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The Egoist by George Meredith

Part 4 out of 12

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part, I make it a principle to get through my work without

Clara watched her father for a symptom of ridicule. He gazed mildly on
the systematic worker. She was unable to guess whether she would have
in him an ally or a judge. The latter, she feared. Now that she had
embraced the strife, she saw the division of the line where she stood
from that one where the world places girls who are affianced wives; her
father could hardly be with her; it had gone too far. He loved her, but
he would certainly take her to be moved by a maddish whim; he would not
try to understand her case. The scholar's detestation of a
disarrangement of human affairs that had been by miracle contrived to
run smoothly, would of itself rank him against her; and with the world
to back his view of her, he might behave like a despotic father. How
could she defend herself before him? At one thought of Sir Willoughby,
her tongue made ready, and feminine craft was alert to prompt it; but
to her father she could imagine herself opposing only dumbness and

"It is not exactly the same kind of work," she said.

Dr Middleton rewarded her with a bushy eyebrow's beam of his revolting
humour at the baronet's notion of work.

So little was needed to quicken her that she sunned herself in the
beam, coaxing her father's eyes to stay with hers as long as she could,
and beginning to hope he might be won to her side, if she confessed she
had been more in the wrong than she felt; owned to him, that is, her
error in not earlier disturbing his peace.

"I do not say it is the same," observed Sir Willoughby, bowing to their
alliance of opinion. "My poor work is for the day, and Vernon's, no
doubt, for the day to come. I contend, nevertheless, for the
preservation of health as the chief implement of work."

"Of continued work; there I agree with you," said Dr. Middleton,

Clara's heart sunk; so little was needed to deaden her.

Accuse her of an overweening antagonism to her betrothed; yet remember
that though the words had not been uttered to give her good reason for
it, nature reads nature; captives may be stript of everything save that
power to read their tyrant; remember also that she was not, as she well
knew, blameless; her rage at him was partly against herself

The rising from table left her to Sir Willoughby. She swam away after
Miss Dale, exclaiming: "The laboratory! Will you have me for a
companion on your walk to see your father? One breathes earth and
heaven to-day out of doors. Isn't it Summer with a Spring Breeze? I
will wander about your garden and not hurry your visit, I promise."

"I shall be very happy indeed. But I am going immediately," said
Laetitia, seeing Sir Willoughby hovering to snap up his bride.

"Yes; and a garden-hat and I am on the march."

"I will wait for you on the terrace."

"You will not have to wait."

"Five minutes at the most," Sir Willoughby said to Laetitia, and she
passed out, leaving them alone together.

"Well, and my love!" he addressed his bride almost huggingly; "and what
is the story? and how did you succeed with old Vernon yesterday? He
will and he won't? He's a very woman in these affairs. I can't forgive
him for giving you a headache. You were found weeping."

"Yes, I cried," said Clara.

"And now tell me about it. You know, my dear girl, whether he does or
doesn't, our keeping him somewhere in the neighbourhood--perhaps not
in the house--that is the material point. It can hardly be necessary in
these days to urge marriages on. I'm sure the country is over . . .
Most marriages ought to be celebrated with the funeral knell!"

"I think so," said Clara.

"It will come to this, that marriages of consequence, and none but
those, will be hailed with joyful peals."

"Do not say such things in public, Willoughby."

"Only to you, to you! Don't think me likely to expose myself to the
world. Well, and I sounded Miss Dale, and there will be no violent
obstacle. And now about Vernon?"

"I will speak to you, Willoughby, when I return from my walk with Miss
Dale, soon after twelve."

"Twelve!" said he

"I name an hour. It seems childish. I can explain it. But it is named,
I cannot deny, because I am a rather childish person perhaps, and have
it prescribed to me to delay my speaking for a certain length of time.
I may tell you at once that Mr. Whitford is not to be persuaded by me,
and the breaking of our engagement would not induce him to remain."

"Vernon used those words?"

"It was I."

"'The breaking of our engagement!' Come into the laboratory, my love."

"I shall not have time."

"Time shall stop rather than interfere with our conversation! 'The
breaking . . .'! But it's a sort of sacrilege to speak of it."

"That I feel; yet it has to be spoken of"

"Sometimes? Why? I can't conceive the occasion. You know, to me, Clara,
plighted faith, the affiancing of two lovers, is a piece of religion. I
rank it as holy as marriage; nay, to me it is holier; I really cannot
tell you how; I can only appeal to you in your bosom to understand me.
We read of divorces with comparative indifference. They occur between
couples who have rubbed off all romance."

She could have asked him in her fit of ironic iciness, on hearing him
thus blindly challenge her to speak out, whether the romance might be
his piece of religion.

He propitiated the more unwarlike sentiments in her by ejaculating,
"Poor souls! let them go their several ways. Married people no longer
lovers are in the category of the unnameable. But the hint of the
breaking of an engagement--our engagement!--between us? Oh!"

"Oh!" Clara came out with a swan's note swelling over mechanical
imitation of him to dolorousness illimitable. "Oh!" she breathed short,
"let it be now. Do not speak till you have heard me. My head may not be
clear by-and-by. And two scenes--twice will be beyond my endurance. I
am penitent for the wrong I have done you. I grieve for you. All the
blame is mine. Willoughby, you must release me. Do not let me hear a
word of that word; jealousy is unknown to me . . . Happy if I could
call you friend and see you with a worthier than I, who might by-and-by
call me friend! You have my plighted troth . . . given in ignorance of
my feelings. Reprobate a weak and foolish girl's ignorance. I have
thought of it, and I cannot see wickedness, though the blame is great,
shameful. You have none. You are without any blame. You will not suffer
as I do. You will be generous to me? I have no respect for myself when
I beg you to be generous and release me."

"But was this the . . ." Willoughby preserved his calmness, "this,
then, the subject of your interview with Vernon?"

"I have spoken to him. I did my commission, and I spoke to him."

"Of me?"

"Of myself. I see how I hurt you; I could not avoid it. Yes, of you, as
far as we are related. I said I believed you would release me. I said
I could be true to my plighted word, but that you would not insist.
Could a gentleman insist? But not a step beyond; not love; I have none.
And, Willoughby, treat me as one perfectly worthless; I am. I should
have known it a year back. I was deceived in myself. There should be

"Should be!" Willoughby's tone was a pungent comment on her.

"Love, then, I find I have not. I think I am antagonistic to it. What
people say of it I have not experienced. I find I was mistaken. It is
lightly said, but very painful. You understand me, that my prayer is
for liberty, that I may not be tied. If you can release and pardon me,
or promise ultimately to pardon me, or say some kind word, I shall know
it is because I am beneath you utterly that I have been unable to give
you the love you should have with a wife. Only say to me, go! It is you
who break the match, discovering my want of a heart. What people think
of me matters little. My anxiety will be to save you annoyance."

She waited for him; he seemed on the verge of speaking.

He perceived her expectation; he had nothing but clownish tumult
within, and his dignity counselled him to disappoint her.

Swaying his head, like the oriental palm whose shade is a blessing to
the perfervid wanderer below, smiling gravely, he was indirectly asking
his dignity what he could say to maintain it and deal this mad young
woman a bitterly compassionate rebuke. What to think, hung remoter. The
thing to do struck him first.

He squeezed both her hands, threw the door wide open, and said, with
countless blinkings: "In the laboratory we are uninterrupted. I was at
a loss to guess where that most unpleasant effect on the senses came
from. They are always 'guessing' through the nose. I mean, the
remainder of breakfast here. Perhaps I satirized them too smartly--if
you know the letters. When they are not 'calculating'. More offensive
than debris of a midnight banquet! An American tour is instructive,
though not so romantic. Not so romantic as Italy, I mean. Let us

She held back from his arm. She had scattered his brains; it was
pitiable: but she was in the torrent and could not suffer a pause or a
change of place.

"It must be here; one minute more--I cannot go elsewhere to begin
again. Speak to me here; answer my request. Once; one word. If you
forgive me, it will be superhuman. But, release me."

"Seriously," he rejoined, "tea-cups and coffee-cups, breadcrumbs.
egg-shells, caviare, butter, beef, bacon! Can we? The room reeks."

"Then I will go for my walk with Miss Dale. And you will speak to me
when I return?"

"At all seasons. You shall go with Miss Dale. But, my dear! my love!
Seriously, where are we? One hears of lover's quarrels. Now I never
quarrel. It is a characteristic of mine. And you speak of me to my
cousin Vernon! Seriously, plighted faith signifies plighted faith, as
much as an iron-cable is iron to hold by. Some little twist of the
mind? To Vernon, of all men! Tush! she has been dreaming of a hero of
perfection, and the comparison is unfavourable to her Willoughby. But,
my Clara, when I say to you, that bride is bride, and you are mine,

"Willoughby, you mentioned them,--those separations of two married. You
said, if they do not love . . . Oh! say, is it not better--instead of

He took advantage of her modesty in speaking to exclaim. "Where are we
now? Bride is bride, and wife is wife, and affianced is, in honour,
wedded. You cannot be released. We are united. Recognize it; united.
There is no possibility of releasing a wife!"

"Not if she ran . . . ?"

This was too direct to be histrionically misunderstood. He had driven
her to the extremity of more distinctly imagining the circumstance she
had cited, and with that cleared view the desperate creature gloried in
launching such a bolt at the man's real or assumed insensibility as
must, by shivering it, waken him.

But in a moment she stood in burning rose, with dimmed eyesight. She
saw his horror, and, seeing, shared it; shared just then only by seeing
it; which led her to rejoice with the deepest of sighs that some shame
was left in her.

"Ran? ran? ran?" he said as rapidly as he blinked. "How? where? what
idea . . . ?"

Close was he upon an explosion that would have sullied his conception
of the purity of the younger members of the sex hauntingly.

That she, a young lady, maiden, of strictest education, should, and
without his teaching, know that wives ran!--know that by running they
compelled their husbands to abandon pursuit, surrender possession!--and
that she should suggest it of herself as a wife!--that she should
speak of running!

His ideal, the common male Egoist ideal of a waxwork sex, would have
been shocked to fragments had she spoken further to fill in the
outlines of these awful interjections.

She was tempted: for during the last few minutes the fire of her
situation had enlightened her understanding upon a subject far from her
as the ice-fields of the North a short while before; and the prospect
offered to her courage if she would only outstare shame and seem at
home in the doings of wickedness, was his loathing and dreading so vile
a young woman. She restrained herself; chiefly, after the first
bridling of maidenly timidity, because she could not bear to lower the
idea of her sex even in his esteem.

The door was open. She had thoughts of flying out to breathe in an
interval of truce.

She reflected on her situation hurriedly askance:

"If one must go through this, to be disentangled from an engagement,
what must it be to poor women seeking to be free of a marriage?"

Had she spoken it, Sir Willoughby might have learned that she was not
so iniquitously wise of the things of this world as her mere sex's
instinct, roused to the intemperateness of a creature struggling with
fetters, had made her appear in her dash to seize a weapon, indicated
moreover by him.

Clara took up the old broken vow of women to vow it afresh: "Never to
any man will I give my hand."

She replied to Sir Willoughby, "I have said all. I cannot explain what
I have said."

She had heard a step in the passage. Vernon entered.

Perceiving them, he stated his mission in apology: "Doctor Middleton
left a book in this room. I see it; it's a Heinsius."

"Ha! by the way, a book; books would not be left here if they were not
brought here, with my compliments to Doctor Middleton, who may do as he
pleases, though, seriously, order is order," said Sir Willoughby. "Come
away to the laboratory, Clara. It's a comment on human beings that
wherever they have been there's a mess, and you admirers of them," he
divided a sickly nod between Vernon and the stale breakfast-table,
"must make what you can of it. Come, Clara."

Clara protested that she was engaged to walk with Miss Dale.

"Miss Dale is waiting in the hall," said Vernon.

"Miss Dale is waiting?" said Clara.

"Walk with Miss Dale; walk with Miss Dale," Sir Willoughby remarked,
pressingly. "I will beg her to wait another two minutes. You shall
find her in the hall when you come down."

He rang the bell and went out.

"Take Miss Dale into your confidence; she is quite trustworthy," Vernon
said to Clara.

"I have not advanced one step," she replied.

"Recollect that you are in a position of your own choosing; and if,
after thinking over it, you mean to escape, you must make up your mind
to pitched battles, and not be dejected if you are beaten in all of
them; there is your only chance."

"Not my choosing; do not say choosing, Mr. Whitford. I did not choose.
I was incapable of really choosing. I consented."

"It's the same in fact. But be sure of what you wish."

"Yes," she assented, taking it for her just punishment that she should
be supposed not quite to know her wishes. "Your advice has helped me

"Did I advise?"

"Do you regret advising?"

"I should certainly regret a word that intruded between you and him."

"But you will not leave the Hall yet? You will not leave me without a
friend? If papa and I were to leave to-morrow, I foresee endless
correspondence. I have to stay at least some days, and wear through it,
and then, if I have to speak to my poor father, you can imagine the
effect on him."

Sir Willoughby came striding in, to correct the error of his going out.

"Miss Dale awaits you, my dear. You have bonnet, hat?--No? Have you
forgotten your appointment to walk with her?"

"I am ready," said Clara, departing.

The two gentlemen behind her separated in the passage. They had not

She had read of the reproach upon women, that they divide the
friendships of men. She reproached herself but she was in action,
driven by necessity, between sea and rock. Dreadful to think of! she
was one of the creatures who are written about.



In spite of his honourable caution, Vernon had said things to render
Miss Middleton more angrily determined than she had been in the scene
with Sir Willoughby. His counting on pitched battles and a defeat for
her in all of them, made her previous feelings appear slack in
comparison with the energy of combat now animating her. And she could
vehemently declare that she had not chosen; she was too young, too
ignorant to choose. He had wrongly used that word; it sounded
malicious; and to call consenting the same in fact as choosing was
wilfully unjust. Mr. Whitford meant well; he was conscientious, very
conscientious. But he was not the hero descending from heaven
bright-sworded to smite a woman's fetters of her limbs and deliver her
from the yawning mouth-abyss.

His logical coolness of expostulation with her when she cast aside the
silly mission entrusted to her by Sir Willoughby and wept for herself,
was unheroic in proportion to its praiseworthiness. He had left it to
her to do everything she wished done, stipulating simply that there
should be a pause of four-and-twenty hours for her to consider of it
before she proceeded in the attempt to extricate herself. Of
consolation there had not been a word. Said he, "I am the last man to
give advice in such a case". Yet she had by no means astonished him
when her confession came out. It came out, she knew not how. It was led
up to by his declining the idea of marriage, and her congratulating him
on his exemption from the prospect of the yoke, but memory was too dull
to revive the one or two fiery minutes of broken language when she had
been guilty of her dire misconduct.

This gentleman was no flatterer, scarcely a friend. He could look on
her grief without soothing her. Supposing he had soothed her warmly?
All her sentiments collected in her bosom to dash in reprobation of him
at the thought. She nevertheless condemned him for his excessive
coolness; his transparent anxiety not to be compromised by a syllable;
his air of saying, "I guessed as much, but why plead your case to me?"
And his recommendation to her to be quite sure she did know what she
meant, was a little insulting. She exonerated him from the intention;
he treated her as a girl. By what he said of Miss Dale, he proposed
that lady for imitation.

"I must be myself or I shall be playing hypocrite to dig my own
pitfall," she said to herself, while taking counsel with Laetitia as to
the route for their walk, and admiring a becoming curve in her
companion's hat.

Sir Willoughby, with many protestations of regret that letters of
business debarred him from the pleasure of accompanying them, remarked
upon the path proposed by Miss Dale, "In that case you must have a

"Then we adopt the other," said Clara, and they set forth.

"Sir Willoughby," Miss Dale said to her, "is always in alarm about our

Clara glanced up at the clouds and closed her parasol. She replied, "It
inspires timidity."

There was that in the accent and character of the answer which warned
Laetitia to expect the reverse of a quiet chatter with Miss Middleton.

"You are fond of walking?" She chose a peaceful topic.

"Walking or riding; yes, of walking," said Clara. "The difficulty is to
find companions."

"We shall lose Mr. Whitford next week."

"He goes?"

"He will be a great loss to me, for I do not ride," Laetitia replied to
the off-hand inquiry.


Miss Middleton did not fan conversation when she simply breathed her

Laetitia tried another neutral theme.

"The weather to-day suits our country," she said.

"England, or Patterne Park? I am so devoted to mountains that I have no
enthusiasm for flat land."

"Do you call our country flat, Miss Middleton? We have undulations,
hills, and we have sufficient diversity, meadows, rivers, copses,
brooks, and good roads, and pretty by-paths."

"The prettiness is overwhelming. It is very pretty to see; but to live
with, I think I prefer ugliness. I can imagine learning to love
ugliness. It's honest. However young you are, you cannot be deceived by
it. These parks of rich people are a part of the prettiness. I would
rather have fields, commons."

"The parks give us delightful green walks, paths through beautiful

"If there is a right-of-way for the public."

"There should be," said Miss Dale, wondering; and Clara cried: "I chafe
at restraint: hedges and palings everywhere! I should have to travel
ten years to sit down contented among these fortifications. Of course I
can read of this rich kind of English country with pleasure in poetry.
But it seems to me to require poetry. What would you say of human
beings requiring it?"

"That they are not so companionable but that the haze of distance
improves the view."

"Then you do know that you are the wisest?"

Laetitia raised her dark eyelashes; she sought to understand. She could
only fancy she did; and if she did, it meant that Miss Middleton
thought her wise in remaining single.

Clara was full of a sombre preconception that her "jealousy" had been
hinted to Miss Dale.

"You knew Miss Durham?" she said.

"Not intimately."

"As well as you know me?"

"Not so well."

"But you saw more of her?"

"She was more reserved with me."

"Oh! Miss Dale, I would not be reserved with you."

The thrill of the voice caused Laetitia to steal a look. Clara's eyes
were bright, and she had the readiness to run to volubility of the
fever-stricken; otherwise she did not betray excitement.

"You will never allow any of these noble trees to be felled, Miss

"The axe is better than decay, do you not think?"

"I think your influence will be great and always used to good purpose."

"My influence, Miss Dale? I have begged a favour this morning and can
not obtain the grant."

It was lightly said, but Clara's face was more significant, and "What?"
leaped from Laetitia's lips.

Before she could excuse herself, Clara had answered: "My liberty."

In another and higher tone Laetitia said, "What?" and she looked round
on her companion; she looked in the doubt that is open to conviction by
a narrow aperture, and slowly and painfully yields access. Clara saw
the vacancy of her expression gradually filling with woefulness.

"I have begged him to release me from my engagement, Miss Dale."

"Sir Willoughby?"

"It is incredible to you. He refuses. You see I have no influence."

"Miss Middleton, it is terrible!"

"To be dragged to the marriage service against one's will? Yes."

"Oh! Miss Middleton!"

"Do you not think so?"

"That cannot be your meaning."

"You do not suspect me of trifling? You know I would not. I am as much
in earnest as a mouse in a trap."

"No, you will not misunderstand me! Miss Middleton, such a blow to Sir
Willoughby would be shocking, most cruel! He is devoted to you."

"He was devoted to Miss Durham."

"Not so deeply: differently."

"Was he not very much courted at that time? He is now; not so much: he
is not so young. But my reason for speaking of Miss Durham was to
exclaim at the strangeness of a girl winning her freedom to plunge into
wedlock. Is it comprehensible to you? She flies from one dungeon into
another. These are the acts which astonish men at our conduct, and
cause them to ridicule and, I dare say, despise us."

"But, Miss Middleton, for Sir Willoughby to grant such a request, if it
was made . . ."

"It was made, and by me, and will be made again. I throw it all on my
unworthiness, Miss Dale. So the county will think of me, and quite
justly. I would rather defend him than myself. He requires a different
wife from anything I can be. That is my discovery; unhappily a late
one. The blame is all mine. The world cannot be too hard on me. But I
must be free if I am to be kind in my judgements even of the gentleman
I have injured."

"So noble a gentleman!" Laetitia sighed.

"I will subscribe to any eulogy of him," said Clara, with a penetrating
thought as to the possibility of a lady experienced in him like
Laetitia taking him for noble. "He has a noble air. I say it sincerely,
that your appreciation of him proves his nobility." Her feeling of
opposition to Sir Willoughby pushed her to this extravagance, gravely
perplexing Laetitia. "And it is," added Clara, as if to support what
she had said, "a withering rebuke to me; I know him less, at least have
not had so long an experience of him."

Laetitia pondered on an obscurity in these words which would have
accused her thick intelligence but for a glimmer it threw on another
most obscure communication. She feared it might be, strange though it
seemed, jealousy, a shade of jealousy affecting Miss Middleton, as had
been vaguely intimated by Sir Willoughby when they were waiting in the
hall. "A little feminine ailment, a want of comprehension of a perfect
friendship;" those were his words to her: and he suggested vaguely that
care must be taken in the eulogy of her friend.

She resolved to be explicit.

"I have not said that I think him beyond criticism, Miss Middleton."


"He has faults. When we have known a person for years the faults come
out, but custom makes light of them; and I suppose we feel flattered by
seeing what it would be difficult to be blind to! A very little
flatters us! Now, do you not admire that view? It is my favourite."

Clara gazed over rolling richness of foliage, wood and water, and a
church-spire, a town and horizon hills. There sung a sky-lark.

"Not even the bird that does not fly away!" she said; meaning, she had
no heart for the bird satisfied to rise and descend in this place.

Laetitia travelled to some notion, dim and immense, of Miss Middleton's
fever of distaste. She shrunk from it in a kind of dread lest it might
be contagious and rob her of her one ever-fresh possession of the
homely picturesque; but Clara melted her by saying, "For your sake I
could love it . . . in time; or some dear old English scene. Since
. . . since this . . . this change in me, I find I cannot separate
landscape from associations. Now I learn how youth goes. I have grown
years older in a week.--Miss Dale, if he were to give me my freedom? if
he were to cast me off? if he stood alone?"

"I should pity him."

"Him--not me! Oh! right! I hoped you would; I knew you would."

Laetitia's attempt to shift with Miss Middleton's shiftiness was vain;
for now she seemed really listening to the language of
Jealousy:--jealous of the ancient Letty Dale--and immediately before
the tone was quite void of it.

"Yes," she said, "but you make me feel myself in the dark, and when I
do I have the habit of throwing myself for guidance upon such light as
I have within. You shall know me, if you will, as well as I know
myself. And do not think me far from the point when I say I have a
feeble health. I am what the doctors call anaemic; a rather bloodless
creature. The blood is life, so I have not much life. Ten years
back--eleven, if I must be precise, I thought of conquering the world
with a pen! The result is that I am glad of a fireside, and not sure of
always having one: and that is my achievement. My days are monotonous,
but if I have a dread, it is that there will be an alteration in them.
My father has very little money. We subsist on what private income he
has, and his pension: he was an army doctor. I may by-and-by have to
live in a town for pupils. I could be grateful to any one who would
save me from that. I should be astonished at his choosing to have me
burden his household as well.--Have I now explained the nature of my
pity? It would be the pity of common sympathy, pure lymph of pity, as
nearly disembodied as can be. Last year's sheddings from the tree do
not form an attractive garland. Their merit is, that they have not the
ambition. I am like them. Now, Miss Middleton, I cannot make myself
more bare to you. I hope you see my sincerity."

"I do see it," Clara said.

With the second heaving of her heart, she cried: "See it, and envy you
that humility! proud if I could ape it! Oh, how proud if I could speak
so truthfully true!--You would not have spoken so to me without some
good feeling out of which friends are made. That I am sure of. To be
very truthful to a person, one must have a liking. So I judge by
myself. Do I presume too much?"

Kindness was on Laetitia's face.

"But now," said Clara, swimming on the wave in her bosom, "I tax you
with the silliest suspicion ever entertained by one of your rank. Lady,
you have deemed me capable of the meanest of our vices!--Hold this
hand, Laetitia; my friend, will you? Something is going on in me."

Laetitia took her hand, and saw and felt that something was going on.

Clara said, "You are a woman."

It was her effort to account for the something.

She swam for a brilliant instant on tears, and yielded to the overflow.

When they had fallen, she remarked upon her first long breath quite
coolly: "An encouraging picture of a rebel, is it not?"

Her companion murmured to soothe her.

"It's little, it's nothing," said Clara, pained to keep her lips in

They walked forward, holding hands, deep-hearted to one another.

"I like this country better now," the shaken girl resumed. "I could lie
down in it and ask only for sleep. I should like to think of you here.
How nobly self-respecting you must be, to speak as you did! Our dreams
of heroes and heroines are cold glitter beside the reality. I have been
lately thinking of myself as an outcast of my sex, and to have a good
woman liking me a little . . . loving? Oh, Laetitia, my friend, I
should have kissed you, and not made this exhibition of myself--and if
you call it hysterics, woe to you! for I bit my tongue to keep it off
when I had hardly strength to bring my teeth together--if that idea of
jealousy had not been in your head. You had it from him."

"I have not alluded to it in any word that I can recollect."

"He can imagine no other cause for my wish to be released. I have
noticed, it is his instinct to reckon on women as constant by their
nature. They are the needles, and he the magnet. Jealousy of you, Miss
Dale! Laetitia, may I speak?"

"Say everything you please."

"I could wish:--Do you know my baptismal name?"


"At last! I could wish . . . that is, if it were your wish. Yes, I
could wish that. Next to independence, my wish would be that. I risk
offending you. Do not let your delicacy take arms against me. I wish
him happy in the only way that he can be made happy. There is my

"Was it what you were going to say just now?"


"I thought not."

"I was going to say--and I believe the rack would not make me truthful
like you, Laetitia--well, has it ever struck you: remember, I do see
his merits; I speak to his faithfullest friend, and I acknowledge he is
attractive, he has manly tastes and habits; but has it never struck you
. . . I have no right to ask; I know that men must have faults, I do
not expect them to be saints; I am not one; I wish I were."

"Has it never struck me . . . ?" Laetitia prompted her.

"That very few women are able to be straightforwardly sincere in their
speech, however much they may desire to be?"

"They are differently educated. Great misfortune brings it to them."

"I am sure your answer is correct. Have you ever known a woman who was
entirely an Egoist?"

"Personally known one? We are not better than men."

"I do not pretend that we are. I have latterly become an Egoist,
thinking of no one but myself, scheming to make use of every soul I
meet. But then, women are in the position of inferiors. They are hardly
out of the nursery when a lasso is round their necks; and if they have
beauty, no wonder they turn it to a weapon and make as many captives as
they can. I do not wonder! My sense of shame at my natural weakness and
the arrogance of men would urge me to make hundreds captive, if that is
being a coquette. I should not have compassion for those lofty birds,
the hawks. To see them with their wings clipped would amuse me. Is
there any other way of punishing them?"

"Consider what you lose in punishing them."

"I consider what they gain if we do not."

Laetitia supposed she was listening to discursive observations upon the
inequality in the relations of the sexes. A suspicion of a drift to a
closer meaning had been lulled, and the colour flooded her swiftly when
Clara said: "Here is the difference I see; I see it; I am certain of
it: women who are called coquettes make their conquests not of the best
of men; but men who are Egoists have good women for their victims;
women on whose devoted constancy they feed; they drink it like blood. I
am sure I am not taking the merely feminine view. They punish
themselves too by passing over the one suitable to them, who could
really give them what they crave to have, and they go where they . . ."
Clara stopped. "I have not your power to express ideas," she said.

"Miss Middleton, you have a dreadful power," said Laetitia.

Clara smiled affectionately. "I am not aware of any. Whose cottage is

"My father's. Will you not come in? into the garden?"

Clara took note of ivied windows and roses in the porch. She thanked
Laetitia and said: "I will call for you in an hour."

"Are you walking on the road alone?" said Laetitia, incredulously, with
an eye to Sir Willoughby's dismay.

"I put my trust in the high-road," Clara replied, and turned away, but
turned back to Laetitia and offered her face to be kissed.

The "dreadful power" of this young lady had fervently impressed
Laetitia, and in kissing her she marvelled at her gentleness and

Clara walked on, unconscious of her possession of power of any kind.



During the term of Clara's walk with Laetitia, Sir Willoughby's
shrunken self-esteem, like a garment hung to the fire after exposure to
tempestuous weather, recovered some of the sleekness of its velvet pile
in the society of Mrs. Mountstuart Jenkinson, who represented to him
the world he feared and tried to keep sunny for himself by all the arts
he could exercise. She expected him to be the gay Sir Willoughby, and
her look being as good as an incantation summons, he produced the
accustomed sprite, giving her sally for sally. Queens govern the
polite. Popularity with men, serviceable as it is for winning
favouritism with women, is of poor value to a sensitive gentleman,
anxious even to prognostic apprehension on behalf of his pride, his
comfort and his prevalence. And men are grossly purchasable; good wines
have them, good cigars, a goodfellow air: they are never quite worth
their salt even then; you can make head against their ill looks. But
the looks of women will at one blow work on you the downright
difference which is between the cock of lordly plume and the moulting.
Happily they may be gained: a clever tongue will gain them, a leg. They
are with you to a certainty if Nature is with you; if you are elegant
and discreet: if the sun is on you, and they see you shining in it; or
if they have seen you well-stationed and handsome in the sun. And once
gained they are your mirrors for life, and far more constant than the
glass. That tale of their caprice is absurd. Hit their imaginations
once, they are your slaves, only demanding common courtier service of
you. They will deny that you are ageing, they will cover you from
scandal, they will refuse to see you ridiculous. Sir Willoughby's
instinct, or skin, or outfloating feelers, told him of these mysteries
of the influence of the sex; he had as little need to study them as a
lady breathed on.

He had some need to know them in fact; and with him the need of a
protection for himself called it forth; he was intuitively a conjurer
in self-defence, long-sighted, wanting no directions to the herb he was
to suck at when fighting a serpent. His dulness of vision into the
heart of his enemy was compensated by the agile sensitiveness obscuring
but rendering him miraculously active, and, without supposing his need
immediate, he deemed it politic to fascinate Mrs. Mountstuart and
anticipate ghastly possibilities in the future by dropping a hint; not
of Clara's fickleness, you may be sure; of his own, rather; or, more
justly, of an altered view of Clara's character. He touched on the
rogue in porcelain.

Set gently laughing by his relishing humour. "I get nearer to it," he

"Remember I'm in love with her," said Mrs. Mountstuart.

"That is our penalty."

"A pleasant one for you."

He assented. "Is the 'rogue' to be eliminated?"

"Ask when she's a mother, my dear Sir Willoughby."

"This is how I read you:--"

"I shall accept any interpretation that is complimentary."

"Not one will satisfy me of being sufficiently so, and so I leave it to
the character to fill out the epigram."

"Do. What hurry is there? And don't be misled by your objection to
rogue; which would be reasonable if you had not secured her."

The door of a hollow chamber of horrible reverberation was opened
within him by this remark.

He tried to say in jest, that it was not always a passionate admiration
that held the rogue fast; but he muddled it in the thick of his
conscious thunder, and Mrs. Mountstuart smiled to see him shot from the
smooth-flowing dialogue into the cataracts by one simple reminder to
the lover of his luck. Necessarily, after a fall, the pitch of their
conversation relaxed.

"Miss Dale is looking well," he said.

"Fairly: she ought to marry," said Mrs. Mountstuart.

He shook his head. "Persuade her."

She nodded. "Example may have some effect."

He looked extremely abstracted. "Yes, it is time. Where is the man you
could recommend for her complement? She has now what was missing
before, a ripe intelligence in addition to her happy
disposition--romantic, you would say. I can't think women the worse for

"A dash of it."

"She calls it 'leafage'."

"Very pretty. And have you relented about your horse Achmet?"

"I don't sell him under four hundred."

"Poor Johnny Busshe! You forget that his wife doles him out his money.
You're a hard bargainer, Sir Willoughby."

"I mean the price to be prohibitive."

"Very well; and 'leafage' is good for hide-and-seek; especially when
there is no rogue in ambush. And that's the worst I can say of Laetitia
Dale. An exaggerated devotion is the scandal of our sex. They say
you're the hardest man of business in the county too, and I can believe
it; for at home and abroad your aim is to get the best of everybody.
You see I've no leafage, I am perfectly matter-of-fact, bald."

"Nevertheless, my dear Mrs. Mountstuart, I can assure you that
conversing with you has much the same exhilarating effect on me as
conversing with Miss Dale."

"But, leafage! leafage! You hard bargainers have no compassion for
devoted spinsters."

"I tell you my sentiments absolutely."

"And you have mine moderately expressed."

She recollected the purpose of her morning's visit, which was to engage
Dr. Middleton to dine with her, and Sir Willoughby conducted her to the
library-door. "Insist," he said.

Awaiting her reappearance, the refreshment of the talk he had
sustained, not without point, assisted him to distinguish in its
complete abhorrent orb the offence committed against him by his bride.
And this he did through projecting it more and more away from him, so
that in the outer distance it involved his personal emotions less,
while observation was enabled to compass its vastness, and, as it were,
perceive the whole spherical mass of the wretched girl's guilt
impudently turning on its axis.

Thus to detach an injury done to us, and plant it in space, for
mathematical measurement of its weight and bulk, is an art; it may also
be an instinct of self-preservation; otherwise, as when mountains
crumble adjacent villages are crushed, men of feeling may at any moment
be killed outright by the iniquitous and the callous. But, as an art,
it should be known to those who are for practising an art so
beneficent, that circumstances must lend their aid. Sir Willoughby's
instinct even had sat dull and crushed before his conversation with
Mrs. Mountstuart. She lifted him to one of his ideals of himself. Among
gentlemen he was the English gentleman; with ladies his aim was the
Gallican courtier of any period from Louis Treize to Louis Quinze. He
could doat on those who led him to talk in that character--backed by
English solidity, you understand. Roast beef stood eminent behind the
souffle and champagne. An English squire excelling his fellows at
hazardous leaps in public, he was additionally a polished whisperer, a
lively dialoguer, one for witty bouts, with something in him--capacity
for a drive and dig or two--beyond mere wit, as they soon learned who
called up his reserves, and had a bosom for pinking. So much for his
ideal of himself. Now, Clara not only never evoked, never responded to
it, she repelled it; there was no flourishing of it near her. He
considerately overlooked these facts in his ordinary calculations; he
was a man of honour and she was a girl of beauty; but the accidental
blooming of his ideal, with Mrs. Mountstuart, on the very heels of
Clara's offence, restored him to full command of his art of detachment,
and he thrust her out, quite apart from himself, to contemplate her
disgraceful revolutions.

Deeply read in the Book of Egoism that he was, he knew the wisdom of
the sentence: An injured pride that strikes not out will strike home.
What was he to strike with? Ten years younger, Laetitia might have been
the instrument. To think of her now was preposterous. Beside Clara she
had the hue of Winter under the springing bough. He tossed her away,
vexed to the very soul by an ostentatious decay that shrank from
comparison with the blooming creature he had to scourge in
self-defence, by some agency or other.

Mrs. Mountstuart was on the step of her carriage when the silken
parasols of the young ladies were descried on a slope of the park,
where the yellow green of May-clothed beeches flowed over the brown
ground of last year's leaves.

"Who's the cavalier?" she inquired.

A gentleman escorted them.

"Vernon? No! he's pegging at Crossjay," quoth Willoughby.

Vernon and Crossjay came out for the boy's half-hour's run before his
dinner. Crossjay spied Miss Middleton and was off to meet her at a
bound. Vernon followed him leisurely.

"The rogue has no cousin, has she?" said Mrs. Mountstuart.

"It's a family of one son or one daughter for generations," replied

"And Letty Dale?"

"Cousin!" he exclaimed, as if wealth had been imputed to Miss Dale;
adding: "No male cousin."

A railway station fly drove out of the avenue on the circle to the
hall-entrance. Flitch was driver. He had no right to be there, he was
doing wrong, but he was doing it under cover of an office, to support
his wife and young ones, and his deprecating touches of the hat spoke
of these apologies to his former master with dog-like pathos.

Sir Willoughby beckoned to him to approach.

"So you are here," he said. "You have luggage."

Flitch jumped from the box and read one of the labels aloud:
"Lieutenant-Colonel H. De Craye."

"And the colonel met the ladies? Overtook them?"

Here seemed to come dismal matter for Flitch to relate.

He began upon the abstract origin of it: he had lost his place in Sir
Willoughby's establishment, and was obliged to look about for work
where it was to be got, and though he knew he had no right to be where
he was, he hoped to be forgiven because of the mouths he had to feed as
a flyman attached to the railway station, where this gentleman, the
colonel, hired him, and he believed Sir Willoughby would excuse him for
driving a friend, which the colonel was, he recollected well, and the
colonel recollected him, and he said, not noticing how he was rigged:
"What! Flitch! back in your old place? Am I expected?" and he told the
colonel his unfortunate situation. "Not back, colonel; no such luck for
me" and Colonel De Craye was a very kind-hearted gentleman, as he
always had been, and asked kindly after his family. And it might be
that such poor work as he was doing now he might be deprived of, such
is misfortune when it once harpoons a man; you may dive, and you may
fly, but it sticks in you, once do a foolish thing. "May I humbly beg
of you, if you'll be so good, Sir Willoughby," said Flitch, passing to
evidence of the sad mishap. He opened the door of the fly, displaying
fragments of broken porcelain.

"But, what, what! what's the story of this?" cried Sir Willoughby.

"What is it?" said Mrs. Mountstuart, pricking up her ears.

"It was a vaws," Flitch replied in elegy.

"A porcelain vase!" interpreted Sir Willoughby.

"China!" Mrs. Mountstuart faintly shrieked.

One of the pieces was handed to her inspection.

She held it close, she held it distant. She sighed horribly.

"The man had better have hanged himself," said she.

Flitch bestirred his misfortune-sodden features and members for a
continuation of the doleful narrative.

"How did this occur?" Sir Willoughby peremptorily asked him.

Flitch appealed to his former master for testimony that he was a good
and a careful driver.

Sir Willoughby thundered: "I tell you to tell me how this occurred."

"Not a drop, my lady! not since my supper last night, if there's any
truth in me!" Flitch implored succour of Mrs Mountstuart.

"Drive straight," she said, and braced him.

His narrative was then direct.

Near Piper's mill, where the Wicker brook crossed the Rebdon road, one
of Hoppner's wagons, overloaded as usual, was forcing the horses
uphill, when Flitch drove down at an easy pace, and saw himself between
Hoppner's cart come to a stand and a young lady advancing: and just
then the carter smacks his whip, the horses pull half mad. The young
lady starts behind the cart, and up jumps the colonel, and, to save the
young lady, Flitch dashed ahead and did save her, he thanked Heaven for
it, and more when he came to see who the young lady was.

"She was alone?" said Sir Willoughby in tragic amazement, staring at

"Very well, you saved her, and you upset the fly," Mountstuart jogged
him on.

"Bardett, our old head-keeper, was a witness, my lady, had to drive
half up the bank, and it's true--over the fly did go; and the vaws it
shoots out against the twelfth mile-stone, just as though there was the
chance for it! for nobody else was injured, and knocked against
anything else, it never would have flown all to pieces, so that it took
Bardett and me ten minutes to collect every one, down to the smallest
piece there was; and he said, and I can't help thinking myself, there
was a Providence in it, for we all come together so as you might say we
was made to do as we did."

"So then Horace adopted the prudent course of walking on with the
ladies instead of trusting his limbs again to this capsizing fly," Sir
Willoughby said to Mrs. Mountstuart; and she rejoined: "Lucky that no
one was hurt."

Both of them eyed the nose of poor Flitch, and simultaneously they
delivered a verdict in "Humph!"

Mrs. Mountstuart handed the wretch a half-crown from her purse. Sir
Willoughby directed the footman in attendance to unload the fly and
gather up the fragments of porcelain carefully, bidding Flitch be quick
in his departing.

"The colonel's wedding-present! I shall call to-morrow." Mrs.
Mountstuart waved her adieu.

"Come every day!--Yes, I suppose we may guess the destination of the
vase." He bowed her off, and she cried:

"Well, now, the gift can be shared, if you're either of you for a
division." In the crash of the carriage-wheels he heard, "At any rate
there was a rogue in that porcelain."

These are the slaps we get from a heedless world.

As for the vase, it was Horace De Craye's loss. Wedding-present he
would have to produce, and decidedly not in chips. It had the look of a
costly vase, but that was no question for the moment:--What was meant
by Clara being seen walking on the high-road alone?--What snare,
traceable ad inferas, had ever induced Willoughby Patterne to make her
the repository and fortress of his honour!



Clara came along chatting and laughing with Colonel De Craye, young
Crossjay's hand under one of her arms, and her parasol flashing; a
dazzling offender; as if she wished to compel the spectator to
recognize the dainty rogue in porcelain; really insufferably fair:
perfect in height and grace of movement; exquisitely tressed;
red-lipped, the colour striking out to a distance from her ivory skin;
a sight to set the woodland dancing, and turn the heads of the town;
though beautiful, a jury of art critics might pronounce her not to be.
Irregular features are condemned in beauty. Beautiful figure, they
could say. A description of her figure and her walking would have won
her any praises: and she wore a dress cunning to embrace the shape and
flutter loose about it, in the spirit of a Summer's day. Calypso-clad,
Dr. Middleton would have called her. See the silver birch in a breeze:
here it swells, there it scatters, and it is puffed to a round and it
streams like a pennon, and now gives the glimpse and shine of the white
stem's line within, now hurries over it, denying that it was visible,
with a chatter along the sweeping folds, while still the white peeps
through. She had the wonderful art of dressing to suit the season and
the sky. To-day the art was ravishingly companionable with her
sweet-lighted face: too sweet, too vividly meaningful for pretty, if
not of the strict severity for beautiful. Millinery would tell us that
she wore a fichu of thin white muslin crossed in front on a dress of
the same light stuff, trimmed with deep rose. She carried a grey-silk
parasol, traced at the borders with green creepers, and across the arm
devoted to Crossjay a length of trailing ivy, and in that hand a bunch
of the first long grasses. These hues of red rose and pale green
ruffled and pouted in the billowy white of the dress ballooning and
valleying softly, like a yacht before the sail bends low; but she
walked not like one blown against; resembling rather the day of the
South-west driving the clouds, gallantly firm in commotion; interfusing
colour and varying in her features from laugh to smile and look of
settled pleasure, like the heavens above the breeze.

Sir Willoughby, as he frequently had occasion to protest to Clara, was
no poet: he was a more than commonly candid English gentleman in his
avowed dislike of the poet's nonsense, verbiage, verse; not one of
those latterly terrorized by the noise made about the fellow into
silent contempt; a sentiment that may sleep, and has not to be
defended. He loathed the fellow, fought the fellow. But he was one with
the poet upon that prevailing theme of verse, the charms of women. He
was, to his ill-luck, intensely susceptible, and where he led men after
him to admire, his admiration became a fury. He could see at a glance
that Horace De Craye admired Miss Middleton. Horace was a man of taste,
could hardly, could not, do other than admire; but how curious that in
the setting forth of Clara and Miss Dale, to his own contemplation and
comparison of them, Sir Willoughby had given but a nodding approbation
of his bride's appearance! He had not attached weight to it recently.

Her conduct, and foremost, if not chiefly, her having been discovered,
positively met by his friend Horace, walking on the high-road without
companion or attendant, increased a sense of pain so very unusual with
him that he had cause to be indignant. Coming on this condition, his
admiration of the girl who wounded him was as bitter a thing as a man
could feel. Resentment, fed from the main springs of his nature, turned
it to wormwood, and not a whit the less was it admiration when he
resolved to chastise her with a formal indication of his disdain. Her
present gaiety sounded to him like laughter heard in the shadow of the

"You have escaped!" he said to her, while shaking the hand of his
friend Horace and cordially welcoming him. "My dear fellow! and, by the
way, you had a squeak for it, I hear from Flitch."

"I, Willoughby? not a bit," said the colonel; "we get into a fly to
get, out of it; and Flitch helped me out as well as in, good fellow;
just dusting my coat as he did it. The only bit of bad management was
that Miss Middleton had to step aside a trifle hurriedly."

"You knew Miss Middleton at once?"

"Flitch did me the favour to introduce me. He first precipitated me at
Miss Middleton's feet, and then he introduced me, in old oriental
fashion, to my sovereign."

Sir Willoughby's countenance was enough for his friend Horace.
Quarter-wheeling to Clara, he said: "'Tis the place I'm to occupy for
life, Miss Middleton, though one is not always fortunate to have a
bright excuse for taking it at the commencement."

Clara said: "Happily you were not hurt, Colonel De Craye."

"I was in the hands of the Loves. Not the Graces, I'm afraid; I've an
image of myself. Dear, no! My dear Willoughby, you never made such a
headlong declaration as that. It would have looked like a magnificent
impulse, if the posture had only been choicer. And Miss Middleton
didn't laugh. At least I saw nothing but pity."

"You did not write," said Willoughby.

"Because it was a toss-up of a run to Ireland or here, and I came here
not to go there; and, by the way, fetched a jug with me to offer up to
the gods of ill-luck; and they accepted the propitiation."

"Wasn't it packed in a box?"

"No, it was wrapped in paper, to show its elegant form. I caught sight
of it in the shop yesterday and carried it off this morning, and
presented it to Miss Middleton at noon, without any form at all."

Willoughby knew his friend Horace's mood when the Irish tongue in him
threatened to wag.

"You see what may happen," he said to Clara.

"As far as I am in fault I regret it," she answered.

"Flitch says the accident occurred through his driving up the bank to
save you from the wheels."

"Flitch may go and whisper that down the neck of his empty
whisky-flask," said Horace De Craye. "And then let him cork it."

"The consequence is that we have a porcelain vase broken. You should
not walk on the road alone, Clara. You ought to have a companion,
always. It is the rule here."

"I had left Miss Dale at the cottage."

"You ought to have had the dogs."

"Would they have been any protection to the vase?"

Horace De Craye crowed cordially.

"I'm afraid not, Miss Middleton. One must go to the witches for
protection to vases; and they're all in the air now, having their own
way with us, which accounts for the confusion in politics and society,
and the rise in the price of broomsticks, to prove it true, as they
tell us, that every nook and corner wants a mighty sweeping. Miss Dale
looks beaming," said De Craye, wishing to divert Willoughby from his
anger with sense as well as nonsense.

"You have not been visiting Ireland recently?" said Sir Willoughby.

"No, nor making acquaintance with an actor in an Irish part in a drama
cast in the Green Island. 'Tis Flitch, my dear Willoughby, has been
and stirred the native in me, and we'll present him to you for the like
good office when we hear after a number of years that you've not
wrinkled your forehead once at your liege lady. Take the poor old dog
back home, will you? He's crazed to be at the Hall. I say, Willoughby,
it would be a good bit of work to take him back. Think of it; you'll do
the popular thing, I'm sure. I've a superstition that Flitch ought to
drive you from the church-door. If I were in luck, I'd have him drive

"The man's a drunkard, Horace."

"He fuddles his poor nose. 'Tis merely unction to the exile. Sober
struggles below. He drinks to rock his heart, because he has one. Now
let me intercede for poor Flitch."

"Not a word of him. He threw up his place."

"To try his fortune in the world, as the best of us do, though livery
runs after us to tell us there's no being an independent gentleman, and
comes a cold day we haul on the metal-button coat again, with a good
ha! of satisfaction. You'll do the popular thing. Miss Middleton joins
in the pleading."

"No pleading!"

"When I've vowed upon my eloquence, Willoughby, I'd bring you to pardon
the poor dog?"

"Not a word of him!"

"Just one!"

Sir Willoughby battled with himself to repress a state of temper that
put him to marked disadvantage beside his friend Horace in high
spirits. Ordinarily he enjoyed these fits of Irish of him, which were
Horace's fun and play, at times involuntary, and then they indicated a
recklessness that might embrace mischief. De Craye, as Willoughby had
often reminded him, was properly Norman. The blood of two or three
Irish mothers in his line, however, was enough to dance him, and if his
fine profile spoke of the stiffer race, his eyes and the quick run of
the lip in the cheek, and a number of his qualities, were evidence of
the maternal legacy.

"My word has been said about the man," Willoughby replied.

"But I've wagered on your heart against your word, and cant afford to
lose; and there's a double reason for revoking for you!"

"I don't see either of them. Here are the ladies."

"You'll think of the poor beast, Willoughby."

"I hope for better occupation."

"If he drives a wheelbarrow at the Hall he'll be happier than on board
a chariot at large. He's broken-hearted."

"He's too much in the way of breakages, my dear Horace."

"Oh, the vase! the bit of porcelain!" sung De Craye. "Well, we'll talk
him over by and by."

"If it pleases you; but my rules are never amended."

"Inalterable, are they?--like those of an ancient people, who might as
well have worn a jacket of lead for the comfort they had of their
boast. The beauty of laws for human creatures is their adaptability to
new stitchings."

Colonel De Craye walked at the heels of his leader to make his bow to
the ladies Eleanor and Isabel.

Sir Willoughby had guessed the person who inspired his friend Horace to
plead so pertinaciously and inopportunely for the man Flitch: and it
had not improved his temper or the pose of his rejoinders; he had
winced under the contrast of his friend Horace's easy, laughing,
sparkling, musical air and manner with his own stiffness; and he had
seen Clara's face, too, scanning the contrast--he was fatally driven to
exaggerate his discontentment, which did not restore him to serenity.
He would have learned more from what his abrupt swing round of the
shoulder precluded his beholding. There was an interchange between
Colonel De Craye and Miss Middleton; spontaneous on both sides. His was
a look that said: "You were right"; hers: "I knew it". Her look was
calmer, and after the first instant clouded as by wearifulness of
sameness; his was brilliant, astonished, speculative, and admiring,
pitiful: a look that poised over a revelation, called up the hosts of
wonder to question strange fact.

It had passed unseen by Sir Willoughby. The observer was the one who
could also supply the key of the secret. Miss Dale had found Colonel De
Craye in company with Miss Middleton at her gateway. They were
laughing and talking together like friends of old standing, De Craye as
Irish as he could be: and the Irish tongue and gentlemanly manner are
an irresistible challenge to the opening steps of familiarity when
accident has broken the ice. Flitch was their theme; and: "Oh, but if
we go tip to Willoughby hand in hand; and bob a courtesy to him and
beg his pardon for Mister Flitch, won't he melt to such a pair of
suppliants? of course he will!" Miss Middleton said he would not.
Colonel De Craye wagered he would; he knew Willoughby best. Miss
Middleton looked simply grave; a way of asserting the contrary opinion
that tells of rueful experience. "We'll see," said the colonel. They
chatted like a couple unexpectedly discovering in one another a common
dialect among strangers. Can there be an end to it when those two meet?
They prattle, they fill the minutes, as though they were violently to
be torn asunder at a coming signal, and must have it out while they
can; it is a meeting of mountain brooks; not a colloquy, but a chasing,
impossible to say which flies, which follows, or what the topic, so
interlinguistic are they and rapidly counterchanging. After their
conversation of an hour before, Laetitia watched Miss Middleton in
surprise at her lightness of mind. Clara bathed in mirth. A boy in a
summer stream shows not heartier refreshment of his whole being.
Laetitia could now understand Vernon's idea of her wit. And it seemed
that she also had Irish blood. Speaking of Ireland, Miss Middleton said
she had cousins there, her only relatives.

"The laugh told me that," said Colonel De Craye.

Laetitia and Vernon paced up and down the lawn. Colonel De Craye was
talking with English sedateness to the ladies Eleanor and Isabel. Clara
and young Crossjay strayed.

"If I might advise, I would say, do not leave the Hall immediately, not
yet," Laetitia said to Vernon.

"You know, then?"

"I cannot understand why it was that I was taken into her confidence."

"I counselled it."

"But it was done without an object that I can see."

"The speaking did her good."

"But how capricious! how changeful!"

"Better now than later."

"Surely she has only to ask to be released?--to ask earnestly: if it
is her wish."

"You are mistaken."

"Why does she not make a confidant of her father?"

"That she will have to do. She wished to spare him."

"He cannot be spared if she is to break the engagement."

She thought of sparing him the annoyance. "Now there's to be a tussle,
he must share in it."

"Or she thought he might not side with her?"

"She has not a single instinct of cunning. You judge her harshly."

"She moved me on the walk out. Coming home I felt differently."

Vernon glanced at Colonel De Craye.

"She wants good guidance," continued Laetitia.

"She has not an idea of treachery."

"You think so? It may be true. But she seems one born devoid of
patience, easily made reckless. There is a wildness . . . I judge by
her way of speaking; that at least appeared sincere. She does not
practise concealment. He will naturally find it almost incredible. The
change in her, so sudden, so wayward, is unintelligible to me. To me it
is the conduct of a creature untamed. He may hold her to her word and
be justified."

"Let him look out if he does!"

"Is not that harsher than anything I have said of her?"

"I'm not appointed to praise her. I fancy I read the case; and it's a
case of opposition of temperaments. We never can tell the person quite
suited to us; it strikes us in a flash."

"That they are not suited to us? Oh, no; that comes by degrees."

"Yes, but the accumulation of evidence, or sentience, if you like, is
combustible; we don't command the spark; it may be late in falling. And
you argue in her favour. Consider her as a generous and impulsive girl,
outwearied at last."

"By what?"

"By anything; by his loftiness, if you like. He flies too high for her,
we will say."

"Sir Willoughby an eagle?"

"She may be tired of his eyrie."

The sound of the word in Vernon's mouth smote on a consciousness she
had of his full grasp of Sir Willoughby and her own timid knowledge,
though he was not a man who played on words.

If he had eased his heart in stressing the first syllable, it was only
temporary relief. He was heavy-browed enough.

"But I cannot conceive what she expects me to do by confiding her sense
of her position to me," said Laetitia.

"We none of us know what will be done. We hang on Willoughby, who hangs
on whatever it is that supports him: and there we are in a swarm."

"You see the wisdom of staying, Mr. Whitford."

"It must be over in a day or two. Yes, I stay."

"She inclines to obey you."

"I should be sorry to stake my authority on her obedience. We must
decide something about Crossjay, and get the money for his crammer, if
it is to be got. If not, I may get a man to trust me. I mean to drag
the boy away. Willoughby has been at him with the tune of gentleman,
and has laid hold of him by one ear. When I say 'her obedience,' she is
not in a situation, nor in a condition to be led blindly by anybody.
She must rely on herself, do everything herself. It's a knot that won't
bear touching by any hand save hers."

"I fear . . ." said Laetitia.

"Have no such fear."

"If it should come to his positively refusing."

"He faces the consequences."

"You do not think of her."

Vernon looked at his companion.



MISS MIDDLETON finished her stroll with Crossjay by winding her trailer
of ivy in a wreath round his hat and sticking her bunch of grasses in
the wreath. She then commanded him to sit on the ground beside a big
rhododendron, there to await her return. Crossjay had informed her of a
design he entertained to be off with a horde of boys nesting in high
trees, and marking spots where wasps and hornets were to be attacked in
Autumn: she thought it a dangerous business, and as the boy's
dinner-bell had very little restraint over him when he was in the flush
of a scheme of this description, she wished to make tolerably sure of
him through the charm she not unreadily believed she could fling on
lads of his age. "Promise me you will not move from here until I come
back, and when I come I will give you a kiss." Crossjay promised. She
left him and forgot him.

Seeing by her watch fifteen minutes to the ringing of the bell, a
sudden resolve that she would speak to her father without another
minute's delay had prompted her like a superstitious impulse to abandon
her aimless course and be direct. She knew what was good for her; she
knew it now more clearly than in the morning. To be taken away
instantly! was her cry. There could be no further doubt. Had there been
any before? But she would not in the morning have suspected herself of
a capacity for evil, and of a pressing need to be saved from herself.
She was not pure of nature: it may be that we breed saintly souls which
are: she was pure of will: fire rather than ice. And in beginning to
see the elements she was made of she did not shuffle them to a heap
with her sweet looks to front her. She put to her account some
strength, much weakness; she almost dared to gaze unblinking at a
perilous evil tendency. The glimpse of it drove her to her father.

"He must take me away at once; to-morrow!"

She wished to spare her father. So unsparing of herself was she, that,
in her hesitation to speak to him of her change of feeling for Sir
Willoughby, she would not suffer it to be attributed in her own mind to
a daughter's anxious consideration about her father's loneliness; an
idea she had indulged formerly. Acknowledging that it was imperative
she should speak, she understood that she had refrained, even to the
inflicting upon herself of such humiliation as to run dilating on her
woes to others, because of the silliest of human desires to preserve
her reputation for consistency. She had heard women abused for
shallowness and flightiness: she had heard her father denounce them as
veering weather-vanes, and his oft-repeated quid femina possit: for her
sex's sake, and also to appear an exception to her sex, this reasoning
creature desired to be thought consistent.

Just on the instant of her addressing him, saying: "Father," a note of
seriousness in his ear, it struck her that the occasion for saying all
had not yet arrived, and she quickly interposed: "Papa"; and helped
him to look lighter. The petition to be taken away was uttered.

"To London?" said Dr. Middleton. "I don't know who'll take us in."

"To France, papa?"

"That means hotel-life."

"Only for two or three weeks."

"Weeks! I am under an engagement to dine with Mrs Mountstuart Jenkinson
five days hence: that is, on Thursday."

"Could we not find an excuse?"

"Break an engagement? No, my dear, not even to escape drinking a
widow's wine."

"Does a word bind us?"

"Why, what else should?"

"I think I am not very well."

"We'll call in that man we met at dinner here: Corney: a capital
doctor; an old-fashioned anecdotal doctor. How is it you are not well,
my love? You look well. I cannot conceive your not being well."

"It is only that I want change of air, papa."

"There we are--a change! semper eadem! Women will be wanting a change
of air in Paradise; a change of angels too, I might surmise. A change
from quarters like these to a French hotel would be a descent!--'this
the seat, this mournful gloom for that celestial light.' I am
perfectly at home in the library here. That excellent fellow Whitford
and I have real days: and I like him for showing fight to his elder and

"He is going to leave."

"I know nothing of it, and I shall append no credit to the tale until I
do know. He is headstrong, but he answers to a rap."

Clara's bosom heaved. The speechless insurrection threatened her eyes.

A South-west shower lashed the window-panes and suggested to Dr.
Middleton shuddering visions of the Channel passage on board a steamer.

"Corney shall see you: he is a sparkling draught in person; probably
illiterate, if I may judge from one interruption of my discourse when
he sat opposite me, but lettered enough to respect Learning and write
out his prescription: I do not ask more of men or of physicians." Dr.
Middleton said this rising, glancing at the clock and at the back of
his hands. "'Quod autem secundum litteras difficillimum esse
artificium?' But what after letters is the more difficult practice?
'Ego puto medicum.' The medicus next to the scholar: though I have not
to my recollection required him next me, nor ever expected child of
mine to be crying for that milk. Daughter she is--of the unexplained
sex: we will send a messenger for Corney. Change, my dear, you will
speedily have, to satisfy the most craving of women, if Willoughby, as
I suppose, is in the neoteric fashion of spending a honeymoon on a
railway: apt image, exposition and perpetuation of the state of mania
conducting to the institution! In my time we lay by to brood on
happiness; we had no thought of chasing it over a continent, mistaking
hurly-burly clothed in dust for the divinity we sought. A smaller
generation sacrifices to excitement. Dust and hurly-burly must perforce
be the issue. And that is your modern world. Now, my dear, let us go
and wash our hands. Midday-bells expect immediate attention. They know
of no anteroom of assembly."

Clara stood gathered up, despairing at opportunity lost. He had noticed
her contracted shape and her eyes, and had talked magisterially to
smother and overbear the something disagreeable prefigured in her

"You do not despise your girl, father?"

"I do not; I could not; I love her; I love my girl. But you need not
sing to me like a gnat to propound that question, my dear."

"Then, father, tell Willoughby to-day we have to leave tomorrow. You
shall return in time for Mrs. Mountstuart's dinner. Friends will take
us in, the Darletons, the Erpinghams. We can go to Oxford, where you
are sure of welcome. A little will recover me. Do not mention doctors.
But you see I am nervous. I am quite ashamed of it; I am well enough to
laugh at it, only I cannot overcome it; and I feel that a day or two
will restore me. Say you will. Say it in First-Lesson-Book language;
anything above a primer splits my foolish head to-day."

Dr Middleton shrugged, spreading out his arms.

"The office of ambassador from you to Willoughby, Clara? You decree me
to the part of ball between two bats. The Play being assured, the
prologue is a bladder of wind. I seem to be instructed in one of the
mysteries of erotic esotery, yet on my word I am no wiser. If
Willoughby is to hear anything from you, he will hear it from your

"Yes, father, yes. We have differences. I am not fit for contests at
present; my head is giddy. I wish to avoid an illness. He and I . . . I
accuse myself."

"There is the bell!" ejaculated Dr. Middleton. "I'll debate on it with

"This afternoon?"

"Somewhen, before the dinner-bell. I cannot tie myself to the
minute-hand of the clock, my dear child. And let me direct you, for the
next occasion when you shall bring the vowels I and A, in verbally
detached letters, into collision, that you do not fill the hiatus with
so pronounced a Y. It is the vulgarization of our tongue of which I
accuse you. I do not like my girl to be guilty of it."

He smiled to moderate the severity of the correction, and kissed her

She declared her inability to sit and eat; she went to her room, after
begging him very earnestly to send her the assurance that he had
spoken. She had not shed a tear, and she rejoiced in her self-control;
it whispered to her of true courage when she had given herself such
evidence of the reverse.

Shower and sunshine alternated through the half-hours of the afternoon,
like a procession of dark and fair holding hands and passing. The
shadow came, and she was chill; the light yellow in moisture, and she
buried her face not to be caught up by cheerfulness. Believing that her
head ached, she afflicted herself with all the heavy symptoms, and
oppressed her mind so thoroughly that its occupation was to speculate
on Laetitia Dale's modest enthusiasm for rural pleasures, for this
place especially, with its rich foliage and peeps of scenic peace. The
prospect of an escape from it inspired thoughts of a loveable round of
life where the sun was not a naked ball of fire, but a friend clothed
in woodland; where park and meadow swept to well-known features East
and West; and distantly circling hills, and the hearts of poor
cottagers too--sympathy with whom assured her of goodness--were
familiar, homely to the dweller in the place, morning and night. And
she had the love of wild flowers, the watchful happiness in the
seasons; poets thrilled her, books absorbed. She dwelt strongly on that
sincerity of feeling; it gave her root in our earth; she needed it as
she pressed a hand on her eyeballs, conscious of acting the invalid,
though the reasons she had for languishing under headache were so
convincing that her brain refused to disbelieve in it and went some way
to produce positive throbs. Otherwise she had no excuse for shutting
herself in her room. Vernon Whitford would be sceptical. Headache or
none, Colonel De Craye must be thinking strangely of her; she had not
shown him any sign of illness. His laughter and his talk sung about her
and dispersed the fiction; he was the very sea-wind for bracing
unstrung nerves. Her ideas reverted to Sir Willoughby, and at once they
had no more cohesion than the foam on a torrent-water.

But soon she was undergoing a variation of sentiment. Her maid Barclay
brought her this pencilled line from her father:

"Factum est; laetus est; amantium irae, etc."

That it was done, that Willoughby had put on an air of glad
acquiescence, and that her father assumed the existence of a lovers'
quarrel, was wonderful to her at first sight, simple the succeeding
minute. Willoughby indeed must be tired of her, glad of her going. He
would know that it was not to return. She was grateful to him for
perhaps hinting at the amantium irae, though she rejected the folly of
the verse. And she gazed over dear homely country through her windows
now. Happy the lady of the place, if happy she can be in her choice!
Clara Middleton envied her the double-blossom wild cherry-tree, nothing
else. One sprig of it, if it had not faded and gone to dust-colour like
crusty Alpine snow in the lower hollows, and then she could depart,
bearing away a memory of the best here! Her fiction of the headache
pained her no longer. She changed her muslin dress for silk; she was
contented with the first bonnet Barclay presented. Amicable toward
every one in the house, Willoughby included, she threw up her window,
breathed, blessed mankind; and she thought: "If Willoughby would open
his heart to nature, he would be relieved of his wretched opinion of
the world." Nature was then sparkling refreshed in the last drops of a
sweeping rain-curtain, favourably disposed for a background to her
joyful optimism. A little nibble of hunger within, real hunger, unknown
to her of late, added to this healthy view, without precipitating her
to appease it; she was more inclined to foster it, for the sake of the
sinewy activity of mind and limb it gave her; and in the style of young
ladies very light of heart, she went downstairs like a cascade, and
like the meteor observed in its vanishing trace she alighted close to
Colonel De Craye and entered one of the rooms off the hall.

He cocked an eye at the half-shut door.

Now you have only to be reminded that it is the habit of the sportive
gentleman of easy life, bewildered as he would otherwise be by the
tricks, twists, and windings of the hunted sex, to parcel out fair
women into classes; and some are flyers and some are runners; these
birds are wild on the wing, those exposed their bosoms to the shot. For
him there is no individual woman. He grants her a characteristic only
to enroll her in a class. He is our immortal dunce at learning to
distinguish her as a personal variety, of a separate growth.

Colonel De Craye's cock of the eye at the door said that he had seen a
rageing coquette go behind it. He had his excuse for forming the
judgement. She had spoken strangely of the fall of his wedding-present,
strangely of Willoughby; or there was a sound of strangeness in an
allusion to her appointed husband: and she had treated Willoughby
strangely when they met. Above all, her word about Flitch was curious.
And then that look of hers! And subsequently she transferred her polite
attentions to Willoughby's friend. After a charming colloquy, the
sweetest give and take rattle he had ever enjoyed with a girl, she
developed headache to avoid him; and next she developed blindness, for
the same purpose.

He was feeling hurt, but considered it preferable to feel challenged.

Miss Middleton came out of another door. She had seen him when she had
passed him and when it was too late to convey her recognition; and now
she addressed him with an air of having bowed as she went by.

"No one?" she said. "Am I alone in the house?"

"There is a figure naught," said he, "but it's as good as annihilated,
and no figure at all, if you put yourself on the wrong side of it, and
wish to be alone in the house."

"Where is Willoughby?"

"Away on business."


"Achmet is the horse, and pray don't let him be sold, Miss Middleton. I
am deputed to attend on you."

"I should like a stroll."

"Are you perfectly restored?"



"I was never better."

"It was the answer of the ghost of the wicked old man's wife when she
came to persuade him he had one chance remaining. Then, says he, I'll
believe in heaven if ye'll stop that bottle, and hurls it; and the
bottle broke and he committed suicide, not without suspicion of her
laying a trap for him. These showers curling away and leaving sweet
scents are divine, Miss Middleton. I have the privilege of the
Christian name on the nuptial-day. This park of Willoughby's is one of
the best things in England. There's a glimpse over the lake that smokes
of a corner of Killarney; tempts the eye to dream, I mean." De Craye
wound his finger spirally upward, like a smoke-wreath. "Are you for
Irish scenery?"

"Irish, English, Scottish."

"All's one so long as it's beautiful: yes, you speak for me.
Cosmopolitanism of races is a different affair. I beg leave to doubt
the true union of some; Irish and Saxon, for example, let Cupid be
master of the ceremonies and the dwelling-place of the happy couple at
the mouth of a Cornucopia. Yet I have seen a flower of Erin worn by a
Saxon gentleman proudly; and the Hibernian courting a Rowena! So we'll
undo what I said, and consider it cancelled."

"Are you of the rebel party, Colonel De Craye?"

"I am Protestant and Conservative, Miss Middleton."

"I have not a head for politics."

"The political heads I have seen would tempt me to that opinion."

"Did Willoughby say when he would be back?"

"He named no particular time. Doctor Middleton and Mr. Whitford are in
the library upon a battle of the books."

"Happy battle!"

"You are accustomed to scholars. They are rather intolerant of us poor

"Of ignorance perhaps; not of persons."

"Your father educated you himself, I presume?"

"He gave me as much Latin as I could take. The fault is mine that it is


"A little Greek."

"Ah! And you carry it like a feather."

"Because it is so light."

"Miss Middleton, I could sit down to be instructed, old as I am. When
women beat us, I verily believe we are the most beaten dogs in
existence. You like the theatre?"


"Acting, then."

"Good acting, of course."

"May I venture to say you would act admirably?"

"The venture is bold, for I have never tried."

"Let me see; there is Miss Dale and Mr. Whitford; you and I; sufficient
for a two-act piece. THE IRISHMAN IN SPAIN would do." He bent to touch
the grass as she stepped on it. "The lawn is wet."

She signified that she had no dread of wet, and said: "English women
afraid of the weather might as well be shut up."

De Craye proceeded: "Patrick O'Neill passes over from Hibernia to
Iberia, a disinherited son of a father in the claws of the lawyers,
with a letter of introduction to Don Beltran d'Arragon, a Grandee of
the First Class, who has a daughter Dona Seraphina (Miss Middleton),
the proudest beauty of her day, in the custody of a duenna (Miss Dale),
and plighted to Don Fernan, of the Guzman family (Mr. Whitford). There
you have our dramatis personae."

"You are Patrick?"

"Patrick himself. And I lose my letter, and I stand on the Prado of
Madrid with the last portrait of Britannia in the palm of my hand, and
crying in the purest brogue of my native land: 'It's all through
dropping a letter I'm here in Iberia instead of Hibernia, worse luck to
the spelling!'"

"But Patrick will be sure to aspirate the initial letter of Hibernia."

"That is clever criticism, upon my word, Miss Middleton! So he would.
And there we have two letters dropped. But he'd do it in a groan, so
that it wouldn't count for more than a ghost of one; and everything
goes on the stage, since it's only the laugh we want on the brink of
the action. Besides you are to suppose the performance before a London
audience, who have a native opposite to the aspirate and wouldn't bear
to hear him spoil a joke, as if he were a lord or a constable. It's an
instinct of the English democracy. So with my bit of coin turning over
and over in an undecided way, whether it shall commit suicide to supply
me a supper, I behold a pair of Spanish eyes like violet lightning in
the black heavens of that favoured clime. Won't you have violet?"

"Violet forbids my impersonation."

"But the lustre on black is dark violet blue."

"You remind me that I have no pretension to black."

Colonel De Craye permitted himself to take a flitting gaze at Miss
Middleton's eyes. "Chestnut," he said. "Well, and Spain is the land of

"Then it follows that I am a daughter of Spain."



"By positive deduction."

"And do I behold Patrick?"

"As one looks upon a beast of burden."


Miss Middleton's exclamation was louder than the matter of the dialogue
seemed to require. She caught her hands up.

In the line of the outer extremity of the rhododendron, screened from
the house windows, young Crossjay lay at his length, with his head
resting on a doubled arm, and his ivy-wreathed hat on his cheek, just
where she had left him, commanding him to stay. Half-way toward him up
the lawn, she saw the poor boy, and the spur of that pitiful sight set
her gliding swiftly. Colonel De Craye followed, pulling an end of his

Crossjay jumped to his feet.

"My dear, dear Crossjay!" she addressed him and reproached him. "And
how hungry you must be! And you must be drenched! This is really too

"You told me to wait here," said Crossjay, in shy self-defence.

"I did, and you should not have done it, foolish boy! I told him to
wait for me here before luncheon, Colonel De Craye, and the foolish,
foolish boy!--he has had nothing to eat, and he must have been wet
through two or three times:--because I did not come to him!"

"Quite right. And the lava might overflow him and take the mould of
him, like the sentinel at Pompeii, if he's of the true stuff."

"He may have caught cold, he may have a fever."

"He was under your orders to stay."

"I know, and I cannot forgive myself. Run in, Crossjay, and change your
clothes. Oh, run, run to Mrs. Montague, and get her to give you a warm
bath, and tell her from me to prepare some dinner for you. And change
every garment you have. This is unpardonable of me. I said--'not for
politics!'--I begin to think I have not a head for anything. But could
it be imagined that Crossjay would not move for the dinner-bell!
through all that rain! I forgot you, Crossjay. I am so sorry; so sorry!
You shall make me pay any forfeit you like. Remember, I am deep, deep
in your debt. And now let me see you run fast. You shall come in to
dessert this evening."

Crossjay did not run. He touched her hand.

"You said something?"

"What did I say, Crossjay?"

"You promised."

"What did I promise?"


"Name it, my dear boy."

He mumbled, ". . . kiss me."

Clara plumped down on him, enveloped him and kissed him.

The affectionately remorseful impulse was too quick for a conventional
note of admonition to arrest her from paying that portion of her debt.
When she had sped him off to Mrs Montague, she was in a blush.

"Dear, dear Crossjay!" she said, sighing.

"Yes, he's a good lad," remarked the colonel. "The fellow may well be a
faithful soldier and stick to his post, if he receives promise of such
a solde. He is a great favourite with you."

"He is. You will do him a service by persuading Willoughby to send him
to one of those men who get boys through their naval examination. And,
Colonel De Craye, will you be kind enough to ask at the dinner-table
that Crossjay may come in to dessert?"

"Certainly," said he, wondering.

"And will you look after him while you are here? See that no one spoils
him. If you could get him away before you leave, it would he much to
his advantage. He is born for the navy and should be preparing to enter
it now."

"Certainly, certainly," said De Craye, wondering more.

"I thank you in advance."

"Shall I not be usurping . . ."

"No, we leave to-morrow."

"For a day?"

"For longer."


"It will be longer."

"A week? I shall not see you again?"

"I fear not."

Colonel De Craye controlled his astonishment; he smothered a sensation

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