Part 9 out of 12
"He has faults," she said.
"There's an end to Sir Willoughby, then! Though I don't say he will
give you up even when he hears the worst, if he must hear it, as for
his own sake he should. And I won't say he ought to give you up. He'll
be the pitiable angel if he does. For you--but you don't deserve
compliments; they would be immoral. You have behaved badly, badly,
badly. I have never had such a right-about-face in my life. You will
deserve the stigma: you will be notorious: you will be called Number
Two. Think of that! Not even original! We will break the conference, or
I shall twaddle to extinction. I think I heard the luncheon bell."
"You don't look fit for company, but you had better come."
"Oh, yes; every day it's the same."
"Whether you're in my hands or I'm in yours, we're a couple of
arch-conspirators against the peace of the family whose table we're
sitting at, and the more we rattle the viler we are, but we must do it
to ease our minds."
Mrs. Mountstuart spread the skirts of her voluminous dress, remarking
further: "At a certain age our teachers are young people: we learn by
looking backward. It speaks highly for me that I have not called you
mad.--Full of faults, goodish-looking, not a bad talker, cheerful,
poorish;--and she prefers that to this!" the great lady exclaimed in
her reverie while emerging from the circle of shrubs upon a view of the
Hall. Colonel De Craye advanced to her; certainly good-looking,
certainly cheerful, by no means a bad talker, nothing of a Croesus, and
variegated with faults.
His laughing smile attacked the irresolute hostility of her mien,
confident as the sparkle of sunlight in a breeze. The effect of it on
herself angered her on behalf of Sir Willoughby's bride.
"Good-morning, Mrs. Mountstuart; I believe I am the last to greet you."
"And how long do you remain here, Colonel De Craye?"
"I kissed earth when I arrived, like the Norman William, and
consequently I've an attachment to the soil, ma'am."
"You're not going to take possession of it, I suppose?"
"A handful would satisfy me."
"You play the Conqueror pretty much, I have heard. But property is held
more sacred than in the times of the Norman William."
"And speaking of property, Miss Middleton, your purse is found." he
"I know it is," she replied as unaffectedly as Mrs. Mountstuart could
have desired, though the ingenuous air of the girl incensed her
Clara passed on.
"You restore purses," observed Mrs. Mountstuart.
Her stress on the word and her look thrilled De Craye; for there had
been a long conversation between the young lady and the dame.
"It was an article that dropped and was not stolen," said he.
"Barely sweet enough to keep, then!"
"I think I could have felt to it like poor Flitch, the flyman, who was
"If you are conscious of these temptations to appropriate what is not
your own, you should quit the neighbourhood."
"And do it elsewhere? But that's not virtuous counsel."
"And I'm not counselling in the interests of your virtue, Colonel De
"And I dared for a moment to hope that you were, ma'am," he said,
They were close to the dining-room window, and Mrs Mountstuart
preferred the terminating of a dialogue that did not promise to leave
her features the austerely iron cast with which she had commenced it.
She was under the spell of gratitude for his behaviour yesterday
evening at her dinner-table; she could not be very severe.
ANIMATED CONVERSATION AT A LUNCHEON-TABLE
Vernon was crossing the hall to the dining-room as Mrs Mountstuart
stepped in. She called to him: "Are the champions reconciled?"
He replied: "Hardly that, but they have consented to meet at an altar
to offer up a victim to the gods in the shape of modern poetic
imitations of the classical."
"That seems innocent enough. The Professor has not been anxious about
"He recollects his cough now and then."
"You must help him to forget it."
"Lady Busshe and Lady Culmer are here," said Vernon, not supposing it
to be a grave announcement until the effect of it on Mrs. Mountstuart
She dropped her voice: "Engage my fair friend for one of your walks the
moment we rise from table. You may have to rescue her; but do. I mean
"She's a capital walker." Vernon remarked in simpleton style.
"There's no necessity for any of your pedestrian feats," Mrs
Mountstuart said, and let him go, turning to Colonel De Craye to
pronounce an encomium on him: "The most open-minded man I know!
Warranted to do perpetual service, and no mischief. If you were all
. . . instead of catching at every prize you covet! Yes, you would
have your reward for unselfishness, I assure you. Yes, and where you
seek it! That is what none of you men will believe."
"When you behold me in your own livery!" cried the colonel.
"Do I?" said she, dallying with a half-formed design to be
confidential. "How is it one is always tempted to address you in
the language of innuendo? I can't guess."
"Except that as a dog doesn't comprehend good English we naturally talk
bad to him."
The great lady was tickled. Who could help being amused by this man?
And after all, if her fair Middleton chose to be a fool there could be
no gainsaying her, sorry though poor Sir Willoughby's friends must feel
She tried not to smile.
"You are too absurd. Or a baby, you might have added."
"I hadn't the daring."
"I'll tell you what, Colonel De Craye, I shall end by falling in love
with you; and without esteeming you, I fear."
"The second follows as surely as the flavour upon a draught of Bacchus,
if you'll but toss off the glass, ma'am."
"We women, sir, think it should be first."
"'Tis to transpose the seasons, and give October the blossom and April
the apple, and no sweet one! Esteem's a mellow thing that comes after
bloom and fire, like an evening at home; because if it went before it
would have no father and couldn't hope for progeny; for there'd be no
nature in the business. So please, ma'am, keep to the original order,
and you'll be nature's child, and I the most blessed of mankind."
"Really, were I fifteen years younger. I am not so certain . . . I
might try and make you harmless."
"Draw the teeth of the lamb so long as you pet him!"
"I challenged you, colonel, and I won't complain of your pitch. But
now lay your wit down beside your candour, and descend to an every-day
level with me for a minute."
"Is it innuendo?"
"No; though I daresay it would be easier for you to respond to if it
"I'm the straightforwardest of men at a word of command."
"This is a whisper. Be alert, as you were last night. Shuffle the table
well. A little liveliness will do it. I don't imagine malice, but
there's curiosity, which is often as bad, and not so lightly foiled. We
have Lady Busshe and Lady Culmer here."
"To sweep the cobwebs out of the sky!"
"Well, then, can you fence with broomsticks?"
"I have had a bout with them in my time."
"They are terribly direct."
"They 'give point', as Napoleon commanded his cavalry to do."
"You must help me to ward it."
"They will require variety in the conversation."
"Constant. You are an angel of intelligence, and if I have the judgeing
of you, I'm afraid you'll be allowed to pass, in spite of the scandal
above. Open the door; I don't unbonnet."
De Craye threw the door open.
Lady Busshe was at that moment saying, "And are we indeed to have you
for a neighbour, Dr. Middleton?"
The Rev. Doctor's reply was drowned by the new arrivals.
"I thought you had forsaken us," observed Sir Willoughby to Mrs.
"And run away with Colonel De Craye? I'm too weighty, my dear friend.
Besides, I have not looked at the wedding-presents yet."
"The very object of our call!" exclaimed Lady Culmer.
"I have to confess I am in dire alarm about mine," Lady Busshe nodded
across the table at Clara. "Oh! you may shake your head, but I would
rather hear a rough truth than the most complimentary evasion."
"How would you define a rough truth, Dr. Middleton?" said Mrs.
Like the trained warrior who is ready at all hours for the trumpet to
arms, Dr. Middleton waked up for judicial allocution in a trice.
"A rough truth, madam, I should define to be that description of truth
which is not imparted to mankind without a powerful impregnation of the
roughness of the teller."
"It is a rough truth, ma'am, that the world is composed of fools, and
that the exceptions are knaves," Professor Crooklyn furnished that
example avoided by the Rev. Doctor.
"Not to precipitate myself into the jaws of the foregone definition,
which strikes me as being as happy as Jonah's whale, that could carry
probably the most learned man of his time inside without the necessity
of digesting him," said De Craye, "a rough truth is a rather strong
charge of universal nature for the firing off of a modicum of personal
"It is a rough truth that Plato is Moses atticizing," said Vernon to
Dr. Middleton, to keep the diversion alive.
"And that Aristotle had the globe under his cranium," rejoined the Rev.
"And that the Moderns live on the Ancients."
"And that not one in ten thousand can refer to the particular treasury
"The Art of our days is a revel of rough truth," remarked Professor
"And the literature has laboriously mastered the adjective, wherever it
may be in relation to the noun," Dr. Middleton added.
"Orson's first appearance at court was in the figure of a rough truth,
causing the Maids of Honour, accustomed to Tapestry Adams, astonishment
and terror," said De Craye. That he might not be left out of the
sprightly play, Sir Willoughby levelled a lance at the quintain,
smiling on Laetitia: "In fine, caricature is rough truth."
She said, "Is one end of it, and realistic directness is the other."
He bowed. "The palm is yours."
Mrs. Mountstuart admired herself as each one trotted forth in turn
characteristically, with one exception unaware of the aid which was
being rendered to a distressed damsel wretchedly incapable of decent
hypocrisy. Her intrepid lead had shown her hand to the colonel and
drawn the enemy at a blow.
Sir Willoughby's "in fine", however, did not please her: still less did
his lackadaisical Lothario-like bowing and smiling to Miss Dale: and he
perceived it and was hurt. For how, carrying his tremendous load, was
he to compete with these unhandicapped men in the game of nonsense she
had such a fondness for starting at a table? He was further annoyed to
hear Miss Eleanor and Miss Isabel Patterne agree together that
"caricature" was the final word of the definition. Relatives should
know better than to deliver these awards to us in public.
"Well?" quoth Lady Busshe, expressive of stupefaction at the strange
dust she had raised.
"Are they on view, Miss Middleton?" inquired Lady Culmer.
"There's a regiment of us on view and ready for inspection." Colonel De
Craye bowed to her, but she would not be foiled.
"Miss Middleton's admirers are always on view." said he.
"Are they to be seen?" said Lady Busshe.
Clara made her face a question, with a laudable smoothness.
"The wedding-presents," Lady Culmer explained.
"Otherwise, my dear, we are in danger of duplicating and triplicating
and quadruplicating, not at all to the satisfaction of the bride."
"But there's a worse danger to encounter in the 'on view', my lady,"
said De Craye; "and that's the magnetic attraction a display of
wedding-presents is sure to have for the ineffable burglar, who must
have a nuptial soul in him, for wherever there's that collection on
view, he's never a league off. And 'tis said he knows a lady's
dressing-case presented to her on the occasion fifteen years after the
"As many as fifteen?" said Mrs. Mountstuart.
"By computation of the police. And if the presents are on view, dogs
are of no use, nor bolts, nor bars:--he's worse than Cupid. The only
protection to be found, singular as it may be thought, is in a couple
of bottles of the oldest Jamaica rum in the British isles."
"Rum?" cried Lady Busshe.
"The liquor of the Royal Navy, my lady. And with your permission, I'll
relate the tale in proof of it. I had a friend engaged to a young lady,
niece of an old sea-captain of the old school, the Benbow school, the
wooden leg and pigtail school; a perfectly salt old gentleman with a
pickled tongue, and a dash of brine in every deed he committed. He
looked rolled over to you by the last wave on the shore, sparkling: he
was Neptune's own for humour. And when his present to the bride was
opened, sure enough there lay a couple of bottles of the oldest Jamaica
rum in the British Isles, born before himself, and his father to boot.
'Tis a fabulous spirit I beg you to believe in, my lady, the sole merit
of the story being its portentous veracity. The bottles were tied to
make them appear twins, as they both had the same claim to seniority.
And there was a label on them, telling their great age, to maintain
their identity. They were in truth a pair of patriarchal bottles
rivalling many of the biggest houses in the kingdom for antiquity. They
would have made the donkey that stood between the two bundles of hay
look at them with obliquity: supposing him to have, for an animal, a
rum taste, and a turn for hilarity. Wonderful old bottles! So, on the
label, just over the date, was written large: UNCLE BENJAMIN'S WEDDING
PRESENT TO HIS NIECE BESSY. Poor Bessy shed tears of disappointment and
indignation enough to float the old gentleman on his native element,
ship and all. She vowed it was done curmudgeonly to vex her, because
her uncle hated wedding-presents and had grunted at the exhibition of
cups and saucers, and this and that beautiful service, and epergnes and
inkstands, mirrors, knives and forks, dressing-cases, and the whole
mighty category. She protested, she flung herself about, she declared
those two ugly bottles should not join the exhibition in the
dining-room, where it was laid out for days, and the family ate their
meals where they could, on the walls, like flies. But there was also
Uncle Benjamin's legacy on view, in the distance, so it was ruled
against her that the bottles should have their place. And one fine
morning down came the family after a fearful row of the domestics;
shouting, screaming, cries for the police, and murder topping all. What
did they see? They saw two prodigious burglars extended along the
floor, each with one of the twin bottles in his hand, and a remainder
of the horror of the midnight hanging about his person like a blown
fog, sufficient to frighten them whilst they kicked the rascals
entirely intoxicated. Never was wilder disorder of wedding-presents,
and not one lost!--owing, you'll own, to Uncle Benjy's two bottles of
ancient Jamaica rum."
Colonel De Craye concluded with an asseveration of the truth of the
"A most provident, far-sighted old sea-captain!" exclaimed Mrs.
Mountstuart, laughing at Lady Busshe and Lady Culmer. These ladies
chimed in with her gingerly.
"And have you many more clever stories, Colonel De Craye?" said Lady
"Ah! my lady, when the tree begins to count its gold 'tis nigh upon
"Poetic!" ejaculated Lady Culmer, spying at Miss Middleton's rippled
countenance, and noting that she and Sir Willoughby had not
interchanged word or look.
"But that in the case of your Patterne Port a bottle of it would
outvalue the catalogue of nuptial presents, Willoughby, I would
recommend your stationing some such constabulary to keep watch and
ward." said Dr. Middleton, as he filled his glass, taking Bordeaux in
the middle of the day, under a consciousness of virtue and its reward
to come at half-past seven in the evening.
"The rascals would require a dozen of that, sir," said De Craye.
"Then it is not to be thought of. Indeed one!" Dr. Middleton negatived
"We are no further advanced than when we began," observed Lady Busshe.
"If we are marked to go by stages," Mrs. Mountstuart assented.
"Why, then, we shall be called old coaches," remarked the colonel.
"You," said Lady Culmer, "have the advantage of us in a closer
acquaintance with Miss Middleton. You know her tastes, and how far they
have been consulted in the little souvenirs already grouped somewhere,
although not yet for inspection. I am at sea. And here is Lady Busshe
in deadly alarm. There is plenty of time to effect a change--though we
are drawing on rapidly to the fatal day, Miss Middleton. We are, we are
very near it. Oh! yes. I am one who thinks that these little affairs
should be spoken of openly, without that ridiculous bourgeois
affectation, so that we may be sure of giving satisfaction. It is a
transaction like everything else in life. I, for my part, wish to be
remembered favourably. I put it as a test of breeding to speak of these
things as plain matter-of-fact. You marry; I wish you to have something
by you to remind you of me. What shall it be?--useful or ornamental.
For an ordinary household the choice is not difficult. But where wealth
abounds we are in a dilemma."
"And with persons of decided tastes," added Lady Busshe.
"I am really very unhappy," she protested to Clara.
Sir Willoughby dropped Laetitia; Clara's look of a sedate resolution to
preserve silence on the topic of the nuptial gifts made a diversion
"Your porcelain was exquisitely chosen, and I profess to be a
connoisseur," he said. "I am poor in Old Saxony, as you know; I can
match the country in Savres, and my inheritance of China will not
easily be matched in the country."
"You may consider your Dragon vases a present from young Crossjay,"
said De Craye.
"Hasn't he abstained from breaking them? the capital boy! Porcelain
and a boy in the house together is a case of prospective disaster fully
equal to Flitch and a fly."
"You should understand that my friend Horace--whose wit is in this
instance founded on another tale of a boy--brought us a magnificent
piece of porcelain, destroyed by the capsizing of his conveyance from
the station," said Sir Willoughby to Lady Busshe.
She and Lady Culmer gave out lamentable Ohs, while Miss Eleanor and
Miss Isabel Patterne sketched the incident. Then the lady visitors
fixed their eyes in united sympathy upon Clara: recovering from which,
after a contemplation of marble, Lady Busshe emphasized, "No, you do
not love porcelain, it is evident, Miss Middleton."
"I am glad to be assured of it," said Lady Culmer.
"Oh, I know that face: I know that look," Lady Busshe affected to
remark rallyingly: "it is not the first time I have seen it."
Sir Willoughby smarted to his marrow. "We will rout these fancies of an
overscrupulous generosity, my dear Lady Busshe."
Her unwonted breach of delicacy in speaking publicly of her present,
and the vulgar persistency of her sticking to the theme, very much
perplexed him. And if he mistook her not, she had just alluded to the
demoniacal Constantia Durham.
It might be that he had mistaken her: he was on guard against his
terrible sensitiveness. Nevertheless it was hard to account for this
behaviour of a lady greatly his friend and admirer, a lady of birth.
And Lady Culmer as well!--likewise a lady of birth. Were they in
collusion? had they a suspicion? He turned to Laetitia's face for the
antidote to his pain.
"Oh, but you are not one yet, and I shall require two voices to
convince me," Lady Busshe rejoined, after another stare at the marble.
"Lady Busshe, I beg you not to think me ungrateful," said Clara.
"Fiddle!--gratitude! it is to please your taste, to satisfy you. I
care for gratitude as little as for flattery."
"But gratitude is flattering," said Vernon.
"Now, no metaphysics, Mr. Whitford."
"But do care a bit for flattery, my lady," said De Craye. "'Tis the
finest of the Arts; we might call it moral sculpture. Adepts in it can
cut their friends to any shape they like by practising it with the
requisite skill. I myself, poor hand as I am, have made a man act
Solomon by constantly praising his wisdom. He took a sagacious turn at
an early period of the dose. He weighed the smallest question of his
daily occasions with a deliberation truly oriental. Had I pushed it,
he'd have hired a baby and a couple of mothers to squabble over the
"I shall hope for a day in London with you," said Lady Culmer to Clara.
"You did not forget the Queen of Sheba?" said Mrs. Mountstuart to De
"With her appearance, the game has to be resigned to her entirely," he
"That is," Lady Culmer continued, "if you do not despise an old woman
for your comrade on a shopping excursion."
"Despise whom we fleece!" exclaimed Dr. Middleton. "Oh, no, Lady
Culmer, the sheep is sacred."
"I am not so sure," said Vernon.
"In what way, and to what extent, are you not so sure?" said Dr.
"The natural tendency is to scorn the fleeced."
"I stand for the contrary. Pity, if you like: particularly when they
"This is to assume that makers of gifts are a fleeced people: I demur,"
said Mrs. Mountstuart.
"Madam, we are expected to give; we are incited to give; you have
dubbed it the fashion to give; and the person refusing to give, or
incapable of giving, may anticipate that he will be regarded as
benignly as a sheep of a drooping and flaccid wool by the farmer, who
is reminded by the poor beast's appearance of a strange dog that
worried the flock. Even Captain Benjamin, as you have seen, was unable
to withstand the demand on him. The hymeneal pair are licensed
freebooters levying blackmail on us; survivors of an uncivilized
period. But in taking without mercy, I venture to trust that the
manners of a happier era instruct them not to scorn us. I apprehend
that Mr. Whitford has a lower order of latrons in his mind."
"Permit me to say, sir, that you have not considered the ignoble aspect
of the fleeced," said Vernon. "I appeal to the ladies: would they not,
if they beheld an ostrich walking down a Queen's Drawing Room,
clean-plucked, despise him though they were wearing his plumes?"
"An extreme supposition, indeed," said Dr. Middleton, frowning over it;
"scarcely legitimately to be suggested."
"I think it fair, sir, as an instance."
"Has the circumstance occurred, I would ask?"
"In life? a thousand times."
"I fear so," said Mrs. Mountstuart.
Lady Busshe showed symptoms of a desire to leave a profitless table.
Vernon started up, glancing at the window.
"Did you see Crossjay?" he said to Clara.
"No; I must, if he is there," said she.
She made her way out, Vernon after her. They both had the excuse.
"Which way did the poor boy go?" she asked him.
"I have not the slightest idea," he replied. "But put on your bonnet,
if you would escape that pair of inquisitors."
"Mr. Whitford, what humiliation!"
"I suspect you do not feel it the most, and the end of it can't be
remote," said he.
Thus it happened that when Lady Busshe and Lady Culmer quitted the
dining-room, Miss Middleton had spirited herself away from summoning
voice and messenger.
Sir Willoughby apologized for her absence. "If I could be jealous, it
would be of that boy Crossjay."
"You are an excellent man, and the best of cousins," was Lady Busshe's
The exceedingly lively conversation at his table was lauded by Lady
"Though," said she, "what it all meant, and what was the drift of it, I
couldn't tell to save my life. Is it every day the same with you here?"
"How you must enjoy a spell of dulness!"
"If you said simplicity and not talking for effect! I generally cast
anchor by Laetitia Dale."
"Ah!" Lady Busshe coughed. "But the fact is, Mrs. Mountstuart is made
"I think, my lady, Laetitia Dale is to the full as clever as any of the
stars Mrs. Mountstuart assembles, or I."
"Talkative cleverness, I mean."
"In conversation as well. Perhaps you have not yet given her a chance."
"Yes, yes, she is clever, of course, poor dear. She is looking better
"Handsome, I thought," said Lady Culmer.
"She varies," observed Sir Willoughby.
The ladies took seat in their carriage and fell at once into a
close-bonnet colloquy. Not a single allusion had they made to the
wedding-presents after leaving the luncheon-table. The cause of their
visit was obvious.
CONTAINS CLEVER FENCING AND INTIMATIONS OF THE NEED FOR IT
That woman, Lady Busshe, had predicted, after the event, Constantia
Durham's defection. She had also, subsequent to Willoughby's departure
on his travels, uttered sceptical things concerning his rooted
attachment to Laetitia Dale. In her bitter vulgarity, that beaten rival
of Mrs. Mountstuart Jenkinson for the leadership of the county had
taken his nose for a melancholy prognostic of his fortunes; she had
recently played on his name: she had spoken the hideous English of his
fate. Little as she knew, she was alive to the worst interpretation of
appearances. No other eulogy occurred to her now than to call him the
best of cousins, because Vernon Whitford was housed and clothed and fed
by him. She had nothing else to say for a man she thought luckless!
She was a woman barren of wit, stripped of style, but she was wealthy
and a gossip--a forge of showering sparks--and she carried Lady Culmer
with her. The two had driven from his house to spread the malignant
rumour abroad; already they blew the biting world on his raw wound.
Neither of them was like Mrs. Mountstuart, a witty woman, who could be
hoodwinked; they were dull women, who steadily kept on their own scent
of the fact, and the only way to confound such inveterate forces was to
be ahead of them, and seize and transform the expected fact, and
astonish them, when they came up to him, with a totally unanticipated
"You see, you were in error, ladies."
"And so we were, Sir Willoughby, and we acknowledge it. We never could
have guessed that!"
Thus the phantom couple in the future delivered themselves, as well
they might at the revelation. He could run far ahead.
Ay, but to combat these dolts, facts had to be encountered, deeds done,
in groaning earnest. These representatives of the pig-sconces of the
population judged by circumstances: airy shows and seems had no effect
on them. Dexterity of fence was thrown away.
A flying peep at the remorseless might of dulness in compelling us to a
concrete performance counter to our inclinations, if we would deceive
its terrible instinct, gave Willoughby for a moment the survey of a
sage. His intensity of personal feeling struck so vivid an illumination
of mankind at intervals that he would have been individually wise, had
he not been moved by the source of his accurate perceptions to a
personal feeling of opposition to his own sagacity. He loathed and he
despised the vision, so his mind had no benefit of it, though he
himself was whipped along. He chose rather (and the choice is open to
us all) to be flattered by the distinction it revealed between himself
But if he was not as others were, why was he discomfited, solicitous,
miserable? To think that it should be so, ran dead against his
conqueror's theories wherein he had been trained, which, so long as he
gained success awarded success to native merit, grandeur to the grand
in soul, as light kindles light: nature presents the example. His
early training, his bright beginning of life, had taught him to look to
earth's principal fruits as his natural portion, and it was owing to a
girl that he stood a mark for tongues, naked, wincing at the possible
malignity of a pair of harridans. Why not whistle the girl away?
Why, then he would be free to enjoy, careless, younger than his youth
in the rebound to happiness!
And then would his nostrils begin to lift and sniff at the creeping up
of a thick pestiferous vapour. Then in that volume of stench would he
discern the sullen yellow eye of malice. A malarious earth would hunt
him all over it. The breath of the world, the world's view of him, was
partly his vital breath, his view of himself. The ancestry of the
tortured man had bequeathed him this condition of high civilization
among their other bequests. Your withered contracted Egoists of the hut
and the grot reck not of public opinion; they crave but for liberty and
leisure to scratch themselves and soothe an excessive scratch.
Willoughby was expansive, a blooming one, born to look down upon a
tributary world, and to exult in being looked to. Do we wonder at his
consternation in the prospect of that world's blowing foul on him?
Princes have their obligations to teach them they are mortal, and the
brilliant heir of a tributary world is equally enchained by the homage
it brings him;--more, inasmuch as it is immaterial, elusive, not
gathered by the tax, and he cannot capitally punish the treasonable
recusants. Still must he be brilliant; he must court his people. He
must ever, both in his reputation and his person, aching though he be,
show them a face and a leg.
The wounded gentleman shut himself up in his laboratory, where he could
stride to and fro, and stretch out his arms for physical relief, secure
from observation of his fantastical shapes, under the idea that he was
meditating. There was perhaps enough to make him fancy it in the heavy
fire of shots exchanged between his nerves and the situation; there
were notable flashes. He would not avow that he was in an agony: it was
merely a desire for exercise.
Quintessence of worldliness, Mrs. Mountstuart appeared through his
farthest window, swinging her skirts on a turn at the end of the lawn,
with Horace De Craye smirking beside her. And the woman's vaunted
penetration was unable to detect the histrionic Irishism of the fellow.
Or she liked him for his acting and nonsense; nor she only. The voluble
beast was created to snare women. Willoughby became smitten with an
adoration of stedfastness in women. The incarnation of that divine
quality crossed his eyes. She was clad in beauty. A horrible
nondescript convulsion composed of yawn and groan drove him to his
instruments, to avert a renewal of the shock; and while arranging and
fixing them for their unwonted task, he compared himself advantageously
with men like Vernon and De Craye, and others of the county, his
fellows in the hunting-field and on the Magistrate's bench, who neither
understood nor cared for solid work, beneficial practical work, the
work of Science.
He was obliged to relinquish it: his hand shook.
"Experiments will not advance much at this rate," he said, casting the
noxious retardation on his enemies.
It was not to be contested that he must speak with Mrs Mountstuart,
however he might shrink from the trial of his facial muscles. Her not
coming to him seemed ominous: nor was her behaviour at the
luncheon-table quite obscure. She had evidently instigated the
gentlemen to cross and counterchatter Lady Busshe and Lady Culmer. For
Clara's features gave the answer.
They were implacable. And he could be the same.
In the solitude of his room he cried right out: "I swear it, I will
never yield her to Horace De Craye! She shall feel some of my torments,
and try to get the better of them by knowing she deserves them." He had
spoken it, and it was an oath upon the record.
Desire to do her intolerable hurt became an ecstasy in his veins, and
produced another stretching fit that terminated in a violent shake of
the body and limbs; during which he was a spectacle for Mrs.
Mountstuart at one of the windows. He laughed as he went to her,
saying: "No, no work to-day; it won't be done, positively refuses."
"I am taking the Professor away," said she; "he is fidgety about the
cold he caught."
Sir Willoughby stepped out to her. "I was trying at a bit of work for
an hour, not to be idle all day."
"You work in that den of yours every day?"
"Never less than an hour, if I can snatch it."
"It is a wonderful resource!"
The remark set him throbbing and thinking that a prolongation of his
crisis exposed him to the approaches of some organic malady, possibly
"A habit," he said. "In there I throw off the world."
"We shall see some results in due time."
"I promise none: I like to be abreast of the real knowledge of my day,
that is all."
"And a pearl among country gentlemen!"
"In your gracious consideration, my dear lady. Generally speaking, it
would be more advisable to become a chatterer and keep an anecdotal
note-book. I could not do it, simply because I could not live with my
own emptiness for the sake of making an occasional display of
fireworks. I aim at solidity. It is a narrow aim, no doubt; not much
"Laetitia Dale appreciates it."
A smile of enforced ruefulness, like a leaf curling in heat, wrinkled
Why did she not speak of her conversation with Clara?
"Have they caught Crossjay?" he said.
"Apparently they are giving chase to him."
The likelihood was, that Clara had been overcome by timidity.
"Must you leave us?"
"I think it prudent to take Professor Crooklyn away."
"He still . . . ?"
"The extraordinary resemblance!"
"A word aside to Dr. Middleton will dispel that."
"You are thoroughly good."
This hateful encomium of commiseration transfixed him. Then she knew of
"Philosophical," he said, "would be the proper term, I think."
"Colonel De Craye, by the way, promises me a visit when he leaves you."
"The earlier the better. He is too captivating; he is delightful. He
won me in five minutes. I don't accuse him. Nature gifted him to cast
the spell. We are weak women, Sir Willoughby."
"Like to like: the witty to the witty, ma'am."
"You won't compliment me with a little bit of jealousy?"
"I forbear from complimenting him."
"Be philosophical, of course, if you have the philosophy."
"I pretend to it. Probably I suppose myself to succeed because I have
no great requirement of it; I cannot say. We are riddles to ourselves."
Mrs. Mountstuart pricked the turf with the point of her parasol. She
looked down and she looked up.
"Well?" said he to her eyes.
"Well, and where is Laetitia Dale?"
He turned about to show his face elsewhere.
When he fronted her again, she looked very fixedly, and set her head
"It will not do, my dear Sir Willoughby!"
"I never could solve enigmas."
"Playing ta-ta-ta-ta ad infinitum, then. Things have gone far. All
parties would be happier for an excursion. Send her home."
"Laetitia? I can't part with her."
Mrs. Mountstuart put a tooth on her under lip as her head renewed its
"In what way can it be hurtful that she should be here, ma'am?" he
ventured to persist.
"She is proof."
The word was big artillery. He tried the affectation of a staring
stupidity. She might have seen his heart thump, and he quitted the mask
for an agreeable grimace.
"She is inaccessible. She is my friend. I guarantee her, on my honour.
Have no fear for her. I beg you to have confidence in me. I would
perish rather. No soul on earth is to be compared with her."
Mrs. Mountstuart repeated "Twice!"
The low monosyllable, musically spoken in the same tone of warning of a
gentle ghost, rolled a thunder that maddened him, but he dared not take
it up to fight against it on plain terms.
"Is it for my sake?" he said.
"It will not do, Sir Willoughby."
She spurred him to a frenzy.
"My dear Mrs. Mountstuart, you have been listening to tales. I am not a
tyrant. I am one of the most easy-going of men. Let us preserve the
forms due to society: I say no more. As for poor old Vernon, people
call me a good sort of cousin; I should like to see him comfortably
married; decently married this time. I have proposed to contribute to
his establishment. I mention it to show that the case has been
practically considered. He has had a tolerably souring experience of
the state; he might be inclined if, say, you took him in hand, for
another venture. It's a demoralizing lottery. However, Government
"But, Sir Willoughby, what is the use of my taking him in hand when, as
you tell me, Laetitia Dale holds back?"
"She certainly does."
"Then we are talking to no purpose, unless you undertake to melt her."
He suffered a lurking smile to kindle to some strength of meaning.
"You are not over-considerate in committing me to such an office."
"You are afraid of the danger?" she all but sneered.
Sharpened by her tone, he said, "I have such a love of stedfastness of
character, that I should be a poor advocate in the endeavour to break
it. And frankly, I know the danger. I saved my honour when I made the
attempt: that is all I can say."
"Upon my word," Mrs. Mountstuart threw back her head to let her eyes
behold him summarily over their fine aquiline bridge, "you have the art
of mystification, my good friend."
"Abandon the idea of Laetitia Dale."
"And marry your cousin Vernon to whom? Where are we?"
"As I said, ma'am, I am an easy-going man. I really have not a spice of
the tyrant in me. An intemperate creature held by the collar may have
that notion of me, while pulling to be released as promptly as it
entered the noose. But I do strictly and sternly object to the scandal
of violent separations, open breaches of solemn engagements, a public
rupture. Put it that I am the cause, I will not consent to a violation
of decorum. Is that clear? It is just possible for things to be
arranged so that all parties may be happy in their way without much
hubbub. Mind, it is not I who have willed it so. I am, and I am forced
to be, passive. But I will not be obstructive."
He paused, waving his hand to signify the vanity of the more that might
Some conception of him, dashed by incredulity, excited the lady's
"Well!" she exclaimed, "you have planted me in the land of conjecture.
As my husband used to say, I don't see light, but I think I see the
lynx that does. We won't discuss it at present. I certainly must be a
younger woman than I supposed, for I am learning hard.--Here comes the
Professor, buttoned up to the ears, and Dr. Middleton flapping in the
breeze. There will be a cough, and a footnote referring to the young
lady at the station, if we stand together, so please order my
"You found Clara complacent? roguish?"
"I will call to-morrow. You have simplified my task, Sir Willoughby,
very much; that is, assuming that I have not entirely mistaken you. I
am so far in the dark that I have to help myself by recollecting how
Lady Busshe opposed my view of a certain matter formerly. Scepticism is
her forte. It will be the very oddest thing if after all . . . ! No, I
shall own, romance has not departed. Are you fond of dupes?"
"I detest the race."
"An excellent answer. I could pardon you for it." She refrained from
adding, "If you are making one of me."
Sir Willoughby went to ring for her carriage.
She knew. That was palpable: Clara had betrayed him.
"The earlier Colonel De Craye leaves Patterne Hall the better:" she had
said that: and, "all parties would be happier for an excursion." She
knew the position of things and she guessed the remainder. But what she
did not know, and could not divine, was the man who fenced her. He
speculated further on the witty and the dull. These latter are the
redoubtable body. They will have facts to convince them: they had, he
confessed it to himself, precipitated him into the novel sphere of his
dark hints to Mrs. Mountstuart; from which the utter darkness might
allow him to escape, yet it embraced him singularly, and even
pleasantly, with the sense of a fact established.
It embraced him even very pleasantly. There was an end to his tortures.
He sailed on a tranquil sea, the husband of a stedfast woman--no rogue.
The exceeding beauty of stedfastness in women clothed Laetitia in
graces Clara could not match. A tried stedfast woman is the one jewel
of the sex. She points to her husband like the sunflower; her love
illuminates him; she lives in him, for him; she testifies to his worth;
she drags the world to his feet; she leads the chorus of his praises;
she justifies him in his own esteem. Surely there is not on earth such
If we have to pass through anguish to discover it and cherish the peace
it gives to clasp it, calling it ours, is a full reward. Deep in his
reverie, he said his adieus to Mrs. Mountstuart, and strolled up the
avenue behind the carriage-wheels, unwilling to meet Laetitia till he
had exhausted the fresh savour of the cud of fancy.
Supposing it done!--
It would be generous on his part. It would redound to his credit.
His home would be a fortress, impregnable to tongues. He would have
divine security in his home.
One who read and knew and worshipped him would be sitting there
star-like: sitting there, awaiting him, his fixed star.
It would be marriage with a mirror, with an echo; marriage with a
shining mirror, a choric echo.
It would be marriage with an intellect, with a fine understanding; to
make his home a fountain of repeatable wit: to make his dear old
Patterne Hall the luminary of the county.
He revolved it as a chant: with anon and anon involuntarily a
discordant animadversion on Lady Busshe. Its attendant imps heard the
angry inward cry.
Forthwith he set about painting Laetitia in delectable human colours,
like a miniature of the past century, reserving her ideal figure for
his private satisfaction. The world was to bow to her visible beauty,
and he gave her enamel and glow, a taller stature, a swimming air, a
transcendency that exorcized the image of the old witch who had driven
him to this.
The result in him was, that Laetitia became humanly and avowedly
beautiful. Her dark eyelashes on the pallor of her cheeks lent their
aid to the transformation, which was a necessity to him, so it was
performed. He received the waxen impression.
His retinue of imps had a revel. We hear wonders of men, and we see a
lifting up of hands in the world. The wonders would be explained, and
never a hand need to interject, if the mystifying man were but
accompanied by that monkey-eyed confraternity. They spy the heart and
The heart is the magical gentleman. None of them would follow where
there was no heart. The twists of the heart are the comedy.
"The secret of the heart is its pressing love of self ", says the Book.
By that secret the mystery of the organ is legible: and a comparison of
the heart to the mountain rillet is taken up to show us the unbaffled
force of the little channel in seeking to swell its volume,
strenuously, sinuously, ever in pursuit of self; the busiest as it is
the most single-aiming of forces on our earth. And we are directed to
the sinuosities for posts of observation chiefly instructive.
Few maintain a stand there. People see, and they rush away to
interchange liftings of hands at the sight, instead of patiently
studying the phenomenon of energy.
Consequently a man in love with one woman, and in all but absolute
consciousness, behind the thinnest of veils, preparing his mind to love
another, will be barely credible. The particular hunger of the forceful
but adaptable heart is the key of him. Behold the mountain rillet,
become a brook, become a torrent, how it inarms a handsome boulder: yet
if the stone will not go with it, on it hurries, pursuing self in
extension, down to where perchance a dam has been raised of a
sufficient depth to enfold and keep it from inordinate restlessness.
Laetitia represented this peaceful restraining space in prospect.
But she was a faded young woman. He was aware of it; and
systematically looking at himself with her upturned orbs, he accepted
her benevolently as a God grateful for worship, and used the divinity
she imparted to paint and renovate her. His heart required her so. The
heart works the springs of imagination; imagination received its
commission from the heart, and was a cunning artist.
Cunning to such a degree of seductive genius that the masterpiece it
offered to his contemplation enabled him simultaneously to gaze on
Clara and think of Laetitia. Clara came through the park-gates with
Vernon, a brilliant girl indeed, and a shallow one: a healthy creature,
and an animal; attractive, but capricious, impatient, treacherous,
foul; a woman to drag men through the mud. She approached.
IN WHICH WE TAKE A STEP TO THE CENTRE OF EGOISM
They met; Vernon soon left them.
"You have not seen Crossjay?" Willoughby inquired.
"No," said Clara. "Once more I beg you to pardon him. He spoke falsely,
owing to his poor boy's idea of chivalry."
"The chivalry to the sex which commences in lies ends by creating the
woman's hero, whom we see about the world and in certain courts of
His ability to silence her was great: she could not reply to speech
"You have," said he, "made a confidante of Mrs. Mountstuart."
"This is your purse."
"I thank you."
"Professor Crooklyn has managed to make your father acquainted with
your project. That, I suppose, is the railway ticket in the fold of the
purse. He was assured at the station that you had taken a ticket to
London, and would not want the fly."
"It is true. I was foolish."
"You have had a pleasant walk with Vernon--turning me in and out?"
"We did not speak of you. You allude to what he would never consent
"He's an honest fellow, in his old-fashioned way. He's a secret old
fellow. Does he ever talk about his wife to you?"
Clara dropped her purse, and stooped and picked it up.
"I know nothing of Mr. Whitford's affairs," she said, and she opened
the purse and tore to pieces the railway ticket.
"The story's a proof that romantic spirits do not furnish the most
romantic history. You have the word 'chivalry' frequently on your lips.
He chivalrously married the daughter of the lodging-house where he
resided before I took him. We obtained information of the auspicious
union in a newspaper report of Mrs. Whitford's drunkenness and rioting
at a London railway terminus--probably the one whither your ticket
would have taken you yesterday, for I heard the lady was on her way to
us for supplies, the connubial larder being empty."
"I am sorry; I am ignorant; I have heard nothing; I know nothing," said
"You are disgusted. But half the students and authors you hear of marry
in that way. And very few have Vernon's luck."
"She had good qualities?" asked Clara.
Her under lip hung.
It looked like disgust; he begged her not indulge the feeling.
"Literary men, it is notorious, even with the entry to society, have no
taste in women. The housewife is their object. Ladies frighten and
would, no doubt, be an annoyance and hindrance to them at home."
"You said he was fortunate."
"You have a kindness for him."
"I respect him."
"He is a friendly old fellow in his awkward fashion; honourable, and so
forth. But a disreputable alliance of that sort sticks to a man. The
world will talk. Yes, he was fortunate so far; he fell into the mire
and got out of it. Were he to marry again . . ."
"She . . ."
"Died. Do not be startled; it was a natural death. She responded to the
sole wishes left to his family. He buried the woman, and I received
him. I took him on my tour. A second marriage might cover the first:
there would be a buzz about the old business: the woman's relatives
write to him still, try to bleed him, I dare say. However, now you
understand his gloominess. I don't imagine he regrets his loss. He
probably sentimentalizes, like most men when they are well rid of a
burden. You must not think the worse of him."
"I do not," said Clara.
"I defend him whenever the matter's discussed."
"I hope you do."
"Without approving his folly. I can't wash him clean."
They were at the Hall-doors. She waited for any personal communications
he might be pleased to make, and as there was none, she ran upstairs to
He had tossed her to Vernon in his mind, not only painlessly, but with
a keen acid of satisfaction. The heart is the wizard.
Next he bent his deliberate steps to Laetitia.
The mind was guilty of some hesitation; the feet went forward.
She was working at an embroidery by an open window. Colonel De Craye
leaned outside, and Willoughby pardoned her air of demure amusement, on
hearing him say: "No, I have had one of the pleasantest half-hours of
my life, and would rather idle here, if idle you will have it, than
employ my faculties on horse-back,"
"Time is not lost in conversing with Miss Dale," said Willoughby.
The light was tender to her complexion where she sat in partial shadow.
De Craye asked whether Crossjay had been caught.
Laetitia murmured a kind word for the boy. Willoughby examined her
The ladies Eleanor and Isabel appeared.
They invited her to take carriage exercise with them.
Laetitia did not immediately answer, and Willoughby remarked: "Miss
Dale has been reproving Horace for idleness and I recommend you to
enlist him to do duty, while I relieve him here."
The ladies had but to look at the colonel. He was at their disposal, if
they would have him. He was marched to the carriage.
Laetitia plied her threads.
"Colonel De Craye spoke of Crossjay," she said. "May I hope you have
forgiven the poor boy, Sir Willoughby?"
He replied: "Plead for him."
"I wish I had eloquence."
"In my opinion you have it."
"If he offends, it is never from meanness. At school, among comrades,
he would shine. He is in too strong a light; his feelings and his moral
nature are over-excited."
"That was not the case when he was at home with you."
"I am severe; I am stern."
"A Spartan mother!"
"My system of managing a boy would be after that model: except in this:
he should always feet that he could obtain forgiveness."
"Not at the expense of justice?"
"Ah! young creatures are not to be arraigned before the higher Courts.
It seems to me perilous to terrify their imaginations. If we do so,
are we not likely to produce the very evil we are combating? The
alternations for the young should be school and home: and it should be
in their hearts to have confidence that forgiveness alternates with
discipline. They are of too tender an age for the rigours of the world;
we are in danger of hardening them. I prove to you that I am not
possessed of eloquence. You encouraged me to speak, Sir Willoughby."
"You speak wisely, Laetitia."
"I think it true. Will not you reflect on it? You have only to do so to
forgive him. I am growing bold indeed, and shall have to beg
forgiveness for myself."
"You still write? you continue to work with your pen?" said Willoughby.
"A little; a very little."
"I do not like you to squander yourself, waste yourself, on the public.
You are too precious to feed the beast. Giving out incessantly must end
by attenuating. Reserve yourself for your friends. Why should they be
robbed of so much of you? Is it not reasonable to assume that by lying
fallow you would be more enriched for domestic life? Candidly, had I
authority I would confiscate your pen: I would 'away with that bauble'.
You will not often find me quoting Cromwell, but his words apply in
this instance. I would say rather, that lancet. Perhaps it is the more
correct term. It bleeds you, it wastes you. For what? For a breath of
"I write for money."
"And there--I would say of another--you subject yourself to the risk of
mental degradation. Who knows?--moral! Trafficking the brains for money
must bring them to the level of the purchasers in time. I confiscate
your pen, Laetitia."
"It will be to confiscate your own gift, Sir Willoughby."
"Then that proves--will you tell me the date?"
"You sent me a gold pen-holder on my sixteenth birthday."
"It proves my utter thoughtlessness then, and later. And later!"
He rested an elbow on his knee, and covered his eyes, murmuring in that
profound hollow which is haunted by the voice of a contrite past: "And
The deed could be done. He had come to the conclusion that it could be
done, though the effort to harmonize the figure sitting near him, with
the artistic figure of his purest pigments, had cost him labour and a
blinking of the eyelids. That also could be done. Her pleasant tone,
sensible talk, and the light favouring her complexion, helped him in
his effort. She was a sober cup; sober and wholesome. Deliriousness is
for adolescence. The men who seek intoxicating cups are men who invite
Curiously, yet as positively as things can be affirmed, the husband of
this woman would be able to boast of her virtues and treasures abroad,
as he could not--impossible to say why not--boast of a beautiful wife
or a blue-stocking wife. One of her merits as a wife would be this
extraordinary neutral merit of a character that demanded colour from
the marital hand, and would take it.
Laetitia had not to learn that he had much to distress him. Her wonder
at his exposure of his grief counteracted a fluttering of vague alarm.
She was nervous; she sat in expectation of some burst of regrets or of
"I may hope that you have pardoned Crossjay?" she said.
"My friend," said he, uncovering his face, "I am governed by
principles. Convince me of an error, I shall not obstinately pursue a
premeditated course. But you know me. Men who have not principles to
rule their conduct are--well, they are unworthy of a half hour of
companionship with you. I will speak to you to-night. I have letters to
dispatch. To-night: at twelve: in the room where we spoke last. Or
await me in the drawing-room. I have to attend to my guests till late."
He bowed; he was in a hurry to go.
The deed could be done. It must be done; it was his destiny.
IN THE HEART OF THE EGOIST
But already he had begun to regard the deed as his executioner. He
dreaded meeting Clara. The folly of having retained her stood before
him. How now to look on her and keep a sane resolution unwavering? She
tempted to the insane. Had she been away, he could have walked through
the performance composed by the sense of doing a duty to himself;
perhaps faintly hating the poor wretch he made happy at last, kind to
her in a manner, polite. Clara's presence in the house previous to the
deed, and, oh, heaven! after it, threatened his wits. Pride? He had
none; he cast it down for her to trample it; he caught it back ere it
was trodden on. Yes; he had pride: he had it as a dagger in his breast:
his pride was his misery. But he was too proud to submit to misery.
"What I do is right." He said the words, and rectitude smoothed his
path, till the question clamoured for answer: Would the world
countenance and endorse his pride in Laetitia? At one time, yes. And
now? Clara's beauty ascended, laid a beam on him. We are on board the
labouring vessel of humanity in a storm, when cries and countercries
ring out, disorderliness mixes the crew, and the fury of
self-preservation divides: this one is for the ship, that one for his
life. Clara was the former to him, Laetitia the latter. But what if
there might not be greater safety in holding tenaciously to Clara than
in casting her off for Laetitia? No, she had done things to set his
pride throbbing in the quick. She had gone bleeding about first to one,
then to another; she had betrayed him to Vernon, and to Mrs.
Mountstuart; a look in the eyes of Horace De Craye said, to him as
well: to whom not? He might hold to her for vengeance; but that
appetite was short-lived in him if it ministered nothing to his
purposes. "I discard all idea of vengeance," he said, and thrilled
burningly to a smart in his admiration of the man who could be so
magnanimous under mortal injury; for the more admirable he, the more
pitiable. He drank a drop or two of self-pity like a poison, repelling
the assaults of public pity. Clara must be given up. It must be seen by
the world that, as he felt, the thing he did was right. Laocoon of his
own serpents, he struggled to a certain magnificence of attitude in the
muscular net of constrictions he flung around himself. Clara must be
given up. Oh, bright Abominable! She must be given up: but not to one
whose touch of her would be darts in the blood of the yielder, snakes
in his bed: she must be given up to an extinguisher; to be the second
wife of an old-fashioned semi-recluse, disgraced in his first. And were
it publicly known that she had been cast off, and had fallen on old
Vernon for a refuge, and part in spite, part in shame, part in
desperation, part in a fit of good sense under the circumstances,
espoused him, her beauty would not influence the world in its
judgement. The world would know what to think. As the instinct of
self-preservation whispered to Willoughby, the world, were it
requisite, might be taught to think what it assuredly would not think
if she should be seen tripping to the altar with Horace De Craye.
Self-preservation, not vengeance, breathed that whisper. He glanced at
her iniquity for a justification of it, without any desire to do her a
permanent hurt: he was highly civilized: but with a strong intention to
give her all the benefit of a scandal, supposing a scandal, or ordinary
"And so he handed her to his cousin and secretary, Vernon Whitford, who
opened his mouth and shut his eyes."
You hear the world? How are we to stop it from chattering? Enough that
he had no desire to harm her. Some gentle anticipations of her being
tarnished were imperative; they came spontaneously to him; otherwise
the radiance of that bright Abominable in loss would have been
insufferable; he could not have borne it; he could never have
surrendered her. Moreover, a happy present effect was the result. He
conjured up the anticipated chatter and shrug of the world so vividly
that her beauty grew hectic with the stain, bereft of its formidable
magnetism. He could meet her calmly; he had steeled himself. Purity in
women was his principal stipulation, and a woman puffed at, was not
the person to cause him tremours.
Consider him indulgently: the Egoist is the Son of Himself. He is
likewise the Father. And the son loves the father, the father the son;
they reciprocate affection through the closest of ties; and shall they
view behaviour unkindly wounding either of them, not for each other's
dear sake abhorring the criminal? They would not injure you, but they
cannot consent to see one another suffer or crave in vain. The two rub
together in sympathy besides relationship to an intenser one. Are you,
without much offending, sacrificed by them, it is on the altar of their
mutual love, to filial piety or paternal tenderness: the younger has
offered a dainty morsel to the elder, or the elder to the younger.
Absorbed in their great example of devotion do they not think of you.
They are beautiful.
Yet is it most true that the younger has the passions of youth:
whereof will come division between them; and this is a tragic state.
They are then pathetic. This was the state of Sir Willoughby lending
ear to his elder, until he submitted to bite at the fruit proposed to
him--with how wry a mouth the venerable senior chose not to mark. At
least, as we perceive, a half of him was ripe of wisdom in his own
interests. The cruder half had but to be obedient to the leadership of
sagacity for his interests to be secured, and a filial disposition
assisted him; painfully indeed; but the same rare quality directed the
good gentleman to swallow his pain. That the son should bewail his fate
were a dishonour to the sire. He reverenced, and submitted. Thus, to
say, consider him indulgently, is too much an appeal for charity on
behalf of one requiring but initial anatomy--a slicing in halves--to
exonerate, perchance exalt him. The Egoist is our fountain-head,
primeval man: the primitive is born again, the elemental reconstituted.
Born again, into new conditions, the primitive may be highly polished
of men, and forfeit nothing save the roughness of his original nature.
He is not only his own father, he is ours; and he is also our son. We
have produced him, he us. Such were we, to such are we returning: not
other, sings the poet, than one who toilfully works his shallop against
the tide, "si brachia forte remisit":--let him haply relax the labour
of his arms, however high up the stream, and back he goes, "in pejus",
to the early principle of our being, with seeds and plants, that are as
carelessly weighed in the hand and as indiscriminately husbanded as our
Poets on the other side may be cited for an assurance that the
primitive is not the degenerate: rather is he a sign of the
indestructibility of the race, of the ancient energy in removing
obstacles to individual growth; a sample of what we would be, had we
his concentrated power. He is the original innocent, the pure simple.
It is we who have fallen; we have melted into Society, diluted our
essence, dissolved. He stands in the midst monumentally, a land-mark of
the tough and honest old Ages, with the symbolic alphabet of striking
arms and running legs, our early language, scrawled over his person,
and the glorious first flint and arrow-head for his crest: at once the
spectre of the Kitchen-midden and our ripest issue.
But Society is about him. The occasional spectacle of the primitive
dangling on a rope has impressed his mind with the strength of his
natural enemy: from which uncongenial sight he has turned shuddering
hardly less to behold the blast that is blown upon a reputation where
one has been disrespectful of the many. By these means, through
meditation on the contrast of circumstances in life, a pulse of
imagination has begun to stir, and he has entered the upper sphere or
circle of spiritual Egoism: he has become the civilized Egoist;
primitive still, as sure as man has teeth, but developed in his manner
of using them.
Degenerate or not (and there is no just reason to suppose it) Sir
Willoughby was a social Egoist, fiercely imaginative in whatsoever
concerned him. He had discovered a greater realm than that of the
sensual appetites, and he rushed across and around it in his conquering
period with an Alexander's pride. On these wind-like journeys he had
carried Constantia, subsequently Clara; and however it may have been in
the case of Miss Durham, in that of Miss Middleton it is almost certain
she caught a glimpse of his interior from sheer fatigue in hearing him
discourse of it. What he revealed was not the cause of her sickness:
women can bear revelations--they are exciting: but the monotonousness.
He slew imagination. There is no direr disaster in love than the death
of imagination. He dragged her through the labyrinths of his
penetralia, in his hungry coveting to be loved more and still more,
more still, until imagination gave up the ghost, and he talked to her
plain hearing like a monster. It must have been that; for the spell of
the primitive upon women is masterful up to the time of contact.
"And so he handed her to his cousin and secretary, Vernon Whitford, who
opened his mouth and shut his eyes."
The urgent question was, how it was to be accomplished. Willoughby
worked at the subject with all his power of concentration: a power that
had often led him to feel and say, that as a barrister, a diplomatist,
or a general, he would have won his grades: and granting him a personal
interest in the business, he might have achieved eminence: he schemed
and fenced remarkably well.
He projected a scene, following expressions of anxiety on account of
old Vernon and his future settlement: and then Clara maintaining her
doggedness, to which he was now so accustomed that he could not
conceive a change in it--says he: "If you determine on breaking I give
you back your word on one condition." Whereupon she starts: he insists
on her promise: she declines: affairs resume their former footing; she
frets: she begs for the disclosure: he flatters her by telling her his
desire to keep her in the family: she is unilluminated, but strongly
moved by curiosity: he philosophizes on marriage "What are we? poor
creatures! we must get through life as we can, doing as much good as we
can to those we love; and think as you please, I love old Vernon. Am I
not giving you the greatest possible proof of it?" She will not see.
Then flatly out comes the one condition. That and no other. "Take
Vernon and I release you." She refuses. Now ensues the debate, all the
oratory being with him. "Is it because of his unfortunate first
marriage? You assured me you thought no worse of him," etc. She
declares the proposal revolting. He can distinguish nothing that should
offend her in a proposal to make his cousin happy if she will not him.
Irony and sarcasm relieve his emotions, but he convinces her he is
dealing plainly and intends generosity. She is confused; she speaks in
maiden fashion. He touches again on Vernon's early escapade. She does
not enjoy it. The scene closes with his bidding her reflect on it, and
remember the one condition of her release. Mrs. Mountstuart Jenkinson,
now reduced to believe that he burns to be free, is then called in for
an interview with Clara. His aunts Eleanor and Isabel besiege her.
Laetitia in passionate earnest besieges her. Her father is wrought on
to besiege her. Finally Vernon is attacked by Willoughby and Mrs.
Mountstuart:--and here, Willoughby chose to think, was the main
difficulty. But the girl has money; she is agreeable; Vernon likes her;
she is fond of his "Alps", they have tastes in common, he likes her
father, and in the end he besieges her. Will she yield? De Craye is
absent. There is no other way of shunning a marriage she is
incomprehensibly but frantically averse to. She is in the toils. Her
father will stay at Patterne Hall as long as his host desires it. She
hesitates, she is overcome; in spite of a certain nausea due to
Vernon's preceding alliance, she yields.
Willoughby revolved the entire drama in Clara's presence. It helped him
to look on her coolly. Conducting her to the dinner-table, he spoke of
Crossjay, not unkindly; and at table, he revolved the set of scenes
with a heated animation that took fire from the wine and the face of
his friend Horace, while he encouraged Horace to be flowingly Irish. He
nipped the fellow good-humouredly once or twice, having never felt so
friendly to him since the day of his arrival; but the position of
critic is instinctively taken by men who do not flow: and Patterne Port
kept Dr Middleton in a benevolent reserve when Willoughby decided that
something said by De Craye was not new, and laughingly accused him of
failing to consult his anecdotal notebook for the double-cross to his
last sprightly sally. "Your sallies are excellent, Horace, but spare us
your Aunt Sallies!" De Craye had no repartee, nor did Dr. Middleton
challenge a pun. We have only to sharpen our wits to trip your
seductive rattler whenever we may choose to think proper; and
evidently, if we condescended to it, we could do better than he. The
critic who has hatched a witticism is impelled to this opinion. Judging
by the smiles of the ladies, they thought so, too.
Shortly before eleven o'clock Dr. Middleton made a Spartan stand
against the offer of another bottle of Port. The regulation couple of
bottles had been consumed in equal partnership, and the Rev. Doctor
and his host were free to pay a ceremonial visit to the drawing-room,
where they were not expected. A piece of work of the elder ladies, a
silken boudoir sofa-rug, was being examined, with high approval of the
two younger. Vernon and Colonel De Craye had gone out in search of
Crossjay, one to Mr. Dale's cottage, the other to call at the head and
under-gamekeeper's. They were said to be strolling and smoking, for the
night was fine. Willoughby left the room and came back with the key of
Crossjay's door in his pocket. He foresaw that the delinquent might be
of service to him.
Laetitia and Clara sang together. Laetitia was flushed, Clara pale. At
eleven they saluted the ladies Eleanor and Isabel. Willoughby said
"Good-night" to each of them, contrasting as he did so the downcast
look of Laetitia with Clara's frigid directness. He divined that they
were off to talk over their one object of common interest, Crossjay.
Saluting his aunts, he took up the rug, to celebrate their diligence
and taste; and that he might make Dr. Middleton impatient for bed, he
provoked him to admire it, held it out and laid it out, and caused the
courteous old gentleman some confusion in hitting on fresh terms of
Before midnight the room was empty. Ten minutes later Willoughby paid
it a visit, and found it untenanted by the person he had engaged to be
there. Vexed by his disappointment, he paced up and down, and chanced
abstractedly to catch the rug in his hand; for what purpose, he might
well ask himself; admiration of ladies' work, in their absence, was
unlikely to occur to him. Nevertheless, the touch of the warm, soft
silk was meltingly feminine. A glance at the mantel-piece clock told
him Laetitia was twenty minutes behind the hour. Her remissness might
endanger all his plans, alter the whole course of his life. The colours
in which he painted her were too lively to last; the madness in his
head threatened to subside. Certain it was that he could not be ready a
second night for the sacrifice he had been about to perform.
The clock was at the half hour after twelve. He flung the silken thing
on the central ottoman, extinguished the lamps, and walked out of the
room, charging the absent Laetitia to bear her misfortune with a
consciousness of deserving it.
MIDNIGHT: SIR WILLOUGHBY AND LAETITIA: WITH YOUNG CROSSJAY UNDER A
Young Crossjay was a glutton at holidays and never thought of home till
it was dark. The close of the day saw him several miles away from the
Hall, dubious whether he would not round his numerous adventures by
sleeping at an inn; for he had lots of money, and the idea of jumping
up in the morning in a strange place was thrilling. Besides, when he
was shaken out of sleep by Sir Willoughby, he had been told that he was
to go, and not to show his face at Patterne again. On the other hand,
Miss Middleton had bidden him come back. There was little question with
him which person he should obey: he followed his heart.
Supper at an inn, where he found a company to listen to his adventures,
delayed him, and a short cut, intended to make up for it, lost him his
road. He reached the Hall very late, ready to be in love with the
horrible pleasure of a night's rest under the stars, if necessary. But
a candle burned at one of the back windows. He knocked, and a
kitchen-maid let him in. She had a bowl of hot soup prepared for him.
Crossjay tried a mouthful to please her. His head dropped over it. She
roused him to his feet, and he pitched against her shoulder. The dry
air of the kitchen department had proved too much for the tired
youngster. Mary, the maid, got him to step as firmly as he was able,
and led him by the back-way to the hall, bidding him creep noiselessly
to bed. He understood his position in the house, and though he could
have gone fast to sleep on the stairs, he took a steady aim at his room
and gained the door cat-like. The door resisted. He was appalled and
unstrung in a minute. The door was locked. Crossjay felt as if he were
in the presence of Sir Willoughby. He fled on ricketty legs, and had a
fall and bumps down half a dozen stairs. A door opened above. He rushed
across the hall to the drawing-room, invitingly open, and there
staggered in darkness to the ottoman and rolled himself in something
sleek and warm, soft as hands of ladies, and redolent of them; so
delicious that he hugged the folds about his head and heels. While he
was endeavouring to think where he was, his legs curled, his eyelids
shut, and he was in the thick of the day's adventures, doing yet more
He heard his own name: that was quite certain. He knew that he heard it
with his ears, as he pursued the fleetest dreams ever accorded to
mortal. It did not mix: it was outside him, and like the danger-pole in
the ice, which the skater shooting hither and yonder comes on again, it
recurred; and now it marked a point in his career, how it caused him to
relax his pace; he began to circle, and whirled closer round it, until,
as at a blow, his heart knocked, he tightened himself, thought of
bolting, and lay dead-still to throb and hearken.
"Oh! Sir Willoughby," a voice had said.
The accents were sharp with alarm.
"My friend! my dearest!" was the answer.
"I came to speak of Crossjay."
"Will you sit here on the ottoman?"
"No, I cannot wait. I hoped I had heard Crossjay return. I would rather
not sit down. May I entreat you to pardon him when he comes home?"
"You, and you only, may do so. I permit none else. Of Crossjay
"He may be lying in the fields. We are anxious."
"The rascal can take pretty good care of himself."
"Crossjay is perpetually meeting accidents."
"He shall be indemnified if he has had excess of punishment."
"I think I will say good-night, Sir Willoughby."
"When freely and unreservedly you have given me your hand."
There was hesitation.
"To say good-night?"
"I ask you for your hand."
"Good-night, Sir Willoughby."
"You do not give it. You are in doubt? Still? What language must I use
to convince you? And yet you know me. Who knows me but you? You have
always known me. You are my home and my temple. Have you forgotten your
verses of the day of my majority?
'The dawn-star has arisen
In plenitude of light . . .'"
"Do not repeat them, pray!" cried Laetitia, with a gasp.
"I have repeated them to myself a thousand times: in India, America,
Japan: they were like our English skylark, carolling to me.
'My heart, now burst thy prison
With proud aerial flight!'"
"Oh, I beg you will not force me to listen to nonsense that I wrote
when I was a child. No more of those most foolish lines! If you knew
what it is to write and despise one's writing, you would not distress
me. And since you will not speak of Crossjay to-night, allow me to
"You know me, and therefore you know my contempt for verses, as a rule,
Laetitia. But not for yours to me. Why should you call them foolish?
They expressed your feelings--hold them sacred. They are something
religious to me, not mere poetry. Perhaps the third verse is my
favourite . . ."
"It will be more than I can bear!"
"You were in earnest when you wrote them?"
"I was very young, very enthusiastic, very silly."
"You were and are my image of constancy!"
"It is an error, Sir Willoughby; I am far from being the same."
"We are all older, I trust wiser. I am, I will own; much wiser. Wise
at last! I offer you my hand."
She did not reply. "I offer you my hand and name, Laetitia."
"You think me bound in honour to another?"
She was mute.
"I am free. Thank Heaven! I am free to choose my mate--the woman I have
always loved! Freely and unreservedly, as I ask you to give your hand,
I offer mine. You are the mistress of Patterne Hall; my wife."
She had not a word.
"My dearest! do you not rightly understand? The hand I am offering you
is disengaged. It is offered to the lady I respect above all others. I
have made the discovery that I cannot love without respecting; and as I
will not marry without loving, it ensues that I am free--I am yours. At
last?--your lips move: tell me the words. Have always loved, I said.
You carry in your bosom the magnet of constancy, and I, in spite of
apparent deviations, declare to you that I have never ceased to be
sensible of the attraction. And now there is not an impediment. We two
against the world! we are one. Let me confess to an old
foible--perfectly youthful, and you will ascribe it to youth: once I
desired to absorb. I mistrusted; that was the reason: I perceive it.
You teach me the difference of an alliance with a lady of intellect.
The pride I have in you, Laetitia, definitely cures me of that insane
passion--call it an insatiable hunger. I recognize it as a folly of
youth. I have, as it were, gone the tour, to come home to you--at
last?--and live our manly life of comparative equals. At last, then!
But remember that in the younger man you would have had a
despot--perhaps a jealous despot. Young men, I assure you, are
orientally inclined in their ideas of love. Love gets a bad name from
them. We, my Laetitia, do not regard love as a selfishness. If it is,
it is the essence of life. At least it is our selfishness rendered
beautiful. I talk to you like a man who has found a compatriot in a
foreign land. It seems to me that I have not opened my mouth for an
age. I certainly have not unlocked my heart. Those who sing for joy are
not unintelligible to me. If I had not something in me worth saying I
think I should sing. In every sense you reconcile me to men and the
world, Laetitia. Why press you to speak? I will be the speaker. As
surely as you know me, I know you: and . . ."
Laetitia burst forth with: "No!"
"I do not know you?" said he, searchingly mellifluous.
"I am changed."
"In what way?"
"Colour will come back: have no fear; I promise it. If you imagine you
want renewing, I have the specific, I, my love, I!"
"Forgive me--will you tell me, Sir Willoughby, whether you have broken
with Miss Middleton?"
"Rest satisfied, my dear Laetitia. She is as free as I am. I can do no
more than a man of honour should do. She releases me. To-morrow or
next day she departs. We, Laetitia, you and I, my love, are home birds.
It does not do for the home bird to couple with the migratory. The
little imperceptible change you allude to, is nothing. Italy will
restore you. I am ready to stake my own health--never yet shaken by a
doctor of medicine:--I say medicine advisedly, for there are doctors of
divinity who would shake giants:--that an Italian trip will send you
back--that I shall bring you home from Italy a blooming bride. You
shake your head--despondently? My love, I guarantee it. Cannot I give
you colour? Behold! Come to the light, look in the glass."
"I may redden," said Laetitia. "I suppose that is due to the action of
the heart. I am changed. Heart, for any other purpose, I have not. I am
like you, Sir Willoughby, in this: I could not marry without loving,
and I do not know what love is, except that it is an empty dream."
"Marriage, my dearest. . ."
"You are mistaken."
"I will cure you, my Laetitia. Look to me, I am the tonic. It is not
common confidence, but conviction. I, my love, I!"
"There is no cure for what I feel, Sir Willoughby."
"Spare me the formal prefix, I beg. You place your hand in mine,
relying on me. I am pledge for the remainder. We end as we began: my
request is for your hand--your hand in marriage."
"I cannot give it."
"To be my wife!"
"It is an honour; I must decline it."
"Are you quite well, Laetitia? I propose in the plainest terms I can
employ, to make you Lady Patterne--mine."
"I am compelled to refuse."
"Why? Refuse? Your reason!"
"The reason has been named."
He took a stride to inspirit his wits.
"There's a madness comes over women at times, I know. Answer me,
Laetitia:--by all the evidence a man can have, I could swear it:--but
answer me; you loved me once?"
"I was an exceedingly foolish, romantic girl."
"You evade my question: I am serious. Oh!" he walked away from her
booming a sound of utter repudiation of her present imbecility, and
hurrying to her side, said: "But it was manifest to the whole world! It
was a legend. To love like Laetitia Dale, was a current phrase. You
were an example, a light to women: no one was your match for devotion.
You were a precious cameo, still gazing! And I was the object. You
loved me. You loved me, you belonged to me, you were mine, my
possession, my jewel; I was prouder of your constancy than of anything
else that I had on earth. It was a part of the order of the universe to
me. A doubt of it would have disturbed my creed. Why, good heaven!
where are we? Is nothing solid on earth? You loved me!"
"I was childish, indeed."
"You loved me passionately!"
"Do you insist on shaming me through and through, Sir Willoughby? I
have been exposed enough."
"You cannot blot out the past: it is written, it is recorded. You loved
me devotedly, silence is no escape. You loved me."
"You never loved me, you shallow woman! 'I did!' As if there could be a
cessation of a love! What are we to reckon on as ours? We prize a
woman's love; we guard it jealously, we trust to it, dream of it; there
is our wealth; there is our talisman! And when we open the casket it
has flown!--barren vacuity!--we are poorer than dogs. As well think of
keeping a costly wine in potter's clay as love in the heart of a woman!
There are women--women! Oh, they are all of a stamp coin! Coin for any
hand! It's a fiction, an imposture--they cannot love. They are the
shadows of men. Compared with men, they have as much heart in them as
the shadow beside the body. Laetitia!"
"You refuse my offer?"
"You refuse to take me for your husband?"
"I cannot be your wife."
"You have changed? . . . you have set your heart? . . . you could
marry? . . . there is a man? . . . you could marry one! I will have an
answer, I am sick of evasions. What was in the mind of Heaven when
women were created, will be the riddle to the end of the world! Every
good man in turn has made the inquiry. I have a right to know who robs
me--We may try as we like to solve it.--Satan is painted laughing!--I
say I have a right to know who robs me. Answer me."
"I shall not marry."
"That is not an answer."
"I love no one."
"You loved me.--You are silent?--but you confessed it. Then you confess
it was a love that could die! Are you unable to perceive how that
redounds to my discredit? You loved me, you have ceased to love me. In
other words you charge me with incapacity to sustain a woman's love.
You accuse me of inspiring a miserable passion that cannot last a
lifetime! You let the world see that I am a man to be aimed at for a
temporary mark! And simply because I happen to be in your neighbourhood
at an age when a young woman is impressionable! You make a public
example of me as a for whom women may have a caprice, but that is all;
he cannot enchain them; he fascinates passingly; they fall off. Is it
just, for me to be taken up and cast down at your will? Reflect on that
scandal! Shadows? Why, a man's shadow is faithful to him at least.
What are women? There is not a comparison in nature that does not tower
above them! not one that does not hoot at them! I, throughout my life,
guided by absolute deference to their weakness--paying them politeness,
courtesy--whatever I touch I am happy in, except when I touch women!
How is it? What is the mystery? Some monstrous explanation must exist.
What can it be? I am favoured by fortune from my birth until I enter
into relations with women. But will you be so good as to account for it
in your defence of them? Oh! were the relations dishonourable, it
would be quite another matter. Then they . . . I could recount . . . I
disdain to chronicle such victories. Quite another matter. But they are
flies, and I am something more stable. They are flies. I look beyond
the day; I owe a duty to my line. They are flies. I foresee it, I shall
be crossed in my fate so long as I fail to shun them--flies! Not merely
born for the day, I maintain that they are spiritually ephemeral--Well,
my opinion of your sex is directly traceable to you. You may alter it,
or fling another of us men out on the world with the old bitter
experience. Consider this, that it is on your head if my ideal of women
is wrecked. It rests with you to restore it. I love you. I discover
that you are the one woman I have always loved. I come to you, I sue
you, and suddenly--you have changed! 'I have changed: I am not the
same.' What can it mean? 'I cannot marry: I love no one.' And you say
you do not know what love is--avowing in the same breath that you did
love me! Am I the empty dream? My hand, heart, fortune, name, are
yours, at your feet; you kick them hence. I am here--you reject me. But
why, for what mortal reason am I here other than my faith in your love?
You drew me to you, to repel me, and have a wretched revenge."
"You know it is not that, Sir Willoughby."
"Have you any possible suspicion that I am still entangled, not, as I
assure you I am, perfectly free in fact and in honour?"
"It is not that."
"Name it; for you see your power. Would you have me kneel to you,
"Oh, no; it would complete my grief."
"You feel grief? Then you believe in my affection, and you hurl it
away. I have no doubt that as a poetess you would say, love is eternal.
And you have loved me. And you tell me you love me no more. You are not
very logical, Laetitia Dale."
"Poetesses rarely are: if I am one, which I little pretend to be for
writing silly verses. I have passed out of that delusion, with the
"You shall not wrong those dear old days, Laetitia. I see them now;
when I rode by your cottage and you were at your window, pen in hand,
your hair straying over your forehead. Romantic, yes; not foolish. Why
were you foolish in thinking of me? Some day I will commission an
artist to paint me that portrait of you from my description. And I
remember when we first whispered . . . I remember your trembling. You
have forgotten--I remember. I remember our meeting in the park on the
path to church. I remember the heavenly morning of my return from my
travels, and the same Laetitia meeting me, stedfast and unchangeable.
Could I ever forget? Those are ineradicable scenes; pictures of my
youth, interwound with me. I may say, that as I recede from them, I
dwell on them the more. Tell me, Laetitia, was there not a certain
prophecy of your father's concerning us two? I fancy I heard of one.
There was one."
"He was an invalid. Elderly people nurse illusions."
"Ask yourself Laetitia, who is the obstacle to the fulfilment of his
prediction?--truth, if ever a truth was foreseen on earth. You have
not changed so far that you would feel no pleasure in gratifying him? I
go to him to-morrow morning with the first light."
"You will compel me to follow, and undeceive him."
"Do so, and I denounce an unworthy affection you are ashamed to avow."
"That would be idle, though it would be base."
"Proof of love, then! For no one but you should it be done, and no one
but you dare accuse me of a baseness."
"Sir Willoughby, you will let my father die in peace."
"He and I together will contrive to persuade you."
"You tempt me to imagine that you want a wife at any cost."
"You, Laetitia, you."
"I am tired," she said. "It is late, I would rather not hear more. I
am sorry if I have caused you pain. I suppose you to have spoken with
candour. I defend neither my sex nor myself. I can only say I am a
woman as good as dead: happy to be made happy in my way, but so little
alive that I cannot realize any other way. As for love, I am thankful
to have broken a spell. You have a younger woman in your mind; I am an
old one: I have no ambition and no warmth. My utmost prayer is to float
on the stream--a purely physical desire of life: I have no strength to
swim. Such a woman is not the wife for you, Sir Willoughby. Good night."
"One final word. Weigh it. Express no conventional regrets. Resolutely