Part 8 out of 12
LAETITIA DALE DISCOVERS A SPIRITUAL CHANGE AND DR MIDDLETON A PHYSICAL
Clara tripped over the lawn in the early morning to Laetitia to greet
her. She broke away from a colloquy with Colonel De Craye under Sir
Willoughby's windows. The colonel had been one of the bathers, and he
stood like a circus-driver flicking a wet towel at Crossjay capering.
"My dear, I am very unhappy!" said Clara.
"My dear, I bring you news," Laetitia replied.
"Tell me. But the poor boy is to be expelled! He burst into Crossjay's
bedroom last night and dragged the sleeping boy out of bed to question
him, and he had the truth. That is one comfort: only Crossjay is to be
driven from the Hall, because he was untruthful previously--for me; to
serve me; really, I feel it was at my command. Crossjay will be out of
the way to-day, and has promised to come back at night to try to be
forgiven. You must help me, Laetitia."
"You are free, Clara! If you desire it, you have but to ask for your
"You mean . . ."
"He will release you."
"You are sure?"
"We had a long conversation last night."
"I owe it to you?"
"Nothing is owing to me. He volunteered it."
Clara made as if to lift her eyes in apostrophe. "Professor Crooklyn!
Professor Crooklyn! I see. I did not guess that."
"Give credit for some generosity, Clara; you are unjust!"
"By and by: I will be more than just by and by. I will practise on the
trumpet: I will lecture on the greatness of the souls of men when we
know them thoroughly. At present we do but half know them, and we are
unjust. You are not deceived, Laetitia? There is to be no speaking to
papa? no delusions? You have agitated me. I feel myself a very small
person indeed. I feel I can understand those who admire him. He gives
me back my word simply? clearly? without--Oh, that long wrangle in
scenes and letters? And it will be arranged for papa and me to go not
later than to-morrow? Never shall I be able to explain to any one how I
fell into this! I am frightened at myself when I think of it. I take
the whole blame: I have been scandalous. And, dear Laetitia! you came
out so early in order to tell me?"
"I wished you to hear it."
"Take my heart."
"Present me with a part--but for good."
"Fie! But you have a right to say it."
"I mean no unkindness; but is not the heart you allude to an alarmingly
"Selfish it is, for I have been forgetting Crossjay. If we are going to
be generous, is not Crossjay to be forgiven? If it were only that the
boy's father is away fighting for his country, endangering his life day
by day, and for a stipend not enough to support his family, we are
bound to think of the boy! Poor dear silly lad! with his 'I say, Miss
Middleton, why wouldn't (some one) see my father when he came here to
call on him, and had to walk back ten miles in the rain?'--I could
almost fancy that did me mischief. . . But we have a splendid morning
after yesterday's rain. And we will be generous. Own, Laetitia, that it
is possible to gild the most glorious day of creation."
"Doubtless the spirit may do it and make its hues permanent," said
"You to me, I to you, he to us. Well, then, if he does, it shall be one
of my heavenly days. Which is for the probation of experience. We are
not yet at sunset."
"Have you seen Mr. Whitford this morning?"
"He passed me."
"Do not imagine him ever ill-tempered."
"I had a governess, a learned lady, who taught me in person the
picturesqueness of grumpiness. Her temper was ever perfect, because she
was never in the wrong, but I being so, she was grumpy. She carried my
iniquity under her brows, and looked out on me through it. I was a
Laetitia said, laughing: "I can believe it!"
"Yet I liked her and she liked me: we were a kind of foreground and
background: she threw me into relief and I was an apology for her
"You picture her to me."
"She says of me now that I am the only creature she has loved. Who
knows that I may not come to say the same of her?"
"You would plague her and puzzle her still."
"Have I plagued and puzzled Mr. Whitford?"
"He reminds you of her?"
"You said you had her picture."
"Ah! do not laugh at him. He is a true friend."
"The man who can be a friend is the man who will presume to be a
"A mild one."
"As to the sentence he pronounces, I am unable to speak, but his
forehead is Rhadamanthine condemnation."
Clara looked round. "Who? I? Did you hear an echo of papa? He would
never have put Rhadamanthus over European souls, because it appears
that Rhadamanthus judged only the Asiatic; so you are wrong, Miss Dale.
My father is infatuated with Mr. Whitford. What can it be? We women
cannot sound the depths of scholars, probably because their pearls have
no value in our market; except when they deign to chasten an
impertinent; and Mr. Whitford stands aloof from any notice of small
fry. He is deep, studious, excellent; and does it not strike you that
if he descended among us he would be like a Triton ashore?"
Laetitia's habit of wholly subservient sweetness, which was her ideal
of the feminine, not yet conciliated with her acuter character, owing
to the absence of full pleasure from her life--the unhealed wound she
had sustained and the cramp of a bondage of such old date as to seem
iron--induced her to say, as if consenting: "You think he is not quite
at home in society?" But she wished to defend him strenuously, and as a
consequence she had to quit the self-imposed ideal of her daily acting,
whereby--the case being unwonted, very novel to her--the lady's
intelligence became confused through the process that quickened it; so
sovereign a method of hoodwinking our bright selves is the acting of a
part, however naturally it may come to us! and to this will each honest
autobiographical member of the animated world bear witness.
She added: "You have not found him sympathetic? He is. You fancy him
brooding, gloomy? He is the reverse, he is cheerful, he is indifferent
to personal misfortune. Dr. Corney says there is no laugh like Vernon
Whitford's, and no humour like his. Latterly he certainly . . . But it
has not been your cruel word grumpiness. The truth is, he is anxious
about Crossjay: and about other things; and he wants to leave. He is at
a disadvantage beside very lively and careless gentlemen at present,
but your 'Triton ashore' is unfair, it is ugly. He is, I can say, the
truest man I know."
"I did not question his goodness, Laetitia."
"You threw an accent on it."
"Did I? I must be like Crossjay, who declares he likes fun best."
"Crossjay ought to know him, if anybody should. Mr. Whitford has
defended you against me, Clara, even since I took to calling you Clara.
Perhaps when you supposed him so like your ancient governess, he was
meditating how he could aid you. Last night he gave me reasons for
thinking you would do wisely to confide in Mrs. Mountstuart. It is no
longer necessary. I merely mention it. He is a devoted friend."
"He is an untiring pedestrian."
Colonel De Craye, after hovering near the ladies in the hope of seeing
them divide, now adopted the system of making three that two may come
As he joined them with his glittering chatter, Laetitia looked at Clara
to consult her, and saw the face rosy as a bride's.
The suspicion she had nursed sprung out of her arms a muscular fact on
"Where is my dear boy?" Clara said.
"Out for a holiday," the colonel answered in her tone.
"Advise Mr. Whitford not to waste his time in searching for Crossjay,
Laetitia. Crossjay is better out of the way to-day. At least, I thought
so just now. Has he pocket-money, Colonel De Craye?"
"My lord can command his inn."
"How thoughtful you are!"
Laetitia's bosom swelled upon a mute exclamation, equivalent to:
"Woman! woman! snared ever by the sparkling and frivolous!
undiscerning of the faithful, the modest and beneficent!"
In the secret musings of moralists this dramatic rhetoric survives.
The comparison was all of her own making, and she was indignant at the
contrast, though to what end she was indignant she could not have said,
for she had no idea of Vernon as a rival of De Craye in the favour of a
plighted lady. But she was jealous on behalf of her sex: her sex's
reputation seemed at stake, and the purity of it was menaced by Clara's
idle preference of the shallower man. When the young lady spoke so
carelessly of being like Crossjay, she did not perhaps know that a
likeness, based on a similarity of their enthusiasms, loves, and
appetites, had been established between women and boys. Laetitia had
formerly chafed at it, rejecting it utterly, save when now and then in
a season of bitterness she handed here and there a volatile young lady
(none but the young) to be stamped with the degrading brand. Vernon
might be as philosophical as he pleased. To her the gaiety of these
two, Colonel De Craye and Clara Middleton, was distressingly musical:
they harmonized painfully. The representative of her sex was hurt by
She had to stay beside them: Clara held her arm. The colonel's voice
dropped at times to something very like a whisper. He was answered
audibly and smoothly. The quickwitted gentleman accepted the
correction: but in immediately paying assiduous attentions to Miss
Dale, in the approved intriguer's fashion, he showed himself in need of
another amounting to a reproof. Clara said: "We have been consulting,
Laetitia, what is to be done to cure Professor Crooklyn of his cold."
De Craye perceived that he had taken a wrong step, and he was mightily
surprised that a lesson in intrigue should be read to him of all men.
Miss Middleton's audacity was not so astonishing: he recognized grand
capabilities in the young lady. Fearing lest she should proceed further
and cut away from him his vantage-ground of secrecy with her, he turned
the subject and was adroitly submissive.
Clara's manner of meeting Sir Willoughby expressed a timid disposition
to friendliness upon a veiled inquiry, understood by none save
Laetitia, whose brain was racked to convey assurances to herself of her
not having misinterpreted him. Could there be any doubt? She resolved
that there could not be; and it was upon this basis of reason that she
fancied she had led him to it. Legitimate or not, the fancy sprang from
a solid foundation. Yesterday morning she could not have conceived it.
Now she was endowed to feel that she had power to influence him,
because now, since the midnight, she felt some emancipation from the
spell of his physical mastery. He did not appear to her as a different
man, but she had grown sensible of being a stronger woman. He was no
more the cloud over her, nor the magnet; the cloud once
heaven-suffused, the magnet fatally compelling her to sway round to
him. She admired him still: his handsome air, his fine proportions, the
courtesy of his bending to Clara and touching of her hand, excused a
fanatical excess of admiration on the part of a woman in her youth, who
is never the anatomist of the hero's lordly graces. But now she admired
him piecemeal. When it came to the putting of him together, she did it
coldly. To compassionate him was her utmost warmth. Without conceiving
in him anything of the strange old monster of earth which had struck
the awakened girl's mind of Miss Middleton, Laetitia classed him with
other men; he was "one of them". And she did not bring her
disenchantment as a charge against him. She accused herself,
acknowledged the secret of the change to be, and her youthfulness was
dead:--otherwise could she have given him compassion, and not herself
have been carried on the flood of it? The compassion was fervent, and
pure too. She supposed he would supplicate; she saw that Clara
Middleton was pleasant with him only for what she expected of his
generosity. She grieved. Sir Willoughby was fortified by her sorrowful
gaze as he and Clara passed out together to the laboratory arm in arm.
Laetitia had to tell Vernon of the uselessness of his beating the house
and grounds for Crossjay. Dr. Middleton held him fast in discussion
upon an overnight's classical wrangle with Professor Crooklyn, which
was to be renewed that day. The Professor had appointed to call
expressly to renew it. "A fine scholar," said the Rev. Doctor, "but
crotchety, like all men who cannot stand their Port."
"I hear that he had a cold," Vernon remarked. "I hope the wine was
As when the foreman of a sentimental jury is commissioned to inform an
awful Bench exact in perspicuous English, of a verdict that must of
necessity be pronounced in favour of the hanging of the culprit, yet
would fain attenuate the crime of a palpable villain by a
recommendation to mercy, such foreman, standing in the attentive eye of
a master of grammatical construction, and feeling the weight of at
least three sentences on his brain, together with a prospect of
Judicial interrogation for the discovery of his precise meaning, is
oppressed, himself is put on trial, in turn, and he hesitates, he
recapitulates, the fear of involution leads him to be involved; as far
as a man so posted may, he on his own behalf appeals for mercy;
entreats that his indistinct statement of preposterous reasons may be
taken for understood, and would gladly, were permission to do it
credible, throw in an imploring word that he may sink back among the
crowd without for the one imperishable moment publicly swinging in his
lordship's estimation:--much so, moved by chivalry toward a lady,
courtesy to the recollection of a hostess, and particularly by the
knowledge that his hearer would expect with a certain frigid rigour
charity of him, Dr. Middleton paused, spoke and paused: he stammered.
Ladies, he said, were famous poisoners in the Middle Ages. His opinion
was, that we had a class of manufacturing wine merchants on the watch
for widows in this country. But he was bound to state the fact of his
waking at his usual hour to the minute unassailed by headache. On the
other hand, this was a condition of blessedness unanticipated when he
went to bed. Mr. Whitford, however, was not to think that he
entertained rancour toward the wine. It was no doubt dispensed with the
honourable intention of cheering. In point of flavour execrable,
judging by results it was innocuous.
"The test of it shall be the effect of it upon Professor Crooklyn, and
his appearance in the forenoon according to promise," Dr. Middleton
came to an end with his perturbed balancings. "If I hear more of the
eight or twelve winds discharged at once upon a railway platform, and
the young lady who dries herself of a drenching by drinking brandy and
water with a gentleman at a railway inn, I shall solicit your sanction
to my condemnation of the wine as anti-Bacchic and a counterfeit
presentment. Do not misjudge me. Our hostess is not responsible. But
widows should marry."
"You must contrive to stop the Professor, sir, if he should attack his
hostess in that manner," said Vernon.
"Widows should marry!" Dr. Middleton repeated.
He murmured of objecting to be at the discretion of a butler; unless,
he was careful to add, the aforesaid functionary could boast of an
University education; and even then, said he, it requires a line of
ancestry to train a man's taste.
The Rev. Doctor smothered a yawn. The repression of it caused a second
one, a real monster, to come, big as our old friend of the sea
advancing on the chained-up Beauty.
Disconcerted by this damning evidence of indigestion, his countenance
showed that he considered himself to have been too lenient to the wine
of an unhusbanded hostess. He frowned terribly.
In the interval Laetitia told Vernon of Crossjay's flight for the day,
hastily bidding the master to excuse him: she had no time to hint the
grounds of excuse. Vernon mentally made a guess.
Dr Middleton took his arm and discharged a volley at the crotchetty
scholarship of Professor Crooklyn, whom to confute by book, he directed
his march to the library. Having persuaded himself that he was
dyspeptic, he had grown irascible. He denounced all dining out,
eulogized Patterne Hall as if it were his home, and remembered he had
dreamed in the night--a most humiliating sign of physical disturbance.
"But let me find a house in proximity to Patterne, as I am induced to
suppose I shall," he said, "and here only am I to be met when I stir
Laetitia went to her room. She was complacently anxious enough to
prefer solitude and be willing to read. She was more seriously anxious
about Crossjay than about any of the others. For Clara would be certain
to speak very definitely, and how then could a gentleman oppose her? He
would supplicate, and could she be brought to yield? It was not to be
expected of a young lady who had turned from Sir Willoughby. His
inferiors would have had a better chance. Whatever his faults, he had
that element of greatness which excludes the intercession of pity.
Supplication would be with him a form of condescension. It would be
seen to be such. His was a monumental pride that could not stoop. She
had preserved this image of the gentleman for a relic in the shipwreck
of her idolatry. So she mused between the lines of her book, and
finishing her reading and marking the page, she glanced down on the
lawn. Dr. Middleton was there, and alone; his hands behind his back,
his head bent. His meditative pace and unwonted perusal of the turf
proclaimed that a non-sentimental jury within had delivered an
unmitigated verdict upon the widow's wine.
Laetitia hurried to find Vernon.
He was in the hall. As she drew near him, the laboratory door opened
"It is being decided," said Laetitia.
Vernon was paler than the hue of perfect calmness.
"I want to know whether I ought to take to my heels like Crossjay, and
shun the Professor," he said.
They spoke in under-tones, furtively watching the door.
"I wish what she wishes, I am sure; but it will go badly with the boy,"
"Oh, well, then I'll take him," said Vernon, "I would rather. I think I
can manage it."
Again the laboratory door opened. This time it shut behind Miss
Middleton. She was highly flushed. Seeing them, she shook the storm
from her brows, with a dead smile; the best piece of serenity she could
put on for public wear.
She took a breath before she moved.
Vernon strode out of the house.
Clara swept up to Laetitia.
"You were deceived!"
The hard sob of anger barred her voice.
Laetitia begged her to come to her room with her.
"I want air: I must be by myself," said Clara, catching at her
She walked swiftly to the portico steps and turned to the right, to
avoid the laboratory windows.
IN WHICH THE COMIC MUSE HAS AN EYE ON TWO GOOD SOULS
Clara met Vernon on the bowling-green among the laurels. She asked him
where her father was.
"Don't speak to him now," said Vernon.
"Mr. Whitford, will you?"
"It is not advisable just now. Wait."
"Wait? Why not now?"
"He is not in the right humour."
She choked. There are times when there is no medicine for us in sages,
we want slaves; we scorn to temporize, we must overbear. On she sped,
as if she had made the mistake of exchanging words with a post.
The scene between herself and Willoughby was a thick mist in her head,
except the burden and result of it, that he held to her fast, would
neither assist her to depart nor disengage her.
Oh, men! men! They astounded the girl; she could not define them to her
understanding. Their motives, their tastes, their vanity, their
tyranny, and the domino on their vanity, the baldness of their tyranny,
clinched her in feminine antagonism to brute power. She was not the
less disposed to rebellion by a very present sense of the justice of
what could be said to reprove her. She had but one answer: "Anything
but marry him!" It threw her on her nature, our last and headlong
advocate, who is quick as the flood to hurry us from the heights to our
level, and lower, if there be accidental gaps in the channel. For say
we have been guilty of misconduct: can we redeem it by violating that
which we are and live by? The question sinks us back to the
luxuriousness of a sunny relinquishment of effort in the direction
against tide. Our nature becomes ingenious in devices, penetrative of
the enemy, confidently citing its cause for being frankly elvish or
worse. Clara saw a particular way of forcing herself to be
surrendered. She shut her eyes from it: the sight carried her too
violently to her escape; but her heart caught it up and huzzaed. To
press the points of her fingers at her bosom, looking up to the sky as
she did, and cry: "I am not my own; I am his!" was instigation
sufficient to make her heart leap up with all her body's blush to urge
it to recklessness. A despairing creature then may say she has
addressed the heavens and has had no answer to restrain her.
Happily for Miss Middleton, she had walked some minutes in her chafing
fit before the falcon eye of Colonel De Craye spied her away on one of
Vernon stood irresolute. It was decidedly not a moment for disturbing
Dr. Middleton's composure. He meditated upon a conversation, as
friendly as possible, with Willoughby. Round on the front-lawn, he
beheld Willoughby and Dr. Middleton together, the latter having halted
to lend attentive ear to his excellent host. Unnoticed by them or
disregarded, Vernon turned back to Laetitia, and sauntered, talking
with her of things current for as long as he could endure to listen to
praise of his pure self-abnegation; proof of how well he had disguised
himself, but it smacked unpleasantly to him. His humourous intimacy
with men's minds likened the source of this distaste to the gallant
all-or-nothing of the gambler, who hates the little when he cannot have
the much, and would rather stalk from the tables clean-picked than
suffer ruin to be tickled by driblets of the glorious fortune he has
played for and lost. If we are not to be beloved, spare us the small
coin of compliments on character; especially when they compliment only
our acting. It is partly endurable to win eulogy for our stately
fortitude in losing, but Laetitia was unaware that he flung away a
stake; so she could not praise him for his merits.
"Willoughby makes the pardoning of Crossjay conditional," he said, "and
the person pleading for him has to grant the terms. How could you
imagine Willoughby would give her up! How could he! Who! . . . He
should, is easily said. I was no witness of the scene between them just
now, but I could have foretold the end of it; I could almost recount
the passages. The consequence is, that everything depends upon the
amount of courage she possesses. Dr. Middleton won't leave Patterne
yet. And it is of no use to speak to him to-day. And she is by nature
impatient, and is rendered desperate."
"Why is it of no use to speak to Dr. Middleton today?" cried Laetitia.
"He drank wine yesterday that did not agree with him; he can't work.
To-day he is looking forward to Patterne Port. He is not likely to
listen to any proposals to leave to-day."
"I know the depth of that cry!"
"You are excluded, Mr. Whitford."
"Not a bit of it; I am in with the rest. Say that men are to be
exclaimed at. Men have a right to expect you to know your own minds
when you close on a bargain. You don't know the world or yourselves
very well, it's true; still the original error is on your side, and
upon that you should fix your attention. She brought her father here,
and no sooner was he very comfortably established than she wished to
"I cannot explain it; I cannot comprehend it," said Laetitia.
"You are Constancy."
"No." She coloured. "I am 'in with rest'. I do not say I should have
done the same. But I have the knowledge that I must not sit in
judgement on her. I can waver."
She coloured again. She was anxious that he should know her to be not
that stupid statue of Constancy in a corner doating on the antic
Deception. Reminiscences of the interview overnight made it oppressive
to her to hear herself praised for always pointing like the needle. Her
newly enfranchised individuality pressed to assert its existence.
Vernon, however, not seeing this novelty, continued, to her excessive
discomfort, to baste her old abandoned image with his praises. They
checked hers; and, moreover, he had suddenly conceived an envy of her
life-long, uncomplaining, almost unaspiring, constancy of sentiment. If
you know lovers when they have not reason to be blissful, you will
remember that in this mood of admiring envy they are given to fits of
uncontrollable maundering. Praise of constancy, moreover, smote
shadowily a certain inconstant, enough to seem to ruffle her smoothness
and do no hurt. He found his consolation in it, and poor Laetitia
writhed. Without designing to retort, she instinctively grasped at a
weapon of defence in further exalting his devotedness; which reduced
him to cast his head to the heavens and implore them to partially
enlighten her. Nevertheless, maunder he must; and he recurred to it in
a way so utterly unlike himself that Laetitia stared in his face. She
wondered whether there could be anything secreted behind this
everlasting theme of constancy. He took her awakened gaze for a summons
to asseverations of sincerity, and out they came. She would have fled
from him, but to think of flying was to think how little it was that
urged her to fly, and yet the thought of remaining and listening to
praises undeserved and no longer flattering, was a torture.
"Mr. Whitford, I bear no comparison with you."
"I do and must set you for my example, Miss Dale."
"Indeed, you do wrongly; you do not know me."
"I could say that. For years . . ."
"Pray, Mr. Whitford!"
"Well, I have admired it. You show us how self can be smothered."
"An echo would be a retort on you!"
"On me? I am never thinking of anything else."
"I could say that."
"You are necessarily conscious of not swerving."
"But I do; I waver dreadfully; I am not the same two days running."
"You are the same, with 'ravishing divisions' upon the same."
"And you without the 'divisions.' I draw such support as I have from
"From some simulacrum of me, then. And that will show you how little
you require support."
"I do not speak my own opinion only."
"I am not alone."
"Again let me say, I wish I were like you!"
"Then let me add, I would willingly make the exchange!"
"You would be amazed at your bargain."
"Others would be!"
"Your exchange would give me the qualities I'm in want of, Miss Dale."
"Negative, passive, at the best, Mr. Whitford. But I should have . . ."
"Oh!--pardon me. But you inflict the sensations of a boy, with a dose
of honesty in him, called up to receive a prize he has won by the
dexterous use of a crib."
"And how do you suppose she feels who has a crown of Queen o' the May
forced on her head when she is verging on November?"
He rejected her analogy, and she his. They could neither of them bring
to light the circumstances which made one another's admiration so
unbearable. The more he exalted her for constancy, the more did her
mind become bent upon critically examining the object of that imagined
virtue; and the more she praised him for possessing the spirit of
perfect friendliness, the fiercer grew the passion in him which
disdained the imputation, hissing like a heated iron-bar that flings
the waterdrops to steam. He would none of it; would rather have stood
exposed in his profound foolishness.
Amiable though they were, and mutually affectionate, they came to a
stop in their walk, longing to separate, and not seeing how it was to
be done, they had so knit themselves together with the pelting of their
"I think it is time for me to run home to my father for an hour," said
"I ought to be working," said Vernon.
Good progress was made to the disgarlanding of themselves thus far;
yet, an acutely civilized pair, the abruptness of the transition from
floweriness to commonplace affected them both, Laetitia chiefly, as she
had broken the pause, and she remarked:--"I am really Constancy in my
"Another title is customary where stiff opinions are concerned. Perhaps
by and by you will learn your mistake, and then you will acknowledge
the name for it."
"How?" said she. "What shall I learn?"
"If you learn that I am a grisly Egoist?"
"You? And it would not be egoism," added Laetitia, revealing to him at
the same instant as to herself that she swung suspended on a scarce
"--Will nothing pierce your ears, Mr. Whitford?"
He heard the intruding voice, but he was bent on rubbing out the cloudy
letters Laetitia had begun to spell, and he stammered, in a tone of
matter-of-fact: "Just that and no better"; then turned to Mrs.
"--Or are you resolved you will never see Professor Crooklyn when you
look on him?" said the great lady.
Vernon bowed to the Professor and apologized to him shufflingly and
rapidly, incoherently, and with a red face; which induced Mrs.
Mountstuart to scan Laetitia's.
After lecturing Vernon for his abandonment of her yesterday evening,
and flouting his protestations, she returned to the business of the
day. "We walked from the lodge-gates to see the park and prepare
ourselves for Dr. Middleton. We parted last night in the middle of a
controversy and are rageing to resume it. Where is our redoubtable
Mrs. Mountstuart wheeled Professor Crooklyn round to accompany Vernon.
"We," she said, "are for modern English scholarship, opposed to the
champion of German."
"The contrary," observed Professor Crooklyn.
"Oh! We," she corrected the error serenely, "are for German scholarship
opposed to English."
"We defend certain editions."
"Defend is a term of imperfect application to my position, ma'am."
"My dear Professor, you have in Dr. Middleton a match for you in
conscientious pugnacity, and you will not waste it upon me. There,
there they are; there he is. Mr. Whitford will conduct you. I stand
away from the first shock."
Mrs. Mountstuart fell back to Laetitia, saying: "He pores over a little
inexactitude in phrases, and pecks at it like a domestic fowl."
Professor Crooklyn's attitude and air were so well described that
Laetitia could have laughed.
"These mighty scholars have their flavour," the great lady hastened to
add, lest her younger companion should be misled to suppose that they
were not valuable to a governing hostess: "their shadow-fights are
ridiculous, but they have their flavour at a table. Last night, no: I
discard all mention of last night. We failed: as none else in this
neighbourhood could fail, but we failed. If we have among us a
cormorant devouring young lady who drinks up all the--ha!--brandy and
water--of our inns and occupies all our flys, why, our condition is
abnormal, and we must expect to fail: we are deprived of accommodation
for accidental circumstances. How Mr. Whitford could have missed seeing
Professor Crooklyn! And what was he doing at the station, Miss Dale?"
"Your portrait of Professor Crooklyn was too striking, Mrs Mountstuart,
and deceived him by its excellence. He appears to have seen only the
blank side of the slate."
"Ah! He is a faithful friend of his cousin, do you not think?"
"He is the truest of friends."
"As for Dr. Middleton," Mrs. Mountstuart diverged from her inquiry, "he
will swell the letters of my vocabulary to gigantic proportions if I
see much of him: he is contagious."
"I believe it is a form of his humour."
"I caught it of him yesterday at my dinner-table in my distress, and
must pass it off as a form of mine, while it lasts. I talked Dr.
Middleton half the dreary night through to my pillow. Your candid
opinion, my dear, come! As for me, I don't hesitate. We seemed to have
sat down to a solitary performance on the bass-viol. We were positively
an assembly of insects during thunder. My very soul thanked Colonel De
Craye for his diversions, but I heard nothing but Dr. Middleton. It
struck me that my table was petrified, and every one sat listening to
bowls played overhead."
"I was amused."
"Really? You delight me. Who knows but that my guests were sincere in
their congratulations on a thoroughly successful evening? I have fallen
to this, you see! And I know, wretched people! that as often as not it
is their way of condoling with one. I do it myself: but only where
there have been amiable efforts. But imagine my being congratulated for
that!--Good-morning, Sir Willoughby.--The worst offender! and I am in
no pleasant mood with him," Mrs. Mountstuart said aside to Laetitia,
who drew back, retiring.
Sir Willoughby came on a step or two. He stopped to watch Laetitia's
figure swimming to the house.
So, as, for instance, beside a stream, when a flower on the surface
extends its petals drowning to subside in the clear still water, we
exercise our privilege to be absent in the charmed contemplation of a
beautiful natural incident.
A smile of pleased abstraction melted on his features.
MRS. MOUNTSTUART AND SIR WILLOUGHBY
"Good morning, my dear Mrs. Mountstuart," Sir Willoughby wakened
himself to address the great lady. "Why has she fled?"
"Has any one fled?"
"Letty Dale? Oh, if you call that flying. Possibly to renew a close
conversation with Vernon Whitford, that I cut short. You frightened me
with your 'Shepherds-tell-me' air and tone. Lead me to one of your
garden-seats: out of hearing to Dr. Middleton, I beg. He mesmerizes me,
he makes me talk Latin. I was curiously susceptible last night. I know
I shall everlastingly associate him with an abortive entertainment and
solos on big instruments. We were flat."
"Horace was in good vein."
"You were not."
"And Laetitia--Miss Dale talked well, I thought."
"She talked with you, and no doubt she talked well. We did not mix. The
yeast was bad. You shot darts at Colonel De Craye: you tried to sting.
You brought Dr. Middleton down on you. Dear me, that man is a
reverberation in my head. Where is your lady and love?"
"Am I to name her?"
"Clara? I have not seen her for the last hour. Wandering, I suppose."
"A very pretty summer bower," said Mrs. Mountstuart, seating herself
"Well, my dear Sir Willoughby, preferences, preferences are not to be
accounted for, and one never knows whether to pity or congratulate,
whatever may occur. I want to see Miss Middleton."
"Your 'dainty rogue in porcelain' will be at your beck--you lunch with
us?--before you leave."
"So now you have taken to quoting me, have you?"
"But 'a romantic tale on her eyelashes' is hardly descriptive any
"Descriptive of whom? Now you are upon Laetitia Dale!"
"I quote you generally. She has now a graver look."
"And well may have!"
"Not that the romance has entirely disappeared."
"No; it looks as if it were in print."
"You have hit it perfectly, as usual, ma'am."
Sir Willoughby mused.
Like one resuming his instrument to take up the melody in a concerted
piece, he said: "I thought Laetitia Dale had a singularly animated air
"Why!--" Mrs. Mountstuart mildly gaped.
"I want a new description of her. You know, I collect your mottoes and
"It seems to me she is coming three parts out of her shell, and wearing
it as a hood for convenience."
"Ready to issue forth at an invitation? Admirable! exact!"
"Ay, my good Sir Willoughby, but are we so very admirable and exact?
Are we never to know our own minds?"
He produced a polysyllabic sigh, like those many-jointed compounds of
poets in happy languages, which are copious in a single expression:
"Mine is known to me. It always has been. Cleverness in women is not
uncommon. Intellect is the pearl. A woman of intellect is as good as a
Greek statue; she is divinely wrought, and she is divinely rare."
"Proceed," said the lady, confiding a cough to the air.
"The rarity of it: and it is not mere intellect, it is a sympathetic
intellect; or else it is an intellect in perfect accord with an
intensely sympathetic disposition;--the rarity of it makes it too
precious to be parted with when once we have met it. I prize it the
more the older I grow."
"Are we on the feminine or the neuter?"
"I beg pardon?"
"The universal or the individual?"
He shrugged. "For the rest, psychological affinities may exist
coincident with and entirely independent of material or moral
prepossessions, relations, engagements, ties."
"Well, that is not the raving of passion, certainly," said Mrs
Mountstuart, "and it sounds as if it were a comfortable doctrine for
men. On that plea, you might all of you be having Aspasia and a wife.
We saw your fair Middleton and Colonel de Craye at a distance as we
entered the park. Professor Crooklyn is under some hallucination."
"What more likely?"
The readiness and the double-bearing of the reply struck her comic
sense with awe.
"The Professor must hear that. He insists on the fly, and the inn, and
the wet boots, and the warming mixture, and the testimony of the
landlady and the railway porter."
"I say, what more likely?"
"Than that he should insist?"
"If he is under the hallucination!"
"He may convince others."
"I have only to repeat. . ."
"'What more likely?' It's extremely philosophical. Coincident with a
pursuit of the psychological affinities."
"Professor Crooklyn will hardly descend, I suppose, from his classical
altitudes to lay his hallucinations before Dr. Middleton?"
"Sir Willoughby, you are the pink of chivalry!"
By harping on Laetitia, he had emboldened Mrs. Mountstuart to lift the
curtain upon Clara. It was offensive to him, but the injury done to his
pride had to be endured for the sake of his general plan of
"Simply desirous to save my guests from annoyance of any kind", he
said. "Dr Middleton can look 'Olympus and thunder', as Vernon calls
"Don't. I see him. That look! It is Dictionary-bitten! Angry, homed
Dictionary!--an apparition of Dictionary in the night--to a dunce!"
"One would undergo a good deal to avoid the sight."
"What the man must be in a storm! Speak as you please of yourself: you
are a true and chivalrous knight to dread it for her. But now,
candidly, how is it you cannot condescend to a little management?
Listen to an old friend. You are too lordly. No lover can afford to be
incomprehensible for half an hour. Stoop a little. Sermonizings are
not to be thought of. You can govern unseen. You are to know that I am
one who disbelieves in philosophy in love. I admire the look of it, I
give no credit to the assumption. I rather like lovers to be out at
times: it makes them picturesque, and it enlivens their monotony. I
perceived she had a spot of wildness. It's proper that she should wear
it off before marriage."
"Clara? The wildness of an infant!" said Willoughby, paternally, musing
over an inward shiver. "You saw her at a distance just now, or you
might have heard her laughing. Horace diverts her excessively."
"I owe him my eternal gratitude for his behaviour last night. She was
one of my bright faces. Her laughter was delicious; rain in the desert!
It will tell you what the load on me was, when I assure you those two
were merely a spectacle to me--points I scored in a lost game. And I
know they were witty."
"They both have wit; a kind of wit," Willoughby assented.
"They struck together like a pair of cymbals."
"Not the highest description of instrument. However, they amuse me. I
like to hear them when I am in the vein."
"That vein should be more at command with you, my friend. You can be
perfect, if you like."
"Under your tuition."
Willoughby leaned to her, bowing languidly. He was easier in his pain
for having hoodwinked the lady. She was the outer world to him; she
could tune the world's voice; prescribe which of the two was to be
pitied, himself or Clara; and he did not intend it to be himself, if it
came to the worst. They were far away from that at present, and he
"Probably a man's power of putting on a face is not equal to a girl's.
I detest petty dissensions. Probably I show it when all is not quite
smooth. Little fits of suspicion vex me. It is a weakness, not to play
them off, I know. Men have to learn the arts which come to women by
nature. I don't sympathize with suspicion, from having none myself,"
His eyebrows shot up. That ill-omened man Flitch had sidled round by
the bushes to within a few feet of him. Flitch primarily defended
himself against the accusation of drunkenness, which was hurled at him
to account for his audacity in trespassing against the interdict; but
he admitted that he had taken "something short" for a fortification in
visiting scenes where he had once been happy--at Christmastide, when
all the servants, and the butler at head, grey old Mr. Chessington, sat
in rows, toasting the young heir of the old Hall in the old port wine!
Happy had he been then, before ambition for a shop, to be his own
master and an independent gentleman, had led him into his quagmire:--to
look back envying a dog on the old estate, and sigh for the smell of
Patterne stables: sweeter than Arabia, his drooping nose appeared to
He held up close against it something that imposed silence on Sir
Willoughby as effectively as a cunning exordium in oratory will enchain
mobs to swallow what is not complimenting them; and this he displayed
secure in its being his licence to drivel his abominable pathos. Sir
Willoughby recognized Clara's purse. He understood at once how the must
have come by it: he was not so quick in devising a means of stopping
the tale. Flitch foiled him. "Intact," he replied to the question:
"What have you there?" He repeated this grand word. And then he turned
to Mrs. Mountstuart to speak of Paradise and Adam, in whom he saw the
prototype of himself: also the Hebrew people in the bondage of Egypt,
discoursed of by the clergymen, not without a likeness to him.
"Sorrows have done me one good, to send me attentive to church, my
lady," said Flitch, "when I might have gone to London, the coachman's
home, and been driving some honourable family, with no great advantage
to my morals, according to what I hear of. And a purse found under the
seat of a fly in London would have a poor chance of returning intact to
the young lady losing it."
"Put it down on that chair; inquiries will be made, and you will see
Sir Willoughby," said Mrs. Mountstuart. "Intact, no doubt; it is not
With one motion of a finger she set the man rounding.
Flitch halted; he was very regretful of the termination of his feast of
pathos, and he wished to relate the finding of the purse, but he could
not encounter Mrs. Mountstuart's look; he slouched away in very close
resemblance to the ejected Adam of illustrated books.
"It's my belief that naturalness among the common people has died out
of the kingdom," she said.
Willoughby charitably apologized for him. "He has been fuddling
Her vigilant considerateness had dealt the sensitive gentleman a shock,
plainly telling him she had her ideas of his actual posture. Nor was he
unhurt by her superior acuteness and her display of authority on his
He said, boldly, as he weighed the purse, half tossing it: "It's not
He feared that his lips and cheeks were twitching, and as he grew aware
of a glassiness of aspect that would reflect any suspicion of a
keen-eyed woman, he became bolder still!
"Laetitia's, I know it is not. Hers is an ancient purse."
"A present from you!"
"How do you hit on that, my dear lady?"
"Well, the purse looks as good as new in quality, like the owner."
"The poor dear has not much occasion for using it."
"You are mistaken: she uses it daily."
"If it were better filled, Sir Willoughby, your old scheme might be
arranged. The parties do not appear so unwilling. Professor Crooklyn
and I came on them just now rather by surprise, and I assure you their
heads were close, faces meeting, eyes musing."
"Because when they approach the point, you won't allow it! Selfish!"
"Now," said Willoughby, very animatedly, "question Clara. Now, do, my
dear Mrs. Mountstuart, do speak to Clara on that head; she will
convince you I have striven quite recently against myself, if you like.
I have instructed her to aid me, given her the fullest instructions,
carte blanche. She cannot possibly have a doubt. I may look to her to
remove any you may entertain from your mind on the subject. I have
proposed, seconded, and chorussed it, and it will not be arranged. If
you expect me to deplore that fact, I can only answer that my actions
are under my control, my feelings are not. I will do everything
consistent with the duties of a man of honour perpetually running into
fatal errors because he did not properly consult the dictates of those
feelings at the right season. I can violate them: but I can no more
command them than I can my destiny. They were crushed of old, and so
let them be now. Sentiments we won't discuss; though you know that
sentiments have a bearing on social life: are factors, as they say in
their later jargon. I never speak of mine. To you I could. It is not
necessary. If old Vernon, instead of flattening his chest at a desk,
had any manly ambition to take part in public affairs, she would be the
woman for him. I have called her my Egeria. She would be his Cornelia.
One could swear of her that she would have noble offspring!--But old
Vernon has had his disappointment, and will moan over it up to the end.
And she? So it appears. I have tried; yes, personally: without effect.
In other matters I may have influence with her: not in that one. She
declines. She will live and die Laetitia Dale. We are alone: I confess
to you, I love the name. It's an old song in my ears. Do not be too
ready with a name for me. Believe me--I speak from my experience
hitherto--there is a fatality in these things. I cannot conceal from my
poor girl that this fatality exists . . ."
"Which is the poor girl at present?" said Mrs. Mountstuart, cool in a
"And though she will tell you that I have authorized and Clara
Middleton--done as much as man can to institute the union you suggest,
she will own that she is conscious of the presence of this--fatality, I
call it for want of a better title between us. It drives her in one
direction, me in another--or would, if I submitted to the pressure. She
is not the first who has been conscious of it."
"Are we laying hold of a third poor girl?" said Mrs. Mountstuart. "Ah!
I remember. And I remember we used to call it playing fast and loose in
those days, not fatality. It is very strange. It may be that you were
unblushingly courted in those days, and excusable; and we all supposed
. . . but away you went for your tour."
"My mother's medical receipt for me. Partially it succeeded. She was
for grand marriages: not I. I could make, I could not be, a sacrifice.
And then I went in due time to Dr. Cupid on my own account. She has the
kind of attraction. . . But one changes! On revient toujours. First we
begin with a liking; then we give ourselves up to the passion of
beauty: then comes the serious question of suitableness of the mate to
match us; and perhaps we discover that we were wiser in early youth
than somewhat later. However, she has beauty. Now, Mrs Mountstuart,
you do admire her. Chase the idea of the 'dainty rogue' out of your
view of her: you admire her: she is captivating; she has a particular
charm of her own, nay, she has real beauty."
Mrs. Mountstuart fronted him to say: "Upon my word, my dear Sir
Willoughby, I think she has it to such a degree that I don't know the
man who could hold out against her if she took the field. She is one of
the women who are dead shots with men. Whether it's in their tongues or
their eyes, or it's an effusion and an atmosphere--whatever it is,
it's a spell, another fatality for you!"
"Animal; not spiritual!"
"Oh, she hasn't the head of Letty Dale."
Sir Willoughby allowed Mrs. Mountstuart to pause and follow her
"Dear me!" she exclaimed. "I noticed a change in Letty Dale last night;
and to-day. She looked fresher and younger; extremely well: which is
not what I can say for you, my friend. Fatalizing is not good for the
"Don't take away my health, pray," cried Willoughby, with a snapping
"Be careful," said Mrs. Mountstuart. "You have got a sentimental tone.
You talk of 'feelings crushed of old'. It is to a woman, not to a man
that you speak, but that sort of talk is a way of making the ground
slippery. I listen in vain for a natural tongue; and when I don't hear
it, I suspect plotting in men. You show your under-teeth too at times
when you draw in a breath, like a condemned high-caste Hindoo my
husband took me to see in a jail in Calcutta, to give me some
excitement when I was pining for England. The creature did it regularly
as he breathed; you did it last night, and you have been doing it
to-day, as if the air cut you to the quick. You have been spoilt. You
have been too much anointed. What I've just mentioned is a sign with me
of a settled something on the brain of a man."
"The brain?" said Sir Willoughby, frowning.
"Yes, you laugh sourly, to look at," said she. "Mountstuart told me
that the muscles of the mouth betray men sooner than the eyes, when
they have cause to be uneasy in their minds."
"But, ma'am, I shall not break my word; I shall not, not; I intend, I
have resolved to keep it. I do not fatalize, let my complexion be black
or white. Despite my resemblance to a high-caste malefactor of the
Calcutta prison-wards . . ."
"Friend! friend! you know how I chatter."
He saluted her finger-ends. "Despite the extraordinary display of
teeth, you will find me go to execution with perfect calmness; with a
resignation as good as happiness."
"Like a Jacobite lord under the Georges."
"You have told me that you wept to read of one: like him, then. My
principles have not changed, if I have. When I was younger, I had an
idea of a wife who would be with me in my thoughts as well as aims: a
woman with a spirit of romance, and a brain of solid sense. I shall
sooner or later dedicate myself to a public life; and shall, I suppose,
want the counsellor or comforter who ought always to be found at home.
It may be unfortunate that I have the ideal in my head. But I would
never make rigorous demands for specific qualities. The cruellest thing
in the world is to set up a living model before a wife, and compel her
to copy it. In any case, here we are upon the road: the die is cast. I
shall not reprieve myself. I cannot release her. Marriage represents
facts, courtship fancies. She will be cured by-and-by of that coveting
of everything that I do, feel, think, dream, imagine . . . ta-ta-ta-ta
ad infinitum. Laetitia was invited here to show her the example of a
fixed character--solid as any concrete substance you would choose to
build on, and not a whit the less feminine."
"Ta-ta-ta-ta ad infinitum. You need not tell me you have a design in
all that you do, Willoughby Patterne."
"You smell the autocrat? Yes, he can mould and govern the creatures
about him. His toughest rebel is himself! If you see Clara . . . You
wish to see her, I think you said?"
"Her behaviour to Lady Busshe last night was queer."
"If you will. She makes a mouth at porcelain. Toujours la porcelaine!
For me, her pettishness is one of her charms, I confess it. Ten years
younger, I could not have compared them."
"Laetitia and Clara."
"Sir Willoughby, in any case, to quote you, here we are all upon the
road, and we must act as if events were going to happen; and I must ask
her to help me on the subject of my wedding-present, for I don't want
to have her making mouths at mine, however pretty--and she does it
"'Another dedicatory offering to the rogue in me!' she says of
"Then porcelain it shall not be. I mean to consult her; I have come
determined upon a chat with her. I think I understand. But she produces
false impressions on those who don't know you both. 'I shall have that
porcelain back,' says Lady Busshe to me, when we were shaking hands
last night: 'I think,' says she, 'it should have been the Willow
Pattern.' And she really said: 'He's in for being jilted a second
Sir Willoughby restrained a bound of his body that would have sent him
up some feet into the air. He felt his skull thundered at within.
"Rather than that it should fan upon her!" ejaculated he, correcting
his resemblance to the high-caste culprit as soon as it recurred to
"But you know Lady Busshe," said Mrs. Mountstuart, genuinely solicitous
to ease the proud man of his pain. She could see through him to the
depth of the skin, which his fencing sensitiveness vainly attempted to
cover as it did the heart of him. "Lady Busshe is nothing without her
flights, fads, and fancies. She has always insisted that you have an
unfortunate nose. I remember her saying on the day of your majority, it
was the nose of a monarch destined to lose a throne."
"Have I ever offended Lady Busshe?"
"She trumpets you. She carries Lady Culmer with her too, and you may
expect a visit of nods and hints and pots of alabaster. They worship
you: you are the hope of England in their eyes, and no woman is worthy
of you: but they are a pair of fatalists, and if you begin upon Letty
Dale with them, you might as well forbid your banns. They will be all
over the country exclaiming on predestination and marriages made in
"Clara and her father!" cried Sir Willoughby.
Dr Middleton and his daughter appeared in the circle of shrubs and
"Bring her to me, and save me from the polyglot," said Mrs Mountstuart,
in afright at Dr. Middleton's manner of pouring forth into the ears of
the downcast girl.
The leisure he loved that he might debate with his genius upon any next
step was denied to Willoughby: he had to place his trust in the skill
with which he had sown and prepared Mrs Mountstuart's understanding to
meet the girl--beautiful abhorred that she was! detested darling!
thing to squeeze to death and throw to the dust, and mourn over!
He had to risk it; and at an hour when Lady Busshe's prognostic
grievously impressed his intense apprehensiveness of nature.
As it happened that Dr. Middleton's notion of a disagreeable duty in
colloquy was to deliver all that he contained, and escape the listening
to a syllable of reply, Willoughby withdrew his daughter from him
"Mrs. Mountstuart wants you, Clara."
"I shall be very happy," Clara replied, and put on a new face. An
imperceptible nervous shrinking was met by another force in her bosom,
that pushed her to advance without a sign of reluctance. She seemed to
She was handed to Mrs. Mountstuart.
Dr Middleton laid his hand over Willoughby's shoulder, retiring on a
bow before the great lady of the district. He blew and said: "An
opposition of female instincts to masculine intellect necessarily
creates a corresponding antagonism of intellect to instinct."
"Her answer, sir? Her reasons? Has she named any?"
"The cat," said Dr. Middleton, taking breath for a sentence, "that
humps her back in the figure of the letter H, or a Chinese bridge has
given the dog her answer and her reasons, we may presume: but he that
undertakes to translate them into human speech might likewise venture
to propose an addition to the alphabet and a continuation of Homer. The
one performance would be not more wonderful than the other. Daughters,
Willoughby, daughters! Above most human peccancies, I do abhor a breach
of faith. She will not be guilty of that. I demand a cheerful
fulfilment of a pledge: and I sigh to think that I cannot count on it
without administering a lecture."
"She will soon be my care, sir."
"She shall be. Why, she is as good as married. She is at the altar. She
is in her house. She is--why, where is she not? She has entered the
sanctuary. She is out of the market. This maenad shriek for freedom
would happily entitle her to the Republican cap--the Phrygian--in a
revolutionary Parisian procession. To me it has no meaning; and but
that I cannot credit child of mine with mania, I should be in
trepidation of her wits."
Sir Willoughby's livelier fears were pacified by the information that
Clara had simply emitted a cry. Clara had once or twice given him cause
for starting and considering whether to think of her sex differently or
condemningly of her, yet he could not deem her capable of fully
unbosoming herself even to him, and under excitement. His idea of the
cowardice of girls combined with his ideal of a waxwork sex to persuade
him that though they are often (he had experienced it) wantonly
desperate in their acts, their tongues are curbed by rosy prudency. And
this was in his favour. For if she proved speechless and stupid with
Mrs. Mountstuart, the lady would turn her over, and beat her flat, beat
her angular, in fine, turn her to any shape, despising her, and
cordially believe him to be the model gentleman of Christendom. She
would fill in the outlines he had sketched to her of a picture that he
had small pride in by comparison with his early vision of a
fortune-favoured, triumphing squire, whose career is like the sun's,
intelligibly lordly to all comprehensions. Not like your model
gentleman, that has to be expounded--a thing for abstract esteem!
However, it was the choice left to him. And an alternative was enfolded
in that. Mrs. Mountstuart's model gentleman could marry either one of
two women, throwing the other overboard. He was bound to marry: he was
bound to take to himself one of them: and whichever one he selected
would cast a lustre on his reputation. At least she would rescue him
from the claws of Lady Busshe, and her owl's hoot of "Willow Pattern",
and her hag's shriek of "twice jilted". That flying infant
Willoughby--his unprotected little incorporeal omnipresent Self (not
thought of so much as passionately felt for)--would not be scoffed at
as the luckless with women. A fall indeed from his original conception
of his name of fame abroad! But Willoughby had the high consolation of
knowing that others have fallen lower. There is the fate of the devils
to comfort us, if we are driven hard. "For one of your pangs another
bosom is racked by ten", we read in the solacing Book.
With all these nice calculations at work, Willoughby stood above
himself, contemplating his active machinery, which he could partly
criticize but could not stop, in a singular wonderment at the aims and
schemes and tremours of one who was handsome, manly, acceptable in the
world's eyes: and had he not loved himself most heartily he would have
been divided to the extent of repudiating that urgent and excited half
of his being, whose motions appeared as those of a body of insects
perpetually erecting and repairing a structure of extraordinary
pettiness. He loved himself too seriously to dwell on the division for
more than a minute or so. But having seen it, and for the first time,
as he believed, his passion for the woman causing it became surcharged
with bitterness, atrabiliar.
A glance behind him, as he walked away with Dr. Middleton, showed
Clara, cunning creature that she was, airily executing her malicious
graces in the preliminary courtesies with Mrs. Mountstuart.
MISS MIDDLETON AND MRS. MOUNTSTUART
"Sit beside me, fair Middleton," said the great lady.
"Gladly," said Clara, bowing to her title.
"I want to sound you, my dear."
Clara presented an open countenance with a dim interrogation on the
forehead. "Yes?" she said, submissively.
"You were one of my bright faces last night. I was in love with you.
Delicate vessels ring sweetly to a finger-nail, and if the wit is true,
you answer to it; that I can see, and that is what I like. Most of the
people one has at a table are drums. A ruba-dub-dub on them is the only
way to get a sound. When they can be persuaded to do it upon one
another, they call it conversation."
"Colonel De Craye was very funny."
"Funny, and witty too."
"But never spiteful."
"These Irish or half Irishmen are my taste. If they're not politicians,
mind; I mean Irish gentlemen. I will never have another dinner-party
without one. Our men's tempers are uncertain. You can't get them to
forget themselves. And when the wine is in them the nature comes out,
and they must be buffetting, and up start politics, and good-bye to
harmony! My husband, I am sorry to say, was one of those who have a
long account of ruined dinners against them. I have seen him and his
friends red as the roast and white as the boiled with wrath on a
popular topic they had excited themselves over, intrinsically not worth
a snap of the fingers. In London!" exclaimed Mrs. Mountstuart, to
aggravate the charge against her lord in the Shades. "But town or
country, the table should be sacred. I have heard women say it is a
plot on the side of the men to teach us our littleness. I don't believe
they have a plot. It would be to compliment them on a talent. I believe
they fall upon one another blindly, simply because they are full; which
is, we are told, the preparation for the fighting Englishman. They
cannot eat and keep a truce. Did you notice that dreadful Mr. Capes?"
"The gentleman who frequently contradicted papa? But Colonel De Craye
was good enough to relieve us."
"How, my dear?"
"You did not hear him? He took advantage of an interval when Mr. Capes
was breathing after a paean to his friend, the Governor--I think--of
one of the presidencies, to say to the lady beside him: 'He was a
wonderful administrator and great logician; he married an Anglo-Indian
widow, and soon after published a pamphlet in favour of Suttee.'"
"And what did the lady say?"
"She said: 'Oh.'"
"Hark at her! And was it heard?"
"Mr. Capes granted the widow, but declared he had never seen the
pamphlet in favour of Suttee, and disbelieved in it. He insisted that
it was to be named Sati. He was vehement."
"Now I do remember:--which must have delighted the colonel. And Mr.
Capes retired from the front upon a repetition of 'in toto, in toto'.
As if 'in toto' were the language of a dinner-table! But what will ever
teach these men? Must we import Frenchmen to give them an example in
the art of conversation, as their grandfathers brought over marquises
to instruct them in salads? And our young men too! Women have to take
to the hunting-field to be able to talk with them, and be on a par with
their grooms. Now, there was Willoughby Patterne, a prince among them
formerly. Now, did you observe him last night? did you notice how,
instead of conversing, instead of assisting me--as he was bound to do
doubly owing to the defection of Vernon Whitford: a thing I don't yet
comprehend--there he sat sharpening his lower lip for cutting remarks.
And at my best man! at Colonel De Craye! If he had attacked Mr. Capes,
with his Governor of Bomby, as the man pronounces it, or Colonel
Wildjohn and his Protestant Church in Danger, or Sir Wilson Pettifer
harping on his Monarchical Republic, or any other! No, he preferred to
be sarcastic upon friend Horace, and he had the worst of it. Sarcasm is
so silly! What is the gain if he has been smart? People forget the
epigram and remember the other's good temper. On that field, my dear,
you must make up your mind to be beaten by 'friend Horace'. I have my
prejudices and I have my prepossessions, but I love good temper, and I
love wit, and when I see a man possessed of both, I set my cap at him,
and there's my flat confession, and highly unfeminine it is."
"Not at all!" cried Clara.
"We are one, then."
Clara put up a mouth empty of words: she was quite one with her. Mrs.
Mountstuart pressed her hand. "When one does get intimate with a dainty
rogue!" she said. "You forgive me all that, for I could vow that
Willoughby has betrayed me."
Clara looked soft, kind, bright, in turns, and clouded instantly when
the lady resumed: "A friend of my own sex, and young, and a close
neighbour, is just what I would have prayed for. And I'll excuse you,
my dear, for not being so anxious about the friendship of an old woman.
But I shall be of use to you, you will find. In the first place, I
never tap for secrets. In the second, I keep them. Thirdly, I have some
power. And fourth, every young married woman has need of a friend like
me. Yes, and Lady Patterne heading all the county will be the stronger
for my backing. You don't look so mighty well pleased, my dear. Speak
"Dear Mrs. Mountstuart!"
"I tell you, I am very fond of Willoughby, but I saw the faults of the
boy and see the man's. He has the pride of a king, and it's a pity if
you offend it. He is prodigal in generosity, but he can't forgive. As
to his own errors, you must be blind to them as a Saint. The secret of
him is, that he is one of those excessively civilized creatures who aim
at perfection: and I think he ought to be supported in his conceit of
having attained it; for the more men of that class, the greater our
influence. He excels in manly sports, because he won't be excelled in
anything, but as men don't comprehend his fineness, he comes to us; and
his wife must manage him by that key. You look down at the idea of
managing. It has to be done. One thing you may be assured of, he will
be proud of you. His wife won't be very much enamoured of herself if
she is not the happiest woman in the world. You will have the best
horses, the best dresses, the finest jewels in England; and an
incomparable cook. The house will be changed the moment you enter it as
Lady Patterne. And, my dear, just where he is, with all his graces,
deficient of attraction, yours will tell. The sort of Othello he would
make, or Leontes, I don't know, and none of us ever needs to know. My
impression is, that if even a shadow of a suspicion flitted across him,
he is a sort of man to double-dye himself in guilt by way of vengeance
in anticipation of an imagined offence. Not uncommon with men. I have
heard strange stories of them: and so will you in your time to come,
but not from me. No young woman shall ever be the sourer for having
been my friend. One word of advice now we are on the topic: never play
at counter-strokes with him. He will be certain to out-stroke you, and
you will be driven further than you meant to go. They say we beat men
at that game; and so we do, at the cost of beating ourselves. And if
once we are started, it is a race-course ending on a precipice--over
goes the winner. We must be moderately slavish to keep our place; which
is given us in appearance; but appearances make up a remarkably large
part of life, and far the most comfortable, so long as we are discreet
at the right moment. He is a man whose pride, when hurt, would run his
wife to perdition to solace it. If he married a troublesome widow, his
pamphlet on Suttee would be out within the year. Vernon Whitford would
receive instructions about it the first frosty moon. You like Miss
"I think I like her better than she likes me," said Clara.
"Have you never warmed together?"
"I have tried it. She is not one bit to blame. I can see how it is that
she misunderstands me: or justly condemns me, perhaps I should say."
"The hero of two women must die and be wept over in common before they
can appreciate one another. You are not cold?"
"You shuddered, my dear."
"I do sometimes. Feet will be walking over ones grave, wherever it
lies. Be sure of this: Willoughby Patterne is a man of unimpeachable
"I do not doubt it."
"He means to be devoted to you. He has been accustomed to have women
hanging around him like votive offerings."
"I . . .!"
"You cannot: of course not: any one could see that at a glance. You
are all the sweeter to me for not being tame. Marriage cures a
multitude of indispositions."
"Oh! Mrs. Mountstuart, will you listen to me?"
"Presently. Don't threaten me with confidences. Eloquence is a terrible
thing in woman. I suspect, my dear, that we both know as much as could
"You hardly suspect the truth, I fear."
"Let me tell you one thing about jealous men--when they are not
blackamoors married to disobedient daughters. I speak of our civil
creature of the drawing-rooms: and lovers, mind, not husbands: two
distinct species, married or not:--they're rarely given to jealousy
unless they are flighty themselves. The jealousy fixes them. They have
only to imagine that we are for some fun likewise and they grow as
deferential as my footman, as harmless as the sportsman whose gun has
burst. Ah! my fair Middleton, am I pretending to teach you? You have
read him his lesson, and my table suffered for it last night, but I
bear no rancour."
"You bewilder me, Mrs. Mountstuart."
"Not if I tell you that you have driven the poor man to try whether it
would be possible for him to give you up."
"Well, and you are successful."
"Jump, my dear!"
"When men love stale instead of fresh, withered better than blooming,
excellence in the abstract rather than the palpable. With their idle
prate of feminine intellect, and a grotto nymph, and a mother of
Gracchi! Why, he must think me dazed with admiration of him to talk to
me! One listens, you know. And he is one of the men who cast a kind of
physical spell on you while he has you by the ear, until you begin to
think of it by talking to somebody else. I suppose there are clever
people who do see deep into the breast while dialogue is in progress.
One reads of them. No, my dear, you have very cleverly managed to show
him that it isn't at all possible: he can't. And the real cause for
alarm, in my humble opinion, is lest your amiable foil should have been
a trifle, as he would say, deceived, too much in earnest, led too far.
One may reprove him for not being wiser, but men won't learn without
groaning that they are simply weapons taken up to be put down when done
with. Leave it to me to compose him.--Willoughby can't give you up. I'm
certain he has tried; his pride has been horridly wounded. You were
shrewd, and he has had his lesson. If these little rufflings don't come
before marriage they come after; so it's not time lost; and it's good
to be able to look back on them. You are very white, my child."
"Can you, Mrs. Mountstuart, can you think I would be so heartlessly
"Be honest, fair Middleton, and answer me: Can you say you had not a
corner of an idea of producing an effect on Willoughby?"
Clara checked the instinct of her tongue to defend her reddening
cheeks, with a sense that she was disintegrating and crumbling, but she
wanted this lady for a friend, and she had to submit to the conditions,
and be red and silent.
Mrs. Mountstuart examined her leisurely.
"That will do. Conscience blushes. One knows it by the conflagration.
Don't be hard on yourself . . . there you are in the other extreme.
That blush of yours would count with me against any quantity of
evidence--all the Crooklyns in the kingdom. You lost your purse."
"I discovered that it was lost this morning."
"Flitch has been here with it. Willoughby has it. You will ask him for
it; he will demand payment: you will be a couple of yards' length or so
of cramoisy: and there ends the episode, nobody killed, only a poor man
melancholy-wounded, and I must offer him my hand to mend him, vowing to
prove to him that Suttee was properly abolished. Well, and now to
business. I said I wanted to sound you. You have been overdone with
porcelain. Poor Lady Busshe is in despair at your disappointment. Now,
I mean my wedding-present to be to your taste."
"Who is the madam you are imploring?"
"Dear Mrs. Mountstuart!"
"I shall fall in your esteem. Perhaps you will help me. No one else
can. I am a prisoner: I am compelled to continue this imposture. Oh, I
shun speaking much: you object to it and I dislike it: but I must
endeavour to explain to you that I am unworthy of the position you
think a proud one."
"Tut-tut; we are all unworthy, cross our arms, bow our heads; and
accept the honours. Are you playing humble handmaid? What an old
organ-tune that is! Well? Give me reasons."
"I do not wish to marry."
"He's the great match of the county!"
"I cannot marry him."
"Why, you are at the church door with him! Cannot marry him?"
"It does not bind me."
"The church door is as binding as the altar to an honourable girl.
What have you been about? Since I am in for confidences, half ones
won't do. We must have honourable young women as well as men of honour.
You can't imagine he is to be thrown over now, at this hour? What have
you against him? come!"
"I have found that I do not . . ."
Mrs. Mountstuart grimaced transiently. "That is no answer. The cause!"
she said. "What has he done?"
"And when did you discover this nothing?"
"By degrees: unknown to myself; suddenly."
"Suddenly and by degrees? I suppose it's useless to ask for a head. But
if all this is true, you ought not to be here."
"I wish to go; I am unable."
"Have you had a scene together?"
"I have expressed my wish."
"In roundabout?--girl's English?"
"Quite clearly; oh, very clearly."
"Have you spoken to your father?"
"And what does Dr. Middleton say?"
"It is incredible to him."
"To me too! I can understand little differences, little whims,
caprices: we don't settle into harness for a tap on the shoulder as a
man becomes a knight: but to break and bounce away from an unhappy
gentleman at the church door is either madness or it's one of the
things without a name. You think you are quite sure of yourself?"
"I am so sure, that I look back with regret on the time when I was
"But you were in love with him."
"I was mistaken."
"I have none to give."
"Dear me!--Yes, yes, but that tone of sorrowful conviction is often a
trick, it's not new: and I know that assumption of plain sense to pass
off a monstrosity." Mrs. Mountstuart struck her lap. "Soh! but I've
had to rack my brain for it: feminine disgust? You have been hearing
imputations of his past life? moral character? No? Circumstances might
make him behave unkindly, not unhandsomely: and we have no claim over a
man's past, or it's too late to assert it. What is the case?"
"We are quite divided."
"Nothing in the way of . . . nothing green-eyed?"
"Far from that!"
"Then name it."
"Many a very good agreement is founded on disagreeing. It's to be
regretted that you are not portionless. If you had been, you would have
made very little of disagreeing. You are just as much bound in honour
as if you had the ring on your finger."
"In honour! But I appeal to his, I am no wife for him."
"But if he insists, you consent?"
"I appeal to reason. Is it, madam . . ."
"But, I say, if he insists, you consent?"
"He will insist upon his own misery as well as mine."
Mrs. Mountstuart rocked herself "My poor Sir Willoughby! What a
fate!--And I took you for a clever girl! Why, I have been admiring
your management of him! And here am I bound to take a lesson from Lady
Busshe. My dear good Middleton, don't let it be said that Lady Busshe
saw deeper than I! I put some little vanity in it, I own: I won't
conceal it. She declares that when she sent her present--I don't
believe her--she had a premonition that it would come back. Surely you
won't justify the extravagances of a woman without common
reverence:--for anatomize him as we please to ourselves, he is a
splendid man (and I did it chiefly to encourage and come at you). We
don't often behold such a lordly-looking man: so conversable too when
he feels at home; a picture of an English gentleman! The very man we
want married for our neighbourhood! A woman who can openly talk of
expecting him to be twice jilted! You shrink. It is repulsive. It would
be incomprehensible: except, of course, to Lady Busshe, who rushed to
one of her violent conclusions, and became a prophetess. Conceive a
woman's imagining it could happen twice to the same man! I am not sure
she did not send the identical present that arrived and returned once
before: you know, the Durham engagement. She told me last night she
had it back. I watched her listening very suspiciously to Professor
Crooklyn. My dear, it is her passion to foretell disasters--her
passion! And when they are confirmed, she triumphs, of course. We shall
have her domineering over us with sapient nods at every trifle
occurring. The county will be unendurable. Unsay it, my Middleton! And
don't answer like an oracle because I do all the talking. Pour out to
me. You'll soon come to a stop and find the want of reason in the want
of words. I assure you that's true. Let me have a good gaze at you.
No," said Mrs. Mountstuart, after posturing herself to peruse Clara's
features, "brains you have; one can see it by the nose and the mouth. I
could vow you are the girl I thought you; you have your wits on tiptoe.
How of the heart?"
"None," Clara sighed.
The sigh was partly voluntary, though unforced; as one may with ready
sincerity act a character that is our own only through sympathy.
Mrs. Mountstuart felt the extra weight in the young lady's falling
breath. There was no necessity for a deep sigh over an absence of heart
or confession of it. If Clara did not love the man to whom she was
betrothed, sighing about it signified what? some pretence; and a
pretence is the cloak of a secret. Girls do not sigh in that way with
compassion for the man they have no heart for, unless at the same time
they should be oppressed by the knowledge or dread of having a heart
for some one else. As a rule, they have no compassion to bestow on him:
you might as reasonably expect a soldier to bewail the enemy he strikes
in action: they must be very disengaged to have it. And supposing a
show of the thing to be exhibited, when it has not been worried out of
them, there is a reserve in the background: they are pitying themselves
under a mask of decent pity of their wretch.
So ran Mrs. Mountstuart's calculations, which were like her suspicion,
coarse and broad, not absolutely incorrect, but not of an exact measure
with the truth. That pin's head of the truth is rarely hit by design.
The search after it of the professionally penetrative in the dark of a
bosom may bring it forth by the heavy knocking all about the
neighbourhood that we call good guessing, but it does not come out
clean; other matter adheres to it; and being more it is less than
truth. The unadulterate is to be had only by faith in it or by waiting
A lover! thought the sagacious dame. There was no lover: some love
there was: or, rather, there was a preparation of the chamber, with no
lamp yet lighted.
"Do you positively tell me you have no heart for the position of first
lady of the county?" said Mrs. Mountstuart.
Clara's reply was firm: "None whatever."
"My dear, I will believe you on one condition. Look at me. You have
eyes. If you are for mischief, you are armed for it. But how much
better, when you have won a prize, to settle down and wear it! Lady
Patterne will have entire occupation for her flights and whimsies in
leading the county. And the man, surely the man--he behaved badly last
night: but a beauty like this," she pushed a finger at Clara's cheek,
and doated a half instant, "you have the very beauty to break in an
ogre's temper. And the man is as governable as he is presentable. You
have the beauty the French call--no, it's the beauty of a queen of
elves: one sees them lurking about you, one here, one there.
Smile--they dance: be doleful--they hang themselves. No, there's not a
trace of satanic; at least, not yet. And come, come, my Middleton, the
man is a man to be proud of. You can send him into Parliament to wear
off his humours. To my thinking, he has a fine style: conscious? I
never thought so before last night. I can't guess what has happened to
him recently. He was once a young Grand Monarque. He was really a
superb young English gentleman. Have you been wounding him?"
"It is my misfortune to be obliged to wound him," said Clara.
"Quite needlessly, my child, for marry him you must."
Clara's bosom rose: her shoulders rose too, narrowing, and her head
fell slight back.
Mrs. Mountstuart exclaimed: "But the scandal! You would never, never
think of following the example of that Durham girl?--whether she was
provoked to it by jealousy or not. It seems to have gone so
astonishingly far with you in a very short time, that one is alarmed as
to where you will stop. Your look just now was downright revulsion."
"I fear it is. It is. I am past my own control. Dear madam, you have my
assurance that I will not behave scandalously or dishonourably. What I
would entreat of you is to help me. I know this of myself . . . I am not
the best of women. I am impatient, wickedly. I should be no good wife.
Feelings like mine teach me unhappy things of myself."
"Rich, handsome, lordly, influential, brilliant health, fine estates,"
Mrs. Mountstuart enumerated in petulant accents as there started across
her mind some of Sir Willoughby's attributes for the attraction of the
soul of woman. "I suppose you wish me to take you in earnest?"
"I appeal to you for help."
"Persuade him of the folly of pressing me to keep my word."
"I will believe you, my dear Middleton, on one condition: your talk of
no heart is nonsense. A change like this, if one is to believe in the
change, occurs through the heart, not because there is none. Don't you
see that? But if you want me for a friend, you must not sham stupid.
It's bad enough in itself: the imitation's horrid. You have to be
honest with me, and answer me right out. You came here on this visit
intending to marry Willoughby Patterne."
"And gradually you suddenly discovered, since you came here, that you
did not intend it, if you could find a means of avoiding it."
"Oh, madam, yes, it is true."
"Now comes the test. And, my lovely Middleton, your flaming cheeks
won't suffice for me this time. The old serpent can blush like an
innocent maid on occasion. You are to speak, and you are to tell me in
six words why that was: and don't waste one on 'madam', or 'Oh! Mrs.
Mountstuart' Why did you change?"
"I came--When I came I was in some doubt. Indeed I speak the truth. I
found I could not give him the admiration he has, I dare say, a right
to expect. I turned--it surprised me; it surprises me now. But so
completely! So that to think of marrying him is . . ."
"Defer the simile," Mrs. Mountstuart interposed. "If you hit on a
clever one, you will never get the better of it. Now, by just as much
as you have outstripped my limitation of words to you, you show me you
"I could make a vow."
"You would forswear yourself."
"Will you help me?"
"If you are perfectly ingenuous, I may try."
"Dear lady, what more can I say?"
"It may be difficult. You can reply to a catechism."
"I shall have your help?"
"Well, yes; though I don't like stipulations between friends. There is
no man living to whom you could willingly give your hand? That is my
question. I cannot possibly take a step unless I know. Reply briefly:
there is or there is not." Clara sat back with bated breath, mentally
taking the leap into the abyss, realizing it, and the cold prudence of
abstention, and the delirium of the confession. Was there such a man?
It resembled freedom to think there was: to avow it promised freedom.
"Oh, Mrs. Mountstuart!"
"You will help me?"
"Upon my word, I shall begin to doubt your desire for it."
"Willingly give my hand, madam?"
"For shame! And with wits like yours, can't you perceive where
hesitation in answering such a question lands you?"
"Dearest lady, will you give me your hand? may I whisper?"
"You need not whisper; I won't look."
Clara's voice trembled on a tense chord.
"There is one . . . compared with him I feel my insignificance. If I
could aid him."
"What necessity have you to tell me more than that there is one?"
"Ah, madam, it is different: not as you imagine. You bid me be
scrupulously truthful: I am: I wish you to know the different kind of
feeling it is from what might be suspected from . . . a confession. To
give my hand, is beyond any thought I have ever encouraged. If you had
asked me whether there is one whom I admire--yes, I do. I cannot help
admiring a beautiful and brave self-denying nature. It is one whom you
must pity, and to pity casts you beneath him: for you pity him because
it is his nobleness that has been the enemy of his fortunes. He lives
Her voice was musically thrilling in that low muted tone of the very
heart, impossible to deride or disbelieve.
Mrs. Mountstuart set her head nodding on springs.
"Is he clever?"
"He talks well?"
"He might be thought so."
"I think he is."
"In his manner."
"Why, the man would be a mountebank if he adopted any other. And poor?"
"He is not wealthy."
Mrs. Mountstuart preserved a lengthened silence, but nipped Clara's
fingers once or twice to reassure her without approving. "Of course
he's poor," she said at last; "directly the reverse of what you could
have, it must be. Well, my fair Middleton, I can't say you have been
dishonest. I'll help you as far as I'm able. How, it is quite
impossible to tell. We're in the mire. The best way seems to me to get
this pitiable angel to cut some ridiculous capers and present you
another view of him. I don't believe in his innocence. He knew you to
be a plighted woman."
"He has not once by word or sign hinted a disloyalty."
"Then how do you know."
"I do not know."
"He is not the cause of your wish to break your engagement?"
"Then you have succeeded in just telling me nothing. What is?"
"You would break your engagement purely because the admirable creature
is in existence?"
Clara shook her head: she could not say she was dizzy. She had spoken
out more than she had ever spoken to herself, and in doing so she had
cast herself a step beyond the line she dared to contemplate.
"I won't detain you any longer," said Mrs. Mountstuart. "The more we
learn, the more we are taught that we are not so wise as we thought we
were. I have to go to school to Lady Busshe! I really took you for a
very clever girl. If you change again, you will notify the important
circumstance to me, I trust."
"I will," said Clara, and no violent declaration of the impossibility
of her changing again would have had such an effect on her hearer.
Mrs. Mountstuart scanned her face for a new reading of it to match with
her later impressions.
"I am to do as I please with the knowledge I have gained?"
"I am utterly in your hands, madam."
"I have not meant to be unkind."
"You have not been unkind; I could embrace you."
"I am rather too shattered, and kissing won't put me together. I
laughed at Lady Busshe! No wonder you went off like a rocket with a
disappointing bouquet when I told you you had been successful with poor
Sir Willoughby and he could not give you up. I noticed that. A woman
like Lady Busshe, always prying for the lamentable, would have required
no further enlightenment. Has he a temper?"
Clara did not ask her to signalize the person thus abruptly obtruded.