or
mine was. Are you interested in me?"

"I should be if I knew your sentiments."

"I was grateful to Sir Willoughby: grieved for Mr. Whitford."

"Real grief?"

"Because the task unposed on him of showing me politely that he did not
enter into his cousin's ideas was evidently very great, extremely

"You, so quick-eyed in some things, Clara!"

"He felt for me. I saw that in his avoidance of. . . And he was, as he
always is, pleasant. We rambled over the park for I know not how long,
though it did not seem long."

"Never touching that subject?"

"Not ever neighbouring it, dear. A gentleman should esteem the girl he
would ask . . . certain questions. I fancy he has a liking for me as a
volatile friend."

"If he had offered himself?"

"Despising me?"

"You can be childish, Clara. Probably you delight to tease. He had his
time of it, and it is now my turn."

"But he must despise me a little."

"Are you blind?"

"Perhaps, dear, we both are, a little."

The ladies looked deeper into one another.

"Will you answer me?" said Laetitia.

"Your if? If he had, it would have been an act of condescension."

"You are too slippery."

"Stay, dear Laetitia. He was considerate in forbearing to pain me."

"That is an answer. You allowed him to perceive that it would have
pained you."

"Dearest, if I may convey to you what I was, in a simile for
comparison: I think I was like a fisherman's float on the water,
perfectly still, and ready to go down at any instant, or up. So much
for my behaviour."

"Similes have the merit of satisfying the finder of them, and cheating
the hearer," said Laetitia. "You admit that your feelings would have
been painful."

"I was a fisherman's float: please admire my simile; any way you like,
this way or that, or so quiet as to tempt the eyes to go to sleep. And
suddenly I might have disappeared in the depths, or flown in the air.
But no fish bit."

"Well, then, to follow you, supposing the fish or the fisherman, for I
don't know which is which . . . Oh! no, no: this is too serious for
imagery. I am to understand that you thanked him at least for his


"Without the slightest encouragement to him to break it?"

"A fisherman's float, Laetitia!"

Baffled and sighing, Laetitia kept silence for a space. The simile
chafed her wits with a suspicion of a meaning hidden in it.

"If he had spoken?" she said.

"He is too truthful a man."

"And the railings of men at pussy women who wind about and will not be
brought to a mark, become intelligible to me."

"Then Laetitia, if he had spoken, if, and one could have imagined him
sincere . . ."

"So truthful a man?"

"I am looking at myself If!--why, then, I should have burnt to death
with shame. Where have I read?--some story--of an inextinguishable
spark. That would have been shot into my heart."

"Shame, Clara? You are free."

"As much as remains of me."

"I could imagine a certain shame, in such a position, where there was
no feeling but pride."

"I could not imagine it where there was no feeling but pride."

Laetitia mused. "And you dwell on the kindness of a proposition so
extraordinary!" Gaining some light, impatiently she cried: "Vernon
loves you."

"Do not say it!"

"I have seen it."

"I have never had a sign of it."

"There is the proof."

"When it might have been shown again and again!"

"The greater proof!"

"Why did he not speak when he was privileged?--strangely, but

"He feared."


"Feared to wound you--and himself as well, possibly. Men may be
pardoned for thinking of themselves in these cases."

"But why should he fear?"

"That another was dearer to you?"

"What cause had I given . . . Ah I see! He could fear that; suspect it!
See his opinion of me! Can he care for such a girl? Abuse me, Laetitia.
I should like a good round of abuse. I need purification by fire. What
have I been in this house? I have a sense of whirling through it like a
madwoman. And to be loved, after it all!--No! we must be hearing a tale
of an antiquary prizing a battered relic of the battle-field that no
one else would look at. To be loved, I see, is to feel our littleness,
hollowness--feel shame. We come out in all our spots. Never to have
given me one sign, when a lover would have been so tempted! Let me be
incredulous, my own dear Laetitia. Because he is a man of honour, you
would say! But are you unconscious of the torture you inflict? For if I
am--you say it--loved by this gentleman, what an object it is he
loves--that has gone clamouring about more immodestly than women will
bear to hear of, and she herself to think of! Oh, I have seen my own
heart. It is a frightful spectre. I have seen a weakness in me that
would have carried me anywhere. And truly I shall be charitable to
women--I have gained that. But loved! by Vernon Whitford! The miserable
little me to be taken up and loved after tearing myself to pieces! Have
you been simply speculating? You have no positive knowledge of it! Why
do you kiss me?"

"Why do you tremble and blush so?"

Clara looked at her as clearly as she could. She bowed her head. "It
makes my conduct worse!"

She received a tenderer kiss for that. It was her avowal, and it was
understood: to know that she had loved or had been ready to love him,
shadowed her in the retrospect.

"Ah! you read me through and through," said Clara, sliding to her for a
whole embrace.

"Then there never was cause for him to fear?" Laetitia whispered.

Clara slid her head more out of sight. "Not that my heart . . . But I
said I have seen it; and it is unworthy of him. And if, as I think now,
I could have been so rash, so weak, wicked, unpardonable--such
thoughts were in me!--then to hear him speak would make it necessary
for me to uncover myself and tell him--incredible to you, yes!--that
while . . . yes, Laetitia, all this is true: and thinking of him as the
noblest of men, I could have welcomed any help to cut my knot. So
there," said Clara, issuing from her nest with winking eyelids, "you
see the pain I mentioned."

"Why did you not explain it to me at once?"

"Dearest, I wanted a century to pass."

"And you feel that it has passed?"

"Yes; in Purgatory--with an angel by me. My report of the place will be
favourable. Good angel, I have yet to say something."

"Say it, and expiate."

"I think I did fancy once or twice, very dimly, and especially to-day
. . . properly I ought not to have had any idea: but his coming to me,
and his not doing as another would have done, seemed . . . A gentleman
of real nobleness does not carry the common light for us to read him
by. I wanted his voice; but silence, I think, did tell me more: if a
nature like mine could only have had faith without bearing the rattle
of a tongue."

A knock at the door caused the ladies to exchange looks. Laetitia rose
as Vernon entered.

"I am just going to my father for a few minutes," she said.

"And I have just come from yours." Vernon said to Clara. She observed a
very threatening expression in him. The sprite of contrariety mounted
to her brain to indemnify her for her recent self-abasement. Seeing the
bedroom door shut on Laetitia, she said: "And of course papa has gone
to bed"; implying, "otherwise . . ."

"Yes, he has gone. He wished me well."

"His formula of good-night would embrace that wish."

"And failing, it will be good-night for good to me!"

Clara's breathing gave a little leap. "We leave early tomorrow."

"I know. I have an appointment at Bregenz for June."

"So soon? With papa?"

"And from there we break into Tyrol, and round away to the right,

"To the Italian Alps! And was it assumed that I should be of this

"Your father speaks dubiously."

"You have spoken of me, then?"

"I ventured to speak of you. I am not over-bold, as you know."

Her lovely eyes troubled the lids to hide their softness.

"Papa should not think of my presence with him dubiously."

"He leaves it to you to decide."

"Yes, then: many times: all that can be uttered."

"Do you consider what you are saying?"

"Mr. Whitford, I shut my eyes and say Yes."

"Beware. I give you one warning. If you shut your eyes . . ."

"Of course," she flew from him, "big mountains must be satisfied with
my admiration at their feet."

"That will do for a beginning."

"They speak encouragingly."

"One of them." Vernon's breast heaved high.

"To be at your feet makes a mountain of you?" said she.

"With the heart of a mouse if that satisfies me!"

"You tower too high; you are inaccessible."

"I give you a second warning. You may be seized and lifted."

"Some one would stoop, then."

"To plant you like the flag on the conquered peak!"

"You have indeed been talking to papa, Mr. Whitford."

Vernon changed his tone.

"Shall I tell you what he said?"

"I know his language so well."

"He said--"

"But you have acted on it?"

"Only partly. He said--"

"You will teach me nothing."

"He said . . ."

"Vernon, no! oh! not in this house!"

That supplication coupled with his name confessed the end to which her
quick vision perceived she was being led, where she would succumb.

She revived the same shrinking in him from a breath of their great word
yet: not here; somewhere in the shadow of the mountains.

But he was sure of her. And their hands might join. The two hands
thought so, or did not think, behaved like innocents.

The spirit of Dr. Middleton, as Clara felt, had been blown into Vernon,
rewarding him for forthright outspeaking. Over their books, Vernon had
abruptly shut up a volume and related the tale of the house. "Has this
man a spice of religion in him?" the Rev. Doctor asked midway. Vernon
made out a fair general case for his cousin in that respect. "The
complemental dot on his i of a commonly civilized human creature!" said
Dr. Middleton, looking at his watch and finding it too late to leave
the house before morning. The risky communication was to come. Vernon
was proceeding with the narrative of Willoughby's generous plan when
Dr. Middleton electrified him by calling out: "He whom of all men
living I should desire my daughter to espouse!" and Willoughby rose in
the Rev. Doctor's esteem: he praised that sensibly minded gentleman,
who could acquiesce in the turn of mood of a little maid, albeit
Fortune had withheld from him a taste of the switch at school. The
father of the little maid's appreciation of her volatility was
exhibited in his exhortation to Vernon to be off to her at once with
his authority to finish her moods and assure him of peace in the
morning. Vernon hesitated. Dr. Middleton remarked upon being not so
sure that it was not he who had done the mischief. Thereupon Vernon, to
prove his honesty, made his own story bare. "Go to her," said Dr.
Middleton. Vernon proposed a meeting in Switzerland, to which Dr.
Middleton assented, adding: "Go to her": and as he appeared a total
stranger to the decorum of the situation, Vernon put his delicacy
aside, and taking his heart up, obeyed. He too had pondered on Clara's
consent to meet him after she knew of Willoughby's terms, and her grave
sweet manner during the ramble over the park. Her father's breath had
been blown into him; so now, with nothing but the faith lying in
sensation to convince him of his happy fortune (and how unconvincing
that may be until the mind has grasped and stamped it, we experience
even then when we acknowledge that we are most blessed), he held her
hand. And if it was hard for him, for both, but harder for the man, to
restrain their particular word from a flight to heaven when the cage
stood open and nature beckoned, he was practised in self-mastery, and
she loved him the more.

Laetitia was a witness of their union of hands on her coming back to
the room.

They promised to visit her very early in the morning, neither of them
conceiving that they left her to a night of storm and tears.

She sat meditating on Clara's present appreciation of Sir Willoughby's



We cannot be abettors of the tribes of imps whose revelry is in the
frailties of our poor human constitution. They have their place and
their service, and so long as we continue to be what we are now, they
will hang on to us, restlessly plucking at the garments which cover our
nakedness, nor ever ceasing to twitch them and strain at them until
they have stripped us for one of their horrible Walpurgis nights: when
the laughter heard is of a character to render laughter frightful to
the ears of men throughout the remainder of their days. But if in these
festival hours under the beam of Hecate they are uncontrollable by the
Comic Muse, she will not flatter them with her presence during the
course of their insane and impious hilarities, whereof a description
would out-Brocken Brockens and make Graymalkin and Paddock too
intimately our familiars.

It shall suffice to say that from hour to hour of the midnight to the
grey-eyed morn, assisted at intervals by the ladies Eleanor and Isabel,
and by Mr. Dale awakened and re-awakened--hearing the vehemence of his
petitioning outcry to soften her obduracy--Sir Willoughby pursued
Laetitia with solicitations to espouse him, until the inveteracy of his
wooing wore the aspect of the life-long love he raved of aroused to a
state of mania. He appeared, he departed, he returned; and all the
while his imps were about him and upon him, riding him, prompting,
driving, inspiring him with outrageous pathos, an eloquence to move any
one but the dead, which its object seemed to be in her torpid
attention. He heard them, he talked to them, caressed them; he flung
them off, and ran from them, and stood vanquished for them to mount him
again and swarm on him. There are men thus imp-haunted. Men who,
setting their minds upon an object, must have it, breed imps. They are
noted for their singularities, as their converse with the invisible and
amazing distractions are called. Willoughby became aware of them that
night. He said to himself, upon one of his dashes into solitude: I
believe I am possessed! And if he did not actually believe it, but only
suspected it, or framed speech to account for the transformation he had
undergone into a desperately beseeching creature, having lost
acquaintance with his habitual personality, the operations of an impish
host had undoubtedly smitten his consciousness.

He had them in his brain: for while burning with an ardour for
Laetitia, that incited him to frantic excesses of language and
comportment, he was aware of shouts of the names of Lady Busshe and
Mrs. Mountstuart Jenkinson, the which, freezing him as they did, were
directly the cause of his hurrying to a wilder extravagance and more
headlong determination to subdue before break of day the woman he
almost dreaded to behold by daylight, though he had now passionately
persuaded himself of his love of her. He could not, he felt, stand in
the daylight without her. She was his morning. She was, he raved, his
predestinated wife. He cried, "Darling!" both to her and to solitude.
Every prescription of his ideal of demeanour as an example to his class
and country, was abandoned by the enamoured gentleman. He had lost
command of his countenance. He stooped so far as to kneel, and not
gracefully. Nay, it is in the chronicles of the invisible host around
him, that in a fit of supplication, upon a cry of "Laetitia!" twice
repeated, he whimpered.

Let so much suffice. And indeed not without reason do the multitudes of
the servants of the Muse in this land of social policy avoid scenes of
an inordinate wantonness, which detract from the dignity of our leaders
and menace human nature with confusion. Sagacious are they who conduct
the individual on broad lines, over familiar tracks, under well-known
characteristics. What men will do, and amorously minded men will do,
is less the question than what it is politic they should be shown to

The night wore through. Laetitia was bent, but had not yielded. She
had been obliged to say--and how many times she could not bear to
recollect: "I do not love you; I have no love to give"; and issuing
from such a night to look again upon the face of day, she scarcely felt
that she was alive.

The contest was renewed by her father with the singing of the birds.
Mr. Dale then produced the first serious impression she had received.
He spoke of their circumstances, of his being taken from her and
leaving her to poverty, in weak health; of the injury done to her
health by writing for bread; and of the oppressive weight he would be
relieved of by her consenting.

He no longer implored her; he put the case on common ground.

And he wound up: "Pray do not be ruthless, my girl."

The practical statement, and this adjuration incongruously to conclude
it, harmonized with her disordered understanding, her loss of all
sentiment and her desire to be kind. She sighed to herself. "Happily,
it is over!"

Her father was too weak to rise. He fell asleep. She was bound down to
the house for hours; and she walked through her suite, here at the
doors, there at the windows, thinking of Clara's remark "of a century
passing". She had not wished it, but a light had come on her to show
her what she would have supposed a century could not have effected: she
saw the impossible of overnight a possible thing: not desireable, yet
possible, wearing the features of the possible. Happily, she had
resisted too firmly to be again besought.

Those features of the possible once beheld allured the mind to
reconsider them. Wealth gives us the power to do good on earth. Wealth
enables us to see the world, the beautiful scenes of the earth.
Laetitia had long thirsted both for a dowering money-bag at her girdle,
and the wings to fly abroad over lands which had begun to seem fabulous
in her starved imagination. Then, moreover, if her sentiment for this
gentleman was gone, it was only a delusion gone; accurate sight and
knowledge of him would not make a woman the less helpful mate. That was
the mate he required: and he could be led. A sentimental attachment
would have been serviceless to him. Not so the woman allied by a purely
rational bond: and he wanted guiding. Happily, she had told him too
much of her feeble health and her lovelessness to be reduced to submit
to another attack.

She busied herself in her room, arranging for her departure, so that no
minutes might be lost after her father had breakfasted and dressed.

Clara was her earliest visitor, and each asked the other whether she
had slept, and took the answer from the face presented to her. The
rings of Laetitia's eyes were very dark. Clara was her mirror, and she
said: "A singular object to be persecuted through a night for her hand!
I know these two damp dead leaves I wear on my cheeks to remind me of
midnight vigils. But you have slept well, Clara."

"I have slept well, and yet I could say I have not slept at all,
Laetitia. I was with you, dear, part in dream and part in thought:
hoping to find you sensible before I go."

"Sensible. That is the word for me."

Laetitia briefly sketched the history of the night; and Clara said,
with a manifest sincerity that testified of her gratitude to Sir
Willoughby: "Could you resist him, so earnest as he is?" Laetitia saw
the human nature, without sourness: and replied, "I hope, Clara, you
will not begin with a large stock of sentiment, for there is nothing
like it for making you hard, matter-of-fact, worldly, calculating."

The next visitor was Vernon, exceedingly anxious for news of Mr. Dale.
Laetitia went into her father's room to obtain it for him. Returning,
she found them both with sad visages, and she ventured, in alarm for
them, to ask the cause.

"It's this," Vernon said: "Willoughby will everlastingly tease that boy
to be loved by him. Perhaps, poor fellow, he had an excuse last night.
Anyhow, he went into Crossjay's room this morning, woke him up and
talked to him, and set the lad crying, and what with one thing and
another Crossjay got a berry in his throat, as he calls it, and poured
out everything he knew and all he had done. I needn't tell you the
consequence. He has ruined himself here for good, so I must take him."

Vernon glanced at Clara. "You must indeed," said she. "He is my boy as
well as yours. No chance of pardon?"

"It's not likely."


"What can I do?"

"Oh! what can you not do?"

"I do not know."

"Teach him to forgive!"

Laetitia's brows were heavy and Clara forbore to torment her.

She would not descend to the family breakfast-table. Clara would fain
have stayed to drink tea with her in her own room, but a last act of
conformity was demanded of the liberated young lady. She promised to
run up the moment breakfast was over. Not unnaturally, therefore,
Laetitia supposed it to be she to whom she gave admission, half an hour
later, with a glad cry of, "Come in, dear."

The knock had sounded like Clara's.

Sir Willoughby entered.

He stepped forward. He seized her hands. "Dear!" he said.

"You cannot withdraw that. You call me dear. I am, I must be dear to
you. The word is out, by accident or not, but, by heaven, I have it and
I give it up to no one. And love me or not--marry me, and my love will
bring it back to you. You have taught me I am not so strong. I must
have you by my side. You have powers I did not credit you with."

"You are mistaken in me, Sir Willoughby." Laetitia said feebly, outworn
as she was.

"A woman who can resist me by declining to be my wife, through a whole
night of entreaty, has the quality I need for my house, and I will
batter at her ears for months, with as little rest as I had last night,
before I surrender my chance of her. But I told you last night I want
you within the twelve hours. I have staked my pride on it. By noon you
are mine: you are introduced to Mrs. Mountstuart as mine, as the lady
of my life and house. And to the world! I shall not let you go."

"You will not detain me here, Sir Willoughby?"

"I will detain you. I will use force and guile. I will spare nothing."

He raved for a term, as he had done overnight.

On his growing rather breathless, Laetitia said: "You do not ask me for

"I do not. I pay you the higher compliment of asking for you, love or
no love. My love shall be enough. Reward me or not. I am not used to be

"But do you know what you ask for? Do you remember what I told you of
myself? I am hard, materialistic; I have lost faith in romance, the
skeleton is present with me all over life. And my health is not good. I
crave for money. I should marry to be rich. I should not worship you. I
should be a burden, barely a living one, irresponsive and cold.
Conceive such a wife, Sir Willoughby!"

"It will be you!"

She tried to recall how this would have sung in her cars long back. Her
bosom rose and fell in absolute dejection. Her ammunition of arguments
against him had been expended overnight.

"You are so unforgiving," she said.

"Is it I who am?"

"You do not know me."

"But you are the woman of all the world who knows me, Laetitia."

"Can you think it better for you to be known?"

He was about to say other words: he checked them. "I believe I do not
know myself. Anything you will, only give me your hand; give it; trust
to me; you shall direct me. If I have faults, help me to obliterate

"Will you not expect me to regard them as the virtues of meaner men?"

"You will be my wife!"

Laetitia broke from him, crying: "Your wife, your critic! Oh, I cannot
think it possible. Send for the ladies. Let them hear me."

"They are at hand," said Willoughby, opening the door.

They were in one of the upper rooms anxiously on the watch.

"Dear ladies," Laetitia said to them, as they entered. "I am going to
wound you, and I grieve to do it: but rather now than later, if I am to
be your housemate. He asks me for a hand that cannot carry a heart,
because mine is dead. I repeat it. I used to think the heart a woman's
marriage portion for her husband. I see now that she may consent, and
he accept her, without one. But it is right that you should know what I
am when I consent. I was once a foolish, romantic girl; now I am a
sickly woman, all illusions vanished. Privation has made me what an
abounding fortune usually makes of others--I am an Egoist. I am not
deceiving you. That is my real character. My girl's view of him has
entirely changed; and I am almost indifferent to the change. I can
endeavour to respect him, I cannot venerate."

"Dear child!" the ladies gently remonstrated.

Willoughby motioned to them.

"If we are to live together, and I could very happily live with you,"
Laetitia continued to address them, "you must not be ignorant of me.
And if you, as I imagine, worship him blindly, I do not know how we are
to live together. And never shall you quit this house to make way for
me. I have a hard detective eye. I see many faults."

"Have we not all of us faults, dear child?"

"Not such as he has; though the excuses of a gentleman nurtured in
idolatry may be pleaded. But he should know that they are seen, and
seen by her he asks to be his wife, that no misunderstanding may exist,
and while it is yet time he may consult his feelings. He worships


"He is vindictive!"

"Our Willoughby?"

"That is not your opinion, ladies. It is firmly mine. Time has taught
it me. So, if you and I are at such variance, how can we live together?
It is an impossibility."

They looked at Willoughby. He nodded imperiously.

"We have never affirmed that our dear nephew is devoid of faults, if
he is offended . . . And supposing he claims to be foremost, is it not
his rightful claim, made good by much generosity? Reflect, dear
Laetitia. We are your friends too."

She could not chastise the kind ladies any further.

"You have always been my good friends."

"And you have no other charge against him?"

Laetitia was milder in saying, "He is unpardoning."

"Name one instance, Laetitia."

"He has turned Crossjay out of his house, interdicting the poor boy
ever to enter it again."

"Crossjay," said Willoughby, "was guilty of a piece of infamous

"Which is the cause of your persecuting me to become your wife!"

There was a cry of "Persecuting!"

"No young fellow behaving so basely can come to good," said Willoughby,
stained about the face with flecks of redness at the lashings he

"Honestly," she retorted. "He told of himself: and he must have
anticipated the punishment he would meet. He should have been studying
with a master for his profession. He has been kept here in comparative
idleness to be alternately petted and discarded: no one but Vernon
Whitford, a poor gentleman doomed to struggle for a livelihood by
literature--I know something of that struggle--too much for me!--no one
but Mr. Whitford for his friend."

"Crossjay is forgiven," said Willoughby.

"You promise me that?"

"He shall be packed off to a crammer at once."

"But my home must be Crossjay's home."

"You are mistress of my house, Laetitia."

She hesitated. Her eyelashes grew moist. "You can be generous."

"He is, dear child!" the ladies cried. "He is. Forget his errors, in
his generosity, as we do."

"There is that wretched man Flitch."

"That sot has gone about the county for years to get me a bad
character," said Willoughby.

"It would have been generous in you to have offered him another chance.
He has children."

"Nine. And I am responsible for them?"

"I speak of being generous."

"Dictate." Willoughby spread out his arms.

"Surely now you should be satisfied, Laetitia?" said the ladies.

"Is he?"

Willoughby perceived Mrs. Mountstuart's carriage coming down the

"To the full." He presented his hand.

She raised hers with the fingers catching back before she ceased to
speak and dropped it:--

"Ladies. You are witnesses that there is no concealment, there has been
no reserve, on my part. May Heaven grant me kinder eyes than I have
now. I would not have you change your opinion of him; only that you
should see how I read him. For the rest, I vow to do my duty by him.
Whatever is of worth in me is at his service. I am very tired. I feel I
must yield or break. This is his wish, and I submit."

"And I salute my wife," said Willoughby, making her hand his own, and
warming to his possession as he performed the act.

Mrs. Mountstuart's indecent hurry to be at the Hall before the
departure of Dr. Middleton and his daughter, afflicted him with visions
of the physical contrast which would be sharply perceptible to her this
morning of his Laetitia beside Clara.

But he had the lady with brains! He had: and he was to learn the nature
of that possession in the woman who is our wife.



"Plain sense upon the marriage question is my demand upon man and
woman, for the stopping of many a tragedy."

These were Dr. Middleton's words in reply to Willoughby's brief

He did not say that he had shown it parentally while the tragedy was
threatening, or at least there was danger of a precipitate descent from
the levels of comedy. The parents of hymeneal men and women he was
indisposed to consider as dramatis personae. Nor did he mention certain
sympathetic regrets he entertained in contemplation of the health of
Mr. Dale, for whom, poor gentleman, the proffer of a bottle of the
Patterne Port would be an egregious mockery. He paced about, anxious
for his departure, and seeming better pleased with the society of
Colonel De Craye than with that of any of the others. Colonel De Craye
assiduously courted him, was anecdotal, deferential, charmingly
vivacious, the very man the Rev. Doctor liked for company when plunged
in the bustle of the preliminaries to a journey.

"You would be a cheerful travelling comrade, sir," he remarked, and
spoke of his doom to lead his daughter over the Alps and Alpine lakes
for the Summer months.

Strange to tell, the Alps, for the Summer months, was a settled project
of the colonel's.

And thence Dr. Middleton was to be hauled along to the habitable
quarters of North Italy in high Summer-tide.

That also had been traced for a route on the map of Colonel De Craye.

"We are started in June, I am informed," said Dr. Middleton.

June, by miracle, was the month the colonel had fixed upon.

"I trust we shall meet, sir," said he.

"I would gladly reckon it in my catalogue of pleasures," the Rev.
Doctor responded; "for in good sooth it is conjecturable that I shall
be left very much alone."

"Paris, Strasburg, Basle?" the colonel inquired.

"The Lake of Constance, I am told," said Dr. Middleton. Colonel De
Craye spied eagerly for an opportunity of exchanging a pair of
syllables with the third and fairest party of this glorious expedition
to come.

Willoughby met him, and rewarded the colonel's frankness in stating
that he was on the look-out for Miss Middleton to take his leave of
her, by furnishing him the occasion. He conducted his friend Horace to
the Blue Room, where Clara and Laetitia were seated circling a half
embrace with a brook of chatter, and contrived an excuse for leading
Laetitia forth. Some minutes later Mrs. Mountstuart called aloud for
the colonel, to drive him away. Willoughby, whose good offices were
unabated by the services he performed to each in rotation, ushered her
into the Blue Room, hearing her say, as she stood at the entrance: "Is
the man coming to spend a day with me with a face like that?"

She was met and detained by Clara.

De Craye came out.

"What are you thinking of?" said Willoughby.

"I was thinking," said the colonel, "of developing a heart, like you,
and taking to think of others."

"At last!"

"Ay, you're a true friend, Willoughby, a true friend. And a cousin to

"What! has Clara been communicative?"

"The itinerary of a voyage Miss Middleton is going to make."

"Do you join them?"

"Why, it would be delightful, Willoughby, but it happens I've got a lot
of powder I want to let off, and so I've an idea of shouldering my gun
along the sea-coast and shooting gulls: which'll be a harmless form of
committing patricide and matricide and fratricide--for there's my
family, and I come of it!--the gull! And I've to talk lively to Mrs.
Mountstuart for something like a matter of twelve hours, calculating
that she goes to bed at midnight: and I wouldn't bet on it; such is the
energy of ladies of that age!"

Willoughby scorned the man who could not conceal a blow, even though he
joked over his discomfiture.

"Gull!" he muttered.

"A bird that's easy to be had, and better for stuffing than for
eating," said De Craye. "You'll miss your cousin."

"I have," replied Willoughby, "one fully equal to supplying his place."

There was confusion in the hall for a time, and an assembly of the
household to witness the departure of Dr. Middleton and his daughter.
Vernon had been driven off by Dr. Corney, who further recommended rest
for Mr. Dale, and promised to keep an eye for Crossjay along the road.

"I think you will find him at the station, and if you do, command him
to come straight back here," Laetitia said to Clara. The answer was an
affectionate squeeze, and Clara's hand was extended to Willoughby, who
bowed over it with perfect courtesy, bidding her adieu.

So the knot was cut. And the next carriage to Dr. Middleton's was Mrs.
Mountstuart's, conveying the great lady and Colonel De Craye.

"I beg you not to wear that face with me," she said to him.

"I have had to dissemble, which I hate, and I have quite enough to
endure, and I must be amused, or I shall run away from you and enlist
that little countryman of yours, and him I can count on to be
professionally restorative. Who can fathom the heart of a girl! Here
is Lady Busshe right once more! And I was wrong. She must be a gambler
by nature. I never should have risked such a guess as that. Colonel De
Craye, you lengthen your face preternaturally, you distort it

"Ma'am," returned De Craye, "the boast of our army is never to know
when we are beaten, and that tells of a great-hearted soldiery. But
there's a field where the Briton must own his defeat, whether smiling
or crying, and I'm not so sure that a short howl doesn't do him

"She was, I am certain, in love with Vernon Whitford all along.
Colonel De Craye!"

"Ah!" the colonel drank it in. "I have learnt that it was not the
gentleman in whom I am chiefly interested. So it was not so hard for
the lady to vow to friend Willoughby she would marry no one else?"

"Girls are unfathomable! And Lady Busshe--I know she did not go by
character--shot one of her random guesses, and she triumphs. We shall
never hear the last of it. And I had all the opportunities. I'm bound
to confess I had."

"Did you by chance, ma'am," De Craye said, with a twinkle, "drop a hint
to Willoughby of her turn for Vernon Whitford?"

"No," said Mrs. Mountstuart, "I'm not a mischief-maker; and the policy
of the county is to keep him in love with himself, or Patterne will be
likely to be as dull as it was without a lady enthroned. When his pride
is at ease he is a prince. I can read men. Now, Colonel De Craye, pray,
be lively."

"I should have been livelier, I'm afraid, if you had dropped a bit of a
hint to Willoughby. But you're the magnanimous person, ma'am, and
revenge for a stroke in the game of love shows us unworthy to win."

Mrs. Mountstuart menaced him with her parasol. "I forbid sentiments,
Colonel De Craye. They are always followed by sighs."

"Grant me five minutes of inward retirement, and I'll come out formed
for your commands, ma'am," said he.

Before the termination of that space De Craye was enchanting Mrs.
Mountstuart, and she in consequence was restored to her natural wit.

So, and much so universally, the world of his dread and his unconscious
worship wagged over Sir Willoughby Patterne and his change of brides,
until the preparations for the festivities of the marriage flushed him
in his county's eyes to something of the splendid glow he had worn on
the great day of his majority. That was upon the season when two lovers
met between the Swiss and Tyrol Alps over the Lake of Constance.
Sitting beside them the Comic Muse is grave and sisterly. But taking a
glance at the others of her late company of actors, she compresses her lips.

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