Part 7 out of 12
hands of some one else.
She bit at her glove; she glanced at the concentrated eyes of the
publican's family portraits, all looking as one; she noticed the empty
tumbler, and went round to it and touched it, and the silly spoon in
A little yielding to desperation shoots us to strange distances!
Vernon had asked her whether she was alone. Connecting that inquiry,
singular in itself, and singular in his manner of putting it, with the
glass of burning liquid, she repeated: "He must have seen Colonel De
Craye!" and she stared at the empty glass, as at something that
witnessed to something: for Vernon was not your supple cavalier
assiduously on the smirk to pin a gallantry to commonplaces. But all
the doors are not open in a young lady's consciousness, quick of nature
though she may be: some are locked and keyless, some will not open to
the key, some are defended by ghosts inside. She could not have said
what the something witnessed to. If we by chance know more, we have
still no right to make it more prominent than it was with her. And the
smell of the glass was odious; it disgraced her. She had an impulse to
pocket the spoon for a memento, to show it to grandchildren for a
warning. Even the prelude to the morality to be uttered on the occasion
sprang to her lips: "Here, my dears, is a spoon you would be ashamed to
use in your teacups, yet it was of more value to me at one period of my
life than silver and gold in pointing out, etc.": the conclusion was
hazy, like the conception; she had her idea.
And in this mood she ran down-stairs and met Colonel De Craye on the
The bright illumination of his face was that of the confident man
confirmed in a risky guess in the crisis of doubt and dispute.
"Miss Middleton!" his joyful surprise predominated; the pride of an
accurate forecast, adding: "I am not too late to be of service?"
She thanked him for the offer.
"Have you dismissed the fly, Colonel De Craye?"
"I have just been getting change to pay Mr. Flitch. He passed me on the
road. He is interwound with our fates to a certainty. I had only to
jump in; I knew it, and rolled along like a magician commanding a
"Have I been . . ."
"Not seriously, nobody doubts you being under shelter. You will allow
me to protect you? My time is yours."
"I was thinking of a running visit to my friend Miss Darleton."
"May I venture? I had the fancy that you wished to see Miss Darleton
to-day. You cannot make the journey unescorted."
"Please retain the fly. Where is Willoughby?"
"He is in jack-boots. But may I not, Miss Middleton? I shall never be
forgiven if you refuse me."
"There has been searching for me?"
"Some hallooing. But why am I rejected? Besides, I don't require the
fly; I shall walk if I am banished. Flitch is a wonderful conjurer, but
the virtue is out of him for the next four-and-twenty hours. And it
will be an opportunity to me to make my bow to Miss Darleton!"
"She is rigorous on the conventionalities, Colonel De Craye."
"I'll appear before her as an ignoramus or a rebel, whichever she likes
best to take in leading-strings. I remember her. I was greatly struck
"Memory didn't happen to be handy at the first mention of the lady's
name. As the general said of his ammunition and transport, there's the
army!--but it was leagues in the rear. Like the footman who went to
sleep after smelling fire in the house, I was thinking of other things.
It will serve me right to be forgotten--if I am. I've a curiosity to
know: a remainder of my coxcombry. Not that exactly: a wish to see the
impression I made on your friend.--None at all? But any pebble casts a
"That is hardly an impression," said Clara, pacifying her
irresoluteness with this light talk.
"The utmost to be hoped for by men like me! I have your
permission?--one minute--I will get my ticket."
"Do not," said Clara.
"Your man-servant entreats you!"
She signified a decided negative with the head, but her eyes were
dreamy. She breathed deep: this thing done would cut the cord. Her
sensation of languor swept over her.
De Craye took a stride. He was accosted by one of the railway-porters.
Flitch's fly was in request for a gentleman. A portly old gentleman
bothered about luggage appeared on the landing.
"The gentleman can have it," said De Craye, handing Flitch his money.
"Open the door." Clara said to Flitch.
He tugged at the handle with enthusiasm. The door was open: she stepped
"Then mount the box and I'll jump up beside you," De Craye called out,
after the passion of regretful astonishment had melted from his
Clara directed him to the seat fronting her; he protested indifference
to the wet; she kept the door unshut. His temper would have preferred
to buffet the angry weather. The invitation was too sweet.
She heard now the bell of her own train. Driving beside the railway
embankment she met the train: it was eighteen minutes late, by her
watch. And why, when it flung up its whale-spouts of steam, she was not
journeying in it, she could not tell. She had acted of her free will:
that she could say. Vernon had not induced her to remain; assuredly her
present companion had not; and her whole heart was for flight: yet she
was driving back to the Hall, not devoid of calmness. She speculated on
the circumstance enough to think herself incomprehensible, and there
left it, intent on the scene to come with Willoughby.
"I must choose a better day for London," she remarked.
De Craye bowed, but did not remove his eyes from her.
"Miss Middleton, you do not trust me."
She answered: "Say in what way. It seems to me that I do."
"I may speak?"
"If it depends on my authority."
"Whatever you have to say. Let me stipulate, be not very grave. I want
cheering in wet weather."
"Miss Middleton, Flitch is charioteer once more. Think of it. There's
a tide that carries him perpetually to the place where he was cast
forth, and a thread that ties us to him in continuity. I have not the
honour to be a friend of long standing: one ventures on one's devotion:
it dates from the first moment of my seeing you. Flitch is to blame, if
any one. Perhaps the spell would be broken, were he reinstated in his
"Perhaps it would," said Clara, not with her best of smiles.
Willoughby's pride of relentlessness appeared to her to be receiving a
blow by rebound, and that seemed high justice.
"I am afraid you were right; the poor fellow has no chance," De Craye
pursued. He paused, as for decorum in the presence of misfortune, and
laughed sparklingly: "Unless I engage him, or pretend to! I verily
believe that Flitch's melancholy person on the skirts of the Hall
completes the picture of the Eden within.--Why will you not put some
trust in me, Miss Middleton?"
"But why should you not pretend to engage him then, Colonel De Craye?"
"We'll plot it, if you like. Can you trust me for that?"
"For any act of disinterested kindness, I am sure."
"You mean it?"
"Without reserve. You could talk publicly of taking him to London."
"Miss Middleton, just now you were going. My arrival changed your mind.
You distrust me: and ought I to wonder? The wonder would be all the
other way. You have not had the sort of report of me which would
persuade you to confide, even in a case of extremity. I guessed you
were going. Do you ask me how? I cannot say. Through what they call
sympathy, and that's inexplicable. There's natural sympathy, natural
antipathy. People have to live together to discover how deep it is!"
Clara breathed her dumb admission of his truth.
The fly jolted and threatened to lurch.
"Flitch, my dear man!" the colonel gave a murmuring remonstrance;
"for," said he to Clara, whom his apostrophe to Flitch had set smiling,
"we're not safe with him, however we make believe, and he'll be jerking
the heart out of me before he has done.--But if two of us have not the
misfortune to be united when they come to the discovery, there's hope.
That is, if one has courage and the other has wisdom. Otherwise they
may go to the yoke in spite of themselves. The great enemy is Pride,
who has them both in a coach and drives them to the fatal door, and the
only thing to do is to knock him off his box while there's a minute to
spare. And as there's no pride like the pride of possession, the
deadliest wound to him is to make that doubtful. Pride won't be taught
wisdom in any other fashion. But one must have the courage to do it!"
De Craye trifled with the window-sash, to give his words time to sink
Who but Willoughby stood for Pride? And who, swayed by languor, had
dreamed of a method that would be surest and swiftest to teach him the
wisdom of surrendering her?
"You know, Miss Middleton, I study character," said the colonel.
"I see that you do," she answered.
"You intend to return?"
"The day is unfavourable for travelling, I must say."
"You may count on my discretion in the fullest degree. I throw myself
on your generosity when I assure you that it was not my design to
surprise a secret. I guessed the station, and went there, to put myself
at your disposal."
"Did you," said Clara, reddening slightly, "chance to see Mrs.
Mountstuart Jenkinson's carriage pass you when you drove up to the
De Craye had passed a carriage. "I did not see the lady. She was in
"Yes. And therefore it is better to put discretion on one side: we may
be certain she saw you."
"But not you, Miss Middleton."
"I prefer to think that I am seen. I have a description of courage,
Colonel De Craye, when it is forced on me."
"I have not suspected the reverse. Courage wants training, as well as
other fine capacities. Mine is often rusty and rheumatic."
"I cannot hear of concealment or plotting."
"Except, pray, to advance the cause of poor Flitch!"
"He shall be excepted."
The colonel screwed his head round for a glance at his coachman's back.
"Perfectly guaranteed to-day!" he said of Flitch's look of solidity.
"The convulsion of the elements appears to sober our friend; he is only
dangerous in calms. Five minutes will bring us to the park-gates."
Clara leaned forward to gaze at the hedgeways in the neighbourhood of
the Hall strangely renewing their familiarity with her. Both in thought
and sensation she was like a flower beaten to earth, and she thanked
her feminine mask for not showing how nerveless and languid she was.
She could have accused Vernon of a treacherous cunning for imposing it
on her free will to decide her fate.
Involuntarily she sighed.
"There is a train at three," said De Craye, with splendid promptitude.
"Yes, and one at five. We dine with Mrs. Mountstuart tonight. And I
have a passion for solitude! I think I was never intended for
obligations. The moment I am bound I begin to brood on freedom."
"Ladies who say that, Miss Middleton!. . ."
"What of them?"
"They're feeling too much alone."
She could not combat the remark: by her self-assurance that she had the
principle of faithfulness, she acknowledged to herself the truth of
it:--there is no freedom for the weak. Vernon had said that once. She
tried to resist the weight of it, and her sheer inability precipitated
her into a sense of pitiful dependence.
Half an hour earlier it would have been a perilous condition to be
traversing in the society of a closely scanning reader of fair faces.
Circumstances had changed. They were at the gates of the park.
"Shall I leave you?" said De Craye.
"Why should you?" she replied.
He bent to her gracefully.
The mild subservience flattered Clara's languor. He had not compelled
her to be watchful on her guard, and she was unaware that he passed it
when she acquiesced to his observation, "An anticipatory story is a
trap to the teller."
"It is," she said. She had been thinking as much.
He threw up his head to consult the brain comically with a dozen little
"No, you are right, Miss Middleton, inventing beforehand never
prospers; 't is a way to trip our own cleverness. Truth and mother-wit
are the best counsellors: and as you are the former, I'll try to act up
to the character you assign me."
Some tangle, more prospective than present, seemed to be about her as
she reflected. But her intention being to speak to Willoughby without
subterfuge, she was grateful to her companion for not tempting her to
swerve. No one could doubt his talent for elegant fibbing, and she was
in the humour both to admire and adopt the art, so she was glad to be
rescued from herself. How mother-wit was to second truth she did not
inquire, and as she did not happen to be thinking of Crossjay, she was
not troubled by having to consider how truth and his tale of the
morning would be likely to harmonize.
Driving down the park, she had full occupation in questioning whether
her return would be pleasing to Vernon, who was the virtual cause of
it, though he had done so little to promote it: so little that she
really doubted his pleasure in seeing her return.
IN WHICH THE SENSITIVENESS OF SIR WILLOUGHBY IS EXPLAINED: AND HE
RECEIVES MUCH INSTRUCTION
THE Hall-dock over the stables was then striking twelve. It was the
hour for her flight to be made known, and Clara sat in a turmoil of dim
apprehension that prepared her nervous frame for a painful blush on her
being asked by Colonel De Craye whether she had set her watch
correctly. He must, she understood, have seen through her at the
breakfast table: and was she not cruelly indebted to him for her
evasion of Willoughby? Such perspicacity of vision distressed and
frightened her; at the same time she was obliged to acknowledge that he
had not presumed on it. Her dignity was in no way the worse for him.
But it had been at a man's mercy, and there was the affliction.
She jumped from the fly as if she were leaving danger behind. She could
at the moment have greeted Willoughby with a conventionally friendly
smile. The doors were thrown open and young Crossjay flew out to her.
He hung and danced on her hand, pressed the hand to his mouth, hardly
believing that he saw and touched her, and in a lingo of dashes and
asterisks related how Sir Willoughby had found him under the boathouse
eaves and pumped him, and had been sent off to Hoppner's farm, where
there was a sick child, and on along the road to a labourer's cottage:
"For I said you're so kind to poor people, Miss Middleton; that's true,
now that is true. And I said you wouldn't have me with you for fear of
contagion!" This was what she had feared.
"Every crack and bang in a boys vocabulary," remarked the colonel,
listening to him after he had paid Flitch.
The latter touched his hat till he had drawn attention to himself, when
he exclaimed, with rosy melancholy: "Ah! my lady, ah! colonel, if ever
I lives to drink some of the old port wine in the old Hall at
Christmastide!" Their healths would on that occasion be drunk, it was
implied. He threw up his eyes at the windows, humped his body and drove
"Then Mr. Whitford has not come back?" said Clara to Crossjay.
"No, Miss Middleton. Sir Willoughby has, and he's upstairs in his room
"Have you seen Barclay?"
"She has just gone into the laboratory. I told her Sir Willoughby
"Tell me, Crossjay, had she a letter?"
"She had something."
"Run: say I am here; I want the letter, it is mine."
Crossjay sprang away and plunged into the arms of Sir Willoughby.
"One has to catch the fellow like a football," exclaimed the injured
gentleman, doubled across the boy and holding him fast, that he might
have an object to trifle with, to give himself countenance: he needed
it. "Clara, you have not been exposed to the weather?"
"Hardly at all."
"I rejoice. You found shelter?"
"In one of the cottages?"
"Not in a cottage; but I was perfectly sheltered. Colonel De Craye
passed a fly before he met me . . ."
"Flitch again!" ejaculated the colonel.
"Yes, you have luck, you have luck," Willoughby addressed him, still
clutching Crossjay and treating his tugs to get loose as an invitation
to caresses. But the foil barely concealed his livid perturbation.
"Stay by me, sir," he said at last sharply to Crossjay, and Clara
touched the boy's shoulder in admonishment of him.
She turned to the colonel as they stepped into the hall: "I have not
thanked you, Colonel De Craye." She dropped her voice to its lowest: "A
letter in my handwriting in the laboratory."
Crossjay cried aloud with pain.
"I have you!" Willoughby rallied him with a laugh not unlike the squeak
of his victim.
"You squeeze awfully hard, sir."
"Why, you milksop!"
"Am I! But I want to get a book."
"Where is the book?"
"In the laboratory."
Colonel De Craye, sauntering by the laboratory door, sung out: "I'll
fetch you your book. What is it? EARLY NAVIGATORS? INFANT HYMNS? I
think my cigar-case is in here."
"Barclay speaks of a letter for me," Willoughby said to Clara, "marked
to be delivered to me at noon!"
"In case of my not being back earlier; it was written to avert
anxiety," she replied.
"You are very good."
"Oh, good! Call me anything but good. Here are the ladies. Dear
ladies!" Clara swam to meet them as they issued from a morning-room
into the hall, and interjections reigned for a couple of minutes.
Willoughby relinquished his grasp of Crossjay, who darted
instantaneously at an angle to the laboratory, whither he followed, and
he encountered De Craye coming out, but passed him in silence.
Crossjay was rangeing and peering all over the room. Willoughby went
to his desk and the battery-table and the mantelpiece. He found no
letter. Barclay had undoubtedly informed him that she had left a letter
for him in the laboratory, by order of her mistress after breakfast.
He hurried out and ran upstairs in time to see De Craye and Barclay
breaking a conference.
He beckoned to her. The maid lengthened her upper lip and beat her
dress down smooth: signs of the apprehension of a crisis and of the
getting ready for action.
"My mistress's bell has just rung, Sir Willoughby."
"You had a letter for me."
"I said . . ."
"You said when I met you at the foot of the stairs that you had left a
letter for me in the laboratory."
"It is lying on my mistress's toilet-table."
Barclay swept round with another of her demure grimaces. It was
apparently necessary with her that she should talk to herself in this
Willoughby waited for her; but there was no reappearance of the maid.
Struck by the ridicule of his posture of expectation, and of his whole
behaviour, he went to his bedroom suite, shut himself in, and paced the
chambers, amazed at the creature he had become. Agitated like the
commonest of wretches, destitute of self-control, not able to preserve
a decent mask, be, accustomed to inflict these emotions and tremours
upon others, was at once the puppet and dupe of an intriguing girl. His
very stature seemed lessened. The glass did not say so, but the
shrunken heart within him did, and wailfully too. Her
compunction--'Call me anything but good'--coming after her return to
the Hall beside De Craye, and after the visible passage of a secret
between them in his presence, was a confession: it blew at him with the
fury of a furnace-blast in his face. Egoist agony wrung the outcry from
him that dupery is a more blessed condition. He desired to be deceived.
He could desire such a thing only in a temporary transport; for above
all he desired that no one should know of his being deceived; and were
he a dupe the deceiver would know it, and her accomplice would know it,
and the world would soon know of it: that world against whose tongue
he stood defenceless. Within the shadow of his presence he compressed
opinion, as a strong frost binds the springs of earth, but beyond it
his shivering sensitiveness ran about in dread of a stripping in a
wintry atmosphere. This was the ground of his hatred of the world: it
was an appalling fear on behalf of his naked eidolon, the tender infant
Self swaddled in his name before the world, for which he felt as the
most highly civilized of men alone can feel, and which it was
impossible for him to stretch out hands to protect. There the poor
little loveable creature ran for any mouth to blow on; and frostnipped
and bruised, it cried to him, and he was of no avail! Must we not
detest a world that so treats us? We loathe it the more, by the measure
of our contempt for them, when we have made the people within the
shadow-circle of our person slavish.
And he had been once a young prince in popularity: the world had been
his possession. Clara's treatment of him was a robbery of land and
subjects. His grander dream had been a marriage with a lady of so
glowing a fame for beauty and attachment to her lord that the world
perforce must take her for witness to merits which would silence
detraction and almost, not quite (it was undesireable), extinguish
envy. But for the nature of women his dream would have been realized.
He could not bring himself to denounce Fortune. It had cost him a
grievous pang to tell Horace De Craye he was lucky; he had been
educated in the belief that Fortune specially prized and cherished
little Willoughby: hence of necessity his maledictions fell upon women,
or he would have forfeited the last blanket of a dream warm as poets
But if Clara deceived him, he inspired her with timidity. There was
matter in that to make him wish to be deceived. She had not looked him
much in the face: she had not crossed his eyes: she had looked
deliberately downward, keeping her head up, to preserve an exterior
pride. The attitude had its bewitchingness: the girl's physical pride
of stature scorning to bend under a load of conscious guilt, had a
certain black-angel beauty for which he felt a hugging hatred: and
according to his policy when these fits of amorous meditation seized
him, he burst from the present one in the mood of his more favourable
conception of Clara, and sought her out.
The quality of the mood of hugging hatred is, that if you are
disallowed the hug, you do not hate the fiercer.
Contrariwise the prescription of a decorous distance of two feet ten
inches, which is by measurement the delimitation exacted of a rightly
respectful deportment, has this miraculous effect on the great creature
man, or often it has: that his peculiar hatred returns to the reluctant
admiration begetting it, and his passion for the hug falls prostrate as
one of the Faithful before the shrine; he is reduced to worship by
(For these mysteries, consult the sublime chapter in the GREAT BOOK,
the Seventy-first on LOVE, wherein nothing is written, but the Reader
receives a Lanthorn, a Powder-cask and a Pick-axe, and therewith
pursues his yellow-dusking path across the rubble of preceding
excavators in the solitary quarry: a yet more instructive passage than
the overscrawled Seventieth, or French Section, whence the chapter
opens, and where hitherto the polite world has halted.)
The hurry of the hero is on us, we have no time to spare for mining
works: he hurried to catch her alone, to wreak his tortures on her in a
bitter semblance of bodily worship, and satiated, then comfortably to
spurn. He found her protected by Barclay on the stairs.
"That letter for me?" he said.
"I think I told you, Willoughby, there was a letter I left with Barclay
to reassure you in case of my not returning early," said Clara. "It was
unnecessary for her to deliver it."
"Indeed? But any letter, any writing of yours, and from you to me! You
have it still?"
"No, I have destroyed it."
"That was wrong."
"It could not have given you pleasure."
"My dear Clara, one line from you!"
"There were but three."
Barclay stood sucking her lips. A maid in the secrets of her mistress
is a purchaseable maid, for if she will take a bribe with her right
hand she will with her left; all that has to be calculated is the
nature and amount of the bribe: such was the speculation indulged by
Sir Willoughby, and he shrank from the thought and declined to know
more than that he was on a volcanic hillside where a thin crust quaked
over lava. This was a new condition with him, representing Clara's gain
in their combat. Clara did not fear his questioning so much as he
feared her candour.
Mutually timid, they were of course formally polite, and no plain
speaking could have told one another more distinctly that each was
defensive. Clara stood pledged to the fib; packed, scaled and posted;
and he had only to ask to have it, supposing that he asked with a voice
not exactly peremptory.
She said in her heart, "It is your fault: you are relentless and you
would ruin Crossjay to punish him for devoting himself to me, like the
poor thoughtless boy he is! and so I am bound in honour to do my utmost
The reciprocal devotedness, moreover, served two purposes: it preserved
her from brooding on the humiliation of her lame flight, and flutter
back, and it quieted her mind in regard to the precipitate intimacy of
her relations with Colonel De Craye. Willoughby's boast of his
implacable character was to blame. She was at war with him, and she was
compelled to put the case in that light. Crossjay must be shielded from
one who could not spare an offender, so Colonel De Craye quite
naturally was called on for his help, and the colonel's dexterous aid
appeared to her more admirable than alarming.
Nevertheless, she would not have answered a direct question falsely.
She was for the fib, but not the lie; at a word she could be disdainful
of subterfuges. Her look said that. Willoughby perceived it. She had
written him a letter of three lines: "There were but three": and she
had destroyed the letter. Something perchance was repented by her? Then
she had done him an injury! Between his wrath at the suspicion of an
injury, and the prudence enjoined by his abject coveting of her, he
consented to be fooled for the sake of vengeance, and something
"Well! here you are, safe; I have you!" said he, with courtly
exultation: "and that is better than your handwriting. I have been all
over the country after you."
"Why did you? We are not in a barbarous land," said Clara.
"Crossjay talks of your visiting a sick child, my love:--you have
changed your dress?"
"The boy declared you were going to that farm of Hoppner's, and some
cottage. I met at my gates a tramping vagabond who swore to seeing you
and the boy in a totally contrary direction."
"Did you give him money?"
"I fancy so."
"Then he was paid for having seen me."
Willoughby tossed his head: it might be as she suggested; beggars are
"But who sheltered you, my dear Clara? You had not been heard of at
"The people have been indemnified for their pains. To pay them more
would be to spoil them. You disperse money too liberally. There was no
fever in the place. Who could have anticipated such a downpour! I want
to consult Miss Dale on the important theme of a dress I think of
wearing at Mrs Mountstuart's to-night."
"Do. She is unerring."
"She has excellent taste."
"She dresses very simply herself."
"But it becomes her. She is one of the few women whom I feel I could
not improve with a touch."
"She has judgement."
He reflected and repeated his encomium.
The shadow of a dimple in Clara's cheek awakened him to the idea that
she had struck him somewhere: and certainly he would never again be
able to put up the fiction of her jealousy of Laetitia. What, then,
could be this girl's motive for praying to be released? The
interrogation humbled him: he fled from the answer.
Willoughby went in search of De Craye. That sprightly intriguer had no
intention to let himself be caught solus. He was undiscoverable until
the assembly sounded, when Clara dropped a public word or two, and he
spoke in perfect harmony with her. After that, he gave his company to
Willoughby for an hour at billiards, and was well beaten.
The announcement of a visit of Mrs. Mountstuart Jenkinson took the
gentlemen to the drawing-room, rather suspecting that something stood
in the way of her dinner-party. As it happened, she was lamenting only
the loss of one of the jewels of the party: to wit, the great Professor
Crooklyn, invited to meet Dr. Middleton at her table; and she related
how she had driven to the station by appointment, the professor being
notoriously a bother-headed traveller: as was shown by the fact that he
had missed his train in town, for he had not arrived; nothing had been
seen of him. She cited Vernon Whitford for her authority that the train
had been inspected, and the platform scoured to find the professor.
"And so," said she, "I drove home your Green Man to dry him; he was wet
through and chattering; the man was exactly like a skeleton wrapped in
a sponge, and if he escapes a cold he must be as invulnerable as he
boasts himself. These athletes are terrible boasters."
"They climb their Alps to crow," said Clara, excited by her
apprehension that Mrs. Mountstuart would speak of having seen the
colonel near the station.
There was a laugh, and Colonel De Craye laughed loudly as it flashed
through him that a quick-witted impressionable girl like Miss Middleton
must, before his arrival at the Hall, have speculated on such obdurate
clay as Vernon Whitford was, with humourous despair at his uselessness
to her. Glancing round, he saw Vernon standing fixed in a stare at the
"You heard that, Whitford?" he said, and Clara's face betokening an
extremer contrition than he thought was demanded, the colonel rallied
the Alpine climber for striving to be the tallest of them--Signor
Excelsior!--and described these conquerors of mountains pancaked on the
rocks in desperate embraces, bleached here, burned there, barked all
over, all to be able to say they had been up "so high"--had conquered
another mountain! He was extravagantly funny and self-satisfied: a
conqueror of the sex having such different rewards of enterprise.
Vernon recovered in time to accept the absurdities heaped on him.
"Climbing peaks won't compare with hunting a wriggler," said he.
His allusion to the incessant pursuit of young Crossjay to pin him to
lessons was appreciated.
Clara felt the thread of the look he cast from herself to Colonel De
Craye. She was helpless, if he chose to misjudge her. Colonel De Craye
Crossjay had the misfortune to enter the drawing-room while Mrs.
Mountstuart was compassionating Vernon for his ducking in pursuit of
the wriggler; which De Craye likened to "going through the river after
his eel:" and immediately there was a cross-questioning of the boy
between De Craye and Willoughby on the subject of his latest truancy,
each gentleman trying to run him down in a palpable fib. They were
succeeding brilliantly when Vernon put a stop to it by marching him off
to hard labour. Mrs. Mountstuart was led away to inspect the beautiful
porcelain service, the present of Lady Busshe. "Porcelain again!" she
said to Willoughby, and would have signalled to the "dainty rogue" to
come with them, had not Clara been leaning over to Laetitia, talking to
her in an attitude too graceful to be disturbed. She called his
attention to it, slightly wondering at his impatience. She departed to
meet an afternoon train on the chance that it would land the professor.
"But tell Dr. Middleton," said she, "I fear I shall have no one worthy
of him! And," she added to Willoughby, as she walked out to her
carriage, "I shall expect you to do the great-gunnery talk at table."
"Miss Dale keeps it up with him best," said Willoughby.
"She does everything best! But my dinner-table is involved, and I
cannot count on a young woman to talk across it. I would hire a lion of
a menagerie, if one were handy, rather than have a famous scholar at my
table, unsupported by another famous scholar. Doctor Middleton would
ride down a duke when the wine is in him. He will terrify my poor
flock. The truth is, we can't leaven him: I foresee undigested lumps of
conversation, unless you devote yourself."
"I will devote myself," said Willoughby.
"I can calculate on Colonel De Craye and our porcelain beauty for any
quantity of sparkles, if you promise that. They play well together. You
are not to be one of the gods to-night, but a kind of Jupiter's
cup-bearer;--Juno's, if you like; and Lady Busshe and Lady Culmer, and
all your admirers shall know subsequently what you have done. You see
my alarm. I certainly did not rank Professor Crooklyn among the
possibly faithless, or I never would have ventured on Doctor Middleton
at my table. My dinner-parties have hitherto been all successes.
Naturally I feel the greater anxiety about this one. For a single
failure is all the more conspicuous. The exception is everlastingly
cited! It is not so much what people say, but my own sentiments. I hate
to fail. However, if you are true, we may do."
"Whenever the great gun goes off I will fall on my face, madam!"
"Something of that sort," said the dame, smiling, and leaving him to
reflect on the egoism of women. For the sake of her dinner-party he was
to be a cipher in attendance on Dr. Middleton, and Clara and De Craye
were to be encouraged in sparkling together! And it happened that he
particularly wished to shine. The admiration of his county made him
believe he had a flavour in general society that was not yet
distinguished by his bride, and he was to relinquish his opportunity in
order to please Mrs. Mountstuart! Had she been in the pay of his
rival, she could not have stipulated for more.
He remembered young Crossjay's instant quietude, after struggling in
his grasp, when Clara laid her hand on the boy: and from that
infinitesimal circumstance he deduced the boy's perception of a
differing between himself and his bride, and a transfer of Crossjay's
allegiance from him to her. She shone; she had the gift of female
beauty; the boy was attracted to it. That boy must be made to feel his
treason. But the point of the cogitation was, that similarly were Clara
to see her affianced shining, as shine he could when lighted up by
admirers, there was the probability that the sensation of her
littleness would animate her to take aim at him once more. And then was
the time for her chastisement.
A visit to Dr. Middleton in the library satisfied him that she had not
been renewing her entreaties to leave Patterne. No, the miserable
coquette had now her pastime, and was content to stay. Deceit was in
the air: he heard the sound of the shuttle of deceit without seeing it;
but, on the whole, mindful of what he had dreaded during the hours of
her absence, he was rather flattered, witheringly flattered. What was
it that he had dreaded? Nothing less than news of her running away.
Indeed a silly fancy, a lover's fancy! yet it had led him so far as to
suspect, after parting with De Craye in the rain, that his friend and
his bride were in collusion, and that he should not see them again. He
had actually shouted on the rainy road the theatric call "Fooled!" one
of the stage-cries which are cries of nature! particularly the cry of
nature with men who have driven other men to the cry.
Constantia Durham had taught him to believe women capable of explosions
of treason at half a minute's notice. And strangely, to prove that
women are all of a pack, she had worn exactly the same placidity of
countenance just before she fled, as Clara yesterday and to-day; no
nervousness, no flushes, no twitches of the brows, but smoothness, ease
of manner--an elegant sisterliness, one might almost say: as if the
creature had found a midway and borderline to walk on between cruelty
and kindness, and between repulsion and attraction; so that up to the
verge of her breath she did forcefully attract, repelling at one foot's
length with her armour of chill serenity. Not with any disdain, with no
passion: such a line as she herself pursued she indicated to him on a
neighbouring parallel. The passion in her was like a place of waves
evaporated to a crust of salt. Clara's resemblance to Constantia in
this instance was ominous. For him whose tragic privilege it had been
to fold each of them in his arms, and weigh on their eyelids, and see
the dissolving mist-deeps in their eyes, it was horrible. Once more the
comparison overcame him. Constantia he could condemn for revealing too
much to his manly sight: she had met him almost half-way: well, that
was complimentary and sanguine: but her frankness was a baldness often
rendering it doubtful which of the two, lady or gentleman, was the
object of the chase--an extreme perplexity to his manly soul. Now
Clara's inner spirit was shyer, shy as a doe down those rose-tinged
abysses; she allured both the lover and the hunter; forests of
heavenliness were in her flitting eyes. Here the difference of these
fair women made his present fate an intolerable anguish. For if
Constantia was like certain of the ladies whom he had rendered unhappy,
triumphed over, as it is queerly called, Clara was not. Her
individuality as a woman was a thing he had to bow to. It was
impossible to roll her up in the sex and bestow a kick on the
travelling bundle. Hence he loved her, though she hurt him. Hence his
wretchedness, and but for the hearty sincerity of his faith in the Self
he loved likewise and more, he would have been hangdog abject.
As for De Craye, Willoughby recollected his own exploits too proudly to
put his trust in a man. That fatal conjunction of temper and policy had
utterly thrown him off his guard, or he would not have trusted the
fellow even in the first hour of his acquaintance with Clara. But he
had wished her to be amused while he wove his plans to retain her at
the Hall:--partly imagining that she would weary of his neglect: vile
delusion! In truth he should have given festivities, he should have
been the sun of a circle, and have revealed himself to her in his more
dazzling form. He went near to calling himself foolish after the
tremendous reverberation of "Fooled!" had ceased to shake him.
How behave? It slapped the poor gentleman's pride in the face to ask. A
private talk with her would rouse her to renew her supplications. He
saw them flickering behind the girl's transparent calmness. That
calmness really drew its dead ivory hue from the suppression of them:
something as much he guessed; and he was not sure either of his temper
or his policy if he should hear her repeat her profane request.
An impulse to address himself to Vernon and discourse with him
jocularly on the childish whim of a young lady, moved perhaps by some
whiff of jealousy, to shun the yoke, was checked. He had always taken
so superior a pose with Vernon that he could not abandon it for a
moment: on such a subject too! Besides, Vernon was one of your men who
entertain the ideas about women of fellows that have never conquered
one: or only one, we will say in his case, knowing his secret history;
and that one no flag to boast of. Densely ignorant of the sex, his
nincompoopish idealizations, at other times preposterous, would now be
annoying. He would probably presume on Clara's inconceivable lapse of
dignity to read his master a lecture: he was quite equal to a philippic
upon woman's rights. This man had not been afraid to say that he talked
common sense to women. He was an example of the consequence!
Another result was that Vernon did not talk sense to men. Willoughby's
wrath at Clara's exposure of him to his cousin dismissed the proposal
of a colloquy so likely to sting his temper, and so certain to diminish
his loftiness. Unwilling to speak to anybody, he was isolated, yet
consciously begirt by the mysterious action going on all over the
house, from Clara and De Craye to Laetitia and young Crossjay, down to
Barclay the maid. His blind sensitiveness felt as we may suppose a
spider to feel when plucked from his own web and set in the centre of
another's. Laetitia looked her share in the mystery. A burden was on
her eyelashes. How she could have come to any suspicion of the
circumstances, he was unable to imagine. Her intense personal sympathy,
it might be; he thought so with some gentle pity for her--of the
paternal pat-back order of pity. She adored him, by decree of Venus;
and the Goddess had not decreed that he should find consolation in
adoring her. Nor could the temptings of prudent counsel in his head
induce him to run the risk of such a total turnover as the incurring of
Laetitia's pity of himself by confiding in her. He checked that impulse
also, and more sovereignly. For him to be pitied by Laetitia seemed an
upsetting of the scheme of Providence. Providence, otherwise the
discriminating dispensation of the good things of life, had made him
the beacon, her the bird: she was really the last person to whom he
could unbosom. The idea of his being in a position that suggested his
doing so, thrilled him with fits of rage; and it appalled him. There
appeared to be another Power. The same which had humiliated him once
was menacing him anew. For it could not be Providence, whose favourite
he had ever been. We must have a couple of Powers to account for
discomfort when Egoism is the kernel of our religion. Benevolence had
singled him for uncommon benefits: malignancy was at work to rob him of
them. And you think well of the world, do you!
Of necessity he associated Clara with the darker Power pointing the
knife at the quick of his pride. Still, he would have raised her
weeping: he would have stanched her wounds bleeding: he had an infinite
thirst for her misery, that he might ease his heart of its charitable
love. Or let her commit herself, and be cast off. Only she must commit
herself glaringly, and be cast off by the world as well. Contemplating
her in the form of a discarded weed, he had a catch of the breath: she
was fair. He implored his Power that Horace De Craye might not be the
man! Why any man? An illness, fever, fire, runaway horses, personal
disfigurement, a laming, were sufficient. And then a formal and noble
offer on his part to keep to the engagement with the unhappy wreck:
yes, and to lead the limping thing to the altar, if she insisted. His
imagination conceived it, and the world's applause besides.
Nausea, together with a sense of duty to his line, extinguished that
loathsome prospect of a mate, though without obscuring his chivalrous
devotion to his gentleman's word of honour, which remained in his mind
to compliment him permanently.
On the whole, he could reasonably hope to subdue her to admiration. He
drank a glass of champagne at his dressing; an unaccustomed act, but,
as he remarked casually to his man Pollington, for whom the rest of the
bottle was left, he had taken no horse-exercise that day.
Having to speak to Vernon on business, he went to the schoolroom, where
he discovered Clara, beautiful in full evening attire, with her arm on
young Crossjay's shoulder, and heard that the hard task-master had
abjured Mrs. Mountstuart's party, and had already excused himself,
intending to keep Crossjay to the grindstone. Willoughby was for the
boy, as usual, and more sparklingly than usual. Clara looked at him in
some surprise. He rallied Vernon with great zest, quite silencing him
when he said: "I bear witness that the fellow was here at his regular
hour for lessons, and were you?" He laid his hand on Crossjay, touching
"You will remember what I told you, Crossjay," said she, rising from
the seat gracefully to escape the touch. "It is my command."
Crossjay frowned and puffed.
"But only if I'm questioned," he said.
"Certainly," she replied.
"Then I question the rascal," said Willoughby, causing a start. "What,
sir, is your opinion of Miss Middleton in her robe of state this
"Now, the truth, Crossjay!" Clara held up a finger; and the boy could
see she was playing at archness, but for Willoughby it was earnest.
"The truth is not likely to offend you or me either," he murmured to
"I wish him never, never, on any excuse, to speak anything else."
"I always did think her a Beauty," Crossjay growled. He hated the
having to say it.
"There!" exclaimed Sir Willoughby, and bent, extending an arm to her.
"You have not suffered from the truth, my Clara!"
Her answer was: "I was thinking how he might suffer if he were taught
to tell the reverse."
"Oh! for a fair lady!"
"That is the worst of teaching, Willoughby."
"We'll leave it to the fellow's instinct; he has our blood in him. I
could convince you, though, if I might cite circumstances. Yes! But
yes! And yes again! The entire truth cannot invariably be told. I
venture to say it should not."
"You would pardon it for the 'fair lady'?"
"Applaud, my love."
He squeezed the hand within his arm, contemplating her.
She was arrayed in a voluminous robe of pale blue silk vapourous with
trimmings of light gauze of the same hue, gaze de Chambery, matching
her fair hair and dear skin for the complete overthrow of less
inflammable men than Willoughby.
"Clara!" sighed be.
"If so, it would really be generous," she said, "though the teaching h
"I fancy I can be generous."
"Do we ever know?"
He turned his head to Vernon, issuing brief succinct instructions for
letters to be written, and drew her into the hall, saying: "Know?
There are people who do not know themselves and as they are the
majority they manufacture the axioms. And it is assumed that we have to
swallow them. I may observe that I think I know. I decline to be
engulphed in those majorities. 'Among them, but not of them.' I know
this, that my aim in life is to be generous."
"Is it not an impulse or disposition rather than an aim?"
"So much I know," pursued Willoughby, refusing to be tripped. But she
rang discordantly in his ear. His "fancy that he could be generous" and
his "aim at being generous" had met with no response. "I have given
proofs," he said, briefly, to drop a subject upon which he was not
permitted to dilate; and he murmured, "People acquainted with me . . .!"
She was asked if she expected him to boast of generous deeds. "From
childhood!" she heard him mutter; and she said to herself, "Release me,
and you shall be everything!"
The unhappy gentleman ached as he talked: for with men and with hosts
of women to whom he was indifferent, never did he converse in this
shambling, third-rate, sheepish manner, devoid of all highness of tone
and the proper precision of an authority. He was unable to fathom the
cause of it, but Clara imposed it on him, and only in anger could he
throw it off. The temptation to an outburst that would flatter him with
the sound of his authoritative voice had to be resisted on a night when
he must be composed if he intended to shine, so he merely mentioned
Lady Busshe's present, to gratify spleen by preparing the ground for
dissension, and prudently acquiesced in her anticipated slipperiness.
She would rather not look at it now, she said.
"Not now; very well," said he.
His immediate deference made her regretful. "There is hardly time,
"My dear, we shall have to express our thanks to her."
His arm contracted sharply. He was obliged to be silent.
Dr Middleton, Laetitia, and the ladies Eleanor and Isabel joining them
in the hall, found two figures linked together in a shadowy indication
of halves that have fallen apart and hang on the last thread of
junction. Willoughby retained her hand on his arm; he held to it as the
symbol of their alliance, and oppressed the girl's nerves by contact,
with a frame labouring for breath. De Craye looked on them from
overhead. The carriages were at the door, and Willoughby said, "Where's
Horace? I suppose he's taking a final shot at his Book of Anecdotes and
neat collection of Irishisms."
"No," replied the colonel, descending. "That's a spring works of itself
and has discovered the secret of continuous motion, more's the
pity!--unless you'll be pleased to make it of use to Science."
He gave a laugh of good-humour.
"Your laughter, Horace, is a capital comment on your wit."
Willoughby said it with the air of one who has flicked a whip.
"'Tis a genial advertisement of a vacancy," said De Craye.
"Precisely: three parts auctioneer to one for the property."
"Oh, if you have a musical quack, score it a point in his favour,
Willoughby, though you don't swallow his drug."
"If he means to be musical, let him keep time."
"Am I late?" said De Craye to the ladies, proving himself an adept in
the art of being gracefully vanquished, and so winning tender hearts.
Willoughby had refreshed himself. At the back of his mind there was a
suspicion that his adversary would not have yielded so flatly without
an assurance of practically triumphing, secretly getting the better of
him; and it filled him with venom for a further bout at the next
opportunity: but as he had been sarcastic and mordant, he had shown
Clara what he could do in a way of speaking different from the
lamentable cooing stuff, gasps and feeble protestations to which, he
knew not how, she reduced him. Sharing the opinion of his race, that
blunt personalities, or the pugilistic form, administered directly on
the salient features, are exhibitions of mastery in such encounters, he
felt strong and solid, eager for the successes of the evening. De Craye
was in the first carriage as escort to the ladies Eleanor and Isabel.
Willoughby, with Clara, Laetitia, and Dr. Middleton, followed, all
silent, for the Rev. Doctor was ostensibly pondering; and Willoughby
was damped a little when he unlocked his mouth to say:
"And yet I have not observed that Colonel de Craye is anything of a
Celtiberian Egnatius meriting fustigation for an untimely display of
well-whitened teeth, sir: 'quicquid est, ubicunque est, quodcunque
agit, renidet:':--ha? a morbus neither charming nor urbane to the
general eye, however consolatory to the actor. But this gentleman does
not offend so, or I am so strangely prepossessed in his favour as to be
an incompetent witness."
Dr Middleton's persistent ha? eh? upon an honest frown of inquiry
plucked an answer out of Willoughby that was meant to be humourously
scornful, and soon became apologetic under the Doctor's interrogatively
"These Irishmen," Willoughby said, "will play the professional jester
as if it were an office they were born to. We must play critic now and
then, otherwise we should have them deluging us with their Joe
"With their O'Millerisms you would say, perhaps?"
Willoughby did his duty to the joke, but the Rev. Doctor, though he
wore the paternal smile of a man that has begotten hilarity, was not
perfectly propitiated, and pursued: "Nor to my apprehension is 'the
man's laugh the comment on his wit' unchallengeably new: instances of
cousinship germane to the phrase will recur to you. But it has to be
noted that it was a phrase of assault; it was ostentatiously battery;
and I would venture to remind you, friend, that among the elect,
considering that it is as fatally facile to spring the laugh upon a man
as to deprive him of his life, considering that we have only to
condescend to the weapon, and that the more popular necessarily the
more murderous that weapon is,--among the elect, to which it is your
distinction to aspire to belong, the rule holds to abstain from any
employment of the obvious, the percoct, and likewise, for your own
sake, from the epitonic, the overstrained; for if the former, by
readily assimilating with the understandings of your audience, are
empowered to commit assassination on your victim, the latter come under
the charge of unseemliness, inasmuch as they are a description of
public suicide. Assuming, then, manslaughter to be your pastime, and
hari-kari not to be your bent, the phrase, to escape criminality, must
rise in you as you would have it fall on him, ex improviso. Am I
"I am in the habit of thinking it impossible, sir, that you can be in
error," said Willoughby.
Dr Middleton left it the more emphatic by saying nothing further.
Both his daughter and Miss Dale, who had disapproved the waspish snap
at Colonel De Craye, were in wonderment of the art of speech which
could so soothingly inform a gentleman that his behaviour had not been
Willoughby was damped by what he comprehended of it for a few minutes.
In proportion as he realized an evening with his ancient admirers he
was restored, and he began to marvel greatly at his folly in not giving
banquets and Balls, instead of making a solitude about himself and his
bride. For solitude, thought he, is good for the man, the man being a
creature consumed by passion; woman's love, on the contrary, will only
be nourished by the reflex light she catches of you in the eyes of
others, she having no passion of her own, but simply an instinct
driving her to attach herself to whatsoever is most largely admired,
most shining. So thinking, he determined to change his course of
conduct, and he was happier. In the first gush of our wisdom drawn
directly from experience there is a mental intoxication that cancels
the old world and establishes a new one, not allowing us to ask whether
it is too late.
TREATING OF THE DINNER-PARTY AT MRS. MOUNTSTUART JENKINSON'S
Vernon and young Crossjay had tolerably steady work together for a
couple of hours, varied by the arrival of a plate of meat on a tray for
the master, and some interrogations put to him from time to time by the
boy in reference to Miss Middleton. Crossjay made the discovery that if
he abstained from alluding to Miss Middleton's beauty he might water
his dusty path with her name nearly as much as he liked. Mention of her
beauty incurred a reprimand. On the first occasion his master was
wistful. "Isn't she glorious!" Crossjay fancied he had started a
sovereign receipt for blessed deviations. He tried it again, but
paedagogue-thunder broke over his head.
"Yes, only I can't understand what she means, Mr. Whitford," he excused
himself "First I was not to tell; I know I wasn't, because she said so;
she quite as good as said so. Her last words were: 'Mind, Crossjay,
you know nothing about me', when I stuck to that beast of a tramp,
who's a 'walking moral,' and gets money out of people by snuffling it."
"Attend to your lesson, or you'll be one," said Vernon.
"Yes, but, Mr. Whitford, now I am to tell. I'm to answer straight out
to every question."
"Miss Middleton is anxious that you should be truthful."
"Yes; but in the morning she told me not to tell."
"She was in a hurry. She has it on her conscience that you may have
misunderstood her, and she wishes you never to be guilty of an untruth,
least of all on her account."
Crossjay committed an unspoken resolution to the air in a violent sigh:
"Ah!" and said: "If I were sure!"
"Do as she bids you, my boy."
"But I don't know what it is she wants."
"Hold to her last words to you."
"So I do. If she told me to run till I dropped, on I'd go."
"She told you to study your lessons; do that."
Crossjay buckled to his book, invigorated by an imagination of his
liege lady on the page.
After a studious interval, until the impression of his lady had
subsided, he resumed: "She's so funny. She's just like a girl, and then
she's a lady, too. She's my idea of a princess. And Colonel De Craye!
Wasn't he taught dancing! When he says something funny he ducks and
seems to be setting to his partner. I should like to be as clever as
her father. That is a clever man. I dare say Colonel De Craye will
dance with her tonight. I wish I was there."
"It's a dinner-party, not a dance," Vernon forced himself to say, to
dispel that ugly vision.
"Isn't it, sir? I thought they danced after dinner-parties, Mr.
Whitford, have you ever seen her run?"
Vernon pointed him to his task.
They were silent for a lengthened period.
"But does Miss Middleton mean me to speak out if Sir Willoughby asks
me?" said Crossjay.
"Certainly. You needn't make much of it. All's plain and simple."
"But I'm positive, Mr. Whitford, he wasn't to hear of her going to the
post-office with me before breakfast. And how did Colonel De Craye find
her and bring her back, with that old Flitch? He's a man and can go
where he pleases, and I'd have found her, too, give me the chance. You
know. I'm fond of Miss Dale, but she--I'm very fond of her--but you
can't think she's a girl as well. And about Miss Dale, when she says a
thing, there it is, clear. But Miss Middleton has a lot of meanings.
Never mind; I go by what's inside, and I'm pretty sure to please her."
"Take your chin off your hand and your elbow off the book, and fix
yourself," said Vernon, wrestling with the seduction of Crossjay's
idolatry, for Miss Middleton's appearance had been preternaturally
sweet on her departure, and the next pleasure to seeing her was hearing
of her from the lips of this passionate young poet.
"Remember that you please her by speaking truth," Vernon added, and
laid himself open to questions upon the truth, by which he learnt, with
a perplexed sense of envy and sympathy, that the boy's idea of truth
strongly approximated to his conception of what should be agreeable to
He was lonely, bereft of the bard, when he had tucked Crossjay up in
his bed and left him. Books he could not read; thoughts were
disturbing. A seat in the library and a stupid stare helped to pass the
hours, and but for the spot of sadness moving meditation in spite of
his effort to stun himself, he would have borne a happy resemblance to
an idiot in the sun. He had verily no command of his reason. She was
too beautiful! Whatever she did was best. That was the refrain of the
fountain-song in him; the burden being her whims, variations,
inconsistencies, wiles; her tremblings between good and naughty, that
might be stamped to noble or to terrible; her sincereness, her
duplicity, her courage, cowardice, possibilities for heroism and for
treachery. By dint of dwelling on the theme, he magnified the young
lady to extraordinary stature. And he had sense enough to own that her
character was yet liquid in the mould, and that she was a creature of
only naturally youthful wildness provoked to freakishness by the ordeal
of a situation shrewd as any that can happen to her sex in civilized
life. But he was compelled to think of her extravagantly, and he leaned
a little to the discrediting of her, because her actual image ummanned
him and was unbearable; and to say at the end of it: "She is too
beautiful! whatever she does is best," smoothed away the wrong he did
her. Had it been in his power he would have thought of her in the
abstract--the stage contiguous to that which he adopted: but the
attempt was luckless; the Stagyrite would have faded in it. What
philosopher could have set down that face of sun and breeze and nymph
in shadow as a point in a problem?
The library door was opened at midnight by Miss Dale. She dosed it
quietly. "You are not working, Mr. Whitford? I fancied you would wish
to hear of the evening. Professor Crooklyn arrived after all! Mrs.
Mountstuart is bewildered: she says she expected you, and that you did
not excuse yourself to her, and she cannot comprehend, et caetera. That
is to say, she chooses bewilderment to indulge in the exclamatory. She
must be very much annoyed. The professor did come by the train she
drove to meet!"
"I thought it probable," said Vernon.
"He had to remain a couple of hours at the Railway Inn; no conveyance
was to be found for him. He thinks he has caught a cold, and cannot
stifle his fretfulness about it. He may be as learned as Doctor
Middleton; he has not the same happy constitution. Nothing more
unfortunate could have occurred; he spoilt the party. Mrs. Mountstuart
tried petting him, which drew attention to him, and put us all in his
key for several awkward minutes, more than once. She lost her head; she
was unlike herself I may be presumptuous in criticizing her, but should
not the president of a dinner-table treat it like a battlefield, and
let the guest that sinks descend, and not allow the voice of a
discordant, however illustrious, to rule it? Of course, it is when I
see failures that I fancy I could manage so well: comparison is
prudently reserved in the other cases. I am a daring critic, no doubt,
because I know I shall never be tried by experiment. I have no ambition
to be tried."
She did not notice a smile of Vernon's, and continued: "Mrs Mountstuart
gave him the lead upon any subject he chose. I thought the professor
never would have ceased talking of a young lady who had been at the inn
before him drinking hot brandy and water with a gentleman!"
"How did he hear of that?" cried Vernon, roused by the malignity of the
"From the landlady, trying to comfort him. And a story of her lending
shoes and stockings while those of the young lady were drying. He has
the dreadful snappish humourous way of recounting which impresses it;
the table took up the subject of this remarkable young lady, and
whether she was a lady of the neighbourhood, and who she could be that
went abroad on foot in heavy rain. It was painful to me; I knew enough
to be sure of who she was."
"Did she betray it?"
"Did Willoughby look at her?"
"Without suspicion then."
"Colonel De Craye was diverting us, and he was very amusing. Mrs.
Mountstuart told him afterward that he ought to be paid salvage for
saving the wreck of her party. Sir Willoughby was a little too cynical;
he talked well; what he said was good, but it was not good-humoured; he
has not the reckless indifference of Colonel De Craye to uttering
nonsense that amusement may come of it. And in the drawing-room he lost
such gaiety as he had. I was close to Mrs. Mountstuart when Professor
Crooklyn approached her and spoke in my hearing of that gentleman and
that young lady. They were, you could see by his nods, Colonel De
Craye and Miss Middleton."
"And she at once mentioned it to Willoughby?"
"Colonel De Craye gave her no chance, if she sought it. He courted her
profusely. Behind his rattle he must have brains. It ran in all
directions to entertain her and her circle."
"Willoughby knows nothing?"
"I cannot judge. He stood with Mrs. Mountstuart a minute as we were
taking leave. She looked strange. I heard her say: 'The rogue!' He
laughed. She lifted her shoulders. He scarcely opened his mouth on the
"The thing must run its course," Vernon said, with the philosophical
air which is desperation rendered decorous. "Willoughby deserves it. A
man of full growth ought to know that nothing on earth tempts
Providence so much as the binding of a young woman against her will.
Those two are mutually attracted: they're both . . . They meet, and
the mischief's done: both are bright. He can persuade with a word.
Another might discourse like an angel and it would be useless. I said
everything I could think of, to no purpose. And so it is: there are
those attractions!--just as, with her, Willoughby is the reverse, he
repels. I'm in about the same predicament--or should be if she were
plighted to me. That is, for the length of five minutes; about the
space of time I should require for the formality of handing her back
her freedom. How a sane man can imagine a girl like that . . . ! But if
she has changed, she has changed! You can't conciliate a withered
affection. This detaining her, and tricking, and not listening, only
increases her aversion; she learns the art in turn. Here she is,
detained by fresh plots to keep Dr. Middleton at the Hall. That's
true, is it not?" He saw that it was. "No, she's not to blame! She has
told him her mind; he won't listen. The question then is, whether she
keeps to her word, or breaks it. It's a dispute between a conventional
idea of obligation and an injury to her nature. Which is the more
dishonourable thing to do? Why, you and I see in a moment that her
feelings guide her best. It's one of the few cases in which nature may
be consulted like an oracle."
"Is she so sure of her nature?" said Miss Dale.
"You may doubt it; I do not. I am surprised at her coming back. De
Craye is a man of the world, and advised it, I suppose. He--well, I
never had the persuasive tongue, and my failing doesn't count for
"But the suddenness of the intimacy!"
"The disaster is rather famous 'at first sight'. He came in a fortunate
hour . . . for him. A pigmy's a giant if he can manage to arrive in
season. Did you not notice that there was danger, at their second or
third glance? You counselled me to hang on here, where the amount of
good I do in proportion to what I have to endure is microscopic."
"It was against your wishes, I know," said Laetitia, and when the words
were out she feared that they were tentative. Her delicacy shrank from
even seeming to sound him in relation to a situation so delicate as
The same sentiment guarded him from betraying himself, and he said:
"Partly against. We both foresaw the possible--because, like most
prophets, we knew a little more of circumstances enabling us to see the
fatal. A pigmy would have served, but De Craye is a handsome,
intelligent, pleasant fellow."
"Sir Willoughby's friend!"
"Well, in these affairs! A great deal must be charged on the goddess."
"That is really Pagan fatalism!"
"Our modern word for it is Nature. Science condescends to speak of
natural selection. Look at these! They are both graceful and winning
and witty, bright to mind and eye, made for one another, as country
people say. I can't blame him. Besides, we don't know that he's guilty.
We're quite in the dark, except that we're certain how it must end. If
the chance should occur to you of giving Willoughby a word of
counsel--it may--you might, without irritating him as my knowledge of
his plight does, hint at your eyes being open. His insane dread of a
detective world makes him artificially blind. As soon as he fancies
himself seen, he sets to work spinning a web, and he discerns nothing
else. It's generally a clever kind of web; but if it's a tangle to
others it's the same to him, and a veil as well. He is preparing the
catastrophe, he forces the issue. Tell him of her extreme desire to
depart. Treat her as mad, to soothe him. Otherwise one morning he will
wake a second time . . . ! It is perfectly certain. And the second time
it will be entirely his own fault. Inspire him with some philosophy."
"I have none."
"I if I thought so, I would say you have better. There are two kinds of
philosophy, mine and yours. Mine comes of coldness, yours of devotion."
"He is unlikely to choose me for his confidante."
Vernon meditated. "One can never quite guess what he will do, from
never knowing the heat of the centre in him which precipitates his
actions: he has a great art of concealment. As to me, as you perceive,
my views are too philosophical to let me be of use to any of them. I
blame only the one who holds to the bond. The sooner I am gone!--in
fact, I cannot stay on. So Dr. Middleton and the Professor did not
strike fire together?"
"Doctor Middleton was ready, and pursued him, but Professor Crooklyn
insisted on shivering. His line of blank verse, 'A Railway platform and
a Railway inn!' became pathetic in repetition. He must have suffered."
"Somebody has to!"
"Why the innocent?"
"He arrives a propos. But remember that Fridolin sometimes contrives to
escape and have the guilty scorched. The Professor would not have
suffered if he had missed his train, as he appears to be in the habit
of doing. Thus his unaccustomed good-fortune was the cause of his bad."
"You saw him on the platform?"
"I am unacquainted with the professor. I had to get Mrs Mountstuart out
of the way."
"She says she described him to you. 'Complexion of a sweetbread,
consistency of a quenelle, grey, and like a Saint without his dish
behind the head.'"
"Her descriptions are strikingly accurate, but she forgot to sketch his
back, and all that I saw was a narrow sloping back and a broad hat
resting the brim on it. My report to her spoke of an old gentleman of
dark complexion, as the only traveller on the platform. She has faith
in the efficiency of her descriptive powers, and so she was willing to
drive off immediately. The intention was a start to London. Colonel De
Craye came up and effected in five minutes what I could not compass in
"But you saw Colonel De Craye pass you?"
"My work was done; I should have been an intruder. Besides I was acting
wet jacket with Mrs. Mountstuart to get her to drive off fast, or she
might have jumped out in search of her Professor herself."
"She says you were lean as a fork, with the wind whistling through the
"You see how easy it is to deceive one who is an artist in phrases.
Avoid them, Miss Dale; they dazzle the penetration of the composer.
That is why people of ability like Mrs Mountstuart see so little; they
are so bent on describing brilliantly. However, she is kind and
charitable at heart. I have been considering to-night that, to cut this
knot as it is now, Miss Middleton might do worse than speak straight
out to Mrs. Mountstuart. No one else would have such influence with
Willoughby. The simple fact of Mrs. Mountstuart's knowing of it would
be almost enough. But courage would be required for that. Good-night,
"Good-night, Mr. Whitford. You pardon me for disturbing you?"
Vernon pressed her hand reassuringly. He had but to look at her and
review her history to think his cousin Willoughby punished by just
retribution. Indeed, for any maltreatment of the dear boy Love by man
or by woman, coming under your cognizance, you, if you be of common
soundness, shall behold the retributive blow struck in your time.
Miss Dale retired thinking how like she and Vernon were to one another
in the toneless condition they had achieved through sorrow. He
succeeded in masking himself from her, owing to her awe of the
circumstances. She reproached herself for not having the same devotion
to the cold idea of duty as he had; and though it provoked inquiry, she
would not stop to ask why he had left Miss Middleton a prey to the
sparkling colonel. It seemed a proof of the philosophy he preached.
As she was passing by young Crossjay's bedroom door a face appeared.
Sir Willoughby slowly emerged and presented himself in his full length,
beseeching her to banish alarm.
He said it in a hushed voice, with a face qualified to create
"Are you tired? sleepy?" said he.
She protested that she was not: she intended to read for an hour.
He begged to have the hour dedicated to him. "I shall be relieved by
conversing with a friend."
No subterfuge crossed her mind; she thought his midnight visit to the
boy's bedside a pretty feature in him; she was full of pity, too; she
yielded to the strange request, feeling that it did not become "an old
woman" to attach importance even to the public discovery of midnight
interviews involving herself as one, and feeling also that she was
being treated as an old friend in the form of a very old woman. Her
mind was bent on arresting any recurrence to the project she had so
frequently outlined in the tongue of innuendo, of which, because of her
repeated tremblings under it, she thought him a master.
He conducted her along the corridor to the private sitting-room of the
ladies Eleanor and Isabel.
"Deceit!" he said, while lighting the candles on the mantelpiece.
She was earnestly compassionate, and a word that could not relate to
her personal destinies refreshed her by displacing her apprehensive
antagonism and giving pity free play.
SIR WILLOUGHBY ATTEMPTS AND ACHIEVES PATHOS
Both were seated. Apparently he would have preferred to watch her dark
downcast eyelashes in silence under sanction of his air of abstract
meditation and the melancholy superinducing it. Blood-colour was in
her cheeks; the party had inspirited her features. Might it be that
lively company, an absence of economical solicitudes, and a flourishing
home were all she required to make her bloom again? The supposition was
not hazardous in presence of her heightened complexion.
She raised her eyes. He could not meet her look without speaking.
"Can you forgive deceit?"
"It would be to boast of more charity than I know myself to possess,
were I to say that I can, Sir Willoughby. I hope I am able to forgive.
I cannot tell. I should like to say yes."
"Could you live with the deceiver?"
"No. I could have given that answer for you. No semblance of union
should be maintained between the deceiver and ourselves. Laetitia!"
"Have I no right to your name?"
"If it pleases you to . . ."
"I speak as my thoughts run, and they did not know a Miss Dale so well
as a dear Laetitia: my truest friend! You have talked with Clara
"We had a conversation."
Her brevity affrighted him. He flew off in a cloud.
"Reverting to that question of deceivers: is it not your opinion that
to pardon, to condone, is to corrupt society by passing off as pure
what is false? Do we not," he wore the smile of haggard playfulness of
a convalescent child the first day back to its toys, "Laetitia, do we
not impose a counterfeit on the currency?"
"Supposing it to be really deception."
"Apart from my loathing of deception, of falseness in any shape, upon
any grounds, I hold it an imperious duty to expose, punish, off with
it. I take it to be one of the forms of noxiousness which a good
citizen is bound to extirpate. I am not myself good citizen enough, I
confess, for much more than passive abhorrence. I do not forgive: I am
at heart serious and I cannot forgive:--there is no possible
reconciliation, there can be only an ostensible truce, between the two
hostile powers dividing this world."
She glanced at him quickly.
"Good and evil!" he said.
Her face expressed a surprise relapsing on the heart.
He spelt the puckers of her forehead to mean that she feared he might
be speaking unchristianly.
"You will find it so in all religions, my dear Laetitia: the Hindoo,
the Persian, ours. It is universal; an experience of our humanity.
Deceit and sincerity cannot live together. Truth must kill the lie, or
the lie will kill truth. I do not forgive. All I say to the person is,
"But that is right! that is generous!" exclaimed Laetitia, glad to
approve him for the sake of escaping her critical soul, and relieved by
the idea of Clara's difficulty solved.
"Capable of generosity, perhaps," he mused, aloud.
She wounded him by not supplying the expected enthusiastic asseveration
of her belief in his general tendency to magnanimity.
He said, after a pause: "But the world is not likely to be impressed by
anything not immediately gratifying it. People change, I find: as we
increase in years we cease to be the heroes we were. I myself am
insensible to change: I do not admit the charge. Except in this we will
say: personal ambition. I have it no more. And what is it when we have
it? Decidedly a confession of inferiority! That is, the desire to be
distinguished is an acknowledgement of insufficiency. But I have still
the craving for my dearest friends to think well of me. A weakness?
Call it so. Not a dishonourable weakness!"
Laetitia racked her brain for the connection of his present speech with
the preceding dialogue. She was baffled, from not knowing "the heat of
the centre in him", as Vernon opaquely phrased it in charity to the
object of her worship.
"Well," said he, unappeased, "and besides the passion to excel, I have
changed somewhat in the heartiness of my thirst for the amusements
incident to my station. I do not care to keep a stud--I was once
tempted: nor hounds. And I can remember the day when I determined to
have the best kennels and the best breed of horses in the kingdom.
Puerile! What is distinction of that sort, or of any acquisition and
accomplishment? We ask! one's self is not the greater. To seek it, owns
to our smallness, in real fact; and when it is attained, what then? My
horses are good, they are admired, I challenge the county to surpass
them: well? These are but my horses; the praise is of the animals, not
of me. I decline to share in it. Yet I know men content to swallow the
praise of their beasts and be semi-equine. The littleness of one's
fellows in the mob of life is a very strange experience! One may regret
to have lost the simplicity of one's forefathers, which could accept
those and other distinctions with a cordial pleasure, not to say pride.
As, for instance, I am, as it is called, a dead shot. 'Give your
acclamations, gentlemen, to my ancestors, from whom I inherited a
steady hand and quick sight.' They do not touch me. Where I do not find
myself--that I am essentially I--no applause can move me. To speak to
you as I would speak to none, admiration--you know that in my early
youth I swam in flattery--I had to swim to avoid drowning!--admiration
of my personal gifts has grown tasteless. Changed, therefore, inasmuch
as there has been a growth of spirituality. We are all in submission to
mortal laws, and so far I have indeed changed. I may add that it is
unusual for country gentlemen to apply themselves to scientific
researches. These are, however, in the spirit of the time. I
apprehended that instinctively when at College. I forsook the classics
for science. And thereby escaped the vice of domineering
self-sufficiency peculiar to classical men, of which you had an amusing
example in the carriage, on the way to Mrs. Mountstuart's this evening.
Science is modest; slow, if you like; it deals with facts, and having
mastered them, it masters men; of necessity, not with a stupid,
loud-mouthed arrogance: words big and oddly garbed as the Pope's
body-guard. Of course, one bows to the Infallible; we must, when his
giant-mercenaries level bayonets."
Sir Willoughby offered Miss Dale half a minute that she might in gentle
feminine fashion acquiesce in the implied reproof of Dr. Middleton's
behaviour to him during the drive to Mrs. Mountstuart's. She did not.
Her heart was accusing Clara of having done it a wrong and a hurt. For
while he talked he seemed to her to justify Clara's feelings and her
conduct: and her own reawakened sensations of injury came to the
surface a moment to look at him, affirming that they pardoned him, and
pitied, but hardly wondered.
The heat of the centre in him had administered the comfort he wanted,
though the conclusive accordant notes he loved on woman's lips, that
subservient harmony of another instrument desired of musicians when
they have done their solo-playing, came not to wind up the performance:
not a single bar. She did not speak. Probably his Laetitia was
overcome, as he had long known her to be when they conversed;
nerve-subdued, unable to deploy her mental resources or her musical.
Yet ordinarily she had command of the latter.--Was she too condoling?
Did a reason exist for it? Had the impulsive and desperate girl spoken
out to Laetitia to the fullest?--shameless daughter of a domineering
sire that she was! Ghastlier inquiry (it struck the centre of him with
a sounding ring), was Laetitia pitying him overmuch for worse than the
pain of a little difference between lovers--for treason on the part of
his bride? Did she know of a rival? know more than he?
When the centre of him was violently struck he was a genius in
penetration. He guessed that she did know: and by this was he presently
helped to achieve pathos.
"So my election was for Science," he continued; "and if it makes me, as
I fear, a rara avis among country gentlemen, it unites me, puts me in
the main, I may say, in the only current of progress--a word
sufficiently despicable in their political jargon.--You enjoyed your
evening at Mrs. Mountstuart's?"
"She brings her Professor to dine here the day after tomorrow. Does it
astonish you? You started."
"I did not hear the invitation."
"It was arranged at the table: you and I were separated--cruelly, I
told her: she declared that we see enough of one another, and that it
was good for me that we should be separated; neither of which is true.
I may not have known what is the best for me: I do know what is good.
If in my younger days I egregiously erred, that, taken of itself alone,
is, assuming me to have sense and feeling, the surer proof of present
wisdom. I can testify in person that wisdom is pain. If pain is to add
to wisdom, let me suffer! Do you approve of that, Laetitia?"
"It is well said."
"It is felt. Those who themselves have suffered should know the benefit
of the resolution."
"One may have suffered so much as to wish only for peace."
"True: but you! have you?"
"It would be for peace, if I prayed for any earthly gift."
Sir Willoughby dropped a smile on her. "I mentioned the Pope's
parti-coloured body-guard just now. In my youth their singular attire
impressed me. People tell me they have been re-uniformed: I am sorry.
They remain one of my liveliest recollections of the Eternal City. They
affected my sense of humour, always alert in me, as you are aware. We
English have humour. It is the first thing struck in us when we land on
the Continent: our risible faculties are generally active all through
the tour. Humour, or the clash of sense with novel examples of the
absurd, is our characteristic. I do not condescend to boisterous
displays of it. I observe, and note the people's comicalities for my
correspondence. But you have read my letters--most of them, if not
"Many of them."
"I was with you then!--I was about to say--that Swiss-guard reminded
me--you have not been in Italy. I have constantly regretted it. You are
the very woman, you have the soul for Italy. I know no other of whom I
could say it, with whom I should not feel that she was out of place,
discordant with me. Italy and Laetitia! often have I joined you
together. We shall see. I begin to have hopes. Here you have literally
stagnated. Why, a dinner-party refreshes you! What would not travel do,
and that heavenly climate! You are a reader of history and poetry.
Well, poetry! I never yet saw the poetry that expressed the tenth part
of what I feel in the presence of beauty and magnificence, and when I
really meditate--profoundly. Call me a positive mind. I feel: only I
feel too intensely for poetry. By the nature of it, poetry cannot be
sincere. I will have sincerity. Whatever touches our emotions should be
spontaneous, not a craft. I know you are in favour of poetry. You would
win me, if any one could. But history! there I am with you. Walking
over ruins: at night: the arches of the solemn black amphitheatre
pouring moonlight on us--the moonlight of Italy!"
"You would not laugh there, Sir Willoughby?" said Laetitia, rousing
herself from a stupor of apprehensive amazement, to utter something and
realize actual circumstances.
"Besides, you, I think, or I am mistaken in you"--he deviated from his
projected speech--"you are not a victim of the sense of association and
"I can understand the influence of it: I have at least a conception of
the humourous, but ridicule would not strike me in the Coliseum of
Rome. I could not bear it, no, Sir Willoughby!"
She appeared to be taking him in very strong earnest, by thus
petitioning him not to laugh in the Coliseum, and now he said:
"Besides, you are one who could accommodate yourself to the society of
the ladies, my aunts. Good women, Laetitia! I cannot imagine them de
trop in Italy, or in a household. I have of course reason to be partial
in my judgement."
"They are excellent and most amiable ladies; I love them," said
Laetitia, fervently; the more strongly excited to fervour by her
enlightenment as to his drift.
She read it that he designed to take her to Italy with the ladies:
--after giving Miss Middleton her liberty; that was necessarily
implied. And that was truly generous. In his boyhood he had been famous
for his bountifulness in scattering silver and gold. Might he not have
caused himself to be misperused in later life?
Clara had spoken to her of the visit and mission of the ladies to the
library: and Laetitia daringly conceived herself to be on the certain
track of his meaning, she being able to enjoy their society as she
supposed him to consider that Miss Middleton did not, and would not
either abroad or at home.
Sir Willoughby asked her: "You could travel with them?"
"Indeed I could!"
"As affirmatively as one may protest. Delightedly."
"Agreed. It is an undertaking." He put his hand out.
"Whether I be of the party or not! To Italy, Laetitia! It would give me
pleasure to be with you, and it will, if I must be excluded, to think
of you in Italy."
His hand was out. She had to feign inattention or yield her own. She
had not the effrontery to pretend not to see, and she yielded it. He
pressed it, and whenever it shrunk a quarter inch to withdraw, he shook
it up and down, as an instrument that had been lent him for due
emphasis to his remarks. And very emphatic an amorous orator can make
it upon a captive lady.
"I am unable to speak decisively on that or any subject. I am, I think
you once quoted, 'tossed like a weed on the ocean.' Of myself I can
speak: I cannot speak for a second person. I am infinitely harassed. If
I could cry, 'To Italy tomorrow!' Ah! . . . Do not set me down for
complaining. I know the lot of man. But, Laetitia, deceit! deceit! It
is a bad taste in the mouth. It sickens us of humanity. I compare it to
an earthquake: we lose all our reliance on the solidity of the world.
It is a betrayal not simply of the person; it is a betrayal of
humankind. My friend! Constant friend! No, I will not despair. Yes, I
have faults; I will remember them. Only, forgiveness is another
question. Yes, the injury I can forgive; the falseness never. In the
interests of humanity, no. So young, and such deceit!"
Laetitia's bosom rose: her hand was detained: a lady who has yielded it
cannot wrestle to have it back; those outworks which protect her
treacherously shelter the enemy aiming at the citadel when he has taken
them. In return for the silken armour bestowed on her by our
civilization, it is exacted that she be soft and civil nigh up to
perishing-point. She breathed tremulously high, saying on her
top-breath: "If it--it may not be so; it can scarcely. . ." A deep sigh
intervened. It saddened her that she knew so much.
"For when I love I love," said Sir Willoughby; "my friends and my
servants know that. There can be no medium: not with me. I give all, I
claim all. As I am absorbed, so must I absorb. We both cancel and
create, we extinguish and we illumine one another. The error may be in
the choice of an object: it is not in the passion. Perfect confidence,
perfect abandonment. I repeat, I claim it because I give it. The
selfishness of love may be denounced: it is a part of us. My answer
would be, it is an element only of the noblest of us! Love, Laetitia! I
speak of love. But one who breaks faith to drag us through the mire,
who betrays, betrays and hands us over to the world, whose prey we
become identically because of virtues we were educated to think it a
blessing to possess: tell me the name for that!--Again, it has ever
been a principle with me to respect the sex. But if we see women false,
treacherous . . . Why indulge in these abstract views, you would ask!
The world presses them on us, full as it is of the vilest specimens.
They seek to pluck up every rooted principle: they sneer at our
worship: they rob us of our religion. This bitter experience of the
world drives us back to the antidote of what we knew before we plunged
into it: of one . . . of something we esteemed and still esteem. Is
that antidote strong enough to expel the poison? I hope so! I believe
so! To lose faith in womankind is terrible."
He studied her. She looked distressed: she was not moved.
She was thinking that, with the exception of a strain of haughtiness,
he talked excellently to men, at least in the tone of the things he
meant to say; but that his manner of talking to women went to an excess
in the artificial tongue--the tutored tongue of sentimental deference
of the towering male: he fluted exceedingly; and she wondered whether
it was this which had wrecked him with Miss Middleton.
His intuitive sagacity counselled him to strive for pathos to move her.
It was a task; for while he perceived her to be not ignorant of his
plight, he doubted her knowing the extent of it, and as his desire was
merely to move her without an exposure of himself, he had to compass
being pathetic as it were under the impediments of a mailed and
gauntletted knight, who cannot easily heave the bosom, or show it
Moreover, pathos is a tide: often it carries the awakener of it off his
feet, and whirls him over and over armour and all in ignominious
attitudes of helpless prostration, whereof he may well be ashamed in
the retrospect. We cannot quite preserve our dignity when we stoop to
the work of calling forth tears. Moses had probably to take a nimble
jump away from the rock after that venerable Law-giver had knocked the
water out of it.
However, it was imperative in his mind that he should be sure he had
the power to move her.
He began; clumsily at first, as yonder gauntletted knight attempting
the briny handkerchief.
"What are we! We last but a very short time. Why not live to gratify
our appetites? I might really ask myself why. All the means of
satiating them are at my disposal. But no: I must aim at the
highest:--at that which in my blindness I took for the highest. You
know the sportsman's instinct, Laetitia; he is not tempted by the
stationary object. Such are we in youth, toying with happiness, leaving
it, to aim at the dazzling and attractive."
"We gain knowledge," said Laetitia.
"At what a cost!"
The exclamation summoned self-pity to his aid, and pathos was handy.
"By paying half our lives for it and all our hopes! Yes, we gain
knowledge, we are the wiser; very probably my value surpasses now what
it was when I was happier. But the loss! That youthful bloom of the
soul is like health to the body; once gone, it leaves cripples behind.
Nay, my friend and precious friend, these four fingers I must retain.
They seem to me the residue of a wreck: you shall be released shortly:
absolutely, Laetitia, I have nothing else remaining--We have spoken of
deception; what of being undeceived?--when one whom we adored is laid
bare, and the wretched consolation of a worthy object is denied to us.
No misfortune can be like that. Were it death, we could worship still.
Death would be preferable. But may you be spared to know a situation in
which the comparison with your inferior is forced on you to your
disadvantage and your loss because of your generously giving up your
whole heart to the custody of some shallow, light-minded, self--! . . .
We will not deal in epithets. If I were to find as many bad names for
the serpent as there are spots on his body, it would be serpent still,
neither better nor worse. The loneliness! And the darkness! Our
luminary is extinguished. Self-respect refuses to continue
worshipping, but the affection will not be turned aside. We are
literally in the dust, we grovel, we would fling away self-respect if
we could; we would adopt for a model the creature preferred to us; we
would humiliate, degrade ourselves; we cry for justice as if it were
for pardon . . ."
"For pardon! when we are straining to grant it!" Laetitia murmured, and
it was as much as she could do. She remembered how in her old misery
her efforts after charity had twisted her round to feel herself the
sinner, and beg forgiveness in prayer: a noble sentiment, that filled
her with pity of the bosom in which it had sprung. There was no
similarity between his idea and hers, but her idea had certainly been
roused by his word "pardon", and he had the benefit of it in the
moisture of her eyes. Her lips trembled, tears fell.
He had heard something; he had not caught the words, but they were
manifestly favourable; her sign of emotion assured him of it and of the
success he had sought. There was one woman who bowed to him to all
eternity! He had inspired one woman with the mysterious, man-desired
passion of self-abandonment, self-immolation! The evidence was before
him. At any instant he could, if he pleased, fly to her and command her
He had, in fact, perhaps by sympathetic action, succeeded in striking
the same springs of pathos in her which animated his lively endeavour
to produce it in himself.
He kissed her hand; then released it, quitting his chair to bend above
"Do not weep, Laetitia, you see that I do not; I can smile. Help me to
bear it; you must not unman me."
She tried to stop her crying, but self-pity threatened to rain all her
long years of grief on her head, and she said: "I must go . . . I am
unfit . . . good-night, Sir Willoughby."
Fearing seriously that he had sunk his pride too low in her
consideration, and had been carried farther than he intended on the
tide of pathos, he remarked: "We will speak about Crossjay to-morrow.
His deceitfulness has been gross. As I said, I am grievously offended
by deception. But you are tired. Good-night, my dear friend."
"Good-night, Sir Willoughby."
She was allowed to go forth.
Colonel De Craye coming up from the smoking-room, met her and noticed
the state of her eyelids, as he wished her goodnight. He saw Willoughby
in the room she had quitted, but considerately passed without speaking,
and without reflecting why he was considerate.
Our hero's review of the scene made him, on the whole, satisfied with
his part in it. Of his power upon one woman he was now perfectly
sure:--Clara had agonized him with a doubt of his personal mastery of
any. One was a poor feast, but the pangs of his flesh during the last
few days and the latest hours caused him to snatch at it, hungrily if
contemptuously. A poor feast, she was yet a fortress, a point of
succour, both shield and lance; a cover and an impetus. He could now
encounter Clara boldly. Should she resist and defy him, he would not be
naked and alone; he foresaw that he might win honour in the world's eye
from his position--a matter to be thought of only in most urgent need.
The effect on him of his recent exercise in pathos was to compose him
to slumber. He was for the period well satisfied.
His attendant imps were well satisfied likewise, and danced around
about his bed after the vigilant gentleman had ceased to debate on the
question of his unveiling of himself past forgiveness of her to
Laetitia, and had surrendered to sleep the present direction of his