The Egoist, by George Meredith

Chapter 41

The Rev. Dr. Middleton, Clara, and Sir Willoughby

When Master Crossjay tumbled down the stairs, Laetitia was in Clara’s room, speculating on the various mishaps which might have befallen that battered youngster; and Clara listened anxiously after Laetitia had run out, until she heard Sir Willoughby’s voice; which in some way satisfied her that the boy was not in the house.

She waited, expecting Miss Dale to return; then undressed, went to bed, tried to sleep. She was tired of strife. Strange thoughts for a young head shot through her: as, that it is possible for the sense of duty to counteract distaste; and that one may live a life apart from one’s admirations and dislikes: she owned the singular strength of Sir Willoughby in outwearying: she asked herself how much she had gained by struggling:— every effort seemed to expend her spirit’s force, and rendered her less able to get the clear vision of her prospects, as though it had sunk her deeper: the contrary of her intention to make each further step confirm her liberty. Looking back, she marvelled at the things she had done. Looking round, how ineffectual they appeared! She had still the great scene of positive rebellion to go through with her father.

The anticipation of that was the cause of her extreme discouragement. He had not spoken to her since he became aware of her attempted flight: but the scene was coming; and besides the wish not to inflict it on him, as well as to escape it herself, the girl’s peculiar unhappiness lay in her knowledge that they were alienated and stood opposed, owing to one among the more perplexing masculine weaknesses, which she could not hint at, dared barely think of, and would not name in her meditations. Diverting to other subjects, she allowed herself to exclaim, “Wine, wine!” in renewed wonder of what there could be in wine to entrap venerable men and obscure their judgements. She was too young to consider that her being very much in the wrong gave all the importance to the cordial glass in a venerable gentleman’s appreciation of his dues. Why should he fly from a priceless wine to gratify the caprices of a fantastical child guilty of seeking to commit a breach of faith? He harped on those words. Her fault was grave. No doubt the wine coloured it to him, as a drop or two will do in any cup: still her fault was grave.

She was too young for such considerations. She was ready to expatiate on the gravity of her fault, so long as the humiliation assisted to her disentanglement: her snared nature in the toils would not permit her to reflect on it further. She had never accurately perceived it: for the reason perhaps that Willoughby had not been moving in his appeals: but, admitting the charge of waywardness, she had come to terms with conscience, upon the understanding that she was to perceive it and regret it and do penance for it by-and-by:— by renouncing marriage altogether? How light a penance!

In the morning, she went to Laetitia’s room, knocked, and had no answer.

She was informed at the breakfast-table of Miss Dale’s departure. The ladies Eleanor and Isabel feared it to be a case of urgency at the cottage. No one had seen Vernon, and Clara requested Colonel De Craye to walk over to the cottage for news of Crossjay. He accepted the commission, simply to obey and be in her service: assuring her, however, that there was no need to be disturbed about the boy. He would have told her more, had not Dr. Middleton led her out.

Sir Willoughby marked a lapse of ten minutes by his watch. His excellent aunts had ventured a comment on his appearance that frightened him lest he himself should be the person to betray his astounding discomfiture. He regarded his conduct as an act of madness, and Laetitia’s as no less that of a madwoman — happily mad! Very happily mad indeed! Her rejection of his ridiculously generous proposal seemed to show an intervening hand in his favour, that sent her distraught at the right moment. He entirely trusted her to be discreet; but she was a miserable creature, who had lost the one last chance offered her by Providence, and furnished him with a signal instance of the mediocrity of woman’s love.

Time was flying. In a little while Mrs. Mountstuart would arrive. He could not fence her without a design in his head; he was destitute of an armoury if he had no scheme: he racked the brain only to succeed in rousing phantasmal vapours. Her infernal “Twice!” would cease now to apply to Laetitia; it would be an echo of Lady Busshe. Nay, were all in the secret, Thrice jilted! might become the universal roar. And this, he reflected bitterly, of a man whom nothing but duty to his line had arrested from being the most mischievous of his class with women! Such is our reward for uprightness!

At the expiration of fifteen minutes by his watch, he struck a knuckle on the library door. Dr. Middleton held it open to him.

“You are disengaged, sir?”

“The sermon is upon the paragraph which is toned to awaken the clerk,” replied the Rev. Doctor.

Clara was weeping.

Sir Willoughby drew near her solicitously.

Dr Middleton’s mane of silvery hair was in a state bearing witness to the vehemence of the sermon, and Willoughby said: “I hope, sir, you have not made too much of a trifle.”

“I believe, sir, that I have produced an effect, and that was the point in contemplation.”

“Clara! my dear Clara!” Willoughby touched her.

“She sincerely repents her conduct, I may inform you,” said Dr. Middleton.

“My love!” Willoughby whispered. “We have had a misunderstanding. I am at a loss to discover where I have been guilty, but I take the blame, all the blame. I implore you not to weep. Do me the favour to look at me. I would not have had you subjected to any interrogation whatever.”

“You are not to blame,” Clara said on a sob.

“Undoubtedly Willoughby is not to blame. It was not he who was bound on a runaway errand in flagrant breach of duty and decorum, nor he who inflicted a catarrh on a brother of my craft and cloth,” said her father.

“The clerk, sir, has pronounced Amen,” observed Willoughby.

“And no man is happier to hear an ejaculation that he has laboured for with so much sweat of his brow than the parson, I can assure you,” Dr. Middleton mildly groaned. “I have notions of the trouble of Abraham. A sermon of that description is an immolation of the parent, however it may go with the child.”

Willoughby soothed his Clara.

“I wish I had been here to share it. I might have saved you some tears. I may have been hasty in our little dissensions. I will acknowledge that I have been. My temper is often irascible.”

“And so is mine!” exclaimed Dr. Middleton. “And yet I am not aware that I made the worse husband for it. Nor do I rightly comprehend how a probably justly excitable temper can stand for a plea in mitigation of an attempt at an outrageous breach of faith.”

“The sermon is over, sir.”

“Reverberations!” the Rev. Doctor waved his arm placably. “Take it for thunder heard remote.”

“Your hand, my love,” Willoughby murmured.

The hand was not put forth.

Dr. Middleton remarked the fact. He walked to the window, and perceiving the pair in the same position when he faced about, he delivered a cough of admonition.

“It is cruel!” said Clara.

“That the owner of your hand should petition you for it?” inquired her father.

She sought refuge in a fit of tears.

Willoughby bent above her, mute.

“Is a scene that is hardly conceivable as a parent’s obligation once in a lustrum, to be repeated within the half hour?” shouted her father.

She drew up her shoulders and shook; let them fall and dropped her head.

“My dearest! your hand!” fluted Willoughby.

The hand surrendered; it was much like the icicle of a sudden thaw.

Willoughby squeezed it to his ribs.

Dr. Middleton marched up and down the room with his arms locked behind him. The silence between the young people seemed to denounce his presence.

He said, cordially: “Old Hiems has but to withdraw for buds to burst. ‘Jam ver egelidos refert tepores.’ The equinoctial fury departs. I will leave you for a term.”

Clara and Willoughby simultaneously raised their faces with opposing expressions.

“My girl!” Her father stood by her, laying gentle hand on her.

“Yes, papa, I will come out to you,” she replied to his apology for the rather heavy weight of his vocabulary, and smiled.

“No, sir, I beg you will remain,” said Willoughby.

“I keep you frost-bound.”

Clara did not deny it.

Willoughby emphatically did.

Then which of them was the more lover-like? Dr. Middleton would for the moment have supposed his daughter.

Clara said: “Shall you be on the lawn, papa?”

Willoughby interposed. “Stay, sir; give us your blessing.”

“That you have.” Dr. Middleton hastily motioned the paternal ceremony in outline.

“A few minutes, papa,” said Clara.

“Will she name the day?” came eagerly from Willoughby.

“I cannot!” Clara cried in extremity.

“The day is important on its arrival,” said her father; “but I apprehend the decision to be of the chief importance at present. First prime your piece of artillery, my friend.”

“The decision is taken, sir.”

“Then I will be out of the way of the firing. Hit what day you please.”

Clara checked herself on an impetuous exclamation. It was done that her father might not be detained.

Her astute self-compression sharpened Willoughby as much as it mortified and terrified him. He understood how he would stand in an instant were Dr. Middleton absent. Her father was the tribunal she dreaded, and affairs must be settled and made irrevocable while he was with them. To sting the blood of the girl, he called her his darling, and half enwound her, shadowing forth a salute.

She strung her body to submit, seeing her father take it as a signal for his immediate retirement.

Willoughby was upon him before he reached the door.

“Hear us out, sir. Do not go. Stay, at my entreaty. I fear we have not come to a perfect reconcilement.”

“If that is your opinion,” said Clara, “it is good reason for not distressing my father.”

“Dr Middleton, I love your daughter. I wooed her and won her; I had your consent to our union, and I was the happiest of mankind. In some way, since her coming to my house, I know not how — she will not tell me, or cannot — I offended. One may be innocent and offend. I have never pretended to impeccability, which is an admission that I may very naturally offend. My appeal to her is for an explanation or for pardon. I obtain neither. Had our positions been reversed, oh, not for any real offence — not for the worst that can be imagined — I think not — I hope not — could I have been tempted to propose the dissolution of our engagement. To love is to love, with me; an engagement a solemn bond. With all my errors I have that merit of utter fidelity — to the world laughable! I confess to a multitude of errors; I have that single merit, and am not the more estimable in your daughter’s eyes on account of it, I fear. In plain words, I am, I do not doubt, one of the fools among men; of the description of human dog commonly known as faithful — whose destiny is that of a tribe. A man who cries out when he is hurt is absurd, and I am not asking for sympathy. Call me luckless. But I abhor a breach of faith. A broken pledge is hateful to me. I should regard it myself as a form of suicide. There are principles which civilized men must contend for. Our social fabric is based on them. As my word stands for me, I hold others to theirs. If that is not done, the world is more or less a carnival of counterfeits. In this instance — Ah! Clara, my love! and you have principles: you have inherited, you have been indoctrinated with them: have I, then, in my ignorance, offended past penitence, that you, of all women? . . . And without being able to name my sin! — Not only for what I lose by it, but in the abstract, judicially — apart from the sentiment of personal interest, grief, pain, and the possibility of my having to endure that which no temptation would induce me to commit:— judicially — I fear, sir, I am a poor forensic orator. . . ”

“The situation, sir, does not demand a Cicero: proceed,” said Dr. Middleton, balked in his approving nods at the right true things delivered.

“Judicially, I am bold to say, though it may appear a presumption in one suffering acutely, I abhor a breach of faith.”

Dr. Middleton brought his nod down low upon the phrase he had anticipated. “And I,” said he, “personally, and presently, abhor a breach of faith. Judicially? Judicially to examine, judicially to condemn: but does the judicial mind detest? I think, sir, we are not on the bench when we say that we abhor: we have unseated ourselves. Yet our abhorrence of bad conduct is very certain. You would signify, impersonally: which suffices for this exposition of your feelings.”

He peered at the gentleman under his brows, and resumed:

“She has had it, Willoughby; she has had it in plain Saxon and in uncompromising Olympian. There is, I conceive, no necessity to revert to it.”

“Pardon me, sir, but I am still unforgiven.”

“You must babble out the rest between you. I am about as much at home as a turkey with a pair of pigeons.”

“Leave us, father,” said Clara.

“First join our hands, and let me give you that title, sir.”

“Reach the good man your hand, my girl; forthright, from the shoulder, like a brave boxer. Humour a lover. He asks for his own.”

“It is more than I can do, father.”

“How, it is more than you can do? You are engaged to him, a plighted woman.”

“I do not wish to marry.”

“The apology is inadequate.”

“I am unworthy. . . ”

“Chatter! chatter!”

“I beg him to release me.”

“Lunacy!”

“I have no love to give him.”

“Have you gone back to your cradle, Clara Middleton?”

“Oh, leave us, dear father!”

“My offence, Clara, my offence! What is it? Will you only name it?”

“Father, will you leave us? We can better speak together. . . ”

“We have spoken, Clara, how often!” Willoughby resumed, “with what result? — that you loved me, that you have ceased to love me: that your heart was mine, that you have withdrawn it, plucked it from me: that you request me to consent to a sacrifice involving my reputation, my life. And what have I done? I am the same, unchangeable. I loved and love you: my heart was yours, and is, and will be yours forever. You are my affianced — that is, my wife. What have I done?”

“It is indeed useless,” Clara sighed.

“Not useless, my girl, that you should inform this gentleman, your affianced husband, of the ground of the objection you conceived against him.”

“I cannot say.”

“Do you know?”

“If I could name it, I could hope to overcome it.”

Dr. Middleton addressed Sir Willoughby.

“I verily believe we are directing the girl to dissect a caprice. Such things are seen large by these young people, but as they have neither organs, nor arteries, nor brains, nor membranes, dissection and inspection will be alike profitlessly practised. Your inquiry is natural for a lover, whose passion to enter into relations with the sex is ordinarily in proportion to his ignorance of the stuff composing them. At a particular age they traffic in whims: which are, I presume, the spiritual of hysterics; and are indubitably preferable, so long as they are not pushed too far. Examples are not wanting to prove that a flighty initiative on the part of the male is a handsome corrective. In that case, we should probably have had the roof off the house, and the girl now at your feet. Ha!”

“Despise me, father. I am punished for ever thinking myself the superior of any woman,” said Clara.

“Your hand out to him, my dear, since he is for a formal reconciliation; and I can’t wonder.”

“Father! I have said I do not. . . I have said I cannot. . . ”

“By the most merciful! what? what? the name for it, words for it!”

“Do not frown on me, father. I wish him happiness. I cannot marry him. I do not love him.”

“You will remember that you informed me aforetime that you did love him.”

“I was ignorant. . . I did not know myself. I wish him to be happy.”

“You deny him the happiness you wish him!”

“It would not be for his happiness were I to wed him.”

“Oh!” burst from Willoughby.

“You hear him. He rejects your prediction, Clara Middleton.” She caught her clasped hands up to her throat. “Wretched, wretched, both!”

“And you have not a word against him, miserable girl.”

“Miserable! I am.”

“It is the cry of an animal!”

“Yes, father.”

“You feel like one? Your behaviour is of that shape. You have not a word?”

“Against myself, not against him.”

“And I, when you speak so generously, am to yield you? give you up?” cried Willoughby. “Ah! my love, my Clara, impose what you will on me; not that. It is too much for man. It is, I swear it, beyond my strength.”

“Pursue, continue the strain; ’tis in the right key,” said Dr. Middleton, departing.

Willoughby wheeled and waylaid him with a bound.

“Plead for me, sir; you are all-powerful. Let her be mine, she shall be happy, or I will perish for it. I will call it on my head. — Impossible! I cannot lose her. Lose you, my love? it would be to strip myself of every blessing of body and soul. It would be to deny myself possession of grace, beauty, wit, all the incomparable charms of loveliness of mind and person in woman, and plant myself in a desert. You are my mate, the sum of everything I call mine. Clara, I should be less than man to submit to such a loss. Consent to it? But I love you! I worship you! How can I consent to lose you . . .?”

He saw the eyes of the desperately wily young woman slink sideways. Dr. Middleton was pacing at ever shorter lengths closer by the door.

“You hate me?” Willoughby sunk his voice.

“If it should turn to hate!” she murmured.

“Hatred of your husband?”

“I could not promise,” she murmured, more softly in her wiliness.

“Hatred?” he cried aloud, and Dr. Middleton stopped in his walk and flung up his head: “Hatred of your husband? of the man you have vowed to love and honour? Oh, no! Once mine, it is not to be feared. I trust to my knowledge of your nature; I trust in your blood, I trust in your education. Had I nothing else to inspire confidence, I could trust in your eyes. And, Clara, take the confession: I would rather be hated than lose you. For if I lose you, you are in another world, out of this one holding me in its death-like cold; but if you hate me we are together, we are still together. Any alliance, any, in preference to separation!”

Clara listened with critical ear. His language and tone were new; and comprehending that they were in part addressed to her father, whose phrase: “A breach of faith”: he had so cunningly used, disdain of the actor prompted the extreme blunder of her saying — frigidly though she said it:

“You have not talked to me in this way before.”

“Finally,” remarked her father, summing up the situation to settle it from that little speech, “he talks to you in this way now; and you are under my injunction to stretch your hand out to him for a symbol of union, or to state your objection to that course. He, by your admission, is at the terminus, and there, failing the why not, must you join him.”

Her head whirled. She had been severely flagellated and weakened previous to Willoughby’s entrance. Language to express her peculiar repulsion eluded her. She formed the words, and perceived that they would not stand to bear a breath from her father. She perceived too that Willoughby was as ready with his agony of supplication as she with hers. If she had tears for a resource, he had gestures quite as eloquent; and a cry of her loathing of the union would fetch a countervailing torrent of the man’s love. — What could she say? he is an Egoist? The epithet has no meaning in such a scene. Invent! shrieked the hundred-voiced instinct of dislike within her, and alone with her father, alone with Willoughby, she could have invented some equivalent, to do her heart justice for the injury it sustained in her being unable to name the true and immense objection: but the pair in presence paralyzed her. She dramatized them each springing forward by turns, with crushing rejoinders. The activity of her mind revelled in giving them a tongue, but would not do it for herself. Then ensued the inevitable consequence of an incapacity to speak at the heart’s urgent dictate: heart and mind became divided. One throbbed hotly, the other hung aloof, and mentally, while the sick inarticulate heart kept clamouring, she answered it with all that she imagined for those two men to say. And she dropped poison on it to still its reproaches: bidding herself remember her fatal postponements in order to preserve the seeming of consistency before her father; calling it hypocrite; asking herself, what was she! who loved her! And thus beating down her heart, she completed the mischief with a piercing view of the foundation of her father’s advocacy of Willoughby, and more lamentably asked herself what her value was, if she stood bereft of respect for her father.

Reason, on the other hand, was animated by her better nature to plead his case against her: she clung to her respect for him, and felt herself drowning with it: and she echoed Willoughby consciously, doubling her horror with the consciousness, in crying out on a world where the most sacred feelings are subject to such lapses. It doubled her horror, that she should echo the man: but it proved that she was no better than be: only some years younger. Those years would soon be outlived: after which, he and she would be of a pattern. She was unloved: she did no harm to any one by keeping her word to this man; she had pledged it, and it would be a breach of faith not to keep it. No one loved her. Behold the quality of her father’s love! To give him happiness was now the principal aim for her, her own happiness being decently buried; and here he was happy: why should she be the cause of his going and losing the poor pleasure he so much enjoyed?

The idea of her devotedness flattered her feebleness. She betrayed signs of hesitation; and in hesitating, she looked away from a look at Willoughby, thinking (so much against her nature was it to resign herself to him) that it would not have been so difficult with an ill-favoured man. With one horribly ugly, it would have been a horrible exultation to cast off her youth and take the fiendish leap.

Unfortunately for Sir Willoughby, he had his reasons for pressing impatience; and seeing her deliberate, seeing her hasty look at his fine figure, his opinion of himself combined with his recollection of a particular maxim of the Great Book to assure him that her resistance was over: chiefly owing, as he supposed, to his physical perfections.

Frequently indeed, in the contest between gentlemen and ladies, have the maxims of the Book stimulated the assailant to victory. They are rosy with blood of victims. To bear them is to hear a horn that blows the mort: has blown it a thousand times. It is good to remember how often they have succeeded, when, for the benefit of some future Lady Vauban, who may bestir her wits to gather maxims for the inspiriting of the Defence, the circumstance of a failure has to be recorded.

Willoughby could not wait for the melting of the snows. He saw full surely the dissolving process; and sincerely admiring and coveting her as he did, rashly this ill-fated gentleman attempted to precipitate it, and so doing arrested.

Whence might we draw a note upon yonder maxim, in words akin to these: Make certain ere a breath come from thee that thou be not a frost.

“Mine! She is mine!” he cried: “mine once more! mine utterly! mine eternally!” and he followed up his devouring exclamations in person as she, less decidedly, retreated. She retreated as young ladies should ever do, two or three steps, and he would not notice that she had become an angry Dian, all arrows: her maidenliness in surrendering pleased him. Grasping one fair hand, he just allowed her to edge on the outer circle of his embrace, crying: “Not a syllable of what I have gone through! You shall not have to explain it, my Clara. I will study you more diligently, to be guided by you, my darling. If I offend again, my wife will not find it hard to speak what my bride withheld — I do not ask why: perhaps not able to weigh the effect of her reticence: not at that time, when she was younger and less experienced, estimating the sacredness of a plighted engagement. It is past, we are one, my dear sir and father. You may leave us now.”

“I profoundly rejoice to hear that I may,” said Dr. Middleton. Clara writhed her captured hand.

“No, papa, stay. It is an error, an error. You must not leave me. Do not think me utterly, eternally, belonging to any one but you. No one shall say I am his but you.”

“Are you quicksands, Clara Middleton, that nothing can be built on you? Whither is a flighty head and a shifty will carrying the girl?”

“Clara and I, sir,” said Willoughby.

“And so you shall,” said the Doctor, turning about.

“Not yet, papa:” Clara sprang to him.

“Why, you, you, you, it was you who craved to be alone with Willoughby!” her father shouted; “and here we are rounded to our starting-point, with the solitary difference that now you do not want to be alone with Willoughby. First I am bidden go; next I am pulled back; and judging by collar and coat-tag, I suspect you to be a young woman to wear an angel’s temper threadbare before you determine upon which one of the tides driving him to and fro you intend to launch on yourself, Where is your mind?”

Clara smoothed her forehead.

“I wish to please you, papa.”

“I request you to please the gentleman who is your appointed husband.”

“I am anxious to perform my duty.”

“That should be a satisfactory basis for you, Willoughby; as girls go!”

“Let me, sir, simply entreat to have her hand in mine before you.”

“Why not, Clara?”

“Why an empty ceremony, papa?”

“The implication is, that she is prepared for the important one, friend Willoughby.”

“Her hand, sir; the reassurance of her hand in mine under your eyes:— after all that I have suffered, I claim it, I think I claim it reasonably, to restore me to confidence.”

“Quite reasonably; which is not to say, necessarily; but, I will add, justifiably; and it may be, sagaciously, when dealing with the volatile.”

“And here,” said Willoughby, “is my hand.”

Clara recoiled.

He stepped on. Her father frowned. She lifted both her hands from the shrinking elbows, darted a look of repulsion at her pursuer, and ran to her father, crying: “Call it my mood! I am volatile, capricious, flighty, very foolish. But you see that I attach a real meaning to it, and feel it to be binding: I cannot think it an empty ceremony, if it is before you. Yes, only be a little considerate to your moody girl. She will be in a fitter state in a few hours. Spare me this moment; I must collect myself. I thought I was free; I thought he would not press me. If I give my hand hurriedly now, I shall, I know, immediately repent it. There is the picture of me! But, papa, I mean to try to be above that, and if I go and walk by myself, I shall grow calm to perceive where my duty lies. . . ”

“In which direction shall you walk?” said Willoughby.

“Wisdom is not upon a particular road,” said Dr. Middleton.

“I have a dread, sir, of that one which leads to the railway-station.”

“With some justice!” Dr. Middleton sighed over his daughter.

Clara coloured to deep crimson: but she was beyond anger, and was rather gratified by an offence coming from Willoughby.

“I will promise not to leave his grounds, papa.”

“My child, you have threatened to be a breaker of promises.”

“Oh!” she wailed. “But I will make it a vow to you.”

“Why not make it a vow to me this moment, for this gentleman’s contentment, that he shall be your husband within a given period?”

“I will come to you voluntarily. I burn to be alone.”

“I shall lose her,” exclaimed Willoughby, in heartfelt earnest.

“How so?” said Dr. Middleton. “I have her, sir, if you will favour me by continuing in abeyance. — You will come within an hour voluntarily, Clara; and you will either at once yield your hand to him or you will furnish reasons, and they must be good ones, for withholding it.”

“Yes, papa.”

“You will?”

“I will.”

“Mind, I say reasons.”

“Reasons, papa. If I have none. . . ”

“If you have none that are to my satisfaction, you implicitly and instantly, and cordially obey my command.”

“I will obey.”

“What more would you require?” Dr. Middleton bowed to Sir Willoughby in triumph.

“Will she. . . ”

“Sir! Sir!”

“She is your daughter, sir. I am satisfied.”

“She has perchance wrestled with her engagement, as the aboriginals of a land newly discovered by a crew of adventurous colonists do battle with the garments imposed on them by our considerate civilization — ultimately to rejoice with excessive dignity in the wearing of a battered cocked-hat and trowsers not extending to the shanks: but she did not break her engagement, sir; and we will anticipate that, moderating a young woman’s native wildness, she may, after the manner of my comparison, take a similar pride in her fortune in good season.”

Willoughby had not leisure to sound the depth of Dr. Middleton’s compliment. He had seen Clara gliding out of the room during the delivery; and his fear returned on him that, not being won, she was lost.

“She has gone.” Her father noticed her absence. “She does not waste time in her mission to procure that astonishing product of a shallow soil, her reasons; if such be the object of her search. But no: it signifies that she deems herself to have need of composure — nothing more. No one likes to be turned about; we like to turn ourselves about; and in the question of an act to be committed, we stipulate that it shall be our act — girls and others. After the lapse of an hour, it will appear to her as her act. Happily, Willoughby, we do not dine away from Patterne to-night.”

“No, sir.”

“It may be attributable to a sense of deserving, but I could plead guilty to a weakness for old Port today.”

“There shall be an extra bottle, sir.”

“All going favourably with you, as I have no cause to doubt,” said Dr Middleton, with the motion of wafting his host out of the library.

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Last updated Monday, March 17, 2014 at 17:11