Part 3 out of 12
Sir Willoughby had positively said beware! Marrying him would be a deed
committed in spite of his express warning. She went so far as to
conceive him subsequently saying: "I warned you." She conceived the
state of marriage with him as that of a woman tied not to a man of
heart, but to an obelisk lettered all over with hieroglyphics, and
everlastingly hearing him expound them, relishing renewing his lectures
Full surely this immovable stone-man would not release her. This
petrifaction of egoism would from amazedly to austerely refuse the
petition. His pride would debar him from understanding her desire to be
released. And if she resolved on it, without doing it straightway in
Constantia's manner, the miserable bewilderment of her father, for whom
such a complication would be a tragic dilemma, had to be thought of.
Her father, with all his tenderness for his child, would make a stand
on the point of honour; though certain to yield to her, he would be
distressed in a tempest of worry; and Dr. Middleton thus afflicted
threw up his arms, he shunned books, shunned speech, and resembled a
castaway on the ocean, with nothing between himself and his calamity.
As for the world, it would be barking at her heels. She might call the
man she wrenched her hand from, Egoist; jilt, the world would call her.
She dwelt bitterly on her agreement with Sir Willoughby regarding the
world, laying it to his charge that her garden had become a place of
nettles, her horizon an unlighted fourth side of a square.
Clara passed from person to person visiting the Hall. There was
universal, and as she was compelled to see, honest admiration of the
host. Not a soul had a suspicion of his cloaked nature. Her agony of
hypocrisy in accepting their compliments as the bride of Sir Willoughby
Patterne was poorly moderated by contempt of them for their
infatuation. She tried to cheat herself with the thought that they were
right and that she was the foolish and wicked inconstant. In her
anxiety to strangle the rebelliousness which had been communicated from
her mind to her blood, and was present with her whether her mind was in
action or not, she encouraged the ladies Eleanor and Isabel to magnify
the fictitious man of their idolatry, hoping that she might enter into
them imaginatively, that she might to some degree subdue herself to the
necessity of her position. If she partly succeeded in stupefying her
antagonism, five minutes of him undid the work.
He requested her to wear the Patterne pearls for a dinner-party of
grand ladies, telling her that he would commission Miss Isabel to take
them to her. Clara begged leave to decline them, on the plea of having
no right to wear them. He laughed at her modish modesty. "But really
it might almost be classed with affectation," said he. "I give you the
right. Virtually you are my wife."
"No. We are not married."
"As my betrothed, will you wear them, to please me?"
"I would rather not. I cannot wear borrowed jewels. These I cannot
wear. Forgive me, I cannot. And, Willoughby," she said, scorning
herself for want of fortitude in not keeping to the simply blunt
provocative refusal, "does one not look like a victim decked for the
sacrifice?--the garlanded heifer you see on Greek vases, in that array
"My dear Clara!" exclaimed the astonished lover, "how can you term them
borrowed, when they are the Patterne jewels, our family heirloom
pearls, unmatched, I venture to affirm, decidedly in my county and many
others, and passing to the use of the mistress of the house in the
natural course of things?"
"They are yours, they are not mine."
"Prospectively they are yours."
"It would be to anticipate the fact to wear them."
"With my consent, my approval? at my request?"
"I am not yet . . . I never may be . . ."
"My wife?" He laughed triumphantly, and silenced her by manly
Her scruple was perhaps an honourable one, he said. Perhaps the jewels
were safer in their iron box. He had merely intended a surprise and
gratification to her.
Courage was coming to enable her to speak more plainly, when his
discontinuing to insist on her wearing the jewels, under an appearance
of deference of her wishes, disarmed her by touching her sympathies.
She said, however, "I fear we do not often agree, Willoughby."
"When you are a little older!" was the irritating answer.
"It would then be too late to make the discovery."
"The discovery, I apprehend, is not imperative, my love."
"It seems to me that our minds are opposed."
"I should," said he, "have been awake to it at a single indication, be
"But I know," she pursued, "I have learned that the ideal of conduct
for women is to subject their minds to the part of an accompaniment."
"For women, my love? my wife will be in natural harmony with me."
"Ah!" She compressed her lips. The yawn would come. "I am sleepier here
"Ours, my Clara, is the finest air of the kingdom. It has the effect of
"But if I am always asleep here?"
"We shall have to make a public exhibition of the Beauty."
This dash of his liveliness defeated her.
She left him, feeling the contempt of the brain feverishly quickened
and fine-pointed, for the brain chewing the cud in the happy pastures
of unawakedness. So violent was the fever, so keen her introspection,
that she spared few, and Vernon was not among them. Young Crossjay,
whom she considered the least able of all to act as an ally, was the
only one she courted with a real desire to please him, he was the one
she affectionately envied; he was the youngest, the freest, he had the
world before him, and he did not know how horrible the world was, or
could be made to look. She loved the boy from expecting nothing of him.
Others, Vernon Whitford, for instance, could help, and moved no hand.
He read her case. A scrutiny so penetrating under its air of abstract
thoughtfulness, though his eyes did but rest on her a second or two,
signified that he read her line by line, and to the end--excepting
what she thought of him for probing her with that sharp steel of
insight without a purpose.
She knew her mind's injustice. It was her case, her lamentable
case--the impatient panic-stricken nerves of a captured wild creature
which cried for help. She exaggerated her sufferings to get strength to
throw them off, and lost it in the recognition that they were
exaggerated: and out of the conflict issued recklessness, with a cry as
wild as any coming of madness; for she did not blush in saying to
herself. "If some one loved me!" Before hearing of Constantia, she had
mused upon liberty as a virgin Goddess--men were out of her thoughts;
even the figure of a rescuer, if one dawned in her mind, was more angel
than hero. That fair childish maidenliness had ceased. With her body
straining in her dragon's grasp, with the savour of loathing, unable to
contend, unable to speak aloud, she began to speak to herself, and all
the health of her nature made her outcry womanly: "If I were
loved!"--not for the sake of love, but for free breathing; and her
utterance of it was to insure life and enduringness to the wish, as the
yearning of a mother on a drowning ship is to get her infant to shore.
"If some noble gentleman could see me as I am and not disdain to aid
me! Oh! to be caught up out of this prison of thorns and brambles. I
cannot tear my own way out. I am a coward. My cry for help confesses
that. A beckoning of a finger would change me, I believe. I could fly
bleeding and through hootings to a comrade. Oh! a comrade! I do not
want a lover. I should find another Egoist, not so bad, but enough to
make me take a breath like death. I could follow a soldier, like poor
Sally or Molly. He stakes his life for his country, and a woman may be
proud of the worst of men who do that. Constantia met a soldier.
Perhaps she prayed and her prayer was answered. She did ill. But, oh,
how I love her for it! His name was Harry Oxford. Papa would call him
her Perseus. She must have felt that there was no explaining what she
suffered. She had only to act, to plunge. First she fixed her mind on
Harry Oxford. To be able to speak his name and see him awaiting her,
must have been relief, a reprieve. She did not waver, she cut the
links, she signed herself over. Oh, brave girl! what do you think of
me? But I have no Harry Whitford, I am alone. Let anything be said
against women; we must be very bad to have such bad things written of
us: only, say this, that to ask them to sign themselves over by oath
and ceremony, because of an ignorant promise, to the man they have been
mistaken in, is . . . it is--" the sudden consciousness that she had
put another name for Oxford, struck her a buffet, drowning her in
THE DOUBLE-BLOSSOM WILD CHERRY-TREE
Sir Willoughby chose a moment when Clara was with him and he had a good
retreat through folding-windows to the lawn, in case of cogency on the
enemy's part, to attack his cousin regarding the preposterous plot to
upset the family by a scamper to London: "By the way, Vernon, what is
this you've been mumbling to everybody save me, about leaving us to
pitch yourself into the stew-pot and be made broth of? London is no
better, and you are fit for considerably better. Don't, I beg you,
continue to annoy me. Take a run abroad, if you are restless. Take two
or three months, and join us as we are travelling home; and then think
of settling, pray. Follow my example, if you like. You can have one of
my cottages, or a place built for you. Anything to keep a man from
destroying the sense of stability about one. In London, my dear old
fellow, you lose your identity. What are you there? I ask you, what?
One has the feeling of the house crumbling when a man is perpetually
for shifting and cannot fix himself. Here you are known, you can study
at your ease; up in London you are nobody; I tell you honestly, I feel
it myself, a week of London literally drives me home to discover the
individual where I left him. Be advised. You don't mean to go."
"I have the intention," said Vernon.
"I've mentioned it to you."
"To my face?"
"Over your shoulder is generally the only chance you give me."
"You have not mentioned it to me, to my knowledge. As to the reason, I
might hear a dozen of your reasons, and I should not understand one.
It's against your interests and against my wishes. Come, friend, I am
not the only one you distress. Why, Vernon, you yourself have said that
the English would be very perfect Jews if they could manage to live on
the patriarchal system. You said it, yes, you said it!--but I recollect
it clearly. Oh, as for your double-meanings, you said the thing, and
you jeered at the incapacity of English families to live together, on
account of bad temper; and now you are the first to break up our union!
I decidedly do not profess to be a perfect Jew, but I do . . ."
Sir Willoughby caught signs of a probably smiling commerce between his
bride and his cousin. He raised his face, appeared to be consulting his
eyelids, and resolved to laugh: "Well, I own it. I do like the idea of
living patriarchally." He turned to Clara. "The Rev. Doctor one of
"My father?" she said.
"Papa's habits are those of a scholar."
"That you might not be separated from him, my dear!"
Clara thanked Sir Willoughby for the kindness of thinking of her
father, mentally analysing the kindness, in which at least she found no
unkindness, scarcely egoism, though she knew it to be there.
"We might propose it," said he.
"As a compliment?"
"If he would condescend to accept it as a compliment. These great
scholars! . . . And if Vernon goes, our inducement for Dr. Middleton to
stay . . . But it is too absurd for discussion . . . Oh, Vernon, about
Master Crossjay; I will see to it."
He was about to give Vernon his shoulder and step into the garden, when
Clara said, "You will have Crossjay trained for the navy, Willoughby?
There is not a day to lose."
"Yes, yes; I will see to it. Depend on me for holding the young rascal
He presented his hand to her to lead her over the step to the gravel,
surprised to behold how flushed she was.
She responded to the invitation by putting her hand forth from a bent
elbow, with hesitating fingers. "It should not be postponed,
Her attitude suggested a stipulation before she touched him.
"It's an affair of money, as you know, Willoughby," said Vernon. "If
I'm in London, I can't well provide for the boy for some time to come,
or it's not certain that I can."
"Why on earth should you go?"
"That's another matter. I want you to take my place with him."
"In which case the circumstances are changed. I am responsible for him,
and I have a right to bring him up according to my own prescription."
"We are likely to have one idle lout the more."
"I guarantee to make a gentleman of him."
"We have too many of your gentlemen already."
"You can't have enough, my good Vernon."
"They're the national apology for indolence. Training a penniless boy
to be one of them is nearly as bad as an education in a thieves' den;
he will be just as much at war with society, if not game for the
"Vernon, have you seen Crossjay's father, the now Captain of Marines? I
think you have."
"He's a good man and a very gallant officer."
"And in spite of his qualities he's a cub, and an old cub. He is a
captain now, but he takes that rank very late, you will own. There you
have what you call a good man, undoubtedly a gallant officer,
neutralized by the fact that he is not a gentleman. Holding intercourse
with him is out of the question. No wonder Government declines to
advance him rapidly. Young Crossjay does not bear your name. He bears
mine, and on that point alone I should have a voice in the settlement
of his career. And I say emphatically that a drawing-room approval of a
young man is the best certificate for his general chances in life. I
know of a City of London merchant of some sort, and I know a firm of
lawyers, who will have none but University men at their office; at
least, they have the preference."
"Crossjay has a bullet head, fit neither for the University nor the
drawing-room," said Vernon; "equal to fighting and dying for you, and
Sir Willoughby contented himself with replying, "The lad is a favourite
His anxiety to escape a rejoinder caused him to step into the garden,
leaving Clara behind him. "My love!" said he, in apology, as he turned
to her. She could not look stern, but she had a look without a dimple
to soften it, and her eyes shone. For she had wagered in her heart that
the dialogue she provoked upon Crossjay would expose the Egoist. And
there were other motives, wrapped up and intertwisted, unrecognizable,
sufficient to strike her with worse than the flush of her
self-knowledge of wickedness when she detained him to speak of Crossjay
At last it had been seen that she was conscious of suffering in her
association with this Egoist! Vernon stood for the world taken into her
confidence. The world, then, would not think so ill of her, she thought
hopefully, at the same time that she thought most evilly of herself.
But self-accusations were for the day of reckoning; she would and must
have the world with her, or the belief that it was coming to her, in
the terrible struggle she foresaw within her horizon of self, now her
utter boundary. She needed it for the inevitable conflict. Little
sacrifices of her honesty might be made. Considering how weak she was,
how solitary, how dismally entangled, daily disgraced beyond the power
of any veiling to conceal from her fiery sensations, a little hypocrisy
was a poor girl's natural weapon. She crushed her conscientious mind
with the assurance that it was magnifying trifles: not entirely unaware
that she was thereby preparing it for a convenient blindness in the
presence of dread alternatives; but the pride of laying such stress on
small sins gave her purity a blush of pleasure and overcame the inner
warning. In truth she dared not think evilly of herself for long,
sailing into battle as she was. Nuns and anchorites may; they have
leisure. She regretted the forfeits she had to pay for self-assistance,
and, if it might be won, the world's; regretted, felt the peril of the
loss, and took them up and flung them.
"You see, old Vernon has no argument," Willoughby said to her.
He drew her hand more securely on his arm to make her sensible that she
leaned on a pillar of strength.
"Whenever the little brain is in doubt, perplexed, undecided which
course to adopt, she will come to me, will she not? I shall always
listen," he resumed, soothingly. "My own! and I to you when the world
vexes me. So we round our completeness. You will know me; you will know
me in good time. I am not a mystery to those to whom I unfold myself. I
do not pretend to mystery: yet, I will confess, your home--your
heart's--Willoughby is not exactly identical with the Willoughby before
the world. One must be armed against that rough beast."
Certain is the vengeance of the young upon monotony; nothing more
certain. They do not scheme it, but sameness is a poison to their
systems; and vengeance is their heartier breathing, their stretch of
the limbs, run in the fields; nature avenges them.
"When does Colonel De Craye arrive?" said Clara.
"Horace? In two or three days. You wish him to be on the spot to learn
his part, my love?"
She had not flown forward to the thought of Colonel De Craye's arrival;
she knew not why she had mentioned him; but now she flew back, shocked,
first into shadowy subterfuge, and then into the criminal's dock.
"I do not wish him to be here. I do not know that he has a part to
learn. I have no wish. Willoughby, did you not say I should come to you
and you would listen?--will you listen? I am so commonplace that I
shall not be understood by you unless you take my words for the very
meaning of the words. I am unworthy. I am volatile. I love my liberty.
I want to be free . . ."
"Flitch!" he called.
It sounded necromantic.
"Pardon me, my love," he said. "The man you see yonder violates my
express injunction that he is not to come on my grounds, and here I
find him on the borders of my garden!"
Sir Willoughby waved his hand to the abject figure of a man standing to
"Volatile, unworthy, liberty--my dearest!" he bent to her when the man
had appeased him by departing, "you are at liberty within the law, like
all good women; I shall control and direct your volatility; and your
sense of worthiness must be re-established when we are more intimate;
it is timidity. The sense of unworthiness is a guarantee of worthiness
ensuing. I believe I am in the vein of a sermon! Whose the fault? The
sight of that man was annoying. Flitch was a stable-boy, groom, and
coachman, like his father before him, at the Hall thirty years; his
father died in our service. Mr. Flitch had not a single grievance here;
only one day the demon seizes him with the notion of bettering himself
he wants his independence, and he presents himself to me with a story
of a shop in our county town.--Flitch! remember, if you go you go for
good.--Oh, he quite comprehended.--Very well; good-bye, Flitch;--the
man was respectful: he looked the fool he was very soon to turn out to
be. Since then, within a period of several years, I have had him,
against my express injunctions, ten times on my grounds. It's curious
to calculate. Of course the shop failed, and Flitch's independence
consists in walking about with his hands in his empty pockets, and
looking at the Hall from some elevation near."
"Is he married? Has he children?" said Clara.
"Nine; and a wife that cannot cook or sew or wash linen."
"You could not give him employment?"
"After his having dismissed himself?"
"It might be overlooked."
"Here he was happy. He decided to go elsewhere, to be free--of course,
of my yoke. He quitted my service against my warning. Flitch, we will
say, emigrated with his wife and children, and the ship foundered. He
returns, but his place is filled; he is a ghost here, and I object to
"Some work might be found for him."
"It will be the same with old Vernon, my dear. If he goes, he goes for
good. It is the vital principle of my authority to insist on that. A
dead leaf might as reasonably demand to return to the tree. Once off,
off for all eternity! I am sorry, but such was your decision, my
friend. I have, you see, Clara, elements in me--"
"Exert your persuasive powers with Vernon. You can do well-nigh what
you will with the old fellow. We have Miss Dale this evening for a week
or two. Lead him to some ideas of her.--Elements in me, I was
remarking, which will no more bear to be handled carelessly than
gunpowder. At the same time, there is no reason why they should not be
respected, managed with some degree of regard for me and attention to
consequences. Those who have not done so have repented."
"You do not speak to others of the elements in you," said Clara.
"I certainly do not: I have but one bride," was his handsome reply.
"Is it fair to me that you should show me the worst of you?"
"All myself, my own?"
His ingratiating droop and familiar smile rendered "All myself" so
affectionately meaningful in its happy reliance upon her excess of
love, that at last she understood she was expected to worship him and
uphold him for whatsoever he might be, without any estimation of
qualities: as indeed love does, or young love does: as she perhaps did
once, before he chilled her senses. That was before her "little brain"
had become active and had turned her senses to revolt.
It was on the full river of love that Sir Willoughby supposed the whole
floating bulk of his personality to be securely sustained; and
therefore it was that, believing himself swimming at his ease, he
discoursed of himself.
She went straight away from that idea with her mental exclamation:
"Why does he not paint himself in brighter colours to me!" and the
question: "Has he no ideal of generosity and chivalry?"
But the unfortunate gentleman imagined himself to be loved, on Love's
very bosom. He fancied that everything relating to himself excited
maidenly curiosity, womanly reverence, ardours to know more of him,
which he was ever willing to satisfy by repeating the same things. His
notion of women was the primitive black and white: there are good
women, bad women; and he possessed a good one. His high opinion of
himself fortified the belief that Providence, as a matter of justice
and fitness, must necessarily select a good one for him--or what are we
to think of Providence? And this female, shaped by that informing
hand, would naturally be in harmony with him, from the centre of his
profound identity to the raying circle of his variations. Know the
centre, you know the circle, and you discover that the variations are
simply characteristics, but you must travel on the rays from the circle
to get to the centre. Consequently Sir Willoughby put Miss Middleton on
one or other of these converging lines from time to time. Us, too, he
drags into the deeps, but when we have harpooned a whale and are
attached to the rope, down we must go; the miracle is to see us rise
Women of mixed essences shading off the divine to the considerably
lower were outside his vision of woman. His mind could as little admit
an angel in pottery as a rogue in porcelain. For him they were what
they were when fashioned at the beginning; many cracked, many stained,
here and there a perfect specimen designed for the elect of men. At a
whisper of the world he shut the prude's door on them with a slam;
himself would have branded them with the letters in the hue of fire.
Privately he did so; and he was constituted by his extreme
sensitiveness and taste for ultra-feminine refinement to be a severe
critic of them during the carnival of egoism, the love-season.
Constantia . . . can it be told? She had been, be it said, a fair and
frank young merchant with him in that season; she was of a nature to be
a mother of heroes; she met the salute, almost half-way, ingenuously
unlike the coming mothers of the regiments of marionettes, who retire
in vapours, downcast, as by convention; ladies most flattering to the
egoistical gentleman, for they proclaim him the "first". Constantia's
offence had been no greater, but it was not that dramatic performance
of purity which he desired of an affianced lady, and so the offence was
The love-season is the carnival of egoism, and it brings the touchstone
to our natures. I speak of love, not the mask, and not of the flutings
upon the theme of love, but of the passion; a flame having, like our
mortality, death in it as well as life, that may or may not be lasting.
Applied to Sir Willoughby, as to thousands of civilized males, the
touchstone found him requiring to be dealt with by his betrothed as an
original savage. She was required to play incessantly on the first
reclaiming chord which led our ancestral satyr to the measures of the
dance, the threading of the maze, and the setting conformably to his
partner before it was accorded to him to spin her with both hands and a
chirrup of his frisky heels. To keep him in awe and hold him enchained,
there are things she must never do, dare never say, must not think. She
must be cloistral. Now, strange and awful though it be to hear, women
perceive this requirement of them in the spirit of the man; they
perceive, too, and it may be gratefully, that they address their
performances less to the taming of the green and prankish monsieur of
the forest than to the pacification of a voracious aesthetic gluttony,
craving them insatiably, through all the tenses, with shrieks of the
lamentable letter "I" for their purity. Whether they see that it has
its foundation in the sensual, and distinguish the ultra-refined but
lineally great-grandson of the Hoof in this vast and dainty exacting
appetite is uncertain. They probably do not; the more the damage; for
in the appeasement of the glutton they have to practise much
simulation; they are in their way losers like their ancient mothers. It
is the palpable and material of them still which they are tempted to
flourish, wherewith to invite and allay pursuit: a condition under
which the spiritual, wherein their hope lies, languishes. The
capaciously strong in soul among women will ultimately detect an
infinite grossness in the demand for purity infinite, spotless bloom.
Earlier or later they see they have been victims of the singular
Egoist, have worn a mask of ignorance to be named innocent, have turned
themselves into market produce for his delight, and have really
abandoned the commodity in ministering to the lust for it, suffered
themselves to be dragged ages back in playing upon the fleshly
innocence of happy accident to gratify his jealous greed of possession,
when it should have been their task to set the soul above the fairest
fortune and the gift of strength in women beyond ornamental whiteness.
Are they not of nature warriors, like men?--men's mates to bear them
heroes instead of puppets? But the devouring male Egoist prefers them
as inanimate overwrought polished pure metal precious vessels, fresh
from the hands of the artificer, for him to walk away with hugging,
call all his own, drink of, and fill and drink of, and forget that he
This running off on a by-road is no deviation from Sir Willoughby
Patterne and Miss Clara Middleton. He, a fairly intelligent man, and
very sensitive, was blinded to what was going on within her visibly
enough, by her production of the article he demanded of her sex. He had
to leave the fair young lady to ride to his county-town, and his design
was to conduct her through the covert of a group of laurels, there to
revel in her soft confusion. She resisted; nay, resolutely returned to
the lawn-sward. He contrasted her with Constantia in the amorous time,
and rejoiced in his disappointment. He saw the goddess Modesty guarding
Purity; and one would be bold to say that he did not hear the Precepts,
Purity's aged grannams maternal and paternal, cawing approval of her
over their munching gums. And if you ask whether a man, sensitive and a
lover, can be so blinded, you are condemned to re-peruse the foregoing
Miss Middleton was not sufficiently instructed in the position of her
sex to know that she had plunged herself in the thick of the strife of
one of their great battles. Her personal position, however, was
instilling knowledge rapidly, as a disease in the frame teaches us what
we are and have to contend with. Could she marry this man? He was
evidently manageable. Could she condescend to the use of arts in
managing him to obtain a placable life?--a horror of swampy flatness!
So vividly did the sight of that dead heaven over an unvarying level
earth swim on her fancy, that she shut her eyes in angry exclusion of
it as if it were outside, assailing her; and she nearly stumbled upon
"Oh, have I hurt you?" he cried.
"No," said she, "it was my fault. Lead me somewhere away from
The boy took her hand, and she resumed her thoughts; and, pressing his
fingers and feeling warm to him both for his presence and silence, so
does the blood in youth lead the mind, even cool and innocent blood,
even with a touch, that she said to herself, "And if I marry, and then
. . . Where will honour be then? I marry him to be true to my word of
honour, and if then . . . !" An intolerable languor caused her to sigh
profoundly. It is written as she thought it; she thought in blanks, as
girls do, and some women. A shadow of the male Egoist is in the chamber
of their brains overawing them.
"Were I to marry, and to run!" There is the thought; she is offered up
to your mercy. We are dealing with a girl feeling herself desperately
situated, and not a fool.
"I'm sure you're dead tired, though," said Crossjay.
"No, I am not; what makes you think so?" said Clara.
"I do think so."
"But why do you think so?"
"You're so hot."
"What makes you think that?"
"You're so red."
"So are you, Crossjay."
"I'm only red in the middle of the cheeks, except when I've been
running. And then you talk to yourself, just as boys do when they are
"They say: 'I know I could have kept up longer', or, 'my buckle broke',
all to themselves, when they break down running."
"And you have noticed that?"
"And, Miss Middleton, I don't wish you were a boy, but I should like to
live near you all my life and be a gentleman. I'm coming with Miss Dale
this evening to stay at the Hall and be looked after, instead of
stopping with her cousin who takes care of her father. Perhaps you and
I'll play chess at night."
"At night you will go to bed, Crossjay."
"Not if I have Sir Willoughby to catch hold of. He says I'm an
authority on birds' eggs. I can manage rabbits and poultry. Isn't a
farmer a happy man? But he doesn't marry ladies. A cavalry officer has
the best chance."
"But you are going to be a naval officer."
"I don't know. It's not positive. I shall bring my two dormice, and
make them perform gymnastics on the dinnertable. They're such dear
little things. Naval officers are not like Sir Willoughby."
"No, they are not," said Clara, "they give their lives to their
"And then they're dead," said Crossjay.
Clara wished Sir Willoughby were confronting her: she could have
She asked the boy where Mr. Whitford was. Crossjay pointed very
secretly in the direction of the double-blossom wild-cherry. Coming
within gaze of the stem, she beheld Vernon stretched at length,
reading, she supposed; asleep, she discovered: his finger in the leaves
of a book; and what book? She had a curiosity to know the title of the
book he would read beneath these boughs, and grasping Crossjay's hand
fast she craned her neck, as one timorous of a fall in peeping over
chasms, for a glimpse of the page; but immediately, and still with a
bent head, she turned her face to where the load of virginal blossom,
whiter than summer-cloud on the sky, showered and drooped and clustered
so thick as to claim colour and seem, like higher Alpine snows in
noon-sunlight, a flush of white. From deep to deeper heavens of white,
her eyes perched and soared. Wonder lived in her. Happiness in the
beauty of the tree pressed to supplant it, and was more mortal and
narrower. Reflection came, contracting her vision and weighing her to
earth. Her reflection was: "He must be good who loves to be and sleep
beneath the branches of this tree!" She would rather have clung to her
first impression: wonder so divine, so unbounded, was like soaring into
homes of angel-crowded space, sweeping through folded and on to folded
white fountain-bow of wings, in innumerable columns; but the thought of
it was no recovery of it; she might as well have striven to be a child.
The sensation of happiness promised to be less short-lived in memory,
and would have been had not her present disease of the longing for
happiness ravaged every corner of it for the secret of its existence.
The reflection took root. "He must be good . . . !" That reflection
vowed to endure. Poor by comparison with what it displaced, it
presented itself to her as conferring something on him, and she would
not have had it absent though it robbed her.
She looked down. Vernon was dreamily looking up.
She plucked Crossjay hurriedly away, whispering that he had better not
wake Mr. Whitford, and then she proposed to reverse their previous
chase, and she be the hound and he the hare. Crossjay fetched a
magnificent start. On his glancing behind he saw Miss Middleton walking
listlessly, with a hand at her side.
"There's a regular girl!" said he in some disgust; for his theory was,
that girls always have something the matter with them to spoil a game.
MISS MIDDLETON AND MR. VERNON WHITFORD
Looking upward, not quite awakened out of a transient doze, at a fair
head circled in dazzling blossom, one may temporize awhile with common
sense, and take it for a vision after the eyes have regained direction
of the mind. Vernon did so until the plastic vision interwound with
reality alarmingly. This is the embrace of a Melusine who will soon
have the brain if she is encouraged. Slight dalliance with her makes
the very diminutive seem as big as life. He jumped to his feet, rattled
his throat, planted firmness on his brows and mouth, and attacked the
dream-giving earth with tremendous long strides, that his blood might
be lively at the throne of understanding. Miss Middleton and young
Crossjay were within hail: it was her face he had seen, and still the
idea of a vision, chased from his reasonable wits, knocked hard and
again for readmission. There was little for a man of humble mind
toward the sex to think of in the fact of a young lady's bending rather
low to peep at him asleep, except that the poise of her slender figure,
between an air of spying and of listening, vividly recalled his
likening of her to the Mountain Echo. Man or maid sleeping in the open
air provokes your tiptoe curiosity. Men, it is known, have in that
state cruelly been kissed; and no rights are bestowed on them, they are
teased by a vapourish rapture; what has happened to them the poor
fellows barely divine: they have a crazy step from that day. But a
vision is not so distracting; it is our own, we can put it aside and
return to it, play at rich and poor with it, and are not to be summoned
before your laws and rules for secreting it in our treasury. Besides,
it is the golden key of all the possible; new worlds expand beneath the
dawn it brings us. Just outside reality, it illumines, enriches and
softens real things;--and to desire it in preference to the simple fact
is a damning proof of enervation.
Such was Vernon's winding up of his brief drama of fantasy. He was
aware of the fantastical element in him and soon had it under. Which
of us who is of any worth is without it? He had not much vanity to
trouble him, and passion was quiet, so his task was not gigantic.
Especially be it remarked, that he was a man of quick pace, the
sovereign remedy for the dispersing of the mental fen-mist. He had
tried it and knew that nonsense is to be walked off
Near the end of the park young Crossjay overtook him, and after acting
the pumped one a trifle more than needful, cried: "I say, Mr. Whitford,
there's Miss Middleton with her handkerchief out."
"What for, my lad?" said Vernon.
"I'm sure I don't know. All of a sudden she bumped down. And, look what
fellows girls are!--here she comes as if nothing had happened, and I
saw her feel at her side."
Clara was shaking her head to express a denial. "I am not at all
unwell," she said, when she came near. "I guessed Crossjay's business
in running up to you; he's a good-for-nothing, officious boy. I was
tired, and rested for a moment."
Crossjay peered at her eyelids. Vernon looked away and said: "Are you
too tired for a stroll?"
"Shall it be brisk?"
"You have the lead."
He led at a swing of the legs that accelerated young Crossjay's to the
double, but she with her short, swift, equal steps glided along easily
on a fine by his shoulder, and he groaned to think that of all the
girls of earth this one should have been chosen for the position of
"You won't tire me," said she, in answer to his look.
"You remind me of the little Piedmontese Bersaglieri on the march."
"I have seen them trotting into Como from Milan."
"They cover a quantity of ground in a day, if the ground's flat. You
want another sort of step for the mountains."
"I should not attempt to dance up."
"They soon tame romantic notions of them."
"The mountains tame luxurious dreams, you mean. I see how they are
conquered. I can plod. Anything to be high up!"
"Well, there you have the secret of good work: to plod on and still
keep the passion fresh."
"Yes, when we have an aim in view."
"We always have one."
"More than the rest of us."
Ignorant man! What of wives miserably wedded? What aim in view have
these most woeful captives? Horror shrouds it, and shame reddens
through the folds to tell of innermost horror.
"Take me back to the mountains, if you please, Mr. Whitford," Miss
Middleton said, fallen out of sympathy with him. "Captives have death
in view, but that is not an aim."
"Why may not captives expect a release?"
"Hardly from a tyrant."
"If you are thinking of tyrants, it may be so. Say the tyrant dies?"
"The prison-gates are unlocked and out comes a skeleton. But why will
you talk of skeletons! The very name of mountain seems life in
comparison with any other subject."
"I assure you," said Vernon, with the fervour of a man lighting on an
actual truth in his conversation with a young lady, "it's not the first
time I have thought you would be at home in the Alps. You would walk
and climb as well as you dance."
She liked to hear Clara Middleton talked of, and of her having been
thought of, and giving him friendly eyes, barely noticing that he was
in a glow, she said: "If you speak so encouragingly I shall fancy we
are near an ascent."
"I wish we were," said he.
"We can realize it by dwelling on it, don't you think?"
"We can begin climbing."
"Oh!" she squeezed herself shadowily.
"Which mountain shall it be?" said Vernon, in the right real earnest
Miss Middleton suggested a lady's mountain first, for a trial. "And
then, if you think well enough of me--if I have not stumbled more than
twice, or asked more than ten times how far it is from the top, I
should like to be promoted to scale a giant."
They went up to some of the lesser heights of Switzerland and Styria,
and settled in South Tyrol, the young lady preferring this district for
the strenuous exercise of her climbing powers because she loved Italian
colour; and it seemed an exceedingly good reason to the genial
imagination she had awakened in Mr. Whitford. "Though," said he,
abruptly, "you are not so much Italian as French."
She hoped she was English, she remarked.
"Of course you are English; . . . yes." He moderated his ascent with
the halting affirmative.
She inquired wonderingly why he spoke in apparent hesitation.
"Well, you have French feet, for example: French wits, French
impatience," he lowered his voice, "and charm"
"And love of compliments."
"Possibly. I was not conscious of paying them"
"And a disposition to rebel?"
"To challenge authority, at least."
"That is a dreadful character."
"At all events, it is a character."
"Fit for an Alpine comrade?"
"For the best of comrades anywhere."
"It is not a piece of drawing-room sculpture: that is the most one can
say for it!" she dropped a dramatic sigh.
Had he been willing she would have continued the theme, for the
pleasure a poor creature long gnawing her sensations finds in seeing
herself from the outside. It fell away. After a silence, she could not
renew it; and he was evidently indifferent, having to his own
satisfaction dissected and stamped her a foreigner. With it passed her
holiday. She had forgotten Sir Willoughby: she remembered him and said.
"You knew Miss Durham, Mr. Whitford?"
He answered briefly, "I did."
"Was she? . . ." some hot-faced inquiry peered forth and withdrew.
"Very handsome," said Vernon.
"Yes; the dashing style of English."
"I dare say she had a kind of courage."
"She did very wrong."
"I won't say no. She discovered a man more of a match with herself;
luckily not too late. We're at the mercy . . ."
"Was she not unpardonable?"
"I should be sorry to think that of any one."
"But you agree that she did wrong."
"I suppose I do. She made a mistake and she corrected it. If she had
not, she would have made a greater mistake."
"The manner. . ."
"That was bad--as far as we know. The world has not much right to
judge. A false start must now and then be made. It's better not to take
notice of it, I think."
"What is it we are at the mercy of?"
"Currents of feeling, our natures. I am the last man to preach on the
subject: young ladies are enigmas to me; I fancy they must have a
natural perception of the husband suitable to them, and the reverse;
and if they have a certain degree of courage, it follows that they
"They are not to reflect on the harm they do?" said Miss Middleton.
"By all means let them reflect; they hurt nobody by doing that."
"But a breach of faith!"
"If the faith can be kept through life, all's well."
"And then there is the cruelty, the injury!"
"I really think that if a young lady came to me to inform me she must
break our engagement--I have never been put to the proof, but to
suppose it:--I should not think her cruel."
"Then she would not be much of a loss."
"And I should not think so for this reason, that it is impossible for a
girl to come to such a resolution without previously showing signs of
it to her . . . the man she is engaged to. I think it unfair to engage
a girl for longer than a week or two, just time enough for her
preparations and publications."
"If he is always intent on himself, signs are likely to be unheeded by
him," said Miss Middleton.
He did not answer, and she said, quickly:
"It must always be a cruelty. The world will think so. It is an act of
"If they knew one another well before they were engaged."
"Are you not singularly tolerant?" said she.
To which Vernon replied with airy cordiality:--
"In some cases it is right to judge by results; we'll leave severity to
the historian, who is bound to be a professional moralist and put pleas
of human nature out of the scales. The lady in question may have been
to blame, but no hearts were broken, and here we have four happy
instead of two miserable."
His persecuting geniality of countenance appealed to her to confirm
this judgement by results, and she nodded and said: "Four," as the
From that moment until young Crossjay fell into the green-rutted lane
from a tree, and was got on his legs half stunned, with a hanging lip
and a face like the inside of a flayed eel-skin, she might have been
walking in the desert, and alone, for the pleasure she had in society.
They led the fated lad home between them, singularly drawn together by
their joint ministrations to him, in which her delicacy had to stand
fire, and sweet good-nature made naught of any trial. They were hand in
hand with the little fellow as physician and professional nurse.
THE FIRST EFFORT AFTER FREEDOM
Crossjay's accident was only another proof, as Vernon told Miss Dale,
that the boy was but half monkey.
"Something fresh?" she exclaimed on seeing him brought into the Hall,
where she had just arrived.
"Simply a continuation," said Vernon. "He is not so prehensile as he
should be. He probably in extremity relies on the tail that has been
docked. Are you a man, Crossjay?"
"I should think I was!" Crossjay replied, with an old man's voice, and
a ghastly twitch for a smile overwhelmed the compassionate ladies.
Miss Dale took possession of him. "You err in the other direction," she
remarked to Vernon.
"But a little bracing roughness is better than spoiling him." said Miss
She did not receive an answer, and she thought: "Whatever Willoughby
does is right, to this lady!"
Clara's impression was renewed when Sir Willoughby sat beside Miss Dale
in the evening; and certainly she had never seen him shine so
picturesquely as in his bearing with Miss Dale. The sprightly sallies
of the two, their rallyings, their laughter, and her fine eyes, and his
handsome gestures, won attention like a fencing match of a couple keen
with the foils to display the mutual skill. And it was his design that
she should admire the display; he was anything but obtuse; enjoying the
match as he did and necessarily did to act so excellent a part in it,
he meant the observer to see the man he was with a lady not of raw
understanding. So it went on from day to day for three days.
She fancied once that she detected the agreeable stirring of the brood
of jealousy, and found it neither in her heart nor in her mind, but in
the book of wishes, well known to the young where they write matter
which may sometimes be independent of both those volcanic albums.
Jealousy would have been a relief to her, a dear devil's aid. She
studied the complexion of jealousy to delude herself with the sense of
the spirit being in her, and all the while she laughed, as at a vile
theatre whereof the imperfection of the stage machinery rather than the
performance is the wretched source of amusement.
Vernon had deeply depressed her. She was hunted by the figure 4. Four
happy instead of two miserable. He had said it, involving her among the
four; and so it must be, she considered, and she must be as happy as
she could; for not only was he incapable of perceiving her state, he
was unable to imagine other circumstances to surround her. How, to be
just to him, were they imaginable by him or any one?
Her horrible isolation of secrecy in a world amiable in
unsuspectingness frightened her. To fling away her secret, to conform,
to be unrebellious, uncritical, submissive, became an impatient desire;
and the task did not appear so difficult since Miss Dale's arrival.
Endearments had been rare, more formal; living bodily untroubled and
unashamed, and, as she phrased it, having no one to care for her, she
turned insensibly in the direction where she was due; she slightly
imitated Miss Dale's colloquial responsiveness. To tell truth, she felt
vivacious in a moderate way with Willoughby after seeing him with Miss
Dale. Liberty wore the aspect of a towering prison-wall; the desperate
undertaking of climbing one side and dropping to the other was more
than she, unaided, could resolve on; consequently, as no one cared for
her, a worthless creature might as well cease dreaming and stipulating
for the fulfilment of her dreams; she might as well yield to her fate;
nay, make the best of it.
Sir Willoughby was flattered and satisfied. Clara's adopted vivacity
proved his thorough knowledge of feminine nature; nor did her
feebleness in sustaining it displease him. A steady look of hers had of
late perplexed the man, and he was comforted by signs of her
inefficiency where he excelled. The effort and the failure were both of
But she could not continue the effort. He had overweighted her too much
for the mimicry of a sentiment to harden and have an apparently natural
place among her impulses; and now an idea came to her that he might, it
might be hoped, possibly see in Miss Dale, by present contrast, the
mate he sought; by contrast with an unanswering creature like herself,
he might perhaps realize in Miss Dale's greater accomplishments and her
devotion to him the merit of suitability; he might be induced to do her
justice. Dim as the loop-hole was, Clara fixed her mind on it till it
gathered light. And as a prelude to action, she plunged herself into a
state of such profound humility, that to accuse it of being simulated
would be venturesome, though it was not positive. The tempers of the
young are liquid fires in isles of quicksand; the precious metals not
yet cooled in a solid earth. Her compassion for Laetitia was less
forced, but really she was almost as earnest in her self-abasement, for
she had not latterly been brilliant, not even adequate to the ordinary
requirements of conversation. She had no courage, no wit, no diligence,
nothing that she could distinguish save discontentment like a corroding
acid, and she went so far in sincerity as with a curious shift of
feeling to pity the man plighted to her. If it suited her purpose to
pity Sir Willoughby, she was not moved by policy, be assured; her needs
were her nature, her moods her mind; she had the capacity to make
anything serve her by passing into it with the glance which discerned
its usefulness; and this is how it is that the young, when they are in
trouble, without approaching the elevation of scientific hypocrites,
can teach that able class lessons in hypocrisy.
"Why should not Willoughby be happy?" she said; and the exclamation was
pushed forth by the second thought: "Then I shall be free!" Still that
thought came second.
The desire for the happiness of Willoughby was fervent on his behalf
and wafted her far from friends and letters to a narrow Tyrolean
valley, where a shallow river ran, with the indentations of a remotely
seen army of winding ranks in column, topaz over the pebbles to hollows
of ravishing emerald. There sat Liberty, after her fearful leap over
the prison-wall, at peace to watch the water and the falls of sunshine
on the mountain above, between descending pine-stem shadows. Clara's
wish for his happiness, as soon as she had housed herself in the
imagination of her freedom, was of a purity that made it seem
exceedingly easy for her to speak to him.
The opportunity was offered by Sir Willoughby. Every morning after
breakfast Miss Dale walked across the park to see her father, and on
this occasion Sir Willoughby and Miss Middleton went with her as far as
the lake, all three discoursing of the beauty of various trees,
birches, aspens, poplars, beeches, then in their new green. Miss Dale
loved the aspen, Miss Middleton the beech, Sir Willoughby the birch,
and pretty things were said by each in praise of the favoured object,
particularly by Miss Dale. So much so that when she had gone on he
recalled one of her remarks, and said: "I believe, if the whole place
were swept away to-morrow, Laetitia Dale could reconstruct it and put
those aspens on the north of the lake in number and situation correctly
where you have them now. I would guarantee her description of it in
"Why should she be absent?" said Clara, palpitating.
"Well, why!" returned Sir Willoughby. "As you say, there is no reason
why. The art of life, and mine will be principally a country life--town
is not life, but a tornado whirling atoms--the art is to associate a
group of sympathetic friends in our neighbourhood; and it is a fact
worth noting that if ever I feel tired of the place, a short talk with
Laetitia Dale refreshes it more than a month or two on the Continent.
She has the well of enthusiasm. And there is a great advantage in
having a cultivated person at command, with whom one can chat of any
topic under the sun. I repeat, you have no need of town if you have
friends like Laetitia Dale within call. My mother esteemed her highly."
"Willoughby, she is not obliged to go."
"I hope not. And, my love, I rejoice that you have taken to her. Her
father's health is poor. She would be a young spinster to live alone in
a country cottage."
"What of your scheme?"
"Old Vernon is a very foolish fellow."
"He has declined?"
"Not a word on the subject! I have only to propose it to be snubbed, I
"You may not be aware how you throw him into the shade with her."
"Nothing seems to teach him the art of dialogue with ladies."
"Are not gentlemen shy when they see themselves outshone?"
"He hasn't it, my love: Vernon is deficient in the lady's tongue."
"I respect him for that."
"Outshone, you say? I do not know of any shining--save to one, who
lights me, path and person!"
The identity of the one was conveyed to her in a bow and a soft
"Not only has he not the lady's tongue, which I hold to be a man's
proper accomplishment," continued Sir Willoughby, "he cannot turn his
advantages to account. Here has Miss Dale been with him now four days
in the house. They are exactly on the same footing as when she entered
it. You ask? I will tell you. It is this: it is want of warmth. Old
Vernon is a scholar--and a fish. Well, perhaps he has cause to be shy
of matrimony; but he is a fish."
"You are reconciled to his leaving you?"
"False alarm! The resolution to do anything unaccustomed is quite
beyond old Vernon."
"But if Mr. Oxford--Whitford . . . your swans coming sailing up the
lake, how beautiful they look when they are indignant! I was going to
ask you, surely men witnessing a marked admiration for some one else
will naturally be discouraged?"
Sir Willoughby stiffened with sudden enlightenment.
Though the word jealousy had not been spoken, the drift of her
observations was clear. Smiling inwardly, he said, and the sentences
were not enigmas to her: "Surely, too, young ladies . . . a
little?--Too far? But an old friendship! About the same as the fitting
of an old glove to a hand. Hand and glove have only to meet. Where
there is natural harmony you would not have discord. Ay, but you have
it if you check the harmony. My dear girl! You child!"
He had actually, in this parabolic, and commendable, obscureness, for
which she thanked him in her soul, struck the very point she had not
named and did not wish to hear named, but wished him to strike; he was
anything but obtuse. His exultation, of the compressed sort, was
extreme, on hearing her cry out:
"Young ladies may be. Oh! not I, not I. I can convince you. Not that.
Believe me, Willoughby. I do not know what it is to feel that, or
anything like it. I cannot conceive a claim on any one's life--as a
claim: or the continuation of an engagement not founded on perfect,
perfect sympathy. How should I feel it, then? It is, as you say of Mr.
Ox--Whitford, beyond me."
Sir Willoughby caught up the Ox--Whitford.
Bursting with laughter in his joyful pride, he called it a portrait of
old Vernon in society. For she thought a trifle too highly of Vernon,
as here and there a raw young lady does think of the friends of her
plighted man, which is waste of substance properly belonging to him, as
it were, in the loftier sense, an expenditure in genuflexions to
wayside idols of the reverence she should bring intact to the temple.
Derision instructs her.
Of the other subject--her jealousy--he had no desire to hear more. She
had winced: the woman had been touched to smarting in the girl: enough.
She attempted the subject once, but faintly, and his careless parrying
threw her out. Clara could have bitten her tongue for that reiterated
stupid slip on the name of Whitford; and because she was innocent at
heart she persisted in asking herself how she could be guilty of it.
"You both know the botanic titles of these wild flowers," she said.
"Who?" he inquired.
"You and Miss Dale."
Sir Willoughby shrugged. He was amused.
"No woman on earth will grace a barouche so exquisitely as my Clara."
"Where?" said she.
"During our annual two months in London. I drive a barouche there, and
venture to prophesy that my equipage will create the greatest
excitement of any in London. I see old Horace De Craye gazing!"
She sighed. She could not drag him to the word, or a hint of it
necessary to her subject.
But there it was; she saw it. She had nearly let it go, and blushed at
being obliged to name it.
"Jealousy, do you mean. Willoughby? the people in London would be
jealous?--Colonel De Craye? How strange! That is a sentiment I cannot
Sir Willoughby gesticulated the "Of course not" of an established
assurance to the contrary.
"Indeed, Willoughby, I do not."
He was now in her trap. And he was imagining himself to be anatomizing
her feminine nature.
"Can I give you a proof, Willoughby? I am so utterly incapable of it
that--listen to me--were you to come to me to tell me, as you might,
how much better suited to you Miss Dale has appeared than I am--and I
fear I am not; it should be spoken plainly; unsuited altogether,
perhaps--I would, I beseech you to believe--you must believe me--give
you . . . give you your freedom instantly; most truly; and engage to
speak of you as I should think of you. Willoughby, you would have no
one to praise you in public and in private as I should, for you would
be to me the most honest, truthful, chivalrous gentleman alive. And in
that case I would undertake to declare that she would not admire you
more than I; Miss Dale would not; she would not admire you more than I;
not even Miss Dale."
This, her first direct leap for liberty, set Clara panting, and so much
had she to say that the nervous and the intellectual halves of her
dashed like cymbals, dazing and stunning her with the appositeness of
things to be said, and dividing her in indecision as to the cunningest
to move him of the many pressing.
The condition of feminine jealousy stood revealed.
He had driven her farther than he intended.
"Come, let me allay these . . ." he soothed her with hand and voice,
while seeking for his phrase; "these magnified pinpoints. Now, my
Clara! on my honour! and when I put it forward in attestation, my
honour has the most serious meaning speech can have; ordinarily my word
has to suffice for bonds, promises, or asseverations; on my honour! not
merely is there, my poor child! no ground of suspicion, I assure you,
I declare to you, the fact of the case is the very reverse. Now, mark
me; of her sentiments I cannot pretend to speak; I did not, to my
knowledge, originate, I am not responsible for them, and I am, before
the law, as we will say, ignorant of them; that is, I have never heard
a declaration of them, and I, am, therefore, under pain of the stigma
of excessive fatuity, bound to be non-cognizant. But as to myself I can
speak for myself and, on my honour! Clara--to be as direct as
possible, even to baldness, and you know I loathe it--I could not, I
repeat, I could not marry Laetitia Dale! Let me impress it on you. No
flatteries--we are all susceptible more or less--no conceivable
condition could bring it about; no amount of admiration. She and I are
excellent friends; we cannot be more. When you see us together, the
natural concord of our minds is of course misleading. She is a woman of
genius. I do not conceal, I profess my admiration of her. There are
times when, I confess, I require a Laetitia Dale to bring me out, give
and take. I am indebted to her for the enjoyment of the duet few know,
few can accord with, fewer still are allowed the privilege of playing
with a human being. I am indebted, I own, and I feel deep gratitude; I
own to a lively friendship for Miss Dale, but if she is displeasing in
the sight of my bride by . . . by the breadth of an eyelash, then
. . ."
Sir Willoughby's arm waved Miss Dale off away into outer darkness in
Clara shut her eyes and rolled her eyeballs in a frenzy of unuttered
revolt from the Egoist.
But she was not engaged in the colloquy to be an advocate of Miss Dale
or of common humanity.
"Ah!" she said, simply determining that the subject should not drop.
"And, ah!" he mocked her tenderly. "True, though! And who knows better
than my Clara that I require youth, health, beauty, and the other
undefinable attributes fitting with mine and beseeming the station of
the lady called to preside over my household and represent me? What
says my other self? my fairer? But you are! my love, you are!
Understand my nature rightly, and you . . . "
"I do! I do!" interposed Clara; "if I did not by this time I should be
idiotic. Let me assure you, I understand it. Oh! listen to me: one
moment. Miss Dale regards me as the happiest woman on earth.
Willoughby, if I possessed her good qualities, her heart and mind, no
doubt I should be. It is my wish--you must hear me, hear me out--my
wish, my earnest wish, my burning prayer, my wish to make way for her.
She appreciates you: I do not--to my shame, I do not. She worships you:
I do not, I cannot. You are the rising sun to her. It has been so for
years. No one can account for love; I daresay not for the impossibility
of loving . . . loving where we should; all love bewilders me. I was
not created to understand it. But she loves you, she has pined. I
believe it has destroyed the health you demand as one item in your
list. But you, Willoughby, can restore that. Travelling, and . . . and
your society, the pleasure of your society would certainly restore it.
You look so handsome together! She has unbounded devotion! as for me, I
cannot idolize. I see faults: I see them daily. They astonish and wound
me. Your pride would not bear to hear them spoken of, least of all by
your wife. You warned me to beware--that is, you said, you said
Her busy brain missed the subterfuge to cover her slip of the tongue.
Sir Willoughby struck in: "And when I say that the entire concatenation
is based on an erroneous observation of facts, and an erroneous
deduction from that erroneous observation!--? No, no. Have confidence
in me. I propose it to you in this instance, purely to save you from
deception. You are cold, my love? you shivered."
"I am not cold," said Clara. "Some one, I suppose, was walking over my
The gulf of a caress hove in view like an enormous billow hollowing
under the curled ridge.
She stooped to a buttercup; the monster swept by.
"Your grave!" he exclaimed over her head; "my own girl!"
"Is not the orchid naturally a stranger in ground so far away from the
"I am incompetent to pronounce an opinion on such important matters. My
mother had a passion for every description of flower. I fancy I have
some recollection of her scattering the flower you mention over the
"If she were living now!"
"We should be happy in the blessing of the most estimable of women, my
"She would have listened to me. She would have realized what I mean."
"Indeed, Clara--poor soul!" he murmured to himself, aloud; "indeed you
are absolutely in error. If I have seemed--but I repeat, you are
deceived. The idea of 'fitness' is a total hallucination. Supposing
you--I do it even in play painfully--entirely out of the way,
unthought of. . ."
"Extinct," Clara said low.
"Non-existent for me," he selected a preferable term. "Suppose it; I
should still, in spite of an admiration I have never thought it
incumbent on me to conceal, still be--I speak emphatically--utterly
incapable of the offer of my hand to Miss Dale. It may be that she is
embedded in my mind as a friend, and nothing but a friend. I received
the stamp in early youth. People have noticed it--we do, it seems,
bring one another out, reflecting, counter-reflecting."
She glanced up at him with a shrewd satisfaction to see that her wicked
shaft had stuck.
"You do; it is a common remark," she said. "The instantaneous
difference when she comes near, any one might notice."
"My love," he opened the iron gate into the garden, "you encourage the
naughty little suspicion."
"But it is a beautiful sight, Willoughby. I like to see you together. I
like it as I like to see colours match."
"Very well. There is no harm then. We shall often be together. I like
my fair friend. But the instant!--you have only to express a sentiment
"And you dismiss her."
"I dismiss her. That is, as to the word, I constitute myself your echo,
to clear any vestige of suspicion. She goes."
"That is a case of a person doomed to extinction without offending."
"Not without: for whoever offends my bride, my wife, my sovereign lady,
offends me: very deeply offends me."
"Then the caprices of your wife . . ." Clara stamped her foot
imperceptibly on the lawn-sward, which was irresponsively soft to her
fretfulness. She broke from the inconsequent meaningless mild tone of
irony, and said: "Willoughby, women have their honour to swear by
equally with men:--girls have: they have to swear an oath at the altar;
may I to you now? Take it for uttered when I tell you that nothing
would make me happier than your union with Miss Dale. I have spoken as
much as I can. Tell me you release me."
With the well-known screw-smile of duty upholding weariness worn to
inanition, he rejoined: "Allow me once more to reiterate, that it is
repulsive, inconceivable, that I should ever, under any mortal
conditions, bring myself to the point of taking Miss Dale for my wife.
You reduce me to this perfectly childish protestation--pitiably
childish! But, my love, have I to remind you that you and I are
plighted, and that I am an honourable man?"
"I know it, I feel it--release me!" cried Clara.
Sir Willoughby severely reprehended his short-sightedness for seeing
but the one proximate object in the particular attention he had
bestowed on Miss Dale. He could not disavow that they had been marked,
and with an object, and he was distressed by the unwonted want of
wisdom through which he had been drawn to overshoot his object. His
design to excite a touch of the insane emotion in Clara's bosom was too
successful, and, "I was not thinking of her," he said to himself in his
She cried again: "Will you not, Willoughby--release me?"
He begged her to take his arm.
To consent to touch him while petitioning for a detachment, appeared
discordant to Clara, but, if she expected him to accede, it was right
that she should do as much as she could, and she surrendered her hand
at arm's length, disdaining the imprisoned fingers. He pressed them and
said: "Dr Middleton is in the library. I see Vernon is at work with
Crossjay in the West-room--the boy has had sufficient for the day.
Now, is it not like old Vernon to drive his books at a cracked head
before it's half mended?"
He signalled to young Crossjay, who was up and out through the folding
windows in a twinkling.
"And you will go in, and talk to Vernon of the lady in question," Sir
Willoughby whispered to Clara. "Use your best persuasions in our joint
names. You have my warrant for saying that money is no consideration;
house and income are assured. You can hardly have taken me seriously
when I requested you to undertake Vernon before. I was quite in earnest
then as now. I prepare Miss Dale. I will not have a wedding on our
wedding-day; but either before or after it, I gladly speed their
alliance. I think now I give you the best proof possible, and though I
know that with women a delusion may be seen to be groundless and still
be cherished, I rely on your good sense."
Vernon was at the window and stood aside for her to enter. Sir
Willoughby used a gentle insistence with her. She bent her head as if
she were stepping into a cave. So frigid was she, that a ridiculous
dread of calling Mr. Whitford Mr. Oxford was her only present anxiety
when Sir Willoughby had closed the window on them.
SIR WILLOUGHBY AND LAETITIA
"I prepare Miss Dale."
Sir Willoughby thought of his promise to Clara. He trifled awhile with
young Crossjay, and then sent the boy flying, and wrapped himself in
meditation. So shall you see standing many a statue of statesmen who
have died in harness for their country.
In the hundred and fourth chapter of the thirteenth volume of the Book
of Egoism it is written: Possession without obligation to the object
possessed approaches felicity.
It is the rarest condition of ownership. For example: the possession of
land is not without obligation both to the soil and the tax-collector;
the possession of fine clothing is oppressed by obligation; gold,
jewelry, works of art, enviable household furniture, are positive
fetters; the possession of a wife we find surcharged with obligation.
In all these cases possession is a gentle term for enslavement,
bestowing the sort of felicity attained to by the helot drunk. You can
have the joy, the pride, the intoxication of possession; you can have
no free soul.
But there is one instance of possession, and that the most perfect,
which leaves us free, under not a shadow of obligation, receiving ever,
never giving, or if giving, giving only of our waste; as it were (sauf
votre respect), by form of perspiration, radiation, if you like;
unconscious poral bountifulness; and it is a beneficent process for the
system. Our possession of an adoring female's worship is this instance.
The soft cherishable Parsee is hardly at any season other than
prostrate. She craves nothing save that you continue in being--her
sun: which is your firm constitutional endeavour: and thus you have a
most exact alliance; she supplying spirit to your matter, while at the
same time presenting matter to your spirit, verily a comfortable
apposition. The Gods do bless it.
That they do so indeed is evident in the men they select for such a
felicitous crown and aureole. Weak men would be rendered nervous by the
flattery of a woman's worship; or they would be for returning it, at
least partially, as though it could be bandied to and fro without
emulgence of the poetry; or they would be pitiful, and quite spoil the
thing. Some would be for transforming the beautiful solitary vestal
flame by the first effort of the multiplication-table into your
hearth-fire of slippered affection. So these men are not they whom the
Gods have ever selected, but rather men of a pattern with themselves,
very high and very solid men, who maintain the crown by holding
divinely independent of the great emotion they have sown.
Even for them a pass of danger is ahead, as we shall see in our sample
of one among the highest of them.
A clear approach to felicity had long been the portion of Sir
Willoughby Patterne in his relations with Laetitia Dale. She belonged
to him; he was quite unshackled by her. She was everything that is good
in a parasite, nothing that is bad. His dedicated critic she was,
reviewing him with a favour equal to perfect efficiency in her office;
and whatever the world might say of him, to her the happy gentleman
could constantly turn for his refreshing balsamic bath. She flew to the
soul in him, pleasingly arousing sensations of that inhabitant; and he
allowed her the right to fly, in the manner of kings, as we have heard,
consenting to the privileges acted on by cats. These may not address
their Majesties, but they may stare; nor will it be contested that the
attentive circular eyes of the humble domestic creatures are an
embellishment to Royal pomp and grandeur, such truly as should one day
gain for them an inweaving and figurement--in the place of bees, ermine
tufts, and their various present decorations--upon the august great
robes back-flowing and foaming over the gaspy page-boys.
Further to quote from the same volume of The Book: There is pain in the
surrendering of that we are fain to relinquish.
The idea is too exquisitely attenuate, as are those of the whole
body-guard of the heart of Egoism, and will slip through you unless you
shall have made a study of the gross of volumes of the first and second
sections of The Book, and that will take you up to senility; or you
must make a personal entry into the pages, perchance; or an escape out
of them. There was once a venerable gentleman for whom a white hair
grew on the cop of his nose, laughing at removals. He resigned himself
to it in the end, and lastingly contemplated the apparition. It does
not concern us what effect was produced on his countenance and his
mind; enough that he saw a fine thing, but not so fine as the idea
cited above; which has been between the two eyes of humanity ever since
women were sought in marriage. With yonder old gentleman it may have
been a ghostly hair or a disease of the optic nerves; but for us it is
a real growth, and humanity might profitably imitate him in his patient
speculation upon it.
Sir Willoughby Patterne, though ready in the pursuit of duty and policy
(an oft-united couple) to cast Miss Dale away, had to consider that he
was not simply, so to speak, casting her over a hedge, he was casting
her for a man to catch her; and this was a much greater trial than it
had been on the previous occasion, when she went over bump to the
ground. In the arms of a husband, there was no knowing how soon she
might forget her soul's fidelity. It had not hurt him to sketch the
project of the conjunction; benevolence assisted him; but he winced and
smarted on seeing it take shape. It sullied his idea of Laetitia.
Still, if, in spite of so great a change in her fortune, her spirit
could be guaranteed changeless, he, for the sake of pacifying his
bride, and to keep two serviceable persons near him, at command, might
resolve to join them. The vision of his resolution brought with it a
certain pallid contempt of the physically faithless woman; no wonder he
betook himself to The Book, and opened it on the scorching chapters
treating of the sex, and the execrable wiles of that foremost creature
of the chase, who runs for life. She is not spared in the Biggest of
Books. But close it.
The writing in it having been done chiefly by men, men naturally
receive their fortification from its wisdom, and half a dozen of the
popular sentences for the confusion of women (cut in brass worn to a
polish like sombre gold), refreshed Sir Willoughby for his undertaking.
An examination of Laetitia's faded complexion braced him very
His Clara, jealous of this poor leaf!
He could have desired the transfusion of a quality or two from Laetitia
to his bride; but you cannot, as in cookery, obtain a mixture of the
essences of these creatures; and if, as it is possible to do, and as he
had been doing recently with the pair of them at the Hall, you stew
them in one pot, you are far likelier to intensify their little
birthmarks of individuality. Had they a tendency to excellence it might
be otherwise; they might then make the exchanges we wish for; or
scientifically concocted in a harem for a sufficient length of time by
a sultan anything but obtuse, they might. It is, however, fruitless to
dwell on what was only a glimpse of a wild regret, like the crossing of
two express trains along the rails in Sir Willoughby's head.
The ladies Eleanor and Isabel were sitting with Miss Dale, all three at
work on embroideries. He had merely to look at Miss Eleanor. She rose.
She looked at Miss Isabel, and rattled her chatelaine to account for
her departure. After a decent interval Miss Isabel glided out. Such was
the perfect discipline of the household.
Sir Willoughby played an air on the knee of his crossed leg.
Laetitia grew conscious of a meaning in the silence. She said, "You
have not been vexed by affairs to-day?"
"Affairs," he replied, "must be peculiarly vexatious to trouble me.
Concerning the country or my personal affairs?"
"I fancy I was alluding to the country."
"I trust I am as good a patriot as any man living," said he; "but I am
used to the follies of my countrymen, and we are on board a stout ship.
At the worst it's no worse than a rise in rates and taxes; soup at the
Hall gates, perhaps; license to fell timber in one of the outer copses,
or some dozen loads of coal. You hit my feudalism."
"The knight in armour has gone," said Laetitia, "and the castle with
the draw-bridge. Immunity for our island has gone too since we took to
"We bartered independence for commerce. You hit our old controversy.
Ay, but we do not want this overgrown population! However, we will put
politics and sociology and the pack of their modern barbarous words
aside. You read me intuitively. I have been, I will not say annoyed,
but ruffled. I have much to do, and going into Parliament would make me
almost helpless if I lose Vernon. You know of some absurd notion he
has?--literary fame, and bachelor's chambers, and a chop-house, and the
rest of it."
She knew, and thinking differently in the matter of literary fame, she
flushed, and, ashamed of the flush, frowned.
He bent over to her with the perusing earnestness of a gentleman about
"You cannot intend that frown?"
"Did I frown?"
"Will you smile to reassure me?"
"Willingly, as well as I can."
A gloom overcame him. With no woman on earth did he shine so as to
recall to himself seigneur and dame of the old French Court as he did
with Laetitia Dale. He did not wish the period revived, but reserved it
as a garden to stray into when he was in the mood for displaying
elegance and brightness in the society of a lady; and in speech
Laetitia helped him to the nice delusion. She was not devoid of grace
of bearing either.
Would she preserve her beautiful responsiveness to his ascendency?
Hitherto she had, and for years, and quite fresh. But how of her as a
married woman? Our souls are hideously subject to the conditions of our
animal nature! A wife, possibly mother, it was within sober calculation
that there would be great changes in her. And the hint of any change
appeared a total change to one of the lofty order who, when they are
called on to relinquish possession instead of aspiring to it, say, All
Well, but if there was danger of the marriage-tie effecting the
slightest alteration of her character or habit of mind, wherefore press
it upon a tolerably hardened spinster!
Besides, though he did once put her hand in Vernon's for the dance, he
remembered acutely that the injury then done by his generosity to his
tender sensitiveness had sickened and tarnished the effulgence of two
or three successive anniversaries of his coming of age. Nor had he
altogether yet got over the passion of greed for the whole group of the
well-favoured of the fair sex, which in his early youth had made it
bitter for him to submit to the fickleness, not to say the modest
fickleness, of any handsome one of them in yielding her hand to a man
and suffering herself to be led away. Ladies whom he had only heard of
as ladies of some beauty incurred his wrath for having lovers or taking
husbands. He was of a vast embrace; and do not exclaim, in
covetousness;--for well he knew that even under Moslem law he could not
have them all--but as the enamoured custodian of the sex's purity,
that blushes at such big spots as lovers and husbands; and it was
unbearable to see it sacrificed for others. Without their purity what
are they!--what are fruiterer's plums?--unsaleable. O for the bloom
"As I said, I lose my right hand in Vernon," he resumed, "and I am, it
seems, inevitably to lose him, unless we contrive to fasten him down
here. I think, my dear Miss Dale, you have my character. At least, I
should recommend my future biographer to you--with a caution, of
course. You would have to write selfishness with a dash under it. I
cannot endure to lose a member of my household--not under any
circumstances; and a change of feeling toward me on the part of any of
my friends because of marriage, I think hard. I would ask you, how can
it be for Vernon's good to quit an easy pleasant home for the wretched
profession of Literature?--wretchedly paying, I mean," he bowed to the
authoress. "Let him leave the house, if he imagines he will not
harmonize with its young mistress. He is queer, though a good fellow.
But he ought, in that event, to have an establishment. And my scheme
for Vernon--men, Miss Dale, do not change to their old friends when
they marry--my scheme, which would cause the alteration in his system
of life to be barely perceptible, is to build him a poetical little
cottage, large enough for a couple, on the borders of my park. I have
the spot in my eye. The point is, can he live alone there? Men, I say,
do not change. How is it that we cannot say the same of women?"
Laetitia remarked: "The generic woman appears to have an extraordinary
faculty for swallowing the individual."
"As to the individual, as to a particular person, I may be wrong.
Precisely because it is her case I think of, my strong friendship
inspires the fear: unworthy of both, no doubt, but trace it to the
source. Even pure friendship, such is the taint in us, knows a kind of
jealousy; though I would gladly see her established, and near me, happy
and contributing to my happiness with her incomparable social charm.
Her I do not estimate generically, be sure."
"If you do me the honour to allude to me, Sir Willoughby," said
Laetitia, "I am my father's housemate."
"What wooer would take that for a refusal? He would beg to be a third
in the house and sharer of your affectionate burden. Honestly, why
not? And I may be arguing against my own happiness; it may be the end
"Old friends are captious, exacting. No, not the end. Yet if my friend
is not the same to me, it is the end to that form of friendship: not to
the degree possibly. But when one is used to the form! And do you, in
its application to friendship, scorn the word 'use'? We are creatures
of custom. I am, I confess, a poltroon in my affections; I dread
changes. The shadow of the tenth of an inch in the customary elevation
of an eyelid!--to give you an idea of my susceptibility. And, my dear
Miss Dale, I throw myself on your charity, with all my weakness bare,
let me add, as I could do to none but you. Consider, then, if I lose
you! The fear is due to my pusillanimity entirely. High-souled women
may be wives, mothers, and still reserve that home for their friend.
They can and will conquer the viler conditions of human life. Our
states, I have always contended, our various phases have to be passed
through, and there is no disgrace in it so long as they do not levy
toll on the quintessential, the spiritual element. You understand me? I
am no adept in these abstract elucidations."
"You explain yourself clearly," said Laetitia.
"I have never pretended that psychology was my forte," said he, feeling
overshadowed by her cold commendation: he was not less acutely
sensitive to the fractional divisions of tones than of eyelids, being,
as it were, a melody with which everything was out of tune that did not
modestly or mutely accord; and to bear about a melody in your person is
incomparably more searching than the best of touchstones and talismans
ever invented. "Your father's health has improved latterly?"
"He did not complain of his health when I saw him this morning. My
cousin Amelia is with him, and she is an excellent nurse."
"He has a liking for Vernon."
"He has a great respect for Mr. Whitford."
"Oh, yes; I have it equally."
"For a foundation, that is the surest. I would have the friends dearest
to me begin on that. The headlong match is--how can we describe it? By
its finale I am afraid. Vernon's abilities are really to be respected.
His shyness is his malady. I suppose he reflected that he was not a
capitalist. He might, one would think, have addressed himself to me; my
purse is not locked."
"No, Sir Willoughby!" Laetitia said, warmly, for his donations in
charity were famous.
Her eyes gave him the food he enjoyed, and basking in them, he
"Vernon's income would at once have been regulated commensurately with
a new position requiring an increase. This money, money, money! But the
world will have it so. Happily I have inherited habits of business and
personal economy. Vernon is a man who would do fifty times more with a
companion appreciating his abilities and making light of his little
deficiencies. They are palpable, small enough. He has always been aware
of my wishes:--when perhaps the fulfilment might have sent me off on
another tour of the world, homebird though I am. When was it that our
friendship commenced? In my boyhood, I know. Very many years back."
"I am in my thirtieth year," said Laetitia.
Surprised and pained by a baldness resembling the deeds of ladies (they
have been known, either through absence of mind, or mania, to displace
a wig) in the deadly intimacy which slaughters poetic admiration, Sir
Willoughby punished her by deliberately reckoning that she did not look
"Genius," he observed, "is unacquainted with wrinkles"; hardly one of
his prettiest speeches; but he had been wounded, and he never could
recover immediately. Coming on him in a mood of sentiment, the wound
was sharp. He could very well have calculated the lady's age. It was
the jarring clash of her brazen declaration of it upon his low rich
flute-notes that shocked him.
He glanced at the gold cathedral-clock on the mantel-piece, and
proposed a stroll on the lawn before dinner. Laetitia gathered up her
"As a rule," he said, "authoresses are not needle-women."
"I shall resign the needle or the pen if it stamps me an exception,"
He attempted a compliment on her truly exceptional character. As when
the player's finger rests in distraction on the organ, it was without
measure and disgusted his own hearing. Nevertheless, she had been so
good as to diminish his apprehension that the marriage of a lady in her
thirtieth year with his cousin Vernon would be so much of a loss to
him; hence, while parading the lawn, now and then casting an eye at the
window of the room where his Clara and Vernon were in council, the
schemes he indulged for his prospective comfort and his feelings of the
moment were in such striving harmony as that to which we hear
orchestral musicians bringing their instruments under the process
called tuning. It is not perfect, but it promises to be so soon. We are
not angels, which have their dulcimers ever on the choral pitch. We are
mortals attaining the celestial accord with effort, through a stage of
pain. Some degree of pain was necessary to Sir Willoughby, otherwise he
would not have seen his generosity confronting him. He grew,
therefore, tenderly inclined to Laetitia once more, so far as to say
within himself. "For conversation she would be a valuable wife". And
this valuable wife he was presenting to his cousin.
Apparently, considering the duration of the conference of his Clara and
Vernon, his cousin required strong persuasion to accept the present.
THE PETITION FOR A RELEASE
Neither Clara nor Vernon appeared at the mid-day table. Dr. Middleton
talked with Miss Dale on classical matters, like a good-natured giant
giving a child the jump from stone to stone across a brawling mountain
ford, so that an unedified audience might really suppose, upon seeing
her over the difficulty, she had done something for herself. Sir
Willoughby was proud of her, and therefore anxious to settle her
business while he was in the humour to lose her. He hoped to finish it
by shooting a word or two at Vernon before dinner. Clara's petition to
be set free, released from him, had vaguely frightened even more than
it offended his pride.
Miss Isabel quitted the room.
She came back, saying: "They decline to lunch."
"Then we may rise," remarked Sir Willoughby.
"She was weeping," Miss Isabel murmured to him.
"Girlish enough," he said.
The two elderly ladies went away together. Miss Dale, pursuing her
theme with the Rev. Doctor, was invited by him to a course in the
library. Sir Willoughby walked up and down the lawn, taking a glance at
the West-room as he swung round on the turn of his leg. Growing
impatient, he looked in at the window and found the room vacant.
Nothing was to be seen of Clara and Vernon during the afternoon. Near
the dinner-hour the ladies were informed by Miss Middleton's maid that
her mistress was lying down on her bed, too unwell with headache to be
present. Young Crossjay brought a message from Vernon (delayed by
birds' eggs in the delivery), to say that he was off over the hills,
and thought of dining with Dr. Corney.
Sir Willoughby despatched condolences to his bride. He was not well
able to employ his mind on its customary topic, being, like the dome of
a bell, a man of so pervading a ring within himself concerning himself,
that the recollection of a doubtful speech or unpleasant circumstance
touching him closely deranged his inward peace; and as dubious and
unpleasant things will often occur, he had great need of a worshipper,
and was often compelled to appeal to her for signs of antidotal
idolatry. In this instance, when the need of a worshipper was sharply
felt, he obtained no signs at all. The Rev. Doctor had fascinated Miss
Dale; so that, both within and without, Sir Willoughby was uncomforted.
His themes in public were those of an English gentleman; horses, dogs,
game, sport, intrigue, scandal, politics, wines, the manly themes; with
a condescension to ladies' tattle, and approbation of a racy anecdote.
What interest could he possibly take in the Athenian Theatre and the
girl whose flute-playing behind the scenes, imitating the nightingale,
enraptured a Greek audience! He would have suspected a motive in Miss
Dale's eager attentiveness, if the motive could have been conceived.
Besides, the ancients were not decorous; they did not, as we make our
moderns do, write for ladies. He ventured at the dinner-table to
interrupt Dr. Middleton once:--
"Miss Dale will do wisely, I think, sir, by confining herself to your
present edition of the classics."
"That," replied Dr. Middleton, "is the observation of a student of the
dictionary of classical mythology in the English tongue."
"The Theatre is a matter of climate, sir. You will grant me that."
"If quick wits come of climate, it is as you say, sir."
"With us it seems a matter of painful fostering, or the need of it,"
said Miss Dale, with a question to Dr. Middleton, excluding Sir
Willoughby, as though he had been a temporary disturbance of the flow
of their dialogue.
The ladies Eleanor and Isabel, previously excellent listeners to the
learned talk, saw the necessity of coming to his rescue; but you cannot
converse with your aunts, inmates of your house, on general subjects at
table; the attempt increased his discomposure; he considered that he
had ill-chosen his father-in-law; that scholars are an impolite race;
that young or youngish women are devotees of power in any form, and
will be absorbed by a scholar for a variation of a man; concluding that
he must have a round of dinner-parties to friends, especially ladies,
appreciating him, during the Doctor's visit. Clara's headache above,
and Dr. Middleton's unmannerliness below, affected his instincts in a
way to make him apprehend that a stroke of misfortune was impending;
thunder was in the air. Still he learned something, by which he was to
profit subsequently. The topic of wine withdrew the doctor from his
classics; it was magical on him. A strong fraternity of taste was
discovered in the sentiments of host and guest upon particular wines
and vintages; they kindled one another by naming great years of the
grape, and if Sir Willoughby had to sacrifice the ladies to the topic,
he much regretted a condition of things that compelled him to sin
against his habit, for the sake of being in the conversation and
probing an elderly gentleman's foible.
Late at night he heard the house-bell, and meeting Vernon in the hall,
invited him to enter the laboratory and tell him Dr. Corney's last.
Vernon was brief, Corney had not let fly a single anecdote, he said,
and lighted his candle.
"By the way, Vernon, you had a talk with Miss Middleton?"
"She will speak to you to-morrow at twelve."
"To-morrow at twelve?"
"It gives her four-and-twenty hours."
Sir Willoughby determined that his perplexity should be seen; but
Vernon said good-night to him, and was shooting up the stairs before
the dramatic exhibition of surprise had yielded to speech.
Thunder was in the air and a blow coming. Sir Willoughby's instincts
were awake to the many signs, nor, though silenced, were they hushed by
his harping on the frantic excesses to which women are driven by the
passion of jealousy. He believed in Clara's jealousy because he really
had intended to rouse it; under the form of emulation, feebly. He could
not suppose she had spoken of it to Vernon. And as for the seriousness
of her desire to be released from her engagement, that was little
credible. Still the fixing of an hour for her to speak to him after an
interval of four-and-twenty hours, left an opening for the incredible
to add its weight to the suspicious mass; and who would have fancied
Clara Middleton so wild a victim of the intemperate passion! He
muttered to himself several assuaging observations to excuse a young
lady half demented, and rejected them in a lump for their nonsensical
inapplicability to Clara. In order to obtain some sleep, he consented
to blame himself slightly, in the style of the enamoured historian of
erring beauties alluding to their peccadilloes. He had done it to edify
her. Sleep, however, failed him. That an inordinate jealousy argued an
overpowering love, solved his problem until he tried to fit the
proposition to Clara's character. He had discerned nothing southern in
her. Latterly, with the blushing Day in prospect, she had contracted
and frozen. There was no reading either of her or of the mystery.
In the morning, at the breakfast-table, a confession of sleeplessness
was general. Excepting Miss Dale and Dr. Middleton, none had slept a
wink. "I, sir," the Doctor replied to Sir Willoughby, "slept like a
lexicon in your library when Mr. Whitford and I are out of it."
Vernon incidentally mentioned that he had been writing through the
"You fellows kill yourselves," Sir Willoughby reproved him. "For my